Richard Dawkins says we’re descended from FROGS!

Well, no, actually, he didn’t. But once again, he’s going to get misquoted by every creationist on the planet, thanks to Newsweek. They have an article about him and his book, and in a nice bold pull quote, here’s what they claim:


Hey, frogs are highly derived amphibians; we certainly aren’t descended from them. Monkeys are closer to us than frogs, but they’re still cousins, not grandparents. Not only does that quote look silly to a creationist, it looks ridiculous to a scientist.

So what did Dawkins actually say? Why, that the whole simplistic imaginary chains of descent that creationists invent are wrong.

The silliest of all these “missing link” challenges are the following…”If people came from monkeys via frogs and fish, then why does the fossil record not contain a ‘fronkey’?”

If you ever wonder why scientists distrust the media, this is a nice clear example.

The Maher conundrum

Oh, boy. As many of you already know, the big AAI conference is taking place in LA at the end of this week — I’ll be there! — and they are giving Bill Maher an award. This is a problem. Maher made a provocative movie about religion this year, Religulous, and that’s the kind of thing we want to acknowledge and encourage, but at the same time…Maher is as loopy as they come on medical matters. He’s a conspiracy theorist who blames Big Pharma for controlling health care, thinks modern medicine is a failure, and promotes ‘alternative’ therapies that don’t work. It is a serious embarrassment.

I think it is an excellent idea to ask difficult questions and put Maher on the spot, as Orac has proposed, and the last thing any skeptic or rationalist should do is ask critics to be silent. However, we have a couple of small problems here.

One is that some people (not Orac) have been threatening to disrupt the proceedings at the meeting. Nope, not good: there is a difference between asking hard questions and interfering with the event so no one gets to ask questions. Let’s nip this one in the bud: do not show up at the meeting with the intent of turning it into something equivalent to those townhall teabagger shouting matches. I think you’re entirely right to be pissed off at Maher, but that doesn’t justify disruption.

Another problem is that Maher is going to be well insulated. He’s showing up for the award ceremony, which will NOT have time scheduled for a Q&A, and I think he’ll be vanishing right afterwards. We’re not likely to have an opportunity for discussion.

And yet another problem: people are barking at Richard Dawkins. Dawkins does not support quackery. This isn’t an issue on which he’ll disagree with any of you, but he’s also there to talk about his exciting new book, not about fake cancer cures. I suspect he’s not looking forward to a lot of time-wasting headaches over this issue, and if it sounds like it’s going to eat up all of his time with the public, he’ll probably do the rational thing and cut back on spending time with the public. This is not to be encouraged.

I have some suggestions.

I’m going to be printing out Orac’s excellent complaint, and if you’re going, you should, too. I’ll keep an eye on the comments in the next few days for more good questions.

If we get an opportunity in an open forum to pin Maher down on these questions, let’s do it. Let’s do it politely and according to the rules of the session. That’s fair game.

If you find yourself with a chance to ask Richard Dawkins questions, though, please stick to issues that interest him. If you ask him about acupuncture, he’s going to be as dismissive as all of us other skeptics, so there really isn’t much point to going on about it. Don’t waste an opportunity to converse with Dawkins on a bunch of annoying noise. OK?

However, I’ve probably got a greater likelihood of getting a shot at a private conversation with Richard Dawkins than most readers here; maybe, and this is a very thin maybe, I’ll even get an opportunity to collar Maher. I may also get a chance to talk with some of the other organizers of the conference. If that happens, I’ll pass along the complaints, and I’ll try to drill down and get some good answers for you…which, of course, I’ll post here.

I think that’s your best strategy for actually getting answers to the questions Orac is asking, rather than simply triggering a shouting match. While shouting matches are fun, we should want something a little more thoughtful out of these fellows.

Bill Donohue is getting anticipatory apoplexy

30 September is going to be International Blasphemy Day, and I suspect Donohue will be turning purple while his head twirls around on his neck. It should be entertaining: he’s already sending out press releases to complain.


The Center for Inquiry will launch the first International Blasphemy Day on September 30, the anniversary of the 2005 publication of the Danish cartoons that so inflamed Muslims worldwide. Billed as a free speech event designed to oppose such things as a Muslim-sponsored U.N. resolution banning criticism of religion, the day has drawn the support of people like PZ Myers. Myers, a professor at the University of Minnesota known for intentionally desecrating a consecrated Host, says the day was established to “mock and insult religion without fear of murder, violence, and reprisal”; he wants every day to be Blasphemy Day.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue spoke to this event today:

The Center for Inquiry is factually incorrect to say that “Free speech is the foundation on which other liberties rest.” Freedom of conscience is the first liberty, and it is inextricably linked to freedom of religion. Moreover, the whole concept of inalienable rights presupposes a belief in the Creator. In other words, atheists have the right to mock religion because our Christian Founding Fathers afforded them human rights.

They are all such phonies. The stated purpose of Blasphemy Day has nothing to do with any religion but Islam, yet there is not one scheduled event insulting Muslims. We can only guess why. So who have they chosen to mock? You guessed it–Christians.

Artist Dana Ellyn will wander to Washington, D.C. to show her masterpiece, “Jesus Does His Nails,” a portrait of Jesus polishing a nail jammed into his hand. In Los Angeles, there will be a film about a gay molesting priest and another about a boy who is so angry about being sent to bed that he asks God to kill his parents. Oh, yes, American Atheists will conduct “De-Baptisms” in New Jersey.

Nice to know that even the atheists know that Christians can be counted on to react to their antics like good Christians. Which is why there will be no violence.

Ol’ Bill really doesn’t get it. The purpose of the day is to jeer at religion, not to do his dirty work of attacking just one sectarian slice of the whole pie of absurdity. In the US, we’ll tend to poke fun at Christianity more than Islam because it’s Christianity that’s in our faces every day of the year. Islam also lacks a histrionic spokesman like Donohue to make entertaining facial spasms for us.

I’m hoping there will be no violence, but I can’t say the same for those “good Christians.” I get a lot of threats from those people, inflamed by affronted polemicists like Donohue, and I can also count on the Catholic League to pine for opportunities to turn Muslims loose on atheists.

Justice for Gloria

In 2002, Thomas and Manju Sam had a very sick child: their daughter Gloria was suffering from a life-threatening case of eczema, and essentially screamed herself to death by painful suppuration. That’s a ghastly tragedy, and we’d normally feel for the parents who suffered that loss. My sympathies are all for their daughter, however, since her parents watched her die…and treated her with homeopathy.

Oh, wait. “Treated” is the wrong word. They neglected her with homeopathy.

I can’t call it good news, but at least it’s a small measure of justice. Thomas and Manju Sam have been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison between them. Now if only we could punish all the other peddlers of quack nostrums who contribute to human suffering…

Basava Premanand is dying

Premanand is a notable rationalist and publisher of Indian Skeptic magazine, and he is in a hospital dying of cancer as I write this. He is alert and fully aware of his condition, and he knows his death is imminent. He also knows that when he is dead, the contemptible ghouls of spiritualism and faith and desperate dogma will descend on his corpse to try and steal some of his dignity and integrity for their superstitions, and he has responded accordingly by composing a deathbed testimonial.

I, B. Premanand s/o late Sri Basava Prabhu, 80 years of age resident Chettipalayam Road, Podanur, sound of mind though suffering from physical complications caused by metastases in many organs caused by carcinoma of the stomach herein solemnly wish to place on record the following:

  1. I have been closely associated with the rationalist movement from 1975 onwards and have been a rationalist of full conviction since then and continue to be so.
  2. It is common for the purveyors of superstitions and such anti rational forces to start spreading rumors about rationalists turning to god and other supernatural forces at the end of their lives and becoming devotees of gods and god men of various types.
  3. It is also claimed that at times of crises that we staunch rationalists through the major part of our lives, turn to spiritualism and religion.
  4. I wish to clarify that as on today the twentieth of September,2009 I remain a staunch rationalist and wish to place on record the following:
  • a. I continue to be a rationalist of full conviction.
  • b. I do not believe in any supernatural power. All the powers that we encounter are in the realm of nature and nothing exists beyond that.
  • c. I do not believe in the existence of the soul or rebirth.
  • d. I have not turned to any religion, god or any sort of spiritual pursuits.
  • e. When I pass away I shall be leaving only my body which is to be donated to a medical college and no spirit or soul to cause problems for the living.

I want to convey to all that the struggle against the exploitation by god men and so called supernatural forces is a long and hard one but the ultimate victory will be ours.
My very survival has been a challenge to astrologers and their so called “science” of astrology, as they had all predicted that I would die soon after birth and refused to cast a horoscope for me.
I wish to convey to my colleagues of the rationalist movement to continue the work that I have been doing with renewed vigor and that will be the best of tributes for me.

Abhirami Hospital

Podanur (B. Premanand)

Witnessed by: Dr. Maya Prabhu and Suneera

I wish I’d known the man. He’s leaving us one small story from what must have been a life of reason, and is dying as a free man, free in thought.