Assorted Links and Quotes: Selective Thinking, Southern Atheists, Creationist Logic, Fox News, Neuroscience

Assorted links from the past couple days:

Neil deGrasse Tyson vs. the right: “Cosmos,” Christians, and the battle for American science, by Sean McElwee.

About the selective thinking of the religious right in denying those Enlightenment values that threaten their ideology.

In truth, we cannot get fundamentalism without the scientific revolution. Fundamentalism does not exist independently, but rather defines itself in relationship to post-Enlightenment values. It is the odd melding of science and religion that creates fundamentalism — the belief that the Bible is ultimately both a scientific and religious text. Fundamentalists, like the conspiracy theorists they resemble, will build up reams of evidence creating the case for something that can be disproven with a simple logical proposition. Few thinkers have built such an impressive edifice of logic and evidence upon such a thin foundation of speculation.

With an example from Dinesh D’Souza.

Come to think of it… Was there a similar backlash from religious conservatives to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series 30 years ago? Don’t know. If there had been, perhaps the rest of the world simply wouldn’t have heard about it. It’s much easier now, with the Internet, to hear about the crazies from every direction.


CNN’s religious blog: Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

With examples of nonbelievers in southern states who feel like they’re the only one… and then discovering they are not. And the perspectives of University of North Carolina religious scholar Bart D. Ehrman:

But Ehrman told the atheists gathered in Raleigh not to bother arguing with fundamentalists.

“You can’t convince a fundamentalist that he or she is wrong,” he says.

Their theology is a closed system, according to Ehrman, and their social bonds with fellow fundamentalists are too tightly knit to admit any wiggle room.

“You can point to any contradiction in the Bible and it just doesn’t matter. They will either find some way to reconcile it or say that even if they don’t understand it, God does.”

Technically, the term fundamentalist refers to a movement of 20th-century Protestants who rejected modernity and clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But Ehrman has a different definition: “Someone who is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.”

And discussion of assumptions believers have about atheists.


Would you learn the philosophy of science from a creationist?

PZ Myers sees the film God’s Not Dead and addresses talking points of creationists who make an imaginary distinction between ‘historical’ and ‘observational’ science. And how any “document” can prove anything.

The Bible is not trustworthy; it’s a hodge podge of historical accidents assembled in a biased and political process 1500 years ago, it’s full of contradictions, and even if you accept the crappy distinction of science as AiG presents it, it is not a document that is at all contemporary with the creation of the world. (I wonder…maybe they are so delusional that they think the Bible is 6000 years old.)

You can’t simply accept an account of the past because it is a “document”. People lie all the time. More charitably, people make up stories for entertainment. With their kind of uncritical swallowing of myth because it is simply written down, we’d have to conclude that Ilúvatar was the creator, and Tolkien was his prophet. Hey, were you there? Then how do you know it was wrong? I have a book right here that explains how the Ainur sung the world into existence. A real book, with words even.

Then they go on to claim that Observational Science confirms that every word in the Bible is accurate. So why does nearly every scientist in the world disagree?

Finally, they trot out Plantinga-style baloney: we must have been created by an intelligent being, because if our brains are byproducts of chance…we couldn’t trust their conclusions to ever be accurate. To which I have to say…EXACTLY. We can’t trust our brains — the whole elaborate edifice of science is a collection of protocols we follow to avoid trusting our brains. They have to know this; by their own ideas, they think that the majority of the world’s scientists, who all use their brains rather than the Bible, have come up with a set of explanations for the world that the creationists consider wrong.


Why I don’t watch Fox News.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern suggests that you not (referring to speculation by an on-air “psychotherapist” the other day that the Isla Vista shooter might have been fighting against homosexual impulses) Waste Your Umbrage on Fox News’ Homophobic Ramblings

Some liberals see Fox News as a grotesque cesspool of anti-intellectual idiocy, a creepy, paranoid grotto of ignorance where bigots can huddle together in the dark and stoke each other’s prejudice as the rest of the country embraces the light of progress. But I’ve always found Fox vaguely charming, mostly because it is so fantastically terrible, so obviously low-rent in literally every way, that it serves as its own best parody. Sure, it is possible to be deeply offended by the execrable dreck the channel pumps into an upsettingly large chunk of the American consciousness day in and day out. But it’s much more fun to watch in amusement as Fox’s unrelenting mediocrity slowly curdles into an arresting form of black comedy.

It strikes me that it’s just as likely, perhaps even slightly plausible, that Elliot Rodgers’ sense of entitlement (as revealed in his videos) were influenced by … watching Fox News. I have no evidence at all for this (aside from my impression that Fox News plays to self-entitled, paranoid whites who feel their privileged position in the world is threatened from every direction — by Obama, minorities, gays, etc.), but then neither did that psychotherapist for her speculations.


The main story in today’s Science section of the New York Times is All Circuits Are Busy, by James Gorman, is about current research in neuroscience, and the work of one H. Sebastian Seung, of MIT and Princeton.

The article provides some hard numbers about the size and complexity of the brain, as I was crudely speculating about in a post a couple weeks ago, Rainbows and the Afterlife.

H. Sebastian Seung is a prophet of the connectome, the wiring diagram of the brain. In a popular book, debates and public talks he has argued that in that wiring lies each person’s identity.

By wiring, Dr. Seung means the connections from one brain cell to another, seen at the level of the electron microscope. For a human, that would be 85 billion brain cells, with up to 10,000 connections for each one. The amount of information in the three-dimensional representation of the whole connectome at that level of detail would equal a zettabyte, a term only recently invented when the amount of digital data accumulating in the world required new words. It equals about a trillion gigabytes, or as one calculation framed it, 75 billion 16-gigabyte iPads.


My internet connection has been frustratingly slow all day; not sure if the problem is Time Warner, my router, or what.

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