Pernicious excuses for the supernatural

The Understanding Science website at Berkeley is generally a good resource, but unfortunately, they also promote a dishonest approach to religion and the supernatural, presumably out of a desire to avoid offending anyone. Being nice is not a good excuse for compromising on the principles of science, however.

I refer specifically to their section on the limits of science. Science certainly does have limits, but this isn’t one of them.

Science doesn’t draw conclusions about supernatural explanations
Do gods exist? Do supernatural entities intervene in human affairs? These questions may be important, but science won’t help you answer them. Questions that deal with supernatural explanations are, by definition, beyond the realm of nature — and hence, also beyond the realm of what can be studied by science. For many, such questions are matters of personal faith and spirituality.

Baloney. If the question involves only personal faith and spirituality, if it’s just a dialog going on in your head with no material consequences that might affect the world or other people, than sure, science doesn’t deal with that, and can’t deal with that. But the instant you claim that your supernatural beliefs impinge on the natural world, boom, science is on it.

Prayer can heal your cancer… boom. Cancer is something we study.

God’s love will end war… boom. The interactions between societies is not simply a matter of personal faith and spirituality.

God told me the earth is only 6,000 years old… boom. The earth is under our purview, and the rocks say differently.

Worship makes me feel good… boo…oh, wait. No. That one’s OK. Of course your subjective experiences can have subjective effects, and your mind even has some control over your physical body.

But the principle of that argument at the website is wrong. Supernatural explanations of natural phenomena are no longer outside the realm of nature, and are therefore subject to scientific inquiry. Just saying that your explanation for something is supernatural is not a get-out-of-science-free card.

Of course, your supernatural explanations for supernatural events are not subject to scientific constraints. Go ahead and tell stories about deities zapping other deities with magic bolts of ectoplasm that nobody has seen and that did not affect anyone. No one can argue with you — it’s like debating who would win in a contest between the DC and Marvel comic book universes. Evidence and reason won’t come into it, but also, it’s irrelevant to how the world works.

Seven is heaven

Some priests in the Catholic church think that saying 7 is the “age of reason” is synonymous with declaring open season on boys above that age.

Bishop Robert Cunningham of the diocese of Syracuse, NY doesn’t think priests should take all of the blame for decades, if not centuries, of sexual abuse against young boys. According to Cunningham, the “age of reason” in the Catholic church is seven, so those boys are culpable for their actions.

We can at least get the ones who rape 6 year olds then, right?

But this argument doesn’t even make sense. We don’t say that adult women are culpable for their rapes, so being mature and rational doesn’t even come into it. They are victims. These children are victims. They didn’t choose to be abused, it was forced on them.

The only way you can legitimately use this “age of reason” excuse is to suggest that any priests who were under 7 years old were not fully responsible for their actions.

You say you’re a fan of social justice?


Then stop praising the accuracy of Idiocracy. I loathe that movie, and right now I’m seeing a lot of smug Democrats talking about how it’s coming true.

No. Idiocracy is a movie that assumes all the premises of social Darwinism and eugenics are true. Try watching it and noticing how it thinks evolution works. Poor people are biologically inferior and inherently stupid, and since they’re breeding madly, they’ll overwhelm the superior, intelligent, responsible people who restrain themselves. It assumes that the poor are stupid, and the stupid are poor.

It is especially ironic that people are praising its veracity now because of Trump and the Republican presidential slate. Do I need to point out that these terrible people are the products of good schools and are loaded with cash? Donald Trump is a billionaire and the others are millionaires backed by other obscenely rich billionaires…yet somehow, ignorant, pampered, selfish lower class people are going to poison the gene pool with their substandard genetics, swamping out the potential of the human species?

Others have noted the fallacious premise driving the movie.

The origin story for Idiocracy’s future world of half-wits is that uneducated people in the early 2000s are having kids and smart people don’t reproduce enough. It’s clear from the film that the intelligent people are wealthy, while the uneducated people are poor. So we’re starting from a position of believing that wealthy people are inherently more intelligent and, by extension, deserve their wealth. This link between intelligence and wealth is perhaps the most dangerous idea of the film and pretty quickly slips into advocating for some form of soft eugenics to build a better world.

If only we could get rid of the uneducated Americans (read: redneck poors) and we’ll have the opportunity to live in a utopian world filled with smart and civilized people. Of course, everyone here in 2014 making a reference to Idiocracy as a pseudo-documentary identifies with the soon-to-be-extinct intelligent class. They believe it’s the “others” — the dumb, impoverished people — that are ruining America with their binging on crap TV and crap internet and crap food.

This is pure, unadulterated social darwinism. It’s a movie that reassures its viewers that because you’re smart enough to see how stupid rednecks are, you are one of the good, worthy people who ought to be rewarded and encouraged to have more children. It is your responsibility to reproduce, lest those feeble-minded nitwits have more children than you.

It’s also a message that resonates with certain atheists.

It’s also a message at the heart of many racists: we must protect the pure Whites before they are outbred by all the Mud People!

I’ve complained about this belief before. It’s shameful to see so-called progressives in the 21st century praising a movie that promotes the ideas of eugenics, and that Nazis would have found perfectly copacetic.

Family name origins

“Myers” is an odd name; not only can nobody spell it, but its origin is a little murky. My own family is no help at all, because apparently my father’s side emigrated to the US sometime in the 17th century and then spent the next few hundred years wandering around and completely forgetting where they came from. I had a vague notion that they came out of the UK somewhere, with some Scots/Irish admixture, but the name itself…who knows?

So I plugged “Myers” into this database of name frequencies in the UK, and it spat back a map of where that name has an above-average likelihood of occurring.


Yorkshire and the Northwest? Really? I’m going to have to work on my accent.

Bad arguments are bad arguments the world over

Uh-oh. A television station in the Philippines recently aired a program on human evolution. I don’t speak a word of Filipino*, so I can’t judge directly, but skimming through it it seemed to show evidence and discuss reasonable dates and was definitely enthusiastically sciencey, so it seemed like a good thing to me. But the Philippines, like the United States, is one of those countries with a fanatically Christian component to their population, and you can guess how some people reacted.

One commenter noted, Kung tayo ay galing sa unggoy bkit may unggoy pa hanggang ngayon? kht anong gawin ng science hnd parin nito kayang sukatin at abutin ang kapangyarihan ng ating Diyos (If we descended from monkeys, how come there are monkeys up to this day? No matter what Science does, it cannot measure the power of our God).

I had to laugh. This is one of the worst arguments ever against evolution — just yesterday, I challenged my introductory biology class with a list of common rebuttals to evolution, and this was one of the easier ones for them to knock down — and here it is, getting recycled in the Philippines.

This next one is just a variant:

Yet another commenter also stated, Unggoy pala sina Adam and Eve? Kalukuhan to di naman sa Africa ginawa ng dios ang unang tao… Ang scientists kailan lang pinanganak yan kaya mas maniwala tayo sa Bible kasi mas nauna ‘to (So Adam and Eve are monkeys? This is idiocy, as the first human were not created in Africa. Scientists were only born recently so we must believe in the Bible because it came first).

I wonder how this person would react to the news that there was no Adam and Eve, no individuals that founded the whole human species? There were populations, not named people. They also weren’t monkeys.

As I get older, though, I admit to appreciating more and more the argument that those born first are more correct than the young whippersnappers.

*By the way, Freethoughtblogs would love to represent freethinkers from the Philippines. Apply!

Smithsonian + Discovery Institute = Misinformation

The Smithsonian is sponsoring a traveling exhibit called Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean To Be Human?, which is going around the country to various libraries. By all accounts, it’s an excellent exhibit, and they also promote good education: they offer workshops on human evolution to local teachers (they also offer tours to local clergy — they’re additionally sponsored by the Templeton Foundation).

The exhibit is in Cottage Grove, Oregon right now. You’ve all seen Cottage Grove — the big parade scene in Animal House was filmed there. But it’s also a nice little town south of Eugene. I’d be there right now, if I were still living in Oregon. World-class educational exhibit on evolution in my former back yard? Yes, sounds awesome.

Except…other groups are free to piggy-back on the exhibit, and wouldn’t you know it, the Discovery Institute is going to exploit it to spread their special lies all over it on 10 March.

Science and Human Origins—What does the Evidence Really Say? Thursday March 10, 6-8 PM

Did human beings evolve from earlier animals? Was the process that produced human beings guided or unguided? And does it matter? Here is your chance to learn about the current state of the scientific evidence, to separate fact from speculation, and to explore why it matters.

Speakers at this event are: Ann Gauger, co-author of Science and Human Origins, a Senior Research Scientist at the Biologic Institute, and Director of Science Communication at the Discovery Institute. Richard Sternberg is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. He previously served as a staff scientist at the National Center for Biotechnology Information and as a Research Associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Event hosted by various local Cottage Grove Churches.

Ugh. I don’t even know what to say.

Did human beings evolve from earlier animals? Yes. I suspect the DI will try desperately to weasel around that question, so I’m surprised they ask it. They are opposed to natural mechanisms for evolution, some of their fellows are young earth creationists, and they’ve been trying to walk the line between just saying that life evolved, but with the assistance of intelligent super-beings, and avoiding the whole issue for fear of alienating their YEC allies.

Was the process that produced human beings guided or unguided? There is no evidence at all that it was “guided”, but this is the DIs whole schtick — they’ll be in the middle of this evolution display trying to argue that evolution can’t work, therefore this-being-they-avoid-naming-called-God.

And does it matter? Here we go, the other side of the DI: moralizing about “cultural renewal”. At least John West isn’t there so you might not hear much about Hitler. But you never know.

I hope competent, knowledgeable Oregonians will attend and call out the frauds. Hey, if you do, send me a report on the event, too.

How about if you just don’t read his books, instead?

Maryam Namazie wants you all to sign a petition. Would you believe the Iranian state still wants to murder Salman Rushdie, and has put a bounty on his head?

We, the undersigned, are outraged to learn that forty state-run media outlets in Iran have raised $600,000 (£420,000) to add as bounty to Ayatollah Khomeini’s death fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie for his novel The Satanic Verses.

We condemn the Iranian regime, its fatwa and the added bounty and stand with Salman Rushdie and the many Iranian freethinkers and writers languishing in prison or facing the death penalty for exercising their right to free expression and thought.

The Iranian regime must face global condemnation for its incitement to murder.

I am opposed to state-sponsored assassination of any kind, but to condemn a person to death for writing words on paper is simply appalling. Rushdie has been under this edict of death for almost 30 years now, and it has to stop.