Everything is a religion, according to Andrew Sullivan

I’m away. I’m on a break. I’m distracted by an adorable baby granddaughter. But even with those diversions, the stench of Andrew Sullivan’s latest column has disturbed my rest. It is just too stupid. I was stunned by the first paragraph, staggered a little further, and collapsed in defeat.

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

I’ve seen this a thousand times before, and I know what will follow. Sullivan is going to give us his own, personal, idiosyncratic definition of “religion” that he has made so broad and nebulous that he can assign it to everyone, no matter how godless they might be, and he’s going to rely on general human properties that he can then interpret as “religious”.

By the way, no genes for religion have been identified. Not one. He’s lying, unsurprisingly for someone who liked The Bell Curve. He links to a book by some guy named Dominic Johnson, who does have a degree in evolutionary biology, and from what I can see relies entirely on bullshit evolutionary psychology to make his claims.

Here comes his redefinition:

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

I see that he has also redefined the word “specific”, because that is broadly vapid nonsense, not specific at all. A “practice”? So is writing garbage for NYMag his religion? Appearing on Bill Maher’s show is a religion? Except that it is specifically not a theory, but at the same time it requires a “transcendant value” that gives “meaning”. This is such a muddled mess of contradictions and immeasurable assertions that it in itself gives the lie to the idea that it could be based on something as concrete as a gene. He really wants us to believe that this wobbly bullshit is a load-bearing pillar…of jello. And it’s all set up to support this groaner of a familiar assertion by theists.

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion.

If your definition of religion is so amorphous that you can claim everything is a religion, then you’ve said nothing useful. You’ve turned religion into white noise. Religious people ought to find that as offensive as atheists do.

Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God,

Wait. I thought religion was a practice, not a theory. But now he’s including “faith” and ideas about a hypothetical concept. He can’t even stick to his own definition!

…and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer.

So now it’s defined by daily rituals? I get up in the morning, brush my teeth, have a cup of coffee…this is now, in the mind of Andrew Sullivan, a religion. Hey, if I didn’t get out of bed, my life would be meaningless, if I never brushed my teeth, I’d be disgusting and would die of dental disease, and no coffee…that would be an unimaginable hell.

Also, my spiders spend their days in the endless ritual of maintaining their webs, and their lives would end without them. Therefore, spiders are religious. Maybe they don’t have a concept of a god (which I don’t know for sure), but remember…religion is a practice that gives meaning to life. And is genetic. If you can claim that atheists who explicitly reject gods and religion are religious, we’re at the point where you can’t stop me from claiming spiders are religious.

…(There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)

OK, I’m done. I can read no further than the point where he claims Sam Harris is a brilliant atheist because he follows some Buddhist practices.

When will NYMag wake up to the fact that they’ve got a columnist who writes drivel? Probably never, since the NY Times has a similar problem, and will never change.

Clenched fist salute to Eric Sprankle of Minnesota State University

We Minnesota professors have to stand together in solidarity, and Dr Sprankle spoke truth in a way that got attention.

He wrote: “The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.”

He later added: “The biblical god regularly punished disobedience. The power difference (deity vs mortal) and the potential for violence for saying ‘no’ negates her ‘yes.’ To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst.”

Yes! The gods are abusers!

Best of all, he roused the ire of that popular dimbulb, Tucker Carlson, who thought this was a statement significant enough to require repudiation. How shallow of him, said the king of shallowness, and used it as an excuse to berate the dire state of the academy (I thought it was a good insight. Yes, we should think about how our culture has glorified the misuse of power, especially at the expense of women, and consider that this kind of story is the foundation of a lot of patriarchal attitudes). The only sense in which it is shallow is that it is trivially and obviously true. Then it gets weird.

The host interjected that religious critics never target the owners of technology companies.

It’s not even brave, Carlson responded. They never criticize Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world. Or Apple. Tim Cook. Or Google. They suck up to people in power and then beat up on evangelicals and call themselves, you know, countercultural. I mean, it is pathetic.

Wait, what? He thinks lefty atheists don’t criticize billionaires?

If I had the power, I would strip Bezos of most of his wealth and use it for more worthy causes. Apple has obscene amounts of money sequestered away in tax havens. There are libertarian atheists who might think excessive wealth is a sign of virtue, but a great many of us disagree and will happily criticize all of those people and organizations.

But then, Carlson has consistently demonstrated that he’s the dumbest man on Fox News, and I’m comparing him even to those morning pundits that Trump adores.

What does “university-level course” mean?

The Discovery Institute is touting something called a “university-level course” by Michael Behe. I have no idea what that means. A real university course is part of a curriculum, a program of study that leads to a degree; there is supposed to be an integrated body of knowledge behind it and surrounding it. We also emphasize lab work in the sciences, so there’s a mix of lecture and hands-on research. We also tend to rank the level of a course by how many prerequisites are required — you don’t get to take my development course unless you’ve also taken cell biology first, or you’d be wasting everyone’s time.

So what is this “course” Behe is offering? It’s 41 video episodes. No prerequisites. They don’t say if you get college credit for taking it, but I can safely say the answer is “Hell No.” They’re using “university-level” as a meaningless adjective. It’s not offered through any accredited university, it’s just YouTube for creationists.

In these videos, Behe discusses the history of thought on evolution and intelligent design, and then delves into the science behind natural selection, random mutation, and irreducible complexity. He covers criticisms of ID as well as relevant new discoveries.

The lectures are accompanied by quizzes to help track your progress, perfect for everyone from high school students up through college professors! Don’t miss it.

The course is a $50 value. But you can get it free by pre-ordering Darwin Devolves.

Oh, it has quizzes. Is Michael Behe going to grade them? You know, we don’t just test students for the heck of it — it’s to assess how they’re doing, how the material is being received, whether we’ve got good comprehension. I’ve often looked at test results and said, “Uh-oh, they didn’t get concept X…I better go over that again, try a new approach, get them to engage these ideas”. Will Behe be interacting with his “students” at all?

No, of course not. I wish people would learn that there’s more to teaching than just marching through a series of presentations.

I also like how they claim it is a $50 value. How did they determine that? Are they even aware that that would be a ridiculously low price for what they’d like to pretend is equivalent to a 3-credit full semester course (3 class hours a week for 15 weeks…of course, we don’t even know how long each of these videos are)? And then it turns out it’s not $50, it’s completely free when you buy a book.

That tells me it’s worth $0, which is a fair price for the value.

I shouldn’t be surprised. They’ve been pretending to be scientists for years, now they’re pretending to be educators…and are equally incompetent at both.

How adorable

Every year, American Atheists has their annual convention on Easter weekend — it’s smart, because this is one group that won’t have conflicts with religious holidays. This year, it’s in Cincinnati, which has Answers in Genesis concerned, because that’s real close to their odious little theme park for the gullible, so they’ve decided to have their own conference at the same time! I really don’t think there will be many attendees who will be conflicted about which conference to see, so that’s also a smart move. These are two events with nearly perfect 0% overlap.

AiG seems to think it’s all about them, though.

Recently, the group American Atheists announced they are bringing their annual conference to Cincinnati during Easter 2019! And from what we’ve heard from reliable sources, they particularly want to be in our area because this is where Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter, and the Creation Museum are located.

We’ve also heard about some of the possible things the atheists might be planning in their attempts to oppose our creation-gospel ministry. So while the atheists are running their conference, we’ve decided to hold our own conference. Titled “Answering Atheists—an AiG Easter Conference,” this four-day event will be held at the Ark Encounter’s new Answers Center. We will equip Christians to answer the skeptics and to effectively share the truth of God’s Word and its life-changing gospel message.

How odd. I haven’t heard anything about any focus on AiG at the atheist conference. They haven’t announced any speakers yet, but they have put out a call for proposals.

Past proposals that have been selected include presentations on: activism and organizing; politics, public policy, and advocacy; community building; personal experiences with leaving religion; science, technology, and education; communications and marketing; and litigation and constitutional rights.

Musicians, comedians, poets, artists, and other performers are also invited to submit proposals.

Hmm. Nothing in there about “cunning ways to fuck over AiG”. Nothing specific about the Ark Park or the Creation “Museum”. I suspect there will be people discouraging everyone from bothering to visit the over-priced novelty show in Kentucky, although some might slip away out of curiosity to check it out, so if anything, they might get a few additional skeptical visitors, which will bump up their declining attendance very slightly.

Also, we always oppose the anti-scientific bullshit AiG peddles, 365 days a year, so this will be nothing new.

On the other hand, the AiG conference seems to be full of anti-atheist nonsense from all the usual, tired suspects. Ray Comfort is the keynote speaker, if that tells you anything. Like that it’s going to be a load of tiresome baloney. He’s going to be talking about “keys to reaching atheists”, which is amusing, since Comfort is one of the worst people at reaching atheists, which really says something, since all the AiG clowns and Living Waters bozos are all totally unconvincing to anyone who doesn’t accept the authority of the Bible.

I do notice that the registration for AiG’s event is set at $50 less than the full price of the AA conference. I expect, though, that the AA speakers will be more substantial and numerous than the 3-4 droning preachers per day that AiG has lined up. (I qualify for discounts that would make the atheist conference cheaper than the bible-thumpers conference, anyway).

I won’t be holding my breath waiting for AiG to extend a speaking invitation to me, to pad out their thin lineup, even though I’d probably add a little excitement to their schedule. Since I’m persona non grata with atheism right now, I guess I won’t wait for one from AA, either. My family doesn’t do Easter, so it looks like me and the spiders hanging out and mocking the holiday this year. They’re better company than Christian zealots, anyway.

OOPARTS

I haven’t heard about OOPARTS in ages — they’re a fad that seems to have faded. Pierre Stromberg sent me a note that he has rediscovered an OOPART, the notorious Coso Artifact, and I hadn’t heard about that in years, either.

OOPARTS are “Out Of Place ARTifactS”, and there was a time, back when the Ancient Astronauts craze was producing all kinds of crackpot books and magazine articles, unearthing and bizarrely interpreting artifacts that they couldn’t explain — so they resorted to a) claiming that aliens brought them to earth, or b) they were evidence that ancient humans were advanced, as the Bible shows(?), and that we’ve been in decline since the Fall. Watch this amusing little video from 2004 in which Donald Chittick mocks the von Dänikenites for thinking there were astronauts from outer space instead of God’s people here on Earth.

(Note: You can hear the weird consonants and cadences of Kent Hovind in Donald Chittick — it’s like these old school creationists are clones of each other. He also goes on and on about “man’s opinions” and different “interpretations” of science, just like Ken Ham.)

(Also amusing: the bit where he shows off a Homo erectus skull with a bullet hole, which he proves by running a metal rod through it to reveal the larger exit hole…the foramen magnum.)

Among the favorite pieces of garbage creationists trotted out as proof that ancient people were technologically sophisticated was a peculiar object that they claimed was found in a geode (which would make it very old, except…it wasn’t a geode), made of ceramic and metal rods.

Unfortunately for the whole delusion of OOPARTS, it turned out to be … a spark plug from a 1920s Model T, imbedded in some hardened muck. It then disappeared, and the creationists all stopped talking about it, and OOPARTS kind of shamefacedly disappeared from the lexicon.

Stromberg wrote to tell me, though, that it has been rediscovered! He has updated his article on the Coso Artifact, and has “arranged for Seattle’s Pacific Science Center to display the artifact starting December 1st as part of their new exhibition titled, ‘What Is Reality’.” So now you know where to go if you want to see another piece of creationist evidence.

Check out the Chittick video. It’s amazing how many off-the-wall crazy ideas he throws out one after the other, almost all of which creationists have discarded out of embarrassment.

When this guy votes, he votes for Trump

Guaranteed.

Also, the Lord told him to write a book.

When scams get pretentious

Pangburn (Pangburnt, am I right?) Philosophy has officially thrown in the towel. Here’s their final statement:

Who is to blame? Not Pangburn! Confirmed speakers decided to back away from their commitment, the lousy no-good bastards.

And then…This two year endeavor has led us to successfully produce what we believe to be some of the most important conversations in human history. Wow. In human history. Pretty impressive for a hodge-podge of racists, edgelords, pompous assholes, and alt-right cheerleaders, say what?

But have no fear.

Effective immediately, the Pangburn Philosophy Corporation will be folding as a result of this cancelled conference.

And there was much rejoicing! But wait. A “Philosophy Corporation”? Have those two words ever been paired before? Maybe this is the end of something unique.

Also, I doubt that all the people who bought overpriced tickets to this shitpile are rejoicing. They’re never going to see that money again. I’m trying hard to feel sympathy for the gullible simpletons who paid money to see Peterson, or Weinstein, or Harris, or any of the deplorables slated as speakers, and failing.

Our CEO Travis Pangburn plans to reanimate Pangburn Philosophy under a new business model, which will focus on Pangburn Documentaries.

Oy. So another Prager U, I’ll guess.

A couple of suggestions. It’s obvious that Travis Pangburn has a bit of an ego, but after your distinctively-named enterprise has just imploded under the weight of debt, leaving your most ardent fans without recompense, and you’re trying to slither away, it’s not smart to keep the name “Pangburn”. Too obvious. You should at least try to slip out from under the PR taint. Find a fresh taint.

You built your ramshackle empire not on your talent, but the appeal of your center-right speakers. I presume you’d like to bring them back under “Pangburn Documentaries”? Then it’s a bad idea to blame them for your failure.

Oh, and speaking of pretentiousness, you have to look at the Pangburn “about” page. It’s mostly a close-up photo of Travis’s handsome, serious face, a paragraph of grade-school “philosophy” about saving the planet with art and science, and an equation. Can I just say how much I despise the attempt to come up with a pseudo-sciencey equation with vague and immeasurable variables and invented relationships between the parameters? It’s a great metaphor for the nonsensical crap they’ve been peddling.

Fruitfulness multiplied by humanism equals peace greater than suffering? What kind of ludicrous bullshit is this? Who gets snowed by that kind of nonsense?

Pangburn going down in flames

Pangburn Philosophy, you know, that guy who has been putting on talks all over the place featuring alt-right heroes, was going to have an event in New York this weekend called A Day of Reflection. It’s been hemorrhaging speakers for quite some time — Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz backed out of it a while back, they couldn’t meet Jordan Peterson and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s demands, and then Bari Weiss cancelled. They were reduced to booking actual progressive speakers, like Rebecca Watson and Cara Santa Maria.

Well, now that’s all done.

Apparently, the problem was gross mismanagement: speakers weren’t getting paid, people who bought tickets ($300 for the NYC event!) to events that were cancelled weren’t getting reimbursed, and with that news, you’d have to be nuts to buy a ticket to any Pangburn event, given its odds of getting dropped or its speaker roster changing radically, leaving you holding the bag.

Bye bye, Travis Pangburn. I don’t think we’ll be hearing much of you polluting the skeptic/atheist movement anymore.


Just for the sake of recording this, here is their original announcement for the event:

Notice the featured speakers: Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jordan Peterson, Maajid Nawaz, Glenn Loury, and it was to be held at the Lincoln Center.

Here’s the web page a few minutes ago: they lost all but Loury.

If you look tomorrow, it’ll probably be a blank page, or an error message.

An interview with Tchiya Amet

You accuse one skeptic of rape, and next thing you know you’re the guy who’ll accuse anyone of rape. I get mentioned in this article about Tchiya Amet, the woman who is saying Neil Tyson raped her. She sounds credible. I can believe something happened. She definitely experienced some trauma around that time that led to her dropping out of grad school. She definitely believes she was the victim of a non-consensual sexual assault by Tyson. But…

I expect a little bit of corroborating evidence. Unfortunately, there isn’t any. A friend who testifies to her distress at the time, signs of a pattern of abuse by Tyson to others, anything. There’s nothing. Apparently, a news organization (Buzzfeed, maybe?) tried to investigate, but hit a wall where there was a complete absence of any indications that he’d been a predatory dudebro back in the day. That was where I was stuck, too. I don’t have any investigatory ability, and all I had was this one person’s words.

She doesn’t help her case with her willingness to invent patterns where there are none. She confronted him at a talk; she interprets him talking about black holes in an astronomy talk before the Q&A as some sleazy reference to having sex with her, even before she asks a question. When she gets to the microphone, she’s wearing a feathered headdress and Indian warpaint, and she raises a foot-long ankh before saying,

Today is national sexual assault awareness day, during national sexual assault awareness month, and I’m here because when I was a grad student at UT Austin in 1984, you raped me. I’m here to speak for all the people you’ve raped, assaulted, molested, violated, denigrated…and all the pain and suffering you’ve inflicted on them, and their parents and families and their children, including myself.

The presentation does not inspire confidence. When she says, “all the people”, I’d like her to name names to an investigator, because if it’s true that he perpetrated all these crimes, there’d be more evidence than a lone woman in an Indian costume waving an Egyptian symbol to support her accusation.

David Gee thinks there should be an investigation. It seems he’s even hired a private investigator to look into it.

Reporters could be hesitant to talk about this because of their love for Tyson, or because of their distrust in spiritual individuals, but no matter what, it is completely unacceptable. I’m not saying you should believe Amet 100% and take her story at face value because I’m not doing that. All I’m asking for is a real investigation, so we can find out what really happened.

If you knew Tyson and/or Amet during this period, or you have information about similar allegations, please contact me at: davidgeecontact@gmail.com. You never know what information might help.

Well, yeah, it should be looked into. But the first thing that should be examined has got to be offered up by Amet herself. She says that there were multiple instances of rape, assault, molestation, etc., and is willing to say so publicly. So who, when, where? Provide some leads. If she can’t, it sounds like she’s willing to throw around wild and false accusations with nothing to back them up, which hurts her credibility further.

Even people with weird beliefs get raped, but even people with weird beliefs ought to be able to provide some tangible clues if we’re to act on their accusations.

I think Peterson is cracking up

Sorry, buckos, it’s another comment on Jordan Peterson. But I think he’s losing it. He’s on a lengthy world tour and is posting delusional missives about his mental state.

So it’s 2:39 a.m. in Oslo, Norway. I woke up in a too-hot hotel room out of a fitful nightmare, which I can only partially remember. I haven’t had a dream that I could recall even that clearly in a very long period of time. The last one was about traveling and speaking and not getting enough to eat. That was about six months ago. It occurred just before I embarked on what has now been a nine-month, 85-city world tour. I am on a very restricted diet, eating only beef and water, as a consequence of what appears to be a rather intractable auto-immune disease. I was concerned at some deep unconscious level about what might go wrong if I set out to talk with 250,000 people: If I could not eat, then I could not think and then things would not go well. Hence the nightmare. It was a warning of what might go wrong (and has not).

Has too.

I don’t remember my dreams very often, either, but when I do, they tend to be surreal and sort of playful (I’m one of those lucid dreamers). I don’t think I’ve ever had a violent dream about beating people up — maybe it’s because I eat a healthy diet — but it seems to be one of his themes.

In this dream I was speaking to a young man. He was very garrulous and irritating; he was unkempt, poorly put together, and he simply would not shut up. Everything he said was designed to provoke and to test. He finally pushed me beyond my limit of tolerance. I grabbed him, physically, and threw him against the wall. It was like wrestling with dough.

In my dream, I wrestled my opponent to the ground. He was still talking, mindlessly, mechanically, rapidly, nonstop. I bent his wrists to force his knuckles into his mouth. His arms bent like rubber and, even though I managed the task, he did not stop babbling.

You’d think a psychologist would be able to provide some insight into all this. But no. It was because he had a bad experience with a French journalist the day before. He was resentful because the journalist wouldn’t swallow the bullshit he peddles, so he had a dream about forcing him to accept what he said. His response is to dehumanize someone who disagreed with him.

I hadn’t spent two hours talking to a person. The person wasn’t there, or was barely there (even though the journalist had the makings, I would say, of a fine young man). I couldn’t reach him. Instead, I had a very irritating discussion with an ideologically possessed puppet and that was both too familiar and too unpleasant. I had a shower, and we went for a steak, and we tried to put the episode behind us, as we must, under such conditions, when the next city and the next audience beckons, the very next day. But the part of me that lurks underneath, dreaming, still had something to say.

And that something was SHUT UP!, and also to regurgitate that NPC meme that’s making the rounds of the right-wing trolls.

He’s not holding up well under the strain of his diet and finding out that a lot of people can see right through him. Poor man.