NHS adds first humanist chaplain (and a small rant on accommodationism)

Click on the screenshot below to watch this short 2½-minute video featuring Lindsay van Dijk, the first humanist chaplain to work for the National Health Service in Britain.

van Dijik was appointed by a trust, so I’m not sure the NHS actually pays her salary, but that doesn’t matter. What’s good is that she works in NHS hospitals, seems caring, is acting as a listener/psychologist and not at all as a proselytizer, and gives nonbelievers someone to talk to—someone who isn’t going to tout Jesus (most of the chaplains are Christian). And she’s not there to promote atheism, unlike those religionist who try to convert people in hospitals.

This just reminded me yesterday how, after I gave my talk on the evidence for evolution, and mentioned very briefly how the main opposition to evolution came from religion—a statement that was indubitably true—no fewer than three people, including a Jesuit priest, came up to me or questioned me about why religion and science couldn’t exist in harmony or have mutual dialogue. Rather than tell people that was possible, and that I “respect” religious beliefs, I said what I thought: that religion had nothing to contribute to science, and that while I will treat religious people with the respect due them as human beings, I wasn’t going to respect their unevidenced beliefs. We can work with the faithful to promote religion, but can’t allow ourselves in the process to somehow give credence to the fairy tales they’ve embraced.

This got the Jesuit priest’s hackles up, and he came up to me afterwards to say that, by criticizing religion, I was driving people away from evolution and into the arms of creationists. I told him there was no evidence for that, citing the many religious people that Dawkins’s atheism had not only weaned from faith, but guided towards evolution.

In contrast, how many people say, “Well, if Dawkins would just shut up about atheism, I’d be glad to embrace evolution?” I’m sure that there are a few people who won’t embrace evolution because they think that means they must give up their faith, but I also I feel these are vastly outnumbered by those who have become secular because there’s no evidence for God—and then readily accept evolution. (There’s not much reason to oppose evolution if you’re not religious.)

As a friend of mine said, the priest’s point was like saying, “If you make fun of Santa, you’re just going to turn kids towards believing in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I told the priest that while Catholicism formally accepts evolution, it still has problems with accepting science in general, like its official insistence (in Catholic dogma) that we not only have souls, but that Adam and Eve were real people—the ancestors of us all. He insisted that there was a long history of Sophisticated Theologians™ who interpreted Adam and Eve, not knowing that I knew a lot about it.  I refused to argue at this point, as I wanted to hear Wynton Marsalis. I wasn’t about to tell him that both Aquinas and Augustine believed in a real Adam and Eve, not a metaphorical one. That, after all, is what the Bible says. The rest is just mushbrained apologetics.

But at my mention of a soul, another woman jumped in and asked me why I didn’t accept souls. I said that she should ask Sean Carroll, who was sitting in the audience and had explained, in his excellent talk, the impossibility of a non-material object like a soul interacting with material ones like bodies. She then said she knew souls were real because she had had past-life experiences.

The attendees at KentPresents were highly educated and seemingly wealthy, yet there were still a few among them wedded to these superstitions. What was odd, even though I loved the conference (more later), was this: it was clear that nearly all the attendees disliked Trump intensely, and chuckled and guffawed appreciately when speakers made fun of him.  It was fine to make fun of Republicans, but not  fine—at least for some—to indict religion for promoting creationism and also to claim that there’s no evidential basis for religious truth claims, for every religion makes different claims. Such is the hold of faith on even highly educated people. The fastest way to alienate liberals is to criticize religion. The surest way to make liberals love you, besides mocking Trump (and here I join them) is to go all soft on religious belief, claiming that people need it as a comfort.

HuffPo implies that Bari Weiss and Dave Rubin are “fancy racists”

Racism is the mot du jour for Authoritarian Leftists. Do you want to tar someone you don’t like? Just call them a “racist,” even if there’s no evidence they are bigots. No matter if they’re just conservatives or even moderates—”racist” will do in place of “Republican”, “libertarian,” or even “moderate Democrat.”

Read and weep as the HuffPo Control-Left demonizes those who, by and large, are on our side. Yes, Rubin is a libertarian, but Weiss is a classical liberal who has been deemed ideologically impure by idiots like those who run HuffPost. Click the screenshot to read:


The world would not be quite so riven with death and destruction if America’s political elite had better taste in music. Classic rock, for instance, is a fraud. It never existed. Jimmy Page never turned to Robert Plant and said, “Hey, let’s start a classic rock band.” Led Zeppelin did not imagine itself to be part of a sonic movement that included Billy Joel ― that idea came from corporate radio gurus in the 1980s, and they called their marketing concoction “classic rock.”

The same is true for “classical liberalism,” a moniker currently en vogue among a particular right-wing set that would very much like to be described as intellectuals, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss and YouTuber Dave Rubin.

“Classical liberalism is the idea that individual freedom and limited government are the best way for humans to form a free society,” Rubin said in a recent video, citing “great thinkers” such as Adam Smith, John Locke and John Stuart Mill.

. . . Just as you should avert your ears from any band in the 21st century calling itself “classic rock,” so too should you be alarmed by today’s purveyors of “classical liberalism.” Whatever classical liberals say about their ideas, in practice they have always functioned as a respectable intellectual veneer for authoritarian politics.

I won’t speak for Ryan, but I haven’t seen either Weiss or Rubin evince racism in their writings or podcasts. Rubin has interviewed some that others call white supremacists (I can’t think of any offhand), but that’s an interview, not an endorsement. Weiss’s crime? Being too pro-Israel, which apparently makes her a racist:

“It kills me that Trump and the Republican Party are turning Israel, which should be a progressive issue, into a right-wing one,” Weiss told HBO’s Bill Maher in May. Weiss doesn’t support the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem because she is a conservative. Don’t confuse her with a common Trumper when she dismisses the deaths of more than 50 Palestinian protesters from Israeli sniper bullets. And certainly don’t suggest, as Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie recently did, that the “Intellectual Dark Web” that Weiss has been lionizing is really just a team of people who “totally agree … that Islam is a religion of hate.”

On the contrary, Weiss is a classical liberal. She doesn’t listen to classic rock, you see. She only listens to vinyl.

What a snarky pack of name-callers HuffPo has become! And yet, of course, many on the Left read it avidly (look at its traffic). I will say it again: if the Left doesn’t reclaim classical liberalism rather than veering off to these censorious and hate-filled Pecksniffian extremes, we’re in danger of having Trump as President for six more years.  We cannot win by eating our own—or our friends.


Honey’s back again!

UPDATE: According to Anna, Honey is at the pond this morning.

Well, I don’t know what’s up with Mother Duck. She’s vanished twice in the last week. The first time was after the Great Chainsaw Episode, when both she and Phoebe disappeared. Then Phoebe reappeared after a day and, a day after that, so did Honey; and for one brief shining moment (one day) they shared the pond—mother and daughter. Then Phoebe left several days ago—apparently for good. Honey was on her own for a day, and then she disappeared two days ago.

Yesterday she reappeared, and Anna sent two photos of her eating mealworms, which, along with corn, she appears to be downing ravenously. Fueling up!

I can’t remember if Honey did this disappearing/reappearing act last year, but I hope she stays till I get back to Chicago tomorrow. Anna reports that Honey looks beautiful, an adjective I’d never thought to apply to her (“cute” or “rotund” or “caring” came easier to mind). But she is a beautiful duck.

What is she doing now? You got me. My theory, which is mine, is that she’s testing her nascent flying abilities since her flight feathers don’t seem completely grown. Perhaps she’s doing test flights around the neighborhood, and hanging out somewhere else, only to return when she gets hungry. All Anna and I can do is promise to treat her like a queen, giving her plenty of corn and mealworms, until her instincts take over and she leaves us for the winter. I do hope we see her next year. If she shows up, how many ducklings will she have next time?

On another note, the meeting at Kent has been nothing short of spectacular, with many really nice talks and discussions. I have photos and even video of some of them, and will report when I return. The meeting ended this evening with a discussion/musical interlude featuring Wynton Marsalis and a terrific pianist, ending with him coming off stage and playing, on the floor in front of the first row of seats, a song he wrote called “Goodbye”. What a lovely man, and what wonderful music! It was a fitting end to one of the best meetings I’ve ever been to.

Thanks to Ben and Donna Rosen for making this meeting possible, and all the many people who cooked, serve, drove, and made life easy for the speakers and attendees. Videos of all talks, including mine (I was introduced by Harold Varmus), will be online before too long, and I’ll let you know.

Readers’ wildlife photos

I have several sets of photos from Joe Dickinson, but this batch just arrived (the others are on my computer in Chicago) and I have a few minutes to post. Joe calls this set “seals and squirrels,” but I would add a subtitle: “Nature’s Pugnacity.” His captions are indented.

We recently spent a few days down the coast in Cambria.  As usual, we checked the nearby Northern elephant seal rookery.  It turned out that the real action was on an embankment above the beach, where two California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) were seriously duking it out.  I know you are a Sciuridophile so I thought you might find these amusing.  Some parts are blurry thanks to fast action.

My wife saw a third squirrel nearby while I was busy with the camera and suggests the conflict was about a potential mate.  Alternatively, I suppose they could have been contesting ownership of the burrow that one of them is occupying, at least temporarily, in the this shot.

This being the season for molting, not mating, there was not much going on with the seals (Mirounga angustirostris), just some sub-adult males having half-hearted shoving matches accompanied by much huffing and puffing.

Finally, here are a couple of shots of squirrels behaving as they should, just looking cute.




Sunday Hili dialogue

by Grania

Welcome to Sunday, the birthday of Bill Clinton (1946), Coco Chanel (1883), Johnny Nash (1940) and Gene Roddenberry (1921). It’s also the birthday of John Deacon (1951), English bass player and songwriter of Queen which provides an excellent excuse to listen to a few tracks. “You’re my best friend” and “I want to break free” were both penned by Deacon.

Lover Boy is a Mercury composition

In 1612 three women who came to be known as the Samlesbury witches went on trial for child-murder and cannibalism among other things in Lancashire, England. Mercifully, this is a case with a happy ending in as much as the case collapsed when the chief witness was discovered to be lying or  “the perjuring tool of a Catholic priest” as they so quaintly put it. It’s a fascinating case, naked in its obvious roots of greed and propped up by a paranoia of anti-Catholic sentiment.
In 1960 the Sputnik program: Korabl-Sputnik 2 launched the satellite with the dogs Belka and Strelka, 40 mice, two rats and a variety of plants. I know what you’re thinking, and this time you are wrong. .The spacecraft returned to Earth on 20 August. Wikipedia notes:
“All of the animals were recovered safely, and a year later Strelka had a litter of puppies, one of which was sent to First Lady of the US Jacqueline Kennedy as a goodwill present from the Soviet Union. President Kennedy’s advisers initially opposed taking the dog for fear that the Soviets might have planted microphones in its body to listen in on national defense meetings.”
Over in Poland today, Poland’s most famous cat is taking it easy.
A: Are you hunting?
Hili: No, I’m just observing.
In Polish:
Ja: Polujesz?
Hili: Nie, tylko się przyglądam.
On Twitter this morning:

“It’s been at least a year since I last licked a rock.” Do read this wonderful thread on why geoscientists do what they do.

Baby swans!

The truth revealed

Latin scholars, weep!

Random cat du jour

How to entertain yourself

A rare thing: a tame squirrel. They reportedly do not make for good domesticated pets, this one is a bit of a special circumstance.

Something we missed on Friday.

A lesson, of what I am not sure. But a lesson.

Cat chilling

A thread worth reading on mushrooms:

And finally a lovely comparison of pictures of a scene.





Caturday felid trifecta: Simon’s Cat Q&A, cathedral cats gets own stone sculpture on the church, bookstore with cookies and cat

by Jerry & Grania

A new Simon’s cat Q&A has arrived, featuring  Simon Tofield and Liza (Art Director) for, as the YouTube video notes, “a special fan Q&A session via Live Chat – ahead of the PREMIERE of our new SHORT – ‘Borderline’!” You’ll learn a lot about the process of making short videos (very involved), and about Simon’s real cats.

Here’s the first of three segments of “Borderline”: more to come in succeeding weeks!


Yes, even a blind pig can find an acorn, and HuffPo has a piece about a cathedral cat who’s getting her own “gargoyle”. Click on the screenshot to see the story:

Curiously, the piece is in the HuffPo “religion” section, and is by Carol Kuruvilla, the house apologist for all things Muslim.

Doorkins Magnificat is featured in a piece at GoLondon from the Evening Standard; she’s about 13.

Doorkins is a pun on Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and atheist, and the fact the cat took a long time to cross the doorway of the cathedral after first being fed by the vergers. The Magnificat, or Song of Mary, is sung by the clergy every day. The corbel was made by the City and Guilds of London Art School, based in Kennington.

She even has her own Twitter account



And finally, a well-lettered cat, Orson of Down in Denver bookstore, although the store is in Stephentown not Denver. (The name is a Kerouac quote).

It’s a books-only, no-frills book store, plus a cat named after Orson Wells. And freshly-baked cookies. Orson was not available for comment but his staff commented: “There’s used bookstores like us around the corner, you just have to look for us.” It appears to be a respectable living for an honest cat.

h/t: Michael, Tom

Saturday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

[Update from Jerry:

News from the pond: Honey seems to have disappeared from the pond again and may be gone for good. I am sad as I didn’t get to say goodbye, and I don’t know if she was ready to migrate.]

[Update of an update: Honey’s back, so reports Anna. More details later. Honestly, this is better than a daytime soapy – Grania]

It’s the birthday of Patrick Swayze (1952-2009), Robert Redford (1936) and lots and lots of footballers: 1980 – Bart Scott, American football player; 1980 – Jeremy Shockey, American football player; 1981 – César Delgado, Argentinian footballer; 1981 – Dimitris Salpingidis, Greek footballer and the list doesn’t stop there.

American trumpet player and bandleader of New Orleans Rhythm Kings Paul Mares died on this day in 1949. His group was an influential jazz band in 1920s Chicago .

More existentialism from Hili this morning.

Hili: What are flies for?
A: This is a badly formulated question.
Hili: You are right. Who finds them tasty?
Hili: Po co są muchy?
Ja: To jest źle postawione pytanie.
Hili: Masz rację. Komu one smakują?

Leon is reorganizing the laws of physics. What a thoughtful cat.

Leon: I will purr a bit while going uphill. It will be lighter for you.

Bits ‘n pieces from Twitter this morning:

Seen on the river Lee in Cork yesterday

Run, Forrest, run!



And a coffee shop that is taking a stand against the oppression of Forin Terms.

London in 1924 apparently

Manchester humor

Parody account so good that it still fools people and news agencies

A joke by a very patient prankster

Waterford Whispers is an Irish parody publication, much like the Onion, but apparently also still fools people on a regular basis. This one is referencing the upcoming and highly controversial visit by the Pope.

Below are some of the reasons why the Pope is less welcome than one would think in a country where over 80% of the population identifies as Catholic.

Hat-tip: Matthew.

Readers’ wildlife photos (and video)

I just got an email from reader Rick Longworth about Chicago and Mars. His notes:

I thought of you, Jerry, while flying over your amazing city.
Flying from Houston, TX to Grand Rapids, MI, we overflew Chicago and saw the Red Planet in the eastern sky.  Of all the millions of people down there, how many noticed Mars at close approach?  For anyone who hasn’t seen it check it out sometime this month before it fades back into a pinprick.
Video (13 seconds):

Still photo:
Video (13 sec):

Report from Jerry: Phoebe’s gone again

Anna reported yesterday that, after spending a day with Honey in the pond, Phoebe departed again. Perhaps this time it’s for good, but it was time for her to leave, and at least she had a grand reunion with her mother before taking off.

Now I’m not sure whether Phoebe really has flown the coop (or the pond), as she’s disappeared before. But if she’s emigrated, I’d prefer her to go this way than to be scared into flight by chainsaws. I will of course report if I get more news.

Honey remains, and according to Anna is looking “happy and beautiful”. I’m sure she’ll be there when I return Sunday, and I’ll be around to see her annual departure with a champagne toast.

The KentPresents meeting is wonderful, with lots of really absorbing talks. Last night I got to have dinner at a table with the art critics for the New York Times and New York Magazine respectively, a molecular gastronomy expert, the former head of Homeland Security, and CBS News reporter Lesley Stahl (one of my news heroes). I learned a lot, and was pleased to find that both art critics agreed with me that the Isenheim Altarpiece, by Mathias Grünewald, is one of the greatest paintings of all time. We even did a fist bump when we found our agreement.

I had a long conversation with Robert Lang, who happens to be a reader here and is one of the world’s experts on making Origami. He’s speaking Saturday.

I will report all this when I return, as I have lots of news and pictures, including one of Henry Kissinger, who’s being interviewed by Lesley Stahl onstage today. I have an idea what she’ll ask him (we rode back to our inn together last night), but more later. Yesterday I went to discussions about the Supreme Court, Trump versus his Justice Department, photographer Diane (pronounced DEE-ANN) Arbus, and a absorbing discussion by Michael Pollan about his latest book on psychedelics.

This is all I have time to report; it’s off to breakfast and the meetings to hear my own University President, Robert Zimmer, talk about free speech. Sean Carroll, our resident website physicist, is also speaking. I talk tomorrow.

TGIF: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Welcome to Friday and happy birthday to Robert De Niro.

Although De Niro had nothing to do with this song, it was one of those iconic songs of my teen years, so that’s all the justification I need to put it up today.

It’s also the birthday of Mae West (1893), Russian chess player and engineer Mikhail Botvinnik (1911), and French footballer Thierry Henry (1977). (There’s always a footballer.)

Botvinnik gets honored (along with all the other chess champions) in the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice musical Chess number here; or you can listen to the original 1984 studio version here which is cleaner and without dialogue. It’s by no means the best number in the musical, try Merano and the rest of the introduction for a taster or this one.

Also notable in history today was the landing and founding of Roanoke Colony in 1585 in what was destined to become one of America’s first Unsolved Mysteries. And of course in 1998 Bill Clinton took his swan dive and admitted his part in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In 1908 Fantasmagorie, the first animated cartoon by Émile Cohl, was shown in Paris. Interestingly, although the cartoon appears to feature chalkboard figures, the film is actually the negative of black-on-white drawings. In the US it is Black Cat Appreciation Day. Research by the ASPCA shows that black cats are the least likely to be adopted from shelters of any type of cat for reasons of human stupidity.

Life continues in a bucolic vein for the felids of Poland today.

Hili: In the morning fog the world is foggy.
A: Indeed.

In Polish:

Hili: W porannej mgle świat jest zamglony.
Ja: Zaiste.

And Leon is mocking religion (I think):

Leon: I’m hurrying to see what miracles happen in the Holy Stream.


Matthew sent this one in:

This is what over-sharing on the internet looks like. Still, could be worse.

It puts me in mind of this song.

Heather sent in some tweets:


USSR Poster from 1968:

Trump Employee Manual


Bat Rescue Lady:

Angry cat:

Aren’t you gorgeous?


Chipmunk rescue:

Vampire Cat:

Kitty goes to bed:

Hat-tip: Anne G & Heather, Matthew, Blue