Still Church, but not with evolution

Crazy church signs are a genre unto itself. This one graces (pardon the pun) the Calvary Baptist Temple in Fort Collins, Colorado, whose motto is below:

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 6.41.54 PM

They’re worried!

And here are two of their signs posted on the reddit atheism site, with the caption, “At the end of June I was driving by this church and saw their sign so I decided to pull over and take a picture. Then two and a half months later… “:


Oh, the irony!

And they have videos on YouTube, too. Here’s their exciting preview of last year’s activities, accompanied by a wonderfully inane song:

There’s nothing like the Baptists! (Thank God!)

h/t: Amy

Daily fox: Man rescues fox kit with its head stuck in a can

I’ll try to find a good daily fox video for the next three or four days; I have at least two in line. This is a good one because it’s also a heartwarmer. It comes from The Dodo, where there isn’t much information. The kit got its head stuck in a can, and the nice man freed it. Let’s hope it found its mom afterwards.

It’s cries are plaintive and sad, but it comes for fusses after it’s freed.

Here’s a gif of the critical moment. What a cutie it is, even if it is related to the d*g! Look at that face!


h/t: Lauren

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk at Yale: no “hate speech” in evidence

Well, Ayaan Hirsi spoke at Yale two days ago, and the Apocalypse didn’t happen. Here’s an account of what she said from the Yale Daily News:

The talk was attended by over 300 individuals, with lines to enter the auditorium stretching more than a block. While the MSA [Muslim Students' Association] did not organize any formal demonstration during the actual event, the organization did maintain a booth outside of the lecture hall with educational leaflets about Islam.

During her speech, Hirsi Ali reiterated her views on the religion in which she was raised, focusing on her childhood and adolescence in a Muslim community in Somalia. She said she believes her experiences are relevant to the current state of Islam, which she described as violent, intolerant and in need of reform.

Growing up, Hirsi Ali said religious teachers taught her the duties of being a Muslim, such as worshipping Allah, telling the truth, looking after those in need and being obedient and modest. She said in her community, those who neglected their religious duties were never ostracized or attacked, but rather were “left alone” or “nudged gently” at most.

When she was 15, Hirsi Ali said she encountered a different kind of religious teacher — whom she referred to as a “Preacher Teacher” — who encouraged youths to enforce the religious duty of Islam and wage jihad against those who did not obey. Witnessing this process of “indoctrination,” she said, makes her statements relevant to Islam today.

Hirsi Ali added that this “indoctrination” is at the source of radical Islam and leads to intolerance and violence. Therefore, she said, in order to fight the symptoms of radical Islam, the “core creed” of Islam — the Qur’an and hadith — must be reformed. Hirsi Ali called on Muslims to listen to their consciences and stand up to Allah, rather than bending to his will.

Hirsi Ali repeated many times that the western world acts with “restraint” when dealing with conflicts of Islamic terrorism and radical groups.

“The clash is there, but what we follow up with is restraint. And restraint is what we’ve been showing for the last 30 years,” Hirsi Ali said to the audience.

Although she said she did not blame U.S. President Barack Obama for his reservations in handling situations such as the current rise of ISIS, she also spoke in favor of perceiving her former religion as “one Islam” whose core creed involves complete submission to Allah, the Islamic god that she previously deemed “fire-breathing.”

The MSA’s campus-wide letter last week announced the group’s worries over Hirsi Ali’s talk and brought attention to her history of anti-Islamic statements.

Hirsi Ali directly addressed the MSA during her speech, asking why the organization took the time and resources to “silence the reformers and dissidents of Islam,” including herself, rather than fighting against the violence, intolerance and indoctrination Hirsi Ali associates with Islam.

Good question!

“MSA students of Yale, you live at a time when Muslims are at a crossroads,” she said. “The Muslim world is on fire and those fanning the fire are using more creed. With every atrocity [they underscore] your commitment to Allah … Will you submit passively or actively, or will you finally stand up to Allah?”

Hirsi Ali also responded to the MSA’s critique of her lack of academic credentials by saying that even scholars with substantial credentials who have criticized Islam have been “bullied into silence.”

Unfortunately, those who opposed her, and said that urgent counter-speech (favorable to Islam) was needed, were too afraid to say anything.

The MSA declined to comment, pointing instead to previous statements made in the email to students, which articulated concern and disappointment over Hirsi Ali’s invitation, but ultimately conveyed hope that the discussion would be constructive and respectful.

Still, individual Muslim students interviewed expressed a variety of reactions to Hirsi Ali’s talk, but declined to attribute their names out of fear of retribution. Some said Hirsi Ali’s presence made them feel uncomfortable being on campus, and others felt that Hirsi Ali’s talk invalidated their experiences as Muslims.

Irony of the year: “Fear of retribution?” What are they talking about? The person who has real fear of retribution is the person whose talk they were opposing. I doubt that the members of the Muslim Students’ Association at Yale need bodyguards. And have they asked themselves why, if Islam is so peaceful, that Hiri Ali needs bodyguards?

As for “invaliding their experiences as Muslims,” that’s just postmodern doublespeak. Their experiences are theirs, and hers are hers. What they mean is that she got to talk and they didn’t. Well, as far as I know the members of the MSA can write or say anything they want about their experiences—that is, they would if they weren’t so afraid of retribution! I guess their experiences will have to remain “invalidated.”

At least one Yale student wasn’t afraid, though:

Other audience members interviewed have been impressed with Hirsi Ali and the contents of her lecture.

Judith Liebmann GRD ’69 praised Hirsi Ali for her bravery in speaking about these problems, as effectively as her previous traumatic experiences.

“She is an amazingly gentle particular person … with a courageousness that’s incomprehensible to me,” Liebmann explained, adding that she had been disturbed by the fact that students voiced opposition to Hirsi Ali’s speak.


Florida decision to distribute Bibles in schools backfires: Satanists can hand out their stuff, too!

Ah, there’s a big kerfuffle in Orange County, Florida, and it’s all the fault of those troublemakers at the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF).  You can see the story at many places, like here, here, and here).

The trouble began when the Orange County School District allowed evangelical Christians (“The World Changers of Florida”) to distribute Bibles in public schools.

The inevitable (well, usually inevitable) followed: they were sued. As I recall, the FFRF proposed to distribute atheist literature in the school as well, and they were refused. The FFRF and the Central Florida Freethought Community then took the school district to court, and won: they could distribute atheist literature in the schools. (The stuff they wanted to give out seems pretty tame [see below]: no God is Not Great or The God Delusion, but of course books are expensive.)

Now something even better has happened: the Satanic Temple is elbowing in as well, for if Christians and atheists can distribute literature, so can Satanists. The can of worms is opened, and the annelids are crawling free. Of course this is going to drive the Floridians nuts, for they simply didn’t anticipate this. I could have told them!

At first I thought Satanists must be baby-nomming devil worshippers and promoters of evil, but they seem pretty innocuous. In fact, they seem a lot more beneficent than most other religions. The website of the Satanic Temple says this about their mission:

The mission of The Satanic Temple is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will. Civic-minded, The Satanic Temple has been involved in a number of good works including taking a stand against the controversial and extremist Westboro Baptist Church, working on behalf of children in public school who have been subject to corporal punishment and more.

They’re better than Christians! In fact Satanism seems like humanism.

The Satanists also say this about the distribution of their literature in the schools:

The Satanic Temple’s spokesperson, Lucien [!] Greaves, explains, “We would never seek to establish a precedent of disseminating our religious materials in public schools because we believe our constitutional values are better served by respecting a strong separation of Church and State. However, if a public school board is going to allow religious pamphlets and full Bibles to be distributed to students — as is the case in Orange County, Florida — we think the responsible thing to do is to ensure that these students are given access to a variety of differing religious opinions, as opposed to standing idly by while one religious voice dominates the discourse and delivers propaganda to youth.”

Like the Satanists, the FFRF issued a statement saying that the school district forced them to this end, and that they really don’t want any religious literature in the schools. I heartily agree! Keep atheism, religion, Satanism, whatever out of public schools. That’s called “secularism” or “respecting the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

This is from the FFRF’s statement:

FFRF does not believe that satanists or Christians or even atheists should be distributing literature to public school students. We have given Orange County every opportunity to close the distribution forum and repeatedly asked them to do so. Each time, they have refused. FFRF does not endorse the New York based Satanic Temple’s literature any more than we would endorse the bible or think it should be given to students. However, Orange County Public Schools cannot legally prevent the temple from distributing its literature.

One thing should be absolutely clear: Orange County Schools has chosen to allow these groups in. Orange County is allowing Christians, atheists and satanists to distribute literature to students, but it does not have to.

FFRF will only distribute its own materials this January, including pamphlets such as An X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity in the Bible.

In case you want to see what the devotees of The Hornéd One are going to hand out, you can download The Satanic Children’s BIG BOOK of Activities for free here. I’ve reproduced the cover and two inside pages:

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.29.14 AM

Two page from the Satanist book:


Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.32.29 AM

Something tells me that the distribution of religious literature will stop promptly.

h/t: Stephen Q. Muth, half of Butter’s staff

The argument for Not God from the Empty Roll

godnow (1)

More important, where is Diana MacPherson now? This situation would drive her insane: there’s no directionality!


Guest post: journalist Faye Flam tells scientists how to talk to reporters

UPDATE: If you have any questions you want to ask Faye about science reporting, especially on this topic, feel free to do so in the comments. She’ll drop by and answer some later.


I was recently talking to my friend Faye Flam, a science reporter, about how I’d just been interviewed by another science reporter and had wondered whether I had the right to ask such reporters what their “hook” was, what they themselves thought about the issue, if I could see what they reported I said before publication, and so on. I added that scientists who talk to journalists could use some guidelines, and Faye kindly agreed to write up a few of those guidelines. Ergo, the guest post below.  I think it will be useful not only for scientists who talk to journalists, but for all experts who talk to journalists about their work.

A few words about Faye: she has a physics degree from Caltech, is a former science columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer (>16 years), and is now a freelance writer and and science blogger.  She’ll soon have her first piece in the New York Time’s “Science Times” section, scheduled for Sept. 30. Finally, she has an orange tomcat named Higgs (after the boson, of course).

I’m putting this up to coincide with her first piece for Forbes, which appeared this morning: “Salt: Why top experts give wildly conflicting advice and what to do until they figure it out,” It gives a good summary of the disparate advice doctors and experts give about whether salt is good or bad for you, and how much to eat. [UPDATE: She also has another post suggesting that diet soda may play hob with your gut bacteria.]

Faye’s website is here.  Without further ado:


How to talk to a reporter without being misquoted, betrayed or disappointed.

by Faye Flam

Journalists can be great fun to talk to. At our best, we pose challenging and engaging questions and use your insights and quotes to help a diverse range of people understand your field of science. At or worst, we can be annoying, ill-informed, and pushy. Our questions can make you uncomfortable, and the final product could turn out to be a piece of trash not worthy of putting under the cat litter box.

Biologist Jerry Coyne didn’t know which way it would go the first time he got a call from me, a reporter he’d never heard of, writing an unfamiliar science column for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I remember the reluctance with which he agreed, even though the topic was right up his alley. I wanted to talk to him about a statement the Pope had made about evolution. I’d discovered that Dr. Coyne had written a book called Why Evolution is True, and on his website of the same name he’d written something to the effect that science was incompatible with the Catholic belief in souls.

As far as I can tell, Jerry Coyne was pleased with the column that resulted, since he posted a link on his website, and we’ve had many conversations since, sometimes regarding other journalists who want to interview him. In one of those conversations a month or so ago, it occurred to him that I could lay out a few simple things scientists can do to increase the odds of a good experience with an interview.

I know from experience that being interviewed is scary. Though I’ve interviewed thousands of people for stories in Science and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and more recently the New York Times, I’ve also been interviewed a few times – usually about my work as a journalism critic, or about a book I wrote on evolution and sex. I got some very strange questions about the sex book.

The first thing to remember is that you can ask a lot of questions. Feel free to find out what the journalist is trying to achieve. We often just want to explain something important but technical to a diverse cross section of people with varying levels of education.

That diverse readership was something dear to me when I wrote for a newspaper. I had been a news writer for Science, specializing in physics, but I jumped at the chance to write about science for the Philadelphia Inquirer because I believed in the paper’s mission – as it stood back in the 1990s anyway. All kinds of people read the paper – lawyers, doctors, construction workers, artists, hot-dog vendors, students and people looking for work. We reporters were supposed to find ways to write so they could all get it.

People sometimes wrote to me to say they enjoyed my stories, though they had previously been led to believe they lacked the capacity to understand science. When that happened I felt accomplished. I hate the expression “dumbed down” because there are many reasons people fail to get a good education that have nothing to do with being “dumb”. It’s hard to make stories on complex topics easy to read, but it’s worth doing.

When newspapers such as the Inquirer were strong, they gave almost everyone the chance to experience a piece of their community’s intellectual life – arts, business, politics, world events, technology and science.

Below I’ve added a few more specific suggestions.

Try to determine if the journalist is misguided.

The good journalists are like good scientists – driven by curiously and desire to cut to the truth. The bad ones come in several varieties, all similar to bad scientists. Some think they care about truth but are deluded into believing their hunches and assumptions are true. Like bad scientists they seek only evidence to back themselves up. There may also be bad journalists who are willing to distort the truth for a little publicity and attention, though in my experience self-deception is a lot more common than outright dishonesty.

It often doesn’t take more than a few minutes to read a few stories by the person about to interview you. If you suspect you’re about to be interviewed by a misguided journalist, you can still do some good by trying to set the record straight.

As a recent example, a story in the Dallas Morning News portrayed creationists in a very favorable light, suggesting they had some good points. There was a scientist interviewed, and while the story still didn’t come out very well, it would have been even worse without the scientist.

Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions before you start answering them

We see interviews on TV or hear them on radio and forget that for a web or print story, most of the conversation will go unprinted. So you should feel free to ask what the journalist thinks about the issue, why she’s writing about it, who else she’s interviewed, what those other sources have said. The creationists made some claims in the Dallas Morning News story that went unchallenged – about the time frame needed to form galaxies, mutate DNA and fossilize dinosaur bones. If you ask what else is in a story, the reporter may give you a chance to debunk those sorts of claims.

A good, truth-seeking reporter would do this automatically but mistakes get made, and shortcuts taken.

You can also ask personal questions. If the story is about science and religion, go ahead and ask if the reporter is religious. Asking questions can make an interview feel more like a normal conversation. Everyone is more comfortable.

Don’t intersperse comments that are “off the record”.

It gets too confusing if we’re interviewing dozens of people. It’s much better to keep it all on or all off. 95% of the time I wouldn’t want to use off the record comments anyway. They usually consist of irrelevant gossip. Or I might try to convince you to say it publicly, if I think there’s a public benefit to having it said. The other thing to keep in mind with off-the-record information is that you’ve got to be sure you and the reporter agree on what it means. It might mean just that it can’t be used in the story. But if Dr. Y tells me off the record that Dr. X made a mistake with a statistical analysis, I might want to return to Dr. X and ask him about the alleged error. The upshot: Be specific if you mean the reporter isn’t supposed to tell anyone.

Suggest other sources, and questions to ask them.

Suggest challenging questions for sources with whom you disagree. Suggest reading. Most journalists like to read and will even plow through whole books. If there’s an important scientific paper, you might need to walk us through the technical parts and the graphs, but we’re usually happy to get a guided tour.

Find out why you were chosen

Why is a journalist after you for an interview? If you know why you were chosen, it can help put you at ease.

I chose Dr. Coyne for the column about the Pope and evolution because I came across one of his blog-like website posts and realized that he’d not just written on religion and science, he’d really thought about it. I also had a feeling he was someone I’d want to know considering that I was embarking on a unique newspaper column devoted to evolution.

Ask to see the finished product, but don’t insist on it.

We journalists strive to be fair, or at least most of us do. And if there’s a perceived controversy between you and a rival, it might not be fair to let your rival read the story and not show it to you. However, if the story requires a lot of interpretation of technical material, we might want you to check for errors or places where we oversimplified to the point of misleading people. I prefer for there to be no unpleasant surprises.

In the story about Catholics and evolution, I didn’t want to show the story to anyone who was in the story, but I told everyone who else was being interviewed and roughly what was being said, so that all the sources had a chance to respond to each other.

The story started with an idea that popped into my head after the Pope made remarks about embracing evolution except when it came to the human mind. I wondered whether the belief in some sacred specialness of the mind or soul, was really compatible with Darwinian evolution. If we evolved gradually from other species, how and when would our lineage possibly acquired a soul?

In the end my column was not a he said/she said. Thanks to the help, openness, and insightfulness of the people I interviewed, I was able to come out and say there’s no good way to square the traditional belief in souls with what we know about human evolution. Attempts to reconcile them lead to the absurdity that there was a stage of partial souls or a generation of ensouled kids born to soulless parents. Talk about a generation gap!

My goal was not to be even-handed but to be fair, to be factually correct, and to give people something thought-provoking to read.

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ the “no true Muslim” fallacy

Today’s Jesus and Mo is particularly relevant in view of our discussions (and the apologists’ denials) about whether ISIS represents “true” Islam.  That denial is bunk, of course: one can make a case that ISIS is one of the truer forms of Islam. Regardless, it’s certainly representing the principles of one form of Islam. The J&M cartoonist’s note says this: “Jesus is reading this article.”

The article is by James Brandon at the site Left Foot Forward, and is called “By denouncing ISIS as ‘not Muslims,” moderate Muslims are making things worse.” A quote from Brandon’s piece:

Just as non-Muslims who try to tackle Islamism through defining moderate interpretations of Islam as the sole ‘true Islam’ actually undermine liberal Muslim attempts to develop a pluralist understanding of religion, so moderate Muslims’ use of takfir – the process of denouncing rival Muslims as apostates or non-Muslims – reinforces the ideological underpinnings of the very movements they are seeking to tackle.

Takfirism is the root and enabler of all modern jihadism; takfirist doctrine enables any ‘true’ Muslim to label those with a rival interpretation of Islam as no longer Muslim.

This, combined with traditional Islamic jurisprudence that mandates death for apostates, is taken by jihadists as an open license to denounce and then kill their enemies.

When moderate Muslim groups use takfirism to tackle extremism, this dangerous and intrinsically intolerant doctrine is therefore not challenged but is instead reaffirmed. Illustrating this, one British fighter in Syria, explaining why he regarded the MCB as his enemies, said: ‘The Muslim Council of Britain, they are apostates, they are not Muslims”, ironically the same argument that the MCB itself makes against ISIS.

A better approach is to accept that Islamist extremists, however distasteful their view of Islam, remain Muslims, however much other Muslims, and non-Muslims, might dislike their version of Islam.

AGREED!  But of course neither the U.S. nor moderate Muslims will go that route, for it seems to tar all religion. My one quibble with Brandon is that he thinks the way to eliminate extremist Islam is to “de-fang” the poisonous verses in the Qur’an:

Take, for example, militants’ fondness for beheading captives; jihadists typically justify this practice through referencing the Quranic verse 47:4 ‘when you meet those who disbelieve, strike at their necks’ (and variants of this, according to different translations), often supported by many centuries of warlike, and literally medieval, interpretations.

Rather than seeking to effectively re-contextualise and de-fang this verse for the modern era, a blunt rejection of those who cite it as non-Muslims removes all scope for critically engaging – and dismantling – their arguments. This ostrich approach that extremists’ actions ‘have nothing to do with Islam’ not only fails to recognise how deep-rooted some hardline jihadist interpretations are, but it also effectively cedes such key theological battlefields to the extremists.

By “re-contextualise and de-fang this verse for the modern era,” Brandon means to say either that it no longer applies (which is anathema for most Muslims, who see the Qur’an as the literal and eternal word of God), or that the verse, and others like them, were meant as metaphor. The latter won’t wash either, for the verse in question sure doesn’t look metaphorical! And, in truth, there are few Muslims who read the words of the Qur’an as being a metaphor for something else.

No, the way to de-fang Islam is the way to de-fang all religions: show that they are man-made, that there is no evidence for their deity or their God-given moral strictures, and then try to inculcate believers with Enlightenment values. That will take a long time—decades for Islam—but it’s the only way to rid religion of its malevolence.

But I fulminate; on to the cartoon:


BTW, Sean Hannity asked me to be on his Fox News show this week to discuss my contention that ISIS was indeed Muslim, but of course he’d also want to go after me for my remarks about Catholicism. I declined politely, saying that I prefer civil discussion to having my viscera gnawed by the host. In other words, I’d prefer to be interviewed rather than mocked, interrupted, or yelled at.


Readers’ wildlife photos

We got your birds and your arthropods today. First, reader Mark Sturtevant has a sort of quiz:

It turns out that for both of these photos your readers might enjoy answering the question: What is going on?

  1. This harvestman (possibly Leuronychus pacificus) has something stuck on its front leg. What is it? [Click to enlarge.]


  1. I crawled through tall thistles to take this picture of a female banded argiope (Argiope trifasciata) because I saw she had a smaller companion. I was astonished when I uploaded the picture to my computer to see a scene that was rich with depravity. What is going on? Look carefully:


Here’s a ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) from reader Diana MacPherson:


From reader Stephen Barnard in Idaho:

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and a Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) tailing while feeding on mayfly nymphs.

Red tailed hawk


And a song sparrow (Melospiza  melodia):



My Old School & Bad Sneakers

The original Steely Dan, with Donald Fagan, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, and Walter Becker, was moderately famous, but I contend it’s one of the best rock groups of all time: sui generis, with a unique mixture of jazz, rock, and other motifs. Although they’re in sad decline (Fagan’s lost that plaintive voice), I still revisit their music frequently.

This song (missing Skunk Baxter in this live version), is one of only a handful of rock songs that mention a college: and it’s mine! (Can you name some others?)

Wikipedia, however, is curmudgeonly (my emphasis):

In its March 24, 2006 edition, Entertainment Weekly details a return trip to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York by Donald Fagen, in which he describes a raid by sheriff’s deputies in May 1969. Fagen, his girlfriend Dorothy White, Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker, and some 50 other students were arrested. Charges were dropped, but the harassment was the origin of the grudge alluded to in “My Old School”. Fagen was reportedly so upset with the school being complicit with the arrests that he refused to attend graduation. The same article speculates that a Bard professor’s wife,Rikki Ducornet, was the inspiration for “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”.

Because of the reference to The College of William & Mary in the lyrics, “My Old School” has long been a favorite of W&M students and alumni, although the song is actually about Bard College.

Not completely! At any rate, the Dan were never as good live as in the studio, and the guitar solos here, by John Herington, are competent but not as good as Baxter’s on the original version issued in 1973 on the album “Can’t buy a thrill.”

It was always great fun trying to figure out what the lyrics of Steely Dan songs meant (the band is named after a dildo). I’ve spent decades trying to figure out the lyrics of my favorite song of theirs: “Bad Sneakers” (below); and I’m not going to Google further (Wikipedia doesn’t give a clue). What, for instance, is “that fearsome excavation on Magnolia Boulevard”?

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Hump day already?  Meanwhile, in Dobrzyn, Hili is using Cyrus as a watchdog. Could it be Fitness out there?

Hili: There is something out there. Should I be afraid?
Cyrus: I will go at once and check.
In Polish:
Hili: Tam coś jest. Czy ja mam się tego bać?
Cyrus: Zaraz zobaczę.

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