Friday, February 16, 2007

*** The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden

This is a sad but true tale about the reality of college admissions at some of the most elite universities in America. It proves what we've all come to know, that money talks, its who you know, and it pays to be famous. Working hard is for stiffs, especially if you're Asian. There are some beacons of hope to help root out such instituionalized corruption. Caltech is cited as the school setting the trend. But don't hold your breath for the system to change anytime soon.

The number of whites enjoying preference [for college admissions] far outweighs the number of minorities aided by affirmative action. At least 1/3 of the students at elite universities, and at least ½ at liberal arts colleges are flagged for preferential treatment in the admissions process. P6

Students without any non-academic preference are vying for only 40% of the slots at Ivy League schools. P7

Only 3 to 11% of students at America’s most selective universities come from the lowest income quartile. Asian American are disproportionately affected – rebuffed by what appears to be an informal quota system. P11

Senator Bill Frist, who opposes affirmative action for minorities, apparently did not object to preferential treatment for his eldest son… Princeton admission officers were taken aback [Frist’s son background]: his grades and test scores fell far below university standards. On a 1 to 5 scale (5 being lowest) – he was a 5… Frist was a Princeton alumnus and his family donated $25M in 1997… No wonder that the newly appointed Princeton president advised her admissions staff that Frist’s son was a high priority. His son was admitted. In 2004, his Sophomore year he was arrested for drunk driving in. At the time of publication, he had not yet graduated. P12-6

Harvard looks out for its own
Harvard admits fewer than 1 in 10 applicants, turning down more than ½ of candidates with perfect SAT scores. P25 So even if you ace the SAT with a 1600, you’ve only got a 50% chance of being accepted at Harvard. How do you like them apples?

Harvard enrolled 336 children of about the 340 eligible children from the families who serve on its fund raising committee – an astonishing enrollment rate. P26

Legacies [alumni chidren, donor children, famous children] account for 13% of the student body. P28

72% of the students on the z-list [admission is deferred by 1 year] are alumni children… For Harvard, deferral was a no-lose proposition: either it would discourage underqualified legacies from enrolling without actually rejecting them, thus preserving academic quality and donor goodwill, or the students would mature in their year off, readying them for Harvard. It turns out however that most z-listers are willing to wait for a Harvard education. P39 Why do the wait? Because their 2nd choice option – without having the alumni or donor connection to leverage– will be a huge step down from Harvard for most academically weak students.

For well connected students, the z-list isn’t the only roundabout route to Harvard. Harvard typically admits only 5% of its transfer candidates – but children of alumni and donors enjoy a marked preference. P40

It’s much tougher to get into Harvard than to graduate from it; 97% of those who matriculate emerge with a degree. Therefore honors awarded upon graduation offer a better yardstick for measuring academic prowess. Data show that donor children were far more likely to graduate without honors than the Harvard average. P42

Duke's fundraising engine
Great universities profess to safeguard the quality of their student bodies by constructing a firewall between fundraising and admissions. In reality there is no such wall – not even a shallow trench. Almost every university takes development admits… Like other nonprofits, seeking funding, they’ve discovered the easiest way is to admit the children of the rich. P55

Duke relaxed its standards to admit more than 100 applicants a year, with more than ½ enrolling (3 to 5% of the incoming class). Many of their grateful parents joined Duke’s fundraising group, which led all universities in 1990s in unrestricted gifts from non-alumni parents. P57 Quid pro quo alive and well in North Carolina.

Eager to place as many graduates as possible at top institutions, prep school counselors help colleges identify development admits, often through an unobtrusive phrase or two in a letter of recommendation stating that the parents have been generous to the prep school and are likely to give to their child’s college as well. The prep school’s fund raising office may call the college to reinforce the message. P59

How much does it really cost to buy your child’s way into college? $20,000 is enough to draw the attention of a liberal arts college with an endowment in the $100M range. At an exclusive college, it can take at least $50,000 with some assurance of future, greater donations. At a top 25, a minimum of $100,000; for the top 10, at least $250,000 and often over $1M. p60

For celebrity applicants like Lauren Bush – niece of President GW Bush, there’s no such thing as a deadline. A month after the Princeton deadline had passed, Lauren contacted the university. And despite SAT scores considerably below average for Princeton, and a ‘B’ high school GPA, she was admitted. P93

Brown: Hollywood U
Brown is the college of the famous and celebrity children. However, these celebrity students lag behind their more obscure classmates. 20% of Brown seniors graduate with high honors. 0% of the celebrity children do. 30% of Brown graduates receive distinction, but only 12% of celebrity kids achieve the same. P94

Notre Dame’s average of 1394 for admitted students is artificially deflated by the lower scores of legacies, athletes, and donors. Applicants without preference actually need a 1470 (that is the Harvard average by the way). P120

50% of legacy applicants to selective colleges boasted incomes in the top 25%, as against 39% of nonlegacy applicants. Princeton President William Bowen states “Legacy preference serve to reproduce the high income/high education/while profile that is characteristic of these schools.”… Legacies are more likely to afford private schools, tutors, test prep courses, etc. that usually translate into higher test scores… Alumni children should be high achievers; by definition, they start with the advantage of having at least one college educated parent. To equalize opportunity, alumni children would need to be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. P121

Penn explicitly links alumni child preference and early decision, urging alumni children to apply early for maximum consideration for the legacy affiliation. P122

Alumni contributed $7.1B to higher education in 2005, representing nearly 28% of all private giving to colleges… You gotta believe that some of that is donated in thanks for children already admitted to the alma mater, or in the expectation that a sizeable check will smooth future acceptance. P126

In 1952, Harvard admitted 63% of all applicants. In 2002, it admitted only 11% of overall applicants, but 40% of legacy candidates. P129

The more selective the school, the greater the admissions advantage enjoyed by recruited athletes. And once in college, recruited athletes in golf, fencing, crew, squash, polo, and other upper class sports often sink to the bottom of their classes academically. Why do colleges compromise their admission standards for athletes in marginal sports that don’t enhance ethnic diversity and rarely generate media revenues? The kindest explanation is that they are simply pursuing excellence in all their endeavors. P156 Or could it be that these sports preferentially filter out low income, minority candidates, allowing the university to recruit a wealthy, white student body? Nah.

Since most universities have faculty committees overseeing undergraduate admissions, and since it’s easier to replace an administrator than a professor with lifetime tenure, the last thing any admissions staff wants is to alienate faculty… Faculty children often receive an edge bigger than that given to alumni offspring. P179

33% of faculty children at research universities attend the parent’s institution if offers them a financial incentive to do so. If the institution pays the same share of tuition no matter where the child goes, then only 13% stay. P184

Are you smart enough to be rejected by Vandy?
Vanderbilt’s tuition reimbursement plan had a bizarre twist. It would pay 94% of tuition at any other institution only if the Vanderbilt had rejected the child. The concept was that a faculty child who aspired to Vanderbilt should not be penalized for being turned down, but in practice it offered a perverse incentive to fail. Brilliant Vanderbilt offspring contrived ways of being rebuffed so they could go to Harvard or Yale on Vanderbilt’s dime. Some students would apply to the music program when they couldn’t play a note, knowing that entry required an audition. One conniver showed up purporting to be proficient at the oboe, then surveyed an array of wind instruments before asking ‘Which one is the oboe?’. P186

An asian applicant needs to score 50 points higher on the SAT than other applicants just to have the same chance of admission. Being an alumni child, by contrast, confers a 160 point advantage… Black and Hispanic lag 100-125 points below whites. P204

UC Berkeley turned down 1421 Californians with SAT scores above 1400. 662 were Asian. Of the 359 students accepted with scores below 1000, 231 were Black, Hispanic or Native American. The UC Regents chairman accused his flagship campus of ‘blatantly’ discriminating against Asians. P211

We're number 1!
In 1999 US News anointed the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as the nation’s best university. How could a tiny engineering school surpass Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and even MIT? Yielding to critical pressure from the established elite, the magazine changed its criteria. Caltech, which otherwise, might have stayed on the top for years, instead slid back to the bottom half of the top 10, saving the Ivies and other powerhouses from perennial embarrassment. Yet there’s good reason for putting Caltech a notch above the rest: the Pasadena school comes closer than any other major American university to admitting a student body purely on academic merit. Caltech doesn’t compromise admissions standards to attract donations or foster to a wealthy alumni base. Nobody gets into Caltech because their families are rich, famous, or well connected; they get because of their talent, period. P261 I could not have said it better. – Ben Sharma, Caltech Grad, class of 1988.

Caltech admissions committees hold alumni and faculty children applicants to a higher standard. Being a legacy could have a negative effect. P262

Without underperforming rich kids dragging down the overall quality, the average SAT score in 2003 was 1505, including a remarkable 775 in math… About 85% of the students graduated from public high schools vs. 40-45% at the Ivies. P263

Caltech’s grueling curriculum leaves no refuge for less than brilliant minds – white, black, rich, poor. Caltech students take 6 classes per semester – 2 more than at most colleges. Rarely is credit granted for AP courses [I took over 8 AP courses in high school and receive only 1 semester credit in one course while the University of Arizona granted me admission into the 2nd semester of Sophomore year via AP credits]. Nor is a failing grade erased from a student’s transcript, as it is from some universities, if a person retakes the class and passes. ‘Everyone understands the enormous challenge represented by admission to Caltech’ Nobel laureate David Baltimore told me in his office. ‘Only the rare, special student can handle Caltech.’ Caltech professor David Polizter, 2004 Nobel prize winner in physics, said he would not have survived as an undergraduate: ‘I’m too slow. The pace here is outrageous.’ He is a Univ of Mich undergraduate, and Harvard PhD graduate. Caltech demands more gray matter than an Ivy League. ‘At Harvard and Yale, grades don’t mean squat. The goal is to become CEO of some Fortune 500 or President of the US. At Caltech, there isn’t much else besides academics.’ P278 [I can personally tell you that I never worked harder, or suffered more than my four years at Caltech.]

Saturday, February 03, 2007

*** The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine MD

What makes a woman tick? For centuries men have pondered this imponderable. Brizendine comes closet to letting mankind inside for a closer look. For a man who's surrounded by women, it is a helpful guide to understand how different women are from men, and what helps make those differences. In addition, we can come to appreciate the vast changes that the female brain makes over its lifespan. It is far more plastic and adaptable to its biological circumstance than you think.

Male brains are larger by 9%, even after correcting for body size... Women and men, however, have the same number of brain cells. The cells are just packed more densely in women. p1

Women have 11% more neurons in the language and hearing centers of the brain than men. The principal hub of both emotion and memory function - the hippocampus - is also larger in the female brain. This means that women are, on average, better at expressing emotions and remembering the details of emotional events. p5

Men have 2.5 times the brain space devoted to sexual drive as well as larger centers for action and aggression. Sexual thoughts float through a man's brain every 52s on average, and through a woman's only once a day, and perhaps 3 to 4 on her hottest days. p5

Girls don't experience the testestorone surge in utero that shrinks the centers for communication, observation, and processiong of emotion, so their potential to develop skills in these areas are better at birth than boys'. Over the first 3 mos, a baby girl's skills in eye contact will increase by over 400%, whereas a boy during this time will not increase at all. p15

Stressed mothers naturally become less nurturing, and their baby girls incorporate stressed nervous systems that change the girls' perception of reality. This isn't about what's learned cognitively - it's about what is absorbed by the cellular circuitry at the neurological level... Neurological incorporation begins during pregnancy. Maternal stress during pregnancy has effects on emotional and stress horomone reactions, particularly in female offspring. Stressed female kids ended up startling more easily and being less calm and more anxious than the male kids. Female kids who were stressed in utero showed a great deal more emotional distress than female kids who weren't. So if you're a mom to be, take it easy so that your daughter may be able to relax. p20

Disorders that inhibit people from picking up on social nuance - called autism spectrum disorders and Asperger's Syndrome - are 8 times more common in boys. Scientists now believe that the typical male brain, with only 1 X chromosome, gets flooded with testosterone during development and becomes more easily socially handicapped. Extra testosterone in people with these disorders may be killing off some of the brain's circuits for emotional and social sensitivity. p23

By all standards, men are 20 times more aggressive than women, something a quick look around the prison system will confirm. p29

The first 2 weeks of the cycle, when estrogen is high, a girl is more likely to be socially interested and relaxed with others. In the last 2 weeks when progesterone is high and estrogen is lower, she is more likely to react with increased irritability and will want to be left alone. p35

During the juvenile pause of childhood, when estrogen levels are stable and low, a girl's stress system is calmer and more constant. Once estrogen and progesterone levels climb at puberty, her responsivity to both stress and pain start to rise, all marked by new reactions in the brain to cortisol [stress horomone]. She's easily stressed, highstrung, and looking for ways to chill out. p35

Girls speak faster than boys - 250 words/minute vs. 125 for typical males. p36

Why do girls go to the bathroom to talk? Why do they spend so much time on the phone with the door closed? They're trying to create intimacy and connection with their female peers via gossip and secrets - their tools to navigate and ease the ups and downs of stresses in life. p36

Their is a biological reason for this behavior. Connecting through talking activates pleasure centers in the brain. We're not talking about a small amount of pleasure. This is huge. It's a major dopamine and oxytocin rush, which is the biggest, fattest neurological reward you can get outside of orgasm... During midcycle, when estrogen production is peaking, the girl's dopamine and oxytocin level is at its maximum and her urge for intimacy and verbal communication is also peaking. Intimacy release more oxytocin, which reinforces the desire to connect, and connecting brings a sense of pleasure and well being. p37

Boys don't share this intense desire for verbal communication and connection, so attempts at verbal intimacy can be met with disappointing results. Girls who expect their boyfriends to chat with them the way their girlfriends do are in for a big surprise... This difference may also be at the core of the major disappointment women feel all their lives with their marriage partner - he doesn't feel like being social, he doesn't crave long talks. But it's not his fault. When he is a teen, his testosterone levels begin soaring off the charts and he dissappears into adolescence where more than anything he wants to be left alone... Testosterone has been shown to decrease talking as well as interest in socializing - except when it involves sports or sexual pursuit. In fact, sexual pursuit and body parts become pretty much obsessions. p39

A teenage boy feels alone and ashamed by his [sexual] thoughts. Until his buddies start to joke and comment about girl's bodies, he thinks he is the only one consumed by such intense sexual fantasies and the constant fear that someone will notice the erections over which he seems to have no control. Compelling masturbatory frenzies overwhelm him many times a day. He lives in fear of being found out. He's even more wary of verbal intimacy with girls, though he dreams of other kinds of intimacy. p39

Women’s self esteem is maintained in part by the ability to sustain intimate relationships with others. As a result, perhaps the greatest source of stress in the woman’s brain can be the fear of losing intimate relationships and the lack of vital social support that might ensue. P41

The formation of cliques may be the result of a girl’s stress response… Fight or flight behavior may not be characteristic of all humans. This is more likely to be a male response to threat and stress… Fighting may not have been as evolutionarily adaptive for females as it was males, because females have less chance of defeating the larger males, and because they had to also defend their helpless children. In female brains the circuit for aggression is more closely linked to cognitive, emotional, and verbal functions than is the male pathway which is more connected to physical action. As for flight, females are less generally able to run they’re pregnant, nursing, or caring for children… Female rely on social ties. Members of a group can alert each other of conflict ahead of time, they come to one another’s aid in a threatening or stressful situation. This pattern of behavior is ‘tend and befriend’. P42

At around 8 to 10 for girls (later for boys), the brain’s sleep clock begins to change, leading to later bedtimes, later wake up times, and more sleeping time overall. P44

One of the most estrogen sensitive parts of the brain – the hippocampus – is a major relay station for processing memories for words. This may be one biological reason behind women’s increased verbal performance during the highest estrogen week – week 2 – of their cycle. Female students should take their SATs or wives should argue with their husbands on day 12 of their cycles. P46

The medical name for extreme emotional reaction during the weeks before the period, triggered by ovarian estrogen and progesterone, is PMDD. Women who have committed crimes while suffering from PMDD have successfully used it as a defense in France and England by establishing temporary insanity. P48

To help some adolescents, doctors prescribe the continuous birth control pill to keep the girls’ estrogen and progesterone at moderately high but constant levels, preventing the ovaries from sending out big fluctuations that upset the brain. P49

By age 15, girls are twice as likely to suffer from depression. P53

From experiments, we know that oxytocin is released in the brain after a 20s hug from a partner – sealing the bond between the huggers and triggering the brain’s trust circuits. So don’t let a guy hug you unless you plan to trust him. P68

A Swiss experiment gave a nasal spray containing oxytocin to one group of investors, and compared them with another group who got a placebo. The oxytocin investors offered up twice as much money as did the placebo group when pitched to by a stranger posing as a financial adviser. P68

In humans, male love circuits get an extra kick when stress levels are high. After an intense physical challenge males will bond quickly and sexually with the first willing female. This may be why military men often bring home brides. Women by contrast will rebuff advances when under stress. The reason may be that the stress hormone cortisol blocks oxytocin’s action in the female brain, abruptly shutting off a women’s desire for sex and touch. For her, 9 months of pregnancy followed by caring for an infant under stressful conditions makes less sense than the quick deposit of sperm does for him. P72

Male voles who had the longer version of the vasopressin receptor gene showed greater monogamy and spent more time grooming and licking their pups. They also showed greater preference for their partners, even when given the chance to run off with young, fertile, and flirtatious females. Males with the longest gene are the most reliable and trustworthy partners and fathers. The human gene comes in 17 lengths. So the current joke is that women should care more about the length of vasopressin gene in their mates than about the length of anything else… Male monogamy may therefore be somewhat predetermined and passed down genetically. It may be that devoted fathers and faithful partners are born, not made by a father’s example. P74

When love is lost, abandoned men are 3 to 4 times more likely to commit suicide. Women, by contrast, sink into depression… Rejection, it turns out, actually hurts like physical pain because it triggers the same circuits in the brain… It may be that ‘brain pain’ of lost love evolved as a physical alarm to alert us to the dangers of social separation. P75-6

Female sexual turn-on begins with a brain turn-off… Before the amygdale – fear and anxiety center – has been turned off, any last minute worry – about work, kids, schedules, dinner, etc. – can interrupt the march toward orgasm. This fact may account for why it takes her on average 3 to 10 times longer to reach orgasm. P77

If she’s not relaxed, comfortable and warm, it’s not too likely to happen… For many women, being relaxed – thanks to a hot bath, a foot rub, a vacation, or alcohol, improves their ability to have an orgasm, even with partners they don’t feel completely comfortable with. P78

4 out of 10 girls have had some kind of sexually upsetting experience in childhood that continues to occupy their brains with worries during adult sexual encounters – not being able to reach orgasm is one of the most common symptoms. P81

Reports provided by women indicated those whose partners were most symmetrical enjoyed a significantly higher frequency of orgasms than those with less symmetrical mates. Handsome men know this firsthand. Studies show that symmetrical men have the shorted courtships before having sex. They also invest the least time and money on their dates. And handsome guys cheat on their mates more often. P85

To the researchers’ surprise, women’s romantic passion toward their mates did not increase the frequency of orgasm. Not only that, but even the conventional wisdom that using birth control and protection from disease increases female orgasm, supposedly because the allow the woman to feel more relaxed, proved no relationship between frequency of female orgasm and contraceptive use. Instead, only how good looking the guy was correlated with a high frequency of female orgasm. After all our brains are built for survival in the precontraceptive Stone Age. P86

The human mother will be able to pick out her own baby’s smell above all others with about 90% accuracy. This goes for her baby’s cry and body movements too… Maternal aggression sets in as well. Her strength and resolve to care for and protect her baby completely grab her brain circuits… Her brain has physically changed, and along with it her reality. P102

Mothers may have better spatial memory than females who haven’t given birth, and they may be more flexible, courageous, and adaptive. This transformation even holds true for adoptive mothers. As long as you’re in continuous physical contact with the child, your brain will release oxytocin and form the circuits needed to make and maintain the mommy brain. P103

A study of college aged adults who had low maternal care in childhood showed hyperactive brain responses to stress on PET scans. Researchers found these adults released more stress hormone cortisol into their blood than their high maternal care counterparts. P104

Humans evolved as cooperative breeders in settings where mothers have always relied on allomaternal care from others. So whatever a mother does and others do to help her, to ensure the predictability and availability of resources – financial, emotional, and social – may ultimately secure her children’s future well being. This was proven with monkeys, where it’s not the amount of resource that is available, but it’s predictability that is important. Rhesus monkeys were divided into 3 groups. One had plenty of food every day, one had scarce food every day, and one had plenty on some days, and scarce on others. Youngsters in the best environment with plenty of food got the most responsive nurturing from their moms, but those in the scarce group got almost as much. But those in the unprecdictable environment not only got the least amount of nurturing but received abusive and aggressive attacks from their mothers. These mothers had higher levels of stress hormones and lower levels of oxytocin their peers. P114

Men are not as adept at reading facial expressions and emotional nuance – especially signs of despair and distress. Perhaps that is why women evolved to cry 4 times more easily than men – displaying unmistakable sign of sadness and suffering that men can’t ignore. P119

Researchers place women in an MRI while they delivered brief electric shocks, some weak and some strong. Next, their romantic partners were hooked, but the women were signaled as to whether the shock to their beloved would be strong or weak. The women could not see their lovers’ face or bodies, but even so, the same pain areas of their brains that had activated when they were shocked lit up when they learned their partners were being strongly shocked… Researchers were unable to elicit similar brain responses from men. P123

Most men don’t take the time to figure out emotion, and they become impatient because it takes longer for them. This is what happens in men with the extreme male brain that is characteristic of Asperger’s disorder. These men become unable to look at a face, let alone read it. The amount of emotional input from another person’s face registers on their brains as unbearable pain. P124

Anxiety is 4 times more common in women. A women’s highly responsive stress trigger allows her to become anxious much more quickly than does a man. Although this may not seem like an adaptive trait, it actually allows her brain to focus on the danger at hand and respond quickly to protect her children. Unfortunately, this means that they are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, especially through their reproductive years. P132

What’s a hot flash?
During menopause, the hypothalamus, in response to decreased estrogen, has changed its heat-regulating cells, making a woman feel suddenly, blazingly hot even at normal temperatures. P140

Even though the life span in hunter-gatherer societies is typically less than 40, about 1/3 of all women survive past that age, and many go on to live into their 60s and 70s… The hardworking grandmother in her 60s spent more time foraging than did younger mothers, providing food for their grandchildren, increasing their chance of survival. Anthropologists have found in some societies that the presence of grandmother improves a child’s prospects much more than the presence of a father. P155

Researchers have found that postmenopausal women on estrogen were less depressed and angry and performed better on tests of verbal fluency, hearing, and memory than did women who were not on estrogen, and they outperformed men, too. By contrast, women who had never taken hormone therapy had significantly more shrinkage in all brain areas than did women who took HT. They also found that the longer women took HT, the more gray matter they had. These positive effects held and even increased the longer a woman took HT. p167

Another study examined identical twins [to rule out as much genetic variation as possible], in which one twin took HT and the other didn’t. The HT users had better scores on tests of verbal fluency and working memory than their twin sisters, showing 40% less cognitive impairment, regardless of the timing and type of HT. p167

However, when estrogen was given to older women years after menopause, no positive effect was found. These findings suggest that there is a critical time for initiating HT following menopause. This may explain why no protective effect on cognitive aging was found on the landmark WHIMS study. P168

It’s now clear how estrogen keeps blood vessels in the brain healthy. Researchers have found that estrogen increases the efficiency of the mitochondria in the brain’s blood vessels, explaining why premenopausal woman have lower rates of stroke than men their age. P174
Studies indicate that starting HT early in menopause, when neurons are healthy, reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease. However, HT initiated once the disease has developed or decades after menopause offers no benefit. P175

* The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

I have to come clean on a host of topics. First, in 1983 I read the 'Selfish Gene' by Dawkins. It had a profound impact on my worldview. Unfortunately, no book since from Dawkins has measured up to that first breathtaking publication of his. I would have to sadly add this to the pile. The book is not a tight, coherent, compelling argument against God which forces you into a corner with no recourse. Instead it is full of details, tangents, scientific minutaie. Sure for a fellow atheist, it will make sense, and in fact, it was already clear to start with. A far more entertaining book on this subject is Sam Harris' 'Letter to a Christian Nation', which Dawkins cites and quotes from. I'd start there.

I am a deeply religious nonbeliever… I have never imputed a purpose or a goal or anything that could be understood as anthropomorphic… The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems na├»ve. – Albert Einstein, setting the record straight on this faith or faithlessness.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. P31

I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented. P36 Dawkins setting the record straight.

A $2.4M heart study published in the American Heart Journal April 2006 proved that there was no difference between those patients who were prayed for and those were not. What a surprise! There was a difference between those who knew they had been prayed for and those who did not know one way or the other; but it went in the wrong direction. Those that knew they were the beneficiaries of prayer suffered significantly more complications than those who did not. Was God smiting them to show his disapproval of the whole experiment? P63

Intelligent design is a really a problem in itself. This is because the designer itself immediately raises the bigger problem of its own origin. Any entity capable of intelligently designing something as improbable a universe would have to be even more improbable than a universe. Far from terminating the vicious regress, God aggravates it with a vengeance. P120

How could evolution ever be falsified (proven wrong)? [Easy! Just find] ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.’ –JBS Haldane p128

Did evolution create god?
In our ancestral past our greatest challenge in our environment came from each other. ‘The legacy of that is the default assumption, often fear, of human intention. We have a great deal of difficulty seeing anything other than human causation’ We naturally generalized that to divine intention. P144

What could be simpler than one God that controls everything? Well actually, almost everything. A God capable of continuously monitoring and controlling the individual status of every particle in the universe cannot be simple. His existence is going to require a mammoth explanation in its own right. P149

“If God answered the prayers for our loved ones to recover from cancer, then cancer would no longer be a problem for humans to solve.” (quote from Richard Swineburne – British Theologian). And then what would we do with our time? P149

More than any other species, we survive by the accumulated experience of previous generations, and that experience needs to be passed on to children for their protection and well being… There will be a selective advantage to children that possess the rule of thumb: believe without question whatever grown ups tell you. This is a generally valuable rule for a child. But it can go wrong. [Faith in God is an example.] P175

The flip side of trusting obedience is slavish gullibility. The inevitable by product is vulnerability to infection by mind viruses. For excellent reasons related to Darwinian survival, child brains need to trust parents and elders whom parents tell them to trust. An automatic consequence is that the child has no way of distinguishing good advice from bad. The child cannot know [initially until they are older] that not swimming in a crocodile infested river is a great idea, and that sacrificing a goat to the moon god to induce rain is a waste of time. Both come from a respected source and are delivered with solemn earnestness that commands respect and obedience. The same goes for propositions about the world, cosmos, morality, and human nature [and education – even in the sciences – until the child matures and can consider the issues himself]. And very likely, when the child grows up and has children of her own, she will naturally pass the whole lot on to her own children – nonsense as well as sense – using the same gravitas of manner. P176

Children are natural born dualists. Dualists acknowledge a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist believes that mind is a manifestation of matter, and can’t exist apart from matter. A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else. Dualist personify inanimate objects at the slightest opportunity, seeing spirits and demons in waterfalls, clouds, stars, etc. p180

There is no 1 to 1 mapping between genes and units of anatomy and behavior. Genes collaborate with 100s of other genes in programming the developmental processes that culminate in a body, in the same way that words of a recipe collaborate in cooking process that culminates in a savory dish. It is not the case that each word of the recipe corresponds to a different morsel of the dish. P197

Cargo cults. New religions being born before our eyes.
[You can find lots of info on these bizarre religious cults that sprang up during WWII in the pacific theater.] One cult devotee responded to a critic that said ‘It has been 19 years since John Frum [the cult’s savior] said the cargo should have come. The cargo has not come. Isn’t 19 years a long time to wait? The devotee replies, ‘If you can wait 2000 years for Jesus to come, and he has come yet, then I can wait more than 19 years for John.’ P205

Many people today take the whole of their scripture to be literal fact. Many others consider it not literal fact but as an allegory. Let’s take as an example (for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, and how we should morally interpret this example from the Old Testament. Modern theologians would protest that this should not be taken as literal fact. OK, should we take it as an allegory then? As a moral lesson? But what kind of moral could one derive from this appalling story? Remember that God ordered Abraham to burn his son. So Abraham built an altar, gathered wood, tied his son up on top it, lit it ablaze, and just as the act was about to be completed, an angel told him to spare Isaac, and that God was only testing his faith. A modern moralist can’t help but to wonder how a child could ever recover from such psychological trauma. This disgraceful story is an example simultaneously of child abuse, bullying in 2 asymmetrical power relationships, and the first recorded use of the Nuremburg defense ‘I was only obeying orders’. Yet this legend is one of the great foundational myths of all 3 monotheistic religions. P242

“With or without religion, you’d have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg Nobel Laureate

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction” - Blaise Pascal

Polls suggest that 95% of US population believe that they will survive their own death. I can’t help wondering how many people who claim such belief really in their heart of hearts hold it. If they were really sincere, then why don’t they beam excitedly when told by their doctor that they have only month to live? Why don’t faithful visitors at her bedside shower her with messages for those who have gone before? Why don’t religious people act this way in the presence of the dying including their own? Could it be that they don’t really believe it? Or could be that they believe it, but fear the process of dying only? But we have no qualms putting our beloved pets ‘to sleep’, and laud this as humane. So why does the most vocal opposition to euthanasia come from the religious? The official reason is that killing is a sin, but why deem it as a sin if you a sincerely believe you are accelerating a journey to heaven, and you are sparing someone of the painful‘dying’ process? P356 Why should Rover get the first class treatment put Pops has to suffer?

The Meme Machine, Blackmore S

How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World: A short history of Modern Delusions Wheen, F 2004