Expelled! Producers Gloat: Claim that the “From Darwin to Hitler” evolved organically!

September 30, 2007

Gloating about the coverage they’ve been receiving, the producers of Expelled! have finally updated their blog with a rambling defense of their production tactics. If you had any doubts at all whether this film would be honest or evenhanded, I think the cackling, sneering tone makes things pretty clear. It’s also written in the same tone as the bizarre post that vanished from the site weeks ago: i.e. distinctively like your standard internet troll. It’s hard to tell whether or not they are outright happily admitting to lying to their interviewees about the film they were making or not, but either way, their behavior and claims just don’t add up.

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Texas Lawmakers break own voting rules to vote on voting rules

September 28, 2007

It’s pure comedy gold as Texas lawmakers from both parties scramble around the legislative chamber to find extra buttons to press, racking up illegal votes from empty desks: all hypocritically defended by a Texas Republican who can’t seem to understand that having a bunch of excuses for breaking the rules does not exactly make her a credible spokesperson “voter integrity.” (and yes, the video is, sadly, out of sync, but still watchable)

My favorite bit is a charmingly flabbergasted fellow named Arnie Weiss, who is interviewed along with his wife while visiting the Capitol and watching the spectacle from the gallery. Less amusing is the fact that the State Reps apparently turn the official chamber cameras elsewhere while they busily break their own rules.

Catholic Church Nixes Naughty Nuns: The Army of Mary Excommunications

September 28, 2007

An apparent end has come to the interesting religious drama that’s been taking place between the Catholic Church and a Quebec-based sect called the “Community of the Lady of All Nations” or the “Army of Mary”: after decades of steadily worsening relations and finally a formal condemnation, the Catholic Church has now officially excommunicated six nuns who refused to recant their heretical dedication to the sect.

I’ve had a hard time finding out what the specific “gravely erroneous doctrines” were that the group promulgated, primarily because most of its writings are in French. But its founder, who may or may not have claimed to be a “mystical incarnation” of the Virgin Mary (when she’s not appearing on garage doors I suppose), certainly seems like the sort of unpredictable charismatic that would threaten the official order. Who knows though: had she been a mite more cryptic and less eager to wander outside of church doctrine, she could have ended up as a modern Lúcia Santos (and then promptly locked away and forbidden to speak to the public).

Ironically enough, one of the central credos of the group is basically “an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope“… but clearly Pope John Paul II was not eager to return the favor. And especially with their longtime foe Cardinal Ratzinger being later elected as the new Pope Benedict XVI, it was only a matter of time before the sect was decisively crushed.

Oliver Sacks Tackles the Mystery & Majesty of Music

September 27, 2007

Wired has a nice little promotional interview with Oliver Sacks about his new book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Every since devouring his The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, I’ve been a devoted fan of Sacks’ work. Human experience and the mind are profound mysteries, and Sacks has always been one of their best and most insightful explorers.

As a doctor who deals regularly in bizarre and obscure disorders of the brain and nervous system, Sacks provides readers with the sort of insight that can only come from reflecting on truly altered mental perspectives: what would it be like to lose your sense of having a body in space? To truly have no ability to form new memories? To suddenly and shockingly be convinced that your own leg is something so alien and offensive that you actually try to push it out of your hospital bed so as to be rid of it? To have your brain split in half and find one hand undoing the buttons on your shirt that your other hand had just finished buttoning?

When I despair at the sheer vacuity of supernatural “explanations” for our minds, experiences, and feelings (or tire of empty or unintelligible concepts like “souls” and “free will”) it’s someone like Sacks that I can turn to for relief. There are no proud claims of final answers. There are instead intriguingly robust and meaty pieces of the puzzle, and much more satisfying for all that.

So, as I said about economist author Steven Landsburg, Sacks provides a truly “high-information content” product: one’s money’s worth of surprise and insight packed into nearly every page. Man Who Mistook… comes highly recommended, and I can’t wait for his latest.

The Meaning of Meaning & Why Theism Can’t Make Life Matter

September 27, 2007

It comes up constantly.  Without a god, without an afterlife, how can life have any meaning? Atheists and agnostics have traditionally responded with impassioned, often simply fantastic essays about the meaning they do find in their lives.  You would think that would be answer enough: a brute reality that defies all the accusations.

And yet, hostile theists are rarely convinced by this: they paint such expressions as, at best, their fellow human beings illicitly “stealing” the fruits of their own supposedly special ideology. They want to know, they demand to know how this meaning can be “justified,” implying that they possess the one unique answer themselves.

How can folks find meaning without God?  Instead of another appeal to empathy with my own story, I want to strike at the heart of the argument itself.

Meaning without God?  The question itself is both backwards and premature.  To see why, we must ask how one supposedly finds meaning with God.  I won’t, in fact, be arguing that one cannot. Rather, my contention is that any believer that seriously tries to answer this question will be forced to admit that the philosophical liberties and assumptions they make to reach their sense of meaning are no more or less justified than those they ridicule as insufficient or unjustified in non-believers. We are all inescapably in the same boat when it comes to meaning and purpose.

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Iran: Now Gay Free!

September 24, 2007

Hoo boy. Iran’s “President” Ahmadinejad claims that his country doesn’t “have homosexuals like in your country.” Considering that gay people in Iran face execution and torture, I really and truly wish he was right.

 But sadly, he’s not.

This American Life: How I Will Judge You

September 24, 2007

Some minister in Arkansas named John Terry is under the impression that atheists’ primary mission is, like his, to convert and evangelize people. Nope, not mine at least.

The thing is, in the end, I don’t judge people to be less of a human being they you hold or even push beliefs I think are silly or unjustified. What you do matters morally, of course, and there’s plenty of fights to be had over that, but even the most devoted, obsessive believers are generally still folks with whom we can all share that proverbial beer, or at least iced tea, with. Everyone ultimately lives an ordinary life.

But there is something that will make me think less of you as a person: if you don’t regularly listen to This American Life. It’s completely free. It’s an hour out of your life that will make you laugh, cry, and understand our common humanity a little better every week. Tales of ordinary people, ordinary lives, told in an extraordinary ways.

You won’t go to hell for not listening, like John Terry thinks you will for not believing. But man, you’d be a fool to miss out. And you can’t have any of my iced tea.