Was that fun, or what?

That radio debate was a hoot and a half, but I can’t take credit. All the joy came straight from the mouth and brain of my lovely opponent, who obviously didn’t do a lick of research for either the debate or for his books. I was shocked for a moment when, after I’d mentioned the recent discovery of Indohyus, he went on to claim that there were no intermediates between that deer-like artiodactyl and modern whales … and when I tried to mention Pakicetus, Ambulocetus, Rhodcetus, Basilosaurus, etc., he seemed to have never heard of them, claimed his information came from a Scientific American article some months ago (way to plumb the depths of the scientific literature, Dr Simmons!), and then started making stuff about them not exhibiting dorsoventral flexion in swimming, and not having dorsal blowholes. He wrote a whole book about “Billions of missing links”! His other book, What Darwin Didn’t Know, needs to be retitled in a new edition, What Geoffrey Simmons Doesn’t Know. It will be a very large book.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at his performance, though. I have a secret: I read part of What Darwin Didn’t Know before the show, and knew exactly what kind of creationist I was engaging.

I have to share a few tidbits with you from that hilarious book. It has a chapter titled “Purposeful Design” which purports to list 81 examples of design. He has very low standards. Basically, anything that works is evidence of design.

The mouth, vagina, urethra, and anus are sealed by mucus when not in use and yet can open and close in controlled ways as needs arise.

This is a man who thinks the fact that he isn’t drooling and feces aren’t dribbling down his leg is a miracle from god. After reading his book, I kind of agree.

The book is full of confessions like that.

Menopause: Are women designed not to have babies when they age or are physically less fit, or is it the reverse, that babies shouldn’t be born to women who might not live until their children have grown up? Most women go through menopause around 52 years of age, and they all go through menopause in much the same way. It is clearly programmed. A similar pattern is found in men. As they approach 50, many have lower testosterone levels, lower sperm counts, and less interest in having sex.

What a bizarre argument. So, when the life expectancy was around 30 or 40 (say, in the time of Jesus), shouldn’t women have entered menopause around the age of ten or twenty? And if a designer is setting the timers on women’s fertility for optimum utility, I have a complaint: I want daughters’ fertility switched off until they’re old enough to handle it. Like around 30.

All women don’t go through menopause in the same way. There is an underlying similar cause, but the symptoms and expression of that mechanism is different in everyone.

And, umm, how old is Geoffrey Simmons?

His age might not matter. I don’t think he knows very much about sex. Look at this argument: women’s bodies are perfectly designed to maximize their enjoyment of the missionary position!

Intercourse: Face-to-face intercourse is relatively rare in the animal world, found only among whales, dolphins, dugongs, manatees, beavers, sea otters, centipedes, some crustaceans, a aNew Zealand songbird, and some primates like orangutans and bonobos [and squid. “Relatively rare,” huh? — pzm]

One might ask, how did human males and females evolve to be so perfectly compatible? Pelvic thrusting during intercourse stimulates both individuals and deposits the sperm in the deepest possible spot. Vaginal rugae (folds) stimulate the penis. Every male aspect of intercourse—from the initial excitement set off by visual cues and pheromones, to a good mechanical fit, to stimulation, to the placement of sperm—matches up well with the female’s equivalent interest, her means of being stimulated, the delivery of the egg, and her mechanisms to help the sperm on their voyage. Dopamine, a chemical responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure, is released into the bloodstream in males and females after sex, just as it is released after ingesting a good meal or certain illicit drugs.

Please, somebody, show Dr Simmons where the clitoris is and explain female orgasms to him…for the sake of Mrs Simmons!

After that mercy is taken care of, explain evolution to him. I will note that Dr Simmons is the product of parents who had sufficient interest in sex and sufficiently compatible plumbing that they could generate him, and that they in turn had parents with compatible genitalia, and they came from parents likewise, and on and on back into the past. There was never a point where anyone had two parents who did not have sex with each other, so his observation, from an evolutionary perspective, is completely trivial. Design is unnecessary.

I was really tempted to turn this debate into a sex education discussion, which would have been good for the Christian listeners. Imagine a Christian talk station that patiently explained to the male listeners what a clitoris was … there would be many happy smiling ladies in church.

Standard creationist tactics, as expected

Two days ago I was asked to participate in a radio debate with a Discovery Institute fellow. I asked about the topic and the format, and they said, “the evidence of Evolution vs. evidence of Intelligent Design” and “each would get a 5 minute opening statement and then we would debate the issues brought out in the opening statements.” OK, sure, I said, while rolling my eyes at the ridiculous expectations.

I’m supposed to call in in an hour and a half. I just got this email.

I just received an e-mail from Dr. Simmons requesting the title of the debate to change to “Are Darwin’s Theories Fact or Faith Issues?” When you agreed to the debate I proposed the title and format to you but did not consult with Dr. Simmons. I was corresponding with you while I was in the middle of a show that day and didn’t think to pass that specific information to Dr. Simmons. When he learned of the original title he requested this change but sent it to our Producer last night and I just learned of it now.

Well, isn’t this just so incredibly typical of frauds? Bait and switch, juggle the terms, move the goalposts, play games.

The show will go on. I had absolutely no respect for my opponent’s intellectual honesty in the first place, so I can’t argue that this has diminished it.

Should I go or should I stay?

I have a MySpace page. It’s not much, just a token entry on one of the big social networking sites.

Now here’s a problem: MySpace is run by religious bigots. They selectively censor atheist groups wholesale; this makes me rather dislike the place. Yesterday was International Delete Your MySpace Account Day as a protest — I didn’t participate because I didn’t find out about it until this morning, and now I face a dilemma. Should I remove even my nominal participation in MySpace, or should I keep my page up? If it stays up, it will definitely have something protesting the managerial abuses that are going on.

There’s something to be said for either alternative, but I’m lazy (and also crazy busy today), so I’ll put it to the readers of Pharyngula: shall we say no to MySpace and torch the Pharyngula webpage thereon, or shall I leave it up? Scorn them by participating in the mass shunning, or leave a one-fingered salute waving at them?

The New Humanist is running a poll on this very same issue — how should atheists respond to organizations that discriminate against us?

It stands for so much

At last, we have the perfect symbol for America under Bush. Nothing testifies to your pride in a country that is impossible to satirized anymore than fake plastic testicles painted in camouflage colors with a yellow “support the troops” ribbon that you can hang on your gas-guzzling SUV.

I swear, if I ever saw one of these on the freeway, it would be a traffic hazard because I’d be laughing and crying too hard to maintain proper control of my vehicle.

(via Jeffrey Rowland)

Richard Dawkins, tune in on Friday!

I’m sure he will be looking forward to this: his funeral is going to be held tomorrow.

Since the teaser calls him “one of the most wicked and vile human beings ever to walk the face of this earth”, and since they’ve already done a hack job on Heath Ledger (in which they build a crude dummy of the actor and set it on fire), I have a sneaking suspicion that this won’t consist of a reading of
Dawkins’ suggestion for his funeral. In fact, I don’t think these hateful yahoos are capable of reading that; the examples on their website are less than eloquent. These are not your Southern gentlemen with the lilting accents smooth as honey, but rather, a couple of dumb crackers, shrill and nasal, who can barely read their own scripts.

It’s coming from a small group of ignorant haters called the King of Terrors Ministry. I find that appropriate and amusing. Some people got seriously bent out of shape that Dawkins dared to call the Christian god “a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully,” but here’s a group of cultists who revel in that kind of description, who worship a being because he inspires terror. Oh, and like the god of Fred Phelps, their god is intensely obsessed with homosexuality.

Get the popcorn!

Floridians are meeting to discuss evolution! You just have to read one account, complete with quotes, of a creationist mob trying to articulate their opposition to science. There are plenty of amusing examples of dumbitude, but this one is my favorite:

Referring to the discovery that Pluto no longer is considered a planet by scientists today, Kendall said scientific opinions can change as scientists explore new information.

You have to understand…this fellow Kendall was using that as an argument against evolution.

Look around you

British educational programs are astounding. I caught my daughter self-educating herself with this remarkable series of videos. The one below is on the brain — I learned stuff I’d never known before, and I have a Ph.D. from an Institute of Neuroscience!


I’m fed up. There have been 5.5 Amaz!ng Meetings with James Randi, and I haven’t gone to a single one…yet. That’s finally going to change, though, as I’ve been invited to speak at TAM6, in Las Vegas, on 19-22 June. Who else is going? Maybe a few of you will think about marking your calendars and making the pilgrimage for the first time this summer, so that I’m not the only TAM virgin there?

I haven’t quite settled on what I’ll be talking about, just yet, although I have a few ideas. Maybe Phil and I should have a joint session in which we publicly play the dozens? He did just get back from TAM 5.5, so there is a little seething jealousy that needs an outlet.

Guillermo Gonzalez does two smart things

That silly Iowa State physics fellow who was denied tenure has finally admitted to something sensible. First:

Gonzalez said in an e-mail Monday that he is applying for tenure-track positions in case the Regents do not act in his favor.

Good for him! Tenure denials happen all the time, and smart academics pick themselves up off the floor, brush off the debris, and move on. Turning it into a major trial in which your self-esteem and reputation are shackled to false notions that one must retain this one job is a recipe for further self-destruction. Move on, Guillermo! Liberty University and a host of other bible colleges need you!

The second thing needs a little work, but it’s getting close, and it is accurate.

“I’m convinced that I was denied tenure because of my [credulous, unproductive, failed] research,” he wrote in the e-mail.

OK, he actually wrote, “I’m convinced that I was denied tenure because of my intelligent design research,” but it means exactly the same thing.

Now, if he really wants to move on into a new position, one thing he has to realize is that he has to stop doing the same old stupid things that cost him his first one … like wasting time with a flop of a research plan designed by theocratic ideologues.