Feeding the capitalists

I’ve gotten a few links to interesting CafePress merchandise today. You can now get the Immortal Pinkoski’s slogan, If you doubt this is possible, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS?, on a t-shirt. Mona tells me that I can also get a fine selection of cephalopodous clothing, or samples of other interesting art—take a look at Platypus Rex.

It’s a good thing I have a wife who scowls at me when I put on something outrageous, ’cause otherwise I’d be walking around with the weirdest outfits.

Don’t be surprised—physics has always been a target

As long as I’m making addenda to posts, let’s hit up this one, too.

Some people have mentioned that they knew the creationists would come gunning for other domains of science sooner or later, and see George Deutsch’s remarks as confirmation. There is absolutely no surprise to the criticism of physics, and it’s been going on for a long while. Ultimately, the gripe the religious have isn’t with the simple facts, it’s with the process. Science is a tool that has been incredibly successful at digging into the nature of the universe, and religion is a proven flop next to it. That rankles, I’m sure.

Look at Philip Johnson and the Wedge document, too: they aren’t after just the idea that man evolved from apes. They’re out to demolish the whole enchilada. Their enemy is naturalism. Every science is a target.

Remember this: anything that isn’t learned by way of dogma and revelation is a direct challenge to the authority of religious leaders. Science, all of it, is a threat to the religious cash cow. And most daunting to the theocratic mindset, clawing your way to the top of the scientific heap doesn’t translate to the same kind of immunity to effective criticism we see in Christianity. They just don’t see how they can shift a scam that requires credulity to a paradigm that demands skepticism.

One more time

Wow, but this post has inspired so many misconceptions.

I do not think Muslims should be insulated from satire. I do not think there is parity between a cartoonist drawing a picture someone doesn’t like and a Muslim calling for the execution of the cartoonist. I am not on the Muslim’s side here, and I am uncompromising in condemning rioting and destruction as criminal.

I do think religion needs to be thoroughly criticized—you haven’t been reading Pharyngula for long if you think otherwise, and I thought I’d been quite careful to spell out that religion was a hate-amplifier in this situation—and I do think that Islam in particular needs to be taken down a peg or two (I only hesitate to say that because too many of our home-grown Christians would interpret it as approval for their sanctimony). I think some of those crowd photos show a deeply evil mindset at work.

But here’s the thing, that liberal-lefty perspective: those Muslims are people. You know, human beings with needs and desires and families and aspirations, etc. We have to live with them, unless you’re calling for their extermination or banishment (and no, we aren’t. I hope.) They’ve got this horrible, evil idea of religion stuck in their heads, and the long-term solution is to educate them and imbed more secular ideals in their communities—my objection is that I don’t see that the Danish newspaper was trying to do that. A majority poking a minority with a sharp stick is not a confrontation or an argument. It’s just being mean and petty. It’s yet another kick when they’re down to a group of people who are already marginalized.

I’d be curious to know what solutions are being planned in Europe. Maybe someone who thinks a sign that says “Butcher those who mock Islam” is irredeemable and ought to be kicked out of the country, but I suspect, optimistically, that most of the Muslims in Denmark aren’t quite that far gone; are there any constructive ideas to weaken the grip of religious foolishness on immigrant populations? Or is it all going to be a process of clumsily beating them down with simple force? Maybe some of the Danish readers here can tell us what is going to be done (oh, and if the solution is to prohibit the mockery of religion by newspapers, I’m doubly against that: it violates free speech, and it doesn’t address the real source of the conflict at all.)

I’m all for ripping into religion with wild abandon. I just think it’s obvious, though, that there is another dimension to this problem than simply the god business, and too many of us are ignoring the human/social issue to blame only a convenient religious handle on the riots.

Poor Superman


So, the Bush administration is going to try and be pro-science. Here we go.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word “theory” needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

It continued: “This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.”

Deutsch is 24 years old, having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism a few years ago. As a reward for being a loyal Republican party apparatchik, he has been generously appointed to be a Political Officer enforcing doctrine over a bunch of high-falutin’ rocket scientists. Shades of Lysenko!

It must have been a heady feeling to have the power to dictate ideology to a lot of scientists with Ph.D.s.

I wonder if it now feels terrible to have one’s stupidity and ignorance a matter of public record (“theory” does not mean what he thinks it means), and to have so thoroughly overreached one’s intellectual capacity that it will be emblematic of the Republican corruption of science policy for years to come? Or perhaps (and perhaps more likely) Mr Deutsch is basking in the high regard of his know-nothing peers in this administration, who probably think smacking a scientist with a Bible is a clever retort.

If there were justice, Deutsch’s political career would be dead now, and he’d have to make a living selling aluminum siding in Topeka. I fear he’s just improved his standing in the Republican party.

. The rot runs deep.

There’s more at Bad Astronomy and Stranger Fruit.

Add Cosmic Variance to the list. I think you’re going to see a growing righteous fury among scientists on this.

Pox-ridden houses

I haven’t commented on those Muslim cartoons so far. I’m conflicted.

Why, you might ask? It’s a clear-cut case of religious insanity, exactly the sort of thing I ought to relish wagging an arrogantly atheistical finger at. And of course I will, in just a moment…but the difficult part is that there are actually at least two issues here, and religion is only one of them.

There are some things a cartoonist would be rightly excoriated for publishing: imagine that one had drawn an African-American figure as thick-lipped, low-browed, smirking clown with a watermelon in one hand and a fried chicken drumstick in the other. Feeding bigotry and flaunting racist stereotypes would be something that would drive me to protest any newspaper that endorsed it—of course, my protests would involve writing letters and canceling subscriptions, not rioting and burning down buildings. There is a genuine social concern here, I think. Muslims represent a poor and oppressed underclass, and those cartoons represent a ruling establishment intentionally taunting them and basically flipping them off. They have cause to be furious!

I’ve seen the cartoons, and they are crude and uninteresting—they are more about perpetuating stereotypes of Muslims as bomb-throwing terrorists than seriously illuminating a problem. They lack artistic or social or even comedic merit, and are only presented as an insult to inflame a poor minority. I don’t have any sympathy for a newspaper carrying out an exercise in pointless provocation.

So on the one hand I see a social problem being mocked, but on the other—and here comes the smug godless finger-wagging—I see a foolish superstition used as a prod to mock people, and a people so muddled by the phony blandishments of religion that they scream “Blasphemy!” and falsely pin the problem on a ridiculous insult to a non-existent god, rather than on the affront to their dignity as human beings and citizens. Religion in this case has accomplished two things, neither one productive: it’s distracted people away from the real problems, which have nothing at all to do with the camera-shy nature of their imaginary deity, and it’s also amplified the hatred.

It also doesn’t help that their riots are confirming the caricatures rather than opposing them. Once again, religiosity turns people into mindless frenzied zombies, and once again it interferes with progress.

Somehow, people are assuming from this that I’m “sympathetic to Islam”. How, I don’t know; I thought I’d always been quite clear in my contempt for all religion, and I thought the last two paragraphs above were plain enough. I am sympathetic to the problem of being a minority immigrant; that’s one issue that is being ignored too much. As I said, the real problem is being exacerbated by bad religion that amplifies the hate.

I really don’t think a Muslim would find me to be a friend to their religion.

I was home the whole time, I swear.


Although it is true that this fine group played the Edson auditorium tonight, and there was a rumor that they dragged the most uncoordinated old geezer in the house onto the stage, and there was a faint possibility that he made an embarrassing spectacle of himself with his wooden posturings and arrhythmic spasms, I must categorically deny that it could have been me.

If anyone took photographs of this…degrading hypothetical event, I will pay good money to see them erased. If there was a video recording made, I will report any blackmail attempts to the police.

We will not speak of this again. Ever.


<moan>…I went for a walk to the coffee shop today, and everywhere I went people would grin and give me a thumbs up, or comment on last night’s “performance.” Oh, the perils of small town living—everyone was there.

I’m going to have to move far, far away. Are there any job openings for a developmental biologist in Tierra del Fuego or Tasmania? I suppose if I just lived in a cave with a bag over my head and foraged off of lichens and small invertebrates, I could get by without the job part, strictly speaking.

Oh, no…the witnesses are popping up. I think SubEvilBoy must be looking for a promotion to EvilBoy.

Aliens among us

I simply do not understand some people’s attitudes towards sex. I’m a fairly conservative guy in that department, I thought, happily involved in a long term and conventional relationship, but these stories I’m hearing about the new breed of American puritanism are simply incomprehensible to me. This Kansas law to criminalize consensual amorous activities between teenagers sounds so freakily Talibanish to me.

While Kansas is one of 12 states in which sex under a certain age—16, 17, or 18—is always presumed illegal, regardless of consent or the age difference between the partners, Kline’s written interpretation of Kansas’ reporting law makes it the only state requiring that doctors, nurses, counselors, and all other care providers report—as abuse—any sexual interaction between teens under 16. Failure to report is a misdemeanor. Under Kline’s view, professionals must report even when the sex is consensual, committed with partners their age, and where there is no suspicion of injury. The plaintiffs who filed suit—a group of doctors, nurses, and counselors—contend that under Kline’s policy, even evidence of teen necking must be reported.

Then there’s this weird new commenter on this site: start here and read down, looking for comments by “B”. He has the most convoluted rationale for opposing any kind of contraception that I’ve ever heard. Apparently, you’re only supposed to have sex if there is some chance, no matter how remote, of the woman getting pregnant. You can reduce the odds by ‘natural’ methods, but there always has to be this lingering possibility…it’s sex as Russian roulette. It’s not worth doing unless there’s a round in one chamber.

I AM saying that people should always have sex that provides for the possibility of new life. Using artificial contraception removes that possibility. Therefore the act becomes solely for pleasure. Using someone to merely satisfy your own means is wrong. It’s so wrong, in fact, that people don’t even need to be told that it’s wrong.

That’s completely backwards. People having a good time together is perfectly normal and natural, and you have to be indoctrinated into believing it is wrong.

Here, for instance, is a perfect example of an irrationally warped attitude.

…harming yourself and your loved one by using artificial contraception to avoid said pregnancy is not healthy.

I think Mr B really needs to move to Kansas, unless he’s already there.

Curtsinger on creationism

Kristine Harley attended James Curtsinger‘s lecture at UMTC last night, and passed along an abbreviated copy of her notes. I wish I could have gone—it sounds like it was an informative evening—but living out here in the wilderness, I have to plan those long drives into the Big City with some care.

Curtsinger’s talk was only very loosely organized around the theme of “ten things,” and was mostly a comprehensive overview of the various forms of creationism from Archbishop Ussher (1581-1656) to Michael Behe’s embarrassing performance at the Dover trial. I would say that there were around 20-25 people in attendance, most of them members of the organization and U of M students (unlike me, an alumna). He covered a great deal of historical ground that will be familiar to those of us who know the history of American creationism, which he admitted was, for him, “oddly stimulating, like Victorian pornography.”

He first made the distinction between “young earth” and “old earth” creationists, and described Ussher’s backdating of the earth to 4004 BCE. To the surprise of many in the audience, he mentioned that William Jennings Bryan was actually not a young earth creationist. However, Young-Earth Creationism experience a resurgence in the 1960s with the help of Henry Morris and Duane Gish, men of some learning who came up with the theory of the biblical Flood causing fossils to be deposited through a combination of hydrologic sorting (marine invertebrates that lived in the lower elevations ended up in the lower strata, etc.), differential escape (human fossils were found last because they ran uphill to escape the floodwaters, etc.), and ecological zonation. He went on to describe the various problems with this theory.

He went through the Arkansas “Balanced Treatment Act” of 1981 and the Louisiana Creatonism Act of 1981, both of which were struck down, and the latter appealed to the Supreme Court where it was ruled unconstitutional. He went on to summarize the history of Intelligent Design and the most prominent personalities in the movement (Johnson, Dembski, Behe) as well as Dr. Dean Kenyon and Dr. Chris Macosko, their biographies, their arguments, and the problems with their conclusions.

Curtsinger stated that the real battleground for adequate science instruction in the United States is in the public high schools for one really good reason—the parents of the children who attend these schools have real influence over the curriculum. Curtsinger noted with alarm that, by the time a student has reached the sophomore level in college, his or her beliefs about evolution have been solidified, so that it is imperative that evolution is taught, and taught properly, in our nation’s high schools. While Curtsinger is not opposed to students exploring their own beliefs and values, and asking questions about creationism in a social or historical context even in high school, he notes that 20% of Minnesota public high school biology teachers teach creationism as science, which is illegal.

His most controversial point, that “Evangelical atheists make the problem worse,” was heard with a great deal of openness and even sympathy from this group and from me. I was initially troubled when I read this statement in the online calendar, but came away willing to accede his position. Curtsinger expressed himself well on this point. He noted that this was a very personal concern for him. I do not have the expertise to agree or dispute his assertion that Richard Dawkins “was never a particularly important scientist,” but I cannot disagree that Dawkins is “an aggressive atheist” who does “hit people over the head” with his disgust for religious superstition (how should I deny this when I admire Dawkins for it?).

Curtsinger called Richard Lewontin “a friend of mine, and a very important scientist” who nevertheless has stated (according to Curtsinger) that, “The purpose of science is to eliminate God from human consciousness.” Well, yes—naturally I don’t agree that that is the purpose of science, no matter how much I wish it would happen. Science is not about “Truth” with a capital “t” as is so often proclaimed by troubled deists and other philosophical romantics, so therefore it is not about “disproving God” either, although I certainly think that the methodical accounting for phenomena renders supernaturalist claims more and more dubious. Of course such a statement by Lewontin would “provide ammunition for Johnson,” and for people like him and the Discovery Institute. The group in attendance were, naturally, most if not all atheists, and I do not agree that if atheists disappeared from the earth tomorrow the creationists would likewise go out of business (far from it!) but I took Curtsinger’s point to mean, “Don’t make enemies unnecessarily.” Point taken. There are theists out there who accept the reality of evolution.

Curtsinger wrapped up with a summary on why universities are not generally in a good position to help on the issue. Professors are rewarded for the research, for which they spend a good 50% of their time, and for their teaching, which accounts for 40%, leaving a whopping 10% left for outreach—however one wants to go about doing that. Most science faculty pay little or no attention to creationism, anyway, allowing the problem to fester. What is needed are scientists working together with high school educators and with concerned citizens—atheists and theists alike.

Curtsinger wrapped up with a dig at Pat Robertson’s “God will smite thee” quote, and encouraged everyone to check out H.L. Mencken’s obituary for William Jennings Bryan to see how well it fits Robertson. Curtsinger also stated that he was, with Ed Hessler of Hamline University and Judy Boudreau of Minnetonka, forming the Minnesota Citizens for Science Education. He received a lot of applause and there was a good Q-and-A afterward. I spoke with Curtsinger afterward about our volunteer programs at the museum, in which we partner with the Minneapolis Public Schools to have trained facilitators visit the classroom and lead discussions that employ and teach critical thinking. These programs are arts-based, but I asked Curtsinger if it would be beneficial for universities to have similar volunteers make high school classroom visits to facilitate discussions with the students about science, stereotypes, evolution, and other subjects. Curtsinger seemed very enthusiastic about the idea and I left my contact information with him.

I think the most important point there is that the problem sets in long before the students get to college, and where we need to take action is with public school teachers and parents. I’m glad to hear that there is a science education advocacy group forming, and those three will be excellent people to lead it.