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.

In a loblolly pine far away

Mar 17th, 2011 10:07 am | By

You do know about the EagleCam, right?


It’s a camera high in a tree at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Virginia, trained on an eagle’s nest 8o to 90 feet up a loblolly pine tree. There were three eggs; one chick hatched Saturday, another hatched Monday, the third is due to hatch any moment.

It’s enthralling. You can see whichever adult is on the nest get up, a fuzzy bobblehead appear, then the other fuzzy bobblehead join it, then the adult rip bits off a fish (fly-covered, at this point) or a squirrel (caught yesterday) and offer them to one or the other fuzzy bobblehead, who will eat it. You can also see the older bobblehead attack the younger one. You can lose hours watching for this…

It’s warmer today, and the eagle on the nest (the female at the moment) is gaping to cool off. An hour ago she was gaping a little; now her beak is open farther; clearly it’s warming up in Virginia.

Do check it out if you haven’t, and rejoice at modern technology.

It does no work because it purportedly does all work

Mar 16th, 2011 1:07 pm | By

Anthony Grayling said more about this possibility of evidence for god question.

I don’t think that every effort has been made to look for evidence and none has turned up…You and Richard think it’s an empirical matter whether there are deities (or fairies? goblins? consider why you think the latter are zoological non-starters) and I think it’s a matter of coherence of the concept…

And, I find, so do I. The more I think about it the more I think that.

The point is that ‘god’ is not like ‘ether’ – it is not amenable to empirical investigation, and does not occupy a slot in some systematic framework of thinking about the world that might be improved on in the light of better theory or observation. It does no work because it purportedly does all work; like a contradiction it entails anything whatever; it is consistent with all evidence and none.

Exactly! By which I mean, that’s what I would have said if only I’d thought of it. It does no work because it purportedly does all work; that’s beautiful, and exact.

But ‘god’ is not like ‘yeti’ (which might – so to say: yet? – be found romping about the Himalayas), it is like ‘square circle’. Trying to explain to someone who thinks that ‘god’ is like ‘yeti’ (namely, you) let alone to someone who thinks ‘god’ is like ‘Barack Obama’ (names an actual being, as Christians and Muslims do) that it is actually not like ‘yeti’ but  like ‘square circle’ and that nothing can count as evidence for square circles, is harder work for ‘god’ than ‘square circle’ only because religious folk have been squaring the circle for so long!

Furthermore, “god” is like square circles and round triangles and octagonal hexagons and flat cubes and married bachelors. There are different versions of god, to say the least, and there is no univerally agreed set of minimal items that belong on the god-list, so there is no core “god” concept that we can try to match to possible evidence.

It’s dead easy to imagine evidence of a yeti. That wouldn’t even surprise me much, because the Himalayas are difficult terrain, and some animals are very good at hiding, and there is more than one species of great ape.

It’s also easy to imagine evidence of a species that would be superior to humans. That’s child’s play. But “god” is a whole different territory, with built-in hand-wavy stuff that make it as Anthony says consistent with all evidence and none. It’s Intelligently Designed that way.

More on “what is this god thing anyway?”

Mar 15th, 2011 1:43 pm | By

Jerry Coyne is discussing the “what would you consider evidence” question with Anthony Grayling. Anthony says what makes the whole enterprise nonsensical from the start:

on the standard definition of an infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent etc being – on inspection  such a concept collapses into contradiction and absurdity; as omnipotent, god can eat himself for breakfast…as omniscient it knows the world it  created will cause immense suffering through tsunamis and earthquakes, and therefore has willed that suffering, which contradicts the benevolence claim…etc etc…

Which it seems to me is undeniable, and relevant. What could be evidence for the existence of the usual normal mainstream “God”? Given that the usual normal mainstream “God” is an absurdity, it’s not even possible to know what would be evidence that it existed.

It’s also not possible to know what would be evidence that human beings could even detect. What evidence could we detect that “God” is eternal, for instance? What could show that, to us?

There are quite a few different versions of God, and they don’t combine into a nice stew or pot pourri or tapestry; they fight with each other. Evidence for one would be evidence for not-another.

I can imagine evidence for a local earth-based god or gods, like the Greek gods. They paid visits now and then, and they were very recognizable people. The omni-being is a whole different category, and evidence for it strikes me as being impossible.

No freedom from religion for you

Mar 15th, 2011 1:19 pm | By

Marc Alan di Martino told me an Italian judge had been fired for refusing to work under a crucifix. Yes really. There’s no reporting on it in English; all I could find was a blog post by…well, a theology-fan. The blogger could be writing approvingly.

Italy’s highest court of appeal — the Cassation Court — confirmed today (March 14, 2011) the sacking of a judge who refused to hear cases with the crucifix in the courtroom, according to the Life In Italy website…

The CSM said in its ruling that Tosti – who is a Jew – was guilty of refusing to do his job in the Marche town of Camerino from May 2005 to January 2006, when he withdrew from 15 hearings to contest the presence of the cross displayed in the courtroom.

It’s arbitrary, but at least in English “a Jew” sounds different from “Jewish,” and not in a good way. The blogger may not have meant it that way – but it sounds…well, you probably know how it sounds.

In its ruling today, the Cassation Court said that CSM was wholly “correct” and rejected Tosti’s argument that the presence of crosses was a threat to freedom of religion and conscience.

Because…? Because it doesn’t stand for religion and thus, in a courtroom, for theocracy? Because it doesn’t stand for one particular religion, and thus, in a courtroom, cast the judge as an outsider at best? Because it’s entirely neutral and has no meaning for atheists and other non-Christians? Because it doesn’t claim to stand for “God” and thus, in a courtroom, make secular law subordinate?

I don’t know. I look forward to finding out. I think Marc will be telling us more.

Update: Terry Sanderson alerted us to background from the NSS.

If it’s new and different, it’s god

Mar 14th, 2011 6:03 pm | By

Why would something new and astonishing and apparently a violation of what we know about nature be evidence of “God” or a god or the supernatural rather than…something new and astonishing and apparently a violation of what we know about nature?

I can easily imagine evidence of something new and astonishing and apparently a violation of what we know about nature. I have a harder time thinking of something that would convince me it was evidence of “God” or a god or the supernatural.

I’m not being stubborn or dogmatic in saying that. I’m saying I just don’t see why something new and the rest of it couldn’t point to A Big Unknown as opposed to the familiar though speculative category “God.”

Maybe a very big very powerful Person? But that could be a part of nature we hadn’t known about before. It could tell us “Hey I’m the one in the Bible” [but in which language?] but that could be what this part of nature does.

Maybe all kinds of spectacular magical events? But that could be astonishing and inexplicable without necessarily being non-natural. It could just mean that we’d never known what we hadn’t known – which is bound to be true anyway.

On the other hand, I can see saying “this is at least evidence of something like what people have been calling ‘God’ all this time.” I can see agreeing that this changes everything I thought I knew, and everything I thought other people knew, too.

But just plain “evidence of God”? Well which one, for a start?

Inspired by.

She’s 11 years old. It shouldn’t have happened.

Mar 13th, 2011 6:27 pm | By

Last week the New York Times reported that an 11-year-old girl was gang-raped in a Texas town. It also reported a bunch of people saying she dressed like an adult and that the rapists would have to live with this for the rest of their lives. It forgot to say that the girl might have some displeasure with the whole situation too. People were disgusted. The Public Editor (as they call him) said they had a point. But…

My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim.

Yes; good; but…..

The Associated Press handled the story more deftly, I think. Its piece on the crime also noted the community view that the girl dressed provocatively and even the view of some that the girl may have been culpable somehow. But the AP also quoted someone in the community saying: “She’s 11 years old. It shouldn’t have happened. That’s a child. Somebody should have said, ‘What we are doing is wrong.’”

Um… if it’s not a child it’s ok? If the raped girl or woman is 17 or 25 or 40 or 70 it’s ok?

It’s weird the way people think about rape. Still, after all this time, when we’ve gone over it and gone over it. Nobody thinks of murder or assault or robbery that way, but rape is still sort of kind of the raped woman’s fault.

What is neuroquantology?

Mar 13th, 2011 5:30 pm | By

Stephan Schwartz tells us that science is hindered and plagued and obstructed by three kinds of denialism

actively engaged in trying to impede the free development of science: the Creationists (e.g., Hornyanszky and Tasi, 2002), the climate change deniers (e.g., Lomborg, 2008), and the consciousness deniers who cannot, or will not, consider consciousness as anything other than materialistic processes.

Yes that’s right. Creationists deny evolution, climate change deniers deny climate change (that’s an easy one), and consciousness deniers…deny that consciousness is something that floats around the universe independent of brains or brain-like organs inside bodies that sustain them.

This is bad. They are breaking science.

…progress in understanding the nature of consciousness, particularly that aspect, the nonlocal that has not been explained by physiology, but is addressed by nonlocality and quantum processes, has a very direct social consequence. The nonlocal aspect of consciousness may very well account for the insight of genius, for religious epiphany, as well as for psychic experiences.

I’m so curious about nonlocal consciousness. Is it like soup? Oxygen? Ectoplasm? Weather? Energy?

I don’t know, but maybe if I read NeuroQuantology regularly I will eventually find out. Yes, NeuroQuantology. What are you laughing at?

The Religion Communicators Council

Mar 12th, 2011 12:51 pm | By

What is the Religion Communicators Council? I’d never heard of it before yesterday. I’ve heard of it now though, and I’m curious. Is it, like, a household name? Is everybody aware of it off in the background somewhere, taking care of Religious Communication?

I don’t know. I think it sounds pretty horrible though.

The Religion Communicators Council, founded in 1929, is an interfaith association of religion communicators at work in print and electronic communication, advertising and public relations.

It’s a PR-advertising outfit for Religion, all Religion, Religion as such.

So it would be a peculiar kind of laurel for a journalist to get an award from them, wouldn’t it? Journalists don’t really want awards from PR outfits and advertisers, do they? Isn’t an award of that kind an announcement that one is not a journalist but rather an advertiser or PR-rep? Aren’t the two lines of work considered opposites rather than colleagues? Isn’t journalism supposed to be fundamentally not about marketing? The way the Religion Communicators Council itself puts it, that seems to be obviously the case:

The Religion Communicators Council and its members promote excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and encourage understanding among faith groups on a national level. Testaments to our goal of excellence are the Wilbur Awards.

It’s an award not for reporting but for communicating religious faith and values in the public arena. Fundamentally different and antagonistic kinds of thing.

Yet the Religion Communicators Council does give the award to practicing journalists. There’s one for Christopher Hitchens, which seems surprising. And there’s one for Chris Mooney’s Playboy article about “spiritual” scientists.

His elbow slipped

Mar 11th, 2011 3:43 pm | By

I was inspired by the new levels of Wallyism we dug up yesterday so I thought I would dig up a little more.

Am I rubbing it in? Yes, I am. But when you look at the newly-dug levels, I think you will see why. I think nose-rubbing is just the right thing to do about this degree of mendacious bullying. I mean, in particular, the place where Wally is caught lying by one “Sean” and uses four sock puppets posting right on top of each other to bully Sean and then congratulate himself on the bullying. What could be more suitable than to make this contemptible behavior public?

It wasn’t about gnu atheists this time, December 2009; it was about climate change and denialism. It’s not a disagreement on the substance this time; it’s a disagreement on morality.

Wally as bilbo had said there were a lot of tobacco-deniers “here”; Sean had said who, where, show me; bilbo didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t; Sean pressed; bilbo wriggled; Sean pressed; bilbo coughed up one, without a link. Sean said link please; bilbo was silent; Sean said link please; bilbo was silent; Sean said you were noisy enough yesterday, how about it – and bilbo rose to his full height and let fly. bilbo let fly in a fashion that is all too familiar from our Wally-You’re Not Helping-bilbo-Tom Johnson (though kept under wraps by our friend Hammill).

…and Sean chooses the petty, desperate adult path. Or, should I say the Way of the Troll. Predictable. I wish I had bet money on it.

Why Sean, if it is this much of an issue to you (after now FOUR responses over two days with evidence on my part which you have made no concerted effort to disprove or even respond to outside of rote repetition), you are free to browse the blog archives yourself and find the quote(s) you are looking for. They are there for you, I promise. I will not argue with a brick wall who demands evidence but offers no retort when evidence is provided.

You have two choices: find the quote yourself (or some other form of evidence refuting my point since you were the one who challenged it, after all) or continue repeating yourself into troll obscurity. The choice is yours, but I have a feeling I already know which one you’ll pick.


Brings it all back, doesn’t it?

That’s comment 82; 83 and 84 are jeering socks. Yes really: immediately after bilbo posts, the socks chime in. He’s not what you’d call subtle!

Sean, bilbo is slapping you around this comment board like a little child. Man up!

Since making his original point, bilbo has posted multiple quotes from this very blog that support it. Yet you continue you scream “WRONG!!!!!” without backing yourself up with evidence of yor own. The burden of proof is on the accuser, and you’re screaming accusations like a child. If you’re not trolling like bilbo says, let’s see something to back your point up. Put up or shut up.

I agree with Polly-O!

There’s more of the same kind of thing, then one genius – FergalR, he’s called – points out the sockery. December 2009 that was. Too bad Mooney and Kirshenbaum didn’t check. Wally, of course, simply blustered in his usual way.

  • 98.   bilbo Says:
    December 10th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Of course, Fergal! It’s soooooooo clear that I have multiple personality disorder.

    So, by agreeing with me, EDK, The Accuser, Bill S., and Seminatrix all become me? Is this what you’re accusing, or am I missing something here?

  • I agree with Polly-O!

    Why are atheists so angry?

    Mar 11th, 2011 11:28 am | By

    Rabbi David Wolpe pretends to be mystified that atheists find theism irritating.

    How harmless is it to post an article about why people should read the bible on a site devoted to religion? I did on this very page, and it evoked more than 2,000 responses, most of them angry…

    It is curious that a religion site draws responses mostly from atheists, and that the atheists are very unhappy…Only the untutored assume that religious people predominate on websites (Huffington Post Religion page, On Faith in the Washington Post, devoted to religion.

    He thinks a section of a website is itself a website, or he pretends to think that so that he can claim that the religion section of the Huffington Post is a website and therefore that he was just minding his own business on a religion website and a lot of pesky atheists barged in and started yelling at him. But HuffPo is not a religion website and it is not obvious or self-explanatory that news sites or commentary sites have to include “faith” sections at all. The fact that some such sites treat “faith” with such deference is a major source of the irritation.

    Or to put it another way, HuffPo has a mixed audience, so Wolpe can’t expect atheists to stay off his particular articles on the grounds that he’s not talking to us. It doesn’t work that way. There’s no invisible fence around the “faith” section of HuffPo. We don’t look at his stuff and say “well he’s just doing his job” and go away again without saying anything.

    In short, no, it’s not curious that pieces like his draw more atheists than theists. It’s not that we’re trespassing on his space, it’s that he’s trespassing on ours – on everyone’s. We simply don’t take it for granted that religion should have a place at every single table.

    But why seek out a religious site solely to insult religion? I wondered: Why are atheists so angry?

    It’s not a religious site; it’s a section of a secular site, which we think pays far too much attention to religion. We don’t seek it out; it thrusts itself upon our attention. We’re angry because we’re tired of sanctimonious nagging.

    The Holy See was tired and emotional

    Mar 10th, 2011 3:38 pm | By

    The “Holy See,” not for the first time, had nothing to say. Not a peep. About?

    about reports that the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Justin Rigali, this week suspended 21 priests pending investigation into allegations of child sex abuse.

    Oh that. Well…what can it say? “We didn’t tell them to.” “It wasn’t our idea.” “Don’t look at us.” “It’s the parents we blame.” “Philadelphia is a very secular place.”

    No doubt it will say all of those in good time, but it doesn’t like to be rushed.

    The suspension of the priests on Tuesday follows on from the findings of a Philadelphia grand jury which last month indicted three priests and one lay teacher on charges of rape, assault and other felonies related to minors, mainly in the late 1990s. The damning grand jury report also concluded that 37 priests remained in ministry “despite solid, credible accusations of sex abuse”.

    Well…um…well it’s the filing system you see, along with the thing about canon law. Put the two together and it does tend to slow us down, to the point that it takes us an average of three centuries to investigate any particular act of child-rape. We’re sorry, but you do get a lot of value out of us all the same, so go away and stop bothering us, you secular bastards.

    The opposite of engaging

    Mar 9th, 2011 3:43 pm | By

    Paul Sims did an interview for the Catholic Herald, and wants to know what people think. (At least he did; the post is a couple of weeks old now.)

    Ed West sets the scene for Herald readers.

    Last month two groups of people met in a church in central London to discuss gay adoption, abortion and religious schools. On one side were representatives of Catholic Voices, on the other a group from the Central London Humanist Group.

    The point, says Paul Sims of New Humanist magazine, was “to experiment with the idea of Humanists and Catholics sitting down and engaging with each other on contentious issues in a cordial manner”.

    Yes but (I’ve said this before, I’m sorry for the repetition) Catholic Voices are not just “Catholics” – they are a self-appointed PR group formed to defend the Vatican’s views:

    a bureau of Catholic speakers able to articulate with conviction the Church’s positions on major contentious issues in the media.

    Talking to them is not the same thing as talking to a generic or random group of Catholics; it’s talking to a group whose purpose is to defend views chosen and handed down by other people. It’s hard to think of a category of group it is more pointless to talk to when as Paul said

    the point, as I explained in a piece in the current issue of New Humanist, is to experiment with the idea of humanists and Catholics sitting down and engaging with each other on contentious issues in a cordial manner.

    Catholic Voices won’t be engaging with humanists on the issues. They will be defending the church’s positions on those issues, which is the opposite of “engaging.”

    This is totally alien to the spirit of Tahrir

    Mar 9th, 2011 12:14 pm | By

    Well how sodding depressing.

    Women hoping to extend their rights in post-revolutionary Egypt were faced with a harsh reality Tuesday when a mob of angry men beat and sexually assaulted marchers calling for political and social equality, witnesses said.

    The demonstration on International Women’s Day drew a crowd only in the hundreds to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the popular revolt that drove President Hosni Mubarak from power. Gone, organizers said, was the spirit of equality and cooperation between the sexes that marked most of the historic mass gatherings in the square.

    As upwards of 300 marchers assembled late Tuesday afternoon, men began taunting them, insisting that a woman could never be president and objecting to women’s demands to have a role in drafting a new constitution, witnesses said.

    That’s no good.

    “People were saying that women were dividing the revolution and should be happy with the rights they have,” said Ebony Coletu, 36, an American who teaches at American University in Cairo and attended the march, as she put it, “in solidarity.”

    The men – their number estimated to be at least double that of the women’s – broke through a human chain that other men had formed to protect the marchers. Women said they attempted to stand their ground – until the physical aggression began.

    “I was grabbed in the crotch area at least six times. I was grabbed in the breasts; my throat was grabbed,” Coletu said…Egyptian women say that sexual harassment has long been rampant here and that they grow up expecting to be fondled in public by men with impunity.

    That’s no good that’s no good that’s no good.

    The “revolution” is worthless if that’s the kind of world it settles for. It’s worthless if it’s content with treating half of its people (or any of them, but especially half of them) as objects of contempt.

    His hand slipped

    Mar 8th, 2011 5:07 pm | By

    Jen Phillips pointed out another item from Wally in October 2009. A spot of quote-mining.

    What PZ wrote:

    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before a grandiose monument to lies, an institution that is anti-scientific, anti-rational, and ultimately anti-human, in a place where children are being actively miseducated, an edifice dedicated to an abiding intellectual evil, and choose to complain about how those ghastly atheists are ruining everything.

    Those people can just fuck off.”

    What Tom Johnson chose to quote:

    “I have zero sympathy for intelligent people who stand before (religion)…Those people can just fuck off.”

    (Yes, we saw that quote again a few days ago, in another “oh sweet jesus the new atheists” jeremiad.) Wally said oh gosh sorry, I took it from another source. Sigmund (yes, our friend Sigmund) said really, because I’ve searched for it and can’t find it, Wally said how dare you, I said I was sorry, grow up. Yes really.

    Two apologies from me should be more than enough to clear up the ambiguities for others reading this post. It’s done, Sigmund. I made a mistake by posting a second-hand quote without checking its original source (there’s a third!). Grow up.

    Wally also, in the very act of “apologizing,” said “but I could find plenty of quotes of PZ bashing religion.” Yes really. Twice.

    I wonder if he’s busy doing that even now, inside his own spooky head. “But it is all completely totally true, even though I did make it all up.”

    Waving the saffron flag

    Mar 8th, 2011 4:22 pm | By

    Meera Nanda is critical of myths about the timeless Hindu nature of yoga.

    By and large, the US yoga industry does not hide the origins of what it teaches. On the contrary, in a country that is so young and so constantly in flux, yoga’s presumed antiquity (‘the 5,000-year-old exercise system’, etcetera.) and its connections with Eastern spirituality have become part of the sales pitch. Thus, doing namastes, intoning ‘om’ and chanting Sanskrit mantras have become a part of the experience of doing yoga in America.

    I’m reminded of Kelly on The Office, dressing up in a sari and piously saying “namaste” when she was applying for a Minority Training Program, which was funny precisely because the rest of the time she’s hyper-American and the opposite of pious.

    One would think that yoga’s popularity and Hinduisation would gladden the hearts of Hindu immigrants.


    The leading Hindu advocacy organisation in the United States, the aforementioned Hindu American Foundation or HAF, is hardly beaming with pride. On the contrary, it has recently accused the American yoga industry of ‘stealing’—even ‘raping’—yoga by stripping it of its spiritual heritage and not acknowledging its Hindu roots.

    And so another bogus grievance is born.

    Desk chair tourism

    Mar 8th, 2011 11:55 am | By

    Do you play with Google Earth enough? I’m not sure it’s possible to play with Google Earth enough. I’d forgotten to install it until fairly recently, so I’m still excited about it…Then again I doubt that I’ll get less excited about it as time goes on.

    Check out the Amalfi coast some time. Or Capri. Or Norway and those notorious fjords. Or Vancouver. Or Stockholm. Or Paris. Or Edinburgh. Or Cornwall.

    At the moment I’m working on the Yorkshire Dales. I took a little break there about an hour ago. I went to Gunnerside, in Swaledale; found a very local but blue-lined road partway up a moor to the west of Gunnerside, and just traveled along it pausing to do a 360 every few yards. Staggering!

    Building bridges

    Mar 7th, 2011 11:42 am | By

    Wally Smith wrote an article on a forthcoming book in October 2009. In fact it’s dated October 26, 2009, which happens to be the date of Chris Mooney’s “My Thanks to ‘Tom Johnson’” post. The opening paragraph of Mooney’s article, given all that we know now, is so richly ironic that one feels dizzy reading it.

    Last week, the New Atheist comment machine targeted the following post, in which I republished a preexisting blog comment from a scientist named “Tom Johnson” (a psuedonym). In the comment, Johnson had related  how some of his New Atheist-inspired scientist colleagues had behaved toward religious folks at bridge-building conservation events.

    You see what I mean, I’m sure. Mooney insults us for being skeptical about a post that smelled like dead fish at the time and is known to be certified, thrice-rotten, hypertoxic dead fish now, a post by a dedicated liar and trash-talker and one-man “comment machine.”

    Let’s take a look at the fragrant work of the trash-talking comment-machine writing (for once) under his own name.

    He says he hasn’t read the book yet, which is fine, because he’s not reviewing it, he’s discussing the collaboration of the co-authors, a pastor and a scientist (who are also married), and the general collaboration of what he calls “the faith-based community” and science. He’s in favor of the collaboration. He’s against what he sees as obstacles to the collaboration. He spots one in particular…

    …engaging the religious seems to be low on the list of scientists’ priorities. Instead, some leading scientists are running (quickly) in the opposite direction, holding contests to come up with the most mocking labels for scientists and others willing to engage the faithful. Blog exchanges on the topic by respected scholars have reached zero consensus and read like they belong more on an elementary school playground than in any serious, forward-looking public forum. As a scientist speaking about his own field, there’s little more to call this than a disgrace – especially so if we ever expect to apply science effectively beyond peer-reviewed journals.

    Oh what do you know – it’s all about Jerry Coyne. As it was in the beginning, so it was at the end – it was all about that pesky Jerry Coyne. (If it hadn’t been, I might not have sniffed him out. Think about that, Wally. Your obsessions give you away.) Jerry Coyne, unlike our author, belongs on an elementary school playground…far away from the scatological fantasies Wally engaged in as the YNH bloggers.

    His conclusion is stirring:

    Hopefully Hayhoe and Farley’s book will be a welcome change of pace in terms of building bridges – not breaking them down – and will help us realize that, if we spend all our time fighting “enemies” in a culture war, all of us are going to lose.

    Wally has invested quite a lot of time in fighting his perceived enemies over the past year and a half, but it’s nice to have his advice anyway.


    Mar 6th, 2011 11:42 am | By

    Remember Orlando Figes? Remember what he got up to?

    The future of one of Britain’s leading historians was looking increasingly uncertain tonight after he admitted that he was the author of anonymous reviews that praised his own work as “fascinating” and “uplifting” while rubbishing that of his rivals.

    Oh that. He used a pseudonym to trash people. This was considered a bad thing. Not an excusable little lapse in manners, but a seriously bad thing.

    John Sutherland, professor of English at University College London, suggested Figes’s position at Birkbeck could be under threat. “On the whole academics are pretty tolerant,” he said. “Clearly in the present climate he’s a star, and Birkbeck needs stars because of the upcoming research assessment exercise. They’ll find it easy to prove that he provides impact. On the other hand, he’s done something that’s dishonest and possibly actionable.”

    It’s not the kind of thing an academic ought to do, you see. It could be seen as antipathetic to the values academics ought to support and live by.

    Worship is immoral

    Mar 5th, 2011 4:27 pm | By

    Aikin and Talisse (potentially startling many readers of 3 Quarks Daily) argue that religious belief is morally wrong.

    The thought is frequently associated with Bertrand Russell: The worship of anything is beneath the dignity of a rational creature.  That is, we argue that worship is immoral.  Consequently, for any type of religious belief, if it requires one to worship anything, then it is intrinsically immoral.  The argument turns on the claim that any conception of worship that’s worth its salt will involve the voluntary and irrevocable submission of one’s rational faculties to those of another.

    That idea resonates with me, whether I know how to defend it or not. It addresses what I dislike about “faith,” even (or possibly, sometimes, especially) the liberal kind. I dislike the hierarchical aspect, the (at least implicit) demand for submission, the abdication.

    The challenge we pose to religious believers is to formulate a conception of worship that at once makes worship distinguishable from lesser attitudes and actions (such as praising, thanking, appreciating, admiring) and yet non-submissive.  We think that there is no such conception.  That is, any conception of worship that does not involve morally objectionable submission will be indistinguishable from, say, thanking, praising, and admiring.  But the religious believer holds not only that God is entitled to thanks, praise, and admiration; the religious believer holds that God (uniquely) is entitled to worship.  Yet worship is morally wrong.  Hence so is any mode of religious belief which requires it.

    That works. It’s quite possible to admire, praise, and thank other people, and still be on a footing of equality. Of course it is, and what a hell life would be if it weren’t. I enjoy admiring people. But worship? Hell no. That would be wrong. If we really do have an overlord who demands worship…we’ll just have to say No.

    Hammill the prodigal

    Mar 4th, 2011 11:38 am | By

    Hammill, as I said in a comment earlier this morning, is Walter Smith, known as Wally, a graduate student in biology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

    He said last summer that he would never do it again. He’s been doing it again.

    He’s been sowing little seeds of hostility and paranoia and mistrust. He’s been ever so gently tarnishing the reputations of gnu atheists. Again.

    For instance on this post, which of course drew him like a fly to honey, because it was both scornful and inaccurate about me. His kind of thing! (I don’t know why he hates me so particularly, given that I’m hardly the only vocal atheist out there, but he does.) He saw an opening for some poison, and he was ready. He was worried about the way new atheists talk.

    Just look at the words used to describe Josh here or others from several blogs over the past week: blatantly misrepresented, intellectually lazy, deceptive, dishonest, untrustworthy, deliberate distortion. They all sound like something from a political attack ad in late October, not salvos in a mutual debate or discussion. I don’t want to read too much into intentions or motives, but I don’t personally see them as an attempt to invite mutual debate. I see them as an attempt to quash dissenting opinion through character attacks without giving the heart of the debate a chance to find the table – a marginalization or distraction strategy, if you will. That’s certainly politics, although I would argue it’s far from the good kind.

    And four more paragraphs of the same kind of thing – the very best most refined kind of concern trolling. Now read it again with the YNH blog firmly in mind – the lies, the accusations of lying, the obscenity, the sexism, the multiple socks all confirming the lies – that’s our refined concern troll.

    Then another solemn refined comment in the same vein. Then warm agreement from one of the people he deceived. Then me asking a different anonymous commenter, TB, if it was the same TB aka Tim Broderick who called me a liar repeatedly at the Intersection. Then another concerned, conscientious, hand-wringing, highly respectable intervention by Wally the confessed serial liar.

    For the sake of argument, consider for a moment that TB is who you say he is and what you say happened is an accurate representation of what did happen. Beyond the obvious ethical considerations of providing the real name of another poster who has not personally divulged their identity on a site, how is a past argument relevant to the current discussion? Shouldn’t an argument be judged on its merits and not on one’s perception of the character of the person making it? Unless there are clear logical flaws in what TB has been saying here, I fail to see how pointing out a past dispute serves anything beyond an attempt to undermine one’s character, which is the point I was making several posts above. I hesitate to use this word due to the small firestorm it’s caused in this post, but dropping a pseudonymous commenter’s real name along with what appears to be an entirely unrelated, negative character reference seems an undeniably political move. (If there is a connection between the past and present somewhere that I’m missing (and I may be) that makes all of this more relevant, feel free to correct me.)

    Feast on the rich, multiple, layered ironies of that comment.