Open Thread – AE 805

Topic discussion focused on some emails from people who conflate marriage equality with adoption of children by LGBT people. The adoption issue is moot – we have over 40 years of research that shows that the sexual orientation of a child’s parents is not a relevant factor in how well that child does. The issue that’s before SCOTUS this month is whether or not to extend marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. If your argument against marriage equality is that you’re advocating for our children, let me assure you, you’re not helping anyone’s child. All you’re doing is arguing for second-class status for families like mine.


  1. nicksonz says

    Very plausible what Matt said about there being a spectrum of orientations that are too varied to be boxed into labels. I’ve always thought this and Matt’s the only other person I’ve known to suggest it. Straight, gay, bi are just attempts – by people of all orientations – to simplify something that’s too difficult for humanity to understand at this moment in time. Perhaps in the future these labels will be abolished and people’s orientations will be accepted on a case-by-case basis without lumping the orientation into a category. People’s orientations can be as diverse and unique as their fingerprints.

  2. Houndentenor says

    Gay people already have children. A lot of them now have grandchildren because they had them and now they’re grown and married and having children of their own. In fact I have a friend who was raised by his mom and her partner after his parents divorced. He wrote a paper for his law school journal that was cited in the Iowa case. He’s married and has two children. This is just something that exists in our culture. The argument about “the children” is nonsensical. Gay people are biologically capable of having children the same ways a lot of straight people have children. Or sometimes they adopt. All of that is perfectly legal. So rather than helping “the children” not allowing these children’s parents to marry actually potentially harms them in emergency and other unfortunate circumstances (death or medical emergency of one of the parents, etc.). In fact the one witness the anti-marriage lawyers put on the stand in the Prop 8 case admitted as much. Sorry if this is a rehash of what Jen said. I don’t get to listen to the show until I hear it on the podcast (probably Tuesday afternoon at the earliest). Not allowing couples to marry doesn’t help any opposite-sex couples stay married or have better marriages but it does have and has had serious negative consequences for couples who have built a life together at the worst moments imaginable. There is no rational argument against same sex marriage.

  3. Houndentenor says

    I know a lot of people who say that. I think a lot of people, even most people, identify as gay or straight or bi. But there are and always have been people who don’t feel that those labels adequately represent their sexuality. There’s no reason to be afraid of that. Some people are different. If everyone were the same the world would be dreadfully dull.

  4. nicksonz says

    Although Matt’s Latin/Spanish analogy is a good analogy for describing common descent (he also used it on Ray Comfort), it’s sad that some people require this analogy in order to understand such a simple concept. Analogies should only be required for the more abstract concepts.

  5. Lord Narf says

    The MP3 version is up there much sooner than that, man. Hell, it’s up there now, about midnight CST. They usually have the MP3 version posted to the website within 12 hours of the show. The video version usually just has a couple days of lag.

  6. yubal says

    Out of interest, are you guys planning on coming up with a focus on the issues presented by the asexual community at any point?

  7. says

    The confusion about the common ancestor that the caller was having difficulty with was that the “common ancestor” between, say us and chimpanzees, was a large group that then split off… not an individual couple.

    Humanity as a whole has an average evolution… sort of like a flock of birds. But the smallest our group’s lineage got was about 10,000, when things were rough for us.

  8. says

    To clarify the flock of birds analogy… I’m comparing the path/course of the birds to an evolutionary path… where each bird may have it’s individual location/velocity, but the group as a whole tends to average out to a particular position/path. Sometimes, they split into two groups and fly in different directions.

  9. Lord Narf says

    I dunno. When people have had their fundamentalist preacher explain a ridiculous straw-man of evolution to them a dozen times, they can have difficulties. Lots of people in the fundamentalist mindset probably can’t get their head around the idea that their proxy authority figure is lying to them … or is at least grossly ignorant and wrong.

    I think that where most of them are working from is assuming that everything their preacher said is correct, and that the fundamentalist Darwinists are just adding on a few other details in an attempt to make it all work.
    I don’t think that most creationists are going into a discussion with an expectation or a willingness to wipe out half of what they understand about biological evolution, and this causes huge amounts of dissonance. When you correct one gross misunderstanding, they try to plug it into their current understanding, without adjusting the other 15 things that are horribly wrong with their concept of biological evolution.

  10. Lord Narf says

    What sort of issues do they have exactly? Seems like they have more free time than the rest of us.

  11. Benoit says

    Best Quote Evar at 35:30:

    Matt: … by the way, the Catholic Church does accept it (evolution).

    Caller: Then I accept evolution too!


  12. says

    Actually, many devout Catholics will claim they “believe in” evolution, because their church says it’s OK. They differentiate themselves from ignorant Protestants this way, they think. So, they claim an acceptance of evolution without a clear understanding of it. When they hear someone talking about evolution, then, they are confused.

  13. Kazim says

    Matt… when someone asks if you’re a God… you say… YES!

    Well, maybe that rule only applies if it’s a terrifying demon on a skyscraper who’s asking you.

  14. says

    OK, and to be fair, there is at least one person who claims to be a devout Catholic who really does understand evolution–Ken Miller.

  15. says

    Exactly. But what I find strange is that many of these people have gotten A’s out of college biology classes, so they have been introduced to the material and know how it works. I think they then dismiss it the same way I would dismiss a bible story that has no possibility of being true (Noah).

  16. tonysnark says

    Bit of a red-herring though, is it not? The guy seemed totally convinced that without God morality has to be based on evolution. Once it is made clear that nobody with half a brain cell would base their morality on evolution any discussion of the mechanics of common descent becomes moot.

  17. squirrel says

    Either God (let’s say Bigfoot for this example) exist or he doesn’t. According to the caller (Danny was his name?), the fact that you can’t prove that Bigfoot doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and furthermore, since you CAN’T PROVE that Bigfoot exists, that ACTUALLY PROVES that Bigfoot exists. I don’t understand how the religious can’t see that what they’re saying is complete nonsense, the kind of crazy talk for which they’re derided.

    I’ve had this discussion with a believer before. I asked him to replace “God” with “Nanabozho” or “Ganesha”. He said that those are just naming conventions, but the god is one and the same. That people misinterpreted the true nature of the god and that’s why they ascribed different characteristics to Him.

    I just walked away shaking my head. I just can’t reason with somebody who doesn’t care about finding the truth of the reality that surrounds him.

  18. WD40 says

    It is good that a previous poster provided some links to Kinsey and his reports — always good to get some data and further evidence to consider on such controversial topics.

    Along the line of evolution and the assertion by the caller that a belief in evolutions leads to a racist world view. Let me try to say in a more concise way what I think the caller was really trying to get at: A belief in evolution leads to man-made eugenics (kinda of the Ben Stine Expelled stuff).

    I would argue that, yes, evolution by natural selection is a kind of eugenics — but I’m not convinced that man’s intervention into the process of human evolution is a wise thing, and I do NOT think it is purely the domain of atheists — over the history of mankind a lot of theists have their own idea of how best to “improve” the human species. I would add this link that kinda talks about these sort of things and indeed research shows that the concepts we have of various races does in fact have connections to genetic markers (it is kinda obvious that it has to be so, that inherited characteristics have to have a basis in gene allele frequencies).

    Bottom line, the caller’s line of inquiry was a bit confused (to say the least), but in the end I see no link between racism and evolution and atheists philosophy.

  19. Mumbo Jumbo says

    Not trying to stand up for this caller; he was profoundly ignorant.

    But I don’t think he said, “then I accept” evolution too.” I think he said, “AND I accept” it too.

  20. Lord Narf says

    Is the Catholic church swaying back in the direction of accepting biological evolution and common descent? The last I heard, they were moving in a more fundamentalist direction under Ratzinger. I heard a few quotes from the cardinals about evolution being incompatible with church doctrine, after he took over.

    John Paul mark 2 was fairly pro-science, for a pope, and I think his long time in the seat kept some of the more fundamentalist bishops in line. Some of that liberalism unraveled a bit under Rat-boy, and things aren’t looking very good with this new guy. He has a long history of corruption and cronyism with a fascist government.

  21. AndersJ says

    Jens dry comment “You are doing it wrong!” – made my day

    Thanks to everyone who make this wonderful show.

  22. CoffeyC says

    I found the call with Paul the Catholic to be extremely painful to listen to . I realize the level of ignorance that is out there, and also that Matt, and Jen have no responsibility to be experts in Human evolution, but I can’t fathom why people can’t answer at least this question. There is only one species of human remaining on this planet. They evolved as Modern humans. The reason why we look different, is that humans are on of the most adaptable species on the planet, and we inhabit virtually every range on the planet that can possibly support human life.

    There are dark skinned groups in Africa that are more closely related to people in Northern Europe (Think ABBA), than they are to other groups living in the West of Africa.. The reason why is that those African groups split apart from one another much further back in time than the groups splitting off to head into northern Europe did; and thus, there is more genetic drift/variation between the African groups. We all have the same pigments in our skin, we just have more in some areas of the globe than in others, wherever it is a benefit to survival. We all have the same genetic makeup. It’s not about race, it’s all about Location, Location, Location. There is only one Human Race, and we all need to understand that the idea of Race, when used in this way, is completely defunct.

    As for Human Parentage, Clearly this caller thinks that the different ‘races’ of humans evolved differently from different primate species or groups… which is, of course, completely false. It is believed, based on genetic evidence, that all humans alive on this planet today, were the offspring of a single female, Mitochondrial Eve, and quite possibly of a single male, Genetic Adam. In sexual reproduction, as in we primates, the genetic / biochemical material from the cell organelles comes only from the female. This is how they determined that we are all very closely related to each other, and to a single female, because when they looked at this extra Nuclear genetic material, we are all very much the same.

    Genetic Adam, the male, lived much later. They argue about the time, but he lived tens of thousands of years after Mitochondrial Eve. Apparently, both of these individuals lived during times when there were relatively few humans on the earth. Geneticists know that there were other males, and females living with G. Adam and M. Eve, but have determined that we are all – to a high degree of likelihood – the offspring of these two individuals.

    Humans are so adaptable, that if you take a group of Kalahari Bushman, and transplant them near the arctic circle, provided that they survive their offspring will develop traits similar to what we see in people in Northern climes.

    I was dying for the guys to just cut that line of reasoning off at the knees, because it sounded too reminiscent to the flyers that an uncle used to try to give to me, when one of his friends would bring them back from the Klan meetings. I did not spend my time learning about the Bible as Matt did, preferring the natural sciences; so, even though I’m just as eager to correct the misconceptions regarding Atheism, and about the ethical and societal bases for the subjective equality of All Humans, I still find the general lack of scientific knowledge, or understanding of reality, grating.

  23. senor says

    Shorter caller: “let me tell you atheists why you can’t object to racism, by explaining evolution in the most racist way possible.”

  24. Aaroninmelbourne says

    The problem with Abrahamic notions of “evolution” is that their beliefs force them to presuppose two (or sometimes one of two) key standpoints: first, that evolution started with all current species *poofed* magically into existence pretty much as they are now; and second, like a competition, they were all aimed down a racetrack from this starting position to an end point labeled “perfect being”.
    In this concept-slash-strawman, evolution is thus designed to be a competitive race where all species are either further along the path or further back and therefore, there are “more evolved” and “less evolved” species, equating to “closer to the finishing line of perfection” (in other words, caucasian middle or upper class males) and “under evolved” (basically, everything and everyone else). Add to this presupposition a notion of “if I can perceive a difference, and personally think that difference is important, then that must mean the difference is quantifiable and substantial” thinking, and you end up with problems like racism, sexism, blaming the poor for being poor, blaming the sick for being sick, poor treatment of non-human animals, and every other example of “different equals less worthy of respect” thinking out there (contrast this with how nobody’s arguing against blue eyed people marrying brown eyed people, or demanding we burn people with red hair at the stake for having the “mark of the invisible pink unicorn”). While this type of thinking does not require theism specifically, religions have a habit of codifying and justifying such thinking by appealing to woo, in order to then claim the high ground by taking a “Yes they’re less perfect but you should still be nice to them” position.
    Now this is where the notion that “without a God, you have no reason to not be racist!” comes from: anything that’s not close to the end of the race and thus “perfect” must be imperfect. People of non-Caucasian ancestry aren’t the same as us, and thus must be less perfect (remember, there’s no ‘different but equal’). But God tells us to treat the lesser beings nicely. Therefore, without God, racism!
    I think it’s just another example of theism creating a problem, patching over it, then claiming they’re solving a problem which doesn’t really exist and is only problematic because of their belief systems anyway.

  25. Lord Narf says

    Heh, yeah, and religious people (*cough* Mormons) aren’t racist at all.

    If you don’t understand biological evolution at all, I guess I can see where someone could inject racism into it. Many fundies have this twisted concept of superior animals taking the place of inferior ones. It’s a completely screwed up concept of natural selection, but many of them have only heard about it from their fundie preachers, because those same preachers are doing a damned good job of keeping actual education about evolution out of the public schools, in many areas of the country.

  26. says

    My stance on racism, like the issue of personhood, is human-transparent. If we were to encounter an alien species, I’d both treat them as equals and as people, because evolution and/or human DNA is not part of the equation.

    My cliche understanding of the religious would tell me that might not necessarily be the case with them.

    It’s this bizarre notion that evolution is some kind of philosophy that must be followed, and even more strangely, it’s mostly only the religious that seem to think that way.

  27. bob42 says

    The Catholics I know that accept biological evolution usually insist that it was planned and guided by their god.

  28. CoffeyC says

    This particular mythology isn’t just a misunderstanding of evolution, Narf, although that was the subject that I chose for my comment. it’s been around for many years, and has been a deliberate propagated by many groups like the KKK. (My uncle gave then to me because at the time I was a student perusing degrees in Chemistry and biology, and I’ll never forget the one that was supposed to show proof that some random negro woman [in a photocopied photo, retouched and charactured.] who was suppose to be a gorilla who could mate with humans to produce black/Negroid offspring. He gave it to me, not because he was an ardent racist, but rather because he wasn’t too bright, and thought it was good and factual information that would do me even more good – an even more frightening condemnation of humanity, that is pure bigotry.) The whole time I was watching, I could see in both Matt and Jen’s faces, that they wanted to call him on it, but that they were not as sure of the Biology as either they or I wished, so Matt argued it on religion and semantics. Which, I might add, were not only quite valid objections, but also something that Matt does very well.

    I have a great deal of patience for human foible, having been positively eaten up with them myself, but sometimes it is very hard not to call someone an idiot. I think that most people on a site like this will agree, that there really is no excuse for such a level of ignorance in the age of instantly available informaiton, provide you ignore the causation of sloth in not weeding out silly data, laziness in not looking it up in the first place, bigotry in only looking for what you want to hear, indoctrination to cleave to the lowest common denominator….

    Okay… I think I see a pattern.

    It was painful, because even with as much hope and admiration I have for the good things that we Humans can do, listening in to calls like that, I cannot escape a sense of fatalistic dread that we are fracking doomed.

  29. John Kruger says

    They say they believe in evolution, but it is really a god guided form of evolution, and not really comparable to the scientific, unguided version of evolution that actually has evidence to back it up.

    That guy was a real piece of work. Matt gives him a solid foundation, without a god, for rejecting racism, the guy agrees that it is sound, but then still asserts that the racism is inevitable. Tragic logic fail.

    How any Catholic can speak with moral superiority is beyond me. Even if they were ahead of the curve on racism and slavery (which I don’t think can be reasonably demonstrated) they still seem to have a lot of trouble with the idea that child abuse is wrong and preventing it should be a very high priority. Where was their god on that one?

  30. CoffeyC says

    I think that the morality issue for them is one that most rational people will trip over, and not recognize as such, unless it is pointed out specifically as a moral argument. It’s the same Divine Command Theory that the likes of Lane Craig can use to justify any level of immorality, as long as is it undertaken, in furtherance of the myth.

    I was answering a couple of questions for a friend regarding this bit of spew on the evolution of whales.

    When you know the background of this article, then you understand how clearly it demonstrates two points.

    The first is that Richard Sternberg is that poor and much misunderstood fellow, who having seen his temporary job coming to an end, decided to editorially sneak in a creationist article by handling the entirety of peer review process himself . [ and too this day, I still believe the names of the three alleged reviewers of that particular paper are still hidden away in his files, but it is likely that if they existed at all, that they were also fellows at the creation institute. ] From reading, It wold seem that if you feel the righteousness of god upon you, then such trivialities of though shalt not… lie, steal, or bear false witness, are actually meaningless in comparison. This, in part, is why I like most atheists hold a very deeply seated moral objection to religious doctrine.

    The second issue is one that is very obvious to scientists and educators. This issue is, of course, the one where those who are fundamentally ignorant of the underlying principals of science seek to criticism it, or more humorously, to masquerade as a member of the cabal of scientific practitioners in one form or another. I tried to explain to a baptist minister friend once, just how glaring this is, explaining that it is as if I were to walk into a practice at the Boston Symphony, picking up a violin for the first time in my life, and after abusing the hearing of all within range, declaring that I too could play and should not only be allowed to join them, but that they should play my own composition next. .

    The flaw isn’t one of thoughtlessness, I suppose, or the native inability to understand any given issue. The examples are many an manifest, including many who hold justly awarded PhD’s in the Chemical, Physical, and Biological sciences; which lends that it is not purely a inability to reason that leads to holding such nonsensical views. It is more that in their own mind that they lend far greater weight to that ephemeral moral certainty than they do to reality, or any actual morality.

    A good example might be Dr. Caroline Crocker, who lost several teaching positions because she felt quite justified in teaching creationist/’ID junk, all of which had been completely refuted, but which she felt she was justified in teaching instead of the curriculum she had been contracted to present. She still thinks she was an excellent teacher… even when it was her own students complaining.

    Which is not to say that there are not innumerable examples, of the Kent Hovind variety, who rely on hucksterism and stupidity to get them through, but either way, there is a definite warping of perspective, that may only be obvious when looking from the outside in. At least it furnishes considerable amusement when a creationist talks about statistical probabilities, or when a climate denier spouts about cherry picked climate data.

  31. Mumbo Jumbo says

    Catholics do know that child abuse is wrong. What they do is deny it is occurring; well at least denying it is as prevalent as it actually is.

    When I brought up the priest-child sex abuse scandal to my mother (a life-long practicing Catholic), her rebuttal is the “a few bad apples” defense. The average Catholic in the pews know child sex abuse is wrong and knows it has occurred. They accept it by deflating the scope and extent of the abuse in their minds.

    By minimizing the extent and effect of the abuse, they demonize anyone who brings up the scandal as attacking their Mother Church.

  32. CoffeyC says

    One has to wonder if there will ever be a time, when it is obvious to them that the reason why many become priests, is that they are struggling with desires their faith tells them are evil. Pederasty would be bad in any context, but I’ve known several who seemed to been driven into the priesthood by otherwise inoffensive things, like homosexuality, and one has to wonder if this immersive therapy isn’t making a lot of them far worse due to an inability to openly deal with these internal conflicts.

  33. Lord Narf says

    When I brought up the priest-child sex abuse scandal to my mother (a life-long practicing Catholic), her rebuttal is the “a few bad apples” defense. The average Catholic in the pews know child sex abuse is wrong and knows it has occurred. They accept it by deflating the scope and extent of the abuse in their minds.

    Yeah, they also don’t get the fact that the scope doesn’t matter. The institutional corruption and coverup is far more important than the original sex crimes. Both are horrible, but the corruption is the part that makes the whole damned hierarchy evil.

  34. Lord Narf says

    Jeeze, crazy article. The guy actually pointed to the movie, Expelled, with something other than mockery.

  35. Houndentenor says

    Regardless of what the official Catholic Church positions are on race and evolution, the caller clearly understood neither natural selection or evolution and somehow had odd ideas about “race” as if it were based on credible science and not junk science for a couple of centuries ago.

  36. Houndentenor says

    Are we really that diverse a species. Yes, we come with some variations in the amount of pigmentation (a good thing since people at the equator had different pigmentation needs than people in the arctic circle) and few other small variations. But don’t a lot of species come with rather wide variations of colors of fur or feathers? And while I realize that dog breeds are the result of eugenics, but there’s nothing in our species as different as chihuahuas vs great danes, and they are the same species.

  37. bigwhale says

    Exactly. They should have asked the Catholic what KKK group he was getting his information from. Understanding evolution through natural selection doesn’t cause people to be racist. There is not rampant racism in college biology departments. What can lead to racism is misunderstanding evolution. The hosts tried to teach him and point him to sources, but what he really needed was a slap and, “you should be ashamed of yourself!”

  38. Lord Narf says

    Dogs would be another species with wide genetic variation, yes. Most species that we’ve extensively screwed around with vary more widely than one’s we haven’t messed with.

  39. John Kruger says

    I get the same “few bad apples” dodge as well. It is maddening. There are always going to be those who break the rules and act outside the plan of an institution, that is not a crime of said institution, it is just a crime of the individual. The crime is the institutional reaction to the offenders. There have been pedophile teachers as well, but nobody is demonizing the entire school system over it. The institution takes an appropriate response and makes a reasonable effort of prevention, and they have met their responsibility. Need I bring up Penn State football again? The blame ends where the responsible actions begin.

    So I am far less concerned with the bad apples than I am with the rotten orchard system that lets the bad apples spread and harm everything else. Also, I would say the the institutional corruption and cover-up have a very direct effect on the scope of the problem, and the scope really does matter the most, in the end. The idea that being a priest put them outside the law and unworthy of any punishment ever is the moral failing I am talking about. They actually threatened excommunication against those who would not keep the secrets and not the confirmed child abusers. It is as broken a moral system as I have ever considered.

  40. Muz says

    Actually it was both in that case.
    Maybe further specify that is has to be the coming of an apocalypse that looks suspiciously like an 80s music video dance number (give or take giant demon dogs)

  41. Muz says

    Pardon my armchair quarter backing, but I did feel it would have been easier with catholic guy if our hosts jumped straight to there being no such thing as ‘more evolved’ or race really, in genetic terms. All humans are basically the same.
    I only say that because he seemed to be saying in the end that if there’s no god to say we’re all equal then we have to have racial differentiation because that’s what science says (so he thinks). That’s the part I would have liked to hear more about, but it was only at the end that the conversation started getting into it specifically.
    But that’s my curiosity.

    The other thing is what I’ve said before about sending people to Talk Origins.
    It’s the best stuff for sure. But it’s also an intimidating, esoteric wall of text most of the time. Beginners would probably get more out of potholer54’s video series on youtube which outlines the scientific arguments and evidence really nicely.

  42. Lord Narf says

    Heh, yeah. There was so much wrong coming at them so quickly, though. I got the impression that the hosts were suffering a bit of a mind-meltdown and took a while to figure out what to hit first. When someone has that much twisted around in his head, I don’t think you can get him thinking straight in the duration of one show.

  43. Lord Narf says

    Personally, I’d have recommended The Greatest Show on Earth, over Talk Origins. Talk Origins is a mass of information with an interface. I think it’s probably more intimidating to someone who needs a remedial education on the subject. A book is laid out in a sequential, ordered presentation, which may help guys like that absorb the information.

  44. docslacker says

    The catholic caller said that South American societies that had been colonised and evangelised by Spain did not have racism. HahahahaHAHAHAHAHA!

    There was an established and very strict hierarchy with Europeans on top and everyone else ranked according to how white you were. Africans at the very very bottom. Latin American countries are still trying to shake off this legacy.

  45. Bryan says

    As a biologist, I am perplexed by those who discuss evolutionary theory without first taking the time to learn it. The caller who claimed that racism is a natural outcome of evolution is a prime example. Evolutionary theory makes it clear that all organisms within a clade share the same common ancestor (or ancestors, in the case of sexually reproducing species). All ancestors of the same generation are necessarily EQUALLY related to the common ancestor(s).

    The caller mentioned that some races formed earlier than others, and insinuated that some races would be “less evolved” than others. This is absolutely not true, as more-or-less the same number of generations has passed within each race. Therefore, regardless of race, we are all the same number of “generational steps” removed from our common ancestor.

    The caller also suggested that if we all have a common ancestor, there must have been a single couple that gave rise to the human race. Again, there is no single couple through which the entire species emerged; the “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosome Adam” probably existed many generations apart. Someone existing in the past (if given the intellect capable of pondering it) would be unable to recognize who would eventually “become” the most recent common ancestor to humans thousands of years later—very different from the Adam and Eve story!

    It’s more or less a big game of stochastic flux that determines which lucky individual bears the mantle of “most recent common ancestor” to all modern members of a species. Also, it’s important to note that the most recent common ancestor may shift over time—the most recent common ancestor of all hominids 2 million years ago is not the same individual as the most recent common ancestor of humans alive today.

  46. Lausten North says

    Unfortunately we can’t walk away from everyone. I have friends within my groups of friends that are tolerated for doing what I consider very intolerable behaviors. In this case, Danny used the very words that I have been trying to gently ask my friends of friends to not use. He said that Matt needed to “open his mind”. This applies to any type of belief, from gods to conspiracy theories. A rational reasonable person can admit they are wrong. They understand that they are limited to whatever it is that we know or can know. We also should accept that others have limits and their not knowing something doesn’t make them stupid (well, usually, anyway).

    Belief systems that can’t be justified using a rational argument require at some point that some fundamental aspect of your being has to “open itself up” to the possibility. If you can’t do that, then there is something wrong with you. New Age people have flowery ways of saying it, but it is no different that saying you aren’t part of the chosen people.

  47. codemonkey says

    For the evolution racism guy, why didn’t the hosts just say:

    Let’s suppose for the moment that we have good demonstrable evidence that blacks are on average 5 IQ points higher than everyone else, and this has a solely genetic basis. Are you, the caller, arguing that we should favor blacks in society because of this? Why? My position is that we should treat people equally before the law no matter how intelligent they are or how smart they are. Even if the races or sexes or whatever were demonstrably inferior or superior by some measure, why should it effect how we treat people legally or morally? Why should we give a general legal or moral bonus or advantage to someone who can lift 5 lb more, or who has 5 IQ points higher? We shouldn’t. For most situations, aka what we’re talking about, how much you can lift, or on how high your IQ is, is not a morally justifiable basis for discrimination. (Assuming of course that the difference is about small, and we know that the difference is that small or smaller. Otherwise, we’ll get into animal rights, which would just complicate things for what should be a simple discussion.)

    Our basic starting moral proposition is that we should be nice to each other, and design a system which we would want if we were randomly assigned a position in society. If you want to say that we don’t have a justification for that point and we need one, then we can have no conversation. It’s demonstrably the best thing to do for purely selfish reasons, and for altruistic and moral reasons too.

  48. codemonkey says

    Also, Matt said that you can never prove or demonstrate a supernatural cause, or something like that.

    First, let me say that I think that the distinction of natural vs supernatural is both ill-defined as useless.

    However, as best as I can determine, supernatural in this context means something other than the mindless forces of physics acting on inanimate microscopic particles. Under that definition, with some straightforward supporting definition, Matt is wrong. You could. If there was a particular prayer that was published in Science, which, when spoken, right after any held cup of water would transmute into a cup of wine, we’d be on to something. Sure, we could never discount aliens mass mind-raping everyone on the planet, nor The Matrix, but if we examined the subatomic and atomic particles closely when they were being transmuted, and we had no way to explain this in terms of fundamental forces, I’d be ready to call that supernatural. Of course, as I said, I think natural vs supernatural is a worthless distinction. Even if I called it supernatural, I’d still do a thorough investigation into the transmutation, figure out its limits, quantify it, etc. Maybe call it a new fundamental force of physics.

    “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C Clarke.
    “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!” – Genius Girl Webcomics.

  49. Lord Narf says

    Otherwise, we’ll get into animal rights, which would just complicate things for what should be a simple discussion.

    You seem to be under the horribly mistaken impression that you can keep the animal rights extremists from turning anything into a discussion about animal rights.

    I had someone tell me that I was evil for using ant baits to kill a colony that was invading my bathroom. Apparently, I wasn’t being empathetic to the ants’ point of view, and I was violating their rights. She was unwilling to grant that there was any significant difference between me and an insect.
    It was like listening to my parents all over again. 😀

  50. Lord Narf says

    … and we had no way to explain this in terms of fundamental forces, I’d be ready to call that supernatural.

    I dunno, man. I still think everything that acts on the natural world deserves the label ‘natural’. The further investigation, quantifying it and exploring its limits … this demonstration would be exactly the sort of evidence of some new force that would bring it into the natural, as your second quote indicates (good one, by the way).

    In general, I agree with everything else you said in this post. The invocation of the supernatural is just a bullshit way that religionists have of claiming, “I don’t have to justify this point, and you can’t analyze it.”

    I even like your idea of finding some example of something that could be considered supernatural. I just don’t think this is it. I’ve been unable to come up with a satisfactory example, myself.

  51. HardToComeBy says

    Ha HA! *clap* Why, yes. I suppose we might…

    However, it is important to take note of the fact that aces still by and large exhibit and experience ROMANTIC attraction as opposed to sexual attraction. We date, break up, and can and do “tie the knot” just like everyone else.

    Lacking a sexual component, our relationships can take a very different form from the heteronormative. For many of us (myself included) gender doesn’t have as much of a bearing in our relationships.

    An ace in a same-sex relationship can face the exact same sorts of discrimination that gays come by.

    Where I get interested is when the discrimination, shunning and such has a pronounced religious drive behind it (… shall not lie with a man as with a woman…). Asexuality seems to present an “unexpected challenge” to the black and white thinking of the believer. Oftentimes the believer really isn’t against same-sex partnerships/marriage strictly because of the sex/reproduction issue, but only because they see anything outside of strict male-and-female relationships as being – dare I say it? – unnatural.

    Aces are undoubtably queer, and while I personally don’t expect to see an episode with a topic covering asexuality as such (although it would certainly be welcome) as a 5-6 year fan of the show, I would leap for joy at just hearing us mentioned within the LGBT discussion. Sexuality is extremely varied, and not everyone fits even within the spectrum that Matt mentioned.

  52. codemonkey says

    As I said, it depends on how you define terms. That’s my problem with “supernatural”, in that it doesn’t have a well-defined meaning. If you want to say that anything observable is not supernatural, then I think that’s a tad dishonest to say to religious people, because that’s akin to saying there is no way that they could demonstrate that they are right and we are wrong. We shouldn’t win through obtuse circumlocutions via pedantic definitions. God, I hate when theists do that to me. I think what Matt said is just wrong. It is close-minded to say you cannot demonstrate that there is a very powerful thingy out there which can break physics on a whim. Demonstrating it can create universes should be straightforward – just ask it to create another. Of course, demonstrating it’s all-powerful is a tad harder. And of course, if any of this happened, I would be in a pickle, as The Matrix starts becoming relevant, because I could not distinguish between a creature of this power, and aliens who are mind-raping everyone on the planet simultaneously in real time. But of course, I don’t care unless and until someone proposes a way that I can test the difference. If the aliens are mind-raping me in real time, and there’s nothing I can do about it, then it doesn’t matter.

  53. Lord Narf says

    That’s my problem with “supernatural”, in that it doesn’t have a well-defined meaning.

    Yeah, that and spiritual. Religious terms are usually vague and fluffy, because if religionists use any kind of precision in their claims, it’s easier to demonstrate that they’re wrong.

    I wouldn’t say that anything observable is natural. I think what I was going for was … some sort of predictability, perhaps. If something can be measured, quantified, demonstrated … if we can develop equations to describe how something functions, I wouldn’t call it supernatural.

    To be supernatural, something would have to be unpredictable in an unpredictable way. Radioactivity, for example, is a bit on the unpredictable side, but it’s unpredictable in a predictable manner. We have good equations that describe it’s behavior, so it’s not supernatural, and there’s no indicator that it’s being effected by anything outside of the natural world.

    And yes, I know I’m enforcing a definition on someone else’s bullshit, which isn’t completely kosher. I’m just trying to come up with a definition for what theists tend to mean, when they use the term, which isn’t useless and circular, as their definitions always are.
    It’s hard. Help me out here. 😀

  54. codemonkey says

    It’s k.

    Still, I didn’t like it when Matt said that, because to a christian it must sound like saying that “there’s no way you can prove to me that you’re right”, right?

  55. codemonkey says

    “as your second quote indicates (good one, by the way).”
    Oh, btw thanks. I love that quote too. I think those two together capture in a very distilled form everything – or at least a lot of things – that is important about science, especially as relevant to a believer of miracles and gods.

  56. Lord Narf says

    Well, yeah, but they can translate “I don’t accept your circular argument that quotes from the Bible verify the authority of the Bible,” into us being close-minded. 😀 That’s probably the best wording that Matt could come up with, on the fly.
    Which yeah, you’re right; it’s worth picking apart wording, after the fact, for future consideration. That’s why I was trying to juggle around the words a bit and make sense of it, when they make assertions about the supernatural. Hmmmm.

    I dunno. How would you modify my previous description of what I would consider supernatural? I’m sure it can be tightened up a bit.
    Mind you, I’d still only consider that potentially supernatural. We could always come up with a naturalistic model for the phenomenon, at a later point.

    Yeah, those quotes go together in a rather nice symmetry. 🙂

  57. CoffeyC says

    I’m sorry. I did not pick up on your question last week.

    We are and extremely adaptable species, but not because our genetics work any differently than other species.

    And, please remember, scientists will always look for patterns, and try to under stand what that suggests about relationships and phenomena; but, even if they are obvious generalizations, they are still merely unproven hypotheses. They are educated opinions, to be sure, but opinion none the less. Thus, even though such generalizations are a good guide, and seem to hold true, it’s not like you can measure and exact mass of an evolution. Post Hoc, ergo propter hoc isn’t the worst mistake you can make. So always take such rationalizations as I’m about to give, in that light.

    On of the reasons why our species is so adaptable, isn’t because our genetics work any differently than any other species. Rather it is because of our highly developed primate brain that we can inhabit many more climates and environments than less intelligent species might. A mountain gorilla might have many physical tributes that are superior to our own, but he can’t build an igloo to survive a cold night in the arctic, nor can he build a dugout canoe to navigate the rainy season (or what used to be the rainy season), in the amazon basin. To move into those environments in the absence of intellectually founded technologies, would require that a gorilla adapt more fully to each environment, as to be able to develop the innate abilities to thrive there. Once he had done so, however, it isn’t very likely that he could move easily from one to the other.
    Our intellegance allows us to survive in locations and climes that our physical abilities might not otherwise allow.

    There is also the issue of the type of animal we are. Not just one that is intelligent enough to survive, but also the fact that we are large and highly mobile predators. Wolves would be the same. We can travel great distances, even if we lack the distance covering ability of a migratory fowl, we can travel a long way in response to environmental pressure. We are omnivores, so we can quickly vary out diet. These wonderful adaptations, along with any number of others, gives a great deal to work with to our adaptability, and if we were ever again to have groups become truly segregated, eventually our evolution and inevitable specification.

    A butterfly/caterpillar may not have similar advantages. Their caterpillar stage may be locked into eating a specific type of plant family, or even species and though butterflies can fly much longer distances than we, they really don’t win a lot of cross country skying competitions, because their solution to the cold might be antifreeze rather than thermal underwear and ice castles, and they swim even more poorly – if you can believe it.

    I’ve always thought that human morphology was also a good example of the seminal idea behind what they now call punctuated equilibrium. A species in a stable environment might change very little for a very long time. Sharks are the classic case. They change slowly, and survive climate and natural changes by simply moving back and forth into areas where they are successful/comfortable. Goats / sheep, on the other hand, can live in a lot more places, and eat a wide variety of foods, so they too are adaptable both morphology, and in habitable range. All are good indication that if something does work well from an evolutionary standpoint, it can continue to do so for a very long time – but once a species gets locked in to a disparate environment, it either has the capacity to change to be successful or it does not. If it does have the basic ability, it can change very much more quickly than one might imagine.

    In two and a half million years or so, there have been no less than fourteen species of human, and we will likely find a few more, or at least I hope we will.

    Good question. Sorry I was not more clear, and sorry too, if I seemed to ignore.

  58. mosley says

    wrong thread but since there is none on the latest show yet, i post here:

    i know you have been fighting with ustream audio problems for the last couple weeks. it sounds like you badly need to just update the buffer size of whatever your streaming instance is. the audio artefacts sound absolutely identical to those of any audio processing program on the market when you set its buffer size too low.

    if your audio solution is asio-driver based, that would be super simple, just open the control panel and choose a higher buffer setting (usually multiples of 32 work best, and a typical workable setting would be 256 or 512 to be really safe).

    if its not asio based, no idea how its done, and maybe this whole comment is good for nothing anyway. just wanted to share the random thought in the unlikely event that this might help 🙂

  59. mosley says

    edit: “update the buffer size” i meant to say “UP the buffer size”. if thats english. increase it, i mean 🙂

  60. mosley says

    and another update (i should really proof read before i post)

    “just open the control panel” -> of the asio audio device. most asio audio devices install a quicklink in the task bar (to the right, where all the little icons live).

    blah blah blah, sorry 🙂

  61. Alexander Sukhovey says

    Sorry for off-topic, but…
    As a frequent AE viewer (primarily via Youtube), I often would pause the show to get to other things and then return to it later. I’ve noticed that it often results in somewhat funny pictures like this one:

    It could be fun to start a thread that collects these kinds of things maybe even with signature competition. What would you call the picture above?

    Anyway, love your show. It provoked in me active analysis and reflection on my own atheism (which is “natural” and “inherent” considering I was born and grew up in USSR) as well as drove me to get myself more informed on current state of natural science theories. And not least, it is by far most entertaining show in this “area” (though I’m not sure if you’ll consider it a compliment). Thank you!

    P.S. Austin, TX seems to be special. First AE, then Adam Curry moved here with his NA show. Is there something about Austin I’m not aware of? 🙂

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