Synchronicity! Convergence! It must be significant.

I’ve been seeing more examples recently of theists pointing at the ‘miracle’ of solar eclipses. It’s amazing the the diameter of the moon as seen from Earth is almost exactly the same as the diameter of the sun, as seen from the same position. That couldn’t possibly be by chance — it must be a sign from a god.

Except…sorry, this kind of thing is exactly what can happen by coincidence. It’s a neat phenomenon, but not at all persuasive of the existence of a deity.

But here’s another miraculous coincidence: both Adam Lee and Gregory Paul have written about this same event, and both are saying it’s not evidence for a god. A miracle! So unlikely.

Both Lee and Paul explain the physical basis for eclipses, and suggest it’s nothing but chance. Lee points out the fallacious reasoning behind thinking this is causally significant.

Creationists love talking about the “rare Earth” idea: the argument that Earth is specially and uniquely fine-tuned to support life. It orbits in the habitable zone, not too close or too far from the sun, which is a stable star without massive flares. We have a regular day-night cycle, a mostly stable axial tilt, a magnetic field that screens out cosmic radiation, and so on. The creationists claim that this is evidence of God’s special favor.

The fallacy of the rare-Earth argument is that it’s an inference based on incomplete data. Just as you can’t compute the probability of a particular hand of cards unless you know what’s in the deck, we have no basis for proclaiming how common Earthlike planets are. Our sample size is too limited (although it’s growing all the time).

Paul wonders why a super-powerful cosmic being who can juggle stars and planets is trying to impress us with a meaningless, illusory light show.

Wrapping this up by looking at the really big picture, it’s important to understand that the beautiful total eclipses should be seen as compelling evidence of God thing is part of a greater cover-up conspiracy. It is a use of a wowzer but trivial item to help divert mass awareness away from the far larger issues that tell a very different tale about the state of our existence. Theists have long been working to get us to focus on the supposed sheer existence of a creator via the beauty of our Lord’s creation. That’s because they don’t want us to pay due and necessary attention to the deeply dark underside of the proposed super intelligence. The universe may be pretty, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is correspondingly arbitrary, and can cover profound dysfunction or evil. Far from the universe being truly fine-tuned for intelligent life, it is in many respects hostile to it, to the degree that Earth is a toxic blue dot so infested with lethal microbes that diseases have killed off half of humans born, to the tune of fifty billion dead children ( and see part 2 too). There is nothing pretty about that.

Let us assume the following. That children are immune to diseases, so that few if any kinds die young. Rather than the 5,000 that will die around the globe on April 8. Such a world would be pushing happenstance way beyond its logical, natural cause limits. Such benign protection of the lives of the most vulnerable and innocent would not only constitute solid evidence for the existence of a truly intelligent designer of immense power. It would demonstrate that the entity really is ethical and in fact cares about the free will of humans. As it is, we dwell on a kid-killing planet that, regardless of its awe-inspiring aspects including total eclipses, is fully and far more compatible with amoral natural origins than with loving design, and there is nothing trivial about that terrible fact.

Yeah, I wonder too why a god would rather play shenanigans with the lighting than actually do something about all those suffering, dying kids. It’s not a good look, God. It makes you look like a clown in the cancer ward, tossing kids out the window.

I’m not going to indulge in the spectacle. I think we get about 60% totality here in Minnesota, and that’ll have to be good enough for me. It’s all going down on a school day, you know, and I’m not traveling to some ungodly place like Indiana or Texas for a brief period of darkness.

Great Bible, but what about the STICKY PAGES?

Which is worse: 1) the guy peddling silly Christian theology who truly believes in that nonsense, or 2) the guy peddling silly Christian theology who doesn’t understand it or believe it? For me, it’s a toss-up; #1 isn’t lying to everyone, but is still a gullible ninny, while #2 is trying to convince everyone to buy something he doesn’t think is worth it. They’re both awful people.

Now Donald Trump has become a Bible salesman. He’s selling them for $59.99. Of course he gets a cut — he’s not doing this because he wants to save everyone, but because he wants to save himself. He’s #2.

These are special Bibles, the Lee Greenwood Version. Greenwood is the folksy singer who got rich off one song, a patriotic country-western anthem that gets the good ol’ boys tearing up and cheering, while I’m leaning over to puke under the bleachers. What makes his Bible special is that it’s in easy-to-read large print (it won’t get read much, though), and also includes copies of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and among those immortal words, the lyrics to Greenwood’s best-selling country song, “God Save the USA.” It’s also The God Bless The USA Bible is the ONLY Bible inspired by America’s most recognized patriotic anthem, God Bless The USA. It’s not just divinely inspired, it’s Lee Greenwood inspired, which makes it just that much better.

They have a FAQ page for this grift, with one question that did set me back a bit.


This is not something I usually worry about when I buy a book, but it just tells you how wonderful and exciting this Bible must be.

(They say it’s just because of the gilded edges, but we all know what it’s really about…)

Big tough TV cowboy

Forrie Smith is a regular John Wayne — all hat and no cattle, nothing but air and noise pretending to be a cowboy. He’s on some show called “Yellowstone,” and he’s been making a fuss about vaccines and masks and all that right-wing BS. He’s taken it a step further than most, though, insisting that not only will he not wear a mask, but he will get mad if you wear a mask.

On March 24, Smith posted an Instagram story with the caption, “You need to hear this story.” He then proceeds to delve into the story of how he was kicked off an airplane. In the video, he appears intoxicated and disoriented, even expressing confusion about which city he is currently in. The video is filmed from the Houston, Texas, airport, where he claims, “I just got kicked off a plane … because I told them that I didn’t feel comfortable sitting next to somebody with a mask on.” Smith also revealed the staff cited his intoxication as the reason for kicking him off the plane. While he admitted he had “been drinking,” he insisted he wasn’t intoxicated.

He claimed the real reason he was kicked off was “because you people won’t stand up and tell everybody what bulls**t this is. I just told them I didn’t feel comfortable about sitting next to somebody that had to wear a mask, and I’m off the plane.” The incident may have gone unreported if Smith hadn’t posted it on social media. However, he seemed to think the video would garner sympathy or make some kind of point about vaccinations. Instead, it just made him look like a fool.

This is a new level of stupid. So he’s drunk — he mentions sitting in an airport bar for 3 hours — and he’s offended that he would be asked to sit next to someone wearing a mask. That’s bad enough, but then he goes on Instagram thinking he will be inspiring the people to rise up and complain right alongside him that someone dared to mask up in his presence.

I didn’t need to hear his story, but now that I have, I know to never pay attention to his pretentious, entitled, ignorant ass ever again.

Wilson’s Principles of Teratology

It’s another busy week of EcoDevo, and even though the campus was closed I still had to give a lecture on endocrine disruptors. I started by laying out Wilson’s Principles of Teratology…wait, what? You don’t know them? I guess I’d better explain them to the internet at large.

These principles are a bit like Koch’s Principles, only for teratology — you better know them if you want to figure out the causes of various problems at birth, and you do: about 3% of all human births express a defect serious enough for concern. Here’s the list:

  1. Susceptibility to teratogenesis depends on the genotype of the conceptus and the manner in which this interacts with adverse environmental factors.
  2. Susceptibility to teratogenesis varies with the developmental stage at the time of exposure to an adverse influence. There are critical periods of susceptibility to agents and organ systems affected by these agents.
  3. Teratogenic agents act in specific ways on developing cells and tissues to initiate sequences of abnormal developmental events.
  4. The access of adverse influences to developing tissues depends on the nature of the influence. Several factors affect the ability of a teratogen to contact a developing conceptus, such as the nature of the agent itself, route and degree of maternal exposure, rate of placental transfer and systemic absorption, and composition of the maternal and embryonic/fetal genotypes.
  5. There are four manifestations of deviant development (death, malformation, growth retardation and functional defect).
  6. Manifestations of deviant development increase in frequency and degree as dosage increases from the No Observable Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) to a dose producing 100% lethality (LD100).

The first two tell you what is tricky about teratology. There are multiple variables that affect the response: genetic variability in the conceptus (and, I would suggest, maternal variations), and also timing is critical. A drug might do terrible things to an embryo at 4 weeks, but at 3 months the fetus shrugs it off.

Ultimately, though, the teratogen is having some specific effect (3) on a developing tissue. We just have to figure out what it is, while keeping in mind that that effect might be hiding in a maze of genetics (1) and time (2).

Another complication is that in us mammals the embryo is sheltered deep inside the mother, who has defense mechanisms. The agent has to somehow get in (4). A complication within a complication: sometimes the teratogenic agent is harmless until Mom chemically modifies it as part of her defense, and instead creates a more potent poison.

#5 is just listing the terrible outcomes of screwing with development.

#6 I do not trust. It’s saying the effect is going to follow a common sense increase with increasing dosage, but even that isn’t always true. There is a phenomenon called the inverted-U response where the effect increases with dosage, then plateaus, and then drops off at high concentrations. We’re dealing with complex regulatory phenomena with multiple molecular actors that may have unpredictable interactions. There are teratogens that do terrible things to embryos at low concentrations, but do nothing at ridiculously high concentrations — as if the high dose triggers effective defense mechanisms that the low dose sidesteps.

I had to review these principles in class yesterday, because although I’d also discussed them earlier in the semester, we are currently dealing with teratogens of monstrous subtlety, these compounds that mimic our own normal developmental signals, the same signals our bodies use to assemble critical organ systems. It’s as if some joker were placing inappropriate traffic signals along a busy highway — most would do no harm, but some may totally confuse travelers who then end up detouring up into the kidneys rather than down the genitals, as they preferred, or they end up crashing into the thyroid.

Unfortunately, in this case the responsible jokers are mainly gigantic megacorporations who are spewing these dangerous signals all over the countryside…and then we get to wait until the people swimming in them try to have children, and then the teratologists get to say “death, malformation, growth retardation and functional defect”.

In case you were wondering, Wilson didn’t come up with his list first — a 19th century scientist named Gabriel Madeleine Camille Dareste did it first. No, not first. Lots of people have been documenting these developmental problems as long as there’s been writing, like on this Chaldean tablet:

When a woman gives birth to an infant:
With the ears of a lion There will be a powerful king
That wants the right ear The days of the king will be prolonged
That wants both ears There will be mourning in the country
Whose ears are both deformed The country will perish and the enemy rejoice
That has no mouth The mistress of the house will die
Whose nostrils are absent The country will be in affliction and the house of the man will be ruined
That has no tongue The house of the man will be ruined
That has no right hand The country will be convulsed by an earthquake
That has no fingers The town will have no births
That has the heart open with no skin The country will suffer from calamities
That has no penis The master of the house shall be enriched by the harvest of his field
Whose anus is closed The country shall suffer from want of nourishment
Whose right foot is absent His house will be ruined and there will be abundance in that of the neighbor
That has no feet The canals of the country will be cut and the house ruined
If a queen gives birth to:
An infant with teeth already cut The days of the king will be prolonged
A son and a daughter at the same time The land will be enlarged
An infant with the face of a lion The king will not have a rival
An infant with 6 toes on both feet The king shall rule the enemies’ country

Nowadays we’re more interested in causes than imagined consequences, I hope.

Does anyone care that the Republican candidate is obviously ill?

Let’s get this out of the way: Biden is old. He’s slow and halting in his speech, he sounds like an old man. I’d rather we had a younger candidate running, but he’ll get the job done.

His opponent, on the other hands, sounds like he’s damaged mentally. He has a fucked up brain, and it’s obvious that there’s something more going on than just an age-related slow-down. Here’s a diagnosis by Dr. Elizabeth Zoffman, a forensic psychiatrist and an Associate Clinical Professor of Forensic and General Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

  • Changes in speech patterns with many fewer and simpler words (decline in vocabulary) with fewer adjectives and adverbs.
  • A decline in cognitive focus on speech subjects with incomplete sentences and an inability to focus on a topic long enough to complete a sentence when not reading from a teleprompter.
  • Difficulty pronouncing words, word substitution and nonsense words – known as paraphasia
  • Tangential thinking where the topic switches mid-sentence to some unrelated topic.
  • Frequent repetition of words and phrases as if his mind is stuck in a loop.
  • Disinhibition and an inability to control verbal outbursts.
  • Socially inappropriate behavior – mocking a man with muscular dystrophy, disrespecting fallen soldiers as losers.
  • Lack of self-awareness in that he apparently cannot see how inappropriate his behavior has become and use his judgment to stop himself.
  • Changes in movement and gait. His walk appears wide-based and he has developed a swing of his right leg. He appears glued to the floor when he “dances” for his audience. If caught on camera standing still, he appears unnaturally immobile.
  • The changes in judgment and impulse control have uncovered and perhaps worsened underlying personality traits that others have characterized as narcissistic and antisocial. The changes have led some experts to suggest a diagnosis of “malignant narcissism.”

All of that is apparent. This isn’t just picking a biased doctor to invent a diagnosis — that’s all stuff we can see and hear with our own eyes and ears. His fanatical voters don’t care, the media doesn’t care, he plans to shamble into office like a rot-brained zombie.

Wow, now I really want to read this book!

Does anyone have a copy of the 1658 edition?

The Crafty Whore:
The mistery and iniquity of
Laid open,
the dialogue between two SUBTLE BAWDS,
wherein, as in a mirrour, our
may face their sould-destroying Are, and Crafty
devices, whereby they Insnare and beguile
Youth, pourtraled to the life,
By the PENSELL of one of their late, (but now
penitent) CAPTIVES, for the benefit of
all, but especially the younger sort.
Whereunto is added
Drawn from the
Consequences it produceth.

We need to bring back that style of title/title page for all of our texts. It got me hooked from the first line.

You know what?

It’s still snowing. It was snowing all day yesterday. It’s not going to stop until 7am tomorrow, presumably.

Fortunately, I have been immersed in preparing another lecture on endocrine disruptors all weekend long, and haven’t even looked outside. Just as well, I’d probably just see flakes of BPA falling out of the sky at this point.

Bad dads

I thought this was one of the worst fathers ever: remember the Canadian farmer who moved his whole family to Russia? Arend and Anneesa Feenstra, who dragged their ten kids to an uncertain future, are being told to leave because who knew, they were expected to learn the Russian language, and Arend didn’t have time. Why he didn’t have time is a mystery, since his wife, by his own admission, was doing all the childcare and housework and editing the YouTube videos that were their sole source of income.

That’s a deeply stupid dad who is letting his ideology destroy his whole family.

But then there’s a dad that’s even worse. Stewart Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers and is now serving an 18-year federal sentence for conspiring to overthrow the government. You might suspect he didn’t have the happiest home life. Now we know how bad it was: his son has come out and told all.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Adams revealed his abusive upbringing at the hands of Stewart Rhodes, and the new path that he seeks to chart.

He said living with Rhodes was a constant process of moving around and starting over, as the Yale-educated militant convinced his family the government was spying on them and the end of days was imminent.

“We lived in extreme isolation in one particular cultural bubble in increasingly paranoid and militant right-wing political spheres everywhere we moved in the country, until eventually we ended up in Montana,” Adams said.

When his mother divorced Rhodes in 2018, Adams was able to move out of the shadow he cast on their family. Rhodes severely undercut Adams’ and his seven siblings’ schooling and barred them from publicly talking about their home lives. Adams couldn’t complete a times table until he was 19 and has spent the last several years trying to catch up on his education—recently enrolling in several college courses.

Yikes. Dakota Adams has his revenge, though. He’s running for the Montana state house…as a Democrat!

“It served as a sobering wake-up call in terms of how much danger we are truly in and how the Republican Party enabled a president to become an active danger to this republic,” he said. “I was forced to reevaluate a lot of beliefs and face hard questions about what I really stood for.”

He has plans to sell the body armor and guns he once wore to protest the government alongside his father, and he had some strong thoughts on guns and gun culture.

“American gun culture needs to be rehabilitated from an egotistical and vanity-based, hyper-individualist ego trip culture to civil service and solemn responsibility to the community,” he said. He still opposes total bans on firearms—he believed they could be necessary for the self-defense of vulnerable groups.

Many of his direct policy concerns are about making Montana livable for middle- and lower-income people. Most of the voters in his area are strongly conservative, and Adams tries to avoid sweeping cultural and social issues. He would rather focus on the challenges directly facing Montana residents.

I’d vote for him.

It’s something I’ve always felt, so this is an interesting illustrative example. I’ve thought that the only way to cultivate empathetic, thoughtful, open-minded children is to give them an empathetic, thoughtful, open-minded upbringing. The authoritarian parents, like Rhodes and Feenstra not only make their kids’ lives a living hell, it drives them away from their ideology. I suspect some of the commenters here have similar stories, of being brought up in an oppressive environment and now rebounding towards a more progressive approach to life. That’s one of the strengths of the Left.