Thursday, August 30, 2012

Having meaning without a meaning.

Religious people often state that their religion gives their life a meaning. It is then the obvious counter claim that they say that we as atheists must feel life is worthless, since we don't have religion behind us. There is some truth there, but the answer is not what they claim it to be. I do in fact think that there isn't a meaning for my life. However I will also state that I feel that there is much meaning in my life.

It is my opinion that having a meaning is vastly different than having meaning. A meaning for life suggests a basic rule for all our lives. That we are all here for a greater purpose, and have a plan made just for us. A single universal purpose... nay, a mission that makes life beautiful and purposeful to those that believe as such. Then there is having 'meaning in your life'. To me this is something more personal, that differs for each of us. This can define your likes, interests, people you love, etc. This is something one can still have without first embracing that they also have 'a meaning'.

I myself, do not feel my life or any other life has a grand meaning. We are not here on some cosmic mission. There is no predetermined plan for my life that I am meant to live like a script. I am here by accident, or shear luck depending on your point of view. I could much more easily not have been, than to exist as I do. Does this simple act of existence require that I was born to fulfill a lifelong quest of some kind in order to validate my existence? No, of course not. So would the claim that my stance of 'not having a purpose/meaning for my life' mean that I must not appreciate life and feel pointless and worthless. On the contrary! The odds of my being born as I was, where I was and when I was are extremely minuscule. The fact that I still received the gift of this life, against all odds, makes me appreciate it all the more. What more, I know that this one short life is all I will have and that I better make the most of it. In my opinion, the idea that a deity created each of us for the sole reason of carrying our a life's mission devalues our existence and scoffs at the incredibly tiny odds that we overcame to receive this beautiful gift.

As I have stated, I opine that my life does not have a meaning. Yet, I feel that my life is full of meaning as well. We each make our life have whatever meaning we want it to have. For me it's loving my wonderful wife, enjoying my friends, family and pets, being amazed by scientific discovery and the cosmos, the unrivaled beauty of nature, the yearn to always continue learning, enjoying art and my design work, appreciating the music I like, etc... This all means something to me and fills my life with joy. Our journey through life crafts it's meanings. They are the things that make us enjoy life and appreciate it. The things that may touch the lives of others and bring us personal joy. Not a scripted ultimatum of life. As George Bernard Shaw once said... Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. So don't just stand there and wonder what a deity would want of you and is you have a cosmic purpose. Get out there and enjoy life to it's fullest. After all, living life to the fullest and enjoying it is what makes you who you are, and what life is all about.


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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How intelligent is intelligent design?

Many of us already know that there's nothing intelligent about 'intelligent design'. But let's take a look at what that implies. It states that things were created by an intelligence far superior than we can ever hope to grasp. A being that is so perfect that we call it God and worship him. I often hear the complexity and perfection of the human body and nature and the cosmos as examples.

Well, what's so perfect about any of it. Beautiful, amazing, complex... sure. But not perfect. Take the sun for example. If this god is so powerful, why make the sun like any other star? A form that can and does form naturally. If you were an all powerful god, wouldn't you go a bit further? A giant cosmic light bulb powered by an invisible nuclear reactor perhaps. Something that could not be mistaken for anything other than an intelligent creation. Yet, we have an ordinary, yet beautiful, run of the mill star. And like any star it emits dangerous rays. Rays that can harm us (the supposed chosen children of God). Prolonged exposure to which cases sun burn, or worse, skin cancer. Furthermore, our sun will eventually swell into a red giant in it's future and destroy any life that may still exist on Earth. Does that sound intelligently designed to you?

But this is of course just one of several example that one could use. People like to claim that we are the pinnacle of design... Yet the Cheetah is able to run much faster than us. The eagle can see far better. Cats can hear better. Dogs can smell better. Amphibious creatures swim better. Nocturnal creatures can see in the dark. We can't fly. Many creatures can see spectrum's of light that are invisible to us, including insects. Yes, the human body is amazing. But it is far from perfect. If it was, we'd be the best at everything, and not have additional organs that are of no use to us. When one argues for human kind being the 'perfect creation' of their god, the facts simply aren't on their side. However, if we look at things through the lens of evolution, it becomes easy to see why things are the way they are.

Evolution  really is an elegantly beautiful explanation for the diversity of life that we see on Earth. Plus, it works! You really can't argue with something testable and supported by the evidence can you? Well... as long as you're intellectually honest or take a moment to learn anything about it, that is...

Many things in nature are beautiful, but that doesn't necessitate a creator, or even imply 'design'. In my years I've not seen one thing that is better explained by supernatural design, than by natural processes. If you think you have, I ask that you now tell me what you think is a good example of something you are convinced had to be a work of divine creation. But I'm sure you'll soon find that this 'creation' only seems so due to limits in knowledge, jumping the gun of beauty, or simply stubborn refusal of the facts. But hey, try me. Hit me with your best shot.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chosen belief?

Choice... It's an interesting thing that some people like to throw around as if everything is a choice. Sometimes things are a choice, and some things are not. I can choose whether or not to have a cookie before dinner. But I can't choose what my favorite ice-cream is. In that instance, I taste different flavors and have an involuntary feeling about the different flavors. I simply taste and I like it or I don't.

Some people like to claim that sexual preference is a choice. Is it though? These people would have you believe that people that identify as homosexual sat down one day and asked themselves who they wanted to be attracted to. They thought long and hard about it and eventually came to a decision. If this premise were true, that would also suggest that heterosexuality is also a choice. So, I ask of you... If you're 'straight', when did you sit down and decide that fact? Was it difficult to come to that decision? Or were you like me (and everyone else I've asked this question), and simply were how you are. I'm a heterosexual, and can tell you that I never had to 'decide' that fact. So why should we believe homosexuality is any different? Some people are of one sexual preference, some are another, and some are another still.

But lets just assume that it is a choice for arguments sake. Lets go with the claim that heterosexuality is the default sexual orientation. So even then, what makes someone think that a person can simply change away from that preference of favoring and being attracted to the opposite sex, to being attracted to the same sex? Remember, what you like is involuntary. Just like if you like a food or you don't, you either like men or you like women. Just like you can't simply decide to like Brussels Sprouts, you can't just decide to be attracted to a sex that you previously weren't attracted to. That's like saying that any one of us can just decide to be attracted to any person, whether our 'type' or not. In this sense, sexuality is not a choice at all!

I also hear a similar claim when it comes to religious belief... or more specifically, my lack thereof. I've been told that "You just don't want to believe", or asked "Why don't you just believe just in case?"  Such silly statements when you consider that belief is involuntary. It is not a conscious choice that you get to decide. Let me ask... Do you believe in the Tooth Fairy? No? Well, go ahead and decide to believe in the Tooth Fairy anyway. You'll quickly find that you can't simply decide to believe in something that you don't actually believe in.

True, you can always fake belief just like parents fake belief in Santa to their kids. But the simple fact is, that when you look inside, you still don't actually believe in the Tooth Fairy, or jolly old Saint Nick no matter what kind of front you put up. In that same way, I can't simply decide to believe in a deity, or decide not to. It's all a matter of being convinced by the data your brain has at it's disposal.

 When you're a child, you believe your parent's authority when they tell you of Santa. But as you grow and learn, things just start to add up until one day you realize that you don't believe in Santa anymore (unless your parents tell you first). There was no conscious decision of whether to believe in Santa or not. There just came a point where your brain made the connections that lead it to determine that it was no longer a believable premise. It's much the same when my non-belief is the topic of discussion.

I don't lack belief because I want to. Actually, I think it would be cool if some form of reincarnation were actually real. However, what I want doesn't enter into what I'm convinced by. Given what I know, I'm simply unconvinced by god claims. If arguments don't meet the required muster to convince me, my belief will remain unchanged. That said, my atheism is open to revision should something come to light that would convince me that some form of theism were true. However, I can not simply decide to believe, or not believe, any more than anyone else can decide to believe in any matter of fantastic creature through sheer will alone.

You can't decide to stop loving your spouse, but you can stop loving them if new information or actions come to your attention that undermine the previous data set your feelings were built on. It's an unconscious weighing of everything by your brain. I cannot decide to believe, just like one can't decide to not be afraid of a Lion or a clown. You can conquer these fears through other means, but simply deciding not to be afraid isn't one of them.

As you can see there are times when the 'choice' that someone may bring up wasn't a choice at all. But rather a natural reaction or the result of the actions of the unconscious mind drawing conclusions from knowledge and experience. And that's not a bad thing. In fact being aware of this fact is good and can be the path to some of the most honest answers and opinions you could ever recieve.

-Brain Hulk

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Acts or feel?

Okay... Last time I posed the question of what makes one a homosexual. Is it the act of gay sex, or is it the specific desire/preference within the individual? I feel that this is an important question to answer, since some will claim that animals that show homosexual tendencies but still breed with the opposite sex are bi-sexual, rather than homosexual. In some cases this may be true. Bonobo's do seem to have no preference and will have sex with both male and female. But what about those gulls I mentioned? True, they do mate with the males during the mating season, but is this instinctual propagation that is needed to preserve the species enough to classify them as 'bi' rather than 'gay'? Remember, the rest of the year, the female/female grouping seems to be preferred. Does 2% heterosexual partnership through the year, and 98% homosexual really make them bi-sexual? I would opine that it does not.

When we are talking about sexual orientation, I feel that we are talking about sexual preference. These birds prefer the same sex partnership, yet briefly break that partnership in order to procreate. To say that this means they are not gay because they've had heterosexual sex, would be folly in my opinion. If that were the case, what of some fraternity hazing rituals where you may be forced to make out with another guy. Would that mean that that person is no longer straight? What if someone is confused about what they feel and experiments? Are they then 'bi' by default? Or is it more accurate to say they are straight if they find that they like the heterosexual intercourse, and not the homosexual? What if someone is in a heterosexual marriage simply for appearances or to meet family expectations? They may not like the heterosexual sex, and may even have kids. But does they lack of 'gay' sex acts mean they are straight? Any what about those gulls... What if they enjoy their same sex partnerships, but the annual breading is simply 'doing a job' to them?

In my opinion, it isn't who you go to bed with and have gone to bed with that defines one's sexuality. It's rather a question of what you get out of it or how it makes you feel. Heck, you needn't even have to 'try' both options if one doesn't even appeal to you from the word go. I didn't, and didn't need to to find my sexuality. I enjoy my wife and am filled with boundless joy from every moment we share, be it the little every day things, or those intimate moments. She fulfills my life in ways that no one else can. But the simple prospect of homosexual relations doesn't raise any personal interest in me. With those facts in mind, I'm best classified as heterosexual. But lets go back to that guy that may have been experimenting. What if he 'sampled' a few men, but simply didn't like it. Yet he did find that the women filled his desires. Do those few 'homosexual acts' force him into a lifetime label of bi-sexual? I say no, and think that calling him anything other than heterosexual would be silly. Lets compare... Say your favorite pizza is the meat trio. But it's the only pizza you've ever had. So one day you decide to try the veggie supreme, but find that you just don't like it. You've now had both kinds of pizza, so if you are going to call the hypothetical man that experimented 'bi', then you would also have to say that the 'meat trio' and veggie supreme' are BOTH your favorite pizza, even though you didn't like the veggie. SO if you want to argue that the meat trio pizza remains your favorite, you are forced to concede that the man we discussed earlier is best classed as heterosexual, despite his experimenting.

What if  you're that woman in the fake marriage and has kids? She doesn't enjoy the sex, so what does that make her? Well, there are two options. One possibility would be that she prefers a female partner. if this is the case, she would be classed as a homosexual. It may be that she has had sex with another woman, and enjoyed it, or it may be that she hasn't yet, but the prospect of it is desirable to her. This preference for a same sex partner (male or female), and lack of meaning in a heterosexual partnership would clearly tell me that they are homosexual. There is a second possibility for our hypothetical woman. The reason that she doesn't enjoy her heterosexual sex could also be because she just doesn't like sex in any variation. If this were the case, she would tick the asexual box.

Lastly, we have the opposite of the asexual. There is a chance that our guy that was experimenting liked both men and women, and derived great enjoyment from sex with both. In this case we find the true bi-sexual. These people will no confine their sexual enjoyment to just one sex, unlike those we've mentioned earlier that have had sex in both 'hetero' and 'homo' fashions, yet enjoyed one and not the other.

So I feel that is should be very clear that the claim that a person or an animal isn't really gay because they've had 'homo' and 'hetero' relationships is actually just an attempt to hide from the fact of the matter that classifying sexuality isn't remotely that easy. You have to look into their head and determine what they prefer or desire. With people it is easier, because you can just ask them. But with animals you have to watch their behaviors closely. When we do that we will find heterosexual partnerships, bi-sexual partnerships, and to the dismay of those that argue otherwise, homosexual partnerships as well. Like the old saying goes, you can't always judge a book by it's cover. This is just another example that it's what's on the inside that makes of who and what we are. In this case, acts don't define, but rather internal preference.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Homosexuality... Natural?

Now more on our discussion on homosexuality. Someone I know was reading the paper and ran along a story about a gay pride gathering. His comment was that he's fine with people being gay, but why does he have to keep hearing about it. I reminded him that they are fighting for equal rights. In that way, they're just like woman's rights groups fighting for equality between the sexes, and the civil rights movement fighting for equal rights. Right now, gays are still having to fight for the right to marry. The only way to secure this right that is unfairly denied from them is to remain vocal. His response was, "But it's not natural". Not natural?

I guess the next question needs to be what one means by 'natural'. For the time being, lets assume he means that other animals aren't homosexual. There are actually species that are fairly homosexual in nature. Bonobo's are a good example of a species that regularly engage in homosexual acts, however they would more accurately be classified as bisexual. However there are species of gulls that are primarily favor homosexual partnerships. The females favor other females but will still mate with a male for the sole purpose of breading when that season comes along. But the vast majority of the time they favor other females. Research has also shown that about 8% of sheep will only 'mate' with their own sex. When we get to black swans, the figure jumps to 25%! A homosexual nature leads one to assume that they won't pass on genes and that the species or trait would have to die out. However, this isn't what we see. The bisexual species are easier to understand, yet species/individuals that are homosexual still appear to mate and pass on genes irregardless of the appearance of favoring their same sex. Also, sometimes genes carry a secondary trait. The gene for sickle cell anemia still exists. You would think that would be selected against as well, however the same gene is also linked to malaria resistance. Take the good with the bad, because the good may outweigh the bad. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the same may exist for homosexuality. We arrive at the point that we must decide what makes a person or animal 'homo', 'hetero', or 'bi'. Would the animals that briefly enter hetero partnerships solely for the purpose of breading be 'homo' or 'bi'? It they have 'homo' sex 364 days a year and 'hetero' only once, where do we classify them? Or do we even judge them on acts alone and rely on internal preference... whether the animal/person personally favors male/female? Is a man that gets married and has kids simply to comply to societal norms, yet secretly favors men (and possibly has one on the side), homo, hetero or bi? I'll touch more on this next time...

As we can see, homosexuality does exist elsewhere in nature, and has been observed in many more species than I mentioned here. Homosexuality may not be overwhelmingly common, but it certainly isn't unnatural.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Real Biblical Marriage.

...and now back to our discussion on gay marriage. Last time I spoke about how 'traditional marriage' is not under attack. Today, we turn out attention to Biblical marriage. Another argument I've heard is that some that are opposed to marriage equality do so under the platform of supporting 'Biblical marriage'. Earlier, I covered why religious arguments have no place in the making of law, but lets look closer... Many a believer may cite Adam and Eve as the Biblical definition of marriage. But like most easygoing Christians, they stop there and don't read onward. Let us look at this a little closer:

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’for she was taken out of man. ” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
 -Genesis 2:20-25

So  God creates Eve as a 'helper' and just like that they are husband and wife. There is no indication of any courtship, which by my estimation that makes Adam and Eve the first arranged marriage. Eve didn't even have the option to use the old "Not even if you were the last man on Earth", line. Isaac and Rebekah were also wed by way of an arranged marriage.

Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac. ”

-Genesis 24:1-4 

If arranged marriages aren't old fashioned enough, how about selling daughter's as brides?

Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I'll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife."

-Genesis 34: 12
Also, virgins cost more than non-virgins, and are treated more like property than living beings with feelings...

"If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife."

-Exodus 22:16

Polygamy was also A-okay in the Bible, as well as the possession of concubines. The most extreme example would have to be Soloman.

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.

-1 Kings 11:3

Soloman was not alone though. Marriages involving multiple wives and/or concubines also occur in Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel, Chronicles, and Matthew. I find it odd that I know Christians that mock the Mormon practice of polygamy, yet their own holly book seems to have no qualms with the practice.

What about if your brother died without leaving a male heir?

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

-Deuteronomy 25:5-6
Apparently, marriage between brother and sister is also okay. That, or some other form of incestuous relationship would be the only option for Cain to marry. The same would be true following the great flood, as Noah's family is said to be the only ones that survived. Incest not enough to turn your stomach? How about being forced to marry you rapist?

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

-Deuteronomy 22:28

Speaking of divorce... The church generally stands against it correct. You know "Until death do us part" and all... Well, no quite:

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance.

-Deuteronomy 24:1-4

Yup... The husband can decide to divorce her if he finds his wife 'displeasing to him'. I do find the prohibition from him marrying her again to be rather odd. He can divorce her, but she can't divorce him. With the stark lack of equality in the Bible it is hardly surprising. Yet, I have heard of couples both promising to wait for marriage as the Bible commands. Well, they got it half right. While it is true that the Biblical tradition does favor virgin wives, no such prohibition is  found for men. But on that virgin wife issue:

If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, “I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,” then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl’s father will say to the elders, “I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said, ‘I did not find your daughter to be a virgin.’ But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.” Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives.

If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

-Deuteronomy 22:13-21

As you can plainly see, 'Biblical marriage' is far from the simple one man, one wife  fairytale story that believer would have you believe is supposed to be clearly stated in their Bible. The truth is that the Biblical version of marriage is much darker, and counter to what is acceptable to society. Please tell me how two members of the same sex marrying is worse than making a woman marry her rapist, or stoning non-virgin brides to death? One thing that is clear, is that whenever one plays the 'Biblical marriage' card, they expose their lack of knowledge of the very book that they claim to be their guide.

Oh, what's that? Yes, some believers try to claim that the Old Testament doesn't count, because Christians follow the New Testament. An odd claim for people who primarily use the OT as their justification for being anti-gay. Not to mention they are awful fond of the Ten Commandments as found in the OT. But does it all count? Let's ask Jesus shall we?

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

-Matthew 5:17-18

There you have it! The OT and NT both count if you're a Christian. Until Jesus returns, Christians must stay true to the OT as well, or risk eternity in the fiction known as Hell. Believers, I implore you... Before you start making Biblical arguments, at least have an understanding of what the book actually says on the subject(s). Again, Biblical arguments have no place in law. But this argument in particular fails in the respect that those arguing for 'Biblical marriage' are unaware of what that term actually means. I don't know about you, but I'll take a secular marriage based of mutual love and respect over any 'Biblical' version.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Pride in Curiosity.

NASA's $2.5billion rover, dubbed Curiosity, has safely landed on Mars. Actually, that didn't do it justice... Curiosity has safely landed and I'm ecstatic about that fact!!! No, I'm not in any way involved with NASA, but there are a few reasons this one fact has made my day. First of all, the landing sequence was very precise... Everything was required to go correctly for the mission
to succeed. This landing sequence has become know as the "seven minutes of terror", and can be seen here:

Yes, the lander was able to pull off every one of those maneuvers without a hitch, and safely landed in it's intended destination; Gale Crater on Mars. It amazes me that at a time when my country's  schools currently rank at 23rd in science and 31st in math, our best and brightest can take on such an amazing feat, and handily succeed. My hope that this mission will work to inspire the current generation to reach for the stars both literally and figuratively. Otherwise we will lose out and become a county in decline.

We need to be at the forefront of education again. Sadly, when it comes to budget cuts, things like NASA and education are some of the first things mentioned. It would be much more prudent to cut from the already bloated defense budget, since we already spend many multiples above all other countries. To give you an idea, the 2011 budget gave $738 billion to defense, and NASA only received about $18 billion in comparison. A bargain, considering that they are sending things to other worlds and probes throughout the solar system. Heck, as consumers we collectively spend more than NASA's budget on everyday items annually, and many corporations post profits equal to or higher than NASA's government budget. In my opinion, NASA is a deal, as well as essential.

But on to happier thoughts. What was my first feeling as soon as I heard that Curiosity stuck it's landing with marks that would make an Olympic gymnast jealous? The first thought was relief, quickly followed up by pride... overwhelming pride in the mission, but more importantly, pride in my country. While I'm proud and thankful of our man and woman in the service, I am not proud that we have the most bombs and biggest bombs. I don't really care if we get the most or second most medals at the ongoing Olympic games. But this... this outstanding achievement of engineering perfected, drive and determination... that moment was something that made me very proud of my country and countrymen.

The best and the brightest taking on a challenge that many said wouldn't work, and made it happen. We now have an SUV sized rover on the surface of Mars that is more advanced than anything we've sent before. To be that explorer that we can't be at the moment. To answer questions, collect data and advance our understandings. Winning gold at swimming is nice, but this is a real achievement that shows the best of our ability and can have to power to influence the world for the better.

Yet, with this amazing accomplishment, I still hear people asking "Why bother with Mars?", "Why bother with space?", "Spend the money elsewhere"... As I already pointed out, NASA spends A LOT less then most government agencies, even though they send things to outer space and everyone else stays terrestrial. Some say that the money should be used to create jobs. It was! That money was used to employee the best engineers and scientific minds available the USA in order to pull off this marque mission. But was in really that expensive? The final cost was $2.5 billion. Spread that out over the entire US population, and the cost was about $8 a person. It is expected to last at least two years, making it $4 a year. But Opportunity was only supposed to last 3 months, and it functioned for eight years (and counting)! So Curiosity could last even longer, making it a bargain.

But even after we get past the cost, some people still wonder what the point is. Well, there are several points. First, the space program has given us amazing breakthroughs through the years. Products, methods, knowledge. The space program is a factory of greatness. We are on Mars to see if the red planet ever had the conditions to support life and if life ever existed on Mars in the past. Furthermore, Mars is a candidate for potential human habitation. We could theoretically warm Mars enough to one day colonize. It would probably take a thousand years, but if we hold the desire, it may be possible. A human future on Mars may be the long shot prospect, but there is a very immediate payback of this mission. Inspiration!

Missions like this inspire the youth to take notice and take an interest in the sciences. Just as the Apollo missions captured the attention and imagination of the American public. From those seeds grew new innovation and desire. Some developed technology, some dreamed of being an astronaut. But one thing is certain it ushered in the technological revolution that has become taken for granted in our everyday lives. Projects like Curiosity and the James Webb space telescope can be that spark of innovation and inspiration that Apollo once was. And in a time when test scores and interest in the sciences are waning, I feel we can't afford NOT to fund these showcase missions. They're for the good of the country as well as the world. Today, I felt a little more proud of my country, and I liked how they felt. I say we invest and explore more, so that we can be at the forefront for much longer to come.

UPDATE - Since I originally posted this, Curiosity has delivered the goods. The rover has found
evidence that the Martian landscape has been shaped by flowing water. A dry river bed has been examined, sediment has been found, and just the other day, the discovery smooth and rounded 'river stones' further confirm the past presence of flowing water on the red planet. And in even more exciting news, Curiosity drilled into the Martian surface and then analyzed the rock dust that it unearthed. After the chemical makeup was know, the news was pretty exciting. What it found was that Mars once possessed the ingredients and conditions needed for life! That's pretty damn cool! True, a discovery of past life would have been even better. But these discoveries go to prove the worth of the Mars rover project. Curiosity rover = money well spent!

-Brain Hulk

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Defending Marriage? From what?

This is the next in what is likely going to be a short series on homosexuality and the gay marriage debate. In my state, gay marriage was passed, but then conservatives got a petition together and it will now be on the ballot this coming election. Personally, I'm in favor of gay marriage being legal and see no logical reason that it shouldn't be. Why should it be that my wife and I can share our life and love in marriage, but two people of the same sex can't?

I've heard a few answers, but none have met the measure of a good argument. Obviously, there's the
religious argument. Which if that's your reason, the problem is yours... or at the very least, your religion's. We live in a country where church and state are separate. This means that the church can't dictate what the government can do, and the government can't tell the church what it can do (as long as their not doing anything illegal).

That's important, and is tied to the most common reason I hear outside of the religious one. That reason is that they want to "defend marriage", or "defend traditional marriage". Um... wait, since when is it under attack. Gay marriage being legalized has absolutely no effect on the rights of heterosexual couples to marry, or the couples that are already married. The impression I get from people making this argument is like they think that gay marriage being legalized would mean that ONLY gay marriage would be legal and that the news of gay marriage being legalized would cause the husband to say to his wife of thirty years, "See you Sally, I have to go marry Tom now".

Gay marriage being legalized does not replace heterosexual marriage. It simply extends the rights enjoyed by many to a group who have long been kept from those rights. It's a simple broadening of marriage in the name of equality. Something that is long overdue. Same as when marriage was broadened to allow inter-racial marriages (and various other revisions to 'marriage'). Heterosexual couples will still be able to get married, and (if legal) homosexual couples will also be able to get married.

Now, some may worry about churches having to perform gay marriage ceremonies. Again, not a problem. If one even bothers to read the law that legalized same sex marriage in Maryland, it is obvious that this isn't an issue. The law actually states that churches will not be compelled to perform same sex marriages. They could if they wanted to, but they wouldn't be required to. But what if a state law tried to force churches to perform same sex marriages, that were outside of their belief structure? Remember that wall between church and state? That wall that the religious who long for a theocracy often wish to tear down, would actually protect the churches in that hypothetical case.

That federal separation of church and state would override the state law, and free churches from having to perform ceremonies that are against their beliefs. I may not agree with their belief, but I feel that they are free to hold the beliefs that they wish. I actually agree that churches shouldn't be forced to marry same sex couples. Here's why... the Constitution. Time and time again, we see that the separation of church and state no only protects the non-believer, but the believer as well.

But I feel I've gone off on a tangent... Lets be very clear that my state's law already has a provision freeing churches from performing marriages that conflict with their faith, if they wish not to perform these ceremonies. So, what's so wrong with allowing people in love to marry one another, be it in a church, as the court house, or by a hired officiant? After all, marriage is all about love is it not? So spread the love and allow marriage equality to stand and spread. Because it seems clear to me that if you seek to withhold equality in this way it ceases to be about love, and becomes about hate.