Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bill Donahue and the Catholic League - Oh the irony!!!

I was browsing the Catholic League's website earlier this evening, something I like to do after a big meal because of its effectiveness as an emetic, and was struck by a particular phrase. The phrase was "gay fascists." I find this ironic on so many levels; Pope Ratzinger was a Hitler youth, fascist Italy was almost entirely Catholic, and the current pope is trying to wedge the church back into the Italian government.

My only guess is that Bill Donahue and the others at the Catholic League have no idea what the definition of fascism is. For their benefit,

"Fascism is a totalitarian nationalist ideology that advocates itself as being a third position alternative to both capitalism and communism. It seeks to form a mass movement of militants who are willing to engage in violence against their political opponents and groups or individuals that the movement deems to be enemies. Fascists wish to solve existing economic, political, and social problems by achieving a millenarian national rebirth by exalting the nation or race as well as promoting cults of unity, strength and purity. Fascism opposes the political ideologies of communismliberalism and conservatism as well as political concepts and systems such as democracyindividualismmaterialismpacifism, and pluralism.

While I do not agree with the methods of these particular activists, the response of the Catholic is wholly dishonest. These activists are not acting as fascists, they are angry because the Catholic church, along with the Mormons, have decided to wage a war on the liberty of American citizens. Who is fascist? The individual citizens that want their Constitutional rights honored or the anti-American churches that are trying to implement their theology as law? 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A quick commentary on Roe v Wade

There has been a lot of airtime, both on the internet and news, lately about abortion and abortion rights. Because of this, I’d like to review some key points in Roe v. Wade’s opinion that was delivered by Justice Blackmun.


“We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views… One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion.”


Here is a very astute, if obvious, observation.


“Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection.”


This is an attitude that is all too rare in today’s world.


“We bear in mind, too, Mr. Justice Holmes' admonition in his now-vindicated dissent in  Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 76 (1905):

‘[The Constitution] is made for people of fundamentally differing views, and the accident of our finding certain opinions natural and familiar or novel and even shocking ought not to conclude our judgment upon the question whether statutes embodying them conflict with the Constitution of the United States.’”


This is what I think is sorely lacking in the abortion debate. This is especially true amongst the anti-abortion set. Pro-choice inherently allows choice, whereas, amongst anti-abortionists or ‘pro-lifers’ there is no room for choice, in their minds.


“…reason is the State's interest -- some phrase it in terms of duty -- in protecting prenatal life.  Some of the argument for this justification rests on the theory that a new human life is present from the moment of conception.”


This is, arguably, the most powerful argument against abortion.


“Appellant would discover this right in the concept of personal "liberty" embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; or in personal, marital, familial, and sexual privacy said to be protected by the Bill of Rights or its penumbras, see  Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965);  Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972);  id., at 460 (WHITE, J., concurring in result); or among those rights reserved to the people by the Ninth Amendment,  Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S., at 486…This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.”


There are many risks, costs and difficulties associated with pregnancy, birthing and raising children. All citizens possess inherent rights and liberties that are laid out in our constitution. A woman is not deprived of her rights, simply because she becomes pregnant.



“Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains three references to ‘person.’ The first, in defining ‘citizens,’ speaks of "persons born or naturalized in the United States." The word also appears both in the Due Process Clause and in the Equal Protection Clause.  ‘Person’ is used in other places in the Constitution: in the listing of qualifications for Representatives and Senators…

…the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. 55 This is in accord with the results reached in those few cases where the issue has been squarely presented.   McGarvey v. Magee-Womens Hospital, 340 F.Supp. 751 (WD Pa. 1972);  Byrn v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 31 N. Y. 2d 194, 286 N. E. 2d 887 (1972), appeal docketed, No. 72-434;  Abele v. Markle, 351 F.Supp. 224 (Conn. 1972), appeal docketed, No. 72-730.  Cf. Cheaney v. State,     Ind., at    , 285 N. E. 2d, at 270;  Montana v. Rogers, 278 F.2d 68, 72 (CA7 1960), aff'd sub nom.   Montana v. Kennedy, 366 U.S. 308 (1961);  Keeler v. Superior Court, 2 Cal. 3d 619, 470 P. 2d 617 (1970);  State v. Dickinson, 28  [*159]  Ohio St. 2d 65, 275 N. E. 2d 599 (1971). Indeed,  our decision in  United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62 (1971)”


In my opinion, a fetus cannot be considered a “person” simply because it does not have self-consciousness and is not an independent being. Once birthed, the baby is an independent being, although the question of self-consciousness during the first year after birth is contentious.


“It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question.  There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live birth. This was the belief of the Stoics.  It appears to be the predominant, though not the unanimous, attitude of the Jewish faith.  It may be taken to represent also the position of a large segment of the Protestant community, insofar as that can be ascertained; organized groups that have taken a formal position on the abortion issue have generally regarded abortion as a matter for the conscience of the individual and her family.  As we have noted, the common law found greater significance in quickening. Physicians and their scientific colleagues have regarded that event with less interest and have tended to focus either upon conception, upon live birth, or upon the interim point at which the fetus becomes ‘viable,’ that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid.  Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.  The Aristotelian theory of ‘mediate animation,’ that held sway throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in Europe, continued to be official Roman Catholic dogma until the 19th century, despite opposition to this ‘ensoulment’ theory from those in the Church who would recognize the existence of life from the moment of conception.  The latter is now, of course, the official belief of the Catholic Church.”


Here is a very interesting overview of the history of the “when does life begin” question.  It demonstrates why there is so much disagreement on the subject. I must say, though, I find the Catholic view of “ensoulment” to be both laughable and pathetic. There is not the slightest evidence for a soul and they appear to be nothing more that wishful thinking.


“In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.  We repeat, however, that the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman, whether she be a resident of the State or a nonresident who seeks medical consultation and treatment there, and that it has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. These interests are separate and distinct.  Each grows in substantiality as the woman approaches term and, at a point during pregnancy, each becomes ‘compelling.’”


I agree with almost all points and believe they fit well within our constitution. Yes, the state does have an interest in the life, health and welfare of its citizens. However, this does not trump the personal liberties of one person when it comes to the forced martyrdom of their body for the lives of another. At the latter portion of pregnancy, the fetus becomes viable and, simultaneously, the risks of an abortion become nearly as significant as the risks of the birthing process. Until this changes, the argument that unrestricted late-term abortion appears injudicious.


All quotes from:



No. 70-18 


410 U.S. 113; 93 S. Ct. 705; 35 L. Ed. 2d 147; 1973 U.S. LEXIS 159 

December 13, 1971, Argued 

January 22, 1973, Decided 

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My favorite fossils

As we know, science and history are the harbingers of doom for religion. Without the superstition born of ignorance, religions are unable to guilt, terrorize or tempt the masses. One of my favorite sciences is paleontology because of the fascinating variety of life over the past millennia. Here are some examples of my favorite fossils:




Some of our oldest fossils, stromatolites are mats of cyanobacteria that lived long before any of the multi-celled organisms that we usually think of when we imagine fossils.


Aglaspis eatoni


This arthropod is an ancient relative of the modern horseshoe crab.


Adriosaurus -


This ancient reptile possessed rudimentary front and working hind legs.




This ancient creature demonstrates the transition from water to land and has features of both fish and amphibians.


Archaeopteryx -


This ancient bird shares many features with the raptor type dinosaurs: conical teeth, a long tail, and three fingers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Let me begin by welcoming all who have come here and to explain why I’ve named my blog “sodium channels versus the soul.”


What is the soul and why is it important? The soul is often used as the basis for the life after death mythologies and is, therefore, very important for the religious ideologies that utilize life after death as both a carrot and a threat to tempt people into belief. Religions rely on a limited variety of methods to maintain their beliefs, namely threats, promises and the lifestyle benefits of belonging to the in-group. Nullifying the belief in a soul destroys several of religion’s more powerful methods of control. Without a soul there is no heaven or hell. Without consciousness there is no need for an afterlife.


The soul is also the non-body mind in philosophical dualism. The soul is often used interchangeably with the conscious mind: responsible for cognitive thought, emotion, personality and memories. These characteristics of our mind are what most people want to remain after death.


Another, more contemporary, definition of soul that has been put forward is that the soul is the epiphenomenon that links the physical workings of the brain to the “mind.” Of course, this definition fails the believer for the same reason that the older definitions of the soul fail, because there is no evidence to suggest a supernatural origin for this link. The evidence suggests that the mind is a function of the spatial structure and electro-chemical activity of the brain.


So, why use sodium channels? This is easy, sodium channels exist in all nerve cells of the body as either ligand gated or voltage gated channels and inhibition of neuronal sodium channels can decrease brain activity to the point that there is no consciousness. In other words, blocking sodium channels can shut off the soul. We use this concept every day, throughout the world as we shut down the brain during surgery using volatile anesthetics.


Which wins, sodium channels or the myth of the soul? In my opinion, the microscopic sodium channels win every time because, unlike a soul, they exist and manipulating them provides benefits to society and the individual.