An historical meme

Wilkins tagged me. It’s all his fault.

This is supposed to be a historical meme…why bother me with this? I think it’s because philosophers have a professional obligation to annoy people with weird questions, and Wilkins takes personal pleasure in poking me now and then, the brute. Here’s what I’m supposed to do.

  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. List 7 random/weird things about your favorite historical figure.
  3. Tag seven more people at the end of your blog and link to theirs.
  4. Let the person know they have been tagged by leaving a note on their blog.

Favorite historical figure?? I don’t suppose I can name the progenote or urbilaterian, but because this was started by some historian somewhere, I have to restrict myself to some boring recent human being; and like Wilkins, I should avoid the obvious choices, although in his case Frederick II Hohenstaufen was a cool dude.

I guess I’ll name another cool dude…

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Does anybody care about them anymore? I didn’t watch it at all, and I also missed most of the nominated movies this year. We had the winner, No Country for Old Men, playing in town a few weeks ago, unfortunately coinciding with an exceptionally heavy work week for me, and I couldn’t find time to see. There Will Be Blood is playing at the Morris Theatre this week, and I may have to squeeze in a few hours to check it out…but not because Day-Lewis won an award.

Isn’t that what it’s about, anyway? If we’re going to take off 3 hours or more for some entertainment, it makes more sense to go see the movie than to watch a tedious show about the movies.

Another suggestion

In response to your efforts to turn Pharyngula’s domination of the virtual scienceblog world into a real world conquest, John Wilkins has suggested another strategy for organizing meetups: Facebook. There is a Scienceblogs Facebook group, which could be a useful tool for finding people in your region. There is also a Pharyngula Facebook group and a PZ Myers for World President Facebook group (shouldn’t that be “PZ Myers for Galactic Overlord”?)

So there we go, another mechanism for finding each other.

Lawyers: here’s a profitable target

What organization rakes in the cash by exploiting the poor and making extravagant claims that never come true? What business is built entirely on mass marketing and dishonest advertising, and yet is never called into account for its failure? It isn’t the tobacco companies or the makers of penis enlargement drugs — it’s religion.

I have no idea whether this is a brilliant idea or just the daydream of an ambulance-chasing shyster, but someone is pursuing Earths Greatest Lawsuit — an effort to gather a swarm of plaintiffs to slam various religious organizations with numerous lawsuits.

It’s an interesting idea. I’m not a fan of the sue-them-into-compliance strategy for social issues myself (I want people to change their ideas, not bankrupt them and make them powerless), but I do like the idea of making religious organizations accountable for their real-world claims.

Besides, God is a ripe fruit ready for plucking — everyone knows the Devil has all the lawyers.

How Ricky Gervais lost his faith

Ricky Gervais has published his deconversion story — I feel a little inferior because he made up his mind about it very quickly, while it took me years to ease my way out of the nonsense.

I like his answer, though, especially the last paragraph below.

…within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God. If Mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? yes, but who cares? The gifts kep coming. And so did the gifts of my newfound atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. Not a world by design, but one by chance. I learned of evolution—a theory so simple and obvious that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals, and us—with imagination, free will, love and humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer, and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

But living an honest life—for that you need the truth. That’s the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

Cline at UMTC

Hey, Minneapolitans — Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists have two big events coming up soon. This week, it’s pizza and bowling on the UMTC campus. I’m probably not going to be able to make that one, but the week after, on 6 March, Austin Cline will be speaking on critical thinking and skepticism, and I may be able to get into town for that one. Let’s all go say hello to another godless blogger!

The genome is not a computer program

The author of All-Too-Common Dissent has found a bizarre creationist on the web; this fellow, Randy Stimpson, isn’t at all unusual, but he does represent well some common characteristics of creationists in general: arrogance, ignorance, and projection. He writes software, so he thinks we have to interpret the genome as a big program; he knows nothing about biology; and he thinks his expertise in an unrelated field means he knows better than biologists. And he freely admits it!

I am not a geneticist or a molecular biologist. In fact, I only know slightly more about DNA than the average college educated person. However, as a software developer I have a vague idea of how many bytes of code is needed to make complex software programs. And to think that something as complicated as a human being is encoded in only 3 billion base pairs of DNA is astounding.

Wow. I know nothing about engine repair, but if I strolled down to the local garage and tried to tell the mechanics that a car was just like a zebrafish, and you need to throw a few brine shrimp in the gas tank now and then, I don’t think I would be well-received. Creationists, however, feel no compunction about expressing comparable inanities.

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What a strange phenomenon…

MAJeff started it all. Here I go and set up this blog just so I can lord it over a readership, and the readers starthaving a good time talking to each other, and they seem to have noticed that they are of like minds and find each other to be interesting — perhaps more interesting than the blog owner — and there is a growing awareness that they don’t need me. So MAJeff is organizing a Boston Pharyngulite get-together, a group with no masters, not even me, but of similar free-thinking, scientifically-inclined minds.

Now I’m getting more requests in email to help people gather local pharyngulites for social meetings. This is rather cool, even if it means I’m going to have to kiss my cunning plans to become the Atheist Pope-Tyrant goodbye in the face of this rising democratization of freethought. Oh, well.

I can still be a central clearinghouse for information about these events (from overlord to bookkeeper…oh, I have fallen). Use this open thread to talk about organizing your own meetup, or joining someone else’s. I suppose once you’ve got something arranged, if you send me the city, date, time, and location, with a link to an article on one of your blogs that is taking RSVPs or discussing plans, I can put it up on the sidebar somewhere.

And I insist that you at least send me a link to your after-event photos and discussion.

Oh, and one little suggestion…I’ve been at these kinds of events before, and one problem is that you are all internet nerds who have never met each other before, so people show up at the restaurant or bar and wander about, not knowing who among the milling horde are the actual fellow weirdos they’re supposed to meet. I suggest that you have a recognizable symbol somewhere on the table or on the attendees — as early Christians used the fish, I recommend that you have something with a cephalopod on it.

By the way, I set up this Frappr Map several years ago, and have neglected it ever since. Would this be a useful tool for finding locals?

Radio reminder

Remember — Sunday morning at 9am, you can tune in to the Minnesota Atheists’ very own Atheist Talk radio program. This week, we’re planning to have a bigger slice of time for the Moment of Science, and Kristine Harley and I will be talking about the idea of bad “design” — the observation that many features of evolved organism don’t look at all like they are the product of intent.

(Oops, no — not this week. That’ll be next week. This week, you’ll get to hear from Lori Lipman Brown, and you’ll hear a discussion of secular ethics. Tune in!)

Feel free to call in, but please do try to be crisp and cogent…we do have more time, but even the extended segment will fly by quickly.

By the way, there have been some problems with the audio stream in the past, with the program getting cut off at the commercial breaks; the station says that it was a technical glitch, and that it has been fixed.