Jindal continues a tradition

Is there some new requirement in the Republican party that potential candidates for the presidency must be against basic science? Bobby Jindal gave a rebuttal to one of Obama’s recent speeches, and what does he do? Criticizes the investment of “$140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring.’ Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.” Heck, this isn’t even any of that abstract, difficult-to-understand stuff — it’s work that directly helps people.

“I was kind of taken aback by the way volcanic monitoring was portrayed in the speech,” Brad Singer, a professor of geology at the University of Wisconsin, said. “Every once in awhile there’s some odd science research going on that sounds so out there that it’s not useful and even I can laugh at some of those. But volcano monitoring is a serious business. I would say there are hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who live in the sphere of hazard associated with many individual volcanoes.”

It’s work to help predict and prevent disasters. You would think the governor of Louisiana would understand why this is important, even if his state doesn’t have volcanoes, but one thing we’ve learned over the last few years is that Republican presidential candidates don’t have much of a connection with reality or empathy.

We made them cry!

We had a pointless poll post a while back where I pointed you at a silly site that asked what was the best evidence for the afterlife — and you people triumphantly emphasized that there was no evidence.

Amusingly, the guy who runs the site is now whining about the attention we gave him.

While I appreciate the attention from this Big Fish of the Intarwebs (and I thought Randi and the Bad Astronomer were big), I did find a bit of perverse irony in the situation. The biggest science blog on the planet, home site of one of the foremost ‘defenders of reason’, telling readers to go and vote on a topic which most of them have not read on at all?

Well, he might be right that Phil Plait is small potatoes, but really…does he really believe that no one who reads this site has seriously considered the possibility of the afterlife?

Oh, and of course he has deleted all of your votes from the old poll. We are victorious!

Rename Christi Himmelfahrt!

Those wacky, madcap Germans are promoting a little change in their set of national holidays: some people want to change the Feast of the Ascension, celebrating the day Jesus supposedly floated up into heaven, to…Evolution Day! As you might guess, I think this is an excellent idea. There is a petition you can sign, and less usefully, an online poll:

Soll “Christi Himmelfahrt” in “Evolutionstag” umbenannt werden?

Ich bin dafür (for it) 3061
Ich bin dagegen (against it) 1312
Ist mir egal (don’t care) 244

They even have a charming video to go with their proposal.

As long as I’m abusing ‘framers’…

I might as well recommend this excellent rebuttal to Weiss and Nisbet. Weiss wrote an op-ed which was basically a baseless argument that these uppity New Atheists should sit down and shut up because Charles Darwin “knew there is plenty of room for God at the top”. It’s a stupid argument on many levels, and not just because we are none of us worshippers of Darwinian infallibility…but also because it misrepresents Darwin’s ideas about religion.

Weiss and Nisbet are trying to use Darwin as a positive example to contrast with their presumed negative example of the New Atheists. If they did this with regard to the public expression and aggressive style of the New Atheists, especially in their intolerance of all religions, they would have a good argument. Darwin and most atheists today are much more circumspect than the New Atheists and not so intolerant of all religions and religious philosophies. But instead, they criticized the New Atheists with the actual philosophical atheistic beliefs themselves, and here their argument fails, since Darwin was no different in this regard than Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, et al. By the end of his life, Darwin was a total agnostic, nontheist, and–concerning the Christian God–antitheist. When Darwin wrote, “The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject [the existence of an ineffable god] is beyond the scope of man’s intellect,” he was correct about generic gods in general, and I don’t think the New Atheists would disagree. Both they and Darwin would be nontheistic about generic gods. “Every man,” Darwin wrote, “must judge for himself, between conflicting vague probabilities.” For the most part this is obvious, and Darwin had judged for himself and chosen agnosticism and atheism–nontheism for god and antitheism for the Christian God (whose existence he thought had been disproved by the problem of evil).

Chris Mooney says something sensible

I know! It’s shocking! But then I knew all along that he was smarter than his flirtation with the abhorrent insanity of Nisbetian framing would suggest. He has an article summarizing the George Will nonsense — where Will promoted outright falsehoods in support of his global warming denialism — and Mooney states something in his summary that I agree with entirely. Well, almost entirely.

In this sense, I view the George Will affair with sadness. Sure, I share in the temporary glee of the bloggers. But at the same time, I know there are many kinds of journalism, particularly about science, that bloggers will never replace. They’re extremely well-equipped to pounce and skewer a George Will column, but hardly well equipped to deliver an investigative or narrative feature story. We’re watching the media change before our eyes, the science media in particular–and no one can say, in light of episodes like the latest one involving George Will, that much of old media doesn’t in some sense “deserve” what’s happening to it now. Yet if our only sentiment is joy over the bloggers’ latest trophy, or outrage at the Post, we’re missing something deep indeed.

While I do think that there are many bloggers who can and do deliver good narratives, I think it is fair to say that his larger point is correct: there is an ecosystem of the media, and we each have our niches; blogging is not and should not be the sine qua non of information delivery, and newspapers (and TV and radio and podcasts and magazines and …) have their role to play. The lesson of the George Will episode — and of the last dozen years of politics — is that the news has failed because it hasn’t fulfilled that role. Newspapers are supposed to have more rigor and stricter fact-checking than blogs; they are supposed to bravely dig deeper than the average citizen into the major issues of the day. They don’t. There certainly is no glee in that sad fact, but I think some joy is deserved that somehow and somewhere the failure of the news media is finally getting some exposure.

Let’s hope that someday that means clowns like George Will can get fired for incompetence, and that newspapers like the Washington Post will make changes to enforce accountability. It doesn’t now, of course, which is another reason to temper our happiness.

Kook fight!

Oh, boy! Ray Comfort and Bill Donohue are arguing! The issue is evolution, of course; Comfort says that Christianity and evolution are incompatible, and Donohue is claiming otherwise. They deserve each other, and I don’t really care what either of them says, but I have to point out one glaring inconsistency in Donohue’s position. Here’s what he says:

Comfort is wrong. The fact is that in the 1950s, Pope Pius XII said there was no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of faith, as long as God was not excluded. Pope John Paul II affirmed this teaching in the mid-1990s.

In other words, the Catholic Church teaches that God is the author of all creation. How stages of human development have unfolded is a legitimate area of scientific inquiry, and it has nothing to do with rejecting God as the Creator.

This is nominally true — the Catholic church has been scrupulously vague on the intersection of their religion and the science of evolution. However, Donohue has not. In fact, he has shown considerable contempt for evolutionary theory himself. This past summer, he referred to me as the Planet-of-the-Apes biologist, and offered an interesting description of the theory of evolution: the King Kong Theory of Creation.

I guess that means the battle is between a moron and a two-faced lying hypocrite. Fun!