You mean there are degrees of Catholic foolishness?

The Catholic Church seems to be experiencing a few rifts of their own. The current pope has apparently been sending down decrees to bust up the practice of the old Latin Mass, which is rather interesting. Back when I was a kid I had Catholic friends who talked about how their church was changing, which, as a lackadaisical Lutheran, I didn’t get at all. Wasn’t Protestantism a bigger upheaval? My Sunday school teacher said so. But now I guess the Pope is tightening the rules even more.

The members of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church have been on edge for weeks, worried that their way of worship is under threat, and what makes their fears especially agonizing is the identity of the person leading the crackdown: Pope Francis.

The congregants — belonging to one of hundreds of U.S. churches devoted to the old Latin Mass — say they can’t understand the pope’s thinking on limiting its practice. Some say they are praying that Francis’s better judgment still might prevail. One influential church member, theologian Peter Kwasniewski, has spent day after day publishing fiery opinion pieces, calling Francis’s decree contemptuous, vindictive toward Catholic traditionalists, an atomic bomb against the faith.

“Let’s not mince words,” Kwasniewski wrote at one point on Facebook. “This is a declaration of total war.”

Now, as a more worldly atheist who has encountered too many conservative Catholics, I think I understand. I read that and what I thought, again not as a knowledgeable Catholic, that it was obvious what he’s doing: he’s cracking down on the far right Catholics because they’re absolutist, authoritarian assholes who hinder any progress. Not that I think he’s particularly progressive, he just wants to shift the church a few millimeters to the left when what they really need to do is break up and move the rubble a few kilometers, but that’s what I, in my ignorance, figured must be going on, and surprisingly, the article confirmed it for me.

His mid-July decree dramatically tightened the rules on who can celebrate the old Latin Mass, requiring, among other things, new permission from local bishops. Some of the pope’s allies say the goal is to curtail forces antagonistic not specifically toward Francis’s pontificate, but toward Catholicism’s sometimes-lurching effort since the Second Vatican Council to modernize and reform.

The story further confirms my assumption that Catholic conservatives are assholes.

But many congregants speak of an inner turmoil — of feeling at odds with the supreme authority of their religion over something so core. To them, the Latin Mass is not just a form of prayer, but also the central force for like-minded people in their community. For people who take the faith seriously. Who pray the rosary. Who believe the teaching as it was written — that homosexual acts are disordered, that contraception is wrong, that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ. Some of these are minority viewpoints even among American Catholics, and St. Francis congregants say they sometimes feel like outsiders in their own city, uneasy about sharing their convictions, other than at their church.

Again, I’m not arguing that the church hierarchy is not awful, right up to the tippy-top — they have a tremendous amount of guilt for pedophilia and genocide — but that these people who want the Latin Mass are worse. These are the Michael Voris/Church Militant types who want to roll the whole world back into the Middle Ages, like this guy:

For Jacob Bauer, 24, that meant applying the principles of the church to nearly every aspect of his family life. It meant modesty — no trips to the beach, for instance, where revealing clothing would be on display. It meant refraining from gossip. It meant a defining 2017 conversation with his eventual wife, Hannah, now 25, about how the role of women had veered off course during modern times, and how something more traditional would be best for their family. So Hannah decided to reconsider her optometry career goals and stay home to raise a family. They now have one young child and hope to have more. Hannah wants to home-school the children.

“I was given the conviction I could do that from church,” where many women were going the same route, she said.

If that’s really what she wanted, fine. It’s just funny how every time conservatives talk about gender roles they somehow magically end up deciding that the woman who was on the road to a productive career is the one who needs to drop everything and stay home with the kids. Especially when the man’s primary role seems to be hanging out on Twitter telling everyone to go to Mass.

Bauer says he just wants space for his family to follow their own beliefs, without threats, and so his response has been to think of the pope daily: To pray for him, to cite him by name, with the hope that he “sees the love a lot of us have for the Latin Mass.” On Twitter — where Bauer describes himself in his bio as a “12th, 13th, 14th, 15th-century moderate; 21st-century hyper-traditionalist” — he has been similarly civil. He has regularly extolled the virtues of the old Latin Mass but refrained from criticism of Francis.

I’m not so civil. That’s an asshole hiding behind his civility. I can see why the Pope would want to distance himself from these wackaloons.

By the way, it’s not just Catholics. The worst members of every religion are the absolute authoritarian assholes, who always seem to muscle their way into loud leadership positions.

You will be replaced. Get over it.

It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s an inescapable law of nature. The Great Replacement is going to happen. You will die. New individuals will emerge from the gene pool, and they won’t be you, and they won’t look like you, and they’ll be a mongrel mixture of different adults now living on the planet. You would think that someone calling themselves an evolutionary psychologist would comprehend that.

Individuals dying in a thriving population doesn’t mean you’re going extinct. That’s a sloppy use of the language; by that definition, we’re constantly going extinct, that when my grandmother died it was an extinction event, that I can look forward to my own inevitable extinction, and that when I go, it’ll be the end of my unique, special species, like losing the passenger pigeon. That’s complete nonsense. It’s an attempt to turn your own existential dread of death into a global tragedy.

Get over yourselves.

Having children really is just a choice, and the vitality of a population isn’t a matter of whether individuals “selfishly” choose to have kids or “selfishly” choose not to. That decision isn’t the one that’s going to decide whether your demographic fades away or not. What matters is whether you choose to contribute to a healthy society, with individuals favoring different, productive roles that don’t have to include child-bearing, and that you build a strong, robust culture that propagates itself. It doesn’t matter if you have 20 children, but they all have to live in a survivalist shelter and never get an education and treat strangers as enemies — that’s a lineage that will burn out and die and fail to contribute to the future.

The magic words that will define a culture that does not go extinct are “community” and “cooperation”.

The ignominy

I’ve told you before that the content I made on Scienceblogs years ago has been hijacked — the site was bought up (legitimately, I can’t do anything about it) by a conservative asshole who simply uses it as a vehicle to host ads. It’s a shame, but at least all that stuff I wrote didn’t disappear into the ol’ bit bucket. But now I have learned that they’ve added insult to their legally sanctioned theft.

“pharyngula” (at least they spelled that right) by…who??!?

Man, I ought to give up and have my name legally changed to PZ, just PZ. They couldn’t misspell that, could they?

Oh yeah, they could. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been called PJ.

I thought that was nothing but a weird dream

I dreamt that William Shatner was going to be launched into space, which was odd since I really don’t care about an over-the-hill celebrity and I generally don’t have that kind of random dream. But then this morning I learned that it was really going to happen next week! This was not a prophetic dream, I must have just fleetingly encountered a news item last week that just sunk out of my awareness (I really, truly don’t give a fuck about Shatner) and then resurfaced while I was asleep.

Science fiction will soon become reality, as William Shatner is scheduled to launch on the next crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

The company plans to fly the Canadian actor, who famously played Capt. Kirk in the original “Star Trek” television series, as one of the passengers on the company’s New Shepard rocket.

The launch is planned for Oct. 12. Blue Origin’s vice president of mission and flight operations, Audrey Powers, is joining the flight, with the crew of four rounded out by previously announced members Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen and Medidata co-founder Glen de Vries.

But wait! This is insane! Shatner has no qualifications for this mission, and he’s 90 years old! It’s pure PR. Bezos is just stuffing random attention-getting bodies (and a few of his corporate cronies) into his rocketship to sit quietly and do nothing. This is precisely what the phrase “spam in a can” means.

Also, Bezos has sold $100 million in tickets to willing hunks of wealthy spam. None of them earned the privilege of going into space, they’ve just got connections and money that’s going to give them bragging rights at the next cocktail party. Just lumps of spiced ham, heavily processed, shot into space, and unfortunately returned.

You know what this means? Elon Musk is going to have to bag a Kardashian, or maybe a Star Wars cast member, for his next flight.

By the way, did you know that Bezos is suing NASA for awarding a contract to Musk? Fight, fight, fight! Can they please kill each other, or at least cripple themselves, in a bloody time-wasting spectacle of profligate money-flinging?

Why is it always the progressives framed as the problem?

WTF? She can’t afford shoes? Or a broom?

There’s this new book on behavioral genetics out, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, by Kathryn Paige Harden. I am not going to read it. I’ll never read it. If I were sent a free copy, I’d just throw it in the trash.

I know! I sound like I’m pre-judging it! But I can’t help it, everything I’ve read about it makes it clear that Harden has Steve Pinker disease. That’s the habit of creating a false dichotomy and stuffing any hint of leftist ideology into the extreme, just so you can easily dismiss it, and making those damned progressives the enemy of science, no matter what their views. Pinker did that with his terrible “blank slate” nonsense (no, no one believes that human beings are born with a complete absence of predispositions, or that genes don’t influence behavior). Why should I read something that has declared people like me to be bad by stuffing words in our mouths?

For a perfect example of this bullshit, here’s a profile in the New Yorker.

Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?
The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything.

Well fuck you too, New Yorker. I’m a fairly typical progressive, you don’t have to work at all hard to convince me that genetics matters. It does. But hey, sure, claim that I think genes are irrelevant, so you can claim that sweet centrist middle ground. Who are you arguing with, anyway?

To be fair, I’d also point out that on the far right, even among the most ridiculous bigots, they don’t believe that genes are everything. They’d also tell you that money matters.

Here’s the real difference:

Ask me if genetics matters, and I’d say yes, but that the interactions between genes and environment are so deeply intertwined that you can’t separate them out, and I don’t know precisely how genetics matters, and neither do you.

Ask someone on Harden’s side the same question, and they’ll say yes (Agreement! Consensus!), but that they think they know how, or are at least working on figuring out all the answers, which will show that vague properties like “educational attainment” have a robust genetic component. And I will argue that no, they aren’t even close.

I will roll my eyes especially hard when they try to tell me they’re figuring it out with GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Studies), twin studies, and polygenic scores, and that they affirm long-held assumptions by the privileged white class in our country. Yeah, no. Here’s a good article that, unlike the New Yorker, isn’t fawning over her fuzzy genetic determinism.

Rather than admit that these studies feed fascistic and racist ideas, she attempts to “both-sides” the issues, focusing on leftists, for whom she appears to have some disdain, fancying herself as some kind of sensible centrist, by contrast. Case in point is her interpretation of a study related to bias towards genetic determinists:

“… a scientist who reported genetic influence on intelligence was also perceived as less objective, more motivated to prove a particular hypothesis, and more likely to hold non-egalitarian beliefs that predated their scientific research career…people who described themselves as politically liberal were particularly likely to doubt the scientist’s objectivity when she reported genetic influences on intelligence.”

Her point here is to paint the left as hopelessly biased on this subject, but despite Harden’s dubious effort to paint herself as a leftist, many individuals touting genetic determinist views also harbor racist and classist views that are hardly egalitarian. There are obvious reasons for this and it doesn’t take a leftist to distrust their motives, nor should one expect leftists to embrace a sugar-coated version of genetic determinism.

Isn’t it curious how these gene-crazy people always try to find ways to demonize the people who aren’t racist/fascist/bigots? It would be nice if they were even more fastidious about the racists who do so love their work.

And there’s the science behind their claims. There is a place for GWAS studies. If you’re using them as a tool to trace lineages, fine. If you’re using them to identify candidate genes that you’ll then analyze with experimental work, great. If you instead are using them to label some marker as a potential causal agent for some complex behavioral phenomenon, no thank you very much go away now.

The actual science is far less impressive, and for those not familiar, it essentially relies on establishing genetic “correlations,” without defining what or how these genes might influence a particular trait. The principle behind the studies is not much different than what commercial genealogy sites like do, but instead of establishing ethnicity or ancestry, they correlate the genetic variants that are more common in one group than another for a particular behavioral trait, or just about anything that can be designated on a questionnaire. Then they score the total number of these correlated variants a person has for a “polygenic score,” the idea being that a higher score makes it more likely you will have the trait. This is based on the hypothesis that traits are “polygenic,” consisting of hundreds or thousands of genetic variants. It is a probabilistic assessment, with no definitive set of genetic variants that would confer a trait or explanation of how any of these variants would contribute to the trait, nor explain why many with high scores do not have the trait and many with low scores do.

In truth, applying a polygenic score for a trait isn’t a whole lot different than commercial genealogy sites assessing whether someone has genetic variation that is more common for, say, Italian or Korean people. The difference is that is not absurdly claiming that these genetic variations are causing Italians to like pizza or Koreans to use chopsticks. That, however, is essentially what behavioral geneticists are trying to claim, but instead of pizza or chopsticks, Harden is focused largely on so-called “educational attainment.”

Everything is polygenic. The relationships between different genes are also certainly non-linear, so you can’t just add up slight effects to claim the whole of the outcome is predictable or important. You definitely can’t talk about causality (oh, and Harden backs up frantically every time anyone mentions the “causal” word, with good reason.)

Thus, we have the circular argument that keeps the field of behavioral genetics alive: The heritability of a trait seen in twin studies proves there is a genetic basis for that trait, and the fact that we are not able to confirm twin studies via genetic studies shows only that we haven’t found the genes we expected yet, but we know must exist because of twin studies. Such circular assumptions are then presented as established science. For example, Harden claims as fact that behavioral traits are “polygenic”:

“Schizophrenia and autism and depression and obesity and educational attainment are not associated with one gene. They are not associated with even a dozen different SNPs. They are polygenic – associated with thousands upon thousands of SNP’s [genetic variants] scattered all throughout a person’s genome.”

These contradictory assumptions leave us with a “polygenic” model with thousands of genetic variants adding up to a tiny bit of heritability, and unidentified “rare variants,” to be found at a later date, accounting for the remaining huge chunks of missing heritability. This is simply wishful thinking.

Nonetheless, Harden embraces the idea that these genetic studies will someday close the gap on this missing heritability, touting a recent study for educational attainment in which she claims, “You can account for 13% of the variance.” Although this is not anywhere near what one would expect from twin studies, on the surface it is significantly better than the usual 2 to 3% that such studies generally yield. It is a bit of sleight hand, however, for Harden to tout this figure, when she also touts within family studies (comparing the genetics of siblings and their parents and then assessing their educational attainment polygenic score), as a way to strip down to the actual causal genes, and such a study was conducted and brought this figure back down to 2 or 3%. Such decreases are merely a flesh wound for Harden, though, who notes that, “… the heritability of educational attainment is still not zero.”

Here’s the thing, though. I’m going to be hearing about this book for years to come, all from the alt-right and right-wing losers who promote the kind of racial determinism underlying its theme, and what I will see from us horrible lefties is dismissal and rightful recognition that it doesn’t demonstrate what it claims…which will lead to people like Harden or Charles Murray or Steve Sailer claiming that we’re the bad guys, and siding with Harden. Yet Harden will insist that her sympathies are with progressives and social justice, and oh no, she doesn’t see anything wrong with her most ardent supporters finding affirmation of their racist views in her book.

Hey, has she done an interview with Joe Rogan or Jordan Peterson or Bret Weinstein/Heather Heying yet? They’re going to love her.

Please avoid the term “paradigm shift” unless you’ve got something really surprising

Am I missing something here? Here’s an article with the grand title of “Researchers propose expanded evolutionary concept”, which declares that we’re going to have to expand and rethink our understanding of evolutionary theory. “Oh really?” I thought, but I read it with an open mind, expecting some dramatic new phenomenon to be explained. I was a little disappointed to find it was about ramets.

Don’t get me wrong, ramets are interesting, and the paper’s content is fine, if maybe a little overhyped. Ramets are an asexual kind of reproduction, fairly common in plants, where runners sprout shoots that develop into individuals — a familiar example is aspen trees, where a clump of trees, even a whole forest, may consist of clones of a single source individual, each tree born of the original source root system, spawning more roots that generate more ramets that expand the clone.

The paper makes the good point that these organisms aren’t constrained by Weisman’s barrier, which postulates that there is no exchange of heritable variation from the soma to the gonads, which we animals take for granted. If your fingers were irradiated, producing a new collection of mutations in those tissues, it won’t matter to future offspring because those cells don’t contribute to sperm and egg. That would all change if you were able to sprout clonal copies of yourself from your fingertips, like these ramets, because then those irradiated digits would have a way to reproduce independent individuals. It would also be hard to type with all these finger-fetuses growing from my hands.

So in organisms with the ability to propagate from somatic tissues, somatic mutations are a mechanism for generating new variations. That’s the story here.

Evolutionary consequences of somatic mutations when they enter the germline.
(A) In most animals, the Weisman barrier between soma and germline prevents transfer. However, germline determination occurs late in plants, fungi, and some basal metazoans. In the hydrozoa, for example, stem cells differentiate into germ cells throughout the life of the colony. In others, trans-differentiation of soma into germ cells may occur. Thus, as somatic mutations accumulate, some may enter the germ line. Once in the germline, somatic mutations are recombined into different genetic backgrounds during meiosis similar to germline mutations. This reduces linkage between potentially deleterious mutations, which otherwise would lead to increasing genetic load. (B) Multilevel selection may also speed up adaptive evolution by providing a first filter of negative selection at the level of cell populations. However, the success of adaptive somatic genetic variation (SoGV) depends on whether they occur in stem cells and the specifics of how new modules arise. Homogeneous modules each arising from single mutated stem cells may compete with each other at the within-genet level and be subject to selection.

Yes, fine, this is an important phenomenon, but is it really new? Does it require bold new changes to evolutionary theory? In my head, I’m quite aware that asexual species can still evolve and acquire new traits, and that is perfectly compatible with the evolutionary principles I understand. There is often an erroneous bias in humans to assume that all populations reproduce sexually, like us, and that somatic tissues can’t propagate from cuttings, like us animals, but evolutionary theory isn’t blinkered in that way. Why is announcing we need an “expanded evolutionary concept” to account for this? We don’t. This could just be over-hyping something, as they tend to do.

But no, it’s actually in the paper itself. Oh no, it’s the dreaded paradigm shift.

Evolutionary biology has made tremendous progress in explaining the emergence and maintenance of sexual reproduction despite the two-fold costs of sex. Here, we addressed the flip side of the coin, namely, how do a large number of species cope with extended phases of asexual reproduction that, according to conventional wisdom, precludes the emergence of genetic and phenotypic diversity and hence, adaptive evolution? With empirical data increasingly confirming earlier conceptual work, it is now timely to suggest a paradigm shift that acknowledges the evolution of modular species at multiple levels. Cell lineages evolve within ramets, which in turn are forming asexual populations featuring a mix of mosaic and fixed SoGV. Both of these levels of variation and selection are, in turn, nested within sexually reproducing populations of genets that are corresponding to the ‘classical’ level of individuality in population genetics of unitary species, leading to potentially complex pathways of adaptation that merit further study.

Great, yes, I agree, multiple levels of selection, somatic mutation can contribute to genetic diversity, there’s nothing wrong or surprising about that. But where’s the “paradigm shift”? What’s the part that can’t be accommodated by our current understanding of genes and phenotypes and populations? Come on, people, tone down the exaggeration.

Unless there’s something I am missing here, which does happen. I may be a bit of an animal-chauvinist, so it feels awkward to have to remind a plant-person that evolutionary theory can handle bacteria quite well, so the peculiarities of our multicellular models aren’t necessarily going to require radical renovation of the whole idea.

Rod Dreher still has a job

I know, it’s hard to believe but he does. He’s got a strange little niche as the “crunchy con”, a granola-eating Catholic conservative, and seems to get writing gigs all over the place. Given recent and ongoing historical revelations, just the word “Catholic” gives me heebie-jeebies, but I guess I’m alone in that, given that some people think “Jesuitical” is a compliment and that the Supreme Court seems to have been packed with practitioners of that bizarre faith.

But anyway, back to Rod Dreher. I actively avoid reading anything by the guy, which means that I only see the most outrageous excerpts that have already spread far and wide, so I admit to some sampling bias here. But how in the name of all that is holy and unholy did the opening paragraph of a recent essay pass by an editor?

I have never given circumcision a single thought, other than to consent to my sons’ circumcision. Europeans think its weird for American Gentiles to be circumcised, and I think they’re right … but I remember the one kid we had in my elementary school class, a black boy who had been born at home, and who was not circumcised. All us boys wanted to stare at his primitive root wiener when we were at the urinal during recess, because it was monstrous. Nobody told us that wieners could look like that. The kid didn’t know why his penis was so strange looking, and neither did we. Third grade, man.

That is amazing. The first sentence is the car driving through the fence railing and over the cliff, the second sentence is the bone-crushing crunch as it hits a boulder on the way down, and the third is when the vehicle bursts into flame and explodes. It’s like a 70s detective show.

The overall message of the essay is one I agree with, that routine circumcision is a bad practice, but how he gets there is weirdly traumatic.

The first bit is expected and routine — of course Rod Dreher never gave it a moment’s thought when he agreed to let doctors do unnecessary surgery on his children’s penises. He put far more thought into the arguments of anti-vaxxers when he decided to ignore his doctors and space out his children’s vaccination schedule, but hacking off bits of a baby’s flesh? Sure, everyone else is doing it, let’s go along.

But then, the presentiment of doom comes along when he introduces the subject of his reminiscence…a black boy. His skin color is totally irrelevant to his point, but it does prime the explosives nicely for that moment when he sets off primitive root wiener, which was monstrous. Yikes. Hey, editor at the American Conservative: you’ve got an essay about the perils of circumcision, and you could have honed it easily by snipping out “black” and removing the whole racist diversion into the black child’s monstrous, primitive penis but did you? No, you did not. You may not have even noticed.

Dreher was a late convert to Catholicism (he has since left the church, after Pope Benedict retired, because he was concerned at how it has lost “rigor” since Vatican II in 1959 — he’s a very strange man) so his religious upbringing doesn’t quite explain his bizarre childhood behavior. All the boys in his elementary school would gather around the urinal to stare at a penis? I don’t believe it. I don’t recall ever seeing any other child’s penis in elementary school, let alone retaining it as a vivid memory later in life. In my schooling, the children wore pants, and using the urinal wasn’t an invitation to a communal gawping session. But then, maybe schools were different in Lousiana, where he grew up. Y’all wear pants down South, right?

I don’t think you can blame it on “Third grade, man.” In my third grade experience, I was obsessed with dinosaurs, not black boys’ penises.

I see a pattern here

In the US and Canada, we’ve had a tremendous number of cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests — over and over, with the church hierarchy concealing and actively shuffling criminal priests about. But maybe it’s just us Americans? Or Canadians? So let’s see what’s going on in other countries. It’s another horror.

A major report released Tuesday said French Catholic clerics had abused more than 200,000 minors over the past 70 years, a systemic trauma that the inquiry’s leader described as deep and “cruel.”

The report’s findings could trigger a public reckoning in a country where church officials long stalled efforts to investigate complicity. The findings also add to the picture of country-by-country trauma within a religion that has tended to find abuse on a stunning scale anywhere it has looked.

I know, you find it hard to believe, but the common link seems to be … the Catholic priesthood! Who could have guessed that?

I think the appropriate response would be to disband the church, for governments in every country to seize their assets, and for everyone to look on Catholic priests as we would Nazis or the KKK.

That last is only a minor punishment in the USA.

I think, though, we know what to expect from the Vatican: empty pieties and disingenuous regret. But Jesus, 200,000 abused children, how are they going to gloss over that?