This is how an elected representative respond to a Highschool Kid

Sunday, 15 January 2012 22:59 by salim

A few days ago Jessica Ahlquist, a high school student from Rhode Island won a case against her public school which was showing a Christian prayer in a banner in the school. Pointing out that this is a violation of church-state separation, she requested it to be taken down. The judge agreed with her after looking at the case. If this was a normal country, people would come and appreciate the highly developed civic sense of this young woman. But, instead, the kind hearted christians all around is attacking her calling her names and threatening her with bodily harm. Now there is an elected representative from RI just joined the hooligans.

Here are a couple of links to the story

Peter G. Palumbo, the representative who called Jessica an evil little thing. He needs to hear from people like us what we think of his statement. Here is my email to him. His email address is

Fill his inbox!

Respected Sir,

This is in regards to the comments you made at the John DePetro Show. (See here)

You are talking about a case that was settled by a judge by clearly stating the issue involved violation of constitution. You as a representative, I would think, should be responsible for keeping the sanctity of the constitution. But, sir, instead of that, you decided to call names a high school student who was brave enough to question the blatant violation of constitutional principles.

If you think she is an Evil Little Thing, then we are all Evil Little Things. Every time we see a violation of constitution or other malarkey we will voice our protest. You can call every citizen of this country who raises their voice for their rights as Evil Little Things or Coerced by evil people. But you are just being a reprehensible moron by doing that.

Sir, you are not worthy of the position you are holding. You are just a closed minded little person who doesn’t know what makes this country great

Please resign your post and save the dignity of the institution

Sincerely yours



Friday, 22 April 2011 10:00 by salim

My visit to India after a year was, as always filled with situations very close to what Tim Minhin, inimitably showing in this video. Enjoy

Tim Minchin: STORM
Categories:   Religion | Science
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Unlike religion, Science brings so many heartbreaks!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010 01:26 by salim

So much is happening in the world of science these days with new claims of discoveries and inventions, breaking and formation of new theories, wild hypothesis. In an earlier age, people outside the academia could only get, often mistimed, almost always distorted view from the media.

Now, we have an almost immediate access to most of this information, in many cases, the original papers that describe the finding. There are many science blogs that provides background information and further reading guides. This has given me, and I am sure it is a shared feeling, a real glimpse into the process of science in action. Instead of discoveries and inventions being a bunch of static text in a text book or magazine, I can see each of these ideas evolve, painstakingly. It is like watching a live telecast of (substitute your favorite sports here) with continuous upsets and miraculous moves.

So, here is the short history of Gliese 581g, the earthlike, goldilocks planet from last couple of weeks. Here is one of the many overblown press reports (Gliese 581g).

It really was a wonderful feeling to know there is this planet that could potentially harbor life (well, other than say Io, Titan etc. We still have a problem defining the parameters of life, but that is another story). And the best part, it is only 20 light years away. Think about it, if there is a planet that can support life (as we know) right at our neighborhood, then chances are that there are many more around us.

The scientists Steven Vogt, Paul Butler and possibly a large unnamed gang of doctoral and post doctoral scholars analyzed 11 years of data available on Gliese 581 to arrive at the conclusion that there could be up to 6 planets orbiting this star with one possibly at the goldilocks zone potentially with liquid water. This planet could have a minimum of 3 times the mass of earth.

The frenzy followed this included someone in TV saying that it is only 20 light years away and if we trash earth, we could go there. This is true, if you have 180,000 years or energy equivalent of total earth consumption for several thousand years. So, we are not going there anytime soon.

Then came the shocking news. A SETI scientist from Australia Ragbir Bhathal had detected a strange pulse from this planet 2 years ago. This however did not impress Drake!

Speculations, stories, visitations from beings live in Gliese 581g, psychics who claim they are in communication with the great king Atutoao of Gliese 581g, and finally…

You know, there might not be a planet at all…

This is the problem with science. You cannot have faith in anything scientific. The moment you start believing something, there comes an experiment, an observation, a mathematical proof that force you to change.

Unlike religion, where it takes a few hundred years for a mistake to be admitted, and the only thing valid is faith.

Strangely though, I love the heart breaking, invigorating, wondrous feeling of awe, every day is a new day. Nothing remains unquestioned, no truths remain unchallenged.

Aussie Christians and Ethics Education

Monday, 13 September 2010 18:21 by salim

Jim Coyne of Why Evolution is True writes about the NSW (New South Wales) policy of teaching Christianity in schools. Apparently until recently students who did not want to go to the religion class were prohibited from doing any other educational work. Recently they introduced an alternative course on Ethics for students who does not want to listen to the brain washing by the priests. Below is a sample of the Ethics class

From the description and the video it looks like a very creative way of encouraging students to think for themselves and to learn that it is ok to dissent. Of course the church is all offended by this. One pastor says, “it creates competition” to telling (translation – indoctrinate) students about Jesus. It appears that over 50% of the students are now opting the Ethics class to the religion class.

For a very long time, I thought that India was so backward when it comes to adherence to religion compared to the developed countries. But, it appears that, Indian secular roots is much stronger than anywhere else, especially compared to many of the developed countries. I have studied in government and christian missionary schools, and there were absolutely no teaching of religion. Many of my teachers in highschool where nuns, but they seldom brought faith and religion into the classroom. Well, in a few times when they tried to bring it up, I and a few other atheist students could effectively question it and stop it from being repeated. While that put me slightly in the not-so-liked group, there never was any adverse reaction from the teachers.

It is good to have brought up in a secular country. Though the larger society in India is still mired in religious factions and superstitions, the educational institutions and the state are very clearly separated from it albeit efforts, mainly by the religions fundamentalist parties (Bharatiya Janata Party, Muslim League, some Christian political organizations etc.) to dilute this separation.

(Most of my experience here is from Kerala, which might not be representational of the rest of India, but I don’t think anyone will try to introduce creationism or young earth theory into the curriculum)

Even though I am not particularly a nationalist, secularism of India is something to be proud of.

Categories:   Freedom | Politics | Religion
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This is priceless

Sunday, 28 February 2010 03:24 by salim
Categories:   Religion
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Laws of Nature as God

Sunday, 8 November 2009 23:06 by salim

I have been reading a few books/articles the past week about world views, universe, God etc. In many of these, a repeating meme is Laws of Nature as an absolute, external phenomenon.

For e.g., two of them talk about Einstein’s statement about God being the laws of universe. In another one the author uses the fact that if the initial conditions of the universe just after big bang was just a bit off, we would be in a radically different world.

One thing, I think, we tend to forget is that, all these laws, mathematical equations and a priory assumptions about universe is our way of coping with reality. These are artifacts that we use to understand nature around us. Reality does not need to “obey” any of these rules. It just that, our observations tend to show that, interpretations according to our laws – the artifacts we use to describe nature – seem to be consistent.

At any point in time of human history, these laws are limited by our observations, and our logical and intellectual capacity to understand them. A good example is the presence of singularities and their usual side effect, black holes. Our current laws are incapable of describing this phenomenon, so we do not have a law for it. It doesn’t mean singularities do not “obey” the laws of universe, rather, it shows WE do not have a law to describe and understand it.

Nature – universe – on the other hand just exists, irrespective of what we think and what laws we formulate about it. There is no requirement for the universe to have uniform behavior and/or existence throughout its history and expanse. It is just convenient for us to assume that it is so.

So, when someone says that their god is synonymous with the laws of nature, it just means that their god is a manufactured artifact they use to feel comfortable.

For me, I am quite comfortable not knowing everything about the universe!

Categories:   Religion | Science | Nature
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Dubious shadows that live in the holes in our knowledge

Friday, 9 October 2009 02:09 by salim

There are so many dubious hypotheses and proclamations that solely live in the holes in our knowledge. You can see them in many areas. For e.g. the (tragically) popular Creationist interpretations of life (recently dubbed as Intelligent design), many “alternative” medicine ideas like Homoeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy etc, various self healing/self help methodologies in various names, UFOlogy and so on

One common thread that links all these fantastic ideas is that rely almost exclusively in the holes in our current knowledge. All of them directly or indirectly complains about a large scale conspiracy in which all the scientists, governments, school and college teachers and peer reviewed publications are deeply involved with the sole aim to desecrate or dismiss the claims of these fantasists.

Recently there were a whole bunch of buzz about Ardipithecus Ramidus, a Hominid that lived before Lucy the Austrelopithecus and potentially one step closer to the common ancestor of humans and large apes like Chimpanzee. This prompted me to see what Discovery Institute had to say about this new development. Strangely enough, my various searches could only produce a commentary about a the Texas school board testimony from March this year. This is quite understandable. If one reads the books and articles that talks about creationism (or its hip name Intelligent Design) instead of providing proof through scientific rigor, it only points out to the gaps (in many cases erroneously, but in some cases, actual gaps like lack of completeness transitional fossils) in the current body of knowledge.

A popular technique that is used by a lot of “new age” thinkers is to use (or misuse) popularized notions about higher science and then try to correlate it with half baked notions of ancient philosophy. One such hilarious attempt is the one to explain the efficacy of homoeopathy, which essentially dispenses distilled water as medicine. The homoeopathic “medicines” has been tested by various high sensitivity tools and methods by both proponents and critics to find any trace of the original substance these medicines are allegedly derived from. There has been no evidence. One can use simple high school chemistry to prove that the repeated dilutions will eventually remove even a single molecule of the substance that we originally started with. There are several “theories” that suggest molecular reorganization of water because of the presence of the substance, or the mysterious transference of the “spirit” of the substance to the water by repeated dilution and vigorous shaking. While these are amusing, i would say the funniest one is this. This explanation uses quantum entanglement as a potential cause of efficacy of homoeopathy. It states “Homeopathy could be a macroscopic analogue to quantum teleportation..”. For a person whose basic quantum mechanics knowledge comes from science channel shows where quantum entanglement is pictured by huge balls or people, this might seem plausible. It is like after seeing the gravity distortion pictured as a rubber sheet and bowling balls in the TV and trying to hypothesize that the reason why my bowling ball always goes to the gutter is because of the space time curvature created by the ball.

Another technique is to use the concepts of zero point energy and dark energy as analogous to the mysterious energy that a lot of ancient texts talk about. Many self help, life coaching techniques as well as spiritual healers claim that their idea works due to a mysterious energy that is unmeasurable by us. What is the proof? Well, it is the zero point energy and/or dark energy.

If anyone try to question them, they will immediately revert to the global conspiracy that try to prevent any of these “novel scientific” ideas from becoming public.

While the Discovery Institute has a very specific political and religious reason for fighting theory of evolution, these spirit healers, UFOlogists etc. are primarily eying for the money they could make from healing workshops and book publishing.

Skeptoid has a very nice article that lists a 15 point test on how to spot pseudoscience. It is a very good checklist to refer if you want to test someone’s dubious claim.

Being a skeptic is an evolutionary necessity!

Earth A Biography - Science/Nature shows and religious determinism

Wednesday, 16 July 2008 00:50 by salim

The new three part series in National Geographic is one of the endless series of very high definition earth imageries that now fills the Science/Discovery/NG channels. This, like most other documentaries of the type gives a rather peripheral view of the earth and its evolution.

The series examines different aspects of earth's life through beautifully captured imageries, that rightfully stands at par with Planet Earth and Blue Planet.

I have not watched the whole of it yet. But from the three parts I have already watched, it feels a bit empty except for those gorgeous shots. Dr.Iain Stewart is not the most entertaining presenter if you ask me. But more than the presentation itself, it is the abundance of platitudes that kill the enjoyment.

Here is one example. The episode is Volcanoes and Iain is talking about the carbon cycle. The scene starts with really beautiful micro-shots and quite dazzling aerial and satellite pictures of the sea green with algae. Then he describes how algae absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and eventually die and sediment at the bottom of the ocean. Then comes the revelation! If the algae continues to absorb carbon dioxide, it will eventually thin out the green house effect and the earth will become too cold. That will be the end of life! He then continues to talk about the seduction as the tectonic plates move and the carbon in the sediment gets converted to carbon dioxide.

This is actually a constant theme in these science/nature shows. There is always this single overarching reason for life to survive. Reduce the temperature by a few degrees, a rogue meteor. This not just is limited to the destiny of life, but for the universe itself! Often you will hear if the value of cosmological constant was a bit off, or if the initial temperature of the universe immediately after the big bang was a little lower...

As I see it, these are the same fatalistic deterministic world views that is so ingrained with our age old views of the world, mainly controlled by theological dogma and mythological delusions.

Deterministic narratives of cosmology is fundamental to the propagation of religious dogmas. Any assumption of creation - as Einstein amply demonstrated - has to preclude any questions about a deterministic evolution. Remember, god does not play dice!!

We should, by now, know that there is not just one path that leads to the current state of the Universe. While past might be fixed, it does not, by any means say that this is the only possible current state. Nor does it mean that our past is the only way to reach here.

I am eagerly waiting to see a narration that is devoid of the fatalistic proclamations one of these days. May be I should watch Nova more regularly!!!