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PZ Myers is a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
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I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiratation of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance — but for us, not for God.

[Albert Einstein, from "Albert Einstein: The Human Side", edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press]

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March 7, 2010

A rare glimpse of life at Chez Myers

Category: Weirdness

It's a stunning reenactment of home life…with lolcats. I don't know that I like this invasion of my privacy.

Sunday Sacrilege: It rhymes with reflex

Category: Godlessness

This one crosses religious boundaries — it will get me in trouble with some atheists, even. What is one act that will turn many a respectable citizen of Western society into a gibbering denialist?

Jerry Coyne gets email

Category: AcademicsCreationism

Coyne was quoted in this article on homeschooling, which brought in an unexpected surge of email, including some rather nasty words from the Christians. This doesn't surprise me at all; criticizing religion, especially the more far-out beliefs that are clearly unsupportable and in contradiction to all of the evidence, is always a reliable trigger to start some kooks spewing.

Homeschooling is another trigger. People care very much about their kids, and so telling them that they're wrecking their children's future by giving them a substandard education poisoned with a falsified ideology is not the kind of thing that will get you pleasant nods of approval…even if it is true. I'm one of those people who thinks we ought to be consistent and require everyone to attend an accredited school, public or private, and that private schools ought also to be required to meet certain secular standards, such as that their science education ought to address the evidence reasonably. You want to send your kids to a school that teaches them all about Jesus? Fine. But it doesn't count as a legitimate education unless it also teaches the basics of science, math, history, English, etc. in a way that meets state education standards.

It's the same principle that warrants requiring vaccinations for all children: for the defense of our society.

Scientologists prominently dissed

Category: Religion

There are two very encouraging facts about this article on scientology in the NY Times.

One is that it got published. Once upon a time, newspapers and magazines hesitated to criticize scientology at all, because they'd immediately sic an army of lawyers on the publication, and any journalists involved face some fierce harassment. They probably still do that, but their triumphantly oppressive days are over.

The other is this fascinating disclosure.

The church is vague about its membership numbers. In 11 hours with a reporter over two days, Mr. Davis, the church's spokesman, gave the numbers of Sea Org members (8,000), of Scientologists in the Tampa-Clearwater area (12,000) and of L. Ron Hubbard's books printed in the last two and a half years (67 million). But asked about the church's membership, Mr. Davis said, "I couldn't tell you an exact figure, but it's certainly, it's most definitely in the millions in the U.S. and millions abroad."

He said he did not know how to account for the findings in the American Religious Identification Survey that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

That's a rather precipitous fall. If they can keep shedding believers at that rate, this will be scientology's last decade.

March 6, 2010

I'm a starry-eyed techno-utopian, and proud of it

Category: DevelopmentKooksScience

Freeman Dyson (with whom I have many disagreements, so don't take this as an unqualified endorsement), wrote an interesting article that predicted, in part, a coming new age of biology. I think he's entirely right in that, and that we can expect amazing information and changes in this next century.

If the dominant science in the new Age of Wonder is biology, then the dominant art form should be the design of genomes to create new varieties of animals and plants. This art form, using the new biotechnology creatively to enhance the ancient skills of plant and animal breeders, is still struggling to be born. It must struggle against cultural barriers as well as technical difficulties, against the myth of Frankenstein as well as the reality of genetic defects and deformities.

Apparently, this freaks some people out. The so-called Crunchy Con, a knee-jerk Catholic nicely described as a "weird, humorless, smart, spooky, self-rightous, puritan wingnut", is one of the people who takes particular exception to this optimistic view of the future. Rod Dreher wrote an egregiously ignorant whine about the possibilities, which I will proceed to puke upon.

Episode XXXVI: The predictable descent

Category: Open Thread

It had to happen. The last instantiation of the immortal thread started with underwear, so of course it had to progress to what was under that underwear, and relationships, and other such intimacies.

The only place to go now is anthropomorphized penises.

I'm a little concerned about what Episode XXXVII will be about.

Nice sign

Category: Godlessness

Now the godless Australians are getting into the atheist bus sign business, and I must say, this is my favorite ad of the bunch so far, since it's got the nice sciencey touches to it. And it's a fine bunch of happy atheists promoting it, too.

I would not want to be a judge for that award

Category: Creationism

The NCSE has announced a new award, the Upchuckies, for the most nauseating creationist of the year. Their first slate of competitors was about as disgusting as an old cat box, more revolting than a snot bath with fecal chunks, and included Al Jazeera (bleh), Ray Comfort (gag), Casey Luskin (I think I'm gonna…), and Don McLeroy (huuuuuurl). Jeez, just reviewing their records would be an unpleasant experience in sleaze, slime, and stupidity.

The "winner" is McLeroy. I don't have a clue how they made the decision. Maybe they just weighed the puke buckets placed in front of their CVs.

Virginia does something stupid, again

Category: AcademicsEquality

I've been on a few job search committees, and I've been on a few job searches myself, and there's a standard piece of boilerplate we put on all of our job ads.

The University of Minnesota is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, or sexual orientation.

Whenever we start a job search, too, human resources reviews whatever we do, and we also get to attend a meeting where we're informed in very strong terms that that paragraph isn't just for show, but they really mean it, and if we violate those principles in any way, we can be in big, big trouble — and then they show us the burly lawyers with bullwhips and the guillotine. It's important stuff.

It's not just Minnesota, either. When I was on the job market, there was always some equal opportunity paperwork that went with every application. It's common to every civilized state in the union that they will make an effort to avoid discrimination.

Except Virginia.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says Virginia's colleges and universities cannot prohibit discrimination against gays because the General Assembly has not authorized them to do so.

In a letter Thursday to the presidents, rectors and boards of visitors of Virginia public colleges, Cuccinelli said: the law and public policy of Virginia "prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation', 'gender identity', 'gender expression' or like classification, as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy, absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."

That's remarkable. They aren't just saying, "Well, we don't have a state legal requirement that you can't discriminate against gays, but if the universities want to be a little more egalitarian than the rest of us, it's their own decision." They are saying there is a strong prohibition against not discriminating against gays: "Universities may not be more egalitarian and prohibit discrimination. Unless we say they can." Virginians have a right to be prejudiced assclowns and fire faggots freely.

I'm sure Patrick Henry University and Liberty University find this decision cause to celebrate, but you'd think the state would have learned something from Loving v. Virginia.

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