Animals and leftovers

p.s. If you’re one of those whose pets get some leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, take a photo and send it along. If I get a couple, I’ll post them tomorrow. (And no moralizing about not feeding animals table scraps!)

A reader describes the “high” of glossolalia and his journey to nonbelief

I got an email from a reader who had a few comments about glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”), and then his email turned into a description of his journey from belief to atheism.  Because of the possible negative repercussions of the author coming out publicly, I won’t identify him except to use the word “he”. Anyway, the name is not important.  Feel free to comment or to add messages to the writer.  It also gives us a hint of what happens to a believer who speaks in tongues.

Mr. Coyne:

I’m a fellow atheist, but I came from a religious background, a believer for decades. Pentecostal to be specific. I saw the Jesus ‘n’ Mo cartoon on glossolalia on your site, and I thought I’d fill you in on what peopl who have never had the experience don’t know.

I had the experience when I was 27 years old. For me, it was an overwhelming experience. I wouldn’t liken it to anything like the euphoria of attending a rock concert or just emotional euphoria. In my case, that would be a completely inadequate and misleading description.

For me, it was like my body, from head to toe, was suddenly infused with this ecstatic flowing tangible (I want to say electric, but it was way beyond that) energy that was far and away beyond anything I had ever experienced before in my life. I became physically weak from it…While this was going on, I heard myself rapid fire uttering gibberish.The experience was ecstatic beyond words.

I fell to my knees just from weakness and being overpowered with the experience, and began weeping uncontrollably…I became extremely emotional AFTER the experience; prior to it, I was sort of blank emotionally, just listening to my pastor pray over me. A sort of “afterglow” of the experience stayed with me all day, and I couldn’t wait to get to Church again that evening for another shot..

During the preacher’s sermon, the experience overwhelmed me again and I was flooded again, but somewhere in the back of my mind I remember reading scripture that said during service things are to be conducted “decently and in order”, so I thought I was being disruptive and forced myself to stop.

I had that same afterglow for a few minutes, and then suddenly, without warning, I felt it sucked out of me and I felt completely empty. I was never able to repeat the experience again, no matter how many times I “sought the Lord”.

I’m sharing this with you because I want you to know that that there IS something to the Pentecostal experience. However, instead of becoming a strengthening factor in my own “Christian life”, it became a source of nothing but ongoing torment that lasted for decades. I couldn’t understand why God took this ability away from me, and wouldn’t give it back. What did I do wrong to be punished like that? (The experience is like the most powerful drug you’ve ever taken in your life. Once you’ve had it to the degree I experienced it, you want MORE.)

In those years, other things happened in my life that I won’t go into, but those life experiences along with the negative effect the glossolalia experience had on me long term eventually set me on my journey to re-examine my religious beliefs, trying to square them with reality. I saw the people that I used to go to Church with (by this time I had quit attending) professed to be acting like Christians, but on social and political issues took stands that were contrary to what I knew of Jesus’s teachings.

As far as the “Spirit Filled” tounge talking Christians go, I saw them falling far short of what the Biblical model of a spirit filled Christian is supposed to be.

Not a single time in my religious life did I see a miracle of any kind, even though these hypocritical selfish people made claims of miracles on almost a daily basis. It was all nonsense. Liars re-affirming one another’s lie.

I FINALLY decided to settle it all for myself, and did the one thing Christians don’t do…I read the entire Bible cover to cover, did some research to boot.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Mark Twain quote that the best cure for Christianity is to read the Bible.

Smart man that Twain.

I’m 64 now. I was 60 when I read the Bible and woke up from the delusion of religion. I’m free from it now.

I still couldn’t explain my experience, but I am sure it had something to do with firing neurons and chemicals in the brain, because I’ve NEVER in the 64 years of my life seen ANY supernatural miracle of any kind whatsoever anywhere. I’ve seen phony baloney preachers and evangelists pretend to work miracles, and only a moron would go along with their play acting, because where the rubber meets the road, nothing ever really happened.

But in regards to my glossolalia experience, I struggled with it, I struggled hard. But that was because the experience was so powerful and vivid.

But I also had to look just as hard at what it did to me in the long run, and in the long run, it kept me, pardon the expression, fucked up for years.

When I tried to speak with other atheists that were former Pentecostals, I learned they never had the experience, and couldn’t relate. They just faked it while in Church to get out from under the peer pressure. They just thought it was all fake. A lot of them DO fake it because there is so much peer pressure to have the experience.

I’ve only spoken privately with one other former Pentecostal turned atheist that has had the exact same experience I had, and his story is very similar to mine.

I sometimes wish a neuroscientist/biologist or someone in a qualified field that has actually HAD this experience look into it and find out what’s really going on, and what triggers it.

But if you’ve never had the experience, it’s easy to dismiss it as a religious ritual with no experiential substance to it at all. Make fun of it, mock it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For those actually having the experience, it’s like taking the most powerful drug you’ve ever taken in your life. (And I mean THE MOST POWERFUL DRUG). When you see people flopping in the floor yammering gibberish in one of these church services, getting “drunk in the spirit” as they call it, they REALLY ARE getting zonked.

It’s what they’ve really got the hots for….It’s the only part of the practice that has any tangibility to it. No one gets healed. No one performs miracles, no one does anything supernatural.

They just want to get as high as they possibly can.

(And they believe God is their hook up for this spiritual “high” party.)

So you tell me, what’s divine about wanting to do nothing but be in a state of ecstatic euphoria, and then lie about everything else?

I’m sorry this correspondence is so long, I just wanted you to know that underneath all the ridiculousness of it, something really is happening inside these people. I experienced it myself all those years ago; I just don’t believe it’s supernatural.

[Name redacted]

Best Friends says “Happy Thanksgiving”

Don’t expect anything substantive today as the good Professor will be occupied, and nobody in America will be (or should be, if you are) reading websites.  And, as it’s a holiday,  I’ll even allow videos showing d*gs that aren’t getting pummeled by cats.

This one is a heartwarming two-minute Thanksgiving video from the Best Friends Animal Society, described on YouTube as an estimable organization (TRIGGER WARNING: D*gs):

Best Friends Animal Society is a national animal welfare organization focused on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters. An authority and leader in the no-kill movement, Best Friends runs the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as lifesaving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country. Since its founding in 1984, Best Friends has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters nationwide from 17 million per year to about 4 million. Best Friends has the knowledge, technical expertise and on-the-ground network to end the killing and Save Them All®.

Think of all the strays today who don’t having loving homes, and, if you’re so moved, make a donation at the Best Friends web page. 



h/t: Blue

Readers’ wildlife photos: Happy Thanksgiving!

Apropos the holiday, we have just one species to show, America’s wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Happily, these turkeys won’t be eaten, for they’re wild and were photographed by readers.

First, we have three photos by reader Al Blazo, who is surrounded by the birds:

My wife and I live in an urban area of NE Ohio, adjacent to a large park.  Until about five years ago, seeing a turkey in this area was a very rare experience.  During the past five years, however, the turkey population seems to have exploded.
At the beginning of this spring we had two turkeys visit us on a semi-regular basis.  They produced a couple of offspring and then four turkeys were regular visitors.  As the summer rolled on, more joined the pack.  They come to feast on the whole and crushed corn that I put out for the ducks and bush birds that spend their afternoons in our back yard.  Now, 13 turkeys show up every day to chow down, sometimes two and three times a day! They are getting really huge.
Al blazo turkeys
The second photo shows one of the parents walking right up to me and the kitties looking for corn that I place at our bird feeding area.
photo 2
Turkeys and deer seem to have reproduced in abundance this year in the urban park where our house is situated. I’ve never seen as many as I’ve seen this year.  They’re actually starting to cause traffic jams as they mosey about the small 2-lane street in front of our house!
I was sitting in the garage this afternoon when I heard something walking on the roof.  Whatever it was, I thought, it sounded way too huge to be a squirrel or pigeon!  I walked into house so I could peer out the window at the garage roof.  And there it was. The other day I witnessed a turkey larger than the one shown here effortlessly fly, in literal helicopter fashion, straight up from the street (in front of my house) to the top of a dead tree.  The top of the tree was approx. 50′ above the street.  I had no idea that turkeys could fly so effortlessly, and so precisely.
Al blazo Turkey on roof
Reader Gregory James adds another photo:
This is probably not the quality you are looking for in terms of posting on WEIT, but it is cool nonetheless. I took it out my kitchen window earlier today, on the East Side of Milwaukee where we have had quite a number of local wild turkeys in the neighborhood for several years. They are quite tame and local kids can be found playing among them on the boulevard.  So, while our foxes are long gone, we still have interesting wildlife.  (We have a lot of human turkeys, too, of course. But they aren’t as much fun.)
GregorY James turkey
It’s a common belief among Americans that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the turkey and not the bald eagle become the national bird of the U.S. This turns out to be false, but he did denigrate the eagle in favor of the turkey. Here’s an excerpt from a letter from Franklin to his daughter, reprinted in Smithsonian magazine:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”


Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s the Thanksgiving holiday in America, nominally designed for us to proffer gratitude for our “blessings,” but really a chance to gorge ourselves on turkey, watch American football, and then fall asleep in a food-induced stupor. I hope to engage in two of these, and posting will be light. Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili and Cyrus discuss politics.

Hili: Do we return to international affairs or go sniff at the local ones?
Cyrus: The local ones smell better.

In Polish:
Hili: Wracamy do spraw międzynarodowych, czy idziemy obwąchiwać lokalne?
Cyrus: Lokalne jednak lepiej pachną.


Pre-holiday felids: bully cats and rocket cats

I can’t embed this, but click on the screenshot below to go to a HuffPo UK video of Cats Bullying D*gs, or The Way It Should Be:

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 2.31.06 PM

And another cat vs. dog video demonstrating felid superiority:

Notice in the second video that artificial selection for speedier dogs has given them to a body form similar to the world’s fastest felids, sculpted by natural selection alone. That’s an intriguing convergence between the products of natural and artificial selection.

h/t: Miss May, Robin ~


Playing with seal pups

[JAC: It’s almost a holiday—Thanksgiving in the US—so it’s time to ditch the gravitas and have some fun. Here’s the first of two pre-holiday animal videos.]

by Matthew Cobb

I declare seals, like otters, to be Aquatic Honorary Cats™. In October 2013, Vimeo user ‘SuperJohnnyAdventurepants‘ went diving on the Farne Islands (off Northumberland, on the north-east coast of the UK), and encountered some lovely seal pups, as you can see here. Turn it on to fullscreen! You might want to turn the sound off if the music isn’t your thing. (Warning – I found the music grew on me with repeated viewings, so be careful.)

Here’s the blurb on Vimeo:

Come and join me and the gang as we get the seal of approval as we visit the Farne Islands in Northumberland in October 2013. We’ve been visiting here for the last six years to say hello to the seal pups and we’ve never had this much interaction before – they were everywhere and all over us!!!! After a nightmare drive there with the worst traffic coupled with the imminent arrival of the St. Jude’s storm we didn’t think this trip was going to be worth the effort but once again the seals made every second worthwhile…….

Enjoy the show!!!

Filmed on location in the Farne Islands, UK with the help of Sovereign Divers. Contact them here:


My “Road to Reason” interview

If you missed it and want to see it, here’s the YouTube version of my Skype interview last Sunday with Rob Penczak and Larry Mendoza, hosts of Fairfax County’s cable-access t.v. program “Road to Reason.” After some announcements and news, the interview begins at 12:30.

I can’t bear to watch these things (Rob gave me the time marker above), but I can tell you that they wanted to talk mostly about science rather than religion or science vs. religion, which was fine with me. There was one person who called in, and that was plenty weird (see for yourself).


J. D. Watson to sell his Nobel Prize medal

CNN reports that James D. Watson, who in 1962 got the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins) for revealing the structure of DNA, is selling his Prize medal in an auction:

The coveted gold medal is expected to go under the hammer for up to $3.5 million in a sale at Christie’s in New York on December 4.

It will be the first time a Nobel Prize has been sold by a living recipient.

. . . The scientist’s notes for his acceptance speech at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm and the manuscript of his Nobel lecture are also on offer at the auction.

At first I couldn’t understand why he’d sell it, as he’s 85 and isn’t exactly at the age where he needs a Ferrari (nor is he poor by any means!), but the article explains:

Watson says he intends to use part of the money raised by the sale to fund projects at the universities and scientific research institutions he has worked at throughout his career.

“I look forward to making further philanthropic gifts to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Clare College Cambridge,” he said in a statement.

He added that the auction would mean he could “continue to do my part in keeping the academic world an environment where great ideas and decency prevail.”

Last year, Francis Crick’s “Secret of Life” letter to his son, in which he explained the structure of DNA weeks before the discovery was officially announced in the April 1953 edition of the journal Nature, was sold for $6.06 million.

The world record price — more than three times its pre-sale estimate — made it the most expensive letter ever sold at auction.

Good for him, and at least he’ll be alive when he sees the medal turned into more science. I fervently wish that some museum would buy it, so we could all see it (I’ve never seen a real Nobel medal), but I fear a private collector will snap it up.

Here’s the Medicine or Physiology medal from the Nobel Prize site, with an explanation (each of the Prizes has a different medal):

The medal of the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute represents the Genius of Medicine holding an open book in her lap, collecting the water pouring out from a rock in order to quench a sick girl’s thirst.


It’s real gold, of course. The About Education website adds this:

The exact weight of a Nobel medal varies, but each medal is 18 karat green gold plated with 24 karat (pure) gold, with an average weight of around 175 grams [JAC: a bit more than 6 ounces]. Back in 2012, 175 grams of gold was worth $9975 or about ten thousand US dollars. The modern Nobel Prize medal is worth in excess of $10,000! The Nobel Prize medal may be worth even more than its weight in gold if the medal goes up for auction.

That’s for damned sure, as the medal is also engraved with the winner’s name, and this one will have Watson’s on it. It’s the medal given for the most significant discovery in biology of our era.

Go have a look at Crick’s “secret of life” letter at the Smithsonian site. It’s pretty amazing, and lays out all the detail before the famous Nature paper was published.  Here’s one cool bit:

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 11.56.59 AM

I’m sure Matthew will talk about this letter in his upcoming book on the genetic code.

h/t: Bruce Grant


Evolutionary psychology, sexual dimorphism, and ideology

(Note to non-biologists: “sexual dimorphsim” refers to any trait or behavior that differs between the sexes, like the ornamented tail of the male peacock, the brighter color of the male painted bunting—and of many birds—and the bower-building behavior of male but not female bowerbirds.)

There are some science-friendly folk (including atheists) who simply dismiss the entire field of evolutionary psychology in humans, saying that its theoretical foundations are weak or nonexistent. I’ve always replied that that claim is bunk, for its “theoretical foundations” are simply the claim that our brains and behaviors, like our bodies, show features reflecting evolution in our ancestors. While some evolutionary psychology studies are weak, and I’ve been a critic of them, the discipline as a whole is growing in rigor and should certainly not be dismissed in toto.

Those who still do, though, should answer this question:

Why are human males, on average, bigger and stronger than females?

This is true not only in our species, but in our three closest relatives: chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas, as well as in most primates (there are a few exceptions, like gibbons).

The most obvious answer is male-male competition: our male ancestors competed with each other for females, and bigger bodies made for more successful competitors. That size difference can be useful in both direct physical competition (as in mule deer!) or simply in dominance, like establishing territories, or even in showing you have “better genes”.  (In fact, mate choice based on size may still operate in humans if females prefer bigger or taller males as opposed to smaller ones like me.) And if males competed for females, that reflects a difference between the sexes in reproductive strategy—that is, in behavior.  Finally, if the physical result of this behavioral difference remains in our species, why would the behavioral difference itself not remain as well, with males competing for female attention? Various psychological and sociological studies in fact show this to be the case in modern humans.

The theoretical underpinnings of the behavioral difference have long been understood and supported with data: the difference in parental investment that usually makes males less discriminatory in choosing mates than are females (sperm is cheap; pregnancy and suckling expensive). The theory also makes substantiated predictions. One of them is this: in those species (both primate and nonprimate) in which males have a larger variation among individuals in reproductive success (i.e., those having “harems” versus those that are more monogamous), the species having more variation (more “polygynous”) should show a bigger size difference between males and females. For in those species in which a male can garner lots of females, leaving a lot of males as chaste bachelors, there will be stronger selection for males be larger. And that is what we find.

So those who dismiss evolutionary psychology wholesale must still explain why in every human society males are on average larger than females. (The answer probably doesn’t involve an ecological difference between the sexes in our ancestors, as such ecological differences don’t seem to exist in our closest primate relatives.) And if you admit that those differences in body size reflect ancient evolution, why do opponents of evo-psych claim that the differences in behavior that produced the physical dimorphism are no longer with us?

This is not to justify any sex differences in behavior as “right” or “moral.” That is the naturalistic fallacy.  But the left-wing opposition to evolutionary psychology as a valid discipline in principle, especially when it involves differences in sexual behaviorseems to me based more on ideology than on biology. Ideologues cannot allow any possibility that males and females behave differently because of their evolution. Such people think that this would buttress the view that one sex would be “better” than the other.

But what evolved does not mean what’s right or what’s inevitable; and everybody with two neurons to rub together knows that. Humans may have evolved to be xenophobic and even violent towards members of “outgroups,” but we have the ability through culture and learning to overcome such a tendency. And, in fact, overcoming xenophobia happens to be both more useful and more ethical in a world of wide interactions between people and nations—interactions much different from those experienced by the small social groups of our African ancestors.

Biology is not ideology, but neither should ideology dictate biology.



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