Ham is rich in irony

The LA Times did a story on those wacky Catholic geocentrists who read the Bible and insist that, by a literal interpretation of the words therein, the earth must be at the center of the universe, with everything else rotating about it. They quote verses and everything, so actually, in a very literal sense, they’re right that the Bible does imply a very strange folk physics. But the story had to go further, and got a quote from…Ken Ham.

Ken Ham.

I guess it’s kind of appropriate. You’re doing a story about goofy literalist lunatics, and he is one of the biggest. But still, it seems like there ought to be some recognition that one is digging into a dunghill for weird quotes when you pick up the phone and call Answers in Genesis.

“There’s a big difference between looking at the origin of the planets, the solar system and the universe and looking at presently how they move and how they are interrelated,” Ham said. “The Bible is neither geocentric or heliocentric. It does not give any specific information about the structure of the solar system.”

Ham is usually adamant that one must interpret the Bible literally, word by word, but I guess this is a case that shows he’s actually one of those cafeteria Christians.

If he’s going to bend on this, though, I have to point out that the chapters of Genesis that he relies on for his insistence on a young earth are very brief, contain no detail and vast amounts of ambiguity, and that the Bible is also silent on how species are structured and interrelated. If he insists on using it as a science text to discuss biology, a topic that is not at all emphasized or even properly described in the book, I don’t think he can complain at another fringe religious group that decides to use it as an astronomy textbook — they’re both doing exactly the same thing.

(Also on Sb)

I desperately want to know what the flight crew was thinking

I need an explanation. Read this story of a flight that returned to the terminal and police came aboard to investigate a passenger, and please try to figure out what the problem was.

Here’s what we know: the passenger was black, he was reading a book with illustrations of Polish and Italian aircraft from post-WWI, and he had a fanny pack. For this, the flight crew engaged in whispered worries, had the plane recalled before take-off, and brought on police to inspect his book. It’s a mystery.

What possible wicked conspiracy could the flight crew have imagined was going on? Were they afraid of being intercepted and shot down by an Italian triplane summoned by an incantation using magical spell components tucked inside that fanny pack?

Check out the suspicious guy’s web page for clues. He worked with George Carlin for a while…obviously seditious.

You don’t believe airline personnel could be quite so stupid? Read this: in the wake of 9/11, a man was prevented from flying for reading an Edward Abbey book. Also, Harry Potter…but then, we all know Potter is a scary example.

Or read Bruce Schneier, the other blogging Minnesotan with a Friday Cephalopod. The cases described above can only be explained as hysteria and fear mongering, especially given the statistics.

John Mueller and his students analyze the 33 cases of attempted [EDITED TO ADD: Islamic extremist] terrorism in the U.S. since 9/11. So few of them are actually real, and so many of them were created or otherwise facilitated by law enforcement.

The death toll of all these is fourteen: thirteen at Ft. Hood and one in Little Rock. I think it’s fair to add to this the 2002 incident at Los Angeles Airport where a lone gunman killed two people at the El Al ticket counter, so that’s sixteen deaths in the U.S. to terrorism in the past ten years.

Given the credible estimate that we’ve spent $1 trillion on anti-terrorism security (this does not include our many foreign wars), that’s $62.5 billion per life saved. Is there any other risk that we are even remotely as crazy about?

Note that everyone who died was shot with a gun. No Islamic extremist has been able to successfully detonate a bomb in the U.S. in the past ten years, not even a Molotov cocktail. (In the U.K. there has only been one successful terrorist bombing in the last ten years; the 2005 London Underground attacks.) And almost all of the 33 incidents (34 if you add LAX) have been lone actors, with no ties to al Qaeda.

James Wood and the Magic Metaphor

Oh, not James Wood again. Wood is a literary critic who, like Terry Eagleton and Stanley Fish, dislikes those darned New Atheists on the strange grounds that they criticize a religious belief that weirdly cloistered literature theorists cannot and will not understand. I’ve already covered the pretentious follies of Wood at some length, and I don’t feel like doing it again (especially since Wood’s primary writing talent seems to be noodling along academically at excessive length — ‘spare’ and ‘lucid’ are not terms that will ever be associated with his writing style), but I will at least mention his latest, tritely familiar effort. Once again, he accuses the New Atheists of attacking an irrelevant religion that doesn’t exist, via anecdotes. Like this one, which we could call the parable of the One True Christian.

I met the religious affairs journalist, who had for several years been a parish priest. During the course of our conversation, he asserted: “It is impossible to be a serious Christian and believe in heaven and hell.” When I, who was raised in a strongly and conventionally religious home, expressed surprise and suggested that once one stops believing in heaven one might as well stop believing in God, he said, more vehemently: “It’s exactly the opposite: not believing in heaven and hell is a prerequisite for serious Christian belief.” Trapped in the childhood literalism of my background, I had not entertained the possibility of Christian belief separated from the great lure and threat of heaven and hell.

[Read more…]

Bacterial fossil doubts resolved

I raised a few questions about those 3.4 billion year old bacterial fossils, primarily that I was bugged by the large size and that they cited a discredited source to say that they were in the appropriate range of diameters for bacteria. Now my questions have been answered by Chris Nedin, and I’m satisfied. In particular, he shows data from 0.8 and 1.9 billion year old fossils in which the bacterial sizes are in the same range. It’s also a good review of the other evidence used to infer that they actually are bacterial microfossils.

(Also on Sb)

Pastor Mike has a plan

It is a familiar plan. It is the kind of plan that many totalitarian regimes would love to implement. Pastor Mike wants a list of all atheists.

Brothers and Sisters , I have been seriously considering forming a ( Christian ) grassroots type of organization to be named “The Christian National Registry of Atheists” or something similar . I mean , think about it . There are already National Registrys for convicted sex offenders , ex-convicts , terrorist cells , hate groups like the KKK , skinheads , radical Islamists , etc..

This type of “National Registry” would merely be for information purposes . To inform the public of KNOWN ( i.e., self-admitted) atheists . For example , let’s say you live in Colorado Springs , Colorado , you could simply scroll down ( from the I-Net site /Blog ) I would have , to the State of Colorado , and then when you see “Colorado Springs” , you will see the names of all the self-admitted atheist(s) who live there ( e.g., if an atheist’s name happened to be “Phil Small” ) . The individual’s physical address , and other known personal information would NOT be disclosed ( though , perhaps a photo could be ) .

Now , many (especially the atheists ) , may ask “Why do this , what’s the purpose ?” Duhhh , Mr. Atheist , for the same purpose many States put the names and photos of convicted sex offenders and other ex-felons on the I-Net – to INFORM the public ! I mean , in the City of Miramar , Florida , where I live , the population is approx. 109,000 . My family and I would sure like to know how many of those 109,000 are ADMITTED atheists ! Perhaps we may actually know some . In which case we could begin to witness to them and warn them of the dangers of atheism . Or perhaps they are radical atheists , whose hearts are as hard as Pharaoh’s , in that case , if they are business owners , we would encourage all our Christian friends , as well as the various churches and their congregations NOT to patronize them as we would only be “feeding” Satan .

Frankly , I don’t see why anyone would oppose this idea – including the atheists themselves ( unless of course , they’re actually ashamed of their atheist religion , and would prefer to stay in the ‘closet.’ ) .

Actually, there are good reasons to oppose it. It’s involuntary; many atheists promote the Out Campaign, and we think it would be great if more of us would step forward and of our own choice make our rejection of religion open. But many people also have good reasons to fear being outed, and the Pastor Mikes of the world are among them — he’s already threatening to harass atheists and organize boycotts. As you can see, he’s already comparing atheists to criminals, sex offenders, and the KKK…which is all rather ironic, given that his tactics are more like the oppressive and discriminatory actions of the Ku Klux Klan, who, by the way, would also probably love a list of known atheists in their neighborhoods.

I’m out. Pastor Mike can get to work compiling his own damn list, and he can put me right at the top of it. Would he also like me to get a tattoo, or maybe wear an armband with a big red A on it? We’re not ashamed, but many of us are rightly afraid of the cretinous thugs who follow Pastor Mike’s Jesus.

By the way, heres a little eytmological information you might find entertaining.

CRETIN. ORIGIN late 18th cent.: from French crétin, from Swiss French crestin ‘Christian’ (from Latin Christianus), here used to mean ‘human being’, apparently as a reminder that, though deformed, cretins were human and not beasts.

People like Pastor Mike do force us to work harder to remember that Christians can be human beings, not beasts.

Talking about the weather

I’d ask how all of you out East were holding up in the big storm, but apparently three million of you are without power and aren’t going to be able to read or reply for a while. When you do finally get back online, at least you’ll find this entertaining.

Fox News thought it would be clever to invite an atheist on, ask him what he was doing to prepare for the hurricane, and then sneer at his spiritual poverty. Unfortunately for them, they got David Silverman, who proceeded to show that the talk show hosts were cretins. Shrill, angry, obtuse cretins.

And if you really want to see more Fox News inanity, here’s an opinion piece in which a couple of thinktank troglodytes argue that we don’t really need a national weather service. Why? Because it’s sometimes wrong, because if it really was useful then private industry would provide the service, because it’s exploited for political purposes, and because it costs too much. It’s all bog-standard libertarian bullshit.

Weather is complicated and you’re never going to get perfect accuracy: the weather is always predicted with an awareness of the range of error possible. Commercial weather agencies rely on data from the wide range of federally established monitoring stations — not just locally, but internationally, at sea, and in space. The private agencies don’t actually want NWS/NOAA to end, they just want them to stop distributing their information to the public for free (amusingly, AccuWeather has tried to copyright forecasts taken verbatim from the National Weather Service).

The accusation that the NWS/NOAA service is used for political purposes is asserted without evidence, but I can guess what they’re talking about: Republicans and Libertarians hate the fact that there’s all this data pouring out of weather services that supports the fact of climate change. In their minds, reality is a conspiracy to undermine their ideology.

These pundits also expect their audience to be innumerate.

As it stands today, the public is forced to pay more than $1 billion per year for the NWS. With the federal deficit exceeding a trillion dollars, the NWS is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be.

Yes? So the cost of the National Weather Service is equal to less than 0.1% of the budget deficit?

These goons are only outdone by Ron Paul, who sees no virtue in forecasting and emergency response plans from agencies like FEMA: he thinks “We should be like 1900“. Hands off, just let people cope as well as they can in areas affected by natural disasters.

They could sit around and pray without federal assistance, after all.

Chris Clarke for President

It’s the only sane choice. He explains why he’s not voting for Obama in 2012, and he makes a good case: in particular, Obama has been disastrous for environmental issues, as Clarke documents. He also posts a minimal list of basic criteria for any good progressive candidate:

  • must neither openly nor tacitly support the use of torture in any circumstance.
  • must pledge to defend women’s access to abortion against any threatened limitation, whether that obstruction be political, religious or economic.
  • must pledge to oppose the enshrining in law of social discrimination against any group of people based on gender, ethnicity, sexuality, language, religious belief or lack thereof, disability, social class, or other arbitrary division.
  • must agree that the rich — who have after all profited most from the country’s natural wealth, infrastructure and financial policy — ought to pay their fair share of taxes.
  • must at least hold as an aspiration the provision of a tolerable standard of living to all people in the US, including shelter, food, clothing, education, health care and access to communication, regardless of the individual’s ability to pay.
  • must support the continued existence of labor unions.
  • must pledge not to punish individual migrants for the failures of the country’s immigration policy.
  • must at least pledge to value the ecological integrity of the United States’ landscapes over the possibility that profit might be extracted from them.
  • must possess at least a high-school level understanding of science, especially regarding but not limited to crucial topics such as climate change and evolutionary biology.
  • must oppose any interference in the routine and proper teaching of science in our public schools by religious groups.
  • must abide by the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

I think I’d add a few, though.

  • must openly and strongly support the separation of church and state — no prayer breakfasts, no faith-based initiatives.
  • his economic advisors should be focused on the lower and middle classes, and not be stocked with bankers and Wall Street cronies.
  • end the drug war, stop the privatization of prisons as big business, and release all non-violent drug offenders.
  • must have a nation-wide plan for standards in science education that ends the petty tyranny of local school boards and the penny-pinching funding based on local levies.

The funny thing is, if you attend local democratic caucuses and conventions, you find mobs of people enthusiastically pushing these kinds of ideas for the party platform. Somehow, though, they all get lost on the long climb upward to our actual representatives, who all end up standing for nothing…other than getting re-elected.

Why did we all vote for that Obama guy, anyway? He’s doing none of the above. Oh, yeah, simply because his opposition was a venal Rethuglican.