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Saturday, June 24, 2006

World CupFever Briefly Defended

We have cut the field of contenders in half. All of the teams playing in the next round are exceptional, but as we shall see, some more than others. About the only surprise thus far is that the Czech Republic did not advance after trouncing the USA in the first game in group play. The USA was a bitter disappointment although I think that few people thought they would advance from this tough group. It would be difficult to pick a winner among some of the great teams, but I will, just for fun.

I thought that Spain played wonderfully. They won all three games in their group in convincing fashion. In their last match against Saudi Arabia they played a completely new squad and still won 1-0 on an excellent header by Juanito. The current hero of Spanish football, Raul, played a superb second half and scored an equalizer goal against Tunisia. 22 year old Fernando Torres put Spain ahead in that game with one of the best goals that I have seen so far in the tournament.

For what it’s worth, I also like Argentina, Portugal, and, of course, Brazil.

What I really like about this World Cup is that it is finally getting a lot of attention in the USA. I’ve watched a few games at a Seattle pub. The place is standing room only. Most people in Seattle are at least aware that the World Cup is going on and many of us have become rabid fans. Over the course of my entire adult life there has been talk that this will be the year that football catches fire in America, and every year it has been just that—talk.

This year is different. You can almost feel the tectonic shift in interest in the sport. It’s as if we have all done our homework and now players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Beckham, Henry, Zidane, Ballack, Figo, and Raul (among many others) have all become household names in front of televisions all across the country. We know what constitutes an off-sides. We know what should be a foul and what kind of infraction deserves a yellow card. We have come a long way.

I read an account of a group of American fans behaving rather badly before one of the games in Germany. A fan from another country said that was the way football fans are supposed to act and he had an increased respect for the Americans. Maybe we do finally have a passion for the game. I know that I do, but that is another story for another day .

I won’t get into the childish argument about whether or not football is boring, or why Americans don’t like it. It looks fairly obvious to me that we do like it and it is here to stay. I could kick myself for not being in Germany, if not to actually go to a game then at least to watch them on TV along with all the other fans drunk on German beer and a love for the game. The next World Cup will be in South Africa in 2010. Anyone interested in going?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Genesis: The Version According to Science

4 billion years of history. Posted by Picasa

My objection to supernatural beliefs is precisely that they miserably fail to do justice to the sublime grandeur of the real world.

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution, Richard Dawkins

Of course I’ve read the Bible’s account of the beginning of the world. I grew up in a religious household—if you can call Catholics religious. As a child I was never able to accept the concept of heaven and hell, the eternal destination of our souls depending on our conduct during our brief stay on this planet. This tainted all of the other messages that my religion offered. My apostasy was complete sometime before I reached the second grade. Everything that I was forced to read in the Bible seemed pretty far-fetched to my skeptical grade school sensibilities, especially the weak explanation for the earth’s creation. At that time no one offered me any other account of the beginning of life on this planet, so I set aside my questions on the subject and went on to learn other things.

If taken literally, the Bible’s account of creation is ridiculous, and even if you take Genesis metaphorically it cannot even begin to compare to the wonder involved in the scientific explanation of the evolution of the lowly eubacteria—our oldest ancestor. As Dawkins asks, isn’t the true story of how the earth came to be more worthy of the imagination of thinking adults than the fairy tales offered by religion? Even taken to its metaphorical limits, the Bible denies mankind the faintest glimpse of how we came to be. The Ancestor’s Tale gives those who choose to read it a fairly commanding and satisfying view all the way back to the very beginning of life on earth.

I would say that I am about as far from religious as a person can possibly be. I read the Bible strictly for the purposes of attaining a degree of cultural literacy, certainly not for spiritual enlightenment. I’ve never found comfort in the book; I never found answers. It is ironic to think that, because I am a compulsive reader, I’m probably one of the few people to have ever read a passage or two in those Bibles left in hotel rooms. If only someone would leave copies of The Ancestor’s Tale for me to read during all of the down time I spend while traveling. As Dawkins explains, “It is not pride in my book but reverence for life that encourages me to say, if you want a justification for the latter, open the former anywhere, at random.” Open the Bible at random and, more often than not, you'll find gibberish. I have always felt that the only religion that man requires is the search for knowledge, this may be why Dawkins calls it a pilgrimage to the dawn of evolution—a truly spiritual quest.

The fact that we have such a remarkably clear picture of the last 4 billion years of life on our planet, and the fact that it has all been developed in the century and a half since Charles Darwin, is a testament to the boundless limits of the human brain when it is freed from the constraints of religious dogma. Of course, our current understanding of life on earth will undergo constant and possibly even radical change, but most of what we think we know today will hold up to further scientific scrutiny. Contrary to arguments put forth by adherents to a creationism, there are no “gaps” in the fossil record, and even without any fossils the evidence in favor of evolution is overwhelming. For your view of our past you can choose to stand on the sturdy foundation built by science or the rickety parables of religion.