Hurricane Preparedness

Get some water; grab some food
Be sure your flashlights work okay
It wouldn’t hurt to fill your tank
Then on your knees and pray, pray, pray!

Board your windows, if you can
Securely tie or store your boat
Check your neighbors; lend a hand
Then take a lamb and slit its throat

A first-aid kit, some blankets, too,
Some cleansers that can take on staph;
Pick up the junk that’s on the lawn
And sacrifice the fatted calf

Make sure you have a radio,
Some candles, matches, in a box
Trim dead branches from any trees
And then behead a snow-white ox

The winds will blow, the tides will rise
It’s possible your house may flood
So sacrifice your first-born child
Cos God is mad, and God wants blood!

If first you’ve used the power of science
To put yourself in safe positions
You now have time for magic words
And ineffective superstitions.


So I was watching PBS Newshour, and saw (I think; I’ve tried to check, without success) the North Carolina Governor, Bev Perdue, give a statement on hurricane preparedness. NC has been through this stuff before; it’s a tough state and they’ll do just fine. They’ll have damage, and depending on the severity of the storm, they’ll have death. But they know how to prepare.

So it was mostly a very helpful reminder of the things one should do in advance of a hurricane. Water, batteries, first aid kit, the usual. And she ended with a dramatic flourish, asking her citizens, once they have taken care of those material suggestions, to pray. To my (biased, admittedly) ear, there was a clear emphasis on this strategy. And, frankly, if you are not allowed to pray until you have done all those other (practical) things, perhaps it’s a decent strategy, a nice carrot for those who believe in the effectiveness of prayer (just remember how well it’s been working for Texas).

Just remember, NC–prayer comes after all the other stuff!

Headline Muse, 8/24

Though the quake was too little to boast
Eastern cities may soon turn to ghosts
Because winds, rain, and tide
Simply won’t be defied
As Irene casts her eye on the coast

Headline:Irene Heads for North Carolina, New England

And gee, that puts the entire BosNyWash megalopolis in a giant bullseye. Be safe, people. Don’t be stupid, and know that other people will be. That’s a lot easier to predict than, say, weather.

When God Intervenes

In the spirit of the Plantinga comments from earlier today, one from the old digs (With sincere apologies to Bob Dylan):

So I was watching a video interview of Dr. Francis Collins, and found it thoroughly depressing. Reporter Dan Harris does a good job, but Dr. Collins is utterly frustrating. We get the “God gave us two books” bit, where both the bible and the actual evidence of the universe around us are given equal footing (even though he doesn’t entirely understand the former). “How could that possibly be a conflict of truths?”, we are asked. Apparently, when the bible and the universe appear to disagree, that must be a case of Collins not quite understanding the bible.

The conflict between Genesis and science leads to “it was not a textbook of science!“–so, when the two collide, it looks like the bible is the one that gives. But…”Once you’ve accepted the idea of a God who is the creator of all the laws of nature, the idea that God might at unique moments in history, decide to invade the natural world and suspend those laws, doesn’t become really a logical problem.” So at least with regard to the story of Jesus, looks like science has to give. And sure, once you have gone all the way to believing in an interventionist god, any subset of that belief is, in comparison, small change.

But… can Collins assure us that his own work on the Genome Project (for instance) is not one of those unique moments in history? Perhaps everything that he has found is not the way things really are, but only the way things are while god suspends the laws; once we have accepted the idea of intervention, and the notion that we are as mortals inadequate to determine which are the laws and which are the exceptions, any scientific conclusion we come to must necessarily, explicitly, include some version of “if that’s ok with God, that is.” Or is Dr. Collins claiming to be able to know for certain that god is not mucking about with his data?

The scientist told me
He said it so well:
The secret to life, son,
It’s all in the cell—
The key to our essence
It’s there in our genes
Except when it isn’t… cos god intervenes.

Within every cell, son,
The scientists proved,
Sub-cellular structures
And things that they moved
Molecular transport
Like little machines
Except when it isn’t… cos god intervenes.

We know, even Darwin
Said it all looks designed
But natural selection
Is all that we find
With blind evolution
Directing the scenes
Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes

He’d worked on The Project
From when it began
The one that’s decoding
The genome of Man
And Collins knows science,
And he really knows genes
Except when he doesn’t… cos god intervenes

In the journals of science
The write-ups will change
There’ll be an addition
A little bit strange
Cos in the conclusions
The asterisk means
“Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes.”

A cure for depression
Might seem to work well
In a medical journal
The researchers tell
“It stops oxidation
Of monoamines*
*Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes”

The worst of disasters
We call “acts of god”
The faithful believers
Must think that it’s odd
With whole coastal regions
In smashed smithereens
Is that what it look likes … when god intervenes?

We study the genome
We study the prayer;
About intervention,
We find nothing there.
We find antibiotics
And look for vaccines
Cos no one can count on… when god intervenes

The methods of science
Have practical worth
We don’t look to heaven
But merely to earth
There’s one or the other
There’s no in betweens
It cannot be science… when god intervenes.

Heckuva Job, God

Either God is such a duffer
That He’s left us all to suffer
Through omnipotent incompetence and falsely random chance
Or He’s outsourced pain and hatin’
To His alter-ego, Satan
So He’ll dodge responsibility and let the devil dance.
Is He callous and uncaring
Or just really bad at sharing?
Either way, it seems our suffering is had at his behest
So Plantinga wants to gulp a
Bitter cup o’ Felix Culpa:
Though God punishes His children, it is all done for the best.

This morning, Jerry Coyne gets around to reacting to Dennett and Plantinga’s back-and-forth on God and evolution. Turns out, Plantinga says we are living in a “best possible world”, which of course turns out to require a great deal of suffering.

I really wish the various different arguments for God would get together and hammer out their mutual disagreements. I mean, the ontological argument starts with “if I can conceive of a great thing, it exists in my thoughts–and since an even greater thing would exist not merely in my thoughts, then this greater thing must necessarily exist in reality.” (yes, I have overly distilled it). So, Plantinga, if our world, suffering and all, is a best possible world, what does that say about being able to conceive of a world where David Attenborough would not point out that a parasitic worm can burrow into a child’s eye, eating it and blinding him.

Maybe this is the best possible world for parasitic worms.


I know you are on tenterhooks, wondering about my mom. Mostly, I just wrote that because I love the word “tenterhooks”, and feel that one should use it whenever possible. But there is an update, and it is good news. For those of you not praying for her, or for those of you who (like F(entropy)) are thinking kind thoughts about her despite my post… Not only is she surpassing the “dreaded worst-case scenario”, but she is at this point beating the “steely-eyed statistical average”, and is well into the “damn, that’s impressive” territory.

So on the off chance you were worrying, there are other things to worry about.

But if you think that gets you off the blood donation hook, think again.

Headline Muse, 8/23

It was more than the locals could take
As their neighborhoods started to shake
But still worse were the smirks
From the West-Coaster jerks
With their constant “You call that a quake?”

Headline: 5.8 Magnitude Earthquake Rattles East Coast

No, I didn’t feel it. But I’ve felt larger quakes on softer ground, while in Greece. Very disconcerting. I’m very glad it looks like damage was minimal. Let us all give thanks… to architects, engineers, builders, and all those who helped others today, even if that help was just calming them down.

In Lieu Of Doing Nothing

So Cuttlemom (who has, of course, no idea that this blog exists, let alone that her son writes it) had roughly eight hours of surgery yesterday. It was needed, and it went well, and because I am a cuttlefish, that’s about all I’m going to say about it. Except. Cuttlesis (again, no idea of…) has been in charge of keeping everyone informed, and the long list of family and friends shows that this is a good and a necessary thing. Being Cuttlesis, she ends her emails by thanking everyone for their continued prayers.

At least three of the families on the list are atheist, I know. Many are devout bible-thumping christians, yes, but she knows that these three families have just heard “oh, this message doesn’t really apply to you.” It’s not a big deal, just yet one more example of privilege; when you are in the majority, you don’t have to think about what the minority thinks.

Anyway, though. I won’t ask for your kind thoughts toward my mother; you don’t know her, and there’s nothing those thoughts could do to help. What I will ask, though, is that the next chance you get, take a friend to a blood drive with you. If you can’t donate… take two friends.

I’ve said this before, and usually a small handful of people report back that they have done so. But really, if only one unit of blood gets donated, it’s got prayer beat.

On that note, one from the old place:

image thanks to PZ, who thanks Brian Flemming, who thanks Maria.
Let’s fold our hands and bow our heads
And mumble something low,
Or pray to tens of millions on
Some television show.
Let’s take a silent moment, and
Have others do the same,
So those remaining talking can
Be sure to feel their shame.
Let’s know that we are better, cos
We spent our time in prayer,
Than atheists and heathens who
Are working over there.
Let’s say a prayer for Washington,
For Darfur; for Tibet;
Let’s say a prayer for hunger, and
To fix the nation’s debt.
Let’s say a prayer for miners, trapped
In tunnels underground;
Let’s say a prayer for missing kids
In hopes that they are found.
Let’s say a prayer for polar ice
And students gone berserk;
Let’s say a prayer for everything–
It sure beats doing work.

Understanding Fail

Via the Digital International Atheists Group (@DIAGroup on twitter), a letter from Don Boys. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until PZ posts it in comic sans, but I’m going to use it here as a reason to post an old favorite.

First, the letter:

Tell us that you do or do not believe the unsupportable, even outrageous teaching that nothing created everything. I promise not to laugh out loud–maybe only a snicker or two. And don’t try to flimflam us common people with scientific jargon, but make your points in clear English.

Tell us how all the scientific laws evolved such as gravity, inertia, the First and Second Laws, laws of planetary motion, etc. How does a scientific law evolve? If they did not evolve, where did they come from?

Did the evolution of those laws precede or follow the Big Bang?

Can you provide any example of an explosion resulting in order?

Tell us how life first formed on this planet made up entirely of rock? All atheists want to sit down beside

Darwin’s warm little pond and watch the first forms of life, but I demand to know much more than that if I’m expected to consider the idea has any possibility.

Do you, or do you not, believe in spontaneous generation? No honest scientist will agree to that fable.

Where are the ancestors of insects?

Why are meteorites not found in ancient rocks? Could it be that the rocks are not ancient?

Tell us how men and women evolved at the same time in history at the same location? What if “early man” had been all male!

Which evolved first, the mouth, the stomach, the digestive system or the elimination system? What good is a mouth if there is no stomach or a digestive system and what good are the three without an elimination system?

Tell us why we are here and where we go when death finally comes for us? Why have people all over the Earth since the beginning of time been concerned with that concept?

What happens if you are wrong and I am right? After all, any real scholar will admit that possibility.

Since the God of the Bible is real and eternity is in everyone’s future, don’t you think it might be wise and safe to consider this issue more carefully? If it is only possible that there is a sovereign, all-powerful God out there, then that is the most staggering truth ever faced by any mortal, and that truth will affect every person on the face of the Earth.

Is atheism really worth the risk? Eternity is a long time to be wrong. If I am wrong about eternity then it costs me nothing, but if atheists are wrong, they have lost everything, including their souls.

If you think there is not a word there that hasn’t been tried before and found wanting, you’d be right. Ignorance, more ignorance, and yet more ignorance, with Pascal’s Wager as the cherry on top.

My favorite, though, is the bit about men and women evolving separately. It gives me such a warm feeling inside to know that there are people out there so intent on not understanding. Oh, and it gives me the chance to tell you the story of Lonely Percy.

Percy would wander for years at a time;
He was terribly sad and incredibly lonely—
Percy was looking for love, but too bad;
The world had, so far, evolved male creatures only.

Percy was restless, and anxiously watching,
He knew what he wanted; he wanted a wife.
(Although, since the female had not yet evolved,
He had never seen women in all of his life!)

For long generations, his forefathers sought
For some womanly tenderness, softness, and mercy,
But cold evolution denied them their wish;
Now the burden was borne by poor, motherless Percy.

From Grand-dad to Father, from Father to Son,
Generations would pass, without calling for sex.
I haven’t a clue how they managed to do it;
The method, it seems, is a little complex.

Percy has walked tens of thousands of miles
In search of a hopeful mutation or two.
You see, he has parts that he thinks may be useful,
Which haven’t, as yet, had a damned thing to do.

Far away, on the shores of a vast, distant ocean,
A small population is camped by the water,
Where all by themselves, they just sit there evolving,
Granny to Mother, and Mother to Daughter.

Someday, perhaps, as he wanders and wanders,
Percy could find, with a great deal of luck,
He may stumble upon this remote population,
And finally end up with someone to love.

Headline Muse, 8/22

They had gone to Hawaii to marry
Cos the laws, among states, tend to vary
By death they’re now parted
So lawyers get started—
Without equal rights, it gets scary.

Headline: Indiana stage collapse lawsuits could challenge state’s rules on gay marriage

It’s hard enough to sue for damages after an event like the Indiana stage collapse. An earlier story drew comments about vulture lawyers, greedy survivors, and cold-hearted people all around. But for Beth Urschel, there is insult added to injury; Indiana does not recognize her Hawaiian civil union. What would be a frustrating situation for anyone (the Indiana State Fair has a liability limitation such that their total payouts are capped at a fraction of what victims are currently seeking) will likely turn into a legal nightmare, ending at the Indiana supreme court, at minimum.