Skepchick is a little late on this one

Skepchick has a quickie up about Dr Ben Carson’s commencement speech at Emory University, and specifically about the vocal opposition to bringing a creationist like Carson to speak. Only thing is, that was the 2012 commencement address — it’s a done deal. Carson did speak last spring, and the good news is…he’s a terrible boring speaker. I really, really hope the Republicans continue to try and make him a nominee.

Here’s his speech. Good if you’re suffering from insomnia, or some terrible medical condition that can only be cured with supplemental platitudes.

As someone who has sat through many commencement speeches, I am unsurprised. Most are entirely forgettable. It’s going to be interesting to see how UMM’s commencement speaker fares next month: it’s Al Franken.

“Less religion, more God”

On my drive home yesterday, I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio (The Current, actually) when an ad came on for a church called Jacob’s Well. It annoyed me, not because they don’t have a right to buy air time, but because it was so stupid. Their advertising pitch was something like “Less religion, more God”, which is a fairly common trope in the blinkered religious community. They like to deny that they’re a religion — they’re about a “personal relationship with god” or some such tripe. Remember Bill O’Reilly claiming that you didn’t need to believe in Jesus to celebrate Easter, or that Christianity was a philosophy, not a religion? Yeah, religion has such a bad reputation that even its most fervent believers don’t want to be tarred with the label.

Anyway, it was a good message to hear, because I was tired and I find that getting pissed off is a good way to keep awake, and I was also thinking about it. And I realized that from my perspective they have it completely backwards, making their church even less attractive to me. I have fewer objections to the religion thing than I do to the god thing.

Part of the objection these people have to “religion” is the doctrinal component, and the ritual component. But I can sympathize with those, even if I have no personal interest in them: some people like having concrete rules to live by, and some people are completely enthralled with ritual and pageantry and display. And that’s OK! People are pattern-seeking animals, some more so than others, and that part of religion where people get together in communities and do repetitive things together, like church or dancing or football, seem like very human behaviors. I don’t think an atheist goal should be discouraging such activities…although secularizing them or making them consciously traditional (rather than pretending they’re rational) would be a good idea.

But also note that irony of the Jacob’s Well site. Look it over: it is plainly such a very narrow view of faith, demanding an uncritical belief in the divinity of Jesus, that it’s silly for them to be arguing that it exemplifies less religion. It’s glaringly religious. Exchanging the church organ for a band with electric guitars is a shift in superficial form, not substance. A clown wearing different makeup is still a clown.

The “god” part is the bad part. This church is claiming to have a deeper understanding of an ineffable, uncommunicative, invisible super-being. That is nonsense. I am far more dismissive of people who say they understand the desires of a supernatural creature than I do those who say they find comfort going to church every Sunday morning.

That’s the part I explicitly and adamantly oppose, where a priest claims to have supernatural knowledge of a divine being, who always turns out to be a mostly conventional version of the cosmic boogeyman of the culture’s religious tradition. They’re lying. They’re making optimistic stuff up about their beliefs, or worse, making up horrible crap (like Hell) to terrify their congregations into obedience.

I suppose, though, that the slogan “Less religion, less god” isn’t quite as effective at drawing in a generous moneyed audience. That’s one of the problems atheism faces.

I just hate their freedom

The Libertarians have just assessed freedom in the 50 states…and guess who wins as the most free state in the union?


North Dakota! The state that has just passed the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the country!

To their credit, they are completely open about how they calculate “freedom” — it’s entirely about legal interference that limits positions they consider important. Reproductive freedom: not important — so unimportant it’s not even anywhere on their long list of measures. On the other hand, legalized prostitution is a criterion. That seems to be the only issue where women’s concerns come into play at all. Freedom to buy and sell guns: very important (conversely, freedom to not get shot: negligible importance). Education policy is important, but not in the way that you might think: mandatory standards for licensure of private school teachers is a detriment to freedom, as is mandatory schooling and imposing standards on home schooling.

There are a few spots where I’d agree with them. Gay marriage is a plus, and I think (it’s a bit unclear here) that they regard throwing people in jail for victimless crimes like drug use is a minus.

But in general, look at that map, and think about what it says. The Libertarian version of freedom is embraced in the empty, underpopulated states like the Dakotas; the antithesis of the Libertarian version of freedom is found in California and New York, where the most people live. And honestly, if you were given the choice to live in either California or North Dakota, what would most of you choose? (Yes, I know there are aspects of the Dakotas that make them very attractive places…but freedom and politics are not among them.)

I am not at all surprised that the Libertarian recipe for freedom is nearly identical to my recipe for oppressive hellhole.

EllenBeth Wachs recounts her experiences

She has posted a summary of her experience commenting here — entirely from her perspective of course, but worth a look.

My position:

  • I think she was completely wrong on the Adria Richards issue. She was looking at it entirely from the position of a conference organizer, who prioritizes not rocking the boat and keeping everything running smoothly, and not at all from the perspective of a feminist who definitely would want to do some boat-rocking and disrupt a bad process.

  • However, man, some of you commenters were brutal. I’m all in favor of letting your views hang out there and letting you express yourselves freely, but this is a case where some of you were so angry that it interfered with your ability to communicate rationally. And then I’m torn, because that anger is actually valid, too.

Anyway, read it and think. I did, and I still think the disagreement was appropriate, but that she might be right that the derision was disproportionate…while at the same time I think outrageous derision is useful.

Have you noticed that we’re always getting offended?

It’s an extraordinarily common accusation: those #FtBullies are getting offended, they’re reacting to something offensive, they’re so delicate and sensitive and ready to take offense based on moral outrage.

And now I’m accused of proliferating the stupid because I’m offended.

Maybe someone can help me understand the logic in this: P.Z. Myers disagrees with the message conveyed by a stupid meme on Reddit, and instead of ignoring or down-voting the post — or whatever it is people do on Reddit — he brings attention to it and even publishes the offending picture.

If you are offended by something posted on the Internet, why not just move on? Rather, Myers has effectively ensured that this piece of Internet trash will be further proliferated and cached online for years to come from his own site. That’s what I call a good feminist hard at work.

I’m really not used to that peculiar mindset. Why do you assume I’m offended? Why don’t you recognize that I’m pointing out that something is wrong?

I’m waiting for a student to come in and complain that I took points off for an incorrect answer on an exam. “Why were you offended at my answer, Dr Myers? Wouldn’t it have been better to avoid bringing attention to it, so that maybe I’d forget my incorrect answer in a few years?”

Gosh, I hope the author’s brain doesn’t explode when he realizes that by posting about my terrible perpetuation of the ‘offensive’ photo, he’s propagating it as well, and further, he’s promoting my dreadful gaffe! Quick, everyone, go silent and never publicly disagree with anyone ever!

“Pat” is short for “Patronizing”

Pat Robertson is asked why poor people in Africa have more miracles than we do (assumption not supported with evidence), and he gives his condescending answer: Americans know too much science, while people overseas are “simple, humble” and God loves ’em more.

Well, gosh. All we have to do is shut down higher education, then, and we’ll have all the blessings of, say, Somalia.

Hugo, Cesar, so what…it’s one of them Hispanic fellas

OK, you’re not despairing for humanity enough. You need to see this: Google celebrated Cesar Chavez’s birthday yesterday, on 31 March. Wingnuts saw this, and went apeshit on twitter: how dare they honor a foreign communist dictator!

As if that weren’t enough, a subset of them are praising Bing for paying respect to the religious holiday by showing pictures of Easter eggs. All hail the divine ruler of the universe, the Easter Bunny.

Religious people are among the dumbest people on the planet, I’m afraid.

No fools here

I am officially declaring this an April Fools-Free Zone. No foolin’.

My grumpiness might contribute to that, too. I ended up with an utterly miserable redeye flight from Seattle to Minneapolis — I landed at 5am. I’m still traveling to get home (I’m on a stimulant break right this instant), and as soon as I get there, I’m going in to work. Expect surly snarliness, world, until my labs are all over, I’m truly home, and I’m crashed into unconsciousness on my bed.