Ark inanity, yet again

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Lots of people have been emailing me with this story of yet another Ark expedition. It’s a routine lunacy that comes up all the time—probably the most irritating part of it all is the way MSNBC filed it under their tech/science section. It’s nothing of the kind: it’s mere pareidolia, the product of a loon biased by a desire to confirm a silly story from the Bible, a misplaced myth that claims a big boat landed on Mt Ararat, and a willingness to stare at satellite photos of rock and ice formations until one convinces oneself that a piece looks like a big boat. It also helps if one is willing to draw the shape of a boat in big red crayon on top of the random rock formation.

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I wrote about this before, with the same dismissive tone of disgust. These people are fools; this is practically a yearly ritual with a series of indistinguishable fundamentalist kooks trotting off to Turkey, wandering about cluelessly on some hills, and coming home with handwaving testimonials to sell to the faithful and raise more money to troop off to the same sere brown mountains the next year.

Just read archy. He summarizes the whole crazy nonsense well enough. The ark story is one of those things that is so painfully stupid that it makes me lose all hope in humanity.

I survived!

Notice: I made it back! Yesterday was one of those days where too much is crammed into too short a time. I taught my 8:00 class, slalomed down icy roads to St. Cloud State University, gave two talks (an afternoon talk on my work on ethanol teratogenesis to the biology department, an evening philosophy colloquium on Intelligent Design), zoomed home (the roads had thawed, to my relief) and collapsed into bed at 11:30.

Anyway, it was all good fun, and there was a surprisingly large crowd at the ID talk…and they asked some pretty sharp questions. I’d do it all again. Ummm, but maybe after I’ve had a little time to recover—I’m still feeling a little baggy-eyed and leaden-brained this morning.

Left or right, religion and politics don’t mix

The thin-skinned Religious Left whimpers some more. What is it with Kevin Drum and his constant sucking up to the delusional fantasist wing of the Democratic party? Usually it’s Amy Sullivan, but this time it’s Steve Waldman who gets to be the representative pantywaist for poor oppressed Christianity. He wants to claim that liberals are hostile to evangelicals.

I had been making a narrower point—that many liberals carry an elitist attitude toward evangelical Christians. Lerner’s indictment is far more sweeping. Is he being unfair? I think a distinction should be made between the elites and the rank and file on this. The fact is that most Democrats are religious. But secular liberals, who made up about 16% of the Kerry vote seem to have a disproportionate impact on the party’s image and approach.

Yes, I’m hostile to evangelical Christianity, and I think it is a blight upon the earth. However, take a look at that last sentence.

These “secular liberals”, like me, voted for John Kerry. We rejected his faith, but that was no obstacle to voting for him. Waldman’s own statistics tell us that these people he opposes are tolerant enough and open-minded enough that they had no problem voting for someone who professed his Christianity throughout his campaign. Obviously, this isn’t a problem.

I’d like to know how well Mr Waldman’s preferred voting bloc would favor an atheist candidate for president. How about an agnostic? How about someone who insisted his religion was not going to be an issue, refused to discuss it, and said he was going to represent all Americans without regard to their faith?

I think I know the answer to that: the Waldmans and Sullivans would rend their garments and weep and condemn the candidate. They’d stay away from the polls or they’d abandon the party and vote Republican. They are currently in the majority and they know their religion has an unshakeable lock on representation by our candidates, and still they whine about those “secular liberals”—it’s hard to imagine how frantic they’d be if we “secular liberals” were actually represented by our party. And that is a real problem.

We campaign for and vote for Christian candidates, so I’m not at all sure what more these lunatics want from us. Are we supposed to bow down and convert and tithe, or would it be enough to merely acknowledge the superiority of their Lord Jesus Christ and look sorrowful about having to go to hell?

Waldman also wants to know the roots of our hostility towards “religion and spirituality”. That one is easy: it’s because guessing games, revealed knowledge, irrational prejudice, inappropriate traditions, and unthinking obedience to dogma are not sensible ways to run a country, especially not one with a plurality of religious beliefs. That is the real stumbling block here, not that a minority of the Democratic party demands a rational foundation for our policies.

Boy, whenever Drum serves up a concentrated load of Sullivan and Waldman, it makes me wonder why I bother reading Washington Monthly. I may have to give up.

(Digby also rips into these pious crybabies—I approve completely.)

Gone questin’

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Alas, my mandate for today also includes traveling to St. Cloud State University to give two talks, one to the biology department in the afternoon and another to the philosophy department this evening. It looks like I get to be driving through the tail end of a snowstorm today, too.

It may be a little quiet here today. I haven’t forgotten everyone, I’m just going to be excessively busy.

Koufax closing

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    Where da red meat Democrats at?

    I seem to recall not long ago that in one of those usual “where da wimmin at?” web contretemps, there were claims that women just weren’t loud and bold enough to make their voices heard.

    All you have to do is read Helen Thomas’s “Lap Dogs of the Press” and Molly Ivins’ “Enough of the D.C. Dems” to know that that isn’t true. They’re exactly spot on, and it’s good to see some uncompromising criticisms of the feeble old men of the media and the Democratic party.

    (via Echidne and Phronesisaical)

    Nauseating Napoli

    Shame on you, South Dakota. Watch this clip of SD’s abortion politics; on the one hand, you have to respect people who have been providing abortion services to the state for years, like Dr Miriam McCreary (now criminalized), and the few representatives, like Elaine Roberts, who have opposed the law, but you also have to see that sexist asshat, Bill Napoli, ramble on about how he might make exceptions for religious virgins who had been brutally raped.

    He’s probably going to get reelected, when in a just world he ought to be embarrassed to be seen in public without a bag over his head.

    I hadn’t heard this part of Napoli’s argument before, either: he justifies the law banning abortions by appealing to fuzzy sentimentality about the way America used to be.

    If a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married.

    How biblical of Mr Napoli. Rape a girl, and if she gets pregnant, the whole community turns out to punish her some more by making her marry her rapist. Face it, this really is about treating women as chattel.

    Sarkar vs. Nelson…any news?

    I’m wondering how the Sarkar-Nelson debate in Austin went down—any attendees want to let me know? I ask because I just now read the discussion paper by Nelson that supposedly represents his side of the argument, and rarely have I seen such a shallow and pointless position advanced with any seriousness, by anyone other than the most fatuous sort of creationist.

    The paper goes on much too long for what is actually a trivial point—but then, that’s what BS artists do when they don’t have anything of substance: they go on and on. Here, though, is one key paragraph and figure that basically sums up his main point.

    Take a look at Figure 2. Yes, that’s your puny fund of physical knowledge, circa
    March 2006, to which both the naturalist and the design theorist have equal access. But
    notice that the design side has a distinct epistemological advantage. The ID theorist
    possesses a richer possible ontology of causes. It doesn’t matter if, at the end of time,
    there never was anything corresponding to ‘intelligence’ as an ontologically distinct type
    of cause. In that case, the design theorist would simply have carried around a useless
    notion. Since the design theorist has free access to every physical cause for which there’s
    any good evidence, however, he’s not losing anything by allowing for the possibility of
    design.

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    This is just so silly, both misrepresenting the status of the argument and playing pointless hypothetical games. He’s basically claiming that because ID includes an explanation that is not part of the scientific toolkit, it has a chance of encompassing some unidentified phenomena that will not be explained by science, and is therefore superior. To which I say, baloney.

    • The argument that we should accept some random, unsupported idea because of the possibility it might be true is a familiar one: it’s the root of the worst argument for theism ever, Pascal’s Wager. It is not sufficient justification for an idea to merely claim it is possible that it is true, given sufficiently elaborate assumptions.
    • His diagram falsely weights his preferred assumption. If we’re cataloging all possible explanations, or even merely all known causes (the box on the left), we’re talking about a huge volume of information, all of which is specified to varying degrees, from all the step-by-step minutiae of a series of gene sequences to fuzzy guesses and generalities…and it’s the detailed and testable explanations that are the central part of science. On the design side, all Nelson is adding is an exceptionally poorly specified concept—”intelligent causation”—with absolutely no information provided about either the nature of the intelligent agent or its mechanisms of action. It’s awfully presumptuous of Nelson to deign to call such half-assed, poorly codified blather an ontology.
    • Science is a most pragmatic process. We pursue what is doable and that which we can infer from the current body of knowledge. Nelson is completely ignoring the practical aspects of science to advocate an idea which has no theoretical foundation and no applicable research program, all for a hugely hypothetical abstraction. If it’s a “useless notion”, why bother with it?
    • At best, what ID therefore does is add the thinnest possible membrane, sheer to the point of invisibility and entirely untestable and untouchable, to the top of Nelson’s huge box of “our knowledge of physical causes”, and justifies its addition solely by claiming that it is possible that it might be true. What he then glosses over is that this miniscule and improbably remote possibility, which is lacking any empirical justification, is the sine qua non of the Intelligent Design movement. Yeah, sure, a designer of some sort might have intervened at some point in the history of life on earth, and I’ll give that hypothesis the level of attention warranted by the evidence for it, i.e. none, yet what Nelson must explain is why he’s part of a whole institute with dozens of fellows and a PR budget of millions arguing for this one insignificant, negligible idea.

    Sahotra Sarkar is trained in philosophy as well as biology. I have to wonder how he responded to such inane and superficial pseudo-philosophical noise…it’s the kind of thing that could make for an awfully boring debate.