Not like a worm?

Ann Coulter is back to whining about evolution again, and this week she focuses on fossils. It’s boring predictable stuff: there are no transitional fossils, she says.

We also ought to find a colossal number of transitional organisms in the fossil record – for example, a squirrel on its way to becoming a bat, or a bear becoming a whale. (Those are actual Darwinian claims.)

Darwin postulated that whales could have evolved from bears, but he was wrong…as we now know because we found a lot of transitional fossils in whale evolution. Carl Zimmer has a summary of recent discoveries, and I wrote up a bit about the molecular genetics of whale evolution. Whales have become one of the best examples of macroevolutionary transitions in the fossil record, all in roughly the last 30 years — which gives us a minimal estimate of how out of date Ann Coulter’s sources are.

But then she writes this, which is not only wrong, but self-refuting.

To explain away the explosion of plants and animals during the Cambrian Period more than 500 million years ago, Darwiniacs asserted – without evidence – that there must have been soft-bodied creatures evolving like mad before then, but left no fossil record because of their squishy little microscopic bodies.

Then in 1984, “the dog ate our fossils” excuse collapsed, too. In a discovery the New York Times called “among the most spectacular in this century,” Chinese paleontologists discovered fossils just preceding the Cambrian era.

Despite being soft-bodied microscopic creatures – precisely the sort of animal the evolution cult claimed wouldn’t fossilize and therefore deprived them of crucial evidence – it turned out fossilization was not merely possible in the pre-Cambrian era, but positively ideal.

And yet the only thing paleontologists found there were a few worms. For 3 billion years, nothing but bacteria and worms, and then suddenly nearly all the phyla of animal life appeared within a narrow band of 5 million to 10 million years.

It’s so weird to read that: yes, people have been predicting that the precursors to the Cambrian fauna would have been small and soft-bodied (what else would you expect), and that they would be difficult to fossilize…but not impossible, and further, scientists have been out finding these fossils. Somehow this is a refutation of evolution? What we’re seeing is exactly what evolution predicted!

What we have is a good record of small shelly fossils and trace fossils from the pre-Cambrian — before there were fully armored trilobites, there were arthropod-like creatures with partial armor that decayed into scattered small fragments of shell after death, and before that there were entirely soft-bodied, unarmored creatures that left only trackways and burrows. Even in this period Coulter wants to call abrupt, we find evidence of gradual transitions in animal forms.

And then to claim that there is an absence of transitional forms because all that was found were worms! Um, if you take an animal with an armored exoskeleton or bones, and you catch it before the hard skeleton had evolved, exactly what do you think it would look like? Like a worm.

As evolution predicted. As the evidence shows.

I can’t even guess what Ann Coulter was expecting a pre-Cambrian animal to look like. Not like a worm, apparently…but like what?

(Also on FtB)

Coulter revisited

Ann Coulter is a horrible, ignorant person who once wrote a whole book accusing liberals of being Godless, as if that were an insult, and advancing arguments against evolution that made the standard noisy creationist look like a veritable scholar. I looked at her arguments, and I made a public challenge back in 2006 for any defenders to pick one paragraph from the book and we’d discuss it in detail — there have been no takers, not one person willing to stand up and support in detail any claim she had made. She also made some amazingly inane arguments: did you know that one strike against evolution is that the people who study it are mere biologists, which is not really a science, and that there are more women working in biology than, say, physics?

I was tearing into her quite regularly for a while there after that book came out. She was such an easy target.

But no matter. I’m acutely envious of Carl Zimmer, who Coulter regards as a giant flatulent raccoon. Man, I would love to have that on my résumé. Alas, Coulter has no idea who I am, so I’m not going to get that recognition.

By the way, the Coulter challenge is still open, and has been for five years. All anyone has to do is pick one paragraph, any paragraph, from her evolution chapters in Godless, and post it with a defense of its accuracy. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it? She wrote this whole book, I’m letting you pick the very best, most solid, strongest argument against evolution from it and present it here to stump us all. It’s strange that no one has managed to do that in all this time.

(By the way, as is usual whenever I mention Coulter, there will be petty people who will sneer at her appearance or make ugly remarks about her sexuality. Do not do that. I will cut you.)

(Also on FtB)

Time to institutionalize Dennis Markuze

Every morning when I get up and get on the computer, the first thing I do is delete the pile of spam from Dennis Markuze, each of which is usually cross-posted to 50 to 100 other people. Every time I fire up Twitter, the first thing I do is clear the garbage Dennis Markuze has left there; yesterday I blocked and reported spam from over 25 Markuze accounts, amounting to several hundred messages.

You know what? This is wrong. I shouldn’t have to do this. Over the years — I’ve been getting these threats from Markuze since 1993 — it’s gradually grown from an occasional deranged message on usenet to part of my daily routine, where I’m dealing with hundreds of ranty messages every day from one disturbed individual in Montreal, Canada. And I’m not even his sole target: he has a hate-on for Shermer, Randi, and Dawkins, and this is all he does with his life: he sits in his bedroom in his parent’s house and sends out shrill, incoherent messages to the world, all day long.

I have reported him to the police. I have seen these complaints climb the ladder from the local department, to the FBI, to the RCMP, to the Montreal City Police, where they promptly fizzle out. The police don’t care. The word I’ve gotten back is that they aren’t going to do a thing until he snaps and starts killing people. A little late, don’t you think?

As a target for over almost twenty years, I’ve been watching this guy escalate — his hate messages have gotten crazier, more vicious, and more frequent. He’s a psychological cripple who wastes his life in this “project” to howl stupidly at the world; he’s on a clear trajectory of more and more demands for people to recognize him, and he’s not going to ever get any respect from anyone.

I am not a psychologist, but anyone who writes those disconnected rambling death threats, and does nothing else all day long, is mentally disturbed. Something is wrong in his head. I’m not the only one to notice.

The only people who don’t seem to notice are the Montreal city police.

If you’re on Twitter, one thing you can do is, when you receive one of his spam messages, retweet it, but delete all the names on it (because I don’t need more!) and add one: @SPVM. Give the Montreal police a sample of the noise coming out of their city that we’re drowning in.

There is now a petition demanding that the Montreal city police take his threats seriously. Sign it, please. I want at least ten thousand names from around the world on it.

I don’t have any confidence at all in them: they’ve had this deranged man making death threats on their watch for over a decade, and have done nothing. I don’t think the petition will do a thing.

What I want is a public record of the criminal neglect of that police department, so that when Markuze does have his little psychotic break and harms someone, probably some innocent, they won’t be able to deny that they were warned, that there was a world-wide outcry, that hordes of people thousands of miles away could see all this coming, and the incompetents in Montreal sat on their hands and did nothing.

(Also on FtB)

Newt Gingrich redefines what it means to be pathetic

Newt Gingrich has 1,325,842 followers on twitter.

Who cares, you might be asking. The criteria for being popular on twitter are rather different than the criteria for being a competent statesman; if twitter mattered in that way, Ashton Kucher would be president. It’s irrelevant. But Gingrich is unhappy because his vast appeal is unappreciated by the media: “I have six times as many Twitter followers as all the other candidates combined, but it didn’t count because if it counted I’d still be a candidate; since I can’t be a candidate that can’t count.”

Wow. Gingrich believes having lots of twitter followers gives him credibility? That’s pathetic.

But wait, that’s not pathetic. This is pathetic: he bought most of those followers!

About 80 percent of those accounts are inactive or are dummy accounts created by various “follow agencies,” another 10 percent are real people who are part of a network of folks who follow others back and are paying for followers themselves (Newt’s profile just happens to be a part of these networks because he uses them, although he doesn’t follow back), and the remaining 10 percent may, in fact, be real, sentient people who happen to like Newt Gingrich. If you simply scroll through his list of followers you’ll see that most of them have odd usernames and no profile photos, which has to do with the fact that they were mass generated. Pathetic, isn’t it?

That’s just sad.

(Pssst. By the way, to the hundred thousand readers who aren’t my sockpuppets: I’ll get the paychecks to you later. We’re having a little cash flow problem, what with the transition to a new site and all that.)

What the f&#* is wrong with Chris Hedges?

Hedges has been totally nuts for the last few years: he’s got this crazy irrational hysteria about atheists that makes him utterly unhinged whenever he writes about us. His latest is of a piece with his mania:

The gravest threat we face from terrorism, as the killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik underscore, comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of observant Muslims and those defined as our internal enemies. The caricature and fear are spread as diligently by the Christian right as they are by atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Our religious and secular fundamentalists all peddle the same racist filth and intolerance that infected Breivik. This filth has poisoned and degraded our civil discourse. The looming economic and environmental collapse will provide sparks and tinder to transform this coarse language of fundamentalist hatred into, I fear, the murderous rampages experienced by Norway. I worry more about the Anders Breiviks than the Mohammed Attas.

What? Muslims riot over cartoons, Breivik massacres young people in the name of reactionary Christian nationalism, and Hedges blames the atheists? Madness. Pure madness.

Don’t read Hedges. Read Sam Harris, who as calmly as is possible when you’ve been slimed by a lunatic, tears Hedges to pieces. It’s a lovely read.

I disagree with him, slightly, on one point. Harris is concerned about a jihadist regime getting their hands on nuclear weapons, because they will lack the ethical restraint to hold back from using them. I have another worry: a crusading regime in the US military. Our men and women who are trained to use nuclear weapons are getting instructions…from Christians.

Reports show the mandatory Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare session, which takes place during a missile officer’s first week in training, is led by Air Force chaplains and includes a discussion on St. Augustine’s Christian “Just War Theory.” Also included in the PowerPoint presentation is a slide containing a passage from the Book of Revelation that attempts to explain how Jesus Christ, as the “mighty warrior,” believed war to be “just.”

The presentation goes on to say that there are “many examples of believers [who] engaged in wars in [the] Old Testament” in a “righteous way” and notes there is “no pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history.”

Now that’s chilling. Perhaps Hedges should take note that it isn’t atheists telling soldiers that it is just to annihilate your enemy by all means possible.

More right-wing distortions of Breivik’s ideology

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show did a marvelous job of showing how right-wingers were desperately straining to get out from under the taint of Breivik’s clearly extremist nationalist/rightist/Christian/anti-Muslim ideology. They’re clearly in denial.

But here’s another case. The Discovery Institute, under the name of that wretched ‘scholar’ John West, has gone through Breivik’s manifesto and somehow come to the conclusion that the reason he went on a killing spree was — I bet you can guess — Darwinism. How? Because Breivik was not the familiar anti-science fundamentalist Christian that we are so familiar with here in the US, he was moderate in his piety and wedded it to an acceptance of modern science and a vicious hatred of Muslims…and contra West, it wasn’t science that compelled him to kill, it was xenophobia and nationalism and apparently, an inhuman lack of empathy.

Nick Matzke does an excellent job of showing that a warped Christianity provided a more significant rationale for his actions than did ‘Darwinism’.

I’d add one more thing. West’s hobby horse is eugenics, and Breivik did endorse a nasty interpretation of eugenics in his tirade. However, you can’t use that to tar modern science with guilt for his crimes; we aren’t going to be saying, “Oh, Breivik was right in this one thing,” because only fringe characters within science endorse killing undesirables as he did; this guy was no friend of science. West cites one fellow, Lee Silver, who does promote the idea that emerging technologies in molecular genetics will allow people to voluntarily modify the DNA of their children; this has absolutely nothing to do with culling or ejecting whole ethnic groups as inferior, and I’m sure Silver would condemn that interpretation of his work.

I was amused to see that Breivik is a fan of Joseph Farah and World Net Daily. Now there’s a connection West was afraid to draw.

Jennifer Fulwiler responds

How fun! Fulwiler noticed that her claim to have five Catholic teachings that make sense to atheists actually didn’t, you know, make sense to any atheists, me included, so she’s now trying hard to rationalize it. She has a new post talking about reasoning with atheists that is even more confused and hilarious than the last. Here’s her first excuse:

I evidently did not make it clear enough that all of my examples were meant only to illustrate the intellectual consistency within Catholicism, and therefore assumed that you would be in a discussion with an atheist who would stipulate belief in God for the sake of argument.

So first, find an atheist who’s willing to pretend that she believes in a god. Then, while she’s pretending with all of her might, maybe her brain will be addled enough to accept the load of swill that follows. Brilliant! I have another suggestion: 1) find an atheist who is tripping balls on ‘shrooms, 2) whack them hard enough on the head to give them a concussion, and 3) proselytize! Jesus wins!

Of course, even if she does find an atheist willing to sit down with her and grant her one premise, that a god exists, the rest of her arguments still don’t work. “OK, you’ve granted that a god exists. Now, shouldn’t you be really impressed with the sinless, perfect, virginal woman who gave birth to him, just like a Catholic?” Uh, no. That’s a whole boatload of weird Catholic dogma you just dumped on me, in addition to the general premise.

Another part of her rationale is to displace the blame. You see, it’s not her fault that she can’t get through to me, it’s mine.

Myers and atheists like him are trapped in a prison of reason.

The title of her post is “reasoning with atheists,” but you see, the whole problem is that when you’re reasoning with atheists, they expect you to use reason. The bastards!

Finally, there’s some of the usual fol-de-rol about Love. God is like Love, you see, and just as you can’t reason someone into understanding love, you can’t reason them into believing in a god. She doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference, though: I can find evidence of love from some people, and evidence of a lack of love from other people. I don’t blindly charge up and announce my love for someone without signs of reciprocation, and any love I might feel for someone will wither in the absence of such signs. If she’s actually raising her kids teaching them that love is just like their faith in a Catholic god, I feel very sorry for them: they’re going to grow up to be disappointed fantasists and stalkerish weirdos.

The next post from Fulwiler is going to have to be something like “Winning hearts for Jesus with ‘shrooms and a ball-peen hammer”, ’cause that’s the only way she’s going to persuade an atheist with the drivel she’s churning out.

Pat Buchanan go home

It’s sad. The terrorism in Norway was by a right wing nationalist extremist of the pale-skinned, Christian variety, and it’s like we broke our home-grown right-wingers’ small, feeble, crumbly hearts with that news. But have no fear! They are dogged and single-minded, and they will find a way to blame the desired targets of retribution one way or another! Latest case: Pat Buchanan. He regrets that the terrorist was a cowardly, murdering punk, but we are supposed to recognize that Breivik may be right.

But, awful as this atrocity was, native-born and homegrown terrorism is not the macro-threat to the continent.

That threat comes from a burgeoning Muslim presence in a Europe that has never known mass immigration, its failure to assimilate, its growing alienation, and its sometime sympathy for Islamic militants and terrorists.

Europe faces today an authentic and historic crisis.

With her native-born populations aging, shrinking and dying, Europe’s nations have not discovered how to maintain their prosperity without immigrants. Yet the immigrants who have come — from the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia – have been slow to learn the language and have failed to attain the educational and occupational levels of Europeans. And the welfare states of Europe are breaking under the burden.[…]

As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in numbers and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one, Breivik may be right.

Umm, Pat, you draft-dodging, Confederacy-sympathizing old bigot, you can’t whine about other countries failing to assimilate — you’ve been one of the reactionary old guard crusading against immigrants in this country.

He’s also an ahistorical kook. Every wave of immigrants that came ashore in the United States faced generations of discrimination and struggle to assimilate. “NO IRISH NEED APPLY,” you know.

But that doesn’t matter. The fact that Pat Buchanan would find common cause with a psychopathic coward, a vile creature who dressed in a police uniform and promised young people assistance as he gathered them together before gunning them down, is fact enough to discredit him. When will the media wake up and stop paying the fascist bigot to play pundit on TV?

Glenn Beck is still on the air?

Glenn Beck really is contemptible. Here’s how he sees the murders in Norway:

As the thing started to unfold, and then there was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth or whatever — I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing. But anyway, so there’s this political camp, and some crazy man goes and starts shooting kids.

Who does a camp about politics? You mean, like the teabaggers?

But wait! There’s more! He rambles on and on, and claims that he predicted this was coming, and eventually gets around to summarizing his claims, babbles about Geert Wilders and radical Islam, and pins the blame for the massacre on…multiculturalism. And then he distances himself from Anders Behring Breivik by arguing that he wasn’t the same kind of right-winger as Beck, because Breivik favored big government.

(via Media Matters)

Jennifer Fulwiler: vacant-eyed, mindless cluelessness personified

I’m getting a clearer picture of Jennifer Fulwiler. She’s very much a Catholic, she thinks she’s an expert on atheists, and she likes things in fives. First it was five misconceptions atheists have about Catholics, and now she’s written five Catholic teachings that make sense to atheists. As if she’d know. She claims to have been an atheist once, but her list of stuff that makes sense indicates that she was an awfully Catholic atheist.

  1. Purgatory. Why? “it made sense to me because it explained how heaven can be a place of perfect love, and God can still be merciful to people who had some work to do in that department when they died.” Does she even realize that including speculation about the nature of God and heaven, especially speculation that ignores the monstrous tyranny described in the Bible, means it automatically makes no sense at all to an atheist?

  2. The Communion of Saints. Why? “I didn’t struggle with this doctrine at all—it struck me as an articulation of a spiritual truth known to the human heart from time immemorial.” The communion of saints is the idea that all Christians have a mystical bond with each other, both alive and dead. Magic ESP restricted to people who believe in the right god (the damned don’t get it) is not exactly a truth. What atheist would hear that and think that was perfectly reasonable?

  3. Veneration of Mary Why? when I heard that Catholics place a huge emphasis on the Mother of God, my reaction was basically to shrug and say, “Yeah. Of course.” She even acknowledges that atheists with a Protestant upbringing might find the Mary worship weird, but then blunders on to simply say it’s obvious that we ought to worship the human being who gave birth to all-powerful cosmic ruler of the universe. Errm, we don’t believe in gods, period; the fanciful story that a Palestinian virgin squirted him out of her vagina two thousand years ago in a stable doesn’t strike us as somehow intuitive or even possible.

  4. Salvation for Non-Catholics and Non-Christians Why? “It struck me as fair and consistent” that you wouldn’t get damned if you never heard of Jesus. This is the idea that if you’re a good person, but you’ve never heard of Christianity, you won’t go to hell. Of course, if you have heard of the gospel because some caterwauling missionary or proselytizer bellows at you, and you reject it because the whole shebang makes no sense at all, you will go to hell. This does not strike me as fair, or even sensible.

  5. Apostolic Authority Why? “this one God-guided Church has final authority on matters of doctrine”. She complains that all those other churches had people struggling to interpret and understand the Bible, and all coming up with different explanations. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, tells you to sit down, shut up, don’t question, here’s the one correct answer…therefore, this should be more appealing to an atheist?

Can you imagine what would happen if some well-meaning, kindly, thoughtful Catholic read Jennifer Fulwiler’s post about what would represent common ground with atheists, and then came to me with charitable intent to discuss our shared ideals? The poor thing…it’d be like they were walking into a woodchipper, thinking they were going to get a cup of tea and a cookie.