Is Religion Important?

Neiman:  Religion is important and it isn’t important. I think we’ve been misled by the idea that the central cultural divide is between religious and secular people. I think once again the divide is between people who are committed to using reason and people who are not and all three Western religion- religious traditions have one line which says, “God gave us the faculty of reason and he meant us to use it.”  You have that in all three religious traditions and you similarly of course have a fundamentalist tradition in all three religions which says, “No, no. Whatever the word of God is is the word that we have to take. God tells us directly what to do and we have to follow.”  I start the book off with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a story that everybody thinks they know. The Sodomites sinned and God destroyed them. The question is what the sin was. People are sure that it’s fornication or at least homosexuality and people can get outraged about this and the fundamentalist right of course will use it for that reason. As a matter of fact, the Sodomites’ sins were much more complicated than that. It wasn’t fornication and it wasn’t homosexuality. It was gang raping someone to death, which is pretty much beyond the pale on anybody’s list, and according to the legends actually the Sodomites turned morality upside down. It was prescribed by law that if a stranger came in to the gates they should be gang raped to death. It’s pretty bad stuff, okay, and one could go on about that, but what’s most important about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is what happens right before it. God tells Abraham that he’s about to destroy the cities and Abraham speaks up and says, “Wait a sec. What if there are 50 righteous men inside the cities?  Surely the God of justice is not going to destroy the just and the unjust alike,” and God says, “Well, actually--  Okay. If there are 50 men I’ll save the city,” and then Abraham says, “Well, what about 45?  Certainly, you’re not going to be pedantic about this.”  It’s an extraordinary passage because it shows three things. One is universalism. Abraham doesn’t know the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. This is not his tribe. This is not his kin. These are just innocent people everywhere that he’s willing to take a stand for and he’s willing to stand up to God who can after all blast him in an instant. The other thing that I find important about this story is what it shows about moral clarity, which is that it’s not a matter of general principles. It’s a matter of fine distinctions and gradations and looking at particular cases, and what it shows in the end is that even if you have a direct line to God, which Abraham did, that’s not where you get your sense of ethics from. You get your sense of ethics from human reason. There is one take on the story by the way which says that Abraham wasn’t giving God lessons in ethics, God was testing Abraham, but that’s fine either way. Abraham passed the test by showing that if God proposed to do something unjust he was able to stand up to God, and I think that’s the kind of thing that shows even if you accept a religious framework you have to accept that reason, reasoning about morality in particular, plays a role.

Susan Neiman on how the Bible applies human reason to solve moral questions.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.