Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Resurrection

The bottom line miracle of Christianity is The Resurrection. It is The Resurrection which completes the act of atonement; it is The Resurrection which establishes the promise of eternal life.

Without The Resurrection Christianity loses much of its allure for the masses.

Fundamentalist Christians claim The Resurrection is a historical fact based upon the following:

- Jesus was executed
- Jesus was entombed
- Jesus’ tomb was found empty
- Jesus after his resurrection appeared to many eye witnesses
- Jesus’ appearance emboldened the apostles to preach Christianity at the risk of their lives

They then move on and address “theories” that supposedly attempt to explain the events as if these theories were the only issues to resolve. These “theories” are typically fairly weak straw men and include things like he didn’t really die on the cross and the apostles stole his body.

The problem of course is once you’ve moved into this ballpark, you’ve already accepted the empty tomb or the appearance of a walking, breathing Jesus subsequent to his crucifixion.

To my mind these theories are irrelevant. I want to go back to the five basic points identified above.

Jesus was executed
Undoubtedly this is a true statement if you accept that Jesus was a historical figure. Despite the paucity of evidence, I believe he was. But who was this Jesus and why was he executed? And not just executed, but executed by crucifixion; a method of execution reserved by the Romans for political insurrection or especially despised criminals.

Crucifixion was intended to be highly visible. It could take days to die. Even after death the victim would be left hanging as a warning to others. Crucifixion was designed to be a deterrent. Crucifixion by Rome would not be a penalty for something viewed as blasphemy by the Jews.

This raises three questions. First, what was it that Jesus did, or that Pilate was convinced he did, to warrant an insurrectionist’s execution? Second, why did Jesus die after only a few hours? Crucifixion was often death by suffocation as the body weakened and couldn’t support itself to breathe. It was not unusual for a victim of crucifixion to suffer for several days. Yet according to the gospels, Jesus’ death was relatively quick. The Gospel of Mark alludes to this point in Mark 15:44 “Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead.” Finally, why would the Romans be willing to release Jesus’ body rather than leave it as a warning to others?

Exactly what act of insurrection Jesus got executed for isn’t clear in the gospels. John Dominic Crossan believes it was the uproar he caused in the temple. Others have pointed out that Jesus may have hung around with a bad crowd. Simon Zelotes is thought by some to have been a Zealot and there is some debate over whether the Iscariot in Judas Iscariot indicates a place of origin or that Judas was a member of the Sicarii, a first century group of political assassins that took out their victims at close quarters with daggers.

If Judas was an assassin, turning in Jesus in exchange for saving his own hide makes some sense. But why would the Jewish or Roman authorities look upon Jesus as a bigger catch than a known assassin?

If Jesus really did go around claiming he was King of the Jews, that would have done it.

The Romans generally took a dim view of claims of that sort by people that weren’t on their payroll or acting with their approval. They would have been especially touchy about it if it occurred in a Roman Province. Even a class three province looked upon as the armpit of the empire.

I suspect that Jesus was a wandering Rabbi that might have gone a little overboard while basking in the “adulation” of his adoring fans. He really came to believe that he could trigger the onset of the Kingdom of God on earth by riding into Jerusalem and declaring himself king.

He would have no conception of the real balance of power between Rome and Judea. He only knew what he saw. A limited Roman presence of auxiliary troops up against 50,000 Passover Pilgrims that I’m sure he was convinced would support him. Didn’t seem to have worked out that way though did it?

As for why he didn’t linger for days on the cross, I imagine that might have been related to the physical abuse he is reported to have suffered. It wasn’t totally unknown for the trauma of being crucified, especially if by nails, or the loss of blood to lead to a rapid death rather than a lingering one. He could also have died from internal bleeding or a massive stroke brought on by a subdural hematoma. There’s no lack of explanations as to why Jesus died relatively quickly.

Pilate, or whoever was making the decisions, may have yielded to taking down the body simply to keep the peace. It was the Passover falling on the Sabbath after all. The Joseph of Arimathea story implies it could also have been to placate a rich or influential family. The question is what happened to the body after it was taken down?

Jesus was entombed
Well, maybe. The four Gospels differ slightly on the details here. Certainly John’s account of the legs of the prisoners being broken to speed up death before being taken down seems accurate, although I doubt they would make an exception with Jesus. Soldiers are very literal, especially when disobeying an order can be fatal.

All the gospels agree that Jesus was laid in a tomb cut out of rock. There is an inconsistency as to whether it was Joseph of Arimathea acting alone (Mark, Matthew & Luke) or with Nicodemas (John), whether it was Joseph’s tomb (Matthew), whether the tomb was in a garden (John), whether the tomb was sealed (Matthew) and whether the tomb was guarded (Matthew).

We only have the gospels word that Jesus was placed in a rock tomb. A rock tomb also sounds a big extravagant for a peasant nobody doesn’t it? Perhaps that’s because Jesus wasn’t a peasant nobody. Typical Roman procedure would be to have tossed the bodies of the condemned to the dogs or had them burned. That would have made a bodily resurrection a tad difficult so clearly it would be necessary to figure out a way to avoid that. Enter the shadowy Joseph of Arimathea.

Joseph is not mentioned previously and never mentioned again. He is described as a member of the Jewish Council (Mark, Luke), a member of the council who had not consented to their decision regarding Jesus (Luke), a rich man (Matthew), a man waiting for the Kingdom of God (Mark, Luke), a disciple of Jesus (Matthew), a secret disciple of Jesus who feared the Jews (John) and from the Judean town of Arimathea (Luke).

About the only thing this incident has going for it is that Joseph is identified as claiming Jesus’ body in all four gospels. It’s one of the few things that are consistent in all four accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection. Other than that, I find this tale highly suspicious for a number of reasons.

The first is it’s just too convenient. Is it possible that a member of the Jewish Council would act in such a manner if he felt an injustice had been done? It’s possible, but to be honest, not bloody likely unless there was some tie between Joseph and Jesus.

Aside from the issue of getting the Jewish authorities all bent out of shape let’s remember that Jesus was most likely executed for an act that was viewed by the Roman authorities as one of rebellion. What was to prevent the Roman authorities from deciding that Joseph was in collusion with the rebel Jesus and should get a cross all his own?

The second is the tinkering with the tale that evangelists other than Mark feel is necessary. The story in Mark is fairly straightforward. Joseph is a member of the council waiting for the Kingdom of God. Pilate, after checking with a centurion that Jesus was in fact dead, simply releases the body.

Mark presents no rationale for Joseph’s intervention.

Matthew, perhaps finding this a tad unlikely, makes Joseph a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. That Joseph was rich implies possible additional influence or perhaps that some money changed hands. Making him a disciple of Jesus provides a rationale for Joseph’s intervention.

The problem with Matthew’s tinkering is that it makes it more likely for the Romans to take a dim view of Joseph. If Jesus was a rebel then his disciples would be considered rebels as well. Wasn’t this why they were all supposedly hiding and why Peter denied knowing Jesus? Plus, if he was rich, that would make him a potential financier of rebellion and a prime target for Rome’s attention. He would be a bigger prize than Jesus.

Luke also provides a rationale. He labels Joseph an honest and upright man and a member of the council that did not consent to condemning Jesus. It’s actually a better rationale than Matthew’s. Men have been known to do strange things based upon conscience.

John really does damage control. Not only does he have Joseph accompanied by Nicodemus, who was Jesus’ foil in the famous play on words about being reborn in John 3, he makes Joseph a secret disciple of Jesus so the Roman suspicions aren’t aroused.

Then there is the question of where exactly is Arimathea? There is no record of a town of exactly that name. Various towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem have been suggested as possibilities but no one has any concrete evidence as to where Arimathea was or even if it actually existed.

All of this implies to me that Joseph of Arimathea may be a work of fiction whose sole purpose is to rescue the body of Jesus from destruction.

In other words I find the story that Jesus’ body was placed in a rock tomb shaky.

This doesn’t necessarily negate the accuracy of the resurrection. It simply makes the story of the empty tomb unlikely.

But, let’s assume Joseph did exist and he did claim the body. Why did this rich and powerful man choose to intervene? This seems unlikely without some sort of tie to Jesus or his family. If it was due to some sort of family tie, then why does he decide to bury the body himself, without any of the familial mourning and ceremony required, rather than return it to the family for burial?

Allow me to suggest that the sketchiness of the story implies that his intention was to return it to the family. Why would he bother? Perhaps it was as a courtesy from one rich, influential family to another?

I can hear the protests even before the ink dries. What do you mean rich? Jesus came from a poor family. Not necessarily, but that’s a topic for another day.

Jewish practices call for the body to be buried as soon as practical as long as the burial did not violate the Sabbath. Unfortunately the Sabbath was about to begin so it was either bury the body before sundown or wait until the end of the Sabbath the following sundown.

Dawn in Jerusalem during the early spring would be around 6 A.M. Sunset would be a little after 7 P.M. According to Mark and Matthew Jesus was still alive at the ninth hour which would be around 3 P.M.

That would be cutting it a little close. Assuming Joseph of Arimathea actually existed, then it seems like he was making temporary arrangements until a final resolution could be worked out after the Sabbath.

Luckily for the peasant portion of Jesus’ disciples, who were unlikely to have much to do with a rich member of the Jewish council, several women from Jesus’ entourage saw where Joseph put the body. They then showed up Sunday morning intending to perform the formal preparation for burial but, according to the story, when they arrived, the tomb was empty.

Jesus’ tomb was found empty
The women arrive at Jesus’ tomb a full twelve hours after the end of the Sabbath. The account of what they find varies wildly among the four gospels.

The simplest tale is from Mark. The woman find the stone rolled back and a young man dressed in a white robe who tells them “Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Take out the “He has risen” and this could almost be someone at the tomb explaining that the body has been removed and is being returned to Jesus’ home in Galilee for final burial.

I find this a lot more likely than he rose from the dead but it has a number of problems with it not the least of which is the time it would take to get the body to Galilee.

At the other extreme is Matthew’s description. Matthew really lets himself go. In his version the tomb is sealed and guarded which would sort of contradict the idea that the internment was temporary.

When the women arrive they’re treated to a violent earthquake and the sight of an angel descending from heaven that rolls back the stone. The guards are so afraid they start shaking and become “like dead men.” Note that since the stone is rolled back after the women arrive, either Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled back to leave or, for some bizarre reason, it had been removed and then replaced.

The angel is also dressed in white (what else?) and gives a similar speech to the women as the young man. The women then leave “filled with joy” as opposed to trembling, bewildered and afraid which is how they leave according to Mark.

Just as a side note, Matthew then has the guards being bribed by the chief priests to say that Jesus’ disciples came and stole the body while they were asleep. Ooops. If these were Roman troops sleeping on duty wouldn’t keep them out of trouble (as Matthew has the priests claim), it would get them a death sentence. If they were temple guards, then what the Roman governor thought would be irrelevant. Of course they couldn’t be Jews and work on the Sabbath. In my humble opinion, the story of the guards has almost zero chance of being true.

In Luke the women find the stone rolled back and enter the cave but fail to locate the body of Jesus. Then two men, “in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them,” and then proceeded to give a slightly more instructional explanation including reminding them that Jesus had told them “The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”

John’s story is more than a little different. Here it’s Mary Magdalene alone who approaches the tomb and finds the stone rolled away. She runs to get Simon Peter and “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved.” The three return to the tomb and find the linen and the shroud but no body. The two disciples then leave and Mary remains outside the tomb weeping.

Mary then looks into the tomb and sees two angels who ask her why she is crying. She replies “They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him.”

She then turns and encounters someone she first believes is the gardener (remember the tomb was in a garden) who asks her why she is crying and who she is looking for. She replies "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” He calls her name and she then realizes that it’s not the gardener but Jesus himself who is standing there.

There is absolutely no way that these four accounts can be reconciled. The crucifixion accounts were reasonably similar. Some contained more details about certain things then others and there was some variation and poetic license but it all falls apart with the description of the alleged discovery of the empty tomb.

This has all the earmarks of a myth or an allegorical story that no one expects to stick to the facts. The taller the tale, the better seems to be the rule. I vote for Matthew as having the wildest, most improbable narration.

A simple sweep of Occam’s razor eliminates Joseph and the empty tomb altogether. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross and either tossed to wild animals or burned. When this becomes a problem because it makes a bodily resurrection harder to swallow by the unimaginative first century peasantry who are the earliest target of the Christian gospel, the rich council member and the empty tomb are invented.

As an alternative, the body of Jesus is claimed by Joseph, a friend or even possibly a member of Jesus’ influential family, and quietly buried in a dignified way without letting any of the peasant riff-raff he’s fallen in with get involved. The tomb was indeed empty because before Mary and the others arrive, it’s already been moved by Jesus’ family to its final resting place.

Mark, most likely the first evangelist, keeps it simple which is critical to a successful lie. The others can’t resist fancying it up a bit perhaps because the story wasn’t generally accepted as true anyway. It needn’t be accepted as true because it’s not essential to the resurrection.

Let’s face it; a God that created the universe wouldn’t have much of a problem restoring a body for his son regardless of what happened to the first one.

Jesus after his resurrection appeared to many eye witnesses
That sort of depends upon which gospel you read. Acts also gets into the act so to speak. It also depends, in the case of Mark, upon which version of the gospel you read.

According to the earliest manuscripts the gospel of Mark ended at Mark 16:8. Mark 16:9-20 are generally considered to be a second century addition. If this is true then either Mark had no post resurrection passages or those original passages have been lost.

A minority of scholars do argue that Mark 16:9-20 are in fact genuine. Since I can’t look at lost passages I’ll just assume that folks like F.H.A. Scrivener are correct and the passages are the originals.

According to Mark 16:9-20 Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, then to “two of them” “who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping.”

Jesus then appears to the Eleven and rebukes them for “their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.”

That adds up to 1+2+11 = 14, but there’s no specific statement that these were the only people he appeared to although it would seem, if the passages are genuine, a little silly to leave other appearances out.

Jesus tells the Eleven, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well."

But of course Christians aren’t allowed to play with venomous snakes or drink deadly poison on purpose because that would be “testing God.” How’s that for a rationalization? So I suppose no believer has ever been poisoned to death? What about those in Jonestown that were forced to drink the Kool-Aid against their will? They survive that?

I’m not aware of any confirmed driving out of demons or healing through the laying on of hands either. If there is one passage that clearly demonstrates that the bible, or at least the bible with Mark 16:9-20, is not the inerrant word of God, this is the one. If you disagree then either drive out a demon, speak in a language you don’t know (and I’m not talking about the gibberish that Christians usually claim is speaking in tongues) or heal the sick.

Matthew, as opposed to his wild tomb story, has the simplest post resurrection description. According to Matthew, Jesus appears to the Eleven in Galilee and gives them The Great Commission, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The first people Luke describes Jesus appearing to are “two of them,” which I assume refers to two of those that didn’t believe the women about the empty tomb, apparently named Cleopas and Simon. Interestingly they don’t recognize him until he sits down to eat with them.

Next Luke describes Jesus’ appearance as the two are relaying their experience to an unbelieving “Eleven and those with them.” They think he’s a ghost so he shows them his hands and feet and eats some fish to convince them it’s him in the flesh.

Jesus then opens “their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” and tells them “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."

So, according to Luke, Jesus appeared to at least 13 people plus how many comprise “those with them.” But again Luke doesn’t claim these were the first or only people to whom Jesus appeared.

John has by far the most extensive post resurrection description. He has Jesus appearing to his disciples minus Thomas and saying to them "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

He then breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Jesus then makes a special appearance to convince doubting Thomas when he utters the famous phrase “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

John then appears to end with the John 20:30-31, sometimes called “The Appendix,” which says “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

However there is a John 21, sometimes called “The Appendix to The Appendix” which continues the tale of post resurrection appearances. It describes the miraculous catching of 153 fish, a reinstatement of Peter, including a prophecy of Peter’s death, and some rather mysterious comments related to the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Despite all this “Appendix” stuff, there isn’t a single manuscript without John 21. So, if it’s a later addition, it wasn’t much later.

Acts then says Jesus stayed with the apostles for 40 days during which he commanded them "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

When they ask him when he will restore the Kingdom of God he tells them "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Well that’s a lot of background and sort of a sneaky way to get you to read the bible. Don’t take my word for it though, check. I used the New International Version (NIV) for the quotes.

Again we have wildly varying descriptions that really can’t be reconciled regardless of how hard apologists play the “but he didn’t say that didn’t happen” card. John has Jesus bestowing the Holy Spirit directly on the apostles, Luke and Acts has them waiting until Pentecost and Mark and Matthew don’t mention it at all. You would think it would be kind of a critical thing to at least mention wouldn’t you?

Like the empty tomb, this has all the earmarks of a myth or legend that grew with the telling and grew in different ways in different places. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a word of it.

Jesus’ appearance emboldened the apostles to preach Christianity at the risk of their lives
Technically it was the alleged descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that accomplished this but I’m willing to equate the two.

Is this really true? Popular myth has the disciples trembling and hiding from the authorities and then suddenly marching out as men going to war to preach the gospel.

A couple of points, first, people are capable of screwing themselves up to do some ridiculously brave things if the situation is right. This is especially true in the face of a shared or potential tragedy. Human nature being what it is the supernatural is not required for there to emerge a determination to do battle against insurmountable odds for a belief or a principle regardless of the danger. Think Socrates, Thermopylae, Sir Thomas More and Valley Forge.

Second, were their lives really in danger? There is this mistaken notion that Rome persecuted Christians continually and right from the start. The reality is that Rome was fairly tolerant of the myriad of different religions practiced in the empire. However, they didn’t have any concept of the separation of church and state. The state respected the gods and the gods blessed the state. Religion and politics were 100% interwoven. As polytheists the Romans had room for lots of gods and had no problem with you worshiping yours as long as you also respected and sacrificed to the empire’s gods.

The Jews were exempt. While the Romans didn’t particular find the Jew’s one and only one god philosophy particularly attractive, they did recognize that it was of immense antiquity and the Romans had a healthy respect for anything that old.

The trouble started when what the Romans viewed as just another new mystery religion called Christianity claimed the exemption accorded to the Jews. If you think the Romans were upset imagine how the Jews felt? Christianity and Judaism got off on the wrong foot right from the start.

There was some persecution but it was sporadic and there certainly wouldn’t be any right away. As long as they weren’t pitching rebellion, the disciples were probably fairly safe while simply pitching some new fangled religion. Not completely safe, but safe enough.

Third, while Christianity would like everyone to believe that its rise was a monolithic growth of apostolic based faith with the occasional heresy to squash, history tells a very different story.

There were many brands of Christianity from the Gnostic creeds to what Bart Ehrman calls the proto orthodox. Paul’s letters clearly show that he was constantly contesting against those preaching other creeds and Acts implies the tension that existed between Paul and his mission to the Gentiles and the more traditionally Jewish philosophy in Jerusalem under the leadership of Jesus’ brother James.

To be honest I find this argument to be more wishful thinking than reality. What we know today as Orthodox Christianity as represented by the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin to emerge as a clear consensus until the church in Rome begins to exert its influence throughout the rest of the Mediterranean.

Therefore I’m sorry, but I pretty much reject this argument as well.

One more point that needs to be covered is Josephus, the only independent contemporary evidence for the resurrection. The Testamonium Flavianum states:

"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.] He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ;] and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, [for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him;] and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day."

There are three opinions about this passage; that it’s completely genuine, that it’s completely a later Christian interpolation and that’s it’s a partial Christian interpolation represented by the bracketed phrases.

Josephus, a Pharisaic Jew would NEVER call Jesus the Christ nor is it likely he would blithely state that he appeared to them “alive again the third day” as the divine prophets had foretold after being crucified. Therefore it seems to me that at best this is a partial Christian interpolation.

Clearly the resurrection of Jesus is far from a historical fact. Feel free to believe the gospel accounts if that’s your inclination but there are clearly problems with the conflicting stories of the empty tomb and the post resurrection appearances.

You might even get me to accept the story of Joseph of Arimathea but that would be about as far as I would go. If Mary Magdalene and a group of women discovered an empty tomb, it was simply because the body had already been moved from its temporary place of rest by quite ordinary means.

Only slightly less likely is that Joseph and the tomb are a fiction created to get around the objection that Jesus could not have been bodily resurrected because his body had been destroyed.

I find either explanation far more likely than the one Christianity would like us to believe.

Arlen Specter is now a Democrat

In a surprise announcement Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee has bolted the GOP for the Democrats.

Specter cited his belief that as a moderate he couldn’t survive an impending primary challenge in an increasingly conservative Republican Party.

Needless to say the Democrats, including President Obama, were delighted and immediately endorsed Specter in the next election.

I always sort of felt that Specter was a fish out of water or, perhaps more accurately, a Republican from a different era. While his defection makes sense, especially for him, the implication is disturbing. Specter is essentially conceding that the GOP is too far gone to salvage and is leaving it to the religious right wing.

This brings the Republican Party one step closer to a party of Religious Fascism. A party controlled by the likes of James Dobson, Tony Perkins and Sarah Palin. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s a little to close for comfort.

If the American center doesn’t recognize that the Republicans are flirting with being a party of the extreme right, there is the terrible risk of the election of a fascist majority that would make the Bush administration look progressive. If they do recognize it, there is the risk of the Republican Party becoming marginalized everywhere but in the deep South which would be almost as bad.

Personally I’d like to see the GOP return to its socially progressive but fiscally conservative roots but I’m not sure that’s possible any more.

The Swine Flu

I really did not need this and neither did the rest of the country. This sucks big time. You will excuse me but we have enough to worry about without a flu pandemic. Do you suppose I could take a short (long?) vacation to Ganymede? I’ve always wanted to tour the moons of Jupiter.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something from Nothing?

Creationists tend to lump evolution, abiogenesis and cosmological questions relating to the origin of the universe into one topic which they call evolution.

Technically, neither the origin of the universe nor the origin of life is part of evolutionary theory. Creationists also tend to get evolution and atheism confused.

It’s not unusual to see a Creationist who is claiming to attack evolution but who is really attacking atheism or to see a Creationist who is claiming to attack atheism but who is really attacking evolution.

When all else has failed, Creationists fall back on what they believe is the ultimate argument. With a sneer of contempt they pout “how do you get something from nothing?”

Damn good question. I’m glad you brought that up. So, how do you get “something from nothing?”

Well, first of all one has to define “nothing.” The colloquial “nothing,” such as there is “nothing” in that box isn’t at all accurate. In fact there are usually lots and lots of things in a so-called box containing “nothing” including air, microbes, dust and heaven knows what else.

So clearly “nothing” must mean something other than the colloquial “nothing.” Perhaps it means a vacuum such as the so-called vacuum of space. Of course space isn’t really a vacuum it’s simply very, very sparse. There is very little matter separated by fairly large distances.

Ok, let’s define “nothing” as a “true vacuum,” a steady state condition of no matter and no energy whatsoever.

Such a definition makes sense in a classical universe governed by the classical laws of Physics. Unfortunately it makes absolutely no sense in a quantum universe. The reason it makes no sense is that in a quantum universe quantum fluctuations are constantly creating and annihilating particles of matter and anti-matter.

Yup, you guessed it, in a quantum universe something comes from nothing all the time.

The “something” doesn’t last very long. Generally not more than a Planck Time which is 10^-43 seconds which is like a REALLY, REALLY short time. Since the particles created by quantum fluctuations don’t last long they’re called “virtual particles.” This isn’t just “fun with mathematics.” The effect of these particles has been observed and their existence pretty much confirmed.

Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot to mention that we live in a quantum universe, governed by quantum mechanics, and not the classical universe that our senses tell us we live it. So “something,” sub-atomic particles, are being created from “nothing” all around us all the time.

“Once our minds accept the mutability of matter and the new idea of the vacuum, we can speculate on the origin of the biggest thing we know - the universe. Maybe the universe itself sprang into existence out of nothingness - a gigantic vacuum fluctuation which we know today as the big bang. Remarkably, the laws of modern physics allow for this possibility.” - Heinz Pagels

All that it appears it would have taken to get the universe started way back when is a quantum fluctuation where the particles last a teeny, tiny bit longer than Planck Time. This would initiate what is called “inflation” and the creation of microscopic black holes from which all of the matter in the universe could have come as positive energy but precisely offset by the negative energy of gravity.

In other words, as crazy as it sounds, the universe may in fact be a big nothing. It may consist of zero energy but divided into positive energy (matter) and negative energy (gravity) parts.

Yes, it’s enough to make your head explode but Quantum Mechanics is far and away the most insanely counter-intuitive thing around. Niels Bohr said “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”

If you’re saying to yourself “that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” congratulations, you’re on the way to understanding the universe we live it.

Do I buy the quantum fluctuation speculation explanation or any of the half dozen or so other origin of the universe hypotheses? Not really, but they’re at least as reasonable as the idea that an all-powerful Sky Daddy created the universe using magic. Besides, prior to Planck Time, prior to 10^-43 seconds, no one really knows what went on. It's all pure speculation. At least today it is. As for tomorrow, perhaps not. That's the beauty of science, it continues to try and move forward as opposed religion, which tends toward stagnation because "GOD DID IT."

But here’s the way I figure it. Religion has at one time or another declared every natural phenomenon to be the act of a god or gods. Lightening, thunder, earthquakes, pestilence, floods were all preached to be the result of some god’s wrath.

Religion has been WRONG about every single claim. As science has peeled the onion of nature, all of these divine acts have been explained as very non-magical, natural events. All that’s left to religion is the claim that creation itself was a divine act. Given religion’s track record, I’d say it’s a pretty sure bet its wrong about that too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

And then there are the Idiots

YouTube has some interesting stuff. I dabble from time to time when I’m looking for a source of amusement. Last night I was watching a clip of Pat Robertson interviewing Ray Comfort.

If you’re not familiar with Comfort, he’s one of the more outspoken Creationist types. He made himself sort of famous a short while back with a video explaining how the banana was what he called “The Atheist’s Nightmare” because it was so perfectly designed, in shape, texture and taste, for man’s consumption.

The problem of course is Comfort never bothered to find out that the domesticated banana we all know and love is man made. It’s a cultivated plant and utterly incapable of reproducing by itself because it has no seeds. Farmers have to make cuttings from a banana plant’s stem and replant them in order for new plants to grow.

Wild bananas, the ones Comfort’s god actually created, are essentially inedible due to the large number of hard black seeds. Oh well, so much for “intelligent” design.

The YouTube video begins with Comfort interviewing two young people who profess to accept evolution but who can’t answers the questions Comfort is hitting them with. There were two problems with the questions.

The first was these weren’t experts and while they might be expected to have a working knowledge of the principles of the Theory of Evolution, they’re certainly not qualified to address specific detailed questions.

The second, and far more important problem, is that Comfort wasn’t asking about the Theory of Evolution. He was asking about a straw man he’d concocted either out of ignorance or malice. The young man and young woman certainly weren’t qualified to detect what Comfort was doing.

Allow me to suggest that he might want to try his questions on Jerry Coyne or Ken Miller rather than two people that probably only took biology because it was forced on them. Come on Ray, have the courage to deal with educated adults rather than children or the ignorant.

Comfort’s straw man was based upon a total misrepresentation of speciation. The way he explained it to Robertson was that somewhere along the line the “first dog” appears. If that dog is male, then he has to go looking for a suitable female. But since the dog has just evolved, there is no female of his species so the dog is doomed to not reproduce. Comfort calls this the problem of the “missing female.”

This goes way beyond rapid speciation, this is instant speciation. Somehow it miraculously occurs not only within the same gene pool but within a single generation! I can’t think of a mutation more obviously destined to be weeded out by Natural Selection.

Of course that’s not how it works. Evolution occurs in very small genetic increments over millions of years and not in one fell swoop over a single generation. The next generation’s genetic mutations are not going to make them sexually non-viable with the previous generation.

I hate to break it to you but we are all mutants. Each of our DNA contains mutations that we may or may not pass on to our offspring. The more offspring we have, the higher the probability that a particular mutation will be passed on.

As a simplified example consider a population of animals, let’s call them Purple Unicorns, from which two groups split off for whatever reason. One groups heads south and the other north. Initially, since the two groups come from a common gene pool, they will be genetically similar to each other and to the Purple Unicorns that stayed behind. Not identical of course because no two biological entities, except for monozygotic siblings (i.e. identical twins), are genetically identical.

Since they have now separated and are no longer interbreeding, each group will have different genetic mutations occurring which cannot be exchanged with the other group, experience different genetic drift even on the genes they originally shared and experience different environmental pressures which may very well change which characteristics increase the probability of reproduction.

Keep the groups separate for several million years or so and our Purple Unicorns may now be Grey Nullicorns and Black Multicorns whose pheromones no longer attract members of the opposite sex in the other group. Purple Unicorns may or may not still exist, but if they do, they too, since they experienced their own genetic and environmental pressures, would most likely be somewhat different from the original Purple Unicorns and sexually incompatible with both of the new groups.

Comfort’s scenario would require a Purple Unicorn to suddenly give birth to a genetic Black Muliticorn with a vastly different genetic inventory, a genetic inventory so different as to make it sexually incompatible with the rest of its own herd. The Theory of Evolution says that this is essentially impossible. Such an extensive genetic change would take millions of years to occur. It doesn’t happen in a single generation.

If by some bizarre chance a mutation occurred which rendered the offspring non-sexually viable with its own species, then Comfort would be correct, it would be doomed to being unable to reproduce and its mutation would be removed from the gene pool. It could not survive as a new species. This is called Natural Selection. This would be an instance of a genetic mutation which provides a reproductive disadvantage. Hell, it renders the probability of reproducing equal to zero. That’s the ultimate disadvantage.

If this kind of mutation could really happen it would effectively falsify the Theory of Evolution. So essentially Comfort is proposing an event that would falsify evolution and then using it as an argument to falsify evolution. Can you say circular argument fast four times?

I thought I was going to split a gut when Robertson, with a straight face, asked Comfort why there wasn’t an intellectual rebellion against this obvious absurdity of evolution. Maybe it’s because the absurdity isn’t within evolution but within Comfort’s straw man.

Next, Comfort got into the old Paley’s Watchmaker argument that’s been shot down 50 or 60 thousand times since Paley made it. To paraphrase old Ray, he wants someone to show him a watch, or a car, or a building that didn’t have a builder.

Here’s the big problem with this argument Ray old boy. Evolution doesn’t apply to inanimate objects that don’t reproduce. That fact that there is no example of an inanimate object without a builder means absolutely nothing when it comes to biological objects that are quite capable of reproducing.

Let me ask you this old boy, once the egg has been fertilized, how do you think an offspring develops? The last time I looked is was through all natural processes without the intervention of any builder. Or do you believe that God or one of his angels gets involved in the development of every embryo like some sort of construction foreman? If they do, they suck at their job given the number of spontaneous abortions and birth defects that occur.

In other words what leads you to believe the universe is like a watch developed by a watchmaker rather than like a baby Purple Unicorn produced by two adult Purple Unicorns humping? One requires an intelligent designer but the other just requires natural processes.

Then we got into the nonsense that the Theory of Evolution is a moral philosophy intended to destroy society’s Christian values. If you listen to Comfort then Darwin was a bitter old man beaten down by the misfortunes of life that purposely constructed a philosophy to destroy belief in God and Christianity.

It’s all an atheist conspiracy and 40% of college professors are atheist members of that conspiracy. What’s the purpose you ask? The purpose is to allow atheists to live an immoral life style and not have to worry about God’s laws or something like that.

No Ray, I hate to break this to you but evolution is no more a moral philosophy than gravity or relativity.

To be honest with you by that time I was laughing so hard I wasn’t paying all that much attention and I couldn’t handle watching the thing again and taking notes. Robertson of course displays the appropriate indignation that no one was actively opposing this atheist travesty.

“Fear not” replied Sir Ray-Ray the Ignorant, “I and my organization hath prepared diverse videos and papers with diverse arguments which shall, forsooth, quash this foul conspiracy.”

Or at least he said something along those lines. Like I said, it’s hard to pay attention when you’re laughing yourself silly.

Unfortunately it’s not really that funny. This guy gives morons a bad name. It’s not all that hard to go on the Internet and learn about the basics of evolution. It’s not clear whether Comfort is just too goddamned stupid to do so or he knows perfectly well that his arguments are bogus but is relying on his audience not to know.

Christianity has a long history of preying upon the young, the ignorant and the frightened. This could just be another example of that but I suspect it’s not. Going with the principle of never attributing something to malice when simple stupidity will suffice as an explanation, I suspect that he just really is that dumb.

Interestingly enough I don’t think Robertson is however. I think, from the smirk on his face, Robertson was laughing at Comfort on the inside while he was agreeing with him on the outside.

Robertson may be a right wing fascist asshole but he’s smart enough to understand his enemy rather than attack straw men which ultimately are going to make him look silly. In my personal opinion, Comfort, based upon his banana fiasco and the YouTube video, isn’t.

Increasing Violence in Iraq

A suicide bomber in Iraq killed 60 pilgrims, mostly from Iran, at a Shiite Muslim shrine in Baghdad.

WTF is wrong with these people? It’s beginning to look like the drop in violence may have been only a temporary lull. Hopefully I’m wrong but with the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who the hell knows.

This is not good. The world cannot let the Taliban get control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Any threat in that direction can only lead to all out war and an invasion of Pakistan to make absolutely certain that doesn’t happen. If the U.S. and NATO don’t do it, then India may have no choice. Like I said, this is not good.

Here’s hoping I’m being overly paranoid again. I’m getting to be good (bad?) at that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Oh Well, Another Conference Bites the Dust

Ahmadinejad accused Israel of being the “most cruel and racist” regime in his speech at the U.N. conference on racism. That prompted some 40 western nations to walk out joining the ten or so nations, including the U.S., that were already boycotting the conference.

What a jerk.

In the meantime, on the other side of the globe, Newt Gingrich is making the talk show rounds slamming Obama for shaking hands with Chavez. YAWN! Wake me up when something important happens will you?

I’m not sure if Ahmadinejad or Gingrich is the bigger jerk. Both appear to be more interested in rhetoric than progress. Newt probably doesn’t believe a word he’s saying but he just can’t resist playing up to the under 80 IQ trailer park set that is the base of the Republican Party these days.

So the choice appears to be between a twit that’s spewing nonsense, but may believe what he’s spewing, and a twit that’s spewing nonsense he doesn’t believe but figures he can get a whole bunch of dum-dums to swallow.

Well, an ignorant twit might someday get educated but I doubt a dishonest twit is ever going to suddenly become honest.

The U.N. Conference on Racism

This week in Geneva the United Nations is sponsoring a world wide conference on racism. Clearly this is a worthy topic. Unfortunately Muslim countries appear to be trying to hijack the conference and turn it into a referendum against Israel and a forum for attempting to establish a global ban on criticizing Islam.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the conference today and Israel is pissed off at the Swiss because President Hans-Rudolf Merz met with Ahmadinejad. That sort of reminds me of the right wing yahoos criticizing Obama for shaking hands with Cesar Chavez. Since when has talking become a bad thing?

A number of Western countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy and Australia have chosen to boycott the conference. Others, including France, have said they are prepared to walk-out if Ahmadinejad starts in with denying the Holocaust or equating Zionism with racism as was attempted as the last conference in 2001.

How about everyone just CHILL OUT for a moment. It’s getting so that you can’t sneeze or scratch your nose without fifteen people jumping up and calling you names over it. Yes Ahmadinejad is a jerk. Yes Muslims tend to be backward, intolerant and seem to think it’s still the thirteenth century. I might point out that American Fundamentalist Christians are just as bad if not worse.

If they weren’t trying to force their crummy ideas and halitosis on me and mine, I wouldn’t care less. The problem is they want to tell me what I should believe, say and do. You will excuse me if I’d like to figure that out for myself.

I vote we get all those folks who want to tell other people what they can and cannot believe, what they can and cannot do, or what they can and cannot say, together somewhere and let them fight it out. We could sell tickets over the internet and broadcast it on pay-TV. Like I’ve suggested before, let’s use Kansas. There is nothing of any value in Kansas. People there can’t even figure out the difference between superstitious nonsense and science. There is nothing of any redeeming value in Kansas.

This could solve the world’s economic crisis in one fell swoop. Or at least make some of us filthy rich.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Governor of New York to Introduce Same Sex Marriage Bill

Despite plunging approval ratings David Paterson, the Governor of New York, has announced plans to introduce a bill which legalizes gay marriage in the state. Apparently the bill is the same one approved by the state Assembly in 2007 but rejected by the then Republican controlled Senate.

Opponents, led by Senator Ruben Diaz from the Bronx, an Evangelical Christian Pastor, have vowed to fight the governor tooth and nail.

The AP quotes Gov. Paterson as saying "Rights should not be stifled by fear. What we should understand is that silence should not be a response to injustice."

Diaz in the meantime was reported as meeting with religious leaders on how to block the bill and is reported to have said that it was “disrespectful” to introduce the bill in the same week that the new Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, was installed.

Perhaps Paterson should have checked with the Pope first? There’s that respect that some people seem to think religion rates automatically again.

Diaz then expanded the battlefront by saying “It's a challenge the governor is sending to every religious person in New York and the time for us has come for us to accept the challenge.”

What an asshole. I really don’t understand the attitude. Nobody is telling you to abandon your superstition. All Paterson wants to do is extend equal rights to gays.

All religions are nonsense but most you can live with. Evangelical Christianity is an exception. It is the enemy, the enemy of liberty, the enemy of science, the enemy of democracy and the enemy of civilization. I fear we won’t be safe from religious tyranny until all the Evangelical Christian churches are a big pile of ashes.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Prayer Request?

I was a tad surprised to find a Prayer Request e-mail in my corporate inbox from a woman I didn’t know and about someone that I didn’t know either. I checked the e-mail distribution and she sent it to everyone in the division where she works plus the “Battlefield Lab Access List” in the division where I currently hang my hat. That’s what got me pulled into the distribution.

I assume everyone in her division knows the person in question, apparently a lady due for surgery later in the month, but it would appear the Battlefield types, like myself, aren’t familiar with her. That didn’t stop one of the guys from responding that he’d pray for her even though he didn’t know who she was.

My immediate reaction was that the e-mail was a clear violation of company policy, especially given the breadth of distribution, a policy that everyone has to sit through a boring refresher briefing on yearly. Then I remembered that I never met a rule I didn’t break if the situation called for it and had to chuckle at myself. I’m sure someone will let her know that it was technically a no-no but I doubt it will go any further than that.

Besides, her heart was in the right place.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. The e-mail got me thinking about the logic of prayer as it relates to the Christian definition of God.

God is Omniscient. That means he knows everything that has happened, is happening and will happen until the end of time. That means he’s known for thousands of years that the lady referred to in the e-mail was going to become ill.

God is Omni-benevolent. That means everything he does is good and, I would assume, he does all good things. So why didn’t he prevent this woman from becoming ill? Was it because he chose not to or was it because he was incapable of preventing her illness?

God is All-Powerful. That means the second option above, that he was incapable, is impossible. That leaves he chose not to. Why would God do that especially if he is so benevolent and loving? The only possible option is that, even if we mortals can’t see it, this lady’s illness and suffering will lead to a greater good.

You buy that one? Personally I don’t. I think it’s a load of nonsense. Yet I’m sure millions of people would explain it just that way and follow it up with “we have to have faith because we can’t understand God’s plan” or something to that effect.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s return to the question of the logic of prayer. If God chose not to prevent this lady’s illness because her illness is for the greater good and a part of his divine plan, then I have to assume her recovery or death is a part of it as well don’t I?

So what’s the point of praying? Is it an attempt to change God’s mind? But, wait a minute, God is Omniscient, that means he’s known for thousands of years how many people were going to pray for this lady, how often they were going to pray and whether or not it was going to make any difference.

If her operation needs to be a success, then she will recover regardless of whether or not anyone prays for her won’t she? If her operation needs to fail in order to fit in with God’s plan, then she’s toast regardless of how many people pray isn’t she?

That sounds terrible fatalistic doesn’t it?

Perhaps all God wants is for one agnostic or atheist somewhere to ask that she get better? Ok, I can do that. Please Lord, if you exist, and if you’re listening, please help make the operation a success and let her recover. Thank you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter 2009

Well, another Easter has arrived but it’s pretty much business as usual for a Sunday as far as I can see. I can remember when Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving were days where pretty much everything was closed. If you hadn’t remembered to fill up with gas the day before, you could be in trouble. I was a smoker in those days and I remember having a hard time getting a pack of cigarettes if I’d forgotten to put in a supply.

Today I see little or no difference from a normal Sunday. Even my local Rite-Aid (nee Eckerd) is open. Is this just another indication of the decline of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, in the country?

Probably, but unlike Newsweek I’m not quite ready to start declaring a Post-Christian America just yet.

It will come eventually, but it’s not going to be an easy road nor a short one. Fundamentalist Christianity is taking a bit of a pounding at the moment but the beast is far from dead. I’m sure there’s a ways to before we’re safe from the idiocy of religion.

But that’s doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Easter. Now where did I put those chocolate eggs?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

And Then There Were Four

Vermont has become the fourth state to legalize gay marriage and the first state to legalize it through legislative action. The Vermont legislation this morning overrode a veto by Republican Governor Jim Douglas and signed the bill into law.

I don’t know how much of a role the earlier decision, by the Iowa Supreme Court, that Iowa’s one man, one woman marriage statute was unconstitutional played in the override decision, but I suspect it may have been critical in getting enough votes in the Vermont House of Representatives.

Now the battle shifts to California, New York and New Jersey.

In California, the California Supreme Court must decide if it will overturn the Proposition 8 ballot initiative which reinstated a gay marriage ban after the Supreme Court had declared the ban unconstitutional. The question before the court is whether Proposition 8 is more than a simple amendment and strips fundamental legal protections from a specific minority.

New York, where out of state gay marriages are already recognized, and New Jersey are both working toward legislative approval of gay marriage.

And the Zeitgeist moves forward again. “So comrades, come rally, and the last fight let us face.”

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Gay Marriage Opposition

Obviously the Iowa Supreme Court decision has resulted in a flurry of outrage, tantrums and the general gnashing of teeth. I decided to listen in order to get a handle on exactly what these people see as the problem.

Clearly, and apparently foremost, they appear to be upset over secular society recognizing as acceptable something that their religion describes as detestable (NIV) or an abomination (KJV). They actually translate this acceptance into an attack upon their freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

I’m having a hard time accepting that one. Granted the acceptance of homosexuality carries with it an inference (and in the California Supreme Court decision more than an inference) that you are being bigoted if you criticize or condemn it.

And? I’m missing the problem here. No one is pushing for laws against condemning it. Feel free to attack it from the pulpit, or the congregation, if your religion says it’s an immoral perversion. You can even attack racial integration and/or the end of slavery in the same sermon if you think that Genesis 9:26-27 dictates one, the other, or both.

This is the old insistence of Christians that not only must I allow them their moral viewpoint, I must also extend to that moral viewpoint an acceptance that it is the right moral viewpoint. Somehow if I disagree, that gets translated into persecution.

WRONG! The last time I looked, I was entitled to my own opinion. Feel free to view homosexuality as a sinful perversion. Feel free to continue to condemn it. Feel free to try and convince gays that they should either subject themselves to Conversion Therapy, in order to become straight, or else remain celibate.

Of course don’t be surprised if gays continue to take offense at these pronouncements.

Here’s the bottom line, even if society’s acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage was an intrusion upon your freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and I maintain it isn’t, it would still be the right thing because YOUR RIGHTS END WHERE SOMEONE ELSE’S BEGIN.

The single most fundamental right in a democracy, or for that matter any civilized society, is the recognition that everyone is equal under the law. We’re a long ways from that ideal. Money and racism still appear to influence our legal system but that’s a matter of practicality that we need to work on.

But before you can work on it, you have to accept the basic principle that everyone should be equal under the law. This is the foundation upon which the common law is built; it is a prerequisite for the administration of justice and it is expressly guaranteed to all citizens of the United States by the 14th Amendment.

Now, equality under the law does not mean unrestricted equality. It doesn’t mean everyone should have an equal amount of money, equal possessions, equal fame, equal prestige or an equally attractive spouse.

There is a difference between the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and stuff that you get either as an accident of birth, luck or sheer hard work and perseverance.

So, the question becomes where does marriage fit in? Is it a privilege reserved to those of us lucky enough to be born heterosexual or is a subset of the unalienable right of the pursuit of happiness?

Beyond the “my religion says it’s a bad thing” argument there are some secondary arguments related to public health issues which appear to be related to some homosexual lifestyles and a general revulsion of homosexual practices, especially male on male practices.

As far as the public health issues, if any, I don’t know enough to comment but I sort of suspect that, assuming they do exist, acceptance of gays in general would go a long ways toward eliminating many, if not all, of those problematic lifestyles.

As for the revulsion aspect, hey, I’m as squeamish about that as anyone but I’m also squeamish about some stuff that heterosexual couples (groups?) supposedly engage in. I’d really rather not know what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Besides, it’s really not anyone else’s business.

So I listened, but I still didn’t find any valid argument against gay marriage. I’m sorry but “my religion says it’s a bad thing,” “it may be bad for you” and “I find what you do disgusting” are not valid reasons for relegating some folks to the status of second class citizens. It just doesn’t strike me as fair.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Victory in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court has declared that the Iowa law restricting marriage to a man and a woman violates the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. Allow me to quote the Iowa Supreme Court.

"If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded."

I just love the term "exceedingly persuasive justification."

This is an extremely important decision and, with the California Supreme Court considering the question of repealing Proposition 8 and the Governor of Vermont considering whether to sign the first legislative bill legalizing gay marriage, probably couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment.

Of course, there’s always the right wing’s take on the matter as illustrated in the comments of a Des Moines pastor who is reported by the AP as saying "It's a perversion and it opens the door to more perversions. What’s next?"

Wow, two mistakes in an 11 word sentence. First, I debate it’s a perversion if, as currently suspected, homosexuality is a natural variant and not based upon a voluntary decision. And second, the good pastor is engaging in the slippery slope fallacy. Nothing is next because nothing else is in the same “no choice about the matter” bucket that homosexuality appears to be in.

If I sound soft on the “no choice” aspect it’s because while the evidence compiled so far certainly appears to strongly indicate that homosexuality is not a choice, I’m not certain that a consensus has been formed that the evidence is conclusive. Personally I’m persuaded, but I get the feeling there is still some doubt among other than right wing airheads.

Hopefully this ruling will encourage the troops in New York and New Jersey who are working towards a legislative legalization of gay marriage and where sympathetic governors are in office.

Gay marriage is now legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa while California, Vermont, New York and New Jersey are teetering on the edge. At this rate it won’t be long before the split among the states becomes untenable and the U.S. Supreme Court, which abhors inconsistency among the states, will have to make a decision.

I don't see how the U.S. Supreme Court, assuming that it remains true to the U.S. Constitution, can rule other than that gay marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment which states:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The last time I looked gays and lesbians were still citizens of the United States.