Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Opportunistic adherence




The sign pictured above was displayed proudly by Larry Adams at the Indianapolis rally of the National Organization for Marriage in July of 2010.  It reflects one extreme on a spectrum of attitudes, indicating that actively gay individuals should be killed for their behavior.  On the other end of the struggle, homosexual Americans and supporters of equal rights demand to be heard and taken seriously.

In the past few years, state-level judiciary activity has amplified the sentiments on both sides of the clash.  Barack Obama, only days ago, added to the controversy by issuing a public endorsement of same-sex marriage.  Although some claim it is merely a calculated political move, it is a surprising one, considering Obama's repeated insistence on his status as a Christian.

Homosexuality is just one of the behaviors condemned, in no unclear terms, by the Bible.  Unlawful acts are scribed along with associated punishments indicated as not only fitting, but mandatory.  Deuteronomy contains examples, laying out the appropriate disciplinary actions for scenarios involving certain sexual encounters.  According to the text, any man found to have engaged in sexual intercourse with an unmarried virgin must pay her family restitution in the form of fifty silver pieces and marry her.

Such a punishment for fornication seems ridiculous in today's society.  While most modern-day American Christians identify unwedded sex as sinful, they do not rally for laws to be enacted against it.  They may preach, but ultimately, they are willing to allow people do as they choose, and leave it for God to sort out after the fact.  Yet, many of these same rank and file Christians are barking in the ears of lawmakers in an effort to keep same-sex marriage illegal.  Both fornication and homosexuality are considered abominations in the Bible, but one is tolerated by Christians far more than the other.  The reason behind this inconsistent approach is no mystery.

The truth is that heterosexuals are sometimes made uncomfortable by the thought of two members of the same gender being physically intimate with one another.  According to a recent preliminary psychological study, individuals possessing latent homosexual tendencies who have been raised in intolerant environments often rail against the behavior they have subconsciously or consciously been forced to suppress.  Whether genuinely heterosexual or just playing the part out of some inspired sense of self-loathing or fear, the Bible lends itself perfectly to those who would rather keep homosexuality out of view and considered taboo.

We live in a nation rooted in the concept that each and every one of us should have the right to pursue happiness, insofar as it does not impinge upon anyone else's pursuit of their own.  Not one credible claim has been made for the dangers of allowing homosexuals to marry.  And so, with no leg on which to stand, Christians have fallen back on a tried-and-true cop-out: "The Bible says so."

As a people, we have progressed far enough that we cannot, in good conscience, allow ourselves to withhold rights from fellow humans without justification.  Being made uneasy by the thought of same-sex relationships is not justification enough, and using the Bible as a weapon in a war against human equality is disgraceful.  The Old Testament's rules of engagement, along with the rest of the Bible, were penned in a time of barbarism and intellectual darkness.  It is high time that we step out of the Bronze Age.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Finding perspective in a puddle






Proponents of creationism sometimes attempt to wax scientific, spewing terms like "cosmological constants" in an attempt to earn some credibility during debates. The goal is to spin scientific findings so that they appear to be evidence of creation. Practitioners of this tactic rely heavily on the audience members' limited understanding of scientific fields like macro evolution and astronomy.


It is commonly held th
at the universe is only able to exist because its fundamental constants are tuned perfectly.  While this is a sound concept, creationists argue that it is an indication of an intelligent designer.  Watch any debate with Frank Turek's name on the bill, and you'll witness a consummate example.


Turek is a slick talker, massaging crowds with jokes aplenty as he gallops along at "150 words a minute with gusts at 350", to quote the man himself.  His brisk pace overwhelms the audience (and his opponent, he hopes) with an onslaught of questionable premises and, most importantly, little time to with which to question.  This approach is helpful when trying to pass off shaky claims like the fine-tuning argument.  Let's take a moment to identify where this logic falls short.

Imagine you are walking down a street after a substantial rain.  You come upon a pothole that has filled with water.  If you were to follow the same logic as the creationists' fine-tuning argument, you might revel in amazement at how the pothole had been designed to accommodate precisely the number of rain drops that fell into it.  In reality, however, this is a backward way of looking at the situation.

It was not providence that gave a pothole perfectly suited to fit the coming rain.  Instead, the rain fell and collected in suitable depressions.  There is a puddle for you to ponder only because the conditions were right for one to form--and such is the case with our universe.  It may well exist with its current constants because it couldn't have done so any other way--no pothole, no puddle.

Similarly, our planet was not created and furnished to be a comfortable fit for humans.  Rather, life gained a foothold and thrived here due to the presence of the necessary conditions (atmosphere, liquid water, elemental composition, distance from our star, etc).  Through the gradual, non-random process of natural selection, humans and other lifeforms evolved to make due with what is available on Earth.  Under even slightly different conditions, flora and fauna would likely have taken drastically different evolutionary paths, resulting in beings unlike anything we've seen or imagined.


Reflect on the fact that a staggering majority of the lifeforms that ever existed on Earth are now extinct, and it becomes clear that, despite our current success, humans have a tenuous grip on existence.  Add to that the number of planets and moons we've observed in our celestial neighborhood that are unacceptable for life in any known form, and it becomes foolish to insist that the cosmos were designed with us in mind.  It takes a degree of bravery to accept disquieting concepts like these, but we can gain a new appreciation of life when we acknowledge its rarity and fragility in an indifferent universe that is not for us.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fact or Faked, indeed...




In 2010, the SyFy channel began airing Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.  Now entering its third season, the show gathers six "experts" to investigate paranormal claims.  In each episode, the team attempts to replicate source photos or videos that claim to have captured paranormal phenomena.  Should they be successful in producing replications, the case can be deemed a likely hoax.

Fact or Faked appears, on its face, to be in the tradition of skeptic-friendly shows like National Geographic's Is It Real? (2005-2007) and Showtime's Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003-2010).  During their lifespans, these shows represented the depressingly outnumbered skeptical viewpoint, and took a straight-shooting approach toward debunking myths, the paranormal, and other dubious beliefs.  They were a rare and welcome bastion against the recent onslaught of programs baselessly asserting the existence of the paranormal.  At first glance, it seems that Fact or Faked has stepped up to continue the tradition of unapologetically ruining the fun of believers everywhere.

Disappointingly, upon watching Fact or Faked, I identified some red flags immediately.  One of the segments in episode three of season two was particularly obnoxious and serves as a good example.  In this segment, the team investigates photographs taken by T.G. Hamilton that allegedly show mediums manifesting ectoplasm during seances.  Near the start of the segment, the cast's resident photography expert, Chi-Lan Lieu, states that "Scholars and experts have studied the negatives and the prints from these sessions, and they say that they don't see any evidence of tampering".  Despite the overly dramatic, creepy music playing in the background as she speaks, there's nothing impressive about her statement--no tampering would be necessary to achieve such lame effects.

At the outset of the segment, the team travels to meet with an expert (and I use the term loosely) on T.G. Hamilton and ectoplasm.  When asked how he would respond to skeptics who claim the ectoplasm is a parlor trick, he replies in a rather fallacious manner: "If you look at the professionals involved--the medical doctors, the clergymen, the lawyers--they had so much to lose if they were participating in fraud".  Since when does that qualify as evidence?  That's tantamount to asserting that you simply could not have committed a murder because of what you would stand to lose if caught.  However, no challenge is issued in response to the expert's faulty logic.  Rather, it is met with a nod of tacit acceptance.


Figure 1

Kicking off the attempt to recreate the source photo seen in figure 1, one of the team members, Devin Marble, suggests that if he exhales cigar smoke while moving forward, the smoke may curl around his head.  This struck me as curious because the alleged ectoplasm from the source photo does not appear to have smoke-like qualities.  It quite plainly appears to be a pulled-apart, cottony material (think along the lines of fake spider web Halloween decorations) wrapped around the medium's head and affixed to a point in the background at an indeterminate distance.  I would also bet that the material in question is not originating from the medium's mouth and moving up and around her head à la cigar smoke.  Instead, it is stretched down over her face and held in place by her mouth.

The resultant photo looks exactly as one would expect.  Smooth, translucent wisps of smoke encircle Devin's face.  Upon development of the image, Bill Murphy, "lead scientist" on the team, points out that their attempt at ectoplasm looks lighter and wispier than the material in the source photo.  Rather than considering that smoke may have been the wrong choice, Devin proposes that, with the perfect setting and an ability to direct the smoke, they may have gotten a more spot-on replication.  Shrugging their shoulders, they decide that their result is close enough, and move on to the next source photo.  Somehow, they managed to completely overlook the obviously fibrous nature of the material in question.


Figure 2

The second original photo analyzed is even less of a mystery than the first.  Looking at figure 2, it appears that the same material is being used.  The only difference here, as opposed to figure 1, is that the material hasn't been stretched apart to the same degree.  The Fact or Fake crew opted to use a mesh tube filled with cotton balls to recreate the effect, once again ignoring the fibrousness of the source photo's material.

Unsurprisingly, the results were lukewarm.  During the case's verdict, somebody mentions that the source's ectoplasm has "kind of a fuzzy edge", whereas the replica's edges are "very defined".  It's a valid point, but leaves much to be desired.  So much was wrong with the team's approach to these replications, yet nobody really speaks up or makes any suggestions for improvement.

A lack of attention to detail is bad enough.  Couple that with settling for poor execution, and things start to get embarrassing.  However, the biggest issue here, and the ultimate point of this article, is that this show seems to be missing the target intentionally.

It may seem like an odd indictment at first, but consider the reason behind the wild success of ghost-hunting shows.  The majority of people want to believe in the paranormal.  Fact or Faked is cashing on America's love affair with ghosts and aliens by using sensational language, employing halfhearted debunking strategies, and breathing artificial mystery into lame fakes--all while dressed up as a legitimate, skeptical outing.  It would appear that Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files is a fake in its own right, sharing more in common with Ghost Hunters than it does with other, truly skeptical, investigative programs.

It is sad, but true, that the road to high ratings isn't paved with busted hoaxes.  The real money is in allowing ridiculous beliefs to live on, even if your show's format forces you to dance near the edge of quelling them.  As Lisa Simpson once said, "You'll never go broke appealing to the lowest common denominator".

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Amorality ≠ immorality




Within the controversies between theists and atheists, the subject of morality is one to which debaters return time and again.  It is a favorite tactic of theists to point out, often in an accusatory manner, that atheism is amoral.  The implication: Without divine commandment, atheists have no moral compass by which to lead an ethical existence, predisposing them to bad behavior.  For atheists, dismantling this argument is a simple affair.

It's important to start with recognizing and embracing that atheism is, in fact, amoral.  Merriam-Webster defines 'amoral' as "being neither moral nor immoral; specifically : lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply".  Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in gods, attempting no commentaries on right or wrong.  Thus, this theist argument ends up cutting both ways.  By pointing out the amoral nature of atheism, we are at once detaching it from immoral behavior as much as from moral behavior.

The next logical step for theists is to ask (and they often do) from where atheists are able to derive a moral code.  Sam Harris, neuroscientist, argues in The Moral Landscape that science can provide answers about how and why human values have arisen.  He goes as far as to claim that, as the science of morality progresses, we will arrive at quantifiable data.  His case is compelling, positing that our concepts of favorable behaviors relate directly to the survival and success of one's self and one's tribe.  Violent and otherwise criminal behavior damages the group and, therefore, cannot be tolerated.

Whether or not Harris' theory is accurate, we still have other, more concrete bits of evidence to consider.  For instance, we can observe societies under minimal religious influence--take, for example, the country of Sweden.  It has been estimated that as little as 15% of Swedish citizens believe in a god (or gods).  Surely, if theists are onto something, the general godlessness of these scandalous Scandinavians should result in some damning statistics.  To the contrary, we find nothing of the sort.  Is their crime rate out of control?  No, it is actually quite average for planet Earth.  Are 85% of Swedes unethical monsters, rampaging and raping due to a gross lack of morals?  Of course not.

One could argue that, even if a person (a majority Swede, perhaps) does not adhere to any religious doctrines, they've likely heard the Holy Bible's golden rule, and are subconsciously indoctrinated into using it as a moral framework.  Indeed, the ubiquity of the lesson could indicate that perhaps all modern societies, Sweden included, hold it at their heart.  Religion could still yet be claimed as the ultimate source of good in the world, even if atheists eschew it.

The aforementioned golden rule states that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us (in case any of you have been living under a rock).  It is generally agreed upon, even among the atheist ranks, that the golden rule is a valuable takeaway from the Holy Bible.  It seems to resonate with everyone as a most fundamental truth of morality.  Is this a testament to the validity of the book?  Not quite.  Unfortunately for theists, there exists a powerful counter-argument.

It is equally compelling to consider, if not more so, that the reason behind the golden rule's universal truthiness is endowed by its origin--man.  Common sense informs us that a rule created by mankind and for mankind would fit mankind like a glove.  If we presume that gods and the sacred stories that elucidate them were created by man, not the other way around, we can arrive back at the existence of morals without a divine origin.  Furthermore, this line of logic transforms the charm of the golden rule into something even more special: A testament to the fact that we humans, through evolutionary biology or not, have an inborn moral compass.  We are, instinctually, moral animals.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fighters on the frontlines

I wanted to take a moment to shine a light on some of my favorite organizations.  These are men and women working tirelessly in various arenas to defend and emphasize the importance of critical, rational thought.  Links are provided so that you can learn more about each of these wonderful groups.  Please take the time to read and consider offering your support.



James Randi Educational Foundation

For decades, James Randi has been a vanguard in the war against pseudoscience and the intellectually dishonest.  He successfully executed epic takedowns of faith-healer Peter Popoff, spoon-bender Uri Geller, and many others.  In 1996, the James Randi Educational Foundation was founded.  The organization has a general focus on promoting critical thought by providing free resources and tools to teachers and skeptics.  As a social service, the JREF continues to protect us all by debunking charlatans of all stripes (psychics, homeopaths and other snake oil salesmen, etc) who would seek to profit by deceiving and taking advantage of the unwitting.
Learn more about the James Randi Educational Foundation by clicking HERE
Click HERE to support the James Randi Educational Foundation.



National Center for Science Education

 
The National Center for Science Education has been at the forefront of the battle to keep religious teachings out of science classrooms since its inception in 1981.  Publics schools and textbooks have become a battleground, wherein creationists continue to try new, ever sneakier ways of furthering their religious agenda while casting unreasonable doubt on the science of evolutionary biology.  More recently, the NCSE has taken on the issue of defending the science of climate change.  With this new branch of defense and advocacy comes an increased need for funding.  
Learn more about the National Center for Science Education by clicking HERE.
Click HERE to support the National Center for Science Education.



The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

To anyone even slightly interested in science and skepticism, Richard Dawkins needs no introduction.  As one of atheism's "four horsemen", Dawkins has become a hero in some camps and a villain in others.  Hero or villain, one thing remains true:  this man is committed to preserving the importance of intellectual honesty.  Along lines similar to the JREF, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science's mission statement is "to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering".  They provide a great news resource for pertinent current events, including political issues and petitions, found at RichardDawkins.net.
In association with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Richard also heads the Out Campaign for atheists.  The campaign serves as an outreach program, urging atheists to fly their colors proudly as a means of squashing taboo and encouraging other non-believers to feel comfortable "coming out".  The Out Campaign has adopted the scarlet letter "A" as its logo and offers shirts, pins, patches, and other items to help atheists express their worldview proudly.
Learn more about the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science by clicking HERE.
Click HERE to support the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.
Learn more about the Out Campaign by clicking HERE.



The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe

This one is very near and dear to my heart.  The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (or the SGU, as it is commonly called), is a weekly podcast hosted by Steve Novella.  Steve is president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society (the NESS), as well as an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine.  For the SGU podcast, he is joined by Rebecca Watson, Evan Bernstein, and the two younger Novella brothers, Bob and Jay.  Together, they deliver a well-formatted, highly entertaining podcast experience filled with news, games, and interviews -- all with a scientific and skeptical bent. 
The Skeptics' Guide is so important to the cause because of its fun, friendly, and easily accessible nature.  With thousands of listeners from all over the globe tuning in each week, the SGU is making serious progress in promoting critical thinking and educating society against deceivers and quacks.  Check out the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast at their website or download from iTunes.  Do yourself a favor and listen all the way back through their mountainous library.  You'll be glad you did.
Learn more about the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe by clicking HERE.
Click HERE to support the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.



Center for Inquiry

The Center for Inquiry seeks to foster a secular society, wherein public policy is based on humanist values and not influenced by religious dogma or pseudoscience.  Their position is that all claims, regardless of their nature, should be subject to scrutiny.  Through extensive outreach programs, the CFI aims to unite secularists, humanists, skeptics, atheists, and freethinkers from all communities into a powerful network in order to share resources and increase impact.
The CFI Institute, founded 25 years ago, offers formal education through on and offline courses for those interested in learning about science, secularism, humanism, and skepticism.  They also run a NY-based program called Camp Inquiry.  This week-long summer camp teaches children between the ages of 7-16 how to face the challenges of living in today's religious and pseudoscientific society.  This style of education is an invaluable gift that is sorely lacking in the lives of most children.
Learn more about the Center for Inquiry by clicking HERE.
Click HERE to support the Center for Inquiry.



This article is, by no means, an exhaustive list.  These five represent just a handful of the organizations working toward the common goal  of creating a world where rational thought is championed, evidence-based science is demanded, and charlatans are not afforded any of our esteem or our money.  Their work is of the utmost importance and can only be accomplished with the support of donors.

Please note that I do not own the rights to the logos of these organizations.  I am not officially affiliated with any of these groups -- I am only a fan and supporter.  Thank you for reading.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Exit strategy




A popular adage tells us that two things in life are certain: death and taxes.  This likely explains why, as I sat down tonight to write a check to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, the idea for this blog entry struck me.  I suppose I'm focused on the inevitable at the moment.

Death, as a topic, has been a font of endless fascination and contemplation for me.  I am an avowed skeptic with a particular interest in weighing the validity of religious faiths.  As such, I have toyed with questions regarding the existence of an afterlife time and time again.

This article, however, is not about the existence of an afterlife.  It is not about whether, upon bodily death, we eject our souls.  Instead, this article is focused on the earthly matter of what will become of our bodies following our impending deaths -- and if we should care one way or the other.

When asked, most people have a formed opinion on how they would like their body to be treated after they die.  In American culture, the majority of bodies are placed into caskets and interred, while cremation follows in a close second place.  There are other, less common practices that include burial at sea, natural burial (also known as "green" burial), donation to science, and even cryonics.  With multiple options available, cultural norms and customs, religious doctrine, and personal preference can all guide an individual's choice of posthumous treatment.

This is not, however, simply a matter of selecting from different but equally reasonable options, as it initially appears.  A thoughtful mind will find more to be considered.  Pushing aside any possible religious directives, we can arrive at a more objective appraisal of the options on the table.

Executing a Google search of "cremation vs burial" will yield several pros and cons for each.  Many of the criticisms are based on environmental impact.  Proponents of cremation are sure to mention the toxicity of embalming fluids commonly used in the preparation of bodies for interment, as well as the chemicals contained in the lacquer applied to caskets.  Supporters of traditional casket burials point out that a variety of pollutants are dumped into the atmosphere in significant amounts during the burning of a body.

Concern about the environment is certainly noble, and it is clear that both sides make a good point about the other.  In this respect, neither of the most commonly used methods in America are planet-friendly.  Cremation and traditional casket burial effectively cancel each other out in the environmental arena.

There is another version of interment, of which I am a fan, that takes a more environmentally conscientious approach.  Known as natural or "green" burial, it forgoes the process of mummifying the body through the use of toxic embalming fluids.  The casket or body is placed directly into the earth, as opposed to a subterranean concrete vault.  Furthermore, the casket, if used at all (simply wrapping the body in a shroud or blanket is also an option), is made of completely biodegradable materials.

My personal opinion on the subject is molded by a few factors.  For starters, I am an atheist.  Therefore, I do not adhere to any religious directive as to how my deceased body should or shouldn't be treated.  I do not, of course, want my body to be spilling toxins into the soil or causing the release of pollutants into the air.  More than anything else, though, I am decided by a sense of fundamental obligation to my planet and the universe at large.

I feel that my body should be readily accessible to the flora and fauna that would thrive off of it.  All my life, I have consumed organic material to fuel my body.  It is my duty to return to the soil and become food.  Being placed in a box would only delay an inevitable onslaught.

It should go without saying that I am opposed to cremation as well.  Who am I to have my body -- a body built by eating countless once-living forms -- burned to an unrecognizable pile of ash, incapable of continuing this cycle of energy exchange?  It seems selfish and, in a way, arrogant to partake of the earth throughout a lifetime and refuse to give anything back at the end.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Strong faith, weak vision.




Last month, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took to the soapbox before the Ohio Christian Alliance.  While pandering to the crowd, he took the opportunity to sling some mud at the current President.  Certainly, nobody should be surprised, as politicians typically eat, sleep, and breathe slander.  One of Santorum's statements, though, lit a small spark of controversy that opened a new and interesting avenue of discussion.

It all began when, in an obvious attempt to cast doubt on Barrack Obama's religiosity, Santorum claimed that Obama followed "some phony theology.  Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology".  The fact that he was addressing the Ohio Christian Alliance is not lost on me, but this style of  dirty fighting is as irrelevant as it is despicable.

Many found the comment to be curious, considering that Obama has repeatedly asserted his Christian faith.  In pursuit of political correctness, people wanted to know just where Santorum got off questioning the President's faith in this way.  For the real answer, all you have to do is look back to 2008 when Santorum spoke of whether it is possible for anyone to be a "liberal Christian".

"To take what is plainly written and say that I don’t agree with that, therefore, I don’t have to pay attention to it, means you’re not what you say you are. You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian."

I have to admit that I agree with Rick on this one.  In fact, I've been railing against the revisionist approach taken by so many religious faithfuls for a long time now.  However, when asked to explain himself on the day following last months' swipe at Obama's faith, Santorum did not reiterate his 2008 sentiment quoted above.  Instead, he chose to turn the subject into an environmental one.  More specifically, he tied a tenuous tether between his now controversial statement and global warming.

"I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man, and says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth by things that are, frankly, not scientifically proven; like, for example, that politicization of the whole global warming debate -- this is all just an attempt to centralize power, to give more power to the government."

What Santorum meant by this rambling pile of garbage is that Obama's desire to protect the ecosystems of our planet is misaligned with Christianity.  Setting aside the fact that there is a healthy consensus among scientists that Earth's climate is, in fact, being affected by humans, we can move on to the ultimate point of this article:  Rick Santorum's religion, as is his claim, teaches him that "man should be in charge of the Earth and should have dominion over it".

It's obvious that religion impacts politics on topics like abortion and gay marriage, but this is an angle I had never before considered.  The Bible tells us that we humans are the reason for the existence of the universe. It's all for us -- the animals as food, the stars as guidance, etc.  So, then, it stands to reason that a religious fanatic such as Rick Santorum would view the planet's resources as ready and waiting to be used up.

This type of arrogant thinking is a direct danger to the continuation of our species and countless others.  Santorum's apparent sense of entitlement, instilled in him by religious teachings, leads him toward feeling insulted when the President blocks construction of a new oil pipeline.  While it is true that the pipeline's construction would lead to new jobs, it is a short-sighted goal, further committing us to a dependence on fossil fuel.  It is a matter of fact that the current oil infrastructure is unsustainable.  The task of moving on to sustainable, greener energy sources is a daunting one, but would likely create even more jobs than a pipeline project.

Interestingly, when Santorum proffered his belief of man's inherent ownership of the Earth, he mentioned our duty to be "good stewards".  As the most technologically-advanced species on Earth, we have indeed inherited this stewardship, whether or not it was willed by a creator.  Humans hold the power to proactively protect or destroy the planet.  Is Santorum's nose so close to the pages of his Bible that he cannot see the dangers of scoffing at the scientific community's consensus on global climate change?  I would like to believe that nobody could really feel that systematic exploitation of non-renewable resources qualifies as protection of our home world.