Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Many Die From Drugs?

Let's think about this for a second. Our government is engaged in a massive war on drugs ostensibly because of the lethal nature of these substances. This means imprisoning between half a million and a million people in the US every year. It means massive violence perpetuated against foreign countries through military aid. It means the bombing of peasants, clearing land and driving them into the hills where they must resort to drug production to avoid starvation. It means CIA funding of covert military action elsewhere in the world. It means things like the Mexican Drug War. We're talking about enormous costs, but presumably necessary due to the lethal nature of the drugs.

Just exactly how deadly are these drugs? Let's have a look. My source is here.

Annual Causes of Death in the United States
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity365,000
Microbial Agents75,000
Toxic Agents55,000
Motor Vehicle Crashes26,347
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs32,000
Incidents Involving Firearms29,000
Sexual Behaviors20,000
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect17,000
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin7,600

Seriously? The death of 17,000 entitles our government to enact policies that wreck the lives of millions of people? How would we react if we were treated like Colombia is treated? Suppose Colombia decided that they were entitled to bomb North Carolina because of lethal substances produced there. They have a far more reasonable claim since tobacco is far more lethal. Suppose further that the consumers of tobacco were mostly Colombian. How would we react to that? It isn't even a question. We'd wipe them out immediately.

And it's worse than that. Foreign countries are obligated to take tobacco and to take advertising for it or face devastating trade sanctions. Suppose that not only did Colombia bomb North Carolina but they also imposed cocaine on us and advertising for it, showing handsome people using it and extolling its virtues. The thought is like living in bizarro world, but it makes sense if you accept the logic of the drug war.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Polls Schmolls

When people don't like the implications of polls the response is frequently that polls can be made to say anything. Sort of like saying you've got your sources and I have mine and I guess it's too difficult to determine who is right. Is that fair?

So for instance yesterday Bob Dutko interview a guy by the name of Mickey Huff who contributed to this book. Huff and I see the media very much the same way. Corporate media naturally offers a product that is intended to maximize profits. This results in various skewing of the stories we hear. Dutko conceded that corporate interests are a factor but he said the media also has a left wing ideology. Huff said that's just inconsistent. Left means anti-corporatist/anarchist, which is fundamentally incompatible with being pro-corporatist. He said that studies show that in the mainstream media guests skew to the right according to studies done by media matters. Maybe he had in mind something like this.

Bob tries to blow that off by claiming that since media matters is a left wing source it is not to be trusted. He likewise has studies done by right wing groups such as the Media Research Center. Huff wouldn't accept those so Bob won't accept the claims coming out of media matters.

Huff's reply was interesting and something I agree with. No, he doesn't necessarily disagree with the studies done by MRC. Let's have a look and see. I find that it's a very rare study that I would just assert is flat out wrong. If proper scientific methodologies are followed then studies from right wingers can be trusted.

Bob was vague in his description of the so called studies, so I wasn't sure what he had in mind. But I went to MRC to see what it might offer, and they do have some polling data here. As I look through it I find I have no problem with it. I don't dismiss it because it's being reported by a right wing group. I think it's probably true.

Take this poll as an example. The public generally thinks the media is too liberal. I suspect they do. Doesn't mean they are right, but this probably is what the general public thinks. To determine if they are right you actually have to look at the content of the news. That's what the Media Matters study does. So both of these claims are correct. The majority of guests on the Sunday talk shows are conservative, but public perception is that the media is too liberal.

Just to pick another poll at random, this one shows that the public thinks media coverage of the war in Iraq is too negative and too liberal. I have no reason to doubt that this is what the public thinks.

Again, the implications of the poll can be wrongly extracted. The classic example involved New Coke. Taste tests indicated that the new flavor was preferred. But sales did not reflect that. Was the poll wrong? Not necessarily. One of the reasons the poll was misleading was that the sample size was too small. People did prefer the new Coke in small dosages because it was sweeter. But when you drink an entire bottle you might not prefer it.

Bob can't imagine that there is sometimes a sense in which the media does tilt to the right. So when presented with solid evidence he just wants to dismiss it, and he does so by pretending studies can be made to say anything. He probably rationalizes his positions on health care in a similar way. But while it is true that polls and studies can be misleading I think there is much to be learned from them and they shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. Bob should consider first that his intuitions are wrong before pretending that the result of any given study must be wrong.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Is Obama Liberal?

I spoke with Bob Dutko Friday to let him know that he's mistaken to equate Obama with liberalism. Download link is here. I'm going to also embed it just for fun. Listen below.

My last interaction with Bob was modestly hostile, so this time I thought I'd call about a subject that was maybe less likely to provoke hostility. So I went with politics. It was good and friendly.

I didn't win in this situation in terms of the way it comes across, but I'm totally fine with that. It's tough when he dominates the microphone by spinning the issue and I just don't have time to correct. For instance I pointed out that Americans generally support single payer style health care while Obama nixed it. He says something like "I would argue that this only shows that single payer is a liberal policy and the American people are liberal on that. This doesn't mean Obama isn't liberal, it means the American people are liberal." What the? What's needed here is a definition of what I mean when I say someone is liberal. I'd have loved to do that, but I have to apportion my time.

When I point out that Obama is expanding the war in Afghanistan, the surveillance state, and he's enacted an assassination policy, Bob interrupts to say "But you get no argument from me on that because I agree with him on all of that." Yeah, I know you do. That's not the point. The point is this is not liberalism. But I didn't get a chance to say that.

Notice also that I barely get started even describing why I'm saying what I'm saying and he interrupts to offer a long opening salvo rebutting my position, which I haven't even yet set forth. Obviously he sees "Jon in Commerce" in queue and he went and formulated an argument during the first commercial to offer a pre-emptive strike. Which is fine, but I just think it kind of shows why it's going to be tough, because this cuts in to time.

But really I'm happy about the call because I think it's the kind of call that can provoke thinking by Bob and his listeners. Bob lives in the Fox News cocoon where everybody hates liberalism. He knows that he holds many minority views, but I don't think he understands the full extent of how contrary his views are to the bulk of the American people. So he thinks people don't really want European style care. They do.

After my call Bob talked more about our call after the break. That's good because I know it's provoking thinking. Here's the audio of that discussion. He discovers that yes, there are indications that single payer is popular, though he says other polls show it's not supported by majorities. That's cool. I think he's gotten a little perspective that he didn't have before. Hopefully some of his listeners have as well.


Just wanted to provide some sources on the public support for single payer health care. In addition to polls that I discuss here another good source for a variety of polling data is here. Great info also at wikipedia.

Update II:

Bob claimed that Obama was rated the most liberal senator by National Review. I suspect he meant to say the National Journal. But that claim is misleading. Factcheck has the details here. In sum he was the most liberal according to the 2007 rankings. He was ranked 16 and 10 the prior years, meaning he was not the most liberal during his entire Senate career. Also the way the rankings are done may have skewed the 2007 ranking. The value is based on the % of time a Senator voted on the liberal side of an issue. In 2007 Obama missed a lot of votes. This probably affected the ranking. Details here. I stand by my argument though even if Bob's claim was accurate based on Obama's actual policy contrasted with public opinion, but it's worth noting the basis for Bob's claim.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who's Doing the Killing: Atheists or Christians

Have you heard the claim that atheism is awful because the amount of death atheism is responsible for is off the charts? For instance in this article Greg Koukl says that yes, Christianity is responsible for some death. You could look to the Inquisitions and Salem witch trials, and yes many thousands were killed. But contrast with atheism. Millions under Stalin. Millions under Mao. Conservapedia relies on Koukl heavily as they make the same case.

I decided to try and dig into the facts as best I'm able to get a handle on this claim. Who is responsible for creating the most corpses? I'm aware of many US backed atrocities that people don't talk about a whole lot. I bet if we were to tally them we might be surprised at the facts.

I found a great resource here from someone named Matthew White. He compiles the various death estimates from what appear to be credible sources and attempts to make a judgment about the totals on the basis of that information. The link I provided focuses on the top 30 atrocities of the 20th century. Digging deeper into the website provides additional information, including in the case of WWII a break down of who is responsible for what amount of the death.

What I've done is attempted to break the totals down by the religion of the responsible party. This is a little subjective and I'm certainly open to modification, but here's how I approached it. In the case where I know who an aggressor is I attribute all death to the aggressor nation. So for instance the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Muslim Afghans retaliated and killed Soviets. I'm attributing all death to the Soviets in that case. If on the other hand I don't know how to identify the aggressor I partition the death between the agents to the conflict. If a pretty good majority of all agents belong to a particular religion I attribute all death to the majority religion. If it's nearly 50/50 I likewise split the toll.

Also death includes death due to starvation. Mao and Stalin didn't necessarily put a bullet in everyone's head, but they enacted policies that lead directly to death and so they are responsible for that.

In the case of the Iran-Iraq war I split the death between Christians and Muslims because Saddam was installed by the US and both sides were provided weapons from the US. So the foot soldiers were Muslim, but the backing was Christian.

I've added a couple of additional atrocities that weren't in White's list. I use his figure for Iraqi sanctions, but it wasn't on his list possibly because he was tallying what he calls "bloodlettings." There may be other incidents that belong and I'll add them as I come to know them.

He also didn't list the Iraq/Afghan war, so I've added that. My source is here. I've also included the WTC bombings simply because they are prominent.

Numbers are in thousands.

1886-1908Congo Free State8000

1900-1999Brazilian Genocides550

1910-1920Mexican Revolution1000


1917-1922Russian Civil War

1917-1937China Warlord Era

1922-1953Stalin's Russia

1936-1939Spanish Civil War365

1945-1947German Expulsions

1945-1949Chinese Civil War

1945-1954First Indochina war400

1947India-Pakistan Partition
1948-1999N Korean Communist Regime

1949-1976Mao Zedong's China

1950-1953Korean War1400
1954-1962French-Algerian War338338

1955-1972Sudanese Civil War


1962-1992Ethiopian Civil War1400

1965-1966Indonesian Communist Massacres225225

1967-1970Nigeria: Biafran Revolt500500

1971Indo Pakistani War
1975-1994Angolan Civil War300

1976-1979Pol Pot's Reign

1976-1992Mozambique Civil War800

1980-1988Iran-Iraq War500500

1980-1989Afghanistan Soviet War

1983-1999Sudanese Civil War

1990-2003Iraqi Sanctions835

1991-1999Somali Atrocities

1994Rwandan Massacres917

1998-1999Congolese Civil War1700


2001-presentInvasions of Iraq & Afghanistan1036

Totals (Thousands)73,7455,30383,25820,675

So let's notice something here. Yes, atheists are in the lead. But the facts kind of help us recognize that this argument is not very forceful. Is atheism obviously wrong due to the death of 83 million, but Christianity is not obviously wrong because they only killed 74 million? And I would also note that this time frame is convenient from a Christian perspective. If you go out another 25 years you can tack another 26 million on the heads of Christians due to famines induced in colonial India by the British. That's enough to give Christians the lead.

Also for the most part I'm sticking with Matthew White's top 30 list. I think as I look for additional smaller items I'll see much more religious death. All the dictators imposed throughout Latin America for the last 50 years will make a big difference. Other CIA adventures (Shah in Iran, terrorism in Cuba, backing of Indonesian invasion of East Timor under Ford and through the Clinton years, etc) would again add to both the Muslim and Christian totals.

What pops out to me though is the paltry amount of Islamic death. A mere 5 million? If this argument proves anything it proves the truth of Islam.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cliffe Knechtle Should Have Been An Actor

Last week I had the chance to go to the MSU campus and watch Cliffe Knechtle from Give Me An Answer debate Jeremy Beahan, who does the Reasonable Doubts podcast. Looks like the audio is at Jeremy's website.

This Cliffe Knechtle guy is somewhere between funny and impressive. His presentation is animated and somewhat dramatic. His voice tone comes off with exaggerated inflections. His hands move a lot. He's pacing, sometimes getting himself into a horse stance. It's kind of strange, but on the other hand I think it's effective. In other words, nobody is going to fall asleep listening to him. What he says sticks. Also he doesn't need any notes. The whole thing is memorized. Every dramatic pause is planned. The guy is polished.

Jeremy was the opposite. He isn't a professional debater so he's not able to just wing the presentation. He relied on his notes, especially early. I thought he started out at a little bit of a deficit because of that, but the content was very good. And as the debate wore on I could see that he was relaxing more and more, and this made his presentation better and better. So I thought he did great.

After the talk I approached Cliffe and debated with him a little. He had said that the disciples all died for the belief that Jesus rose, so I asked him how he knows that. For instance how does he know that someone like Andrew was martyred for his claim that he had seen Jesus physically raised. "Church tradition." What tradition. "It's in the church fathers." OK, where? Give me a document. (Slight pause). "I Clement." No. "Origen, Papias." No they don't. "This was the policy of the Roman Empire. You deny the emperor worship and you die."

And off we went from there. It was good fun. Cliffe was sort of being reasonable, but I sensed as a few students started to gather around and listen he was starting to get animated and dramatic. It was time to put on a show again. And the discussion started to get a little less productive. For instance I asked if there are any critical scholars that think Matthew wrote Matthew. F.F. Bruce. I said no, Bruce is a conservative scholar. "Oh, so you think if they are conservative they aren't real scholars. That's extremely arrogant and absurd." I tried to explain to him over and over that I simply defined "critical" in such a way that conservative was excluded and I wasn't saying conservatives are not legitimate scholars. But he held on to this caricature of my position like a pit bull. It was like a life line.

I bumped into him in the hall way and spoke again with him, with no students around. I explained my points a little further and he seemed to listen very attentively and said that I was making very interesting points that are worth thinking about. With the spectators gone there was no need to go into an act again.

Then again maybe the later warmness and attentiveness was an act. Cliffe is pretty good at creating a show.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jason Engwer Verbally Abuses Greek Professor

Jason, do you realize that you are leaving a record of your behavior online for all time? Don't you think you should consider how your treatment of others will be perceived, at least for posterity?

Jason was provided a rare opportunity recently. A professor of a university was interested in dialoguing with him on matters of church history, a topic that is of great interest to Jason. In my world this is a chance to exercise the brain and learn a lot. You can argue with typical internet debators and you may not learn much, but a man of this caliber that disagrees with you will push you to your limits. You'll gain much from it.

Richard teaches classical Greek at a university. Richard is Yale educated and speaks 12 languages. His writing style reveals a level of intelligence that is off the Triablogue scale. Find a commenter there with this level of ability. He tells us that he rarely engages internet apologists due to their objectives, methods, and manner, but he's making an exception here.

If Jason was interested in learning he would probably consider avoiding the abusive language that he typically uses. He knows immediately that this is how you chase this intelligent person away. So obviously he would be foolish to engage in the type of verbal abuse that nearly got him banned from str. Telling people how ridiculous their arguments are, triumphantly proclaiming yourself the victor in an exchange. These are things that are not uncommon in Jason's typical exchanges with lay people, but real professors are unlikely to stick around for this kind of thing.

So here is an example of how Richard initiated a post with Jason:

Hi Jason,

Thank you for attempting to provide some primary literary evidence for some of your assertions. As a historian and literary scholar, I feel most comfortable dealing with the primary documents, particularly in their original languages. I would thus prefer if you would keep your primary references within this thread and use citations to set forth your points. Your work in this regard is much appreciated and has a higher potential for being engaging if not compelling.

Richard's tone was like this throughout. Take a guess at how Jason's tone turned in short order:

You keep making these irrational demands of early Christian sources, then you act as though their failure (or alleged failure) to meet those demands is problematic. Instead, the problem is with your irrational demand.

You've failed to demonstrate that sources like Ignatius are analogous.

Your dating of Luke to the middle of the second century is ridiculous.

Your initial claim was ridiculous, and your revised claim is still ridiculous.

This might be enough to chase away many professors, but Richard persisted, writing things such as the following.

You do not need to say (as you have) that my ideas are "ridiculous" or "lack support". You can simply and cordially ask. I suppose this is where the apologist and I are on very different planets. I believe in mutually beneficial discourse where everyone is intelligent, has something to offer, and has something to learn. Whereas the apologist often only wants a spectacle, a dogfight aimed at demonstrating the viability of the signature claims of his socio-religious group. That is why I have chosen to exclude Evangelicals from my academic dialogues. Such loaded intentions typically skew the discussion so pathetically that they end up resulting in hostility, social abuse, and obfuscation of the central issues. I hope, Jason, that you can surprise me by conducting yourself as a gentlemen, thus disturbing my stereotype, should you find it offense or unfair.

So we can see that Richard's prior suspicions are being confirmed in his own mind, and if Jason is remotely interested in continuing this conversation he should immediately attempt to scale back the obnoxious rhetoric. Here is how Jason replied to the above comment.

Your references to "Evangelical apologists" and your dismissing of scholars like Ehrman and Ludemann don't allow you much room to object to terms like "ridiculous" and "lack support".

And with that Richard departed the conversation. Who talks to people like this? This guy is perhaps middle aged or slightly older. Maybe old enough to be a grandfather. Who speaks to their grandfather this way? It was tough to read the whole thing as I envisioned this person reacting to this childish abuse.

It was additionally unfortunate in that I was very interested in reading a dialogue between these two well informed people. Jason saw to it that this didn't happen. Again, this type of treatment is not unusual for Jason. He does this to me and to others. That's perhaps partly understandable in the rough and tumble world of internet debate. Personally I think it's a defense mechanism for Jason. He abuses people until they leave. That way he can avoid difficult arguments. Some people are mostly unfazed by the abuse. Me, Touchstone, David. In that case to avoid dialogue it is necessary to ban. But seriously Jason, can you not set the personal attacks aside for a professor tentatively considering engaging internet apologists? Apparently not.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Northridge Church is for Liars

A co-worker spotted a billboard recently with the title above. He just assumed it was put up by some atheist group. What a bunch of jerks!! The website was something like "Beyond Belief" he told me. When you google that your first hit is The Science Network, which a Christian might think is some God hating group.

I thought that sounded strange and told my co-worker that some evangelical Christians have a mentality that says "Whoa is me, everyone is a wicked sinner and I'm the worst of all, etc." But when I did google based on his description I couldn't find anything associated with Northridge, which is one of the largest churches in the country. Maybe he was right. Some weird atheist group is responsible.

And then while on US 23 near Ann Arbor I caught a billboard with the same message (different location from what my co-worker had seen) and noted the website. As you can see it is sponsored by Northridge. Real nice.

This is a marketing strategy that seems to be catching on. Now Christians are a Bunch of Jerks. At least with this one it's clear atheists aren't responsible.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prove Me Wrong

I'm changing the name of this blog. Hopefully that won't be a problem for my millions of fans. The title is just totally inappropriate for me now. I'm perfectly comfortable with the label of atheist. And it's not as if my beliefs about God are a frequent subject. My interests and my approach have changed.

What hasn't changed is that I'm still using the internet to learn via argument. It's a poor man's education. Not as good as getting a PhD of course, but you can make a lot of intelligence progress here, especially if you can learn to filter the reams of information. It reminds me of Matt Damon ridiculing the preppy rich guy that thought he was so smart. For a few bucks in late fees at the library he could have learned more than he did spending thousands on an ivy league tuition.

I've learned most from those that have shown me errors in my arguments. Some that have done this are ass holes. Some are arrogant pricks. Some just want to get under my skin. And some are basically gracious, smart people. In any case these are the people that have benefited me most. My plan is to continue making mistakes and learning from them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ratzinger and Child Abuse

I had the opportunity last Friday to sit down with some Catholics and just spend an evening discussing some of our disagreements. It was me along with another atheist (who I met for the first time) and a few Catholics. It was put together by Dave Armstrong. I really appreciate Dave. He's one of those people that is able to sit down and disagree with me strongly, but do it in a way that makes for productive and friendly dialogue. Not all Christians can do this, nor can all skeptics.

The main topic was the historicity of Jesus, but naturally we also talked about side issues. Regarding the child abuse I mentioned something about Ratzinger being involved in keeping the scandal quiet. I was told that this claim had been shown to be completely fraudulent.

Well, what would I expect them to say? And I don't know the details. But since that time I looked into it just slightly to see if there is any justification for the claim that Ratzinger was involved.

Apparently there was a document released in 1962 by high offices in the Church and approved by the Pope called Crimen Solicitationes. Originally in Latin there's an English copy here. It is a secret document intended to be a guide for how to deal with charges of solicitation, including solicitation of youths by priests (see paragraph 73). All parties involved are sworn to the utmost secrecy on pain of excommunication (see paragraph 11). This document reveals that secrecy is the prime concern, not protection of potential victims.

We are informed of who it was that was responsible for enforcing this secret directive in this infuriating documentary. You guessed it. Ratzinger. The hierarchy was well aware of this widespread problem and took pains to make sure they were well informed. All charges throughout the world needed to be reported to the Vatican. With that information the Vatican continued to permit priests to simply be shuffled from one location to another, exposing children to priests that the Vatican would have to know were a danger.

Again, according to the BBC documentary linked above, priests would flee various countries to escape prosecution and would in fact go to the Vatican where they would be given support. When prosecutors would contact the Vatican and attempt to encourage them to send priests home to have a day in court where they can feel free to disprove the charges levied against them, these communications would be refused.

Straightforward googling provides abundant evidence from credible sources that these claims against Ratzinger have merit. So for instance there's a Hitchens article here. They suggest that Ratzinger wasn't just an ignorant spectator that wasn't as proactive as he should have been. He was an active participant in the cover up which enabled additional crimes against children.

Frankly I don't care to bludgeon good Catholics with this scandal. In my experience Catholics are largely among the most kindly and empathetic of Christians. The Catholic institution is responsible for much good present in the world. And perhaps the rate of pedophilia among priests is not different from But to fail to acknowledge the responsibility for these crimes is another slap in the face to the victims. So what if Ratzinger was also partly responsible? Popes aren't expected to be sinless. Why are Catholics unwilling to acknowledge these things?Link

Robert Price: Is The Bible Mein Kampf

An interesting lecture from Robert Price. Sometimes fundamentalism can make skeptics angry, but it's important to recognize where any anger should be directed. Is the Bible to blame for the fact that many read it and simply fail to recognize that it's a bronze age document that reflects bronze age ethics? Would we go out and burn books by Plato if some overzealous fans irrationally elevated his works to divine status? Why shouldn't skeptics appreciate and even admire the Bible for what it is: a work that despite it's flaws is still often beautiful and insightful.

During Q&A a question was asked about biblical genocide. Despite the fact that skeptics would think these stories are often made up, it's hard not to simply regard them as a horror even though they aren't reporting the deeds of real people. At least the author thought they were describing historical events and seemed to endorse them. Price had a very interesting thought on this. He says if you look at the peoples slaughtered in some cases, for instance by Joshua, we're told they are utterly destroyed. But then at the end of the book you see directive to conquer various peoples, and it's the same people that were supposedly destroyed. What's happening here?

Price suggests that perhaps the descriptions of genocide weren't even intended to be taken as historical fact when they were written. It could have been a matter of the present writer distinguishing himself from heathen practices of his own ancestors. The biblical authors didn't have ancestors that were actually called out of Egypt. In fact they were simply different factions amongst the Canaanites. As a new belief system emerged the old belief system was being reviled. It was represented by various other tribes (Moabites, Amalekites, etc). The utter destruction of them, including the execution of babes at the breast, is a symbol of the revulsion that the present writer felt towards the evil practices that he wanted to distinguish himself from. The admission at the end of the text that these people still do exist is perhaps a wink that the genocides weren't real, but the attitude towards those that are of these systems is clear.

Is it true? Don't know. But it's interesting to consider and helps us recognize that these things aren't always clearly black and white.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are Americans Idiots?

It's tempting to draw that conclusion, and many of my liberal and atheistic friends believe it. Bill Maher was on O'Reilly in a fairly interesting interview and in that interview where Maher scoffs a little at religious belief O'Reilly charges him with elitism. Maher thinks he's so much better than typical Americans according to O'Reilly. O'Reilly paints himself as if he's in league with the so called "rubes" that Maher would ridicule.

The fact that 44% of Americans in a 2006 poll believe that man was created by God as is less than 10,000 years ago doesn't help matters. Another 2006 international poll on beliefs regarding evolution had the US second to last, worsted only by Turkey.

I happened to be at a church last night that was spending the evening showing that the whole universe was created about 6,000 years ago. It was very much geared towards children. I spoke with some of the members after the talk and told them I was an atheist interested in understanding their viewpoints. They were very much warm and otherwise reasonable people explaining to me how the evidence really does show that the universe is young. Look at the limited amount of river deposits at places like the Mississippi River. Look at the earths gravitational field and how it couldn't have decayed to the present value over billions of years.

The correlation I tend to expect would be that as a nation becomes more industrialized and more prosperous it becomes less fundamentalist. But that's not true in the United States. We're an extremely fundamentalist country. You'd probably have to go to Saudi Arabia or Iran to find a similar level of widespread religious dogmatism and the shunning of science. Why is that? Are Americans simply idiots?

I don't think that is correct. As I continue to peruse the results of polls I'm surprised to find over and over that the American people hold views that are quite sensible. This is often in the face of intense propaganda meant to convince them of other views. So take NAFTA, for instance. I recall the wall to wall cheer leading on behalf of NAFTA both from Democrats and Republicans. The media was lock step. Somehow the American people as a whole recognized that it wasn't good for them and didn't want it. They opposed it at a 2 to 1 rate. The general consensus as I understand it is that NAFTA has been harmful to the poor of all countries involved. But not for the rich. The income gap between rich and poor continues to grow as a consequence of NAFTA and other policies. Income gaps in the United States set another record in 2009. It appears to me that Americans understood that this would happen even in the face of intense propaganda. How did they know that?

Or take the war in Iraq. The media was generally uniform in accepting governmental claims regarding the war. Even still the American people supported the war as implemented by Bush at only a 33% rate (sadly I must admit that I would have been among the supporters). The view of the American people is pretty sensible. They supported war with UN authorization.

The United States, being the most powerful country in the world, naturally is subjected to propaganda to an unusual extent. Naturally many powerful people have a vested interest in controlling the will of the world's most influential public. So for instance when a UN fact finding mission reports that the IDF shot an American citizen in the head execution style, this simply is not going to be widely reported. The reason is because many powerful and wealthy people (such as those that belong to AIPAC) prefer that this story not be told because it doesn't serve their interest. Americans are often uninformed about basic facts known widely throughout the world. But the rest of the world is not subjected to the kind of intense propaganda the US is subjected to.

So what about this belief that mankind is no older than 10,000 years or that evolution is false? Why are these opinions so widespread in the United States despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary? The answer is probably somewhat complex, but I tend to think that powerful and wealthy interests have something to do with it. Religion is largely thought control. Wealthy interests naturally benefit from certain kinds of thought control. And also from keeping the population ignorant. I'd be curious to understand if this plays a part in the off the scale non-scientific beliefs held by Americans.