George Church has a fancy hammer. You’re all looking a bit like nails right now

George Church is a smart and interesting guy, and now he’s been featured on 60 Minutes. It’s a strange interview, though, and I don’t believe a lot of his claims.

Yeah, right, a dating app based on your genes. I don’t believe it, except as an ambitious eugenics program to give scientists an excuse to do social engineering with fallacious premises. There is such a thing already, as in, for instance, screening in some Jewish communities for lethal alleles; beyond that specific use, though, I don’t see much point in caring about minor variations…unless you want to suppress them. That was only a small part of the program, though, highlighted by CBS because it is so radical and sensational. One thing he does go on at length about is his biomedical goals: “Today, his lab is working to make humans immune to all viruses, eliminate genetic diseases, and reverse the effects of time.”

I have two objections to his dream.

  • I think he’s forgotten about this phenomenon called evolution. Viruses are going to be evolving much more rapidly than he can engineer humans; humans are going to mutate faster than he can tweak their genes.
  • He disregards multifactorial interactions, and seems to think there’s a straightforward linear scale of gene effects that can be optimized. We don’t know whether, for instance, increasing longevity genetically is going to have secondary undesirable genetic effects. It’s definitely going to have horrible effects socially, but those don’t exist in Church’s world.

None of that is an argument for stopping his kind of research, which I think has great benefits as well. I just don’t think he’s very good at thinking outside of an imagined linear progression.

Also troubling was his response to one question. On everything else, he’s glib and confident, and then he got asked about the ethics of accepting money from Jeffrey Epstein…and suddenly he’s hesitating and stammering and clearly trying to think of a way out of this question. His answer is that he can’t be expected to screen donors that rigorously, and that tainted money can be used for good ends, as, for instance, the way tobacco money was used to sponsor legitimate research.

Does he stop to consider that there’s a problem in a system that allows large corporations to thrive on lies and addicting innocent people to dangerous chemicals, and that maybe such organizations are not the best to control what sciences get funding? No.

His is a lab that thrives on huge donations from extremely wealthy people, and getting featured on 60 Minutes is going to raise his profile and probably bring in more donations from extremely wealthy people. That ought to be raising all kinds of concerns about the nature of a system that relies on excesses of wealth in certain classes of people who then have the privilege of distributing some of that wealth in a pattern of personal patronage. That he is the current recipient of such largesse apparently makes it impossible for him to see the flaws in that system.

George Pell missed an opportunity

In 2016, Pell wrote an essay titled “A wise reply to atheism’s strongest argument”. It gets off to a bad start — don’t brag about how wise your answer is before you’ve even given it — but it gets even worse.

You might be wondering what atheism’s strongest argument might be, and I’ll cut to the chase: Pell thinks it’s the argument from evil. Personally, I don’t find it very compelling or interesting, because it presupposes a god whose purposes we’re supposed to be arguing over, but OK, I can see where a Catholic would find it relevant. And then…this is child rapist George Pell. I would think he’s spent a lot of time contemplating evil, rationalizing evil acts, fantasizing about evil, condemning evil people, practicing evil. He’s an evil authority! If anyone is going to be an expert on justifying how god would allow evil to persist, it’s a devout evil-doer who has to be having an interesting internal monologue on the acts he has committed.

Evil and suffering constitute the most formidable argument against monotheism, for those who believe in the existence of one good and transcendent Creator God.

So I settled down to read a challenging argument about how a benevolent, omnipotent, omniscient being could co-exist with evil in his personal hand-made universe, and boy was I disappointed. The entirety of his argument is one paragraph. One short paragraph. Most of the essay is namedropping philosophers and theologians and explaining how the resurgence of atheism should jolt us out of our silence and indifference because oh, this is such an important question, and isn’t suffering such a wonderful gift from God yadda yadda yadda. The Catholic bullshit gets thick in there.

But here is the one paragraph which purports to answer the whole Problem of Evil.

I believe that the intellectual arguments now available to be drawn from biology (the discovery of DNA) and from physics and chemistry and the fantastic improbabilities necessary for evolution from the Big Bang to humans, mean that the rational or metaphysical path to the Supreme Intelligence is easier for us than in the past. Thinkers are coming to God from or through science.

It’s lies and nonsense through and through, and it isn’t even relevant to the question.

The intellectual arguments from biology and physics and chemistry are all about the fundamentally natural properties of our universe. They don’t say a god did it; they say chemistry happens whether a god wills it or not. The probability argument is not an answer to the evil argument, and you can’t use improbability to claim that the current state of life couldn’t possibly arise without design and purpose. Also, the more science you’ve got in your life, the less need you have for silly mythology, so no, with few exceptions, scientists aren’t suddenly flocking to church every Sunday.

This isn’t what I’d be interested to hear from Pell. God did wicked things; George Pell sexually molested 13 year old boys. Is he going to claim that DNA and physics and chemistry and biology compelled him to force his penis into a child’s mouth? That it was fantastically improbable that he was wracked with sexual obsessions, therefore God must have made him do it? Save it for the trial defense. I’d like to hear how a man who thinks he is good can commit gross, unforgivable crimes.

Maybe I should just read Dostoevsky instead.

An atheist goes to church: First Baptist

This is Minnesota, where all the Scandihoovians are Lutheran and all the Germans are Catholic, and there ain’t no one else. Well, at least that’s the stereotype. Since we went to the liberal Lutheran church last week, because that’s what I grew up in, my wife suggested that for parity’s sake we attend a church like the one she was brought up in. She was Baptist, once upon a time. Would there be any Baptist churches here?

Yes, there’s one. So we dropped in this morning, and Mary introduced me to Baptist culture.

First shock: Baptists sleep in. The service didn’t start until 11am. I know! They’re stealing an atheist advantage there! Mary said that was typical, though. There were also more Baptists in town than I expected, with about 60 in attendance.

The second mild surprise was that the whole service is practically non-stop hymn singing, and that they had a pianist, an organist, and a violinist up front to accompany us. I was used to liturgies & chants & recitatives breaking up the occasional hymn, but no, we opened up the hymnal as soon as the service started (promptly at 11, and again, it ended promptly at noon) and worked our way through a series of hymns with one interruption for the offering collection and one for the sermon. And we sang every verse of every hymn! Of course, every song had the same structure: two line verse, followed by two line chorus, then repeat and repeat and repeat.

The music did nothing for me, but then I wasn’t brought up in it. Mary got caught up in the rhythms, which I found interesting — early childhood experiences seem to program us to respond to particular patterns, and I could tell that I’m a Lutheran atheist and she’s a Baptist atheist. Irreconcilable differences, I guess we’ll have to divorce.

Wait, no, I think the atheism cleared those conflicts away. Whew!

Then, the sermon. Scratch that, the “message”. It started off well.

It was built around Psalm 147, and the pastor was telling us about the things God is not impressed by…and the first one was by show of force. Was this going to be a pacifist message? I might like this guy after all.

Alas, it was to be that only certain shows of force fail to delight the Lord. God is not impressed with North Korea’s parades of tanks and missiles, and they keep shooting missiles at us (Really? Where?) and they keep missing. And hey, Napolean invaded Russia with 600,000 men, and nearly all of them died to God’s winter, and the same for Hitler’s army. Ditto for Pharoah’s army, which chased Moses across the Red Sea, and then God made their chariot wheels fall off. They’ve found those chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, too. (No, they haven’t. This is more propaganda from wacky Ron Wyatt, who made that claim — I can tell what kind of literature the good Reverend is reading!)

God is also not impressed with snobbery — he’s all about the little people. Somehow this was illustrated by the example of our president traveling overseas to visit terrorists and communists, but being unable to find time for the funeral of the great Margaret Thatcher. I didn’t quite get the connection, but OK, he was rambling on at this point.

The third thing God does not find delightful is…secular thinking. Modern people are all bowing down to the god of medical science, and engineering science, and geological science, and did you know that George Washington almost died because the doctors kept bleeding him? But William Harvey, a Christian scientist, discovered that the heart was a pump, and showed them all to be wrong. I was feeling rather confused at this point, since a) the doctors who were bleeding Washington would have been Christian, too, and b) William Harvey discredited the practice of bloodletting in 1628, and can’t really be credited with saving George Washington in the 18th century.

Then my favorite part: Evolution is only a theory, not a proven fact, and did you know that intelligent people don’t believe that theory? He actually said it. I guess I won’t be joining his church, then.

Then the sermon got really incoherent, and not pacifistic at all.

This guy was really obsessed with Israel. He told us a story about how as a boy delivering newspapers he read about the Six Day War in 1967, and how Israel with God’s favor whipped all of its enemies until the United Nations forced them to stop, and now the UN is trying to force Israel to turn over most of Jerusalem to Arab Terrorists. Israel good, UN bad.

He also told us how the US had the North Koreans beat and chased them all the way to the Chinese border, and then the Chinese started massing troops, and General MacArthur asked to use nukes on them, and got turned down by Truman. I got the distinct impression that this servant of a god who is not impressed with shows of force thinks we should have nuked the Chinese.

America has become more concerned with its own house rather than God’s house, and is in moral decline, what with all this homosexuality. We must pray for America to humble herself so that God will heal her — if we don’t pray, we’ll find ourselves in the midst of a Nazi-Communist America! We have forsaken the Chosen People of Israel! God has made a covenant with one nation, Israel — not America, not Germany, not France, only Israel, and Israel is a monument to God and a witness to show that the End Times of the book of Revelation will come to pass!

You get the idea. It wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I would have been curious to learn if the majority of the congregation were as rabidly pro-Israel as their minister, but then it ended abruptly, the minister announced that we were dismissed, and we left.

I was impressed that it started precisely at 11am and stopped exactly at noon. So far these services have been remarkably well-timed. Otherwise…no, I’m not tempted by any of them.

By the way, this particular church is a member of the New Testament Association, which has a few rules.

Q. What is the NTA position on sexual practices?
A. Each local church sets its own standards, but we commonly hold to these practices. We believe in monogamy and sex only within the bond of marriage (between a man and a woman). We do not accept homosexuality, abortion, and other conduct that is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

Q. What does the NTA believe regarding dietary practices?
A. We believe it is improper for believers to use alcoholic beverage in any form, tobacco in any form, or illicit drugs of any kind. A balanced diet (consisting of meat, vegetables, and fruits) should be maintained conducive to good health.

So, no gay vegans allowed in this congregation? I can’t even wash out the taste of the sermon with a beer afterwards?

There are other people who aren’t welcome.

Affiliated churches of this Association: 1) Shall be composed entirely of immersed believers. 2) Shall have declared by vote their agreement without mental reservation with the Statement of Faith and the Preamble of this Association. 3) Shall not be in affiliation with any other national association of churches. 4) Shall not be in affiliation and/or fellowship with any organization which condones the presence of religious liberals or liberalism.

Darn. I guess I shouldn’t go back then.

P.S. Padded pews again! What is it with these decadent modern folks and their pampered butts?

Pell indicts the Australian Catholic Church

Whoa, my twitter feed is on fire with all these angry Australians. It seems Cardinal George Pell is getting grilled about child abuse within the Australian Catholic Church, and he’s being his usual callous, dogmatic self. “Some of the victims themselves aren’t entirely blameless,” indeed.

The Age has an article summarizing the inquiry so far, but it’s rather tepid compared to the outrage I’m seeing expressed by the Australians listening in. It’s clear that Pell has admitted there was abuse of children, and also that there was a cover-up; he also had lots of excuses.

“I would agree that we’ve been slow to address the anguish of the victims and dealt with it very imperfectly,” he told the inquiry.

“I think a big factor in this was not simply to defend the name of the church.

“Many in the church did not understand just what damage was being done to the victims. We understand that better now.”

Cardinal Pell said the sodomy of children was always regarded as totally reprehensible.

“If we’d been gossips, which we weren’t … we would have realised earlier just how widespread this business was,” Cardinal Pell said.

He admitted that lives had been ruined as a result of the cover-ups and that they had allowed pedophile priests to prey on children.

“I would have to say there is significant truth in that,” Cardinal Pell said.

He said he did not believe there had been a culture of abuse.

“I think the bigger fault was that nobody would talk about it, nobody would mention it.

“I was certainly unaware of it.

“I don’t think many, if any, persons in the leadership of the Catholic Church knew what a horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on.”

Cardinal Pell agreed that placing pedophiles above the law and moving them to other parishes resulted in more heinous crimes being committed.

“There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted.

“There’s no about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides.”

He also blamed lax standards for admission to the priesthood 50 years ago, something the pope babbled about a while back, too. Damned hippies!

But basically Pell got up and admitted that all the accusations were true and that he knew about it and that the only reason they didn’t do anything about it was that they didn’t realize how widespread the problem was. I want to know how big it had to be before they would have cracked down: I would have thought ONE child raped by a priest would have been sufficient to trigger a response, but apparently Pell didn’t think it important until it hit some other magic number.

If you’d like to see some real rage against the Catholic Church, follow #abuseinquiry on twitter.

Why I am an atheist – George Harris

I was born an atheist. Fortunately my parents, and their parents let me decide what I thought of religion, while always explaining that they thought it was complete nonsense.

As a result I never took faith seriously despite attending Church of England schools, as there was never any evidence offered for the claims of the bible. I became less passive during adolescence when I reflected on the damage religion does to civilisation, and after September 11, my father and I became avid followers of the various luminaries of the Atheist movement.

There is no need to explain why I am an Atheist – it is my natural state and it falls on the religious to convince me why I should be otherwise.

George Harris

Shoulda gone to church today

Today is Pulpit Freedom Sunday, that day when the wingnut churches were all planning to preach endorsements of political candidates in defiance of the restrictions imposed on them by their tax-exampt status. I hope the IRS harvests a windfall here — it’s simply absurd that they can demand freedom from taxation because they are religious organizations caring for the spiritual needs of their flocks, and then turn around and demand that they also be given the right to be a political organization. It’s one or the other. Let the preachers preach for McCain/Palin, but not on the government’s dime.

The organizers of Pulpit Freedom Sunday are convinced that the protest will result in a court challenge to the law. Mr. Stanley said the law was so unclear that, “I anticipate getting to federal court, certainly the appeals court.” But Robert W. Tuttle, a professor of law and religion at the George Washington University Law School, found that unlikely.

“It’s settled law,” Professor Tuttle said. “People can unsettle law that’s settled, but I think that it is very, very unlikely that a lower federal court would reach any other conclusion except that religious organizations have no constitutional right to engage in political speech while accepting deductible contributions.”

Speaking of settled law, wouldn’t it be nice to really shake things up and strip all churches of their tax exemptions? I know there’d be an immediate roar of protest from all churches everywhere that would have some political cost, but after 9/10ths of the churches fold, and after cities enjoy the sudden filling of the voids in their municipal tax base, and after the financial crisis is resolved, we’d be better off.

Small town churches, small town prisons

Here’s a point I’ve often seen made before, this time by Mike the Mad Biologist and Shakespeare’s Sister: religion provides an important social outlet in small town America. It is the social network, the source of community activities, and an essential part of the people’s identities. It’s more than just an institution, it’s the glue that holds the fabric of these little towns together. It’s their scrap of culture.

I hope no is too surprised when I say that I agree 100%. Church is a big deal; some of these towns have big signs as you drive in, listing the churches available. Typically, one of the first major community buildings that were assembled in the history of these places was the church, which would have a central location, and even today may be preserved as an architectural landmark.

I don’t know where Mike and Shakes live, but I’m smack in the middle of it. Here’s a map of our little town, pop. 5000, with most of the churches marked; there are a couple missing (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall on the NE side of town, and there’s at least one other in the SE corner of the map, and oddly enough, the big Catholic church, which is down near F, isn’t shown).


Believe me, I know about small town churches. My house is near D, when I walk to the coffee shop down near J I often go by F and G. I know you can’t get elected to much of anything without having some association with a church. People know you by your church affiliation; if you’re a member of the Federated Church (C), you’re probably one of those liberal types and might be a university person; if you go to the Evangelical Free Church…well, let’s just say I might cross to the other side of the road to avoid you.

What Mike seems to fail to consider (Shakes does address it) is this: is this a good thing?

I’ve heard the “they’re a cultural resource” argument quite a few times, usually from people defending their church, or from people who don’t go to church but make this semi-patronizing suggestion that it’s where the little people go for their little slice of Western Civilization. It doesn’t wash.

I look at that map and see waste and lost opportunities.

First of all, these are sectarian separations—religion divides people. Very few people will go to E one week and F the next; the fact that these social networking centers represent largely mutually exclusive networks is blithely ignored in these suggestions that the church provides identity. Even scarier, though—imagine these towns dominated by a single sect.

Secondly, it would be wonderful to imagine these places as sites where people gather to appreciate great art, music and poetry, and experience the best of religious history. Think again. A typical church service is a few hymns, a harangue from the preacher, a few recitations from a book, a prayer or two, and some organ music. What is celebrated is not art, but dogma. Sometimes you do get good material: the church I attended in my youth had an excellent choir, for instance, and one thing I think the absence of church attendance deprives us godless people of is the opportunity to sing, and get instruction in singing. But those kinds of performance skills always play second fiddle to the primary function of the church service, the liturgy.

As someone who does not believe, I would not sit through over an hour of up-and-down, recite this, drone that, listen to this homily, etc., for 10 or 20 minutes of good music. Someone from one sect will not stomach the rituals of another to see the same, either. Any culture is excessively diluted by the noise.

Thirdly, I’m sorry, but we do not live in the seventeenth or eighteenth century any more. Religion is not the rich and generous wellspring of funding for art any more, nor does it seem to inspire much creativity. We don’t have Bachs generating great art out of their faith—what we have is music and poetry and plays put on by the churches that are simply poisoned by strident preachiness. The adjective “Christian” prepended to music, rock, theater is a synonym with “dreck” nowadays.

The central flaw with the cultural resource argument is that these are not just social clubs. They are social clubs with an ideological and metaphysical agenda that often dominates their discourse and makes them incompatible with each other and with the goal of supporting a shared social environment. What us godless fiends are arguing is not that the church organizations are necessarily bad and must be shut down, but that they bear this ugly baggage that cripples them in fulfilling that role that the apologists think is a redeeming virtue. Imagine a small town without that useless superstition muddling up the picture.

Imagine a Morris in which everyone’s belief in God has evaporated. They would still appreciate each other, though, and still like getting together every week to talk and sing and share ideas—those aren’t religious ideals, but purely human ones. Choir practice would continue; they’d still work on the Christmas pageant; coffee hour in the church basement would be a regular event; pastors would still be counseling couples, or getting kids together for activities. The only difference is that they wouldn’t be doing these things in the name of a non-existent being, in service to weird doctrines that claim unbelievers, including the members of the social club across town, are damned to hell and deserve it.

We could have performances of plays by the enthusiastic thespians at that nice building F, and there could be chorale performances every week at G, and maybe there’d be a book club at E…and every play wouldn’t be an exercise in heavy-handed morality that praises Jesus, and the songs wouldn’t all have to be hymns, and they could every once in a while crack some book other than the Bible.

Alas, that’s nothing but a fantasy. It’s not going to happen in my lifetime, I don’t think.

But please, don’t try to pull this feeble excuse that religion plays an important social role in small town communities. Sure it does: it stunts them. It restricts them. It turns them into the boring drone of dogma. It gives them dribs and drabs of culture while denying the diversity of it. If we really wanted a Renaissance, first thing we should do is evict the priests from their temples and turn those nice, big, airy buildings into celebrations of humanist ideals.

Those of you in the comments who have somehow interpreted this to imply that I think rural America is full of idiots are completely wrong. I’m arguing exactly the opposite.

There are people in small town America who are avidly participating in Bible study groups every week. Think about it: they are voluntarily getting together to think and talk about text, to engage in literature analysis. They do it over breakfast. They turn off the TV after a long day at work and get together to dissect a book. This is wonderful. Some of them might kick me for this, but they are being public intellectuals. My complaint is that this intellectual activity is put in a religious straightjacket—they are only talking about one book, and a very uneven one at that, and they are using study guides that discourage questioning anything fundamental about it.

Another example: these people have a better view of the performing arts than we urban smarty-pants often do. How many of us think a night of culture is a matter of buying a ticket and parking our ass in a seat and watching a performance? Here in the rural heartland, you are going to find more people doing the art: plays are huge out here, even if they are done by enthusiastic amateurs. I remember from my church-going days having a couple of hours of choir practice every week and doing a performance every Sunday. Again, that’s art, don’t sneer at it because it isn’t the Metropolitan Opera, and it’s limitations are these annoying religiously imposed constraints on the subject matter.

Minds are humming out here in the rural backwaters some people are demeaning. These are smart people, brilliant people, talented people, just as good as the ones in the Big City, and my point here is solely that religion is a force that holds them back.

The Catholic Church retreats into the darkness, again

George Coyne, the Vatican astronomer, has been sacked. Red State Rabble and John Wilkins speak out on it.

They cite one source condescendingly claiming that Coyne “appointed himself an expert in evolutionary biology,” while Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute (speaking of unqualified gits appointing themselves the status of ‘expert’) calls Coyne an “evangelizing Darwinist,” and blames his fall on his radical theology. It seems to me that Coyne was actually a highly qualified scientist who was well-informed about the general principles of science, and who informed the Vatican about the actual status of the discipline of evolution within the domain of science. What this represents is a case of Catholicism once again rushing to bury its head in the sand—they can’t have someone who honestly represents the uncomfortable facts of science speaking out, after all. I’m sure his replacement will be better steeped in the dogma, will confine himself to a much less forthright position, and appreciates theology more than the science.

I hope George Coyne uses the freedom from one set of duties to reconsider that religion thing. It must be hard to serve two masters, especially when one is about enlightenment and knowledge, and the other is about ignorance and dogma.

A patchwork dodo is not a dodo

Somebody has been watching too much Jurassic Park. They should read the original novel, which was a badly written Luddite pot-boiler with a bad take on genetic technology that emphasized the horrible ways technology would inevitably go wrong (that was a tiresome theme in practically all Michael Crichton novels), while the movies just highlighted the glorious resurrection of really cool animals. I guess the latest movie has hordes of perfectly healthy, vigorous dinosaurs swarming across the American West, as if that could happen.

In yet another George Church production, his company, Colossal Biosciences, proposes to resurrect the dodo, just as he said he was going to bring back the mammoth and thylacine. He hasn’t accomplished any of it. I’ll go out on a very thick limb and say he’s never going to succeed. The procedure, using CRISPR to incrementally patch dodo genes into an extant bird species, is fundamentally flawed.

To create a dodo from such genetic information, the company plans to try to modify the bird’s closest living relative, the brightly colored Nicobar pigeon, turning it step by step into a dodo and possibly “re-wilding” the animal in its native habitat.

Colossal has not yet created any kind of animal. It’s still working on developing the necessary processes. And making a dodo might not even be possible. That’s because it is hard to predict how many DNA changes will be needed to transform the Nicobar pigeon into a big-beaked, three-foot-tall dodo.

The dodo had a full, functioning, integrated genome that evolved gradually under a regime of continual selection — every intermediate was viable. Colossal’s approach is to splice a few dodo genes into a pigeon, raise it up, splice in a few more genes, etc. Those dodo genes evolved in a dodo genome. Gene A was in a cooperative relationship with gene B in the dodo, but you’ve just popped gene A into a genome that has a very different version of pigeon gene B. The gene you want to insert might be seriously deleterious in a pigeon context, and you don’t know what the relationship is. The dodo genes might also be optimized for a completely different environment, yet you’re trying to make them viable in lab-bred animals.

It’s insane. They’re going to plunk a few ancient genes into some poor pigeon and declare victory, but all they’re going to do is produce a sad fat flightless bird that is totally maladapted for everywhere, not a dodo at all, but a weirdly warped mutant pigeon. Good luck getting Chris Pratt to herd the flock around the landscape.

At least the dodo is only three feet tall…I can’t imagine what kind of botchwork monstrosity they’re going to build out of elephant stock. And they’re talking about “rewilding” these animals! The world they were adapted to no longer exists, these mutant freaks will not be able to thrive anywhere, and it’s pure fantasy to imagine they can let some loose in some environment that doesn’t want them, where the forces that drove the original extinction still exist, and get a supportable natural population. These are not serious ideas.

But they’ve got serious money.

The two-year-old startup also said today that it had raised a further $150 million in funding (bringing the total it’s raised to $225 million)—some of which will go to a new effort around bird genomics.

How do they do that? Easy. It’s all hype. They’re building on the flashy, fictional pseudoscience plotted by Jurassic Park, with an audience of stupid rich people who are impressed by CGI and confuse it with reality. Hey, if you can sell Bitcoin, you can sell fantasy animals that don’t exist to people with too much money. They even admit it.

Colossal’s investors include the billionaire Thomas Tull, the CIA’s venture capital arm, and the prominent biotech venture capitalist Robert Nelsen. Nelsen invested in the company because de-extinction “is just really cool,” he said in an email. “Mammoths and direwolves are cool.”

Oh god. Billionaires are so fucking stupid. All this money, pouring into an absurd project, and what are they going to do with it? It’s all about profit in the minds of the people throwing cash at it.

Because there isn’t much money to be made in conservation, how Colossal will ever turn a profit is another evolving question. One Colossal executive told MIT Technology Review that the company could sell tickets to see its animals, and Lamm believes the technologies needed to create the mammoth or the dodo will have other commercial uses.

Conservation isn’t profitable, but you know what is? A $225 million freak show, with dismal mutant animals in cages. Pleistocene Park! Yeah, that’s the ticket! The concept made money in that movie and book written by a guy who hated science, so let’s try that!

I knew that venture capitalists were evil and stupid, but it’s disappointing that so many highly trained molecular biologists are being sucked into this futile endeavor by all the hypetrain money flowing into it. And George Church — he used to be a well-regarded Smart Guy, but now his reputation is going to be as an ethically-challenged PT Barnum.

Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should

As usual, First Dog on the Moon scores.

Oh yeah. This again. Some molecular biologists with no training in population genetics or ethics think they can go into a lab and resurrect an extinct species.

Almost 100 years after its extinction, the Tasmanian tiger may live once again. Scientists want to resurrect the striped carnivorous marsupial, officially known as a thylacine, which used to roam the Australian bush.

The ambitious project will harness advances in genetics, ancient DNA retrieval and artificial reproduction to bring back the animal.

They won’t succeed. At best, they’ll assemble a maladapted hybrid something or other to be exhibited in some freak show of a zoo. It won’t be a thylacine, it’ll be a Frankenstein’s monster of an extant marsupial with no home environment and no prospects for the future and no population of conspecifics with which to live and no history. So much bugs me about this story.

They talk about “the thylacine genome”. There’s no such thing. A living population has many genomes. How many individuals are they sampling? How many individuals will they generate? Where will they live? These are carnivores — what will they feed on? Or are they just planning on conjuring up a technology demonstration that they’ll put in a cage and then move on to some other “project”?

They make a token nod towards the problem of extinctions, but aren’t very convincing.

“We would strongly advocate that first and foremost we need to protect our biodiversity from further extinctions, but unfortunately we are not seeing a slowing down in species loss,” said Andrew Pask, a professor at the University of Melbourne and head of its Thylacine Integrated Genetic Restoration Research Lab, who is leading the initiative.
“This technology offers a chance to correct this and could be applied in exceptional circumstances where cornerstone species have been lost,” he added.

No, it won’t accomplish any of that. The species is extinct because their habitat is destroyed and people killed them. That’s where you start, by rebuilding their environment, not with PCR machines and microinjection apparatus and flasks in incubators. It’s no surprise who is behind this: a guy with impressive credentials in molecular biology who thinks every problem is a lab exercise.

The project is a collaboration with Colossal Biosciences, founded by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard Medical School geneticist George Church, who are working on an equally ambitious, if not bolder, $15 million project to bring back the woolly mammoth in an altered form.

Yeah, right. He was claiming that he’d be bringing back the mammoth within two years…five years ago. He was also working on a dating app to eliminate genetic diseases (I guess he never heard of eugenics?).

Church has also speculated about resurrecting Neandertals. Nope. Not going to happen. If his thoughts on these matters were more than a millimeter deep, he wouldn’t be jumping onto high profile media to promote these sci-fi fantasies. It’s bad science.