This Week In God 8.10.11

August 10, 2011

1. Three great blogs moving – PZ Myers’ blog, Pharyngula, has moved from Scienceblogs to freethoughtblogs. Though he still posts some of his material at the old site, I’m not crazy about this move because because freethoughtblogs seems more atheist-focused whereas scienceblogs at least gives the impression of Pharyngula being more science-focused, regardless of whether the actual emphasis changes or not. Hermant Mehta has also moved his Friendly Atheist blog to Patheos, a site hosting blogs from many different religious and spiritual perspectives. I think this one was a good move because it gives Mehta’s atheist blog a great opportunity to gain readers among the religious, and this could possibly change some people’s views about atheism. And lastly, blogger Greta Christina will be soon moving her blog to freethoughtblogs. I’m fairly neutral about this because she’s already got a strong atheist readership, so I don’t expect much change one way or the other in terms of her readership.

2. Speaking of PZ Myers, he too has now publicly taken a position on the American Atheists’ lawsuit over the “9/11 Cross.” It seems that even that nasty militant atheist that Jeff Wagg today (I think quite unfairly) called the “FoxNews of atheism” in a tweet agrees with me that it’s just not worth the effort and that we’ve got bigger fish to fry:

I can understand that in principle it’s promoting religion, and I look at that random chunk of steel that forms a crude cross and can see that it is abysmally stupid to consider it a holy relic, but man, if atheists have to police every single act of stupidity committed by the human race, we’re going to get very, very tired. We need to pick our battles better, and this one is just plain pointless.

3. Stephen Hawking’s Curiosity refutes god on Discover Channel – You can watch the whole first installment at the link above…at least for now.

4. Jonathan T. Pararajasingham follows up his videos of 100 academics explaining their atheism with a 25-minute video of 20 academics and theologians explaining why they believe in god. The former is a wonderful collection of brilliant thinkers making intelligent arguments in favor of atheism while the latter is a depressing example of how motivated reasoning can poison the minds of otherwise intelligent people, causing them to make the most asinine and incoherent arguments to defend their indefensible faith.

5. Evolution wins out in Texas – Okay, I’m very late on this story. So sue me. The Texas Board of Education has unanimously come down on the side of evolution in a 14-0 vote, approving scientifically accurate high school biology textbook supplements from established mainstream publishers, rejecting the creationist-backed supplements from International Databases, LLC.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 1.4.09

January 5, 2010

1. Researchers conclude that G-spot is a myth

The scientists at King’s College London who carried out the study claim there is no evidence for the existence of the G-spot — supposedly a cluster of internal nerve endings — outside the imagination of women influenced by magazines and sex therapists. They reached their conclusions after a survey of more than 1,800 British women.

2. Egyptian med students not the sharpest tools in the shed – Apparently Egyptian med students have it in their heads that masturbation causes blindness. Yes, I said that these were the Med students!

Baher Ibrahim writes that young women, expected by the conservative Egyptian society to be white virginal emblems of chastity, often wouldn’t know a penis from a bratwurst (I’m talking the literal food here). Meanwhile, many of the guys get their sexual knowledge from watching porn, which doesn’t do women any favors, no matter what country you’re in.

Bad or non-existent sex ed also fails to teach people to protect themselves against STDs. One student interviewed recalls a professor pinning the failure rate of condom usage in protecting against HIV/AIDS at 15-20% (it’s actually close to zero). Unsurprisingly, women are at particular risk for the disease, which spreads primarily through unprotected heterosexual sex, due to a severe lack of information on the subject. And, oh abstinence-until-m

3. Creationists given potentially unparalleled power over children’s textbooks – Texas and California are the two states that largely determine public school textbooks for the rest of the country. But now that liberal California can’t afford to buy new textbooks until 2014, Don McLeroy and his ultraconservative gang may have all the power. We’re going to need Eugenie Scott and the National Center for Science Education more than ever now.

4. British skeptics launch ’10:23 Campaign’ against homeopathy – The name comes from the Avogadro Constant, the scientific principle in which homeopathy would violate…if it were true. I also love their slogan:  “Homeopathy: There’s Nothing In It.”

5. Black Atheist is cast member on MTV’s ‘Real World’ – Apparently, one of the cast members of the latest season of the Real World, Ty Ruff, is a black atheist. I only mention his skin color because there doesn’t tend to be many black atheists.

According to  his bio:

… Despite growing up in the church, he is anti-religion and thinks believing in God is a crutch…

6. Atheist Foundation of Australia put up bus ad in Tasmania – The slogan is, “Atheism: Celebrate Reason!” I like it.

7. New study finds chimpanzees have culture too

A new study of chimpanzees living in the wild adds to evidence that our closest primate relatives have cultural differences, too. The study, reported online on October 22nd in Current Biology, shows that neighboring chimpanzee populations in Uganda use different tools to solve a novel problem: extracting honey trapped within a fallen log.

Kibale Forest chimpanzees use sticks to get at the honey, whereas Budongo Forest chimpanzees rely on leaf sponges — absorbent wedges that they make out of chewed leaves.

“The most reasonable explanation for this difference in tool use was that chimpanzees resorted to preexisting cultural knowledge in trying to solve the novel task,” said Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. “Culture, in other words, helped them in dealing with a novel problem.”

8. Lifeless prions evolve or another bad day to be a creationist

Scientists from The Scripps Research Institute have determined for the first time that prions, bits of infectious protein devoid of DNA or RNA that can cause fatal neurodegenerative disease, are capable of Darwinian evolution.

The study from Scripps Florida in Jupiter shows that prions can develop large numbers of mutations at the protein level and, through natural selection, these mutations can eventually bring about such evolutionary adaptations as drug resistance, a phenomenon previously known to occur only in bacteria and viruses. These breakthrough findings also suggest that the normal prion protein — which occurs naturally in human cells — may prove to be a more effective therapeutic target than its abnormal toxic relation.

Texas Board of Ed wants to banish Neil Armstrong from history

September 20, 2009

The Texas Board of Education thinks they can rewrite history. Now some on the Board are trying to take Neil Armstrong out of the social science textbooks because Armstrong “is not a scientist”.

This is just the latest in a series of insane proposals being made in the Texas Board of Ed. Also proposed was taking negative facts about America out of the history books, putting Christmas in schools, minorities must be thankful to majorities, removing the word “propaganda” from U.S. history, and emphasizing GOP civil rights heroes (??).

Neil should ask Buzz Aldrin to go over there to kick ass and take names:

Senate votes against creationist for Texas School Board

May 28, 2009

creationistsFor weeks now there was concern that creatioinst Don McLeroy might be elected chairman of the State Board of Education. But the good news is that while it was close, McLeroy has lost. All those who voted for his election were shockingly Republican and all those who voted for against him were Democrats. Congratulations Texas!

Texas State Board of Education confused about age of the universe

May 6, 2009

creationism-cartoon-i-will-not-teach-horse-shitThe Texas State Board of Education hearings on science standards for Texas schoolchildren are over but the idiocy that took place there will be captured forever on the internet, such as when creationist Barbara Cargill decided the concept of an expanding universe and the age of the universe should be stricken from the standards and proposes an amendment to creationize astronomy as well:

This video captures the exact moment Texas discarded real science when her amendment passed, 11 to 3.

Maybe science in Texas is not so safe after all

March 28, 2009

The other day I blogged about what I thought was a victory for science education in Texas. I reported this because I’d heard that the use of the language “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution, one of the newer creationist buzz terms, was not accepted into the board’s science policy. It seems though that I was a little hasty, as PZ Myers reports:

The problem is that the creationists are going to come back with a novel definition of ‘scientific’ evidence that treats Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis, and they’re going to demand textbooks that include a treatment of all kinds of nonsensical ‘theories’. ID is not scientific. It has no evidence in its favor (pointing out that we lack intermediate fossils showing the evolution of the lesser red-necked Argentinian swamp leech is not evidence that it was designed). But the Discovery Institute does have another bad textbook waiting in the wings for the next round of textbook-buying decisions in Texas.

There are other obvious problems with those additions. High school students are expect to study all sides of scientific evidence? Really? I’ve been in the high schools. Texas students must be truly brilliant if they can master the whole of the scientific literature in a semester-long grade school level introductory course to biology.

It seems that creationists may have gotten exactly what they wanted after all, just with even more roundabout language.

Science is saved in Texas

March 26, 2009

This is a play-by-play of the Texas State Board of Education meeting voting on whether or not to use the language “strengths and weaknesses” (the latest anti-evolution code) in their science standards:

10:07 – The board is about to begin its debate on science.

10:09 – Board member Ken Mercer of San Antonio moves to add “strengths and weaknesses” back into the science standards.

10:12 – Mercer: This about allowing students to discuss and question strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories. He claims receiving 15,0000-16,000 e-mails on this from around the state.

10:15 – Mercer goes down the “microevolution” vs. “macroevolution” path again. And he brings up “Piltdown man” and a list of other “weaknesses” he claims plague evolutionary theory.

10:19 – OK, it looks like board member David Bradley’s computer screen has TFN Insider up. Good morning, Mr. Bradley!

10:20 – Member Bob Craig of Lubbock offers a substitute amendment. “I am fully cognizant to the difference between faith and science. But I believe they can co-exist.” He argues that what the writing teams suggested in December still allows students to freely discuss all aspects of science. Mr. Craig proposes to keep the work group language (without “strengths and weaknesses”) but adds “including discussing what is not fully understood so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

10:26 – Dallas member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller supports Mr. Craig’s motion.

10:30 – This should be interesting. Mr. Mercer and other creationists have argued that taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards will bar students from discussing and asking questions. Mr. Craig’s amendment addresses that, explicitly affirms the right of students to discuss and question while keeping phony “weaknesses” out of textbooks.

10:32 – Mavis Knight speaks in favor of Mr. Craig’s motion.

10:34 – The creationists have a difficult decision to make here. Is this about the freedom of students to ask questions, as they have argued, or is this about promoting phony attacks on evolution in textbooks?

10:36 – Pat Hardy speaks in favor of Mr. Craig’s motion.

10:37 – Terri Leo opposes Mr. Craig’s motion. She says the language is “too ambiguous.” She wants teachers to tell students specific “weaknesses.”

10:38 – Lawrence Allen supports Mr. Craig’s motion.

10:39 – By the way, Texas Freedom Network supports Mr. Craig’s motion (although we hadn’t seen it until now). It’s a wise and responsible way to ensure that students are free to ask questions. That’s how they learn.

10:41 – Cynthia Dunbar opposes Mr. Craig’s motion. She notes a comment from Ms. Miller that she (Ms. Miller) is a committed Christian. Ms. Dunbar says that religious beliefs are irrelevant to what the board should so. Oh, really? Then why have her creationist colleagues and their allies questioned the faith of those who oppose putting “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards.

10:43 – Rick Agosto opposes Mr. Craig’s amendment. “If it’s not ‘fully understood,’ then I don’t consider that science.”

10:44 – Once again, Mr. Craig has moved that the board retain the language proposed by writing teams in December (without “strengths and weaknesses”) but add to the expectation that students analyze and evaluate scientific explanations: “including discussing what is not fully understood so as to encourage critical thinking by the student.”

10:46 – Barbara Cargill opposes Mr. Craig’s motion. She says “strengths and weaknesses” language protects the ability of teachers to tell students “weaknesses” of evolution (however phony those “weaknesses” are, apparently). “Darwinists have tried to smother all the challenges … (and) weaknesses of evolution.”

10:52 – Mr. Mercer opposes Mr. Craig’s motion. “What are they afraid of? Why all this national attention over one word, ‘weaknesses’?”

10:54 – McLeroy calls a 10-minute recess.

11:08 – They’re back. Ms. Knight moves to change Mr. Craig’s amendment to read: “fully understand IN ALL FIELD OF SCIENCE.” So the wording would be: “including discussing what is not fully understood in all fields of science.” The board accepts that change without objection. We’re back to Mr. Craig’s motion.

11:12 – Mr. Craig’s motion fails 6-8. We’re back to Mr. Mercer’s original amendment adding back “strengths and weaknesses.”

11:13 – Mr. Mercer’s motion fails 7-7!!!

11;15 – This is huge victory for sound science education in Texas. Moreover, the creationists’ opposition to Mr. Craig’s motion exposed their hypocrisy about wanting to ensure that students can ask questions about science.

And once again, good triumphs over evil! Way to go, guys.