Things must be different in Canada

What a strange video.

It makes perfect sense — if you’re asked to show proof of vaccination, just show them. I’ve got my vaccination card in my wallet right now. If you’re asked to put on a mask, put on a mask. Easy. I’ve always got one, and a spare in my pocket.

What’s disturbing is that I have never, not once, been asked to show that I’m vaccinated. We aren’t required to wear a mask anywhere in local businesses (I do, anyway), and even when the state had a mask mandate, I’d go to the store and see half the people running around maskless, and no one except me would ask them to put them on. A couple of times people made furious scenes when I pointed them at the signs.

Here’s Stevens County, Minnesota this month.

We had a big spike in cases a few weeks ago, and now it’s steadily rising. Does anyone care? Oh hell no. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to need advice on how to respond to a request to show my vaccination card, it’s about as necessary as being told I need to have a license to walk my dragon. These things are equally nonexistent in my community.

Fall Break, sorta

This was me yesterday: the diners demanded to be fed, so I was flicking tasty flies to my spider friends. We still have supply chain issues — I barely had enough for the mob — but they’re easing with many maggoty bottles promising to produce a bounty in the next few days. You probably don’t know the relief of seeing a half dozen bottles swarming with fat active maggots, but spider people do.

Today, though, I have to scurry out of the relatively benign kingdom of Minnesota to visit the Republican stronghold of Wisconsin, which currently holds my sweet innocent granddaughter hostage. We’re celebrating Iliana’s birthday, so I get to go hang out at a three year old’s party, and have chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream (hold the flies) and read children’s books and play let’s-pretend games.

We come back first thing tomorrow, when I must complete a mass of grading. It’s Fall Break, we get a whole two days off, which really isn’t time off because it’s just there to allow us to catch up on the backlog of work from the first half of the semester before we snap.

I am so sorry you’re dead

Rob Skiba was a right-wing evangelical preacher who told people that the COVID-19 vaccine was the “mark of the beast”. He bet that he would be proven right, and that his critics would be proven wrong by ending up dead.

You know exactly what happened, right? Is this a little too predictable?

Rob Skiba, an influential figure in flat earth and Christian circles, has died of COVID-19, colleagues announced on Thursday. He had been fighting the virus since at least late August, when he began exhibiting symptoms after “Take On The World,” a biblical flat earth conference. “He has been sick since coming back from TOTW,” a Facebook friend posted in early September, adding that Skiba had been hospitalized for low oxygen levels. One of the country’s most prominent advocates of Flat Earth Theory, Skiba was also skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines and some of the illness’ treatments. On the first day of the Take On The World conference, Skiba authored a Facebook post suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous.

It’s just extra ironic that he caught it at a flat earth conference.

Another person who died recently is the atheist, Tom Flynn.

“He saved the legacy of the Great Agnostic, Robert Green Ingersoll, from obscurity. He carried the torch for atheism, secular humanism, and clear-eyed rationality for decades with his powerful and copious writings and speeches—undoubtedly helping to cause the Rise of the Nones. All while cracking jokes and delighting everyone in his orbit,” said Blumner. “And how lucky we were to be part of it.”

“The death of Tom Flynn is a tragedy of epic proportions for everyone who cares about the equality of atheists anywhere in the world.”

Tom left a rather mixed legacy. Sure, he promoted atheism, but one of the reasons he contributed to the “Rise of the Nones” is that he also drove people away from atheism with his bizarre obsessions with, for instance, hating Christmas (ignore the War on Christmas goof, it’s a secular holiday and that’s how we celebrate it). There was nothing ironic about his death, we all get old and die, and Tom didn’t brag about his invulnerability and the uselessness of modern medicine before succumbing. He also didn’t subscribe to any flat earth theories.

Ken Ham is also sad about the death of Tom Flynn, because now he won’t be able to convert him. Ham got a note from an 11 year old girl and contemplates how Flynn ought to have been as gullible and uneducated as a child.

When I read the news about Tom Flynn, I thought of this young girl and her love for God’s Word and the messages I gave. I thought, “If only Tom Flynn would have had the faith of this child.” As we read in Scripture, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Then I pondered how important it is to do all we can to help undo the work of Tom Flynn. Yes, we are not going to give up, we are going to be more enthusiastic (another word Ellie used) than ever to reach these Nones, and anyone else we can, with the truth of the saving gospel.

A truth that has not been demonstrated, and Ken Ham’s biblical literalist cult is fucking weird. But yeah, Ken, keep on flailing about, you might manage to convert children with your childish stories. With Tom Flynn dead, though, he’s going to have to change his personal project to get a different person before they’re dead.

I often think about the times I had with another famous person in secular circles, Bill Nye, and how I prayed for him while he stood in front of me, and how I pleaded with him to receive the free gift of salvation. But sadly, he rejected this, and as far as I know continues to do so. So we need to be reminded to pray for Bill Nye and do what we can to undo all the damage he has done in spreading his anti-God worldview.

You know, Bill Nye does not promote atheism. He’s an agnostic. What he does is try to teach science, which, in an interesting but unsurprising revelation, Ken Ham considers “anti-God”.

Now I’m curious about an ongoing race, though. Ken Ham is 69, and rich; Bill Nye is 65, and well-off; which one will die first? If it’s Ham, Nye isn’t going to say a word, probably, unless he’s poked at by the media. If it’s Nye, you just know Ham is going to be playing up how “well, he’s discovered the truth now!” and whining about how the poor man failed to find Jesus.

We’re all going to end up dead someday, so what matters is what you do when you’re alive. I think I’d rather be a Flynn or a Nye than a Skiba or a Ham, and that’s something I have the freedom to choose, unlike this fantasy about an afterlife.

It’s the arrogance of creationists that gets me

Before my email went down, I was engaged in an exchange with an Indonesian student.

He wrote to me asking if he could ask me a few questions about evolution. All right, it’s an excess of manners to ask if you can ask, but OK, I told him to go ahead. For future reference, anyone, I’m not into formalities or deference — just put your questions up front, boldly. I’ll either answer or not. When someone is that cautious, though, it makes me suspicious.

His next email informs me that he is writing a book to correct misconceptions about evolution in the Indonesian community, and that he is an undergraduate. A bit presumptuous, don’t you think? Most undergraduates are just learning about evolution and lack the knowledge to write a book, but maybe he’s precocious, and maybe he’s exceptionally well educated, and maybe he’s going to narrow the focus of his book to something appropriate. There are undergraduates who are mature enough to do a good job presenting the scientific perspective, but you’re going to have to show me that you’ve got the chops.

His question, though, floored me. He tells me he’s been reading Harun Yahya’s “beautifully illustrated” Atlas of Creation, and that he wants to know if ‘living fossils’ that have been totally unchanged for hundreds of millions of years exist, and gosh, isn’t that a problem for evolution? And then, I knew he’s playing a disingenuous game and trying to trap me.

Yahya’s book is a transparent fraud full of stolen images that strikes one note over and over again: here’s a stolen photo of a fossil. Here’s another photo of a modern animal. See? They’re identical! Therefore evolution is false. Nobody with even a glimmering of an education in biology would fall for it. Stasis is part of evolutionary theory, and besides, a superficial photo of a fossil or animal with murky provenance, selected specifically for their similarity, is not evidence of much of anything. Creationists have no respect for the evidence, though, so anything that reinforces their faulty assumptions is acceptable, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re Islamic or Christian creationists.

So here’s a guy whose source of information about evolution is a creationist propaganda book, who claims that he has sufficient authority to write his own book about evolution, and he’s asking this fucking stupid question. It wouldn’t be stupid from a layman, but he’s making this obnoxious pretense of authority, and most offensive of all, he thinks I’m stupid enough to fall for it.

I see this over and over again. Creationists have this absurd confidence that they have discovered the great flaw in evolution that thousands of scientists who studied it for years have missed, and they love to spring ‘zingers’ on us that they’re sure will stagger us and send us reeling backwards, to quit in defeat like the professor in Big Daddy.

It’s not going to happen. Trotting out some poorly referenced factlet and your profound misconceptions about evolution aren’t going to shock me. I’m also not at all impressed when you’re the kind of weasely coward who can’t even be honest about your intentions.

Now I’ve lost GMail

This is annoying: I’ve lost access to my email. I was trying to install some software that needed to access my Google account, I mistyped my password, and it then sent me into security hell, with codes sent to various devices that I had to type into various other devices, and somewhere in there I typed the wrong 6 digits into the right device or the right 6 digits into the wrong device, or something, and Google decided to teach me a lesson and locked me out of my account for 48 hours. I guess at that time it’ll allow me to reset my password and go through musical phone-tablet-laptop-desktop games again. I hope I get it right next time.

Anyway, the bad news is that I won’t get any email for two days, and I’m also locked out of my YouTube account. So if you have anything urgent to write to me, be patient.

The good news is that I won’t get any email for two days, except for official email through my university account, so nothing important from students will be missed.

I’m actually finding it kind of hard to complain about taking an email vacation.

No tuffet, no curds and whey required

My wife was just sitting there, quietly reading, when she noticed this little friend descending from the ceiling to sit down beside her, and instead of being frightened away, she yelled for me to come see it. I was mildly surprised — it’s a male Steatoda triangulosa, which have been rather scarce this past summer (it’s generally been a poor summer for all spiders this year).

[Read more…]

The battle is joined! War on Christmas comes earlier every year

The other day, Fox News was hyperfocused on the War on Christmas.

I guess I need to gird my loins or something.

Ken Ham, conjuring atheists into existence

Let’s get all Manichaean on their asses!

Caroline Matas attended an Answers in Genesis conference, and was chilled by what she saw. She was the only one wearing a mask, and was most concerned with why American evangelicals have so much contempt for modern science and medicine. I think Ken Ham delivered the answer.

Secular scientists might claim that they allow observation and replicable experimentation to dictate their conclusions, but Answers in Genesis argues that scientists are deluding themselves about their true “starting point.”

Ham famously argues that there are only two religions—conservative Christianity based on a literal and univocal reading of God’s word and secular humanism derived from “man’s word.” At this week’s conference, he went a step further, claiming that secular scientists cannot claim a “neutral position,” because any worldview that is not actively in service of his version of orthodox Christianity is “hostile” to God and “desperately wicked” in its thinking.

“If it’s not for Christ, it’s against,” Ham told a cheering audience.

Well then, count me in as against Christ. I think there are a lot of Christians out there who don’t accept Ham’s narrow-minded, pig-ignorant view of their faith, and are going to be surprised to learn that they are against Christ, but OK. It’s nice for us atheists to have abruptly become the majority.

However, this also reminds me of the time I was paired up to present at a humanist meeting with David Silverman. His message was that everyone there was actually an atheist — every Christian humanist, every Jewish humanist, every agnostic, every one who still went to church but thought god was a more complex concept than an anthropomorphic old guy in the sky, even deists like Thomas Jefferson — if you didn’t subscribe to an orthodox, literal-minded version of your religion, you were an atheist, and you should admit it to yourself and everyone else. It did not go over well. There was much eye-rolling and head-shaking in the audience, and I had to amend my talk on the fly to explain that I did not endorse Silverman’s views.

I think David and Ken would have gotten along famously. They have exactly the same sentiments about religion.

The terrible thing about this perspective is that as soon as you make everything us-vs.-them, you’ve got a tool to shoehorn everyone into opposing camps on every issue. It doesn’t matter that the Bible says nothing about vaccines — you can tell everyone that you don’t like ’em, and you’re a man of God, therefore anyone who is a true man of God should despise vaccines.

Studying evangelical media has made me keenly aware of how quickly and thoroughly this narrative can be employed to train consumers in the orthodoxy of the moment. What matters is not what happens to fall in its crosshairs: critical race theory, secular humanism, same-sex marriage, vaccine mandates; the fuel running the machine is a belief that this world is split into two “religions”—the “true” one and the “false” one whose aims are unceasingly hostile and evil.

Or, hey, if you are a misogynistic sado-masochist who bullies women and is the former head of a major atheist organization, then every true atheist should be a misogynistic sado-masochist. I think there are a few too many atheists who would go along with that.