Apr 20 2014

Oh, OK, here’s a happier Easter message


Apr 20 2014

How to celebrate Easter

Here’s how I did it: I’ve been composing a genetics exam all day, and updating stuff for a review session tomorrow. And in a little bit, I’m going to sit down with a cup of tea and watch Cosmos.

The best way to celebrate? Leave Jesus and church out of it. Also, no magic eggs.

Apr 19 2014

Salon sucks so bad

I give up. I’ve deleted my bookmarks to Salon. The final straw: two articles published today that are appalling in their inanity.

First up is Charles Darwin’s Tragic Error: Hitler, Evolution, Racism, and the Holocaust. Just the title tells you it’s a dishonest pile of crap. Most of it has nothing at all to do with Darwin (so why are they blaming him?), but here’s the key graf:

Modern racism had several different intellectual sources, and only with difficulty could one say which of these was most important. I will focus here on the “scientific” strand of racism, which drew its inspiration from Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. Several factors dictate this emphasis on Darwinian racism. First, Darwinist racism explicitly motivated Hitler and many other leading perpetrators of the Holocaust. Second, Darwin inspired the researchers, most notably in biology and anthropology, who gave racism its aura of scientific certainty. Third, Darwinian thought may well have been more popular in Germany than anywhere else during these years, in part because Germany was the world’s leading center of biological research before World War I and the Germans were exceptionally literate. Finally, Darwinist racism was the brand of racism most easily understood by the widest number of people, in part because Darwin’s theory was astonishingly simple and easy to explain.

Right. “Several different intellectual sources,” but notice the absence of any mention of the Catholic or Lutheran churches, which were far more powerful sources for promoting anti-semitism. All the author has is the claim that Hitler’s racism was “inspired” by Darwin.

No, it wasn’t. Hitler did not make scientific arguments; he did not cite or credit Darwin; he did think God was peachy-keen and justified his actions on behalf of the right German people. His actual sources did not much care for Darwin.

RationalWiki has a good discussion of the subject. In particular, it discusses Houston Stewart Chamberlain — you cannot seriously discuss Hitler’s race arguments without referencing Chamberlain, and it’s a sure sign of a hack when Darwin is given more blame than Chamberlain.

Houston Stewart Chamberlain was an influence on Hitler’s antisemitism. In Chamberlain’s book, “Foundations of the Nineteenth Century” he wrote of “A manifestly unsound system like that of Darwin …” (Author’s Introduction, page lxxxviii), “… Darwinian castles in the air …” (First Part, Division II, Fourth Chapter, “Scientific Confusion” volume 1, footnote beginning on page 264), “… no tenable position can be derived even from the most consistent, and, therefore, most shallow Darwinism.” (Second Part, Ninth Chapter, “Historical Criterion” volume 2, pages 215-216)

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, an infamous anti-Semitic fraud of some influence, includes Darwin among the Jewish conspiracies:

“Protocol 2: … 3. Do not suppose for a moment that these statements are empty words: think carefully of the successes we arranged for Darwinism, Marxism, Nietzsche-ism. To us Jews, at any rate, it should be plain to see what a disintegrating importance these directives have had upon the minds of the GOYIM.”

The Salon article is the kind of ahistorical hackery I’d expect from the Discovery Institute.

The second article reflects Salon’s recent dumbassed pandering of religion: Science Doesn’t Disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and New Atheists Go Wrong. It’s embarrassingly bad. The authors argument is that science cannot build an AI, therefore God had to have created consciousness.

No, seriously. That’s his argument.

The question about consciousness is key to everything we are discussing. Modern cognitive science relies on the principles of evolution and posits that consciousness is something that can be produced artificially. Life-forms become more and more advanced through evolution, and eventually consciousness is the outcome. Thus, many cognitive science practitioners believe that machines can develop a consciousness as well, although this has never happened. Consciousness has never been produced in the lab, not even close.

That is not the basis of the anti-dualist argument. We expect that an AI could be constructed, but the reasons that we think the mind is a natural product of the activity of the brain rest on knowledge of how the brain works, how damage and chemical modification affect consciousness, and the mapping of activity in the brain to thought.

I don’t know of any biologist or atheist who is waiting to see a conscious machine before concluding that the mind is a product of the brain; there is simply no expectation that that is a necessary prerequisite. But this wanker is throwing out all of neuroscience because this one experiment can’t be done with current technology. OK, and the stars are only 500,000 miles from the Earth, and you can believe that right now because we haven’t built a starship to fly to Alpha Centauri.

He then makes the usual arguments from ignorance: gosh wow, but you can’t possibly create Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or the palaces on Venice’s Grand Canal with brains made of meat, because they’re just too beautiful, therefore…

Therefore… (can you possibly guess what?)

Therefore…GOD. (You couldn’t possibly have seen that coming, could you?)

An alternative explanation is that God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art, sublime music, magnificent architecture, beautiful literature, and science and mathematics. Our incredible brains can do all these things because they contain some ingredients that science has not yet found or explained and whose origin remains one of the deepest mysteries in all of science.

Fuck me. I can’t read this bullshit anymore. The Salon editors are just letting drivel through now.

Scientists can’t build a conscious robot yet, but God-diddlers can imagine superpowerful beings that are magically inserting thoughts into our heads, therefore theology wins.

Apr 19 2014

The murderers of Stormfront

The SPLC has done an analysis of Stormfront’s contribution to murder. It’s a bit unsettling: it has story after story of proud racists posting unashamedly on Stormfront, and then going off to gun someone down. And so many of them fit this profile!

A typical murderer drawn to the racist forum Stormfront.org is a frustrated, unemployed, white adult male living with his mother or an estranged spouse or girlfriend. She is the sole provider in the household. Forensic psychologists call him a “wound collector.” Instead of building his resume, seeking employment or further education, he projects his grievances on society and searches the Internet for an excuse or an explanation unrelated to his behavior or the choices he has made in life.

His escalation follows a predictable trajectory. From right-wing antigovernment websites and conspiracy hatcheries, he migrates to militant hate sites that blame society’s ills on ethnicity and shifting demographics. He soon learns his race is endangered — a target of “white genocide.” After reading and lurking for a while, he needs to talk to someone about it, signing up as a registered user on a racist forum where he commiserates in an echo chamber of angry fellow failures where Jews, gays, minorities and multiculturalism are blamed for everything.

Assured of the supremacy of his race and frustrated by the inferiority of his achievements, he binges online for hours every day, self-medicating, slowly sipping a cocktail of rage. He gradually gains acceptance in this online birthing den of self-described “lone wolves,” but he gets no relief, no practical remedies, no suggestions to improve his circumstances. He just gets angrier. 

And then he gets a gun.

Also chilling: Anders Breivik was a fan. Such a fan that he took care to protect Stormfront by lying about his involvement.

Hours before he began his terror campaign, Breivik E-mailed a copy of his racist manifesto to two other influential Stormfront members, Billy Joe Roper (see related story, p. XX) and Timothy Gallaher Murdock, who runs the racist WhiteRabbitRadio.net. In his manifesto, Breivik claimed he was banned from Stormfront, though a search shows no suspension. Breivik later admitted he was not removed as a registered member.

“I was never kicked out of Stormfront,” he said last September. “Instead, I attacked them in the compendium in order to protect them … [as] an army of leftist journalists otherwise would strike hard.”

Read it and learn how horrible human beings can be…and how participation in Stormfront can be a useful marker for evil.

Apr 19 2014

Free book!

If you’ve got a kindle, you can now download Generation Atheist by Dan Riley for free. For a little while. Steal it while you can!

Apr 19 2014

[Lounge #458]


This is the lounge. You can discuss anything you want, but you will do it kindly.

Status: Heavily Moderated; Previous thread

Apr 19 2014

Uh-oh. I could have warned them.

Some Lutheran churches in Sacramento started a program to lead their members through a close reading of the Bible — the whole Bible, not just the usual study guides.

You’re atheists. You’re already laughing, aren’t you? You know what a huge mistake that is — they were probably expecting an enlightening revelation of God’s Holy Word, but instead, the Bible is sordid work of cheesy pulp fiction.

It’s been an eye-opener: The violence—the sheer level of bloodshed in the Old Testament—has taken many of them by surprise.

“Your Sunday school teachers didn’t tell you about that,” associate pastor Leslie Welton said to a recent class of almost two dozen people.

“How many of you are shocked by the blood and gore and carnage?” asked Welton.

There were nods of agreement around the room: Page by page, chapter by chapter, class members are deeply shocked. With its betrayals, infidelities and lessons stubbornly unlearned, its epic levels of carnage and vengeance, this wild ride through the Old Testament is not the Bible they expected.

You might be thinking that if they’re this shocked, then perhaps they’re also realizing that the foundation of their faith is a piece of crap. Not so!

“For people looking to renew their spiritual lives, the No. 1 thing they should do is read Scripture,” said Jimmy Hurd, minister of Cordova Church of Christ, which launched its own Bible in 90 Days curriculum during the Lenten season. The Rancho Cordova church offers the program each year.

How, though, do they account for the fact that so many atheists know more about their religion, and that more people are abandoning it? They don’t, actually.

To the contrary, the proportion of people who think the Bible is just another book has doubled to about 20 percent in the past three years, the study showed. Two-thirds of the people most skeptical about the Bible are age 48 and younger, the generations most steeped in the solipsism of social media.

That opinion about solipsism is not a quote — it’s the inserted interpretation of the journalist, which I found interesting. She’s got a bit of a bias, doesn’t she?

I hope Facebook isn’t the key to destroying religion. It’d be replacing one evil for another.

Apr 18 2014

Teaching confidence rather than knowledge

Dunning-Krueger strikes again! A survey of Oklahoma students showed that their high school biology course caused a net reduction in their knowledge of evolution.

The study, conducted by Tony Yates and Edmund Marek, tested biology teachers and students in 32 Oklahoma public high schools via a survey the pair called “the Biological Evolution Literacy Survey.” The survey was administered to the teachers first, to get a benchmark of their grasp of evolutionary theory. The survey was then administered twice to the students — once before they took the required Biology I course, and once after they had completed it.

Yates and Marek found that prior to instruction, students possessed 4,812 misconceptions about evolutionary theory; after they completed the Biology I course, they possessed 5,072. Of the 475 students surveyed, only 216 decreased the number of misconceptions they believed, as opposed to 259 who had more of them when they finished the course than before they took it.

The scary part is that the students were more confident of their knowledge, despite being even more muddled than when they started.

How could this be? One contributor:

This may be because “about one-fourth of Oklahoma public school life-science teachers place moderate or strong emphasis on creationism.” In fact, two students scored higher initially on the Biological Evolution Literacy Survey than their respective teachers.

We clearly need to do a better job teaching the teachers.

Apr 18 2014

Friday Cephalopod: Sparkle magic!

Apr 18 2014

That doesn’t fit my definition of ‘decent’

A few years ago, a Canadian teenager, Amanda Todd, killed herself after being harassed and extorted online. A man used flattery to get her to flash her breasts…and then used the photo he took to demand more, backed up by incessant threats online, revealing the photo to Todd’s friends, and promising to make her life hell forever. In at least one bit of justice, though, the Dutch police have now tracked down and charged the 35 year old man who preyed on teenagers worldwide through the internet. Do watch the video; the anger rush you’ll feel when you hear the jerk’s lawyer say that his client is “a decent man and a nice man” will make it worth it.

I pointed out back then that some members of the atheist community have a vile lack of empathy. I will mention it again. Miri rages against the online idiots who insist that internet activity can’t really do psychological harm — they diagnose freely over the internet, and claim that you can’t possibly develop stress disorders from the bullying tactics of the usual slymey suspects — Miri tears that argument up with basic scientific facts from the field of psychology (remember the days when skeptics at least paid lip service to science?)

I’m just going to point to Amanda Todd. Her death wasn’t virtual.

I’m also baffled by the reasoning: if it’s not ‘real’, if the only activities that can have a direct effect on someone’s sense of well-being are face-to-face, a punch in the nose, a bomb going off…then what the hell are you doing harassing people on the internet in the first place? Smart people who find themselves doing things over and over that they sincerely believe don’t work will stop doing them. I am compelled to believe that either they’re very stupid, or they are lying when they claim that their activities can’t possibly have an effect. Or both.

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