Prairie Home Companion at Morris

So did everyone tune in?

It was a middling show. He said good things about UMM and well, honest things about Morris, so I’m not going to complain about that.

As usual, the gospel music gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I just content myself with the knowledge that I was listening to a pleasant shadow of the richness the composers and musicians would have produced, if only their talent hadn’t been tainted with the rot of religiosity.

I sat next to Skatje, who looked weary with the burden of accompanying a pair of old fogeys to listen to some other old fogies act out skits and music that were even more fogeyish. Ah, the burden of being a teenager…

I’m sure Ken Ham is sincere in his faith…

…and that’s exactly why he is a slimy ass-pimple, a child-abusing freak.

Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.

“Boys and girls,” Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, “you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?’ Can you remember that?”

2300 children. 2300 young minds poisoned. Nothing new, I know, and I should just get used to it.

But I can’t.

And here’s how Ken Ham gets away with spreading anti-intellectual idiocy.

The children roared their assent.

“Sometimes people will answer, ‘No, but you weren’t there either,’ ” Ham told them. “Then you say, ‘No, I wasn’t, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.’ ” He waved his Bible in the air.

“Who’s the only one who’s always been there?” Ham asked.

“God!” the boys and girls shouted.

“Who’s the only one who knows everything?”


“So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?”

The children answered with a thundering: “God!”

“God.” Once again, I’m going to give good, liberal progressive Christians the vapors and point out that there is the destroyer, the idea that ruins young minds and corrupts education: god. Ham has god on the brain, and he exploits other people who have god on the brain to give him millions of dollars so he can run around the country and put god on the brain of the next generation.

I know. Many of you support science, and you carefully set aside your religious biases when assessing ideas about the world—you’ve managed to find means to cope with this infectious lie. That doesn’t change the ugly fact that it is a lie, a crippling corruption, and that many people don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side.

When I hear Christians make excuses for their religion, it’s like hearing smallpox survivors praising their scars. “It didn’t kill me, and these poxy marks add character to my face! Those deadly cases have nothing to do with my own delightful disease.”

So we do nothing. We let the infection simmer along, encouraging our children to get exposed to it, praising it, howling in anger at those who dare to say the obvious and point out that it’s a poison, a mind-killer, vacuous noise and evil nonsense. We let the absurdity flourish.

We know exactly where the vileness grows, in the cesspool of religion, yet we veer away from confronting the source, draining the contagion, eliminating the vector of ignorance.

We encourage it to thrive and it leads to well-meaning parents pressuring their impressionable kids into gulping down the ignorance-laced koolaid.

Emily Maynard, 12, was also delighted with Ham’s presentation. Home-schooled and voraciously curious, she had recently read an encyclopedia for fun — and caught herself almost believing the entry on evolution. “They were explaining about apes standing up, evolving to man, and I could kind of see that’s how it could happen,” she said.

Ham convinced her otherwise. As her mother beamed, Emily repeated Ham’s mantra: “The Bible is the history book of the universe.”

I’m so sorry, Emily.

Ben Watson wasn’t quite as confident. His father, a pastor in Staten Island, N.Y., had let him skip a day of second grade to attend. Ben went to public school, the Rev. Dave Watson explained, “and I thought it would be good for him to get a different perspective” for an upcoming project on Tyrannosaurus rex.

“You going to put in your report that dinosaurs are millions of years old?” Watson, 46, asked his son.

“No…. ” Ben said. He hesitated. “But that’s what my book says…. “

“It’s a lot to think about,” his dad reassured him. “We’ll do more research.”

I’m sorry, Ben.

We let you all down.

My Friday with Darwin

OK, people, this is too cruel. I was gone all day yesterday, traveling to the Twin Cities for this Darwin Day event, and the site gets 37,000 visits. Are you all trying to tell me it’s better when I’m not around to clutter it up? If I take off for a week will traffic climb to Daily Kos-like proportions? (There was a link from fark that might actually explain the sudden surge.)

Anyway, I’ll give a quick summary of what I was up to yesterday.

I started with a 3 hour drive to Minneapolis, which was very exciting. High winds, blowing snow, near whiteout conditions. The weather was bad enough that they canceled public schools in the area.

When I got there, we set up in the Bell Museum auditorium. We had about 50 or 60 people show up.

The first talk was by Mark Borrello, a historian of biology, who gave a very good overview of Darwin’s life.

I’ve put a copy of my talk online (pardon the bloated format: blame Microsoft). Since I don’t use much text in my powerpoint presentations, I’ll give a rough overview of the content here. In my introduction, I pointed out a creationist accusation—that we’re “Darwinian fundamentalists” or “Darwinists”—and a claim—that there is no evidence for evolution. The point of my talk was to show that, much as we respect and admire Darwin as a founding father of an important scientific discipline, his theory has been expanded upon in ways he couldn’t even imagine, and that the addition of new information is an ongoing pursuit. There are major themes in evolutionary research—genetics, molecular biology, bioinformatics, genomics, evo-devo—that simply weren’t even on the horizon in Darwin’s day.

I gave a lightning quick, superficial overview of examples of new developments in evolution.

  • New fossils, new transitional forms in whale and human evolution.
  • Fry et al.‘s work on venom evolution as an example of integrating molecular systematics, analysis of gene expression, and morphology to produce 3 overlapping lines of evidence that support an evolutionary story.
  • Suzuki and Nijhout’s work on laboratory selection in Manduca as an example of observed evolution.
  • Okabe and Graham’s study of parathyroid origins: combining the use of molecular markers and comparative embryology to demonstrate homology of an organ system.
  • Resolving core differences in the body plans of arthropods and chordates, and showing common descent by the shared patterns of Hox gene expression.

My conclusion was to show a pretty squid picture as an example of exotic beauty in nature, and explain that evolution is currently the only explanation that simultaneously explains the diversity and unity of life, and that it is the only explanation we have that is soundly based on the evidence.

The session closed with very short overviews of current research by three biologists in the ecology and evolutionary biology department: R. Ford Denison, Peter Tiffin, and Cynthia Weinig. They were very good, but I think the format was a bit much—after over two hours of talks, it was probably a mistake to put the most technically challenging talks at the very end, when the audience was exhausted.

Finally, I had a short planning discussion about Cafe Scientifique with the Bell Museum organizer, got in my car, cussed out rush hour traffic, got to western Minnesota to discover the roads were still invisible with blowing snow, and got home after a few exciting slides and twirls on powder-covered streets.

Today I’m planning to take it easy, read a bit, and attend the Prairie Home Companion show which will be broadcast live from UMM. You can find out more on the Prairie Home page, listen to it on your local station, and if you’ve got the real audio player, you can listen to it live between 5 and 7 pm Central time today. I doubt very much that he’ll say anything about evolutionary biology or science, but he may poke fun at my university, which is always entertaining.

Where will I be today?

This afternoon, I’ll be at the Bell Museum at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, celebrating the birth of Charles Darwin. Everyone is welcome, so come on down!

1:00P – Lecture by historian of biology Professor Mark Borrello, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, on the history of Darwin and evolutionary theory.

2:00P – Lecture by biologist and blogger Professor P.Z. Myers, University of Minnesota—Morris, on evidence for evolution.

3:00P – Panel discussion of University of Minnesota evolutionary biologists on their cutting-edge research at the U of M titled “My Life’s Work in Three Minutes”. To be followed by a cake reception.

Charles Darwin achieved fame and infamy for his theory of evolution by natural selection, now the foundation underlying all biological sciences. Darwin Day is the anniversary of his birthday, whose exact date is February 12, 1809. The date is celebrated internationally.

For more information, contact:
Mike Jones
Publishing and Editing Committee Manager
Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists

Bell Museum of Natural History (Directions|Google Map)

Mmmmm-mmm. Cake. You can’t possibly miss this.

Deutsch speaks!

…and makes a total ass of himself.

In the interview, Mr. Deutsch said that Dr. Hansen had partisan ties “all the way up to the top of the Democratic Party,” and that he was “using those ties and using his media connections to push an agenda, a worst-case-scenario agenda of global warming.” He said that anyone who disagrees with Dr. Hansen “is labeled a censor and is demonized and vilified in the media — and the media of course is a willing accomplice here.”

And how does he know Hansen was a mere partisan flack peddling bad science? Because Deutsch almost has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas A&M.

Awfully vague article about Dave Eaton

Eaton was the Minnetonka school board member and advocate of Intelligent Design creationism who abruptly resigned, shortly after his attempts to weaken his school district’s science standards were quashed. You wouldn’t know anything about that bit of backstory from this puff piece on Eaton, which has little but praise for the man and explains his departure by quoting him as saying he is “not leaving for any health, family or career reasons.”

C’mon, Strib. Come clean and say it. We know why he left: it’s because his brand of creationism was decisively crushed in Minnetonka, and he knew he was marginalized and isolated.