Genetics According to Jesus

I slummed it a bit this morning, watching a video by Dr. (he really is, with a Ph.D. from a credible institution) Robert Carter, who provocatively promised to tell me about Genetics According to Jesus. That got me curious. Jesus didn’t say anything about genetics — he couldn’t. The science wasn’t invented until, really, the 20th century, and the ancient world had only the vaguest notions of how heredity might work. There was only some general, obvious ideas about how there are familial similarities and unpredictable variations — difficult to dissect soup of commonalities and diversity. It took a novel approach to figure it out, exemplified by Mendel, who reduced everything to a simple organism and simple variants, and applied principles of probability and statistics to discern any pattern. Nobody did that before in any systematic way, and a lot of great minds had very crude ideas about how inheritance worked. Aristotle assumed it was all about a dominant male principle that organized the chaotic curdled menstrual blood of the female into an embryo, for instance. So Jesus, a non-scientist, said something about it, huh? OK, give it to me, Bob. I’m curious.

Would you be surprised if I told you that nowhere in this hour-long talk does Carter say anything about genetics from the Gospels? No? Yeah, predictable. Here’s a quick summary of what he does say, so you can skip the whole video.

The first 10 minutes is classic creationist time-wasting. He tells us about his grandparents, where they were from, what they did, all irrelevant to any point he might make. It’s a common trope in creationist talks, though — you start by giving your come-to-jesus biography, because how can anyone trust you if you don’t present your bona fides?

There’s a quickly abandoned moment where he talks about his education in genetics, and he mentions that the tools of genetics have such power that they raise significant ethical questions…which he immediately resolves with a quote from Genesis, the dominion mandate, in which God hands over control of all of creation to Adam. That’s a little bit scary. If fundamentalist Christians were in charge of the institution of science, I guess it would be carte blanche, that you get to do anything you want to non-human organisms, because God said so.

He also takes a moment to condemn Francis Collins, who isn’t Christian enough for him. Collins believes humans evolved 100,000 or more years ago, from a population of tens of thousands of individuals, not just two, therefore he’s not really a True Evangelical Christian™, I guess. True Christians interpret the Bible literally and know that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old (even though the Bible doesn’t say that) and that Adam and Eve were the progenitors of the human race, no one else (even though the Bible has the curious problem of their sons somehow finding wives). Cue the usual “but if Adam didn’t exist, then Jesus couldn’t have saved the world” etc. etc. etc.

Then we finally get the gist of his story. In the first half of the 20th century and before, anthropologists were all horrible stomach-turning racists, but the Bible-believers were egalitarian believers in the unity of mankind. He will not discuss the racist apologetics of American slave-holders, or that many of those anthropologists were themselves Christian, and he only praises the flood of European missionaries who invaded Africa because, after all, they were Christianizing the continent.

After chewing out those evil bigoted scientists, though, he spends most of the rest of his time talking about…race. Not Jesus, or genetics, just race, and he does so in the most trivializing way. Adam and Eve had to be brown, because you can get all the colors of modern humans with nothing but different degrees of melanization. He shows a few human cladograms (science!) and points out that all the branches radiate from a common point, therefore, as predicted by the Bible, that point was Noah and his sons. (After all, I guess evolution wouldn’t predict common ancestry, only the Bible does that.) It’s a half-hour of cherry-picking and bogus interpretations of the evidence — he doesn’t mention that that central point for the radiation of all the races of mankind was not 4000 years ago, but far, far older. He can get away with that because he announces that molecular clocks don’t work, most conveniently. He gets to ignore lots of evidence to fit a few diagrams to his Biblical model.

He can’t even cite the New Testament, let alone the words of Jesus Christ, geneticist, to back up his arguments. THE TITLE IS A LIE. I was so disappointed. I want my money back and my time.

There was absolutely nothing of substance in the talk that I could sink my teeth into, just the usual creationist fallacies and dishonesty. That’s boring, and no fun at all. I tried to find anything that hasn’t been debunked a thousand times before, and perked up at only one claim I hadn’t seen before, at about the 25 minute mark.

In Great Britain, most of the birth defects and developmental abnormalities of children in their health system are from Muslims, because the Muslim tradition is to marry a first cousin.

Wait, wait — you’re telling me the majority of birth defects in Great Britain arise in a small subpopulation of 3 million out of about 65 million? No way. I know a bit about developmental defects, and that sounds ridiculous. I understand that there is a higher degree of consanguinity in marriages within that subpopulation, and that inbreeding does increase the incidence of birth defects, but not that much, and it seems like an unfounded dig. It was a novel claim to me, even if it was totally fucking irrelevant to any putative claim about Jesus genetics, so I thought I’d look it up.

I should have known, though. Google the claim and what you get is a lot of garbage from sources like the Daily Mail, who love to claim that the invading Muslim hordes are just dumping defective babies on the NHS. It’s a racist claim from racists, so why is this nominally anti-racist creationist blithely echoing them? Time to go to the actual scientific literature and figure out what the data actually says.

Here’s one: “A reconsideration of the factors affecting birth outcome in Pakistani Muslim families in Britain”, by SR Proctor and IJ Smith. I guess they were familiar with the misinformation peddled by British tabloids, so they had to go debunk them.

Abstract
Over recent years, Bradford has had a consistently high perinatal mortality rate (PNMR), especially amongst its Asian population, 66% of whom originate from Pakistan. There is a high incidence of consanguineous marriages reported among Pakistani and Muslim couples. Often, this observation is used to explain their higher PNMR and congenital malformation rates. The factors affecting birth outcome in Pakistani women are complex and interrelated. Socioeconomic, genetic, biological and environmental factors all contribute to adverse birth outcome. In addition, these are complicated by discrimination, communication barriers and culture blaming. The aim of this paper is to challenge midwives and other health professionals to reconsider the overwhelming emphasis placed on consanguinity as a factor affecting birth outcome, and to recognise the impact and interplay of other confounding variables.

The point of the paper is to show that you can’t explain away infant mortality and malformations by blaming it on arranged marriages. If you want to try to do that, you have to ignore all the other factors that contribute to that rate, like diet and poverty and unequal access to health care. Anyone who has studied development at all knows all this — it’s multifactorial, and trying to pin problems to a single cause like inbreeding or race or religion is going to blow up in your face. This is a simple diagram of a few of the inputs to birth outcomes.

It is definitely true that consanguineous marriages do increase the rate of birth defects and perinatal mortality, but you’re committing a racism, Robert, when you gloss over the many and more significant factors that contribute to the problem.

Pregnant, Asian women who register with a GP who is not on the local obstetric list have a two-fold increased risk in having a perinatal death compared to a listed GP (Clark & Clayton, 1983). Midwives have also been criticised for being ignorant about the cultural beliefs of their clients and being reluctant to use locally available advisory groups (Kroll, 1990). Hospital service utilisation has also been reduced with low uptake of amniocentesis reported from Sheffield and Birmingham (Little & Nicoll, 1988). This was attributed to late antenatal booking and language difficulties. Antenatal clinical attendance has improved in some districts since the introduction of liaison workers who act more as advocates than literal translators (Raphael-Left, 1991).

As with indigenous white women the factors that affect birth outcome in Pakistani women are complex and interrelated. Major socio-economic and environmental problems have been reported which are not always disentangled from the obvious adverse factors, for example consanguinity and diet. Moreover, they are also complicated by communication barriers, discrimination, culture-blaming and, if consanguinity is present, victim-blaming. If little or no English is understood then there will be a tendency to label the women as deviants who may become stereotyped.

What this is an example of is the tendency of creationists to ignore the bulk of the evidence that defeats their claims to cherry pick the bits and pieces that they can warp to fit their misbegotten nonsense of a “theory”. Sure, we can ignore culture and language and poverty so we can argue that Muslims are inbred, just like we can ignore the breadth of genetic evidence to claim all humans are descended from one family four thousand years ago, or one couple six thousand years ago, and then turn around and claim that it’s true because Jesus said so.

I’m still waiting to see that verse from the Bible where Jesus talks about allele frequencies.


Don’t waste your time.

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.

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.

Soapdish

Are you at all curious about what Kent Hovind is up to, or his latest legal travails? Oh boy, it’s a long video that sums it all up.

He has taken a fourth “wife”? Wow. He has lost all of his latest court cases, he’s got another decision coming out tomorrow, and Steve and Ernie sure sound like dirtbags.

You know, I came home worn out and with my left leg on fire, and I just wanted to sit back and unwind for a little bit, so I clicked on play for a little light entertainment, and now my leg aches and my head hurts.

I’m telling you, Hovind is a total wackaloon

In case you didn’t realize this already, he’s got all the kook symptoms. Kent Hovind is a young earth creationist, and now, quite clearly, a vaccine denier. This is a short excerpt from a much longer conversation with another creationist, in which he apparently felt comfortable letting his hair down. Watch it while you can, it wouldn’t surprise me if it gets taken down.

To summarize, he thinks the Tribulation (which isn’t in the Bible) is about to start this year, or has already started. He thinks the Rapture (also not in the Bible) will occur in 2028. He believes that there are microchips (mark of the beast!) in the vaccines, and that the government will be tracking you by shining UV or blue lights on you.

I guess I’ll have to cite Deuteronomy 13:1-5.

1 If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;
3 Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God…

Also Matthew 24:36.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.

Those actually are in the Bible.

Kent Hovind goes to jail…again!

These hardened criminals and repeat offenders…Kent Hovind has been found guilty, guilty, guilty of domestic violence in the third degree for throwing his girlfriend/”wife” to the ground. He’s been sentenced to a year in jail, but will only have to serve 30 days, and pay a fine.

This is going to punch a hole in his daily YouTube posting schedule. I checked the one from yesterday — it contains a long rant about the US prison system in which he claims the system of Biblical punishments was better, that getting a fine and 40 lashes was more humane than locking someone up. I kind of agree with him — US prisons are all kinds of fucked up, but not with whipping people — but I didn’t hear him say anything about the injustice of beating a spouse up.

It’ll be interesting to see what he complains about when he gets out.

Maybe it was the infusion of Pinkerism that helped atheism fizzle out

I’m going to call the relentless, performative celebration of something called “rationality” Pinkerism now. I’ve noticed it before: every YouTube channel that considers it a sufficient declaration of their worthiness to simply label themselves “The <insert adjective for “smart” here> Atheist”, all the lists of logical fallacies, the books about how everyone else is so stupid, the insistence that we get better by just being more logical (even when they’re contradicting themselves), the Mr Spock envy. It got old. It just seemed so joyless.

Well, you can trust good ol’ Steven Pinker to come along and dial it all up to 11. His new book is titled Rationality, and every smug wanker in the fading atheist movement will snatch it off the shelves. I won’t be one of them, so I’m going to have to rely on getting my impressions second hand, unfortunately. But oh boy, this review is stinging.

For someone who so frequently and serenely proclaims that he’s right, Steven Pinker can get curiously defensive. In “Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters,” Pinker writes as if he’s part of an embattled minority, valiantly making the case that “the ability to use knowledge to attain goals” is so underappreciated these days that the reading public needs a new book (by Pinker) “to lay out rational arguments for rationality itself.”

He’s very disappointed that we aren’t all down on our knees praising Saint Steven.

Still, Pinker is troubled by what he sees as rationality’s image problem. “Rationality is uncool,” he laments. It isn’t seen as “dope, phat, chill, fly, sick or da bomb.” As evidence for its diminished status, he quotes celebrations of nonsense by the Talking Heads and Zorba the Greek. (Pinker is also vexed by the line “Let’s go crazy,” which he says was “adjured” by “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”) It’s precisely this cultural derision of reason, he says, that prevents us from appreciating rationality’s spectacular accomplishments. “Human progress is an empirical fact,” he writes. “‘Progress’ is shorthand for a set of pushbacks and victories wrung out of an unforgiving universe, and is a phenomenon that needs to be explained. The explanation is rationality.“

You know the Talking Heads is a rather cerebral band, right? That dadaism was an intellectual movement? And that Prince was a joyful celebrant of art? I guess we’re not supposed to be happy. We’re supposed to be like Martians, with “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic”.

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

We all know how the Martians ended up.

Some of Pinker’s observations on racial issues are similarly blinkered. Are mortgage lenders who turn down minority applicants really being racist, he muses, or are those lenders simply calculating default rates “from different neighborhoods that just happen to correlate with race?” (A long history of racist redlining may “happen” to have something to do with this too, but Pinker doesn’t get into it.) He goes on to ask why “race, sex, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation have become war zones in intellectual life, even as overt bigotry of all kinds has dwindled.”

Anyone paying attention to what’s been happening in the last few years might wonder where he got his information. In support of his vague claim, Pinker directs the reader to a footnote citing two sources: a study, whose data ended in 2016, that measured a person’s “explicit attitudes” based on self-reporting (i.e. the respondents had to admit their bigotry); and a few (unhelpful) pages from “Enlightenment Now.”

It looks like he’s well on the path to self-referential insertion of his head up his own rectum. Perhaps the walls of his colon prevent him from noticing the increases in hate crimes in the US.

Poverty is also negligible in Pinker’s brain, and he’s always ready to indulge in the small pleasure of wagging a finger at fat people enjoying lasagna. He’s very petty that way.

The trouble arrives when he tries to gussy up his psychologist’s hat with his more elaborate public intellectual’s attire. The person who “succumbs” to the “small pleasure” of a lasagna dinner instead of holding out for the “large pleasure of a slim body” is apparently engaged in a similar kind of myopic thinking as the “half of Americans nearing retirement age who have saved nothing for retirement.” His breezy example elides the fact that — according to the same data — the median income for those non-saving households is $26,000, which isn’t enough money to pay for living expenses, let alone save for retirement.

So what’s the source of these “problems”? If you’ve read any right-wing media in the last few decades, you know the answer: education. I’m a little surprised that a Harvard professor would so readily find common cause with Prager U.

He repeatedly says that by promoting rationality he’s promoting “epistemic humility,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find much humility here, as he pronounces that among the biggest barriers to rationality’s triumph is “the universities’ left-wing suffocating monoculture.”

Oh, I know. I’ve noticed that biology departments across the country suffer from a suffocating monoculture of evolutionists, and math departments still persist in suffocating students with calculus, and chemists, those old fuddy-duddies, still strangle students with stoichiometry and bonds and thermodynamics. I dare not look across campus to the humanities and social sciences, where everyone is in zombie-like lockstep, there is never any dissent, and no one has any ideas, other than ones that might make comfortable Harvard professors uncomfortable, and which may therefore be ignored and belittled.

Has he ever considered that maybe left-wing philosophies thrive on college campuses because a) we like diverse ideas, and b) we like to challenge those ideas, two principles that are anathema to conservatives? And, apparently, anathema to Pinker, who has The Answer to everything. Rationality. Don’t you dare go crazy or question the status quo. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. That’s “epistemic humility”.

But don’t worry. Pinker is a smart man who will make a good sum of money out of his schtick. And that’s what matters, although I have to recommend that he put on Remain in Light or Purple Rain and listen for a while. He’d be a better person for it.

I escaped in time!

I got out of Facebook, but the stench still follows me. Yesterday, a reader told me about a new Facebook group that was recruiting. It’s called “Skeptic Revival”, and its aim is to resurrect the old skeptical movement, you know, the kind of antique skepticism that existed before the Deep Rifts shredded everything, the kind of skeptical organization that Don Draper would have loved to join. The first problem is that Barbara Drescher is leading this effort, and I couldn’t imagine a worse person to rally a modern skeptical movement…until I saw the rogue’s gallery she’s assembled in her big tent.

There’s DJ Grothe, former president of the JREF who ignored sexual harassment complaints and lied about them.

There’s Ben Radford, creepy litigious sex pest who believes that girls have an evolved preference for pink.

Russel Blackford, generic philosopher and waffler in the middle ground who dislikes all those SJWs.

Abbie Smith, deranged hate-blogger (I thought Drescher despised those?) who started the Slymepit.

Just seeing these few names has me throwing up in my mouth a little bit — I wouldn’t want to be seen in public with any of these people, let alone join the same club. These are the people the rifts formed to separate us from their regressive brand of conservative skepticism, but there they are, standing on the far side of the chasm.

If you want to join them, feel free: here’s a link to Skeptic Revival. I will think less of you for joining, but I won’t know, I won’t be following their shenanigans, I’m not on Facebook, so you can secretly join the narrow-minded skeptic harasser’s club. No one who matters will know. Except yourself, of course.