Creationists who can't stop rewriting history

Over at Coral Ridge Ministries they've broadcast about everyone's favorite topic in a program called Darwin's Deadly Legacy that begins by wondering what Darwin's theory of evolution has contributed to humanty and promises to expose us the the truth by using the old Nazi cannards and those super-scientific scientists Anne Coulter and Ken Ham.

This week on The Coral Ridge Hour, Coral Ridge Ministries presents: Darwin's Deadly Legacy. Have you looked at the chilling social impact of Darwin's theory of evolution? Do you know how it is connected to the horrors of Nazism? Learn how this discredited scientific theory is impacting your life!

Wikart is my favorite. He says that because Nazis used a "selection" process that they were somehow informed by Darwin. D. James Kennedy's narration moments later, "Simply put: No Darwin. No Hitler." I don't even think that we have any evidence that Hitler had read Darwin. It's pretty erroneous.
To turn it around, as Hector Avalos did in a recent post at TalkOrigins, we can see that the real roots of genocide in Nazi Germany rest in Christian hatred of the Jews for killing Jesus. Luther's 7 points were carried out almost verbatim in the Final Solution. And if you look to the Bible, that tome from which we are to accept the immortal and all-loving teachings of the holy and loving creator of the universe, we need look no further than the book of Genesis to see that God is a genocidal bully on whose precedent bloody-minded men have placed their trust and faith. God is righteous. If he commits genocide then so can we. In fact, Hitler regularly cited "providence," "the almighty," and "our God" in Triumph of the Will. In the most overt statement of Nazi propaganda there is never even one mention of anything remotely related to evolution. Just the tyrannical delusions of the Third Reich's will to power. Will has no place in evolution.
They use the Columbine shootings as an example of Darwin in action because one of the shooters got an emotional thrill from the death caused by natural selection. So one example of how a sixteen-year-old kid can get his rocks off from death and destruction tears down a descritpive and predictive theory? I think not. For every example of alleged evil done in the name of Darwinism, we can find hundreds or thousands done in the name of religion. What about men who subjugate their wives and own them as property because that's what the Bible says is the case? Women are to be killed by their husbands on their wedding nights if the husband finds her virginal status to have been compromised. So why didn't Joseph do that to Mary? The books of Judges and Joshua? The centuries of witch trials and the Inquisitions? So when Kennedy says that Darwinism/ToE let us decide who must live and who must die, I think that he has a long road to travel that shows him and his religion to be hypocritical a la the death penalty and the pro-war platform of the American Christo-fascists.
How's that mote in your eye Kennedy?

The "happy" life?

“The struggle itself for the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”
- Albert Camus, “They Myth of Sisyhus”

Sometimes we humans like to compare ourselves to the universe. We use our sentience, our reflective consciousness, our predictive powers, and our language instincts to compare our lives to the whole of existence – from the galaxy, our solar system, our planet, our whole nation, ethnicity, creed, nation, or even another person who we admire. In so doing, our lives may seem smaller than one molecule of salt in the Pacific Ocean. How is one to be happy in the face of the mammoth scope of everything? What is even scarier, is that we are just denizens of a kind of what Richard Dawkins calls middle world – we hear mid-range sounds, we run at a middle speed, we eat in the middle of the food chain as omnivorers (though we have extremes as well), we seen in the middle of the light spectrum, live middle length lives longer than many animals but certainly shorter than tortoises – that cannot experience everything. So even our own senses and our cognition limit our concept of everything. The materials of human existence force us into ignorance. How can one be happy knowing that they are so ill-equipped?
This question perplexes me. To paraphrase Camus, “Why shouldn’t you kill yourself?” That question gets us off the train well before Shining Time Station where people smile and laugh and long for one another’s company. All one needs not to kill one’s self are some iota of pleasure and another iota of purpose. Though this might be a glib assertion, life cannot be truly happy if it lacks meaning; a lack of meaning leads to nihilism; nihilism leads to death. Following meaning, we must also do good.
Our first two requirements for happiness is pleasure and meaning. Luckily, the universe hands us the materials that our brains make into meaning. Everyday experiences demand cognitive and emotional reactions or actions, some of which are instinctive and not subject to our selective powers/free will and some are subject to our selective powers.
In The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan explored the human limbic system, calling it our R-complexe or reptile brains. The R-complex is the evolutionary inheritance of our ancient ancestors, the “dragons” that have existed in all life since the advent of the reptile hundreds of millions of years ago. Its response to things are so instinctive that we cannot prevent them or, at best, we can do little to prevent them. Examples include: fight or flight responses, sexual arousal from a potential mate’s pheremonal cocktail, sweating in the palms when we are nervous, salivating from the scent of delicious food. Each of those instinctive responses do feed into our desires which are at the base of happiness, but they are so libidinal as to lack the ability to fulfill human’s cognitive desires. Sleep. Sex. Eating. Drinking water. Movement. Surely these please us. But pleasure and happiness are not the same. Should we make a Venn diagram, happiness comes in part from pleasure but it must overlap with meaning in order for us to stay alive.
Hedonism cannot sustain the human animal. In our first class Jennelle said that we are unlikely to believe, at least prima facie, that a prostitute or drug dealer, are educated. Not only are they statistically unlikely to be educated, their lives are also statistically unlikely to be very meaningful to themselves or others. Why? The worth of their activities can only be determined by how they fulfill the reptilian desires of others or themselves and therefore lack the fulfillment that most human mind’s desire to learn and contemplate its will’s desires. It comes as little surprise that every year those in the hedonistic businesses of prostitution, pornography, drug dealing, drug abuse are statistically overrepresented in homicide and suicide figures. It is tragic. Too many of them have deemed themselves without worth and then others without worth. People become only implements of pleasure taking their relationships from what Martin Buber called an “I-thou” status to an “I-it” status.
Meaning comes from the life of the mind. It comes with the engagement of curiosity. Luckily for us, curiosity can be fulfilled in any number of ways. People learn about one another and devise ways to please them in their reptile ways and in their higher cognition. We make food that pleases our senses but then also can be communicated in language as instructions – either written or orally – so as to give us an activity with which to occupy our times and then, perhaps, share with others. We can make art as simple as sewing a small hat for a newborn child which will earn us the thanks of our friends or family who might then reciprocate to us thereby fulfilling a creature comfort that keeps a child warm, a primate desire to be social and appreciated, and the deeply human cognitive desire to use tools to make something new that can then affect our environment in some way. This list can go on and on and on: music, painting, religion, ceremonies, films, writing, taking classes, riding bicycles in Le Tour de France or being a fan of the riders who compete in Le Tour de France. All of these give us meaning. But are they good?
Good is an emergent property of deliberate altruism. The highest good and our greatest joys come from loving and sharing our love with our closest relatives, friends, community, and ideological members . That good should be extended to many: human and non-human animals, trees, mosses, and the entire environment. Good must come about from behaving honestly and openly with the best intentions for others as you would like for yourself. The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” The Categorical Imperative. I am in some ways a utilitarian who believes that generally the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. But I am also a civil libertarian who believes the interests of many are served by recognizing the sovereignty of the individual over themselves. This means that people are free to be as unhappy as they like until they infringe on those inalienable rights that most citizens of the United States take for granted.
So it seems that pleasure, meaning, and good give birth to happiness. A happy life comes with a sated libido, a full stomach, and a good night’s sleep for a person who values the activities of their daily lives and who carries out their actions in the interest of the greatest good. Or is it?
To cite one of the greatest monsters of history, I wonder if Genghis Khan was truly less happy than I am. Can we say that the forefather of 1 in 400 men on the planet who dominated tens of thousands of square miles of Eurasia and allegedly relished with glee the sight of his opponents’ suffering and spilled entrails…can we say that he was less happy than I am or you are? Perhaps we might explain his glee away by saying he was a megalomaniac. So we might say about Ivan the Terrible. Stalin. Hitler. Mao. Pol Pot. Charles Manson.
Perhaps if we read the book of Genesis’ story of Noah and the flood, we would come to see that Yahweh, the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, was a genocidal megalomaniac because he destroyed almost all life on earth except for two of each kind. In the process, would this not kill untold billions of innocents? In this light, can Yahweh be truly happy according to my definition. I suppose not.
But my definition is contingent upon my subjective feelings and cognitions. In that way, I find that the happy life is inevitably an illusion that we create to give ourselves meaning and that like Sisyphus, we are faced with explicate-order and implicate-order rocks that we push up metaphorical hills in our struggle to attain great heights. We like living enough that we will create any number of beliefs to hold ourselves up to keep going, pining to procreate our genes and our memes. Ultimately our meaning though is as self-involved as Narcissus and his image in the pond and perhaps few of the beliefs that we jealously guard are true in any objective sense. Happiness is a pleasurable illusion that we might all share.
We are strange loops. We maneuver our rocks up the hill only to see it tumble down another side. But let us hope that like Camus’ Sisyphus, we smile.

1. I am, perhaps unfairly, leaving the mentally retarded, seriously mentally ill, and the clinically insane out of my argument. To be honest, I don’t know that they can be truly happy. But that is beyond the scope of this brief essay.
2. However, we must always mind our species’ tendency toward clannishness whether as tribalism, nationalism, or ideological fundamentalism. These tendencies in humans limit our empathy and certainly compromise the essence of the Golden Rule. So we must extend our love, our altruism to all those who will share.

Historical revisionists and Hindu prayers in Congress

Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars Ed Brayton has posted a really good rebuttal to Rep. Sali (R.-Idaho) who objected to the Hindu prayer in Congress last month. Sali's sectarian intolerance comes as no surprise to me, nor does his defense of it by quote-mining founding fathers or using invented quotations (mis)attributed to George Washington.
Once again, these ideological revisionists will do whatever they can to shove their religions into everyone else's lives.
Brayton concludes well, saying

The problem is not that you're defending your faith, the problem is that you're claiming, falsely, that the faith of Adams and Franklin is identical to yours. That is clearly not the case. Their own words show that they reject your position on this, but you're too ignorant to know that.

A Brief Rant

I am not a believer in God, gods, spirits or any of the other nonsense that theists have foisted onto the masses for millenia. Before the advent of the scientific method, it might have been reasonable to believe in a creator. But in today's world, the educated have no solid reason to have faith in those things for which there are no evidence.
Faith is a slippery word. A child has faith that his/her parents will lead them to good and a spouse is said to be faithful if they are loyal. The parents nurture their child, hold them tight as they cry in the night, help them to suckle, and play safely in a world fraught with potential danger. Spouses repiprocate their feelings, talk deep into the night as they stare at Orion's belt or wonder how they came to meet, and enjoy the bliss of sex. But in the first instance, isn't it rather that once we learn that our parents treat us well that we trust them? And in the second instance aren't we loyal to our spouses out of reciprocity and trust? We learn, by experience, that there are reasons to believe that our parents will do us well and that our spouses will as well. And if they don't, we rightly (generally we hope) leave them.
Faith, though, is belief in things unseen and unexperienced...even more, unmeasured and unknowable. I do not mean that I can use a yardstick to measure the length of my love for my son or use a scale to weigh the profundity of my wife's loyalty or use a barometer to gauge the pressure of my sister's joy. But I can infer easily with my senses that she acts directly in my interest and she can do so for me. No such way exists for God(s) except through delusion and self-deception. It boggles my mind that there are tens of millions of my fellow Americans believe fervently in something that they say "moves in mysterious ways," is inscrutable, exists outside of time and space, and yet they know it loves them and condemns homosexuality or created the earth in six days. Is it inscrutable or not?
Why believe in such a thing? Why trust in something for which you cannot account and can behave outside of the rules that you have demanded of every other operant being in your small known universe? Why does God get away with demanding human sacrifice buy the Maya or the Spartans do not? Why can God demand the servitude and sexual submission of a naive virgin girl and it is miraculous when any other being we know of doing the same act would be a rapist? Why can God commit genocide in the books of Deuteronomy, Judges or Joshua (just to name three) and it is the glorious fulfillment of a plan but if Hitler kills all of the Jews, who are indicted in the Book of John as the murderer of Jesus, then it is murderous and hateful? Why is Mao more murderous than Yahweh? How is Stalin worse than Yahweh or Allah? God is, to paraphrase Dawkins, a genocidal bully.
I am not a believer in large part because "true-belief" Christians - dispensationalists, dominionists, and other fundamentalists - are relatavists of the worst sort. They hold three standards: one for God who can do whatever he wants to because he is the ultimate arbiter no matter what good arguments are posed; a second for those who follow this God and do his bidding no matter how subjective or amorphous; a third for those who hesitate to believe or don't believe the same way. Modern Christianity in America is a chimera and a hoax of the worst kind. It leads people to believe in nonsense and then to act on that nonsense to destructive, unethical, and immoral ends. It denies facts and demands servility in the service of a slaver's agenda. And that slaver doesn't even exist. It is a tissue of lies and deceit that is infinitely more dangerous than the tooth fairy. It is the source of too many problems and I for one have no faith in it.

Local governments get in bed with fundamentalism

Here we go. As if the Answers in Genesis scientificky sciencey anti-museum weren't awful enough on its own, a local Kentucky tourist bureau has endorsed the anti-museum in its literature. The Cincinatti Enquirer carries today's story.

The Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau on its Web site says of the controversial museum: "This 'walk through history' museum will counter evolutionary natural history museums that turn countless minds against Christ and Scripture."

Well that's definitely the government's business to tell into what religion they should (and therefore should not) be indoctrinated. I have little problem with people visiting the anti-museum except that it will detract several points from their IQs. But the Establishment Clause and the Lemon Test make it pretty clear that this is not for the government. It doesn't get much closer to a state-sponsored church than this.

ID apologists just keep whining.

Over at Denyse O'Leary's Post-Darwinistshe's posted an entry that laments poor Michael Behe's thrashing by those nasty Darwinists who've reviewed his piece of trash, The Edge of Evolution. In her post she quotes from a pair of interviews she did with Behe in which they bring up the Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne reviews. They then wonder whether Dawkins and Coyne read the book because Dawkins brought up dogs.

O'Leary: I still can't believe that Dawkster garbage about dogs. [Richard Dawkins's review of Behe's book that did not make clear whether he had even read it or understood the challenge it poses to Darwinism, and indulged in an extended riff about intelligently designed dog breeding.]
Behe: Yeah, I was astounded when Dawkins talked dogs. Now Jerry Coyne is doing it too! These guys have some serious problems.

Did they read the reviews? Coyne thrashed that book and turned it into pulp in a lengthy review. [Note: I admire Coyne's extensive articulate style, excellently showcased in that review as well as "Intelligent Design: The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name".] But there is not one piece of substantive rebuttal to Dawkins, Coyne, Miller, or any of the tons of blogs that took Edge of Evolution through the ringer. No, they make a little joke out of Dawkins point. Let's look at it:

The crucial passage in “The Edge of Evolution” is this: “By far the most critical aspect of Darwin’s multifaceted theory is the role of random mutation. Almost all of what is novel and important in Darwinian thought is concentrated in this third concept.”
What a bizarre thing to say! Leave aside the history: unacquainted with genetics, Darwin set no store by randomness. New variants might arise at random, or they might be acquired characteristics induced by food, for all Darwin knew. Far more important for Darwin was the nonrandom process whereby some survived but others perished. Natural selection...explains the elegant illusion of design that pervades the living kingdoms and explains, in passing, us. Whatever else it is, natural selection is not a “modest” idea, nor is descent with modification.
But let’s follow Behe down his solitary garden path and see where his overrating of random mutation leads him. He thinks there are not enough mutations to allow the full range of evolution we observe. There is an “edge,” beyond which God must step in to help. Selection of random mutation may explain the malarial parasite’s resistance to chloroquine, but only because such micro-organisms have huge populations and short life cycles. A fortiori, for Behe, evolution of large, complex creatures with smaller populations and longer generations will fail, starved of mutational raw materials.
If mutation, rather than selection, really limited evolutionary change, this should be true for artificial no less than natural selection. Domestic breeding relies upon exactly the same pool of mutational variation as natural selection. Now, if you sought an experimental test of Behe’s theory, what would you do? You’d take a wild species, say a wolf that hunts caribou by long pursuit, and apply selection experimentally to see if you could breed, say, a dogged little wolf that chivies rabbits underground: let’s call it a Jack Russell terrier. Or how about an adorable, fluffy pet wolf called, for the sake of argument, a Pekingese? Or a heavyset, thick-coated wolf, strong enough to carry a cask of brandy, that thrives in Alpine passes and might be named after one of them, the St. Bernard? Behe has to predict that you’d wait till hell freezes over, but the necessary mutations would not be forthcoming. Your wolves would stubbornly remain unchanged. Dogs are a mathematical impossibility.

So what is the rebuttal to this? On O'Leary's blog it's that these rebuttals come from scientists who have gone off the deep end or, if you take a look at Behe's book, an argument from ignorance and a god of the gaps that ignores or distorts the role of natural selection so far as this blogger can tell. By reading a mountain of blog reviews that cross disciplines we can see a panoply of good reasoning that flunks Behe's bad math and bad science.
But what does O'Leary do? She makes it about the evil oligarchy of Darwinists by bringing up Lehigh University's statement that stands for academic integrity and against bad science:

The faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and academic function. This commitment carries with it unwavering support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. It also demands the utmost respect for the scientific method, integrity in the conduct of research, and recognition that the validity of any scientific model comes only as a result of rational hypothesis testing, sound experimentation, and findings that can be replicated by others.

The department faculty, then, are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory, which has its roots in the seminal work of Charles Darwin and has been supported by findings accumulated over 140 years. The sole dissenter from this position, Prof. Michael Behe, is a well-known proponent of "intelligent design." While we respect Prof. Behe's right to express his views, they are his alone and are in no way endorsed by the department. It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.

It's imperative that they make it clear. Not only are their images on the line, but the integrity of the scientific enterprise is at stake because of Behe's and the DI's arguments from logical fallacies, quote-mining, and hand-waving.
I suggest O'Leary et al get some real arguments instead of a bunch of foolish bluster and goal-post maneuvering.

Creationists for genocide: A new post at TalkReason

Over at TalkReason, Professor Hector Avalos has posted a new article called "Creationists for Genocide" which refutes the babble of many a Creationist that the Darwin's Theory of Evolution somehow led to Hitler.
Avalos writes

One understands nothing about creationism unless one understands that it is meant to be a system of ethics. That is why the assault on evolution has always included a lengthy history of moral judgments against evolution. Perhaps none of these judgments has been more accusatory than the idea that Darwinism led to the Holocaust. Such an idea is trumpeted in many creationist venues, including books and blogs. A prime example of this accusation today is found in Richard Weikart's From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany (2004).

As someone who teaches a course on the arts before, during, and in the aftermath of the Third Reich, we must deal with the Judenfrage, or "Jewish Question" and its Enloesung, or "Final Solution." Even cursory understandings of German culture show us the entrenched anti-semitism that was based in religion. The most powerful of these in Germany were, of course, from Luther, who wrote The Jews and Their Lies.

"First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. ..."
"Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. ..."
"Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. ..."
"Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. ..."
"Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. ..."
"Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them. ... Such money should now be used in ... the following [way]... Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed [a certain amount]..."
"Seventh, I commend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow... For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting, and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants."
"If we wish to wash our hands of the Jews' blasphemy and not share in their guilt, we have to part company with them. They must be driven from our country" and "we must drive them out like mad dogs."

Here then, the founder of the Protestant Reformation, has set the agenda for the Enloesung centuries before Darwin. Anyway, read on at TalkOrigins where you can see the historical ties of religion to genocide and its appropriation of anything to make its goal. Quote-mining is an old art it seems.

This just in from EXPELLED! the movie

Hmmm. So I thought I'd check out what you get when you sign up for material from the folks at EXPELLED and so far, I am unsurprised. It's the usual claptrap:
Hey ----,
We're really happy to have you on board. EXPELLED is sure to stir up a lot of controversy and bring up a lot of important questions. It's critical that we take a stand to fight for the truth. In EXPELLED, Ben questions why all the anti-theist Darwinists are so nervous right now. What are they so afraid of? That's what I'd like to know, too. What are they hiding?

Wherever you are on the spectrum of belief, it's critical that all students have as much information as possible in order to make the most informed decisions they can. This fight is about making sure we all have access to the truth.

We've got a LOT of great things coming down the pipeline in this campaign and the ultimate goal is to stage a series of nationwide debates in your high schools and universities, led by YOU.
Go ahead...let your voice be heard!

Make sure you check the website/email frequently to get the latest updates.
And invite a friend to join the campaign too.
I am afraid that these folks will successfully redefine science and use their notions of "mere creation" or "theistic realism" to send us back in time to the days before the scientific method was the best explanatory tool we have. No. The best invention human beings have ever made except maybe art. No. Science is better.
But we Darwinists (Oooooh!!! Boogiemen!!!!) aren't hiding anything. We don't need to. That's what's great about science. We can expose any part of it to the light by looking at peer-reviewed studies and replicable research unlike that religious revelation and apologetics they're traipsing out from the Discovery Institute, Access Research Network, ID Network, Uncommon Descent, and the rest of it. I don't do the research, but I keep up and I trust that bad ideas will be shelled or relegated to, at best, tertiary positons given enough time and effort. But the effort it's taken to totally dismantle ID's fact and logic claims has been quick in large part because the arguments are just dressd up Paley and creationist nonsense.
I couldn't agree with these guys more that this is "about access to the truth." That's why I fight against them tooth and nail every day. They aren't demons. They're people with agenda and so am I. It just so happens that one of us (me and the enlightened community) are honest and one of us is not (DI and its IDiot followers).
There might be a debate, but it's a pop-culture debate and one that I am happy to participate in. But their ideas are so vacuous (devoid of content) that scientists shouldn't have to take them on. Yet they do, and expose them for the frauds they are. Just link to any of the Wiessenshaft blogs or sites to your right on my blog and you can see the IDiots shredded for using a transparent media campaign built on a religious house of cards. This isn't about science. It's about religion and I am so tired of the wolf in sheep's clothing - ID trying to pass itself off as science by using its "inference to the best explanation" nonsense. It's not a good inference. It's totally subjective.

A new ID movie, EXPELLED! is yet more of the "wedge"

So PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Eugenie Scott are featured in a new ID movie called Expelled! that features Ben Stein and uses "Bad to the Bone!" as its theme song.
Check out there awesome banner!

I mean, how hip and rebellious can one group get? Ben Stein!!! WOW!!! He's such a rebel having worked for Richard Nixon and speaking out for that oppressed Christian minority. What a bunch of s***! And it seems pretty clear that this is just another part of the PR campaign inherent in the "Wedge" strategy. Consider these parts:

Phase I.

Scientific Research, Writing & Publicity
Phase II.

Publicity & Opinion-making
Phase III.

Cultural Confrontation & Renewal

Phase I. Scientific Research, Writing & Publication
Individual Research Fellowship Program
Paleontology Research program (Dr. Paul Chien et al.)
Molecular Biology Research Program (Dr. Douglas Axe et al.)

Phase II. Publicity & Opinion-making
Book Publicity
Opinion-Maker Conferences
Apologetics Seminars
Teacher Training Program
Op-ed Fellow
PBS (or other TV) Co-production
Publicity Materials / Publications

Phase III. Cultural Confrontation & Renewal
Academic and Scientific Challenge Conferences
Potential Legal Action for Teacher Training
Research Fellowship Program: shift to social sciences and humanities

Well, consider that Phase I, which is by far the most important in terms of its validity, has gotten nowhere at all. Zilcho. I guess they might have something going in a subterranean top-secret bunker of scientificy scienciness but I'm waiting for the evidence. Time will tell.
Phase III has also not gotten very far because of the setbacks in Ohio, Kansas, and especially Dover.
So this is just more of Phase II. More empty rhetoric dressed up in glitzy grammar. I will be joining PZ and Ed Brayton in wholeheartedly trashing this movie.
Others have really covered this way better than I can (especially PZ). Follow the links in from this Pandas Thumb link.

Michael Schermer on the Colbert Report

Michael Schermer, editor of Skeptic magazine appeared on the Colbert Report and promoted science.
I like Schermer more and more. His manner isn't so much my thing but he has taken to heart the call that science, skepticism, and understanding history (watch the Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on the Bible) needs to be promoted positively and shown to be powerful tools that are also fun, exciting, and meaningful. The folks over at Framing Science will surely be happy that Schermer is carrying the banner of positive science out there so that the only loud voices aren't just Dawkins, Dennett, and Stenger who have been (rightly) trashing God. Schermer doesn't care much about that and has joined up with the likes of Ken Miller, Lawrence Krauss, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Neil deGrasse Tyson to show the public that while science may be about disproof, it's also about excitement and wonder. That isn't to say that Dawkins et al are somehow opposed to wonder. All you have to do is read a book like River out of Eden to know that Dawkins is so in love with nature that anyone who would shortchange her beauty needs a good bloody nose. But Schermer and friends do show us what it should be about - wonder in the face of resplendent nature. If only those pesky fundamentalists...err...yeah...forget them.
Go team reason!

The end of an era: Nick Matzke leaves NCSE

Everyone say, "Bye Nick. We'll miss you."
Nick was the wizard behind the curtain at the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in 2005 and has been Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education (links to their farewell). He lined up so much material for the prosecution and made sure that they had their ducks in a row. Had he not been there, it might not have gone so well. To quote Matthew Chapman, Darwin's great-great-grandson,

"The NCSE staffer initially assigned to the Dover flare-up, he now briefed the lawyers on the arcane ins and outs of science. Bespectacled, in his thirties, he was tall and large and peered down at you with a look of beleaguered doubt, as if to say, 'You're asking me this question about science, but you know and I know that you're not going to understand my answer, so, although I find this stuff fascinating, wouldn't you really rather go for a beer?'"

When I went to the last day of the trial I got to chat for a few minutes with him and Wesley Elsberry after the closing arguments. They were so excited and rightly so. Scott Minnich had just been picked apart on the stand, the Dover board had been made to look like fools, Of Pandas and People was shown to be not only pseudoscience but relabelled creationism, William Dembski and Stephen Meyer failed to show up, and Michael Behe had been forced to admit that the new definition he proposed to ensconce ID as science would make astrology into science. What wasn't there to celebrate about? But Nick kept it pretty cool and was eager to chat with people including me, a lowly reporter for Voices.
I wish Nick the best of luck as he proceeds to his doctoral studies in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley.

CFI Secular Society Conference

Well, here is another thing I'd love to be able to attend. Given that I'm already booked pretty heavily, we'll see about it.
The Center for Inquiry is running a fantastic conference this November 9-11 titled Religion, Secularism & Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Some of my favorite people will be there including Christopher Hitchens (author, journalist, and public intellectual), Eugenie Scott (head of the National Center for Science Education), Ann Druyan (widow of Carl Sagan, amazing writer, and skeptic), Neil deGrasse Tyson (president of the Hayden Planetarium and astrophysicist), and more.
What is the conference about?

The world is finally waking up to the dangers of religious faith. Books defending reason and religious skepticism top the bestseller lists. Secular Muslims are standing up for freedom of thought. The secular perspective has finally gained currency in the media and in cross-cultural dialogue. Young freethinkers and secularists are organizing and speaking out on campuses, ready to carry the torch of secularism into the new millennium.

Yet religious fervor in the United States and abroad remains at an all-time high. Science education suffers from the constant onslaught of creationist activists. Democratic politicians have joined Republicans in pandering to religious prejudices. The American courts are stacked with judges who openly denigrate the nation’s vital and historic separation of church and state. Islamic radicalism is on the rise in Europe as well as in the Middle East. In many ways, societies the world over face the ominous threat of de-secularization.

How do we seize this moment of opportunity to address secularism’s many challenges? How can secularists build a lasting movement? What political and rhetorical strategies should the reality-based community employ? Does vocal criticism of religion help or hinder the cause of secularism? Hear the thoughts of the world’s leading minds on these and many other questions.

This is going to be good.
If I can't attend, I hope they capture some of it on video, audio, or get transcripts so that those who can't attend can get a glimpse.

New computer. New editing post. New semester.

Yesterday I got my new computer, a 2007 MacBook. So far, so good. It's a sexy little thing. Let's hope it keeps working. My old iBook was too old and had crapped out. There's still a bunch of stuff on it that I need to transfer and I would like to do that before next week.
In other news, I am now the Community and Lifestyles editor for Voices, a local paper with a strong focus on labor, secularism, the environment and liberal/progressive things. We focus on issues pertinent to and developing in central Pennsylvania.
Finally, next Monday, the fall semester starts and it is going to be a busy one. I am teaching two sections of Integrative Arts 1: Intro to the Arts wherein we watch, listen to, and read art that is all done as a reaction to war or in preparation for war. This includes the expressionist works of the Second Viennese School (Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern), Nazi propaganda posters and the film Triumph of the Will, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Painted Bird by Kosinski, a slew of Polish and Russian music written during or in the wake of WW II, and then finally some music and fiction from Americans that reacts to the Vietnam War. In addition to that I am taking four classes to start my graduate certification/possible M.S. in social studies education.
Work. Marriage. Baby. Bikes. Editing. Keeping sane. A challenge for sure.

Civil Rights issue or P.R. problem: The New Atheists

Over at Framing Science, they've been posting a bunch about how the New Atheists (led by Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and to a lesser extent Stenger) are shooting themselves in the foot. As part of this group who sees himself as an antibody in the inoculation against further religious fundamentalist infection, I am keen to understand the objections. Basically, it comes down to us being too shrill. Informing people that they are deluded or mistaken about some of their key beliefs about the nature of the universe will get us nowhere because people quickly become offended, cognitive dissonance kicks in and they opt for the most comfortable position which is generally their squishy religious beliefs. I buy the argument. People like comfort in all forms, whether it's the culturally sanctioned Sunday morning seat in the pew to hear an unmarried man tell us about the roles of men and women in marriage or a few too many donuts to fatten us up before winter.
But I digress...
Framing Science has a little catalog of their recent posts on the New Atheism. I've perused some of it and find a fair bit convincing, troubling because it concedes too much, and troubling because it seeks to brush aside atheists' rather repressed status.
The good:
Michael Schermer makes some good points in a recent article at Scientific American. I've used only the headers of some of his points:

1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.
2. Positive assertions are necessary.
3. Rational is as rational does.
4. The golden rule is symmetrical.
5. Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.

I must agree with points 3,4, and 5 thoroughly with 5 as the most important. We must do to and for others as we want done for us. We must be honest, loving, and compassionate in our dealings or we run the risk of dehumanizing us all. The best way to do that is to be reasoned, informed, and loving in word and deed. At the heart of working democracy is the respect of the individual right to hold his/her beliefs. But the respect of the individual's beliefs do not necessarily follow. When they are transparently foolish or false in the light of all or the overwhelming majority of evidence, I needn't bow out and say, "You have the right to your opinion." Acceptance of the theory of evolution is not a matter of taste the way liking Neruda, Nielsen, or Napalm Death is. When an ideology infringes on reality, I must say, "Sorry, sir. But you are mistaken." And when someone stands in front of a gathered political body and declares the sovereignty of their sky god, its incorporeal avatar, and its carnal avatar in the form of its son over my nation and make subsequent legislation that flies in the face of all available evidence, I am going to be very motivated to annihilate them in the public war of ideas.
Therefore, I don't see how "Positive assertions are necessary" has been getting us very far in recent years. In fact, the Sagans, Krausses, and Goulds of the world (all of whom I love and admire greatly) did just that. Each of them, in word and deed, have promoted the scientific method, naturalism, and humanism beautifully by setting up positive examples and offering us the beauty of the natural world of which we are a part. A small part, but no less beautiful for our little role.
Positive assertions are necessary. We need to see the beauty and elegance that the universe offers us in its forms most beautiful: the Crab Nebula; the radial perfection of a nautilus shell as it spirals outward from the center constantly maintaining the golden ratio of the Fibonacci Series; the art of Kandinsky; the symphonies of Mahler; or as Paul Masvidaal wrote in the Portal song "Cosmos",

I long to live with some celestial beings
to adore in silence blissful friends
gliding into constellations of their smiles
melting into shining eyes

Celestial beings aside (which I do sometimes wish existed the same way that I wished dinosaurs were still around) I really love my community, my friends, my loved ones, and hope that all people can glide in constellations of their loved ones' smiles. That is positive. It is largely what I live for.
There is nothing more beautiful to me than my son's smile. The other night, I was pacing with him in the crook of my arm where he falls asleep most easily and I was overcome with how much I love him. He is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Nothing else has come close. Maybe my wife. Maybe. And that profound connection to him gives me even more meaning.
Why does understanding that that meaning results from my DNA's desire to replicate itself? That's just what DNA does. It replicates and has created remarkable ways for it do that, including stumbling on the emergent properties of cognition and its problem-solving ability. I am a cognizant being that wants to replicate itself and has done so and unsurprisingly found meaning doing it. What can possibly be controversial about that? Is it because I, following Darwin and Dawkins, have been able to trace one of the very hearts of Christianity - be fruitful and multiply - back to the material cause of DNA? Why should simple recognition of material reality discount me from holding public office?
This is where the "civil rights" issue kicks in. And yes, to an extent, I think that atheists have been kept down as a minority and encouraged to keep their mouths shut. Well, I won't.

Challenging Christian Nationalism at the USAF

This is an interesting piece over at The Humanist by Carlos Bertha. For a few years now we've been hearing reports, complaints really, that chaplains at the United States Air Force Academy (USAF) have been proselytizing to the cadets. Big shock. Evangelical Christians who are bent on making this a Christian nation can't keep their mits off of others' beliefs and use their government positions to convert the armed forces into a sword for Christ.
Here is an excerpt:

There are two main issues here: the mission of the institution and what sort of institution it is. According to page one of the USAFA Officer Development System Handbook of February 2004, the mission of the Air Force Academy is to "graduate lieutenants of character" for the U.S. Air Force. Faculty members are here to educate students, while air officers commanding--normally active-duty Air Force majors in charge of a squadron of 120-plus cadets--are here to provide basic military training to would-be lieutenants. This seems straightforward enough.

But the second issue throws a bit of a wrench in things. The USAFA is a military unit and, as such, it is also an institution of the federal government. Employees of the Academy are therefore subject to all sorts of laws and regulations to which ordinary university professors are not. For example, the law--as currently written--makes what I write in my office the possession of the government, which isn't subject to copyright. This means that, unlike a professor at the neighboring Colorado College, I can't write a book, negotiate to get it published, and earn royalties from it...

...What I may say in class is curtailed by the establishment clause of the First Amendment. As a representative of the U.S. government--which I most certainly am as a member of the faculty--I can't tell cadets that becoming a Christian is the only way to salvation, or that God is the adult version of an invisible friend. Could I say these things if I were to preface them with "In my opinion"? Well, no, because despite my best intentions, the military structure of the USAFA makes me the de facto commander of the classroom, and what the commander says can be--and often is--construed as the government's position on an issue.

This is really important. It's another example of Barry Lynn's allegation about "damnable religion" in the U.S., Chris Hedges' Christo-fascists, Kevin Phillips' argument that U.S. government has become entangled with an evangelical sect of Christianity that mustn't hold, and a perfect example of why Sam Harris wrote Letter to a Christian Nation.
This kind of proselytizing would fail the Lemon Test flat out. Why?
Prong one:

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose;

While chaplains are not statutes, they function as the executors of the secular government. As such, they are functionally carrying out the duties of legislation. In this regard, I would say that a Chaplain can never serve a secular function, but I begrudgingly yield to the spiritual welfare of soldiers and their faiths. That said, deliberate conversion at the level alleged at the USAF can not serve any secular purpose whatever, and can, in fact only serve sectarian Christian - namely Evangelical - purposes.
Prong two:

second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion;

The principal effect here does both. It advances the aforementioned sectarian agenda and seeks to repress the non-evangelical Christian faiths of others. It also inhibits on the non-believers' right to not believe. There are atheists in foxholes guys.
Prong three:

finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."

This is a no-brainer as well. The chaplains are clearly entangling, via their government position, the government with a particular sectarian agenda. They will and are crying that their First Amendment rights would be trampled if they are not permitted to convert because it would inhibit their freedoms of speech and religion. Sorry guys. You are in a position to coerce. They don't have all of their First Amendment rights in the Air Force anyway.
When will the militant Christian nationalists learn that THEY are the ones ripping the country apart by forcing the divisions in the nation? It's absurd.

How might we New Atheists fail?

In a recent post on Science Blogs, called Framing Science, the author takes some of us New Atheists to task for forcing the religious moderatesand others into overly cognitively dissonant positions.

Everything we know from social science research on attitude formation and beliefs predicts that the communication strategy of the New Atheist noise machine will only further alienate moderately religious Americans, the very same publics who might otherwise agree with secularists on many social issues.

So we should temper the message and be more like the flock I suppose. Wear the sheep's clothes while we stalk among them? How do you quietly annihilate nonsense?
He uses a Carol Tarvis interview from Point of Inquiry to support his view.

Well DJ, as someone who has read our book and who understands cognitive dissonance, you would know exactly what the prediction is. Well this is one of the things I think is so important for scientists to understand, how cognitive dissonance works.
When they go around saying "Oh look how foolish it is to believe such and such a thing." What they are doing is putting people into a state of dissonance. "I am a smart capable, wise, kind person and you are telling me I believe something that is stupid and wrong, to the hell with you!"
To understand dissonance is to understand how to persuade other people, because you can't do it by making them feel stupid that they hold such and such belief.
I think it is really important for skeptics and scientists to avoid that tone that we know what is right and you don't. "We are smart because we are scientists and you are not..."
Not only is the tone off putting to somebody you want to persuade, but you won't be persuasive, it makes the other person defensive and even more likely to protect their own views.

This is food for thought though I am not likely to eat it now. I need some more people, not on my team, to talk to about it. Any takers? Convince me that not only should I temper my message, but give me some ideas as to how without compromising the integrity of the message. I'm game if you are.

The next piece of the 'Wedge' Strategy: "Shattered Tablets"

Here is the next piece of nonsense from a fellow at the Discovery Institute. Shattered Tablets by David Klinghoffer, comes as the newest batch of nonsense to fight the vicious cabal of naturalists, materialists, and atheists. How are we to do that? The Ten Commandments stupid!
The following is taken from the excerpt in the above link. After talking about one of Richard Dawkins' recent appearances on his God Delusion book tour and quaintly declaring Intelligent Design "a minority scientific viewpoint" (where is the science exactly and how tiny is that minority?), Klinghoffer says the following:

It just so happens that, centuries before Darwin, medieval Jewish scholars understood that the distinction between the “naturalistic worldview” and its “alternative” was exactly the key to understanding the first commandment. Recall the exact wording: “I am the Lord your God, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” The Jewish sages asked why, in defining Himself, God had harked back to the exodus of the Jews from Egyptian slavery, recounted in the Bible's Book of Exodus shortly before the giving of the Ten Commandments, rather than to a still more dramatic event: the creation of the world, which He accomplishes in the Bible’s opening chapter. It’s as if a parent, wanting to impress her child with the awesomeness of the parent–child bond, were to say, “I’m your mother, who picks you up from school every day,” rather than, “I’m your mother, who gave birth to you.”

Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, an Italian sage born about 1470, taught that God saw it as a matter of highest priority to warn against what we today call a naturalistic worldview. If He had defined Himself here as the creator, that would not draw the line sharply enough. After all, there are ways to explain certain aspects of creation within the limits of naturalistic terms. But the Exodus is different. Accompanied by ten bizarre plagues that God inflicted on the Jews’ Egyptian oppressors, and climaxing with His splitting of the Sea of Reeds to drown the Egyptian army as it pursued the escaped slaves, the Exodus can only be comprehended as a miracle, a blatant violation of nature’s laws.

The point is, God does what He wants. He interferes. He gets involved in our lives and the lives of all creatures past and present, if often from inscrutable motives, reserving the right to direct the whole world down to the smallest details. He runs the show. And He doesn’t let nature stand in His way. This is the claim made by the first commandment, and it is one at which many Americans bridle.

I suppose that the book is about this nonsense - the enormous dichotomy between the vile belief in the naturalism and the loving liberation of the god of Judea who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Ignore the overwhelming fact that philosophical naturalism is predicated on that which we know, that which we verify, that which we can deduce, induce, and infer to the best explanation and that all observable phenomena are either directly attributable to natural/material causes or so correlated with natural/material cause that to deny its reality as material is crazy. Ignore, also, the fact that Klinghoffer's recites the tired Exodus story, a story with absolutely NO evidence existing for it at all (see here and here.) He also whips out the creation myth too. Notice that this is a fight between reality and myths. How is this happening?
This shows the DI's concern in all of its glory. This is wish-thinking trying to take us on a trip back to the Middle Ages, before 1470, when we didn't use the scientific method and the European peasantry believed that Jews couldn't procreate without the blood of a Christian girl. This is the newest salvo from the theistic realists (older post). And the DI has a think tank about Science and Culture? Come on.
Sorry Klinghoffer, the point isn't that God interferes. The point is that his nearsighted minions interfere. They, read you, get involved in the lives of living creatures in an effort to extend human dominion over the whole earth for transparent reasons - power. But luckily, you don't run the show and nature stands firmly in your way because any serious investigation of the natural material world, of which human beings are a part, yields natural and material results that, when seriously considered without the blinders of religion, cast all of the gods of men into history's trash can. No matter how many mutations your religion takes, the selective pressures of culture will force it to become unrecognizable in its present form or it will go extinct.
I wish I could say, "I'm sorry." But I'm not. The U.S. doesn't need more adherence to the Ten Commandments (most of which are totally irrelevant to civic life anyway) and the superstitions to which its attached. We don't need more sectarian wrangling. We don't need more ignorance built on the revelations of Bronze Age shepherds. We need Enlightened thought.
I'm glad the tablets were shattered. I wish they'd be banished from our lives forever. Our moral principles do just fine without them.

Rational Atheist article!

So in the coming week or so, I will be putting the final brush-ups on my post, "Theistic Stalins," putting in the citations, and sending it over to Rational Atheist where it has been accepted and will be posted. Hoorah! I'll let you know when the posting goes through so that you ,and all of your friends interested in the ID movement and the absolute vacuity of "theistic realism," can take a look and pass it around.

As always, the lovely Christopher Hitchens

I've been reading a fair amount of atheist thinking from the last couple of centuries and it seems to me that Hitchens really has taken the mantle, sans the anti-semitism, of H.L. Mencken. He pulls no punches, insults equally in kind, asks for no quarter, and shreds his opponents for their wish-thinking and the pathetic frailty of their logic. Should you like to see one of his late book tour appearances for God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, give a watch.

Gay marriage...a problem that religion gets wrong

I have avoided this issue for quite a while...too long. The whole reason that gay marriage receives the invective crap it does from Republicans and Democrats and who the F*** knows who else is...
DING! DING! DING! American conservative Christianity.
And guess what? It all comes down to an argument of definition. What is marriage but a union between a man and a woman? What is a marriage but the union of two consenting adults? So on and on and on and on and on and on.
But what gets two things: the first is based on general legal principle a la the constitution and the second is a bit personal.
1. The government has no place defining what a church can and can't define as a marriage. "Whoa!" you might think. PDB has lost it. He supports religion.
No. I support a disentanglement of government with religion. If you look at the Lemon Test, I think you could make an inferential argument that allowing churches to dominate a civil institution like marriage entangles the government with the church. That's unacceptable.
The government should respect church marriages and allow consenting adults to marry one another no matter if they are male-male, female-female, male-female, male-hermaphrodite, female-hermaphrodite, or hermaphrodite-hermaphrodite. The government should allow adults to make up their own minds and it baffles me that the any branch of government invades upon this area.

2. My sisters are gay. of them is biological and the other is illegally married into my family. They are beautiful. Devoted. Patient. Loving. But for f***'s sake, they pay taxes and are limited in their freedoms because religious wingnuts want them to be stoned to death under Levitical law. Madness.

At some point, I'll elaborate further. I wish that the Dems would pony up.

The "Smart Set" visits the Creation "Museum" (a.k.a. The Museum of Wish Thinking)

Check this out. A group called the "Smart Set" from Drexel visited the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum and filed this report.
It's a really interesting tour, taking us through the perplexing bizarro world Answers in Genesis has created. Consider the following:

It’s hard to say whether the Biblical exhibits are actually “first rate” and “world class,” since there isn’t a whole lot to compare them to. But they don’t look cheap. The wax figures are as professional as those in Madame Tussaud’s. Adam and Eve are the most represented. The real Adam, ashamed as he’s said to have been, would probably be mortified by the muscled yet strangely round belly designers gave him. Eve, however, is spared: Though Genesis says they were created nude, no delicate areas are visible. Still, there’s something strangely erotic in the two canoodling under the trees as a dinosaur watches with what looks like a knowing half-smile. When they’re bathing together in a pool, the sound of a waterfall strong in the background, lily pads cover their lower halves. The water level is as low as it can be, though. Suggestion makes the scene more titillating than if AiG had gone ahead and shown everything. After all, traditional museums show penises and breasts, and nobody walks away from Neanderthal exhibits hot under the collar.

The titillation doesn't surprise me at all. Whereas a science museum like the Museum of Natural History in D.C. strives to get the facts up front without the overt emotional appeals, the AiG museum, must make an emotional appeal because it derives itself from a revelatory religious experience. Titillation, however taboo and because it is taboo, demands its centrality. Think about it. The Christian must be confronted with the sins of their flesh while also denying those same sins. By evoking voyeuristic sentiment, they elicit their particular Christian audience's guilt - a central tenet of their doctrine of humanity's fall from grace. Everyone (at least of the targeted audience) looking at the exhibit feels their sin. Isn't that what so much of this museum is about, with its bonus material about pornography, abortion, teen pregnancy, and fornication?

The museum’s gift shop is the Dragon Hall Bookstore. The name might surprise anyone who’s heard Christian protests of Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons. But it makes sense if you see the film Dinosaurs and Dragons in the museum’s basement. Ancient dragon myths, it claims, are proof that dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans. They only died out after Noah’s flood, when the limited number of plants diminished their numbers to the point at which humans could finish them off. Further creationism education is available in Dragon Hall. Its book titles include Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe, One Small Speck to Man: The Evolution Myth, and Darwin's Demise: Why Evolution Can't Take the Heat. DVDs include Inherently Wind: A Hollywood History of the Scopes Trial, It Doesn't Take a Ph.D. and Lucy: She's no Lady.
I love this paragraph because it just shows us that the AiG folks will use the most baseless evidence - dragon myths - as evidence for their claims - dinosaurs' coexistence with humans. Hearsay and conjecture are preferred to independently verifiable and repeatable observation or experimentation. They ignore thousands and millions of scientific data, wave their hands and make some incantations to the lord, then use some shoddy myths from cultures they say are hellbound (Chinese, Greeks, Aztecs), and make an inference to the "best" explanation. When I say, "best," I mean the most vacuous, unrealistic, insane, pseudoscientific hodgepodge we see in an allegedly rational species.

Anyway, read on and learn more about the madness.

A nice evening at Kate and Tony's House

I haven't been to a Tony party in a long time and what a treat it was. From 1997 to 2000 I worked at Svoboda's Bookstore in State College, PA with a great group of people: Tony (our pony-tailed Adonis-legged manager), Brian (the chisel-faced philosopher), Sharon (blonde pre-hipster bespectacled lover of poetry), Amy (the soft-faced artist), Michael (the stern-faced Darwin-bearded owner), and others to boot. It was a great independent bookstore with a solid following in the Penn State community.
It's where I helped my father-in-law before he was my In-dad as I call him now.
...where we danced until 4 am drinking wine and beer and eating sushi while discussing operations in the eleventh dimension with a Field's medal finalist.
...where I bought books at cost...
...that brought me to a new appreciation of the depth and breadth of learning...
...that gave me some good friends that I am so happy to be near again, now that J, Sacha, and I live in State College.
We had a great time and are eager to see Kate, Tony, and their girls again and the rest. Scott. Maybe Adam and Lorelle (though they live in California now). Amy. Brian.

Na-na! Na Na! Hey! Hey! Hey! Goodbye!

See ya' turdblossom! Ding! Dong! The architect is gone! At least he's not in the White House any more.
Read it here in The New York Times:

But from the time he leaves office, Mr. Rove will no longer have the protection of White House lawyers and will be more on his own when it comes to dealing with Congressional subpoenas.

The White House has provided cover for some former aides by issuing letters directing them not to testify about their privileged conversations with the president or to answer only a limited set of potential questions.

...or at The Wall Street Journal.

Good riddance.

Guerilla librarianship

My friend Kim tipped me to the blog postat The Guardian which links us to this blog on Biologists Helping Bookstores. He thinks that Michael Behe's new book, The Edge of Evolution should be placed in a new area:

I flip a copy and read the back. Here's the beginning of the first quote from the back cover: "Until the past decade and the genomics revolution, Darwin's theory rested on indirect evidence and reasonable speculation..." (Dr. Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences). That's not true! I am emboldened by this bare-faced lie from this well-respected elderly chemist, pick up all four copies, and stroll upstairs.
Now, I aim for accuracy in my recategorization, and I was still slightly mad at the lies on the back cover (read the "Editorial Reviews" at Amazon for a sampling), so I sought out the most appropriate section of the store:
Behe's lie-covered volume now rightly resides in the Religious Fiction section. A job well done.

I think this is probably a good idea. Given the reviews of The Edge of Evolution by Ken Miller (from Nature which requires a subscription: "Yet, at the heart of his antidarwinian calculus are numbers not merely incorrect, but so spectacularly wrong that this badly designed argument collapses under its own weight."), Richard Dawkins ("I had expected to be as irritated by Michael Behe’s second book as by his first. I had not expected to feel sorry for him."), and Jerry Coyne:

What has Behe now found to resurrect his campaign for ID? It's rather pathetic, really. Basically, he now admits that almost the entire edifice of evolutionary theory is true: evolution, natural selection, common ancestry. His one novel claim is that the genetic variation that fuels natural selection--mutation--is produced not by random changes in DNA, as evolutionists maintain, but by an Intelligent Designer. That is, he sees God as the Great Mutator.

...each of which drag Behe's assertions through the sieve of current scientific thinking. We can see that Behe is once again making arguments from ignorance in order to set up a false inference to the best explanation that ends up being a god of the gaps. It's a big non sequitur once again; a concatenation of logical fallacies.
I've used this blogger's tactic twice now with the textbook from that was front and center in the Dover Trial, Of Pandas and People, another notable anti-science book by moving Pandas to religious fiction. I also wrote to Barnes and Noble about it.

Mitt Romney is a hypocrite

Big surprise that an opportunistic schmuck would have this exchange:

Voter: "You, sir, are a pretender. You don't know the Lord. You are a Mormon."


Romney: (Chuckling) "Let me, uh, let me offer just a thought. And that is, uh, one of the great things about this great land, is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions. And uh, I'm convinced that the nation, that the nation does need, the nation does need to have people of different faiths but we need to have a person of faith lead the country."

I like the open religious intolerance here. It just provides one more little piece of evidence that these sectarian debates are really debates about so much fantasy. Imagine a Muslim in America saying, "You, sir, are a pretender. You don't know Allah. You are a Mormon." That would show the patent intolerance and incompatibility of religion in good government. Instead we have Romney trying to create a feeling of inter-faith dialog and ecumenicism. Good luck on that.
But it's also nice to see that when confronted with intolerance, he just tries to slide the intolerance onto another group - atheists - by saying that "we need to have a person of faith lead the country." I suppose that if the majority of believers "need to have" a believer lead the country then they can vote that way. But I see no reason that a candidate is more qualified because he believes in some sky god and his son acting on Earth, much less visiting North America. Why should we nominate someone who thinks - no matter the evidence - that a lost tribe of Israel traveled across the Atlantic Ocean (before open-ocean-going vessels were invented by the Vikings) and populated the continent? He apparently believes this because his faith demands it but there isn't a shred of evidence for it and all of the evidence of America's indigenous population says that it came from its west via East Asia. So we're supposed to believe that a wish-thinker and evidence-ignorer is more suitable as a president? Me thinks not.
The point, though, is that Romney is intolerant of non-belief. As part of the majority of believers, it's convenient for him to disparage non-belief. That's not surprising though, because it calls into question some foundational stuff for him and so he can ally with other believers. Hey. At least they all believe in nonsense right?
But of course, when the table is turned on him and mainline Protestant, Catholic, or fundies ask, "Would Jesus vote for Mitt Romney?" he is going to get very upset and cry intolerance and bigotry. It's inconvenient for him to be criticized for the content of his belief when he is in a minority within the majority - a majority built on senseless tribal divisions about the outmoded beliefs of bronze age shepherds and their iron age descendants.
I am intolerant, but I'm no bigot. I don't accept any of this claptrap but your actions define the quality of your character. Romney is not consistent and neither are the rest of these theists trying to be twenty angels dancing on the head of a pin. Romney, like Giuliani and Clinton (Hillary that is), are opportunistic swindlers out to line their own pockets and that's what keeps them off my voting card. Their theism is just so much baggage I'd prefer to eliminate with Occam's Razor. I wish they would too.

Review of "The Enemies of Reason"

This review by Charlie Brooker in The Guardian contains some real zingers, many of which I agree with whole-heartedly. His notion of "spirituality" seems a bit narrow, but then again the common usage of so-called "spirituality" is so thin as to be little more than linguistically cheap gossamer used to sound deep when it's often a diversion to escape probing conversation about belief.

Welcome to a dangerous new era - the Unlightenment - in which centuries of rational thought are overturned by idiots. Superstitious idiots. They're everywhere - reading horoscopes, buying homeopathic remedies, consulting psychics, babbling about "chakras" and "healing energies", praying to imaginary gods, and rejecting science in favour of soft-headed bunkum. But instead of slapping these people round the face till they behave like adults, we encourage them. We've got to respect their beliefs, apparently.

Well I don't. "Spirituality" is what cretins have in place of imagination. If you've ever described yourself as "quite spiritual", do civilisation a favour and punch yourself in the throat until you're incapable of speaking aloud ever again. Why should your outmoded codswallop be treated with anything other than the contemptuous mockery it deserves?

Maybe you've put your faith in spiritual claptrap because our random, narrative-free universe terrifies you. But that's no solution. If you want comforting, suck your thumb. Buy a pillow. Don't make up a load of floaty blah about energy or destiny. This is the real world, stupid. We should be solving problems, not sticking our fingers in our ears and singing about fairies. Everywhere you look, screaming gittery is taking root, with serious consequences. The NHS recently spent £10m refurbishing the London Homeopathic Hospital. The equivalent of 500 nurses' wages, blown on a handful of magic beans. That was your tax money. It was meant for saving lives.

How about it? Codswallop indeed! I am rather tired of having to "respect" bullshit notions about reality. Why don't the theists and supernaturalists and assorted other anti-realists respect evidence? When I teach rhetoric and composition classes I tell students at every turn: "Show. Don't tell." You want me to believe you? You want a court to accept what you think is real or likely? Pony up with the evidence kids and don't drivel on about what you would like to be true. Wish-thinking does not reality make.
That is one of the great things about the Enlightenment. It banished (I wish forever) the seriousness with which we take wish-thinking, magical thinking, irrationality, and just-so stories. Hume, Locke, Bacon, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Descartes, d'Holbach, Paine, Jefferson, Franklin, and many others brought us to a world where rationalism could reign and the weight of evidence, deduction, induction, and inferences to the best explanation could guide us into the future and even lead us to more moral lives The reasoned moral life may not be easy for the brain to take at all times, but it is a consistent life imbued with beauty, truth, purpose, passion, and discovery because it eschews that which we think we want to be true and real.

"The Enemies of Reason" to air on BBC.

Richard Dawkins has a new series coming out that takes aim at so-called new age practices and paranormal quackery. The Enemies of Reason will air on BBC Channel 4 tonight at 4 pm in Britain.
It seems as though Dawkins is taking the well-paved path that Carl Sagan took with The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark and Broca's Brain. Sagan was very open about his skepticism to religious claims to say this...gently hostile to new age beliefs. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," he said.
Dawkins, having spent the last year or so grinding theism into millet, has decided to take on the more innocuous and less overtly threatening paranormal flim-flam to task. I appreciate that Dawkins and Sagan consistently state that just because people use things like:
belief in the five elements - earth, air, fire, water, and spirit- instead of the periodic table; the virgin birth; transubstantiation; 72 virgins awaiting you in heaven; etc.
doesn't make them true or real. People, like Chris Hedges might argue that they aren't real but that they are true nonetheless because they are subjectively true and therefore worth our time and belief as investments in the ineffable nature of spirit joined and never joined with the breath of the universe. I may have just unfairly caricatured Hedges except that he has said some spectacular nonsense here so I feel somewhat justified:

God is better understood as verb rather than a noun. God is not an asserted existence but a process accomplishing itself. And God is inescapable. It is the life force that sustains, transforms and defines all existence.

Anyway, we must align truth - perhaps our subjective ascertainment of the world - with that which is real or run the risk of maladaptive belief, maladaptive action, and conflict with logic and reason. Reality, natural reality, that wonderful testable thing that it is, should guide us. The pied piper cabals of the supernaturalists - the theists and the paranormalists - lead us astray. I'll have my reality and eat it too even if it doesn't always taste good.
Three cheers for skeptics and Dawkins's new series.

Head of Church of Satan on Point of Inquiry!!!

This is terribly interesting! Peter Gilmore, the head of the Church of Satan has been interviewed on Point of Inquiry. The metal-loving oppositionalist within me loves this. Interestingly, he explains that Satanism is an atheistic leader of "an unreligion," "show business," and a celebration of "individualism, liberty, and pride" derived from Milton. He discusses something that Qira talks about a lot: self-transformational psychodrama by using ritual in communities. He talks a lot of science, atheism, and freedom of belief.
Check it out!

Teaching Evolution in Massacheussets

An article in Thursday's Boston Globe tells us about hoped-for improvements in evolution education.
The author, Sally Lehrman, recognizes that the evolution unit in high schools is often sped through or put at the end of the year and then dropped because there is no time and other units must be covered. This easily leads to student misunderstanding, bad teaching, and an open door to ID critiques:

As one of their complaints, intelligent design proponents claim that schools should do a better job of explaining evolution. They may very well be right. While people who believe in the scientific method do not accept the antievolution lobby's claim of "irreducible complexity," are they prepared with a coherent response? They might say "survival of the fittest" with conviction but only have a hazy recollection of terms like "descent with modification," "natural selection," and even "mutation."

Biology teachers should have to take at least one unit/course in evolution during college. Additionally, we might want to emphasize the history of science in the high school curriculum instead of the simple wars of nations and lives of great men models that exist now. If students had a better context for the workings of science as an active part of culture, what they learn in science class would, or at least could, be integrated into a better understanding of the forces around them. Additionally, the arguments put forth by the armies of the night would lose some potency because the scientific method's power would be demonstrated both as part of science and as something to be scientifically assessed in history. And let's face it, confronting natural reality can only help.

[Note: I am thinking of doing a thesis on the teaching of the history of science in the U.S. for an M.S. in Education. I'll keep you up on that too.]

Lion Photograph Essay: Africa's Magnificent Predators

Over at Edge, they have posted a marvelous photo essay on lions by Nathan Myhrvold, titled, Lions: Africa's Magnificent Predators.
Here is a small sample:

Females, on the other hand are sleek efficient hunters. They must kill most of the prey, which is very dangerous work. I saw three lionesses that had each lost an eye. One, which the guides call Silver Eye is the most aggressive hunter in her pride. In another area we saw a lioness dubbed "Evil Eye" who had a similar but much more recent eye problem. The eye was still swollen, giving her a demonic look, a bit like villains in Japanese Anime. I also saw a lioness which had lost her eye in the last couple days—the socket was still oozing blood. Each of the lionesses had lost their right eye, which suggests to me that lions might be right handed—technically this is called laterality. Presumably right favoring lions would approach prey preferentially from the right, leading to more right side injuries. Of course, a sample size of three is too small to make a firm conclusion.

Often the buffalo just shrugs the lions off, and that is that. However if the buffalo falls down, things get much more serious. Some cats kill instantly with a bite that dislocates cervical vertebrae, severing the spinal cord—for example, cougars in the US. This is not the case for lions, they are stranglers or suffocators. They either bite the underside of the neck to collapse the trachea. Or they put their entire mouth over the prey animal's nose. Either way it is a relatively slow suffocation that kills the animal. This can take 30 minutes, or even an hour for a buffalo because they can't get enough pressure on the huge buffalo neck to close it all the way, or can't get a good seal on the nose. This is not the quick merciful picture that one sees in nature documentaries. If the buffalo gets up during that period he or she may get away with only some minor mauling.

What a human being must wonder is about theodicy - the problem of evil in the world. If God is alleged to be good, then why waste so much and allow so much pain? An hour of suffocation with teeth in one's throat? This sounds much like Dawkins' (albeit not joyful) proclamation that:
We cannot admit that things might be neither cruel nor kind but simply callous - indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.

I don't think that "lacking all purpose" sums up the lion's point of view very well for, as Dawkins knows, the lion pursues its prey to increase its fitness as the amoeba consumes the galena to improve its fitness. But the suffering entailed in either is neither here not there. It is part and parcel of the movement of life on our small planet. Our subjective sense of cruelty (useful as it is) will be constantly affronted by the death and suffering of Cape Buffalo, baby Gray Whales, and Harp Seals.

All in all, this is an amazing piece. The pictures capture that which we inherently despise and admire about "nature": its red tooth and claw...its indifference (to paraphrase some). But it also captures the evolved beauty with which lions move and also their profligate nastiness. Strangely, when I look at my cat Floyd...

...though far-removed from lions, I see his feline predatory instinct and wonder, even hope, that he still wishes to kill as a lion would. His eyes, though small and domesticated, watch the squirrels and chipmunks outside of our backdoor and wish that they could follow the tether of his eyesight to play and natter with the rodents. He wishes that his mouth could be coated in the blood of some furry scrap that had all of the ability to hide while he sought and yet could never escape his grasp. How my cat wishes he were a lion. Or perhaps, I wish that he wishes he were a lion.

Morality can't be religion's guide / Serving God < Corporate Welfare

This morning, my son Sacha and I went for our standard morning walk. I adorned myself in Baby Bjorn, baby, and book - Atheism: A Reader. Off we went.
"David Hume. Oh, David Hume. Such rapturous paeans I have for thee," I think as I read an excerpt from his The History of Natural Religion, a book I own but is buried in the unpacked boxes of our still incomplete move.
Hume enumerates the ways in which humanity creates double standards for its deities and inevitably demanding much less of the deities' moral character than they do of their own, taking this so far, we might infer, that we praise them for their genocides. Hume writes,
But as men farther exalt their idea of their divinity; it is their notion of his power and knowledge only, not of his goodness, which is improved. On the contrary, in proportion to the supposed extent of his science and authority, their terrors naturally augment; while they believe, that no secrecy can conceal them from his scrutiny, and that even the inmost recesses of their breast lie open before him. They must then be careful not to form expressly any sentiment of blame and disapprobation. All must be applause, ravishment, extasy (sic). And while their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to him measures of conduct, which, in human creatures, would be highly blamed, they must still affect to praise and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus it may safely be affirmed, that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a species of daemonism; and the higher the deity is exalted in power and knowledge, the lower of course is he depressed goodness and benevolence; whatever epithets of praise may be bestowed on him by his amazed adorers.

This brought to mind two things:
1. Morality cannot be the system by which a religion judges us.
2. Serving God, at least an allegedly omnipotent and omniscient God, is worse than giving welfare to Rupert Murdoch or the Saudi royal family.

Morality cannot be religion's judgment tool because morality exists independently of religion. One need only ask the simple question, "Can God do anything immoral and properly declare that it is moral?" Can God murder an innocent baby or rape a child and declare it moral simply because he did it? Of course not. The standard by which we judge his actions are independent of whether or not God says the action is good or not. Religion's judgments as they relate to what occurs in the afterlife, then, cannot be based on a system of morality that human beings can derive independently of God's guidance or interference (depending on how you look at it). Religion must instead base its judgments on something else: adherence to its extra-moral tenets.
If morality were the guide, then any human being could obtain the benefits of paradise no matter the face of God they claimed to view. The Zen Buddhist would have just as much right to enter the gates of heaven as the Christian. The devotees of Thor and Poseidon might both walk onto the fields of Asgard or attain the summit of Olympus. The Hindu and the Muslim would both receive the bountiful service and succulent thighs and nipples of 72 virgins in the afterlife.
[Question: Do they remain virgins even after you enter into coitus with them? And as unwed women are they then burned alive in heaven in an honor killing by their celestial male relatives? Just a thought.]
But that can't be the way of religion for its claims must be super-moral. They must transcend moral notions and add onto them particular tenets of devotion to the group. Then, having usurped the minds of their adherents, they convince the believers that their beliefs in the tenets - 72 virgins in heaven, transubstantiation, cyclical birth and death, and so on - are in fact the reason that they are moral. The believers mind has been shown some bait and then had it switched and they become a vehicle for a virus that supersedes actual ethical behavior. So the service to God becomes the most important thing and that service is the determining factor in one's entrance into the afterlife.

Secondly, if God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then what need does it have for anything? If it is able to do anything, then it is able to satisfy its needs at any time. Indeed, it would seem to follow that it is constantly satisfied. What need of fellowship with human beings? What need of servitude from human beings? Why must we serve a being so perfect that it can serve itself. Why not focus on those less fortunate like us? Indeed, isn't it the height of selfishness, and then by extension the height of gullibility for its followers, for a perfectly powerful being to demand service from those so much less able than itself? Shouldn't it help us in some clear way without outrageous demands of idiotic servitude?
It's worse than welfare for Rupert Murdoch.