Ethan Siegel damns those who claim that science and religion are incompatible

Reader Steve sent me an email with a link and his comment: “I enjoy reading Ethan Siegel’s posts. This one goes a bit too far in support of religion in my opinion.”  I didn’t really know who Siegel was, but he’s apparently pretty well known: his Wikipedia bio describes him as is “an American theoretical astrophysicist and science writer, who studies Big Bang theory. He is a professor at Lewis & Clark College and he blogs at Starts With a Bang, on ScienceBlogs and also on since 2016.” They add this:

Described as “beautifully illustrated and full of humour”, [Siegel’s] blog won the 2010 award for best blog, judged by Adam Rutherford, Alom Shaha, Gia Milinovich, Hayley Birch, Lata Sahonta, and Stuart Clark and the people’s choice award, and his post “Where Is Everybody?” came third in the 2011 3 Quarks Daily science writing awards, judged by Lisa Randall, winning a “Charm Quark” for “[taking] on the challenge of simplifying probability estimates without sacrificing the nature of the enterprise or suppressing the uncertainties involved”. Siegel headed the RealClearScience list of top science bloggers in 2013, as his “unmatched ability to describe the nearly indecipherable made him an easy choice for #1.” Siegel also wrote a column for NASA, The Space Place.

I’ll take people’s word about the high quality of Siegel’s blog, but it’s surely been diminished a tad by his new piece on Medium (the apparent host of “Starts with a Bang”) to which Steve pointed me:  “Yes, science is for the religious, too.” It’s a poorly thought out defense of accommodationism that is short on arguments and long on thinly-disguised invective against people like me, who, he says, are harmful to society because we don’t recognize that religious people can like science and that science isn’t “hostile to faith”.  It’s basically Steve Gould’s NOMA argument all over again: “People of good will should recognize the beneficial effects of both science and religion, and respect each other’s views. Those who don’t are simply hurting society.” (That’s my characterization, not Siegel’s quote.)

And here’s how non-accommodationists hurt society:

There’s a public perception that’s harmful to everyone: that science is hostile to faith, and that religious people aren’t interested in science. Yet this is not what the data shows at all. While there certainly exist scientists that are elitist and antagonistic towards religion, the vast majority of scientists share the same levels and types of religiosity as the other members of their country’s culture. While there are a number of religious people who have no interest in science, widespread surveys indicate that most religious people support science quite strongly.

. . . To push the viewpoint that religion and science are inherently at odds not only does a great deal of damage to the integrity of both, it runs contrary to people’s actual, lived experiences.

The “lived experiences” trope alerts you immediately that there may be some virtue-signaling going on here, and I think there is. But let’s look at Siegel’s argument, which is threefold:

1.) Many religious people are interested in science and support scientific research.  That’s true; I have no quarrel with this. But that doesn’t address my own argument, made in Faith Versus Fact, that the grounds for incompatibility have nothing to do with whether scientists can be religious and religious people can be fans of science. This kind of cognitive bifurcation just shows that people can accept two incompatible ways of judging what is “true” at the same time. Here’s my argument, in brief:

  • Religion and science both make claims about what’s true in our Universe. Theologians and believers, when being honest (almost an oxymoron), will admit that, yes, their religious beliefs are underlain by claims about reality, and if those claims be not true, then religion be not true. Here are two of several quotes to that effect I cite in FvF:

A religious tradition is indeed a way of life and not a set of abstract ideas. But a way of life presupposes beliefs about the nature of reality and cannot be sustained if those beliefs are no longer credible.  —Ian Barbour

Likewise, religion in almost all of its manifestations is more than just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about ‘the way things are.’ —Karl Giberson & Francis Collins

Or, if you want the Bible, look at 1 Corinthians 15:14: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”  That is, if Jesus wasn’t resurrected, it makes no sense to be a Christian.

My further argument:

  • Science has a way to find out what is true, or at least to arrive at better and better approximations of what is true, while religion has no way to do that.
  • The result is that different religions make conflicting claims about reality (e.g., “Was Jesus the divine son of God?”) that cannot be resolved.
  • Religion has also made false claims about reality (e.g., creationism, the Exodus, etc.) that science can correct, while religion has no way to correct science.
  • Therefore, religion is incompatible with science because it uses a different methodology to adjudicate truth, and because the outcomes of that methodology (what religion deems “true”) cannot be verified.

The incompatibility can be seen with a religious scientist like Ken Miller, a pious Catholic. In the lab he acts like an atheist, never considering the supernatural and accepting only as true what can be tested scientifically. But when he steps into his church he immediately believes in things like the Resurrection and transubstantiation—things that are not only unevidenced, but disbelieved by other faiths and, frankly, ridiculous for a grown man to believe. Accepting truths about the cosmos using two different methods demonstrates the incompatibility between science and religion. To put it another way, in science faith is a vice while in religion it’s a virtue. Or still another way: science has ways of finding out whether its claims are wrong, while religion doesn’t. (As I said, science can sometimes demonstrate that religion claims are wrong.)

So Siegel simply misses the boat here. Showing that there are religious scientists and science-friendly believers doesn’t show that science and religion are compatible, any more than saying that someone who believes in faith healing as well as scientific medicine has compatible beliefs.

Siegel’s argument for compatibility gets worse when he argues that the “unknowables” of science are comparable to the “unknowables” of religion:

The truth of the matter is that there are certain unknowables in this Universe; certain questions that even if we gathered all the data we could ever gather, we’d be unable to answer. The amount of information we have access to is enormous, but finite nonetheless. There will always be room for wonder, and there will always be questions beyond humanity’s capabilities of drawing robust scientific conclusions. Most importantly, there will be differences in what each of us determines is the “most likely” or “most logical” possibility in the absence of certainty, and that we must treat one another with respect, even when we reach different conclusions.

Yes, science may not be able to answer all questions about the Universe because we lack the tools to do so, because the questions are hard (how does consciousness work?), or because the questions involve knowing irrecoverable history (how, exactly, did life begin?). But science has explained many previously enigmatic phenomena that, for lack of answers, were once imputed to God of or the supernatural (e.g. epilepsy, disease, lightning, etc.), while religion has never answered a single question about the “nature of reality” that it claims to adddress. The progress of science over the last 500 years stands in stark contrast to the absence of progress of theology, which has not answered a single question about the nature and workings of the divine over a much longer period of cogitation. That’s why we have thousands of religions, all making different (and often incompatible) claims about reality

2.) “Among scientists, belief in God aligns quite closely with the beliefs held by other members of that particular country.” To support this, Siegel shows a graph taken from the work of Elaine Ecklund, a professional accommodationist funded by Templeton:

Yep, it’s true that in religious countries scientists tend to be more religious, and in less religious countries are more atheistic, but it’s not a perfect correlation (look at the US vs. UK, realizing that the US is far more religious than the UK). More important, so what? Of course scientists will be more religious in more religious nations, because that’s the way they were brought up! This says absolutely nothing about the compatibility of science and religion.

Sadly, Siegel neglects the really important statistics: Scientists, at least when we have the data, tend to be far more atheistic than the general public. We know this from both the US and the UK. In the US, for example (data differs slightly from Ecklund’s; see FvF pp. 12-13 for references), 83% of the general public believes in God, and only about 4% admit to being atheists. In contrast, the figures for US scientists as a whole are, respectively, 33% and 41%. For scientists at “elite US universities”, the figures are 23% and 62% (the latter number includes atheists and agnostics), and for members of the National Academy of Sciences, the figures are 7% and 93%!  Siegel doesn’t point out this disparity, which should be evident from the US data above! Figures from the UK are comparable, with more accomplished scientists being less religious.

If science and religion are compatible, why, at least in countries where we have data, are scientists so much less religious than the general public? It could be that nonbelievers are more attracted to science, or that science actually makes people less religious, or (most likely) a combination of these factors. Either way, this shows some conflict between science and faith.

Siegel also neglects these data from a 2015 Pew Poll:

So much for “lived experience”: your own and your perception of other people’s!

3.) “While there are a number of science-and-society issues where the general populace and scientists have differing opinions, there are many such issues where their viewpoints align extremely closely.” The quote is from Siegel, and he gives this figure to support it:

Well, there are SOME areas where their viewpoints align extremely closely, but more, it seems, where there’s a significant disparity between the views of scientists and the public. But how, at any rate, does the graph above demonstrate Siegel’s point? It may show that in some areas religious people adhere to the views of scientists, but that doesn’t mean that science and religion are compatible. I haven’t denied that many believers respect science and promote scientific research. That’s admirable, but doesn’t speak to the fact that in the religious realm, believers have no good reasons for believing what they do.

I don’t want to go on, because Siegel’s article doesn’t make any new arguments for compatibilism. His main point seems to be that religious people and scientists need to respect each other for the good of society, and that both science and religion make positive contributions to society. As for “respect,” well, I’ll respect believers as people in the sense that I’ll be civil to them, but I refuse to respect their superstitious beliefs. As for both making a contribution to society, I’d argue that science is essential to human progress, while religion merely impedes it, has become superfluous, and one day will disappear without ill effect (as it has in Scandinavia).

I get it: Siegel wants to look like a good guy, just as Gould did in his NOMA book Rocks of Ages. You don’t look very good if you claim that science and religion are incompatible, but if you say they are compatible, well, you don’t offend anybody. You look conciliatory and nice. That’s why Siegel’s whole piece is infused with a distasteful kumbaya tone. One example, from near the end of his piece:

While there are elements of society that are quick to brand anything religious as “anti-science” or anything scientific as a “threat to your religion,” the truth is that people of all different religious beliefs and upbringings grow up to be outstanding scientists. The truth is that scientists have religious beliefs that are in-line with the rest of their country. There is no universal religious perspective or experience, and that we all have ways of making personal connections with each other, and finding common ground for building trust and mutual respect. It’s time to put an end to the insensitive, snide, and snarky remarks that denigrade [sic] those with differing beliefs from our own, and to work together to educate, share knowledge, and respect the diversity of possibilities for what we don’t know.

. . . Religion is for anyone who wants it in their life, and science is as well. They are neither fundamentally incompatible, nor are they mutually exclusive. Knowledge, education, self-improvement, and the bettering of our shared world are endeavors that are open to everyone. We don’t have to (and likely won’t) always agree with one another, but we can always work to understand a perspective that differs from our own. Perhaps, someday in the near future, that will be the story that makes headlines, rather than attempts to sow discord between two of the most influential forces for good in our world.

This sounds lovely, yes? But it has no bearing on Siegel’s point. As for me, I’ll continue to “sow discord”, which, no matter how civil I am, will still be perceived as “insensitive, snide, and snarky.” There’s no way you can argue against religious delusions without being perceived that way!


Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Linden Gledhill sent a bunch of nice pictures from Costa Rica, and I’ll divide them between two posts. Here’s the first; Linden’s notes are indented:

Guanacaste, Costa Rica is located in the northwestern region along the Pacific Ocean coast.  It experiences little rain and is a hot tropical dry forests habitat. We stayed in the all-inclusive resort of the Riu Palace, which is surrounded by farmland and unspoilt countryside.  Most of the images were captured during early morning walks just after sunrise apart from those labelled with  Palo Verde National Park. This park is a floodplain with marshes next to a limestone ridge fed by Rio Tempisque.  My equipment was a Canon EOS 5DS R with a EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens and a 1.4x extender.  All shots were hand held with image stabilization.

Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). I spent a few hours capturing these stunning birds actively feeding just off the beach and I also followed them to a grooming roost on the side of a cliff at the end of the resort beach. I love their webbed feet especially when standing on a branch grooming.

Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides). A  native tree squirrel of Central America. I came across a group of 10 or so collecting nuts from a tree just off the beach.

Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus). An impressive raptor with very broad black wings often found in coastal areas. The short tail is black with a single broad white band and a white tip.  He was perched on the very top of a tree next to the beach. This was a difficult shot due to distance and the image was cropped by about 200%.  The advantage of using the 50 mpix sensor of the Canon EOS 5DS R.

Black-headed Trogon (Trogon melanocephalus). This species is well at home in subtropical or tropical dry forests.  Trogons have large round eyes, and I came across this species many time in the open farmland near the hotel.

Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor)   Palo Verde National Park. Living mainly on a diet of insects, they are often found remaining still for long periods as they look for prey.  I wouldn’t have spotted this guy unless the guide had pointed him out.

Double-striped Thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus) Palo Verde National Park. We came across a flock of these birds in an open field.  They stand very still when being watched and prefer to walk away rather than fly when approached.

Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway), Palo Verde National Park. This is a stunning bird.  Despite its raptor appearance, this is very much a scavenger mainly feeding on carrion.  We watched this individual for a while as he gathered nesting materials.

Thursday: Hili dialogue

It’s Thursday, January 18, 2018, and, dammit, a fast day for me. (This is getting tiring.) It’s National Gourmet Coffee Day, which, in the form of a homemade latte, is the only thing besides water I’ll consume today. It’s also the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is repugnant, but since prayer is ineffectual, innocuous as well.

On this day in 1535, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima, now the capital of Peru. On January 18, 1778, James Cook was the first European to land on the Hawaiian Islands, which he called the “Sandwich Islands.” And here’s a weird one from Wikipedia; do read the entry: on this day in 1884, “Dr. William Price attempts to cremate the body of his infant son, Jesus Christ Price, setting a legal precedent for cremation in the United Kingdom.”  Jesus Christ Price? Wikipedia adds this:

After cremating his dead son in 1884, Price was arrested and put on trial by those who believed cremation was illegal in Britain; however, he successfully argued that there was no legislation that specifically outlawed it, which paved the way for the Cremation Act of 1902. Upon his death, he was cremated in a ceremony watched by 20,000 onlookers.

Known for adhering to such principles as equal democratic rights for all men, vegetarianism, cremation and the abolition of marriage, all of which were highly controversial at the time, he has been widely labelled as an “eccentric” and a “radical”. Since his death he has been remembered as “one of the great Welshmen of all time” with a permanent exhibition and statue dedicated to him being opened in the town of Llantrisant, where he had lived for much of his later life.

On January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely landed his Curtiss pusher plane on the deck of the USS Pennsylvania, an armored cruiser, in San Francisco Bay. This was the first time an aircraft landed on a ship, and here’s a picture of the feat:

Two events in Poland on this day: in 1919, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a pianist and composer as well as a statesman, became the Prime Minister of the newly independent Poland. And in 1943, the first uprising of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto took place: when Nazis began deporting people from the Ghetto, the Jews fought back with weapons. They lost, of course: it was all over by May. On this day in 1977, the bacterium that produced Legionanaires’ disease, a previously unknown microbe, was identified as the disease’s cause. Finally, on this day in 1993, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was officially observed for the first time in all of America’s 50 states.

Notables born on this day include Daniel Webster (1782), Paul Ehrenfest (born 1880, sad end to his life, but look it up), A. A. Milne (1882), Oliver Hardy (1892), Cary Grant (1904; real name Archibald Alec Leach), and Danny Kaye (1911; real name David Daniel Kaminsky).

Those who joined the choir invisible on January 18 include Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1873), Rudyard Kipling (1936), and Curly Howard of the Three Stooges (1952, died at only 48; real name Jerome Lester Horowitz [having a Jewish name was not good in show business, as you can see from Danny Kaye]). Here is Curly’s gravestone; I can’t quite understand what the coins are spelling beside it:

Several musicians also died on this day, including Kate McGarrigle (2010), Dallas Taylor (2011), and Glenn Frey (2016). Here’s one of my favorite songs by the McGarrigle sisters, which is ineffably beautiful. It was written by Anna. Kate is the one on the piano:

The song was made famous, of course, by Linda Rondstadt, and you should also watch this version in which Linda sings with Kate, Anna, and, I believe, their older sister Jane. I think the other singer is Maria Muldair, though I’m not sure. You can see a nice half-hour documentary about Kate and Anna here.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn Hili is still hatin’ on winter. She also looks quite round. 

A: Winter is beautiful.
Hili: That’s your opinion.
In Polish:
Ja: Zima jest piękna.
Hili: To jest twoje zdanie.

A couple of tweets stolen from Heather Hastie (be sure to look at the pictures in the first tweet’s link):

From Grania:

I was saddened to hear of the sudden death of The Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan. So, apparently, was the recipient of this note:

From reader Barry. Do you think this video is for real?

And some SCIENCE, delivered in a palatable form so you will read it. Matthew found this tweet:

Words that should be deep-sixed

Grania found this tw**t, which I think is right on the mark:

The words I especially hate here are “bae”, “totes”, “amazeballs”, “cray cray”, “whatevs”, “be like” and “epic”. Some of them, like “yolo”, “awks,”, and “well jel”, I’ve never heard before.  I’d add “genius” when used as an adjective, but we’ve been over that before.

“Wine o’clock”?????

Science posts go unread. . .

I’ve kvetched before about how readers seem to ignore science posts, which started out as the heart of this website and are still dear to my own heart. In response, readers often say that they do read them but simply can’t comment because they don’t have the expertise. That’s fair enough and isn’t a problem for me. But then I decided to look at how many of those posts are actually viewed compared to posts about politics, food, and other stuff. Here are some recent data; I’ve chosen the non-science posts randomly, without looking at the views, and put up some science posts that go back about a month or so.

A false report on hijab cutting. Posted yesterday, 671 views. Leisure fascism: Vegan says that a carnivore can’t eat tofu because it’s “cultural appropriation”. Posted two days ago, 1147 views

Hybrid speciation in Amazonian manakins? SCIENCE POST. Posted Jan. 14. 395 views.

An academic explores the performative social construction of masculinity among South Texas Hispanics by analyzing the size of their barbecues and spiciness of their condiments. Posted Jan. 13, 646 views.

The magnificent obsession: man takes over a decade to design and build a Boeing 777 model out of paper. Posted Jan. 12, 743 views.

Trump denies making “shithole countries” remark. Posted Jan. 12, 1182 views.

Evidence that raptors spread brushfires to flush out prey.SCIENCE POST. Posted Jan. 11.  769 views.

Surprise! Pinker smeared again by those who distort his words. Posted Jan. 10, 6,591 views

The origin of human music? Male palm cockatoos use a stick to beat rhythmically on hollow trees. SCIENCE POST. Posted Jan. 9, 726 views.

Hybrid speciation in Amazonian manakins? SCIENCE POST. Posted Jan. 14, 395 views.

The Left: shut up about the Iranian protests or you’ll make things worse. Published Jan. 3. 1,763 views.

There is no monolithic “Twitter” that makes pronouncements. Posted Dec. 29, 729 views.

Editors of Science name the biggest science advances of the year. SCIENCE POST. Posted Dec. 28, 384 views.

Hybrid speciation in Galápagos finches. SCIENCE POST. Posted November 26,  708 views.

HuffPo finds marginalization, sexism, bigotry, bullying, child abuse, and exploitation in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer“. Posted December 25 1,182 views.

Even if people don’t comment on science post, this non-systematic trawling of posts shows what I suspected: the ones that deal with science, particularly research papers, aren’t read as often. I’m not chastising readers, for what interests you is what interests you, but it is a bit distressing to me. All I can say is that it’s infinitely harder to write one of these posts than it is to bang out something about the Templeton Foundation, cats, or postmodern academia. If people want me to continue dissecting science papers, they’ll have to at least view them.

Matt Damon forced to grovel after pointing out that not all sexual misconduct is the same

While I regard the house-cleaning in Hollywood as largely salubrious, purging the industry of sexual predators and empowering women in other fields to call out sexual misconduct, there are signs that these movements are going a bit too far. This overstepping is taking two forms: men who have been boorish but are not guilty of sexual assault are also being demonized, and men who have been accused of misconduct but have either been exculpated or have denied it, without any evidence corroborating the accusations, are being driven out of their jobs.

What it boils down to is the subject of this post: there’s a continuum of bad behavior, ranging from rape and sexual predation on one hand to bad and fumbling (but not illegal) sex on the other, but this isn’t being recognized, and is in fact those who point it out are vilified. There’s also a continuum of perceived guilt based on how many accusations there are and whether they’re independent and consistent.

At the far spectrum, where the behavior is multiply attested, consilient, and criminal, are the acts of people like Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and the U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. A bit toward the other end of the spectrum are cases like that of Woody Allen, who hasn’t been convicted of anything but where we have evidence of child molestation that I find disturbing and moderately convincing.

At the other end, an example of legal boorishness is Aziz Ansari, whose behavior in an assignation led to his demonization as well as to a form of “revenge porn” in which his accuser described in detail how hamhanded he was sexually. (See the stories by Bari Weiss in the NYTElizabeth Breunig in the Washington Post. Ashleigh Banfield (former CNN anchor and now anchor of HLN, a spinoff of CNN), made a powerful video spread by both venues:

Close to Aziz, but going a bit toward the Weinstein end, is Garrison Keillor, who has been wiped from history, and fired from several gigs, over what he claims was simply touching a woman’s bare back, with no other claims corroborated. Al Franken is even more toward Weinstein, but not nearly as bad; nevertheless, he had to resign from the Senate.

I’m not the first to note that the MeToo and TimesUp movements have created a climate that may lead to unjust demonization and firing, though I emphasize again that there was plenty of injustice reaped by the women assaulted by the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other predators.

What I want to talk about, though, is the almost Cultural-Revolution-like penitence that some people are being forced to show—even though they did nothing wrong—simply because they tried to say that that there’s a continuum of “badness” of behavior, not simply a bimodal distribution at 100% (Harvey Weinstein) versus 0% (Tom Hanks).

After Weinstein had gotten his just deserts, but the accusations were spreading to others, Matt Damon expressed some reservations about the conflation of different forms of sexual misconduct or behavior:

“I do believe that there’s a spectrum of behavior,” he said. “And we’re going to have to figure out — you know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated, right?”

“All of that behavior needs to be confronted, but there is a continuum. And on this end of the continuum where you have rape and child molestation or whatever, you know, that’s prison. Right? And that’s what needs to happen. OK? And then we can talk about rehabilitation and everything else. That’s criminal behavior, and it needs to be dealt with that way. The other stuff is just kind of shameful and gross.”

Well, that sounds reasonable, but in this climate to say that some forms of behavior are worse than others, and some not even criminal, is taboo. Many women were furious at Damon’s words, and the actor Minnie Driver was the most vociferous. As the Guardian reported:

Driver was discussing comments by Matt Damon, whom she once dated and with whom she starred in the Oscar-winning 1997 film Good Will Hunting. In an interview with ABC News this week, Damon said alleged sexual misconduct by powerful men involved “a spectrum of behaviour”.

Damon said there was “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation. Both of those behaviours need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”

He added that society was in a “watershed moment” and said it was “wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories and it’s totally necessary”. But he said: “We live in this culture of outrage and injury, that we’re going to have to correct enough to kind of go, ‘Wait a minute. None of us came here perfect.’”

In her first response to Damon, Driver wrote on Twitter: “God God, seriously?

“Gosh it’s so interesting (profoundly unsurprising) how men with all these opinions about women’s differentiation between sexual misconduct, assault and rape reveal themselves to be utterly tone deaf and as a result, systemically part of the problem.”

Driver’s response to Damon was shared widely on social media, alongside that of the actor Alyssa Milano, who said: “There are different stages of cancer. Some more treatable than others. But it’s still cancer.”

On Saturday, Driver told the Guardian: “I felt I desperately needed to say something. I’ve realised that most men, good men, the men that I love, there is a cut-off in their ability to understand. They simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level.

“I honestly think that until we get on the same page, you can’t tell a woman about their abuse. A man cannot do that. No one can. It is so individual and so personal, it’s galling when a powerful man steps up and starts dictating the terms, whether he intends it or not.”

I don’t think that’s fair to Damon. First of all, while it’s imperative that we listen to how women feel about this issue and what they’ve experienced, it’s not solely women’s purview to assert that there’s no distinction between degrees of bad behavior and criminal behavior. After all, that’s encoded in laws—laws often made by men.  Milano’s statement about “cancer” isn’t helpful given that some types of “cancer” are like the accusation against Aziz Ansari: bad behavior but not criminal or immoral behavior. What is happening in areas like this is that men and women are trying to figure out out good ways to negotiate the concepts of consent and sexuality, but haven’t yet done that, so that regret for bad but consensual sex by either party can morph into accusations of criminal misconduct.

This is going to be a difficult dialogue, and I’m not sure how it will be resolved. I don’t think, for instance, that one should ask, as some colleges prescribe, for permission to do every single thing that furthers an act of sex.

But the dialogue will happen, and it’s good to have it. What’s not good is to get enraged about statements like Matt Damon’s.

But, in fact, the pressure on him became too great, and so, though he didn’t have to wear the Cultural Revolution’s cone hat or bear a sign around his neck, he might as well have. Read this article by clicking on the screenshot (from HuffPo, of course):

Note that there’s a “right thing to say”. And apparently Damon said it:

After a few missteps, actor Matt Damon on Tuesday finally said the right thing about Hollywood sexual harassment and assault.

″A lot of those women are my dear friends and I love them and respect them and support what they’re doing, and want to be a part of that change and want to go along for the ride, but I should get in the back seat and close my mouth for a while,” Damon said of the “Time’s Up” movement during an appearance on the “Today” show.

“I really wish I’d listened a lot more before I weighed in on this,” Damon continued. “Ultimately, what it is for me is that I don’t want to further anybody’s pain. With anything that I do or say, so for that I’m really sorry.”

He could have expressed sorrow and support for victimized women from the outset, but when doing so now, must add the required contrition: that he should have shut up. But he shouldn’t have, for what he said was not invidious.  And if anybody’s pain is “furthered” by pointing out that there are distinctions between things like rape and touching someone’s back, well, that is their issue, for it’s important to recognize these distinctions, especially in a climate like today’s.

As for what will happen as the next generation figures out how to have sex, I have no idea. I’m just glad I’m not in college right now.

h/t: Grania (for the tweet) and Orli

North and South Korea to march together in Olympics under a unified flag (and a poll)

CNN reports that, after the recent thaw in relations between North and South Korea, or at least the resumption of talks and the participation of North Korea in the upcoming Winter Olympics, the two teams are going to march together under a unified flag and field joint teams:

North and South Korean athletes will march together at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony under a unified flag, the South said Wednesday, in a diplomatic breakthrough following days of talks between the two countries.

They will also field a joint North and South Korean women’s ice hockey team for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which begin early next month, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.
North and South Korean skiers will train together at a resort in North Korea before the Olympics start, and performers from the two countries will also hold a joint cultural event there.
North Korea will also send around 230 supporters to cheer on its athletes. A smaller delegation of North Korean athletes and supporters will attend the Paralympics, the unification ministry said.
The developments were announced following North-South talks on Wednesday at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two countries.

The Korean Unification Flag features a blue silhouette of the peninsula and outlying islands. It was first used in 1991 at the World Table Tennis Championships and has been used at a number of sporting events since, most recently at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Here’s the flag:

Now the resumption of talks and North Korea’s participation in the Olympics is being touted as good news, but I’m not so sure. Yes, it looks as if the DPRK is willing to “talk”, but is it willing to a. consider reunification with South Korea and b. give up its nuclear weapons program? I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that would happen.

Reunification is simply out of the picture: the people of the North would finally discover how deprived and oppressed they are, and Kim Jong-un and the DPRK’s government would have to go. Why would they want to lose their power? As for giving up their nuclear arms program, I can’t see it happening. They’ve declared they won’t do that, and I believe them, for it’s the only leverage they’ve got. If they agree to slow it down in return for loosening sanctions, they’ll still pose a threat.

I have this feeling—and I may be overly cynical—that South Korea is being duped here. What do they expect will happen?  I don’t think the DPRK is going to launch nuclear weapons, as they’re not suicidal, but I don’t see making concessions to such an odious regime so long as they repress their people so brutally. (Loosening sanctions won’t, I suspect, improve the lot of the North Korean people, asforit’s in the government’s interest to keep them under its thumb.)

But let’s see what readers think:


Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Iceland

Today’s Jesus and Mo, called “adult,” came with an email message and a link:

Hello to all J&M’s Icelandic readers, if there are any! This month it was revealed that 0.0% of you under 25 years of age believe in the biblical creation story. That’s still too many.

The story, from Iceland Magazine, is in fact two years old (January 2016), but it does say this:

Iceland seems to be on its way to becoming an even more secular nation, according to a new poll. Less than half of Icelanders claim they are religious and more than 40% of young Icelanders identify as atheist. Remarkably the poll failed to find young Icelanders who accept the creation story of the Bible. 93.9% of Icelanders younger than 25 believed the world was created in the big bang, 6.1% either had no opinion or thought it had come into existence through some other means and 0.0% believed it had been created by God.

Older people are far more likely to profess religious beliefs and to identify as Christian than those who are younger. 80.6% of those older than 55 identified as Christian and only 11.8% said they were atheists. At the same time 40.5% of people who were 25 years or younger said they were atheists, and only 42% said they were Christian.

. . . The poll found an even more dramatic difference between different generations when it probed how people believed the world had been created. Of those younger than 25 93.9% said the world had been created in the big bang and 0.0% believed God had created the world. 77.7% of those between 25 and 44 years old believed the world had been created in the big bang and 10.1% believed God had created the world. In all but the oldest age category a majority accepted the big-bang theory. Only 46.1% of those older than 55 believed in the big bang, and nearly a fourth, 24.5% believed God had created the world.

The poll also found a growing percentage of Icelanders support the full separation of church and state. Out of those who expressed an opinion on the subject 72% supported the full separation of church and state and 28% oppose the separation of church and state. Currently the Icelandic constitution stipulates that the state church of Iceland is the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Iceland is a largely atheistic country, and I suspect that many of those under 25 who said they were Christian don’t really go to church.  The notion that religion is essential for a harmonious and moral society is debunked by these data, since Iceland has a society that fosters well being; in fact, it’s #3 (after Norway and Denmark) out of 155 countries surveyed in the UN’s 2017 World Happiness Index.

But I digress; here’s Jesus and Mo. Note that the first panel gets the data a bit wrong: 0% of those under 25 thought the world had ben created by God, not necessary that God wasn’t a “creator”.  He could have created other stuff.

Speaking of Norway, the world’s happiest nation (and one that’s not going to be sending migrants to the U.S), reader Barry sent this cartoon from Russell’s Teapot (I can’t seem to access

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have some of the most beautiful wild cat photos I’ve posted here. They were sent by reader Steve Adams, and his notes are indented:

This is Steve Adams. I sent you some images last July of baby foxes. I was recently going through photos from a safari my wife and I took to Tanzania for our 25th wedding anniversary, and thought I’d forward some of them to you.
I decided to start with some photos of a mother leopard (Panthera pardus) and her cub. These were taken in the Tarangire National Park southwest of the city of Arusha and Mt. Kilimanjaro. These are particularly special to me since I am the one who spotted the mother and cub near a watering hole off in the distance. We were fortunate that their path eventually took them right by our group. They even stopped for a bit, which allowed us time to get some decent shots. I hope you and your readers will enjoy these. It certainly was a trip of a lifetime for us! I have other photos I think you’d enjoy and I’ll send some to you as time permits.

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Good morning, and let’s see if we can get things right today. It’s Wednesday, January 17, 2018, and warming up in Chicago (we may get up to the freezing point today).  It’s National Hot Buttered Rum Day, but I have a lovely Cornas waiting for me at home tonight, so screw the rum.

On this day in 395 AD, after Emperor Theodosiu I died, the Roman Empire was divided into the Eastern Roman Empire under Arcadius and the Western Roman Empire under Honorius. On January 17, 1773, Captain James Cook, on his Second Voyage, commanded his ship Resolution to cross the Antarctic Circle. It was the first ship ever to do that, and did it twice more on that voyage. On this day in 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott made it to the South Pole, only to find that Roald Amundsen had gotten there one month before.  As we know, Scott and several of his men died on the trek back.  On January 17 1929, Edward Segar’s “Popeye the Sailor Man” first appeared in the “Thimble Theater” comic strip: here’s that first appearance (sans spinach!):

On January 17 of 1945, the SS began evacuating the Auschwitz concentration camp as Russian soldiers approached. On that the same day, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg was taken into Soviet custody by SMERSH. Credited with saving thousands of Jews during WWII, Wallenberg was arrested on suspicion of espionage, and was never seen again. His fate is mysterious, and it’s not clear whether, as the Soviets claimed, he died in custody, or whether he had been executed.  On this day in 1946, the UN Security Council met for the first time. In 1977, with the execution by firing squad of Gary Gilmore, the U.S. resumed capital punishment after a ten-year hiatus. On this day in 1991, Operation Desert Storm of the Gulf War began; it lasted until February 28.  Finally, on January 17, 1998, The Drudge Report broke the story of the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky affair.

Notables born on this day include Benjamin Franklin (1706), Anne Brontë (1820), biologist August Weissmann (1834), David Lloyd George (1863), Al Capone (1899), Betty White (1922; she’s alive and 96 today), Eartha Kitt (1927), Shari Lewis (1933), Susanna Hoffs (1959), and Michelle Obama (1964).

Hoffs was the Jewish Dream Girl of the last generation, now replaced by Sarah Silverman. Here she is solo and acoustic, singing my favorite of her songs, written with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (older live version here).

Those who expired on this day include English botanist John Ray (1705), biologist/polymath Francis Galton (1911), mountaineer Dougal Haston (1977, killed at 37 in an avalanche), Gary Gilmore (1977; see above), Art Buchwald (2007), and Bobby Fischer (2008).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili still hasn’t found The Door Into Summer:

Hili: It’s snowing.
A: I can see that.
Hili: Do something about it.

She’s all fluffed up!

In Polish:
Hili: Pada śnieg
Ja: Widzę.
Hili: Zrób coś z tym.

From Matthew (and the new BBC One show Big Cats, here’s the world’s deadliest cat: the adorable Felis nigripes!

This guy has a gazillion copies of the Beatles’s White Album; be sure to hear the encroaching cacophany here.

A kitten befriends a photographer:

And one more from Matthew: why would a Norwegian want to move to the U.S.?

From Grania: It looks as if a woman ate the ashes of a cremated horse: