I am honestly happy that Phillip Johnson is still alive

The last time I saw an appearance of the founder of the Intelligent Design movement, Johnson was looking very frail, recovering from a stroke. It’s also been quite some time since I’ve seen him make an appearance. I hope that his mental faculties are also strong, and that he’s alert and aware. The IDists are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of his book, Darwin on Trial, so I’d love to know that he’s having a grand time.

Why, you might wonder…after all, that book they’re celebrating is dishonest tripe, and the ID movement has been pure poison to science. I make no bones about the fact that I consider Johnson to be an intellectual criminal.

The reason is simple: Jason Rosenhouse is right. Intelligent Design is dead. I want Johnson to suffer the pain and frustration of knowing that he has wasted his life, and that he’ll be remembered as a failure.

His book was a cobbled together hodge-podge of specious reasoning, using legal logic to raise unwarranted doubts over concepts he couldn’t understand. He was no scientist; neither are his followers. He was a pettifogging lawyer coming off a divorce and a midlife crisis who tried to find redemption by lying for Jesus. It didn’t work.

Creationism staggered out of the Edwards v. Aguillard case in 1987 in a shambles — creationism was repudiated, it was tarred entirely as a religious concept, and prohibited from schools as a violation of the Establishment Cause. They had to find a strategy to hide its religious underpinnings, and there was good ol’ Lawyer Johnson, happy to provide it. That was his contribution, the smokescreen of ID.

It thrived for a while; it had its successes as yokels everywhere embraced it as a way to pretend their Old Time Religion was actually cutting edge science. It received a mortal blow in the Kitzmiller trial, which saw through the nonsense. It’s tainted fruit now. THey’re struggling to find a new frame in which to cloak their agenda, but the Discovery Institute is always going to be associated with Intelligent Design.

All they have succeeded in doing is flooding the discourse with fallacious turds like “irreducible complexity”, which still gets parroted by ignorant politicians, like Michele Bachmann.

Irreducible complexity is poorly formulated and not an obstacle to evolution; at this point, the explanations are so common that bringing up IC is simply an admission of ignorance, of someone with a Bachmann-like understanding of biology.

And for a scientific movement, look at the quality of the proponents who have flocked to it: basically no one. The primary spokesperson of the Discovery Institute is Casey Freakin’ Luskin, a freshly minted lawyer with an undergraduate degree in earth science, and who is demonstrably incompetent at basic biology — not that that prevents him from flooding the DI website with patent nonsense.

They’ve got propagandists like David Klinghoffer, who’s reduced to sticking his fingers in his ears and chanting la-la-la to the existence of criticisms.

It’s latest pseudo-scholarly efforts are bloated, preening, vacuous babble like Signature in the Cell, books that even fans of the idea find tedious and uninspiring.

Their websites are little walled garden, either no comments allowed or comments carefully screened, because they cannot tolerate open discusssion and criticism.

They’ve got nothing new. There is no new science emerging from the cesspit of ID.

I think we’re done.

I really just hope that Phillip Johnson is vaguely aware of, and vaguely perturbed by, the failure of his ideas. And I hope he lives many more years, to witness the continuing decay of his pathetic movement.

(Also on Sb)

Stupid whiny Christian poll

There are a diverse collection of holiday traditions in this country. For instance, in late December, my family eats a lot of lefse — and the older generation would have lutefisk, that awful fish jelly made from reconstituted planks of dried fish preserved in lye (we modern folk have at least shed that one). We also put up a tree in the living room, and last time I decorated it with cephalopods. I’m thinking this year I should look for some ornamental gastropods and bivalves, because biological diversity is important. In Philadelphia they have a Tree of Knowledge tradition in the atheist community, which sounds like a fine idea. Have a good time with your family and cultural traditions. Heck, if you want to put up a manger scene in your house or yard, go for it. It’s your privilege.

So what the heck is wrong with Rhode Islanders? Some of the more conservative dimbulbs in that state are getting all huffy because there is a decorated tree going up at the capitol, and the governor called it a “holiday tree”. It is. It’s a holiday, and it’s a tree. But some Christians want to demand that every holiday tradition be labeled as their tradition, no one elses.

So they’ve got a poll. At least it’s running in the right direction so far.

Do you agree with Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s decision to host a Rhode Island “holiday tree” lighting instead of a “Christmas tree” lighting?

Yes, it should be a ‘holiday tree.’ 53%
No, it should be called a ‘Christmas tree.’ 46%

I’ll tell you what. If you want to call it a Christmas tree, I won’t complain. If you want to call it a Holiday tree, I won’t complain. I’ll only complain if you tell me or anyone else that they must use your official terminology, because you don’t get to impose your traditions on anyone else.

And if you think people have that right, I’m coming to your house with a big plate full of lutefisk, and I’m going to demand that you eat it all up for your holiday dinner. Or Christmas feast, if you’d prefer to call it that.

Why I am a Christian – Taylor

(Want a chew toy? I’ve had a number of submissions to the “Why I am an atheist” series from Christians trying to play the apologetics game. Most of them are embarrassingly illiterate and incoherent, and I just throw them away; this one is at least competently written, even if the ideas are nonsense cribbed from William Lane Craig. Have fun tearing them up.)

Hi PZ, I know this isn’t exactly what you called for, and you probably won’t post this on your famous blog (understandably), but I feel quite strongly that I have two very good reasons for being a Christian:

1) Existence
2) The Uniqueness of Christianity

Now I’ll elaborate a little:

1) The universe exists. Disregarding modern philosophy for a minute, I think this one is fairly obvious. As far as I can know anything, I know that the universe exists. That means it had to have a beginning. Now, the existence and order of the universe may or may not be explained by the Big Bang (I’m no theoretical physicist), but it seems to me that the Big Bang still needs a Big Banger. Someone or something to start the whole thing off. Multiverse theory? I think it still needs some work. And evidence. An eternal Universe? Ok, but I think there are some problems with assigning non-material properties (namely eternal existence) to material things (namely matter). I’ll come back to that. But for now, I’m at the point where I admit that there has to be a beginning, an “uncaused cause” as the philosopher’s put it.

2) That “uncaused cause,” that “Big Banger,” the being that caused everything else to exist, must be the God of the Christian Bible. Why? Because of Christianity’s uniqueness. Say what you will, but after years of studying world religions, Christianity is entirely unique. To oversimplify my case: Every other religion requires an action (service, certain words or actions, good works, etc.), in return for a reward. Christianity is the exact opposite. You are called by Christ first, saved from yourself (that’s the reward), and then the good works flow out of gratitude, or a desire to be more like God. You don’t have to do good works to be saved. Can you see how this is unique?

Now, as to the point about assigning eternal properties to material objects, I don’t see how this is beneficial. Christianity says God created the universe, and He is eternal, intelligent, and caring. Atheism says that the universe created itself, and it is eternal, unintelligent, and uncaring. Is that really better? Personally, I can’t believe that this universe is unintelligent, nor that all of the pain and suffering I see is purposeless.

It seems pretty straightforward to me, but I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

God bless, and stay warm up there,

United States

(My response: #1 is meaningless. Physics has evidence that our universe had a beginning, but there is absolutely no reason to suppose a cosmic benign intelligence was behind it. An avalanche also has a beginning, but we don’t assume it was a little man triggering it by intent. #2 is absolutely the dumbest reason I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard it many times) for believing Christianity is true. Here, I’ve just invented a religion: you achieve salvation by hopping precisely three times on one leg every morning. If you forget and die unhopped, you go to hell; so long as you have hopped, you are forgiven and go to heaven. That’s entirely unique, but it doesn’t make it true — in this case, and in Christianity’s case, it’s just stupid.

Now compare this Christian entry, selected as the best of the religious submissions so far, to the atheist submissions, which were chosen entirely at random.)

Episode CCLXXIX: Oregon!

I’m a Pacific Northwest boy at heart, so how could I not enjoy these gorgeous timelapse scenes from Oregon? Although I have to protest that there aren’t enough scenes from the coast or the green valleys of the Willamette — but then, it’s got an astronomy bias and the skies are not clear as often. I suppose a timelapse of winter skies like seething gray oatmeal is just not as photogenic.

(Episode CCLXXVIII: Evolution, sorta.)

Why I am an atheist – Rikitiki

I remember growing up and the folks were Catholic (see? I still capitalize it…) and sent me to Catholic school from 2nd-through-8th grade, and then an all-boys Catholic high school (yes, pity me). Good education from that, surely, but with it came a price: learning created doubts. I still remember being 7 years old, being told the Genesis story in religion class and thinking, even at that young age, that God had set-up Adam and Eve; He supposedly was omnicient, so supposedly knew all things, which meant He had set the stage of Eden so man would fall and get original sin. What a shit! (But my young mind, having been filled with the dread of hellfire by the nuns, didn’t express it that way you can be sure).

By the time I left high school, I was sick of Catholicism…but unfortunately still had that foundational brainwashing which made me think there was a God and, since that was coupled with the whole load of Catholic guilt-trip, I was pretty sure that hell was where I’d end up. Over time, I consoled myself with the idea that if God really did know everything, He’d know the background and motivations behind whatever I did and, therefore, would understand and, like a loving parent, forgive me for my mistakes.

Fast forward to my late 40’s by which time I’d become an alcoholic and ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous…going to meetings at least 3 times a week, working those twelve steps, etc. But the one thing they read at the start of every AA meeting says: “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest” So, yeah, if I wanted to stay sober, they told me I had to be rigorously honest…and find some kind of ‘higher power’ (though they capitalized that as Higher Power…you know, the God thing, a ‘spiritual’ way of life and all that). So, I set out to figure out what my own ‘Higher Power’ is.

And, in the process, my sister gifted me with a ‘Recovery Bible’. Essentially, this is a regular bible where the verses are on one page with a recovery interpretation on the facing page, telling you how each verse pertains to a person’s recovery. However, in reading through the bible (ugh! that was a chore reading the whole thing), that rigorous honesty thing was part of it. And, I had to be honest with myself: it was a load of made-up crap! Not just mythology, but LOUSY mythology. I’ve read better mythology in my Dungeons & Dragons books (which, I think, many years ago helped soften me up for non-belief).

After this, I got a book from the library called “Who Wrote the Bible?”. I highly recommend this scholorly look at who the probable authors were, since it certainly wasn’t Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And the more books I read, searching for the ‘right’ spirituality, one that would work for me as my ‘Higher Power’, the more dishonest the whole thing was turning out to be. And, remember, my AA program said I’d only recover and stay sober IF I remained rigorously honest.

My honest and open-minded assessment of ALL gods is: they don’t exist, because IF any did, there’d be some evidence — and there is NONE. Same for the ‘spiritual’, ghosts, afterlife, and any and all kinds of woo. Sure, they ‘exist’, but only in a person’s mind.

So, for me, the cute thing is that getting into that AA ‘spiritual’ program is really what turned me into an atheist. Yep, the truth does set you free.

United States

Hamza Tzortzis on the Intellectual Dishonesty of Professor Myers SHOCKING!

That’s what he titles his latest youtube video, anyway. I laughed, just like I laughed when Eric Hovind called to complain about the misinformation on my website. He also claims I “accept defeat”

Myers accepts defeat see below:

Myers changes his stance from Ireland, In Ireland Myers says the ‘Quran is Wrong’. After reviewing the iERA Research Paper he now believes its the Quran has ‘ very little opportunity for disproof, and they can be made to fit just about any reasonable observation.’

I am surprised to learn that I accepted defeat. Doesn’t he know I’m indomitable? Anyway, here’s the video where Tzortzis crushes me.

I will give him credit — he does link to my article debunking Islamic embryology, which is more than most creationists would do. But still, he’s got it all wrong.

During our encounter in Ireland, I pointed out that their specific claim of a discrete sequence of development in the embryo, from bones to muscles being added to bones, was false. In the article I wrote on Tzortzis’s strained exegesis of two verses from the Quran, I explained that you can’t make concrete claims about embryology from such a vague, cursory, and intentionally poetic source, such as those two verses. These are not incompatible arguments. The second point is not a softening of the views made in the first point.

If anything, Tzortzis has backed down. In Ireland, he and his friends were trying desperately to argue that Mohammed knew things that no man in his position could possibly have known without a divine source of information; my argument was that no, what’s in the Quran is very much in line with the knowledge of his day, derived from Aristotle and Galen. No miracles were required to write those two verses.

Now Tzortzis’s claim is greatly reduced; it is that the Quran does not “negate reality”, or does not make claims that contradict known science. That’s fine; as I said, it’s the most minuscule of verses saying the wobbliest things, and it’s derived from observations of embryos made by Greek and Roman predecessors, so it’s not surprising that it can be retrofitted to fit modern science by playing enough word games.

Tzortzis relies on what he calls “lexical analysis”, but it’s little more than compiling the equivalent of thesaurus entries for words in the verses, and then picking and choosing the ones that fit the point he’s trying to make. That’s not analysis, it’s cherry-picking.

Amusingly, he does the same thing to modern developmental biology. He’s gone rifling through legitimate embryology texts, trying to prove that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and he found one sentence in a textbook — “after the cartilaginous models of the bone have been established, the myogenic cells, which have now become myoblasts, aggregate to form the muscle masses” — that he thinks shows I was wrong and that his interpretation of the Quran phrase — “bones were clothed with flesh” — is correct.

Wrong. See, this is the problem with his “lexical analysis” approach — it means he tries to conform what he reads to what he already thinks he knows. I know what a developing limb looks like; mesodermal masses condense gradually into organized clusters of cells that differentiate in parallel. Centers of what will become bones aggregate and form cartilage (not bone, notice) as centers of what will become muscle (the myogenic cells in that description) aggregate and begin differentiation into myoblasts and myotubes and eventually muscle fibers.

Here’s what we actually see in the developing limb: branching patterns of cell fate decisions by tissue precursors, and parallel differentiation of the cellular components of those tissues.

The simplistic and discrete idea of “bones, then flesh” doesn’t even recognize that “bones” and “flesh” aren’t simple binaries, and the sequence isn’t a simple temporal switch. What you had instead was the early segregation of cells into differing mucopolysaccharide matrices, within which cells began complex sequences of shifting patterns of gene expression and differentiation into mesodermally-derived tissues.

Or more poetically, bones and flesh congealed together out of balls of snot. There are sequences within that pattern, but chondrocytes aren’t bones and myoblasts are not muscles. Tzortzis is trying too hard to fit the Quran to science, because he can’t appreciate that it’s just a book written by men trying to make sense of the world, and also unfortunately trying to add extra weight to their opinions by claiming the authority of a god behind them. A sad state of affairs that I’m afraid their modern descendants continue to perpetrate.

(Also on Sb)

Turn up the heat on Burzynski

Oh, look here. Majikthyse has dug up the publicly available information on Burzynski’s proposed clinical trials, all 61 of them. Almost all of them have been neglected and abandoned, and the FDA even sent a warning to the clinic. Join in the letter writing campaign asking the FDA to investigate the Burzynski Research Institute — it looks like responsible oversight has been overlooked, and maybe a little reminder would kick up some action.

Whose side is God on?

On the side of the investment bankers and plutocrats, of course!

That’s a sign that’s gone up in Minneapolis. You want healthcare? You’re going to hell, you covetous sinner. You don’t think the obscenely rich ought to keep every penny they’ve got? You’re going to hell for that, too, Communist.

I guess it should be no surprise. Since the Bible says only 144,000 will go to heaven, he’s always been on the side of the 0.002%.