Last night I returned home early enough to tune into "Chronicle" on WCVB. For those not from my neck of the woods, Chronicle is a "news magazine" program on television that covers lots of the comings and goings of New Englanders. Last nights episode was concerned with the rise in non-believers in new England. In general it was pretty good, they had some humanists (read: atheists for those not scared of the word), and even a nun on to discuss the role that religion or non-religion plays in peoples lives. The best moments of the broadcast were the explanation of how important it was that President Obama mentioned non-believers in a number of key speeches (including his inaugural), and profile of some parents who chose not to induct their young children into any church and the pressure they faced from family to do so. Very strong people...i admire them.
The low points of the evening came not from the profiles (not even the nun) but rather from the hosts. Mary Richardson stated that the numbers of new atheists has dropped since 2000 and suggested that the tragedies of September 11th and the Iraq war may have something to do with it. The implication is that atheists feel fine until they are emotionally tested and then they see the light and return to the fold. Christian evangelists oft like to quote stories of death-bed conversions of atheists and other heathens. I would guess it happens very little because if you are an atheist, dieing without god is far easier a process than living without god in most societies. To make matters worse, Anthony Everett, the other host, implied that atheists lack a sense of community that people of faith have from their church. He should talk to the legions of disenfranchised Catholics or the secular Jews about that. I know from personal experience that my sense of community with other people who I know to be without belief is much stronger than it ever was when I might have called myself catholic. Certainly not everyone has that experience but a sense of community is not really a good reason to believe in magic. As mom always said of following the crowd no matter how silly, "if they all jumped off a bridge...would you do that too?"
All that being said, the high point of the broadcast was the poll question at the end which asked what people believed. 46% of respondents said they didn't believe in god. Someone must have crashed it and I love it. Patrick OUT!!!

New Favorite Insult

My new favorite insult is now, "you are a singularity of stupid" as applied to Dr. Charlene Werner.
This woman truly is at the VERY bottom of the intellectual pond. She makes Carrot Top look like a Rhodes Scholar. Patrick OUT!!!

Jon Stewart is Smart

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jennifer Burns
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Two things, Jon Stewart is pretty damn smart and this book is now officially on my christmas list. Patrick OUT!!!

Thank God for the Catholic Church

Time magazine reports on the move by the Vatican to make it easier for Anglicans, unhappy with their church's stance on same sex union and the ordination of women, to join the catholic church. Gee whiz, its a good thing that the catholic church was there to step in and give bigots a place to go. As the world moves forward, the catholic church remains behind...i suppose its not the first time. Apparently analysts say the move could be seen as "predatory." The Anglicans shouldn't be worried...they should be happy to see these people go. Don't fight for them, let the Pope deal with them and you'll be better off. Patrick OUT!!!

Great Disappoitnment

Thanks to Wikipedia I know that today is the anniversary of the "Great Disappointment." A day when the followers William Miller were let down to find that their prophets predictions of christ's second coming were not quite right. Miller had said that today (in 1844) would be the day of christ's return. Some of his followers even gave away their possessions to ease their entry into heaven. While this happened more than 150 years ago...I kind of think people would still fall for this today. I think I'll start making a reverse insurance policy. I'll take possession of your material goods just in case jesus comes down and wants to judge you poorly for owning  a Lexus. Should the great redeemer come to earth you're all set and I'll take the fall for all your evil material possessions. If he doesn't, you get your stuff back minus a small commission for my services. Its a win-win. Or maybe its just a win...for me.
More seriously the "great disappointment" here is not that christ didn't make it back to earth in time for these folks but rather that William Miller was able to fleece so many people into believing such BS. Hopefully we've come some distance since then. Patrick OUT!!!

Great Schism...sort of

Apparently there is a schism in the atheist community...time to pick sides. I'll see if I can summarize the "schism" for you. On the one side, we have the "old" atheists who just wanted to not believe in magic and invisible friends and be left well enough alone. On the other, we have the "new atheists" who think that their lack of belief in god not only makes them right but also makes them moral. In other words, it comes down to the question of whether you think that religion is a force for good (or is of neutral value) or a force evil. I've already made my point on that particular issue and it puts me pretty squarely in line with the "new atheists." For that position, I've been called immoral, uneducated, a fundamentalist, a liar, a hypocrite, and a host of other things. Would I trade those insults for an imaginary friend? Not on your life. I'll wear them as a badge of pride when they're lofted by ignoramuses.
The NPR article also includes some commentary on the idea that the "new atheists" are critical of not only religion but of religious people and the supposition that such criticism serves no other purpose than to make the religious feel bad or to insult them. While that may be one result it is rarely the purpose. Rather the purpose of the criticism is to try and effect change whereby the place of religion in society is undermined for the betterment of that society. In one small example, suppose I hurl insults towards creationists (who are almost always religiously motivated) and with my limited scientific expertise it undermines their position while at the same time hurts their feelings I think it is justified. It would be the same if they, in their field of expertise (presumably theology) decided to cast derision on my knowledge of new testament scripture (which I think is likely better than the average christian). I might be insulted but in the end they would find it justified if it helped their cause and would have little mind for my feelings on the issue. Though to know less of scripture might also show a certain purity of thought that I could envy under certain circumstances.
So you may wonder how I can go about not caring about the feelings of people with whom I have disagreements. How Machiavellian you might say. Well yeah, it is. But the good of society always outweighs the good of the few and ignorant. What about a nicer approach you may ask. I'm not sure that such a thing is possible without losing all bite. In deed, any questioning of one's religious beliefs (even the minutiae) has the potential to insult ad naseum (ask the Sunni and the Shia about that one). So if I lead with the idea that I don't believe in god I am by very virtue of that stance (with no further input from myself) questioning the foundations of the religious person's world view. That's tough to swallow for most people. Its also tough for me to do it without being just a bit smug. I'll freely admit that and also say that its impossible to get around. But its really no more smug than a religious person believing that other people of other faiths are going to be sent to the fires of hell for all eternity. My smugness just comes from a belief that the religious are wasting their time and that I have succeeded in avoiding such things not as bad as believing that their going to be tortured for their intellectual failings. I also don't derive any smugness from a belief that the creator of the universe talks to me and picks my path in life. Nor do I derive smugness from the revelation of magical secrets that only the chosen get to experience. Far from it actually, I want everyone to see the beauty of the "materialism" that surrounds them.
So for me there is no conflict in atheism. There is an exchange of ideas and a continuum of action but no conflict. No atheist is going to kill another because of his interpretation of godlessness. If only I could say the same for the other side of the coin. Patrick OUT!!!

My Nemesis

Yesterday I received a notice from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), which I'm a member of, asking for donations to counter a new offensive by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE). With that innocuous title you could be forgiven for not realizing that FTE is one of the primary players in the push to get creationism admitted to public school curricula. As such, they are my sworn nemesis (thanks Mel). You see the FTE is worried that NCSE is trying to "indoctrinate" our young people in believing in "Darwinism" and that this will turn them into "materialists." Of course these are all key words designed to rile up the masses into thinking that NCSE is going to, through the teaching of evolution, turn the helpless children of America into brainwashed godless heathens.
Don't get me wrong here...I am all about turning children in godless heathens but I'm not about brainwashing. Of course, the NCSE has to be a bit more political about the whole thing and deny that they are trying to act against religion and yada yada yada. I, however, am under no such restraints and can freely state that I would be happy if children looked at evolution and compared it to their bible studies and said..."well, would you look at of these things makes sense and the other does not." Of course, i don't need to tell you which one makes sense in this case. If such an event occurs and that child leaves behind the religion of his forbears than so be it, he has been educated and the schools have done him a favor and he in turn has advanced society.
The FTE, of course, is acting against society and is actively trying to undermine the science education of millions of young people. It is unconscionable and should not be tolerated in a modern society. Furthermore, selling a falsehood seems to me an immoral act which in my mind makes the FTE neither thoughtful or ethical...but what more could you expect from a "christian think tank (oxymoron perhaps?)." Patrick OUT!!!


So a recent study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion has found some interesting information about the population of Muslims in the world. While I know I routinely think of the Muslim hotbeds of the middle east and Indonesia...there are massive numbers of Muslims living in China and India (22 million, and 161 million respectively). That's a lot of people are it dwarfs many of those middle east nations. Of course, the difference is whether they are living in a "Muslim country." In other words, are they a majority and do they have a legal system based on sharia law. This presents a few problems for those not in "Muslim countries" in that many regions and cultures are not particularly accepting of minorities and especially not Muslim minorities. Outbreaks of violence in France, Indonesia, and more recently China's western provinces highlight these difficulties. All in all, nearly 25% of the world proclaims Islam as their faith. With atheists/no affiliation accounting for a measly 15% of the population we've got a ways to go. That being said, its surprising, I think, that the godless among us don't wield more power poltically. Patrick OUT!!!

Backsteet Boys of Science???

This is courtesy of Pharyngula and is for you to compare and contrast with that religious/musical train wreck I posted earlier today. I'm not saying that this is much better musically but only one of the two of them is taking themselves seriously. Furthermore, any music video that can incorporate the words chromatography and crystallography into its lyrics has my support. Patrick OUT!!!


For those of you who doubted the previous post on the ability of religion to do just awful things, I present the following evidence. I true and loving god would never allow this. Enjoy...if you can.

Patrick OUT!!!

A Novel Nobel

So I'm going to heap criticism onto the Nobel prizes with the rest of the blogosphere...not to say that I disagree with this years selections but the Nobel prizes could use some reworking. At this point we have chemistry, physics, medicine and physiology, literature, peace, and economics. The first five are specified in Mr. Nobel's will but that last one, the Nobel Prize in Economics, is awarded not from the original interest on the Nobel fortune but rather from the bank of Sweeden.
This is the model I think we should adopt going forward. I would like to see more prize categories raised to the level of the others. Perhaps a prize in earth sciences, or social sciences or even engineering. Furthermore the Medicine and Physiology prize discounts massive amounts of biological inquiry...including my own. Since the prizes are funded through Al's fortune and the categories are defined in his will, I think that the scientific societies should step up and fund other prizes to be given the same prestige in these other fields as the prize in economics has achieved. Its time to recognize great achievements across the board and not be reliant on outdated paradigms of scientific disciplines. Patrick OUT!!!

Just sayin

Just want to get it out there that I think i've finally seen enough to say conclusivelly that Glenn Beck is a first degree black belt moron to the third power. Thats it...just wanted to get that out there. I have no evidence to present except for EVERY GLENN BECK SHOW EVER! I dare you to disagree. Patrick OUT!!!


I blog about a lot of different crap but i think that probably 90% of what I write about is either religion/philosophy, science, politics, and formerly professional sports. To that I'm going to add another topic that I probably could have been writing about all along, climbing.
Climbing is one of those things that I've done off and on for years and always kind of liked for a variety of reasons, the least of which is fitness. I think the thing I like most is the perpetual challenge of it. It is also infinitely NOT like science despise what people may think. Its much more akin to a practiced art and for someone who is perpetually not graceful it gives me an opportunity to explore that whole thing in a way that is both fun and different. I also have a confession. I say confession because my readers who climb regularly will no doubt guffaw at such a thought but...I like climbing in the gym better than on rock. There I said it...its out. I know its sacrilege to even suggest such a thing but its true. I like the simplicity of it, the quickness, the focus on particular skills rather than conquering a face. Is it easier...yea. Does it have less risk...yea. Are those things that I can appreciate about it...yea. Does that make me less of a man...i don't rightly care.
Went climbing yesterday (as I do every Thursday) and had a particularly strong workout. A disclaimer, I'm going to get technical here but I'll do my best to insert wikipedia links where appropriate for those of you not familiar with the lingo. As I was climbing a more or less moderate 5.9 (which is probably a bit below my ability now) i found myself stuck on a particular portion requiring a double gaston. It was a kind of weird ring hold that needed a real focus on body tension to get your feet right before dropping down and sliding over the wall and I struggled with it falling twice before I realized what a simple move it should have been in the first place. It really highlighted why I like climbing...there is such a neat progression between practice and perfection in climbing. I know that next time I do that climb, maybe a month from now, I will not even think about what I should have done first...I'll just do it.
I will say that despite my struggles with grip strength, I've gotten a LOT better in the balance department and the avoidance of the barn door effect, and I rely far less on doing repeated pull-ups during a particular run. I was always mindful of my reliance on using that particular ability for escaping my own bad form and I've just started to escape that particular handi-cap. As a final note, anyone in the worcester area should check out the Central Rock Gym. Its a nice place with a great staff and decent climbing all around at all levels. Also has a huge bouldering wall and some really neat features including a few runs with great Arete features. Highly recommended for a visit. Patrick OUT!!!

Finding my calling

So I was somewhat pleased yesterday when the previous post got so much
attention. Granted it was from just a few major contributors but none
the less it was nice to see that at least people read them. The debate
following it got a bit more heated than usual and I'm always a fan of
when that happens. I'm not one to start a "flame war" or anything like
that but a good spirited debate is right up my alley. Its especially
fun when both sides REALLY believe in what their saying and aren't
just trying to stir up trouble.
This all ties in a bit with my new potential career path. Namely, I've
been investigating for some time now the possibility of leaving the
lab setting and working in science policy as an advisor to
governmental departments and legislators. I think that this would be a
productive way for me to leverage a passion for reason and inquiry
into a greater public good. Luckilly, I've come across a number of
fellowship opportunities open to newly minted PhDs that might take me.
If anyone out there knows a big wig in AAAS, a heads up would be
greatly appreciated...or if you want to say super nice things about my
superior intellect in relation to the seas of other newly minted
PhDs...thats nice too.
Because of this new obsession, I've been thinking a lot about what i'd
like to change in terms of science policy in the US and I think that
the problems facing science here are simple but also very deep.
Namely, scientists don't sell their work properly or have an
understanding of how the system works. We spend a lot of time thinking
we are way smarter than all those idiot legislators and wondering how
nice it would be if they just understood what it is we do. Indeed,
that might be nice but its the WRONG approach. Rather its important
for the communication to run the same way the money does, in other
words legislators need to talk to scientists and explain their jobs
(and we need to listen rather than lecture). Scientists need to be
more appreciative of the pressures of being a senator, representative,
or even President. It is too much to expect our elected officials to
be experts on everything. With a nation as complex as the US it is
just an impossibility and we should expect really no more than a
rudimentary understanding of any particular issue and probably less
than that on scientific matters. Don't believe me? Look at Al Gore, he
has devoted his time out of office to climate science and some of the
mistakes he makes are HUGE. If he is an official dedicated to
science...think about how awful the understanding must be with the
rest of them that still need to worry about schools and roads and
health care.
Scientists need to make it simple and sellable (to constiuents). When
Sarah Palin decries the spending of money on research into fruitflies
she is unwittingly exposing whats wrong with the culture of science in
this country. Its not like NASA in the cold war...the public doesn't
see the purpose of them its just more tax dollars that could
put food on the table. If they knew that some of the most basic
understanding of human development comes from fruit flies or our
understanding of diseaes like diabetes and cancer is fostered in these
model organisms...they might not be so quick to discount it as
wasteful. We as a scientific community need to show them. It doesn't
all need to be about curing cancer. Even the most basic research could
be sold as the basis for human understanding for bettering the human
race, for expanding knowledge, for making sure that our college
graduates are the best educated in the world, etc etc. We also need to
make sure we treat our lawmakers like investors. Show them the ROI of
doing basic scientific research. Sure we put people to work but we
also build intellectual capital that makes competitive companies, new
partnerships, and fosters cooperation both at home and abroad. The
value here should not and rightly cannot be understated.
We also need to be careful to pick our battles and not be too
frightening. If the public is worried about cloning and stem cells
well then we take those things more slowly. If you move to quickly
forward you'll end up going backwards...better to slowly turn the tide
of public opinion before opening up the floodgates. For those familiar
with my views on evolution and education this probably sounds a bit
hypocritical but one is perfect. Patrick OUT!!!