An important warning regarding your household recreational drug use

I  try not to abuse my soapbox here by proselytizing too often, given that this is a topic on which hordelings have deeply divided points of view. But sometimes a warning is just far too important not to share.

I’m not moralizing here. What you do with your own body is between you, your conscience, and your connection. But an informed choice is always the best choice. I urge you to pay close attention to this Public Service Announcement.

People like this actually exist?

Christian talk radio is a real swamp of idiocy. Here are a couple of hosts babbling about feminists.

They did surprise me, though. They started talking about the two kinds of feminists, and oh no, I thought, here comes that boring anti-feminist crap peddled by Christina Hoff Sommers and happily swallowed by every MRA on the planet, that there are gender feminists and equity feminists. But no! I guess there is a lower level you can reach.

Their distinction was between cute feminists and ugly feminists.

I’d like to say we were done there, but they also go on to blame gays and feminists for the decline of western civilization. They’d get along just fine with a few atheists I know.

(via The Raw Story.)

Science doesn’t say that!

Have you ever noticed how the religious regard ‘scientism’ and ‘reductionism’ and demands for concrete evidence as barely a notch above obscenities? That is, until they need to reduce complex issues to simplistic claims and don the mantle of Science to support their beliefs. Then they become Holy Writ.

You can really see this behavior in the abortion debate, where suddenly anti-choicers decide that humanity is defined by a particular arrangement of alleles in the genome. Case closed, they say, Science has spoken! Unfortunately, they get the science wrong, and we know their commitment to the authority of sacred science will be discarded the instant a scientist says something they disagree with…like, say, there is no soul and the mind is a product of the brain, or you are an evolved variant of an ape, or maybe, just maybe, genes aren’t the magic ju-ju beans you think they are.

A classic example was published in the Independent. Look how Declan Ganley bows and scrapes to the authority of science, multiple times!

Of course, the only way to guarantee that the law protects all individual members of the human species equally, is that at a minimum, from the moment that a member can be identified as such, the law insures immunity from deliberate bodily destruction.

This moment of identity is unequivocally known today as conception (as indeed the word itself suggests), when the DNA of a new member of the human species arises. It is scientifically indisputable that the DNA discovered here by science is that of a unique individual distinct from their biological mother, and that this DNA is the unique and irreplicable identifier of a unique member of our species.

So the question is not whether we know when the human individual is first created (this is unequivocally proven by science), but rather whether an individual’s right to life can be made subject to another and one individual human can be fully owned by another to the point where their very life is subject only to the whims of another.

None of us are created in the fullness of our potential, but science has shown us that human life is a journey, not a static moment. Our potential is gifted us at our conception – our appearance, talents and very fingerprints are hardcoded, and the rest is up to us. We are all conceived with the destiny to be born, grow, mature, slowly fade and die. The deliberate and targeted interruption of this process at any point is the ending of a single, unique, never-to-be-replaced human existence, and is the most base form of discrimination. That is why we make killing another human the most serious of all the crimes.

I’ve got news for you, Ganley. Science does not have such unambiguous answers as you claim; human-ness is an emergent property of a gradual process of development, and no one is going to ever be able to say, “Here, right here, is the magic instant in which an embryo becomes fully human.” That’s because “human” as used in law and sociology and philosophy and even theology is something complex and very, very hard to define, so looking for a mathematically precise and sharp boundary in the vagueness of complexity is a contradiction in terms.

You can try to do it by putting on blinders and pretending that the genetic sequence of an individual is sole criterion, and that it is well-defined and unambiguous, but it isn’t. It just creates more problems.

Genetically, we’re nearly identical to chimpanzees. They have the same genes in roughly the same organization on their chromosomes; they have some novel variants, or alleles, but every newborn chimp also has a “unique and irreplicable” arrangement of alleles. Why aren’t you declaring their lives precious and demanding protection? Why not say the same for cows and ears of corn? They are also genetically special.

But, you will say, they are uniquely human. And I will ask what that means. If I have a mutant gene (and I do! On average, I’ll carry a few hundred novel mutations relative to my parents) that isn’t shared between me and all other humans, am I still human? If I have a cytologically detectable chromosomal rearrangement, am I still human? How many differences are allowed between two genomes before you can say one is not of the same species as the other? Is an embryo with a unique deletion in one chromosome still human? If an embryo has a unique mutation that makes it infertile as an adult when interbreeding with other members of the species, is it still human?

That magic line in development should be getting a bit smearier in your head about now. Conception isn’t necessarily associated with the generation of a unique person.

I’m glad that he noticed that science sees development as a journey, but a little disappointed that he couldn’t see that that actually contradicts his claims about conception as a singularity. Just the genetic complement is not enough. A blastocyst, a hollow ball of cells with an inner mass that will become the embryo proper, has exactly the same genes as a five year old person or an octagenerian. But it doesn’t have limbs or eyes or brain, it doesn’t think or feel, it doesn’t dance or learn. It is…a hollow ball of cells. It’s got cilia and might spin in place. That’s about it. It’s human only the most trivial, reductionist sense.

That should tell you something. There has to be something more. There has to be a complex history of epigenetic interactions that set up tissue domains and generate morphology and trigger physiologically functional activity in different cells. That isn’t there yet. That history is a significant part of what makes you what you are right now, and it’s absurd to pretend that that doesn’t matter and that everything is plainly established at the moment of conception.

And of course, he’s factually wrong. To claim that “appearance, talents and very fingerprints are hardcoded” is not true, and all you have to do is look at identical twins to see that it is false. There is a good similarity in appearance, but if you know any identical twins at all well, you know that you can tell them apart…and that their differences increase with age. I’ve known a few elderly identical twins, and you wouldn’t know that they were identical unless you’d been told so, because variation accumulates. “Talent” is also meaningless; there is evidence that some broad characteristics (musical ability, for instance) are heritable, but so much of what we call “talent” is not intrinsic, but the product of hard work and discipline.

Also, fingerprints are not hardcoded. Identical twins have general similarities in the arrangements of whorls and loops, but are readily distinguishable in the details.

Science would not belittle the significance of all the essential changes that go on after conception, so I think Mr Ganley was a bit premature in claiming its authority for his dogma. How about if we recognize instead that science actually tells us that the process, that journey he regards as so vital, is the interesting part, and that imposing arbitrary dividing lines on a continuum is a silly exercise that he’s trying to use to put boundaries where there are none?

The present is the past, the past is the present

Ken Ham is preaching about what science is again. He’s accusing the secular activist Zack Kopplin of being “brainwashed” by evolutionist propaganda, and to support this claim, he once again drags out the tired proposition that there are two kinds of science, historical and observational, and that only the observational kind is valid; well, unless the historical version is based on the Bible, which in his dogma is an unassailable compendium of absolutely true facts about the past.

What’s more, Kopplin—like almost all evolutionists—confuses historical science with operational (observational) science. Operational science is indeed observable, testable, falsifiable, and so on—but none of those words describes evolutionary ideas! While biblical creation may not be provable through tests and observation, neither is molecules-to-man evolution (or astronomical evolution). And in fact, the evidence that is available to us concerning our origins makes sense in the biblical creation-based worldview, not the evolutionary one. Of course, secularists mock creationists for separating out historical science and operational science. But they do that because the secularists want the word science to apply to both historical and operational science so that they can brainwash people (like Kopplin) into thinking that to believe in creation is to reject science.

This is utter nonsense. It’s a phony distinction he makes so that he can bray, “Were you there?” at people and pretend that he has refuted anything they might say about the past. It is a set of appalling lies from a know-nothing hidebound fundamentalist who knows nothing about science, and who happily distorts it to contrive support for his ridiculous beliefs.

It is false because of course I can observe the past. The present is the product of the past; if I open my eyes and look around me, I can see the pieces of history everywhere.

I live in the American midwest. I can go into my backyard and see on the surface the world as it is now; fenced and flattened, seeded with short grasses, surrounded by paved roads and houses. But it takes only a little effort to observe the past.

In ditches and pioneer cemeteries and dry unplowable ridges, traces of an older world, the prairie, still persist. I can find clumps of tallgrass, scattered forbs, rivers fringed with cattails, turtles like primeval tanks on the banks, frogs and salamanders lurking in tangled undergrowth, fragmented bits of the pre-European settlement. I can see relics of a changing human presence; there are places where flint arrowheads turn up regularly, and to the south are the native pipestone quarries. I can walk along the increasingly neglected railroads, and trace how they contributed to our presence here; small towns sprinkled along the railroad right-of-way, acting as central depots for tributaries of wagons on dirt roads, hauling corn to the granaries. It’s all here if you just look; it’s not a story told by fiat, poured into books that we accept as gospel. That history lies in scars in the land, observable, testable, falsifiable.

I can dig into the ground with a spade and see the rich dark loam of this country — the product of ten thousand years of prairie grasses building dense root systems, prairie dogs tunneling through it, the bison wallowing and foraging. This isn’t an illusion, it’s the observable result of millennia of prairie ecosystems thriving here, and it’s the source of the agricultural prosperity of the region. I can sieve through the muck that has accumulated in prairie lakes, and find pollen from the exuberant flora that grew here: clover and grasses, wildflowers and the flowering of the wetlands. I can track back and see the eras when the great eastern deciduous forests marched westward, and when they staggered back. It’s all in the record. It all contributed to what we have now.

We can go back and back. We can see the scattered rocky debris left as the glaciers retreated; we can see the vast depressions left by the pressure of ancient lakes; we can see the scouring of the land from their earlier advance. Seeing the landscape with the eyes of a geologist exposes its history. While the glaciers demolished the surface, we can also find places where seismic cataclysms thrust deeper layers to the surface, and there we find that millions of years ago, my home was the bottom of a huge inland sea, that diatoms silted down over long ages, burying the bones of plesiosaurs and nautiloids in chalky deposits.

Again, this is not mere historical assertion (and isn’t it demeaning to treat history as something empty of evidence, too?). Open your eyes! It’s all written in towers of stone and immense fractures in the earth, in microscopic drifts of long dead organisms and the ticking clock of radioactive molecules. We are immersed in the observable evidence of our past. Everything is the way it is because of how it got that way — you cannot blithely separate what is from the process that made it.

I can see it in me, too — biology is just as much a product of the changing past as is geology and ecology. I can look in the mirror and see my mother’s eyes and my father’s chin; I can observe myself and see my father’s sense of humor and my mother’s bookishness. I remember my grandparents and my great-grandparents, and looking back at me are a collection of familial traits, all shuffled and juggled and reconstituted in me.

Beyond those superficial impressions, I can have my genome analyzed and find my particular pattern of genes shared in distant places in the world. I know that my family came from Northern Europe, that in turn they migrated out of central Asia, that before that they were living in the Middle East, and long before that, a hundred thousand years ago, they were an adventurous (or desperate) tribe of people moving northward through East Africa. This is not a mere story, a fairy tale invented by ignorant scribes — my ancestors left a trail of alleles as they wandered over three continents, a trail we can follow even now.

“Were you there?” Yes. Yes, I am here, imbedded in this grand stream of history, aware of my place in it, seeing with open eyes the evidence that surrounds me. And I pity those unable to see the grand arena they are a small part of, who want to deny that history is observable.

I’ve been punched in the irony gland!

So Bobby Jindal gave a speech, with recommendations for the Republican party.

We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.

Bobby Jindal, creationist. Bobby Jindal, opponent of public education. Bobby Jindal, drill baby drill.

Yes, the Republicans need to stop saying stupid things. Let’s start by kicking Bobby Jindal out of office.

Oh, look here: Five reasons Jindal is responsible for transforming Republicans into the “stupid party”.

The Republicans really hate women

They’re still going at it, and the latest effort in New Mexico will take your breath away with its sheer vindictive nastiness.

Should a recently introduced bill in New Mexico become law, rape victims will be required to carry their pregnancies to term during their sexual assault trials or face charges of “tampering with evidence.”

Under HB 206, if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor would be charged with a felony punishable by up to 3 years in state prison:

Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

They really, really want you to keep that rape-baby, don’t they? Imagine finding yourself pregnant from a rape and then being told that because you were the victim of a heinous crime, your right to autonomy is being suspended. The victim is now the criminal.

This law is so absurd and extreme that it will never ever be passed, and its author’s political career has just been self-destructed, right? Right?