Yeah, the Catholic church has a real problem with gay priests. Sure.

One of the Vatican’s “solutions” for their perennial sex scandals is to start testing and screening candidates for the priesthood. Australia is even considering doing it: unfortunately, the targets are all wrong.

Melbourne’s Catholic Church has embraced a Vatican suggestion to test potential priests for sexual orientation. Those who “appear” gay will be banned.

The head of the Vatican committee that made the recommendations has made it clear celibate gays should also be banned because homosexuality is ”a type of deviation”.

I really want to know details about how these tests are going to be done. Do they hook the candidate up to a plethysmograph and then show them pictures of varying degrees of titillation to various sexual orientations? That sounds fun — they might get a flood of new prospects who are really just there for the test. Heck, if I was sufficiently bored, I might sign up … especially if the testing is done by hot novices in sexy wimples.

But, still, it’s all incredibly wrong-headed. Priests are people who are supposed to be celibate…it should hardly matter whether they are turned on by women or men or turnips, for that matter. There might even be a significant number of church leaders who are radical perverts deep down, but are in the priesthood specifically and sincerely for the whole denial of the flesh aspect. Why single out gays? Shouldn’t we be more worried about priests with uncontrollable urges towards children, or even heterosexual priests who are unable to resist the women who look up to them as authority figures?

This isn’t about correcting the problems of the church at all. It’s more about finding another opportunity to discriminate against gays.

Empedoclean evolution

I must echo Huxley and say, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that!” in response to the discovery of a new mode of evolution. This changes everything!

In an entirely relevant mode of logic, I have noticed that we are suffering with a surprising and rather nasty blizzard today, which was clearly intended for tomorrow. Its appearance today only makes sense if it is Australian, and therefore John Wilkins is responsible for flying over here and shoveling my driveway.

Best pointless poll ever!

I must thank io9 for taking the spirit of the pointless poll to the next level. They have an article on the term “nerd” and are asking whether it’s a useful label or not. Here are the results so far.

Should we retire the term “nerd”?

You’re dead wrong man, keep the faith! Cool stuff is still happening! Nerd4Life! 10% (169 votes)

You’re way late guy; it was all over by The Phantom Menace, or maybe that Hackers film with Angelina Jolie. 19% (327 votes)

Let’s keep it alive anyway for what’s still valuable. Future generations of misfits will thank us. 26% (449 votes)

Answer 4 19% (323 votes)

Answer 5 27% (476 votes)

“Answer 4”? “Answer 5”? What’s this? The poll software insisted on 5 possible answers, but the pollsters only had 3 choices in mind, so these empty placeholders made it into the listing…and they’re doing quite well.

Personally, I had to vote for Answer 5. After all, 5 is a term in the Fibonacci sequence, while 4 is not.

Run for the hills! It’s the Framingstein monster again!

The criticisms must have stung, because Matt Nisbet has put up short replies on Russell Blackford’s and Jerry Coyne’s blogs. Unfortunately, in response to the substantial criticisms of the idea of compatibility between faith and science, Nisbet only offers a feeble and wrong correction to a minor point.

A correction is in order on Blackford’s post. Contrary to his framing, market research was not used to decide the position of the NAS, nor the 20 professional scientific organizations in the editorial at FASEB that endorsed the themes in the booklet. These organizations have had a long standing position on science and religion that has emphasized compatibility. The audience research indicated that emphasizing this long standing position was an effective way to communicate about evolution.

I suggest taking a look at what NAS staffers wrote in an article at Life Sciences Education about how they used public opinion data and evidence-actually listening to their audience-before trying to communicate with them about a complex and sometimes controversial area of science.

The most severe insult offered in this comment is the part where he accuses Blackford of framing. Is that actionable, I wonder? Did Russell weep hot wet salty tears of shame when he was lanced with that horrific rhetorical thrust?

The serious issue he’s addressing is the National Academy of Sciences useful little booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism. When it came out, I said good things about it — it’s a handy short introduction to evolution for the layman. However, it also contained a rather objectionable section that perfectly represents the problem that Larry Moran and I have been complaining about for years, and that Jerry Coyne has recently torn into: it also pukes up a thick wad of partially digested, slimy religious pablum claiming that “Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”.

You know how much I detest that phrase.

It’s not true, and it’s also unrepresentative — there is a significant (and growing) strain of scientific thought that finds the claim objectionable. That argument is completely omitted from the NAS booklet. As I wrote in my original comment,

Do science and religion offer different ways of understanding the world? Sure. One is verifiable, testable, and has a demonstrated track record of success; the other is a concoction of myths that actually leads to invalid conclusions. Perhaps it ought to be rephrased: science provides one way to understand the world, while religion provides millions of ways to misunderstand it.

What the NAS published contained an intentionally one-sided version of the state of affairs in science — it emphasized only the accommodationist view that religion and science are compatible, soliciting comments on the subject from the usual subjects, people like Collins and Miller and Ayala. These are good people and good scientists, but dear dog, they are a poor reflection of the attitudes of the scientific community. If the only people these organizations ever put up as the face of science were Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, everyone would see the problem immediately…but Collins and Miller have become the reassuring tranquilizing narcotic that scientists fire into the faces of the public, to fool them into thinking that science really doesn’t offer any world-changing perspectives on comfortable old myths.

It’s a lie. Science will make you uncomfortable. It will change your ideas about the universe. It will force you to confront awkward facts and difficult consequences. It is not a balm to reinforce the status quo, and if you try to present it as if it is, you’re doing it wrong.

What does Nisbet offer in his brief reply? His defense is that the NAS did not use market research to define their message. They used institutional tradition (which, I would argue, ought to be more accurately called institutional inertia, and give the strength of creationism in the US, ought to be rejected as a failure), and gives us a link that shows…the NAS used market research in composing the booklet!

It’s not like you have to read between the lines to figure that out. It says it plainly.

…this new edition was shaped to a large extent by a careful program of audience research.

There’s a section entitled “Listening to intended audiences” even. They come right out and say that whole sections were rewritten: they cut out any emphasis on the Dover decision, because, they say, “the public does not readily understand the role of the courts in such matters”. They admit that they expanded the section on science and religion, and solicited statements from various religious denominations and religious scientists. And it repeats something that many people, atheists and theists alike, have been saying is a lie.

It makes clear that acceptance of the overwhelming and continually growing body of evidence for evolution need not be in conflict with religious beliefs for many people.

It “need not”? But it is. This head-in-the-sand approach of pretending that all those fervently-held religions that make anti-evolutionism a central part of their creed is precisely the kind of befuddled and condescending obliviousness that has put us in the situation we’re in right now. Face it. Reality erodes faith-based belief, and science is all about dredging up reality and rubbing your faces in it. Nothing in science supports religious beliefs, and all those acclaimed scientists who are trotted out to issue their homilies about the importance of their faith are operating in defiance of reason.

I would also argue that market research, which is all about tailoring the message to what the audience wants to hear, is antithetical to science, which should be about telling people what they need to know, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.

King James is so passé

The Bible I want on my bookshelf is the Robert Crumb Version. He’s got one chapter done: Crumb is about to publish his version of Genesis, which will be a “scandalous satire” which “presents a complex, even subversive, narrative that calls for a significant re-examination of both the Bible’s content and its role in our culture”. Sounds fun!

Of course, we’ll never have a complete RCV Bible. No one could ever drop enough acid to do Revelation right.

The Pastor Ray Mummert award goes to…

…Houston Friend, a student at ASU who got a bad grade on a paper and wrote in to blame the whole culture for it.

Last week, I got back a graded essay, which happened to be worth a significant portion of my grade. I got a C and was immediately upset because I had been somewhat proud of my work when I was writing it.

I soon perused the plethora of red marks throughout the paper and began to notice generally why I did poorly.

The principle reason I got a C was because I didn’t have enough “evidence,” as this particular paper required a certain amount of references to sources read throughout the semester.

The “plethora of red marks” is an indication that there might be a lot of problems with that paper, and it’s certainly true that we professors have expectations of a certain level of scholarship, that is, familiarity with multiple sources, in undergraduate work. It’s good that Mr Friend recognizes these shortcomings in his work. Or does he?

Mr Friend identifies a bigger problem. It’s not his fault, it’s the academic world, which demands…

The academic world our generation has grown up in gives an enormous amount of credit to empirical, tangible and scientific evidence.

Oh, really? That sounds reasonable to me. What does Mr Friend want?

I think we have been accustomed to perceive intelligence as a product of one’s ability to present concrete evidence, especially scientifically. Not to say this is completely wrong or ineffective, but I think we must consider the possibility of metaphysical realities. And maybe, just maybe, we live in world that can’t always be explained rationally.

I see. He wants to write an irrational paper that lacks empirical evidence and is built on intangible claims, and he wants to get an A for it.

Where does he think he is studying? Liberty University?

YouTube has banned the James Randi Educational Foundation!?!?

This is insane: YouTube has become an overzealous nanny, protecting kooks from offense, now banning the eminently respectable JREF.

There’s only one way to respond to this, in addition to writing letters of protest: I’m going to have to stop using YouTube at all. I’ll be posting no more YouTube videos until the JREF is fully reinstated, and even then I’ll be looking for alternatives (XTube? RedTube? No, I know…GodTube! (seriously, don’t go to any of those, they’re awful)). YouTube is ubiquitous, but it’s a common technology, there are lots of sites that can implement it, and there’s no need to tie ourselves to the one host that seems to be run by nervous nellies with brain rot.

Peevish inquiries in Oklahoma continue

Legislators in the fine state of Oklahoma continue to gnash their grim and yellowed Christian tusks in frustration that Richard Dawkins was ever allowed to speak. He not only spoke openly, but was allowed to leave the state unscathed — not a single rusty thumbscrew was employed, nor was he burned at the stake. The university thinks that is just fine, but these cornpone dullards pretending to be representatives of American freedom just don’t get it.

In a phone interview Thursday, Thomsen said the university has a right to bring any speaker it chooses, but is accountable to taxpayers. On behalf of his constituents, Thomsen wanted to present the opinion that Dawkins doesn’t represent Oklahoma’s ideals.

“They’re not in a plastic bubble that can’t be touched,” he said.

Dawkins’ approach doesn’t present freedom of thought and opinion, Thomsen said.

“His presence at OU was not about science,” he said. “It was to promote an atheistic agenda, and that was very clear.”

Was Mr Thomsen at the talk? I think not, or he’d know that he was giving his “Purpose of Purpose” lecture, which was about the perception of teleology in biology and evolution. Or maybe he just assumes that any talk about science is promoting an atheistic agenda, a presumption that would not surprise me at all.

I’m really getting jealous. The best rejection I ever got was getting kicked out of a mere movie theater…and Dawkins has casually stirred the ire of an entire state. Are there any small nations that would like to outlaw me? I have to keep up.

Vampires of Boston!

Administrators at Boston Latin prep school issued a notice that there were no — I repeat, no — vampires attending the school. Read the article, and apparently there was also a rumor of at least one werewolf running around.

They issued no disclaimer against the existence of decrepit old mummies or mindless zombies, however, which should be grounds for concern. They’re probably among the staff.