Phun Stuff!

For those of you (the majority, I would guess, based on the site statistics) who do not read the comments to these posts, you are missing some fun! I am getting my metrical, metaphorical and metaphysical ass kicked by Phunicular on the Daniel Dennett post; what is more, Phunicular is serving up this can of whupass in wonderful verse! (If you are fundamentally, morally opposed to reading comments, at least some of the Phun stuff is here, in a recent series of posts.)

Now… I need to compose another reply. I know what I want to say; I just need to find the right words to say it. This is not nearly as easy as Phunicular makes it look! (And now I must actually stop browsing through Phunicular’s writing and post this; I see his cunning plan now–distract me with all sorts of wonderful writing…)

Cunningly, funningly,
Phriendly Phunicular
Shares in the lyrical
Cuttlefish curse.

Some say obsession is
Psychopathology;
We say, of everything,
“It could be verse.”

The Distillation of Religious Truth

PZ reports on a very silly UN resolution, which attempts to make defamation of religion illegal.

The major religions all gathered together
To fathom the depths of god’s will
They listed their tenets, examining whether
There’s Ultimate Truth to distill.

There were some that rejected a literal Jesus
And some the Nicenean Creed;
But by carefully looking though all of the pieces
There’s one thing to which they agreed:

I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m right and you’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in my song
You can all go to hell, which is where you belong,
With your stupid beliefs, ‘cos I’m right and you’re wrong

They argued all week over “one god or many?”
Original sin, and the role of The Fall
The atheists said they believed in “not any”
Which hardly, to me, is religion at all!

They spoke up for Allah, and Loki, and Isis
They pounded their desks till their knuckles were sore—
Then, just when the argument bordered on crisis
Agreement was found, and they started to roar:

I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m right and you’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in my song
You can all go to hell, which is where you belong,
With your stupid beliefs, ‘cos I’m right and you’re wrong

For every religion, each cult, sect, or practice,
Each prayer, incantation, recital or song
A neutral observer would notice the fact is
That other religions all thought it was wrong!

Much bloodier, though than a plain disagreement,
These differences lead to crusade or jihad
The leaders each saw, though, to just let it be, meant
That people might realize they don’t need a god!

So, enemies once, now they joined protestations,
Their new common cause made them pause to reflect,
They petitioned the world, through the United Nations
To legislate everyone equal respect.

They couldn’t admit to the truth—quite unwilling,
They couldn’t admit that it all was a fraud
They glossed over eons of torture and killing
Pretending to worship the very same God:

We’re right and they’re wrong, we’re right and they’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in our song
They can all go to hell, which is where they belong,
With their stupid beliefs, ‘cos we’re right and they’re wrong

Ok… for those of you who lasted through that, a reward: an actual worthwhile bit about politics and religion, from the amazingly talented international rock-star, Tim Minchin:

The Creationism Dance

The NPR story has legs, as they say; today’s verse is inspired by the comment thread on the Darwin story, which as of this writing has 338 comments, and is well worth a read. [oops--spoke too soon--NPR has closed commenting on the thread, so it no longer has legs. It was extremely mild when compared to, say, a Pharyngula thread, but NPR must have more delicate stomachs. It is still worth a read, although now I cannot link this verse to the thread. boo hoo.]

The Creationism Dance:

I don’t know evolution, but I know what I believe,
My scientific ignorance worn proudly on my sleeve;
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I do know what we’ll find
When we look to find the origin of mind.

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

We know the human eye is irreducibly complex
We know that Adam saddled a Tyrannosaurus Rex
We know that Darwin’s theory has a monumental hole
When it comes to evolution of the soul

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

When scientists explain the evolution of the eye
I’ll never understand it—I don’t even want to try—
As they go through my objections and they check them off the list
I’ll keep looking for the ones that they have missed.

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

I’ll check to see they dot each i, make sure they cross each t,
And thank the Lord such scrutiny does not apply to me
If they can’t prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt
Then god is what creation’s all about!

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

The board of education knows exactly what to do
I’ve told them “keep an open mind and teach both points of view!
The one with all the evidence and logic on its side,
And the will of God, which cannot be denied!”

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

And once we’ve done Biology, we’ll hit the others, too–
Astrology and alchemy are honest points of view
We’ll teach them demonology, and when they’ve swallowed that,
We can show them that the earth is really flat!

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

Say It Ain’t So, NPR!

In National Public Radio’s series Darwin: The Reluctant Revolutionary, we get this story: Doubting Darwin: Debate Over The Mind’s Evolution. An interesting possibility, actually; I could think of a number of fascinating guests to interview on this.

But not Michael Egnor. This story is no place for a creationist’s ignorant spiel.

Egnor says that an intelligent designer was involved in producing not only the brain but all living things and certain features of the universe. Without this designer, the brain would be just a meat computer made up of brain cells, he says.

“There is nothing about neurons that scientifically would lead you to infer consciousness from them. They’re masses of gelatinous carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen and oxygen, just like other kinds of flesh. And why would flesh have first-person experience? So, even logically, it doesn’t hang together.”

In real life, I have had this debate many times. It can be a great experience, and there really is a tremendous amount of evidence to bring to bear. But again, not Michael Egnor.

“My personal view is that we have souls and that they’re created by God. But you don’t have to hold that view to recognize what I think is the evidence that the mind is not entirely material.”

Big claims of evidence… but he’s brought a cork-gun to the O.K. Corral.

He simply does not deserve to be in the NPR story. There is too much good information to waste a second of airtime to his drivel.

It is wholly unsurprising a creationist dismisses
Scientific contributions to the study of the mind;
When your theory’s based in ignorance (in such a case as this is)
Your omnipotent creator shrinks with every fact you find.

Every question that is answered using evidence and logic
Is a blow to the creationists, and likewise to their God;
They prefer to couch their arguments in speeches demagogic—
An appeal to base emotion with a sciency façade.

Michael Egnor has a history of pure apologetics;
As a scientific expert, there is nothing to his rant.
Could he cite a proper journal for his odd take on genetics?
I am certain he would do it in a heartbeat—but he can’t.

This is clearly not a story with two equal sides competing;
The minority opinion Egnor holds is quite bizarre;
In the march of human knowledge, it’s a view that’s fast retreating,
And I’m fairly disappointed that it’s here on NPR.

The Digital Pack-Rat, volume 12

Ok, the first is from here–a bit of a discussion about a badly reviewed journal article “Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence”.

Creationists’ goal is to prove there’s a soul
That’s impossible to have evolved;
The task is quite trying; instead, they keep lying,
And think that their problem is solved.
These pinhead god-floggers just woke up the bloggers
Who slapped them back down to their place;
With options now fewer, they’ll try something newer;
A godly stupidity race.

Next, from here, a comment on the observation that creationist cure for so very many physical ailments is… enemas. The nature of the problem hardly seems to matter–if there is half a chance they can make a badly-argued connection (and remember, making badly argued connections is a property of creationists in the same way that inertia is a property of matter), they will prescribe a high colonic for everything from the common cold to lung cancer.

Creationist pinheads and half-wits and numbskulls–
You name it; Pharyngula’s got ‘em.
Some people go straight to the doctor for pains:
These people go straight to the bottom.
No antibiotics! No surgery! Nothing!
The Bible says “this too shall pass”
We only want medicine Jesus approves of…

So here, stick this hose up your ass.

I don’t tend to include limericks in the pack-rat series, but these I enjoyed. One of PZ’s fans had written him… long on words, short on paragraphs or content. And, as per policy, PZ presented it in his traditional Comic Sans font.

“I get email”; we know what comes next
In this case, an immense wall of text–
So there’s no other choice
But the standard “kook voice”–
Comic sans, pathologically vexed

We know briefness contributes to wit
And this fellow, he wanders… a bit.
And although there is levity
In sheer lack of brevity,
More words: greater chance that it’s shit.

Lastly, the most recent kerfuffle in Washington State, where a legislator is concerned that the Supreme Ruler Of The Universe is getting short shrift. Of course, I would kinda think that a supreme ruler could take care of him, her, it, or themself(ves), but rep. Struiksma apparently thinks God–er, the supreme ruler of the universe could use her help. Seems she has more power in this than the SROTU does.

If this ruler really rules,
then the courts and laws and rules
Are already gleaming jewels
in his crown.
Does she think that we are fools,
She can use us as her tools?
Let’s just wait until she cools
A little down.

Does she think her ruler shy?
If we slight him, will he cry?
After all, she does imply
In her bill
That our power to deny
Is sufficient to defy,
Overcome, and say good-bye
To his will.

If this bill of hers should pass
Then her power would surpass
Her god’s greatness, and alas,
She’d be greater
Which, although it may be crass,
Means this legislative ass
Joins the new and higher class
Of “creator”.

Poor lady. I bet she doesn’t even suspect that the Supreme Ruler Of The Universe is a cuttlefish. Or that he really doesn’t care about recognition by Washington State.

The Theist And The Blade Of Grass

John Holbo of Crooked Timber has newly acquired a wonderful old book, in which he finds a poem, “The Atheist and the Acorn” (hat tip to PZ for the link). Go read it! Then maybe my little verse will make more sense.

Methinks this “God” is strangely made
For something of such worth,
An introspective theist said
As plucked he up a single blade
Of grass, from off the earth:

Behold, quoth he, this tiny thing,
This single blade of grass,
Enough to make Walt Whitman sing—
They grow in millions every spring
Unnoticed as we pass.

But God counts every single leaf,
Each hair upon your head
(For bald men, he just counts their grief)
The reason that we know? In chief,
It’s what the Bible said.

But where is God when good men die
In wars, fought in His name?
He counts the grass—He can’t deny
He hears the wounded moan and cry—
He sits there, to His shame.

He mustn’t think; he mustn’t doubt,
This theist on the lawn;
His worship must remain devout;
One thought that he might do without
And poof—his God is gone.

He cannot help but smile and nod
It feels so good; so right.
He’d looked upon the face of God
And found it merely a façade—
And now he’s seen the light.


Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

God’s Hands

Hold up your hands before your eyes. You are looking at the hands of God.”
– Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

If my hands are god’s hands, and god’s hands are mine,
And god has no hands of his own
There’s nothing that I can achieve with god’s help
I can’t do myself, all alone.

I’ve heard that he once had unlimited power
I don’t really see it today;
It seems he grows weaker with each passing hour
And now he just gets in the way.

I’m taking the middleman out of the picture—
This “god” isn’t pulling his weight—
He doesn’t do well with corrections or stricture
And doesn’t show up much, of late.

If I did my job the way god’s doing his
I would surely expect to be fired;
Omnipotent? Impotent! All that he is
Is a loser; it’s time he retired.

If god’s hands are my hands, and my hands are god’s
But wait—there’s one thing to recall—
The truth is, it’s infinitesimal odds
There was ever a god there at all!

If my hands are my hands, and your hands are yours,
And god’s hands—let’s face it—are none,
There’s a long list of problems that god just ignores:
Come on, then—there’s work to be done!

Urine For A Big Surprise!

Via Effect Measure, a story of a religiously-motivated culinary revolution–or, at least, a taste revolution. Reuters reports:

NEW DELHI, Feb 12 (Reuters Life!) – A hardline Hindu organisation, known for its opposition to “corrupting” Western food imports, is planning to launch a new soft drink made from cow’s urine, often seen as sacred in parts of India.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, said the bovine beverage is undergoing laboratory tests for the next 2 to 3 months but did not give a specific date for its commercial release.

they expect big things:

“Cow urine offers a cure for around 70 to 80 incurable diseases like diabetes. All are curable by cow urine,” Om Prakash, the head of the RSS Cow Protection Department, told Reuters by phone.

Prakash, who is based in Hardwar, one of four holy Hindu cities on the river Ganges where the world’s largest religious gathering takes place, said the product will be sold nationwide but did not rule out international success.

And here some people thought Pepsi Clear was a daring move.

Anyway, I have been working on their jingle, should they decide to enter the US market.

I don’t like the taste of Pepsi,
I don’t like the taste of Coke;
Dr. Pepper’s not the drink for me right now.
7-up and Sprite are dreadful
Every Root Beer is a joke;
What I really want is urine. From a cow.

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

I don’t want to drink the Kool-Aid
I don’t want a mug of juice;
I don’t even want a tall glass of iced tea.
I’d really hate a cold V-8—
That’s vegetable abuse—
What I really want’s a cup of bovine pee!

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

It’s a cure for diabetes,
It’s the finest healer known—
You will never need another drink than this!
In the battle of the soft drinks
This elixir stands alone,
And I guarantee it really tastes like piss!

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

Daniel Dennett’s Darwin Day Delivery

As I mentioned on Pharyngula, I was invited by a philosopher friend to attend the Darwin Day talk by Daniel Dennett, at Framingham State College. The talk, “Darwin and the Evolution of Reasons”, was interesting, and meta-interesting; it not only was a good presentation of memetic evolution, it was a good demonstration of it as well, with successful elements of his earlier talks replicating themselves in this one. (Also, in a vivid display of horizontal meme transfer, I invite any who saw Dennett’s talk to also watch Sue Blackmore’s TED talk, to count the number of similar memes. For those who did not see Dennett, the Blackmore talk will give you the gist of it. No, they are not identical; variety exists among members of this species.)

After the talk (and the exodus of rude students who must have been there only for class credit), Dennett invited questions from the audience. Two (or maybe three; my notes are not clear) questions stood out for me, questions which explored Dennett’s claim that, despite our robots-made-of-robots-made-of-robots bodies, and the unthinking replicant memes infecting our brains, we humans have free will–a free will of the sort worth having. The last questioner asked whether we were actually free moral agents, or whether we were the hosts to parasitic moral memes; Dennett’s reply did not really satisfy me (nor my philosopher friend). Dennett made the analogy (a big part of his talk, too) of eukaryotic cells enjoying the benefits of the combined prokaryotic cells which compose them, and of humans enjoying the benefits of our symbiotic memes. All well and good, as far as that goes, but it seemed a strain to speak of memes as evolving separately, substrate-free, not caring about their human hosts other than as a means to reproduction, and then to turn around and claim that as a portion of our free will!

Perhaps I am misunderstanding him, but I have certainly read enough of his writing to doubt that, and I have read enough to know that Dennett misunderstands some aspects of some areas of my own expertise (which I would go into detail about, but it would rather get in the way of trying to remain an anonymous cuttlefish), so I have no illusion that he is infallible.

In another example of memetic transfer, I offer a replicated song. The structure (and tune, if you are inclined to sing it) are replicated from the original by Joni Mitchell; the first replication by Judy Collins shows that structure, descended with modifications in the chords, can successfully sell. Both versions are beautiful. Mine, less so.
Memes, it seems, are parasites
Inside our minds, so Dennett writes;
Poetic turns, and verbal flights
Evolving in our brains
But then he claims that we are free
To choose among the things we see
It doesn’t fit, it seems to me,
His explanation strains

I’ve looked at memes and at free will
From every way I can, but still
In spite of Dennett’s siren call
I don’t believe we’re free… at all

Memes are things that replicate
At really an astounding rate
From blind selection, they create
A culture that evolves
But now the concept gives me pause
I’ve got to stop and look for flaws
This explanation—might it cause
More problems than it solves?

I’ve looked at memes and at free will
From every way I can, but still
In spite of Dennett’s siren call
I don’t believe we’re free… at all

Love and hate and peace and war
Are memes that were selected for
Dreams and themes you can’t ignore—
Memetic, every one.
It seems the memes are in control
They take the place, they play the role
We used to say required a soul
Now souls are all undone

I’ve looked at memes and at free will
From every way I can, but still
In spite of Dennett’s siren call
I don’t believe we’re free… at all

A Down-Under Valentine

I don’t think I’ll ever quite get the hang of this time-space continuum thing. Here in the real world, it won’t be Valentine’s Day for many hours yet, but in the mystical Land of Oz, Valentine’s day has been either here for hours or done and gone some weeks or years ago, I can’t keep it straight. But just as ScienceWoman’s boots inspired a verse, Podblack Cat‘s time-space coordinates, and her mere existence, inspired another. Happy Valentine’s Day, Kiddo!

A Valentine’s poem for my sweetheart Down Under
Where summer is winter, and springtime is fall,
Where lightning is loud as the brightest of thunder
And dangerous drop-bears are feared most of all.

Down Under, where everything’s mixed up or backwards,
You have to be careful to mean what you say:
A whispered “I love you” is vicious attack words,
So what should I write on this Valentine’s Day?

I’ve heard it’s romantic, in Western Australia,
To bash someone’s head with a didgeridoo;
And a compliment—one guaranteed to not fail ya:
“Your lips are the bung of a red kangaroo!”

I’ll romantically fasten this poem to a brick,
And lovingly toss it through her window-glass:
“G’day to my sweetheart who’s making me sick:
Happy Valentine’s Day, you old pain in the ass!”