Thursday, December 26, 2013



How else could you describe this?

The Daily Register of Harrisburg, Illinois has an article about how evolution (termed "change over time" by the Illinois State School Board of Education) is actually taught in local schools.

Correctly defining Intelligent Design as "a form of creationism which proposes that 'certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection,'" the paper surveys a number of schools as to when and how evolution is taught and if ID is offered as an alternative.

Most say that "change over time" is taught and that ID isn't (though one mealy-mouthed principal said that he "was unaware if the theory of intelligent design was being addressed by the high school science teacher").

But one principal stated:
[T]he theory of change over time was taught at the freshman to sophomore level in the science classes. The theory of intelligent design was presented as an "alternate belief system" and neither theory was given more emphasis as to validity.
And the name of that principal? ... Wait for it! ...

Karen Crank!

Chills, man, chills!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Annus Mirabilis

As National Public Radio said this morning "If you blink, you are going to miss a state that becomes the next state to recognize marriage for same sex couples."

Damn! I blinked!

New Mexico's Supreme Court has ruled that, based on its state constitution (making it immune to Federal court review but not to attempts to change its constitution), that "the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law."

In Utah, a Federal judge has ruled that Utah's 2004 state constitutional ban of same sex marriage violates the Federal guarantees of Due Process and Equal Protection.

Both decisions shred the usual talking points of the bigots about same sex marriage. The Utah decision in particular takes on the claims that denying same sex marriage doesn't abridge gays' fundamental right to marry because they are still at liberty to marry a person of the opposite sex and that gays are really seeking a new right to same sex marriage, not access to an existing right. Both eviscerate the claim that marriage is or should be restricted to those who can "naturally" procreate.

The Utah decision can be, eventually, appealed to the Supreme Court but, beyond the excellent analysis of Judge Shelby in his decision*, the state will have to overcome the "sea change" in America itself. As NPR points out, at the beginning of the year, 14% of Americans lived in jurisdictions that permitted same sex marriage, at year's end that will be 38%. Jeffrey Toobin notes that the Mormon Church's reaction was "practically apologetic in its disagreement with the decision."
The Church has been consistent in its support of traditional marriage while teaching that all people should be treated with respect. This ruling by a district court will work its way through the judicial process. We continue to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.
It has been said that the Supreme Court decides cases on the law but, nonetheless, it reads the newspapers. Roe v. Wade may have been one of the very few cases where the court either didn't read the newspapers or misinterpreted them and got out ahead of where Americans were socially. The tea leaves are not nearly so hard to read now. I predict that, should the Utah decision reach the Supreme Court, it will be upheld and not by a bare 5-4 majority.

It has, in this small corner, been a miraculous year for human rights!

* As Jeffrey Toobin, in his New Yorker piece deliciously noted:
Shelby also took note of Scalia's dissent in this year's Windsor case, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. Scalia wrote, "the real rationale of today's opinion…is that DOMA is motivated by 'bare…desire to harm' couples in same-sex marriages. How easy it is, indeed how inevitable, to reach the same conclusion with regard to state laws denying same-sex couples marital status." Shelby noted dryly, "The court agrees with Justice Scalia's interpretation of Windsor."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Keep Saturn in Saturnalia!

It's that time of year again!

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy New Year!

Oh, heck ... let's just say it!

Happy Holidays!


Uhhh ... Mat?

Mat Staver, head of the oxymoronic Liberty Counsel and dean of Jerry Fallwell's faux law school, is displaying his Freudian lingerie. Apparently, being gay is so fabulous that, if gay marriage becomes legal nationwide, everyone will soon be gay!
If you ultimately promoted same-sex marriage and everyone started to go towards same-sex marriage, what would happen to society? It would just simply cease to exist. Moreover, you’d have rampant increase in diseases. Already, you have rampant increase in diseases among same-sex activities, specifically men having sex with men. Same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships is destructive to individuals and it’s destructive to our very social fabric.
Of course! We all know that there are hardly any straight people left in Massachusetts!

But it's all right, Mat! Just let your feelings out!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Cause and Effect

Both Jerry Coyne and PZ Mxyzptlk have touted a new Harris Poll of Americans that apparently shows, as Jerry puts it:
General religiosity is declining and "not at all religious" status increasing, especially in the last 4 years.
Of course, Jerry goes on to say: "Could it be. . . . .those strident New Atheists?" and PZ would attribute it to the FFRF, American Atheists, American Humanists, Americans United, or your local freethinking group (and, tongue firmly in cheek, to Freethoughtblogs).

First of all, I should say that this trend, especially if it is eating away at the influence of the toxic Religious Right on America, is a good thing.

But I wonder if otherwise skeptical scientists should be so quick to declare the cause of this social change which, if not seismic, is significant. I haven't tried to analyze the raw data, nor would I be capable of doing so. But neither have Jerry or PZ, at least on their blogs ... webesites ... whatever.

But if I was hunting for a correlation to another recent notable change in social attitudes that matched, timewise, this one, there is one that stands out: the change in attitudes toward gay rights and, especially, gay marriage. I suspect that we owe any reduction in religiousity to the over reaching of the Religious Right, beginning in 2004, on these issues, particularly as it coincided with the maturing of the "Millennials."

There can be little doubt that the amazingly quick national change in attitudes toward gay rights is fueled by people under 40. Just as that generation was in their teens and early twenties, when people naturally question their upbringing and parents' beliefs, the Religious Right launched their unreasoning and hateful campaign. Worse for them, AIDS was just then turning from a "death sentence" into a chronic condition that could be treated and controlled and fear and loathing was turning to sympathy. Also, more and more gays were "coming out," not just in the media, but to family and friends. It's harder to objectify people you like and love as "sinners" needing stoning to death. The Religious Right may have chosen just the "perfect storm" in which to set off on that sea trial.

And once you start to question the humanity and rationality of the religion you were brought up in, it's less hard to walk away altogether.

I, for one, suspect that any weakening of religious belief in America is chiefly due to the LGBT community ... and [cough] God bless 'em.

And one more thing ... the "accommodationists" [defined here as scientists and science supporters who told children that science and, particularly evolution, was not necessarily incompatible with religion, in hopes they would not dismiss it out of hand] also coincided with the Millennials. The "high water mark" of creationism was the mid-1980s, just at the beginning of the Millennial generation. The "New Atheists" (apparently now an acceptable term if we judge by Jerry) have told us often that "accommodation" has failed. They need much more data to credibly make that claim.

Social changes of these sorts are not the product of simplistic forces. It is much more likely that they come from a trickle that grew to a stream and, hopefully, will soon become a flood unlike any imagined by the bigots of the Religious Right.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013



Albert Mohler is shocked, shocked to find that polygamy is going on in here!

It seems that a Federal judge* has:
... ruled late Friday that part of the state's law prohibiting "cohabitation" — the language used in the law to restrict polygamous relationships — violates the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion, as well as constitutional due process. He left standing the state's ability to prohibit multiple marriages "in the literal sense" of having two or more valid marriage licenses.
This is, according to the title of Mohler's article "Moral Mayhem Multiplied."

You mean that Abraham, Isaac, Solomon and (God's favorite) King David were committing moral mayhem?

Of course, the chief villain to Mohler is Justice Kennedy who, as the "swing" vote, thought that gays should not be imprisoned for consensual acts between adults and, since that was the case, we shouldn't have laws otherwise penalizing gays for what some states freely allow them to do. Talk about your moral mayhem ... allowing gays to have actual rights!!!

The funny part is this:
Of course, the moral revolution that has transformed marriage in our times did not start with the demand for legal same-sex marriage. It did not begin with homosexuality at all, but with the sexual libertinism that demanded (and achieved) a separation of marriage and sex, liberating sex from the confines of marriage. So sex was separated from marriage, and then sex was separated from the expectation of procreation** and child-rearing. Marriage was separated from sex, sex was separated from reproduction, and the revolution was launched.
Sex being separated from reproduction is the problem? The suit was brought by Kody Brown, who stars in "Sister Wives," the reality television show, and who, along with his four wives, has 17 children!

What? Isn't that enough reproduction for you, Al?

* The judge was appointed by George Bush the Lesser.

** To no one's surprise at all, the real wingnut complaint is contraception. God wants 'em barefoot and pregnant! Strangely, Kody seems to have fallen down on in that regard ... somehow.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


If You Can Colbert It!

Michael Schulson at The Daily Beast has a nice summary of the creationist attempts to censor, as much as they can, evolution out of pubic school textbooks. The piece is called "When Creationists Collide with Stephen Colbert" and his "hook" is Don McLeroy's appearance, and savaging, on Stephen Colbert's show in April 2012. Colbert's money line was "I've always been a fan of reality by majority vote."

One good insight by Schulson is:
It wasn't just the defeat of explicitly Christian creationism that drove the rise of intelligent design; it was also lifted by favorable winds from certain corners of the secular university. Various academic movements in the humanities were emphasizing that scientific theories are constructed by humans—and that, as a result, biases and politics and other non-scientific factors might play some role in the formation of scientific theory. Maybe scientists were not quite as objective as they claimed. In this vein, Thomas Kuhn, a physicist-turned-philosopher, famously argued that science tends to be dominated by certain paradigms, each of which comes with a whole set of implicit premises and rules. These paradigms occasionally reach a point of crisis, when, burdended by their inherent limitations, they collapse and make way for a whole new way of conceptualizing the field.

Thinkers like Kuhn implied that change could come from unlikely quarters. Creationists needed to show that being on the fringe didn't mean being wrong, and that scientific authority wasn't as absolute as it seemed. It was an ideal match. Johnson—who originally wanted to title his first book on evolution Darwin Deconstructed—started writing about a Darwinist monopoly on knowledge, and about the difficult at arriving at objective truth, or at least objective truth not revealed by a divine being.

By taking these postmodernist insights to their extremes, Johnson and other intelligent design advocates can argue that, rather than religious people with a mission, they are scientific revolutionaries, boxed out by a politically-charged, biased community that will only gradually come to accept the radical reality of their ideas. To put is mildly, this is a massive stretch. But it lets them recast the whole conversation not as one of Bible vs. science, or of pseudoscience vs. science, but of one kind politicized science oppressing another.
This is, of course, why people like Steve Fuller wrecked their reputations in defense of ID.
And once mainstream academic science is seen as a political tool, then it starts to seem patently undemocratic. After all, scientific research is reserved to a highly trained elite. ...

Which is why, perhaps, we get public figures like McLeroy, who just dismiss the experts out of hand and choose their own science. It's all biased anyway—and look, we can vote on this. Our opinions matter. Who are you to tell us otherwise?
Or as McLeroy himself stated [see, 4:15 of the video]: "Someone has to stand up to experts ..."

Schulson is right, in a way, when he says:
Science advocates would do well to remember McLeroy the next time they respond to creationists, or vaccine-deniers, or climate skeptics with a barrage of facts, as if a bundle of correct information will somehow right those persistent wrongs. Sure, the scientific argument may be right. But in politics, being right isn't enough. Say what you want about postmodernism: in democracy, reality does come with a dose of social construction.
That doesn't mean we have to accept it or that it can't change. Think of the change that has come over the issue of same sex marriage in the last ten years and, particularly, among young adults. If we are persistent enough, if we show that these "experts" are just people like all the rest of us, who are honestly trying to do their best to make their and our world better, we can win not just the minds but the hearts of future generations.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Truth Detector

Bryan Fischer may be the most addled (or the most cynically deceptive) of the Religious Right wingnuts.

He was recently discussing, with all his usual historical and logical abilities ... none at all ... the 2010 Oklahoma law that permitted the erection of a 10 Commandments monument on the state capital grounds with the ... um ... fig leaf declaration that it doesn't amount to an endorsement of any religion but, rather, honors America's Judeo-Christian heritage and mandates that other such monuments be erected to stand beside it.

A group of (putative) Satanists have now requested permission to erect a monument as an "homage to the historic/literary Satan." Whether the ploys of the Oklahoma legislature or the Satanists will prevail is an open question (though at least one Supreme Court Justice believes that Satan is a real supernatural entity and, therefore, could conceivably be worshipped) but Fischer has the definitive answer in the video from Right Wing Watch above:
On his radio broadcast yesterday, Bryan Fischer spent two segments laying out his argument that, when the founders of this nation used the word "religion," what they really meant was "Christianity." As such, authorities in Oklahoma have every right to reject an effort by Satanists to erect a monument outside the Oklahoma Capitol building next to a monument of the Ten Commandments, Fischer said, because the Constitution's guarantee of the free exercise of religion was never intended to protect anything other than Christianity.

"If by 'religion,'" Fischer said, "the founders, and the founders of the state of Oklahoma, meant Christianity, then you can ban a monument to Satan because that's not Christianity ... You can say 'no, we're not going to let you do it. Our Constitution protects the free exercise of the Christian religion; yours is not a Christian expression, we're not going to have that monument.' If we don't understand the word 'religion' to mean Christianity as the founders intended it, then we have no way to stop Islam, we have no way to stop Satanism, we have no way to stop any other sort of sinister religion practice that might creep onto the fruited plains."
Now for some real history!

Thomas Jefferson drafted "The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" in 1779, three years after he wrote the Declaration of Independence. However, the act was not passed by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia until 1786. The occasion for it's passage was that Patrick Henry introduced "A Bill Establishing A Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion." Essentially, Henry's bill would have taxed citizens of Virginia to support the Christian denomination of their choice. Jefferson was, at the time, away serving in France as the American ambassador but Henry's bill so alarmed James Madison (later the chief architect of the Bill of Rights) that, after some political machinations, caused him to write "A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments." The upshot was Henry's bill was tabled, and in its place the legislature enacted Jefferson's Bill for Religious Liberty.

So, with that as background, what did Jefferson and Madison, certainly among the most important "Founders," and, in Madison's case, the most important of the Founders of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, think about any claim that "religion" in the First Amendment only referred to Christianity?

From Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance":
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? ...

[E]xperience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
And Jefferson, reflecting back in his Autobiography, said this about the passage of his bill:
Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it's protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.
Thus, the Founders of the United States had already thrashed out this issue and had no intention to designate Christianity as the one and only religion that the First Amendment covered. Fischer is a moron or is playing one on the radio to advance a deeply un-American agenda of Christian theocracy.

An amusing postscript to this is that Fischer has declared that his God-given role in life is as "the truth detector." In a way, he may be right. Take anything Fischer says and the opposite is likely to be the truth.

Friday, December 06, 2013


Requiescat In Pace

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Oh, Please! Oh, Please! Oh, Please!

Alan Keyes is "threatening" to form a far right religious party:
From Obamacare to immigration, from enslaving Obamacare mandates to feckless foreign policy debacles, the GOP leaders have been either complicit, supine, or AWOL. They have also shamelessly declared political war on GOP U.S. senators and representatives who have honestly tried to represent the intense opposition to socialist tyranny simmering hot amongst the voters. ...

[T]oo many people remain tragically blind to, or apathetic about, the truth that is the key to thwarting Obama's anti-American putsch. Tyrannical socialism would have no chance of overthrowing the citadel of America's liberty except for the consistent and increasingly bold cooperation of the forces that dominate what is supposed to be the Republican opposition.

In the 19th century, Abraham Lincoln and many others prominent in the rise of the original Republican Party started their political careers as members of the Whig Party. When the Whigs refused to confront the challenge of expanding slavery, or promote the policies needed to exploit the nation's opportunities for economic development, these political leaders left the Whig Party. They accepted the task of representing the voters the Whigs refused to heed.

In our day, where are the political leaders with enough foresight, integrity, and courage to accept the task of effectively representing the voters the GOP's elitist faction leaders are betraying? People like Mitch McConnell and John McCain clearly regard these voters with disdain. They portray authentically American conservative voters as cretins, who deserve to have no choice in politics that truly represents their faith in God and their allegiance to their country's God-acknowledging principles.
As one of the chief cretins, Alan, I sincerely hope you lead some significant percentage (about 3-4 % would be good) off into a quixotic third party. The big donors won't follow, of course. They'll continue to fund the establishment Republicans, who will be glad to be rid of the crazies, while hedging their bets with the Democrats, who are almost as business-friendly as the Republicans. The Tea Party politicians will be jettisoned or co-opted and Congress will get back to the business of amicable compromise through swapping ways to enrich themselves and their donors at the expense of all the rest of us.

Not much will really change but the babble and crazy will subside back to the good ol' days when everyone ignored the John Birch Society.

Via Right Wing Watch

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