Sunday, August 30, 2009

Atheists Over-Consuming, Says Man On Gold Throne

Some priests take vows: stability,
Obedience, and chastity,
Some take a vow of poverty,
And then, there is The Pope.
Some give up almost every thing
That modern life can surely bring
But look upon that Papal Ring
With lust, or greed, or hope.

They gladly take authority,
Relieving folks like you or me
From any need to think, you see,
Then listen to our sins.
To hear some girl or boy confess
How lust has made their life a mess
Brings fullness to a priestly dress
The minute it begins

"I've coveted my neighbor's ass,
When, such a lovely little lass,
She dressed right by the window glass--
It's quite a frequent bother!"
If it were not for fear of God
And Satan's massive cattle prod
I swear a priest would shoot his wad
With every "Bless me, Father..."

And now the Pope, on throne of gold,
Decides to blame, so we are told,
His enemy from days of old--
The folks who don't believe--
For lust for power, ego, greed,
For taking more that what they need
Rejecting his ascetic creed
And giving earth the heave.

He has the gall to preach restraint
And act the part of slighted saint;
I have to tell myself, "how quaint!
He acts as if we care!"
Surrounded by his gold and jewels,
Pontificating papal rules
To sycophants and silly fools...
Humanity, beware!

Perhaps restraint is what you want if
You are going to say this, Pontiff--
Seems a bit too nonchalant, ef-
fusing thoughts like these,
Ensconced in your luxurious palace,
Sipping from your golden chalice
It frankly, Ratzi, feels like malice:
Authority? Oh, please.

Cuttlecap tip: PZ.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Selection Favors The Prepared Cephalopod

So I had read the news release, and thought "Ah! Finally, a chance to beat Myers to a post about cephalopods!" Silly me. You don't tug on Superman's cape; you don't spit into the wind; you don't pull the mask off the ol' Lone Ranger, and you never try to beat PZ Myers to a story involving cephalopods. But I do have a cooler illustration (which I will put at the bottom, just for suspense; the first illustration is the same one PZ used), again from Mike McRae. I was not planning to post it yet, but this story is just too perfect.

The first illustration, from Science magazine; on the left is a fossil ammonoid; on the right, the vampire squid Vampyroteuthis infernalis. The vampire squid lives in water with very little dissolved oxygen; the ability to live in such conditions may be the reason for an explosion of cephalopods following the Permian Extinction. For more information, see PZ's post, or the New York Times article, or even the Science article, if you have access.

The Permian Extinction wiped out ninety-plus percent
Of the creatures that had, by that time, evolved.
A rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 had meant
That the water had less oxygen dissolved.
(I know, I know, the animals on land were also hit,
But the news today is focused on the sea;
And you may call me biased—which I’ll readily admit—
So this story is more interesting to me!)
The ammonoids—the ancestors to octopus and squid,
And to cuttlefish (their greatest claim to fame)—
Were badly hurt, like all the rest; their population slid,
Ah, but from those few survivors, see what came!
The ammonoids exploded (metaphorically, of course),
Filling niches left by species that had died;
The few remaining species were selection’s vital source
For diversity to fill the planet wide.
Their secret to survival? One scenario is this:
They’d adapted to the cold, anoxic deep,
And the new conditions everywhere were like their old abyss,
So selection said: “I think, this one I’ll keep.”
When catastrophe sweeps multitudes from off the planet’s face,
Evolution makes the best of what’s still there;
This story shows that, sometimes, if you want to win the race,
Be a metabolic tortoise, not a hare!

Now, the beautiful illustration--a cephalopod version of Darwin's "Tree of Life"!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Science Is A Cephalopod

Hey, my first chance to show off some of the new artwork (for the upcoming revised, updated and improved book)! Mike McRae, the artist behind my banner art (thanks, Podblack, for suggesting him!), has drawn a few illustrations for the chapters. He asked me what I had in mind for each, listened carefully to my rambling suggestions, then wisely ignored a great many of them in order to produce something much much better.

And sometimes, his choices were very very different from mine. For instance, rather than sticking with a cuttlefish for each illustration, he has used octopus, squid, and even nautilus! At first, the notion of the nautilus grabbing the prize gig of representing science rather galled me... but then, it suddenly could not be more perfect. Science, after all, grows by testing hypotheses, and discarding ideas that cannot be supported. If science has grown to the point where an old idea no longer fits, we abandon it, and sort of wall it off (there is no reason to reconsider geocentrism as being worth another look at this point, after all). And with every rejection, science grows.

I guess what I am trying to say is...

Science is a nautilus; it builds upon its past,
By discarding what it clearly has outgrown;
Empirically assessing views that will or will not last,
And adding to the sum of what is known

Our ancient view of nature was ridiculously small,
From the universe itself, to our place in it—
But our knowledge grew, until that view could never hold it all,
And it’s growing more with every passing minute

A new and better theory soon replaced the old and weak;
This may also be abandoned as we grow;
If a theory is found wanting, then a better one we seek,
Which is how we keep increasing what we know

The nautilus will build a wall, to permanently close
Any cell for which it has no further use;
When you find a static charge can heat the air up till it glows,
You’ve got lightning with no need to call in Zeus

Should a scientist today concede the Earth is really flat?
That phlogiston is the reason fires burn?
That demons are the cause of plagues (and never mind that rat)?
That is not the way to grow from what we learn!

An open mind is willing, if it must, to close a door,
If the evidence is clear that’s what to do;
We must never mourn the tiny room we occupied before—
There is so much more amazement in the new!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Digital Pack-Rat, Vol. 19

It has been an eventful month, so I am rather surprised to have so much to post here.

First, a comment on the "millions of years" wrecking ball at the creation sci... *snorfle*... science muse *hee hee* museum:
Six thousand years since Adam's "birth"--
The bible tells us so.
A few more days, the age of Earth;
P.Z., you ought to know!

The sediments were all laid down
As rivers ran their courses
And fossils deep within the ground
Are merely Jesus Horses!

The "old-earth" claim, a wrecking ball
Assaulting my belief,
Will never cause my faith to fall,
But always cause me grief;

I grieve for people everywhere--
It really gives me pains--
Who cannot bring their faith to bear...

And have to use their brains.

Of course, at that museum *snort*... PZ got a bit of flack for riding the triceratops that everyone rides:
You take it as a point of pride
To sit upon a child's ride
A fiberglass triceratops, a propaganda tool--
A sauropod of fiberglass
To cushion and support your ass
The photographic evidence is there for us, you fool!

How dare you flaunt the rules divine,
As posted on the little sign,
Restricting it to little kids, not Doctors in disguise!
Although you only meant to laugh
It's serious to us! The staff
Alone are drawing paychecks here for emphasizing lies!

Oh, let's see... Oh, yeah, Dembski is offering credit for 200-word posts:
I will not spell-check; must not edit—
There is no time; it’s extra credit!
For Dembski’s class, I think perhaps
I think I need to write ALL CAPS!
(or maybe not—it’s hard to tell;
The wrong choice, though, may lead to Hell!)
I have to say, cos it’s my grade,
(It’s time to check—that’s sixty-two,
I need more words to get me through.
I need two hundred words or more
To get me Dembski’s perfect score!)
(The meter’s wrong, but no one cares—
A hundred words; I’m halfway there!)
It may seem callous, even cold,
But now it’s time to post in bold—
else, perhaps, I spoke in haste,
And ought to go with cut and paste,
With plagiarizing Dembski’s words,
Regardless if the meaning’s blurr’d.
And time to find a proper site
With points for all I’m doing right!
I think I’ll choose Pharyngula
Where scientists all mingle, ah…
To post my extra-credit screed
For everybody now to read
And offer their analysis
Regarding my hypothesis:
And now, although it seems absurd
My post has hit 200 words.
What else... Oh, yeah, a church votes to do something right, despite centuries of entrenched prejudice:
Amps and volts and lightning bolts
Are sometimes God's Own Word;
Unless, of course, we disagree,
In which case it's absurd.

Great news this is, although in truth
It's more than some can swallow;
But where the people speak their mind
Their leader--God--must follow.
A bit of a rant on morality and religion... someone noted lines 5 and 6 in a comment on Pharyngula; I liked that, since it is the entire poem, condensed.
The Word Of God, conveniently for those of us who hate,
Will always back our hatred with religion's holy weight.
The good may credit God, of course; sing praises to his name--
The bad, as well, cite scripture, which they loudly will proclaim!
The Word Of God is leather-bound, and sits upon your shelf,
And lets you blame a deity for things you do yourself.
You're good, or bad, or neither; you are moral or you're not;
You think that God contributed? He did precisely squat.
It's you who takes the credit, and it's you who takes the blame;
No God controlled your hatred, so don't try to spread the blame.
So go ahead; pretend that you are acting on God's word;
Both you and we know better; you're a coward and a turd.
And lastly, a comment on the "logic" of one of the sharper minds of creationism:
He's razor-sharp, or even keener,
Calm and cool is his demeanor;
Ranting "Neener, neener, neener!"
Never was his style;
Poised and thoughtful, his debating,
Never stoops to low berating,
Turns aside barbaric hating
Merely with a smile.
Logic is the tool he uses,
Striking when and where he chooses;
Quick and strong, he never loses--
Always wins the prize;
Ready for a rough-and-tumble
Sure of foot; he'll never stumble.
Through it all, remaining humble...
Problem is, he lies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Holy Insulation, Governor!

Wait. I thought it was Pat Robertson's prayers that kept Florida safe from hurricanes. According to PZ, though, it is really the work of the Governor. Well, it's his job, I guess. Which he does by sending prayer scrolls to Israel to have them stuffed into the cracks of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Seriously.

The stuffing of scrolls
Into cracks, clefts, and holes,
Like the layering of plaster on lath,
Blocks the passage of wind,
And (for those who have sinned)
Even stands in the way of God’s wrath.

The hurricane season
Robs people of reason,
Replacing it, mostly, with fear;
The strange become stranger—
Thank god that the danger
Lasts only for three months a year!

The far bigger threat
Are the people who bet
They’ll win votes, or donations of money
Playing kiss-ass with god
For the public. It’s odd,
And it’s more than a little bit funny.

The Florida weather
Brings people together
To mutter a terrified prayer
Whenever they mention
Divine intervention
You know it’s a lot of hot air.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Please Jesus, Leave Me Alone!

There is a sign on the highway in Pennsylvania (actually, there are several of these): "Buckle Up--Next Million Miles". I thought it was a cute use of hyperbole at first; countless hours later, I realized that it was merely truth in advertising. Pennsylvania is now, officially, wider than Alaska. Or perhaps it just seems that way when you are driving your daughter off to college.

I can write verses about god, about nature, about science, about the end of the world... you know, the trivial stuff. I can't write verse about something as meaningful as sending Cuttledaughter out into The World. That is much too big. And yes, I cried. And yes, she is too far away to drive home for visits, or maybe even Thanksgiving. And I don't have a webcam on my laptop, so I can't do the video chat thing... Yeah, I know, such problems. I am a very lucky dad, I am well aware, and she is doing great and will continue to do great. But man, a little more money would make a huge difference right now. (Academia, but not tenured or even tenure-track, so you can do the math--it's all small numbers, so it's easy.) Anyway, if I start emphasizing the tip jar more, or the new book (no, not quite there yet, but soon!), I hope you will understand.

But Pennsylvania. I guess I am spoiled living where I do, because I actually get a number of worthwhile radio stations. There are long stretches of the Keystone State where you have the choice of FM religious stations, or AM conservative talk stations. I used to be able to listen to these things for entertainment, but they ceased being funny when I realized that my in-laws actually get their "news" from the latter, and my cousins get their beliefs from the former.

So I wrote a song about it. Initially, it was a gospel song, and it still is. But as I continued to drive through the state, a few more stations popped up. Every single one of them... modern country music. Just shoot me. So now, when I sing this to myself, it has pedal steel guitar all through it... *shudder*.


Driving along, with my radio scanning for stations
Hours drag by, and I’m practically ready to burst
Mountains close in, which can only increase my frustration
A station or two, and I cannot decide which is worse

One has a talk show, which tells me the Devil’s Obama
One has a preacher, who tells me I’m going to hell
The first is an ass, who can only get ratings from drama
The second believes it, and Jesus believes it as well

Oh, Jesus, I hear you
All over the dial
Oh, Jesus, I’m near you
For mile after mile
Please, Jesus, I beg you
On your holy throne
Please Jesus, I beg you
Leave me the Hell alone

Leave me alone (leave me alone)
Leave me alone (leave me alone)
I’m happy today, happy to stay,
Here on my own (leave me alone)
Please tell your disciples (please stay away)
In the no-passing zone (please stay away)
They’re no longer needed, Please Jesus, I pleaded,
Please leave me alone (leave me alone)

Stations keep fading, there’s only a handful with power
To broadcast through mountains, it’s more than most folks can afford
When telling a story, you need to talk hour after hour
And that kind of money, it only can come from the Lord

Oh, Jesus, I hear you
All over the dial
Oh, Jesus, I’m near you
For mile after mile
Please, Jesus, I beg you
On your holy throne
Please Jesus, I beg you
Leave me the Hell alone

Leave me alone (leave me alone)
Leave me alone (leave me alone)
I’m happy today, happy to stay,
Here on my own (leave me alone)
Please tell your disciples (please stay away)
In the no-passing zone (please stay away)
They’re no longer needed, Please Jesus, I pleaded,
Please leave me alone (leave me alone)

Driving along, while my radio frantically searches
More static than signal, the fault of the mountains and hills
Not many schools, but I sure see a shitload of churches
It matches my radio dial, and gives me the chills

Oh, Jesus, I hear you
All over the dial
Oh, Jesus, I’m near you
For mile after mile
Please, Jesus, I beg you
On your holy throne
Please Jesus, I beg you
Leave me the Hell alone

Leave me alone (leave me alone)
Leave me alone (leave me alone)
I’m happy today, happy to stay,
Here on my own (leave me alone)
Please tell your disciples (please stay away)
In the no-passing zone (please stay away)
They’re no longer needed, Please Jesus, I pleaded,
Please leave me alone (leave me alone)

Oh, Jesus, I hear you
All over the dial
Oh, Jesus, I’m near you
For mile after mile
Please, Jesus, I beg you
On your holy throne
Please Jesus, I beg you
Leave me the Hell alone

Sunday, August 09, 2009

For Francis Collins: "When God Intervenes"

So I was watching a video interview of Dr. Francis Collins, and found it thoroughly depressing. Reporter Dan Harris does a good job, but Dr. Collins is utterly frustrating. We get the "God gave us two books" bit, where both the bible and the actual evidence of the universe around us are given equal footing (even though he doesn't entirely understand the former). "How could that possibly be a conflict of truths?", we are asked. Apparently, when the bible and the universe appear to disagree, that must be a case of Collins not quite understanding the bible.

The conflict between Genesis and science leads to "it was not a textbook of science!"--so, when the two collide, it looks like the bible is the one that gives. But..."Once you've accepted the idea of a God who is the creator of all the laws of nature, the idea that God might at unique moments in history, decide to invade the natural world and suspend those laws, doesn't become really a logical problem." So at least with regard to the story of Jesus, looks like science has to give. And sure, once you have gone all the way to believing in an interventionist god, any subset of that belief is, in comparison, small change.

But... can Collins assure us that his own work on the Genome Project (for instance) is not one of those unique moments in history? Perhaps everything that he has found is not the way things really are, but only the way things are while god suspends the laws; once we have accepted the idea of intervention, and the notion that we are as mortals inadequate to determine which are the laws and which are the exceptions, any scientific conclusion we come to must necessarily, explicitly, include some version of "if that's ok with God, that is." Or is Dr. Collins claiming to be able to know for certain that god is not mucking about with his data?

The scientist told me
He said it so well:
The secret to life, son,
It’s all in the cell—
The key to our essence
It’s there in our genes
Except when it isn’t… cos god intervenes.

Within every cell, son,
The scientists proved,
Sub-cellular structures
And things that they moved
Molecular transport
Like little machines
Except when it isn’t… cos god intervenes.

We know, even Darwin
Said it all looks designed
But natural selection
Is all that we find
With blind evolution
Directing the scenes
Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes

He’d worked on The Project
From when it began
The one that’s decoding
The genome of Man
And Collins knows science,
And he really knows genes
Except when he doesn’t… cos god intervenes

In the journals of science
The write-ups will change
There’ll be an addition
A little bit strange
Cos in the conclusions
The asterisk means
“Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes.”

A cure for depression
Might seem to work well
In a medical journal
The researchers tell
“It stops oxidation
Of monoamines*
*Except when it doesn’t… cos god intervenes”

The worst of disasters
We call “acts of god”
The faithful believers
Must think that it’s odd
With whole coastal regions
In smashed smithereens
Is that what it look likes ... when god intervenes?

We study the genome
We study the prayer;
About intervention,
We find nothing there.
We find antibiotics
And look for vaccines
Cos no one can count on… when god intervenes

The methods of science
Have practical worth
We don’t look to heaven
But merely to earth
There’s one or the other
There’s no in betweens
It cannot be science… when god intervenes.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Last Tuesdayism

So it appears that there is a fairly substantial herd of pharyngulites heading for the Creation Science Museum (or whatever it is called--I can't be bothered to search) this Friday. Among the claims they will see is the old saw that "both sides" are looking at the same evidence; they just look through different lenses, with different assumptions, and come to different conclusions.

This is an insult. "Both" sides? As if "evidence", which science uses, and "faith", which religion uses, are the only two ways to look at the evidence? How utterly silly. I don't need evidence, and I don't need faith. I simply know. And one of the things I know, is that both sides are absurdly wrong in their timelines.

Only last Tuesday, a quarter past four,
The universe was, when it wasn’t before!
The whole of the universe started to be,
Which it hadn’t at all, at a quarter past three.
Existence itself, in the blink of an eye;
No reason for billions of years to go by.

Of course, it looks old—that’s the way it was done,
Looking old from the instant it all had begun;
The universe looks like it has a real past,
And one that seems incomprehensively vast
It seems there are billions of years to explore
But it started last Tuesday, a quarter past four.

The earth and the heavens, the sun and the stars,
The mountains, the oceans, the cities, the cars,
The falsified memories that seem to be real,
Each trip to the doctor, each holiday meal,
Each nursery school freeze-tag or hide-and-go-seek,
Each one an illusion from early last week.

Each fossil was planted, and each sacred scroll,
Each childhood memory, made up in whole,
Your very first friend, and the first one you kissed
Another illusion to add to the list.
No God whatsoever creating a scene,
And nothing at all from before 4:15.

There is no “last month”, and there is no “last year”,
Just Tuesday and later, that’s perfectly clear.
The scientists’ “billions of years” is a guess,
Like the people who say it’s six thousand or less—
They each claim their evidence tells them what’s true,
And they haven’t a clue that they haven’t a clue.

So how do I know what I’m telling you now?
If it’s all manufactured last Tuesday, then how?
You can’t trust the science; religion is bunk;
You can’t trust your senses, cos all of it’s junk;
No possible way that the real truth can show,
So how do I know it? That’s it—I just know.

Religion and science are two different ways
We can look at the world—that’s what everyone says.
But really, why limit ourselves just to these?
My Tuesdayist view is as good, if you please!
It’s as old as the others, so please don’t ignore—
Cos they all started Tuesday, a quarter past four.


Let's give these "both views" the benefit of their own arguments. Science claims billions of years, and yet science as a way of knowing is but a blink; the merest fraction of the time they claim has existed. Supposed "young earth" creationism (how hollow that sounds now!) may claim as few as six thousand years, but their own faith has taken up, again, only a mere fraction of that time. (True, it is a substantially larger fraction than science claims, but still...)


Last Tuesdayism has been around since the very creation of the universe!

(In fairness, the two false doctrines have also been around since the very creation of the universe; they just are ignorant of that truth.)

There is not a single fact that opposes or falsifies Last Tuesdayism. There is no logical problem with a "truthful god"--every reason to believe in a god or gods was manufactured Last Tuesday. There is no logical problem with scientific "evidence"--every molecule, every quantum, Last Tuesday. Starlight in transit, memories, religious conversions, none of it.

I am told, however, that there is a possibility that my undeniable knowledge dates from as late as last Thursday.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Modern Abraham-Isaac Story

PZ reports, and Greg laden reports, and PalMD reports, and of course, the AP reports, that the Father who tortured his daughter to death by substituting prayer for insulin. We can be fairly certain that she died horribly and painfully. As PalMD writes:
Death by diabetic ketoacidosis is not pretty. The symptoms start with extreme thirst and frequent urination. Then the person develops headaches, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Eventually, they become confused and lethargic, then lapse into a coma before dying.
And it is not like this was an unwitnessed event; the girl was surrounded by witnesses. The AP:
Prosecutors contended he should have rushed the girl to a hospital because she couldn't walk, talk, eat or drink. Instead, Madeline died on the floor of the family's rural Weston home as people surrounded her and prayed. Someone called 911 when she stopped breathing.

My son has diabetes. Before we had a diagnosis (at age 18), we knew he was thirsty, and that despite working out, he kept losing weight (we did not realize how much, though, as he wore jeans and sweatshirts at the time). He developed some sores in his mouth that would not go away, and was in a terrible mood. Teenaged boys are not usually eager to go visit a doctor, so we were concerned when he wanted to go. Of course, when we found the diagnosis, there was tremendous relief and tremendous guilt; in hindsight, we should have seen it weeks earlier!

I cannot imagine what sort of person could watch his daughter progress much further along that path than my son did, and not do whatever possible to save her. The phrase "move heaven and earth" comes to mind; if I thought God wanted my son to die, damn right I will defy God! But Dale Neumann is more devout than I am. He has a dead daughter to prove it.

Back when we knew the Old Testament God
With His fondness for family slaughter,
We wouldn't think twice about sticking a knife
In a brother, a son, or a daughter.
It's nice that a father can still show his love
For a God that compels adoration
By torturing slowly, then putting to death
His own son, through acute dehydration.
No father so loved, not his son, but his God,
With his thoughts not on Earth, but above.
The proof is a son who lies tortured to death--
Whoever could doubt, God is Love?

(I note, only after posting, that I clearly substituted my son for his daughter in my verse. I suspect that most parents, reading her story, will substitute their own children.)