GTA, meet LB:EF

Are you ready for the hot new game of the 2006 Christmas season, Left Behind: Eternal Forces?

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission – both a religious mission and a military mission — to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state – especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

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One more thing!

I almost forgot: there was another comment in the Karen Armstrong interview that I found irksome…but my complaint is mainly with the interviewer. Here’s one question he asked her, and her answer.

But certainly there are a lot of people — both scientists and religious people — who speculate about whether there’s some cosmic order. For the evolutionary biologists, the question is whether there’s some natural progression to evolution.

Who knows?

Her answer is a kind of weak cop-out, but it’s acceptable…avoiding a question on which you are ignorant is not a problem. The question, though…jebus.

For evolutionary biologists, that isn’t the question at all. We have a darned good mechanism that doesn’t involve teleology, and while some may speculate, there’s no supporting evidence for any kind of purpose or progress (in the sense of change towards a goal) in evolution. Biologists don’t even ask that kind of question.

Note that this is not the same as saying we avoid the issue: it’s that there hasn’t been any reason to invoke teleology in evolution. Explanations are thought up to explain observations, not the other way around, and there aren’t any observations yet that require purpose in an explanation. All I can imagine here is that the interviewer has some weak and muddled view of the Intelligent Design creationists having some legitimacy, and that kind of dribbled out into his question.

Finding vindication in utter confusion

Salon has an interview with Karen Armstrong, and I don’t know whether the interviewer just did a poor job or whether her ideas really are that sloppy and confused. She definitely has interesting ideas about religion, but while she’s dismissing simplistic ideas about gods and the afterlife on the one hand, she’s also clinging desperately and irrationally to nebulous beliefs about religion and spirituality and the art and poetry of myth. Armstrong is smart enough to see the hokum in dogma, but she’s still so strongly wedded to the idea of religion that she struggles to contrive fuzzy justifications for it.

Armstrong does say some things with which I can agree, and some might be a little surprising.

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Rabbi Avi Shafran wants to argue

I’ve received a personal email from Rabbi Avi Shafran—the fellow whose graceless and ignorant opinion piece I criticized a while back. It’s a peculiar thing: he wrote a public editorial, I criticized it publicly, and now he asks that we have a private discussion on the matter. I won’t post his whole email, but I will put up the main point, what he plainly says is the main point and a restatement of the thesis of his original editorial, and address that here.

If Rabbi Avi Shafran wants to continue the discussion, he should do it publicly. I’m not going to convert him, and he’s not going to convert me, so a private conversation would be futile—let’s let the readers see our arguments and make up their own minds.

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Paedocypris is back! For a little while


Once upon a time, there was teeny-weeny adorable little fish called Paedocypris. Then, one day, a population of bulldozers invaded their habitat, and they couldn’t compete, and they died.

The good news, though, is that a new species of Paedocypris has been discovered.

Amirrudin said the new discovery was significant because it was the only undisturbed habitat of this species. “There are still thousands of the fish in that peat swamp. My worry is that this habitat will end up like the one in Bukit Merah, disturbed by the construction of a road that killed all the specimens,” he said.

Maybe we need to classify bulldozers as an invasive species, one that can be dismantled on sight.

(via Marcus)

Lair of the White Worm


I never heard of this before: there exists a rare, giant, albino earthworm in the scrub prairies of the Palouse. It grows to be 3 feet long, and smells like lilies.

I scarcely believed it myself—that’s also Sasquatch country out there, you know—so I had to look it up. The Giant Palouse Earthworm (Driloleirus americanus) is real. They’re so rare, though, that one hasn’t been spotted in almost 20 years…until last year. A new specimen was found, and unfortunately, fixed in formaldehyde right away. I thought this quote was a little sad.

Unlike the celebration touched off by last year’s sighting in Arkansas of the ivory-billed woodpecker—a bird not seen in 60 years and thought to be extinct—the giant earthworm Sanchez-de Leon found last year already has been consigned to a jar of formaldehyde.

“Realistically, the giant Palouse earthworm is a lot less charismatic than a giant woodpecker,” said James “Ding” Johnson, head of the University of Idaho’s Department of Plant, Soil and Entomology Sciences.

My apologies to GrrlScientist, but I’d much rather see a giant white worm than some boring old bird.


On a warm and lazy holiday afternoon, determined to avoid any exertion and relax in my easy chair, I was contemplating something easy on the brain: beauty. I have no idea what makes something beautiful, but I could at least approach the subject empirically and catalog those things and experiences the I have found beautiful…so I put together a list. It’s nothing definitive, it’s merely personal, a set of memories of moments where I have been awestruck with beauty.

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