Sunday: Hili dialogue

It’s Sunday, December 16, 2018, and Ceiling Cat’s Day (perhaps that should be Saturday since Ceiling Cat is Jewish). It’s National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, though some things aren’t worth eating even when covered with chocolate. It’s also the Day of Reconciliation in South Africa, whose origin is worth noting:

The origins of the celebration for the Afrikaners goes back to the Day of the Vow, celebrated on 16 December 1864 in commemoration of the Voortrekker victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River. For African people, the date has been significant as one of both peaceful protests against racial injustice and of the founding of the more militant Umkhonto we Sizwe by the African National Congress (ANC) on 16 December 1961. Nelson Mandela and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission chose a day that was special to both ethnic groups in the country in order to work on healing the damage done by Apartheid.

On this day in 1653, Oliver Cromwell became “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” That lasted five years until Cromwell died of natural causes. Then, three years after his death, Cromwell’s body was dug up and subjected to a ludicrous “posthumous execution.” On December 16, 1773, America patriots, dressed as Mohawk Indians, dumped hundreds of crates of tea into Boston Harbor; this “Boston Tea Party” was a protest against the East India Company’s ability to sell tea in the colonies without paying tax. “No taxation without representation!” was the call of the patriots, and the Tea Party helped promote the coming American Revolution. Had that not happened, we’d still be paying for refills of coffee in America, as they do in British restaurants.

On this day in 1838 (see above), the Voortrekkers defeated the Zulus in  what is now KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. And on December 16, 1901, Beatrix Potter privately published her book The Tales of Peter Rabbit. It went on to sell 45 million copies. The cover of that private edition is below, but it was published commercially in 1902.

I’m a big Beatrix Potter fan. My favorite character of hers is, of course, Tom Kitten, though I don’t think it’s in the Tales. (I own a Wedgewood plate with the image below):

And, of course, don’t forget Jemima Puddle-Duck!


On to a sad note: on this day in 1942, Nazi Heinrich Himmler ordered that Roma (“gypsy”) people be sent to Auschwitz for extermination.  Exactly five years later, William Shockley, John Bardeen, and Walter Brattain created the first practical point-contact transistor. Finally, it was on this day in 1968 that the Second Vatical Council revoked the Edict of Expulsion of Jews from Spain. Gee, thanks, Vatican—nearly 500 years too late!

Mea culpa: For some reason I can’t fathom, I missed noting that yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Christopher Hitchens’s death. I’m sure many of us miss him, not only for his wit, uncompromising atheism, and political insights, but simply to see what he’d be writing about during the Trump administration. RIP, Mr. Hitchens—and I mean that metaphorically.

Notables born on this day include Catherine of Aragon (1485), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770), Jane Austen (1775), Wassily Kandinsky (1866), Margaret Mead (1901), Arthur C. Clarke (1917), Philip K. Dick (1928), Liv Ullmann (1938; she’s 80 today), Lesley Stahl (1941) and Trevor Pinnock (1946).

I highlighted Kandinsky three days ago as he died on December 13 (1944), but he’s one of my favorite painters and so we’ll see another of his works. BUT LOOK! I found this 1925 painting of his: “Yellow-Red=Blue,” and it’s genuine:

But if you flip it down you get a CAT!

And, sure enough, Kandinsky was a cat lover. I think I’ve discovered one of his secret messages. This cannot be a coincidence!

Those who died on this day include only two notables I want to highlight: Somerset Maugham (1965) and Colonel Sanders (1980).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili get some bad news:

Hili: Where is the bacon?
A: I ate it.
In Polish:
Hili: Gdzie jest ten bekon?
Ja: Zjadłem go.

Tweets from Grania. Re the one below, she notes that “We are all flattened piggies.”

This amazing nudibranch is, I believe, the Spanish Dancer (Hexabranchia sanguineus, meaning “six-gilled and bloody”):

For once, useful instructions on cat shampoo:

Steve Pinker refuses an unreasonable request:

This is the chillest cat since Kagonekoshiro (white basket cat):

This is either a really bad math problem—or a really good (i.e., sneaky) one:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a rare two-headed cat. But how does it poop?

Apparently everything on the Moon is black and white:

This turtle is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it any more:

I love glass frogs and other transparent animals. Imagine if there were glass humans!

I miss my ducks

Thinking back about the whole duck mishigaas last year, I realize it was a mixture of joy, terror, and anxiety. Mostly joy, as I got to make friends and commune with real wild birds. But also terror and pain, as when I had to retrieve a drowned duckling and watch another one die in my hand. There was constant anxiety as I worried for three months about getting all eight ducklings through to fledging. Every morning as I went to the pond to feed them, my heart started beating faster until I could count all the babies and see that there were still eight. Happily, all eight survived and migrated away from the pond.

It was romantic, too. Honey became enamored of the handsome drake James, but then the evil Billzebub attacked James, with Honey quacking and egging on the combatants. Trying to break up the duck fight, I accidentally made Billzebub fly into a window grate, and then I had to save his life by pulling him out underneath the bars. He promptly rewarded me by going off with Honey, leaving James to mourn alone at the pond. But then, after a week or so, the fickle Honey returned to James; I guess Billzy was too rough a boy!

Finally, the reunited Honey and James flew south together. It doesn’t get any more romantic than that.

I miss them and I hope that Honey returns next year, maybe even with her handsome swain James. If she does, will she produce even more ducklings?  Here she is in all her feathered beauty:

Here’s James during his weeklong vigil for Honey. I didn’t think she’d return, and this made me ineffably sad. Look at this dolorous duck! For days he sat on the island silently staring into space, looking for all the world like a decoy.

But she came back to the pond, and I’m hoping against hope that the pair will return next spring. That hope sustains me through the gloomy winter.  

Seattle police acting as enablers of Antifa

I guess I’m supposed to issue a disclaimer when I use material from  right-wing sites, but not from left-wing ones. However, we should judge material on its credibility, not its source. So here’s a report from the right-wing site RedState that happens to comport with stuff I’ve heard from other sites and other people (click on screenshot). To wit, a Seattle cop told a reporter to vamoose because, when filming Antifa protestors, he was deemed likely to “incite trouble.” Give me a break!

The reason this is credible to those who question reports from conservative sites is that the reporter is Andy Ngo, an independent photographer and journalist who writes and publishes videos on Quillette and other sites about the suppression of free speech in Portland.  I’ve never had reason to question his credibility, and he’s non-confrontational. He shows up to film stuff.  And in Portland and Seattle, the epicenters of Antifa, Ngo has documented lots of demonstrations and censorious actions by outraged Leftists. Here’s one in which Antifa shows up to “shut down” a demonstration by the Three Percenters, a group of militant, anti-government Righties (no, I don’t support them!). The RedState report, larded with tweets from Ngo, was put up December 2:

Yesterday, a group called the Three Percenters had a permit for a rally in Seattle. They were met by the antifa who didn’t bother to obtain a permit, though the police don’t really seem to care.

Ngo was recognized (Antifa hates him since he films their shenanigans). And then this happened:

More quotes referring to what’s below; be sure to watch all the videos.

There are two interesting things that happen in this segment. First, Ngo is headed off by two antifa carrying what appear to be some civilian knockoff of the M-4 and they tell him they will not let him pass. Then a cop intervenes and tells them to let Ngo through. The cop is less than six feet from the armed antifa, he seemingly heard them tell Ngo he couldn’t pass but somehow the blocking of passage on a sidewalk and the possession of a pair of semi-automatic rifles are never linked into one act.

Then the situation starts to deteriorate for Ngo:

These protestors are insane. It’s not helped by the law allowing them to carry intimidating guns, a “right” they take full advantage of.

The second tweet below is the one that disturbs me. As Ngo reports, a Seattle Police officer tries to get Ngo, who is acting purely as a reporter, to leave the scene as he was causing conflict. In other words, the police are protecting antifa from being reported on. The Police says that Ngo has a right to protest, but not to report, for reporting incites conflict. Of course it does: Antifa has a long history of trying to prevent themselves being filmed or identified (that’s why they wear masks—a sure sign that their protests are not “civil disobedience” but are likely to turn violent).

Now some of the cops were fine, and I’m impressed by their calmness in the face of these riled-up demonstrators. But one of them abnegates his duty to expel a reporter. That guy should be given a talking-to:

The article shows another tweet in which a Leftist protestor asks Ngo if he’s willing to “die for YouTube”, which of course is a veiled threat.

It’s reprehensible for a police officer to protect the masked thugs and order a journalist off the street. That’s a violation of Ngo’s First Amendment rights. As RedState notes, and I agree:

Sort of amazing, really. The Seattle PD had zero problem with armed people showing up for an un-permitted protest. They had zero problem with a sidewalk being obstructed or a journalist being rather unambiguously threatened. And rather than enforce the law, they told a guy engaging in Constitutionally protected behavior–covering this illegal demonstration as a journalist–that he was the problem.

Counterprotests are fine; threatening journalists and carrying guns at demonstrations, well, I’m not down with that. And aren’t the antifascists really fascists themselves?

h/t: cesar

The face in the feces: Nature paper hides Trump’s visage in a monkey turd

This paper, online this week in Nature Scientific Reports, got a lot of attention because of a certain image it contained. First, the title (click on screenshot to access the paper):

The paper describe a new way to get host DNA (from monkeys, in this case) by isolating it from feces, a method that enables you to determine an animal’s genotype without hurting it or even capturing it. (The problem is to distinguish the feces-producer’s DNA from that of the bacteria in the feces or other DNA that got in there.)

But in Figure 1 (below), someone noticed something odd:

You can’t see it here, and I’m not sure if it’s in the original paper (my resolution is low) but as Snopes reports:

On 13 December 2018, a member of the Facebook group “Wild Green Memes for Ecological Fiends” posted a video that revealed what looked to be President Donald Trump’s hidden the diagram’s representation of baboon feces. Although that version of the diagram appears to be in jeopardy now that the journal’s editors are aware of it, we were able to grab a close-up of it as it appeared in the original paper:

Yep, there’s no doubt about it; one of the paper’s authors (or the illustrator) deliberately put Trump’s face there as a political statement.

I have mixed feelings about it: it’s funny and I agree with the sentiment, but on the other hand I don’t think political statements like this should be part of scientific papers. Were I the editor, I’d eliminate it, knowing that the meme is on the Internet forever. And indeed, the editors are investigating (what’s there to investigate?), so that now this statement appears at the end of the paper:


Caturday felid trifecta: Freddy Mercury, ailurophile; man proposes to his girlfriend with a rescue cat; lazy moggies (and lagniappe)

From the site Dangerous Minds we have a post called “Freddie Mercury really loved his cats.” And indeed, though I’m not a huge fan of Mercury or Queen, I did know and appreciate the singer’s affection for moggies. Here are a few pictures of the man and his felids, as well as some information:

Freddie Mercury had many loves in his life. One of his big passions was his love of cats. Mercury so loved cats he was once described as “rock’s greatest lover of cats.” According to his last partner (and the man he called his “husband”) Jim Hutton, Mercury “treated cats like his own children.”

He would constantly fuss over them, and if any of them came to any harm when Freddie was away, heaven help us. During the day the cats had the run of the house and grounds, and at night one of us would round them up and bring them inside.

When on tour, or away recording, Mercury regularly phoned home to speak to his beloved felines. During his lifetime, Mercury had ten cats starting in the seventies with Tom and Jerry (who he shared with the woman Mercury described as his “common-law wife” Mary Austin), Tiffany (a present from Austin), and then a cluster of cats (Delilah, Dorothy, Goliath, Lily, Miko, Oscar and Romeo) who he shared with Hutton at their home in Garden Lodge, Logan Mews, London. As Hutton later wrote in his memoir Mercury and Me, Mercury’s favorite feline was his calico cat named Delilah:

Of all the cats at Garden Lodge, Delilah was Freddie’s favourite and the one he’d pick up and stroke the most often. When Freddie went to bed, it was Delilah he brought with us. She’d sleep at the foot of the bed, before slipping out for a night-time prowl around Garden Lodge.

Delilah was a spoilt cat and depended on Freddie for everything, even protection from the other cats. They would gang up on her and she would run into our bedroom—it was a cat sanctuary, In many ways the cats were Freddie’s children, and we all thought of them that way. The slightest feline sneeze or twitch and he’d send them off to the vet for a check-up. And we were old-fashioned when it came to having to have sex in total privacy. Whenever Freddie and I jumped in the bedroom to make love, he would always ensure that none of the cats were watching.

Here’s Delilah:

Mercury dedicated his solo album Mr. Bad Guy (1985) “to my cat Jerry—also Tom, Oscar, and Tiffany, and all the cat lovers across the universe—screw everybody else!” and so loved Delilah that he wrote a song about her on Queen’s Innuendo album in 1991:

Delilah, Delilah, oh my, oh my, oh my – you’re irresistible
You make me smile when I’m just about to cry
You bring me hope, you make me laugh – and I like it
You get away with murder, so innocent
But when you throw a moody you’re all claws and you bite.

Here’s JERRY! (But Jerry is a “she”).

Delilah once peed all over Mercury’s Chippendale suite—something that apparently happened quite often with all of the cats on other fixtures and furnishings. Not everyone in Queen was so enamored by Mercury’s song to a cat, drummer Roger Taylor claimed he “hated it.”

Before he died in 1991, Mercury told one journalist he planned to leave everything to “Mary and the cats.” And here are some of those little darlings who outlived Freddie and inherited his wealth.

Oscar and Tiffany:

For his last performance for the Queen promo of ‘These are the Days of Our Lives,’ Mercury wore Mercury wore a specially designed waistcoat featuring paintings of all his cats.



What says that cats can’t do jobs? From Purr World we hear the tail of Jared and Kat (?), a couple in love. They were going to the shelter to adopt a rescue kitty.

Jared and Kat

When they gave her the cat, Jared appeared and they told her to look at the cat’s tag:

The proposal!


There’s a sweet video of all this, and the good news is that she said “yes” to both Jared and the cat, and they’re planning the wedding. What a great way to propose!


Finally, from Cat Lovers Community we have “17+ lazy cats that can sleep anywhere and anytime“.  Here are a few selection, but go see more:

And last but not least. . . 



Lagniappe: Channel 3 News in northeast North Carolina put up a video of a woman finding her cat, curiously named “Timber” after it had gone missing for a month after the California “Camp Fire.” The moment of reunion will bring tears to your eyes.


h/t: Michael

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we have the first of several sets of photos taken by reader Joe Dickinson in Alaska. His notes are indented:

Here is the first of perhaps four sets of photos from a trip to Alaska about five years ago.   I’ll start with a landscape, a crystal clear Denali seen from a train going from Anchorage up to the National Park.  The mountain was in full view for the entire trip.  I believe that is unusual, and I know that on a previous trip we never saw the mountain in about four days in the park.

We had a nice “game drive” in the park and saw many grizzlies (Ursus arctos) but most of my photos turned out to be bear butts like this.

We had better luck on a small ship cruise among the islands and fjords of southeast Alaska.  Here is a bear fishing from a rock near the mouth of a stream where salmon were running.

These orcas (Orcinus orca) approached the ship in the evening when the light was starting to fade, so the photos are not as sharp as I would have liked.

This is a nice male Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus).

Here is a sequence with two humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) approaching our ship and diving under us.

Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) commonly haul out on ice flows near the face of a glacier.  The kayak lower left gives some scale.

Here is my proof, shot by my wife from the mother ship.


Saturday: Hili dialogue

It’s a Caturday again: Saturday, December  15, 2018, and National Lemon Cupcake Day—brought to you by Big Lemon. It’s also International Tea Day as well as Zamenhof Day, created to promote literature in Esperanto, the “universal language”. When I was a kid I tried to learn Esperanto, but quickly gave up, and I’m glad I did. It’ll never be the universal language. Finally, it’s Bill of Rights Day in the U.S. (see below).

On this day in 1791, the Virginia General Assembly ratified the United States Bill of Rights, making it national law. (That includes the First Amendment, of course.) And on December 15, 1906, the London Underground’s new link, the “Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway” opened for business.  In 1933, Prohibition ended when the 21st Amendment to the Constitution became effective, superseding the 18th Amendment (effective 1919) that prohibited the sale, manufacture and transport of alcohol. The Great Experiment, a miserable failure, finally ended.  On this day in 1939, the movie Gone with the Wind opened in Atlanta, Georgia.  Here’s a 4-minute news clip of the opening; listen to the screams when Clark Gable steps off the plane! Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie, is still alive—at 102!

On this day in 1961, ex-Nazi Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death after an Israeli court found him guilty of crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and 13 other charges. He was hanged on June 1 of the next year. On December 15, 1965, during Project Gemini, Gemini 6A, carrying Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford, was launched, achieving after 4 orbits the first rendezvous with another spacecraft, Gemini 7. Although they didn’t dock, they were at one point only a few feet apart, and could have docked had they been so equipped.

On this day in 1978, President Jimmy Carter announced that the U.S. would diplomatically recognize the People’s Republic of China, and broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan.  In 2001, the Leaning Tower of Pisa opened after 11 years of stabilizing. Now, I just heard, it’s starting to lean dangerously again.  Its tilt is only 4°, but it looks bigger than that:

Finally, exactly five years ago today, the Polish rationalist website “Listy z naszego sadu”, edited by Hili and staffed by PCC(E)’s dear friends Andrzej Koraszewski and Malgorzata Koraszewska, went online. See my post on its inception here. Here is the list of writers and editors in both Polish and English:

Note that poor Cyrus, who provides security for the whole enterprise, isn’t on the masthead. . .

Notables born on this day include David Teniers the Younger (1610), Gustave Eiffel (1832), Henri Becquerel (1852; Nobel Laureate), J. Paul Getty (1892), Maurice Wilkins (1916; Nobel Laureate), Freeman Dyson (1923; he’s 95 today), and Michelle “Lady Mary” Dockery (1981).

I have to add this painting, “Cat Concert”, by David Teniers the Younger. It’s awesome!

Those who died on December 15 include Izaak Walton (1683), Sitting Bull (1890), Glenn Miller (1944; plane crash), Wolfgang Pauli (1958; Nobel Laureate), Walt Disney (1966), William Proxmire (2005), and Oral Roberts (2009).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, there’s a bit of a celebration. As I noted above, Listy is five, and Hili takes the credit!

Hili: Today is the fifth anniversary of Listy on the net.
A: Yes, five years of hard work.
Hili: Mainly mine.
In Polish:
Hili: Dziś piąta rocznica “Listów” w sieci.
Ja: Tak, pięć lat ciężkiej pracy.
Hili: Głównie mojej.

Leon is back! But the Dark Tabby doesn’t like winter.

Leon: I get the impression that winter is coming.

(In Polish, Leon: Coś mi się wydaje,że zima nadciąga.)

Here’s a cartoon from reader Bruce. Actually, the book would more appropriately be called “A Farewell to Legs”:

And a cat cartoon:

A dog saves his cat friend from a dangerous altercation:

Heather Hastie has discovered the adorable dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula):

Tweets from Matthew. First, a man has a chin-wag with his goat:

Well, this pun isn’t that bad!

Okay, can you guess what this is? (It is a natural object?) Answer is in the tweet’s thread:

Tweets from Grania:

A musical guy and his music-loving moggie. I may have put this up already, but you can’t see it too often. The cat is in bliss, and also helps play the piece.

Look at this tiny kitten waiting for its dinner. So small!

Cat Cerberus guards the bodega:

These are protists!

Tweet of the week: the sound of wind on Mars!!!! Turn up the volume:



Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional

Details are scanty here: the entire text is this:

(CNN)A federal judge in Texas said on Friday that the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate is unconstitutional and that the rest of the law must also fall.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.
I guess we’ll know more tomorrow, but if you get details, by all means put them in the comments. Next stop: the Supreme Court.

Australian traffic lights signal virtue

This is not something to be outraged about, even if you’re like me and find great distress in the Regressive Left. After all, the people who designed these traffic signals mean well (but don’t they always?): they’re trying to make gay couples seem welcome. I suspect, though, that gay couples don’t face much opprobrium in Australia, and, at any rate, they celebrate gay male couples rather than lesbian couples (stick figures are clearly “men”, as you see below). At any rate, click on the headline below to go to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s report:

From the article:

Eight new lights have been set up in the inner-north suburb of Braddon featuring both male and female same-sex couples.

The lights function like any standard pedestrian crossing signal.

But they have marked an important crossroad in Australia’s history, coinciding with the first anniversary of the same-sex marriage postal survey results.

Here is one of the eight new lights, erected at a total cost of $5,500 (I assume that’s Aussie dollars). Note the cute little heart. (Blind gay people, however, won’t get the advantage of this signal, so it may be ableist.)

Photo: ABC Canberra: Michael Black

But wait! There are more signs to come:

The installation costs amounted to $5,500 with a considerable proportion involving setup costs.

It’s estimated future projects will cost less and feature other diverse silhouettes at significant places around the city centre.

See below (and here)!

More than a year ago, female traffic light signals appeared in Melbourne’s CBD as part of a gender-equality push.

But the same-sex couple lights are believed to be an Australian first, although similar lights have been set up in Europe.

Here’s the female light, clearly indicated by the presence of a skirt:

Photo: ABC News: Stephanie Chalkley-Rhoden

Can we expect a hijab-wearing woman next? Or someone with a cane: the universal but invidious sign of “seniors”? Don’t be so sure it won’t happen.  At any rate, when I saw the above I wondered, “How many Aussie women really wear skirts? Wouldn’t a generic stick figure stand for both men and women? And so I did a Google search of Canberra crowds, and turned up this picture:

I think the generic Aussie sign should be wearing shorts (and perhaps carrying a tube of Foster’s).

Andrew Sullivan responds to me and others about his faith

Andrew Sullivan’s latest “The Intelligencer” column in New York Magazine has three subjects: Theresa May, gay jokes (he’s for them), and why atheism, like his Catholicism, is a religion. On December 9, I wrote a critique of Sullivan’s original column about atheism (“America’s new religions“), as well as giving him praise for recognizing the similarity between extreme Leftism and Rightism on one hand and conventional religions on the other.  Others, including Steve Pinker and Ezra Klein, also went after Sullivan for his take on atheism, and he tries to answer all of us.  I won’t speak for the others, but I will recount—and briefly reply to—Sullivan’s response to me. His words are indented; mine are flush left.

He makes two points. Here’s the first:

Jerry Coyne, for his part, argues that there is nothing in our genes to make us religious. I didn’t elaborate this point, but it’s rooted in the link I provided to a book, God Is Watching You, which is a pioneering work in evolutionary biology, and political science. I’d love to know what Jerry might make of its argument.

I didn’t argue that there is nothing in our genes that incline humans toward faith. I was responding to Sullivan’s claim of “genes that make us religious”, which was this:

It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

And my response was this:

Note the link in the first sentence, which doesn’t at all show that religion is “in our genes”—whatever that means. We don’t know of any “God genes”, and if by “religion genes” Sullivan means either “we like to look for greater meanings” or even “we have a tendency to accept the delusions of our elders,” well, yes, that’s probably true. But if religion is in our genes, how come so many people don’t express it? Or have those “genes” been selected out of the population of northern Europe?

Yes, of course there are aspects of our personalities and mentation—which are partly evolved and partly socialized, but all involving biology—that may incline us toward religion. One is Pascal Boyer’s notion that we’re evolved to detect agency in nature (it’s supposedly adaptive), and it’s easy to then impute that faculty to a “higher” agency. Or, as Dawkins has suggested, we are evolved to be credulous, because believing what our parents tell us helps us survive and reproduce. Combine these two and you get historically persistent and ubiquitous religiosity.

But that doesn’t mean that there are genes for specifically believing in God. We don’t know of any, nor do we really know of any genes in general that tend to make us religious. All we can do is speculate about why religion took hold, and why it was ubiquitous, which is what Boyer and Dawkins (and Dennett as well) have done. It’s all speculation! I haven’t read God is Watching You, but I’m pretty conversant with the genetics of human behavior, and I’m dubious about whether Dominic Johnson’s book gives strong evidence of genes for religiosity. (And I guess I’ll have to look at that book now, but jeez, how much can a man do?)

At any rate, Sullivan’s claim that religion has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, and so on is hardly evidence for its genetic basis. After all, so has pedophilia, a manifestly maladaptive trait. And the claim that “it’s impossible not to have a religion if you’re a human being” is flatly wrong. I am one such human, and there are many others. Finally, Sullivan doesn’t answer my question about why, if religion is in our genes and ubiquitously expressed, it’s vanishing so rapidly in the West. People can get along fine without religion. And he really needs to admit that neither agnosticism nor atheism (his definitions) are NOT religions. They’re nothing like religions. They are manifestations of skepticism.

And as for that atheism, Sullivan claims that well, it’s still kinda sorta religion:

. . . . He [Professor Ceiling Cat, Emeritus] then says that equating atheists with believers because of the intensity of their belief system is fundamentally wrong: “Most atheists simply reject the notion of God because there is no evidence for one … There is evidence that could surface that would convince many of us — I am one, Carl Sagan was another — that a divine being existed. But we haven’t seen any such evidence.”

I accept that and respect it. But this is surely a better description of what I’d call agnosticism, which in its more profound expressions, is quite similar to the doubting faith of nonfundamentalist Christians (my attempt to explain this religion of doubt is in Chapter 5 of my book, The Conservative Soul). Atheism, in contrast, is the positive denial of any God or “godness.” We can debate these definitions ad infinitum, but my diagnosis is directed more at the new Hitchens-Dawkins-Harris atheism than more agnostic varieties, prompted by John Gray’s little masterpiece, which treats these questions at the length and depth they deserve.

This is an argument about semantics, and hardly worth debating. I’ve said repeatedly, as has Dawkins and anyone with a scientific bent, that we can’t be absolutely certain that there’s no God, but the evidence isn’t there at all, so we can be nearly certain: close to 7 on Dawkins’s 7-point scale running from fervent belief to absolute certainty. But I am an atheist, and so is Dawkins, and if you don’t believe because there is no evidence, well, that’s not materially different from being absolutely certain there’s no God because there is no evidence. Those who profess atheistic “certainty” could probably be convinced of gods if there were evidence for Gods. Such folks seem to Sullivan like absolutists because they’re not scientists, and so don’t they don’t think of empirical truth as provisional.  Sullivan’s definition of atheism as “positive denial of any God” isn’t that far from the a-Nessie stand of “positive denial of the Loch Ness monster”—which of course is Sullivan’s own stand (if he’s rational). The gap between 6.9 and 7.0 isn’t so large!

As for John Gray’s “little masterpiece,” I’m not inclined to read it. After having a several-year bout with the likes of Plantinga, David Bentley Hart, Karen Armstrong, and others, I don’t want to go another round with an atheist-dissing atheist who’s also an anti-progressivist.

Finally, what about Sullivan’s claim that my “agnostic” near certainty of no God is “quite similar to the “doubting faith of nonfundamentalist Christians”? Sadly, he’s wrong here, for there’s a huge difference. While liberal Christianity may involve doubt, atheism—or Sullivan’s characterization of “agnosticism”—does not involve faith. Why is a doubt based on lack of evidence anything like accepting a divine and resurrected Jesus or a theistic god?

I’m hoping that, as Sullivan moves toward the center of the political spectrum, he comes to realize that the Vatican is one of the world’s great promulgators of “fake news.” And it’s sad for me to see a man I respect, a man whose mind can be changed about politics, remain so adamant about Jesus and Catholicism.

See you next Friday.*

*Only kidding! I’ll be here all week, folks!