Right now, I wish we were occupying the moral high ground

The Rude Pundit makes a rude point here: two American soldiers have been captured by the bad guys in Iraq. I can, in good conscience, sit here and hope that they are treated in a civilized fashion by their captors, and are eventually released unharmed; this will, of course, make American treatment of Iraqis look beastly and barbaric by comparison. If they are abused and humiliated, smeared with excrement, photographed naked in degrading poses, attacked by dogs, or otherwise maltreated, I can again in good conscience condemn their captors as barbarous animals; I’m not sure what the right wing in this country will do. Sneer at the ineffectual frat-boy hazing? Hypocritically threaten to nuke the country in retribution? Sadly, the only thing that would unite left and right in opposition to their treatment is if those soldiers were killed, and the right is in the position of requiring a lower standard of behavior.

Thanks to the inhumane policies of our government, we are now in a lose-lose situation. There is no reason to expect or demand any kind of moral treatment of our captured soldiers when we aren’t willing to give such treatment to Iraqi prisoners.

Dershowitz vs. Keyes

A reader sent me a link to this highly entertaining debate between Alan Keyes and Alan Dershowitz on religion. You can download the mp3 and have the two Alans shouting at each other on the stereo while you fix your bowl of oatmeal in the morning, like I did. I think Dershowitz kicked butt—if nothing else, he got Keyes to admit that if he’d been president, he wouldn’t have allowed any atheists to have positions of responsibility in the government—and there’s a lot of good, healthy shouting going on. My only reservation is that, well, it’s Dershowitz, who has supported torture, vs. Keyes, who is simply insane.

I thought this was good:

In North America today, according to a recent census, there are 27 million people who are not religious and a million and a half avowed atheists. There is no evidence to suggest they are less moral than those who go to synagogue, mosque, and church everyday. Indeed, it is my contention that a truly moral person, who acts morally–not out of fear of damnation or out of promise of reward, but because it’s the right thing–if anything, is more moral. More moral. The atheist or the agnostic who throws himself in front of an oncoming bus to save a child, knowing that there is no eternal promise, that there is nothing but the grave that awaits him, is more moral than Sir Thomas More who made a cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to face eternal damnation by disobeying the pope or face instantaneous death by disobeying the king.

The Episcopalians do something impressive

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They’ve elected a new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. You have to look at her biography to see why I’m even mentioning a new religious leader:

As a scientist and an Episcopalian, I cherish the prayer that follows a baptism, that the newly baptized may receive “the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” I spent the early years of my adulthood as an oceanographer, studying squid and octopuses, including their evolutionary relationships. I have always found that God’s creation is “strange and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). …

The vast preponderance of scientific evidence, including geology, paleontology, archaeology, genetics and natural history, indicates that Darwin was in large part correct in his original hypothesis.

I simply find it a rejection of the goodness of God’s gifts to say that all of this evidence is to be refused because it does not seem to accord with a literal reading of one of the stories in Genesis. Making any kind of faith decision is based on accumulating the best evidence one can find what one’s senses and reason indicate, what the rest of the community has believed over time, and what the community judges most accurate today.

It’s a good thing that article is loaded with Bible quotes and other religious nonsense, or I’d be tempted to become an Episcopalian. Oh, well, even with all the wacky mythological stuff, she still looks like one of the good ones. Congratulations, Dr Jefferts Schori! While I’m not about to join a church, you do exhibit the kind of sensible perspective on the real world I’d like to see much, much more of in religious leaders…although, looking at the comments here, some Christianists are less than thrilled with the election of a rationalist to head a church, while others seem to be enthusiastic.

(via Kynos)

Mac tech bleg

I have a DVD of The Horror Express, starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Telly Savalas. There’s a short clip of a conversation I’d like to extract as an mpeg or quicktime movie—even extracting just the audio would be nice.

It’s a classic. Christopher Lee is explaining his discovery of an ancient fossil to a beautiful woman:

Lee: That box of bones, madam, could have solved many of the riddles of science. If the theory of evolution is confirmed, if the science of biology is revolutionized, if the very origin of man is determined…

Beautiful woman: I have heard of evolution. It is immoral.

Lee: It is a fact. And there is no morality in a fact.

It’s intercut, by the way, with scenes of Peter Cushing doing an autopsy on one of the victims of the fossil (it’s a horror movie, of course—the fossil comes to life and wanders about a train in pre-revolution Siberia, sucking the minds out of people with its red glowing eyes. There are also zombie cossacks), sawing open a dead guy’s skull to expose his brain.

They just don’t make movies like that anymore.

Anyway, if anyone can tell me how to pull out this very short (less than a minute) segment on a Mac OS X machine, I’ll put it on the web. You know you all want to hear Saruman/Count Dooku/Dracula endorsing evolution.


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Your suggestions worked, and I’ve now got the movie converted and edited out the part I wanted. It did take hours for the decoding to finish, but I just let it run in the background, so it wasn’t too painful.

Now, if you want, you can listen to Christopher Lee declare that evolution is a fact, and there is no morality in a fact (250K .mov audio file).

A clarification

Responses to my challenge at the end of this article are trickling in, but so far, none of them are filling the bill. Let me explain what is not an appropriate reply:

  • Cackling that Coulter must be right because she’s got “liberal panties in a twist” is not cogent.
  • Telling me that the “WHOLE BOOK PROVES LIBERALS ARE THE PROBLEM WITH AMERICA” is not cogent.
  • Promising to pray for me, or assuring me that I will burn in hell, is not cogent.
  • Explicit details about how Ann Coulter is sexier than “fat harry hippie jew girls” is not cogent.

Here’s the simple summary. Ann Coulter has written this long book full of creationist gobbledygook. I can’t possibly take the whole thing apart, so I’m asking the Coulter fans to get specific in their support. Pick a paragraph that you agree with and that you believe makes a strong, supportable point about science—anything from chapters 8-11 will do. Don’t be vague, be specific. I’ll reply with details of my disagreement (or heck, maybe you’ll find some innocuous paragraph that I agree with—I’ll mention that here, too.)

Because the letters I am getting suggest that those fans have some comprehension problems, I’ll spell it out.

  1. Read Coulter’s book, Godless. (uh-oh, I may have just filtered out 90% of her fans with that first word.)
  2. Pick ONE paragraph from chapters 8-11 that you think is just wonderfully insightful, and that you agree with entirely.
  3. Open up your email software, and compose a message to me. You can use a pseudonym, but please do use a valid email address. I won’t publish your address, but I’m not going to reply to people I can’t contact.
  4. Type in the paragraph that you think is solid and believable. Yeah, it’s a tiny bit of work, but it’ll save me the trouble of typing it in myself. You’re a believer, it’s worth it, right?
  5. Explain briefly why you think this paragraph is good stuff. If you want to explain a little bit of the context in justification, that’s good too.
  6. Send it to me.

That’s not so hard now, is it? I’m finding that Coulter fans are fervent and enthusiastic and insistent, so asking them to take baby steps with me and show me the simplest first fragments that will lead to my comprehension of the wit and insight of the faboo Ms Coulter shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I promise to post any submissions that meet those criteria, with my reply, as long as I don’t get too many cut&paste jobs at once.


By the way, would Coulter critics please stop focusing on her appearance and dress, or speculating about her sexuality? I don’t find that any more appropriate than the guy who wrote to me about all those liberal women with armpit hair.

Fear of the godless

That’s what it all boils down to, isn’t it? People are afraid of reason, because they know it erodes faith—better to foster ignorance than risk encouraging people to think. Brian Flemming, of The God Who Wasn’t There, links to an interesting account of what happened when an ‘open-minded’ church offered to screen his movie: they only showed two clips and bracketed them with lots of apologetic padding. I think they know what would happen if they let that bomb go off in the minds of their faithful congregants.

This stuff is going to get out there, though. Dawkins’ series, The Root of All Evil? is available online right now: here are links to the two parts, The God Delusion and The Virus of Faith. Dangerous stuff, that. Expose a child to the Enlightenment today!

Last call for DonorsChoose from Pharyngula (I promise!)

This is the very last time I’ll be haranguing you about the scienceblogs fundraiser for schools—I’ve reached my goal of $2000 and doubled it! Reaching that goal was not enough to fund all of the projects, though, and there are four remaining that could use additional donations.

If those projects don’t appeal to you, click on over to Evolgen (challenge),

Island of Doubt (challenge),

Neurotopia (challenge), or

The Questionable Authority (challenge), who all also have challenges that haven’t been met yet.

I won’t be pestering you again, so this is your last chance; I have to admit that the generous readers of Pharyngula dug deeper than expected, and I don’t want to impose further. Thanks again!


IMPORTANT ADDITION: I’m sorry to say that DonorsChoose only accepts donations from Americans, so if you’re Canadian or European or Australian or Brazilian, you (and by that I mean “we”) are out of luck. It seems to me that they’re missing out on a golden opportunity: if they advertised this as a chance to improve US education, the money would come pouring in from all over the world. People respond well to the need to help the less fortunate overcome calamity.