The world is broken

My news is full of one picture: a toddler, drowned, lying face down in the surf on the shore of Turkey. He was one of a great many Syrian refugees fleeing their country in desperation, and dying in the process.

It’s a shocking image. It’s heartbreaking. It tore me up to see it, so I’ll spare you all. Instead, I’ll show you another image that popped up in my newsfeed that is, in many ways, even more terrible.

We need to remember that our friends, our enemies, and the innocents in between are all human beings, and all deserve to live. Remember when we vote to give politicians the right to launch missiles into cities, and when we stand by and watch and do nothing as the suffering grows.

I get email

I often get requests from students to answer questions about biology — typically, they’ve been told to write to a scientist and get a response, and somehow they’ve picked me. I try to answer them, but due to the number of requests, I usually only give brief answers. Here’s an example:

Dear PZ Meyers,

Yeah, I know. Somehow my name is impossible to spell correctly. I’m resigned to it and just let it slide nowadays.

My name is XXXX and I’m a 19-year-old junior in college.

Now this part was a little weird. They’re a college junior…but the questions are more like what I’d expect from a grade school kid. But OK, I’ll go with it.

I know you might be quite busy, but I wanted to ask if you could assist me with a simple assignment for one of my college courses dealing with the origins of life on earth. I am required to ask anyone (preferably someone who is science-minded such as yourself) the following four questions:

Here are their four questions, and my short answers.

1. How long are the days in Genesis 1? Why?

The bible is not a science textbook, and trying to pin a specific length to a vague metaphor is a category error. All that matters is that the events described in Genesis 1 cover a period of billions of years, and are presented in an incorrect order.

2. How old is the earth and life? Why?

The Earth is approximately 4 1/2 billion years old. Life arose approximately 4 billion years ago. We have multiple corroborating lines of evidence from physics and astronomy that confirm the first date, and genetic and trace fossil evidence confirms the second.

3. Did man and apes share a common ancestor? Why or why not?

Humans ARE apes. Yes, all modern primates share a common ancestor. The last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived roughly 6 million years ago. Again, this is confirmed by molecular and genetic evidence.

4. Were Adam and Eve real people? Why or why not?

No. Humans have more genetic diversity than could possibly arise by divergence from only two ancestors; also, a population of 2 lacks the genetic diversity that would allow the population to survive. Population genetics tells us that the greatest population bottleneck in our history occurred about 80,000 years ago, when the human population was reduced to 15,000-20,000 breeding pairs. Not two.

I fired those off, and thought I was done. I just got a thank you from the student, though, which was nice.

Dear PZ Meyers,

I hope you’ve been doing well.

First, I’d like to thank you again for helping me with this assignment because I got all the points on my grade for it! As promised, my professor sent some comments (quite a bit in fact) for me to read over and share with you. I don’t know how much you’ve heard already, but if you have the time, you can read them over and give a reply. I’m not as knowledgeable in this scientific area but I do believe in God and that his Word is true.

Uh-oh. Their professor did send a reply.

Jebus, did they. 11,000 words of pure, ripe, grade-A creationist bullshit. I’m exhausted just looking at it.

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Rewriting history and sucking up to misogynists


There’s a reason I’ve lost all respect for Hemant Mehta: wearing smug sanctimony while pandering to MRAs, slymepitters, and notorious harassers is not a good look. He’s now insisting that Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson, and I owe Tim Hunt an apology, on the basis of a poorly written bit of hackery, inspired by that blinkered obsessive, Louise Mensch, in a far right wing rag. It’s the latest bit of revisionist history, and it’s published in Commentary magazine, alongside articles whining about Obamacare, the Iran deal, and students opposing campus rape culture, overseen by editor John Podhoretz. I suppose it’s possible that he didn’t notice the stench of the company it’s keeping, but he might at least have thrown a red flag at the title: The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt.

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Gotta go

It’s the first week of biology labs here at UMM, and I caught most of the morning sections — I’m expected to put on my lab coat, get into the lab, and do my job in a half hour. Except that I have just learned that if I invoke God’s authority, I can shirk all I want for as long as I want. I think I’ll just go back to bed for a while.

Except…here in the real world, if I refused to do my job, I’d be fired so fast. It doesn’t matter that I have tenure — refusal to fulfill the obligations of my employment, the basic, necessary work for which I was hired, would get my ass launched out the door like I was loaded into a cannon. I could squabble futilely for a good long while, throw lots of money at irresponsible lawyers (the only kind who would take my case), but the conclusion would be foregone.

I guess I better get moving. I’ve got a few hours of teaching sterile technique to cell biology students ahead of me, even though it is not mentioned in the Bible.

His generosity knows no bounds

The Pope has made a proclamation.

I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.

Gosh. In the spirit of reciprocity, I am compelled to make an equal offer. I know that it is an intellectual ordeal, and that deep in their hearts priests are scarred and regretful at their abandonment of the integrity of their minds, their lifelong commitment to an amoral and corrupt institution, and the emotional stunting involved in a life of celibacy.

I have decided that all atheists have the discretion to forgive and accept the apologies of any priest who willingly renounces the church, now and forever, and for that matter, at all times in the past. It’s not really a power for me to give, but hey, I’m just returning his favor.

By the way, all atheists have the discretion to say “Fuck you” to patronizing priests who think they have the power to forgive you for acts for which you have no regrets.

It’s amazing how powerful we all are.

My plan to get elected president


Donald Trump declares his intent to build a wall along the US-Mexican border. Scott Walker one-ups him, and additionally declares that he will consider building a giant wall along the Canadian border. I will beat them all.

I notice we also get brown people drifting onto our shores from those balmy islands to the south. I propose we also build a colossal Caribbean wall, from Texas to Florida. We can also use it to prevent storm surges from hurricanes along the Gulf coast — New Orleans is saved!

We won’t stop there, either. We will extend that wall along the East coast, to connect up with the Canadian wall. There will be no sea level rise along that shore while I’m in charge. Also no Africans or Europeans.

The next frontier is the West coast. A wall along that shore will not only block the Yellow Peril, it will end the danger of tsunamis.

Finally, I’ll take a bold step no other candidate will consider: walls between the states. Wisconsin is a failed region, thanks to Scott Walker, so we’ll build a wall between Minnesota and that terrible place. That will inspire other construction projects — the Mason-Dixon Line will become the Mason-Dixon Wall. Californians are all jerks, so we’ll quarantine them with a wall. Utah can isolate itself with a Great Wall of Mormon.

There is no downside to any of these projects, except for one: the only party that will be impressed by the extent of my proposals is Republican. I don’t think I could join that party — I have some standards, you know.