New polio case in the US

The concerted global effort to eradicate polio has been one of the greatest success stories in vaccinations, science, and public health in our lifetimes. Almost the entire world, with the exception of Pakistan and Nigeria, where anti-vaccination fears are prevalent, are considered polio-free,

So I was alarmed to read that a new case has been detected in New York.

An unvaccinated young adult from New York recently contracted polio, the first US case in nearly a decade, health officials said Thursday.

Officials said the patient, who lives in Rockland county, had developed paralysis. The person developed symptoms a month ago and did not recently travel outside the country, county health officials said.
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The impact of old Earth theories on religion

In the endless comment thread in the post that dealt with the congressional hearings (262 comments and counting!), the original topic has long been forgotten and the discussion now deals with creationist theories that seek to reconcile scientific knowledge about Earth’s geology with a biblical-based chronology. These attempts at reconciliation have a long history and I dealt with this topic on pages 68-75 of my book The Great Paradox of Science. I reproduce that section below for those interested in the history of how these creationist beliefs came about, starting with Bishop Ussher’s influential calculation in 1650 CE that the age of the Earth was about 6,000 years old. It also shows the beginning of the convergence of studies from a wide variety of scientific fields to arrive at the current consensus that the age of the Earth is about 4.5 billion years.
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The allure of forbidden foods

The story of Adam and Eve tells how Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from a particular tree that God had forbidden them to eat. That story captures well how being ordered to refrain from eating something can make that food particularly alluring. This is especially the case when the ban seems arbitrary. After all, nobody wants to eat food that they are warned against as being poisonous and most people have no difficulty avoiding food that they are told is unhealthy or awful tasting. But being asked not to eat something that so many other people seem to eat and enjoy just because some religious leaders tell them not to makes the food particularly intriguing and must make them wonder what must it taste like. The very arbitrariness of these rules adds to the mystique of these foods and would make people curious about what could possibly happen if they tried it. And yet they usually refrain, out of a mix of obedience, loyalty to their family and community and religion, and fear of what might happen if they break a rule that was supposedly handed down by their god.
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A Pyrrhic victory for religious symbolism

While much of the week’s legal news has centered on the leaked draft of a US Supreme Court that revealed that a majority of the court have decided to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the US, there was another ruling on Monday that has much less of a momentous impact, and that was the unanimous opinion that said that the city of Boston could not forbid the flying of a flag at city hall that had a cross on it.

The city of Boston violated the free speech rights of a Christian group by refusing to fly a flag bearing the image of a cross at city hall as part of a program that let private groups use the flagpole while holding events in the plaza below, the US supreme court ruled unanimously on Monday.

The 9-0 decision overturned a lower-court ruling that the rejection of Camp Constitution and its director, Harold Shurtleff, did not violate their rights to freedom of speech under the first amendment to the US constitution.
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Francis Collins, religious scientist

The geneticist has had a distinguished career and for the last dozen years has served as director of the National Institutes of Health, a massive federal agency that does basic research as well as fund the research of scientists in the US. The fact that he has served during three different administrations both Republican and Democrat shows that he has managed to avoid much of the partisan attacks that now routinely target prominent scientists, such as tthose on Anthony Fauci, who is head of one of the agencies that are under the NIH umbrella. Collins has been steadfast in his support of Fauci.

Collins is also an evangelical Christian, a fact that caused many people in the non-religious community to oppose his nomination by George W. Bush to be head of the NIH. But he has won over the skeptics by the way he has handled his tenure, with no evidence that he was driven by his religious beliefs in making scientific decisions.

He also wrote a best-selling book The Language of God where he attempted to reconcile belief in a god with science. I dissected that book in a 11-part (!) series of blogs back in 2009 where I pointed out the many flaws in his argument. But I have always respected Collins as a scientist and I especially admired his steadfast commitment to make freely available to everyone the data that were generated during the sequencing of the human genome, where he was named leader of the federal effort.
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Philosophy Is Essential to the Intelligent Design Debate by Mano Singham

Continuing my policy of putting my published non-technical articles on this site, this article titled Philosophy Is Essential to the Intelligent Design Debate was published by Physics Today in June 2002 (p. 48-51).

The background to this article is that back in 2002, the advocates of Intelligent Design creationism seemed to be everywhere, seeking to have their ideas included in K-12 school science curricula at least as an alternative to Darwinian evolution. These battles were fought at the state and local levels and involved state and local school boards. Ohio and Kansas were particular hot spots because they were revising their respective science standards and ID advocates saw an opportunity to influence the new standards, especially since school boards consist of elected people who may not have deep understandings of science and could be swayed by dubious arguments about what science was.
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Great moments in religion

A Catholic priest in Arizona has resigned after it was revealed that he had used the phrase “We baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” during the baptismal ceremonies, not only invalidating those baptisms but all the sacraments that the unbaptized people subsequently went through.

Father Andres Arango resigned from the St Gregory parish church in Phoenix earlier this month after diocese leaders discovered he had mistakenly used the phrase “we baptize you” instead of “I baptize you” for years.

His error means that countless baptisms – an irrevocable requirement for salvation in Catholic theology – will have to be performed again. And some churchgoers could find their marriages are not recognized.
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The evil god challenge

Believing in an all-good and omnipotent god is no less difficult than believing in an omnipotent all-evil one. Philosopher Stephen Law points out the inconsistency of thinking that the former is more plausible than the latter.

For centuries, many Western theologians and philosophers have answered the ‘problem of evil’ – how a benevolent god could allow for pain and suffering – with the argument that, in order for humans to perform good deeds, they must be free to choose between good and evil. In this animation from the Centre for Inquiry UK, the British philosopher Stephen Law considers the inverse scenario: if there were a fully evil, omnipotent god, could we possibly imagine he would allow for good deeds to be performed in the name of freedom to choose evil?

Why so many Sri Lankans have foreign names

My father’s first name was Leo (short for Leonard). His three brothers were Reggie (Reginald), Benny (Benedict), and Archie (Archibald) which made them sound like they could be Bertie Wooster’s pals in the Drones Club. How did they come to have such typically English first names? It was because their father (my grandfather) was working as a civilian administrator for the British army in Burma (now Myanmar) at the time they were born. My grandfather was a great admirer of the British and as befitted such an Anglophile, giving all his children English first names (his only daughter was named Eta after an English nun, I believe) would have come naturally to him. He went further and Anglicized his last name from Nallasegarasingam (polysyllabic names are not uncommon in Sri Lanka) to just Singham, relegating the Nallasegara part to a middle initial. While he gave his children that middle name and initial, the subsequent generation (mine) dropped it altogether.
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Child abuse at an evangelical summer camp

The sexual abuse of minors is an extremely ugly thing that rightly arouses great anger among people. This is likely one reason why the QAnon movement has latched on to that topic to recruit followers, by claiming that there is a vast pedophile ring operating at the highest levels of government and celebrity culture. Once they are hooked, they can be drawn iton the vastly bigger conspiracy theory. But curiously, they do not target institutions that have well-documented cases of rampant pedophilia, such as the Catholic church and the Boy Scouts, probably because they are not considered part of the ‘elites’ and thus do not fit into the broader narrative that QAnon seeks to promote.

Now David French and Nancy French have a very disturbing article in the conservative Christian publication The Dispatch that discusses in graphic detail the sexual abuse of children that took place over many years in an evangelical Christian summer camp known as Kanakuk, where the people in charge of the camp did little to stop it despite being alerted to the problem by some parents. The article says that although the main perpetrator Pete Newman was sent to prison ten years ago, the people in charge then, especially Joe White, are still in charge.
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