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SF424
Application for Federal Assistance

DATE: July 9, 2009

APPLICANT: Joel Grus
CONTACT: your.religion.is.false -at- gmail.com

NAME OF FEDERAL AGENCY: National Institutes of Health

DESCRIPTIVE TITLE OF PROJECT:

“Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls”: Religious Implications of Hydrological Phenomena

ESTIMATED PROJECT FUNDING: $30 million

ARE HUMAN SUBJECTS INVOLVED? yes
ARE VERTEBRATE ANIMALS USED? yes
DOES THIS PROJECT HAVE A POTENTIAL IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT? yes
DOES THIS PROJECT HAVE SPIRITUAL IMPLICATIONS? oh god yes

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Joel Grus

POSITION/TITLE: Author, Your Religion Is False

DOES THE PROPOSED PROJECT INVOLVE HUMAN EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS?

It does now!

RESEARCH PLAN

SPECIFIC AIMS:

To investigate the effect on god-belief of human exposure to various hydrological phenomena.

BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE:

Over the past decade, Canadian/American indie rock supergroup The New Atheists have been steadily producing books arguing that the god of the Christian bible (among other gods) doesn’t really exist. Although the biological sciences seem to provide unambiguous support for this view, it is possible that god willing some of the other sciences may countervail.

PRELIMINARY STUDIES:

In 1977, Francis Collins (who is the new director of your agency, but please don’t let that sway your opinion) was hiking in the Cascades, when he came across a waterfall frozen into three streams. As this reminded him of the Trinity, he fell on his knees in the dewy grass and devoted himself to Jesus Christ. So far this experiment has never been replicated.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS:

We will collect a large assortment of scientists and randomly assign them to visit hydrological features, including aquifers, beaches, catadupae, drainage basins, endorheic basins, flood plains, infiltration basins, losing streams, percolation trenches, riparian zones, streams, and waterfalls. (I, for instance, will be randomly assigned to the “beach” treatment.)

Each scientist will be measured both before and after his trip using the Dawkins Scale of Religiosity, after which we will use some type of computer (which we will purchase with the grant money) to make graphs and play Minesweeper draw conclusions.

Based on the results of this first experiment, we will repeat on a larger scale, expanding the subject pool to include non-scientists, monkeys, kangaroos, and human embryonic stem cells.

If all goes well, I think we can get our work published in one of the InterVarsity Press science journals. We’d also present at some of the Campus Crusade science conferences, of course. And we’d be happy to facilitate inclusion of our results in the science curriculum in Texas.

OTHER FUNDING:

We’ve also applied to the BioLogos Foundation for funding. If you could put in a good word for us with Director Collins, that would be just swell!

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It can be tough being a Christian. You have to believe all sorts of unbelievable things. You have to go to church every Sunday and listen to some preachy dude beg for money. You have to put up with brilliantly-written, riotously-funny, expertly-argued books patiently debunking your faith. (I suppose this one doesn’t really distinguish you from believers in any other religion.) And you have to tie yourself into knots trying to explain why the latest scientific discoveries explaining how the world works don’t actually contradict your millennia-old, rooted-in-superstition, alternative “explanations” of how the world works.

But you’re not alone in your struggle. The BioLogos foundation is there with you every step of the way (and when you see one set of footprints, that’s where they were carrying you).

Today, for instance, they’re offering “Three Ways to View the Fossil Record [that aren’t incompatible with your religious faith, even though (if you want to get technical) the fossil record isn’t compatible with your religious faith].”

  1. God created each species “individually from nothing” as time proceeded. (Note: not actually compatible with fossil record.)
  2. God created species in “bursts” over time. (Note: not actually compatible with fossil record.)
  3. Evolutionary biology is the proper explanation for the history and diversity of species, but god has been continually doing the work behind the scenes. So, for instance, he’s always choosing which genetic material crosses over during meiosis, and he helps ducks decide which other ducks to rape, and he helps misdirect mooses he doesn’t want reproducing into having sex with horses instead.

Although the third theory is (vacuously) compatible with the fossil record, it presumes a level of perversity on the part of god that’s really more compatible with the jealous, kinky Old Testament god, not the effeminate, hippie New Testament god.

Accordingly, New-Testament-believing Christians might be better served by a fourth way of viewing the fossil record:

  1. Your religion is false.

This explanation does have the drawback of not being exactly “compatible” with the Christian faith. But this is almost surely outweighed by its virtue of being the correct explanation.

Make sure to come back next time, when we discuss “Five (Incorrect) Ways To Explain The Existence of Suffering”!

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If (like me) you’ve been busy wringing your hands over the fact that we live under a form of government in which the majority gets to tell the minority what to do, you may have missed the news that our good friend Francis Collins, the brains behind BioLogos, is in line to be the next Director of the NIH.

Sure, his bio is a bit iffy in parts:

Collins coined the term “BioLogos” to describe the conclusions he had reached about how life (Bios) came about through God’s speaking it into being (Logos); in that sense DNA can be considered metaphorically as God’s language.

Nonetheless, I have high hopes for this appointment, as it likely means that the current (boring) NIH website will get spruced up with thought-provoking, BioLogos-y questions. For example:

  • What is the proper relation between medicine and religion?
  • At what point in the evolutionary process did humans attain the “Image of God”?
  • If God created the NIH, what created God?
  • How does the illness and disease in the world align with the idea of a loving God?
  • Is there room in healthcare to believe in miracles?
  • What factors should be considered in determining how to approach a passage of scripture?

And really, who better to lead the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research than a guy who started an entire foundation devoted to twisting science in ways that justify his belief in the supernatural.

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Poor Darrel Falk. Not only is he stuck being executive director of the ludicrous BioLogos project, but also his granddaughter has noticed the obvious parallels between the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Jesus.

This is great for us, however, as we get to read his “yes, we were lying about the tooth fairy, and also we were lying about the easter bunny, and also we were lying about santa claus, but Jesus is totally different and here’s why!” essay.

He makes the following points:

1. Some of the data underlying evolutionary biology is “historical” in nature. Some of the arguments for Christianity are also “historical” in nature. This makes belief in Christianity just as data-driven as belief in evolutionary biology!

2. “There are some theologians who I consider just as brilliant as some scientists!”

3. Not only has Jesus never been “falsified,” there are plenty of good reasons to think he exists. For instance, check out the New Testament book Romans, which (unlike The Da Vinci Code) is too packed with “sincere emotion and veneration” to be fiction.

4. If you don’t read every pro-Jesus book with “the open mindset that is supposed to be the trademark of any scientist,” you’ve committed an “unforgiveable sin.”

Now, unlike his granddaughter, I am not a 6-year-old girl, and so it’s hard to say which of his arguments she will find compelling. I’m guessing she’ll reject the first, as even little girls understand that — while studying history helps us understand evolutionary biology — there is also genetic, anatomical, geographical, biochemical, epidemiological, and current biological evidence. I’m also guessing that she’ll reject the second, as little girls tend to put more weight on the opinions of J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer than the opinions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth. Along similar lines, the Baby-sitters Club books are packed with “sincere emotion and veneration” yet are clearly fiction, making me suspect she’ll reject his third argument. And although his granddaughter sounds pretty smart, a number of the books he propounds still seem above her reading level, making it tough to condemn her for not reading them.

However, although he didn’t mention it in his article, he’s also got a fifth argument in his pocket:

5. If you don’t believe in Jesus, then after you die you’re going to get thrown into a Lake of Fire and tortured forever. It’s worse than anything you can imagine. Remember how bad you felt that day at school when all the other girls were making fun of you? Remember how much it hurt when you fell on the playground and broke your arm? Remember when you had the flu and you kept throwing up everything we fed you and we had to take you to the hospital where they stuck a tube in your arm so you wouldn’t get dehydrated? Remember how sad you were when your dog Pepper died? This is so much worse than all those combined, and if you don’t believe in Jesus you’ll feel it all day, every day, forever and ever.

And I’m pretty sure that this one is the kind of argument that resonates with six-year-olds.

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If you’re a Christian (or a Jew), you’ve probably noticed that it’s hard to believe in both science and the Bible. Human Genome Project leader (and evangelical Christian) Francis Collins has noticed this too:

After his best-selling The Language of God came out three years ago, Collins began receiving thousands of e-mails — primarily from other Evangelicals — asking questions about how to reconcile scriptural teachings with scientific evidence. “Many of these Christians have been taught that evolution is wrong,” Collins explains. “They go to college and get exposed to data, and then they’re thrust into personal crises of great intensity. If the church was wrong about the origins of life, was it wrong about everything?

You’d like to think a “scientist” would conclude, “yeah, probably.” I mean, if I were to show up at a scientific conference and present my several-hundred-page “Grand Theory of Everything,” and if the first few chapters were filled with obvious falsehoods, you’d hope that the other scientists would laugh me off the stage, tell me to take a long walk off a short pier, or tar and feather me. And you’d certainly hope that they wouldn’t run off to their little science lairs and try to come up with harebrained justifications as to why the rest of my theory was probably still true.

Which is why, although I have great respect for the Human Genome Project (a scientific achievement on par with the Alan Parsons Project), I find myself wondering just how rigorous it was. And looking at Collins’s BioLogos website isn’t doing much to reassure me.

Here, for instance, is how he sums up his answer to “Question 11: Is there room in BioLogos to believe in miracles?”

This response provides a simple answer to the question of miracles, namely that BioLogos does not in any way remove the logical possibility of miracles. However, for the universe to behave in an apparently ordered fashion, such events must be rare. BioLogos is thus compatible with many faiths that have miraculous events at the center of their doctrine. Finally, although a scientific explanation does in fact take away a phenomenon’s miraculous status, it does not establish that God was not involved in the process.

In other words,

  • The fact that the laws of science are regular and predictable seems to leave no room for miracles; however, there could still be miracles as long as they didn’t happen very often.
  • Also, even though any given “miracle” may have a perfectly natural scientific explanation, god may have been involved somehow.

I am not sure what the word is for “let’s add an element to our theory that makes it more complicated and doesn’t actually explain anything, but that makes our theory more palatable to the superstitious,” but I’m pretty sure it’s not “science.”

Still, I’ll keep checking the BioLogos site, because I want to see what their answer is to “Question 39: This whole website is just a gigantic prank, isn’t it?”

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