Nature is a tenacious recycler, every dung heap and fallen redwood tree a bustling community of saprophytes wresting life from the dead and discarded, as though intuitively aware that there is nothing new under the sun. Throughout the physical world, from the cosmic to the subatomic, the same refrain resounds. Conservation: it's not just a good idea, it's the law.
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Among the more irritating consequences of our flagrantly religious society is the special dispensation that mainstream religions receive. We all may talk about religion as a powerful social force, but unlike other similarly powerful institutions, religion is not to be questioned, criticized or mocked.
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I'm an Atheist. I don't believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don't believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren't, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I'm convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let's even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.
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Nobody knows what the whales may have to click and clack about, but it could be a form of voting-time to stop here and synchronously dive down in search of deep water squid, now time to resurface, move on, dive again. Clans also seem to caucus on which males they like and will mate with more or less as a group and which ones to collectively spurn. By all appearances, female sperm whales are terrible size queens. Over the generations, they have consistently voted in favor of enhanced male mass. Their dream candidate nowadays is some fellow named Moby, and he's three times their size.
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In a sense, evolution adheres to the classic twelve-step program: it takes things one day at a time. It does not strive for perfection; it does not strive at all. There is no progress, no plans, no scala natura, or scale of nature, that ranks organisms from lowly to superior, primitive to advanced.
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The clitoris not only applauds when a women flaunts her mastery; it will give a standing ovation. In the multiple orgasm, we see the finest evidence that our lady Klitoris helps those who help themselves. It may take many minutes to reach the first summit, but once there the lusty mountaineer finds wings awaiting her. She does noy need to scramble back to the ground before scaling the next peak, but can glide like a raptor on currents of joy.
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Astronomy is so easy to love. ... Fairly or not, physics is associated with nuclear bombs and nuclear waste, chemistry with pesticides, biology with Frankenfood and designer-gene superbabies. But astronomers are like responsible ecotourists, squinting at the scenery through high-quality optical devices, taking nothing but images that may be computer-enhanced for public distribution, leaving nothing but a few Land Rover footprints on faraway Martian soil, and OK, OK, maybe the Land Rover, too.
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Astronomers are pure of heart and appealingly puerile. They look into the midnight sky and ask big questions, just as we did when we were in college: Who are we? Where do we come from? And why are we standing around outside on the night before finals, do we want to end up making elevator parts for a living like our father or what?
What is wrong with looking muscular? Muscles are beautiful. Strength is beautiful. Muscle tissue is beautiful. It is metabolically, medically, and philosophically beautiful. Muscles retreat when they're not used, but they will always come back if you give them good reason. No matter how old you get, your muscles never lose hope. Few cells of the body are as capable as muscle cells are of change and reformation, of achievement and transcendence.
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As [The Nation columnist Katha] Pollitt points out, when one starts looking beneath the surface of things and adding together the out-front atheists with the indifferent nonbelievers, you end up with a much larger group of people than Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Unitarians put together.
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