Why I will never vote for Barack Obama

I can vote for a Christian politician, no problem. I have even liked Obama’s sense of vision (although it seems he’s been a bit of a flop in execution.) His latest speech, though…

And if we’re going to do that then we first need to understand that Americans are a religious people. 90 percent of us believe in God, 70 percent affiliate themselves with an organized religion, 38 percent call themselves committed Christians, and substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution.

If a liberal Democratic politician wants to buy into the foolish idea that Christians can’t accept evolution, that it’s a good thing that more Americans believe in this insane nonsense about angels than in science, then he has lost my vote. I won’t even get into the rest of his paean to the silly goblins of faith.

Oh, please, can we someday have a freethinking politician of presidential caliber again? It’s been a long time since Lincoln.

Octopus brains

Once upon a time, as a young undergraduate, I took a course in neurobiology (which turned out to be rather influential in my life, but that’s another story). The professor, Johnny Palka, took pains at the beginning to explain to his class full of pre-meds and other such riff-raff that the course was going to study how the brain works, and that we were going to be looking at invertebrates almost exclusively—and he had to carefully reassure them that flies and squid actually did have brains, very good brains, and that he almost took it as a personal offense when his students implied that they didn’t. The lesson was that if you wanted to learn how your brain worked, often the most fruitful approach was an indirect one, using comparative studies to work out the commonalities and differences in organization, and try to correlate those with differences and similarities in function.

At about that time, I also discovered the work of the great physiologist, JZ Young, who had done a great deal of influential work on the octopus as a preparation for studying brain and behavior. (Young, by the way, went by the informal name “Jay-Zed”, and there you have another clue to my affectation of using my first and middle initial as if it were a proper name.) It was around then that I was developing that peculiar coleoideal fascination a few of the readers here might have noticed—it was born out of an appreciation of comparative biology and the recognition that cephalopods represented a lineage that independently acquired a large brain and complex behavior from the vertebrates. To understand ourselves, we must embrace the alien.

Young’s attempts to understand mechanisms of learning in memory in the octopus were premature, unfortunately—they have very complex brains, and we made much faster progress using simple invertebrates, like Aplysia, to work out the basics first—but it’s still the subject of ongoing research. I was very pleased to run across a general overview of the octopus brain in The Biological Bulletin.

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Music? Bah! Totally irrational!

But it’s science themed music, so that makes it a little bit OK. Easternblot.net links to music from This Week In Science, and in the comments, I discover the media empire of Doctor Steel. My kind of guy.

Oh, and since I haven’t done a Friday Random Ten in a while, here’s a science themed Friday Nonrandom Ten.

Evolution Rocks Overman
Jocko Homo Devo Greatest Hits
Dr. Worm They Might Be Giants
Do The Evolution Pearl Jam
Apeman The Kinks
Monkey To Man Elvis Costello
Monkey Gone To Heaven Frank Black
Primitive Science Kiril
Evolution is a Mystery Motorhead
What We Need More Of Is Science MC Hawking

Carnivalia, and an open thread

We have a couple of carnivals up right now…

…and a few that are looking for submissions.

So…feel free to say what’s on your mind in the comments.

A quick reply to some of the arguments made recently

I seem to have struck a nerve. I’m getting lots of irate email over this post I made yesterday…not the usual cranky, ungrammatical rants I get from creationists, but literate notes with a hint of desperation. They’re still wrong.

Everyone is mangling the question. It’s not, “What should a scientist think about morals?”, or “Should all scientists be atheists?”, it’s “What should a scientist think about religion?” I’m also not trying to argue that science or atheism is a better way of living your life (not here, at any rate).

If a scientist looks at an idea, like religion, how does he evaluate it? Apply the scientific method to the god hypothesis, if you can: what comes out? Does religion hold up on any logical or evidentiary grounds?

And the answer right now is no. If a scientist applies the same kind of critical thinking she uses in her work to religion, she gets the same answer an atheist does, that religion is a weak, useless hypothesis with no support, or worse, that it is an internally contradictory mish-mash that contradicts existing evidence. I bent over backward to say that she doesn’t have to apply that kind of thinking to every aspect of her life, of course, and none of us do. If she wants to claim she’s happy to be a Presbyterian and accepts it as a matter of simple faith, there is no argument, the case is closed, and she can go about her business unhassled by science.

It reminds me of the lack of faith exhibited by so many creationists. They invent elaborate scenarios to explain Noah’s Ark, for instance, and get all gushy about computer simulations and vapor canopies and models of median animal volumes, all bunk and nonsense, and they get ripped to shreds by people who can easily show that their bogus pseudoscience is badly done. All they need to say, though, is “it was a miracle,” and the argument is over. When you’ve got an omnipotent being running the show, you can always just cut to the chase and say that God said abracadabra. That, though, would show that their ideas are unscientific, and “scientific” is a magic adjective they desperately want to attach to their beliefs.

I’m also not claiming that atheists are right because they think more scientifically. I know lots of atheist idiots, and if the world abandoned religion overnight, we’d still have the same stupid people running things, they’d just be looking for a new set of rationalizations. I am definitely not arguing that atheism makes you smart; I’m going the other way, and saying that if you’re smart and apply the critical thinking tools of science to religion, you will not be likely to accept the dogma.

Most remarkably, I’ve received several heartfelt pleas, telling me that saying these things about religion hurts the cause. After thinking hard about that for several seconds, I have an answer to that.


If it’s true, it’s true. I am not swayed by arguments that “if it’s true, it will make some people unhappy.” When you are willing to cede the facts and evidence that support your case simply because they go against some people’s emotional biases, then you’ve hurt your cause. Evidence and logic are what we’ve got, people, and they are powerful enough to send people to the moon and build world-wide information networks and feed billions…and we should abandon that because some people are deeply wedded to failed superstitions?

The question is far simpler and the answer far plainer than many people are making it. If you apply the processes of the scientific method to the claims of religion, treating them as hypotheses, what do you discover? They don’t hold up. The evidence for Jesus, Son of God, is less convincing than the evidence for Sasquatch, Hairy Ape-Man of the Northwest, and the logic is even more insane. Believe if you want, just realize that your belief doesn’t deserve to be called scientific.