Carnival of the Liberals #98: Fearmongering Edition

Hello, and welcome to the spooooooky Halloween edition of the Carnival of the Liberals! Since conservatives have been devoting themselves to terrifying the American public for political gain for years, I thought today would be an appropriate day for liberals to return the favor. So I’m proud to present: the Fearmongering Edition of the Carnival of the Liberals, with a procession of frights and phantasies hysterical enough to make Glenn Beck look tame. Pregnant women and people with weak hearts, use caution when proceeding!

Two headed To begin with: It’s the two headed monster! But don’t fear… the heads of the monster are eating each other! “There are two very different views of the Republican Party running loose on America’s streets at the moment.” Hide the children! Philip H. at DC Dispatches: Healthcare Reform & Bobby Jindal – Cracks in the Republican Armor.

Headless horseman Now here comes The Headless Horseman! A warrior in foreign lands, with no vision of what it’s fighting, where it’s coming from, where it’s going, or how it’s going to win. “It has now been eight years, thirteen orbits of Venus, and the gods continue to fire wayward arrows into the sun without any memory of what came before.” Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate Diaries: Afghanistan’s Arrow and the Cycle of Imperial Hubris.

Night-of-the-living-dead Next in our horrorshow: The Zombies! The dead that somehow live and walk! They shamble, they shuffle, and in a terrifying yet pathetic imitation of humanity, they can say only one word over and over: “No!” “On October 9, 2009, the Republican Party surpassed the anti-American rhetoric of the desperate remnants of the Taliban, in condemning the efforts of the United States to make the world a slightly better place while solidifying our status as the most envied nation in the world.” Jacob Johnson at Common Sense Caucus: The Olympic Lesson Revisited.

Evil-priest And now we come to a classic character in horror fiction: The Evil Priest. He’s not in league with Satan; he’s not trying to stop you from deciphering the secret code of truth; he’s not a secret pagan who’s going to put you in a wicker basket and set you on fire. He just wants to write his religious views into law, taking away your civil rights while he’s at it. And in the state of Maine, no less! “Frankly, I’m tired of hearing this argument that the religious institution of marriage will fail if gays are allowed to marry, and I’m tired of hearing you treat religious marriage and secular marriage as the same thing, because they aren’t.” floslib at Spirited Script: Protect Marriage in Maine. (Carnival host note: The referendum on same sex marriage in Maine is happening this Tuesday, November 3. It’s not too late to take action!)

Robot army What compendium of horrors would be complete without an Evil Robot Army? A sterile, monolithic, mechanical army relentlessly marching with one mind towards one mindless goal: profit. “Insurance companies are doing business the ‘right’ way — they’re for-profit, publicly-owned and -traded companies, after all. Making the most money they can is what they’re supposed to do, under the free-market, capitalist way of operating.” The Ridger at The Greenbelt: “doing business another way”.

Lion But we don’t need supernatural or technological horrors to chill our bones. The natural world has terrors enough to fill a thousand nightmares: the primitive savagery of nature, red in tooth and claw. Or is it? Is cooperation one of the instincts of social animals — an insinct with applications to politics and economics? NOOOOO! “Social darwinists like Skilling have learned the wrong lessons about the natural world.” Eric Michael Johnson at Seed: Survival of the Kindest.

Village-of-the-damned We don’t even need to stay in the adult world to fill our souls with dread. The spectre of evil children has filled horror stories for generations. And what legion of doom could be a more twisted perversion of childhood innocence than… The Boy Scouts? “How ironic it is that the Boy Scouts of America, an organization that purports to dedicate itself to making boys’ lives better and more productive, has decided that gay boys are not good enough.” Andrew Heath: Why It Is Important Not to Support the Boy Scouts.

M Poster The sexual deviant is another classic icon of horror. But more horrifying even than this are the institutions that protect these deviants from coming to justice… and the institutions that attempt to legitimize this miscarriage of justice. “Thirty Senate Republicans voted to keep rape victims who work for defense contractors from having their day in court. How?” Madeleine Begun Kane at Mad Kane’s Political Madness: Ode To Pro-Rape Republicans.

Deliverance And at least in American horror, The Scary Yokel is one of the most persistent characters. Barbaric, hateful, out of touch with every basic law of human decency, caring only for their twisted view of the world and their sick ability to brutalize it into submission… wait, we’re talking about a justice of the peace? And has banning same-sex marriage been the first step to the establishment of a right wing theocracy? “We sit by as the Vocal Minority does their ranting about the sanctity of marriage and how Gays will destroy that and quietly, in the swamps of Cajun Country, some banjo plucking elected official is denying marriage to interracial couples because mocha babies are just too much for him to handle.” Paul Reyes-Fournier at WTF of the Week: Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License.

Black_Hole_in_the_universe Finally, we have perhaps the most terrifying creature in the entire horror pantheon — The Void. Its representative today: Michele Bachmann, a hideous creature of entropy and petrifying barrenness, incapable of any positive achievement, but still emitting inhuman shrieks and noises that will curdle your blood. “Her stated philosophy is to do as little as possible in congress, and she does not believe in the use of Federal money for … things. So it should not be a surprise to her constituents that she has been personally responsible for almost no positive action that has helped her district.” Greg Laden at Greg Laden’s Blog: Michele Bachmann has done almost nothing as a congressperson.

My own contribution, which my deep-seated fear of seeming arrogant and egotistical keeps me from putting in the Top Ten: Same Sex Marriage, and Why You Passionately Care About Maine.

Also scary, but not quite making the Top Ten:

Leah L Burton presents Bachman-Style Census Paranoia According to 1 Chronicles? posted at God’s Own Party?.

Meg presents Severed Heads posted at Simpson’s Paradox.

Neosnowqueen presents Profanity Isn’t Poison posted at Winter Harvest.

Steven Handel presents The War on Drugs Is Up In Smoke posted at The Emotion Machine. (Note: This is a libertarian blog, not a liberal blog; but the content of this post is consistent with a liberal politics carnival, so I’m including it.)

Philip H presents The failures of Democratic “Leadership” In America posted at DC Dispatches.

Leah L. Burton presents Blog Forward… Interview w/Mikey Weinstein posted at God’s Own Party?.

Rick Foreman presents Healthcare Cost or Cost of No Healthcare? posted at Waiting for the Singularity.

Paul Reyes-Fournier presents Society Smackdown: Homosexuality posted at

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Bystander President? posted at Mad Kane’s Political Madness.

Andrew Bernardin presents Sunday Sacrilege: Plexiglass of the Sacred posted at the evolving mind.

The Ridger presents That’s Capitalism, Baby posted at The Greenbelt.

Marcella Chester presents Looking At Why Winona State University Named 11th Safest in USA posted at abyss2hope: A rape survivor’s zigzag journey into the open.

Doctor Biobrain presents Belief Is Not Enough posted at And Doctor Biobrain’s Response Is….

And that concludes our Halloween Fearmongering Edition of the Carnival of the Liberals. The host for CotL #99 is Liberal England, on Nov. 28. In the meantime, lock your doors, take your heart medication, and keep watching the skies!

Same Sex Marriage in Maine: One Last Noodge Before Tuesday

No on 1 Just one last noodge reminder that the referendum on same sex marriage in Maine is happening this Tuesday, November 3. It looks like this is going to be a very close election, and there are still things we can do to preserve marriage equality in Maine.

If you have friends or family in Maine, talk to them. If they’re undecided or opposed to marriage equality, talk to them about why this is the right thing and why it matters. Here are some talking points; here are some videos.

If they’re already on board, encourage them to get involved: to canvass, to phone bank, to put up signs, or just to talk with family and friends and neighbors. And make sure they vote! The No on 1 research shows that the anti-equality side are more motivated to vote than pro-equality side. We need to get every pro-equality vote in Maine to the voting booth if we’re going to win this one.

And remember: It’s No on 1! A “No” vote means a vote for marriage equality, and against discrimination. Don’t get confused.

Spread the word. If you have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account… spread the word about No on 1 and the fight for marriage equality in Maine. We only have a few days left. Get the word out. Get other people involved and excited. This isn’t just some dinky little local ballot proposition: this is Ground Zero in the fight for marriage equality.

CallForEquality Phonebank! You don’t have to be in Maine to phonebank. All you need is a phone and an Internet connection. They’ll hook you up. Just a couple of hours can help get out the vote — and getting out the vote might make all the difference in this election.

Donate. They still need money. Please help them out if you can.

If you live in Maine and support No on 1, vote early. It saves the No on 1 campaign time and money by allowing them to focus their resources where they’re needed most. If they know your vote has already been counted, they won’t need to spend their resources trying to sway it, or get it out. So vote early.

If you live in Maine and support No on 1, volunteer if you can. The No on 1 campaign needs all kinds of help, from knocking on doors to helping out at their offices. The election is just in a few days. If you have a couple/few hours, help out if you can.

Voting booth And above all, if you live in Maine and support No on 1, VOTE! Again, the No on 1 research shows that the anti-equality side are more motivated to vote than pro-equality side. We cannot be complacent about this one. We need every pro-equality vote in Maine to actually make it to the voting booth.

Again: This is Ground Zero in the fight for marriage equality. Getting this win would mean a huge boost in the national momentum for same-sex marriage. And it would be the first time same-sex marriage wins at the ballot, instead of in the legislature or the courts. Let’s make it happen. Talk to people, spread the word, phonebank, donate, volunteer — and if you live in Maine, vote! Let’s make this happen.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheists Are No More Jerks than Others

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Yes, some atheists can be jerks. Especially on the Internet. Some people in every group can be jerks — especially on the Internet. This doesn’t make atheism an inherently jerky worldview. And it doesn’t make atheism mistaken. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

New Fishnet Story: “Spider Lines”

Fishnet logo Fishnet has a new story up! The online erotic fiction magazine I’m editing, Fishnet, has a new story up for you to enjoy. It’s titled Spider Lines, by Timothy Morgan, and here’s the teaser:

My wife and I took our time undressing her. I’d like to tell you how strong my hands were and how the girl trembled beneath my touch. But no. My hands shook. My fingertips were cold.

I stood behind her, my face pressed against her neck — kissing her, smelling her, holding back the nibbling and the biting that soon would know no restraint. Her hair on my cheek. Her skin warm against my lips, which were cold as my fingertips.

If I were making this up, I’d say she smelled like flowers — jasmine or hyacinth or even roses. But I’m not, and she didn’t. She smelled like you or I smell on any given summer day — a hint of soap — the ghost of an early morning shower — and flesh. Flesh and sweat.

To read more, read the rest of the story. (Not for anyone under 18.) Enjoy!

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Jumping Out the Window

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

It is hypothetically possible that, if you jump out the window, fairies will carry you to the ground. You can’t prove with 100% certainty that it won’t happen. Are you therefore going to jump out the window? If not, why would you base any other major decision on a religious belief you have no evidence for but that can’t be 100% disproved? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

The Plausible Fantasy

Please note: This piece, and the piece it links to, discuss my personal sex life and sexual fantasies in some detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that — please don’t.

Plausible I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. In it, I talk about an odd pattern I’ve noticed in my sex fantasies — namely, a need for those fantasies to be plausible, with an obsessive tendency to tinker with the setting and the backstory until they become plausible. And I ask if anyone else has a similar pattern… and if so, how they deal with it.

It’s called The Plausible Fantasy, and here’s the teaser:

What the fuck?

They’re fantasies, for fuck’s sake. The whole point of fantasies is that they’re not real, and don’t have to be. The whole point of fantasies is that they’re for my enjoyment, in the entirely consensual privacy of my own head. That’s the whole point of having a fantasy about getting spanked in the cafe bathroom, instead of actually doing something. And if I enjoy thinking about getting spanked in the cafe bathroom, then I should be able to enjoy thinking about getting spanked in the cafe bathroom… without worrying about whether actually getting spanked in the cafe bathroom would be an unacceptable breach of cafe etiquette.

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

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Natural Explanations Replacing Supernatural Ones

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

In human history, supernatural explanations of phenomena have been replaced by natural explanations thousands upon thousands of times. Natural explanations have been replaced by supernatural ones exactly never. So why would we assume that any given unexplained phenomenon is probably supernatural? Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Nom, Nom, Nom: Susie Bright’s “Bitten”

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex fantasies and my tastes in erotica. Family members and others who don’t want to read that stuff, please don’t read this. This review was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Bitten This, for me, is the true test of good porn.

If porn gets me off because it hits my particular erotic buttons… well, that’s not much of a test. I can, for instance, get off watching almost any spanking videos, almost regardless of whether they’re any good. I can get off watching some of the grainiest, cheesiest videos that SpankingTube has to offer. Where’s the sport in that?

The true test is this: Can it get me off, even though it doesn’t hit my particular erotic buttons? Can it get me off, even if it’s the actual antithesis of my erotic buttons? Can it get me to feel what the writer finds erotic about this kind of sex — and what the characters find erotic about this kind of sex — even if it’s the last thing in the world that would occur to me to think about when I’m whacking off?

“Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories” is that kind of book.

Elevator_buttons_1 I should explain. Constant readers might think that a porn anthology subtitled “Dark Erotic Stories” would hit my buttons like a five- year- old in an elevator. Constant readers, in this case, would be wrong. Yes, I like dark porn. But “dark” isn’t the only theme of “Bitten,” or even the main theme. The main theme is… I guess you’d have to say Gothic. The stories aren’t just dark: they’re serious. They’re obsessive. They’re not particularly funny. And most of them are about the supernatural.

And supernatural porn is really not my thing. (No, not because I’m an atheist.) As constant readers may know, my number one fetish in porn is believability. When I read a dirty story, I want to feel like it might really have happened, like it might really be happening right now. That’s what gives me that immediacy, that feeling of being projected headlong into someone else’s sweaty skin. So porn about magic, about incubuses, about ghosts, about sex with the devil… it doesn’t usually do it for me. (Except for the Snape fantasies. That’s different. I can’t explain why. Shut up, that’s why.)

But I found “Bitten” almost completely compelling. Like, “reading it raptly until two in the morning, then masturbating as quietly as I can because I don’t want to wake my partner but won’t be able to fall asleep with these stories in my head until I do” compelling.


Because that’s what good porn does.

Good porn — like the porn in “Bitten” — gets you feeling what the characters are feeling. Even if what they’re feeling, and doing, is physically impossible. Good porn can get you inside the skin of someone who has the Devil’s cock shoved into their mouth, through their body, and out through their anus (“Get Thee Behind Me, Satan,” by Ernie Conrick). Good porn can get you inside the skin of a bar vamp who seduces men and steals their souls (“The Devil’s Invisible Scissors,” by Sera Gamble). Good porn can get you inside the skin of someone getting ravished by a shape-shifting incubus that can take the form of water and smoke (“The Unfamiliar,” by Allison Lawless — probably my favorite story in the book). Good porn can expand your libido, make it larger and richer, fill it with images and ideas that might never have occurred to you before but that you now can’t shake.

And Susie Bright has a unique eye for good porn.

Susie_bright.sized I should tell you right now, in my official “conflict of interest” alert: I have no objectivity at all when it comes to Susie Bright. We’ve known each other for decades: she’s a colleague and mentor and friend, and I can’t review her work the way I would with just any old erotica editor.

But part of the reason she’s a colleague and mentor and friend is that I have such strong admiration for her editorial vision. We don’t always agree — her definition of “erotica” is often pretty broad and loose, whereas I prefer my porn to be pretty straightforwardly porny — but Susie has an almost unerring eye for stories that display first-rate writing, a unique voice, and a vivid sexual imagination.

Eye And that eye was wide open with the stories in “Bitten.” They are unique. They are exceptionally well written. And to call them “vivid” is a grotesque understatement. Lore Sjoberg once wrote that iced mocha “makes me happy to be alive, in the literal sense that it forcibly alters my brain chemistry.” These stories forcibly altered my brain chemistry. It was like being violated, in the best possible way. It was like a masochistic fantasy in which a pitiless, unnervingly perceptive top forces me against my will, not just to do shameful and terrible things, but to want them.

Of course, I have one or two complaints. I almost always do. Like any anthology, some of the stories are better than others. “Historical Inaccuracies” by Julia Talbot was fine but didn’t do anything for me, and while I very much enjoyed Anne Tourney’s “The Resurrection Rose,” I though it needed some trimming: the concept of the perverted libidinous flower was neat and hot, but it was too much of the same idea for too long. But unlike many erotica anthologies where the stories range from “Meh” to “Good,” the stories in “Bitten” range from “Good” to “Fucking awesome.” I’m not sure that even qualifies as a criticism.

My other complaint is not so much a complaint as it is a consumer advisory. The stories in “Bitten” are excellent… but I couldn’t devour them at one sitting, the way I usually do with erotica anthologies. A few at a time was enough. The intensity, the passion, the seriousness, the other-worldliness
 if I read too many in one sitting, it would all get to be much. Like a RenFayre nerd who never gets out of character, and never shuts up about it. Reading “Bitten” would be a wild, fantastical trip into imaginary sexual worlds for a few stories
 and then, with just one more story, it would suddenly get cloying. I needed a good dose of raunchy humor or a plain old fuck story as a palate cleanser. It was like a strong, sweet, strangely-spiced dessert: a few bites was lovely, but if I ate a whole meal of it, I’d get sick of it. For me, this was a book best read in small doses, spread out over a few nights.

Bitten But again, that’s really not a criticism of the book, so much as an advisory on the best way to enjoy it. And if your tastes are different from mine, if supernatural Gothic porn is your very bestest favorite, you may gobble up this strange dessert like peanuts. If you like dark, spooky erotic fiction, you need to run to your nearest bookseller and buy this book right now. And if you don’t much care for dark, spooky erotic fiction but you’re curious to see what the fuss is about, I can’t recommend a better place to start.

Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories. Edited by Susie Bright. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-6425-1. Paperback. $16.95.

Atheist Memes on Facebook: Atheism is Not Religion

Scarlet letter I’m doing a project on my Facebook page: The Atheist Meme of the Day. Every weekday, I’m going to post a short, pithy, Facebook-ready atheist meme… in the hopes that people will spread them, and that eventually, the ideas will get through. If you want to play, please feel free to pass these on through your own Facebook page, or whatever forum or social networking site you like. Or if you don’t like mine, edit them as you see fit, or make some of your own.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day:

Atheism is not a religion or a faith. It is not a 100% certain belief in the non-existence of God; and it is no more a faith than not believing in unicorns. Atheism is simply the conclusion that the evidence for religion is weak at best — and that unless we see better evidence, we’re going to assume that God doesn’t exist. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

“You Can’t Disprove Religion”: Three Counter-Examples

Proof “You can’t disprove religion.”

I’m seeing this trope a lot these days. “You can’t disprove religion. At least — not my religion.”

“Well, of course,” the trope continues, “many outdated religious beliefs — young-earth creationism, the universe revolving around the earth, the sun being drawn across the sky by Apollo’s chariot — have been shown by science to be mistaken. But modern progressive and moderate beliefs — these, you can’t disprove with science. These are simply matters of faith: things people reasonably choose to believe, based on their personal life experience.”

Then there’s the corollary to this trope: “Therefore, atheism is just as much a matter of faith as religion. And atheists who think atheism is better supported by evidence are just as dogmatic and close-minded as religious believers.”

Mind the gap The usual atheist reply to this is to cry, “That’s the God of the Gaps! Whatever phenomenon isn’t currently explained by science, that’s where you stick your God! What kind of sense does that make? Why should any given unexplained phenomenon be best explained by religion? Has there ever been a gap in our knowledge that’s eventually been shown to be filled by God?”

Which is a pretty good reply, and one I make a lot myself. But today, I want to say something else.

Today, I want to point out that this is simply not the case.

The fact is that many modern progressive and moderate religions do make claims about the observable world. And many of those claims are unsupported by science… and, in fact, are in direct contradiction of it.

I want to talk today about three specific religious beliefs. Not obscure cults or rigid fundamentalist dogmas; not young-earth creationism, or the doctrine that communion wafers literally and physically transform into the human flesh of Christ somewhere in the digestive tract, or the belief that the human mind has been taken over by space aliens. I want to talk about three widely held beliefs of modern progressive and moderate believers: beliefs held by intelligent and educated believers who respect science and don’t think religion should contradict it.

And I want to point out that even these beliefs are in direct contradiction of the vast preponderance of available evidence… almost as much as the obscure cults and the rigid fundamentalist dogma.

So let’s go! Today’s beliefs on the chopping block are:

1: Evolution guided by God.

Bug in hand Also known as “theistic evolution.” Among progressive and moderate believers, this is an extremely common position on evolution. They readily (and rightly) dismiss the claims of young-earth creationists that humanity and all the universe were created in one swell foop 6,000 years ago. They dismiss these claims as utterly contradicted by the evidence. Instead, they say that evolution proceeds exactly as the biologists say it does… but this process is guided by God, to bring humanity and the vast variety of life into being.

A belief that is almost as thoroughly contradicted by the evidence as young-earth creationism is.

Nowhere in anatomy, nowhere in genetics, nowhere in the fossil record or the geological record or any of the physical records of evolution, is there even the slightest piece of evidence for divine intervention.

Knee_x-ray_2 Quite the contrary. If there had been a divine hand tinkering with the process, we would expect evolution to have proceeded radically differently than it has. We would expect to see, among the changes in anatomy from generation to generation, at least an occasional instance of the structure being tweaked in non-gradual ways. We would expect to see — oh, say, just for a random example — human knees and backs better designed for bipedal animals than quadrupeds. (She said bitterly, putting an ice pack on her bad knee.) We would expect to see the blind spot in the human eye done away with, perhaps replaced with the octopus design that doesn’t have a blind spot. We would expect to see the vagus nerve re-routed so it doesn’t wander all over hell and gone before getting where it’s going. We would expect to see a major shift in the risk-benefit analysis that’s wired into our brains, one that better suits a 70-year life expectancy than a 35-year one. We would expect to see… I could go on, and on, and on.

And it’s not just humans. We’d expect to see whales with gills, pandas with real thumbs, ostriches without those stupid useless wings.

We don’t see any of this.

Panda_thumb What we see instead is exactly what we would expect to see if evolution proceeded entirely as a natural, physical process. We see “designs” of living things that are flawed and inefficient and just plain goofy: “designs” that exist for no earthly reason except the slow incrementalism that’s an inherent part of the physical process of evolution. We see anatomical adaptations severely constrained by the fact that each generation can only be a slight modification on the previous generation, with no sudden jumps to a different basic version. We see anatomical adaptations severely constrained by the fact that each new version has to be an improvement on the previous version (or at least, not a deterioration from it). We see a vast preponderance of evidence showing that evolution proceeds very slowly, very gradually, with the anatomy of each generation being only slightly altered (if at all) from that of the previous generation.

And that isn’t how things designed by a conscious designer, or even things tinkered with by a conscious designer, work.

Oven Even when a designer is stuck with the outlines of a previous design, they can still make significant, non-incremental changes. They can tear out the cabinets and replace them with windows, and move the stove to the other side of the room where the fridge is now. They’re not stuck with moving the stove one inch at a time, once every week or year or twenty years. And they’re not stuck with a system in which every inch that the stove moves has to be an improvement on the previous inch. They’re not stuck with a system where, if the stove has been moving across the floor in a series of incremental improvements, it’s going to have to stop if it starts blocking the door… because blocking the door is a serious disadvantage.

And if a designer is omnipotent, they’re not even stuck with the outlines of a previous design. They’re not stuck with anything at all. Why on earth would an all-powerful and benevolent god, a god who’s capable of magically altering DNA, bring life into being by the slow, cruel, violent, inefficient, tacked- together- with- duct- tape process of evolution in the first place?

Punctuated-equilibrium.svg Now, it’s true that we do see some evidence for what are sometimes called “jumps” in the fossil record: evidence that evolutionary changes sometimes happen very slowly, and sometimes happen more rapidly. (It’s a controversial position, but it is one held by some respected evolutionary biologists.) And some believers in theistic evolution leap onto this hypothesis and hang on like it’s the last helicopter out of Saigon.

But the “rapid jumps” thing is very misleading. “Rapid,” in evolutionary terms, means “taking place over a few hundred years instead of a few thousand” (or “a few thousand years instead of a few hundred thousand.”) And as recent research has repeatedly shown, evolution can take place surprisingly rapidly, in a matter of decades… and still be an entirely natural process of small changes, incremental alterations in each generation from the previous one. Exactly as we would expect if evolution were an entirely natural, physical process of descent with modification. So even if this “rapid jumps” (or “punctuated equilibrium”) hypothesis is true, it still doesn’t point to theistic evolution. Not even a little bit.

Again: There is not the slightest bit of evidence supporting the idea of evolution guided by God. And there is a significant body of evidence that strongly suggests the contrary.

Stupid Design: Rube Goldberg Brains and the Argument for Evolution

2: An immaterial soul that animates human consciousness.

Brain question mark I will acknowledge freely: We don’t yet understand consciousness very well. The sciences of neurology and neuropsychology are very much in their infancy, and the basic questions of what exactly consciousness is, and where exactly it comes from, and how exactly it works, are, as of yet, largely unanswered.

But research is happening. The foundations for our understanding of consciousness are beginning to be laid. There are a few things that we do know about consciousness.

And among the things we know is that, whatever consciousness is, it seems to be an entirely biological process. A massive body of evidence points to this conclusion.

Prozac When we make physical changes to the brain, it changes consciousness. Drugs, injury, surgery, sensory deprivation, electrical current, magnetic fields, medication, illness, exercise — all these things change our consciousness. Sometimes drastically. Sometimes rendering an entire personality unrecognizable. Even very small changes to the brain can result in massive changes to consciousness… both temporary and permanent.

This works vice versa as well. Magnetic resonance imagery has shown that, when people think different thoughts, different parts of their brains light up with activity. Changes in thought show up as changes in the brain…. just as changes in the brain show up as changes in thought.

And, of course, we have the drastic change in consciousness created by the very drastic change in the physical brain known as “death.”

All the available evidence points to the conclusion that, when the brain dies, consciousness disappears. (And by “when the brain dies,” I don’t mean, “when the brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen for a short time,” a.k.a. “near death experiences.” I mean when the brain dies, permanently.) The belief that consciousness survives death has probably been researched more than any other supernatural hypothesis — nobody, not even scientists, wants death to be permanent — and it has never, ever been substantiated. Reports of it abound… but when carefully examined, using good, rigorous scientific methodology, these reports fall apart like a house of cards.

Brain Everything we understand about consciousness points to it being a physical, biological process. Physical changes cause observable effects. When we see that in any other phenomenon, we assume that what’s going on is physical cause and effect. We have no reason to think that anything else is going on with the phenomenon of consciousness.

And there is not a single scrap of good evidence supporting the hypothesis that consciousness is even partly a supernatural phenomenon. There are many gaps in our understanding of consciousness — that’s a massive understatement — but there is not one piece of solid, rigorously gathered evidence suggesting that any of those gaps can and should be filled with the hypothesis of an immaterial soul. There’s not even a good, testable theory explaining how this immaterial soul is supposed to interact with the physical brain. All there is to support this belief is a personal intuitive feeling on the part of believers that the soul has to be non-physical because, well, it just seems like that… plus thousands of years of other believers with a similar intuitive feeling, who have told it to one another, and taught it to their followers, and made up elaborate rationalizations for it, and written it into their holy texts.

Again: There is not the slightest bit of evidence supporting the idea of an immaterial soul that animates human consciousness. And there is a significant body of evidence that strongly suggests the contrary.

Why I Don’t Believe in the Soul

3: A sentient universe.

1dart target You might ask why I’m including this particular belief in my Big Three Targets. You might wonder why, among all the widely held religious beliefs in the world today, I’m aiming my sights at this New Age/ Neo-Pagan/ Wiccan belief in a World-Soul.

My answer: I live in Northern California. ‘Nuff said.

So that’s why I want to debunk this belief. And I’m pretty much going to repeat what I said in #2 above:

We don’t yet understand what consciousness is. But we do know that, whatever it is, it seems to be a biological product of the brain.

And the universe does not have a brain.

51_Pegasi The universe does not have a physical structure capable of supporting consciousness. The universe does not have neurons, dendrites, ganglia. The universe has stars, and planets, and other astronomical bodies, separated by unimaginably vast regions of empty space.

And stars and planets and so on do not behave like neurons and dendrites and so on. They behave like stars and planets. They behave like objects that, as nifty as they are, are not alive, by any useful definition of the word “life.”

If consciousness is a biological process — as an overwhelming body of evidence suggests, see #2 above — then the universe, not being a biological entity, cannot possibly be conscious. To say that it is would mean radically redefining what we mean by “conscious.” And we have no reason to do so… other than a wishful desire to think of the universe as sentient.

Origin of species Consciousness has, for a long time, been a mysterious and utterly ineffable phenomenon. So, before Darwin, was the tremendous variety and mind-boggling complexity of life. And like the variety and complexity of life, consciousness is no longer ineffable. It is being effed. The unexplainable is being explained. And it is being explained as a biological phenomenon — as physical cause and effect.

Again: There is not the slightest bit of evidence supporting the idea of a sentient universe. And there is a significant body of evidence that strongly suggests the contrary.

Why I Don’t Believe in the Soul (again)


Now. I can hear the chorus already. “How can you prove that? You don’t know that with absolute certainty! God could be intervening in evolution — just in ways that are indistinguishable from natural selection! There could be some sort of immaterial soul interacting with the biological process of consciousness, in ways we don’t yet perceive! There could be some weird form of consciousness that we don’t understand, one that’s generated by stars and planets and lifeless astronomical bodies! You can’t prove with absolute certainty that there isn’t! Your non-belief is just an article of faith!”

My answer:

No. We can’t prove that with 100% certainty.

Crumb_genesis-god But neither can we prove with 100% certainty that the universe wasn’t created 6,000 years ago, by a god who deliberately planted the fossil record and the genetic record and the geological record and the laws of atomic decay, all to test our faith. (Or all of which was planted by Satan, to trick us and tempt us into disbelief.) We can’t prove with 100% certainty that communion wafers don’t turn into Christ’s physical body on contact with the human digestive system. Hell, we can’t prove with 100% certainty that the earth goes around the sun, and that all our senses and logical abilities haven’t been fooled by some trickster god into thinking that it does.

And it doesn’t matter. As I’ve said many times: 100% unshakeable certainty is not the objective here. Reasonable plausibility, supported by carefully gathered and rigorously tested positive evidence, is the objective. And there is no reason to apply the “Reasonable plausibility supported by evidence” standard to the belief in young-earth creationism… and still apply the “If you can’t disprove it with 100% certainty, then it’s still reasonable for me to believe it” standard to the beliefs in theistic evolution, and an immaterial soul, and a sentient universe.

If you’re going to accept that young-earth creationism has been conclusively disproven by a mountain of scientific evidence, even though we acknowledge a .00001% hypothetical possibility that it might be true… then, if you’re going to be consistent, you have to apply that same standard, that same willingness to accept the reasonable conclusions of science about which ideas are and are not plausible, to all religious beliefs.

Including your own.

Especially your own.

Facevase.JPG Not everything is a matter of opinion or perspective. Not everything can turn into something completely different if you just look at it differently. Some things are either true or not true. It is not true that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. It is not true that the sun goes around the earth. And it is not true that evolution is shaped by the hand of God, or that consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul, or that the universe is sentient.

These things aren’t true for exactly the same reason that young-earth creationism isn’t true. They aren’t true because the evidence simply doesn’t support them. They aren’t true because the evidence actively contradicts them.

If you’re going to be a moderate or progressive religious believer; if you’re going to be a religious believer who respects and supports science instead of treating it as the enemy; if you’re going to be a religious believer who wants their beliefs to at least not be directly contradictory with the available scientific evidence… then you need to be willing to consider the possibility that your own beliefs are every bit as contradicted by that evidence as the beliefs of the fundamentalist crazies.

And if the answer is “yup, that belief seems to be contradicted by the evidence”… then you need to be willing to let go of that belief.