Sunday morning nausea

Thanks, Jody Wheeler, for poisoning my morning a little bit. You just had to mention this guy, Stephen Bennett, of Stephen Bennett Ministries, who is “Emerging as One of the Nation’s Key Speakers on the Issues of Homosexuality & the Homosexual Agenda…A Man who is Not Afraid To Speak the Truth… in Love.” Here’s Stephen Bennett’s kind of love:

As a heterosexual man who once engaged in homosexual behavior for 11 years, I’ve lost numerous dear friends to AIDS. While recent news in the search for a cure for AIDS is promising, I believe this possible HIV prevention pill is only going to push a culture down an already dangerous and risky path. This pill is the equivalent to a drug rehab assisting heroine addicts in their addiction by giving them needles. What is wrong with this picture? Why can’t these intelligent scientists and doctors understand we need to educate people on abandoning their risky, unsafe sexual practices and behavior-not give them a pill to enable and encourage them?

He has lost “dear friends” to AIDS, but apparently, they got what they had coming to them, and the loving Bennett would rather that scientists and doctors abstain from trying to help people. Let them suffer, let them die—it’s the only way they’ll get the message that God cares very much about what they do with their penises.

Oh, and I can explain why intelligent scientists and doctors and pursuing this line of research: because human beings engage in a great many sexual practices, and if we can reduce the factors that make them risky and unsafe, it will make them happier and healthier. It’s a much smarter strategy than simply filling them up with self-loathing.

Why am I not surprised that a callous, stupid, hate-filled freak like this finds a home in evangelical Christianity?

gen•e•sis

Some fields of science are so wide open, such virgin swamps of unexplored territory, that it takes some radically divergent approaches to make any headway. There will always be opinionated, strong-minded investigators who charge in deeply and narrowly, committed to their pet theories, and there will also be others who consolidate information and try to synthesize the variety of approaches taken. There are dead ends and areas of solid progress, and there is much flailing about until the promising leads are discovered.

Origins of life research is such an unsettled frontier. I wouldn’t want to work there, but the uncertainty and the confusion and the various small victories and the romance of the work do make for a very good story. And now you can read that story in Robert Hazen’s Gen•e•sis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll).

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I may have to sue

OK, that’s enough. This April Fool’s Day thing has gone too far when I am made the butt of the jokes. So far, I’ve been born again,
endorsed the Noah’s Ark story, and have been
hired as a GOP consultant. Norwegianity even found this hugely elaborate web site set up as a parody of Pharyngula. Jeez, people, you need to pick on someone with a sense of humor. Crooked Timber found a service with the right idea: this Rhyme Rank thing from ask.com invents amusing rhymes from your search terms, but go ahead, try and enter “pharyngula“—it just gives up. It knows better than to indulge in idle wastrel japery with such a deadly serious site.

Doors

Here’s an entirely hypothetical scenario.

You’re in a room with two exits, marked Door A and Door B. By each is a guardian, Guardian A and Guardian B. You need to go through one of the doors.

Door A is light and flimsy, easy to open—just turn the knob and you’re through it. Reasonably enough, before charging through, you ask Guardian A what’s on the other side.

“Joy and delight, an eternal life of perfect happiness, an end to doors and constant traveling…and all you have to do is turn that little knob, and believe.”

That sounds too good to be true, so you ask him how he knows, and whether he has been through the door.

“No, not yet, I can only go once my tour of duty here is done. But I dream of it every night, and I can also tell you that almost everyone who has come here has gone through Door A.”

You want confirmation, so you turn to Guardian B and ask if that’s true.

“Yes,” he says, “most people do go through Door A. I don’t know if it’s true about what’s on the other side, though.”

Door B is rather imposing: it’s a huge steel block, bristling with locks and complicated gadgets. It looks like it’s going to take a lot of time and cleverness and strength to get it open. It’s so intimidating, you’re not even sure that you’ll be able to figure out how to open it. You ask Guardian B if it’s as difficult as it looks.

“Oh, man, yes…it’s hard. At least it was when I was your age—now I’ve had so much practice at it that I can go through this door easily, all the time. I’m afraid I can’t just open it for you, though. I can give you suggestions and hints, but you really do have to do all the work yourself. It’s a kind of admissions test to see if you’ll be able to cope on the other side.”

This is not entirely encouraging, and you hope there’s something as good as joy and delight beyond the door, so you ask what’s over there.

“Knowledge,” says Guardian B. “Hard work. Interesting ideas. And doors—many more doors, each one harder than the next, and no end to them in sight. Clever people, all working together to open more doors. It’s a whole world, a good but complicated place.”

Guardian A screams, “HE LIES! There’s a tiger on the other side that will kill and eat you. I think it’s on fire, too. And worst of all, if you go through Door B, you’ll never get to experience the beautiful life behind Door A. Guardian B is evil, and he wants you to suffer!”

Guardian B just rolls his eyes. He’s heard this before.

“Look, kid, Guardian A means well, but he doesn’t know anything. I’ve told you the truth about what’s behind my door; maybe ol’ A is right about what’s behind his door, but all I’ve ever seen when someone opens Door A is a dark room beyond. You get to make the choice, at least so far—A and his friends want to seal off my door to ‘protect’ all the travelers who come through here.”

Your choice. What door do you go through?

That prayer boondoggle

The best analysis of American Heart Journal prayer study that I’ve seen yet is over at Rhosgobel. It uses solid methodology, and its results are clear: prayer didn’t help, and might even have hurt.

I’ve read the paper. It was hard. Every time I saw the word “prayer” on the page (and it’s used like several times per paragraph), my eyes would cross and I’d giggle, and then I’d get cranky because millions of dollars were wasted on this stupid, if well done, study. There was absolutely no justification given for this work, other than “Many patients report using private or family prayer to cope with this stressful experience [coronary artery bypass graft].” No mechanism was discussed. Its closing paragraph simply disavows any interpretations about religion…in a study whose sole motivation is a widespread religious belief.

The whole thing is based on a wild-assed guess plucked out of thin air, with an expectation that no matter which way it turned out, the results would be meaningless. That isn’t science, and it doesn’t matter that they carefully followed the forms of a scientific study—it was a waste of time. It wasn’t going to change medical or social practice, and wasn’t going to lead to any insight on how to better heal people. No one is going to discourage people from praying because of its result, although if the data had skewed the other way, you just know we’d never hear the end of it.

Once more into the breach

Hmmm. That creationist who emailed me a question the other day has sent me another. It’s like feeding raccoons—pretty soon they get the idea they should hang out in swarms around your house, they’re digging in the trash, and they’re pooping all over your lawn. Oh, well, one more time:

Here is another question for you kind consideration:

There are a very large number of species on earth; so many that no one has
been able to count them. Many of them are much older than humans, yet none
of them – not even one of them – evolved to a level comparable to that of
humans? What stopped them? Or, should I say, Who stopped them; and why?

First of all, Mr Creationist, both of your questions so far have been very, very poor—everybody has to start somewhere, I know, but they reflect a near total lack of understanding of anything about evolution or biology. Given that you know zip about biology, isn’t it rather arrogant of you to be questioning the fundamentals of the science? Aren’t you presuming a bit much to be pestering a biology professor with these things rather than cracking a book first and catching up on the basics? I have a list of recommended books; you might want to start with some of the kids’ books first. If you’re more ambitious, try Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Zimmer—it’ll give you the overview you need, with more meat that you can dig into.

But to answer your question briefly now…

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