The ongoing decline of creationist thought

Richard Owen was an intelligent and much maligned 19th century comparative anatomist. It would be fair to say he was completely brilliant — his knowledge of anatomy was encyclopedic, he contributed many concepts to our scientific vocabulary, and he was widely respected and honored. Unfortunately, all people remember him for now is that he was Charles Darwin’s ‘enemy’, that he opposed evolution, and that he was ‘utterly destroyed’ by TH Huxley in debates.

Which are all wrong. He actually favored a historical explanation for similarities between species — he just was dubious about Darwin’s explanation, and had a battery of alternative explanations, including some Lamarckian modes of use/disuse. Ironically, everyone seems to have forgotten that when Darwin got around to postulating a model of inheritance for evolution, he basically proposed the same mechanisms of transformation that Owen was promoting. As for getting crushed in debates…I suggest that the Internet hype machine that makes every argument a resounding victory for one side or the other has a historical precedent.

The hit on Owen’s reputation is largely built on two truths–he was very political (and good at it), and he was disturbed by the idea that one preconception, that humans were the pinnacle of creation, was damaged by Darwinian theory. Of course, Darwin was also troubled by that…why else did it take him decades to publish? But the dethroning of humankind and the rejection of the scala natural was the central iconoclasm of Darwinism. Owen’s ideas were actually very close to those of Darwin, and as is usual, it’s the small differences that inflame the most ferocious antipathy.

And the thing is, the idea that humans aren’t the greatest, that the whole purpose of evolution was not to produce us, is still a major source of…I’ll charitably call it discomfort, but in many cases it is more like wild-eyed frantic loonyness. I didn’t come from no monkey is a comment that denigrates the rest of nature in an attempt to make their own self more “special”.

This overly long introduction is to point out that creationists still make this argument. One ignorant modern loudmouth is Michael Egnor, who just made a series of posts on the Discovery Institute propaganda site trying to argue that humans are the most specialest beings in all of creation because–well, you’re not expecting a rational argument from this guy, are you? — cats are stupid, and Aristotle.

Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the Egnorance because Jeffrey Shallit already has. Twice, even, because Egnor can never get an idea out of his head once it’s in there. Ethnologists will tell you that many animals are capable of abstract thought, but Egnor just can’t grasp the facts.

Michael Egnor is no Richard Owen. When Owen was shown that other apes also had a hippocampus minor, the feature he battened on as showing a unique difference between humans and gorillas, he was able to accept it. Egnor is going to go through his entire life thinking of other animals as mindless machines, which will be his loss.

Spoiler alert!


You don’t have to wait for the Republican convention to find out who is going to be Trump’s vice presidential pick: it’s Mike Pence of Indiana. Blech.

It’s time the Republicans stopped playing up this incipient train wreck. I like what Charles Pierce said.

Damn them all now.

Damn the delegates who will vote for this man. Damn the professional politicians who will fall in line behind him or, worse, will sit back and hope this all blows over so the Republican Party once again will be able to relegate the poison this man has unleashed to the backwaters of the modern conservative intellectual mainstream, which is where it has been useful for over four decades. Damn the four hopeless sycophants who want to share a stage with him for four months. Damn all the people who will come here and speak on his behalf. Damn all the thoughtful folk who plumb his natural appeal for anything deeper than pure hatred.

Damn all the people who will vote for him, and damn any progressives who sit this one out because Hillary Rodham Clinton is wrong on this issue or that one. Damn all the people who are suggesting they do that. And damn all members of the media who treat this dangerous fluke of a campaign as being in any way business as usual. Any support for He, Trump is, at this point, an act of moral cowardice. Anyone who supports him, or runs with him, or enables his victory, or even speaks well of him, is a traitor to the American idea.

Don’t have to think twice

It’s worth repeating what Lynna already said: the Republican party platform is made of poison.

– the platform committee endorsed constructing a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, just like Trump wants
– the committee changed “illegal immigrants” to “illegal aliens” in the text
– the committee refused an amendment that would have pushed for a restriction of magazine capacity in firearms
– they approved an amendment that would make it legal for parents to force their LGBT children to go through conversion therapy
– Children raised in “traditional” homes are “healthier.” “Children raised in a traditional two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime, or become pregnant outside of marriage,” the platform reads.
– Education includes “a good understanding of the Bible.”
– Coal is a “clean” form of energy

You don’t like Clinton (I don’t particularly care for the Clinton regime, either). You think Sanders was robbed. Ignore both Hillary Clinton and your grievances about the DNC: if you don’t vote to make sure that odious collection of lies and destructiveness isn’t put right at the top of our nation, you’re not helping.

Even with my top choice not making it on the ballot, this is the goddamned easiest election decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.

Depends on whose ox is getting gored

I’ve been harassed online by a demented Canadian for over 20 years. He’s still at it, but at a much lower rate, fortunately, but years ago I printed out a couple of months worth of his threats and hatred — it was a stack of hundreds of pages — and plunked it down at my local police station, and told them about the problem. They had no idea what to do.

At the height of the Catholic annoyance with my desecration of a cracker, I was getting death threats every day. I reported them to the police a few times. They shrugged.

I’ve had people send me email with specific, credible threats: they’re going to come to town on such-and-such a day. They have this weapon. They have my home address. They are going to show up at my university office.

The response? Nothing. I’ve given them names and email addresses and IP numbers. No action of any kind is taken, not even sending a warning.

I still get routine threats of maiming and abuse and murder. I’ve given up completely. I know from years of experience that the police will do nothing. I’ve heard every explanation: “It’s just social media,” they say. “Grow a thicker skin.” “We can’t do anything until they actually act.” “It’s free speech.”

I know women who experience far worse, far more often. By comparison to the police, Twitter is a model of friendly, fast-acting responsiveness to abuse and harassment, and if you know anything of Twitter, it’s a scum-sucking friend to every asshole on the internet.

But apparently, I’ve just been doing it wrong. I should have just joined the police.

Four men in Detroit were arrested over the past week for posts on social media that the police chief called threatening. One tweet that led to an arrest said that Micah Johnson, the man who shot police officers in Dallas last week, was a hero. None of the men have been named, nor have they been charged.

“I know this is a new issue, but I want these people charged with crimes,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “I’ve directed my officers to prepare warrants for these four individuals, and we’ll see which venue is the best to pursue charges,” he said.

The self-serving hypocrisy is breath-taking to anyone who has had to deal with ongoing harassment on social media. For decades I’ve been told that nothing can ever be done about written threats. Suddenly that has changed now that the police are getting the same treatment.

An Illinois woman, Jenesis Reynolds, was arrested for writing in a Facebook post that she would shoot an officer who would pull her over. “I have no problem shooting a cop for simple traffic stop cuz they’d have no problem doing it to me,” she wrote, according to the police investigation. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

In New Jersey, Rolando Medina was arrested and charged with cyber harassment. He allegedly posted on an unidentified form of social media that he would destroy local police headquarters. In Louisiana, Kemonte Gilmore was arrested for an online video where he allegedly threatened a police officer. He was charged with public intimidation.

“Disorderly conduct”? “Public intimidation”? But I’ve been repeatedly told that there is no applicable charge to be made against, for example, someone who has declared that he’s going to shoot me in the head and rape my wife! This is news to me.

This is not to say I think the police should be arresting people who say rude things to me — there are serious civil liberties issues here. The article makes the point that there is legal precedent that sets a very high standard for taking action, which is fine with me.

The policing of online threats is hardly a new issue. The Supreme Court set a precedent last year when it ruled that prosecutors pursuing a charge of communicating threats need to prove both that reasonable people would view the statement as a threat and that the intent was to threaten. Elonis v. United States dealt with a man who had posted violent rap lyrics about his estranged wife; the court reversed his conviction.

The problem, though, is that the police apparently have one standard for action against people who are rude to them, and a very different standard when it comes to the people they are supposed to protect and serve. You can’t say “I have no problem shooting a cop” without being charged with a crime, but you can say “I’m going to murder PZ Myers” with no risk of even a warning.

So fuck the police. They’re worse than useless when it comes to harassment — they’re enablers of every bad behavior, except when it affects their delicate sensitivities.

The Republicans certainly have their priorities straight

The one thing that needs more regulation is not guns, but pornography.

The medical literature on the negative effects of porn is underwhelming. I know Time magazine was recently all about sounding the porn alarm, but honestly the literature isn’t clear. Obviously attitudes about sex and sexuality are multifactorial and watching porn may actually be a symptom and not a cause. But you know what is clearly about harm? The literature on guns, which shows that a gun in the house increases the risk of suicide and homicide. I was really surprised by this, not that guns kill all kinds of people accidentally and on purpose, but that the literature on porn being harmful isn’t robust. Although one thing that might have the GOP concerned is that porn may have some role in religious and spiritual struggles. Fewer in the hard core religious right means, well, less of the voting block the GOP has so carefully cultivated.

So, how many people have been killed by porn?

Although I’m interested in that comment about porn causing doubt in religious folk. I’ve been promoting atheism all wrong–instead of science, I should be writing more about sex?

I’ll have to release a sex tape. That’s guaranteed to make people question the existence of gods.

Sanders endorses Clinton

While I’d rather be voting for Sanders in November, it’s good that he recognizes political realities.

“I have come here to make it as clear as possible why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president,” Sanders said at a joint rally here. “Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination and I congratulate her for that.”

The 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist, who has been a thorn in Clinton’s side over the last year, pledged his support to his former rival: “I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States.”

And, I hope, do everything he can to chivvy her in the direction of progressive reform.

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I am descended from Iowans

I’m not afraid to hide from the truth. I am descended from a Myers clan that lived in Iowa during the 19th century. My great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War even, was in the Vicksburg campaign, and ended up in New Orleans, where he was a casualty — of malaria, I suspect — and was discharged to return back to Iowa, where shortly after the war he lost the farm, and the family drifted west to wash up on the shores of the Pacific ocean, eventually.

So I happen to know that Iowa was a Northern state, whose citizens fought on the side of the Union.

So why does Steve King have a traitor’s flag on his desk?


I’m afraid that the answer must be that the Iowa gene pool was so greatly diminished by the departure of my family that only fools were left behind to elect even bigger fools to represent them…fools with no understanding or respect for their state’s history.

Yeah, that’s got to be the answer.

I don’t understand British politics

In the US, we have buffoons trying to stumble into the highest office in the land; in the UK, all the buffoons (the ones who were rah-rah for Brexit) seem to be frantically scrambling away to avoid becoming prime minister. Farage, Johnson, Gove, all making epic pratfalls in their desperate race to avoid being tagged “it”, and now Leadsom has bailed out. That leaves Theresa May holding the bag.

I have to wonder how awful May must be to want a job even the clowns want to shirk.

Sloppy, not criminal

The FBI’s decision has come down: there was no “intentional misconduct” in Hillary Clinton’s email. Can we all just put this aside now? There’s a giant shrieking Cheeto on fire over in the Republican camp, and every racist in the country is plotting to use it to start an even bigger fire. Why are we focusing once again on a ‘controversy’ ginned up by right-wing liars?

Give a thought to the UK today

I know, it’s hard, what with all the fireworks around here, but there’s a lesson to be learned.

After the Brexit vote, Boris Johnson resigned.

And now, another architect of the catastrophe, Nigel Farage, has stepped down.

I have to give them some credit for recognizing, after the fact, what a disaster they have engineered, but they get no respect at all for running away like cowards from the hot flaming mess they made.

Please, America, remember this: bullying, bigoted ignoramuses will disintegrate at the first hint of opposition. Keep that in mind until at least November, OK?

Oh, who am I kidding. This is an electorate with the attention span of a jellyfish.