Monday, April 28, 2008

Two disparate Christian responses to high gas prices

One of these is the usual parade of batshit crazy, and the other is a comparatively rare case of a church doing what we're meant to believe churches do all the time: something good for their community. Makes sense that the latter is located in Austin, where people have a tendency to be pretty cool, even some of the religious ones.

In San Francisco, of all places, a bunch of dimwits staged a "pray-in" at a local gas station, begging Sky-Daddy to bring gas prices down. Prayer, as we all know, is that comforting act believers engage in that allows them to feel they're dealing with problems without actually having to do anything. I can understand everyone's frustration at four-dollar gas. But good grief, you fundies were the ones who gave this disastrous administration two terms in which to wreak the havoc we're all now in. Praying to fix a mistake that cataclysmic isn't a whole lot more than slamming the barn doors after the horses are all out, eh? Anyway, old Rocky Twyman, devout as he may be, ought to take a pointer or two from the Neumann family: when it comes to working, prayer has a fairly poor track record.

What does work? People helping people, that's what. I'm perfectly happy to compliment anyone, religious or not, if they do something that shows a healthy community spirit and a willingness to do some real, effective good. And in Cedar Park, just north of Austin, the nondenominational HighPointFellowship made a deal with a neighborhood Exxon that anyone who turned up between 10 and 1 on Sunday could buy their gas for just over a dollar less per gallon, with the church making up the difference. Hundreds of folks took advantage, and the church ended up forking over about five grand.

Yeah, sure, they did it to get some publicity (of course they handed out flyers for their church to people waiting to fill up). But if a group like ACA had the spare cash to do something like this, we'd probably hand out flyers too. The point is, two groups of Christians saw a community-wide problem, and chose opposite ways of handling it. The San Francisco church chose an exercise in goofy futility, while the Cedar Park folks understood something a lot of us have been saying all along: One pair of working hands achieves more than 10,000 pairs of praying hands. Nicely done, HighPoint.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Okay, so I guess I now have the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything...if I could only remember what the question was. Oh well. Never mind. Instead, I'll just post what I've decided to declare my birthday anthem this year, for your enjoyment. It would be nice if there were an official video for this song, but this fan-made effort is pretty decent for what it is. Have a good day. I will be.

Today on the show: Love

What is love, and why does it inspire so many cheesy songs? Is God love? Can an atheist believe in love without proof? Tune to "The Atheist Experience" on Austin Access channel 10 at 3PM central, and find out.

No links today, because it's mostly going to be just me extemporaneous philosomophizering.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

No, it was just natural selection

The Church of the Burning Stupid is keeping up its anti-science missionary efforts, as we can see here. This was submitted to the ACA Yahoogroup by one of its members who presumably lives in the area (Greeley, CO). He got it among his daily junk snail mail. It would be awesome if some educated folks could turn up to this farce and bombard the presenter, some dingaling named H.S. Rester, with awesome questions so that all and sundry could watch him squirm when he either cannot answer or simply resorts to the usual asinine creotard canards to do so.

The rest of the pamphlet promises to expose such horrors as "Evolution and the Antichrist Agenda" (that's Wednesday), and advises attendees, "Bring Your Bible and Your Mind, You Will Use Both." The latter won't be used much or very well, but at least the pamphlet does remind attendees to bring it in the first place, which is thoughtful, since most creationists just leave theirs laying around wherever.

Rester claims to be a "Christian with a strong scientific background" but the pamphlet only says he has a "BA from an inter-denominational Bible College/Seminary and is now completing his Masters of Divinity." It says nothing about, oh, you know, any advanced degrees in biology, biochemistry, or any of the other pertinent life sciences. So I suppose his "education" can be more or less dismissed, at least in terms of allowing him any actual expertise in the monumentally supported and unequivocally successful bedrock scientific theory he seems to think he can debunk with an ancient storybook. In terms of being able to parrot mindless twaddle and infantile myths handed down from 2000 year old sheep farmers and primitive clerics, I will only too gladly defer to his expertise. Just as I'm sure there's some twat here in town with encyclopedic knowledge of every X-Men comic ever published. Nothing against such a person, just don't pretend you're a freakin' biologist, okay?

Friday, April 25, 2008

The latest brilliant observation from Ben Stein and Dan Marvin

You learn something every day if you pay attention to the courageous freedom fighters for creationism. For instance, did you know the reason people pursue higher education and become teachers and academicians? It's because they're frightened people. Really, it's true!'s not really true. But Ben Stein says it, and it flatters creationists' sense of victimhood and anti-intellectual smugness, so that makes it better than true. Because it doesn't matter if something's really true or not. If the creationists want it to be true badly enough, then it will be, and wanting things is so much easier than actually doing the hard work to earn them. For one thing, if you actually do hard work, you might find out what you want to be true isn't really true after all. And that would be bad. So don't waste your life actually learning things. Just believe, and leave the hard work to those pitiful academics. After all, they're frightened people.

Kip Thorne at UT

Regrettably, I may have to miss this depending on what my schedule for that day looks like. But I wanted to post the information for the science-minded among you. This ought to be another good talk. It's in the same lecture hall where Ken Miller spoke.

Date: Friday, May 2, 2008
Time: 3:00pm - 4:00pm
Location: WEL 2.224
Parking Info:
San Jacinto or Speedway Garages are probably best.

From the FaceBook page for the event:

Famous Physicist Kip Thorne to Speak About Big-Bang and Black Holes.

The Warped Side of the Universe: From the Big Bang to Black Holes

There is a Warped Side to our Universe: objects and phenomena that are made from warped space and warped time. Examples include black holes and the big-bang singularity from which the Universe was born. The ideal tool for probing this mysterious Warped Side is radiation that itself is made from warped space-time: "gravitational waves". Thorne will describe the warped side of our universe and the quest to probe it with gravitational waves.

According to Discover magazine (where the tagline is from): Kip Thorne revolutionized physics, fixed up Contact, and straddled the Cold War divide.

Thorne's research has focused on gravitation physics and astrophysics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and gravitational waves. A longtime friend and colleague of Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, he is the current Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech and one of the world’s leading experts on the astrophysical implications of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. He is one of the three founders of the LIGO project.

Thorne was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972, the National Academy of Sciences in 1973, the American Philosophical Society in 1999, and (as a foreign member) the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1999.

With John A. Wheeler and Charles W. Misner, Thorne coauthored in 1973 the textbook Gravitation, from which most of the present generation of scientists have learned general relativity. He is also a co-author of Gravitation Theory and Gravitational Collapse (1965) and Black Holes: The Membrane Paradigm (1986), and the sole author of the best-selling book Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (1994).

In 1975, cosmologist Stephen Hawking bet fellow cosmologist Kip Thorne a subscription to Penthouse magazine for Thorne against four years of Private Eye for him that Cygnus X-1 would turn out not to be a black hole. It was, so Hawking lost.

See, who says physicists never have any fun? Anyway, I'd wager this guy is probably a bit more knowledgeable about the whole Big Bang thing than whoever the complete fool was our foolish buddy Dan cutpasted from the other day. Once again, see an actual scientist who's spent an actual career doing actual research explain why the blatherings of uneducated fundamentalists about "no evidence for this!" and "science requires blind faith too!" are deeply, pitifully stupid and wrong.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Oh noes! Big Science iz in ur Skool Bored, bashin ur Yung Erf Creashunists

Why oh why do they hate the Ceiling Cat so much? In what will doubtless be trumpeted as more suppression of "free speech" by Dr. Evil and the Nazi Darwinist Stormtroopers of "Big Science," the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board took a big fat sanity pill and unanimously denied the request of the Institute for Creation Research to be granted certification to offer a master's degree program in science education in Texas.

The reason is, of course, obvious. Young Earth Creationism is in about as complete a state of opposition to actual science as the movies of Pauly Shore are to actual comedy. There is just a contingent of ideologues among the Christian faithful who simply cannot comprehend that it is not the purpose of science to validate preconceived religious beliefs, however precious those beliefs are to those who hold them. And in their bleating over the supposed denial of any "free exchange of ideas" in an academic setting, they are, of course, failing to make another meaningful distinction: free speech and free inquiry are not synonyms for "you get to teach whatever you want, even if it's false, if enough people believe it." Each person is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs; what you are not entitled to are your own facts.

But at least the creationists can take some cold comfort in the fact they aren't the only ones being oppressed by the dogmatic, iron fist of "Big Science"!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

She's done it

If Expelled achieves anything, it will be to make millions of Beatles fans Yoko Ono supporters for the first time in their lives. You just don't steal music.

This is why we call them IDiots, gang.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why science is despised by religion

When I reviewed the movie Jesus Camp, I mentioned that I was surprised by weird opposition to global warming research which is displayed by the homeschooled fundamentalist kids. I thought, sure, I expect them to be anti-science to the extent that they're opposed to evolution and believe in a young earth. But why global warming, exactly?

I guess that if you think the world is ending within one generation, then you might be disinclined to care about environmental issues that will cause problems for the next generation, or the one after. But "disinclination" doesn't begin to describe the outright hostility that conservative Christians appear to have for the issue.

The study of global warming is a relatively recent field -- compared with, say, evolution (150 years) or Newtonian physics (300 years) or even relativity and quantum mechanics (about 100 years). As such, it is a field particularly active in generating new data and interpreting what this data means. Like evolution, there is a scientific consensus on the big picture (global warming is real, it is a recent development, and it is in some significant way affected by worldwide human behavior) but the details are open to debate (i.e., what will be the particular short term and long term effects, and what policy actions should be enacted as a result).

This is a fundamentalist gold mine, because what anti-science religious folks love to do is highlight a particular controversy and then say "See? Science is unreliable because it's changing all the time!"

Case in point:

Noted Hurricane Expert Kerry Emanuel has publicly reversed his stance on the impact of Global Warming on Hurricanes. Saying "The models are telling us something quite different from what nature seems to be telling us," Emanuel has released new research indicating that even in a rapidly warming world, hurricane frequency and intensity will not be substantially affected.

"The results surprised me," says Emanuel, one of the media's most quoted figures on the topic.

From a scientific perspective, if you believe one thing and then later you recognize that you were mistaken based on new evidence, it's simply part of the process. It's an important component of intellectual integrity. Science changes, just like people do. In both cases, it's otherwise known as "learning new things." Dawkins sometimes admiringly tells the story of a scientist who profusely thanks the man who shows that he has long been in error about an important concept.

To a fundamentalist, on the other hand, this story is treated as an opportunity to dismiss the entire science of climate change. "Ah, so they were WRONG! Knowing this, how can we trust anything those scientists say?" In this frame, change is treated as a sign of weakness rather than a sign of improvement. While creationists often pay lip service to the importance of science ("Our beliefs should totally be taught in science classes, you Nazis!"), when science appears to contradict the Bible, they do more than argue against the theory; they denigrate science itself. I get the distinct impression that science is viewed as a threat because it is a competing method of knowing things in general.

I've heard numerous sermons -- some on the radio, some live -- where the theme appeared to be "Everything in life is garbage unless you have Jesus." Often repeated in this flavor of sermon are verses such as Isaiah 55:8-9:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

And 1 Corinthians 3:19:

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

Human knowledge is garbage. So says the Lord. And since we can't rely on our own poor knowledge, the default option available should be to look to the church for answers. If someone purports to say something that does not match what the church says, don't listen to them, for their ways are not His ways.

Then along comes science.

Science proposes a systematic, reliable, testable method for gaining more knowledge over time. It is not based on the Bible. It is not inherently hostile to religion; it just disregards religion completely in the pursuit of understanding the world.

That's not something the church can accept. It undermines authority-based teaching, and it removes the feeling of helplessness that Isaiah's words are meant to invoke.

So as a result, a large body of work has grown around the effort to frame science as simply a competing worldview, devoid of merit in its own right. It's not just fundamentalists who do this; post-modernist writers also get off on the idea that there is no such thing as reality. In their works, they reduce science to one of many "belief systems," neither better nor worse than any other way of understanding.

To paraphrase George Carlin: "Same as God. Same as the four leaf clover, the horse shoe, the rabbit's foot, and the wishing well. Same as the mojo man. Same as the voodoo lady who tells your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles. It's all the same." (Carlin, of course, was not talking about science, but about offering prayers to Joe Pesci.)

Science is a threat to religious beliefs not only because it sometimes contradicts them, but because it offers a way to be correct without relying on supposed magic powers.

Lore's guide to logical fallacies

Although I love Lore's ratings videos, I can't give this one any higher than a solid B. Points off for a needless tangent on "Begging the question" while failing to explain what the term actually means.

Still, the effort to be funny while covering logic earns a recommendation from me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Expelled performed below original estimate

The weekend actuals are in, and the $3.1 million estimate for Expelled that was holding as of Sunday afternoon has been downgraded to $2.97 million, with the movie coming in 10th rather than 9th place.

Anticipating an average second weekend dropoff of 50%-65% (which is what you see with most movies), I don't think this has been the shot fired across the bow of "Big Science" that Mark Mathis and Walt Ruloff were anticipating. But as Eugenie Scott has pointed out, the movie will have a long DVD lifespan, playing the church-basement circuit.

Summation: well, that was over with pretty quick, eh? So, let's all get back to doing science again, shall we.

Addendum: IMDb is declaring the movie a flop in their weekend box office roundup, and I like the honest way they describe it.

...the Ben Stein documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argued on behalf of "intelligent design" -- that is, the biblical view of creation -- failed to bring out church groups in big numbers and settled for just $3.1 million to wind up in ninth place.

Good call, IMDb, for seeing through the pseudoscientific window dressing and recognizing that, yes, "intelligent design" is nothing more than old school Biblical creationism tricked out in jargon designed to wow the uninformed and illiterate. "Ooo, 'complex specified information,' sure sounds like summa that thar science type stuff ta me!"

(In other movie news, some dumbass working on the new Bond film ran the movie's quarter-million-dollar Aston Martin off the road and into a lake. I think he'll be a long time paying that off. Fail!)

The love of Jesus!

It brings people together!

Another Expelled victim: Could Ben Stein's lies launch a wave of religious hate?

Over at Richard Dawkins' site, Dawkins posts a crazed, histrionic letter from a Jewish man to Michael Shermer. This fellow evidently saw Expelled over the weekend, swallowed the movie's foul calumnies about evolutionary theory being responsible for the Holocaust with complete credulity, and went berserk. Dawkins publishes his own calm and even-tempered response to the man (who wails that Shermer ought to be run out of the country, a point which Dawkins admonishes the man is shamefully just like the views the Nazis held towards the Jews), in which he makes the facts abundantly clear and assures the man he has been most callously and cold-heartedly lied to by evil, mendacious people with an agenda. It will be interesting to hear if the man replies, or tucks his tail between his legs and runs off.

This is something that has, perhaps, not been fully addressed in the runup to Expelled's mild opening weekend, but which perhaps should be addressed now: the possibility that certain individuals will take the movie's lies to heart and a wave of flat-out religious hatred towards the sciences and academia may begin. We already know that religious extremists don't need a whole lot of motivation to go completely unglued. Fundamentalists are, by definition, fearful and irrational. It hasn't taken much to inspire the God-soaked to pick up a rifle and gun down an abortion provider, or to beat gay men to death, or to dress up in white robes and lynch black people, or crash jetliners into buildings. Those, of course, are the very worst examples. Right now we have scientists getting hate mail. Is there a chance we might see a Molotov cocktail or two lobbed through the window of a university classroom somewhere?

Hopefully that's just slippery slope thinking. But then, as history teaches us, the more fanatical the belief in the divine, the more dangerous a person is apt to be. And remember, those Wehrmacht belt buckles didn't have Darwin fish on them; they read, very clearly, "Gott Mit Uns." I hope it doesn't turn out that Ben Stein ends up having far more to answer for than just stolen animations and music. Shame on you, Ben. What you've done is deeply immoral and unforgivable.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Talking to a victim of Expelled

Some of our Christian commenters are just idiots or mean-spirited trolls, but occasionally we get someone who's sincere and easily duped by the lies spewed by Ben Stein's little movie. One of these, a young woman (I assume) calling herself Verity, has commented here, and my comment, straightening out a number of the falsehoods and misconceptions she holds as a result of taking Stein at his word, follows right away.

While I have no sympathy for the fundie fanatics of the world, for the people who concoct the lies Expelled is selling to begin with, I do have sympathy for the victims of their deception, and how their view of the world is thus impoverished by trusting in ignorant ideologues like Stein, rather than in reality. Go have a look see, and comment yourself if you see any details I might have missed.

Meanwhile, the weekend estimate for Expelled is shaping up to place the movie at 9th overall, with earnings of around $3,153,000. Its per-screen average of $2,997 means that it was getting about 111 viewers a day on each of its 1,052 screens. Of course, distribution will not be even, so that means some showings each day were nearly empty while others would have been fuller. But mostly this means that Expelled had a thoroughly average opening weekend, actually a bit above average due to its being a propaganda film "documentary." But a far cry, I'd have to say, from the projected $12-15 million that Mark Mathis said was the opening he'd consider "successful." I suspect that on Monday, however, he'll have downgraded his expectations accordingly and be raving about what a blowout success the movie was.

Mostly, though, I think we can consider Expelled pretty much a blip on the "culture war" radar at this point. Hopefully now that they're done being vilified as Nazis, all of America's hard-working and underpaid scientists can get back to work now. You've earned it, gang.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Why yes, the bad reviews are all part of the [echo]Conspiracy-iracy-cy![/echo]

Via Expelled's site:

“Big Science Academy” is proud to have the support of the “Mainstream Press” in stifling the rise of freedom of speech in our science classrooms. In so many ways, “Big Science” and “Big Media” are on exactly the same page, when it comes to making sure that dissenters and troublemakers are properly expelled.

Well, what can I say? It's been a busy week for us here at the Nazi Darwinist Conspiracy Headquarters (I could tell you our secret handshake and door-knock, but then I'd have to expel you) over at Area 51. I myself have had to wash and wax half a dozen black helicopters all by myself! That hasn't left me much time to suppress anyone, but Obergrüppenführer Dawkins tells me he'll let me have some overtime on Tuesday.

Friday, April 18, 2008

There Will Be Blood: The critics have at Expelled

As happens with all shitty movies, the distributor for Expelled declined to screen the movie in advance for critics. Indeed, we know they kept their advance screenings a tightly controlled series of fundie lovefests, expelling any knowledgeable, scientifically literate viewer if they were able. After all, in a movie that beats the "free speech" and "academic freedom" drums long and loud, it's certainly very important to keep opposing views silent, eh?

But now real movie reviewers are getting a chance to eyeball the film, and the results aren't pretty. It will be interesting to hear how Stein and Mathis and their usual gang of idiots try to spin this as the expected reaction from a liberal Darwinist cabal hostile to competing ideas, considering that these are just movie reviewers who are going to see the film as part of their weekly roster along with everything else. They really can't be said to have a horse in the creation-vs-evolution race. Which is also true about most people who don't make the atheist/science/Christian/creationist blogosphere part of their daily routine. And the movie's emotional caterwauling is unlikely to sway or even interest them. There's such a thing as overkill, and even unsophisticated audiences will recoil if they think they're being beaten over the head.

Expelled is currently tracking at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. By comparison, here is the critical scorecard for the works of self-proclaimed genius auteur Uwe Boll: House of the Dead: 4%. Alone in the Dark: 1%. Bloodrayne: 4%. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale: 5%.

Thus I'd like to offer Nathan Frankowski my congratulations on being able to boast that he is a more critically acclaimed director than Uwe Boll.

I've posted some choice reviewers' quotations in the sidebar. Now it will be entertaining to see how the opening weekend pans out. Since Premise Media actually managed to get the thing on over 1000 screens, the heat is on far more crucially than if they'd opened in limited release and then done a regional release pattern throughout the rest of the summer. If they don't score huge numbers this weekend, they're losing their shirts in a way they would not have if they'd just hit smaller markets in 50-100 screen rollouts in succession. Executive producer Walt Roloff perhaps got overly excited at the prospect of being able to boast the widest release ever for a "documentary." But I think he's just a teensy bit optimistic when he goes on to cheer that he thinks Expelled's numbers could exceed the $23.9 million opening weekend of Fahrenheit 9/11. After all, that movie had colossal pre-release hype going for it. Plus Michael Moore was feeding off a zeitgeist. And despite Roloff's apparent beliefs to the contrary, there isn't this groundswell of public outrage over some conspiracy theory about "Big Science" and its suppression of ID as there was in 2004 over the depredations of the Bush administration.

I must say, it will be interesting to sift through the rubble on Monday.

Amusingly, RT has logged a second positive review for the movie (against 20 pans), and this one is from Christianity Today, which you'd expect to be receptive. Yet even they admit the movie is scientifically empty: "...if you're looking for ammo to argue your Darwinist friends under the table, look elsewhere."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Home of the Cuttlefish Fan Club

PZ's regular readers may be acquainted with the poetry of commenter "Cuttlefish, OM", whose own blog is chock full of his witty, satirical rhymes. As prose, and not poetry, is my own literary background, I can't tell you why I love his stuff in a way that will earn me an A+ and a smileyface sticker from my Analyzing Poetry professor. I'll just say, the man has flow. Here's his latest masterpiece, about a certain ex-Nixon-speechwriter turned conspiracy theorist.

I am the very model of a devious creationist
I've made a film that's best described as stolen-animationist
I know the use of rhetoric when facts are unavailable
To render the impossible into the unassailable

I'm very well acquainted, too, with data manufacturing
I'll claim I stand on solid granite even as it's fracturing
I document complexity, like when it's irreducible...
And think my movie's in the league of Arthur Miller's Crucible

And think my movie's in the league of Arthur Miller's Crucible
And think my movie's in the league of Arthur Miller's Crucible
And think my movie's in the league of Arthur Miller's Crucible

I'm very good at lying, both the verbal and statistical—
Like Darwin in his later years, I'm openly theistical
In short, you might describe me as a mental masturbationist
I am the very model of a devious creationist

I believe we need to assign Cuttlefish his very own heroic theme song. Possibly that old R.E.M. tune. "Iamb, iamb, iamb Superman..." (Of course, unlike the Expelled producers, we better make sure we secure the proper music rights first.)

(Okay, start the flames over my lousy pun in the comments whenever you're ready...)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pedophilia enabler warns against "America's brand of secularism"

Pope Ratzo is touring the U.S., about which some people with nothing better to do apparently give a shit. Amazingly, there are still those who actually think the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church still have some kind of moral authority as an institution that deserves to be leading the world, rather than what it is, a bunch of dirty old men playing dressup in expensive robes. Naturally, even Bush is kissing his ass. "In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded," said the president responsible for launching an illegal invasion of a sovereign mideast nation under false pretenses, that has since taken the lives of over 4000 American soldiers and nearly a million civilians, "we need your message that all human life is sacred."

Now, Ratzo has been paying lip service to those people whose lives are still shattered by the pedophilia scandal that rocked the Church but, disappointingly, did not bring it down. As Bill Maher pointed out recently on his TV show (to a muted, wary reaction from an audience that obviously can't bring themselves to purge the virus of religion from their lives no matter how bad these people are revealed to be), if the Pope had been merely the CEO of a national chain of day care centers, and had been found to be covering up massive pedophilia within his company, he'd be doing 25-to-life right this very minute. Fortunately for the Catholics, they can get away with crimes that not even the FLDS can get away with. It isn't just that if you cloak your child-rape in religion, people in America will give you a pass. Americans would simply prefer it to be a humongous, obscenely rich religion.

Now, Ratzo's role in covering up the kiddie-diddlers in the priesthood is well documented. He infamously stonewalled any investigation against accused abuser Marcial Maciel, on the grounds that Maciel was too close a friend to then-Pope John Paul II. Ratzo's past shows an unfortunate pattern of putting the protection of the Church before that of its people.

But here, touring the U.S., where the scandal is still very much an open wound, he knows, for political reasons, he must address it. So he goes around stating the obvious — that the abuse was "evil," yada yada, without coming out unequivocally and assuring grieving survivors and their families that some heads will roll for it — while, in classically priestly fashion, saving his most dire warnings for, that's right, the "threat" of secularism.

"Perhaps America's brand of secularism poses a particular problem," the pope said, according to the prepared text of his speech. "It allows for professing belief in God, and respects the public role of religion and the churches, but at the same time it can subtly reduce religious belief to a lowest common denominator."

I would suggest that what reduces religious belief to a lowest common denominator is the absurd nature of that sort of belief itself, and the fact that even the most uneducated twit, who wouldn't know a molecule from a motorcycle, can still gleefully accept and embrace the notion of an invisible sky-daddy who will grant you your fondest wishes as long as you're all good little girls and boys.

I honestly don't see the point of the Pope's visit, or why it would be of any interest to anyone who isn't a devout Catholic. Yet he is feted by politicians as if he is some sort of head of state, with valuable and worthwhile proclamations to make about the human condition. Seriously, what has this church done for humanity in the last five centuries that merits the kind of respect the Pope is accorded on these photo-op tours? Did they cure polio and smallpox? Put men on the moon? Come up with a solution for global warming? Why give a man who systematically covered up a series of crimes so heinous that even the SCOTUS is weighing putting people to death for it such a celebrity welcome, while research programs on the cutting edge of science designed to actually improve the standard of living for humanity have to scrape through loose change in the bottom drawer for funding?

God likes you better if you're a white missionary

That old selective God is at work again, doling out random miracles to some while flipping the divine bird at others. Story at CNN about a plane crash in the Congo, which some members of a missionary family survived by crawling through a hole torn through the fuselage by another survivor desperate to escape the wreckage. Naturally, they credit the Invisible Space Fairy for their survival.

Marybeth Mosier, 51, suffered a black eye and bruised ribs, said her husband, who added that he was unhurt.

"We couldn't believe that our family of four could all escape a plane that was crashed and on fire, but by God's mercy, we did," he said.

Mosier said he believes the family made it for a reason.

"I think the Lord has a plan for us, otherwise we wouldn't have survived," he said. "He still has work for us to do."

Regarding the 36 people who died in the crash, Mosier had no opinion. Obviously God had no plan for them nor any work for them to do, so they were no great loss. Probably black too.

Okay. I admit it. That last sentence was a cheap shot. As stupid and offensive as I think it is for people to think they're privileged by their deity of choice over others, obviously, there's no basis to think there's anything racist about these missionaries, since they are, after all, over in Africa doing something they think is a good thing for the locals. Living in America surrounded by the racist ravings of right-wing sleazebags, it's easy to slip into the unfair "these bad apples over here spoil the entire batch" view. One set of absurd beliefs does not imply the person subscribes to another set as well.

More vintage AE from Joe Zamecki

Joe Zamecki has been going through his tapes of the fledgling Atheist Experience TV show and posting them to YouTube. As you may recall, the first one of these he posted was pretty dire in terms of video and audio quality. This latest episode, from August 1998, looks and sounds a lot better. It features an early guest appearance by ever-popular firebrand Jeff Dee. As usual, Joe is splitting the episodes into several parts. Here's the first. Again, kudos to Joe for these restoration efforts.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

F*ck Expelled. I'm done with it.

Okay, here's my 'tude at the moment. I figure I've done my bit, said all I had to say, voiced my opinion in several forums: here, in the comments of other blogs, even at the movie's IMDb page. As far as I can tell there's nothing more needs be said. Those of us on the pro-science side know full well by now that the movie is a pack of disgraceful, meretricious lies. And any criticism of it whatsoever simply gives the producers another opportunity go into Monty Python mode all over again and wail, "Help, help, we're being repressed!" (Another irony-meter breaker, since one of the movie's major false claims is that science will tolerate no criticisms of its theories.) The movie is selling a persecution fantasy and a conspiracy theory, nothing more. It whines about scientific "thought police" while never once bothering to argue a scientific case for ID. Thus its dishonesty ought to be laid bare for anyone who isn't already an ignorant, uneducated ideologue or deluded fundamentalist tool.

So I'm done talking about it. I will, of course, leave the link to Expelled Exposed up in the sidebar, pretty much in perpetuity. The NCSE's fact-checking site has, thanks to the efforts the pro-science blogosphere, finally bounced onto the first page of Google search results for "expelled." The site's a first rate takedown of all the movie's lies, and right now it's gotten so much traffic its server has been overwhelmed, a problem I'm sure they'll remedy ASAP. If you encounter any creationist nitwits who seem to think the movie is something to gloat over, forward them on to Expelled Exposed. And if they refuse to read it, just taunt them with, "Now who's scared to have their beliefs challenged?"

I suspect that, Monday night, I'll go have a look at the weekend actuals over at Box Office Mojo to see how the thing did, and write one more post as a result at that time. The producers are still claiming they're rolling out on over 1000 screens, which I still doubt.*

But whatever their release pattern, I predict that Friday/Saturday could be pretty decent for them (as The Choir will all go see it then), after which point it will peter out. Amusingly, Mark Mathis has been quoted as saying he anticipates an opening in the $12-15 million range, a laughably unrealistic boast, as such A-list superstars as George Clooney and Keanu Reeves have recently struggled to squeak out $12 million opening weekends for their recent releases. And Expelled is only one of many releases this Friday, all of which are going up against the new Judd Apatow comedy. That's going to annihilate everything else at the box office in its path.

But then, when has Expelled ever been anything other than laughably unrealistic? Okay, so the movie will resonate with a built-in core audience of scientifically illiterate fundies who respond easily when their emotional hot buttons are pushed. It may even spark some testy debate for a while. But whether it succeeds or fails, remember, Expelled will not change two things. 1) Intelligent design is still not science, and 2) all life evolved and continues to evolve, and will go on evolving long after Christianity, and even homo sapiens ourselves, have gone extinct.

As far as my own posting about Expelled on this blog is concerned, well, that's a wrap.

*Box Office Mojo in fact reports 1052 screens, which is insanely ambitious for any independent film. They could very well take a huge bath on this, but at this point I suspect they don't care, as they've already stirred up enough hostile and mocking reaction to crank their persecution complexes into overdrive.

Another chance to push back against the New Dark Age in Austin

Remember how the nutbags at the Institute for Creation Research (second cousins to the Institute for Hobgoblinology, one presumes) have been trying to gain legitimacy in Texas by being allowed to offer degrees in science education? Well, the meeting is coming up, and I hope a zillion people from the pro-science side turn up and tell the board just what a ridiculous proposal this is. Or, at the very least, ask that the creos show their peer reviewed research proving that the Earth was created after the domestication of the dog.

Heads up to George Innis, who posted the following to the CFI-Austin Yahoogroup mailing list:

It appears that The Coordinating Board, TheCB, will take up the Institute for Creation Research, ICR, request for a Certificate of Authority at their meeting on 25 April. This Certificate is the next step in ICR's effort to offer a fundamentalist oriented advanced degree in science education. TheCB was scheduled to consider this matter earlier this year but ICR requested a delay when TheCB indicated that additional documentation would be required. TheCB's Committee on Academic Excellence and Research will consider the proposal from 10AM until noon on the 24th in the Board Room. At this meeting the public may make statements of up to 3 minutes each. I am told that following this meeting the commissioner will finalize his recommendation. A decision is expected at the Board meeting the next day where discussion will probably be brief.

TheCB's offices are at 1200 East Anderson Lane and the Board Room is Room 2.140.

Got that? April 25. If you want Texas to have 21st century — as opposed to 14th century — educational standards, take off work and be there.

Have a look at someone who really was "expelled"

NCSE's "Expelled Exposed" site now live

Up to now, Expelled Exposed has just been a collection of links to some pre-release reviews and blog posts about the upcoming Ben Stein festival of propaganda and lies. Now the work on the full site is done, and it contains a complete fisking of the film, all the way from its outrageous claims of a link between Darwin and Nazi eugenics, to revealing the real circumstances behind what happened to all the ID "martyrs" the movie wants you to believe were "expelled" by the Evil Darwinist Conspiracy (presumably on orders from Obergrüppenfuhrer "Blofeld" Dawkins hisownself) for daring to promote the "taboo" idea of intelligent design. And as a nice little poke in the eye, the site also features the story of someone who really was expelled: Chris Comer, who, as you will recall, was forced out of her job at the Texas Education Association for simply sending out an FYI email about the talk given here in Austin last November by Barbara Forrest.

In all, this is a vital resource to counter the despicable lies this movie is spreading.

Some people might remark that those of us in the atheist/pro-science blogosphere are making too much hay about this movie, that we are simply giving them the promotion and attention they want.

It would be nice if we lived in a utopian world where all we had to do to make the bad people go away was not think about them. But we don't live in that world, and you know the old line about evil triumphing because good men do nothing. Well, that applies here. As Scientific American and PZ have all pointed out, this is not merely a shitty movie, but a moral outrage, made in a spirit not simply of old fashioned creationist stupidity but outright malice. If it were just a case of some idiot making a creationist film full of silly bullshit that we could laugh at, then we'd just laugh at it and have done with the whole thing. But this movie slanders science itself, and tries to paint the purveyors of scientifically empty nonsense as unappreciated geniuses and oppressed martyrs at the mercy of an imaginary supervillain. The Moron Brigade may eat this up, but in order to reach the intelligent folks who are simply sitting on the fence, the film's evil — hell, I'll say it, why not, that's what it is — must be confronted straight up.

So far, all the publicity that matters (that is, what's appeared in the mainstream media, rather than fundie websites) about this farce has been uniformly negative, which is a good sign. It hasn't gotten — and will not get — a single favorable review from anyone who is not already a committed right-wing, fundamentalist, creationist ideologue. Now it's up to the folks who truly love and support science, knowledge, honesty, truth, and morality to keep up the heat on this disgrace, and send it down in flames where it belongs once and for all.

(And don't forget to link to Expelled Exposed in your own blogs, every time you discuss Expelled in any capacity, in order to drive the site's Google ranking higher.)

Carnival of the Godless #89 is up

Just a quick note to say that Kelly over at Rational Responders is hosting the most recent Carnival of the Godless. Kazim's article about the "Star Trek Rule" is included in the lineup this time.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I'm convinced now!

Want to see what kind of person Ben Stein and Mark Mathis are catering to with Expelled? Check this comment. With such powerful arguments to offer, how could we not have seen the light before now?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Word of the Year: "Manufactroversy"

Valerie Tarico modestly admits to not having invented it, but it's a brilliant neologism that I'm sure will gain new cachet within the reality based community, now that it's been used to mock the intelligent design crowd in general and the claims of Expelled in particular. Tarico writes the latest derisive smackdown review of Ben Stein's folly over at HuffPo, and she takes the gloves off right away.

Now the creationists have taken a new approach that they hope will help them achieve their goal of teaching religious beliefs in our schools as science. That approach can be summed up in one simple word: whining.

One week from today, the new movie, Expelled, attempts to turn creationist complaints into mainstream media. Featuring Ben Stein, one of the conservative right's biggest whiners, the film makes several plaintive appeals: There's a conspiracy among big government and big science, and it's not fair! All we ask is for our perspective to get equal time! (Read: we lost, so let's split the prize.) All we want is for teachers to "teach the controversy"! This is all about academic freedom. Americans like freedom, right?....

The proponents of intelligent design can't gain credibility among hard scientists because their evidence is pathetic. So what do they do? Follow in the footsteps of the tobacco and oil companies and spend millions in an effort to create public doubt. They plea for their side to be told, they imagine vast conspiracies and they cry out for fair play, but the reality is much simpler.

The hits just keep coming.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Something else opening the 18th

You're a theater owner. You're given the choice between exhibiting Expelled, a poorly made faux-documentary for fundamentalist Christians...or this...

Which do you choose?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Expelled: agitprop not even Fox News can love

You'd think if Expelled could find a receptive outlet in the mass media to promote its lies, it would be the fine folks at the Bush Administration Ministry of Propaganda. But even Roger Ailes' network, that brought us Sean Hannity and John Gibson, let alone Bill Orally, isn't benighted enough to swallow Ben Stein's anti-science spooge.

What the producers of this film would love, love, love is a controversy. That’s because it’s being marketed by the same people who brought us "The Passion of the Christ." They’re hoping someone will latch onto an anti-Semitism theme here since there’s a visit to a concentration camp and the raised idea — apparently typical of the intelligent design community — that somehow the theory of evolution is so evil that it caused the Holocaust. Alas, this is such a warped premise that no one’s biting.

It's looking more and more like Expelled will be to documentaries what Howard the Duck was to Hollywood special effects blockbusters.

Monday, April 07, 2008

CFI Textbook Accuracy Report

I received a link to this file from CFI (Center For Inquiry).


Their assessment of the problems with this particular text book is "spot on" and the errors are, in many ways, the same sort of problems that have continually promoted gross conceptual errors regarding these subjects.

I have no idea if the authors of this particular text book were trying to promote an agenda or if they'd simply fallen prey to the glut of misinformation surrounding these issues, but this sort of misinformation must be corrected.

As "Academic Freedom" bills, "Teach The Controversy" rhetoric and "Science leads to Nazism" nonsense begin to pollute our education system, it should be clear to any reasonable person that the time to sit quietly in a corner has long passed.

This week's Funny Pastor Trick

For hilarity purposes: 46-year-old Craig Rhodenizer, pastor of a church in Lyndonville, NY, tells his wife he's going to zip on over to Best Buy to get his computer fixed, and goes missing. Two days later, he somehow turns up "disoriented" at a topless bar in Riverside, OH, which Mapquest tells me is a distance of 438.34 miles. Long way to go for a lap dance. Did he think the wife was more likely to find out if he patronized a local "gentlemen's" establishment?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Court places liens on Fred Phelps' church, office

Just caught this bit of news about America's most hated hater. A federal judge on Thursday placed liens against the Westboro Baptist Church building, as well as its law office. This was done in the wake of a $5 million judgment against Westboro won by the family of slain Iraq veteran Matthew Snyder, whose funeral the scumbags picketed. Even if the Phelpses are driven into filing bankruptcy as a result of this, the article explains they still wouldn't be protected from having to pay out the $2.1 million part of the judgment that constitutes punitive damages. Efforts are underway to determine what the church and the Phelpses are really worth. Yes, I know you could determine that just by examining the contents of your commode after a massive case of dysentery. I'm talking financially. With luck, they'll be living under the same bridge soon.

Kenneth Miller's lecture at UT

Kenneth Miller spoke at UT last night as part of an ongoing lecture series, Hot Science - Cool Talks, sponsored by the university's Environmental Science Institute. I had no real idea of what to expect, and while it did not draw Dawkins-sized crowds, attendance was still huge, overflowing the lecture hall in Welch to SRO capacity. Prior to the lecture, several organizations like CFI-Austin and the Paleontological Society of Austin had display tables set up in the lobby, with cool fossils and that sort of thing. The crowd got so thick at one point that, while I was standing at the CFI table chatting with James Dee, the heat started making me feel a little woozy on my feet. Didn't last long, though, but still another indicator that I need to get back in shape something awful.

I won't go into as much detail about the lecture as I did Dawkins', mainly because the webcast is archived and I strongly encourage you to listen to it yourself (you have to install something called Envivio first), as this was one of the best lectures about evolution and the ID debacle I've ever heard. Miller is a witty and engrossing public speaker, as only someone who's been a professor at Brown for a quarter century can be. His Keynote presentation was excellent, far better in quality than Dawkins' Powerpoint.

Miller spoke about the central scientific failing of ID, that its proponents just automatically want acceptance as a viable theory to be taught in schools without having to produce the actual science that would earn it acceptance, and he went on to document ID's downfall at Dover. Some of Miller's information here overlapped that of Barbara Forrest, who spoke here in November at a lecture that got Chris Comer (who was in attendance, as well as many folks from Texas Citizens for Science) fired. (One of Expelled's many lies is that it's the courageous, forward thinking proponents of ID who are losing jobs for their views, but as reality makes clear, the opposite is actually true.)

However, the bulk of Miller's talk was given over to impressively concise explanations as to how we know evolution is true, and where the claims of the ID camp collapse. Just to give a couple of quick examples: Miller first demolished Michael Behe's claims about "irreducible complexity" in the bacterial flagellum. Behe's claim in a nutshell is that, if you take apart the individual components of a complex system, and those individual components themselves have no function, than that proves irreducible complexity and refutes the notion that such a system evolved. However, Miller explained, if you take apart all of the little bits of the flagellum's little rotary tail, you find those components do have functions. It's just that, taken apart, those components did other things than what they ended up doing once they evolved into the flagellum's motor. It was perhaps the most accessible and straightforward explanation for a lay audience about irreducible complexity and the flagellum I've ever heard, and one that left no doubt as to the failure of Behe's concept.

Miller also explained how evolution does in fact have a wealth of transitional fossils, and indeed, the only problem science has with all its transitional fossils is determining just where transitions begin or end. He showed how the creationist textbook Of Pandas and People presents a graph featuring prehistoric fish and amphibians, which simply omits several known species in order to claim that "missing links" and "gaps" in the fossil record exist. And even in the cases where there were real gaps in that sequence, in recent years, those have been filled, for instance, by a little critter called Tiktaalik.

Miller also showed how evolutionary science managed to explain how human beings have one fewer pair of chromosomes than other primates. Scientists predicted that the only possible explanation is that one of these pairs must have fused together at some point in humanity's evolutionary history...and sho nuff, that's what we find in Chromosome 2: a fused chromosome with vestigial telomeres near the middle of the sequence (where they'd only be if a fusion had occurred), and two sets of vestigial centromeres, one no longer active. The evidence for evolution is simply everywhere — and even in your own body.

The Q&A was really good. One guy predictably asked Miller's opinion of Expelled, which he wouldn't give as he hasn't yet seen it ("I understand it's rather hard to get into," he quipped to gales of laughter). He added that he was looking forward to seeing it, though. An adorable little girl who couldn't have been more than five or six asked what all those flat-headed prehistoric fish ate. (Answer: probably exactly what fish today like to eat, algae, microbes, and very small fish.)

As I was on the front row, I actually got a question in. I asked, how can scientists counter propaganda efforts like Expelled, which are really anti-intellectual exercises in emotional button-mashing, which do not, in fact, present any kind of scientific case either way, and instead couch their anti-science views in terms of a "culture war," where the teaching of evolution is simplistically condemned as evil and something that leads to things like Naziism.

Miller replied that we have the facts on our side, and simply putting those facts out there — that Hitler never once mentions Darwin in Mein Kampf but directly attributed his anti-Semitism to "the work of the Lord"; that the Third Reich in fact banned the teaching of Darwin's theory; that Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles with the slogan "God [not Darwin] Is With Us" — ought to be sufficient to counter the lies of the anti-science fanatics. I wish I could agree with him. The fundamentalist mindset is not in any way a rational one. And if people have been taught to dismiss and in fact fear facts outright, then simply setting out the truth for them will usually just result in their closing their eyes and covering their ears and going "La la la la I can't heeear you!" in a very loud voice. Hell, those stupid creationist "biology" textbooks that were presented in the recently-concluded California lawsuit actually printed statements like this: "If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them." That isn't education, it's indoctrination, and it's such a hugely damaging act of abuse that it will take more than mere facts to counter it.

Miller is such a brilliant scientist that I must admit I'm flummoxed (as were many others in CFI that I talked to after the lecture) why he feels he needs to hold onto his Catholic beliefs. He never really addressed the dichotomy in his talk, though one question allowed him to touch on it in a brief way. Miller stated that he thinks it's utterly absurd to think that being religious means you cannot be well versed in science too. He also said "Science transcends religion," which I found interesting. In retrospect, if I had the chance to partake in the Q&A again, my question to him would be the following: "If your view is that science transcends religion, then what is your opinion of Dawkins' statement to the effect that religions do in fact make scientific claims; specifically, that if the existence of the material universe is through the actions of some deity, then that is a question that can and should be examined by science? And if you disagree, why?" I guess I'll just have to hold that until next time I get a chance to see him. Miller did say that, if anyone in Texas would care to invite him back, he'd be happy to sit down with our SBOE and set them straight on a few things. That would be a great idea, as I do see Miller as being a guy who could successfully communicate the pro-evolution, pro-science message to a religious audience, who would be predisposed to dismiss atheist scientists like Dawkins and Myers who've been very public with their criticisms of religion.

(No, I'm not supporting the Nisbet "PZ and Dawkins should shut up" bogus "framing" position, only acknowledging that the pro-science side should have a wide variety of voices advocating for it. A Christian scientist will get his message through to Christians where a non-Christian scientist would hit a brick wall.)

In all, a great lecture which I'm very glad I attended. Yeah, this report turned into my usual long-winded epic post. But go listen to the webcast anyway. Finally, Miller has a new book — Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul — dropping on June 12, which can be pre-ordered through Amazon now.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Fundamentalist miseducation in Florida endangering kids' lives

Florida is turning — scratch that and let me start over — Florida has turned into a fundamentalist hellhole that is bound and determined not only to miseducate its kids, but actively put their lives at risk as well.

It's sad enough that Florida is the state that shamefacedly must claim such embarrassments as "hanging chads," Katherine Harris (happily forgotten), Kent Hovind and the largest concentration of Scientologists in the country. But the cancer of religidiocy runs even deeper than you might have thought.

We've all heard about how a bogus "Academic Freedom Act" specifically designed to target science education, and machinated by the Discovery Institute, has passed out of its first Senate committee. But you might not be aware that what is already in place in the Sunshine State are abstinence-only sex education programs. And, like all miseducation programs put together by the religious, whose real motivations are to maintain ignorance and suppress knowledge rather than encourage, nurture, and cultivate it, the results have been disastrous. I mean, majorly disastrous, as in, we're damn lucky we haven't already seen some dead kids as a result of this.

A recent survey that found some Florida teens believe drinking a cap of bleach will prevent HIV and a shot of Mountain Dew will stop pregnancy has prompted lawmakers to push for an overhaul of sex education in the state.

The survey showed that Florida teens also believe that smoking marijuana will prevent a person from getting pregnant.

State lawmakers said the myths are spreading because of Florida's abstinence-only sex education, Local 6 reported.

This is so staggering that you really need to read it a few times before it sinks in. A cap of bleach!? Seriously, kids down there are that stupid and ignorant about their own bodies? Gee, Christians, that "stick your head in the sand and hope all that scary reality goes away" approach to schooling just seems to be working out great, doesn't it?

See, this is what we've been saying all along.

A sex education program, geared towards a segment of the populace whose hormones are rampaging through their bodies like Count Dracula at a blood bank, that delivers no actual information on the subject other than "Don't do it, save yourself for marriage!" is going to be an epic fail. Every assessment that has been made of abstinence-only programs has determined this.

And lacking accurate information, well, what do you think the little adolescent horndogs are going to do? They'll get their information from the usual oh-so-reliable places: their peers, the locker room, MySpace chat, wherever. And they'll get idiotic ideas in their heads because you haven't put facts there first. And that irresponsibility on your part will lead to irresponsibility on theirs, leading to more teen pregnancies, STD's, and worse. O the irony. But hey, at least you didn't have to subject yourself to the discomfort and embarrassment of having to get up in front of a class of horny teenagers and talk about the nasty, did you?

Fundies always have to learn this the hard way. Just because you don't like a fact, because it offends you, or because it doesn't flatter your religious preferences, doesn't make it stop being a fact. And harsh truths don't go away when you close your eyes to them.

You know, when you get right down to it, the worst that could happen if some poor dumb SOB grows up deceived about evolution is that, well, he'll just be dumb where that subject of science is concerned, and sadly bereft of a sense of wonder for the pageantry of life, and all that. But on the whole, someone like that can more or less get by in life as a cog in the proverbial machine, selling insurance or managing an OfficeMax or whatever.

But here, we see an instance where the pernicious influence of conservative Christian fundamentalism on education is more than just a nuisance. It could actually get some boys and girls frickin' killed!

Wow. Just wow. At least they've come to their senses and are changing course. I wonder how many unwanted pregnancies and abortions had to happen first.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Kenneth Miller tomorrow night at UT

Kenneth Miller is both a staunch defender of evolutionary science (he was a lead witness in the Dover trial), and a theist. This event on Friday night ought to be interesting coming on the heels of Dawkins' appearance. Maybe I'll see some of you locals there. Here's the skinny direct from CFI-Austin. If you're not local, or you are but cannot attend, note the webcast information in the following.

Hot Science - Cool Talks Outreach Lecture Series

"God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial"
by Dr. Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University
Friday, April 4, 2008 at 7:00 pm (Central Time)
Reception and activities 5:45 pm, come early and see the exhibits!
Welch Hall (WEL) Rm. 2.224

DESCRIPTION: It has been 80 years since the Scopes Monkey Trial, but the debate between science and religion has never been as heated as it is now. Recent efforts to introduce "intelligent design" into science classes will likely lead to a major Supreme Court ruling on the issue. Kenneth R. Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, is a preeminent evolutionary scientist and the author of the most widely used high school biology textbook in America. He is perfectly suited to address this controversial topic on many fronts. More details can be found here.

SCHEDULE: Friday, April 4, 2008
5:45-6:45 pm: Interactive exhibits and refreshments, outside Welch 2.224
6:00-6:45 pm: Evolution Workshop, Welch 2.246
7:00-8:15 pm: "God, Darwin, and Design: Lessons from the Dover Monkey Trial", Welch 2.224

PARKING: Due to construction projects on campus, parking has become limited. Two ways to find parking on the evening of the lecture are:
1. Look for spots close to Welch Hall along 24th St. Check signs posted at each spot to be sure the days/times listed for needing a permit are expired. Do not park in handicapped or loading zones.
2. Reserved spots in the San Jacinto Parking Garage on San Jacinto and 24th St are at a discounted rate. Lecture attendees will be charged $1 for parking, upon exiting the garage, but must have a parking coupon that can be picked up at the lecture. Do not park on the ground floor of the parking garage or you will be ticketed. Go up the ramp and pull a ticket to enter the garage.

For more parking info, please use the map at:

WEBCAST: For those that cannot attend, the lecture will be broadcast live over the Internet at 7:00 pm. We recommend logging into the site 15 minutes before to get set up. For more information about the webcast, see:

The lecture series is presented by The University of Texas at Austin's Environmental Science Institute. This event is sponsored by the Texas Natural Science Center.

I'm given to wonder if, given Miller's theism, campus Christian groups and local creationists might make themselves a more visible presence than they did at Dawkins' lecture. In any event, this will be a most interesting evening, and it's early enough that it still leaves plenty of time for other Friday night plans afterward.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Apropos of nothing, a quick post about quickies

Glommed on to this funny/sad piece at CNN, where it has been determined (scientifically!) that most people take only 3 to 13 minutes for sex. Of course, I see a flaw in their methodology right off that may have skewed results.

Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, cited a four-week study of 1,500 couples in 2005 that found the median time for sexual intercourse was 7.3 minutes. (Women in the study were armed with stopwatches.)

Oh yeah. Nothing makes a man feel like James Bond Meets Johnny Wadd Meets Adonis quite like drillin' some chick who's timing you with a stopwatch. Thanks for the "self esteem" boost.

Creationism's latest epic fail

An axiom about creationists: These people can't not lie. Mike Dunford over at The Questionable Authority has an excellent, in-depth three-part report (uno, dos, tres) about the recent summary judgment handed down in a lawsuit against the University of California filed by some Christian schools, who didn't like the fact the U of C wasn't allowing their asinine, falsehood-ridden creationist textbooks to be accorded the same degree of respect as actual science texts. The creationists accused the university of "viewpoint discrimination," the latest favorite buzzword among the uneducated and stupid whenever they learn that their religious dogmas don't automatically get a free pass in the hallowed halls of academe just by virtue of some appeal to "religious freedom." The creos lost this one hard, and on hand to cement their epic fail was none other than doofus Michael Behe, who basically wrapped the case up in a little bow with glitter and gave it to the university.

Great reading and a wonderful primer in how creationists just can't do anything right. Note the appearance in the comments to Part 3 of übertroll Larry Fafarman, who valiantly flails away at an attempt to spin the whole thing into not-such-a-loss-really for the Forces of Burning Stupid.

See, I'm not an "angry atheist"! You can't buy this kind of comedy!

An Epistemological Nightmare

On the TV show this Sunday, I mentioned a short story to a caller just before the closing credits. Because one person has already emailed me to ask where to find this story, I'm linking to it here:

An Epistemological Nightmare by Raymond Smullyan.

The reason I brought up the story at the time was because the caller asked something about (I think) whether you can know something, but not know that you know it. I always found this story kind of funny. I admit that I didn't actually know that the story was online when I recommended it, but I was making a reasonable guess that it would be. I just didn't get the name right.

Closed captioned for the humor impaired

Yes, that was a joke yesterday. No, the show isn't going away. And no, this blog has not been renamed to "The Rhology/Dan Marvin Apologetic Power Hour."

It's important to emphasize this point, because when our regular commenter Dan Marvin saw the altered title of the blog yesterday, he appeared to just about blow a gasket with excitement. He spent a large part of yesterday using the existence of his new pretend TV show as a reason to just burst forth with the preaching to the unwashed masses, in a completely un-ironic way that was also not particularly funny (at least not intentionally so). I would have answered him then, but I wanted to stay "in character" for April Fool's Day. Luckily, that's over now.

Personally, I don't despise Dan in the way that Martin seems to. Maybe it's because I'm particularly susceptible to implied flattery. A few weeks ago, I casually mentioned that Dan should watch the movie "Memento" in order to get the point I was making about using not personal experience as a substitute for evidence. Then he made a point of posting a reply in the comments on Kazim's Korner and saying that he did watch it, and liked it. That goes a long way toward making me feel charitable toward a person. (Well, he also called Martin a rude name, but that's par for the course.)

Dan, now I know that you sometimes sincerely listen to me, and I appreciate that. So please understand that I'm posting this in the spirit of brotherly love and harmony, because frankly, your apologetic style sucks. Very much. You may not believe me, but it's true when I tell you that I'm trying to help you -- and other apologists who might be reading -- do it better.

Here's my first point: learn how to make your own damn arguments, and lay off with the wall-to-wall Bible quotes.

Let me explain.

I am not unfamiliar with the Bible. I went to Jewish Sunday school and covered a lot of old testament material. I played Haman in a Purim play. I did my bar mitzvah speech on "an eye for an eye." I took two separate college level humanities classes that used the Bible as source material. I have my own Bible. I've read it. I've read it to my kids. I've read CS Lewis and Lee Strobel. I listen to Christian radio, although not as much as I used to, because after many years it gets extremely repetitive.

You may think that when you start quoting the Bible by chapter and verse, you are causing us atheists to take a surprised pause and reconsider our place in the universe. In fact, we're not doing that. Have you ever seen this Far Side cartoon, where the man is scolding his dog Ginger, but all the dog hears is "blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah GINGER"? That's pretty much what atheists hear when you start quoting the Bible: "blah blah blah." To be perfectly honest, I don't even read that stuff anymore. My eyes just slide right over those paragraphs as I skim down to try and figure out if you have a point buried in there somewhere.

Now you're probably already snickering "Hee hee, Kazim just admitted that atheists are as dumb as dogs!" Nope, that's not it. Think of it like this. Imagine you're trying to have a conversation with some guy who really loves Star Trek. Every time you try to discuss something with him, he suddenly perks up and babbles random Star Trek references. He'll say: "You know, in episode 45/4211.4, Captain Kirk said 'The only solution is...a balance of power. We arm our side with exactly that much more. A balance of power...the trickiest, most difficult, dirtiest game of them all. But the only one that preserves both sides.'" Sometimes the Star Trek quotes make sense in context, and sometimes he just says things that appear to be a complete non sequitur. But he always quotes them with great significance, as if the words of Captain Kirk are the greatest pearls of wisdom that have ever been offered to the world.

After a while, wouldn't you stop paying attention to what this guy says? I mean, not that there's anything particularly wrong with Star Trek, but it is, after all, a fictional story written by some guys in Hollywood in order to make a paycheck.

That's what we think of your Bible. Wait, you're about to argue and tell me why the Bible is the greatest book ever written. Shut up and listen. I'm sure there's an argument to be had about why the Bible is important to you and why we should pay attention to it. But the important thing to realize is that we haven't accepted the Bible as true yet. Maybe you can change that, but you're never, never, EVER going to change our minds by quoting from the Bible. It's like trying to prove that Star Trek is true by quoting from Star Trek. It doesn't work. It's annoying. You're wasting both your time and ours. I mean it.

In fact, let's henceforth refer to this as the Star Trek Rule, and I will try to remind you of it in future conversations, to make sure it sinks in. The Star Trek Rule is this:

Before quoting the Bible to atheists, always ask yourself whether the same statement would be just as effective in your mind if you were quoting Captain Kirk.

If the answer is "yes," then you may be making a good point that people will listen to. If the answer is "no," then you are probably trying to rely on the Bible as something that people will regard as credible in its own right... and atheists, because we are blind to the merits of the Bible, will miss the point.

So I'm going to repeat the words with which I started: learn how to make your own damn arguments. Just figure it out. If CS Lewis and Lee Strobel can do it, then you can too. It's not some magical superpower, it's just putting your own thoughts in order and then explaining them. If you must quote from the Bible (and frankly I haven't seen many situations where it makes any difference) then at least use your own words to tell us why we, who believe the Bible is no more credible than Star Trek, should give a hoot about that particular chapter and verse.

And I have just one more point to make: You never change anyone's mind by personally insulting them. It's just a fact. Take, for example, the verse you used yesterday... all together now: "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God." Ha ha! Zing! We've never heard THAT one before! Your fictional book about God says that we're fools not to believe in the fictional God!

See, this is a doubly bad way to preach effectively, because first it breaks the Star Trek rule ("Captain Kirk says you're a fool"); and second it makes you sound like a dick. Is your goal to make all the Christians reading the thread chortle with merriment and glee at your wit? Then by all means, be a dick. Doesn't matter to us. But is your goal to persuade the foolish atheists to accept Jesus as their savior? Then stop being a dick. People don't listen to dicks. You will get way more positive response by being personable, charming, and interesting. I promise.

Those are my suggestions... take them or leave them.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Press Release: Atheist Experience Series Finale to Air Sunday, April 6


The popular cable access television show and podcast, The Atheist Experience, will air a special fifteen minute episode on Sunday, April 6, announcing the conclusion of the show's ten and a half year run.

When pressed for an explanation, show host and president of the Atheist Community of Austin Matt Dillahunty said: "I've been doing this show for two years now... but then last weekend I just looked out the window and couldn't believe what I saw. Trees. Flowers. Blue sky. Even some birds and stuff. I had never noticed any of them before. And I thought to myself, 'Unbelieveable. If all those things exist then surely someone must have made them.'"

Dillahunty went on to explain that all four of the regular co-hosts were approached to take over the host spot in order to keep the show running, but all of them declined. "I already announced a while back that I would be leaving the show," said Ashley Perrien, another long time contributor to The Atheist Experience. "I didn't feel comfortable explaining my reasons at the time, but I'm much more sure of myself now. I want to dedicate myself to my new religion of Scientology. In fact, I'm on my way to go get an e-meter reading right now. I hope to cleanse all my engrams in about five years, and then maybe I can talk about coming back."

Tracie Harris remarked: "I just realized one day how much I missed the Catholic Church and all their rituals. They've always been like a family to me, and I take comfort and pride in my affiliation with them. I've been chatting with my former priest, and he got me to realize how improper it is for a woman to speak on camera, especially in the capacity of instructing men. I plan to spend the rest of my life atoning for the horrible things I wrote in that stupid Atheist Eve cartoon."

Don Baker was struck by a similar epiphany. "I've been lying to myself all these years," he said. "I thought I was an atheist, but really it was just a childish rebellion against the God who wanted me to live a decent, moral life. Now that I have no further excuse to continue sinning, I plan to finally settle down with my new girlfriend and make an honest woman of her." Having said that, he turned to the adoring young lady by his side, who declined to be identified for this story, and gave her a chaste kiss on the hand.

"It occurred to me that all this science stuff I'd been preaching was my false substitute for a religion," said Russell Glasser, who used to serve as the show's producer. "Once I realized that all these so-called 'scientists' were actually priests of Satan, the wool was removed from my eyes. It's so clear now that evolution is a lie, and that evidence and reason are a terrible way to understand the world. Faith is clearly a superior epistemological tool. I mean, after all, if you can't even believe something as obvious the resurrection of Jesus, how can you believe anything? Like, how can you believe that New York exists, man? I can't believe I've been so blind.

"Also, did you know that the World Trade Center was totally brought down by insiders in the Bush administration?" Glasser added. "It's true! Don't buy the official government story! There's a movie online that explains EVERYTHING!"

In a scheduled press conference, producer Joe Rhodes announced that the show will remain off the air for three days, at which point it will be reborn as a new series entitled "Kickin' It With Jesus."

In related news, audio podcast host Denis Loubet announced that the first episode of "The Prophets" will air in two weeks.