Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Love Making Facts

The other day, I saw a quote from someone (I can't remember who or anything) that the science lab is where facts are made. I had never thought about my job like that, but, the more I think about that quotation, I realize how true it is.

I've been a PhD graduate student in microbiology for nearly half a decade now.  I love my job.  I love making facts.  I love being a scientist.

Being a scientist has helped me think rationally about reality and the world - helped me shed my superstitious and supernatural religious beliefs and realize that this life is all we get.  It's helped me think critically about events and claims - helped me understand why vaccines are a great thing and homeopathy is completely worthless.  Being a scientist has helped me realize a lot more about life and the world, more than I can put in a short post.

I love making facts in the lab. I love learning about other facts made in other labs. I love learning about reality and the world around us and why things work the way they work. I love being a scientist.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Imagine there's no heaven…

The first religious belief I gave up was the belief in a hell.  I don't remember the exact day, but I remember the feeling when I stopped believing in a place of torture for those unworthy of heaven.  It was a huge relief; a huge weight off my shoulders.  For the first time in my life, I wasn't terrified of dying.  I'm not looking forward to it, no, but I knew, now, that there was no risk of being tortured for not believing just right.

Hell is a terrible belief.  Sure, it makes some people feel good to know that Hitler is getting his and it makes for a good Simpsons episode.  But think about it.  I approach this from a Christian perspective, because that's how I was raised.  God is all loving…your "father in heaven" who loves every one on Earth.  But, you have to follow certain rules, or else god, who is also all powerful, will have no choice but to send to to hell where you will be tortured for eternity.  Why would hell exist if an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god exists?  Why would an all-loving and merciful god ever want, ever to punish one of his loved creations for eternity?  It's absurd when you think about it, but it's powerful.  It's the powerful fear of death.

Giving up hell was one of the best moments of my life.  It gave me freedom to enjoy my life and freedom to be happy with the time I have here.

I'll write more about this later, but this is what I'm thinking about now.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

It is a myth

I saw a story on the news this morning about a guy fighting agasint his school because the biology textbook refers to creationism a biblical myth that states that the universe was created by the Judeo-Christian god.  He is outraged at the "bias" against Christianity and demands the book be pulled from the classroom.

The thing is, creationism is a biblical myth.  A complete and utter fabrication by people who had no idea where rain came from or why the sun rose everyday.  They had no idea how the earth was formed and certainly little conception of how the earth relates to the solar system and Milky Way.  It is no different from the other myths created by people to try to explain the world around them (Greek and Mayan myths come to mind).  I really think the majority of Christians know that the world wasn't created in six days by god, but that the story was used to try to explain the world as these people knew it then.

But, regardless of whether you think the earth is 6000 years old or 4.3 billion years old, surely we can all agree that creationism and religion has absolutely no place in any public science classroom.  Just like we don't teach kids the Mayan myth about creation, we shouldn't teach any other religious myths about how the world formed.  We should teach the science about how the earth was formed.  We have plenty of scientific evidence to form a scientific theory about how and when the earth formed.  We have replaced myth with science.  The more we can replace myth with fact, the better off we'll be.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Time Out of Mind

Time Out of Mind is one of the greatest albums I've ever heard.  Bob Dylan has made lots of albums (34 studio albums alone) but I think this is his best.  It's not his most popular, but it's one of my favorite albums of any artist, anytime.

I listened to it the other day and I realized all over again why I love it.  To me, it's a perfect mixture of depressing realizations and glimmers of hoped all mixd with dramatic, yet soft melodies.  It's a window into the singer's state of mind.  The singer is at a crossroads:  does he pursue his unrequited love or does he journey into the cold and unknown world to search for someone else.  It's a wonderful mix of love and hate, but not angry hate or mushy love, but love and hate in the mind of a rational and controlled person.  He's not young enough to yell or write bad love songs, but he's not ready to be alone.  The singer is completely and totally lost at this point in his life and he is trying to find a way to go on…trying to figure out what the next step is.

Bob Dylan is, rightfully so, a legend in his own time.  He's one of the greatest musicians ever and people who disagree have no idea what they are talking about.  He's not a novelty act like some artists from the 60s, but continues to push himself creatively with every album and with every live show.  This album, to me, makes Bob Dylan a real person and not some idol on high who has everything figured out.  In Time Out of Mind, he's a confused man who isn't ready to give up the past, but knows he has to face the uncertain future.

Go buy it and listen to it.  Then listen to it again.  You'll thank me later.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Is Atheism a Belief System?

There's something I've wondered for a long time: is atheism a belief system? Is believing in no gods the same thing as believing in greater than or equal to one god?

I consider myself an agnostic with heavy leanings toward atheism. However, as a scientist, absence of evidence does not always mean evidence of absence. I am pretty, almost completely sure there is no "supreme being" but I can't completely and totally rule it out. However, I live my life the only one I have.

I do not consider atheism a belief system. It is the freedom from belief systems; the freedom from dogma and control. Giving up religion was the most freeing moment of my life. I was finally free of all the rules and the guilt of never living up to perfection. It was a great "revelation" if you will allow me to use that word.

I've just been wondering though if people think atheism is a belief system. I, for one, don't think it is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Charity Without the Events

There's something I've been thinking about for a few years now. It started back in undergrad when some friends helped with the Race for the Cure (or some similar breast cancer thing). They raised a lot of money and had a big walk/jog event and it was very emotional and uplifting. Since then, I've noticed something about charity groups - people want something tangible from their donation.

I've wondered why people need an event or something to give money to a group. A friend of mine works with a group called St. Baldricks. It's a group that raises money for childhood cancer research. It's an organization with a great mission. The group members raise money and after collecting it, shave their heads in "solidarity" with the kids with cancer. Why can't all the money go directly to research without the big event? I understand solidarity with cancer patients, but I have to wonder how much more money would be sent to research if the events were not held in the first place?

If I had more time, I'd like to see the comparison between groups who host big events (e.g. Race for the Cure or St. Baldricks) and groups that don't host big events as far as I know (e.g. Heifer International or Bread for the World). Do people give more when they get a big event in return? Just something I've been thinking about for a while.

Monday, September 22, 2008


One thing I kind of miss from my smaller undergraduate school is hanging out with non-scientists. Communication majors, theatre majors, art history majors, political science majors…they all have very different ways of seeing and interpreting the world than science majors. I enjoyed talking to them about "deep" topics. While we didn't agree on everything, we could discuss nearly all topics pretty well.

Until it turned to evolution and creationism. I remember one Darwin Day lecture well. Dr. Barbara Forest (a key player in the Dover, PA intelligent design case) came to our school to give a lecture. I was shocked that she was coming to our little school and very excited to hear her lecture. She gave a pretty intense lecture naming people we need to be aware of for promoting intelligent design and trying to get it taught in schools. It was a warning lecture really. Now, I would have liked a different type of lecture, but this was good. When it was done, I was feeling excited and ready to "fight the good fight" so to speak. But afterward, I got to talking to my friends. Among them were a chemistry major, a physics major, two other biology majors, and a philosophy major. The other science majors were infuriated with the talk. They felt insulted and felt like Dr. Forest was "making fun of them for what they believe." She wasn't, but they just went on and on and on and on. I have never been more uncomfortable to present my opinion. Every time I tried to defend the talk, they got more angry about it and more angry at me for agreeing with her. Only the philosophy major agreed with me.

A while later, I was thinking about that and I realized something. I think the main reason people have a problem accepting evolution as scientific fact is what it says about human beings. My friends and I were raised in various degrees of a Christian environment. We were all raised to believe man was above the animals, put here by god (in his own image nonetheless) to rule over the animals and the earth. I think people don't care one bit about evolution as it pertains to why there are thousands of species of beetles or how fish evolved into amphibians. But I think people get very on edge when evolution says that we are nothing more than primates that evolved a thinking brain instead of claws to survive. People don't like thinking that they aren't special or unique. When we are placed in the same realm as lowly animals, people get defensive.

I think that's pretty sad. I don't think that the fact we are "just" animals makes us any less remarkable. No other animals as accomplished what we have accomplished…on the scale we have accomplished it on. Just think about it. For better or worse we have drastically altered the entire planet to better suit us. Chimps don't do that. Dogs don't do that. Fish don't do that. We build buildings and cars and the internet. Our little adaptation of a larger brain made us unique, just like bats are unique because they can fly. We aren't more unique than a bat, just different.

I don't know if that made sense, but I've been thinking a lot recently about why people don't want to accept evolution. To me, this seems to fit.