Daryl Ilbury

Posts Tagged ‘God’

The History Channel – evidence we’re not from God

In Eish!, Fools, Science on November 8, 2014 at 5:58 am

History ChannelChristians would have you believe that you and I are the main purpose behind what they call ‘Creation’. They cling to the belief that their ‘god’ made us in ‘his’ image, and that we were given dominion over the animals and the environment. The British philosopher AC Greyling captured the bizarreness of this notion thus: “…this speculation makes us the aim of the great universal story: all those billions of years, billions of galaxies, billions of stars – it is all aimed at producing us, with our wars, our dentistry needs, our fashion sense”.

But let’s say it’s true – that we are the very pinnacle of a ‘Creation’, that the entire universe metaphorically revolves around us humans. How are we capitalising on it? If only we could get a snapshot of how we humans are making our mark in the Universe, some evidence of our superiority as ‘creations’. Luckily enough, there is such a snapshot. It’s called The History Channel, and it reminds us, through its pay-off line, that (human) history is made every day.

So how are we doing?

Join me as we flick through the programming.

  • American Daredevils – where American he-men risk their lives performing, arguably, stupid acts
  • Axe Men – where American he-men risk their lives to cut down trees
  • American Pickers – where American he-men buy stuff, and then sell it again
  • Pawnography – where American he-men buy stuff, and then, wait for it…sell it again
  • Pawn Stars – where American he-men buy stuff, and then (I think you know what’s coming)…sell it again
  • Cajun Pawn Stars – where American he-men buy stuff, and then sell it again, while sweating a lot
  • Mountain Men – where American he-men eschew modernity and social interaction to live in the mountains and hunt animals
  • Swamp People – where American he-men eschew modernity and social interaction to live in the swamps…and hunt animals
  • The Legend of Shelby the Swamp Man – where one American he-man eschews modernity and social interaction to live in the swamps with his dog Willy…and hunt animals
  • Counting Cars – where American he-men restore cars and have competitions to see who can make the prettiest cars
  • Biker Battleground Phoenix – where American he-men restore motorbikes and have competitions to see who can make the prettiest bikes
  • Ice Road Truckers – where American he-men drive big rigs
  • Big Rig Bounty Hunters – where American he-men repossess big-rigs

I think you’re getting the picture…

Suffice to say, if the History Channel is indeed providing a snapshot of what the pinnacle of the creation of some omnipotent deity is doing with its collective life, then it leaves a lot to be desired.

Or…perhaps, as science is trying to show us, there actually is no God and we’re not the metaphoric centre of the universe. That we are, humbly, just one of a number of life-forms on a planet that is simply one of a number of planets that revolve around a star that is only one of billions of stars in a galaxy, that is only one of billions of galaxies in the universe; or as Douglas Adams wondrously put it: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.”

…and The History Channel programming is simply aimed at American men with masculinity issues.

HIV. God’s perfect child

In Eish!, Fools, Science on October 21, 2014 at 8:22 am
New studies in Nature and Science describe technology that reveals the motions of proteins on the surface of HIV that are key to the virus’s ability to infect human immune cells. This structure shows the two proteins (in red and gold) and sugars (in green) responsible for mediating HIV’s fusion with its host cells.  Image credit: Nature/Pancera et al.

New studies in Nature and Science describe technology that reveals the motions of proteins on the surface of HIV that are key to the virus’s ability to infect human immune cells. This structure shows the two proteins (in red and gold) and sugars (in green) responsible for mediating HIV’s fusion with its host cells.
Image credit: Nature/Pancera et al.

To those who know me, the title may be a bit misleading; so let me clarify something. I am an atheist, which means I don’t believe in any deities (gods) for the same reason I don’t believe in other storytale entities such as ghosts, fairies, goblins and unicorns. The plural is important, because there are many gods to which people around the world still, unthinkingly, prostrate themselves. This is despite the protestations of adherents of the monotheistic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and their multitude of diverse and warring offshoots – who claim there is only one god (which they have arrogantly adopted with the proper noun ‘God’).

So, the title in no way suggests that I have now drunk the KoolAid and believe in the monotheistic ‘God’, and that I believe this god ‘made’ all living entities, including the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. What the title’s designed to do is take a dramatic development in our understanding of the virus, to present a scenario that underscores the ridiculousness of the belief in ‘God’.

And here’s the scenario: Let’s say there is a ‘God’ (in the monotheistic sense) and that this god – a supernatural entity – has testicles. Don’t laugh. This has to be the case, for this god is always referred to in the masculine sense, which has, for centuries, justified the elevation of the status of men over women. Furthermore let’s say this god created the universe (in the dark, apparently), and all living entities therein (the darkness may explain the platypus). Then it makes sense that ‘he’ created not only the pretty things like butterflies and rainbows, but also ‘nasties’ like HIV.

If this is the case, then HIV must be one of ‘his’ better creations, because despite over 20 years of intense research, we are still floundering in our attempts to beat it. Think about that for a minute: It’s just a virus – with no brain – and yet it has evaded the driven, collective minds of thousands of the smartest humans (with their supposed superior brains), for decades.

What they have done though, is help us get increasing glimpses of what makes HIV, arguably, ‘God’s perfect child’. The latest research has shown us how, to evade the body’s immune system, proteins on the surface of HIV ‘dance’, thereby preventing the immune system ‘locking on’ to the virus. This research is important in that, according to Dr. Scott Blanchard, an associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell, and one of three co-lead authors of a study published in Nature magazine, “Making the movements of HIV visible so that we can follow, in real time, how surface proteins on the virus behave will hopefully tell us what we need to know to prevent fusion with human cells — if you can prevent viral entry of HIV into immune cells, you have won”.

Of course, ‘winning’ is still going to take some time, because not only is HIV so ‘perfect’, but humans are so flawed: they still haven’t got the simple fact that if you sleep around without using condoms, you’re sooner or later going to make a nice little home for HIV. Or if they do get it, but still get itthey believe miracles will heal them.

Fools. No wonder they still believe in the supernatural.

Tornadoes: science vs religion

In Eish!, Fools, Science on May 24, 2013 at 11:30 am
Oklahoma tornado

Image: PAUL HELLSTERN/AP

As a journalist who writes about the interface of science and society, and how it’s covered by the media, there are few better events to cover than natural ‘disasters’.

Of course, there’s no such thing in nature as a ‘disaster’. ‘Events’, maybe, but not ‘disasters’. Even then, what is an ‘event’? Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions are part of nature, and are as much of an ‘event’ as a flower opening its petals to greet the early morning sunshine.

However, given the scope of the impact of tornadoes on the natural, built and social environment, it seems fair to refer to them as ‘events’. What I do find interesting though is that we only use the phrase ‘disaster’ when such events impact on humans in a way that we consider them ‘disastrous’.

The tornado that swept across the city of Moore, in Oklahoma on Monday 20th May is a wonderful example, as it unearthed a typical social reaction to such a part of nature, as well as the role the media usually plays in shaping such reaction.

As news broke of the tornado, various (mainly Western) media outlets scrambled to collect information and disseminate it in a balance of fact and emotion that would (hopefully) unleash a torrent of consumer reaction without sacrificing what’s left nowadays of ‘journalistic integrity’. News anchors (feigning dramatic shock) attempted to get closer to the action and grab increasingly qualified commentators with the hope of breaking a story before their competitors; while TV news cameramen and photographers captured visuals that would hopefully carry a suitably impactful emotive tone, all the time praying to be there when a rugged fireman plucked a quivering puppy from the debris of a destroyed home. CBS managed to capture the closest to this.

And there is that word: ‘praying’. There seems to be a lot of referring and appealing to a god during such events, and the media – both mainstream and social – capitalise on it; from witnesses of the tornado saying on the TV news how they prayed to be spared; to survivors who claimed it was because they prayed that they were saved (even though their home was utterly destroyed); to amateur video footage of the tornado on YouTube, complete with shocked ‘Oh my God’ commentary; to the inevitable Twitter follow-up hashtag #prayforOklahoma.

So what’s wrong with this? Everything really.

Firstly there’s the claim that there is some form of sapient god – even though there’s absolutely no evidence thereof outside of the wildly divergent and irreconcilable claims by a broad spectrum of warring religions – and that this sapient god is omnipotent and therefore the guiding hand behind all events in the world – including tornadoes – and therefore he/she/it requires constant subservience/respect through prayer. The danger of this unquestioning and uncritical belief is that it is easily hijacked by religious zealots with twisted agendas and pliable followers.

Secondly, there’s the assumption by survivors that because they were not killed or injured by the tornado after they prayed, it is evidence of a god, and his/her/its benevolence because they prayed. However, to quote a cornerstone of scientific research: a perceived correlation is not evidence of causation. And when survivors of the Oklahoma tornado look to the sky and claim they were ‘spared by God’, I just hope they will have an opportunity to repeat it to the families of the children who were killed, and whom, it’s fair to say, would also have prayed.

Furthermore, I find the embracing of such selection-by-a-god logic by supposedly critical individuals such as seasoned journalists unbelievable (if you excuse the pun). Cue seasoned CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer getting his graceful comeuppance.

Thirdly, the proponents and supporters of #prayforOklahoma seem to think that tweeting a message is going to help somehow. Outside of providing a bit or moral support to those who need it and who are for some reason biding their time on Twitter, firing off a free tweet doesn’t actually do anything. It may be a very public portrayal of an act of caring, but it certainly doesn’t help the survivors. Donations of money, food and supplies do. And if you think praying (through Twitter) is going to encourage a god to help heal those who are injured; remember what happened when Pope John Paul II was ailing and millions around the world prayed for him – he still died!

Finally, and this is what really angers me, there’s the seemingly complete denial by such god-fearing people of the real evidential role of science in mitigating the possible catastrophic impacts of tornadoes. Here’s the wake-up smack: The only reason more people don’t die from tornados is because of the work of scientists studying tornadoes to understand how they form and move; the tracking of tornadoes by the incredible technology of weather-monitoring systems and the experienced teams who operate them; the active role the media (including social media) has in disseminating information about tornado activity and any necessary warnings;  the myriad official (and unofficial) evacuation systems put in place by various authorities; and of course the hundreds of trained medical professionals who treat the injuries of those who are injured.

‘God’ has nothing to do with it.

More on fact versus faith…

In Eish!, Politics, Science on October 4, 2012 at 9:01 am

I believe passionately in giving credit where credit is due.

After I had published my last post, I remembered an excellent cartoon I stumbled across recently. It’s by a cartoonist called James MacLeod. He is in fact a Professor of History at the University of Evansville – a small, private university in Evansville in Indiana. When he’s not inspiring young minds and contributing to the study of war memorials, he draws cartoons for the Evansville Courier and Press, as well as for the BostonDirtDogs site at the Boston Globe. For someone who follows the only real man’s sport – rugby – I can’t understand most of the latter. However, every now and then he digs around in my neck of the woods: science and society.

Here he does what every great cartoonist somehow manages to do – present a topical and controversial issue in a clear and innovative way. Show him your support by checking him out. He has a blog, a Facebook page and a Twitter profile.