Friday, February 29, 2008

Meanwhile, back in reality...

While the Creationist Noise Machine continues annoying the public with its endless mantra of "there's no evidence for evolution!" and "teach the controversy (that we've made up)!", over in the real world, scientists continue to ignore such nonsense and concentrate on the actual research those people don't do.

There's an interesting report today about new discoveries in convergent evolution, where it's been found that similar mutations in species of Asian monkeys and South American monkeys have led to genes that appear to confer resistance to HIV. The implication is that HIV possibly isn't a new outbreak, and that similar diseases have afflicted primates in the past. Neat. The article doesn't say if this research can lead to new, genetic treaments for HIV in humans, but it quite possibly could. You'd have to ask Abbie Smith about that — that's her line.

Observe. This is exactly the kind of beneficial research that no creo has ever done. The kind of research that would be kicked in the balls if they got their wish of confusing students' educations by introducing non-scientific ideas like ID into classrooms, shoring it all up with bold proclamations of conspiracy theories declaring scientists are evil thought police trying to control outside-the-box thinkers. Has the Discovery Institute produced any research that points to findings like the ones above, and do they have a way to explain these developments using ID? (And don't tell me, "No, because teh eebul Darwinistas at the universities won't let them!" because we all know how independently well funded the IDiots are.)

Of course not, all the ID crowd ever does is glom onto the latest research real scientists have done, then bitch about how it's all wrong and shows biases against the supernatural and whatnot. As always, the IDiots have nothing to bring to the table, except their Dunning-Kruger-enhanced egos and pitiful need for attention. When it comes to advancing knowledge, they're left sitting on the sidelines like the sad ugly kid at the school dance.

Machine guns in the Yu dynasty

Please note: It was brought to my attention that this was a repeat of an argument that I already posted on this blog earlier. I have decided to leave it up because the argument is more fleshed out than it used to be. See the comments section for a link to the first time I posted it.

One of the more interesting, but frustrating discussions I had online recently was on the first cause argument. The fellow with whom I had this discussion has a good scientific mind and frequently denounces creationism very eloquently. I don't know eactly what his beliefs are, but I think I would characterize him as an agnostic theist. He appears to believe in a God, doesn't claim that he can know for sure, but frequently insists that carefully qualified belief is a superior alternative to qualified non-belief.

The reasoning, as I understand it, goes like this: We don't know where the universe comes from. But we do know from experience that intelligent agents can create many wonderful and complex things. We can't be certain that the universe was created by an intelligence. But we do know that it's POSSIBLE in principle. Therefore, doesn't it make sense, purely from a scientific, deductive point of view, to take seriously the hypothesis that intelligence was probably involved?

So I have a counter-proposal, and it's this. Emperor Yu the Great, who founded the Chinese Xia dynasty around 2070 BCE, was killed by a machine gun.

Now you may say that this is implausible. You may even complain: "But that's ridiculous. There weren't any machine guns in 2070 BCE." To which I say, no, that's just your opinion. You weren't there in ancient China, and the historical records from that far back are kind of spotty anyway. But I say it is worth seriously considering the hypothesis that there was a machine gun that killed Emperor Wu, even though we're not aware of any that exist.

Why? Well, it is much easier to kill someone with a machine gun than without one. Wikipedia's description of his death is pretty vague, saying only that he was killed "while on a hunting tour." Well, there's another point in my favor. We know today that many people hunt with machine guns, and that machine guns actually make a hunt much EASIER than being without one.

So, if there is even a small chance that some machine guns were present, then shouldn't we deduce that the use of one on Yu's hunting trip is extremely probable, and his subsequent "accident" was in fact machine gun induced? Why should we rule out the existence of something as complex as a machine gun, which can supply such a handy explanation for Emperor Yu's death, just because of nitpicky details like incomplete historical knowledge?

Yeah, I'm not particularly persuaded by my own argument either, but I think it's no more egregious than the logic that is applied to some unspecified intelligent creator.

I mean, in the first place, all of our experience with machine guns shows that they don't just existence at random. They are the end result of a extensive tinkering with progressively more sophisticated designs. There is a historical progression of technology that we can follow. These technological changes are based purely in physical laws and processes. Humans don't pluck designs out of some magic supernatural ether; they build on past successes over time. We have never seen an example of a machine gun that didn't require the historical development of a machine gun.

Well, we know much the same thing about brains. We have seen the historical record of brains coming into existence; we know that they come about as the end product of highly complex natural processes. We have never seen a brain that didn't require such a thing. No magic. No anachronisms. No human brains appearing out of place during the Cambrian explosion. No signs of brains that are as smart or smarter than ours during times when plants or bacteria were the dominant life forms on earth.

Is it possible to imagine a magical brain that exists outside of earth and didn't require an evolutionary process? Sure it is, and by the same token, it's possible for a fully formed machine gun to have spontaneously appeared in the hands of Emperor Yu's enemies, without the need for all that messy "historical progression of technology" to get in the way. I can't prove that didn't happen, nor can I prove that there isn't a superbrain that didn't evolve.

But I don't find it a plausible assumption in either case. If you don't like the logic of having a machine gun in 2000 BC, then I think I'm free to raise the same objection to having a brain in 14 billion BC.

You can't just assume the existence of things like guns or minds at all periods in history for the sake of convenience. You are only justified in treating this as a reasonable suggestion when some other information specifically points to even the basic possibility of such a thing. And that's what we mean when we say "We don't believe in God because we lack evidence." It isn't enough to say "How else could these wonderful things have gotten here, if not through intelligence?"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Expelled farce gets even funnier

Check the latest post by PZ, concerning a desperate press release by the Expelled team, who are huffing and puffing and doing their best "well I never!" posturing over Robert Moore's blistering review of the movie in the Orlando Sentinel. They claim — you'll love this — that Moore created a "security breech [sic]" (at a press conference?) by sneaking in (to a screening for which his paper was sent an invitation?) disguised as a minister (huh?), and that he refused to sign the nondisclosure agreement (and what kind of "press conference" requires its attendees to sign an NDA?).

The usual "waah waah, the evil atheist conspiracy meanies are picking on us" self-pity you get from these losers, in other words. And they say "Big Science," Ben's imaginary villain, are the ones who want to "control the message"? Project much? Of course they do: they're IDiots, which means they're pathological liars and meretricious scumbags.

Note that on the Expelled blog, the whiny tard patrol respond by deriding PZ as an "atheist blogger and fabulist," while somehow forgetting to note that he's the same "fabulist" from whom they requested and got an interview for their movie under false pretenses.

How tragic it must be to be the sort of people who flail through life, literally psychologically incapable of being truthful, ever.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Because it's not like there's going to be a DVD boxed set

Our pal Joe Zamecki has posted the very first episode of The Atheist Experience to YouTube, from almost eleven years ago. I've never seen it till now. Hosting the program, which was not shot live in studio but taped at the cafeteria where the ACA used to have its Sunday brunches, are (from left) Joe, Mary Sue Osborne, and Don Rhoades, one of ACA's true gentlemen.

A little while before my time, '97. Yes, the technical quality is — ahem — crude. But it was a first effort from a fledgling atheist group trying something new and challenging. And the show it launched, that still runs to this day, has been an influence upon the media efforts of dozens of other little local godless organizations around the country. So here are its most humble origins, the first of several parts (the rest of which you can watch at YouTube itself). Thanks for unearthing and posting this, Joe!

England swinging towards reason

Their money is worth far more than ours, and now it seems their intellects are as well. Well, that last bit isn't fair at all, of course. Great Britain has always had one of the richest intellectual and cultural legacies on earth. But to read that fully two-thirds of the population of the UK claim no religious affiliation is jaw-droppingly joyous to behold. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean they're all embracing Dawkinsian atheism en masse. But it does mean that a greater percentage of them are thinking freely about these matters and refusing to commit to received belief systems and religions simply as an act of following the herd. It's such a contrast to the headlong rush into the morass of anti-intellectual, anti-science religious irrationalism that the poor old US of A is suffering, that all one can do is wonder at how two free Western societies could take such disparate paths.

I think, in my layman's way, that part of the cause of religion's demise over there can be placed on their having a state-sponsored church. Nothing can turn a modern enlightened population off to the intellectual and moral dead end of religious belief than living in a country that still has blasphemy laws and is only just now considering repealing them, several centuries too late. And the way in which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams enjoys shooting off his mouth without first loading his brain on such subjects as Muslim sharia law can only serve to make the clergy and the beliefs they represent look not only unappealing but wholly reprehensible.

All I can say is I'm proud and envious of the British public as they continue to disprove the canard that we'll never really be rid of religion, because people are weak sheep who need its comforting lies. Pro-religion views can only support themselves by selling humanity short. Secularism celebrates humanity and freedom to the greatest possible heights. I often dream I'll live to see the day that America joins Britain and much of Europe in leeching the vile poison of religion from its system at last. What a day it will be when we can look back on the era in which megachurches brought in tens of thousands of sincere but unhappy people to separate them from their money, and politicians were judged worthy of office mainly to the degree they pandered to the most preposterous delusions, and shake our heads and laugh at our collective childishness. Alas, in too many people here, the disease really has rotted too deeply to be cut out. Will America advance, or remain mired in its superstitious rut while the rest of the West passes us by and leaves us nothing more than an intellectual backwater, to be pitied and ridiculed in equal measure? Hope springs eternal, but I remain cynical.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A classic Daily Show episode

Somehow or other, my recent surfing left me nostalgic for the old video in which the Daily Show's Mo Rocca went and interviewed "Dr." Carl Baugh. I went looking to see if the video was available, but like many copyrighted videos, it is absent from YouTube.

Luckily, the official Daily Show site has now archived its ENTIRE twelve year library and even tagged the videos by topic. It wasn't easy to track down the right one (there are too many "creationism" videos to skim quickly), but by searching through old newsgroup postings I was able to figure out the date on which this episode was aired, and so pick out the right one.

Here it is, my gift to you.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Creationism in schools (a continuing thread)

People who read the regular blog posts but not the comments may not be aware of activity on old posts, which is why I'm starting a new thread. This is a continuation of a discussion with Lena, who first dropped in on a post from last November, in which we were talking about the new trailer for "Expelled." I'm resetting the thread mainly so that the conversation doesn't get lost to history.

Lena writes:

Kazim; I understand that there are people who believe in both evolution and God. However, current biology textbooks do not include references to the possibility of intelligent design; I am not aware of any biology or science textbook in mainstream public schools or universities that references the concepts of intelligent design.

That's right, they don't. And do you know why? Because "intelligent design" isn't a scientific concept. It hasn't been accepted into the scientific lexicon; it hasn't achieved mainstream penetration into scientific journals. It isn't testable, and with rare exceptions, it is almost universally regarded as nonscience by biologists everywhere.

Could this change someday? Sure it could, but schools don't have the authority to make that change. Textbooks on science are written BY scientists FOR schools, not the other way around. If this were going to change, it would be by a major shift in the way that biology is understood. And while I understood that there are a lot of popular books, speakers, and 80's movie stars who are gung-ho about Intelligent Design, it's only fair to point out that this has barely registered at all in the scientific community. That's why ID isn't taught in schools.

You can argue that belief in God is the realm of religion, but really, we're not talking about God. We're talking about Intelligent Design - people don't have to believe that is was a God that was the designer, do they? Teachers would never have to say who created the universe, just that there was evidence of design. It is atheists who make the assumption that intelligent design would be identifying God as the designer; why is that?

That's an easy one to answer. It's because ID comes at the tail end of a long history of deceptively trying to slip creationism into schools under false pretenses. In the case of Kitzmiller v Dover of 2005, one of the findings was that the major book being used to promote ID, titled Of Pandas and People, was really just a modified version of an earlier creationism textbook. The editors went through the text and did a search-and-replace operation to eliminate all references to "creationism" and replace them with "intelligent design" and so forth. But they didn't do a very thorough job -- in one place, the word "creationists" was sloppily replaced by the words "cdesign proponentsists."

A number of years before that, something called the Wedge Document was unearthed, explicitly stating that rationale behind the existence of the whole "intelligent design" movement was to, and I quote, "replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

I don't see why any of this should come as a surprise to you. You're a theist, and so far as I can tell, the main reason you're complaining about lack of ID in schools is because you think that failure to teach ID is tantamount to atheism. Have I missed something?

Certainly there are people out there who might have a different idea of "who" that creator or designer was? There are seriously people who believe space aliens created the earth, but in our society you don't hear public outcry against them.

Yes, you do. Those people are crackpots. They don't come out as regularly as do cdesign proponentsists, but when they do, they tend to receive about the same level of ridicule. Their views are not taken into account as part of mainstream science either.

Do you really think, Kazim, that if the vast majority of people who advocated ID'ism were believers in space aliens, that schools would have a hard time with it? I doubt it.

I do. It would have to have serious research and peer-reviewed publications backing it up before it could even be considered as part of a curriculum. Any teacher who made a unilateral decision to ignore the standards and start teaching about our alien designers would meet with the exact same kind of resistance that creationists experience now.

The search for alien life is actually accepted science. NASA spends unbelievable amounts of money to make machines to search for organisms on Mars. The belief in "alien" life is one that is no longer a subject relegated to science fiction, yet there do not seem to be people who object to including this new "evidence" in textbooks.

The SEARCH for alien life is accepted science. The factual claim that there actually IS alien life is not. Even Carl Sagan, who was in many ways the intellectual father of SETI, was very careful never to say that he conclusively believed that any aliens have been found, because he didn't. It is a tentative hypothesis, remaining open to discussion until such time as evidence can be found. In the meantime, the search for hypothetical alien life has led to all kinds of real advances in science, such as improvements to radio telescopes, signal processing technology, and distributed computing algorithms. No such achievements can be pointed to in the search for intelligent design.

I still think teaching ONLY evolution in schools is advocating atheism.

And I still reply that you are objectively wrong, because evolution is not an atheist subject. Again, 11,000 clergymen and the pope aren't atheists.

You and Martin keep telling me to go back to any basic biology or science textbook, and I have. You've said that I didn't adequately understand cosmology or the atheist viewpoint, so I've researched them further.
I find no mention of the possibility of design in the Big Bang theory. The Big Bang cosmological model asserts that the universe expanded from dense matter, but never explains how the matter came into existence, so even if someone DID believe in God and evolution, or a designer and evolution, there is no indication in your "accepted" theories of origin.
Children who go to public school and are presented with only one possibility for the origin of the universe will accept that possibility, because they're given no alternative. There is scientific evidence for the existence of God, it just isn't welcome at school.

No there isn't. Find me some. As soon as there is any kind of genuine, concrete scientific evidence for "a designer," it might be considered as part of a school curriculum. Until that time, not so much.

I don't just have a problem with biology textbooks, by the way. The textbook industry in general is a revenue-driven business that survives through sales. I read history from other countries because it yields some surprising bits of information that are not in our textbooks in America. Textbook writers leave things out for convenience, for sales, and for political reasons. It bothers me that our children are taught what is politically correct simply because it is what is popular.

I agree. There are lots of things to dislike about the current textbook selection process, especially here in Texas.

On the other hand, what you are demanding kind of comes down to a different question, and it's this: Do you allow that there should be SOME kind of standards for what goes into science and history books? If so, who is responsible for those standards? Is it elected officials, or scientists? Or may any person, regardless of credentials, propose changes to our textbooks? What about flat earthers? What about astrologers? What about holocaust deniers? Do you think that science standards should be set strictly based on what the latest people to win an election think?

If you object to the amount of time our posts have taken up ( I think it has been what, three weeks now?)

I don't care. I'm a slow poster, but I can keep enjoying this all year, if you need. :)

If atheism and the supposed unveracity (yes, it is a word) are such important topics for you and your colleagues that you dedicate enough of your time to be a part of a show and a website, than what is the problem with continuing to converse with me?

There is no problem. I don't disagree with your principles in fighting for what you believe is right. I just think it's only fair to point out that the mainstream scientific literature is squarely against you, and not just a little bit.

Even if the conversation has strayed off the main topic ( and it hasn't; the conversation has broadened because it is a broad topic) then what would be the problem with actually laying down the case for evolution for me, since it is either a part of your job or at least a serious hobby?

Earlier, you complained about the volume of stuff that you were being asked to read. I don't like to just bog down people with links. People spend their entire careers studying and understanding the evidence for evolution. If you asked me to teach you calculus, it would take more than just some argumentative blog posts.

However, if you're serious about understanding WHY evolution is recognized as solid science, you might start here:
29+ Evidences for Macroevolution

I don't do this for a living, but if you have any questions about those pages then I'll do my best to answer them.

I said before that I would be willing to provide scientific sources for the case for creation after you ( or Martin) were finished laying out your case. I haven't done it yet because I've received no indication from you that you are finished.

The only thing I would ask, to begin with, is what you would consider to be a "scientific source" and why.

Though you said you have read the Bible, Kazim, the foundation of this discussion was not the Bible. I said I'd find documented sources outside the realm of religion, but I did mention one Bible verse:
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15)
I'm still asking if you're willing to do something comparable, from an atheist perspective. You've given some explanation, I'm just listening and commenting occasionally on a few things that I have questions about.

I think I'm doing that. It's just taking a while. As long as you're patient enough to give me some time to finish each post, I'm here.

Question 1:
Lena said: How does evolution qualify as a well established framework for explaining observed facts?????

Maybe you should browse that link I just posted first.

Kazim, you said you wouldn't expect anyone to individually refute everything on that website anymore than you would attempt to refute everything on answers in genesis.
I'm just asking that, when we make claims or references, we give specific examples. Martin disappeared shortly after that post without satisfactorily explaining or referencing WHAT geological, archeological, or paleontological evidence. Please don't take this as antagonistic, but look at it from an outsiders viewpoint. Consider, when you have questions for believers about the Bible or related topics that they give a broad, sweeping statement and don't satisfactorily explain the statement. I admitted that I did this same thing at the beginning of the conversation, as well, but that I was determined to do a better job with specifics. I'm just asking for the same thing from your camp.

We sometimes "tag team" responses, because there's only so much time to participate in every thread. I'm pretty sure that Martin is still reading, but he's decided to let me take over the participation. I think I'm a bit better read than he is on evolution -- and I don't mean that as a slight, since Martin is a very smart guy with a lot of expertise in other areas that I respect.

Martin, if you're still out there, about leprechauns: I never said I didn't believe in leprechauns. The question is not whether or not I believe in them, the real question is, can YOU prove they don't exist?

No, we can't prove that leprechauns don't exist. So, DO you believe in them?

So what if "my" specific religious beliefs" don't reconcile evolution and the Bible? Isn't that what this discussion is about?

Not really. This discussion was about what's appropriate to teach in school. And the thing is that, as per our constitution, public schools can't actually care about pandering to anybody's specific religious beliefs. Otherwise, they might have people lobbying them to teach that the sun goes around the earth.

One Nation Under God

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God.' I didn't.”

--Barak Obama, “Call to Renewal” Keynote Address, June 28, 2006.

This quote was featured this morning on another atheist blog I frequent, Austin Cline’s section.

Austin makes some good points, and points most of the people who visit this blog spot would probably think of themselves. That the phrase is openly discriminatory toward atheists, and that it furthers the disenfranchisement of atheists in our culture.

I certainly don’t disagree. Although, if I’m going to be honest, I personally also never felt that the Pledge thrust religion or monotheism upon me as a youngster. I honestly don’t believe that any child will become monotheistic by being compelled to say the Pledge every morning and recite the phrase “One Nation Under God.”

Let me be clear, however, that I acknowledge that the insertion of the phrase is completely in violation of the Establishment of Religion clause, and should be removed, if on no other grounds than that.

Also, just because the phrase never offended me, personally, I certainly don’t take issue with anyone else feeling uncomfortable with it. How it makes a person feel is just that--how it makes them feel. It’s not wrong to have feelings or to acknowledge them. And just because I don’t share a person’s feelings, doesn’t invalidate their feelings, or my lack of them.

So, it is a phrase that at the very least violates our Constitution and, therefore, our law, and also that may offend some citizens who like to think that they are just as patriotic as any theist, or that they don’t want their children compelled to say this any more than a Christian would want their child compelled to say “One Nation Without a God.”. And these are real problems.

In my humble view, however, as someone who has dialogued with quite a lot of theists, neither of these things comes close to what I consider to be the real harm caused by the insertion of this phrase into our Pledge of Allegiance. What disturbs me beyond these two very real concerns? The fact that there is a group of very vocal, very politically active theists, specifically Christians, who would insert this phrase and similar phrases all over our government and our government-sponsored public institutions in order to promote the view that we are, on some level, a theocracy.

The last time I was on AE, Matt Dillahunty pointed out that if a person says “This is a Christian nation,” and they mean by that that our citizens, by and large, are Christians, they are correct. If they mean by that that the vast majority of early Americans and founders of the United States were Christians or monotheists along Christian lines, they are correct. If, however, they mean by that that our laws are based upon the Bible, and that Biblical authority or Christian authority supersedes Constitutional authority, they couldn’t be more wrong, (and, I would add, perhaps dangerous).

I know that by posting this, I’m preaching to the choir. And I have no intention of launching into arguments that already plaster the Internet regarding why I disagree with the theocratic stance. I’m only writing to address that, to me, it is unwise to ignore a growing group who vocally express a wish to enforce their religion upon the rest of our society. And it is unwise to believe that simply because I’m not feeling particularly offended by something, it’s not potentially threatening or harmful. Did anyone see the early push that Huckabee got in the primaries? Anyone who thinks there isn’t a growing movement for theocracy in the Christian community isn’t paying attention. And anyone who isn’t concerned by that isn’t thinking it through to the end. Even Christians should fear that concept, because, historically speaking, believers haven’t been particularly kind even to other believers when they aren’t in complete doctrinal agreement.

I’m not going to slam Obama as a uniquely insensitive or unaware, here. I’m sure Obama isn’t the only person--or politician--to share this sentiment. I actually have heard many atheists say the same thing: “It doesn’t bother me, why get all worked up over it? It’s harmless recitation.” But to that, I have to respond that there is a larger world out there, beyond me and how I feel. And it would be wise of us all to take notice of how others around us “feel,” because we might find they feel that our government should require us to adopt, if not their beliefs, at least their behaviors with regard to their religious perspectives. And they use these seemingly innocuous items to promote that agenda. Since it shouldn’t be there in the first place, by law, is it wise to endorse it, retain it, or defend it as “inoffensive,” while supporters of a U.S. theocracy begin to rally and test their power?

I’m thinking, “not.”

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wikipedia can be useful, you know

Because today, I learned a lovely (and very tres science) term I can use to describe the behavioral pathology of creationists: The Dunning-Kruger Effect. Good ol' internets!

Another day, another load of creationist lies and hypocrisy

These people just can't not lie.

From the Expelled blog:

Big Science doesn’t like it when they can’t control the message: it’s why we made EXPELLED.

From a report on an Expelled press conference [emphasis added]:

Now if Expelled can be said to have a theme, it is that all sorts of ideas should be batted around the ballfield of science and theology, that there should be freedom of expression... This makes it ironic, at least, that they expected the Orlando Sentinel to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Freedom of expression is unseemly at an Expelled press conference. There was no give-and-take, no open marketplace of ideas, in fact, scarcely any questions at all. Ruloff and Stein batted one softball after another out of the park from those posed by Paul Lauer, a representative of the film's public relations firm. Questions from non-employees had to be submitted by email. Lauer (or somebody at his firm) screened them.

I've participated in a lot of press conferences in my thirty years as a journalist. I once bumped into President Gerald Ford on the front lawn of the White House. I had a question for him, which he politely answered. I went to a press conference by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who took all of our questions and hung around afterward to talk with me. I've had press conference questions answered by physicists Hans Bethe and Edward Teller, "father of the hydrogen bomb"; by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson; by John Wayne; by U.S, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney; by U.S. Sens. Alan Simpson, Craig Thomas, John Kerry, Malcolm Wallop and Gary Hart, and by lots and lots of other public figures whose time I've wasted. Some of my questions were argumentative, but all were thoroughly — if sometimes equally argumentatively — answered.

Until I got to Ben Stein. Though calling for the rough-and-tumble of openness and debate, Stein didn't have time for questions.

Hmmm. Who's "controlling the message" here again? "Big Science," or Big Fat Fscking Lying Asshats for The Magic Sky Fairy?

Go viral on this stuff, people, and let's expose to all the world just what two-faced dishonest scumbags are marketing this deceitful propaganda masquerading as a brave blow for freedom of inquiry. Sure, it'd be one thing if ID were all about an honest scientific pursuit into facts about biodiversity, and had actual research to show for it and an actual theory out there making predictions in the real world. But they have none of those things, and must resort to despicable conspiracy theories about the evil ninja Big Science baddies suppressing their brilliant work at every turn. Evidence? Pshaw.

This quote from the Colorado Confidential article sums things up with admirable bluntness.

...not only is Expelled and the intellectual movement behind it hypocritical in its supposed defense of "freedom of expression," it's an attack on the entire superstructure of science and technology that has created the modern world. Expelled is anti-rational.

And disgraceful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I can haz lite?

Okay, I know the whole LOLcat thing might be getting old, but I actually got a number of hearty chuckles out of this: a translation of the Bible into LOLcat-speak.

Busy last few days, which is why no posts of substance, but hopefully this will tide you and your funnybone over. Really, anyone who sets about translating the Bible into LOLcat is a living example of the many imaginative ways the internets have found to help people fritter away their spare time. But it's funny, so who am I to complain? You'll probably get your fill after just Genesis 1:1, but you've got to admire the dedication it takes to create something this silly. And it must be said, the Ten Commandments are priceless. Wonder if we'll get any Ceiling Cat Schisms now?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

SBOE forced to table adoption of Donna Garner's "alternative" Language Arts curriculum

The TFN reports today that angry responses from educators as well as the general public have persuaded them to hold off, at least temporarily, the adoption of an "alternative" language arts curriculum put together by a former teacher and current Christian-right homophobe and ideologue named Donna Garner. Creationist Dan McLeroy, who heads up the SBOE, favored Garner's curriculum, which had already been rejected as too rigid and outdated (in the TFN's words) ten years ago when the governor of Texas was none other than the clod who's been stinking up the White House since January 2001. Had the SBOE adopted it now, it would have utterly derailed a very intensive revision of language arts standards that has been underway for a couple of years, and which has the blessing of educators.

However, this is only a temporary setback for the fundies. The SBOE has put together a subcommittee (with McLeroy on it, surprise surprise!) to further study the matter. Expect the fight to protect students from these troglodytes to continue.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Typical, typical, typical

The dishonest morons who produced Ben Stein's comedy masterpiece Expelled posted a ridiculously deluded rant against Darwin Day to their blog, in which they lie so copiously and egregiously about the positions of Darwin and Dawkins that PZ Myers couldn't resist laying down the pwnage, which he did with his usual masterful command of all those doggone facts IDiots find so inconvenient.

In response, it now appears that anyone clicking over to the Expelled blog from the link provided in PZ's rebuttal gets a 404 error. The stupid Expelled post is still up, you just can't get to it from Pharyngula. Presumably the link provided here will be good for a little while, anyway.

So let's see what we have here. A movie that claims ID has been "expelled" from academia due to some sort of hostility towards free speech and academic freedom on the part of "Big Science"* has expelled criticism by a legitimate scientist who happens to be one of the scientists they got to agree to an interview in their movie through false pretenses. Hmm. Sounds about typical, all right.

Welcome to the world of ID creationism. Where we tell more lies before breakfast than most people do all day year.

* I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and submit that "Big Religion" is far bigger than "Big Science" ever dreamed of being.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Texas SBOE promoting the policies of lunatic fundie homophobe?

An email sent out today by the Texas Freedom Network alerts us to the latest shenanigans of the Texas State Board of Education, as it's currently being run by Dan McLeroy, lackey to Governor Rick "Oh, The Evil Liberal Elite Atheists Are Persecuting Us, Now Drop to Your Knees and Pray, Mofo" Perry. I'll just post the main section of the email in full.

Today we learned that the far-right faction controlling the State Board of Education wants to torpedo new language arts curriculum standards that took teachers and education experts two years to develop. The Texas Education Agency has even been paying a consulting firm $85,000 to help develop those new standards, which govern what more than 4.5 million children learn in Texas public schools.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the State Board of Education’s chairman, Don McLeroy, wants to throw away that money and all of the hard work put in by Texas teachers and education experts. McLeroy is instead promoting an alternative curriculum – one developed more than 10 years ago by a far-right activist more interested in promoting the religious right’s agenda in public schools than making sure Texas schoolchildren get a sound education.

That activist, education gadfly Donna Garner, has promoted her alternative curriculum ever since the state board and then-Gov. George Bush’s education commissioner rejected it in 1997. Now McLeroy and other far-right members who control the state board have breathed new life into Garner’s efforts.

In e-mails to supporters, Garner suggests that her standards are the solution to a host of ills in public schools. She is particularly critical of the use of “multicultural authors” in classes, contemporary literature she deems as inappropriate, and a perceived promotion of the “gay lifestyle.” Her proposed standards even includes specific reading lists – lists that would allow the state board to censor the works of any authors the religious right doesn’t like.

Even though education experts and the board have spent two years working on the revision of the language arts curriculum, McLeroy sent Garner’s alternative to board members just a few days ago! That last-minute surprise prevents parents, teachers and even board members from giving the 100+ pages in the document the thorough review it should get. This is a classic bait-and-switch tactic the religious right has used often in the past.

Now, I support TFN, but I like checking these things out for myself. I Googled Garner, and was disturbed by what I came up with.

I found what I think might be the program TFN is warning about, that Garner endorses, here. Garner declares that she's more interested in "classrooms where the teacher, an authority figure, teaches curriculum that is academic and knowledge-based, and students are tested primarily through objective testing (i.e., right or wrong answers). The other camp supports classrooms where the teacher is the facilitator who emphasizes a performance-based, constructivist curriculum (e.g., projects, discovery learning, inquiry-based learning) which is subjectively assessed."

Certainly I support the notion of making sure kids get facts first and foremost. But if Garner is the Christian-right agent provocateur the TFN is making her out to be (and which seems to be the case the more I learn), then my own dealings with average creationists lead me to wonder exactly how accurately she's portraying the dichotomy between how she'd like to see students taught, and how students actually are being taught. Garner's tendency to use emotionally laden language like this also sends up red flags:

Texas teachers have been led by the TEA into utilizing failed fads such as whole language, teacher-as-facilitator, holistic scoring, self-esteem movement, inventive spelling, group grading, outcomes-based-education, fuzzy math, rain-forest algebra, block scheduling, open concept, portfolios, integrated curriculum, year-round schools, subjective scoring, etc. The public is disillusioned with the public schools and rightfully so. Parents are tired of their children being used as guinea pigs in education experiments.

Just what in tarnation is Garner babbling about when she throws out terms like "rain-forest algebra" or "inventive spelling" or "holistic scoring"? Once this kind of rhetoric starts getting tossed around, I have a hard time taking anything the person is saying seriously. And even good points about making sure kids get the best education they can get washed overboard once the crazy comes out. I was a student in Texas public schools from the fifth grade on, and I can't ever remember learning "rain-forest algebra" or being told I could just make up my own spellings to words. I'll be the first to admit our public schools are in major need of a firmware upgrade, and that lazy policies like "teach to the test" do nothing to get a child excited about learning, instead resulting in the indifferent, assembly-line processing of mediocrity that only cares that a student does well enough to pass with a C- and go away. But bizarre rhetoric tends to cloud good solutions.

Now we get to the more disturbing stuff. I discovered that someone who may or may not be the same Donna Garner posted to a Christian-homophobe hate site. The email on this article is different than the one Garner uses on the Lone Star Foundation page, but that doesn't mean anything; I have at least five email addresses, two of which I never even use. I was inclined to believe it was the same Garner, as I then found this article in which she goes off on illegal immigrants, titled "This Is Not Being Racist," but which is also inexplicably titled "Promoting Homosexuality in the Public Schools" in the header. Maybe she meant to write the one, then chucked it and wrote the other instead.

In the Americans for Truth (gag!) post, Garner talks about her experiences dealing with Wal-Mart, where she warns all red-blooded American apple-pie eating straight folk that, using Wal-Mart's search engine, "I typed in the words 'gay and lesbians.' In the top, lefthand corner, it states, '576 items found for ‘gays and lesbians.' Wal-Mart still has some cleaning up to do before it can say it is not supporting the gay and lesbian agenda." Oh yes, the empire is sure to fall!

In my effort to make sure that the teacher Donna Garner was the same person as the homophobe Donna Garner, I narrowed my Google search to "donna garner homosexuality," and this article at Baptist Press essentially confirmed it, in which it's written that...

Donna Garner, a retired English teacher, is an example of a leader in the grassroots effort to help Wal-Mart live up to the family friendly description the company gives itself.... One of Garner’s main concerns is that adolescents can easily stumble upon the homosexuality-promoting books and be drawn into a lifestyle that is proven to be detrimental to their health. “I have extensive medical data to show how very dangerous the homosexual lifestyle is,” she told BP.

So that pretty much nails it then. The Donna Garner who writes so passionately about improving students' learning skills — only to overplay her hand with weird rants about presumed hippy-dippy new-age teaching techniques that are supposed to be state-approved — is the same hateful homophobe who thinks a store merely offering products to a certain segment of their clientele involves some kind of organized push to force teens everywhere into sodomite gangbangs. Apparently Garner missed the shelves in Wal-Mart that are stacked to the ceiling with delusional monkeypoo like this. Wal-Mart stocks more fundie drivel than any other major retailer I've ever seen. But for Garner, even that's not good enough. It has to be all Christianity, all the time, with no room allowed for anyone "unsaved." And they say gays are the ones with "an agenda."

For the record, I did an "entire site" search at for "gay and lesbian," and got 37 results total. "Gay" alone got 153, and "lesbian" got only 43. "Homosexuality" only got 5, and "homosexual" a mere 3. "Christianity" got 1,829 results, and "christian" got 4,385. ("Atheist" only got 6, and half of those were lame Christian attempts at rebuttals such as the fake Antony Flew book.) So where's the big "gay agenda" promotion, Mrs. Garner? Or are you still threatened by the fact those search numbers are any higher than zero?

Here's another stupid rant on a website with the hilariously inappropriate name of (well, you know, Socrates was a cat), in which Garner continues her vendetta against Wal-Mart and bolsters it with such asinine nonsense as this:

Race and ethnicity cannot be changed; they are inherent. Homosexuality can be changed and is not inherent. The proof is that thousands of homosexuals have walked away from the homosexual lifestyle and are now happily married heterosexuals. No one has ever met a person who was born an Anglo and who has changed himself into an Afro-American. Putting homosexuality under the same umbrella as race/ethnicity is a ploy developed by the homosexual movement to give legitimacy to their terribly destructive sexual practices, and Wal-Mart and HEB have bought into the lie.

"...Terribly destructive sexual practices." Remember, in the mind of the Christian homophobe, being gay is about nothing more than fudge-packin', day in and day out!

So I guess I have to join TFN in opposing any influence Garner may have on the course of education in Texas. Even if her ideas about teaching were entirely valid, that fact that she's such an obvious and unrepentantly frothing bigot and hatemonger — and one who validates her hate with brazen lies — frankly disqualifies her from any respectful consideration. She needs to be relegated to the fringe and ignored, where she can spew her bile without splashing it on decent folks.

But then, that idiot McLeroy ought to be out on the fringe too. And look where he is. Looks like education in Texas is going to be a bigger battleground than we originally thought. And you thought it was just about evolution!

Happy 199th, Chuck D!

You don't look a day over 162!

Thanks to Google Books, there's no reason not to read On the Origin of Species. It isn't the last word on evolution, of course. But it was the first word that actually meant something, that stated the theory in clear terms and defended it with sufficiently sound science that the following 150 years of science were able to build upon it and refine it, supporting its claims with such then-unknown disciplines as genetics. The deniers may follow Ray Comfort in preferring to wallow in their feeble "imaginations," while the rest of us celebrate the vivid understanding of reality Darwin gave us. Tip of the hat to the man whose work literally changed the world! Happy Darwin Day, gang!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

This is what we need to see more of in the papers!

In today's Statesman there is a wonderful editorial by Steve Bratteng, a science teacher at Westwood High School, in which he takes on the IDiots and evo-deniers the right way: not by going into the usual routine of debunking creo canards and falsehoods (which is certainly necessary to do, but likely to fall on deaf ears), but by introducing a series of 13 examples of real-world situations having to do with health and biology that evolution explains (e.g.: Why does each of your eyes have a blind spot and a significant tendency for retinal detachment, but a squid's eyes, which provide equally sharp vision, do not have either problem? Why do people of European descent have a fairly high frequency of an allele, which, in the homozygous condition, confers resistance to HIV infection?). Then he challenges readers who might think these can be explained by recourse to intelligent design to do so. I can't wait to hear what answers the creos try to invent for these.

This is what I want to see more scientists and pro-science citizens getting into our media: positive presentations and understanding of science, not just the usual bashing of "creos as morons" that makes them all defensive and further resistant to education. A lot of creos are pig-headed and stupid, sure, but most, I think, simply accept ideas like ID because they haven't been taught science very well and ID "sounds pretty good" to them.

I know the answers to #5 and #11!

Lena, care to give the creationist answers to Steve's questions?

Here are the answers.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Darwin Day fun tomorrow

Here in Austin, the fine folks at CFI have another little Darwin Day celebration going on tomorrow afternoon at Book People. Just like last year, there will be talks by UT professors on the subject of "The Relevance of Evolution to Our Everyday Lives," while for the kiddies, there will be storytime and science activities on the second floor. All of which culminates in the most important part of all, cutting the birthday cake. Check here for more info. Hope every pro-science Austinite can come and bring a friend.

Rick Perry: lying, meretricious asshole

There. Let it never be said I didn't have gift for bluntness.

If he wasn't already a big enough tool for appointing young-earther Dan McLeroy to head up the State Board of Education — an act comparable to appointing a person who believes automobiles are powered by big wound-up rubber bands to the presidency of General Motors — Texas' kendoll governor Rick Perry has now, according to today's Austin American Statesman, written a book blasting the ACLU, "liberal elites," and anybody else who doesn't belong to his golf club, and he's done it to raise money for the Boy Scouts. Pompously titled On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For, Perry's polemic essentially reveals that he thinks the most important and precious of those fine American values is hating anyone different. But of course, it's only because they're persecuting the poor widdle Christians! Right?

You got to love this button mashing bullshit:

Whether it is protecting the rights of pornographers, molesters, perverts, terrorists, garden-variety thugs, or those merely hostile to a belief in God, the ACLU is there to provide aid and comfort, in addition to a well-funded legal arsenal.

Hey, nice one there, asshat! Slip the atheists in with the perverts, terrorists, and "garden-variety thugs"! Tell me, who's the one making "unwarranted attacks" here?

If the blurbs in the Statesman article are anything to go by — and the article itself defines "puff piece" to a tee — the book is a veritable buffet of straw man attacks against the aforementioned "liberal elites" (is Perry suggesting there's nothing "elite" about the circle he runs in?), who apparently prefer to "worship the false idol of self." Well, I'm not sure if I belong to said group of elites or not by Perry's determination, but since I believe in elitist ideas like equal opportunity and treating your fellow man with respect and dignity (note: this does not mean I refrain from criticizing stupid beliefs and idiotic thinking), I guess I must. So I can only say that I certainly don't worship anything, let alone myself, but even if I were inclined to be the mindless worshipful sort, I would at least know that I exist, as opposed to the "idol" in the sky Perry and his ilk favor.

Then again, there are passages where Perry seems actually to have a clue.

The faith that permeates the lives of so many middle Americans is often derided as a crutch for weak people.... They think the public simply doesn't know better and is easily manipulated by the emotional appeals of troglodyte, conservative commentators.

Et tu, Ricky?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ray Comfort's imagination

If there were any lingering question that Ray Comfort deserved the appellation of World's Dumbest Apologist, it would surely be put to rest by reading the exercise in vacuity that is his blog. Mr. Banana calls it "Ray Comfort Food," and that's a fairly apt title: perhaps tasty for undiscriminating people looking for a quick snack, but not healthy or nourishing in the least.

Ray's latest post typically reflects how little is going on between his ears at any given moment. In "The Atheist's Battle" (a puzzling title, as he never actually addresses what he thinks that is), Ray actually spends two out of three paragraphs simply restating Pascal's Wager. Yes, Pascal's Wager. Then, in his third paragraph he asserts that what allows Christianity to trump atheism is the Christian's willingness to confuse imagination with fact and entertain all manner of delusions.

Like many nowadays, John Lennon imagined only sky. His mind was limited. However, the Christian’s mind isn't closed. By the grace of God, he has expanded his horizon. For him, nothing is impossible.

Until, I suppose, the Christian tries to put that assumption to the test by standing on the roof of a 40-story building, flapping his arms with the intent to fly to the building across the street, and jumping off. In his final seconds of life, he will have an admittedly brief opportunity to contemplate that, whatever the religion you've chosen to embrace has told you, perhaps there are a few things that are impossible.

Like most people who've allowed delusion to guide their lives, Ray confuses mindless gullibility with being "open minded," and cares not a whit whether what he has chosen to believe is actually true as long as it provides "comfort food." What Ray lacks the ability to understand is that one's mind is not "limited" by adopting the intellectual integrity and honesty that enables you to distinguish fantasy from reality. The believer may feel all warm and fuzzy by thinking he has "expanded his horizons" to the point where delusion and reality are a blur. But he is still living in delusion. I'm sure I could follow Ray's advice, and choose to believe that when I die, I will go to Candyland on the Island of Misfit Toys and live in the Popsicle Palace for all eternity, and that anyone who doesn't share this belief has a "closed mind." But would that be sensible?

A common element I've heard from my fellow atheists, particularly those who were formerly Christian or otherwise religious, is that we all reached a point where we realized that it mattered whether or not what we believed was actually true, and not just comfort food. And the way you determine what's actually true is through the reliable methodologies of science.

When you read the sad prattlings of a guy like Ray Comfort, who has decided this distinction clearly doesn't matter, you realize that the "imagination" he so eagerly touts as the key to "open minded" thinking is really a feeble thing indeed. There's nothing in Ray's imagination, except the god Ray has made in his image and the fear of his own mortality he has disguised as eager anticipation of "eternity."

If he were even a smidgen less scientifically illiterate than he is, he'd quickly find that the wonders and majesty of the real universe that science reveals to us are immeasurably more awe-inspiring than the bereft and self-centered fantasies he has embraced. Ray just doesn't know much. He doesn't even know how limited his mind is. If he only had a brain. But there I go imagining again.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

MySpace reups Atheists and Agnostics group

I suspected this wouldn't be any sort of a long-lasting thing. In any event, the 34,000-plus member MySpace group Atheists and Agnostics is back up. It would appear that any fears of Murdoch-imposed religious bigotry among site management might be premature, though the inordinate problems this group has had are a bit absurd and could have been dealt with by the site more efficiently and effectively. The group went down originally because some Christian hackers broke into it and renamed it "Jesus Is Lord," which goes to show what happens when you take people with too much time on their hands and feed them a steady diet of religious intolerance. But with luck, the group — whose only goal is social interaction among unbelievers, many of whom are likely to be young people living fearfully in this religion-addicted culture, unaware that there are other atheists they can make friends with — will be left alone now. The hostility and attacks it's had at the hands of angry Christians do not exactly redound to their credit.

PS: It has come to my attention that a Christian MySpace group has been victimized by similar hackery. And yes, the people responsible for that are just as full of shit for doing it too.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Creationist logic!

How can we ever stand up to this!?

Zakim [sic], we're going to try a little logic exercise here. I say the sky is blue.
You say the sky is green. Just because you never say the words " the sky is NOT blue" doesn't mean you're not disagreeing with me. If you tell everyone you meet "The sky is green, no matter what anyone else says" then you are saying, by NEGATION, that the sky is not blue. When a teacher asserts that "the world was created when stuff blew up" they are teaching, by negation, that it was not designed. When they say that everything came about by accident, they are teaching, by negation, that there is not design!
Simply put, the sky cannot be both blue and green. So, if I teach my children the sky is blue, then I'm teaching them it is NOT green.

That came to us from Lena, our latest creationist commenter, who's over in this comment thread. I guess it must be a brilliant analogy, because Lena assures us she's not some dipshit trailer trash hick, but that she's been "educated above the master's level," which I take to mean she has a master's degree but hasn't yet gone for her Ph.D., though it may not actually mean that at all. Indeed, she isn't clear about what she means by "educated above the master's level." You'd think if she had a master's degree, why wouldn't she just say, "I got a master's from [name of university]."

Anyway, I had a little trouble with her logic, such as it is. Somehow I was able to reconstruct the argument this way.

When a teacher teaches students that the first president of the United States was George Washington, they are teaching, by negation, that it was not Daffy Duck. Simply put, the first president could not have been both George Washington and Daffy Duck. If I'm teaching children it was George Washington, I am teaching them it was not Daffy Duck.

Apparently, when you teach childen anything, you are in fact teaching them the "negation" of whatever thing it is you aren't teaching them. Or something. So, like, if you teach children that 2 + 2 = 4, you are, by "negation," teaching them that 2 + 2 ≠ 5,622. And that's bad, I think she's saying. Or not.

Oh well, it's a little hard to noodle out what stunning point Lena thought she was making there, especially if she was trying to draw some analogy to the whole "teach the controversy" argument. I mean, anyone can go outside and see the sky is blue, at least if the weather's clear. We cannot go outside, however, and look at the sky and see the Christian God. Except in that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but I'm informed that was a special effect. So I guess, above-master's-level education or not, creationists seem to be chock full of stupid when it comes to arguing their beliefs.

Head on over there, and have fun.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Expelled: even lamer than we all thought

The Orlando Sentinel has the first mainstream media review I've seen of Ben Stein's ID propaganda film Expelled, and it ain't pretty. The film's egregious dishonesty is evident from the outset, as it attempts to confuse the issue in the minds of an uninformed public and present the ID-vs.-evolution argument as an academic freedom issue, rather than a simple matter of which of those two things is science and which one isn't.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed [is] a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked "weirdo" scientists to attack the those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right's efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate....

[Stein] uses anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases of people who claim to have lost tenure/their jobs/their position in the scientific world for daring to suggest the hand of a supernatural being in the creation of life. He hasn't a scintilla of proof of, well, anything. Then he has the audacity to whine, "Where's the data" when questioning cellular biologists and other real scientists who build their lives around doubt, and finding testable, legitimate answers to those doubts. Where's YOUR data, Ben?

I imagine this writer's experience with the levels of irony, meretriciousness and hypocrisy one confronts routinely when one deals with creationists is fairly limited. Otherwise it wouldn't surprise him at all that the movie demands all kinds of data from scientists (which actually exists in heaps, but which the IDiots ignore), while not feeling any great urgency to back up its own claims.

One of the movie's most repugnant lies is its repetition of the "Darwin = Hitler + Stalin" mantra. As anyone with three brain cells to rub together (which would be four more than Stein has) and has actually studied the history knows, both the Third Reich and Stalin were deeply opposed to Darwin, with Stalin supporting Lysenkoism.

But this is all par for the course for the intellectual wasteland that is creationism. They're scared of evolution because they believe that if it's true, then God can't be true, and thus their lives are meaningless because they have no shot at the promised afterlife. But scientifically, creationism cannot be supported by any facts. So all that can be done is to discredit it by associating it with all that is evil and bad. For all the movie's whining about "academic freedom," the truth is that supporters of ID have never been about achieving a stronger scientific understanding of our world and have always been about protecting their religion, their "scientific" posturing towards that end merely the cheapest of dog-and-pony shows. And isn't it funny how, for all their claims that they are the ones whose ideas are being "censored," every prominent creationist blog on the web (like Uncommon Descent) actively censors pro-evolution arguments out of their comments or deletes entire posts if creationism cannot be made to look superior even through the most extreme rhetorical sleight of hand.

I'm actually looking forward to this movie's release now, limited as it will be, because I think it will be the greatest gift to real scientists the IDiot crowd has ever offered. The tidal wave of articles, editorials, interviews and discussions that will follow in its wake, correcting and attacking all of its easily refuted falsehoods with just-as-easily verified facts will lay bare just what shoddy scholarship and sleazy emotional button mashing the IDiots have to resort to instead of, you know, actual scientific research to develop a workable theory of intelligent design. ID was essentially killed in Dover, but this "documentary" is like the movement's lurching zombie corpse, shuffling along unaware that it's dead. It's a last-ditch act of desperation, and we can only hope that the reaction it's sure to receive will prove the final bullet to the head needed to put ID down for good.

Coming up on the TV show: Growing up atheist

I've been drawing a blank on new show topics this week. It doesn't help that we're apparently going to be broadcasting opposite the Superbowl this Sunday, and so it's likely we won't get many callers to carry the show. This doesn't matter to people who listen via podcast, but it does make it difficult to plan how to fill the time.

I did a show on atheist parenting once. I got some email after that which said "How about a show about YOUR experiences as a lifelong atheist?" Everybody knows Matt's story by now, about how he was studying to be a minister before deconverting. By contrast, my story is probably a lot less exciting because mainly it involves just having a normal childhood, apart from the fact that my parents happened to be atheists. Seriously, I never felt particularly persecuted, I had lots of Christian friends who didn't bother me very much, and my parents loved me. No big falling out. It's kind of boring, really.

There are a few things I guess I can draw on. I had some interesting encounters with Christian kids while I was growing up in Alabama. My atheist, scientist parents taught me somewhat different lessons about life and morality than the standard "Do this because God said so" lessons. And also, the fact that I'm a Jewish atheist and I had a bar mitzvah is kind of interesting.

Hope this topic isn't too egotistical -- just remember that it wasn't my idea. And if there are some Austinites out there who care as much about football as I do (i.e., you don't) then please plan to help fill out our phone lines if we appear to be struggling.

The MySpace kerfuffle

The atheist blogosphere erupted with indignation earlier this week, and quite justifiably, when it was revealed that the massive social networking site MySpace had summarily deleted the 35,000-member-strong Atheist and Agnostic Group without so much as a by-your-leave, even though the group had violated none of the site's terms of service. This is seen as rampant religious bigotry and it probably is, although two groups I belong to, "Atheists" (4,828 members) and "SkepticSpace" (989 members) are still alive.

So I'm not sure what's going on here, but it does seem as if the big group was targeted by angry Christians who complained loudly enough to force the deletion. If so, it just makes the fact that Christians still whine about being the ones censored and persecuted and "expelled" all the more egregiously self-serving and dishonest.

A lot of atheists are deleting their profiles, which I can't imagine will hurt MySpace in the tiniest. After a lot of thought on the matter I've decided to keep mine up, but add the complete text of the Secular Students press release along with a comment voicing my own condemnation of MySpace's apparent religious bigotry in a nice large font. Two days later they haven't deleted me, which leads me to think there was some personal targeting going on and there isn't (so far) some wholesale campaign to rid MySpace of the godless.

Lots of people slag MySpace, and I can see why, but I've actually found it quite useful. Mainly I'm using it to promote the documentary I'm working on (and working on and working on), and have so far "networked," as it were, with lots of folks in indie film. I've also discovered a buttload of good bands I'd never have heard of otherwise. When my friend Hollye ran her cat shelter, she raised about $300 in Paypal donations through her MySpace page. So yeah, for all that it's cheesy — no matter how big MySpace gets, it will probably never live down the rep it's gotten in the media as "that teen site" where all the pedo stalkers hang out — I have no reason to think it sucks. Like anything else, it's all in how you use it. (And to everyone who's likely to raid the comments with glowing endorsements of Facebook, I must say I find that site completely boring and useless. I have a profile there but have almost never had a reason to log onto it.)

I'd suggest that if you've still got a MySpace page, then deck it out with proud proclamations of your atheism and your disapproval of the Atheist and Agnostic group's unwarranted deletion. As MySpace is a privately owned (by Rupert Murdoch, surprise surprise) enterprise, I don't see that anyone involved with the deleted group could have recourse to legal action or anything, but IANAL on that score. Just use your freedom of speech and use it loudly. We're here, we're godless, get used to it. If they delete you, well, it's not like you've lost an investment or anything. And it will just prove that the site is run by reactionary, stupid religious bigots after all.