Congrats to the growing Laden family

They’ve got another one entering the fray in November, and they need your suggestions for a name.

It’s a boy, which makes it harder. When we were in those distant childbearing years, I hit up taxonomy for interesting names, but for some reason, most Latin names always sound feminine to me. I was always fond of Ciona (Thaliacea and Styela are also pretty). It just doesn’t work for a boy. It was one of the names I considered for my daughter, Skatje, but my wife squelched it when she saw what a urochordate looked like.

“Hey, PZ, how’s the book coming along?”

Today was a big day for revision and cleanup — I cut out some of the weaker stuff I’d written before. I think deleting words ought to count for just as much as adding words, but I’ll refrain from complicating the tally that way.

Productivity for Sunday, 27 September:

1651 shiny new words, one brand new piece added to the pile, a few other pieces buffed up.

An amusing back-and-forth

The tiff between Jerry Coyne and Robert Wright is getting even more hilarious. Wright is accusing Coyne of misrepresenting and misunderstanding his book, and is bringing up all these quotes from The Evolution of God to refute Coyne’s claims. If you just read Wright, you’ll have to agree — Coyne does say things that are directly contradicted by the text.

But then you miss the point. Coyne has a short reply in TNR and a longer reply on his blog where he quotes Wright several times saying exactly what Wright says he didn’t say. Wright’s true name seems to be Legion, and he contains multitudes. One of the problems with his book is that it hares off in all kinds of directions, and you can find pieces that say one thing, and others that say something very different.

It’s a lot like the Bible.

Note to fans of Wright: that’s not a compliment.

And there’s more! The few comments are from Wright fans whose response is to demand that “the Editors … step in on this one and review the original essay by Jerry Coyne. The author provides some strong evidence that his book was either misunderstood or not actually read by the reviewer.” Quite the contrary. The evidence shows to me that the reviewer seems to have read the book more carefully and perceptively than the author.

Advice for atheists?

We’re getting advice from Christians now! Look and laugh at this list: Five things that would make atheists seem nicer. It’s gone awry even with the title. I especially appreciate the word “seem,” because Lord knows there’s nothing that could make us actually nice, and obviously we need the suggestions of a Christian, since we’re all such not-nice people. I should make a counter-list of “five things that would make Christians seem intelligent” — maybe then one of them would notice the nasty implications of this clown’s title.

But I’m the wrong guy to do it. You see, I’m not nice, and proud of it. I have no interest in being nice, and I think it’s rather pathetic to start an argument by baring your throat to my teeth and begging for mercy before you’ve even started. It just makes me smirk and snap. It doesn’t help, either, that his list is so snide and feeble…so sneebly.

1. Stop being so smug.

Make me.

Look, you start an argument, you don’t get to whine at your opponent to be humble about his ideas before you’ve even taken a stab at criticizing them. Show me a reason not to be smug about atheism, and reason, and science, and the superiority of our beliefs over that pile of superstitious dogma you call faith. Don’t simply instruct me to stop regarding atheism as possibly not superior to your cultish apologetics.

Christians also don’t get to play the humility card, anyway. People who believe they have privileged access to mysterious information direct from the brain of a cosmos-spanning super-intelligence, and who believe everyone else is damned to eternal torment, aren’t exactly poster-children for modesty.

2. Don’t assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you – we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.

Oh, my, no. You think we see the inane dreck Christians propose as an argument, and you think we assume it’s directed at us? We’re “smug,” remember — we figure there’s no way you can really be so stupid as to think we’re going to be swayed by Pascal’s Wager or handwaving at vague quotes from the Bible or threats of an imaginary Hell or promises of an imaginary paradise. We’re after the undecideds, too. We love tearing up your stupidity in public for that reason.

For instance, I know that the Christian who wrote this list wasn’t directing it at me, and probably never even heard of me. That doesn’t stop me from pissing on it.

3. Admit that the debate about God’s existence is complex – and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.

The debate is complex because a lot of intelligent, educated people buy into those ridiculous presuppositions and then toss a lot of noisy chaff in the air. There is a simplicity at the core that is not in Christian interests to expose: is there a god or gods, and is there any reasonable evidence for him, it, her, or them? And further, is there a reason to believe in your specific god over Thor or Xenu or Moroni or whatever other fiction some cunning con artist chose to peddle to the gullible?

And your ‘intervening deity’ (the existence of which is an assertion not supported by any evidence) ‘communicates’ (you are using that word in some strange fashion that is not reasonable) ‘through a book’ (that was cobbled together from scattered scraps of theological rants, old poetry, and self-serving pseudo-history over 1500 years ago)? That’s crazy talk right there.

4. Admit that the scientific method – which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) – is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.

No. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We are not going to get anywhere if you expect your opponents to simply fall over and accept a bogus mischaracterization of science.

Science uses both inductive and deductive logic. Induction is the idea generator, the process that spins out tentative hypotheses that can be evaluated by observation, experiment, and deductive logic. Science is not infallible, and no one ever claims that it is, but it has something that religion lacks: a process of testing claims against real-world observations. To claim that science is as open to abuse as religion is ignorant nonsense. You can claim virtually anything about gods in religion, and all that matters is how many rubes you can persuade to believe it. Scientific claims are constrained by evidence.

Of course individuals can abuse both religion and science. The difference is that science provides objective criteria to assess the viability of truth-claims.

5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God – and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by “Christians” – but understand how they’re meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.

OK, explain Ganesh to me. Explain the prosperity gospel. Explain why Christians reject the prophecies of Mohammed, while millions of Muslims think they’re just peachy. Explain premillennial dispensationalism. Explain whether Episcopalians or Baptists are right. Explain how Spong is wrong. Or right. Who would win a cage match between Karen Armstrong and Pat Robertson?

What is “the” Christological narrative? There is none, or rather, there’s a thousand of them. We know the context, too — that the Bible is an evolving mess of over-interpreted poetry and tribal stories and crackpot history. Why you guys choose to selectively declare one interpretation of one subset of the conglomeration to be the absolute truth as dictated by anthropomorphic vapor, while another arbitrary subset is archaic and doesn’t apply anymore, is completely incomprehensible…not just to us, but to you, too.

We atheists actually do address the claims fervently held by millions of people. The sneaky trick the theological wankers pull, though, is that once we’ve smacked them down, they announce, “Oh, no — we didn’t mean those millions of believers. They’re stupid. We meant these other millions of believers.” It’s a big game of whack-a-mole. What you call “obscure Old Testament laws,” someone else will call the core of their faith. What you value as the “Christological narrative,” a member of yet another sect will call pretentious confabulations.

Atheists just cut through all the noise and call it all sewage.

And some of us see no reason to be nice to sewage, and get really cranky at demands to respect your steaming pile of ordure.

“Hey, PZ, how’s the book coming along?”

I’m trying to have some serious writerly discipline here, so I’ve been hammering at the keyboard all day, and will do more tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, etc., until it’s all done (my goal is to wrap it all up within a month). As part of the process, I’m going to start posting a summary of my output at the end of each day.

So, productivity for Saturday, 26 September:

4105 words, three pieces mostly complete; one’s a little rough and needs some overall polish, another has a weak ending that needs some tightening.

I’m finding the stuff I write in the morning to be a lot cleaner than the later work, so I don’t expect to get quite those numbers tomorrow; I’m going to sink some time when I’m fresh to just sharpening up the clumsy bits.

Die, HuffPo, DIE!

The HuffPo is once again a source of gross misinformation. Don’t worry about swine flu — it’s benign. If you really must protect yourself, take vitamins, eat garlic, get herbal supplements, and trust in homeopathy.

It’s patent quackery.

Really, people: boycott the HuffPo. I never read that slurry of watery dog crap anymore unless you cruel readers send me a link — it’s not worth it.

It’s Saturday night, and I know what you nerds are doing

For some reason, this geeky little saga tickled me.

David: Taunt dude! You’re supposed to be the tank!

Zach: Just back up, you’re drawing agro.

David: I can’t, I’m-

Cheryl: *opening the door* David…?

David: Oh sh*t!

Cheryl: Discarded pizza rolls, empty Mountain Dew bottles…What’s going on here?

David: We were…I was…fixing Zach’s computer!

Cheryl: Liar! *starts bawling* You’re having a LAN party aren’t you!?

David: You weren’t supposed to see this! You aren’t supposed to be home for another three hours!

Zach: I should leave.

David: No, you know what? I’m done hiding.

Cheryl: *crying* You told me you were watching football.

David: Zach and I are in love! With Warcraft.

Cheryl: What’s next, David? Painting Warhammer figures? Magic The Gathering? You’re a child.

Zach: Magic is a complex game of strategy! It’s not for kids!

Cheryl: You stay out of this! You…you…virgin loser!

David: That’s no way to talk to Lucan The Holy!

*Cheryl is taken aback*

David: Listen, Cheryl. We may be working class nobodies in the real world. But here, we’re level 80 Paladins, defending the Alliance from the forces of evil. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but we take a lot of pride in it.

*David puts his arm around Zach. Cheryl stares for a few seconds.*

Cheryl: We are never having sex again.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. I was also sent this revealing listing of WoW players: where did they get that interesting name, I wonder? It’s all good, at least Horde predominates, but I am troubled by the squeaky little gnome named Pharyngula.