After an inordinate amount of time crossing swords with idiots at Matt’s Notepad . . .

2 04 2009

. . . I feel the need to bathe myself in some science. A team at the University of Colorado, Boulder, shows us what it might look like to fall inside a black hole.

Click here.

(Personally, I prefer Kubrick’s version.)

Meet the world’s most influential witchdoctor

18 03 2009

From The Guardian:

The Pope today reignited the controversy over the Catholic church’s stance on condom use as he made his first trip to Africa.

The pontiff said condoms were not the answer to the continent’s fight against HIV and Aids and could make the problem worse.

Benedict XVI made his comments as he flew to Cameroon for the first leg of a six-day trip that will also see him travelling to Angola.

The timing of his remarks outraged health agencies trying to halt the spread of HIV and Aids in sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 22 million people are infected.

The Roman Catholic church encourages sexual abstinence and fidelity to prevent the disease from spreading, but it is a policy that has divided some clergy working with Aids patients.

The pontiff, speaking to journalists on his flight, said the condition was “a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems”.

Rebecca Hodes, of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, said that if the Pope was serious about preventing new HIV infections he would focus on promoting wider access to condoms and spreading information about how best to use them.

Hodes, the director of policy, communication and research for the campaign group, added: “Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans.”

Millions of lives are at stake owing to the sad fact that this man’s ill-informed and anti-scientific utterances are taken seriously. (That, compounded with the—hopefully diminishing—human desire to flush one’s brain down the toilet, ignore reality and prostrate oneself before dogma and self-appointed authority.)

Sunday reading: Epiphenom on the link between religion and homophobia

8 03 2009

What’s the connection between religion and homophobia?

You don’t need me to tell you that religious people are more likely to be homophobic. But what you might not have thought too hard about is why that should be. Is it that religion makes people homophobic, or is it simply that religion attracts people who are conservative and/or authoritarian – people who also tend to be homophobic? Then again, ‘religion’ is a pretty broad church. Is all religion linked to homophobia, or is it just specific types?

And what about racism? Are religious people more likely to be rascist? And if not, why not? This is an important question because religion acts to strengthen group cohesion, and it also comes with a lot of moral rules. Either of these could explain the link to homophobia. But most religions tend to be at least overtly anti-racist. So if religious people are more racist, this is probably because the ‘group cohesion’ effect overrides the ‘moral censure’ effect.

Sometimes it seems like you wait years for big studies to come along tackling these issues, and then two come along at once! Putting both of them together starts to put some really interesting meat on the bones of this very fundamental question (with the caveat that, like most research in religion, these studies were done in the USA/Canada)

More here.

Quote of the week: Jerry Coyne on the incompatibility of science and religion

4 03 2009

Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, reviews two books by theistic evolutionists in The New Republic:

It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

Darwin Day around the interwebs

12 02 2009

Scientific American has a comprehensive series of articles and podcasts. reports on the growing support for moves in the UK Parliament to make Darwin Day a public holiday.

MSNBC lists some things you probably didn’t know about Darwin.

Times Online urges us not to forget Alfred Russel Wallace, who also proposed a theory of natural selection.

In The Australian, Alvaro Vargas Llosa urges conservatives to embrace Darwin.

But according to The Christian Science Monitor, all indications are that Llosa’s wishes will remain ungranted, as creationists with the aid of Republican legislators continue to play whack-a-mole in order to force Genesis into the science classroom. Their latest strategy is a curious adaptation of “teach the controversy” (adapted, that is, for the post-Dover world) known as “teach the strengths and weakness”: Texan “Christian attorney” Kelly Coghlan‘s article in the Dallas Morning News is holotypical.

A far more comprehensive Darwin Day news roundup can be found at NCSE.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be schadenfreude

6 01 2009

. . . or perhaps just your garden-variety pwnage. Quadrant editor and right-wing culture-warrior Keith Windschuttle has Sokal on his face.

Via Larvatus Prodeo

Another apologist flushes his brains down the toilet wrt to ethical reasoning . . . and counsels the rest of us to do likewise

22 12 2008

Prepare to stifle a yawn as yet another Christian apologist deludes himself that he is saying something insightful about atheism and morality:

. . . while we can certainly agree with Harris that we can know objective moral truths “without reference to scripture,” we are left wondering how human value and dignity could emerge given naturalism’s valueless, mindless, materialist origins. If, on the other hand, humans are made in the divine image and are morally constituted to reflect God in certain ways, then atheists as well as theists can recognize objective right and wrong and human dignity-without the assistance of special revelation (Rom. 2:14-15). But the atheist is still left without a proper metaphysical context for affirming such moral dignity and responsibility. And despite Harris’s claims, naturalism seems to be morally pretentious in claiming the moral high ground, though without any metaphysical basis for doing so. No, biblical theism, with its emphasis on God’s creating humans in his image, is our best hope for grounding objective moral values and human dignity and worth. (Via Richard Dawkins)

What makes biblical theism—which basically boils down to “right and wrong are what God judges to be right and wrong”—a proper metaphysical basis for morality? All the apologist is doing is allowing his holy book to do his thinking for him. Far from accepting responsibility for his views on morality, he simply passes the buck upstairs. “Don’t ask me, man. I’m just following orders.”

You want to be taken seriously when you claim the moral high ground over the unbelievers? You’re going to have to ask, and make more than a half-assed attempt at addressing, some pretty hard questions about your deity’s ethical philosophy. Let’s take, for instance, the injunction against murder. All we can garner from the Bible is that God thinks that murder is wrong. We don’t know why God thinks murder is wrong. We have no means of subjecting his arguments in support of his position to critical scrutiny because, well, he offers none. Murder is wrong, my dear sheeple, because God says it’s wrong. That is all ye know, and all ye need to know.

I am of course highly dubious about the concept of “objective right and wrong.” There is a difference between simply asserting that these exist—which is a very simple exercise which can be performed by anyone, and has been performed by many—and showing that they exist. Demonstrating that theists and atheists alike can have ideas about objective right and wrong does not solve the problem (and certainly does not constitute evidence that humans are made in the image of a deity, as the apologist presumes): all it demonstrates is that we have certain ideas about morality. That the “hardwiring” of such ideas may have given our ancestors a survival advantage is the subject of fruitful research in psychology and neuroscience, and is certainly more parsimonious an explanation (i.e. for why we have such ideas about morality as opposed to why they may or may not be the correct ideas) than the “Goddidit” argument from ignorance the apologist is serving us.


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