An anatomy quiz!

The Australian department of health distributed these posters to aboriginals and Torres Strait islanders to improve understanding of their bodies. I’m forced to conclude that either aboriginal peoples in the southern hemisphere are aliens with a remarkably deviant body plan, or the Australian government doesn’t give a damn.

Can you spot all the errors?

Heart is reversed
Right kidney is not a pancreas
Ovaries are not kidneys
Stomach is not a respiratory organ
Small intestines are not a pear-shaped organ called the stomach

The poster has been withdrawn. The real mystery is whose understanding of anatomy at the health department is this bad.

Why I am an atheist – Don Fearn

I grew up in Northwestern Minnesota in a nominally Christian household; Mom and Dad took us to church most Sundays, and it was usually the Methodist church, although once in a while we would go to a Catholic mass, a Baptist “come to Jesus” meeting, or a Lutheran church — just for variety, I guess. They didn’t say much about religion and it didn’t seem all that important; it was just what you did. I remember in about sixth grade that one of the neighborhood kids said that he could get away with anything he wanted to do, as long as he asked a priest for forgiveness later. He was from a Catholic family, and Mom and Dad told me that he was mistaken about that. I also went to a movie about being saved where I told the nice young man in a suit that I accepted Jesus into my heart; but I didn’t feel any different in the next few days, so I soon forgot about it.

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Who follows the Discovery Institute?

Yeah, right, the Discovery Institute appeals to science-minded people. Here’s an interesting analysis of the 2500 people who bother to follow the Discovery Institute’s twitter feed: the top 25 or so followers are all apologists for Christianity, with only two exceptions, who are primarily classified as political. Those two? Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter.

I checked. Neither Malkin nor Coulter follow me. What a relief!

Also, I tried to look at my twitter followers and see if there were any consistent patterns. Not that I could see, but there were 118,000 of them — I took one look at that roiling mob and ran away.

The madness of Michael Ruse

Ruse has long been in his maundering dotage, but at least he could be counted on to maintain a thought in his head for more than a few minutes…and sadly, he has now written an inconsistent and incoherent pile of drivel in which he clearly rides his favorite hobby-horses while failing to notice that he’s skewering his own windmills.

Let us begin with Micheal Ruse’s wounded pride. It’s a common marker of a Ruse article: the litany of his grievances, the stinging memory of past defeats. He will never forget an insult. It’s as if every time he mentions me, it’s solely to complain that I once called him a ‘clueless gobshite’ (a remark made in passing; if I’d known it was going to be immortalized by Ruse I would have tried to be more creative.) Yes, he brings it up again in his latest article.

And yet I, and others of my ilk, am reviled in terms far harsher than those kept for the real opponents like the Creationists. We are labelled ‘accommodationists’ for our willingness to give religion a space not occupied by science. We are put down in terms that denote powerful emotion, way beyond reason. In The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, I am likened to Neville Chamberlain, the pusillanimous appeaser of Hitler. Jerry Coyne, the author of both the book and the blog Why Evolution is True and an ardent fan of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, wrote about one of my books in terms used by George Orwell: ‘There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.’ The Minnesota biologist PZ Myers, who writes the blog Pharyngula, has referred to me as a ‘clueless gobshite’.

Let it go, Michael. It was 3½ years ago. I’ll try to find something new for you to be bitter over.

And then he says this:

I don’t care about the personal attacks. Indeed, I have the kind of personality that welcomes being in the public eye, even if the attention is critical.

He doesn’t care? Michael Ruse obsesses over past insults more than anyone else I know…well, except maybe John Kw*k.

What else is this article about? Why, the horribleness of those New Atheists. They’re just like those religious fanatics, especially that guy Richard Dawkins. It’s yet another familiar tirade about how atheism is just another religion.

But then, this is weird…after excoriating the New Atheists for their fanaticism, he declares that he, Michael Ruse, is the fanaticalest of them all.

Dawkins has said that on a scale from 0 to 7, from belief to non-belief, he scores about 6.9. I place myself even higher than that. I am a true non-believer. I am also a fanatical Darwinian — more so even than Dawkins because I think that, when it comes to culture, genes do much that he hands over to his own special cultural notion of ‘memes’. I have written many books about the implications of Darwinian thinking for epistemology and ethics.

What’s more, I think that religion has done and continues to do much harm to society.

If certainty and aggressive advancement of ideas are the signifiers of a ‘religion’, and if Michael Ruse really dislikes those atheist proselytizers, I suggest that he go lock himself in an empty room and beat himself up for a while.

But wait! There are more paradoxes! One of the big problems with the New Atheism, says Ruse, is the way we idolize and support our leaders unquestioningly.

There are other aspects of the New Atheist movement that remind me of religion. One is the adulation by supporters and enthusiasts for the leaders of the movement. It is not just a matter of agreement or respect, but of a kind of worship. This certainly surrounds Dawkins, who is admittedly charismatic.

We worship Dawkins? And possibly Hitchens and Harris? Has he ever noticed how much we all freaking argue with each other? There are no saints and popes in the New Atheist movement.

Oh, wait, yes he has noticed. In the very next paragraph.

Freud describes a phenomenon that he calls ‘the narcissism of small differences’, in which groups feud over distinctions that, to the outside, seem totally trivial. It is highly characteristic of religions: think of the squabbles about the meaning of the Eucharist, for instance, or the ways in which Presbyterians tear each other apart over the true meaning of predestination. For those not involved in the fights, the issues seem virtually nonsensical, and certainly wasting energies that should be spent on fighting common foes. But not for those within the combat zone.

The New Atheists show this phenomenon more than any group I have ever before encountered.

So which is it? Blind, unquestioning worship of our leaders, or incessant fractiousness and dissension? It doesn’t matter. Ruse is just spinning his wheel of deplorable sins and accusing us of whatever random flaw pops up.

It’s a freakishly odd article. It turns out that a major crux of his argument is that these New Atheists are all Humanists…and Humanism is bad. It’s an awful muddle, free of all distinctions and thought. Atheism is the same as Humanism is the same as Religion. It’s the most useless philoosophical assertion ever.Which makes it entierly appropriate that the comment is coming from the most useless philosopher ever.

If it’s a joke, it can’t be racist

You’ve all seen this before: an in-group culture that celebrates itself with joking insults, that denigrates the outgroups with insults which they pretend to be mere manly rough-and-tumble play. It’s the locker room grown up and metastasizing in the board room. Try to picture being one of the targets, being told to lighten up and take persistent racism as just joshin’ around.

“Let me tell you, it’s ok to make jokes about slavery because that’s over.”

Yeah, receiving that felt like a bolt of energy striking the center of my head and slicing my body in two.

“Are you a slave? Is anyone you know a slave? No, so jokes are fine because that’s in the past.”

I almost begin to cite the multitude of ways slavery still exists, from the lingering effects of institutional racism to the real life plantations we commonly know today as prisons, but I reel myself in quickly. This is in essence the trauma SF [San Francisco] has given me, that ran me out: white men always telling which way is up because they feel they are the “authority” when it comes to any and everything, most often when they don’t know shit about shit except how to protect their privilege by telling me my life experience is false.

“Also, you should be grateful that your ancestors went through slavery.”


“Because that’s a lot worse than anything that’s happening now.”


“So you should be grateful that your ancestor went through that to get you here where you are today at this company.”

Goddess, please restrain me from jumping out this chair and kicking him in his giant red neck.

I go back to the image of my split body and imagine a swarm of tiny demons flocking from the halved flesh and descending upon him; flaming eyes and five rows of shark teeth parting open to reveal mouths filled with the trauma of millions of black memories of rapes, lynchings, torture, experiments, castrations, disfigurements, poisonings, false charges, divestment, profiling, appropriation, theft, murders: memories of genocide.

“And I’m from the south, so believe me, I know what racism is like.”

Well of course, thanks for brining it all the way here into this conversation.

“And, well, I know people say you don’t know about something until you walk a mile in their shoes, but I can tell you again there’s no racism here.”

Hail to the king

Man, some days I’m so embarrassed for my phylum. In this video, a bait container is lowered into murky South African waters, and you can see all the fish swirling about, quite excited by the tasty flavors, and ineffectually pecking at it (or the camera. Stupid fish.) Then the King Mollusc slithers purposefully into view, wraps around the container, fends off all the fish, and unties and escapes with the bait.

It’s settled. When I die, I want to be reincarnated as a more advanced organism — a cephalopod.

(I know, what I want and what I will get are very different things. I guess I’ll settle for being mollusc food.)

Why I am an atheist – Joel

For most of my life – late teens until mid-30’s – I was an Evangelical Christian, and this wasn’t just a social identification for me. I really believed, I really loved Jesus. My freshman year of college I went to a little Bible college in Minnesota, and seriously considered becoming a pastor or missionary (fortunately in the end I decided to pursue engineering). Over the years I attended various churches within the evangelical/Pentecostal part of the Christian spectrum – Assemblies of God, Vineyard Christian Fellowships, occasionally Baptist or independent churches – but always places that took the Bible seriously and believed that Jesus should be the #1 priority in a believer’s life. At various times I led youth groups, attended men’s fellowship groups, went to prayer meetings, and volunteered for various special events. I tithed. I hosted missionaries in my home when they visited our church on fundraising trips. And, I’m now ashamed to say, for a couple years in the late 90’s I helped run a pray-the-gay-away program that was sponsored by my church. My churches were for most of that time the center of my social and personal life.

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