Macro-evolution” Vs. “Micro-evolution”: More Video Fun

Correction to this piece: I was apparently mistaken about the use of the terms “micro-evolution” and “macro-evolution” by reputable biologists. My apologies. I still stand by the gist of this piece and the video it links to; but I regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.

And now, yet another video from my new science video hero, cdk007.

Transitional_fossilsThis one is on the supposed difference between “micro” and “macro” evolution. In case you’re not familiar: One of the arguments used by creationists is that, while of course “micro-evolution” (i.e., the evolution of small changes within a species) can be observed in the field and in the lab, “macro-evolution” (i.e., the evolution of one species to another) hasn’t been observed… and therefore it can’t happen by itself, and needs an intelligent designer to intervene and make it happen.

First, just so everyone’s clear: “Macro-evolution” and “micro-evolution” are made-up words concocted by creationists to make themselves sound scientific. Biologists don’t use them. They’re scientifically meaningless. They’re just different stages in the evolutionary process; “macro” is just “micro” over a longer period of time.

Also, “macro-evolution” (if people insist on calling it that) has been observed, both in the field and in the lab. Just so we’re clear.

So this video makes clear the absurdity of this argument, with a beautiful and elegant analogy. Video after the jump.

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Friday Cat Blogging on Saturday: Violet on the Sofa

And now, two cute pictures of our cat.

Violet_1

Violet_2

Notable characteristics of these photos:

1. The placement of the paws.
2. The prominence of the black nose dot in the first photo.
3. The way her haunches are spilling out over the sides of the sofa arm.

You can also see the heterochromia (different colored eyes) if you click to enlarge. The funny thing is: When we take photos of Violet and get red-eye, we only get it in the one blue eye. I took it out for this photo, but it’s very strange-looking. Like she’s possessed by the devil, but in a really half-assed way.

Acting Out: The Blowfish Blog

FantasyPlease note: The post that this links to includes details about my personal sex life, so family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. Titled Acting Out, it’s on the differences between acting out a sex fantasy and just, you know, having one. Here’s the teaser:

Sex advice writers — including me — are always telling people to spice up their sex lives by trying to act out their fantasies.

And when they do, these sex advice writers — again, including me — generally warn people of some issues and pitfalls that can come with trying to act out fantasies. Like: Your partner may freak out when they hear what you have in mind. Your partner may try it, but not really like it and not want to try again. Your partner may like it more than you imagined, and want to go further with it than you want. You may like it more than you imagined, and want to go farther with it than you’d thought you would. (How many people have “tried out the fantasy” of same-sex sex, and had the results of their “experiment” turn out to be, “Okay, I guess I’m gay”?)

But there’s one potential fantasy-acting pitfall that doesn’t get talked about as much, so I want to talk about it now:

It may be disappointing.

Even if your partner is totally game and everything goes according to plan — it may be disappointing.

To find out more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Carnival Of the Liberals #51, and Skeptic’s Circle #73

Carnival_2Blog carnival time!

Carnival of the Liberals #51 is up at Pollyticks. My piece this time: Free Speech for Evil, Hateful, Repulsive Nutjobs? You Betcha! My favorite other piece in the carnival: Ancient African Math/Science Shatters Stereotypes, at thinkbridge.

And Skeptic’s Circle #73 is up at Holford Watch. My piece this time: Short Memories: AIDS Denialism and Vaccine Resistance. My favorite other pieces in the Circle: What’s the evidence cancers are our own fault? at Junkfood Science (long, but totally worth it), and Reasons to Believe at Action Skeptics, on the differences between skepticism and woo. Enjoy!

Right Wing Hypocrisy, or Why Sex Guilt Fucks Things Up For Everyone

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. It was published about three months ago, so of course the “right-wing politician/religious leader caught in sex scandal” du jour has changed. But the gist of the article remains very much the same. FTI, this piece talks about sex, but it doesn’t talk about my personal sex life, so it should be safe for family members.

David_vitter_official_portraitThe story is pretty much boilerplate at this point. “Right-wing Republican politician/ prominent Christian Right leader, famous for advocating a rigid sexual morality, caught in sex scandal.” It’s hardly even newsworthy.

The latest, of course, is David Vitter, Republican senator from Louisiana, who built a career supporting abstinence-only sex education, opposing same-sex marriage, and generally trying to legislate sexual morality… and was recently identified as (and has admitted to being) a client of the D.C. Madam.

HaggardThere’s also right-wing evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, preaching about the evils of homosexuality and supporting a ban on same-sex marriage… having regular sex with a gay male prostitute. There’s Republican Congressman Mark Foley, pushing for laws to protect minors from sex predators on the Internet… sending sexually explicit and seductive emails and instant messages to underage pages. There’s Bob Allen, Republican representative in the Florida House and co-chair of McCain’s presidential campaign, sponsoring a bill to tighten Florida’s public sex laws… getting arrested for offering a male cop $20 to blow him in a public bathroom.

And that’s just in the last year.

SwaggartI’m not even talking about Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Livingston, the widespread pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, and similar scandals from years past. It seems like cartoonist Tom Tomorrow is asking the right question: “Should we assume that every sanctimonious, moralizing Republican is a closeted sexual libertine — or just most of them?”

So here’s what I’m finding fascinating.

It’s not just that these right-wing figures are generally preaching a rigid sexual morality that they don’t practice. The pattern I find so compelling is that, for so many of them, the specific taboo sex acts they engage in are the exact ones they publicly campaign against.

Mark_foley_official_109th_congress_Ted Haggard — preached against the evils of homosexuality; had sex with a male prostitute. Mark Foley — campaigned against Internet predators endangering minors; sent sexual and seductive emails and instant messages to teenagers. Bob Allen — tried to tighten bans on public sex; solicited a guy in a public bathroom. And now Vitter — opposed same-sex marriage to protect marriage’s sanctity; cheated on his wife with prostitutes. (In what were reportedly some fairly unusual variations.)

It’s almost eerie, how precisely the hypocrisy matches up.

NewspapergeneratorAdmittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I’m sure there’s some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!” makes great headlines. “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!” isn’t going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.

But even given that, there’s a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.

Us20frontMaybe it’s all just smokescreens. You rant enough about the evils of homosexuality and pedophilia, and you figure nobody will suspect the truth about those teenage boys. But if all this sexual hypocrisy is a smokescreen, it’s a singularly stupid one. It may protect you from suspicion for a while — but when the hammer comes down, it’s going to come down that much harder. So even from a purely pragmatic angle, you’d think that if you were offering $20 to blow strangers in public bathrooms, you’d pick an issue to campaign on other than the evils of public sex.

JusticeOr maybe it’s the natural human tendency each of us has, to believe that we personally can be trusted to know which laws and rules should be obeyed, but that other people can’t be and everybody else should just obey the law. But while that explains the right wingers’ overall willingness to break sex laws and flout sexual taboos, it doesn’t explain the eerie specificity with which their law/ taboo breaking matches their public condemnation.

What’s that about, anyway?

I’m no expert. I’m not a psychologist or therapist. But based on my years of experience in the sex world, what this smells like to me is sexual guilt — and overcompensation for it.

Bob_allenI don’t think Ted Haggard was happy about having sex with men. I doubt seriously that David Vitter or Jimmy Swaggart felt great about seeing prostitutes. Ditto Mark Foley about being hot for teenage boys, or Bob Allen about picking up guys in public bathrooms. Maybe some of these right-wing hypocrites are laughing up their sleeves about how they’ve pulled one over on everyone. But for the most part, I think they feel tremendous guilt about wanting, and having, the exact kinds of sex that they believe are destroying society and making baby Jesus cry.

Ted_haggard_3So they overcompensate. They hate themselves for wanting what they want and doing what they do… so they preach against it, and propose legislation against it, and do everything in their power to relocate their guilt out in the world instead of inside their own treacherous minds and bodies. They may even feel that, in fighting the scourge of homosexuality or whatever, they’re somehow making up for their own misdeeds. I even have some compassion for them, although I’d have a whole lot more if they weren’t screwing things up for the rest of us.

And this is just one more reason we need to work for a new sexual morality — to shift it away from a guilty freakout over which tab goes in what slot, and towards a morality based on honesty and consent.

BrotherhoodBecause if people in power weren’t so wracked with guilt about their own sexuality, I think they’d be a lot less obsessively controlling about everyone else’s. If Ted Haggard hadn’t felt so guilty about fucking men, maybe he’d have become a minister in the gay-positive MCC… instead of battling gay rights at every turn. If Mark Foley hadn’t felt so guilty about emailing and IMing teenage pages, maybe he’d have felt comfortable going for guys who were young but legal… instead of trying to turn the Internet into a Norman Rockwell painting. And if David Vitter hadn’t felt so guilty about wanting unusual fetishistic sex, maybe he and his wife could have come to an agreement about it… instead of trying to protect the sacred institution of marriage from the depraved ravages of gay people in love.

Just a thought.

“If he is infinitely good…”

Just got this in my Quotation of the Day email list, and thought I’d pass it on:

“If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?”

- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), from The Necessity of Atheism.

Damn. Leave it to a Regency poet to state the “Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent — pick two” paradox in such a beautiful, eloquent way.

Solipsism 101, Or, Why “What Is Reality?” Is Not An Argument Against Evolution, Or, Why Scott Adams Is An Idiot

I was having way too much fun at Friendly Atheist the other day, and Ingrid insisted that I share the joke with the rest of the class.

Warning: I have disabled my snark checker for this post.

Try_rebooting_yourselfSo via Friendly Atheist comes this story of Scott Adams — yes, of “Dilbert” fame — who is apparently some sort of anti-evolution Galileo fallacy crank. Except only sort of, and in this totally half-assed way. He said the following in an interview on the Freakonomics blog:

Q: What do you see as the actual flaws in the Darwin-esque explanations for evolution, and what possibilities can you see for alternate explanations of the phenomena and evidence?

A: Evolution passes all the tests of science to be treated as a fact. But if physicists someday demonstrate that our perception of reality has no connection to actual reality, which I consider likely, then evolution is just a point of view, albeit a useful one.

My main criticism of evolution has to do with the way it is presented to the public. And beyond that, I enjoy yanking the chain of people who think they believe things for actual reasons as opposed to taking a side.

Okay. Deep breath. Solipsism 101, for Scott Adams, the very slow student in the back:

EscherIf our perception of reality bears no connection to actual reality, then NOTHING we see or know or understand is true. NO theory of reality is better than any other. NO theory has more evidence to support it than any other theory — since all evidence is false.

Therefore.

We need to either discard the “our perception of reality bears no connection to actual reality” theory as both useless and highly unlikely (after all, how likely is it that our species would have survived if our perceptions bore no connection whatsoever to reality)…

…or STOP WASTING THE CLASS’S TIME WITH YOUR STUPID ARGUMENTS! If no theory is any better than any other, then why are you wasting all our time trying to convince us that yours is right?

ManusingmicroscopeNow, if your point is that our perception of reality distorts actual reality… like, duh. But that, in fact, is exactly why we have the scientific method — to screen out human error and bias and the distortions of our perception and understanding, as much as we possibly can.

And the theory of evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the scientific method, from every relevant scientific discipline there is.

In other words, that’s not an argument against evolution.

It’s an argument for it.

MatrixdvdI mean… “what is reality?” You’re really trying to argue “what is reality?” “What is reality?” is only interesting to college freshman. Maybe college sophomores, if they smoke too much weed. It’s an important point to understand… but it’s also an important point to move past already. As many commenters on F.A. pointed out — what, you think we’re living in the Matrix?

GalileoAnd as to the part about liking to yank people’s chains: Oh, for the love of Mike. Not the gadfly fallacy again. “Geniuses throughout history have gotten under people’s skin and made them angry. I get under people’s skin and make them angry. Therefore, I must be a genius.”

If that were true, then Bill O’Reilly would be freakin’ Einstein.

“What is reality.” Please. Grow up. As people in the F.A. comment thread pointed out, when your opponent starts saying, “Well, how do we know what’s real, anyway?” you know you’ve won the argument.

And on that note, I’d like to leave you with yet another video from cdk007, YouTube science video maker par excellence. Titled “All Ideas are NOT Created Equal,” it’s a very clear, very funny video explanation of why we don’t, in fact, have to give all ideas equal time and equal weight. Tagline: “Truth is not a democracy.” Video after the jump.

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Liar, Loony, or Lord; Or, How Atheists Make C.S. Lewis Cry

I hate this argument.

Jesus_1It’s the “Liar, Loony, or Lord” argument for why Jesus Christ must, in fact, be the divine son of God. It’s been cited by many Christian apologeticists (apologists?), most famously C.S. Lewis. It’s worded somewhat differently by different people, but it goes more or less like this:

Jesus Christ claimed to be the divine son of God, who everyone has to believe in if they expect to be saved. Anyone who would make that claim would have to be either crazy, a liar, or actually be God. But Jesus can’t have been crazy or a liar. Because…

Jesus_2…and right around here is where the argument starts to break down. But it usually goes something like this: Because he was so cool. Because he said so many wise things. Because many people who saw him at the time believed he was God. (I’ve actually seen it argued that Jesus had to have been God, because his Apostles wouldn’t have sacrificed their lives for him otherwise… as if nobody ever sacrificed their lives for liars or whackos.) Because he inspired so many people. Because he founded a major world religion. Because he just couldn’t have been.

That’s the “Liar, Loony, or Lord” argument.

And I hate it, hate it, hate it.

Bonnie_clyde_carIt’s not just that it’s a bad argument, shot through with more holes than Bonnie and Clyde. Although it certainly is that.

It’s that it’s such an emotionally manipulative argument. It’s an argument meant to make people who argue with you feel like mean, bad people if they keep arguing. It’s an argument designed to prevent further argument.

But let’s talk about the logical holes first.

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Humanist Symposium #10

Carnival_3The Humanist Symposium #10 is up at Letters From a Broad. This is the ultra-nifty “atheist blogging on what’s good about atheism rather than what’s bad about religion” blog carnival: it’s always full of smart, interesting godless blogging, and this round is no exception.

My pieces in this Symposium: How Can You Have Meaning Without… ? and The Meaning of Death: Part One of Many, on the meaning of life and the meaning of death, respectively. My favorite other pieces this time around: Why do I care? at Skeptic’s Play, on the excitement of being part of the current atheist movement, and The Universal Moral Grammar at Cafe Philos, on how a universal moral grammar could be hard-wired even though the moral languages vary from culture to culture.

If you’re a humanist blogger and want to get in on the Symposium, here’s the submission form. Happy blogging!