Since it was brought up in the comments, I thought I’d bring back my statement on the “Brights.”

There’s a lot of noise on the net right now about The Brights, the idea that we can invent a pleasant new name for godless atheists and thereby improve our image. It’s being pushed by luminaries like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Here’s a nice quote that summarizes my opinion:

Perhaps the best of the available euphemisms for atheist is nontheist. It lacks the connotation of positive conviction that there is definitely no god, and it could therefore easily be embraced by Teapot or Tooth Fairy Agnostics. It is less familiar than atheist and lacks its phobic connotations. Yet, unlike a completely new coining, its meaning is clear. If we want a euphemism at all, nontheist is probably the best.

The alternative which I favor is to renounce all euphemisms and grasp the nettle of the word atheism itself, precisely because it is a taboo word carrying frissons of hysterical phobia. Critical mass may be harder to achieve than with some non-confrontational euphemism, but if we did achieve it with the dread word atheist, the political impact would be all the greater.

Guess who said that?

Richard Dawkins himself, as cited here. I have no idea what has happened to his good sense since.

I have absolutely no problem with the words “atheist”, “secular humanist”, “infidel”, “damned hellbound godless heathen”, or whatever names people want to apply to us. It’s very peculiar for an atheist to object to the terms “atheist” or “godless”, as if there was something negative about it. It’s even more pathetic to pick out some name you like, but that has never been applied to you, and ask that you be addressed by it—it smacks of a six-year-old who decides his name isn’t quite good enough, so he announces to the schoolyard that he’d like to be called “Spike” from now on. It’s laughable.

The argument that this is analogous to the appropriation of terms like “queer” and “gay” by the homosexual community is false. Those were used as terms of opprobrium by outsiders, and were seized and inverted by homosexuals to remove their sting, and as a mark of pride. This isn’t the case with “Bright”. It’s artificial and phony.

Why I am not an A-lister

If you aren’t up on the latest blogging scandals du jour, just ignore this.

  • I’m not on the “Townhouse” email list…in fact, I never even heard of it before.
  • I only read the Daily Kos for DarkSyde. I think Markos is an inconsequential part of the community there.
  • Markos has never told me what to do, and if he did, I’d ignore him.
  • I went to YearlyKos, and the A-listers bored me…but I thought the community was wonderful.
  • I think that coordinating responses by email is smart and practical, and that the righty nutcases who think it is cheating are just trying to undermine any hint of organization on the left.
  • Not enough open threads.
  • Even when he’s pouting, I think Gary Farber is a blogging god. (Petulance and a sense of entitlement are obligatory elements of divinity, right?)
  • I am not a goddess.
  • Jerome who? Armando who?
  • I keep writing incomprehensible science articles that get almost no comments.
  • I don’t measure quality by the numbers on a sitemeter.
  • Not enough sex. Or what there is involves more chelicerae or tentacles than anuses.
  • Jesus hates me. The feeling is mutual.
  • I don’t resent Atrios.
  • Everyone tells me I’m too softspoken and quiet in person—must start biting heads off kittens in public to strengthen reputation.
  • I don’t have a Pirate Mode any more.

I’m proud to be non-human

Here’s a dilemma: I think Ron Numbers, the philosopher and historian of science, is a smart fellow and a net asset to the opposition to creationism, and I agree with him that a diversity of approaches to the issue is a good thing. My opinion could change, though, because I am experiencing considerable exasperation with the apologists for religion on the evolution side, and this interview with Numbers isn’t helping things. Here’s an example of the kind of nonsense that drives me nuts.

QUESTION: Are scientists in general atheistic?

MR. NUMBERS: The public often gets the impression that most scientists are non-believers. But, that’s not true. Just within the past year the journal Nature published a study that revealed even today roughly the same proportion of scientists believe in God as did 75 years ago. [The figure is almost 40%]

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Bye bye, RA

I suspect that soon there will be at least one religious person who will claim he converted from atheism who I will believe. The Raving Atheist is getting ripe: he’s been ramping up the irrationality for some time now, precessing like a top slowing down, and I expect that soon enough he’ll flop over for Jesus. I’m not questioning his sincerity—he is an atheist, all right, and there is no doubt about it—but his sympathies are getting weirder and weirder.

This is not a new development. I’ve discussed his radical pro-life position before, and now Punkassblog and Amanda bring to my attention his latest post, in which he foreswears saying an unkind word about Christianity ever again, and in which I learn that he’s been actively working with one of those ghastly dishonest “crisis pregnancy centers” that offer no services other than propaganda (and, apparently, free teddy bears) and exist only to mislead women worried about pregnancy.

You know, I think I’d forgive an open conversion to Christianity far more easily than I can his irresponsible affiliation with those charlatans and fanatics.

His rationalizations for pro-life extremism simply don’t make sense: he seems to think something special happens at fertilization that unambiguously and unarbitrarily defines a human being. Diploidy is not the scientific term for ensoulment. Genetic specification is not sufficient to specify an individual. Potential is not a synonym for actuality. Fertilization is not a switch that triggers an ineluctable program towards individuality. The combinatorial uniqueness of an individual’s genome is inadequate to define the individual. Amanda notes that most opposition to abortion comes from either religious convictions, a commitment to a sexist social order, or I’d add, a rather primitive and unthinking desire to tightly control reproduction in potential mates and kin. I don’t know which of these apply to RA, but his weak excuses clearly rule out that it might have been an intellectual decision on his part.

He’s welcome to his convictions about abortion, but he needs to face it: they aren’t reasonable, and they’re as batty as Dawn Eden.

Old spiders

Two short articles in this week’s Science link the orb-weaving spiders back to a common ancestor in the Early Cretaceous, with both physical and molecular evidence. What we have is a 110-million-year-old piece of amber that preserves a piece of an orb web and some captured prey, and a new comparative study of spider silk proteins that ties together the two orb-weaving lineages, the Araneoidea and the Deinopoidea, and dates their last common ancestor to 136 million years ago.

Araneoids and Deinopoids build similar looking webs—a radial frame supporting a sticky spiral—but they differ in how they trap prey. Deinopoids spin dry fibers that they fluff into threads that adhere electrostatically to small insects; Araneoids secrete glue onto the the strand, which takes less work (no fluffing), and is much more strongly adhesive. The differences are enough to make one question whether there was a single origin of orb weavers, or whether the two groups independently stumbled on the same efficient form of architecture.

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Sing along with Cthulhu


Feeling musical this morning? Stephanie Ching sent me links to some lyrics. An old User Friendly cartoon combines Cthulhu, zombies, and brains, and then there’s the unspeakable: this guy has written a song for John Tesh. If anything is going to rouse the sleeping Old Ones that lie in lost R’Lyeh, it’s got to be New Age caterwauling.

Quick! To scrub the thought of New Age Lite muzak out of your brain, Unfogged provides a cure: visualize your scrotum rupturing. Think about epididymitis and Fournier’s gangrene. There, can’t you feel the nightmare ebbing?