A property of god elucidated

See, this is useful. We need to know what makes this god business work, and apparently, you need to be up high in the sky, and you need to be undistracted by those demons in a long metal tube, that is, plebeian airline passengers, so definitely no flying in coach, and even first class isn’t good enough — you want to talk with god, you need to have your own private jet.

Well now I know why I’m an atheist — I’ve had a lack of opportunity for conversations with gods. All you Christians out there need to click on that donate button in the left sidebar a lot. I’m sure I could be brought to Jesus if only I had my very own Gulfstream and a pilot on retainer.

It would be nice if the IRS could hear that rationalization from the prosperity gospel practitioners, but I rather suspect that the IRS also only listens to you if you’re calling on a satellite phone from your private jet.

By the way, the video cuts out just before we get the Biblical revelation of Amos 6:1, so here it is:

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came!

What it means, I don’t know, and I wasn’t interested in tracking down their interpretation. It probably means something about how they need to upgrade to a bigger, more luxurious jet.

Anita Sarkeesian reviews Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I like the review, because it’s exactly how I felt about the movie.

One difference in our backgrounds, though: I started out as a big Star Wars fan. Loved the first one. Saw the second one and thought it was even better, because it was adding more depth and complexity to a fairly simple story. Saw the third and realized it was all going down the toilet in the name of marketing. And don’t even mention the prequels to me.

Of course, the best summary of the recent movie, even better than Sarkeesian’s, is this one.


Over on Twitter, I was startled by the assertion that many scientists convert from evolution to creationism, convinced by the evidence.

What was startling about it was that I’m getting used to mainly hearing from atheists calling me a mangina or such on that medium, so it was a break from the usual. On a lark I took a look at the video.

It’s Jerry Bergman. I’ve debated that loon.

How anyone can be convinced by that babbling incompetent is a mystery — I guess he just tells them what they want to hear.

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It’s his confidence that worries me

There have always been wretched racists in this country, but it’s troubling that even now some of them seem to take their prejudice as a matter of course. Watch this guy go up to a small group of anti-fracking protesters and calmly declaim some vile racist remarks. He clearly thinks there will be no consequences.

There were consequences, fortunately — he was fired by his employer. But still, it says there is a population of deeply deluded people in America who think that their racism is perfectly normal. That’s what ought to worry us.

Smug and stupid

Orac once again takes down Vox Day. Day read a study and misinterpreted it, which isn’t too surprising — Day is not particularly bright. In this case, the study was looking for correlations with Personal Belief Exemptions (PBEs). That is, they were trying to figure out what kind of traits underlie anti-vaccination attitudes. What wasn’t surprising is that they found a lot of well-off white people who oppose vaccination.

That played right into Vox Day’s biases. He opposes vaccination, so smart people oppose vaccination; he’s white and well-off, which to him is synonymous with being intelligent and right, so it turns into a regular orgy of confirmation bias.

The news that anti-vaxxers are whiter, wealthier, and better-educated than those who place blind faith in vaccines won’t surprise anyone who has actually engaged a vaccine enthusiast on the subject. None of them know anything about history, few of them know anything about science, and all of them are prone to simply repeating the usual vaccine scare rhetoric

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Islamists, Christianists, they’re all fools

There’s this insanely popular mullah, Zakir Naik, with lots of videos flooding youtube. He reminds me a lot of Kent Hovind and Ken Ham: the same ignorance, and the same absolute confidence that they’re always right, but with no evidence to support their conclusions other than their own belief. But then I ran across this video, and I actually agreed with Naik in the first part.

He argues that if a school is hiring a teacher, it ought to matter whether they believe 2+2=4 or 2+2=3, and they ought to employ only the one who’d teach the correct answer. I was floored! I’d argue exactly the same thing. Of course, he doesn’t carry through on that ideal: he’s also a creationist, of exactly the same primitive ilk as Hovind and Ham.

Where it all gets familiar and stupid is in his answer to the original question, which is why Islamic countries don’t allow places of worship for other religions, while Western nations allow a diversity of faiths to flourish. His answer is that that’s because Muslims know absolutely that Islam is true, so why should they allow false religions to proselytize? And how does he know that Islam is true? Because the Koran says so. When pressed on the fact that many Christians are as adamant about the truth of their beliefs, he simply asserts that the reason other countries allow mosques to be built is that they are less confident that their native religions are true.

It was a mistake to have Bill Nye debate Ken Ham. The debate I really want to see is Ham vs. Naik. They’re indistinguishable from each other, but both are totally convinced that the other is completely wrong. Please make it happen!

Dinosaur 13


Last night, I watched an excellent documentary, Dinosaur 13, so I’m going to recommend it to you all — it’s available on Amazon streaming video and Netlix. It’s the story of the fossil T. rex, Sue, and it’s enthralling and depressing.

The fun part is the beginning, when some commercial fossil hunters discover tyrannosaur bones eroding out of a hillside in South Dakota. I had some mixed feelings — those bones belong in a museum, not serving for profit! — but it’s clear that this team from the Black Hills Institute were pros, and were also skillful preparators. It’s a difficult balance, because while they are trying to make money selling specimens, it’s the nature of fossils that they really are just weathering out of the rocks, and if someone doesn’t collect them, they’ll just be lost rubble.

And Sue was an amazing find. The skeleton is 80% complete, and she was the largest of her species found to date. Peter Larson and his crew were enraptured.

Then the documentary turns grim. The law stepped in and argued that since it was found on federal land, the Black Hills Institute had no right to the specimen, and seized everything. It got tied up in an ugly legal wrangle for years. They decided that the rancher, Maurice Williams, who had let Larson dig up the skeleton for $5000 had no right to sell it either: he was leasing government land for his livestock, so it wasn’t his (apparently he hadn’t been paying for it, either).

There’s an incredible injustice. Larson is found guilty of not filling out some forms, and is given a punitive sentence of 2 years in federal prison. Sue is auctioned off for about $8 million dollars, and the money goes to…Maurice Williams? That part made no sense. It should have gone to paleontological research, if anything, not another lucky parasitic rancher who contributed nothing to the discovery.

At least Sue went to a good home, the Field Museum. And now I’m thinking that maybe this summer I’ll take a weekend drive out to the western side of South Dakota and visit the Black Hills Institute Museum.

Evo devo in the real world

I disagree with Razib Khan on a lot of things, but he’s exactly right on recent fads in biology.

Periodically I get frankly stupid comments that seem to imply that the incredible swell of results coming out of molecuar genetics and genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of evolutionary and population genetics. Over the past generation it’s been alternative splicing, then gene regulation and evo-devo, and now epigenetics is all the rage. The results are interesting, fascinating, and warrant deeper inquiry (I happen to see graduate school admission applications for genetics, and I can tell you that conservatively one out of three applicants mention an interest in epigenetics; the hype is grounded in reality, as epigenetics may be a pretty big deal in human health that we can effect).

All those phenomena he mentioned are real and often very interesting, but they’re not changing deep concepts in evolutionary biology. You’re most often going to hear that they’re revolutionary from people who don’t understand evolution very well.

He’s got a good assessment of evo devo, too.

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The difference between science and porn…

…seems to be the number and size of the cameras, and their location. “Scientists” (who are not named, nor is any published work cited) placed tiny cameras on a penis and inside a vagina and recorded intercourse between two people. Why, I don’t know. There doesn’t seem to be any question asked or answered. It also seems to perpetuate a lot of invalid myths, like that sex in the missionary position is better for conception, and generalizes stories about the G spot to all women.

Although extremely explicit (do not watch it at work!), it’s also the most unsexy thing I’ve seen in ages. All it made me wonder about was how they kept fluids from sliming up the camera lens.

By the way, a hint to future “investigators”: dubbing in cheesy porn-style music over the action doesn’t make you look any more serious — it suggests something about the background of the people making the movie, actually. Also, if it’s science, the first thing I want to see is a hypothesis that is being tested, and no, “how close can I get a camera to this woman’s vulva” is not a particularly interesting question.

What? Another book I don’t have to read?

It’s true: there are far more books in the world that I have not and will not read than books that I have read. I scratched off one yesterday, and here’s another one I can toss in the trash: Rafael Cruz’s promo for his son Ted’s candidacy.

Rafael talks about the dangers of secular humanism and makes a glancing reference to Seven Mountains dominionism, the belief that conservative Christians must gain control over the “seven mountains” of American culture.

In no way, shape, or form was Jefferson implying that the church should be restricted from exerting an influence upon society. On the contrary, the Bible tells us that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world…Doesn’t that suggest that our influence should touch every area of society – our families, the media, sports, arts and entertainment, education, business, and government?”

Like Barton and Lane, Rafael makes his case for the Christian nature of the U.S. government by conflating the Pilgrims and Puritans with the founding fathers who gave us the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution more than 150 years later. Rafael declares that “the concept of separation of church and state is found nowhere in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States of America,” which leads into this:

To understand this clearly, we need to go back four centuries to the time of the first settlers in America. If you lived in England in the early 1600s and were not a member of the Church of England, you would be considered a heretic and subject to persecution. So the early settlers immigrated to the New World in order to freely worship the Lord their God. What a remarkable heritage of religious freedom this exceptional country gives us! The only country on the face of the earth founded on the World of God!

It looks awful and inane. I’m satisfied by a small taste to know that I’d rather not consume the whole feast.

But all the Sam Harris fans who spent the evening dunning me with demands that I have to go read his book, who accused me of intellectual bankruptcy because I dismissed his pompous nonsense out of hand, well, I’m sorry…to be consistent, you now have to go read Rafael Cruz’s A Time for Action. You can’t possibly criticize it on the basis of a few ahistorical quotes snipped out of context, don’t you know.