First we lost the America’s Cup, and now this…

Australia is trying to show us up again, aren’t they? Their 2006 census shows that religious believers have dropped to 79% of the population, a substantial decline from 83% in the the 2001 census. And from previous data, it looks like an accelerating trend. Come on, America, we have a godlessness gap! We have to catch up!

Of course, I’d be even more impressed with Australia if I didn’t have a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t caused by a rapid growth of rabid, militant, middle-of-the-road fundamentalist agnostics.

Hooray! We’re getting less money!

Academia is a strange little world—we’re happy about this news!

The biggest winners from the University of Minnesota Board of Regents meeting? The 1,900 students at the Morris campus who saw their tuition go down by almost $1,000.

We’re an even better bargain than before. Now we just need to get more students to take advantage of us…so enroll at the University of Minnesota Morris! Send your kids here!

Heaven, Hell, who cares — I pick Earth

The Washington Post had a ‘conversation’ on a very stupid question:

Do you believe in heaven or hell? If not, why not? If so, who’s going there and how do you know?

It’s a stupid question, because the only sensible answer is “no” and “because there is no evidence for it, nobody has been to either place and come back to tell us about it, and everyone who makes claims about them is using them as a carrot-and-stick to compel you to obey them”. Unfortunately, What the WaPo did was gather a bunch of gullible theobabblers, and it’s a collection of the most absurdly pious garden mulch this side of the Crystal Cathedral. It’s got short essays from the Dogmatic A-hole Brigade (Chuck Colson and Cal Thomas) to a swarm of blithering churchmice who squeak out vacuous promises of eternal love.

It’s uniformly awful, with one exception: the token nonbeliever, Susan Jacoby. She doesn’t believe in either heaven or hell.

But I certainly do believe in purgatory. Purgatory is wondering whether the human race in general, and my fellow Americans in particular, will ever grow up enough to realize that we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity—not because we are looking forward to being entertained by harpists among the clouds or are terrified of eternal flame.

That’s the only one worth reading in the whole bubble-headed, mindless collection. It’s also the one that gathered the most comments. That should tell everyone something right there—shouldn’t we all be tired of the empty promises and delusional fantasies of the theologically inclined by now?

(via gnosos, who has a shorter summary of many of the articles)

Church and State, hand in hand

What an attractively symmetrical graph:


People who don’t go to church mostly disagree with GW Bush; people who do go to church regularly mostly agree with GW Bush. Unfortunately, these results are from a poll taken in 2005, so it may have lost some of that symmetry since—I certainly hope it has, and that all of the bars in “agree for the most part” category have since gotten smaller.

A very tentative Seattle itinerary

Lots of people want to say hello on my trip to Seattle next week, so I thought I’d better let you all know the public parts of my itinerary. This is mainly a trip to relax, eat seafood, meet family and old friends, so there’s a problem of priorities. Most of my time will be spent a bit further south than the Big City—my family lives in Auburn, and I grew up in Kent—so these are tentative times and places where I’ll be available in metropolitan Seattle. I might have to revise my schedule if family events come up—if I do, though, I’ll mention it on the blog.

Sunday, 1 July, 3:00-8:00: I’ll be at the Seattle Freethinkers’ Picnic in Woodinville. I don’t know that I’ll stay there the whole time, though, and might head back early. First day back in the Northwest with Mommy and my baby brothers and sisters, don’t you know.

Tuesday, 3 July, 8:00: I’m planning on dropping in on the Seattle chapter of Drinking Liberally, at the Montlake Ale House, and which is hosted by Nicholas Beaudrot and somebody named TheHim. As usual, I’m driving a ways to attend a Drinking Liberally meeting, so I’ll have to go easy on the Drinking part and get a double-helping of Liberally.

Friday, 6 July, whenever: We’re just going to indulge in downtown Seattle — cruise the bookstores, maybe hit up the aquarium, see the tourist traps (Ye Olde Curiosity Shop still exists, I presume? Maybe we’ll stop by Seattle Center and stare up at the Space Needle), Pike Place Market, the University district, etc. We’ll need to fuel up at lunch, so there’s an opportunity to catch up with us there, and we’ll definitely want a leisurely evening meal where we can rest our tired feet. I’ll try to name some specific places from the previous Seattle thread when the date gets a little closer—but basically we’ll be somewhere in center city Seattle.

I was also hoping to get a picture taken of me peeing on the Discovery Institute’s building downtown, but I hear that’s illegal nowadays (I also hear they have cement sidewalks instead of wooden slats, and the streets are paved; everything has changed since my youth), so I may have to settle for merely shaking my fist at it and scowling ferociously.

Another nail driven into poor Behe

Another review of Behe’s book, The Edge of Evolution, has been published, this time in Nature and by Ken Miller. This one focuses on Behe’s central claim, that he has identified a probabilistic limit to what evolution can do that means no differences above roughly the genus level (and in many cases, the species level) can be generated by natural mechanisms. This is his CCC metric, or the probability of evolving something equivalent to the “chloroquine complexity cluster”, which he claims is the odds of evolving two specific amino acid changes in a protein. It’s a number he pegs at 1 in 1020, right at the edge of what a large population of protists can do, but beyond the reach of what a smaller population of slowly reproducing metazoans, like hominids, could hope to accomplish even with geological time limits. It’s the same problem I addressed in my earlier criticism, although Miller manages to slap it down with much greater brevity.

[Read more…]