atheist news feeds

MU skeptics group brings big-name atheists to campus - KBIA

"Atheist" in google news - March 17, 2014 - 10:02am

MU skeptics group brings big-name atheists to campus
A conference this weekend -- the first conference ever hosted by the student skeptics organization at MU -- brought in well-known atheist speakers from around the country. The conference, SashaCon, had been in-the-works since summer. It all started ...

Categories: Atheist News

Mary’s Monday Metazoan: Melancholy movie

Pharyngula - March 17, 2014 - 10:00am

All the biologists out there know about the heath hen: it’s probably the number one most common example of a recent extinction discussed in considerable detail, because it illustrates so well that extinction is a product of so many factors, from habitat loss to inbreeding to predation to competition to climate shifts to you name it. The last bird died in 1932.

But now, something amazing has been unearthed: a 40-minute movie of the heath hens in their final reserve on Martha’s Vineyard, made in 1918. There’s a two-minute clip at the link. Watch the last dance of the heath hen and feel the loss.

Categories: Our friends

Ho hum Hovind

Pharyngula - March 17, 2014 - 9:44am

Kent Hovind sent me more of his antic raving email, but I’m bored now. You can read it below the fold if you really must.

1. This will be my third blog (see also 3-9 and 3-13 on about self proclaimed atheist (See Ps. 14:1) PZ Myers at U of Minn. Morris. As MANY predicted… he weaseled out of my debate challenge and now tries to lay the blame on me. I offered to pay my own way to his turf, pay to video the debate and produce it and hand him a final copy that he can sell copies of for life AND pay him $150/hr up to 3 hrs to debate me. [# for paragraphs is mine. Please refer to them if you have comments.]

2. You would think that making an extra $450 for one evening’s work discussing a topic many think he is an expert in would be a no brainer. Nope! Not enough for him. He wants me to sell the DVDs for him too!

3. PZ! If you are so sure you are going to win and show the world how dumb these creationists are with their non-accredited degrees from the “diploma mills” (See Acts 4:13) then you should jump at my offer! I even told you that you could have all the assistants you want. Bring in the campus expert on carbon dating, geology, botany etc. You can “tag team” me for three hours! All I want is 50% of the time.

4. Your cowardice in backing out makes no sense to most folks who write me. After all PZ, the internet sings your praises! I’m very limited here but folks tell me that you have a PhD in biology from U. of Oregon, were voted “Humanist of the Year” by the American Humanist Association in 2009, “created his own web site and blog,, which has since been hosted at ScienceBlogs by Seed Media Group and Freethought Blogs by Ed Brayton,” “He was a founding member of The Panda’s Thumb blog, is a member of Minnesota’s Citizens for Science Education and the science journal Nature listed his blog as “the top rated blog written by a scientist” and has the “third-most-read-blog maintained by a Minnesotan.”

5. Wow! What chance would a lowly former high school science teacher with degrees from Bible schools that you think are worthless have against an intellectual and scientific giant like you? It would be David v Goliath all over again! (I Sam. 17). (ooops-bad example.) Or maybe the Mighty, Unsinkable Titanic v completely stupid iceberg? (ooops, another bad example-oh well, you know what I mean) Anyway, I’m VERY scared of debating you PZ but … I’m still willing to make a fool of myself and try! I’ll even raise it from $150 to $200/hr just for you PZ. I MIGHT make it $250 if you buy my supper before the debate AND sign my Bible next to Psalm 14:1.

6. BTW- my Norwegian grandparents came from Trondheim in de ol county and settled in MN and La Cross, WS. Dere are still lots of Hovinds and Espenes’s in dose states. Ufta! I LOVE dat part of da county! (in da summer!) Ya sure you betcha!

7. Most of the Norwegians I know have loads of common sense. I’m amazed they let him teach that dumb religion of evolutionism in a science class in their state! I’m especially amazed they would allow someone to teach in their university who has such a foul mouth and dirty mind! I can’t reprint the Mar.14, post of his reasons for backing out of the debate for the profanity and childish name calling.

8. You would think PZ would be so confident of making a fool of me in front of his students that he could get Nat Geo, Discovery or Bill Nye or Nature or BBC or CBS or CNN to pick up the DVD, show it over and over and make him rich! He can market copies of the DVD world wide through his scoffer and skeptic channels and sell millions! Once he gets a web site to offer them for sale I even offered to tell folks about his site if they would rather get a copy from him! He keeps 100% of the profit and pays me 0% royalty. I run 100% of the risk of losing money if it doesn’t sell and he is guaranteed a LOT of money for a LITTLE work. He said no. What’s that noise a chicken makes?

9. BTW- I DID offer and insist we discuss one topic at a time that will be “strongly and narrowly focused!” HE’S the one who would want to run to a new topic to hide the embarrassment when I make a fool of him or expose his lies on one topic (such as below. :)

10. I hate to waste my valuable time on this response to his refusal to debate but… in light of Titus 1:11 sometimes these things must be done. Like the ol county farmer said, “I just want to raise my chickens but I have to stop once in a while to kill snakes.”

11. So, to take ONE topic at a time and NARROWLY define it and discuss it till ONE of us ADMITS he is WRONG…let’s just look at the name of PZ’s web address since it is named after “his favorite stage in embryonic development the pharyngula stage.”

12. PZ Myers calls his web address: Since the average layman may not know what that word means I thought I’d shed a little light (See Jn. 3:19!) on what this “con artist” Myers is doing.

13. For those who may not know… one of the main reasons so-o-o-o-o-o many “atheists” hate me is simply because I know how to pull the curtain back and reveal that they are actually pitiful little men using smoke and mirrors to fool the masses into thinking they are “the great and powerful Wizard of science” when they are nothing of the kind. One of the main ways they try to hide their lies is with the “smoke” of big important sounding words as if the words themselves are proof of something. It’s OK Toto. I can translate it all into 4th grade language for you. These folks are nothing to be afraid of. Actually they are to be pitied, scorned, exposed and avoided!

14. This was sent to me directly from PZ’s blog site:

15. “The blog is named after his favorite stage in embryonic development, the pharyngula stage. The pharyngula is a stage in the embryonic development of vertebrates. [1] Named by William Ballard, [2] the pharyngula stage follows the blastula, gastrula and neurula stages.

16. At the pharyngula stage, all vertebrate embryos show remarkable similarities, i.e., it is a “phylotypic stage” of the sub-phylum, [3] containing the following features:

17. notochord
18. dorsal hollow nerve cord
19. post-anal tail, and
20. a series of paired branchial grooves.

21. The branchial grooves are matched on the inside by a series of paired gill pouches. In fish, the pouches and grooves eventually meet and form the gill slits, which allow water to pass from the pharynx over the gills and out of the body.

22. In other vertebrates, the grooves and pouches disappear. In humans, the chief trace of their existence is the Eustachian tube and auditory canal which (interrupted only by the eardrum) connect the pharynx with the outside of the head.

23. The existence of a common pharynula stage for vertebrates was first proposed by German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) in 1874. [4]“

24. Kent’s Comments:

25. The use of big words is often done by der schlickmeisters like Myers to impress the gullible and the un-initiated. New college students especially are often bamboozled by the intelligent SOUNDING professor on the first day. This often works on students where the teacher has an obvious academic (he can fail them) and psychological (they ASSUME he is smarter) advantage. Well let’s see: He can’t fail me, fire me, frighten me or fool me. THAT scares guys like him and is the REAL reason he pulled out of the debate no matter what he SAYS and everyone with half a brain and one eye can see it!

26. Let’s pull back the curtain.

27. Phayngula is one of the many stages of development babies go through as they grow in the womb. Any biology book will teach them. After babies are born they still go through many stages of growth so why not call it the freethoughts/infancy or freethoughts/puberty or freethoughs/senile? I bet I know the reasons he chose that name. A. Big word! B. of all the stages of growth he THINKS this one shows evidence for his dumb religion of evolutionism.

28. Here’s the history behind the “pharyngula” idea as evidence for evolution. I’ll summarize here but you can get a great and detailed explanation from and or in “Evolution Handbook” p. 726-742. (

29. From Evolution Handbook- “Darwin hinted at recapitulation in his 1859 Origin of Species; so his devoted disciple, Thomas Huxley, included a pair of drawings of canine and human embryos in an 1863 book he wrote. Darwin placed those same drawings in his 1871 book, Descent of Man. Ernst Haeckel, in Germany, seized upon Darwin’s suggestion and announced his so-called “Biogenetic Law.” In a two-volumn 1868 set and its 1876 translation, History of Creation, and later in another book in 1874, Haeckel published fraudulent charts to prove his “law.”

30. “Haeckel made one woodcut {the way they printed back then} then had it printed three times with the titles “dog” “chicken” and “tortoise.” Haeckel made one ovum woodcut and had it printed three times, labeled “dog” “monkey” “man.” Haeckel was later repeatedly charged with fraud. Wilhelm His Sr (1831-1904) a German embryologist, exposed the hoax in detail in an 1874 publication (unsereKorperform) and concluded Haeckel was dishonest…”

31. “In 1915, Haeckel’s fraudulent charts were even more thoroughly exposed as the cheats they actually were. ‘At Jena, the university where he taught, Haeckel was charged with fraud by five professors and convicted by a university court. {THAT’S what the U of M Morris needs to do with Myers!!!} His deceit was thoroughly exposed in ‘Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries’ (1915), a book by J. Assmuth and Ernest J. Hull. They quoted nineteen leading authorities of the day…”

32. “In 1997, Dr. Michael Richardson, an embryologist at St. George’s Medical School in London, assembled a scientific team that photographed the growing embryos of 39 different species. In a 1997 interview in the London Times, Richardson said this about Haeckel: ‘This is one of the worst cases of scientific fraud. It’s shocking to find that somebody one thought was a great scientist was deliberately misleading {like Myers is!} It makes me angry {me too!}.. What he [Haeckel] did was to take a human embryo and copy it, pretending that the salamander and the pig and all the others looked the same at the same stage of development. They don’t…These are fakes.” Michael Richardson, quoted in “An Embryonic Liar,” The London Times, August 11, 1997, p. 14″

33. “The theory of recapitulation {the idea that the embryo goes through stages representing evolution} should be defunct today.” Stephen Gould, “Dr. Down’s Syndrome,” Natural History, April 1980, p. 144″

34. There are MANY more great quotes in the Evolution Handbook (on MANY topics besides this!) and I recommend it to anyone studying the entire creation v. evolutionism debate. It’s nearly 1000 pages and only $5- less in quantity! Whoever is getting the Evolution v. God DVD for U of M should get a box of those to pass out too! Let’s help rescue the whole school from liars like Myers. If you students there can’t find a professor to debate me get a group together and invite me to just come speak on campus. I’ve done that MANY times. Twice at U Cal Berkeley!

35. PZ’s web site says there are “remarkable similarities”…He’s lying!

36. He says there is a “post-anal tail”…He’s lying again. The yoke sac and it’s critical function is described on p. 729

37. He says there are “gill pouches”…He’s Lying.

38. He cites Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) as the hero who came up with the idea…this time Myers is telling the truth! But it was Haeckel who lied!

39. WHY is PZ Myers still teaching this lie 130 years after it was proven wrong? Does the U of M have textbooks with these drawings proven to be frauds in 1874? Do any of Myers hand outs for his biology class have these drawings or refer to them as evidence for evolution without being honest about the FRAUD?

40.Doesn’t the U of M have ANY standards of honesty for their teachers? I suspect it is because he is DESPERATE for ANY evidence to support his religion so he can justify his rejection of God. Haeckel also wanted to get rid of God in his life so he could salve his conscience as he, at age 62, left his wife at home to carry on a long term love affair (read ADULTERY) with a 28 year old.

41.Why do you students at U of M tolerate this? If you had a math teacher teaching that 2+2=5 what would you do?

42.WHY does U of M put up with this? Don’t you have a committee to examine teachers who lie and are fraudulent? Who checks to see that your curriculum is accurate. Ya’ll need somebody to do their job up there! If he refused to keep his religion of evolutionism out of class then fire him. I hear the oil field in ND is hiring. That’s not far from MN.

43. PZ, God made the world. He makes the rules (Ex. 20).You broke His rules (Rom. 3:23). He will judge you (Heb. 9:27). Denying it won’t help. Helping others NOT believe in God will make it WORSE for you (Mt. 18:6). Turn or burn PZ. Kent Hovind

I’ve written quite a bit about Haeckel and recapitulation theory. I can’t take a creationist idiot who thinks the Earth is 6000 years old too seriously when he accuses me of teaching out of date or inaccurate science.

Categories: Our friends

Common sense about GM crops

Pharyngula - March 17, 2014 - 9:14am

I find myself continually bewildered by the argument against genetically modified food. However, we have no choice, we need to constantly improve the stocks.

We have a great deal to gain from growing GM crops. They offer humanity a way to improve food productivity without having to make further inroads into our planet’s wild places to create more fields for farmers. The position was summed up by Sir Mark Wolpert, the government chief scientist last week, when debating the CST’s report. "The challenge is to get more from existing land in a sustainable way or face the alternative, which is that people will go unfed, or we’ll have to bring more wilderness land into cultivation." From that perspective, the case for GM crops is unanswerable.

Not everyone will agree, of course. Green opponents to GM crops claim they pose a risk to health, though no research has ever produced any credible evidence to back this point. Thirty years ago, it could be argued that we should proceed cautiously because of potential health dangers. That argument is no longer acceptable.

I have a lot of sympathy for the green argument, except that it ignores the real problem to focus on a minor issue. The real problem isn’t that some of our crops carry modified genes, especially since they all do — every single one of our major food plants are the product of intense artificial selection for traits that benefit agriculture. No, the real problem is how much of our country is overwhelmed with monocultured species — most of the botanical diversity of the United States is gone under a layer of wheat and corn and soybeans and pretty much nothing else. Minnesota is 54% farmland, and we aren’t even the most intensely plowed over state in the country.

It seems to me that the green approach would be to encourage more GMOs to increase the efficiency of farmland use; and to struggle to get less land committed to agriculture by ending the corn ethanol boondoggle and by encouraging more vegetarian diets, so less livestock. Worrying about an artificially introduced gene in a crop seems silly when the real problem is that versions of that crop are taking over everything, replacing wetlands and prairie with endless fields of corn, GMO or not.

Categories: Our friends

Get a jump on the crowd

Pharyngula - March 17, 2014 - 8:55am

There’s supposed to be some gigantic announcement coming from the astronomy community today at noon. I think we’ve been burned by the hype a few times before (arsenic life, anyone?), but Sean Carroll thinks this might actually be a significant discovery about Gravitational Waves in the Cosmic Microwave Background. I had no idea what that meant — I’m a biologist, dammit — but Carroll gives a darn good explanation for why it matters. It has cosmological implications about the Big Bang and inflation.

Go read it yourself so that when the announcement comes down and everyone is looking baffled, you can nod sagely and explain to everyone around you what it means.

Categories: Our friends

BPD Chief participates in prayer walk days after atheist group's complaint - Alabama'

"Atheist" in google news - March 17, 2014 - 7:22am

Opposing Views

BPD Chief participates in prayer walk days after atheist group's complaint
The chief of the Birmingham Police Department participated in a prayer walk over the weekend, just days after an atheist group wrote of letter of complaint saying he uses his position to promote Christianity. Chief A.C. Roper, who is also a Christian ...
Police Chief A.C. Roper Responds To Atheist Criticisms By Participating In ...Opposing Views

all 3 news articles »
Categories: Atheist News

Feel a little pity

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 5:47pm

Nathan Phelps reports:

I’ve learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the "church" back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made.

I feel sad for all the hurt he’s caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I’m bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.

What a terrible way to go: it sounds like his family is eating each other from within, he’s been kicked out of his own church (I would like to know the story behind that…if he was drifting away from the message, in what direction?), and now he’s dying alone, isolated by the people who ex-communicated him.

His legacy is a terrible one, but I’ll take a moment to feel a little pity for a tragically misguided old man, and the family who suffered through caring for him.

Now if only the haters of Westboro Baptist who perpetuate that legacy would only take a moment, too, to look at that sad old dying man and realize that there lies the end of the path they are on.

Categories: Our friends

Are you planning to go out to eat today?

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 5:08pm

We did. My wife and I went out to Mi Mexico in Alexandria for a celebratory lunch (she has put up with me for 34 years! Yay!). It was very good — they have a vegetarian menu and prices were reasonable.

But just before I left, I was reading this terrible site, Sundays Are the Worst, which has a huge collection of stories from restaurant waitstaff about serving the Sunday-after-church crowd. You know where this is going: appallingly rude Christians stiffing people right and left. And then we went to a restaurant.

I think I over-tipped. I felt like I had to compensate for Jesus’ selfish followers.

Categories: Our friends

Atheist Blogger Says Pro-Life Stance Not Hinged on Religion Alone - Christian Post

"Atheist" in google news - March 16, 2014 - 3:40pm

Atheist Blogger Says Pro-Life Stance Not Hinged on Religion Alone
Christian Post
A blogger at Patheos, who defines herself as a "feminist, progressive and nonbeliever," has responded to a recent post published by the "Friendly Atheist" Hemant Mehta featuring a pro-life humanist, by saying atheist opposition to abortion is not ...

Categories: Atheist News

COSMOS reminder

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 12:38pm

I think it’s incredibly sweet that last week Neil deGrasse Tyson premiered COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey for my birthday, and the second episode is on tonight…just in time for my 34th wedding anniversary. It’s amazing how the entire universe revolves around me.

Categories: Our friends

I’m not willing to trade one woman for the entire membership of CPAC

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 12:23pm

That’s what I don’t get about American Atheists courting CPAC. I could see it as an attention-getter, to highlight and criticize the right-wing religiosity of an organization of nutbags, but as outreach? No way. Dana Hunter won’t compromise on some things, and trading one Dana Hunter for even a million freakish conservatives wouldn’t be a fair deal.

Amanda Marcotte is bored by the bad arguments from the prolifers. Why do we want dishonest phonies and irrational kooks in our atheism, anyway?

Categories: Our friends

GitHub sounds rather…dysfunctional

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 12:09pm

Read Julie Ann Horvath’s story about what it’s like to be a woman and an engineer at a tech company.

Horvath has given TechCrunch her version of the events, a story that contains serious allegations towards GitHub, its internal policies, and its culture. The situation has greater import than a single person’s struggle: Horvath’s story is a tale of what many underrepresented groups feel and experience in the tech sector.

I don’t understand any of this. You’ve built a company that does something you’re excited about, that makes lots of money, and because you’re a nerd-boy you completely ignore the social and psychological glue that keeps your team functional? This is not rational.

Categories: Our friends

Whatever happened to the ‘White Man March’?

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 10:31am

I checked the major national news sites last night and this morning, expecting to see something. Nope, nothing. I expected at least a photo or two of tall, blonde, Aryan-looking guys in a parade with buxom Viking women and adorable tow-headed tots scampering behind, but no, all was silent. Aren’t these supposed to be the majority of True Americans?

But then I read this interview with Kyle Hunt, the guy who announced the White Man March.

VICE: What kind of events are you expecting to take place as a part of the White Man March? You mention “lightning mobs,” which I’m not terribly familiar with.

Kyle Hunt: People will be distributing literature, displaying signs, and getting our message out in any way possible. “Lightning marches” are simply non-violent flash mobs, keeping the location from the public so as to avoid confrontations with violent “anti-racists” and “anti-fascists” (a.k.a. anti-Whites), who deny White people the right to peaceful assembly and free speech.

Oh, I see. So it was kind of a stealth demonstration, where they’d sneak into places where nobody would see and flash signs at each other and then scurry away before anyone would notice. That’s brilliant!

Tonight, I’m going to have a pro-science parade in my bedroom closet, with the lights out. Don’t tell anyone about it, though — it’s a secret. But I’m sure it will advance my cause!

Here you go: the worldwide, international event drew 10 people in one city.

Categories: Our friends

When your name is prefixed by “reality star”…your ideas are immediately suspect

Pharyngula - March 16, 2014 - 10:17am

From the first sentence, I could tell that the opinions of Kristin Cavallari were garbage.

Experts warned against the dangers of following celebrity advice after reality star Kristin Cavallari acknowledged Thursday that she and husband Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler decided not to vaccinate their children.

When directly asked whether she was opposed to vaccines during an appearance on the Fox Business Network program, The Independents, Cavallari said, “we don’t vaccinate.” The reason? “I’ve read too many books about autism and the studies,” she said.

Also, “Chicago Bears quarterback” does not confer any credibility in matters of medicine on Jay Cutler. These are people that should be laughed at.

But then the article cites a doctor:

Homefirst Health Services, meanwhile — if that’s what Cavallari meant — is a Rolling Meadows-based pediatrics practice that embraces home births and shuns vaccines. Dr. Mayer Eisenstein and his practice were the subject of a 2009 Chicago Tribune investigation that shed light on the use of potentially dangerous alternative autism treatments. On the Homefirst website, Eisenstein maintains that “personal religious convictions, not scientific studies, are the main reasons, upon which to base your vaccination decision.”

Is there no accreditation process for medical clinics? How does one that refuses to carry out basic preventive medicine for “religious” reasons, manage to stay in business without the medical establishment — or at least the insurance companies — stomping on them?

The only sensible words in this article…

Alexander said Cavallari’s comments illustrate the problems with celebrity spokespeople, namely that they often have their facts wrong. “Celebrity status does not indicate scientific expertise,” he said.

Categories: Our friends

Irish Social Stere O'Types: The Militant Atheist - Irish Independent

"Atheist" in google news - March 15, 2014 - 10:53pm

Irish Social Stere O'Types: The Militant Atheist
Irish Independent
Ironically the militant atheist in Ireland obsesses about God and deities more than the Pope and other religious leaders. Also in this section. A Celtic tigress · Three to try · Rachel recommends. Name: Anything, so long as you don't refer to it as a ...

Categories: Atheist News

Don’t you just love seeing ignorance get smacked?

Pharyngula - March 15, 2014 - 9:31pm

Ah, racists…simultaneously so smug and so stupid. One racist white guy wrote in anonymously to People of Color in European Art History with a slightly leading question:

Can you explain why Europeans were much more technologically advanced than the indigenous populations of Africa? I mean, these cultures hadn’t even invented sewage systems, which is something the Romans were able to design and implement in 800-735 BC (a long fucking time before "the white man" colonized it)… I mean fuck, without "the white man", they would probably still be in the fucking bronze age.

Go read the answer. You’ll learn more about brown people’s ancient plumbing, at a time when Europeans hadn’t quite figured out sanitation, than you ever knew before. Flush toilets in the 18th century BCE, elaborate hydraulic systems in 3100 BCE, pressure inverted siphons in 1600 BCE, while Europeans’ most sophisticated approach to sewage was dumping their chamber pots in the street.

Categories: Our friends

Roper responds to accusations from Atheist group - CBS42

"Atheist" in google news - March 15, 2014 - 7:03pm

Roper responds to accusations from Atheist group
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper addressed accusations by the Freedom from Religion Foundation that he is using his office to promote Christianity. At one of the city's monthly prayer walks, Roper said the events are about ...

Categories: Atheist News

Missing the point of Giordano Bruno

Pharyngula - March 15, 2014 - 11:42am

I’m seeing a lot of silly carping about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos — almost all of it is focused on the story of Bruno told in the first episode. The apologists for religion are upset: how dare a science program point out the poisonous influence of religion? Bruno wasn’t really a scientist anyway, so he shouldn’t count! Peter Hess of the NCSE offers up a good example of apologetics.

Unfortunately, the series premiere risks squandering that opportunity through a combination of misleading history and reliance on an antiquated narrative of inevitable conflict between science and religion—and the Catholic Church in particular—that simply is not borne out by the facts. A generation of careful scholarship has given us a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the long, rich, and complex relationship between religion and the sciences. This latest Cosmos reflects none of that historiography, presenting us instead with what is quite literally a cartoon version of the life story of someone who was not a scientist. Missing were the stories of Catholic astronomers such as Copernicus [delayed publication out of fear; only saw his ideas in print on his deathbed; book was prohibited by the Catholic Church in 1616] and Galileo [tried by the Vatican, forced to recant, spent the end of his life under house arrest], Protestants such as Brahe [Brahe was a geocentrist -- a geoheliocentrist, actually] and Kepler [Did you know his mother was tried and imprisoned for witchcraft?] and Newton[Also a mystic, Bible-prophecy walloping, fanatical religious person], or Fr. George Lemaître, proposer of the Big Bang.

Whenever I see one of these guys throw out noise like a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the long, rich, and complex relationship between religion and the sciences, I want to ask…what was nuanced and sophisticated about setting a human being on fire? I also think his list of famous scientists overlooks an important trend: between Copernicus and Lemaître, we are seeing the steady triumph of science over religion, that we see the Church forced to reduce the severity of its enforcement of dogma in the face of the overwhelming success of science in accurately describing the world. The Church was dragged kicking and screaming into an era where you don’t get to murder people for disagreeing with your dogma.

It is odd therefore that Cosmos focuses almost exclusively on the marginal case of Giordano Bruno. Of course, I am not defending Bruno’s persecution and death—no decent human being now would ever condone burning a person alive for any reason. Moreover, in 2014 we view legitimate theological dissent very diffferently than did our ancestors.

But the circumstances were quite different 400 years ago. According to the 16th century Italian legal code and the customs of Renaissance politics, Bruno was judged by an ecclesiastical court to be an obdurate heretic for refusing to cease in promulgating his theological ideas. As such he was deserving of capital punishment and was turned over for execution by the civil arm in Rome. In the 21st century we inhabit a very different era, a religiously pluralistic age of largely secular states in which the nature and exercise of authority are vastly different than they were in Post-Reformation Italy.

Is anyone else getting that queasy feeling, like when you read about William Lane Craig justifying the murder of babies by ‘Israeli’ soldiers? Hey, it was OK to set people on fire in 1600! Why are you complaining?

I agree that we live in a very different era in the 21st century. Give the credit to secularism, rationalism, and the Enlightenment, though, because fucking religion fought every progressive change every step of the way, with liberal religion dogging along by discarding parts of the religious nonsense of previous generations.

I don’t think it odd at all that the series brought Giordano Bruno to the fore. This is not at all a show for scientists, but to bring a little bit of the awe and wonder of science to everyone. I think it was a good idea to use a non-scientist as an example of how dogma oppresses and harms everyone. Bruno was an idealist, a mystic, an annoying weirdo, a heretic, and for that, the Catholic Church set him on fire.

Do I need to repeat that? Bruno was tortured to an agonizing death for his beliefs. Full stop. Don’t even try to rationalize that.

Furthermore, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s own words, transcribed by Wesley Elsberry, are crystal clear on the point he was making.

Giordano Bruno lived in a time when there was no such thing as the separation of church and state, or the notion that freedom of speech was a sacred right of every individual. Expressing an idea that didn’t conform to traditional belief could land you in deep trouble. Recklessly, Bruno returned to Italy. Maybe he was homesick, but still he must have known that his homeland was one of the most dangerous places in Europe he could possibly go. The Roman Catholic Church maintained a system of courts known as the Inquisition, and its sole purpose was to investigate and torment anyone who dared voice views that differed from theirs. It wasn’t long before Bruno fell into the clutches of the thought police.

The Church maintained an Inquisition to torture people who didn’t follow Catholic dogma in thought. Let’s not hide that fact. Let’s not pretend it was OK because it was 400 years ago. Let’s not say it was irrelevant because many of their victims, like Bruno, were not scientists. I think it’s a rather important point that the progress of science requires that we not set people who disagree with us on fire.

Wesley makes a very good point at the end.

The point “Cosmos” was making was more basic. At the level of telling people about science, we don’t need a lot of historical nuance about the Inquisition: what they did was so far out of bounds of the way discourse needs to be handled that simply noting the historical divergence is sufficient. “Cosmos” did that, plainly told people they were doing that, and, sadly enough, a lot of people of otherwise lofty intellect managed not to take the point.

I will also disagree with Hess. There is a conflict between science and religion. Somehow, these people think that the historical evidence of people leaving behind their antiquated religious ideas and gradually adapting to a more secular view of the world is evidence that religion and science are compatible.

You know, I’d heard this vague euphemism that the church “immobilized his tongue” to prevent Bruno from speaking heresy on the way to the stake, but I didn’t know how. The answer was provided in the comments:

[on the way to the stake, Feb 19, 1600] As the parade moved on, Bruno became animated and excited. He reacted to the mocking crowds, responding to their yells with quotes from his books and the sayings of the ancients. His comforters, the Brotherhood of St. John, tried to quiet the exchange, to protect Bruno from yet further pain and indignity, but he ignored them. And so after a few minutes the procession was halted by the Servants of Justice. A jailer was brought forward and another two held Bruno’s head rigid. A long metal spike was thrust through Bruno’s left cheek, pinning his tongue and emerging through the right cheek. Then another spike was rammed vertically through his lips. Together, the spikes formed a cross. Great sprays of blood erupted onto his gown and splashed the faces of the brotherhood close by. Bruno spoke no more. … as the fire began to grip, the Brothers of Pity of St. John the Beheaded tried one last time to save the man’s soul. Risking the flames, one of them leaned into the fire with a crucifix, but Bruno merely turned his head away. Seconds later, the fire caught his robe and seared his body, and above the hissing and crackling of the flames could be heard the man’s muffled agony.

Yeah, that’s what the apologists want to dismiss as irrelevant.

Categories: Our friends

Weapons-grade projection

Pharyngula - March 15, 2014 - 8:58am

Wow. Some loon yelled at me on twitter that it’s progressives who are really the racists here, not conservatives, and to prove it, he sent me this mind-blowingly stupid article. It’s textbook projection: he lists a series of progressive issues, recites what we say is the reason, and then carefully explains what he claims is our actual reason.

So, under gun control for instance, he says that our claimed reason is Gun violence is a scourge on society; easy access to killing machines unnecessarily facilitates murder and crime, which is actually pretty close to what I think…but then, at length, he expounds on our True Reason:

White urban liberals are deathly afraid of black gangbangers with guns, but are ashamed to admit this publicly, so to mask their racist fears they try to ban guns for everyone, as a way of warding off the perception that their real goal is to target blacks specifically.

There aren’t any black gangbangers where I live, and even when I lived in Philadelphia, I could point to crime-ridden areas I avoided that were totally white. You know who really scares me? Wayne LaPierre. I had no idea that maniac was black.

He’s got the most twisted ideas about everything. Did you know opposition to global climate change is a racist plot?

The civilizational “white guilt” motivating the voluntary wealth transfer to undeveloped nations derives from deep racist assumptions about the innate shortcomings of backward peoples.

Don’t ask me to explain that. Don’t ask me to explain anything on that guy’s site — he’s so nuts, he has to hide out of fear of squirrels.

I was just reminded that today is the day of the White Man March. Who knew that the slogan “Diversity = White Genocide” was liberal?

Categories: Our friends

Don’t tell people how to feel about abortion

Pharyngula - March 14, 2014 - 10:58pm

Stephanie Zvan quotes Massimo Pigliucci:

To decide to get an abortion is always (or, at least, should always be) a very difficult and emotional step, precisely because it has significant ethical consequences.

Why? Philosopher, examine your assumptions.

There is no particular reason abortion should be difficult; it’s certainly less fraught than pregnancy. I could see saying that getting pregnant ought to be a difficult and emotional step — lots of commitment and responsibility involved — and that if you’ve made that decision, ending a wanted pregnancy is rightly a very difficult step. But one you don’t want? That is going to be an obstacle to living your life well? That ought to be an easy decision, except, of course, for the weight of tradition and guilt artificially imposed on us.

So don’t try to dictate how women ought to feel about abortion. The hysterics lining the walkways in front of family planning clinics, waving their bloody signs, are not representative. The patients can be casual and unconcerned as is possible for a simple outpatient procedure. Or they can be distraught and hesitant. Those are their feelings.

And what, exactly, are the significant ethical consequences? I missed that one, too.

By a conservative estimate, 40% of conceptions end in spontaneous abortions. Should we feel concerned? Is this something to ponder as a crime against humanity? What kind of moral compromise must a woman commit in order to be rid of an undesirable pregnancy? Should we be discouraging women from getting abortions, or telling them to be ashamed for their ethical lapse?

Man, that one sentence sure contains a lot of presumption that needs to be unpacked. Maybe we need a philosopher to puzzle it all out.

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