One Way To Rebut Christopher Hitchens . . . .

(From The Friendly Atheist via Imago Dei)


I'm headed back to work in a few days!

I'm afraid this view is definitely out-of-date, though. For one thing, I have snazzier Power Points now. For another, I've put on a few pounds. Also, like PZ Myers, I no longer wear ordinary clothes but am instead wearing the proper science attire.

Also---Blake, TL----I'm afraid the standard model of particle physics poster is now covered by a Harry Potter movie poster. Which is OK, because people are going to be reading Rowling a lot longer than we're going to keep using the standard model. No gravitons yet, and no gravity waves detected, but I have a (warning---unscientific alert!) feeling that the LHC and LIGO are going to knock some holes in the standard model.

Also, I just finished a systemic planning class and I have a few days to enjoy before going back to work on the 16th. The day before that I'll kick off my (hopefully) spirited exchange with blogger Vox Day. I think I get to go first because, you know, age before beauty.

Speaking of which, I just celebrated my birthday!



The fraudulent South Korean stem cell research program was a scandal which not only discouraged the scientific community, but which probably seriously damaged the prospects for stem cell research in this country.

But sometimes there are diamonds in the ashes. One such finding is this: the revelation that there were some stem cells produced through solely through the division of cells from a donor female's egg: parthenogenesis, in other words.

Now, this is not the same thing as a parthenogenetically-produced cell properly differentiating into a viable organism: that would constitute (heh) a 'virgin birth'. As far as we know, no female mammal, marsupial or placental, has ever conceived without sex.

But lizards and fish? There are many such examples, including the all-female whiptail lizards (Cnemidophorus sp.) shown copulating above. Yes, that's right, copulating. Albeit without so much as a baculum. These were featured on a wonderful episode of PBS's 'Evolution' series a few years ago. Highly recommended.

(The show, that is, not the lesbian lizards who are all in a sense Virgin Mothers.)


Coming soon to a bookstore near you, sez the old man:

"Flat Out! The Rollie Free Story" will be published late this year. The 9 x 12 book will have 192 pages and 244 pictures, and will come with a 40-minute audio CD. The CD includes 34 minutes of the Rollie Free interview. Also recorded are the runup of the Ed Kretz Sr. Indian Sport Scout racer tuned by Free and the runup of the fabled "Bathing Suit Bike". Ed Kretz and Herb Harris provide commentary on the two historic motorcycles associated with Rollie Free."

If this is all Greek to you, the guy in the picture is the motorcycling legend Rollie Free, one of the all-time colorful characters and the fellow in the iconic photograph above. My Dad's book is a labor of love which has been held up for years due to questions about the rights to various items that he wanted to put in the book. Happily, things have been resolved and Dad's finally going to get it published. When I have a cover art graphic, I'll promote the thing again.

I can tell you it is a good read, even if you aren't that much of a cycling buff. My Dad interviewed the late Mr. Free more than 20 years ago, and I can assure you that he was a colorful, memorable character. The book is really very similar in tone to Lawrence Ritter's The Glory of Their Times, only it's about an old racer instead of old ballplayers.


It's high time I start accepting some advertising revenue for my blog (nearly 4,000 hits since mid-July). I'm a high school teacher, after all, not Donald Trump. I even teach something called science, which (as we all know), is such a money-maker for the scientists.

Seriously, though, click the link. Some good stuff there, and the artist deserves his due.
* This post has been fixed. The link works. You can even buy dorid's stuff!



I went out to pick up a pizza, and while I was gone, Barry Bonds hit home run #756. I had been preoccupied with my thoughts and hadn't put the Giants game on the radio, so when I came into the house, the kids juked me pretty good. They had the game paused, ostensibly because the 25-year-old known as 'Boy' (recuperating from surgery) had gotten up to use the facilities. So I thought the whole thing was nearly 'live', and when Bonds drilled Mike Bacsik's 3-2 pitch, I knew it was gone, and I was suitably excited.

They all laughed, because they had seen it 20 minutes ago. I laughed, too: best juke, evah!

I was moved when Bonds, fighting back emotion, thanked his father. In so many ways, Bobby Bonds (and his struggles) made his son the man he is today, warts and all. I was even more moved when Bonds went to the bench on a double-switch, then sat, alone, on the dugout with his thoughts. You could, if you watched carefully, see all manner of shadows dance on his face while his unblinking eyes focused on some private horizon. The corners of his mouth twitched, and he seemed to make an effort to master his emotions, chomping rather determinedly on some seeds.

And, it struck me, that he is alone. Alone, astride the baseball world; alone, in history; alone, with his thoughts, with his memories and--perhaps--even regrets. The game was stopped for ten minutes to pay tribute to the greatest hitter of my generation, bar none. The home town faithful cheered lustily, but it paled before the seven minutes of sustained applause that Pete Rose received when he singled off Eric Show, much less Cal Ripken's 22-minute 'victory lap' after the fifth inning of game #2,131.

And it raises a question in my mind: will we remember Barry as being more like Ripken, or more like Rose? That is, will he eventually become an admired icon or a symbol of corruption? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know this: the Hall of Fame is not a collection of saints, and there are far more venal characters in it than Mr. Bonds. There is no rule that says the greatest hitter of many generation should be personable, gracious, easy-going. Ted Williams was an ornery goat loved by his teammates, but despised by many of the 'knights of the keyboard.' Williams missed winning an additional MVP in 1947 because one writer left him completely off the ballot, when he hit .342 with 38 HR, 123 RBI and 156 walks---and all of those totals LED THE AMERICAN LEAGUE. That's right, the sumbitch won the Triple Crown and finished....second in the MVP voting, because one writer couldn't even list him somewhere on his ballot.

What about the allegations that Bonds may have cheated? I have a hard time taking that seriously, frankly. If he's caught cheating, he'll be fined and suspended for an appropriate length of time, but this wouldn't be the Apocalypse, say it ain't so, Joe. Nor would it be unprecedented that a Hall of Famer cheated.

For example, Whitey Ford wore a special ring that had a rasp and a file on it during much of his time with the Yankees. Gaylord Perry was, um, moist and made a career out of it. Don Sutton apparently preferred sandpaper. All Hall-of-Fame pitchers. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker placed a bet on a game when both were player-managers and were nearly kicked out of baseball for it. Rogers Hornsby had serious gambling problems, to the point where the Commissioner dressed him down privately. Yet during the same era, John McGraw, a Hall-of-Fame manager and one of the dirtiest players to ever play the game, owned a casino in Havana !

Want more? Mickey Mantle, Ed Delahanty, Grover Cleveland Alexander are all Hall-of-Famers: they were also addicted to alcohol during their playing days, addictions which eventually wrecked their lives. Jimmy Foxx was such a raging alcoholic, that he would have a flask on him while batting.

Compared to some of these guys, Bonds is a choir boy. Jealous of the blatant steroid use of others, he might have well used some kind of secret performance-enhancer to aid in recovery, but even if he did, that would neither be illegal nor strictly speaking outlawed by baseball. It would just be cheating, which has a long tradition in baseball.

Besides, it's not just hitters that may have been juiced. The pitcher who gave up #755 to Bonds (Clay Hensley) was suspended for 15 days for testing positive for steroids in the minors a few years back. If any asterisk should be hung, it should be hung on this era, not on an individual player, and certainly not on a player whose guilt has not been demonstrated.


I just sent a note to another blogger who has some serious, thoughtful objections to Paul's teachings in the New Testament. (Hey, join the club!)

She goes on to write that she just doesn't know if she can continue to believe that the Bible is infallible, and this shakes her faith in Christianity itself. That's an understandable reaction, and I admire her candor. Some of my readers have wondered how I could maintain any faith in Christianity, given the obvious imperfections of the Bible. I'll provide y'all with the same thought experiment that I shared with her:

"....my faith does not depend on any teaching that the Bible is either inerrant nor infallible. Let us go further than that, though, for the sake of a rhetorical point. Let us pretend that the Bible is not merely fallible, but irredeemably wicked. If all the Bibles in the world were confiscated and burned, would that mean the end of Christianity?"

I invite reader responses.


Some (but not all) creationists are evolution deniers: never happened, they say. And some (but not all) global warming skeptics are global warming deniers: no evidence that's happening, they say. These positions, to put it mildly, are so contradicted by a wealth of evidence that there is little point in treating those who hold them as anything other than misinformed fanatics. They will inevitably end up calling you names for threatening their belief systems.

In contrast, other creationists admit billions of years of evolution, they simply remain skeptical that the Darwinian model is sufficient to explain all of life's diversity. And, of course, there are global warming skeptics who admit that global warming occurs, but they remain unconvinced as to the seriousness of the situation, or the role of human activity in promoting it, etc. I happen to think these guys are wrong, too, but I think I can have a meaningful discussion with most of them that doesn't degenerate into name-calling.

Now here's another species of denialist: the HIV-causes-AIDS skeptic, a contrarian viewpoint that has won the approbation of some well-known scientists, such as the eccentric Nobelist Kary Mullis.* There's been a fascinating and often ferocious exchange here on Tara Smith's site. A person interested in debating denialists on the question of how a matter should be investigated will find some food for thought there.

* I'm being kind. A believer in astrology who has a troubled history with women, Mullis also believes he has had an encounter with an extraterrestrial that looked like a glowing raccoon.



Well, any hopes that I might've held about a sea change in politics seem a bit dashed right now. As the WaPo reports, significant numbers of Democrats helped pass FISA, the Orwellian upgrade to the present domestic spying program sought by Bush:

“The intelligence community is hampered in gathering essential information about terrorists,” said Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas.

Yeah, I know, that darn Bill of Rights keeps getting in the way.



A few months back, I took Lee Strobel to task for his book 'The Case for a Creator', which not only parroted the official Discovery Institute set of talking points in a user-friendly fashion for folk in the pews, but purported to be an objective journalistic investigation of the facts regarding evolution vs. intelligent design (ID)

Well, as you might imagine, not everyone in the pews is going to wade through an entire book on such as that, no matter how slick and accessible, so Illustra Media (an arm of the Discovery Institute) produced a video summarizing Strobel's 'investigation', and these are now available in segments on YouTube.

The above video (which is in two parts) is a response to Strobel's production, which only breaks down the various misinterpretations, misleading arguments and downright lies featured on the video but (in the second part) has all the footnotes/sources one can want.

You should not only check out the video if interested, but look at some of the other source material they've made available, including some wonderful evolution stuff sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. By the way, I should mention, that if you are an educator, you can probably get free DVD's of HHMI productions like the one shown on ExtantDodo's page.

ExtantDodo, much kudos!


I got this by way of Dr. Katti's site. It's...amusing, if you can forget for one moment how this fellow (who home-schools all his children) has basically cast his lot with the DI's attempt to wreck science education in this country. Look for a very sly remark from Colbert about the usefulness of, say, wood or wire, etc.


It seems as if, to some Christians, God deserves all the credit for the things that are right with the world, and we deserve all the blame when things go wrong. So, to such folk, the collapse of the bridge in Minnesota is another example of God's will, and we should all follow William Munny, Clint Eastwood's character in his film Unforgiven, who remarks, "We all got it coming, kid."

OK, reality check. This stuff makes me shake my head. The fact is, the problem of evil (theodicy) and the question of free will may be related, but you just can't invoke either one either to condemn all of humankind willy-nilly, or to justify an individual's death or suffering, or (conversely) argue that God is 'off the hook' and not responsible for death and suffering. I have no interest in any position, Christian or otherwise, that demeans either our conception of God (a cosmic tyrant?) or the image of our own human dignity.

To that end, I would like to commend this short but deeply insightful book by Leslie Weatherhead, a English Methodist pastor who addressed the problem of evil in the world and God's will during the Blitz. The distinction he makes between God's intentional, circumstantial and ultimate will is useful, to put it mildly.