Why even bother consulting the scientists at all?

A group of scientists have done the right thing: they authored an environmental report, and are now publicizing the changes the Texas state administration tried to impose on it. This is going to backfire on the politicians: rather than hiding away the science that conflicts with their ideology, the censorship is highlighting the corruption and denialism.

Officials in Rick Perry’s home state of Texas have set off a scientists’ revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state’s environmental agency.

By academic standards, the protest amounts to the beginnings of a rebellion: every single scientist associated with the 200-page report has demanded their names be struck from the document. “None of us can be party to scientific censorship so we would all have our names removed,” said Jim Lester, a co-author of the report and vice-president of the Houston Advanced Research Centre.

Mother Jones has gone through the report line by line. Rick Perry’s mindless zombies didn’t just prune out contentious interpretations of the evidence — they cut out statements of confirmed, measurable fact, like measaurements of sea level rise in Galveston Bay. When reality conflicts with your delusions, what do you do? Rethink your delusions, or try to edit the facts?

We know what choice Perry would make.

(Also on Sb)

Anderson Cooper posts a stupid poll

Why Anderson Cooper gave any airtime to that fraud John Edward is a mystery (oh, wait: gullibility sells!), but the poll is even further insult. Send him a message.

Do You Believe in Mediums?

Anderson, unlike his mother Gloria Vanderbilt, admits that he is a “skeptic” of John Edward’s abilities as a medium.

Our cameraman, George, admits that he, too, was a skeptic of channeling spirits. John Edward changed his mind, however, after a spontaneous — and surprisingly accurate — reading during a taping.

How about you? Do you believe mediums have the power to channel those who have passed?

No 72.9%

Yes 27.1%

Atheist church? NO THANK YOU.

Grrr. Epstein. I guess he’ll play his games, but I just find them so irrelevant. He’s exploring ways to structure atheist meetings modeled after religion.

“People get a lot of benefits from their religious communities including profound ways of filling existential needs, like commemorating significant events in their lives,’’ said James Croft, a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education who is heavily involved with the Humanist Community Project. “Just because they leave behind their religious beliefs doesn’t mean they stop having those needs.

“But secular society has not yet come up with a way to give them moments of significance with the same level of beauty and care that goes into religious ceremonies. That is a big gap.’’

I think it is entirely true that that weekly church ritual has deep appeal to people, and that there’s something there that can grab people and draw them in. But it’s a cheat and a waste. Tapping into our psychology to get us to sit and get sucked into pointless ritual is not how I want to see the atheist movement evolve. I want us to think and act, not reassure ourselves by going through repetitive motions, through superstitious behavior.

Ceremonies to mark major events in our lives, sure; that’s a celebration or a remembrance and entirely appropriate. But freethinkers ought not to be shackled by rote and rites. And they especially should not be led by “chaplains” or whatever the hell they’re going to call them. No gods, no masters, no dogma, and no goddamned priests…not even atheist priests.

Why I am an atheist – Sheila Galliart

My background: I will be 49 years old next week; I am a white heterosexual married woman with two almost-grown children (one girl, a sophomore at university majoring in computer engineering; the other a boy, high school sophomore). I live in Edmond, Oklahoma; a suburb of Oklahoma City. I was raised as a member of the Church of Christ; fundamentalist xtianity at it’s strongest here in the bible belt. The Church of Christ (COC) claims to be the only original, direct descendant church of the New Testament; members are right and everybody else on the planet is WRONG, including the local popular by numbers Southern Baptists.

Why are they wrong? Because they believe that being baptized is just something extra one does to demonstrate faith; whereas members of the COC count baptism, being physically buried in water (dunked not sprinkled) as a KEY, necessary action required for entrance into Heaven. Those that aren’t members of the COC? Why, they shall burn forever in the Lake of Fire aka Hayull.

Please understand that the following constitutes embarrassment to me, NOW:

I graduated from a COC university, Oklahoma Christian University, with a BS degree in Medical Technology, in 1984. I made a 30 on the ACT; I have always been interested in science. Since that time, I have been employed as a Medical Technologist/Clinical Laboratory Scientist (two terms meaning the same thing). My current position is as a US Government Employee (drone), as the Supervisor of Transfusion Services (aka ‘blood bank) at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oklahoma City, OK.

Unfortunately, I was a product of my environment and was a bible believing church-every-Sunday xtian until approximately five years ago; more or less, I cannot exactly recall. At any rate, I have not been ‘to church’ in over five years, for certain.

Okay, I hear the wheels of your mind turning, and you are thinking to yourself: GHEEZ LOUISE HERE IS A CLASSICAL MEMBER OF THE SLOW READING GROUP! A SCIENCE major who believes in the absolute truth of the Bible? Right?

Well, I can’t argue with that! Yes, I am a victim of my upbringing; in no small part which meant that as a person lacking a penis, I was to follow; not to lead. Please understand, I don’t BLAME anybody for my behavior but I am trying to explain how an intelligent human being can believe in total and complete BS until she is 45 years old. I was always a ‘good girl’; and ‘good girls’ made good grades; good girls studied. Good girls also married a fellow xtian; good girls submitted to their fathers and their husbands, good girls did not question.

In my case, I had the fortune of meeting a man with ‘no religion’ at all. Unfortunately, for HIM, I ‘converted’ him to my religion. And, his brother. And, his parents. OOO, look at me; I have converted four persons to the true gospel of keereyst! So many jewels, in my crown of the hereafter! Awesome; I am; and awesome is my jeeebus/gayd! NOT.

Let us Fast Forward, please, to absolve me of at least some embarrassment in your eyes. I began to read a lot of books. CORRECTION: I have always read a lot of books. I keep lists of every book I have read for the past 20 years. More and more, my reading lists consisted of non-fiction books (still overwhelmingly a favorite by at least a 4-1 margin).

The books I read that began to convince me that I and my religion were full of kerap? I know you are thinking I read ‘The God Delusion’. Well, Yes I did! But not right away. The books I read that began to convince me that I was; shall we say politely, in ‘error’?

The major one was, Ghosts of Vesuvius, by Charles Pellegrino. I bought this book just because I was interested in science, and archeology, and how ancient societies functioned. After that? I read a cople of his other books. Here is another mainstream media production that convinced me, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384766/, ROME, the HBO series. It explains so exquisitely the way the Roman gods affected the common societal norms. I began to see, that my beliefs were not unique at all, but just like the ancient Romans. In other words? Ridiculous.

After that? Laugh if you wish, but the comment threads on religion stories on www.fark.com; convinced me. I was furious, at first! Those heathen godless hellions commenting on the religion threads! But as I read, I assimilated, and I learned. Those horrible liberals! I need not mention that I was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, and the first presidential vote I ever made? Was for Ronald Reagan.

Eventually I made my way to Pharangula, likely through a Fark thread although I cannot recall for certain. At any rate, for the past five years I have been a ‘gnu atheist.’. I trust and believe in the beauty of the cosmos, and it is more than enough for me. Interestingly, long before I was an admitted atheist, I made sure my grade school children were exposed to Bill Nye The Science Guy. I have the VCR tapes to prove it. So I would have to credit Bill Nye as well as Charles Pellegrino, as ‘de-converting’ me.

Today, I visit scienceblogs.com daily, as well as The Friendly Atheist (Hemant deserves some credit too in my anti-xtian-conversion), and FARK, and am a member of Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Sorry, PZ, for the length of this. I realize you are a busy important person, and I want to extend my kudos to you and everything you do, everyday. PLEASE know that there are those ‘on the bubble’ out there, as I was at one time, who count on you and your blog to convince them of the truth.

In conclusion, if you have read this far, thank you so much! I hope to meet you at Skepticon in November.

Sheila Galliart
United States

Catholicism steals a generation of Spanish children

Another Catholic scandal? Yeah, it’s another one, this time in Spain. Mother Church knew best who should raise children.

Several mothers say they were told their first-born children had died during or soon after they gave birth.

But the women, often young and unmarried, were told they could not see the body of the infant or attend their burial.

In reality, the babies were sold to childless couples whose devout beliefs and financial security meant that they were seen as more appropriate parents.

Official documents were forged so the adoptive parents’ names were on the infants’ birth certificates.

300,000 children. 300,000 heartbroken mothers. 300,000 lies.

Many mothers who gave birth there claim that when they asked to see their child after being told it had died, they were shown a baby’s corpse that appeared to be freezing cold.

The BBC programme shows photographs taken in the Eighties of a dead baby kept in a freezer, allegedly to show grieving mothers.

Who needs ethics and morality when you’ve got god?

The destruction of ignorance is goal enough

I am so tired of the fatalist atheists. Julian Baggini is a perfect example: on the one hand he is incapable of seeing the progress atheism has made in the last decade, declaring us at an “impasse”, and on the other, he announces that he, as a philosopher, is going to come up with the productive, powerful Answer. I’m not interested. We’re long past the point where long-winded rationalizations by gooey apologists are at all useful. We must be aggressive and loud and keep the momentum going.

Ophelia takes him on in detail, I just have to mention a few things.

I do not blame the quagmire on the intransigence of any of the three sides in the debate – believers, atheists and agnostics – but on all of them. Broadly speaking, the problem is that the religious mainstream establishment maintains a Janus-faced commitment to both medieval doctrines and public pronouncements about inclusivity and moderation; agnostics and more liberal believers promote an intellectualised version of religion, which both reduces faith to a thin gruel and fails to reflect the reality of faith on the ground; while the new atheists are spiritually tone-deaf, fixated on the superstitious side of religion to the exclusion of its more interesting and valuable aspects.

LIKE WHAT? I guarantee you that every single “valuable aspect” he could mention (which he doesn’t) don’t need religion and are fully achievable by secular institutions…except the lies and promises of magic afterlives. Just for once I’d like these guys to lay it on the line and tell me what, exactly, humanity can’t accomplish without religion.

And then there’s this:

As a querulous member of the atheist camp, one of my aims is to end up with a richer, more constructive vision for what should follow the “new atheism”, which may well have been needed, but does not appear capable of taking us much further. To use another military analogy, the new atheism seems designed for effective invasion, but not long-term occupation.

I’ve often heard this assertion that we have to come up with something positive to replace the religion we eradicate. That would be nice, but it’s not essential: when a doctor purges a person of parasites, they’re not going to moan and fret about what they’re going to replace the worms with — getting rid of them is sufficient benefit.

Even that analogy is flawed, however. We’re getting rid of ignorance. We don’t need to replace it with a different kind of ignorance. It’s enough to learn the truth about reality.

I just got back from Cincinnati, right next door to Answers in Genesis and the Creation “Museum”. I do not feel at all charitable to religion, and my mood was not lifted by the latest insanity from Ken Ham. This is not the Omphalos argument — it’s worse.

As I have spoken at conferences over the years, people have often come up to me and said:

“When I am talking to someone who believes in an old earth, one of the things I say to them, as a young-earth creationist, is that God didn’t make Adam a baby—He made him an adult. And when He created the universe, He created it fully functional, with the appearance of age—even though it wasn’t old.”

My response often shocks these speakers: “By saying the universe looks old, you are trusting that dating methods can give us an apparent old age for the universe—but they can’t.”

Let me explain. When people say the universe has “apparent age,” usually they are assuming, for whatever reason, that the universe “looks old.” I have often found that, unconsciously, such people have already accepted that the fallible dating methods of scientists can give great ages for the earth. So if they believe what the Scripture says about a young universe, they have to explain away this apparent great age.

Ham is denying all of science and all of the evidence. The science does say the universe is very, very old, there’s no getting around it. Ham’s argument is a simple claim that all of science is completely wrong.

Why does he do this? Religion. I have no reason to believe it provides a positive benefit, nor do I need to replace it with some pretentious philosophy. These clowns are wrong.

I’m also not at an impasse. We’re going to crush them.

Seems like a good goal to me.

Why I am an atheist – Nick Martin

Part of me wants to give a smart-assed answer to this question, because at my core, I am a smart-ass. Something like “because religion is evil” (which it is) or “because the Flying Spaghetti Monster told me to be one” (which may also be true). But, when I look at my core, the only answer I have to give is “because it’s the only position a skeptic can have”.

It’s something relatively recent in my life. I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I had to go to church every week, it was a requirement that I go to at least one service. But at the same time, my parents encouraged my love of astronomy specifically and science in general. And in retrospect, that is where it all started. That love taught me to question everything (which I most certainly did).

But getting out of the other side of my upbringing took time. I went off to college, Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State), and hooked up with Chi Alpha (XA) Campus Ministries. This was before they had Skepticon, a FSM church, or really any skeptical movement at all. Again, in hindsight, I feel a bit of shame, because I understand now that prosthelytizing my beliefs had to have done some real harm to people, something I can’t change. I only hope that by speaking out against religion now can undo some of that.

I was a skeptic with most everything else growing up. I didn’t believe in ghosts, ESP, aliens, or anything else in the pseudo-scientific range, but like so many other “skeptic believers,” I was not willing to turn that same scrutiny on my beliefs. Of course, like a college student, and to be fair, most human beings, it turns out I was also a fairly bad Christian, and a fairly normal college student, in liking loud music, drinking, sex, and skipping classes.

That all started to change after some a series of bad events pushed me more into that “good Christian” category again. I went to church, went to small groups, and, dangerously enough, started to read my bible. And for some reason, one I still cannot explain, I started to question why I believed what I did. I looked back at myself, and what I had been crediting god for getting me through, and realized that he hadn’t done shit.

It wasn’t a slow process. I wouldn’t even call myself an atheist until, reading Phil Plaitt’s blog, he mentioned, off-hand, someone named “PZ.” It was some inside joke I wasn’t part of, so I dug. I found out who this “PZ” was… and read enough to understand that, as a skeptic, there is only one position to be had. You cannot dismiss all fairies except the one you like any more than you can deny a color you don’t care for doesn’t exist (otherwise, the world would be rid of mauve by now). I didn’t like facing it at first, but I couldn’t dodge the questions. And when you look at belief the same way you look at ghosts, there is no way you can’t see it for what it is.

In the end, it was my own skepticism that forced me to realize the only thing I could be is an atheist.

Nick Martin
United States

You mean I have to tally the Molly awards every month?

Mary sends her apologies — she’s been almost as tardy in getting the Mollies done every month as I was. She’s not used to this bloggy stuff where the howling mob expects something every day, and she is struggling with even the monthly obligation. But she has come through with the Molly for July, and it goes to…

Brother Ogvorbis!

Hand out the congratulations, and cast your mind back to distant days of yesteryear, leaving a comment about who deserves the award for August.

What killed Steve Jobs?

You’ve probably heard the story going around that Steve Jobs’ death was avoidable, if only he hadn’t been so gullible as to steep himself in quack medicine. It turns out, though, that the story is a lot more complicated than that: David Gorski has written the best summary I’ve seen so far.

In short (because it is Gorski, after all, so it’s exhaustively long), there was an element of woo in Jobs’ early response. After his pancreatic cancer was first diagnosed, he delayed surgery for 9 months to try out some improbably dietary approaches. It was a massive operation that was strongly recommended, so it’s a little bit understandable that he wanted to avoid it, but surgery was also the best and most demonstrably successful approach to take. So first point goes to the verdict of gullibility against Jobs.

However, his cancer was a slow-going kind with a reasonable prognosis, so the delay can only be said to have possibly contributed to the worsening of his condition. Jobs made a poor decision, but not necessarily a fatal one. And subsequently, once he saw that the diet nonsense wasn’t working, he threw himself thoroughly into science-based medicine, getting the best treatment oodles of money could buy, getting the surgeries recommended to him, and even trying out some experimental therapies (real experimental therapies, the stuff where scientists monitor and evaluate the results honestly, not the random shenanigans quacks like to flatter with the word “experimental”).

So the final result is that real science kept him alive and healthy as long as possible, and that an early flirtation with ‘alternative’ medicine might have contributed somewhat to lowering the odds of survival, but that what killed him is cancer. And cancer is a bastard.

(Also on Sb)