Kurzweil = Criswell

You all remember Criswell, right, the amazing prognosticator of Plan 9 From Outer Space? Ray Kurzweil fits the mold: vague predictions, slippery, fuzzy statements, backtracking and excuse-making. The only differences are that Kurzweil is cold-reading technology rather than people’s personalities, and like most mediums, he tends to make happy optimistic predictions that sell better than some of the wackier stuff Criswell talked about (there has been no cannibal apocalypse, and Criswell was one of the early kooks to leap on the end-of-the-world in 2012 bandwagon; Kurzweil just prattles about the rapture of the nerds).

Anyway, I’m not the only naysayer. John Rennie assesses Kurzweil’s predictions, which (surprise!) mainly turn out to be overhyped nonsense. I also learned something interesting:

To help spread the gospel of accelerating returns, Kurzweil and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis established the Singularity University, in California, which offers 9-day executive training sessions (for $15 000) and 10-week graduate studies (for $25 000) on how to understand and master exponentially advancing technologies.

Wow. There’s money in woo, isn’t there?


PZ PREDICTS! I see a flood of email in the near future from fervent followers of the Ray; I see Kurzweil looking cross and popping a few dozen more vitamin pills to reduce the aging effects of his irritation. But then, every time I criticize the Master of Technology Woo, that’s what I get, and he drowns himself in pills every day anyway.

Get over yourselves, timid atheists

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That is a billboard that’s appeared in New Jersey, thanks to American Atheists. It is assertive and strong and clearly expresses an idea of atheism, that the tales we are told about religious ideas are superstitious myths, and I approve of that message.

Some atheists don’t.

I was raised pretty devoutly Catholic, attended a Catholic university (Go Irish), and after college realized that I’m an atheist. My family is still Catholic and many of my friends still attend mass, and every day, I struggle with Not Being A Big Fucking Dick About It (and I often fail and end up acting like a jerk, and then I feel horrible). This is an example of a group of atheists losing that struggle.

Chris Hitchens-like atheists and agnostics would disagree with me (and then tell me that it is impossible for me to be funny, as a woman), but, in my experience, I’ve found that confrontational atheism isn’t productive, just as aggressive proselytizing on the part of religious groups isn’t a good way to endear the religion to the populace in the modern era. Many of the holidays that are celebrated around this time of the year are religious in nature, and part of existing as a decent person in this world is letting people go about their daily lives in peace.

She doesn’t want to be a Big Dick to the religious, but oh, yes, sneering at a bunch of loser atheists…that’s safe. No one feels bad about that. As we all know, good atheists bow and scrap and say “Yassuh” to the religious, and never ever disagree with them. It’s so much more productive to reassure believers in dogma and superstition that their myths are reasonable, or at least to sit back and keep our mouths shut.

I agree that letting people go about their lives in peace is the decent thing to do. So, tell me, what about that sign interferes with common decency?

Are people who see that sign subsequently unable to go to church? Does it silence preachers all across the land?

No.

Does that sign incite hatred, does it deprive people of their civil rights, does it oppress a minority?

No.

Does it misrepresent atheism, does it unjustly criticize religious people for ideas they do not hold (which, by the way, would be wrong, but doesn’t interfere with people’s lives)?

No.

Might it stir a little resentment, maybe even sting Christians a little bit because it reminds them that atheists exist and freakin’ disagree with them?

YES! And that is a good thing that does them no harm, and even does them considerable good. We’re here, we’re just as much a part of this society as they are, and we’re not going to sit silently any more.

If Christians resent that, well, they can just read Jezebel or a thousand other sites and discover the self-loathing atheists who consider the forthright expression of their ideas to be dickish and indecent, and restore their sense of smug superiority that way.

Non-breeding behavior must be punished

Prime Minister Raila Odinga of Kenya has called for the arrest of all gay couples in the country. He’s probably been listening to the American Christian evangelicals who’ve been busily poisoning Africa for the last century or so — the West has been such a blight on that continent for so long. Anyway, what’s interesting is his rationale for outlawing gays — anti-gay ideology goes hand-in-hand with a dismissive view of women.

The premier thrilled the crowd in a largely conservative country when he asserted that the country’s recent census showed there were more women than men and there was no need for same sex relationships.

He termed it “madness” for a man to fall in love with another man while there were “plenty of women” and added that there was no need for women to engage in lesbianism “yet they can bear children”.

It’s naked patriarchal thinking all the way down. There are enough women for all the men, therefore the men should have sex with them. That there are more women than men should imply that the excess women (from this point of view, of course, all women beyond what are needed to service the men are “excess”) ought to be free to be lesbians, but no — they all have a job to do. They must be made pregnant.

It’s as if there is only one reason that human beings would associate with one another, and that is procreation, and there is one purpose for women, and that is to bear men’s children, and in this blinkered view of the human species, recreational intercourse of all sorts is alien and non-productive. In that sense, unfortunately, most of the activities of civilization are also alien to these crazy blind people.

Wikileaks poll

Hmmm. We may not be able to really skew this poll, since my sense is that readers here are somewhat divided on the topic — but here goes anyway. Obama wants to crack down on leakers, while Sarah Palin thinks we ought to hunt down Assange and treat him like a terrorist. So what do readers of the NY Daily News (and now, Pharyngula) think?

Is WikiLeaks right in making these ‘secret’ documents public?

Yes, the people have a right to know. 58%
No, they are endangering lives and destroying important alliances. 39%
I don’t know 3%

God hates sports

Stevie Johnson, a player for the Buffalo Bills football team, dropped the ball in a catch that would have won his team a game. I have to commend him for some consistency, though — most players just credit their good catches to the Man Upstairs, but not Stevie: he got on Twitter and cussed out his god.

I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…

I’ve learned from this, at least. Stevie Johnson really likes exclamation points, and you can chew out god using Twitter. Who knew?

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, a football referee joked about the Pope on email. He apparently passed along this image:

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I guess the Catholics are darned sure that their god doesn’t have a sense of humor, or at least doesn’t like jokes about priests, so one little pipsqueak in the church complained…and the referee was fired. No, not tied to a stick and set on fire, just sacked…no, not tied up in a sack and beaten, just pink-slipped…no, not…well, I’m pretty sure there must have been some old Catholic torture called pink-slipping, they’ve been so thorough in that department. Anyway, he has been released…aaargh, now everything is looking like a euphemism for hallowed Catholic death-dealing techniques.

He lost his job, OK?

So now Dawkins is calling on a letter campaign: inundate the Scottish Catholic office with pope jokes. You can just copy and paste the picture above, if you want, and send it to:

mail@scmo.org

info@scottishfa.co.uk

This could be fun. That office clearly needs some instruction in humor.

Purpose, purpose, purpose

I once gave a lecture in which I summarized Intelligent Design arguments as simply repeating the word complexity a lot. I was wrong; I left out a word. They also use the word “purpose” a lot.

The latest example of the same tired old nonsense comes from Michael Behe, who really is just repeating the same thing he’s said many times before — in fact, he’s said it so many times that at this point it’s clear his brain is not engaged, and this is a reflex action by his typing fingers.

My contention is that ‘the purposeful arrangement of parts’ to achieve a specific purpose is the criterion that enables us to recognise design.

Wow. Circular argument is circular. What is design? The purposeful arrangement of parts. How do you know it’s purposeful? Because it has a purpose. How do you know it has a purpose? Because it looks designed. Repeat.

Let’s simplify his statement: “My contention is that things are purposeful because they achieve a specific purpose and that is the criterion that enables us to recognise purpose.” Yeah, that helps.

He has a counterargument to evolution:

The Darwinian alternative is to propose a phenomenon never observed anywhere, namely that complex machinery can assemble itself without any planning or direction.

Yet we do observe that all over the place, in the operation of the cell. Unless, of course, he’s now going to claim that thermodynamically-driven cellular processes are actually led along by tiny little invisible agents of the Lord.