Sunday, April 08, 2007


Don't miss the online debate (Beliefnet) between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan.

I particularly liked this excerpt from Sam Harris' post1.2. (I have edited this into shorter paragraphs)

"First, on my frustration with religious moderates, to which you alluded: It is true that your colleagues in the religious middle have taught me to appreciate the candor and the one-note coherence of religious fanatics. I have found that whenever someone like me or Richard Dawkins criticizes Christians for believing in the imminent return of Christ, or Muslims for believing in martyrdom, religious moderates claim that we have caricatured Christianity and Islam, taken "extremists" to be representative of these "great" faiths, or otherwise overlooked a shimmering ocean of nuance.

" We are invariably told that a mature understanding of the historical and literary contexts of scripture renders faith perfectly compatible with reason, and our attack upon religion is, therefore, "simplistic," "dogmatic," or even "fundamentalist." As a frequent target of such profundities, I can attest that they generally come moistened to a sickening pablum by great sighs of condescension. Present company excluded.

"But there are several problems with such a defense of moderate religion. First, many moderates assume that religious "extremism" is rare and therefore not all that consequential. Happily, you are not in this camp, but I would venture that you are in a minority among religious moderates.

"As you and I both know, religious extremism is not rare, and it is hugely consequential. Forty-four percent of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. This idea is extreme in almost every sense-extremely silly, extremely dangerous, extremely worthy of denigration-but it is not extreme in the sense of being rare.

" The problem, as I see it, is that moderates don't tend to know what it is like to be truly convinced that death is an illusion and that an eternity of happiness awaits the faithful beyond the grave. They have, as you say, "integrated doubt" into their faith. Another way of putting it is that they have less faith-and for good reason. The result, however, is that your fellow moderates tend to doubt that anybody ever really is motivated to sacrifice his life, or the lives of others, on the basis his heartfelt religious beliefs.

"Moderate doubt-which I agree is an improvement over fundamentalist certitude in most respects-often blinds its host to the reality and consequences of full-tilt religious lunacy. Such blindness is now particularly unhelpful, given the hideous collision with Islamic certainty that is unfolding all around us.

"Second, many religious moderates imagine, as you do, that there is some clear line of separation between extremist and moderate religion. But there isn't. Scripture itself remains a perpetual engine of extremism: because, while He may be many things, the God of the Bible and the Qur'an is not a moderate. Read scripture more closely and you do not find reasons for religious moderation; you find reasons to live like a proper religious maniac-to fear the fires of hell, to despise nonbelievers, to persecute homosexuals, etc.

"Of course, one can cherry-pick scripture and find reasons to love one's neighbor and turn the other cheek, but the truth is, the pickings are pretty slim, and the more fully one grants credence to these books, the more fully one will be committed to the view that infidels, heretics, and apostates are destined to be ground up in God's loving machinery of justice. "


Our daughter Marie asked for a little teen quiz for Easter to help distribute goodies as quiz rewards (I think I have that right).

The result is posted here as a modest contribution to the human race and intelligent discussion.


1. we are living in an "inter-glacial period": these last about how long typically?

ans: about 10 - 20 thousand years

2. most of the time the planet experiences "ice age conditions" in which glaciers cover large areas of the high latitude regions. How long do ice ages last typically?

ans: about 100 thousand years

3. Roughly how long ago was the last "interglacial period" in which the planet warmed up?

ans: about 125 thousand years ago

4. At the end of each "ice age" (ie at the beginning of each inter-glacial period) there is a major global warming. Roughly how long ago was this last major global warming?

ans: about 15 thousand years ago

5. What are the most important atmospheric greenhouse gases( besides water vapor) , and what are their chemical formulas?

ans: 1.carbon dioxide C O2, 2. methane C H4, 3. nitrogen dioxide N O2

6. What do these chemical formulas mean?

ans. C O2 = molecule consisting of one carbon atom bound to two oxygen atoms
C H4 1 carbon + 4 hydrogen
N O2 1 nitrogen + 2 oxygen

7. Roughly how long will carbon dioxide stay up in the atmosphere once injected?

ans: roughly 100 years

8. If planet earth had no atmosphere which produced a greenhouse effect, how much colder would the earth surface be on average?

ans: roughly 54 fahrenheit degrees colder than now.

9. What is the freezing temperature of fresh water (in degrees fahrenheit) ?

ans: 32 degrees F

10. As the global average temperature rises (global warming) at what latitude does the average temperature rise fastest?

ans: at the high latitudes near the N and S poles.


1. If the quantity (3 times some number ) plus 2 is equal to 8, what is the number?

ans: 2

2. What is 0.615 rounded to the nearest tenth?

ans: 0.6

3. Express the quantity ( 5/12 - 3/8 ) as a fraction in the simpest form.

ans: 1/24

4. If the tax on $27 is $1.62, what is the percentage tax rate?

ans: 6 percent


1. When did the U.S. revolutionary war happen?

ans: 1775 - 1783

2. When did the U.S. Civil War happen?

ans 1861 - 1865

3. When did World War II happen?

ans: 1939 - 1945


1. What percentage of human DNA is identical to chimpanzee DNA?

ans: 98.4%

2. what is the rough age of our universe?

ans: about 14 billion years

3. what is the rough age of our sun?

ans: about 4 billion years

4. what is the rough age of planet earth?

ans: about 4 billion years

5. when did life originate on earth?

ans: about 3 billion years ago

6. when did the dinosaurs become extinct?

ans: about 65 million years ago

7. when did our ancestors become distinct from the ancestors of chimps and gorillas?

ans: about 6 to 10 million years ago

8. where did the shared ancestors of humans, chimps, and gorillas live?

ans: in Africa

9. what would our ancestors have been classified as when they became a distinct species?

ans: another species of ape

10. when did our ancestors begin habitually walking on their hind legs?

ans: about 4 million years ago

11. when did our ancestors begin using stone tools?

ans: about 2.5 million years ago

12: when did some of our ancestors look enough like us that that are now called homo sapiens?

ans: about 500 thousand years ago

13. How many ice ages have homo sapiens lived through:

ans: about five

(here we leave the realm of simple numbers ... )

14. what is meant by "Cro-Magnon"?

ans: this refers to anatomically modern people (looking like us) . named after a cave in France where their bones were first identified, but later found in France and Spain generally, living during the Late Ice Age ( about 40 thousand years ago), and using many more sophisticated tools, especially for hunting large animals.

15. would a Cro-Magnon have been able to learn to fly a jet aircraft?

ans: yes

16. why did it take so long for humans to learn how to fly?

ans: required first the invention of domestication of plants and animals, invention of writing and mathematics and calculus, understanding of chemistry and physics - all this took a long time building on the achievements of the previous generations.