More Oklahomans make fools of themselves

I already looked at one idiotic argument against gay marriage from my home state of Oklahoma. That particular bit of stupidity was from just some random schmuck in Edmond. Today’s bit of drooling inanity, however, comes from people with actual power. Three state legislators, to be precise.

Young Oklahoma Republican lawmakers: Sanctity of marriage must endure

BY STATE REPS. ELISE HALL, JUSTIN WOOD AND JOSH COCKROFT

Note to bigots: If you want people to represent your position on gay marriage, you should not get guys called “Wood” and “Cockroft” to do it. You’re basically just inviting assholes like me to make fun of you.

As the three youngest members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Republican caucus, we continue to believe that the push for a new definition of marriage is an attempt to carve out a special right that has no basis in the traditions of our country.

Since when do rights need to have a basis in tradition? Did women’s right to vote have any basis in tradition? Did equal rights for blacks have any basis in tradition?

We believe that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity…

Okay. I’m not playing bullshit bigot boilerplate any more. Just move on to the obvious contradiction of this statement that you will inevitably make…

but that equal treatment has no bearing on the question of how marriage is defined.

So we can just throw out Loving v. Virginia and start banning interracial marriage again. Because the definition of marriage has nothing to do with equality. Nothing at all.

You see this thing I’m doing here? It’s a rare (on the right wing) form of thinking called “following a sentence through to its logical implications.” You might want to try it some time. Because I don’t think equality having nothing to do with marriage is anything you would ever actually want to stand by.

Marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman. It’s not defined as a union between a man and another man nor a woman and another woman.

Don’t you just love how right wingers suddenly turn into strident lexicographers whenever the prospect of people they don’t even know having a relationship they don’t approve of comes up? We can’t redefine marriage! Think of the damage it will do to our dictionaries!

Doing so would represent creating a new right, not adhering to any previously understood right.

Bullshit. Giving women the right to vote didn’t “create a new right”. It took an existing right and extended it to a new group of people. That’s how this whole “equal rights” thing works.

Is gay marriage gaining traction with young people? Yes. But that is because of the moralistic relativity that is constantly being promoted by Hollywood and in many areas of pop culture today. The idea that is too frequently becoming the norm is that everything is allowed and nothing is off limits.

It’s pop culture’s fault! If we censored movies and made it harder to have this conversation, then we could be bigots all we want without ever having to worry about public exposure!

Whenever there’s some kind of moral panic, people often target some aspect of pop culture as the supposed cause of all our problems.  In the 20s it was jazz music and dancing. In the 30s it was movies.  In the 50s it was comic books. In the 60s it was rock music. In the 70s, heavy metal. Pornography, video games, horror films, gangster rap music, reality TV–all have found themselves in the cross hairs of sanctimonious culture warriors who want an easy target to solve all their problems. The reason is simple: pop culture is an easy target. It’s highly visible, and there’s always someone out there who finds some aspect of it offensive (usually because it depicts something unfamiliar to them). And, as any rational person might suspect, there is little evidence that pop culture actually has the power over people’s minds that the culture warriors say it does. Pop culture reflects us much more than we reflect it.

But culture warriors rarely care about facts. They care about airy principles and vaguely defined “values”. The myth of American “moral relativism” is a perfect example of this. Whenever right wing douche-nozzles like these guys talk of “moral relativism”, replace the term with “moral system different from my own” and you get their real point. I doubt there are very many Americans who believe “everything is allowed and nothing is off limits.” If there were, the murder and rape rates would be MUCH higher than they actually are because of all the people who just kill and take whatever they want. But the vast majority of Americans do in fact realize that these things are wrong, and don’t do them. They’re not moral relativists–they just have a moral system that differs from the Evangelical system, which is good, since the Evangelical system is based on bigotry, ignorance, superstition, venality, hatred, and pervasive stupidity.

God intended one man and one woman to be tied in holy matrimony for their entire lives.

No. God intended for Evangelicals to shut the fuck up and leave gay people alone.

I have just as much evidence to support my hypothesis as you do yours.

Proponents of gay marriage will point fingers at straight couples getting divorces, but that’s not the fault of traditional marriage — that’s an issue for each individual couple to deal with and answer to God. Humans are flawed individuals and fall short of the grace and glory of God. That, unfortunately, includes marriages that end. It is a straw-man argument.

It’s still better than “God says so.” Unless you’ve got a good solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma, your divine command ethics is up shit creek without a god-paddle.

And, no, it’s not a straw man. Bigoted douchenuggets repeatedly argue that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed because children need both a mother and a father. Pointed out that divorce results in children being raised without one or the other–but we still don’t outlaw straight marriage–is entirely relevant.

Gay marriage proponents argue that long-term gay couples deserve the right to marry so they can maneuver certain legal matters dealing with things ranging from wills to being put on life insurance policies. There are alternate ways to address legal issues. A widespread acceptance of nontraditional marriage is not the way to go.

Not there aren’t other ways. Oklahoma has a frickin’ constitutional amendment which specifies that there not be any. Not only is gay marriage outlawed, but so are domestic partnerships and civil unions. There is no legal recourse, and assholes like your are precisely the reason why.

This is like putting someone in a cage, locking the only door, then saying, “It’s your fault for not finding another way out.” And it confirms one of the most important lessons we can draw from this whole gay marriage debate: The Religious Right is made up of a bunch of assholes.

We feel young Republicans and conservatives are open-minded and, in some ways, are very different from their parents’ generation. That doesn’t mean we are ready to stand for allowing the legal definition of marriage to be stretched into areas it does not belong for the pursuit of convenience or social pressure.

Go fuck yourself.

Is the ability to visit your spouse in the hospital a matter of “convenience”? If you think it is, then you really are a completely inhuman piece of shit. And the state legislature of Oklahoma is starting to fill up with these. I keep hoping that the next election will give it a good flush, but find myself disappointed year after year.

Sigh. Why do you do this to me, Sooner State? Why?

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A Turd By Any Other Name Would Smell As…

Sometimes you feel like responding to something on the internet is a big fat waste of time. This post is definitely one of those kinds of things. It’s major SIWOTI Syndrome. I’m dumb for doing this. But I can’t help myself. I actually interrupted watching Joss Whedon’s DVD commentary of The Avengers to write this shit. I suck. But I’ve got shit to say, and I’m dumb enough to say it. At least I’m drunk. That’s less an excuse than a mea culpa, but it’s all I got.

Anyways, so Jerry Coyne made a light hearted post about a silly t-shirt. It was really just filler posting for his blog. It didn’t really amount to much. I’ll admit that I often forget the periodic table of elements, so it took me a few seconds to get the joke. Again, I’m dumb and I suck. But whatever. The point is, it’s a nothing post taking a light jab at the ID movement.

Enter Lee Bowman, who posted the following in response:

Actually, there is a controversy over the summation of tentative causative factors within evolutionary theory, and in my considered view, there are multiple causative factors.

But is interventionary input by a directed source even a possibility? Of course, but it eclipses orbiting teapots.

I occasionally comment on Yahoo Answers, although a back and forth exchange doesn’t work well there.

My biggest concern was what I view as a misconception over what ID entails, evident by the answers preceding mine.

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130124202750AANy5NV

Where to begin with this shit? He completely missed the point of Russell’s teapot; he’s ignorant of the fact that evolutionary theory already involves multiple causal factors; he’s using fancy-talk and $10 words to disguise the fact that he provides NO actual evidence; he confounds possibility with plausibility (the existence of unicorns is possible, but that doesn’t make unicorns scientific); he swipes at previous commenters without bothering to actually point out any flaws they made; and he is, in general, bloviating like a big gas bag and then giving us a link to his “concern”, which is just another comment on another thread at Yahoo where he bloviates some more:

First, I am a rationalist, or free thinker, which eclipses both liberal and conservative philosophies. And by that, I mean that I view the evidence in assessing the data, NOT an indoctrinated conclusion assessed by others, and in this case BOTH religion and materialist oriented science regarding evolutionary theory.

That said, I’ll now give you my interpretation of ID within biology. It is simply an adjunct hypothesis regarding causative factors in producing functional complexity, and sits with equal status along with natural causation. Both are valid hypotheses, and IMO, both were operatives in the evolutionary processes.

So in answer to the question, first, we need definitions.

Evolution = an overall set of processes which have culminated in living organisms.

Intelligent Design = not a separate theory from ToE, but a causative hypothesis entailing directed input at key points, by a single or multiple intelligences, and NOT based on scriptural accounts.

Natural Selection of genetic variation = a causative hypothesis entailing non-directed input to phenotypic advancements, which result in fecundity advantages based on sexual and environmental selective pressures.

Horizontal Gene Transfer and other natural processes are hypothesized to produce upward complexity and novelty as well. All of the above are hypothetical and equally viable at this time.

Now that ID is properly understood and defined, it sits within evolutionary theory in addition to natural causative factors, and cannot be ruled out summarily. It is thus a legitimate concept for discussion and further research, classrooms included.

More word salad, and even less actual substance. What I’m finding really annoying at this point is his penchant for inventing new terms without bothering to define them.  What, for example, is an “adjunct hypothesis”? I’ve been studying philosophy of science for almost 15 years and never come across such a term. I’ve seen the term “auxiliary hypothesis”, but an example of an auxiliary hypothesis is something like “The sample in this particular Petri dish is not contaminated”. Clearly not what Lee Bowman has in mind. But it doesn’t stop there. What’s a “Causative hypothesis”? What’s a “phenotypic advancement”? What’s a “fecundity advantage”? None of these terms occur in the scientific or philosophical literature, and exactly where they fit into it is never made clear by Mr. Bowman. We can speak of causal hypotheses in philosophy of science, but the question will revolve more around how properly to structure the experimental and control groups in designing an experiment which can prove more than mere correlation in a statistical study. And while you’ll hear a lot about phenotypes in a biology class, you won’t hear much about their “advancement” because that’s just nonsensical. Evolution doesn’t have a direction and no phenotype is more “advanced” than any other except in a highly relativized sense. And “fecundity advantage” just seems like Lee Bowman’s attempt to make the term “natural selection” sound smarter by using bigger words to say it. Blah. Not impressed.

Bowman’s definitions are utterly worthless and unoperationalizable. Defining evolution as “an overall set of processes which have culminated in living organisms” is like defining general relativity as “a set of physical interactions that, like, make galaxies and shit.” Worthless. General relativity is testable and well supported if you define it like an adult human being would, but if you insist on doing nothing but stringing words together that don’t actually mean anything, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. There IS, in fact, a very testable and very mathematically definable definition of general relativity, just like there are testable and definable formulations of the theory of evolution, but you have to do this horrible thing called STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE to understand them. If you did this horrible thing called STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE, you would understand why “a causative hypothesis entailing directed input at key points, by a single or multiple intelligences,” is meaningless gibberish. The ID proponents have, only on rare occasions, tried to define what these “key points” where intelligent intervention are. Every time, someone has pointed them to experimental findings which show that no such ID is required at this so-called “key point” (examples include bacterial flagella and the Krebs cycle). ID proponents respond by changing their definition of what’s a “key point”. It’s just an old-fashioned Moving the Goalposts fallacy, dressed up in fancy language. There’s no way to operationalize the idea of “key points” where ID is needed, because every time someone does operationalize it ID fails, and its proponents just move their “key point” to some other aspect of biology.

The theory of evolution (which includes natural selection, genetics, genetic drift, common descent, evo devo, etc.) is testable, and has been tested, and has passed those tests. Intelligent Design is not testable. A fortiori, no test has ever supported it. And Lee Bowman hasn’t changed any of this. He’s just dressed up creationism in fancy terms like “interventionary input by a directed source” and magically declared himself to be “a rationalist, or free thinker, which eclipses both liberal and conservative philosophies” (I don’t believe in god, but even I avoid calling myself rationalist and freethinker. It just sounds pretentious most of the time).  At first, I responded to him briefly (which was wise–what I am doing now is definitely not wise):

LeeBowman,

You seem to be under the impression that taking the exact same things a zillion people have said before and gussying them up in stilted, needlessly prolix language makes your comments sound more rational or more relevant.

It doesn’t. Whether you say, “God done it” or “interventionary input by a directed source”, it’s still discredited gibberish. I actually have more respect for the rednecks who yell “God done it!” and wave their Bibles around. At least they’re just simply stating what they believe. Your brand of pseudo-intellectual sophistry is much worse.

I should have just left it at that. I really should. Lee Bowman responded on Jan 27, and I should just ignore it, because he doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said by a bajillion creationists before him. He doesn’t present any new experimental evidence. He doesn’t formulate any new hypothesis that hadn’t already been spewed out by creationists pretending not to be creationists. He in fact does not do anything new at all in any way. So I should just ignore him.

But god damn it. I’m drunk. I’m surly. Fuck this guy. Give me your counterarguments, you magnificent Lee Bowman bastard you…

Ah, but what may “seem” to be the case (in your case)

Let’s not overuse the word “case”. It’s especially ill-advised to include two very different senses of the word “case” in the same sentence at the same time, like you just did. You wouldn’t want to equivocate between what “seems” to be the “case” and what’s my “case”. This is especially true since the “quotes” you put around words kinda undermine whatever “case” you’re trying to make in that regard.  When you put the word “seem” in quotes, are you trying to allege that it doesn’t actually seem that way to me? That I’m misusing the word “seem”? If not, why put the quotes around the word? I put the word “case” in quotes because that’s what one does when one wants to discuss a word as a word. I’m still a bit confused as to why you put the word “seem” in quotes. You are not discussing the word “seem” itself, which makes me think that you put those quotes there without really thinking about what putting quotes around an English word means.

Oh, wait, I see. You’re just scare-quoting me when you put quotes around “seem”. Sorry. I was too distracted by your clumsy use of the word “case”. If you don’t want me to take you to task for how you use “case” in the future, then don’t needlessly put “seem” in quotes, and it won’t happen. But if you want to use bullshit scare-quotes on me, I’m happy to reciprocate. Also, my use of the word “seem” does not merit scare-quotes in your response, unless you disagree with me about what the word “seem” means. Scare-quotes are only warranted when you allege that the quoted author is using the word inappropriately. Since you never made any such “case”, you can take your scare quotes and “shove” them up your “ass”.

Ah, but what may “seem” to be the case (in your case) is a blatantly false assumption based upon several false presumptions.

And how much time have you put into examining your presumptions? Or, even worse, your assumptions based on presumptions?

One, that ID is a religious view, two, that anyone espousing it has an a priori religious position, and three, that couching that view in loquacious verbiage to sneak it in under the wire is merely a tactic.

First off, “loquacious” is a description of the person who spews the words, not a description of the words themselves. There’s no such thing as “loquacious verbiage”. If you must use big words, please use them properly. At least look them up in a dictionary or thesaurus first. That’s not too much to ask. Seriously. I’m not kidding about this. People using big words without bothering to learn what they mean is a big pet peeve of mine. Use the words the way they should be used. Don’t just make up your own imaginary meaning for words which have nothing to do with what they really mean. If you keep improperly using big words, I’m going to call you a Sparkling Yak Sesquipedalian. By my imaginary definition,  Sparkling means “Numb nuts”, “yak” means “internet faker”, and “sesquipedalian” means “sesquipedalian”. Look it up, bitch. (“Bitch” means you.)  If you don’t want me to make up imaginary meanings of words, then stop doing it yourself. Use “loquacious” according to its actual definition, or STFU.

Firstly, ID is an evidence based hypothesis.

That’s laughable. Every time an ID proponent has proposed a hypothesis that can be tested by evidence (such as bacterial flagella or blood clotting), tests have shown that Intelligent Design fails. How do they respond? By changing the standards of the test. ID is not evidence based by any standard.

There are not any experimental programs currently using any ID model. No ID proponent had produced any new experimental data. If you go to any biology laboratory anywhere in the world, you will find scientists using the theory of evolution to construct their experiments. And these experiments work. But you won’t find people using ID to construct experiments. That’s because “Invisible undefined magic man did it” is not a testable hypothesis. ID is promulgated by lots of people, but  ID is not promulgated because some scientific evidence supports it. None does. It’s promulgated because there are a large number of Americans who believe that Jesus rode a dinosaur to the gun range, and they feel all poopy inside about the fact that all of modern science contradicts what they believe, so they pay good money for people who pose as scientific rationalists to pretend to treat Jesus riding a dino to the gun range like it’s not a stupid, crazy idea.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s stupid and crazy.

While to some it may imply a monotheistic god, this is a faith based position that may proceed from design inferences, but does not predicate a design inference. ID is based primarily upon the improbability of natural causation where probability bounds are exceeded.

“Probability bounds”? What do you mean by that? Do you mean Markov conditions? Or is this some kind of Bayesian epistemology? Or is it just big words that mean nothing? Probabilities are defined in terms of a defined number of events picked out of some probability space. Both the probability space and the function that picks out an event need to be defined, but Bowman attempts neither. The work I’ve done involving probabilities, such as  Decision Theory, Markov Decision Processes, and Bayesian Networks, don’t involve any kind of “probability bounds” being “exceeded”. This is just Lee Bowman inventing terms without defining them again. Big surprise there.

Of course, he’s not really doing any new work or research. Actually, he’s just appealing to the old false dichotomy of creationism: “Either it’s designed, or it just happened randomly.” This is illogical, as the algorithmic process of natural selection is neither designed nor random, so once again Lee Bowman is just using fancy sounding language to express dumb, already disproven ideas. What Bowman calls “the improbability of natural causation” is just the old Watchmaker argument, which goes all the way back to William Paley in 1802. Natural selection is not random–it’s determined by the environment. So any theory that bases its explanatory power on whether it’s more explanatory than randomness is already a straw man.

Secondly, there is no basis for this assumption, simply because there have been examples cited where this was evident. Example: Judge Jones’ assumption that actions by the school board in the Dover PA district, along with a few other examples, proved that ID was religion based. The scientific basis for ID went completely over his head.

How law works and how science works are two different things. People with functioning brains get this. Lee Bowman is not one of these people.

Judge John Jones was charged with multiple tasks in the Dover trial. One was to evaluate the scientific merit of ID. Another was to adjudicate the claims about whether ID should be taught in schools. Another was to adjudicate the actions of the people on the Dover school board. Another was to decide whether their particular ID policy was consistent with judicial precedent on constitutional law. In other words, he needed to be a Judge. ‘Cause that’s what judges do. They interpret the law.

Lee Bowman has not actually read Judge Jones’ decision. But you can read it here. Merely reading words in a document will already put you way, way, way, way ahead of anything Bowman has to say. Judge Jones was not merely interpreting the science. He was interpreting the law, insofar as it relates to science. The pro-ID evidence presented to him consisted of some religious nuts who knew nothing about the very topics they expounded upon (i.e. the Dover school board), and scientists such as Michael Behe who openly admitted that ID requires that supernatural claims be allowed into science. Basically he had people saying “Jesus Jesus Jesus!” and people saying “We aren’t screaming ‘Jesus!’, but we don’t have any other reason to be here…” The reason for including ID in Dover was religious.

No scientific basis for ID was assessed, because none was presented. No experiments supporting ID were presented at the trial, because no such experiments have ever been performed. This is in stark contrast to evolution by natural selection, where numerous experiments were presented, none of which were challenged by the defendants. They just simply didn’t have anything to respond with.

And three, what I stated was what design inferences are based upon, i.e. the postulated addition of intervention to natural processes at key points, to facilitate subsequent altered phyla.

What the fuck are “altered phyla”? That’s not a scientific term, and you also have not made any attempt to define what the hell it means. It’s yet again another term you throw out there without bothering to define what the fuck it means.

And what are “key points”? How does one decide what “point” is a “key” point? What scientific standard is used to distinguish regular old points from “key” points? And what makes any phylum “subsequent”, regardless of whether it’s “altered” or not? “Altered” phyla is already nonsense, but calling some phylum “subsequent” on top of being “altered” and adding in that this phylum had some kind of completely undefined “key point” is just piling undefined nonsense on top of undefined nonsense. If you’re going to use terms that have no presence in the scientific or philosophical literature, at least do us the favor of providing a definition. And “a causative hypothesis entailing non-directed input to phenotypic advancements” is NOT a good definition, seeing as you never bothered to define what the fuck a “phenotypic advancement” is.

While not offered as hard fact due to its non-empirically replicable forensic nature

Forensic science is perfectly empirical and replicable. Nothing that you have said has even addressed that point at all. Basically, you’re saying, “I don’t have jack shit to support ID, but I can PRETEND that’s also true for natural selection!” Well, sorry, you’re wrong. Natural selection has tons of empirical evidence to support it. Galapagos finches are just the beginning. There’s also the massive mounds of evidence from comparative morphology, biogeography, genomics, domestic breeding, population genetics, deep homologies, ecology, and tons of other areas. You have not addressed any of these. The reason you haven’t addressed any of them is because you don’t know anything about them.

neither are totally natural causative processes, which have not been empirically confirmed as well.

Remember, Bowman is claiming that my problem is that I think ID proponents are advocating for the existence of some kind of deity. Lee Bowman claims that’s a bogus “presumption” on my part. And yet he couches the argument in terms of “natural” versus “designed”. What’s the alternative to “natural”, Lee? If it’s not “supernatural”, then what is it?

At least at this juncture, neither are proven as absolutes.

True, in that science doesn’t deal in absolutes. Rather than absolute truths, the Evolution/Intelligent Design issues could be better summarized thus:

Amount of evidence:

Evolution: A Fucking Shit Ton (Pretty much the entire science of biology provides evidence for it)

Intelligent Design: Almost Nothing (and pretty much the entire science of biology contradicts it)

But none of this stops Lee Bowman from being very, very proud of himself.

Omigosh, I just noticed that my response to the evolution/ ID question posed by ABA was just awarded ‘Best Answer’ by him. Since there were (24) other answers 180 deg. to mine, I guess we must both be creotards

Hmmmm, let’s look at the original question….

Do you believe that both theories of evolution and intelligent design should be taught in school science?

If not tell me if either/or/none should be taught.

Please tell me if your liberal or conservative..
(Studies show liberals are typically more intolerant of other viewpoints so I’d like to test this theory)

Yup. Both creotards. Here, let me pose a similar question:

Do you think people who disagree with me about unicorns being real should have equal time in schools?

Tell me whether either/or/none unicorn science should be taught to other people’s children.

(Please indicate whether or not you’re a different political orientation from me, because I’ve heard people who have different politics from me think differently from me and the people who told me this called it science without actually providing experimental evidence, so I want to know whether you think differently from me so I can ignore your opinion from the get-go also my grammar sucks i hate the english language suck it education dumb people rule!!!!!111)

Oh my god, you got voted up on a Yahoo thread by a barely literate creationist. Maybe both of you are just narcissistic…

Or perhaps just rational thinkers …

No. You’ll be classified as rotifers based on morphology before either of you is ever mistaken for a rational thinker.

Occam’s Blinders

Most people have heard the term Occam’s Razor. In a nutshell, it means “Don’t needlessly multiply hypotheses,” or less precisely, “The simplest answer is usually correct.” It can be seen as a way to excise or cut away less plausible or more doubtful hypotheses in explaining some phenomenon, instead sticking with the one’s that have greater prior probability based on what we already know. So the “razor” part is a figurative means of cutting away the hypotheses that require us to make more assumptions or unsupported assertions, leaving only the more defensible hypotheses.

It’s possible to imagine some method that does precisely the opposite. Let’s call it Occam’s Blinders. Rather than trim the less plausible hypotheses away from the more plausible, it instead blocks out the more plausible, leaving the least plausible hypotheses as the only choices left. The obvious question one would ask about Occam’s Blinders is “Why the fuck would anyone want such a thing?” And yet, I maintain that such thinking is quite common. Take, for instance, T. M. Luhrmann at CNN.com, who argues that talking to God is a perfectly “normal” thing. (I put “normal” in scare-quotes because, as I’ll argue later, Luhrmann is equivocating throughout the article on just what “normal” means.)

Most people reading the ancient scriptures understand these accounts of hearing God’s voice as miracles that really did happen but no longer take place today, or maybe as folkloric flourishes to ancient stories. Even Christians who believe that miracles can be an everyday affair can hesitate when someone tells them they heard God speak audibly. There’s an old joke: When you talk to God, we call it prayer, but when God talks to you, we call it schizophrenia.

Except that usually it’s not.

Well, okay, fair enough. Schizophrenia affects only about 1% of the adult population, and yet hearing voices in one’s head is something most if not all people might experience at some point in their life time (presumably only rarely, though). What the hell does this have to do with “scripture” or “god”?

Hearing a voice when alone, or seeing something no one else can see, is pretty common. At least one in 10 people will say they’ve had such an experience if you ask them bluntly. About four in 10 say they have unusual perceptual experiences between sleep and awareness if you interview them about their sleeping habits.

Yup. That’s what’s called a hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucination. Lots of people have them, myself included. Hell, just this morning, as I slowly woke up, I had a short discussion about Rawlsian political philosophy with a figment of my imagination. It was a dream that felt more real because I was half awake during it. What’s the big deal? What does god turning himself into a person, killing himself, and coming back (i.e. scripture) have to do with it?

And if you ask them in a way that allows them to admit they made a mistake, the rate climbs even higher. By contrast, schizophrenia, the most debilitating of all mental disorders, is pretty rare. Only about one in 100 people can be diagnosed with the disorder.

Yup. Hearing voices or hallucinating on occasion is not necessarily a sign of mental disorder. No argument.  Please get to the point.

Moreover, the patterns are quite distinct. People with schizophrenia who hear voices hear them frequently. They often hear them throughout the day, sometimes like a rain of sound, or a relentless hammer. They hear not only sentences, but paragraphs: words upon words upon words. What the voices say is horrid—insults, sneers and contemptuous jibes. “Dirty. You’re dirty.” “Stupid slut.” “You should’ve gone under the bus, not into it.”

That was not what Abraham, Moses and Job experienced, even when God was at his most fierce.

You’re saying god never accused people of being dirty, promiscuous, or said they should be destroyed? Because if you read the prophets, it seems like that was pretty much all he had to say.

For the last 10 years, I have been doing anthropological and psychological research among experientially oriented evangelicals, the sort of people who seek a personal relationship with God and who expect that God will talk back. For most of them, most of the time, God talks back in a quiet voice they hear inside their minds, or through images that come to mind during prayer. But many of them also reported sensory experiences of God. They say God touched their shoulder, or that he spoke up from the back seat and said, in a way they heard with their ears, that he loved them.

A lot of people also report seeing bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Are they crazy? Not necessarily. Most are just normal folks. But that doesn’t mean that we should take their bigfoot reports seriously. Most likely, they saw an animal they were unfamiliar with and let their imaginations run away from there. That’s normal. But normal can still be wrong. In fact, normal is normally wrong. In America, it’s normal to reject evolution, for instance. Doesn’t change the fact that anyone who does so is wrong (and ignorant).

In fact, my research has found that these unusual sensory experiences are more common among those who pray in a way that uses the imagination—for example, when prayer involves talking to God in your mind. The unusual sensory experiences were not, in general, associated with mental illness (we checked).

Here we have the beginning of Luhrmann’s equivocation. “Normal” means, in this paragraph, “lot’s of people without mental illnesses have unusual experiences”. As such, it has absolutely nothing to do with “god” or any other supernatural being.

Importantly, she leaps from reports of unusual sensory experience being more common to unusual sensory experience being more common. This is almost certainly an example of confirmation bias. People expecting to have such experiences will be more likely to remember them, while those with no such expectations will likely forget them. This is commonplace and, again, perfectly normal human psychology. And the following paragraph strengthens my suspicion–the one’s more likely to be looking for such experiences are the ones more likely to report them:

They were more common among those who felt comfortable getting caught up in their imaginations. They were also more common among those who prayed for longer periods. Prayer involves paying attention to words and images in the mind, and giving them significance. There is something about the skilled practice of paying attention to the mind in this way that shifts—just a little bit—the way we judge what is real.

Here’s where Occam’s Blinders come in. Take something most people have (unusual sensory experience), and interpret it via not what is (a) most likely (the brain is an imperfect organ that will sometimes give strange or erroneous feedback), but rather via (b) what most tickles your imagination (an invisible being who doesn’t want me to masturbate is touching me). And from this point on, Luhrmann will equivocate between the simple empirical observation (a) and the highly embellished theological interpretation (b), even though she has only been able to show that (a) is “normal”.

I would contend that putting on Occam’s Blinders is not in any way “the skilled practice of paying attention to the mind,” but rather quite the opposite. It is the refusal to pay enough attention to the mind to notice important cognitive biases and re-evaluate one’s own thoughts and beliefs in light of them. One wearing Occam’s Blinders immediately leaps to “god” as the explanation of an occurrence in her own thoughts. One who has the meta-cognitive abilities to examine her own thoughts more thoroughly and critically might consider the god hypothesis, but then reject it because there are other more plausible explanations. It’s the latter who has more skilled practice of paying attention to her mind. The one who judges that god is real based on inner voices is the one paying less attention to how her mind works.

Yet even many of these Christians, who wanted so badly to have a back-and-forth relationship with God, were a little hesitant to talk about hearing God speak with their ears. For all the biblical examples of hearing God speak audibly, they doubt.

Gee, I wonder why. Could it be because Christians, no matter how devoted they claim to be, still on some level recognize the silliness of claiming that an invisible man is telling you what to do? Could it be because they recognize that merely hearing a voice in your head is not sufficient evidence to leap to the conclusion that the omnipotent ruler of the entire universe is personally letting you know that fags are evil? And why would many Christians be reluctant to interpret a voice in their head as god? Could it be that while hearing the voice might be normal, interpreting it as god is not normal?

When the Christians I know heard God speak audibly, it often flitted across their minds that they were crazy.

This is a false dichotomy. “Crazy” and “god talking” are not the only two options here. “Normal brain fart” is also an available option, if you take off Occam’s Blinders.

Look, your brain is processing a lot of information, and it never does it perfectly. Sometimes sensory input will be interpreted as a voice when it is not actually a voice. Sometimes a slight muscle spasm will be interpreted as a touch on the skin. Sometimes your inner monologue will feel like someone else’s voice. Sometimes you’ll start dreaming before you’re fully asleep, and see and hear things that aren’t there. This happens. But these simple empirical observations do not in any way justify an inference to the nature of the entire universe (which is exactly what any claim about god is).

In his new book, “Hallucinations,” the noted neurologist Oliver Sacks tells his own story about a hallucinatory experience that changed his life. He took a hearty dose of methamphetamines as a young doctor, and settled down with a 19th century book on migraines. He loved the book, with its detailed observation and its humanity. He wanted more. As he was casting around in his mind for someone who could write more that he could read, a loud internal voice told him “You silly bugger” that it was he. So he began to write. He never took drugs again.

Now, Sacks does not recommend that anyone take drugs like that. He thinks that what he did was dangerous and he thinks he was lucky to have survived.

I loves me some Oliver Sacks. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is an excellent book, and his research is important. But I do have to ask a few questions…

1.) If hearing these voices is so good and normal, then why is taking drugs that cause them so bad and abnormal?

2.) If these voices can result from purely chemical, drug-induced brain frenzy, then what sane person would insist they come from the Almighty Ruler of All That is and Ever Will Be?

3.) Or are we seriously going to claim that god can’t communicate with us any better than a meth-induced hallucination can? If that’s the best god can do, I am not impressed. If talking to god is so normal, then why can’t god just talk like a normal person?

4.) If your goal is to claim these things are “normal”, then wouldn’t the guy snorting meth and hearing voices in his head be not exactly the best example?

What interests me, however, is that he allowed himself to trust the voice because the voice was good. There’s a distinction between voices associated with psychiatric illness (often bad) and those (often good) that are found in the so-called normal population. There’s another distinction between those who choose to listen to a voice, if the advice it gives is good, and those who do not. When people like Sacks hear a voice that gives them good advice, the experience can transform them.

How do we define what’s a “good” voice and what’s a “bad” voice? And by what measurement do we establish that the voice heard by the general population are “often good”?

These distinctions seem to me to be utterly artificial. Unless you can show that the etiology of the voice in the head is somehow causally related to what’s “good” or “bad”, then I’m not buying it. And since good and bad are highly complex and situational value judgments made in complicated social contexts, it would be hard to prove to any degree of satisfaction whether a voice in the head is pathological based on whether it’s good or bad.

About a third of the people I interviewed carefully at the church where I did research reported an unusual sensory experience they associated with God. While they found these experiences startling, they also found them deeply reassuring.

So what? So they had experiences which, according to your own research, most people have. But they childishly imagined it was Jesus babbling in their ear rather than a brain fart, and they felt better for it. We can easily comfort ourselves with implausible delusions or cognitively simple but irrational modes of thought. This is well known.

But the question of whether “god talking” is normal is not addressed by this data. That would be equivocating between an empirical observation about the brain and a hermeneutical or epistemic attitude towards one’s subjective experiences. The fact that many Christians will admit to having the former but be reluctant to acknowledge the latter (as Luhrmann herself said just a few paragraphs ago)  is evidence that hearing god’s “voice” is NOT normal, if we’re going by the statistical definition of normal used earlier in this op-ed, wherein if most non-mentally ill people have it then it’s normal. Most people have the experiences, but most also do NOT interpret them with Occam’s Blinders on. So it’s not normal by Luhrmann’s own definition. The only way this doesn’t follow is if we equivocate on the distinction between the empirical observation that people report these experiences and the way someone chooses to interpret them.

Science cannot tell us whether God generated the voice that Abraham or Augustine heard.

The fuck it can’t. If science can show us how the normal operations of the physical brain might generate such experiences (which it can), then the burden of proof falls on those who insist it’s actually god and not physical matter that’s doing this.  But in order to come up with such proof, you need to take Occam’s Blinders off.

These kinds of statements really annoy me. Andrew Newberg, a neurologist who studies the effects of religion on the brain, has committed a similar fallacy. In his study of religious experience, he has found clear evidence of physical changes in brain activity which can explain what’s going on in a so-called religious experience. However, he then goes on to say, “But this doesn’t mean it’s not God or Allah or Xenu or Darth Vader that’s doing it” (I’m paraphrasing).

This is nonsense. It’s like saying, “Yeah, your experiments show that oxygen causes combustion, but that doesn’t prove that phlogiston doesn’t cause it.” Not directly, sure, but it does shift the burden of proof entirely onto the phlogiston theorist. If you want me to take phlogiston seriously, it’s your job to come up with empirical evidence of phlogiston. The same goes for religious experiences and god “talking” to us. We have good evidence that this results from the way the brain is wired up. If you insist “god” has anything to do with it, it is your job to prove it. Otherwise, science has for all intents and purposes eliminated the god hypothesis.

But it can tell us that many of these events are normal, part of the fabric of human perception. History tells us that those experiences enable people to choose paths they should choose, but for various reasons they hesitate to choose.

It can tell us that strange sensory experience is normal, NOT that interpreting such experiences as Jeebus whispering in your ear is normal. History might actually provide some good lessons here. Conquerors throughout history have relied on “signs” from god(s) or “visions” to guide them in slaughtering and enslaving other peoples. The question is not whether people do follow what their hallucinations tell them to do, but whether or not this is a wise choice. Maybe your “good” voices will lead you down a shitty path, one that leads to harming others for your own “good”. History certainly provides examples of that kind of thing happening. Hell, even the Bible itself has the people of Israel hearing the voice of god telling them to invade and kill their neighbors. Is this an example of listening to the “good” voices or the “bad” voices? And is there any reliable way to distinguish between the two other than one makes you feel nice and the other makes you feel poopy?

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sat at his kitchen table, in the winter of 1956, terrified by the fear of what might happen to him and his family during the Montgomery bus boycott, he said he heard the voice of Jesus promising, “I will be with you.” He went forward.

Voices may form part of human suffering. They also may inspire human greatness.

They’re also terrifyingly unreliable. For every Martin Luther King, there’s a King Xerxes.

The defenders of superstition often like to point to anecdotal evidence of some individual good thing resulting from some individual religious thing. But it’s pretty rare to see them try to make the case that religion can reliably produce such good things. Bearing in mind the old adage about broken clocks, it’s one thing to find a silver lining in a dark cloud, it’s quite another to find a cloud that consistently brings you silver.

Luhrmann is no different. She has a few anecdotes about MLK and Oliver Sacks, and some testimony from evangelicals that they felt all warm and fuzzy after hearing a voice and attributing it to Jesus, but she ignores the central equivocation in her thesis which completely undermines her point. Yes, it’s normal to hear voices on rare occasions; but no, it’s not normal to think these voices are god and then act on them. As she herself says, people are very hesitant to do this. Why? My guess is because the rational part of their brain says, “How do you know you can trust that voice?”

Does Luhrmann really want us to ignore what our rational mind says in favor of whatever voice pops into it? Is she seriously suggesting that humanity should become more reliant on vague, undefinable “voices” or “sensations” and ignore the more difficult (but more reliable) path of rational thought? If not, then what the hell is she saying? Yes, a voice in your head can lead you down the right path, but that doesn’t mean much. If there’s only a 1% chance of it being right, then it remains true that it can lead you to choose the right path. But if there’s another method with a higher probability of success, then why should you eschew it for the 1% chance? Other than the fact that lazy thinking like Occam’s Blinders is easier, I can’t think of a reason.

“Normal” doesn’t mean “right”, and the fact of the thing is not the same as the subjective interpretation of the fact of the thing. Yeah, voices in the head might not be all bad, but they tell us nothing about any gods, and I would recommend people put more thought into their actions before acting on what a voice in their head tells them. Don’t assume that just because it popped into your head and it feels “reassuring” that this makes it “good” and something you should act on. Things that feel good and reassuring in your mind can still be stupid and dangerous when actually acted upon.

More Lies for Kids from AIG

Answers in Genesis just loves lying to children.  Here’s a fascinating article that purports to answer, for children, the question “What is science?” As someone who’s spent the last 12 years or so studying the history and philosophy of science, I can tell you this is no simple question.  In answer to a child’s query, I wouldn’t give them some complicated history of logical positivism or the demarcation problem or the difference between the syntactic and semantic accounts of scientific theories. But I would at least try to give them a description that accurately represents the current views of philosophers and historians and scientists, and that reflects both the potential and the limits of science while stressing the complexity of the overall process and the dangers of judging scientific findings one doesn’t understand.  Can I expect anything like that from AIG? No, of course not. Instead, we get this:

The kind of science that we normally think of as science (called “operational science”) is a wonderful tool that helps researchers discover new vaccines, find new kinds of fish in previously-uncharted waters, build more fuel-efficient cars, chart a course to other planets, and devise new treatments for old diseases.

Science makes you nifty toys and cures you when you have poopy-butt! That’s what the collected knowledge of hundreds of years of human endeavor to understand nature has earned us. New cars and space ships and diarrhea medicine.

“Operational science” is not a term in philosophy of science that I’m familiar with. The invention of new cars and medicines is what’s usually called “applied science” in philosophy of science. But it is sad but true that the shallow “gives us new technology to buy at the mall” view of science is all too common. People see the applications of science without any understanding of the theoretical principles that make that application possible.

With this kind of science, people can uncover fossils or study the composition of rocks.

Science finds things and tells you what they’re made of! Because that’s interesting and shit! But saying anything more than a shallow, simplistic “Here’s that fossil” or “Here’s that rock” is verboten blasphemy, because…

However, operational science has limitations. It can’t, for example, tell us where fish came from, when the rock formed in the first place, or how the bones of the creature came to be fossilized.

So it’s basically useless. A science that just points out the existence of things or describes what they are made of is just glorified stamp collecting. And, by the way, you can’t do important medical sciences like epidemiology without talking about how things (in this case, diseases) originate. So your definition of “operational science” is internally inconsistent. You can’t do medical science with this childish “point at rock and break it open” approach to science.

Operational science deals with the world of today. It involves testing and repeating experiments.

Are these two sentences both supposed to be about the same topic? They’re presented as if they are, and yet they clearly are not. If I had a hypothesis that King Tut had some particular genetic abnormality, and obtained some of his tissues and sequenced his genome, that would certainly be testing, and the experiment would be repeatable. But it’s not about today; it’s about thousands of years ago. And if I were a meteorologist who predicted something about the particular weather patterns happening right now, that would certainly be about today, but it would not be repeatable, since no future day is going to be exactly like today. And if I were an astronomer, I could make a prediction that such-and-such planet will appear in the sky today, but it wouldn’t be an experiment, since I have no way of manipulating or controlling any planet’s path. In fact, there’s quite a bit of legitimate science that doesn’t fit this definition of “operational science”.

“Operational science” doesn’t sound like science at all. Rather, it sounds like a way to enjoy the fruits of science while disparaging the ones who produce them. Kinda like how wealthy Republicans treat the workforce.

Origins science deals with the past.

Again, “origins science” is not a common term in history and philosophy of science. Care to elaborate?

Origins or historical science is used to reconstruct events that have happened in the past, using principles such as causality (for every effect, there must be a cause) and analogy (if this is the way it happens today, then perhaps it happened like this in the past).

Well, “historical science” is a real term, but you defined it poorly. “Causality” is part of all science. Seriously, what aspect of any human endeavor anywhere doesn’t involve causality? ‘What causes what’ is basic to almost any intellectual pursuit. And, again, analogy can play a role in any form of science. If causes and metaphors are all it takes to be origins science, then pretty much everything is origins science, and the term is meaningless.

The important factors in historical science are principles such as vera causae (causes for which you have independent evidence to know that they exist) and consilience of inductions (when multiple independent lines of evidence lead to the same conclusion). The important word in each is “independent”. Scientific facts aren’t discovered in a vacuum. They must be evaluated in terms of what you already know (and don’t know), and that’s crucial for understanding historical sciences like forensic science, geology, archeology, and, yes, evolutionary biology.

But I’m sitting here giving a philosophical evaluation of a dichotomy created solely to keep the god-humpers from having to acknowledge that human knowledge has advanced beyond their silly little book of fairy tales. Observe:

Of course, the best method of reconstruction is to rely on the account of an accurate eyewitness.

Really? So a few thousand years ago, Europe and the middle east were crawling with Centaurs, Minotaurs, Griffins, Satyrs, Trolls, Genies, Frost Giants, Leprechauns, Hydras, Sirens, Nymphs, Faeries, and about seventy bajillion gods and goddesses? Because that’s what the eye witnesses of the time tell us.

Naturalists have no such eyewitness to rely on.

“Naturalists” here means “people who rely on rationale, evidence based explanations”.

However, the Bible provides a written record of an eyewitness to (who was also intimately involved in) history—the Creator God.

So you don’t have any such witness either. And that’s not how parenthetical statements work, by the way.

This eyewitness cannot lie, so His account is completely trustworthy.

The fuck he can’t lie. If he’s even real, then basically his entire creation is one big fat lie. He puts the most distant galaxies 13.7 billion light years away, meaning the universe must be at least 13.7 billion years old or else we couldn’t see them, but then tells us it’s only 6,000 years old? Either the Bible is lying or the universe is lying. But since Jeebus is apparently the perpetrator of both, it’s his fault either way.

We can use this written record as our foundation for understanding the world around us.

We could do the same with the Gilgamesh or the Koran. And it wouldn’t be any more or less stupid.

This will help us to understand why the world is the way it is today and to make sense of where we came from and why we’re here.

There’s some fundamentalist logic for you. Specifically preventing people from pursuing questions like “How did the world get the way it is” is the path to finding the answer.

As you go through the museum, be sure to look for statements which fall under operational science—e.g., “this fossil was found in Montana”—and statements which fall under origins science—e.g., “this fossil is 65 million years old.”

Translation: Focus on easy, childish shit and reject things that require more effort, thought and training.

The philosophy of science that creationists peddle to children is reflective of the kinds of attitudes we see in adults who gullibly buy into this shit. Science, for them, is just a way to point at something, take it apart, and find a way to market it. Any broader understanding of reality is spoon fed to you by someone who claims to have absolute truth that can’t be questioned. And yet, so few people actually bother to notice the obvious fact that science couldn’t possibly have accomplished all it has over the last 400 years if finding things and taking them apart were all it could do. Pretty much all of modern technology relies on theoretical findings about atoms, electricity, germs, genes and physical interactions that can’t be directly observed but still succumb to the scientific method when understood properly. There is no eye witness account of the curvature of space-time, and yet our GPS satellites which rely explicitly on this theory work quite well. There have been tons of murders which nobody witnessed, but the killer was caught anyways due to the power of forensic science.

The creationist numbskulls are asserting two rather contradictory theses: 1.) What isn’t obviously right in front of your face can’t be real truth (thus evolution isn’t true because no one saw all 4 billions years of it), and 2.) You have to take on faith that the ruler of the entire universe inspired this particular book and any science that contradicts it must be wrong. The obvious problem here is that none of us saw God witnessing any of these events. We have to rely on non-witness humans to tell us God saw these events. The importance of eye-witnesses shoots them in the foot–we don’t have eye witness accounts in the Bible. Rather, we have people claiming someone else (god) told them he was an eye witness. And these people don’t provide any evidence whatsoever that they actually communicated with this so-called “god” fellow.

So we have to choose between humans who meticulously gathered gobs and gobs of evidence of evolution, and humans who say a magical being told them the truth. The latter’s argument only sounds convincing when you leave out the part where it’s humans saying that God said such-and-such, without bothering to provide any proof that any actual god said any such thing.  Leave that part in, and obviously the mounds of fossils and DNA and biogeography and comparative morphology and embryology and geology and astrophysics and cladistics and vestigial organs and plate tectonics sounds a lot more convincing than “I’m a human, and I say god wrote this book. So believe it, damn it!”

Kids need some good old fashioned lies

Answers in Genesis, the reprehensible creationist outfit that created the Creation Museum in Kentucky, has a section of their website dedicated to spreading creationist idiocy to America’s children. One way you can tell just how badly AIG warps the minds of its followers is by the type of questions its own readers write in:

My son brought a book home from school today about whales. It states that whales are mammals like us and that “a mammal is an animal that has lungs and breathes air,” etc… My son asked, “So we’re mammals too?” I wasn’t sure how to answer this because the definition in the book started by saying mammals are classified as an animal that… I tried to help him understand that we are not animals but wasn’t sure how to answer whether or not we are mammals. Could you help me know how to answer this? Are humans mammals?

– B.F., Wisconsin

“I tried to help him understand that we are not animals but wasn’t sure how to answer whether or not we are mammals.”

Let that quote sink in for a bit. It’s like saying, “I assure you we don’t live in New York, but I’m not sure about whether or not we live in Brooklyn.” This is the position that AIG puts creationist parents in, where they’re telling their children that they aren’t in the bigger circle on the Venn diagram, but are utterly confused about whether they fall in the smaller circle that is entirely contained within the big circle.

Any sensible person would answer, “‘Mammal’ is a subset of ‘Animal’. Having body hair, lactation, inner ear bones etc. makes us mammals. Also, genetics shows that ‘mammals’ form a monophyletic group. A fortiori, we are animals.” The sensible person might also point out that having lungs and breathing air is not an exclusive characteristic of mammals–birds and lizards and even some fish have lungs, but they are not mammals. The distinction between mammal and non-mammal (at the phenotype level) has more to do with the structure of the jaw bone(s) than it does with the lungs. This could be a learning moment for the child in question, if the parent were getting his/her information from anything even vaguely representing a reputable source. But they’re getting their info from AIG, so they get this:

Thanks for sending in this question. It’s great to see that you and your son are carefully examining the book about whales together.

The son asked a sensible question. The parent got confused because the dogma he/she wished the feed them was clearly self-contradicting. That’s not “carefully examining” by any rational standard whatsoever.

The word mammal is man-made

All words are man-made.  We’re the only species on this planet that talks. And, no, you don’t get to point to god or angels or demons as other beings that talk. FIRST, you have to prove that they exist at all. Then you get to say that they talk.

meaning that it is a method of classification defined by people.

Again, all methods of classification are defined by people. For instance, “Christian” and “Muslim” are classifications of people, and these classifications were created by people. Until we meet another species that can talk, this remains true for every single classification we ever discuss.

Generally speaking, mammals are defined as animals that are warm-blooded, usually having hair or fur, and giving birth to live young, which they nurse by producing milk. According to this definition, people and whales are both classified in the category of mammals.

Live birth is not a very good criterion, as monotremes (definitely mammals) lay eggs, whereas many different species of fish and snakes (definitely not mammals) give live birth. The best way to draw the line is to use comparative morphology and genetics, but then that leads you right to a nasty little thing called evolution. And of course you can’t mention those jaw bones, because there’s actually a quite compelling fossil record showing them transitioning from multiple bones in the jaw to one jaw bone and multiple inner ear bones. Oops!

God has a different way of viewing people and animals.

No. Humans say that god has a different view. God himself hasn’t said shit. It’s always a human (usually white and male) who does the talking.

First of all, God created men and women in His image.

Have you thought through what this implies about your precious “Marriage = One man + One woman” slogan?

This makes people unique and special.

Actually, it makes us a carbon copy of something else.

God did not create any of the animals in His image.

So long as we ignore the fact that humans fit the definition of animal exactly, and only humans claim to have any messages from God.

You can also see from these verses that God gave people authority over all animals, including whales.

Fuck you, whales! I’m in charge, bitches!

Another difference between people and animals is that God gave the gift of salvation to people.

Hear that, kids? That adorable porpoise you saw at Sea World? Going straight to hell.

Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and marred the special relationship they had with God. As a result, all people have a problem with sin and a broken relationship with God.

God is a douchebag. That’s really the only explanation there is for this crap. Remember, God is omnipotent. This relationship could have gone any way at all, and he CHOSE the broken path of his own free will, even though he didn’t have to. And, as a result, trillions and trillions of human beings will be tortured and burned forever. And he blames us for this. Asshole.

Jesus’ death on the Cross provides the only way for this relationship to be repaired.

And Jesus’ followers expect us to take this contrived situation seriously. It’s like watching a Twilight movie. I just have to laugh.

Jesus, who is God, came to earth as a human, lived a sinless life, died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and rose again.

That clarifies nothing. If anything, it only raises more questions. But given how poorly you handled “Are Humans Mammals?”, I don’t foresee anything like a reasonable answer to those questions coming any time soon.

And speaking of which, how the fuck did we start with the question “Are Humans Mammals?”, and end with “The omnipotent ruler of the entire universe created you exactly as you are, and due to the flaws he created you with condemns you to hell, so the only way you can avoid eternal torture is to believe that said omnipotent ruler of universe turned into a person and got killed but came back”? Christian logic is weird.

Someone sure needs a brain reinvention…

CNN has seen fit to publish a fluff piece by Deepak Chopra entitled “Reinventing the brain is closer than you think.” As is typical of Chopra’s brand of woo, it is light on facts, makes no new or insightful observations, and is padded out with feel-good woo-woo crap that is either too vague or too obviously nonsensical to be of any use to anyone.

He starts out reasonably enough:

We’re living in a golden age for brain research, which could revolutionize how we think, feel and behave.

Thanks to brain scans like the fMRI, brain activity can be localized and even the most precise activity pinpointed. For example, researchers can spot the minuscule area in the visual cortex that, when damaged, prevents a person from recognizing faces, including his own. The slant in neuroscience has been to map the brain down to the tiniest detail.

Well, yes, neuroscience is advancing at an incredible rate, but let’s not exaggerate what we have. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we can’t yet pinpoint “the most precise activity”, if I took that phrase to mean what it would mean if spoken by anyone using plain English.

But what will we use the map for? One obvious area is medicine. The more we know about what goes wrong in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, the closer we get to a cure. But the highest goal would be to reinvent how we use our brains.

Uh, actually I’d vote for saving lives if it were up to me. I don’t even know what reinventing the brain is, but I damn well know what Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are, and I want to see them cured.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the answer is no. At no point for the rest of the article does Chopra give anything like a clear explanation of what he means by “reinventing our brains”.

“Reinvent” isn’t an exaggeration. Ten thousand years ago, Homo sapiens had evolved the same genetic array that modern people inherit. But in those 10,000 years arose reading, writing, advanced art and music, government, mathematics and science. Their foundation was a new relationship between mind and body.

What do you mean by “same genetic array”? Are you saying our genome hasn’t changed in 10,000 years? That’s demonstrably untrue. And what the hell does that last sentence mean?

If genes and a fixed structure of brain cells told the whole story, it would remain a total mystery why a cave dweller after the last Ice Age should have just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity or write a symphony. Now we realize that the human brain is far from fixed, at any level.

No, it wouldn’t be a mystery, because that’s a stupid thing to say. Who in the hell would think there must be “just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity”? That’s like wondering at the “mystery” of how my computer could have “just the right complement of computer chips” to read this particular page. Or why my eyes would have “just the right compliment of optic nerves” to see the glass of wine next to me.

Any such array would be nearly useless in any context, and natural selection would likely eliminate it (unless it were genetically linked to something that is useful). There doesn’t have to be a special compliment of neurons for computing the theory of gravity. A general capacity for math and logic is what you need. In fact, especially for a behaviorally generalized species like ours, the more generalized and multiply applicable the mental function, the better.

New brain cells are being formed throughout life; trillions of connections between neurons are developed; and the genetic activity inside each neuron is dynamic, responding to every experience and every stimulus from the outside world.

Wha…what? What genetic activity? You mean like transcription and protein synthesis? Those processes most certainly do NOT “respond to every experience”.  New synaptic connections do occur frequently, but that’s not because of a change in the genes. You seem to have confused genetics with the electrical relays in the nerves. They are not the same thing, and thinking doesn’t change your genes.

Human beings reinvent the brain as we go along, day by day. It’s not a matter of eons. In short, the brain is a verb, not a noun. It is reshaped by thoughts, memories, desire and experience.

The first two sentences are mostly true. Neural plasticity is real, although calling it “reinventing” the brain is unnecessarily hyperbolic, in my semi-expert opinion (phd minor in cognitive science). The third sentence, however, is nonsense. And the fourth makes no sense in light of the third.

The word “brain” is a noun. It’s referent, the actual physical gray matter between your ears, is not a noun or a verb or any part of speech, because it’s not a word. I realize Chopra is trying to be poetic and I’m being very literal, but I reserve the right to do so when the attempt at poetry is embedded in a sea of nonsense and half truths. And also, since being “reshaped by thought” is not what makes a thing a verb any way, I hold that his attempt a poetry fails utterly. I have the right to be as overly literal as I want.

Because it is dynamic, fluid and ever-renewing, the brain is much more malleable than anyone ever imagined.

Actually, a lot of people imagined it, seeing as Chopra surely isn’t doing any of this neuroscientific research himself. He’s just grabbing ideas from other people’s heads, dumbing them down to the level of the average woo-woo customer, then calling them his own.

And yes, the brain is plastic, adaptable and dynamic in SOME ways, but it is certainly not “ever-renewing”. It can be pushed to the point that it stops renewing. It’s called Being a Conservative Christian.

Consider a controversial British medical journal article from 1980 entitled “Is the brain really necessary?” It was based on the work of British neurologist John Lorber, who had been working with victims of a brain disorder known as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), in which excessive fluid builds up. The pressure that results squeezes the life out of brain cells. Hydrocephalus leads to retardation as well as other severe damage and even death.

Lorber had previously written about two infants born with no cerebral cortex. Yet despite this rare and fatal defect, they seemed to be developing normally, with no external signs of damage. One child survived for three months, the other for a year.

After reading that last paragraph, I had to sit and stare at my screen for a while and let my brain process a confusing and amusing realization: Chopra does not consider infant death to be an “external sign of damage”.

If this were not remarkable enough, a colleague at Sheffield University sent Lorber a young man who had an enlarged head. He had graduated from college with a first-class honors degree in mathematics and had an IQ of 126. There were no symptoms of hydrocephalus; the young man was leading a normal life.

Yet a CAT scan revealed, in Lorber’s words, that he had “virtually no brain.” The skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a millimeter thick (less than 1/10 of an inch), while the rest of the space in the skull was filled with cerebral fluid.

I’ve read about this guy before, and Lorber was exaggerating. The guy did indeed have a brain, it was just greatly compressed by the fluid. This is not evidence that the brain isn’t necessary. Is it amazing? Oh, yes, but don’t read too much into it. Not that Chopra would heed such a warning. Reading too much into other people’s work is what keeps him in business.

Once medical science accepts that the brain can be reinvented, there is no limit.

No. There are always limits. And you still haven’t clearly defined what “reinventing the brain” even means. If you’re talking about neural plasticity, it’s not a reinvention. It’s adaptation and change in response to external stimuli.

Together with Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher on Alzheimer’s, my efforts have been directed at how each person can relate to the brain in a new way.

As we argue in our book “Super Brain,” the most direct way to improve brain function is through the mind.

I knew it! I knew it! This isn’t a genuine op-ed. It’s a fluff piece letting Chopra hock his own book. Damn you, CNN! Damn you and your paper thin credibility held in place solely by the fact that Fox News is even worse!

By the way, that last phrase is about as informative as saying, “The most direct way to improve muscle function is through strength.” Chopra may not believe it, but the mind is just something the brain does.

The mind-body connection is powerful because our habits lead to brain changes. What you pay attention to, what your passion is, your approach to diet, exercise, stress and even basic emotions like anger and fear — all of these things register in your brain and drastically shape its structure.

Okay, again. Yes, these things do alter brain structure. But calling it “drastic” is irresponsible hyperbole. In fact, it would be more accurate is that each of these things slightly alters the brain, and over time the alterations build up, making your brain plastic and adaptable to your environment.

In the simplest terms, every experience is either positive or negative when seen as input for the brain. A brain that is processing positive input will grow and evolve much differently from a brain that processes negative input.

This is just complete and utter woo woo claptrap. Every experience is either “positive” or “negative”? Bullshit. The vast majority of experience, from either an emotional or moral standpoint (Chopra is unclear as to which he has in mind as “positive” or “negative”), is completely neutral. As I type this, I’m taking in a wide array of sensory experience about the colors and shapes of objects around me, the temperature of the room, the feel of the keys on my fingers, the sound of my heater coming on, etc etc etc. None of these has any particularly positive or negative effect on me (regardless of whatever meaning Chopra failed to give to those words but may have intended).

Rather than appealing to anything factual from neuroscience or rational from the philosophy of mind, Chopra here is just spoonfeeding his audience the over-simplified, puerile mush that unfortunately so many humans crave. There are good feelings, and there are bad feelings, and you can be better by feeling better. That is ALL he is saying. He’s cloaking it in the language of neuroscience to make his audience and himself feel smarter, but what he’s saying boils down to advice so grossly obvious and easily appealing that even a four year old could grasp it.

This has always seemed intuitively right; we all know that children who are well-loved, for example, almost always turn out better than children who are abused. Now, we have validation from neuroscience.

No, we don’t. At least, we don’t from anything you have presented.

The most important conclusion is that no one needs to submit to old conditioning. The past can be changed by changing the brain, just as the future can be shaped by how your brain is trained today. Reinventing the brain is much closer than you think.

No. No no no no no. You can’t just make problems poof into the aether by positive-thinking them away. The changes in the brain can’t be undone that easily. If you want to talk about things that are “intuitively right”, ever heard the saying, “Old habits die hard”? Well, there’s some truth to it. You can’t just erase the past with vapid platitudes about happy thoughts. For instance, you can’t change the fact that you’ve spent the last several years as a dishonest crackpot bilking people out of their money by talking out your ass about shit you haven’t even attempted to understand.

And, of course, none of this has anything to do with “reinventing the brain”. He’s just taken old codswallop and wrapped in a fancy new pseudoscientific garb. The closest thing we can gather from his article is that reinventing your brain means using positive thinking to feel better. And remember earlier, when he said reinventing the brain was more important than curing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s? Yeah, not so much. Really, really, really not so much. But this is exactly the kind of spoiled, self-absorbed thinking that appeals to millions of under-stimulated American yuppies suffering with a bad case of White People’s Problems Syndrome. And Chopra loves making money off the problem rather than trying to correct it.

Grrrr, fuck this guy. And fuck CNN for promoting him. Bad! Bad 24 hour news network! Y’know, did you ever think that maybe there just isn’t enough news for 24 hours of programming, and perhaps you should try to focus on other things? And that if you didn’t feel the need to fill up 24 ours with whatever crap you can find, you wouldn’t be giving the time of day to babbling crackpots like Chopra?