A query from New Mexico

Not all my mail is from cranks and ravers; I actually get some nice and friendly and interesting mail, too. Like this one, from Hank Alme, who asks a good question:

To what extent does intellectual honesty require me to also read guys like Behe and Dembski, and to understand their arguments?

That’s an easy one: intellectual honesty doesn’t require that you read any of their crap. One of their great successes is that they’ve managed to convince many people that it’s only fair to read their books, often reading them instead of good science. It’s not true! You are far better off reading a solid science text than wasting it on their drivel.

The only reason to read any of their work is not because it’s the honest thing to do—if we carried that reasoning to its logical conclusion, I’ve got a library of stuff you need to read first—but because it will prepare you better to deal with their arguments. It takes the edge off that first moment of shock, when they say something so awesomely stupid that you find it incredible that anyone would even suggest such a thing. I’ve experienced that moment: your eyes focus on infinity, your lips move involuntarily as you try to parse the absurdity, your brain spins its wheels for a while as you mentally downshift, trying to get yourself in the proper frame of mind to handle the curious words of the deranged person in front of you. Otherwise, though, there isn’t much point to wading through the dreck.

So no, don’t read Behe and Dembski. Read Carroll and Dawkins and Gould. Understanding the science is all the preparation you need.

By the way, I’ve noticed that commenting is way down. It could be you’re all bored with me, or that it’s my fault since I’ve been distracted with grading and exam preparation, or most worrisome, the TypeKey requirement has stymied potential commenters, or at least discouraged them. Let me know if there’s a problem— the comments contribute much to the site, and I’d hate to see them chased away.

About last night

The Drinking Liberally event was packed. I don’t know how many people were there, but I think it was somewhere within a few orders of magnitude of a gazillion. Kos speechified briefly, exhorted us to buy his book because every copy sold makes a conservative cry, and then answered questions from the crowd.

Dr B and The Connoisseur did show up fashionably late, and didn’t even make it in the door before she was intercepted by her fans.

We all had many pleasant conversations, and I think there may be a few new converts to the Drinking Liberally phenomenon. I also learned something very important, and I revealed a sad ignorance on my part: I had forgotten the Molluscs sketch, but Dave Puskala reminded me. How could I? It must have been a repressed memory, because there it is, a complete outline of Pharyngula’s strategy for success, only it’s funny.

Oh, and the drive home was spectacular. There were severe thunderstorms across the middle of the state, and as I was driving it was like fireworks going off before my windshield. And best of all, when I reached them it was nothing but a narrow storm band, and I drove maybe 5 minutes through fierce driving rain and pounding hail before breaking through to the calmness on the other side.

The PowerLiberal has more, and Chuck has video (it’s cute how the Wege gets in two words before the camera dies).

My kind of guy

I’m going to have to get this book, Sex, Drugs, and DNA (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)
just on the basis of a few excerpts…

Unfortunately, the US is a nation of very stupid people. So I
have stripped out the jargon and tried to deal with science
and health issues as though I was haranguing you at a party.


The strange thing about talking to non-scientists about science is that you quickly notice that some of the smartest,
most thoughtful and intellectually curious people have a terrible understanding of it. Most students leave high school
poorly equipped to manipulate even the most basic concepts. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that we can increase
science literacy and intelligent discourse in the US. What can
I say? I’m an optimist.

…and a nice cartoon…



I really want to go to Drinking Liberally tonight—I even said I would go.

It is, however, the end of the term, and there is a horrific pile of grading sitting on my desk. It’s the classic dilemma of having to choose between fun and beer and interesting people vs. obligations and responsibility and work.

So I took a look at the pile and carved out a harshly large chunk of it, and I have set myself a goal: if I can get that scary looking subset of it done in time, I’ll take off for Minneapolis. If I can’t, I’m going to stay here and make lots of furious little red marks instead. I think I can do it, but it isn’t going to be easy…so excuse me if I ignore this little corner of the intarwebs for a while.

If anyone knows any fairy godmothers with a little free time, send ’em my way, OK?

Hi, Daryl!

I get lots of hate mail, but it’s actually not that often that I’m cc’ed complaints sent to my acting chancellor and the university PR person. Since he’s willing to share, so am I…so here’s Mr Daryl Schulz’s defense of free speech:

I have known a few people through the years that have gone to UM Morris and thought it to be a reputable institution affiliated with the University of Minnesota. But you can’t be serious about being proud of one of your Associate Professor’s blog winning an award when it contains such hate towards religion or faith of any type (http://www.morris.umn.edu/webbin/ummnews/view.php?newsID=319). To put it on the splash page of your university website is not helping your image to being open minded and fair to all types of students whether Christian or otherwise. His frequent mocking and ridicule of faith in anything other than science is embarrassing for him as a professor but especially so for you as a tax payer supported branch of the University of Minnesota. Does your school support and advertise blogs of Christian, Muslim, or Jewish proponents? Would your school be proud if one of your staff admitted to being hard on Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or Atheists, despising their beliefs and making mock of their nonsensical ideas and backwards social agenda as Mr. Myers admits to below in the blog headline below regarding Christianity?

His ideas are his own whether I agree with them or not and free speech is a constitutional right. But I’m embarrassed by this endorsement by your school for several reasons and thankfully I am not an alumnus.. I will also be sure my children and others who ask will be directed to fully research your institution fully to be clear on how their beliefs are accepted and treated by representatives. I am appalled my tax dollars are being used to advertise his hatred.


Daryl Schulz

He also provides a link to this fine example of my perfidy. Just a hint to those making future attempts to screw with my employer’s heads: I don’t recommend picking a criticism of Kent Hovind as an example. Anyone with half a brain, and the people working here are actually pretty smart, aren’t going to be too dazzled by someone who is unhappy that a biologist thinks a dishonest creationist huckster is an embarrassing representative of Christianity.

My university does not endorse what I say here. I don’t think Mr Shulz quite understands the concept of free speech if he thinks it means you only acknowledge the existence of one side of an argument; thinking that universities will back away from criticism of religion because some guy feels the existence of an atheist on campus makes the place unsuitable for his children is rather silly. That’s going to narrow their field of prospective educational institutions to lots of third rate bible colleges…which is, of course, Mr Schulz’s choice.

By the way, the majority of students here are Christian. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single student complain that I discriminate against them on the basis of their religion—they’re usually more interested in complaining about the brutality of my exams.

Which reminds me that I have to finish grading one of those brutal exams today…

What is their problem?

Man, the comments on my guest editorial at the Raw Story are nuts. I don’t know if the word “secular” brought out a flock of trolls, or if that place is always infested with these uncomprehending goons. There are a couple of people who seem baffled by the fact that I wrote a positive piece on the virtues of secularism, yet my prior comment on Melinda Barton was a negative work that concentrated on criticizing her sloppy logic and sneaky redefinitions. It’s bad enough that they are surprised that one person can use two different tactics, but they’re also suggesting that the fact that I didn’t beat up Barton some more means I’m backing away from my earlier statements.

I didn’t say more about Barton because I already wrote that argument. I thought I was thorough and didn’t need to rehash it—the fact that I included a link to it should have clued in people that I wasn’t repudiating it. I don’t know why this should be so difficult to grasp. I suspect it’s that people sympathetic to Barton’s view share her bigotry, and think that atheists are all planning to line the Christians up against the wall as soon as we’ve finished subverting society, right before the looting and orgies start. Atheists must be tied to extremism, or poor Ms. Barton’s argument falls apart.

Or maybe it’s the fact that the essay was a thousand words long, and overwhelmed their capacity (people who are bewildered at the idea of simultaneously supporting X while criticizing opponents of X don’t have much capacity to spare!)…so here, let me help by digesting the essay down.

Shorter intolerant rant by PZ Myers:

I’m willing to get along with and even support the religious, as long as they don’t threaten to suborn secular institutions to privilege religious belief.


Clocks and creationists

Lisa Jardine is a historian who clearly understands how science works:

The thought uppermost in my mind was how odd it is that non-scientists think of science as being about certainties and absolute truth. Whereas scientists are actually quite tentative—they simply try to arrive at the best fit between the experimental findings so far and a general principle.

Read the rest. She ties together the ideals of how science should be carried out with a story from Pepys and an unscrupulous sea captain and modern day creationists—excellent stuff!