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.

It’s just class warfare, I tell you

May 18th, 2011 4:42 pm | By

What unites dashing open-shirted Bernard-Henri Levy and dreary “Expelled” “comedian” Ben Stein? Jason Linkins knows.

Levy and Stein find themselves offering up the same response — two of the World’s Most Interesting Men, defending another Interesting Man, on the grounds that the privilege all enjoy makes the crime inconceivable on its face.

Beautifully put, I think. They matter, so they think their friend, who also matters, must be officially Not Guilty, regardless of what he may actually have done. If he did anything, it was Her fault.

And so while it can be acknowledged that the possibility exists that DSK is the perpetrator of a crime (Levy: “I do not know what actually happened.” Stein: “…it’s possible indeed, maybe even likely, that he is guilty as the prosecutors charge.”), the important thing to do right now is remind the world that in this life, Interesting Men are never supposed to experience shame, let alone experience it publicly. Isn’t that the greater indignity?

Note especially what Stein said:

This is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.

That’s what it’s all about…Really?

It’s amazing stuff. Polanski syndrome.

The old epithet question

May 18th, 2011 12:30 pm | By

What’s wrong with this picture?

A guy commented on a Facebook thread about Carmen Callil’s boycott (as it were) of the Booker International prize over its decision to give it to Philip Roth:

So much to love about that story. Virago indeed. [plus some more that's not relevant]

I said

“Virago indeed”?


He said

@Ophelia — no offense intended. Just reading the article, and following up with a visit to Webster’s.

Sigh. Whether intended or not – it’s sexist. Never mind “offense”; it’s both less and more than that.

But I couldn’t say that, on someone else’s FB page, so I was more diplomatic.

[His name] - sure, but sex- (or race etc) specific epithets are just that. That was the point of calling Virago, Virago…

He said

Respectfully, I’ll take my free pass on irony too, then. Now, about the merits of Ms. Callil’s comments on Roth’s oeuvre…

What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s that he doesn’t get to take “his” free pass on irony too. Why? Because he’s a guy. We don’t get to help ourselves to free passes on “irony” when it comes to epithets that don’t apply to us.

Isn’t that obvious? If it’s not it should be. I know I’ve had a few million arguments about it, so I guess it’s not, but godalmighty, I can’t for the life of me see why not.

He wasn’t being ironic in using “virago” about a woman who’d done something he didn’t like. The women who founded Virago were being ironic in using the word, but he was not, and he doesn’t get to hide behind the word “irony” when he just used a sexist insult.

This thread was on the page of a rather well-known writer of Indian origin. I don’t think this guy would call the writer a “wog” or a “darky” or any other epithet of that kind, even ironically. I don’t think he would refer to anyone as a “wog” or a “darky” on the writer’s page, even ironically. Maybe I’m wrong; that’s a conditional verb; but I do strongly believe that – it would be such a clanger. Yet for a woman…

That’s what’s wrong with this picture.

I get fokking tired of it sometimes.

Sympathy for the mighty

May 17th, 2011 12:23 pm | By

Michael Ruse bending over backward and kissing his own ass in his effort to be Nice to religious believers again. The pope says in his Easter sermon that humans can’t be “a chance of nature.” Ruse Understands.

Now let me try to be understanding here. I realize where the Pope is coming from. As a Christian, humans cannot be just a chance occurrence.

No kidding; we all understand that much; it’s obvious. But never mind that – what I want to know is, why does Ruse try to be understanding there? Why is he so keen to understand the pope when he never ever says “Now let me try to be understanding here. I realize where the new atheists are coming from”?

Why is he so eager to give the pope the benefit of the doubt? Does he think the pope is a sad lonely isolated figure who gets no support? Why is he so prompt to suck up to existing established power and privilege and at the same time so intensely hostile to people challenging that power and privilege?

I wonder.

H/t Jerry Coyne.

A split within the movement

May 17th, 2011 11:51 am | By

The Freedom Rides were fifty years ago this month.

They weren’t universally seen as a good idea within the movement at the time – many people thought they were too much: too much of a deliberate provocation, too likely to trigger violence, too risky.

Well – they were a deliberate provocation, made by doing something that was entirely legal, and unexceptionable (to wit, making use of a public commercial facility). They did trigger violence, but the violence finally, after a lot of chickenshit footdragging by the Kennedy brothers, in turn triggered a federal response: when a mob attacked a church full of civil rights activists in Montgomery and pinned them inside, in fear of being burned alive, martial law was declared and federal troops arrived to prevent a mob victory.

The tame safe moderate unprovocative quiet thing is not always the best thing to do.

“We have no remorse.”

May 16th, 2011 3:17 pm | By

Fucking hell.

Police in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have filed preliminary charges against two women accused of killing their daughters.

The women, who were neighbours and are both Muslim, were reportedly furious with their daughters for eloping with Hindu men, police told the BBC.

Zahida, 19, and Husna, 26, were strangled last week after they returned home to make peace with their families.

I know it’s nothing new.  It’s just so depressing. They went home, to make peace with their families – and their mothers strangled them.

That just……..

it makes me despair. Their mothers strangled them. For marrying Hindu men.

One of the accused is quoted by the Indian Express newspaper as saying after being arrested, “How could they elope with Hindus? They deserved to die. We have no remorse.”

Despair piled on despair.

The Kikonians

May 15th, 2011 4:30 pm | By

I thought the first couple of paragraphs of Joshua Rothman’s interview with Patricia Churchland were more interesting than anything in The Moral Landscape. That sounds very rude, but it’s not meant to – it’s just that TML was fundamentally uninteresting to me because it sidestepped everything that’s genuinely interesting about humans and morality. Churchland, on the other hand, zoomed right in on it.

 She starts by explaining what’s most clearly known about how morality works in the brain. We know, she argues, that human moral behavior is rooted in the brain’s “circuitry for caring”—ancient biological circuitry that we share with other mammals. (When wolves care about their offspring, what happens in their brains and bodies is remarkably similar to what happens in ours.) Most mammals care only about themselves and their children. In human beings, though, the circle of caring extends widely, even to strangers.

See? That is interesting, where just insisting “it’s about well-being” over and over isn’t.

I said the same thing a year ago, too. I said it while discussing the article based on the book that Harris published at the time. I said it’s about caring, and that he’d forgotten to spell that out. Inexplicably.

I got it from the Odyssey, and an interesting passage in which Odysseus and his crew invade an island and treat the inhabitants as a predator treats prey.

The first and only glimpse of moral concern (or perhaps it’s prudential, or more likely it’s both) is Odysseus’s concern to make sure all his men got their fare share of the treasure and the women that they had all grabbed. The Kikonians might as well be animated figures in a computer game. This isn’t a factual issue. It’s not that Odysseus and his crew think the Kikonians are robots or zombies – it’s that they don’t care. They should care, but they don’t. Facts are part of getting them to care, but they’re not enough. Facts are necessary but not sufficient.

That’s still what I see as missing from The Moral Landscape, still what makes it an unhelpful and uninteresting book on morality. Churchland’s book, on the other hand, sounds terrific; I’m looking forward to reading it.

Adventures in credulity

May 15th, 2011 11:00 am | By

I didn’t know there was a myth that Oliver North told the Iran-Contra investigation and in particular Al Gore (!) that the reason he had such a pricey security system was because he was afraid of “the most evil man in the world” and that that man was Osama bin Laden.

(Actually maybe I did know it, once upon a time. It sounds very faintly familiar now – I may have caught a whiff or a glimpse of it at some point. But if so, the knowledge didn’t stick.)

I was told it yesterday. I was driving an acquaintance back from the airport, and he told me it. He told me it as something he saw – he saw Al Gore questioning Oliver North, and he saw Oliver North tell Al Gore that.

Wait, what? I said. Are you sure? That can’t be right. That was in the 80s – bin Laden was a mujahid then. He was an anti-CommOnist, just Olly North’s kind of guy. (I forebore to point out that Al Gore wasn’t on the Iran-Contra committee, because I’m a kind and loving person.)

My acquaintance all but laughed. He knew absolutely that it was right; he remembered very clearly watching it. There was no possibility of error whatsoever.

You know…I’m not used to people like that. I don’t get out much, so I don’t meet them. I’m not used to people who are so stupid that they think their memories are infallible. That level of certainty combined with cluelessness kind of startles me. (It also profoundly bores me, but that’s another story.)

I wasn’t having it though. He’d been talking non-stop since the instant he got in the car, lecturing on this and then on that, not even paying attention to whether I was interested or not, so I wasn’t having it. I kept pointing out that it was in the 80s, bin Laden was on Reagan’s side, what he was saying made no sense. Once I mentioned the dates for about the sixth time, his certainty wobbled a little, so then he started to lecture about something else.

My friend Claire looked it up on Snopes for me, so now I know it’s not just some fantasy my acquaintance made up from scratch, it’s an existing myth, that went flying around the internet in 2001. He’s a sucker for things that go flying around the internet, and emails them to everyone in his address book, which unfortunately includes me. He got it from some stupid mailing or other, swallowed it whole, and now thinks he saw it happen, and thinks he remembers seeing it. Not even that: he’s certain he remembers seeing it, and he treats skepticism with amused contempt.

Stupidity in action. It’s not a pretty sight.

(He embellished the story with a bit about Gore trying to scare North, saying North had looked down the barrel of a blah blah blah and wasn’t about to be scared by blah blah blah – I became less kind and loving for long enough to interject that Gore had been in the military too. I wanted also to point out that most military people despise Oliver North; they think he’s a traitor and a disgrace to the service…but I didn’t. Too many flies to swat.)

Not a pretty sight.

Slowly working away

May 14th, 2011 4:57 pm | By

The Ian Ramsey Centre via the Wayback Machine.

It has an epigraph.

Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but both look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. Freeman Dyson 

Not really; not really; not exactly; not in the sense implied; not really; not at all.

The Centre also sponsors regional conferences to encourage new networks for examining connections between theology and the sciences; and through its international workshops it enhances the quality of courses on science and religion that are taught worldwide.

What connections between theology and the sciences? What connections are there? None that I know of. What connections could there be?

As for courses on science and religion, the whole idea of such courses is mostly the child of the Templeton Foundation, fostered through satellite outfits like the Ian Ramsey Centre, so that Templeton “Fellows” can fan out and talk about science’n'religion as if they went together like salt’n'pepper.


May 14th, 2011 9:40 am | By

Here we go again. Via Jerry – we learn of a CNN report on a “huge” new study that tells us religion is everywhere. (You don’t say.)

What the CNN report does not tell us, however, is that the “huge” new study was funded by the Templeton Foundation. CNN doesn’t bother to mention Templeton. It doesn’t bother to mention that Roger Trigg is at the Ian Ramsey Centre, which is Templeton up to its eyeballs.

Interestingly, perhaps, I can’t find the IRC’s history on its site or elsewhere (and I have to rush away soon, so can’t dig harder). I know I found it in the past, and I’m pretty sure it was on its site, on the About page. I wonder if they’ve…doctored it.

At any rate – this Huge project is Templeton apologetics, yet the CNN article doesn’t mention the fact. Yet fans of Templeton express outrage when anyone says it operates by stealth. Well…what would you call this?

Like the Force, but without the lightsabers

May 13th, 2011 4:48 pm | By

Jerry has a post (how does he do it while on the road admiring the beauties of Banff?) about a reader who reports on one path out of theism, from the literal kind to “the ground of all being” to the gleaming port of gnu atheism. I seized the opportunity to ask this reader what that meant to her/him, explaining that I always wonder what people mean by it. The answer was both informative and amusing.

When I was in the “ground of all being” stage, I thought of it as a representation of some mystical spiritual energy which imbued the universe with intelligence and purpose. Looking back, they were basically filler words to represent a concept I didn’t want to think about too deeply for fear of losing the sense of community I found in the church. When I did eventually begin to think about it honestly, I realized it sounded a lot like the Force from Star Wars, but without the cool lightsabers (I still want one of those).

I don’t know what authors like Tillich and Spong really mean by it, even after reading four or five of Spong’s books. I guess that’s why it was such a short hop to reading The God Delusion and thinking, “This makes so much more sense!”


The cause that wit is in other people

May 13th, 2011 4:18 pm | By

One good thing, Rosenau’s goofy “I haven’t heard the Lindsay-Mooney podcast but I know PZ (who has heard it) is rong about it anyway” post elicited some good comments (along with a whole lot of bad ones from the usual suspects, especially the indefatigable McCarthy). From PZ for instance.

Your problem, Josh, is a total inability to appreciate any approach beyond your own. There is no surprising inconsistency in my views; all along the Gnus have been saying we need a multiplicity of approaches, so I can simultaneously endorse someone advocating a softer approach while favoring a hard core strategy myself.

My approach works for some people — actually, it works very, very well for a lot of people. And some people run away screaming. So? I’m not the one pretending a one-size-fits-all set of tactics is the way to go.

Quite. Me neither. I certainly don’t dispute that some people run away screaming. Mooney seems to think we don’t get that. Of course we get it.

And from someone called horse-pheathers.

Being nice doesn’t work. All that happens when you treat rank superstition with respect is you lend it credence it doesn’t deserve. If polite, rational argument stood a chance of swaying the believers, we wouldn’t be living in a world where over 80% of the population is some form of theist.

As H.L.Mencken observed in 1925, “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by persons who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame.”

See? We ain’t so gnu.

Correction: May 14 6:59 a.m. We ain’t so new. We are gnu, but not new.

Invisible companions

May 13th, 2011 3:59 pm | By

I have a few stalkers. Not real stalkers, just cyberstalkers. Maybe not even real cyberstalkers – just people who hate me and monitor my every online move and frequently blog or comment or tweet about how bad and stupid I am. One of them (that I know of) goes in for obscenity, but he talks that way about everyone and everything, so I don’t suppose he has many readers, especially not readers with any sense. Others just do stupid sneery stuff about new atheism and how pathetic it is that I’m saying whatever it is this time.

They’re all male, the ones I know about. Make of that what you will.

It’s odd having stalkers. It’s odd having people that worked up about One. It’s odd having people who after months or even years are still watching, still staring, still fuming, still blogging or commenting or tweeting.

(Mind you, I suppose C___s M____y could say the same thing about me. But C___s M____y has a much bigger public profile than I do – what C___s M____y says and writes has far more impact in the wider world. Furthermore, months go by when I don’t murmur a syllable about C___s M____y. My stalkers take much shorter breaks.)

Never mind. It’s Friday afternoon, and the people gutting the house 10 feet away from me across the alley will be leaving soon, and then I won’t be hearing them again until Monday morning; that will be pleasant.

Have a nice weekend, Stalkers! Well, a weekend, anyway. Have one. Have a weekend, and a rest, and maybe a chill pill.

Switching claims in midstream

May 12th, 2011 3:23 pm | By

Hmmyes. I listened to some of the interview again. As Tyro pointed out, there’s one place where Mooney very sharply contradicts himself – admits he has no evidence then almost instantly says he has a lot of evidence and a lot of knowledge. It’s quite remarkable.

This is in the part where they’re talking about the controversy over Mooney’s dogma that frank atheism is “counter-productive” (to what, is not spelled out). Lindsay says what’s the evidence, isn’t it a hunch.

Mooney says no, we know this: religion is a deeply held belief, it’s part of people’s identity, challenges to it trigger a defensive response. Lindsay says yes but that’s a general theory of the psychology of belief; do you have any actual evidence that the books and so on of the new atheists have actually been counter-productive.

No, not as such, Mooney says, but you say it like I should have, it would be expensive, complicated, difficult, blah blah – someone should do a study, and if someone did and the results were – I don’t know what they would be, I have a suspicion, but I don’t know, but if they were different from what I’m saying, I’d be happy to acknowledge that.

Big of him, isn’t it.

Lindsay says right, so it’s a hunch, so do you have any evidence that -

And Mooney interrupts and says quite sharply:

It’s more than a suspicion, it’s an inference from a lot of evidence and a lot of knowledge.

This must be about ten seconds after admitting that he did not have evidence.

He’s apparently too glib and too pleased with himself and too self-righteous even to hang on to an awareness that he in fact does not have any evidence for the claims he’s actually making (as opposed to a much wider looser more obvious and common sense claim that some people don’t change their beliefs just because an atheist challenges them) for more than a few seconds.

It’s not about that claim. Duh. We know that some people cling to their beliefs no matter what. We don’t need Chris Mooney to tell us that. That’s not the claim that’s disputed. The claim that’s disputed is that frank atheism is counter-productive. That is a different claim. Chris Mooney doesn’t have a shred of evidence for it – and in fact he’s never even defined it.

Science communication indeed.

Paul W on the social psychology of conformity

May 12th, 2011 8:31 am | By

Guest post by Paul W.

Mooney claims that he’s done a lot of research and that his position is based on a lot of knowledge, and it’s all psychology, but IMO he seems almost entirely ignorant of the most relevant kind of psychology—social psychology of conformity going back to Solomon Asch’s very famous experiments in the 1950′s.

(Asch was Stanley Milgram’s advisor—Milgram being the guy who did the even more famous experiments on obedience to authority, where people thought they were shocking other people with dangerously high voltages because a scientist said to.)

Here are some topics worth looking up on Wikipedia—Mooney should demonstrate his familiarity with this stuff if he wants to be taken at all seriously, and his critics would do well to know about the six decades of relevant research he persistently ignores:

Conformity, Asch Conformity Experiments, Normative Social Influence, Social Proof, Information Cascade, and especially Minority Influence and Spiral of Silence.

Scientists and philosophers especially are in a position to exert minority influence, ending a spiral of silence by providing social proof, and undermining the information cascade that supports religion.

But that is exactly what Mooney is most opposed to—he is against the experts voicing the kind of expert opinion that has the greatest potential for minority influence, and he actively tries to undermine the appearance of expertise and minority solidarity that makes minority influence work best.  He is firmly on the side of the normative conformity that keeps the masses ignorant of the kind of minority but expert view that could actually change a substantial number of minds.

He constantly misrepresents his politically convenient stances—e.g., that science can’t address supernaturalist claims that are “unfalsifiable”— as the majority view among experts, when in fact they are clearly not.  (Even  his favorite go-to philosopher of science, Barbara Forrest, says that the success of methodological naturalism is good evidence that supernaturalism is false.  Science conflicts with almost all religion at a very basic level, and most philosophers and top scientists do know that.)

And he constantly misrepresents the science of communication, making it sound like all the evidence is on his side.  That is very far from the truth.

If he’s really done his psychology homework, I have to suspect that he knows that.  He knows that the bulk of social psychology is actually quite friendly to Overton-type strategies.

But of course he never even mentions Overton-type strategies, or any of the social science that undermines his simplistic framing of framing.  He ignores six decades of absolutely mainstream social psychology that’s fairly directly relevant to his theses, and even scoffs at anybody who even suggests things are not as simple and obvious as he makes them out to be.  He’s the expert, and he has lots of knowledge.

It just happens that his “lots of knowledge” conveniently doesn’t seem to include most of the utterly basic things you learn in the first half of a first course on social psychology.

No room in the tent

May 11th, 2011 3:45 pm | By

Once again…“interfaith” understanding runs afoul of other values, and loses.

As a committed Christian and a queer atheist who both work to advance interfaith and intercultural understanding, we’ve watched with heavy hearts as Sojourners and its evangelical founder Jim Wallis have been taken to task in the blogosphere this week for declining to run an advertisement sponsored by Believe Out Loud, an organization committed to full LGBTQ equality in Christian churches. The overwhelming reaction so far has mostly consisted of resounding condemnation, including from many people we both know and deeply respect.

That’s been my reaction, certainly. It’s a no-brainer. The issue at stake is: is it ok for religious people to shun people who want to attend their church, solely because the people in question are two women and their little boy? The answer seems pretty obvious: no. It’s not ok to shun people who are not, say, war criminals or mass murderers. It’s not “controversial” to say you shouldn’t shun people for being gay and that you should welcome them instead. Sojourner doesn’t agree – so Sojourner gets a lot of criticism. That seems fair to me.

Those who question the integrity of an organization that adopts a moderate position make it more difficult for many evangelicals to find common ground with the LGBTQ community, in the same way that bullying tactics used by conservative organizations like Focus on the Family under the leadership of James Dobson made it difficult for many of our queer friends to ever believe that they could build authentic relationships with or find common cause with evangelicals.

Well here we see the problem with this “finding common ground” obsession. Finding common ground is all very well, but there are limits. Clearly for a lot of people, one of the limits is refusing to accept a “let’s welcome gay people” ad. Comparing that to Focus on the Family is one comparison too many (to bastardize Bernard Williams).

The two of us may be very different — a heterosexual man committed to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and a queer atheist who spends his spare Sunday mornings dreaming up new tattoos — but we share something more significant than our differences: a common desire to see compassion and reconciliation in the world between people of all religious and nonreligious perspectives. Sadly, controversies like these make it more difficult, rather than easier, to build these bridges and participate in the important work of healing the world’s bitter divisions.

We trust that Sojourners and Jim Wallis know this, and attempts to publicly shame them for trying to build broad coalitions make their job, and all of our jobs, that much harder.

Again – building bridges all very well, healing bitter divisions all very well, but not at the price of giving up core principles.

James Croft has a very nice post on the subject.

Ron Lindsay talks to Chris Mooney

May 11th, 2011 1:02 pm | By

Heard Lindsay talking to Mooney yet? Very interesting.

They start with accommodationism and the putative compatibility of religion and science. Lindsay quotes a bit from Unscientific America in which M&K say the NAS and other big science outfits say the two are “perfectly compatible.” Lindsay presses that point, and Mooney ends up admitting he’s not sure “perfectly” is an exact quote and he’ll look it up…

Which kind of sums up the whole disagreement right there. Yes we all know they’re “compatible” in the superficial sense, but are they compatible all the way down? Are they compatible in the substantive sense? Are they perfectly compatible? Of course not.

Then they move on to the Catholic church and its generous tolerance of evolution. Lindsay points out that that doesn’t really count as the Catholic church being compatible with science, given that it also insists – and tells believers to believe – that god intervened by giving humans “souls” and thus different from all other animals, a difference scientists don’t accept. Mooney says that’s all right provided it’s a supernatural claim, because science can’t say nuffink about that. If the Catholic church said humans have souls and we can prove it and here’s the data, then it would be a scientific claim and science could say No, but as it is, it’s not, so science can’t, and that means science and religion are compatible.

So the deal is, as long as it’s just a perfectly legless reasonless arbitrary assertion, it’s compatible with science, and no one can say “but that’s bullshit.”

Then Mooney claims that “methodological naturalism” is dominant and mainstream and the reason he’s right.

Then he talks about Galileo and Newton being motivated by their religion to do science. Lindsay shrewdly objects that we can’t know what might have motivated them if they’d lived in a less religious time and place…and Mooney just pretty much brushes that off. Things get somewhat worse from then on – Mooney’s tone (yes “tone”) gets more dogmatic and certain and, at times, scornful. He’s very confident of what he thinks he knows, and somewhat patronizing in defense of it.

They move on to the badness of new atheism. Lindsay asks if he has any evidence for the putative badness, and Mooney rather irritably says no, he couldn’t have, it would be too complicated and expensive. “So you could shut up about it then,” I murmured pensively, and Lindsay made a similar point, with nicer words. Mooney said no no, it’s perfectly all right for him to draw big conclusions, because “it’s an inference based on a lot of knowledge.”


Lindsay points out that European countries do better at scientific literacy and understanding of evolution, and that that’s probably because they are more secular and thus less inclined to let religion trump science. The US could become more like that. Mooney wasn’t having that – he knows better. Lindsay suggested that direct criticism of religion might be a step on this road; Mooney said “that’s incredibly naive psychologically.”


Then they talked about the Templeton Foundation, and Mooney’s “fellowship,” and the fact that it was controversial. Would you accept a fellowship from the Discovery Institute? Lindsay asked. No. Liberty University? Probably not. But they interfere with science, and Templeton doesn’t. Templeton, he said, “are generating a dialogue about the relationship between science and religion.” He thinks that’s a good thing.

I don’t.

I also don’t think he is thinking about it carefully enough. He’s not, for instance, apparently aware that the knowledge he thinks he has is largely Templeton knowledge – it’s knowledge that fits right into Templeton’s agenda and that is produced by Templeton funding. The books he’s read that tell him about Newton’s motivation and so on very often turn out, when one looks at the copyright page and then at google, to have been written by people with Templeton connections. I’m not a bit sure they don’t always turn out to have been written by such people. I don’t think he realizes the extent to which he’s parroting a line.

Lindsay differs. Yay Ron. Lindsay says one can see Templeton as in fact interfering with science just as the Discovery Institute does, but in a more subtle fashion. Yes indeed one can; that’s exactly how I see it. They fund most of the blather about “science and religion” that’s out there, and they do it very subtly. But Mooney was just frankly dismissive of that suggestion.

I haven’t listened to the second half yet.

What the mosquito said

May 10th, 2011 3:10 pm | By

There was an interesting moment in the 60 Minutes interview with Obama on Sunday – Steve Kroft said (approximately, from memory), “There were members of the group who disagreed with you about the plan?” It sounded like a set-up for “oh dear, dissension in the administration, chaos, management problems, oh noes,” but Obama answered very calmly and with some emphasis that he wants it that way. He wants people with different views, and he wants them to feel completely free to disagree with him and argue their case. While he was saying it a little voice was shouting “So unlike Bush! So unlike Bush!”

He went on to the effect that that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. That’s how you get the best ideas: via open discussion and disagreement.

That’s how he ran the Harvard Law Review, too, to the irritation of some of his friends.

Summer school

May 10th, 2011 11:49 am | By

I see a new opportunity to get learnings: you can get a master’s degree in general education (Ed.M.) with an emphasis in Science and the Public via the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Center for Inquiry. There are summer classes. There’s one set on Science and Religion, taught by John Shook and Michael Dowd, and another set on Communicating Science to the Public, taught by John Shook and Chris Mooney.

Who is Michael Dowd?

Reverend  Michael Dowd, an outspoken religious naturalist, is America’s evolutionary evangelist. His book, Thank God for Evolution, was endorsed by 6 Nobel Prize-winning scientists, noted skeptics, and by religious leaders across the spectrum…

Sharpen your pencils.

Eating your cake and having it

May 10th, 2011 10:35 am | By

Nope. No can do. Will not fly.

Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung has apologized for publishing an iconic photograph of President Obama and his national security team with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security team member Audrey Tomason photoshopped out…

Der Zeitung addressed what it cast as “allegations” that the women had been removed from the photograph because “religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office,” calling such suggestions “malicious slander and libel.”

The newspaper offered kind words for Clinton and said it respects all government officials, but that religious considerations prevent it from showing images of women.

That’s the thing you can’t do – the thing that won’t fly. You can’t treat women as so special and different that pictures of them in news media have to be faked out of existence, and claim that you don’t denigrate women and you do respect them and that to say otherwise is malicious slander and libel.

You think you can, because you deployed the magic phrase “religious considerations,” but you’re wrong. You can’t. Fraudulently altering an official government photograph that shows the Secretary of State present at an event of great importance to the State Department, in such a way that she is not there at all, is not consistent with respecting women and not denigrating them.

“In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status,” Der Zeitung said. “Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”

Not accepted. Worthless. Fundamentally insulting. Fuck your rabbinical board. You don’t get to delete women from history, and pretending to apologize after doing it doesn’t salvage anything.

Language reform

May 10th, 2011 10:00 am | By

Really, there is something faintly disgusting about all the serious newspapers talking about bin Laden’s three “widows.” For one thing – three? Three widows? If there are three, they’re not “widows” in the usual sense of the word. It’s too much “respect” for polygamy to call them widows (or wives) – you need different words for a system in which men can have lots while women can have no more than a fraction of one.

For another thing – widows? That assumes they were genuine wives first, having been genuinely married. In fact, from what I’ve read, at least one of them was simply given to him by her father or some other Important man, like a bottle of vodka.

Come on. These women weren’t wives or widows, they were slaves.