Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pictures: Gorilla Mother "Mourns" Dead Baby

Pictures: Gorilla Mother "Mourns" Dead Baby

Young gorillas and adult females gather around Ruzuzi and her dead baby in an act of apparent sympathy or possibly even ceremony in April. Sometimes, the family members made soft, crying noises, ranger Mburanumwe said.

At times, he said, "it was like they were trying to see if the baby could get up."

Scientists generally resist the temptation to project human emotions on animals.

But watching the gorillas care for the dead baby, Mburanumwe said, he felt it was impossible to not draw similarities with people. "They were like human beings."

The death of a baby may hit gorillas particularly hard, ranger Mburanumwe said. Female With a long gestation period and a high infant mortality rate, mountain gorillas successfully rear an infant only about every six to eight years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tim Flannery: Here on Earth

Australian biologist Tim Flannery is the renowned author of The Weather Makers, The Future Eaters, and a great ecological history of North America, The Eternal Frontier. His current book is Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Space Pictures This Week: Vibrant Lagoon, Mock Mars

Space Pictures This Week: Vibrant Lagoon, Mock Mars

Seen through binoculars or small telescopes, the Lagoon nebula is a ghostly blur tinged with pink tucked inside the constellation Sagittarius. But with the powerful gaze of the Gemini South telescope in Chile, astronomers have created a dramatic new view of this stellar nursery.

Released this week, the false-color picture shows the nebula in vibrant hues thanks to a combination of data from several light filters. The dense cloud of dust and gas is a birthplace for medium- and low-mass stars, most of which are embedded in thick cocoons of material. The bluish points of light in the frame are young stars in the background.

It's a galaxy fit for a slasher flick: NGC 2442, aka the Meathook galaxy, glitters with stars in a newly released picture from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

NGC 2442 sits in the constellation Volans, the Flying Fish. Seen in its entirety, the galaxy's asymmetric spiral arms give it a double hook shape, inspiring the nickname. This image is a closeup of the galaxy's central region and the more compact of its two arms.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

ScienceShot: Why Is This Galaxy Lopsided? - ScienceNOW

ScienceShot: Why Is This Galaxy Lopsided? - ScienceNOW

A new image of the distant Meathook Galaxy, which gets its name from its dramatically warped profile, reveals widespread patches of glowing gas that betray bursts of star formation. The pinkish and reddish clumps of glowing hydrogen, ionized by the powerful radiation of newborn stars nearby, can be seen across most of the galaxy but are particularly prominent in the longer of the galaxy's two spiral arms, researchers report online today. Astronomers previously have suggested that the asymmetrical shape of the Meathook Galaxy, dubbed NGC 2442 and located about 50 million light-years away in the constellation Volans (also known as the Flying Fish), stems from gravitational interactions with another, as-yet-unidentified galaxy that passed nearby. The same tidal forces that deformed the mass of stars probably disrupted clouds of gas in the galaxy, causing them to collapse and triggering the spate of star birth, the researchers say.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

William Lane Craig - Apologetics that strain out a gnat but swallow a camel

"You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."
- Jesus according to Matthew 23:24

A Christian Apologist like William Lane Craig does not study Science or philosophy because he wants to understand and know more for the sake of curiosity but instead he uses knowledge as a will to ideological power. A means of intimidation and manipulation. Craig is the Christian Orientalist and Colonialist in the manner of the critique of Edward Said. Edward Said noted that Western Colonial powers studied a culture not to genuinely understand it but rather to dominate and control it. Craig uses science and philosophy when it is convenient to his ideology. Craig uses knowledge instead of truly seeking knowledge. William Lane Craig for that reason is a corrupt philosopher. Knowledge as a will to power not as a will to truth. He seeks to win not to be wise.

There is a high degree of smugness with William Lane Craig. Ernest Becker noted that dogma gives the human the ability to be smug about death and terror. Voltaire stated that doubt is uncomfortable but certainty ridiculous. The Apologist strains at the Scientific theory of evolution but swallows extraordinary Biblical claims.
Craig's ability to be smug when he believes in Biblical miracles is surely a sign the Enlightenment never really took to American Society. William Lane Craig's apologetic presentations may be organized and disciplined in his delivery but it lacks the meat and weight of the burden of the philosopher. Craig is a suppressed philosopher who has never wrestled with despair and never allowed for the release of the Titans in his mind.

Michel de Montaigne said that "Philosophy is Doubt" but for WLC it is his faith. Faith in his credentials even more than his God.
He attacked Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins for being philosophical lightweights compared to his credentials and yet most of the Christian community he swims in are full of people much less educated than Christopher Hitchens or Dawkins. And what about his own weaknesses including his lack of credentials in Biology or Astronomy? Dr. Craig speaks of Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists lack of command of philosophy and theology and yet I wonder if his lack of scientific specialization ever gives him any pause? WLC lacks the education Dawkins has in Biology. Should WLC get a doctorate in Biology before he discusses anything to do with Science?

WLC does not chastise the lack of scholarly knowledge in the faith community that he swims in as long as they agree to his vision of God. For William Lane Craig it is not the pursuit of knowledge that matters but instead that you submit to his ideology. Craig does not want people to study more he wants an Amen from the credulous crowd. For Craig there is no pressing need for Christians to study more just trust in his scholarship and pay him to go up against those troublesome skeptics. If there was a true scholarly revolution in the American Church there would be less faith and more doubts in the fundamentalism that Craig champions. If more Christians were sophisticated Bible Scholars there would be more Crossans, Borgs and Ehrmans and less fundamentalism like Craigs brand. Craig does not give good reasons for faith in Jesus but he gives good reasons for faith in himself! Craig gives believers less educated than Hitchens reasons to feel good about themselves being credulous. If an educated man like Craig is a believer than I am ok. Craig shows contempt for the layman and yet he expects the layman to follow him without question. Again this points to his desire for the layman to submit more to his scholarship not to study more for themselves.

WLC lacks humility and imagination. Wisdom requires some humility. Knowledge requires curiosity and compassionate people need imagination to be empathetic. Craig lacks on all three fronts except in knowledge as a will to power. In his debate with Victor Stenger the topic of Christianity coming late in evolution and human history was brought up. Craig actually got into the numbers game of how many humans suffered and died before Jesus showed up in human history. Something Adolf Eichmann would surely appreciate. Millions are just statistics to the theological technician. The lack of empathy and imagination is there to see-(it was only millions of Jews who perished in the holocaust not billions?) what empathy! -if this is where Christian Apologists want to make their stand there is no amount of shame possible to get them to be people of compassion.

Mary Jo Sharp has a blog called “Confident Christianity” with the type of followers of William Lane Craig it should be called “Arrogant Christianity.” WLC followers are so enamored with his presentation, organization and discipline that they forget what really matters is if he is speaking for the truth or not. What matters to them is that he gets his God concept off on a theological technicality instead of caring for the reality of whether God does exist or whether Jesus is God. What matters to them is that he wins a point or two in debate tactic comparisons versus the unadulterated truth. This insecure juvenile reaction of cocky Christianity lacks the humility of the Nazarene and the faith of the early Christians. It is American Christianity with an emphasis on winning a game instead of sincere faith in the man of sorrow in early Christianity. Christian apologetics as entertainment value not a way to wrestle with knowledge and God. No matter how many philosophical cliffs WLC takes you to he still has no bridge to build to his Christian God. In the end it takes a leap of faith. But the prideful Craig has a hard time admitting that leap.

The Christian message from the Gospel of John is God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish...after listening to WLC you would think it is God so logically and reasonably gave his son to the world that whoever becomes a theological expert shall not perish.

Mark 10:15 (New King James Version)
" Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."

For William Lane Craig it takes a scholar and a scholar who agrees with him completely! Where does reason end and faith begin for Craig? Reasonable Faith is more like faith in Craig's twisted sophistry. If it is not faith is it Christianity? Is it faith in himself? What is the genuine anchor for Craig? What would the New Testament look like if you tear the word faith out of it?

1 Corinthians 1:20-
Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
Jeremiah 9: 23
This is what the LORD says:
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD.

Where is the humility, kindness, justice and genuine faith in William Lane Craig's Christian Apologetics? It lacks these but it has plenty of pride, sophistry, smugness and indifference.
"Now we see a blurred image in a mirror. Then we will see very clearly. Now my knowledge is incomplete." -The Apostle Paul
William Lane Craig is a human mortal with all the limitation, baggage and bias that we all carry. His knowledge is incomplete. He needs faith to get to the Christian God. Can he even admit what the Apostle Paul stated? Or is he so invested in protecting his pride and his tribe that he fails to see his own weakness and fragility?

The irony of this argument from Christian apologists who say that there needs to be a higher degree of biblical scholarship before commenting is that most of the Christian beliefs they defend are believed by people who have no such scholarship. IF more Christians studied the Bible at a higher level I think there would be more doubt and less fundamentalism. Is this what christian apologists want? More likely they use it to bully people into silence and obfuscation.

"They muddy the water, to make it seem deep."

Greta Christina on the bankruptcy of William Lane Craig's Apologetics

By Greta Christina

In a recent post on his Reasonable Faith site, famed Christian apologist and debater William Lane Craig published an explanation for why the genocide and infanticide ordered by God against the Canaanites in the Old Testament was morally defensible. For God, at any rate -- and for people following God's orders. Short version: When guilty people got killed, they deserved it because they were guilty and bad... and when innocent people got killed, even when innocent babies were killed, they went to Heaven, and it was all hunky dory in the end.

No, really.

Here are some choice excerpts:

God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.


Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God's grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven's incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.


So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.

I want to make something very clear before I go on: William Lane Craig is not some drooling wingnut. He's not some extremist Fred Phelps type, ranting about how God's hateful vengeance is upon us for tolerating homosexuality. He's not some itinerant street preacher, railing on college campuses about premarital holding hands. He's an extensively educated, widely published, widely read theological scholar and debater. When believers accuse atheists of ignoring sophisticated modern theology, Craig is one of the people they're talking about.

And he said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it's okay to kill pretty much anybody. It's okay to kill bad people, because they're bad and they deserve it... and it's okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it's okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it's okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said -- not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words -- "the death of these children was actually their salvation."

So why did this story not make headlines? Why was there not an appalled outcry from the Christian world? Why didn't Christian leaders from all sects take to the pulpits to disavow Craig, and to express their utter repugnance with his views, and to explain in no uncertain terms that their religion does not, and will not, defend the extermination of races or the slaughter of children?

Because the things he said are not that unusual.

Because lots of people share his views.

Because these kinds of contortions are far too common in religious morality. Because all too often, religion twists even the most fundamental human morality into positions that, in any other circumstance, most people would see as repulsive, monstrous, and entirely indefensible.

Step One: Admit Your Mistakes

See, here's the thing. When faced with horrors in our past -- our personal history, or our human history -- non-believers don't have any need to defend them. When non-believers look at a human history full of genocide, infanticide, slavery, forced marriage, etc. etc. etc., we're entirely free to say, "Damn. That was terrible. That was some seriously screwed-up shit we did. We were wrong to do that. Let's not ever do that again."

But for people who believe in a holy book, it's not that simple. When faced with horrors in their religion's history -- horrors that their holy book defends, and even praises -- believers have to do one of two things. They have to either a) cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don't; or b) come up with contorted rationalizations for why the most blatant, grotesque, black-and-white evil really isn't all that bad.

Now, progressive and moderate believers usually go the cherry-picking route. But that requires its own contortions. Once you acknowledge that your holy books really aren't that holy, once you admit that they have moral as well as factual errors, then you have to start asking why any of it is special, why any of it should be treated any differently from any other flawed books of history or philosophy. You have to start asking why -- since your religion's holy books are just as screwed-up as every other religion's -- your religion is still somehow the right one, and all other religions are mistaken. You have to start asking how you know which parts of your holy book are right and which parts are wrong -- and how you know that people who disagree with you, who've picked the exact opposite cherries from the ones you've picked, who feel their faith in their hearts exactly as much as you do, have somehow gotten it terribly wrong. You have to start asking how you know the things you know. And to do that, and still maintain religious faith, requires its own contorted thinking, its own denial of reality, its own sticking of one's fingers in one's ears and chanting, "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"

And when you don't go the cherry-picking route? When you insist -- as Craig apparently does -- that your holy book is special and perfect, that the events and motivations in the text all took place exactly as described, and that the actions of God described in it are right and good by their very definition?

You put yourself in the position of defending the indefensible.

When your holy book says that God ordered his chosen people to slaughter an entire race, down to the babies and children -- and you insist that this book is special and perfect -- you put yourself in the position of defending genocide. You put yourself in the position of defending infanticide. You put yourself in the position of defending slavery, rape, forced marriage, ethnic hatred, the systematic subjugation of women, human sacrifice, and any number of moral grotesqueries that your holy book not only defends, but praises to the skies and offers as models of exemplary behavior.

And you can't cut the Gordian knot. You can't simply say, "This is wrong. This is vile and indefensible. This kind of behavior comes from a tribal morality that humanity has evolved beyond, and we should repudiate it without reservation."

Not without relinquishing your faith.

And if you refuse to relinquish your faith? If you cling to the assumption that your faith, by definition, is the highest good there is, and that by definition it trumps all other moral considerations?

Then you cut yourself off from your own moral compass.

I've made this point before, and I'm sure I'll make it again: Religion, by its very nature as an untestable belief in undetectable beings and an unknowable afterlife, disables our reality checks. It ends the conversation. It cuts off inquiry: not only factual inquiry, but moral inquiry. Because God's law trumps human law, people who think they're obeying God can easily get cut off from their own moral instincts. And these moral contortions don't always lie in the realm of theological game-playing. They can have real-world consequences: from genocide to infanticide, from honor killings to abandoned gay children, from burned witches to battered wives to blown-up buildings.

As just one example among so very many: Look at the Lafferty brothers, Mormon fundamentalists who murdered an innocent woman and her 15-month-old daughter because they thought God had commanded them to do it. At many points in their journey across the continent on their way to the killings, they questioned whether brutally slaughtering their brother's wife and her infant child was really the right thing to do. But they always came to the same answer: Yes. It was right. They thought God had commanded it -- and that settled the question. It ended the conversation. It stopped their moral query dead in its tracks.

But don't just look at sociopathic murderers from a bonkers religious cult. That's too easy. Look at Mr. Theological Scholar himself, William Lane Craig. In this piece, Craig says that the Canaanites were evil, and deserving of genocide, because (among other things) they practiced infanticide. The very crime that God ordered the Israelites to commit. I shit you not. Quote: "By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice." (Emphasis -- and dumbstruck bafflement -- mine.) And he says the infanticide of the Canaanite children was defensible and necessary because the Israelites needed to keep their tribal identity pure, and keep their God-given morality untainted by the Canaanite wickedness. Again, I shit you not. Again, quote: "By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable." As if an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good god couldn't come up with a better way to teach a lesson about assimilation to pagan idolatry than murdering children.

I could sit here all day and pick apart everything that's intellectually wrong with Craig's arguments. But it seems that a far more appropriate response would be, "Are you fucking kidding me? Do you hear what you're saying? Can you really not hear how grotesque, repulsive, flatly evil, totally batshit insane that sounds? Yeah, sure, if you start with your assumptions, then genocide and infanticide are morally defensible. Doesn't that tell you that there is something monstrously, ludicrously wrong with your assumptions?"

If I were trying to make up a more blatant example of ethical contortionism, of morality so twisted by its need to defend the indefensible that it has blinded itself to its own contradictions and grotesqueries, I couldn't have done a better job. Craig, like so many believers before him, has made my best arguments for me.

What's Sauce for the Creation Is Sauce for the Creator

Now. Some people might argue that the rules of morality aren't the same for God as they are for people. They might argue that, while it would certainly be wrong for people to kill babies and eradicate entire races on their own initiative, it's not wrong for God to do it. Craig himself makes that argument in this piece. Quote:

According to the version of divine command ethics which I've defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn't issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. (emphasis mine) He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as "playing God." Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that's His prerogative.

Yeah. See, here's the problem with that. If the moral rules for God are different from the moral rules for people? If the very definitions of good and evil are different for God than they are for us?

Then what does it even mean to say that God is good?

If you say that what "good" means for God is totally different from what "good" means for people -- if you say that murdering infants and systematically eradicating entire races is evil for people but good for God -- then you're pretty much saying that what it means for God to be "good," and what it means for us to be "good," are such radically different concepts that the one has virtually nothing to do with the other. You have rendered the entire concept of "good and evil" meaningless.

And I, for one, don't want the entire concept of good and evil to be rendered meaningless.

Of course, if you're a progressive/ moderate/ non-literalist believer, you're not stuck with defending every tenet of your holy book. You can say, "No, no, God didn't command these horrors. He couldn't have. The Bible is an inspired but flawed document, and it must be mistaken here when it says this command came from God. The Israelites wanted to slaughter the Canaanites, so they went ahead with it and told themselves the order came from God. But my God is good, and my God would never tell anyone to do any such a thing."

But then we're back to the cherry-picking problem: How do you know? How do you know which parts of your holy book are the ones that God meant? The Bible, and indeed most other religious texts, is loaded with instances of God commanding his followers to commit murder or worse. How do you know that God really wasn't giving those orders... but he really was giving the orders to love our neighbors and give to the poor? No two Christian sects agree on which bits of the Bible are God's true word and which bits are the "Just kidding" bits. And every sect has just as much "feeling in their heart" about their interpretation as you do.

So in order to pick those cherries, you have to twist yourself into just as many contortions as the fundies do.

Irony Meter Goes Off the Scale

It's funny. One of the most common pieces of bigotry aimed at atheism is that it doesn't provide any basis for morality. It's widely assumed that without religion -- without moral teachings from religious traditions, and without fear of eternal punishment and desire for eternal reward -- people would behave entirely selfishly, with no concern for others. And atheists are commonly accused of moral relativism: of thinking that there are no fundamental moral principles, and that all morality can be adapted to suit the needs of the moment.

But it isn't atheists who are saying, "Well, sure, genocide seems wrong... but under some circumstances, it actually makes a certain amount of sense." It isn't atheists who are saying, "Well, sure, infanticide seems wrong... but looked at in a certain light, it really isn't all that bad." It isn't atheists who are prioritizing an attachment to an ancient ideology over the clearest moral principles one can imagine: the principle that entire races ought not to be systematically exterminated, and the principle that children ought not to be slaughtered.

Human beings have intrinsic compassion. We have a sense of justice. We have feelings of revulsion and rage when we see others harmed. We have a desire to help create a livable world. We have a willingness to make personal sacrifices -- sometimes great sacrifices -- to help others in need. And contrary to what Craig and many other Christians think, these moral emotions don't derive from the Bible, and don't require belief in God. They're taught by virtually every religion and every society, and atheists feel them every bit as much as believers. Humans are a social species, and these emotions and principles evolved because they help members of a social species survive and reproduce. (Other social species seem to have some or all of these moral emotions as well.)

But our compassion and justice, our altruism and moral revulsion, can be twisted. They can be stunted. They can be denied, ignored, shoved to the back burner, rationalized away. They can be contorted to the point where we're saying that black is white, war is peace, and the most blatant evil is actually goodness if you squint your eyes just right. They can be contorted to the point where we're saying that genocide is okay because everyone gets what they deserve in the afterlife, and that infanticide is morally necessary to teach a lesson about the evils of murdering children.

And religion is Exhibit A in how this can happen.