It’s Protective Custody, That’s What It Is.

Once again, recent events call out an older verse. I fucking hate it when that happens.

[...S]ome civil libertarians and women’s rights advocates worry that if Gibbs is convicted, the precedent could inspire more prosecutions of Mississippi women and girls for everything from miscarriage to abortion — and that African Americans, who suffer twice as many stillbirths as whites, would be affected the most.

Mississippi has one of has one of the worst records for maternal and infant health in the U.S., as well as some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease and among the most restrictive policies on abortion. Many of the factors that have been linked to prenatal and infant mortality — poverty, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare, pollution, smoking, stress — are rampant there.

“It’s tremendously, tremendously frightening, this case,” said Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy and research organization, in Jackson. “There’s real fear for young women whose babies are dying early who [lack the resources to] defend themselves and their actions.”

Jennifer, Jennifer, got herself pregnant,
The poor, irresponsible slut.
See, boys will be boys, so it’s up to the girls
To be moral, and keep their legs shut.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, couldn’t be bothered;
She led her young Billy astray.
They met, after classes, at Jennifer’s house,
And now there’s a kid on the way.

Jennifer, Jennifer, wants an abortion—
She says she’s too young for a baby—
But the law of the land says abortion is murder;
The answer is no, and not maybe.
See, murder is murder; we cannot condone
The destruction of innocent life.
And Billy, of course, is an innocent, too,
And he’s much, much too young for a wife.

So Jennifer, Jennifer, finds herself caught
In the view of a watchful Big Brother,
And Country and Church have a task on their hands—
How to keep the babe safe from its mother.
If murder is murder, for fetus or child,
Then surely assault is assault;
A fetus is damaged by drinking or smoking,
And all of it, Jennifer’s fault.

If Jennifer, Jennifer, falls down the stairs
Then the baby inside could be harmed;
And since that poor child is a ward of the state
It is right we should all be alarmed!
So Jennifer, Jennifer, needs to be safe
For the sake of the babe in her womb;
To keep the poor innocent safe from all harm,
Let’s keep Jennifer locked in her room.

But Jennifer, Jennifer, isn’t the first
Nor the last to be pregnant, you see.
The task that’s before us—protecting our children—
Is crucial, I think you’ll agree.
With the passing to law of my modest proposal,
I honestly think we’ll prevail.
It’s simple: Each woman who finds herself pregnant
Must spend the next nine months in jail.

Jennifer, Jennifer, shielded from harm
In a cell with a toilet and cot
With a closed-circuit camera, an unblinking eye,
For the safety of Jennifer’s tot.
When at last you deliver your new baby boy
We’ll whisk you right out through the door;
We care about kids while they’re inside your womb—
Once they’re out, we don’t care any more.

And Jennifer, Jennifer, can’t find her Billy—
Besides, he’s too young for a wife—
She weighs her alternatives, looks down each road…
And reluctantly takes her own life.

And the church says a prayer for the baby unborn
And a heartfelt and tearful farewell.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, so says the church,
Will be heading directly to hell.

There is, unfathomably, a lot of talk recently about what should have been settled long ago. What *was* settled long ago. And when even Jimmy Carter points to religion as a root cause of violence against women, there is no question which side atheists should be on.

Denser Than The Pre-Expansion Universe

Expansion of the cosmos
At a faster pace than light
Renders Genesis a fairy tale,
It seems—alas, not quite.

The mental calisthenics
That it takes to make them fit
Will keep believers straining, when
An honest mind would quit

“A believer and a scientist”,
Is how she chose to live—
But disconfirming evidence
Meant something had to give

Azusa University
Is Christian to the core:
“The big bang proves the bible right!”—
Discrepancy no more!

It isn’t doing science
When, no matter what you find
The conclusion never alters:
See? The cosmos is designed!

All creations need creators
Why, it’s only common sense!
Seems the pre-expansion ‘verse
Is not the only thing that’s dense.

On the CNN Belief Blog, a Dr.Leslie Wickman, director of the Center for Research in Science at Azusa Pacific University, asks “Does the Big Bang breakthrough offer proof of God?

The prevalent theory of cosmic origins prior to the Big Bang theory was the “Steady State,” which argued that the universe has always existed, without a beginning that necessitated a cause.

However, this new evidence strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.

If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent – separate and apart from the effect – that caused it.

That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

And she’s a scientist! So you know this can’t just be her faith talking.

As a modern believer and a scientist, when I look up at the sky on a clear starry night, I am reminded that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). I am in awe of the complexity of the physical world, and how all of its pieces fit together so perfectly and synergistically.

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, the writer tells us that God “established (his) covenant with day and night, and with the fixed laws of heaven and earth.”

These physical laws established by God to govern interactions between matter and energy result in a finely tuned universe that provides the ideal conditions for life on our planet.

Just ask the dinosaurs, who ruled for longer than we have been around, or the beetles or bacteria, either of whom dwarf us both by numbers and by mass. Or perhaps for humanity, who can’t live below the sea or above a certain altitude, but who, given the right sort of environment, will multiply ourselves into a famine situation, and who are doing our best to destroy these ideal conditions.

As we observe the complexity of the cosmos, from subatomic particles to dark matter and dark energy, we quickly conclude that there must be a more satisfying explanation than random chance. Properly practiced, science can be an act of worship in looking at God’s revelation of himself in nature.

Properly practiced, of course. And the worth of an explanation is often reflected in how “satisfying” it is.

One wonders how it is that a self-described practicing scientist can look at the same evidence that, for some, banishes God from His last hiding place, and call it evidence for His existence. Oh, that’s right–one doesn’t wonder at all: it’s her job. She’s the director of the Center for Research in Science at a place that already knows what all the really big answers are. After all, you can find these answers in the bible.

Opening College Doors To Cults?

I don’t like teaching;
I don’t like students;
I don’t know their faces;
I don’t know their names.
I don’t like service;
I don’t like advising;
I don’t like playing
Departmental games
My at-risk students
Go unsupported
A fully expected,
If tragic, result—
We must do something
That costs me nothing:
Let’s outsource the problem
And call in a cult.

Marshall Poe, writing in The Atlantic, suggests that Colleges Should Teach Religion to Their Students. You see, teachers and administrators are in loco parentis, and some of us are far more loco than parentis.

I used to teach at a big land-grant university in Midwest. In that capacity, I did what most professors do. A third of my job was research, a third was teaching, and a third was service (committee work and such). I was a very conscientious researcher, a somewhat conscientious teacher, and avoided service whenever I could. I do not think I was unusual in this regard. Most professors at big universities love research, are lukewarm about teaching, and loathe service. This is why they are always after sabbaticals. They want to write books, not teach undergraduates or serve on curriculum committees.

It should come as no surprise, then, when I tell you that I did not know my undergraduates very well. I taught a “two-two” load, meaning two courses a semester. One of those was a tiny graduate seminar, meaning no undergraduates. Each of my undergraduate courses met for about two hours a week, three at the outside. On average, then, I saw my undergraduates for four to six hours a week one semester and for two to four hours a week in the other. When I say “saw,” I mean exactly that. Typically, I stood at a lectern and lectured to them. I never really interacted with them. They were just faces. Of course, being a somewhat conscientious teacher, I invited them to my office hours. They almost never came, and I knew they wouldn’t. Again, I would say that my experience with undergraduates was fairly typical.

The “False Consensus Effect” is a real thing. Poe knows he paints a horrible picture of a university professor, so to make himself look better in comparison, he claims that everyone else is just as bad. Poe makes me feel much better about Cuttlefish University, where even the most research-oriented profs actually do (or convincingly pretend to) give a rat’s ass about undergraduates. But (good news, everybody!) Poe was forced to do some undergraduate advising, where he found that for some unknown reason, these students were not being well served by their academic environment:

What I discovered was that many of the students I talked to were disappointed, confused, and lost. They were bright kids. Many of them had looked forward to going to the university all their lives. College was, in their imaginations, a sort of promised land, a place where you find your calling and get the skills necessary to pursue it. What they found, however, was not a promised land at all. To them, the college curriculum was a bewildering jumble of classes that led to nothing in particular. Take this, take that, it doesn’t really matter so long as it “counts” toward your major and graduation. They learned to pick classes not on the basis of interest or relevance, but simply because they fit nicely into their schedules. To them, campus life revolved around bread and circus. The university funded huge events—football games being the most important—in which drunkenness was the order of the day. One of my standard in-take questions came to be “Have you been arrested for public drunkenness?” To them, the prospect of graduating was terrifying. They knew that the university had not prepared them for any particular line of work. The answer to “What are you going to do next” was usually “Go to graduate school” or “Get a job.” What graduate school and what job didn’t matter; any would do.

I also learned that because they were adrift in so many ways, they suffered. It was not difficult to get them talking about their distress, probably because no one at the university had ever thought to inquire. There were those who drank too much and got into trouble. There were those who were full-blown alcoholics or drug addicts. There were those who were too depressed to go to classes. There were those who cut and starved themselves. There were those who thought of killing themselves and some who even tried. There were those who fought with their roommates. There were those who, having fought with their roommates, were in the hospital or homeless. And, more than anything else, there were those who said “Fuck it” and just dropped out.

So he championed major reforms, demanding that the undergraduates who pay the bills are treated with at least minimal standards of dignity. So he gave up. Sure, he reports his efforts at trying to get the university to change, but realized that doing the right thing would be difficult and expensive (read: unacceptable to a university filled with people who shared his priorities on the worth of undergraduates). So… ah! Genius!

One of the results of Poe’s sadly accurate description of undergraduate life is, college students are frequent targets of cult recruiters. Cults see a population adrift, and give them a rudder. Or an anchor, or maybe an outboard motor, whatever metaphor actually works. It’s a match made in heaven, or maybe hell, but religious groups are champing at the bit to be invited to get their hooks into these kids help these poor students, and Poe wants to open the doors wide and invite religious teachers–not religious studies teachers, but actual priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, elders, lamas, gurus, mullahs, chaplains, abbots, witches, medicine men, deacons, apostles, ayatollahs, and the like. Well, he actually mentions only three Abrahamic traditions and atheism, but once a state university opens the door to one, any sect can demand equal treatment, and if he wants some available for academic credit, then he is really proposing that every university employ a cadre of religious teachers of all conceivable denominations. To pass constitutional muster, it would have to be an open forum, independent of the percentage of adherents, subsidized by the university (and undergraduate tuition) as needed.

Because the alternative is fixing a system that treats undergraduates like an inconvenient side effect of the need to fund a research university.

(Ophelia’s take.)

Christian Oppression… By Christians.

Christians, I hear, are at war in this country—
I read the report in the Patriot Post
(If flags, stars, and pins prove your love for your country,
These are the people who love it the most)

Christians, you see, have been forced into conflict—
Deny their beliefs, or the state will compel!
Christians are victims of brutal oppression…
But it seems their oppressors are Christian as well!

The pollsters have measured; they’ve sifted through data
And found that opinions appear to have moved
When asked to support or oppose same-sex marriage,
The Christian majorities, this time, approved!

The bigots who wish for religious exceptions
For prejudiced acts, would do well to take note:
We could bow to their wishes, and ask Christians only…
And, funny thing is, they would lose in a vote

The opinion piece in the Patriot Post actually starts out reasonably. The first 6 paragraphs go nicely. Then we get a little slide into slippery slope arguing, and land in a steaming mound of culture war against homosexual activists. Christians, of course are put in the position of denying their values, or sticking with them and being labeled bigots. (And if you want to evaluate the appropriateness of that label… go ahead and read the comments there.)

Mind you, this is one of those cases where “Christians” is a magical category. The claim implies that all (or at least, a majority of) Christians would find supporting same sex marriage untenable. “Christians” comprise a strong majority of USAians, so it is important to include as many as possible under the butt-hurt umbrella. Problem is, “Christians” are no more a monolithic category than atheists are.

And as of last week, there are data. From the Public Religion Research Institute:

„„In 2003, all major religious groups opposed same-sex marriage, with the exception of the religiously unaffiliated. Today, there are major religious groups on both sides of the issue. Religiously unaffiliated Americans (73%), white mainline Protestants (62%), white Catholics (58%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) all favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. A majority (83%) of Jewish Americans also favor legalizing same-sex marriage. Hispanic Protestants are divided; 46% favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 49% oppose. By contrast, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) white evangelical Protestants and nearly 6-in-10 (59%) black Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Only 27% of white evangelical Protestants and 35% of black Protestants support same-sex marriage.

In the name of religious freedom, evangelical Christians would prevent other Christian denominations from acting in accordance with their beliefs.

Mind you, while these groups had to be included under the “Christian” umbrella in order to cobble together a majority… I strongly suspect that any groups that support same sex marriage are not “True Christians”.

On Debating Christian Apologists

Debating an apologist?
Get ready for a fight
Cos you’ve got an obligation
To get all the science right—
If you overstep your knowledge
Just a little, and you’re caught,
Then you’ve lost the weight of science
And you only get one shot

If your expertise is physics,
Or biology, or psych,
Best to know your limitations,
Not just wander where you like.
You may truly be an expert
And be perfect for the task
You may know your science backwards
But that won’t be what they ask

They’ll poke holes in what they’re able
And they’re gonna have a ball—
There’s an awful lot of science
And there’s no one knows it all
They would love to make you falter
And they’re surely gonna try
And your expertise is shattered
If they catch you in a lie

Say your answer misses something;
Say it’s off by one percent;
Say you quote the right researcher
But it’s not quite what they meant
Say the science isn’t settled,
Say there’s genuine debate
In the hands of an apologist
You’ve quickly sealed your fate

Now, it doesn’t really matter
If the one who’s right is you—
See, if science isn’t perfect
Then religion must be true
You’re debating an apologist?
Get ready for a fight
Cos you’ve got an obligation
To get all the science right.

A couple of days ago, Physicist Victor Stenger had a piece in Ye Olde HuffePoe on “How to Debate a Christian Apologist“. Now, Stenger is no stranger to this area–his books are carefully thought out, thorough, and devastating to Christian Apologetics (or rather, would be, if apologetics had to answer to the real world). And, you will note, he explicitly says in his introduction, more or less what I just said in the verse above:

Certainly atheist debaters will make their own arguments for atheism during their opening statements. I advise, again from observation and experience, that they limit these to their particular areas of expertise and avoid subjects outside those areas.

During their opening statements and throughout the debate, apologists are likely to make arguments with which atheists may not be so well versed. So, when the time comes for rebuttals, atheists often cannot provide cogent responses, or any responses at all, and so lose debating points.

An experienced debater will make note of every point his or her opponent makes and try to provide at least a one sentence response. That will prevent the opponent from coming back and saying, “My atheist friend never replied to this point.” This takes experience. I never had enough to be good at it. In a debate, impressions are more important than the substance of an argument and not answering a point makes a bad impression.

The point of his article, though, is to give some quick rejoinders to some of the Apologetic points he has heard again and again, so that the reader can see examples of how to quickly address some of the more common claims. It was not intended to be a thorough rebuttal:

I do not provide any technical details. These suggestions are meant to be short, punchy statements to use during your rebuttals, which are usually time-limited. If you are a cosmologist, biologist, or biblical scholar, you don’t need me telling you what to say on those subjects. If you are a non-expert on any subject, you should not say anything about it beyond your competence. Your opponent may call you out on it. I have seen that happen.

Alas, it seems that the good people at Uncommon Descent are as selective at reading Stenger’s article as they are at anything else, and must have missed that bit. Their reply:

Victor Stenger has his How to Debate a Christian Apologist in the Huffington Post. An atheist PhD physicist is reduced to using arguments many of which go beyond fallacious and border on the risible. I find the article very encouraging. If that’s all they’ve got, they ain’t got much.

Since most of their readers won’t bother to actually visit HuffPo to read the introduction, let alone the rest, score one for the people with a commandment against bearing false witness.

I would add one additional caveat to Stenger’s introduction. Because science works via a structured argument among experts, be aware that your opponent will be able (if properly prepared) to quote experts who appear to disagree with you (or your quoted experts). (For instance, Stenger makes the claim “Thoughts and emotions are observable electrochemical signals in the brain.” You don’t have to have read here long to know I vehemently disagree with this–thinking and emotion are not at all relegated to just the brain; they are observed across time in the interaction of a whole person with their environment, and cannot be reduced to brain signals. Mind you, I think his view is worlds better than theirs, but it’s still wrong.)

If you cannot reasonably expect to enlighten your audience about some substantial philosophical differences (and practical differences, of course, as well) between religious and scientific world views, perhaps the best bet is to stick to forms that are not stacked against the more nuanced and complicated view.

“Protestant Work Ethic” Vs. “Atheist Work Ethic”

The “protestant work ethic”
Was, we assumed,
Underlying the gains we had made.
A secular ethic, it’s
Clear, left us doomed—
And an atheist one, much afraid!

Our country was built on the
Fear of a God
Who would smite us for sloth (it’s a sin)
We have to believe, or
It’s all a façade—
And the atheist communists win!

The theories assume that a
Godly belief
Is so useful, we don’t need a test—
The thing is, they tested it:
Here’s the motif—
The atheist way is the best!

Statistical evidence
Must be dismissed
Or, at least, we must say that it’s fraud!
Or else, it is false, what
Believers insist…
Productivity hinges on God!

A recent article in the Journal of Institutional Economics explores the assumption that the protestant work ethic should be credited with… well, with all the warm fuzzies it is always credited with. And the answer is… no. Hemant has a version, too. This particular study focuses at the interstate US level; one cannot extrapolate to either an international level, nor an interpersonal level.

At the interstate level, though, religion is not predictive of entrepreneurial activity.

Mind you, there are partial answers at other levels. At an international level, for instance, an earlier article in the same journal suggests that some predictors of socioeconomic success (in particular, property rights and the rule of law) are negatively associated with religiosity.

The truth is, everything about us is complex. Nothing is simple–not even the relationship of god-belief to any given measure of culture. If anyone tries to tell you that the answer to everything is simple… the cool thing is, the answer to their proposition actually is simple.

No.

Well, unless it’s me. Me, you can believe. No, really.

Trust me.

Edit… I just looked at the recent FTB posts… if you have not yet, read this and/or this, either of which are far more important than the post you are currently reading.

“The Church Of Self-Worship” (or, “are you faster than a unicorn?”)

You don’t believe in gods or demons,
Spirits, souls, or elves—
You’ve got to worship something,
So it has to be… your selves!

You don’t believe in hell or heaven,
So I’ve heard you say
You say my God is make-believe—
To whom, then, do you pray?

You look to find life’s meaning
With no God to help you search
You call it “Sunday Fellowship”—
We both know, it’s a church

Nearly everything you tell me
You can see, I’ve had to change
But there’s one thing I see clearly—
Your religion sure is strange!

So my aggregator keeps trying to point me to a story someone wrote about the “atheist church of self-worship” (nope, not gonna link). Now, the Sunday Assembly is not for me, but I have nothing against it whatsoever for the people who enjoy it. But, please–it is not an atheist church (that label was not chosen but was thrust upon it by others), they do not gather to worship anything at all, and they are not the ultimate in egotists, worshipping themselves in place of a god.

It’s as if there is a narrative that must be followed–that the writer can get to the point of “they don’t believe in God”, but can’t follow that path one step further. Whom do they worship, if not God? To whom do they pray, if not to God? Why would anyone gather with like-minded others on Sunday morning, if not to bother God?

It’s like one person claims that unicorns are really really fast; another says “you know, unicorns don’t exist”, and the first concludes “you think you are faster than a unicorn! How presumptuous of you! What arrogance! What ego!”

And no, that makes no sense. Neither do the “atheists have made gods of themselves” crowd. It’s just annoying.

Templeton Funded Research Finds Science & Religion Compatible (or, that evangelicals have their own definition of “science”)

Evangelicals will tell us, they are unafraid of science;
They assume it proves the bible to be true.
There’s a scientific method into which they put reliance
But it looks a little strange, to me and you.

They’ll evaluate hypotheses experimentally
Then, conclusions will be carefully inspected:
Do results remain consistent with the bible? And we see,
If they’re not, then the conclusions are rejected.

Perfect science, thus, can never be at odds with Christian thought,
Clearly, science and religion coexist!
Any finding not agreeing with the bible, as it ought,
Is a finding simply stricken from the list!

When you’re truly doing science, then you do the work of God
He’s the author of the evidence you read
It’s a different sort of science, so at first it might seem odd,
But a Bible/Science mix is what you need!

The latest headline out of this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Chicago is that there isn’t really a any contradiction between Science and Religion… at least, when you (as the Elaine Howard Eklund did, supported by a Templeton grant) poll people to see what they think is the case.

It sounds all friendly and promising… until you look a bit deeper into the results, and realize that a good many people are using a very loose definition of “science”. For instance (as reported by phys.org),

* Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”
* 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict.
* Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52 percent sided with religion.
* 48 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work in collaboration.
* 22 percent of scientists think most religious people are hostile to science.
* Nearly 20 percent of the general population think religious people are hostile to science.
* Nearly 22 percent of the general population think scientists are hostile to religion.
* Nearly 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.

I regularly read, in comment threads, claims that “actual science disproves evolution”, that there is a conspiracy by atheist scientists, who simply ignore the copious evidence of God’s existence. Science, I am told, has proven an afterlife, and ghosts, and dowsing, and ESP, and free energy, and more. So I am not in the least surprised that a poll of evangelicals shows that most of them have no problem with science as they understand it.

I also once read, in an actual print journal, an explanation of the scientific method that was remarkably like what you might find in science textbooks… but with one further step. After you crunch your numbers and draw conclusions, you “compare your answers to biblical truth.” I shit you not. So, yeah, when you do science this way (the right way!), it is impossible to find disagreement with biblical principles.

I have seen it argued that, were it not for God keeping everything following His laws, we would see pure chaos, so the fact that we can do science proves that God is there, doing His thing. But since God is always there, the laws are constant–that is, since God is constantly and consistently intervening, it looks like He is not intervening at all. And since you can trust God to keep the clockwork going, it is perfectly fine to do science without explicitly invoking (nor denying) His influence.

But that view, in which everything is a miracle, has no place for miracles as explanations for specific phenomena. That first bullet point quoted above would include the possibility that God could intervene at any point. “Then a miracle occurs!” would be a standard model, not the (arguably) most famous science cartoon ever. How exactly would that work? How would incorporating miracles into scientific explanation work? It can’t, that’s how. Can people believe that it does? Certainly, so long as they redefine either god, or science, or both.

Eklund has not found that science and religion are compatible. Rather, she has found that people’s definitions of “science” can be modified as needed to fit.

TV Snake-Handler Dies (Spoiler: Not Old Age)

There once was a pastor
Who handled some snakes
For goodness’ sakes—
He handled snakes!
(He knew the stakes)

There once was a serpent
With venomous bite
Oh, what a plight!
A venomous bite!
(And deadly, quite)

The pastor, he handled;
The serpent, he bit
With a venomous spit
He bit and bit
(And wouldn’t quit)

The pastor’s behavior
Had faith as its source
With no remorse,
His faith was his source
(He died, of course)

Via Doubtful News, we hear the utterly predictable news of the death of a snake-handling pentecostal preacher, from (naturally) snakebite.

In an era of sophisticated theology, yes, snake-handlers still exist. Though, frankly, not a lot of them, despite how often the same group makes the news. Usually, for dying by snake bite.

I wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to be from a family where you pretty much all eventually died from completely preventable, proudly public, dangerous behavior. Do the extended relatives admit their connection? Are they proud? Ashamed? Anyway, my condolences to the family–may this be the last one to die in this manner.