Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

Happy Blasphemy Rights Day

Sep 30th, 2011 12:32 pm | By

Nobody throw any stones until I blow this whistle

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What to do with an infant with breathing difficulties

Sep 30th, 2011 11:01 am | By


Prosecutors claimed Shannon Hickman never sought prenatal care when she was pregnant with David, who was born two months early at his grandmother’s home and died less than nine hours later when he had trouble breathing. He was born with a bacterial infection and underdeveloped lungs.

Medical experts for the prosecution testified that the baby had a 99 percent chance of survival if his parents had sought medical care. But prosecutors claimed the couple never considered taking the baby to the hospital.

Was their face red, eh?

Actually no; they didn’t trip and fall and forget what you do with a sick infant, they omitted the trip to the hospital on purpose.

Dale and Shannon Hickman, both 26, are members of the Followers of Christ Church, which has a history of rejecting medical care for congregants’ children and relying instead on techniques such as prayer and anointing the sick with oils.

“Techniques” that don’t work.  ”Techniques” that aren’t actually techniques.

Five other church members have been convicted in Clackamas County for crimes related to the rejection of medical care for their children, said Greg Horner, chief deputy district attorney.

It’s a mark of respect for God, you see – rejecting medical care for your children.

Dale Hickman testified that he didn’t call 911 once he realized his infant
son was ailing “because I was praying.” Shannon Hickman said that as a woman in the church, she must defer to her husband.

“That’s not my decision anyway,” she testified. “I think it’s God’s will
whatever happens.”

That’s a touching and illuminating example of the blessings of patriarchy. Remember Doug Phillips?

We’re not talking about Lord as in the Creator, but your earthly head. And one that you have to follow, even when he makes bad judgments. Are you ready to do the most vulnerable thing that a woman ever can do and submit yourself to a man, who you are going to have to follow in his faith, who is incredibly imperfect and is going to make mistakes? Can you do that? Can you call your husband ‘Lord’? If the answer is no, you shouldn’t get married. [Quiverfull p 3]

See? Shannon Hickman was doing the right thing. Her husband didn’t say “we have to take this baby to the hospital” because he was too busy praying, and that was a bad judgment, but she has to follow him because he is The Man, so her submissive act in letting her infant die of clogged lungs was a holy thing.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What misogynists call outspoken women

Sep 29th, 2011 4:54 pm | By

It’s about time.

Rebecca has pointed out the activities of her more obsessed and malevolent haters. I’ve been following one particular clump of them, at intervals, all this time – yes they’re still at it. Would you believe it?

I’ve now amassed a following of obsessive creeps who have seemingly devoted their lives to hounding me down and making sure I never dare to speak my bitch mind again. Their tactics? Scientologist-level private investigation to dredge up the deepest, darkest mysteries of my past combined with grade school-level name-calling. It’s impressive, really. Really. Really.

You sure as hell have, I thought as I read that. Boy have you. The ones at Abbie Smith’s blog – that’s the clump I mentioned above – are the ones I know about, and that exactly sums up what they’ve been doing.

Abbie Smith at ERV was, as far as I could tell, the first to actively encourage people to replace intelligent discussion and inquiry with blind hatred and bile. That’s where the name “Rebeccunt Twatson” apparently arose – see? Impressive! If you listen hard enough, you can hear the ghost of Ambrose Bierce chuckling and nodding his head in approval.

And Twain and Mencken joining in. Right. Abbie Smith has also repeatedly called Rebecca a bitch – or a fucking bitch – in comments at ERV. People who should know better have egged her on. It’s been disgusting.

Then there’s a blog called Grey Lining written by someone named Franc Hoggle. Apparently nearly every post is now about me. Lucky me! He focuses on the really important things, like how I made a YouTube video recently in which I mistakenly said that Galileo was executed by the Church. Within minutes, I updated the video to flag the fact that I was wrong, but that doesn’t matter. Hoggle says that I must be “dumber than dog shit” and suggests I be taunted for the rest of my days. How dare anyone ever get anything wrong and then immediately correct it!

That’s when Franc Hoggle isn’t vomiting his hatred all over the undead ERV thread on the subject.

Then there’s this elevatorgate blog, in which a man attempts to convince my fellow SGU co-hosts to kick me off the podcast. I learned of this one from Steve Novella, who emailed it to me with the subject line “Another stalker”…

I think Steve discovered that blog because that person was one of the ones derailing this SkepticBlog post about the SGU 24-hour podcast. That’s right: a quick, simple, upbeat post from Steve publicizing our 24-hour show was quickly turned into a whine-fest from people demanding Steve “fire” me from the show. To support their argument, they linked to the above blogs because they seriously believed that it would convince others. As you can see in the thread if you dare to dig through it, they were not successful.

I followed that one, too, mouth hanging open in astonishment.

(They talk a lot of shit about me too, by the way. Nowhere near as much as they talk about Rebecca, or PZ, but still a lot.)

…they can continue to call me a cunt. After all, they derive so much joy from it, and to me it only makes things clearer. “Cunt” is what misogynists call outspoken women with contrary opinions, in an attempt to silence them.

That’s what this is really about: silencing. No one starts an entire site like the “elevatorgate” blog in the hopes of having a debate. No one comes up with a nickname using a word like cunt because he wants to resolve differences. No one tells a woman she would be lucky to get raped because he wants to offer solid evidence to contradict her point that misogyny is just as bad amongst skeptics and atheists as it is elsewhere.

Oh it’s about silencing all right – they make that very clear. They try to pressure everyone who invites or hires Rebecca to do something to univite her or fire her. This is frankly and explicitly about silencing.

And it’s a fucking outrage.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It was torture

Sep 29th, 2011 10:26 am | By

Amnesty International Ireland commissioned a new report on the abuse of children in Irish institutions run by the state and the church, and it was released on Monday. I shall now read that report.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “The abuse of tens of thousands of Irish children is perhaps the greatest human rights failure in the history of the state. Much of the abuse described in the Ryan Report meets the legal definition of torture under international human rights law.

“Children were tortured. They were brutalised; beaten, starved and abused. There has been little justice for these victims. Those who failed as guardians, civil servants, clergy, gardaí and members of religious orders have avoided accountability.”

We know this. I’ve been following it for years, and one of the survivors of all that brutalization – Marie-Therese O’Loughlin - has been describing it to us for years. We only know a little of what there is to know, however.

The Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne Reports tell us what happened to these children, but not why it happened. We commissioned this report to explore that question because only by doing so can we ensure this never happens again.

This abuse happened, not because we didn’t know about it, but because many people across society turned a blind eye to it. It is not true that everyone knew, but deep veins of knowledge existed across Irish society and people in positions of power ignored their responsibility to act.

The blind eye turning - as always – is blood-chilling.

Now for that report…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The direction of benefits

Sep 28th, 2011 5:05 pm | By

Chapter 6 of Janet Heimlich’s terrific book Breaking Their Will: shedding light on religious child mistreatment is titled “An Obsession with Child Obedience.” The final paragraph of the chapter says:

While there is nothing wrong with encouraging children to honor their parents, scriptures and religious concepts that promote child obedience offer an unbalanced and unhealthy parent-child relationship model. That is, while theology says plenty about what children must do for parents, it is largely silent on what parents owe children. Expecting children to honor and obey “in all things” promotes the use of corporal punishment, fear, and, sometimes, physical abuse. [pp 97-8]

It’s exactly the same with “God,” you know. Humans are told to obey and worship god, but God is never told to take responsibility for its creation. Praying is begging, not telling.

It’s always the duty of the lower to suck up to the higher, never the responsibility of the higher to take care of the beings they created in the first place. That’s no doubt because god conspicuously doesn’t take care of humans (let alone other animals), but it’s crappy morality. Obviously god owes us more than we owe god.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The land of the pure

Sep 28th, 2011 4:41 pm | By

That “God” person must be one crazy primate, given the twisted frantic obsessiveness with which its fans fret about Purity in the Female.

Being in a room with a boy who’s not part of your family is considered damaging to the girl’s purity. Purity becomes a minefield and the only way to avoid it is, I’m sad to say this, staying at home. Inside your house. Seriously, don’t even take out the garbage because some boy might say hi and talk to you, and you would be flirting. And anyway, what if somebody saw you? They’d gossip their mouths fuzzy that you’re having a secret boyfriend and once that’s in people’s minds, you’re about as damaged as a vase somebody dropped out the 13th floor on the hard concrete sidewalk.

And what about men? Well, men are so focused on sex even at a young age, you can’t really blame them for a slip here and there. A man who wastes his purity on, say, holding hands, will not be “as impure” as a woman doing it. And even worse: A man who admits his “sin” is considered strong, spiritually mature and godly. His purity is easy fixed in the minds of people. A woman admitting her “sin” is still damaged. The reputation of being impure will always follow her around.

It’s all so…literal. You know? Boys expel, girls receive, so girls are always dirty and smutched while boys are always basically clean. A dirty girl can never get clean again.

I couldn’t go out alone, or with girls only, or, much worse, with boys who weren’t related to me. Whenever I wanted to do something outside the house, I needed a male relative with me. Even at the supermarket I couldn’t move too far away from my mother (unless one of my smaller brothers went with me). My smaller brothers were trained to “protect” their sisters, us older ones as well as the younger ones. Age didn’t matter, gender did. A girl out alone, walking down the street to bring something to that nice old lady a living a quarter mile away? Can’t have that!

But a Magic Male fixes everything, even if he’s 6 to her 15. That’s how magic is.

Our lessons for school were different. We learned female things like cleaning, sewing, music and cooking, together with girls from like-minded families. There were meetings with other women from our community, old and young, teaching us different instruments and exchanging “secrets”. How do you get grass stains out of those jeans? What can you do when you overcooked potatoes? It was treated like secret, sacred knowledge. We were miles ahead of those secular feminists who couldn’t even boil water without burning down the house.

We also had lessons on men. How to treat them, how to act around them, what they liked and didn’t like. Wise tips and tricks were given. Always have a glass of your husband’s or Dad’s favourite drink ready when he gets home. Don’t bother him with questions. Cheerfully eat the food you hate once a week if that’s his favourite food.

And thank your lucky stars it will always be 1952 where you are.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Always be careful not to alienate the mainstream

Sep 28th, 2011 11:09 am | By

A great piece by Glen Greenwald on the disdain of Normal “progressives” for the Wall Street protests.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one’s own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability…

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.  Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties.

Sound familiar? It’s the church of savvy. It’s “framing.” It’s what William Hamby was arguing for. Throw everything overboard that might somehow conceivably in an alternate universe alienate Mainstream Americans because then they won’t vote for The Democrat!!11!

…much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn’t a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc.  That’s the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it’s just not professionally organized or effective.

See what I mean? Same old same old. It’s shrill, it’s strident, it’s aggressive, it’s radical, it’s feminist, it’s way too off-putting to Middle America.

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they’re designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop.  Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can’t read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

In order to belittle its worth and, don’t forget, to puff up one’s own importance as a savvy wised-up shrewd knowing pro in the tactics biz.

Personally, I think there’s substantial value even in those protests that lack “exit goals” and “messaging strategies” and the rest of the platitudes from Power Point presentations by mid-level functionaries at corporate conferences.  Some injustices simply need anger and dissent expressed for its own sake, to make clear that there are citizens who are aware of it and do not accept it.

Damn right!

In Vancouver yesterday, Dick Cheney was met by angry protests chanting “war criminal” at him while he tried to hawk his book, which prompted arrests and an ugly-for-Canada police battle that then became part of the story of his visit.  Is that likely to result in Cheney’s arrest or sway huge numbers of people to change how they think?  No.  But it’s vastly preferable to allowing him to traipse around the world as though he’s a respectable figure unaccompanied by anger over his crimes — anger necessarily expressed outside of the institutions that have failed to check or punish (but rather have shielded and legitimized) those crimes.  And the same is true of Wall Street’s rampant criminality.

And the Vatican’s.

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one’s nose up at it and join in the media demonization.  That’s what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do.  Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

Greenwald is almost as good as Rieux and Paul W.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Everywhere is porous

Sep 27th, 2011 11:26 am | By

Saudi Arabia is so lovingly protective of women. One might think they are so lovingly protective that it is smothering, but still, it’s a nice gesture.

Isn’t it?

A Saudi court has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for challenging a ban on women driving in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

Ten lashes. That doesn’t seem all that protective, when you think about it. Lashes hurt. Lashes do damage. Lashes aren’t something states should be doing to their citizens (or to visitors, either). If women get whipped by the protective state for driving  a car, what exactly is it they’re being protected from?

Well don’t be silly: from penises, of course. Except the ones on their chauffeurs, those who have them. Chauffeurs all have special penises that change their essence for the duration of a drive, despite appearing exactly the same as usual (they learned this trick from St Augustine a long long time ago, and it’s been handed down through generations of chauffeurs ever since).

Women are protected from penises by being forbidden to drive, because when you drive a car, penises have this way of getting in through apertures and little hidden cracks and holes (the way weevils do) and then they can git you. Men are immune, but women of course are horribly susceptible, like the poor little tsarevitch, who bled if you looked at him funny. So women have to be protected. If a woman breaks the rule that protects her from the penises, she has to be whipped because the penises are way way way worse than plain old tissue damage.

Under Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic laws, women require a male guardian’s
permission to work, travel abroad or even undergo some medical surgeries. They are not allowed to drive.

Because of penises. It’s not just cars;  the apertures and little hidden cracks and holes are in all the places where women could work and in operating rooms and of course they’re all over Abroad.

While there is no written law banning women from driving, Saudi law requires
citizens to use locally issued licences while in the country. Such licences are
not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

Ok so they’re not whipped for breaking a law, they’re whipped for driving without a license. Big stinking deal – it’s still for their own protection, so get over it.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

And I was like “Wo, there’s some bullshit happening.”

Sep 27th, 2011 10:04 am | By

And now – here’s some bullshit that happened somewhere today.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

In the hubris of power

Sep 26th, 2011 4:51 pm | By

Again the pope says all “faiths” have to team up to resist the idea that government should be independent of religion.

“The most urgent thing for ecumenicalism is, namely, that we can’t allow the push of secularism to force us, almost without noticing, to lose sight of the major similarities that make us Christians, and which remain a gift and a challenge for us,” the pope said.

The Etzelsbach service was a reflection on the Virgin Mary. But most other speeches Friday kept the focus on the power of Christian cooperation and the need to fight secularism, topics to which Benedict often gravitates.

“The more the world moves away from God, the more clear it becomes that man, in the hubris of power, the void in his heart and in the longing for fulfillment and happiness, is losing ever more touch with his life,” he preached during the Erfurt’s service.

Hubris shmubris. Don’t you talk to me about hubris, or power either; you’re the one with the hubris and power, taking all the protections and immunities of being a state with none of the duties or responsibilities. Don’t talk to us about hubris and power when you and your henchmen want women to die rather than have abortions, and make ordination of women an excommunicable offense while child rape goes unpunished. And don’t forget the condoms and the AIDS epidemic. Hubris yourself, Joe.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Wangari Maathai

Sep 26th, 2011 10:32 am | By

More on Wangari Maathai.

All in all, the Green Belt Movement has assisted in planting more than 40 million trees worldwide.

From the Times obit:

Maathai toured the world, speaking out against environmental degradation and poverty, which she said early on were intimately connected. But she never lost focus on her native Kenya. She was a thorn in the side of Kenya’s previous president, Daniel Arap Moi, whose government labeled the Green Belt Movement “subversive” during the 1980s.

Mr. Moi was particularly scornful of her leading the charge against a government plan to build a huge skyscraper in one of central Nairobi’s only parks. The proposal was eventually scrapped, though not long afterward, during another protest, Mrs. Maathai was beaten unconscious by the police.

In 2008, after being pushed out of government, she was tear-gassed by the police during a protest against the excesses of Kenya’s well-entrenched political class.

Home life was not easy, either. Her husband, Mwangi, divorced her, saying she was too strong-minded for a woman, by her account. When she lost her divorce case and criticized the judge, she was thrown in jail.

“Wangari Maathai was known to speak truth to power,” said John Githongo, an anticorruption campaigner in Kenya, who was forced into exile for years for his own outspoken views. “She blazed a trail in whatever she did, whether it was in the environment, politics, whatever.”

From CNN:

Bineta Diop, Founder of Femmes Africa Solidarite, an organization working on issues of gender, peace and development, remembered Maathai as someone who risked her life for ordinary people.

“Africa has lost today one of its greatest daughters. Wangari was the champion of the environmental cause, to which she brought the attention of the Continent when nobody was talking about this great challenge. She worked tirelessly for the rural women, demanding African leaders to address climate change,” she said.

Diop said she would continue to inspire generations to come: “We are sure that the young women and men she mentored are ready to continue her fight for climate justice.”

Kenyan environmentalist and human rights activist, Wangari Maathai has died at the age of 71

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

An ill-afforded loss

Sep 26th, 2011 8:50 am | By

Oh, damn.

From the New York Times:

NAIROBI, Kenya — Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who started out by paying poor women a few shillings to plant trees and went on to become the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, died late on Sunday.

She’s a hero of mine.

From an interview at Living on Earth -

MAATHAI: I realized part of the problems that we have in the rural areas or in the country generally is that a lot of our people are not free to think, they are not free to create, and, therefore, they become very unproductive. They may have knowledge. They may have gone to school but they are trained to be directed. They are trained to be told what to do. And that is some of the unmasking that the Green Belt Movement tries to do, is to empower people, to encourage them, to tell them it’s okay to dream, it’s okay to think, it’s okay to change your minds, it’s okay to think on your own, it’s okay to decide this is what you want to do. You don’t have to wait for someone else to tell you.

In the beginning I was intrigued because it’s such a benign activity. It’s development, exactly what every leader speaks about and so I thought that we would be celebrated and we would be supported by the system. But what I did not realize then is that in many situations, leaders, especially leaders in undemocratic countries, have not been keen to inform their people to empower their people to help them solve their problems. They almost want them to remain needy, to remain poor, to remain dis-empowered so that they can look up to them, almost like gods and adore them and worship them and hope that they will solve their problems. Now, I couldn’t stand that.

MAN: An assistant minister, Mr. John Keene, said his great respect for women had been greatly eroded by her utterances. Mr Keene asked her and her clique of women to tread cautiously, adding “I don’t see the sense at all in a bunch of divorcees coming out to criticize such a complex.”

MAATHAI: That’s when they reminded me who I am in terms of gender and what I am in terms of social status. And I was described in several adjectives which were very unflattering. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for them, that did not deter me and I did not get intimidated.

LOBET: A few years earlier her husband had divorced her, saying publicly she was too stubborn and too hard to control. She had transgressed when she became more educated than he was. She transgressed when she did not retreat after divorce and now she was criticizing the president.

VOICEOVER: Before, I worked in the farm compound and looked after my children. I couldn’t stand up amongst people, or give them my views about things. I was not able to do even the smallest thing in this respect.


VOICEOVER: Professor came here and she showed us that a woman has the right to speak, and when she speaks, she can make things advance. A woman has a right to speak. And now I feel if I speak, things can move forward.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Their dominion mandate

Sep 25th, 2011 5:45 pm | By

Update: Vyckie said this link is better: a little longer and more pics.

Hey lookit – The Herald Scotland talked to Vyckie Garrison and Libby Anne. The rebellion against Quiverfull is getting out there.

“There’s a lot of fear among evangelicals right now,” says Garrison. “The more fearful evangelicals become, the more they retreat and start home schooling, and that is where they’re going to encounter Quiverfull ideals.

“Families are taught that getting into powerful institutions is part of their dominion mandate. They get internships at state level, get involved in political campaigns and in the justice system. That’s the whole point of having all these sons: to have an influence on policy and reclaim the country for God.”

Patrick Henry College in Virginia, the headquarters of the conservative Christian Home School Legal Defence Association, sent more interns to the George W Bush White House than any other institution. Republican presidential front-runner Rick Perry has close ties to evangelical group Vision Forum through multi-millionaire campaign contributor Jim Leininger.

This country is just crazy. Deranged, mad, nuts, barking.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Nonconformist in a generally acceptable way

Sep 25th, 2011 12:06 pm | By

Aha – just exactly what I said yesterday. It’s as if I’d stolen it from Jenny Diski, but I didn’t. (Nor she didn’t steal it from me, neither.)

As a rule people look for positive authority or referents to back up their
essential beliefs about themselves in relation to the world: the priest, imam,
Delia Smith, the politburo, gang leader, Milton Friedman, your mother, my
favourite novelist. It works well enough, and when it does, we call ourselves
and others like us sane. When it goes awry, when people lose and/or reject all
positive referents in the real world for the self inside, we call them
delusional, psychotic, mad. In order to count as sane, you don’t necessarily
have to conform to the norms of the world, but you do have to be nonconformist in a generally acceptable way.

Emphasis added. That’s exactly what I was ruminating about. What we think of as eccentric, nerdy, weird, nonconformist is actually barely different from what we think of as normal. That’s either depressing or reassuring, or a little of both (she said in her usual normal average typical waffling cover all the bases way).

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Get a whole suite

Sep 25th, 2011 11:34 am | By

Libby Anne on father-daughter “purity balls.” You what? Yes that’s right: father-daughter big fancy parties (not testicles) to celebrate female virginity. Yes that’s right: Daddy takes Princess to a ball. Really. They’re on a date.

Dudes – get a room.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Only two options

Sep 25th, 2011 9:56 am | By

Andrew Brown can be such a goon. (I’m not going to say he is a goon – he’s had the eminent good sense to commission a few articles from me, after all.) I know this is not a news flash, and I know other people have said things about his creationism piece, but…too much is better than enough is as good as a feast, that’s what I say.

Yes yes, we’re all agreed that evolution is true, and that the biblical (or Qur’anic) accounts of creation are literally false and should not be taught any other way in science classes. This has been the case for at least the last 50 years. Yet studies show that the number of creationists, or at least those who deny or fail to understand the fact of evolution, is very large among the adult population.

One, the impatience of the “yes yes” is irritating. Two, the “we’re all agreed” is hilarious, given the “studies show” almost immediately after it. “We’re all agreed except for a very large number” – oh that kind of “all.” And then, the “studies show” ought to be quite enough to explain why people have to keep pointing out that evolution is true, so his impatience is simply petulant.

Not very impressive for the first three sentences.

Then he asks if it’s better to have an indifferent student or a passionately wrong one. The correct answer is neither.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Tudge said the thing which is not

Sep 24th, 2011 5:31 pm | By

One more thing about Colin Tudge, because it makes me angry.

He wrote in that non-review “review” (and I quoted him yesterday):

Thus he tells us that “reality is everything that exists” – and “exists”, he makes clear, means whatever we can see or stub our toes on, albeit with the aid of telescopes and seismographs. Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory. This, he implies, is what emerges from science, and science is true.

Dawkins pointed out what he actually wrote in the book Tudge was “reviewing”:

Does this mean that reality only contains things that can be detected, directly or indirectly, by our senses and by the methods of science? What about things like jealousy and joy, happiness and love? Are these not also real?

Yes, they are real. But they depend for their existence on brains: human brains, certainly, and probably the brains of other advanced animal species, such as chimpanzees, dogs and whales, too. Rocks don’t feel joy or jealousy, and mountains do not love. These emotions are intensely real to those who experience them, but they didn’t exist before brains did. It is possible that emotions like these – and perhaps other emotions that we can’t begin to dream of – could exist on other planets, but only if those planets also contain brains – or something equivalent to brains: for who knows what weird thinking organs or feeling machines may lurk elsewhere in the universe[.]

Look at that. Read the two passages. Compare them. Tudge said that Dawkins said that love and jealousy don’t exist, when Dawkins in fact said the exact opposite of that. Note the first sentence of RD’s second paragraph -

…they depend for their existence on brains…

Meaning they exist.

Note the third sentence of RD’s second paragraph -

These emotions are intensely real to those who experience them, but they didn’t exist before brains did.

Meaning, to those with functioning brains, that they do exist now.  

I suspected yesterday that Tudge was playing games – I suspected that he used the word “exists” instead of “real” on purpose, and that the purpose was to get around the fact that it’s too absurd to say Dawkins says love isn’t real. I suspected it would be too quick and easy to prove Tudge wrong if he used that word, while “exists” would make things easier for him. I was wrong only in that Richard had explicitly said that they exist as well as that they’re real.

It’s shocking, I think, this outright mendacity. It should be put a stop to.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

If they retain their appearance

Sep 24th, 2011 11:36 am | By

And another thing. This transubstantiation nonsense – another thing about it is that it’s a teaching.

Transubstantiation is the teaching that during the Mass, at the consecration in the Lord’s Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

What I wonder is, how do they know the teaching is right? If the bread and wine retain their appearance then who actually knows that they are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus, and how do those people know it?

I don’t see how there can be any way to know that. Clearly “retain their appearance” means “all the way down,” so that there is no instrument or process by which anyone can demonstrate that aha at this level we can observe that the bread and wine are in fact the actual body and blood of Jesus. Is there? (Did I miss something?) So…well, how can anyone have anything but doubts on the subject? What causes Odone to hold the “belief” that transubstantiation gets something right and that her beliefs on this subject are better than those of her husband the Anglican?

Just wondering.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Many people of faith are filled with doubts

Sep 24th, 2011 9:57 am | By

An amusing passage in the conversation between Dawkins and Odone in the Guardian:

CO: I’m a Catholic and my husband is an Anglican, and transubstantiation is an issue between us. Do I want my daughter to take up my Catholic beliefs? Yes I do. Do I believe my beliefs are superior in any way to his? Yes I do. But do I want to teach her that mine is the only way? No I don’t. What I want her to feel is that there are some beautiful principles in all religions. In your new book you say scientists cheerfully admit they don’t know, “cheerfully” because not knowing the answer is exciting. What’s so funny is that I feel about religion in the same way. You musn’t think that religion is stuck in its inquisitorial phase; religion is capable of evolution and many people of faith are filled with doubts.

RD: But how do you decide which bits to doubt and which bits to accept? As scientists, we do it by evidence.

CO: You can’t boil everything down to evidence!

I haven’t read further yet.

It’s true in a way that you can’t boil everything down to evidence. If I say “I’m tired” (or curious or bored or grumpy or elated) it would be odd for you to say “what’s your evidence for that?” But evidence is relevant to the subject that Odone herself raised, which is doubts. Doubts about what? Doubts about things like “transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation is a claim about reality – it is the “teaching” that during the Mass

the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

Of course, that rider about “their appearance” is a dodge to avoid, precisely, evidence…but it’s just that: a dodge. It’s like Gosse’s Omphalos dodge: God planted evidence of evolution to trick us. If one has “doubts” about it – well (as Richard says) then what?

If you’re that kind of Catholic then nothing, you just “have doubts” and trot them out rather proudly when chatting with people like Dawkins. They’re inert. They’re a condition, not a real question that prompts you to consider the evidence. They’re essentially frivolous.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Love is only real to them if it’s a thing

Sep 24th, 2011 9:22 am | By

Sastra has a very illuminating comment* on PZ’s The magic of denying reality.

She quotes Colin Tudge’s bad-faith misreading of Dawkins:

Everything else – including things we might think exist, like jealousy and love – derive from that material base and are to a large extent illusory.

And comments

Supernaturalists seem to have a lot of trouble trying to make sense of abstractions and levels of experience: they want to take everything literally, as irreducible substances. Love is only real to them if it’s a thing, a sort of spiritual-substance which is made of neither matter nor energy because it is the immaterial essence of love. Ironically, that makes them super-materialists — spinning material into finer and finer substances until like only comes from like. Love is derived from love. Otherwise, it can only have the same properties that were there in its origin.

Despite their claims to be so comfortable with “higher levels” of reality, supernaturalists are concrete thinkers. They can only make sense of immaterial abstractions by turning them into spirit-things in a spirit-world.

I don’t think I’d thought of that before, and it’s very damn interesting.

*Nothing unusual there.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)