christmas charade

By: Derek Dyson

Saturday evening marked yet another annual Holiday Parade of Lights in our fair city.  An event where local businesses and organizations strut their stuff through the packed corridors of downtown skyscrapers; sidewalks teaming with bundled up children and enthusiastic adults, each presumably waiting to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus or a fancy float or something.  I’m not quite sure. What I am sure about is that our esteemed Senator James Inhofe and his majestic steed were definitely not present at this soiree.  For the third year in a row he took a stand and refused to participate in the ancient art of parading, basically because someone changed one word to an almost identical word on his event calendar. One of the major sponsors of the parade, This Land Press, has written on this subject extensively so I won’t go into it here. What I will go into is how our Senator, a man who in ‘94 ran on the platform “god, gays and guns” and actually won (way to go Oklahoma voters!), uses his religion as a crutch to make decisions on behalf of our state on a daily basis, while throwing rational thought out the window in the process.

Let’s take this parade for instance. To Inhofe this is yet another secular “War on Christmas”.  A buzz-word that has been touted by every Fox News analyst and AM radio host in the business for the last 10 years.  Calling it a war is probably a little harsh, but if you’re trying to take Christ’s name out of a holiday that is based on the guys birthday maybe it’s warranted, right?  But more so than every other deity and god-man that just so happened to call December 25th his birthday as well?  Especially considering that almost all of them did so long before Constantine and the Roman Empire decided to sign the day over to Christ in the 4th Century.

Lets start with the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. He was born on December 25th and was well known for turning water into wine when he needed to impress party goers. Two-thousand years before him, the Egyptian god Osiris shared this popular birthday, on which he was born of a virgin and visited by 3 wise men.  During his mortal life, he ran around Egypt performing miracles and other magic tricks for the locals until they got mad and executed him. Not to worry, because 3 days later he rose from the dead and returned to Aaru (Egyptian heaven) to judge the masses for their sins.  There are many more, but I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson. Suffice it to say, December 25th has been celebrated by our ancestors for millennia, not because of Christ, but simply because of an astrological occurrence.

Looking to the stars for guidance, primitive man tried to make sense of a world that seemed chaotic and unfair. In turn, they established elaborate myths around these stars to ease their minds. December 25th is the center of many of these myths, simply because it falls around the shortest day of the year, or the Winter Solstice.  In most cultures it signified the “rebirth” of the crop cycle, an encouraging sign that Spring was on its way. It’s really that simple.

If it’s all that simple, why are so many pundits and political elites crying foul?  Why is Jim Inhofe boycotting a parade that, if we want to be historically accurate, should probably be called “The Pagan Solstice Extravaganza of Wine and Orgies” instead of “Christmas Parade”? Well, that’s simple too. Today in American politics religion is important. So important that 49% of American voters say they would not vote for an Atheist presidential candidate, no matter where that candidate stood on other issues. So important in fact, that guys like Inhofe have to go to extreme measures, more accurately the extreme right, to appease Christian conservative leaders if they want to secure the Evangelical vote.

Shortly after September 11th Pat Robertson interviewed Jerry Falwell, instantly making newsreels because of the incendiary remarks that were made as to why they believed the attacks occurred.  In the interview Falwell boasts “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America…I point the finger in their face and say you helped this happen.” Not batting an eye, Robertson sits there and willfully agrees.

This is important for two reasons. First because Robertson at that time headed the Christian Coalition, a lobby and activist group that Mr. Inhofe and 41 out of 51 of his Republican peers voted in line with 100% of the time in 2004. Secondly, because six months after Falwells remarks, Inhofe mimicked his words on the Senate floor and took it a step further saying “One of the reasons I believe the spiritual door was opened for an attack against the United States of America, is that the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and demand it with pressure, not to retaliate in a significant way against the terrorist strikes that have been launched against them.”  A spiritual door?  So according to Inhofe, god let 9-11 happen because America won’t let Israel nuke its neighbors?  Are those the sentiments of an elected official that you want representing you at one of the highest levels of government?

Well, if you are an Evangelical Dispensationalist and believe that the State of Israel was handed over by god in 1948 in order to spawn the Anti-christ, a necessary step for bringing on the second coming of Jesus and eventually the Rapture, then you’re probably ok with it. As for me, mythological pandering should not be a deciding factor in the diplomatic process, especially concerning the State of Israel.

Inhofe has also attempted to push religiously themed bills through congress.  In 1998 he backed the “Religious Freedom Amendment”, which was an attempt to make things like prayer and religious symbols a staple in the public domain, mainly schools and courthouses.  When asked if he would be ok with providing vegetarian lunches for Buddhists or allowing Muslim students to pray to Mecca five times a day he invoked the ever-present “America was founded as a Christian Nation” response, showing yet another feat of intolerance and cognitive dissonance that is jaw dropping to say the least.

At this point I think it’s important to point out that Senator Inhofe is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works and an avid climate change denier. In 2009 he compiled a list of roughly 700 “prominent scientists” who disputed claims that global warming was factual and influenced by human activities.  On this list were men like Chris Allen, who has no college education or formal training in climate science and is a major Creationism promoter for the Southern Baptist Church to boot.  Where did Mr. Inhofe get Chris Allens credentials as a prominent scientist? The same place he got many of the names?  From the Discovery Institute’s list of “prominent scientists” who refute Darwinian Evolution by natural selection of course.  It turns out the Discovery Institute is nothing more than a lobby group with deep pockets and a strong anti-science agenda. A group of people who have among other things, attempted to rewrite the textbooks in many public science classrooms and have a history of funding the all-too-real Creation museums situated throughout the Midwest. Each complete with such attractions as the famous picture of Jesus riding a dinosaur with a saddle and an in depth explanation of how Noah’s flood created the Grand Canyon in a matter of days.

This is where our Senator finds his scientific experts.  In “museums” that attempt to explain to our children that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans kept dinosaurs as pets.  All this work in an attempt to uphold their mythical Bronze-age explanations to some of the most pressing and important scientific questions in modern human history.

If these things don’t disturb you, look at it this way.  One of our most powerful elected officials is at least somewhat of a religious fanatic.  He resides on the foremost committee on environmental protection, yet is so anti-science that he refuses to side with the vast majority of international experts on that very issue. He sympathizes with the leaders of the Creationist movement and denies Darwinian Evolution. A basic biological fact that is noticed as so by 100% of the biologist in the National Academy of Sciences.  He does this outright and with no alternative explanation on either of these subjects. And all for one basic reason.  Because his faith and his Evangelical constituents demand it of him.

On the local level we’ve recently heard about Senator Inhofe because he refused to come to a parade.  This pales in comparison to why he’s known on  the national level.  Nationally he’s known for being one of the most conservative, controversial and anti-science members of Congress, where he sits as a ranking member on two key committees.  At the risk of sounding flippant, I propose that next year Tulsan’s get their priorities straight and instead of asking him to a parade, ask him (and fellow voters) if we should have put him in this position of power in the first place.

 

All Stem Cells Go to Heaven?

By: Derek Dyson

In March of 2009, as promised, President Obama lifted an 8-year ban on embryonic stem cell research that had previously been imposed by the Bush Administration. This ban stopped labs from developing new cell lines for research and effectively put American scientists a decade behind the rest of the world. This is because they were now forced to derive stem cells from other sources (skin cells for instance), which proved to be an arduous and inefficient method to accomplish a task that had already been done effectively (through the use of embryos) for many years. In August of 2010 a federal court halted Obama’s executive order, citing the “Dickey-Wicker” rule that Federal Funds cannot be used in any research that will lead to the destruction of human embryonic cells. Finally, last July the case was dismissed and federal grant money was again made available to American Colleges and research institutions.

When President Obama originally signed the Executive Order in 2009 he also ordered the White House Office of Science and Technology to “Restore scientific integrity to government decision making”.  Why exactly do we need to “restore” the scientific integrity of a nation that put a man on the moon and developed the Internet?  It’s no secret that scientific literacy in America is on the decline.  After all, more people in this country believe in ghosts than believe in (or understand) the concept of evolution.  In a society that is so dependent on science and technology, how (or why) are so many Americans completely out of touch with even the most basic of scientific principles? Why do so many Americans with a rudimentary understanding of something like climate change, adamantly disagree with an international community of experts on the subject?  I would certainly say that education is a big part of it, but I think more at fault is cultural bias.  A persons Philosophy (political and religious) is a likely determinant of their stance on many scientific issues. The problem with this is that science, more importantly the scientific method, is inherently unbiased and fully dependent on verifiable evidence. It’s dependent on the facts. When a person denies these facts because it interferes with their personal worldview, there is a logical disconnect between their beliefs and reality that needs to be addressed.  Religious conservatives and their stance on stem cell research is a perfect example of this phenomenon.

Embryonic stem cells are basically builder cells found in human embryos at very early stages in development. The possibilities for these cells are limitless at this point, as many scientists predict major advancements in the cure of human diseases and other human insufficiencies as a direct response from the research in this field. Although close to 60% of Americans believe that this research is vital, many on the political and religious right have made attempts to stop advancements in the field altogether. This is because they believe the destruction of a human embryo is tantamount to murdering a human being.  In their minds, a human embryo is a life and presumably, among other things, contains a “soul”. On its outset this may seem like a valid and meaningful argument from their prospective.  As it turns out, it is anything but.

A majority of the people who oppose embryonic stem cell research assume that a human embryo (this is a female egg at the point when a sperm cell penetrates the wall of the egg) is the full equivalent of an actual human being, solely because it has the necessary genetic makeup to “potentially” become a living, breathing person.  This outlook shows a complete lack of knowledge on the subject of human development and an obvious lack of critical thinking. If the potential to become a human is the determining factor, their argument has no validity. Take for instance a fertilized egg (an embryo) sitting in a Petri dish at a fertilization clinic. If this fertilized egg sits in a freezer for years waiting to be used, is it a human that whole time?  Now lets say that one of those embryos (or more likely a whole slew of them) is injected into the uterus of a prospective mother with fertility issues.  If any of those embryos fail to implant into the uterus of the host female, then those embryos have absolutely no potential to become a human being. They will simply be flushed down the toilet (literally). To take this one step further, unless an embryo implants into the uterus of a fertile and healthy female and then extends onto a journey that will entail a myriad of other decisive factors leading to child birth, then that embryo will never actually become a fully developed human being.  If you are concerned with the lives of these embryos, then you should be outraged at how many of them are being flushed at fertility clinics on daily basis. Transversely, the current statistics concerning fertility and modern medicine should also outrage you to the point of taking political action.

A study done by the Presidential council on biomedical ethics in 2004 puts this whole issue into perspective. They found that of all eggs fertilized by sexual intercourse, only 49% will actually implant into the uterus of the female host. This means that half of all human embryos (potential humans or souls) are naturally aborted within the first month of fertilization. Of those that do implant into the uterus, only 67% will actually give rise to a human being, so out of 100 fertilized eggs only 49 will implant and of those 49 only 33 will result in a birth.  If a human embryo is the moral equivalent of a human being, then nearly 70% of all humans are murdered while in their mother’s womb. Ironically, if you believe that these embryos are “lives”, then this would make God the single most successful abortionist in human history. Especially when considering the thousands of years prior to modern medical advancements that have curbed these numbers. With this in mind, one would assume that The Right would be just as outraged at the vast number of naturally “destroyed” embryos as they are with the ones lost to stem cell research and to things like Plan B and medical abortions. One would assume that they would also spend millions of dollars setting up interest groups and lobbying congress to fund research on increasing fertility rates. As we can tell by their actions, Conservatives are not actually concerned with the large number of lost embryos or the potential humans they pretend to represent. What they are concerned with is a political stance.  One that is an outright attack on not only the advancement of science and reason, but also on human sexuality and the reproductive rights of women among other things.

Another way to look at the flawed logic of a stem cell research opponent, is to discuss the problems faced at a biological level if one believes that a human embryo is equivalent to a human being and therefore (for the religious) has a soul. Let’s take for instance the occurrence of biological twins. When twins are produced in a mother’s womb, a single fertilized egg is present (one soul). After fertilization, this single embryo can split into two genetically identical embryos. If the original fertilized egg contained the soul of that potential human being and then that embryo was to split into two separate embryos, which twin would receive the soul and which would go without? Most believers would arbitrarily answer “well god would give them both their own soul” presumably ending the argument with the infusion of divine intervention, but the complications do not stop there. Let’s now look at the occurrence of human-human chimeras. This is when two separate embryos are present in the womb (un-identical twins) that eventually fuse together to make a single embryo, containing the genetic makeup of two un-identical embryos. This leads to a human being that has two separate blood types or cells that contain XX chromosomes and XY chromosomes (many would recognize these people as hermaphrodites). Under the their system of logic, they would be forced to admit that this single person would be in possession of 2 souls (if only we were all so lucky). This may seem silly, but it is an accurate example of how simple logic cannot co-exist with an irrational belief system.

The issue of stem cell research is but one example of how the Evangelical movement in America has used its vast resources and political influence to adversely affect the lives of other Americans, ad hoc. With a constant and well-funded war on science (paraphrasing Chris Mooney) they have proven that their strongest assets are their vast numbers, enforced ignorance and corporate alliances. They effectively duped the American public into believing that stem cell research was un-ethical and subsequently set the field of research back almost a decade in the process.  They consistently push a religious conservative viewpoint into public policy and even attempt to do so in our public schools. State by state they attempt to combat the biological fact of natural selection and Darwinian evolution, by pushing unsubstantiated ideas through school boards and into our science classrooms.  They consistently attempt to stifle women’s reproductive rights by pushing an issue that, as I pointed out earlier, completely overlooks the almost identical “problem” of biological infertility.  By adding global climate change, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the AIDS epidemic in Africa to the list, it is easy to see that Conservatives, religious and political alike, are making decisions that adversely effect this world as a whole. With that said, we as educated Americans must take a stand. A stand against religion in political discourse, against corporate greed and inequality, and against any and all anti-science rhetoric at a governmental level.  As cliche as it sounds, our future and the future of our children literally depend on it.