Sunday Links and Commentary

PZ Myers compares the atheist movement to the plight of World SF Conventions — in terms of their resistance to being open to interests of younger members.


When an engineer raised in a fundamentalist Christian community sees a computer simulation of natural selection working,

It was the beginning of the end. After discovering the practical value of evolutionary computation, Suominen began reading about evolutionary biology. The Genesis story fell apart and frayed the fabric of his Christian belief.

ES: “I saw it happening right in front of me on my computer screen. As an engineer with lots of software experience, I understood what the computer was doing. Simulated organisms were evolving remarkable abilities to move, swim, etc., and nobody was designing them to do that. Random mutations and genetic crossover between the fittest individuals in the population produced a new, slightly more evolved population. Repeated over hundreds of generations, it worked.

“My reading did nothing but confirm this. All of the arguments I saw against evolution were made by believers in defense of their faith. I tried to look at both sides of the story, but it became obvious that there was only one side with any credibility. The other was just wishful thinking and denial.”

The most robust attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable may well be Philip Gosse’s “omphalos” idea that the universe was created recently with the appearance of great age. Of course, God created Adam with a navel and trees with rings! They wouldn’t be recognizable without those “retrospective marks,” after all. (Christians are faced with the same issue concerning Jesus and his magic Y chromosome.) It’s ridiculous and reduces God to a cosmic cosplayer, but at least it doesn’t try to dismiss all of the Bible’s clear teachings about a young earth and special creation, or fancifully reinterpret 2,000 years of Christian theology.

Or the idea that the world was created last Tuesday, not just with (phony) evidence of a universe billions of years old, but also our (phony) memories of having lived for years and years. It’s the intellectual equivalent of Creationism.

Jerry Coyne:

This comments on an essay on HuffPo by one Jeff Schweitzer, Science Is Not Religion, a familiar enough theme but worth repeating.

Science is not a “belief system” but a process and methodology for seeking an objective reality. Of course because scientific exploration is a human endeavor it comes with all the flaws of humanity: ego, short-sightedness, corruption and greed. But unlike a “belief system” such as religion untethered to an objective truth, science is over time self-policing; competing scientists have a strong incentive to corroborate and build on the findings of others; but equally, to prove other scientists wrong by means that can be duplicated by others. Nobody is doing experiments to demonstrate how Noah could live to 600 years old, because those who believe that story are not confined to reproducible evidence to support their belief. But experiments were done to show the earth orbits the sun, not the other way around.

Slate: Life expectancy doubled in the past 150 years. Here’s why.

Clean water. Moving wastewater. Washing hands (germ theory of disease). Better housing. Better nutrition. Preventing contamination of food. Fighting epidemics through quarantine, etc. And, of course, vaccinations.

The essayist provides examples of how a person 100 years ago might have died, in ways that would not cause death today. I’m a prime example– I had a burst appendix at age 13.

Salon: Another prime example of how your brain tricks you.

So maybe we can give climate deniers the benefit of the doubt. They’re not stupid, they’re just psychologically committed to their beliefs, in the same way that environmentalists are committed to their own ideology. And it means that just showing them the numbers is never going to be enough to convince them that climate change is real.

–Yet isn’t there some way to be conscious of such a bias and find the ability to reach a correct solution? Or is a correct solution less important than sustaining one’s ideology?

More on this at

And from Chris Mooney:

Alex Pareene on who Republican politicians follow on Twitter..

If you’re following Sean Hannity and Michele Malkin because you think they are worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, you’re a terribly misinformed far-right kook. If you’re following them because you have to keep on top of whatever Sean Hannity and Michele Malkin are screeching about today, because you know that your constituents consider them worthwhile voices or useful sources of information, that’s just as bad. Because whether the Republican Party is full of true-believing kooks or merely people forced to act like true believing kooks in order to keep their seats, the result is the same: a party that can’t be negotiated with because it exists in an alternate media universe with its own history and set of facts.

Hannity invited a notorious anti-Semite on his show as part of his years-long campaign to push the most absurd Obama conspiracies imaginable and Malkin wrote a book defending Japanese internment during World War II. These two both regularly fear-monger over the imagined specter of widespread black mob violence. It’s not just that these two have toxic beliefs and live in feverish fantasy lands, though they do, it’s that taking these two seriously is a dumb thing to do in a country that just elected Obama twice, while also voting for Democrats for Congress in greater numbers than for Republicans. They’re … not quite in touch with the actual mood of the country now, to say nothing of where it’s heading. That may be hard to grasp in the right-wing media bubble, especially for people representing districts made up primarily of angry white people, but it’s true.

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