I wish we’d had the internets when I was a kid


The New England Journal of Medicine sometimes provides great stuff to read over breakfast, like this story of a man who returned from a trip to Hungary with his guts infested with worms, Enterobius vermicularis. OK, so it’s not much of a story…but the cool thing is that they provide a movie clip of his colonoscopy, and you can watch the worms writhe.

(via Over My Med Body)

At last…a specific Intelligent Design hypothesis

Nick Matzke has unearthed a treasure: an article from the Interdisciplinary Bible Research Institute that uses “Intelligent Design theory” to explain such phenomena as parasitic ichneumonid wasps and the panda’s thumb. You’ll be able to get an idea of the nature of the explanation from the title alone:

Rumors of Angels: Using ID to Detect Malevolent Spiritual Agents.”

It’s serious, not a joke.

The point to be made here is this: organisms which possess incredible complexity beyond what natural selection could “design” from the available offerings of chance, and which also seem to be clearly malevolent, might well be the work of malevolent spirit beings. There are, of course, other possibilities. They may be the direct or indirect work of God and we are mistaken in viewing them as malevolent. They might be the work of non-spiritual intelligences (extra-terrestrials). I cannot see any other alternatives that are consistent with a biblical theism.

I guess he’s assuming that theistic evolution is inconsistent with his bible.

The fellows has a proposal for a “research program”, too, something beyond what the run-of-the-mill IDists have accomplished.

Could predation be malevolent design? That was certainly the way Darwin viewed the matter. As I read the geologic record, predation goes all the way back to the Cambrian period. If it is malevolent, then the fall of Satan is much earlier than that of Adam, and creation is already not so good by the time Adam comes along. These are things that theologians, scientists and philosophers need to think about.

I’m picturing a bunch of guys in clerical collars sitting around, arguing about the geological era in which the fall of Satan occurred…it’s funny, but it’s no real research program.

So, we end this paper with a call to some dedicated Christian historians and biologists to take some time (and risk some ridicule) to see whether there is anything to be said for taking the biblical pictures of angels, demons and Satan seriously as a picture of the real world, rather than an ancient mythological worldview.

The real way to test this would be to have a collection of evidence that persuaded atheists, muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. that biblical angels and demons existed. That he has to assume only Christians who share his preconceptions will be able to accomplish this is telling.

Cloning as solace

You all may recall the memorable, late Tito the wonder dog. Hank Fox has done something thought-provoking: he has frozen away some of Tito’s cells, on the chance of cloning him.

At 325 degrees below zero, the essence of Tito sleeps.

I got a call today from Genetic Savings & Clone, the company that stores tissue samples of pets, and they told me the culturing of the samples I’d sent them was successful. I now have about 10 million cells waiting for the future moment — if ever — when the technology and the money coincide to allow me to clone him.

This is a personal decision, and I wouldn’t argue one way or the other about what Hank should do; it sounds like he’s wrestled over the issues already. All I can say is what I would do if I were in his sorrowful position.

I wouldn’t even try cloning.

I disagree with his first sentence up there: the essence of Tito isn’t reducible to a few million cells or a few billion nucleotides. While the genome is an influence and a constraint—a kind of broadly defined bottle to hold the essence of a dog—the stuff we care about, that makes an animal unique and special, is a product of its history. It’s the accumulation of events and experience and memory that generates the essentials of a personality and makes each of us unique.

Even if cloning were reliable and cheap, I wouldn’t go for it. It would produce an animal that looks like Tito, and would be good and worthy as an individual in its own right, but it wouldn’t be Tito.

Hank mentions that “Even we atheists grapple with mortality, and entertain hopes.” That’s true. But I think that what we have to do, the honest part of being an atheist, is to recognize that mortality is inevitable and that things end. Grief and loss are the terrible prices we pay for living in a world that changes, and that has produced us, so briefly. The dead are gone forever, never to return, and all we can do is fight as hard as we can to delay it, rage at our inevitable failures, and eventually, reconcile ourselves to the reality.

I think Hank is still fighting when the battle has already been lost. That’s a noble effort, I suppose, but Tito is not in that dewar of liquid nitrogen, I’m sorry to say.

Godless bloggers vs. Pensacola Christian College: who is more powerful?

Here’s an optimistic idea:

Personally, I have a great deal of hope that this is going to start to change in the near future. Indeed, this is one area where the blogosphere could actually prove quite powerful. Ten years ago, I’m not sure there was anywhere that your average Christian American was exposed to openly atheistic viewpoints. These days, I’m constantly amazed how many prominent bloggers profess their atheism on a daily basis. On the list, with the help of The Raving Atheist: Daily Kos, Washington Monthly, The Volokh Conspiracy (Jim Lindgren), Pharyngula, Daily Pundit, onegoodmove, Matthew Yglesias, Vodkapundit, and of course many others, including me. Notably, many of these have substantial conservative readership.

Of course, the average American still may not tune in to these atheist blogs, but a lot of people do. A lot more than used to face proud, open, secularism a few years ago. And since most of the hostility toward atheists, in my view, is based in the fact that so few people feel they know any, this could well start to have a dramatic effect. The informal nature of blogs, revealing much of a blogger’s character and personality, has the potential to be quite powerful in this regard.

Unfortunately, I read that just after reading about the absurd War on Christians, and just before Nic mentioned an article on Pensacola Christian College (that’s the Chronicle of Higher Ed…I’m not sure if the link will work for machines without an institutional subscription) to me. We godless have a long way to go when we live in a culture in which many people can accept these absurdities:

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The things that remind people of me…

They all seem to be demonic, or tentacled, or both. I am always flattered to get the email from people saying, “I found this stinking pile of slime covered with maggots, and I thought immediately of you!” (really, I am flattered—it’s nice to be associated with the weird and unusual.) However, I have to assure you that I don’t actually look anything like this handsome hunk of tentacles, although you’ll have to take my word on it—you won’t find any photos of me sans clothing to confirm that.


Also, my wife doesn’t look anything like this sexy spawn of Cthulhu*. She’s much hotter, even if she lacks a chitinous crust or suckers.

*Warning: that link is to a page with photographs of a “nude” model, but she is sort of clothed in spikes and shells and other oddments. Links from that page are not really work safe—they get weirder, but much more overtly mammalian.

Creationist email: the asymmetry misconception


I throw away a lot of creationist email; most of it is ranty and weird, or pious and dull, so it isn’t worth dealing with. Every once in a while (but sadly, not that often) one is polite and asks a simple question, and then I feel compelled to reply. If it’s short and sweet, I’ll just fire off a one-liner—for instance, when I was asked why I reject Intelligent Design creationism, I could simply say that I haven’t seen any evidence for it.

Some are a little more persistent, requiring a little more effort to answer, so they get posted here. I’ll answer this one to some degree online, tell the person where to find it, and let the commenters chew on it some more. Be nice and pretend this fellow is sincere, OK?

Here’s his question:

Thank you for your reply that there is no evidence for design. I am trying
to figure out as an impartial person why scientists say there is no
evidence for design.

I think species should have evolved first with only one eye. After
realizing that one eye cannot create depth perception, nature would have
generated another eye following thousands of years of evolution. We know
this is not true. Someone or something already knew that one eye would not
be enough.

Please tell me what is wrong with my theory?

I’ve seen this question before.

That’s right, it’s a Pinkoskiism!

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An anniversary, of sorts

Once upon a time, about two years ago, I dissected a claim by Paul Nelson that he had an objective measure of developmental complexity that he called “ontogenetic depth”. I thought it was very poor stuff: no repeatable methods, no clear description of exactly what he was measuring, and actually, it looked like he was just plucking numbers out of thin air.

Note that today is 29 March 2006. On 29 March 2004, Nelson left a comment on the post, promising to address the issues I brought up.

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