Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 CE

Atheists: How many of us are there in the world?

The answer to the question is not simple. Many believe that atheists are not numerous and that we are out of the mainstream. In addition, some people use the term "atheist" as an insult and equate it with immoral or evil. After doing some research I found some surprises.

First, if we consider atheists; agnostics; seculars and people with no religion, as part of the same group, we are ranked third among the different beliefs (if atheism can be counted as a belief) with 1.1 billion people. this number only trails the ones that Christians (2.1 billion) and Islamists (1.3 billion) have. This might sound strange, but it can be explained by the way questions are asked in surveys. In most countries a small number of people (zero to a fraction of 1 percent) will answer "atheism" or "atheist" when asked an open-ended question about their religious option. If the question is phrased like this: "Are you an atheist?"A slightly larger number of people will answer "yes". A slightly larger number than that will answer "no" when asked if they believe in any type of god, deity, or supernatural being. A slightly larger number will answer "no" when asked if they "believe in God". Finally, a larger number of people answer "none" or "non-religious" when asked asked an open-ended question about what their religious preference is. Average numbers show that roughly half of the people who self-identify as "nonreligious" also answer "yes" when asked if they believe in God or a supernatural being.

Second, there are countries that have a very large number of non-believers like Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Japan. They have percentages that range between 40 and 80% of their populations. The thing that has to be pointed out is that those countries are probably the most educated countries in the planet. What was surprising for me were the high percentages, not the fact that where there is more education there are less believers.

With respect to the U.S., about 13.2% of the population describe themselves as nonreligious, 0.5% describe themselves as agnostic, and a smaller number describe themselves as atheist (Kosmin, ARIS/American Religious Identification Survey, City University of New York, 2001).

Among scientists, 60.7% claimed "disbelief or doubt the existence of a god". This number is 93% among the members of the National Academy of Sciences.

As a conclusion I must say that our numbers are significant, however, there is sill a stigma associated with the name "atheist". Many people who de facto are non-believers hesitate about calling themselves atheists. Scientists are the group of people who show the greatest number of non-believers. This is very important, because in a country like the U.S., scientists and engineers, who are only 5% of the population, are responsible for 50% of the GDP.

Thursday, January 26, 2006 CE

Nature versus Man Number 3: Volcanic eruption of Thera and the end of the Minoan civilization

This is part of a series which is intended to show that we are not necessarily the architecs of our future. Sometimes, unexpected events shape our history in ways that we cannot imagine.

The Minoan civilization flourished in the island of Crete, and in adjacent islands, in the Aegean Sea from 2600 BCE to 1450 BCE. It was the most important culture of the Mediterranean Sea at the time of the Bronze Age. It was known basically for its achievements in commerce and naval expertise. In addition, many palaces and urban centers were constructed. The Minoans had an undescifered writing called Linear A, which later evolved into Linear B, which was adopted by the Myceneans who developed it into ancient Greek.

Between 1650 BCE and 1450 BCE, the largest volcanic eruption of the last 10000 years occurred in the island of Thera, modern Santorini. The eruption triggered tsunamis that probably destroyed the Minoan fleet and devastated the ports. The large amounts of ash that have been recovered probably obscured the sun for enough time to induce climatic changes. Considering that Crete is located 110 km (70 miles) from Thera, it is reasonable to believe that the impact of the eruption was catastrophic.

Ihe next thing we know is that the Myceneans, from mainland Greece, took over the archipelago civilization around 1420 BCE. Since it is not known the exact date of the eruption, the theories that explain the decline of the Minoan civilization are varied. We can easily hypothesize that the destruction of the fleet, essential for trade, together with climatic changes that collapsed the agriculture, could have led to famine, political instability and progressive weakness compared to the strength its neighbors. Furthermore, at that time, the Iron Age was taking over and the Minoans, due to the mentioned effects of the volcanic eruption, could not have coped with the technological advances of the time, thus, leaving them in disadvantage.

Nature sometimes works in ways we cannot predict.

Further reading

Monday, January 23, 2006 CE

Dissecting Intelligent Design Number 1: "The mousetrap"

Some time ago, in one of the comments to my post "We are apes", someone said the following: "...there is science to support creationism, take the time to look into it." Well, I decided to look into what many believers in ID call science.

First of all, I have to say that I am not a biochemist. I am a humble physician with some knowledge of biochemistry (because physicians have to know the basics of it). When I read the arguments of Michael Behe, a biochemist, I was surprised by the nature of the arguments he showed and by how easily they can be dealt with.

Behe, compares a complex biochemical pathway as a mousetrap. He starts by saying that a biochemical pathway is made of several sequential steps that lead the conversion of a substance numer1 into substance number 2. The biochemical pathway would not work if any of the steps is missing. So far everything is correct. He adds that a mousetrap is like a biochemical pathway because if any of its parts is missing, it would not work. Again, so far, everything is right. However, Behe jumps to the conclusion that it is impossible for all biochemical steps to have appeared at the same time in order to achieve the purpose of converting one substance into the second one. He calls this "irreductible complexity". The mousetrap could not have been created step by step because each of its parts (te wooden base, the spring, the metal hammer, etc) does not have a purpose of its own. He treats the whole biochemical pathway, as a complex structure that cannot be further reduced. Since it is too complex, it must have been designed.

The first thing that surprised me was the teleology of the argument. According to Behe, for things to happen, the have to have a purpose. The non-teleologist approach would say that "things happen, then a purpose is found for them". The nature of the biochemical reactions is probably closer to not having a purpose. That was the philosophical aspect, the aspect that makes Behe's argument a belief. The second surprising issue, specially in a biochemist's argument, is the fact that he is implying that the steps in the biochemical pathway will only lead to substance 2. The different steps are used by other pathways to produce different substances, just like the wooden base of the mousetrap can serve as a paperweight, the spring as part of a scale and the hammer as a paperclip. Evolution produces complex biochemical machines by copying, modifying, and combining proteins previously used for other functions or that still perform those other functions in slightly different environments.

I understand how people who have the will to believe in a superior being, will get impressed by the arguments from a PhD in biochemistry. However, I believe that it is the duty of the scientists to educate the community and to separate science from belief.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006 CE


A quick post to congratulate Michelle Bachelet for her victory in the Chilean presidential elections. She will not only become the first female president of that country, but she is a divorced woman, agnostic and socialist. With all those charateristics it is impossible to even become a representative in other countries. One last fact, she is a physician...

Monday, January 16, 2006 CE


Some time ago, I read this book, as part of a search for information regarding the Eastern Front of World War II. I got to understand something very important: the Eastern Front was World War II!. The other theaters of war seem so minuscule compared to this enormous craziness into which the 2 most powerful armies of that time sank into. The Red Army and the Wehrmacht fought a war of annihilation like never before and hopefully never will happen again. I got to understand also the roots of the failure of the Soviet Union. How can a state be able to attempt to be a superpower if it lost in less than 4 years a quarter of its population? I got to understand also how much we are indebted to the brave Soviet soldiers, who, fought not only against the Nazis and fascism but against the fear created by their leaders. What I am saying does not justify what the Soviets did to the German civilian population as revenge 2 years after Stalingrad took place.

Take a couple of minutes to click on the link or on the picture of the book and see how can help you buy the book!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 CE

Did Jesus really exist?

This is a question that is definitely controversial. Some people may even get offended for the sole fact that it is being posed. Furthermore, it can easily trigger acts of hate against people who voice it. However, in spite of possible negative reaction, it forms part of a fascinating subject which deserves to be analyzed in an objective way. In the following paragraphs I will show the information that is available. It has to be pointed out that there are extensive written records of the important events which happened in the times of the Roman Empire.

The people who would answer "yes!" to the question will argue that Jesus existed because it is in the Gospels. However, if we are analyzing the topic in an objective way, we cannot take the Gospels as necesarily being correct since they were picked up to be in the Bible in order to reinforce the belief in Jesus' existence and his godly nature. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that the Gospels might be referring to some historical figure because the Gospels that were not chosen to be in the Bible also mention Jesus, with variable degrees of divinity. So, the divinity of Jesus might not be part of history, but the existence of a being with that name who had followers around 30 CE could be true.

The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who lived in the first century CE, mentioned Jesus in his famous Testimonium Flavianum. However, it is also said that the document was forged in order to boost the belief in the existence of Jesus. The reason to believe there was a forge is the finding of a document with an alternate version of the paragraphs in which Jesus is mentioned.

Pliny the Younger, at the time governor of the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in 112 CE. In that letter he asked for advise about how to deal with a group of individuals who called themselves "Christians" and who revered a "Christus" as a god. He does not mention the word "Jesus". "Christus" is Greek for anointed. Anyone who is to be revered has the right of being a Christus, therefore, although being a possible early mention to Jesus, it is not convincing enough.

Gaius Suetonius, also in 112 CE, wrote ,as part of the biography of Emperor Claudius, that there were Jews who were causing trouble inspired by "Chrestus". The problems with this reference is that the name Jesus is not used and that it seems to describe events that happened in 54 CE.

Tacitus wrote in 116 CE 2 paragraphs in which he described the existence of Christians in Emperor Nero's time and that they followed the example of Jesus, who was executed during Pontus Pilate's government of the Roman province of Judea. He expressed himself very negatively about the Christians, paradoxically giving more credibility to his account.

Summarizing, the fact that we have such minimal references to Jesus at times in which records were kept of important events, probably means that if he existed, it was not an important personality. His importance was therefore magnified by other writers and religious leaders of the early Christian churches. I personally lean slightly in favor of his existence, only after reading Tacitus's account. This article has nothing to do with faith, because in order for believers to believe, historical proof is not important.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006 CE

Nature versus Man Number 2: The fate of the Greenland Vikings

This is part of a series which is intended to show that we are not necessarily the architecs of our future. Sometimes, unexpected events shape our history in ways that we cannot imagine.

Around the end of the first millennium of the Common Era, the Vikings, an intrepid and courageous group of people founded colonies in what is now known as Greenland. Under the guidance of Erik the Red, two important settlements were created, the Eastern Settlement and 240 miles Northwest, the Western Settlement.

Initially, the settlements flourished. The economy was based on agriculture and trade with the European mainland, specially from Norway, where the Vikings came from. Furthermore, there was an active religious life and there was even a bishop appointed for the settlements.

What happened around the middle of the 14th century was described as a mystery, however, as our knowledge of the past has increased, this enigma started to clarify. From the 10th to the 14th century CE, the planet went through a period known as the Medieval Climate Optimum. It was a period of unusually high temperatures, of regression of the polar ice caps and of increased vegetation in areas usually barrened by endless winters. It was in this period in which the Vikings explored the North Atlantic arriving to Greenland and to North America. However, things started to change in the middle of the 14th century. The winters because harsher, the temperatures dropped and agriculture became impossible. Trade was limited by the icy sea and eventually, the Viking culture in Greenland collapsed and disappeared. The Little Ice Age had begun having the Greenland Vikings as one of its casualties.

Nature sometimes works in ways we cannot predict.

Further reading

Sunday, January 01, 2006 CE

A test I took

Dr Marco is a Social Liberal 66% permissive) and an... Economic Liberal (15% permissive).

Dr Marco is best described as a: Socialist

Link: The Politics Test on OkCupid
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