That’s one ugly alphabet

Pamela Gay is struggling with the problem of silence. She was once the target of an attempted sexual assault by Famous Person A, and fear and worry have kept her and other people quiet. You can read the full story, but what struck me is how convoluted and awkward it sounds because throughout, she can’t name names: It’s person A, person B, person Y, etc. — I kept getting lost. But just the fact that there is this climate of intimidation, that she’s worried about being open and straightforward and just telling her story, says a lot about the situation.

People who identify as skeptics and scientists want to suppress the open discussion of a real situation. Doesn’t that disappoint you?

(via Ophelia. See also fellow astronomer Nicole Gugliucci’s comments.)

We’re gonna need a bigger asylum

All this talk of Elliot Rodger being mentally ill is driven by the same circular reasoning: only a mentally ill person would commit mass murder, Rodger committed mass murder, therefore he was mentally ill. It’s what I said yesterday, that people think “violations of conventional mores, or doing acts that harm people, are prima facie proof of mental illness” — which, if true, would mean that atheists must all be mentally ill because they defy traditional expectations of behavior in society. You’d think we atheists would know better than to set ourselves up like that.

But here’s an even more vivid example. Rodger was a member of a group called PUAhate, a label which some people have used to argue that he must have been an anti-pickup-artist kind of guy. That’s completely wrong, of course — these were people who hated pickup-artists because their techniques don’t work, that they fail to provide easy push-button techniques to manipulate women.

Erin Gloria Ryan spent a day monitoring a chat room containing Rodger’s peers, fellow members of PUAHate. Trigger warnings galore: these people spent the day praising Rodger, wishing they could go out in a blaze of glory just like him, hating women for existing, calling them subhumans, and urging each other to go out and kill, or at least, go out and rape.

They’re wrong, they’re awful, they’re terrible people. I’m sure I couldn’t have a pleasant conversation with any of them for any length of time without storming off with a snarl on my face, and my regard for humanity suffering a precipitous decline.

But are we seriously going to diagnose them as mentally ill because they’re terrible people? Shall we slap them into straitjackets and shoot ’em up with Prozac?

Because if that’s the path we’re going to take…we can probably lock up a few thousand World of Warcraft players, and I suspect we might easily find a million Call of Duty players who will fit this trivial online diagnosis of psychopathy. Then we can visit the Stormfront site, and get all the members there committed. All those contributors to Uncommon Descent, the intelligent design creationist blog…clearly insane. Especially Denyse O’Leary. I once visited a car forum when I was looking for a recommendation, and was appalled at the racism on display — a significant fraction of Honda drivers are clearly nuts. Oh, and Tea Party members! They all need to be rounded up and put in camps, for their own good…they must be so dysfunctional that they can’t possibly cope with the real world.

We also need to do this fast so that we become the majority, otherwise they will decide that commenters on Pharyngula are so far outside societal norms that we must be mentally ill.

Note please that I do not think that what the PUAHate crowd are saying is at all forgivable, conscionable, or defensible — I’m arguing that they are bad kids full of bad ideas. But bad is not a synonym for mentally ill. It requires a different approach to deal with corrupting ideas in a culture vs. dealing with victims of illness, and we do ourselves no favors when we so readily confuse the two categories.

Out of sight, out of mind

Imagine this: the way deer were hunted is to line up 100 bulldozers, and send them forward over miles of rangeland to scrape everything — trees, brush, squirrels, birds, dogs, foxes, everything in the landscape — into a big pile, and then the drivers would jump out and pick through the debris to pull out any deer. They’d leave behind a wasteland, and a wasteful pile of wreckage, and photographers and journalists would descend horrified on the mess and pillory the perpetrators.

I don’t think we’d stand for it. It would also be completely unsustainable — each pass would destroy the land and it would take decades for it to recover.

But apparently, if it takes place underwater and you can’t see it, it’s OK. Christie Wilcox explains the consequences of trawling.

“Deep-sea trawling is currently carried out along large sectors of the oceans, and it appears to have severe consequences on deep-sea sediment dynamics at a global scale,” the authors write in their conclusions. “Cumulatively, the impacts of trawling on the sediment structure, the benthic biodiversity, and the most basic of all the nutritional resources in these deep-sea sedimentary ecosystems resemble the catastrophic effects caused by man-accelerated soil erosion on land.” Their results show that trawling is a scorched-earth way of fishing that leaves little behind to rebuild. Not only are fish, corals, and invertebrates wiped from an area with each sweep, the very nature of the sea floor is altered by chronic trawling. Since upwards of 98 percent of all marine species live on or immediately above the sea floor, such dramatic changes in sediment biodiversity and chemistry are bound to ripple outward. These data explain why deep sea communities affected by trawling take longer than expected to recover, if they can recover at all.

“Intensive and chronic bottom trawling is deemed to transform large portions of the deep continental slope in to faunal deserts and highly degraded seascapes,” write the authors. “With deep-sea trawling currently conducted along most continental margins, we conclude that trawling represents a major threat to the deep seafloor ecosystem.”

We wouldn’t tolerate deer hunting with bulldozers, so why is it so difficult to get international policy to end this destructive practice?

It’s a good thing research isn’t defined by a poll

A perfectly reasonable article on animal research ends with a pointless poll. After explaining the specifics of the research — this was a lab studying Parkinson’s disease, a serious and incurable human problem — they ask their readers whether research is justified, and apparently all they saw were cute widdle monkeys.

Is medical testing on animals justified?

YES 25%

NO 75%

Anyone who votes no is required to offer an alternative path for the biomedical work to treat this debilitating disease.

Is Ken Ham literate?

It’s an open question. He’s quite irate with me for stating the truth, which he says is a lie, while confirming that I was accurate.

One atheist blogger is claiming that I was wrong to write on Wednesday that Rachel Maddow of MSNBC TV declared that our Ark Encounter would be built using taxpayer money (through tax incentives). The blogger (PZ Myers) stated:

"He [Ken Ham] declares that no Kentucky taxpayer money is being used to construct the Ark Encounter, but that is a claim no one made. Maddow says quite clearly several times that the Ark Park has been given $43 million in tax incentives — that is, Answers in Genesis has been exempted from a requirement to pay taxes on their for-profit enterprise, and will also receive rebates on sales taxes. So all Ham has done is rebut a claim that Rachel Maddow did not make."

Well, judge for yourself. At the beginning of her mocking rant against us Maddow stated:

"And when the creationist group Answers in Genesis announced their plans to build their Noah’s Ark theme park, the state of Kentucky offered them $43 million dollars in tax incentives for them to build that theme park …".

You can hear Maddow say it for yourself at around the 1:55 mark of the video captured at . The atheist blogger has once again, as such secularists often do, did not tell the truth—and of course Rachel Maddow didn’t tell the truth, either.

I said, and Rachel Maddow said, that Ham received $43 million in tax incentives. We know exactly what that means: he got tax exemptions and rebates that would total $43 million as an incentive to construct his monument to idiocy. So when Ken Ham says we’re lying because no armored cars rolled up to his front door and unloaded big canvas bags with dollar signs printed on them, he is replying to a claim we did not make. Which I also clearly said in that bit of mine that he quoted.

You know, on the cop shows when a suspect is accused of X, and he immediately starts blustering “I did not do Y!”, you kind of suspect that he’s guilty of something. What is Ken Ham hiding?

New camera day!

Oh, boy, my new lab toy arrived today: a ProgRes C3. I did a quick setup and took a few uncalibrated photomicrographs, but I am resisting the temptation to play with it all weekend — I want my students to tinker first.

OK, one picture. Recognize it?


No? Maybe it’s because you’ve only seen them illustrated like this:


Democrats: You suck.

I made a donation to the Democratic party once. Little did I know that it would lead to a deluge of spam. I am now getting a dozen emails a day from, and their latest tactic is fear. They all have subject lines like “All Hope is Lost”, “Painful Defeat”, “DEVASTATING Defeat”, “EVISCERATED”, “throw in the towel”, etc., etc., etc. And then when I open it up (which I rarely do anymore), it’s got some simple message in a giant font telling me there’s an important deadline right now for me to give them money. It seems to be a new imminent deadline every day.

I also get daily phone calls asking for money. At least I think that’s what they’re doing; I now look at the incoming source, and if it’s the Democrats, I don’t bother to pick up. And here I am, entirely sympathetic to that party (if dissatisfied with their conservatism), and I have a conditioned aversion now.

I’ve had enough. I can learn. And the moral I have learned is to never donate to the Democratic party.

Who’s the idiot behind this campaign? Is it actually working for them?

Demons. It’s all demons.

Let us emulate the godly believers. We know what is right, and anything that deviates from it is…mental illness. But we might want to remember that sometimes the shoe is on the other foot.

Some people believe that atheism causes insanity.

But what about the variety of mental illness from which Richard Dawkins suffers? You see, that is the flip-side of the coin which belongs to the man on the corner who believes he is Napoleon. Dawkins may not believe he is a conquering French general, but he believes something just as preposterous. He believes that he himself does not exist. As illogical as that sounds, this is the ground which atheism is forced to defend. The worldview which insists we cannot believe (or know) anything aside from our senses is just as mentally ill as the worldview which insists that we cannot believe our senses.

Or that faith is an essential component of a mentally sound human being.

…the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

Or that the root cause of what we call mental illness is an absence of god.

All Depression is caused primarily by a lack of contentment. For the Christian, depression is a lack of obedience to the command "be content with what you have". It is not accepting your current condition, whether good or bad. It is a lack of faith that God loves you. It is a lack of hope of the glories and riches of heaven awaiting. For the non-Christian, depression is a lack of faith in a creator. It is a rejecting of Jesus for faith in Darwin. Darwin said we have no purpose, design, meaning other than random chance processes. Jesus can cure the depression of the atheist because their life has meaning and eternal purpose.

That source charmingly tells us exactly what mental illness is.

The Bible clearly teaches that people suffer both physically and emotionally as a result of sinful choices. The world labels this suffering as a mental illness, but the Bible labels this suffering as the consequences of a sinful standard of morality. Mental illness is sinful conduct.

A lot of atheists seem to think that same thing: that violations of conventional mores, or doing acts that harm people, are prima facie proof of mental illness. There must be something organically wrong with their brains to cause them to engage in behaviors we don’t like. They pray? They must be crazy, that doesn’t work. At the same time, the other side is saying, “They don’t pray? They must be crazy, god must be served.” If we’re going to define mental illness as something someone judges to be bad behavior, then every single human being on the planet is crazy.

Mental illnesses are real. We can identify chemical imbalances in the brain; if you’re depressed, drugs like TCAs, MAOIs, SSRIs, and SNRIs can be effective in making people healthier. Schizophrenia is real and debilitating; there are also antipsychotic drugs that reduce the symptoms. Obsessive-compulsive disorders are real; they can be treated with certain antidepressants, but also behavioral therapy also seems to be effective in reducing the problems. We actually do have fairly concrete indicators of genuine illnesses that affect the functioning of the brain.

However, it is not helpful to categorize bad ideas as similar. Elliot Rodger was a disturbed individual, but it was not because he had a disease — it was because he had been shaped by his narrow little world to regard a host of malignant ideas as perfectly normal. Almost all Europeans and Americans once believed that black people were inferior, and used that belief to justify everything from excluding them from educational opportunities to kidnapping and slavery. Were they all insane? Or did they just have a set of false, untested beliefs that they blithely propagated from generation to generation?

One would think that atheists, at least, would be able to recognize the power of ideas to shape how people think. We live in a world where the majority give credulous credence to religious nonsense, and I think most of us recognize that it’s not a symptom of a brain disease, but of the power of socialization, indoctrination, repetition, and widespread unquestioning acceptance. If you’re willing to see that a religious idea can have such potency that people will kill and die and suffer for it, why are you unwilling to see that there are other ideologies that can misdirect minds in lethal directions? That bad stories can persuade healthy, normal people to do stupid, evil things?

I’d also like to remind my fellow atheists of another way people think.

When a 700 Club viewer asked host Pat Robertson today if she should give up proselytizing to her atheist coworker and “let her perish,” Robertson speculated that the colleague might be possessed by demons or a survivor of rape.

If the way you are using the phrase “mentally ill”, with no evidence of genuine organic illness, can be replaced freely by the word “demon-possessed” without changing the sense, then you are engaging in the same magical thinking, using a phrase with no explanatory power. You’re just using the modern materialistically correct wording to express the same old sentiment, inventing a concrete causal agent with no evidence that it actually exists. That’s something else atheists need to be aware of: the seductive power of teleological or simplistically causal thinking to the human mind.