Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Bayes Bull

Jerry Coyne has an excellent response to a bit of typically silly criticism from Uncommon Dissonance Dissent Descent entitled "Jerry Coyne: The fact that a cat can't be turned into a dog is not a serious objection to Darwinism!"

It actually claims that the "fact" that artificial breeders haven't turned a cat into a dog is a serious objection to "Darwinism" (otherwise known to the non-Kool-Aid drinkers as "evolutionary science").

Jerry demolishes this in an aptly named post: "IDiots once again justify their name."* Go read it.

This is doubly ironic since the IDiots are, at the same time, arguing that the fact that humans can alter genes is proof that there is a "Designer." In other words. if we can alter the genetic makeup of organisms, that is proof of a "Designer." If we can't alter genes to make a specific organism out of another organism, that that is proof of a "Designer." It is so simple to make arguments to the simple-minded.**

But this is what actually attracted my attention. The post at UC quoted from that source of all things IDiotic, Evolution News & Views, where Stephen A. Batzer claims that "Bayesian Analysis [Is] the Evolution Skeptic's Friend."

Oh, wait a minute! He is not claiming that "Bayesian Analysis," which is a highly formal and mathematical process, is the creationist's IDiots friend. He is claiming that something that is "very simple," if "informally used," is their friend.

After noting that the "majority of Americans are unconvinced that random chance is the causative agent behind life's development and the increase of biological complexity over time," he claims that "their everyday experience ... informs them that something is terribly, persistently wrong Darwinism, that the theory simply doesn't match the evidence."

So, that inability of 91% of Americans (strangely, Batzer doesn't assess the Bayesian implications of the "experience" of the rest of the First World nations), who are largely ignorant of evolutionary science, to understand evolution is somehow Bayesian evidence that evolution is wrong?

Let's see. The Earth does not seem to most people to move. The Sun seems to move in the sky from east to west. The stars revolve above our heads. And I'm pretty sure that approximately 91% of Americans couldn't mount a good scientific argument in favor of the heliocentric solar system.

Ergo! Geocentrism is supported by "informal Bayesian Analysis" and is just as scientific as ID!


* Again, if I had my druthers, Jerry would stick to science, at which he is very good, and eschew philosophy, at which ...

** As a commenter at UD named "Fross" (who has, so far, escaped the usual UD "moderation") brilliantly pointed out:
Those are serious objections. I.D. Is finally making some truly profound objections to evolution theory. Also, why are there still apes if we evolved from them?

Friday, May 25, 2012


Thinking Not Allowed

One of the dozens of faculty leaving Shorter University over the Baptist-affiliated school's controversial new "lifestyle statement," that includes rejecting homosexuality, blamed his departure in part on demands that he teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in science classes.

Richard Pirkle, assistant professor of biology at the private Christian school in Rome, Ga., for six years, said in a May 22 resignation letter posted on a Save Our Shorter website that as a Pentecostal Christian he objected to being asked to sign someone else's statement of faith and was offended by public suggestions that anyone reluctant to do so must not be a Christian.

Beyond that, Pirkle, who teaches human anatomy and physiology and microbiology, cited what he termed undue influence by the administration and board of trustees on academic freedom.

Specifically Pirkle objected to being forced to teach what he considers philosophical and religious beliefs as science. A related demand that he teach evolution as "just a theory," he said, "ignores the scientific definition of 'theory' as a widely accepted and highly supported way of looking at multiple fields and levels of scientific evidence." ...

As of May 20, the Save Our Shorter website reported the total of faculty and staff leaving stood at 60. The school usually has about 100 full-time faculty members, according to media reports. ...

"Our university was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only," [Shorter President Don Dowless] said. ...

Shorter's website explains the new policy as part of "defining what it means to be a Christ-centered institution."
Apparently, it means being stupid.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Not Quite the Sermon on the Mount

I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn't get it past the Congress. Build a great big, large fence – 50 or a 100 miles long – and put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals, and have that fence electrified so they can't get out. Feed them. And you know in a few years, they'll die out. You know why? They can't reproduce.

- Pastor Charles L. Worley, Providence Road Baptist Church
The inevitable pushback resulted in another sermon:
Listen, all of the Sodomites, the lesbians, and all of the ... what's that word? Gays – I didn't wanna say 'queers' – that say we don't love you, I love you more than you love yourself. I'm praying for you to be saved.
Strange word, "love." In the original sermon, referring to President Obama's rather tepid endorsement of marriage equality, Worley said "I ain't gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover."

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Read Your Bible

I heartily agree with Richard Dawkins.
For some reason the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) was not approached for a donation in support of Michael Gove's plan to put a King James Bible in every state school. ...

I am a little shocked at the implication that not every school library already possesses a copy. Can that be true? What do they have, then? Harry Potter? Vampires? Or do they prefer one of those modern translations in which "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity" is lyrically rendered as "Perfectly pointless, says the Teacher. Everything is pointless"? ...
My own favorite example of 'better left alone' is:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
That is not improved as:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Dawkins has an ulterior motive, of course:
The lesson is clear: when push comes to shove, obedience to God trumps human decency, to say nothing of obedience to the next commandment, "Thou shalt not kill". This is the only one of the commandments that many devotees actually know. Its obviousness was appropriately mocked by Christopher Hitchens, but my imagination hears the response of the Israelites to Moses in the voice of Basil Fawlty: "Oh I SEE. Thou shalt not KILL. Oh how silly of me. You see, before you came down from the mountain with the tablets, we all thought it was perfectly fine to kill. But now that we've seen it written on a TABLET, well that makes all the difference. Thou shalt not kill, well, who would have thought it? Oh silly me … etc etc."
In any case, the commandment meant only "Thou shalt not kill members of thine own tribe". It was perfectly fine – indeed strongly encouraged throughout the Pentateuch – to kill Canaanites, Midianites, Jebusites, Hivites etc, especially if they had the misfortune to live in the Promised Lebensraum. Kill all the men and boys and most of the women. "But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves" (Numbers 31:18). Such wonderful moral lessons: all children should be exposed to them.
The Basil Fawlty and "Promised Lebensraum" parts are priceless.

But he is absolutely correct. And religious apologists know it and strive mightily, if highly unconvincingly, to wriggle out of it.

My impression is that most "people of the Book" know the Bible only as a kind of background noise that comfortably affirms that they and their kith and kin are good people who will not suffer the fate of the "others" who aren't like them.

Their pastors regale them with the obviously decent and admirable bits and elide anything nasty.

I ascribe to John Wilkins' 95/95 rule: 95% of people are decent 95% of the time. I have my doubts about the "New Atheist" program of confronting religion in order to kill it but cannot object to trying to get religious people to actually read their own "revelations" and consider what they actually say.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Now We're Onto Something!

Abbie Smith, who is as smart and funny as any of the science bloggers (if not always as understandable to resolutely old people ... like me), has some farcical/tragic quotes from politicians ... Ugandan Zimbabwe politicians ... from the land that gave us Idi Amin Robert Mugabe.*

They are, as you should by now expect, quite horrible ... in no small part because of the effect of even more than usually lunatic, allegedly Christian, American fundamentalists, who have found even more fertile fundraising opportunities among the ill-educated people of Africa than among the ill-educated people of the US.

But Abbie misses the possibilities of this:
Sithembile Mlotshwa, the MDC-T Senator for Matobo, recently suggested that Zimbabweans must be limited to one sexual encounter per month. Men, she said, should be administered a drug that reduces their libido.
I agree! ... every red blooded, patriotic, Republican (male) politician who wants to legally rape a woman with a government-imposed transvaginal sonogram could hardly object to a simple procedure to reduce abortions such as taking a little pill ... right?

It's not like we have any dearth of red blooded, patriotic, Republican (male) politicians sticking their dicks in places they don't belong ... is it?


* That'll teach me not to post late at night!

Sunday, May 13, 2012


What You Do

I was going to recommend Jason Rosenhouse's post about the flap over Elliott Sober's argument that there is no scientific warrant for the contention that science has "disproven" the existence of god(s). 

Unlike Jerry Coyne, Jason seemed to treat the philosophical issues seriously.

... Until he accused Nick Matzke of "dishonestly twisting Coyne's words to give them a meaning he knows full well Coyne did not intend" but didn't have the cojones to defend that assertion.

I used to respect Jason ... but he has proved himself to be just another f..king ideologue willing to say or do anything in service of his "cause."

He is no better than Ken Ham or Kent Hovind!

I went too far in saying those things. I still think Jason was wrong to accuse Nick of dishonesty but that did not justify what I said and I apologize to Jason.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


True Beliefs

William Dembski is over at the Undiscovery Institute once again proving that the Inteligent Design "Movement" has nothing to do with science.

As has long been noted, the real dislike of creationists is reserved not for atheists but for "theistic evolutionists." Dembski is so incensed at Darrel Falk of Biologos that he is willing to give away the whole ID scam:
Theologically speaking, ID imposes few limits and is compatible with God acting at all levels of creation and through all modes of causation. When design is detected, God is active. And when design is not detected, God is still active. This doesn't make ID contentless. Rather, it means that ID is largely neutral with respect to one's doctrine of God, a fact that should not be surprising given that ID is compatible not only with Judeo-Christian theism but also with just about any religious view that regards purpose as basic to reality.
He does pay lip service to ID being "science" ("ID's content is scientific, not religious or theological") but then he says this:
I don't accept common descent. I think the scientific evidence is against it ... [E]ven though common descent may be acceptable in broad theological terms, I think it is problematic exegetically with regard to Scripture. Simply put, I think you're going to have a hard time getting large-scale evolution out of Scripture or rendering the two compatible.
But why do you need to keep science and scripture compatible? The scientific evidence for common descent is every bit as certain scientifically as the evidence that there was no global flood within the last 10,000 years. But when Dembski made the mild suggestion that:
Noah's flood, though presented as a global event, is probably best understood as historically rooted in a local event.
... he was made to recant that view because a recent global flood is "what the Bible teaches."

If you can't save your theology within science, then why are you pretending to do science? The Disco'tutes have made it clear, once again, that they can't and won't.

Via The Sensuous Curmudgeon.

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Philosophy or Science or ... ?

Elliott Sober, one of the best philosophers of science working today, is getting "worked over" by the Gnus.

Sober allegedly delivered a talk, in the words of Jason Rosenhouse, "on the subject of whether it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution, even though biologists routinely describe those mutations as unguided."

Sober disputes that characterization:
Jason Rosenhouse needs to read more carefully. The point of my lecture was not that "it is logically possible that God could be subtly directing the mutations that arise in the course of evolution." The point was the evolutionary biology, when properly interpreted, is silent on this question, just as it is silent on the question of whether determinism is true.
Jason calls this:
... another annoying tendency of certain philosophers. I am referring to the endless turf protection. The relentless nattering not about the arguments themselves, but about classifying the argument within the proper academic discipline. Obviously to go from the facts of science to nontrivial conclusions about God you are going to have to add to your argument some assumptions about God's nature and abilities. If that transforms the argument from scientific to philosophical then so be it. Can we please now move on to the more important question of determining whether the arguments are any good?
Others might call this being intellectually rigorous about your argument rather than "endless turf protection." Indeed, Jason even quotes Sober making the same point:
There may be good reasons to reject theism, but these are philosophical reasons, not consequences of evolutionary biology.
Jason's pique seems to be Sober doesn't feel the Gnu urge to go on to make those philosophical arguments for him.

And speaking of intellectual rigor or the lack thereof, enter Jerry Coyne. After quoting, with apparent approval, Jason's admission that the arguments are philosophical rather than scientific, Coyne blithely denies it:
I argue again that if there should be evidence for God, but there isn't, then we have more confidence that God doesn't exist. And that existence is an empirical rather than a philosophical question. The existence of a supernatural being cannot be decided through philosophy or reason alone: it requires observation or experiment. (That's why the ontological argument isn't any good.) If there is indeed a beneficent and omnipotent God, there should be evidence for it (prayers should be answered, we should see miracles, innocent children shouldn't die of leukemia). But there isn't any—any more than there is evidence for Bigfoot.
One wonders what scientific evidence there might be for the assertion that "there should be evidence for God."

But after all that prologue, we come to what interests me. Coyne summarizes the help people are trying to give him in philosophy in private emails as boiling down, among others, to this:
All the good arguments against God's existence are not scientific, but philosophical. I don't agree. You can't argue against the existence of something that affects the world on philosophical grounds alone. There has to be some appeal to evidence. Even the argument from evil is not totally philosophical: it uses the empirical evidence of undeserved evil combined with the philosophical premise that such evil is incompatible with a loving and powerful God.
So, just appealing to empiric evidence makes an argument "scientific"? Then what are we to make of this
moronic spiel by Ellis Washington?:
In America we have record-shattering snowstorms and cold fronts from Florida to Alaska. Presently there is snow in 49 of our 50 states. Global-warming patron saint Al Gore is nowhere to be found because he knows he would be laughed to scorn at any venue where he appeared. Even a Senate committee hearing discussing the impacts of global warming was canceled last week due to record-breaking snowstorms in America's capital. 
Ordinary citizens can just look out their windows and see that the premise behind anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming is a complete deception that the United Nations has wasted untold hundreds of billions of dollars funding.
It was certainly empirically true that we had several bad winters in the eastern US in a row. Is it, therefore, scientific to argue that global warming is a crock? If appeal to empiric evidence is all it takes, then Ellis Washington has to be thought of as a scientist when he makes that "argument."

If we don't think Ellis Washington is making a scientific argument, we can equally conclude Coyne isn't when he argues science disproves the existence of God. Whether that is trivial or not is another matter but confused arguments are confused arguments and, if there is anything that science has taught us, it is that confused arguments are suspect.

Sunday, May 06, 2012



I saw The Avengers this weekend. Some thoughts:

Eye candy!

But, given the technology today, why bother going out someplace and spend $9.00 (in a suburban multiplex) to see a movie other than to sweeten your eyes? For various reasons, I didn't incur the additional costs of seeing it in 3D.

Acting-wise, Robert Downey Jr., as could be anticipated, dominated, though Scarlett Johansson, as the Black Widow, and Mark Ruffalo, as Bruce Banner, at least made it a tussle. Samuel L. Jackson, usually reliable, couldn't bring much life to Nick Fury. Gwyneth Paltrow, as Pepper Potts, was no more than a placeholder for the next Iron Man movie ... if that.

There were chuckles throughout ... most of them involving Downey ... though The Hulk had some comic gold.

There was no drama ... which requires some possibility that things will not turn out all right ... which we knew was impossible from the start. But it was a pleasurable diversion for a weekend day.



PZ Megahertz often disparages dishonest internet polls that attempt to manipulate the results by the way the questions are asked. What could be said about this one?
Should skeptics and atheists be quiet and stop criticizing Christians so as to make Christians feel more comfortable?
Yes, atheists have an obligation not to rock the boat or offend Christians in America.  
Sometimes, maybe - philosophical criticism can be OK, but no disrespectful satire or mocking.  
Not at all - Christians deserves no special privileges or deference over any other belief systems.
Strangely, the supposed basis for this "poll" is an article from 2006 by Amy Sullivan about how Democrats could peel away some evangelical Christians from the Republican Party by paying attention to some of their concerns. She points out that, in 2004, if John Kerry has been able to get 59,300 additional votes in Ohio, we would have been spared a second Dubya administration.
Nowhere in Sullivan's article is there a suggestion that Democrats (do I need to point out that the party is not coextensive with skeptics and atheists?) be quiet and stop criticizing Christians. Another "pundit" did say "no one is really asking people like me to do much of anything except stay quiet, refrain from insulting religion qua religion" but even he was talking about "liberals" (and that is still not coextensive with skeptics and atheists).

Some supposedly rational people even think the poll has been "pharyngulated" because the results are so one-sided. Nothing of the sort. All that's needed is the power of words on pliable minds. Maybe we could recraft the poll:
Should Democrats pay attention to the beliefs of theists of all stripes because, after all, religious tolerance is a basic liberal tenet?
Yes, Democrats have an obligation to appeal to the broadest electorate in America that will accept Democratic values, in order to accomplish Democratic political ends.  
Sometimes, often - philosophical criticism of the anti-democratic (small "d") tendencies of the Religious Right should be firmly asserted, even with disrespectful satire or mocking.  
Not at all - ideological purity is too important to allow theists anything that might even look like special privileges or deference over any other belief systems, even if it means that the Democratic Party becomes a permanent minority party.
That's no more objective than the other poll ... but that's the point!

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