Medical Miracle In Mississippi! (or, I am one cynical bastard)

The word “miracle” isn’t used lightly
Such conclusions are best left unsaid
There’s a time and a place for such words, though,
Like the man who came back from the dead!
They’d detected no pulse, and no breathing
So they’d fitted his toe with a tag
And they sent him away for embalming…
But his “corpse” started kicking the bag!
Now the doctors are using the “M” word
And I guess we can give them a break:
The word “miracle” isn’t used lightly…
But they’d rather use that, than “mistake”.

CNN: Dead Mississippi man begins breathing in embalming room, coroner says.

Even in the Bible Belt, coroners don’t use the word “miracle” lightly.
But Holmes County, Mississippi, Coroner Dexter Howard has no qualms using the word for the resurrection, as it were, of Walter Williams, who was declared dead Wednesday night.

Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

What’s that?

Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

The coroner completed his paperwork, placed Williams in a body bag and transported him to the funeral home, he said. There, something strange happened: The body bag moved.
“We got him into the embalming room and we noticed his legs beginning to move, like kicking,” Howard said. “He also began to do a little breathing.”

I am very happy for this man, and for his family (who seem understandably overjoyed). And hey, isn’t it much nicer to be the beneficiary of a miracle than the victim of a mistake?

To The Person Who Cut & Pasted My Entire Post On Your Site…

Not cool.

You may have been motivated by the best of intentions… you may have intended to flatter me… you may have intended to reap the ad revenue from your site without doing the actual work.

I have no idea what your intentions were. I just know that you posted my entire post on your site. Under someone else’s name.

Let me know where to send the bill; I’m sure you intended to ask up front, but since you didn’t, I can only conclude that money is no object, and will charge accordingly.

Godless Gold Is Worth More, Apparently

A couple found a stash of coins
In cans half lost to rust
Gold coins, so old some even lack
The phrase “In God We Trust”

There’s one coin, termed “miraculous”,
Uncirculated, gold
That doesn’t say “In God We Trust”
Like others just as old

That year the motto first appeared—
This coin slipped in before;
Because this coin is godless, it
Is worth a great deal more!

The godless may be rarer
(By a lot, we’re often told)
But we, without “In God We Trust”
Are truly good as gold.

That cache of gold found by a couple walking their dog in the San Francisco area contains a “miraculous” coin.

An 1866 $20 coin printed without the “In God We Trust” motto — the 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle — is the highest quality of its kind, said David Hall, cofounder of Professional Coin Grading Services in Irvine, who recently authenticated the coins.
When the motto was added to the coin in 1866, some coins were still minted in San Francisco without the phrase, he said.

The lack of that motto, and the fact that the finders did not try to clean the coin, mean that this uncirculated bit of metal will likely go for a million dollars at auction. Trying to clean it would have ruined it, and the missing motto means it is quite a bit rarer than other 1866 $20 gold coins.

I’d belabor the obvious and say “there’s a metaphor here”, but Robert Burns already did. In this case, it’s not trust in a god that imbues worth; worth can be found in the godly and ungodly alike, as can lack of worth. Or as Burns put it, “the rank is but the guinea’s stamp–the man’s the gold, for a’ that.”

Bad News From North Carolina: Christian Love Strikes Again

I thought I saw an atheist
Among the kids at school
Who didn’t understand that, here,
The Christian bullies rule
You may call it “brave” or “foolish”
But she dared to show her face
I may have seen an atheist…
They put her in her place.

I thought I saw an atheist,
According to report,
Who thought she’d start a godless group
For mutual support
But no such group was needed—
This is how the story ends—
The local bullies threatened her,
Her family, her friends

I thought I saw an atheist
As hopeful as she’s brave
If such a girl surrenders,
Then the situation’s grave
She made the choice she had to make—
The threats were aimed at her
I thought I saw an atheist
Show Christians what they were

I thought I saw a Christian town
Displaying Christian love
Who know they get morality
From heaven up above
With threats of harm directed at
Those different in their sight
Yes, by their acts we know them…
That’s Christian love, all right.

Via Hemant, the not-terribly-unexpected news (though saddening and maddening) that Canton, North Carolina will not be getting an atheist club in their school after all. Oh, it’s not that the town suddenly found a legal argument. No, they shut this one down the old-fashioned way, through bullying, intimidation, and threats to the 15-year-old girl who was looking to form the club, and to her family and friends.

I expect the good, tolerant christian folk of North Carolina to spring to her aid, identifying and denouncing the bullies… any century now.

Conservative? Check. Republican? Check. Atheist? Hang On There, Missy…

My mother-in-law is an atheist
And conservative, too, to the core
She’s a staunch and a lifelong Republican
But lately, I wonder, “what for?”

They claim that she ought to be Christian
That her outlook on life is all wrong
She’s in love with the party of Reagan
But feels, now, she doesn’t belong

Could conservatives really accept her?
And embrace her as one of their own?
All her life, she’s been growing more godless
But that’s not how her party has grown.

It’s a Christian Conservative Party
So atheists need not apply
They’re kicking her out of their playhouse…
They’re losing… and wondering why.

So, yeah, by now you’ve heard all about the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) clusterfuck kerfuffle (on FTB here and here) initially accepting, then at the last moment rejecting, the American Atheists’ presence at the conference.

Clearly, they reacted exactly perfectly, because there are people complaining on both sides. That is, in the same sense that an oval-world compromise between flat-earthers and round-earthers would be exactly perfect. That is, the flat-earth contingent is currently offended that the atheist group was even considered, let alone accepted, to begin with, whereas the real world notes that there are, in fact, atheist conservatives, though it strains credulity to think they feel they belong. (The links go to various hair-pulling, self-flagellating examinations of where conservatives went wrong….in even considering the possibility of atheist conservatives. Well, mostly. I left some of the worst sites alone.)

It is absolutely true, my mother in law is a conservative republican atheist. She once approved of prayer in schools because Reagan wanted it. Since then, she has read Hitchens, and Dawkins, and more; she is a card-carrying Bright (myself, not a fan of the Bright idea). I am looking forward to the possibility that she will actually vote for a Democrat next time, for the first time in her life, simply because she is fed up with the religious right.

I know she is not the only one.

Arguing Atheism At NPR

I have class coming up soon, so not much time to write, but I wanted to alert you to a story on NPR about the San Diego Coalition of Reason’s atheism booth.

As always, the comment section is where the fun is. Even among NPR listeners (so, trust me, it is worlds better than the comment section on, say, The Blaze), there is an awful lot of ignorance, misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and more. There always is, in the comments on any story that mentions anything remotely related to religious belief and/or the lack thereof, but hey, this is a story about us, so it would be nice if we were accurately represented.

Arguing God In The New York Times

We can’t disprove a God, you know,
Cos God can’t be defined.
The God you claim cannot exist
Exists within my mind

My God cannot be fathomed, and
Will never be undone
Each heart perceives Him differently
But God is only One.

We disagree on details, like
His numbers, or His name,
But clearly, all believers know,
Their Gods are all the same

(What’s more, divine diversity
Is clearly heaven-sent:
Whatever God you just disproved
Is not the one I meant!)

A Godly game of whack-a-mole;
Forever un-disproved;
Each time you bring the hammer down
Too late! Cos God just moved!

A question, though, occurs to me—
I find it rather odd—
Why label this cacophony
“A shared belief in God”?

Ah. The horrendous interview with Plantinga was only the first in a series. Gary Gutting’s second interview is with Louise Antony, one of that large majority of philosophers who are atheists. This one was much easier to stomach, although I must say I was not nearly as impressed by Gutting in this interview. I guess he stood out in comparison to Plantinga, but here he seems determined to push Antony into Gutting’s own comfort zone that appears to prefer agnosticism to atheism.

But I do like the way Antony delimits her answers–her atheism is because theism has been proven false to her satisfaction, and she is perfectly comfortable with the notion that someone might disagree. She takes issue with a question about disagreement regarding the existence of God, wondering why that is any more significant a question than the myriad disagreements among theists regarding the characteristics of God (I have often pondered the extent to which different denominations can be said to be in agreement–here, here, and here, for example), which are certainly big enough disagreements to form schisms.

G.G.: Yes, I do think it’s relevant to ask believers why they prefer their particular brand of theism to other brands. It seems to me that, at some point of specificity, most people don’t have reasons beyond being comfortable with one community rather than another. I think it’s at least sometimes important for believers to have a sense of what that point is. But people with many different specific beliefs share a belief in God — a supreme being who made and rules the world. You’ve taken a strong stand against that fundamental view, which is why I’m asking you about that.

L.A.: Well I’m challenging the idea that there’s one fundamental view here. Even if I could be convinced that supernatural beings exist, there’d be a whole separate issue about how many such beings there are and what those beings are like. Many theists think they’re home free with something like the argument from design: that there is empirical evidence of a purposeful design in nature. But it’s one thing to argue that the universe must be the product of some kind of intelligent agent; it’s quite something else to argue that this designer was all-knowing and omnipotent. Why is that a better hypothesis than that the designer was pretty smart but made a few mistakes? Maybe (I’m just cribbing from Hume here) there was a committee of intelligent creators, who didn’t quite agree on everything. Maybe the creator was a student god, and only got a B- on this project.

In any case though, I don’t see that claiming to know that there is no God requires me to say that no one could have good reasons to believe in God. I don’t think there’s some general answer to the question, “Why do theists believe in God?” I expect that the explanation for theists’ beliefs varies from theist to theist. So I’d have to take things on a case-by-case basis.

The common ground that different religions share, that allows us to say they “share a belief in God”, is nowhere near what defines their different faiths.

Gutting, though, misses the bit where something that defies evidence and still gives rise to people who are absolutely certain about minute details (and who will fight over disagreements about those details), and presses Antony for a certainty that she does not feel the need to deliver:

G.G.: O.K., on your view we don’t have any way to judge the relative reliability of people’s judgments about whether God exists. But the question still remains, why are you so certain that God doesn’t exist?

L.A.: Knowledge in the real world does not entail either certainty or infallibility. When I claim to know that there is no God, I mean that the question is settled to my satisfaction. I don’t have any doubts. I don’t say that I’m agnostic, because I disagree with those who say it’s not possible to know whether or not God exists. I think it’s possible to know. And I think the balance of evidence and argument has a definite tilt.

So… yeah. This interview leaves me really liking Antony, really frustrated with Gutting, and all the more convinced that Plantinga can’t think his way out of a wet paper bag.

And the contrast in comments is interesting as well–the comments to the Plantinga interview ran strongly against him, and were frankly more intelligent than the interview. Today’s comments are still coming in, but it looks like evidence of an overall tendency of people to write in more often in complaint and disagreement than in concurrence. My favorite so far makes the argument that Antony can be disproven simply by defining God as “that which we cannot, and never will be able to, fathom”. Or as I have heard it before, “reality beyond the material“. Defining God that way pretty much means that any faith asserting any particular details about God must necessarily be false.

Hey, wait… maybe she’s onto something there.

July 21, 1978

Ok, first thing, before I forget: What, in your thinking, is the best thing you have ever seen on television? Ever?

I am no Platonist, so I will not hold you to any choice you make. To my thinking, I could ask you this question a dozen times and get at least a handful of answers that are all true. I could ask you in different contexts, and if you didn’t change your answer with context I’d have to worry about you.

I probably have at least a score of “best moment on TV ever, of all time” nominees, and any choice of just one among this population would be forced, artificial, and false at times, while true at others. Carol Burnett’s entrance in the “Gone With The Wind” skit, her dress made of curtains, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it”. Walter Cronkite crying. The first time I heard Kermitt the Frog singing “It’s not easy being green”. I didn’t get to see the Beatles, or the moon landing, so those aren’t in my list.


One show has made that list countless times. I may have only seen it once, and it may be very different from how I remember it. It was the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, July 21, 1978. The musical guests were Dave Brubeck and sons, which I don’t actually remember, but which actually makes the 90 minute show even better than I do remember. And here’s the meat of my post–I have not been able to locate any video of that show, and I really really *really* want to see it again.

The first guest was Richard Pryor. At this point in his career, he had made the switch to a rather … bluer sort of comedy. He was known (at least, I knew him, as a midwestern white kid) as a raunchy, dirty comic. Johnny Carson must have (and clearly did) know better. As I recall it, Pryor was hilarious, without coming close to overstepping any boundaries. I know now, the man was a genius; then, I was surprised.

The second guest was conservative journalist Dorothy Fuldheim. Well known in Cleveland, somewhat less well known nationally, she was the voice of the establishment. It is only in hindsight that I suspect Johnny Carson (and/or his staff) knew exactly what he (they) was (were) doing.

The expectation (yes, to me, as a high school kid) was that Pryor would either leave before Fuldheim was introduced, or that he would stay silent, or that he would explode. Frankly, the first two options were suckers bets; the assumption was that Pryor would unleash his formidable chops on this poor woman–swearing, cursing, blaspheming–until his fans were ashamed, and hers were vindicated in their views of those liberal black people.

And (as memory goes)… Richard Pryor was as polite as could possibly be. Fuldheim made outrageous claims about the absence of poverty, the absence of racism, the absence of pretty much anything bad in the perfect USA… and Pryor interjected “excuse me, ma’am…”, pointing out inequity, hunger, bias, and more. Fuldheim tried to brush him aside, but his politeness (so unexpected, so perfect) made her look like a monster.

It was… perfect.

I watched it, live. With my dad. I was in high school; he would have been in his late 40’s. I was astonished. So was he. I don’t know that he had heard of Pryor before; it didn’t matter. He knew Fuldheim. He knew Carson. I think this was the first time I saw my dad completely blown away by the same thing that blew me away. It was amazing.

And, near as I can tell, it doesn’t exist. I mean… *everything* has an afterlife on the web. But I have not been able to find this. I have found other people looking for this. But I have not found this.

It is entirely possible (likely, even) that my recollection is at serious odds with the actual video of the show. But damn, if that is the case, I want to know!

So… two things.

1) can we maybe find this tape? Anyone? Anyone know anyone know anyone?

2) What is the best thing you have ever seen on TV? Ever? Cos if it’s better than this, I *really* want to see it!

No verse today–this thing is eating away at my brain enough, I don’t need to feed it rhyme.

Also… no, I won’t tell you what brought on this post.

The Biblical Justification For Arizona’s Proposed Law

Jesus hated homos, which he says in [find this verse]
Yes, he also hated hypocrites, but really, gays are worse
So as Arizonans ask themselves just “What would Jesus do?”
He’d engage in homophobia, like [look this verse up, too]
See, Jesus always made it clear [um, look this up as well]
Baking cakes or taking photographs could send you straight to hell
The Arizona bigots simply want the bible heeded…
They follow all the bible’s rules [citation clearly needed]

“The Church Of Self-Worship” (or, “are you faster than a unicorn?”)

You don’t believe in gods or demons,
Spirits, souls, or elves—
You’ve got to worship something,
So it has to be… your selves!

You don’t believe in hell or heaven,
So I’ve heard you say
You say my God is make-believe—
To whom, then, do you pray?

You look to find life’s meaning
With no God to help you search
You call it “Sunday Fellowship”—
We both know, it’s a church

Nearly everything you tell me
You can see, I’ve had to change
But there’s one thing I see clearly—
Your religion sure is strange!

So my aggregator keeps trying to point me to a story someone wrote about the “atheist church of self-worship” (nope, not gonna link). Now, the Sunday Assembly is not for me, but I have nothing against it whatsoever for the people who enjoy it. But, please–it is not an atheist church (that label was not chosen but was thrust upon it by others), they do not gather to worship anything at all, and they are not the ultimate in egotists, worshipping themselves in place of a god.

It’s as if there is a narrative that must be followed–that the writer can get to the point of “they don’t believe in God”, but can’t follow that path one step further. Whom do they worship, if not God? To whom do they pray, if not to God? Why would anyone gather with like-minded others on Sunday morning, if not to bother God?

It’s like one person claims that unicorns are really really fast; another says “you know, unicorns don’t exist”, and the first concludes “you think you are faster than a unicorn! How presumptuous of you! What arrogance! What ego!”

And no, that makes no sense. Neither do the “atheists have made gods of themselves” crowd. It’s just annoying.