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In a recent exchange with Facebook friends, it came to light that some people only read headlines. One interlocutor opined:

I’ve said for years, people read headlines, but nothing below that. The problem in this country is that people are too lazy to be informed. I disagree with turning off the TV. You just have to watch more than one channel for your news. Newspapers are a great source of info also.

Funny how it’s other people who only read the headlines. I wrote:

Who are these people who only read headlines? I hear about them everywhere from people who read the WHOLE article, but I never meet anyone who admits to reading only headlines.

I got this response:

No one would ADMIT to reading only headlines!!!!

In the interests of transparency, therefore, I admit I often only read headlines. Below is a list of recent headlines along with my reasons for reading no further.

Obama Makes Gains at U.N. on Iran and Proliferation
The headline says it all.

Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan
Not technically news.

Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries
Great. More oil.

President of Iran Defends His Legitimacy
Why am I not surprised?

Vietnam Finds Itself Vulnerable if Sea Rises
Future news that might not happen.

Guidelines in England for Assisted Suicide
It’s still illegal, but sometimes no one cares.

Immigrants Cling to Fragile Lifeline at Safety-Net Hospital
I almost read this. An Atlanta hospital is closing its kidney dialysis unit, but for some it’s the only place they can go.

For Pittsburgh, G-20 Meeting Is a Mixed Blessing
Pittsburgh wants to improve it’s image. Big deal.

Senator Tries to Allay Fears on Health Overhaul
Another politician weighing in on a hot issue.

Obama to Use Current Law to Support Detentions
Why mess with Bush’s legacy when it works?

White House Pares Its Financial Reform Plan
Backing down from industry pressure… again.

There are more, but this should suffice. The headline doesn’t say it all, but often it says enough. After reading the paper for a while, you start to realize that most of what gets written is not just unimportant, but completely useless. In fifty years no one except certain peculiarly wired historians will ever look at those articles. Most articles are full of useless and uninteresting facts. No one remembers them except the fact Nazis who troll news blogs looking for victims. (You know who you are.)

I like facts. Facts are our friends. They keep us from believing nonsense. Often, however, the relevant facts can be stated in a sentence or two. Take, for example, the recent debacle where Senator Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech to Congress, calling him a liar. Here are the facts:

  1. Senator Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during the President’s speech.
  2. Such behavior during a Presidential address to Congress is highly unusual.
  3. Some people were miffed. The President seemed unconcerned.

Volumes have been written about these facts. They have been analyzed and reported and re-reported and re-analyzed until hardly anyone cares any more. With all that has been written, however, I doubt that even one person changed their opinion about Obama or the health care proposals currently before the Congress. All those words have served only to reinforce opinions already held. What, then, is the point of reading any or all those words? To be better informed? To be swayed first one way and then another? To hear your own thoughts echoed by your favorite pundit (only in much better prose)? No! Once you have the facts, conveyed by the headline and possibly the first one or two sentences, you move on.

Very occasionally, however, some seemingly innocuous fact will wiggle its way into your mind and introduce a niggling doubt. Maybe, perhaps, not everything you believe with such firm conviction is right. Maybe, perhaps, you’ve been wrong about a detail here or there. It’s nothing really important or life-altering, of course, but really, there could be another way of seeing this particular issue. In fact, there might be some merit to arguments you had dismissed out of hand because they were so obviously wrong. You might have to adjust your thinking. You might have to broaden your perspective. You might learn something. You might grow up.

It takes humility—not much, but some—to let a mere fact whack you in the head until you finally realize you were wrong. God grant us all that much humility!

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America’s Biggest Problem

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Read and comment on my blog.

Health care reform is an urgent issue. Millions of Americans are uninsured or underinsured. While there are differences about what role government ought to play in health care, there is nearly universal agreement about the need for reform. Yet health care reform is not our biggest problem.

The financial crisis that resulted from the collapse of the housing bubble has led to a worldwide recession. In the United States, unemployment has risen into double digits, and many people have stopped receiving unemployment benefits because they have been so long without a job. Home foreclosures continue at an alarming rate, and occupations once considered secure, still face further cuts. Yet the economic crisis is not our biggest problem.

Since the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, we have fought to contain and eventually eliminate terrorism. Our efforts have certainly curtailed terrorist activities, yet we still face massive military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In exchange for security we have given up personal freedoms we once held dear. Yet neither terrorism nor the loss of our freedoms is our biggest problem.

Our biggest problem is the oldest in history. It has been with us since the founding of our nation and will continue until history itself comes to an end. America’s biggest problem is sin.

Some people when they hear “sin” think immediately of sexual immorality. This sort of sin has been so long derided by our media that hardly anyone thinks of it as sin any more. As destructive as sexual immorality is to our health and to our future, it is not what I mean by “sin.”

Other people think of the long and varied list of things good Christians are not supposed to do: drinking, dancing, smoking, gambling, and using recreational drugs. Those who assiduously avoid such things certainly appear to have some form of godliness or holiness, but it’s a form our media have mocked until the very concept of godliness seems quaint, like the plain-style furnishings you can buy from Amish retailers. Neither is this what I mean by “sin”

I think of sin the way Heidegger thought of being thrown: it pervades our human condition. By the time we become aware of it, we are already guilty. If we look at the archetypal sin, the first one committed in the Garden (Genesis 3), there is nothing inherently immoral about it. Adam and Eve did not break any law that we would recognize as universal today. They didn’t steal of kill or lie or destroy. All they did was eat what God had forbidden, and they did so under provocation from a tempter who filled their heads with visions of God-like grandeur. What was so damnable about that?

In fact, the sin I mean is what we Americans regard as our greatest virtue. It is our independence from God. Throughout our history, we have been torn between our near idolization of independence and our acknowledgment of God (even the feeble, antiseptic acknowledgment permitted by our modern understanding of religious freedom under the Constitution). Our independence of God is our biggest problem.

Our prophets, instead of calling for national repentance, are too busy casting stones at their political enemies. Since we are evidently reaping the harvest of our greed, why are there so few Christian leaders calling for repentance and urging the church to serve those most injured by it? Why so few warnings about future judgment? Do we really think we can indefinitely postpone the payment for our sins? That the bill for the billions we are borrowing now to stave off depression will not come due at a most inopportune time?

Let us repent. The problems we have are of our own making. We have tried to do good on our own without God’s wisdom and guidance. Now we are trying to correct our mistakes without admitting our guilt or asking for help. Let us repent as a nation. Let those of us who believe in God turn to him on behalf of those who do not. Let us stop castigating our political opponents and acknowledge that we ourselves have been guilty of independence from God. Let us plead for his mercy and grace. Let us serve the poor and share with those in need. Let us practice true religion (James 1:27). A humble, penitent, obedient church might once again display the power of God to a watching world.

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Voodoo Science

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If “voodoo science” sounds like an oxymoron, it’s because it is. Robert Park uses the term to cover all kinds of situations where the language and authority of science are invoked to lend credibility to outrageous claims. In his Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness To Fraud, he identifies three types of science that he calls “voodoo science.”

The first is pathological science. This is science that started out as real science but left the path of honest, peer-reviewed study for some reason. He cites the hoopla surrounding cold fusion in the mid 1980s as an example. A similar case could be made today against embryonic stem cell research. Pathological science is science gone awry.

Park shows how pathological science can easily become fraudulent science. This is science that has no other aim than deception, perhaps even self-deception. Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s claims to have greatly advanced the possibilities of human cloning in 2004 and 2005 are examples of fraudulent science. His results were later shown to have been falsified.

Finally, Park addresses pseudoscience, quackery dressed in scientific garb. Homeopathy is a good example. The supposed “medicines” are solutions diluted with water or alcohol to the point where it is unlikely that even a single molecule of the original solution is in the final product. Park explains:

In over-the-counter homeopathic remedies, for example, a dilution of 30X is fairly standard. The notation 30X means the substance was diluted one part in 10 and shaken, and this was repeated sequentially thirty times. The final dilution would be one part medicine to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts of water. That would be far beyond the dilution limit. To be precise, at a dilution of 30X you would have to drink 7,874 gallons of solution to expect to get just one molecule of the medicine.

As Park points out, there is no way to enforce quality control. The resulting solution should be pure water, and there is no test that can tell what the original medicine was, since no molecules of it remain in the solution.

The section where Park tells about Dennis Lee was embarrassing to read. Lee was a flimflam artist hawking perpetual motion and free energy with all the trappings of a traveling evangelist. He began his show with prayer, seemed to be healed of laryngitis, and repeatedly invoked God to legitimize his claims. “He even made references to his jail time—naturally, his incarceration had been part of a plot by the greedy polluters to suppress the technologies that might save the world.”

Throughout the book, Parks clearly describes in nontechnical language the fundamental errors made by voodoo science, and he equips readers with knowledge that will help keep them from being taken in by ridiculous but plausible-sounding claims.

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