AronRa – Our monthly meeting on March 24, 2015

The Unholy Trinity Tour features Seth Andrews (from The Thinking Atheist podcast), Matt Dillahunty (from The Atheist Experience TV show) and AronRa (YouTube resource on evolution and science education). We had seen Matt’s talk on faith last month and seen Seth give a presentation way back in July. This month it was Aron’s turn.

Aron and his wife have been fierce advocates for good education in Texas, a real battleground over teaching creationism and distorting history (ex. removing Thomas Jefferson from history textbooks because of his state/church separation blasphemy). Since Texas is such a large state, book publishers frequently use the requirements for Texas as the standard for their books across the country. If Texas was a place supporting decent education, this would be fine. Unfortunately, Texas is a true backwater. On a regular basis, fundamentalists and right-wing nuts try to alter the book standards to insert creationist nonsense and history that ain’t real history. Aron regularly testifies in front of the Board of Education to prevent this stuff. Here is a presentation in which he demonstrates his fierce and informed stance.

AronRa is now a frequent presenter and debate participant. His intimidating looks are for real (he rides a big Harley) and he won’t back down when it comes to teaching our children properly. He and the rest of the gang are currently on a tour in Australia. I will be watching for videos of their talks once the tour is over.

A Skeptical Moment

Today, my daughter is in the Twin Cities for a dance competition; she and her mother and brother left yesterday afternoon.  Last night, I had a vivid dream that my daughter’s team placed second.  This morning, as I was walking outside, my neighbor stopped and asked if I had heard how my daughter had done. Without hesitation, I began to say that they had placed second, so realistic was the dream, but then I caught myself, and said that I did not know.  Upon returning to my house, I immediately called my wife and asked how our daughter and her team had done.

Turns out that while they turned in a good performance, they did not place.  But I was thinking — what if they had taken second? It would have been a coincidence, but it is easy to see how some people would have recourse to woo, thinking the dream was some kind of prophetic event.  How would I have responded if my dream had been “confirmed?”

For me, this was a good reminder of the importance of critical thinking and the application of the principles of skepticism in trying to make sense of reality.

Duck Dynasty Dips**t

Phil Robertson is a bearded waste of flesh disguised as a cuddly Southern patriarch by the A&E show “Duck Dynasty.”  Fanatically Christian, Robertson has come under fire for the foul (foul/fowl pun not intended) comments he has made in the past about Muslims and gays, but I think his most recent comments take the cake.

Warning, these comments are graphic.

“Two guys break into an atheist’s home. He has a little atheist wife and two little atheist daughters. Two guys break into his home and tie him up in a chair and gag him. And then they take his two daughters in front of him and rape both of them and then shoot ‘em. And they take his wife and then decapitate her head off in front of him. And they can look at him and say, ‘Isn’t it great that I don’t have to worry about being judged? Isn’t it great that there’s nothing wrong with this? There’s no right or wrong, now is it dude?’ ”

He continues with:

“Then you take a sharp knife and take his manhood and hold it in front of him and say, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if this was something wrong with this? But you’re the one who says there is no God, there’s no right, there’s no wrong, so we’re just having fun. We’re sick in the head. Have a nice day.’ If it happened to them, they probably would say, ‘Something about this just ain’t right.’ ”

These comments were made at a prayer breakfast in Florida (it’s time to let that state go) about the supposed need for religious rules.  The problem is that all this does is prove that Robertson is a psychopath.  Seriously, what kind of man thinks about this kind of stuff?  It’s horrible; Salon, the Huffington Post, and Patheos have all slammed him for these horrendous comment, but Breitbart came to his defense, insisting that he was just making a parable (though they consented that it was extreme) and that the attacks on him are “ignorant” and “bigoted.”

Seriously, decent people slamming this scum for commenting on the torture of a man, the murder of his wife, and the rape and murders of his daughters are bigoted for being good people?  And what kind of mind-fucked asshole decides that his parable needs child rape to make a point!?

To put it more plainly: if you need to bring up rape–whether it be of a man, woman or child–to make your point, then your point is wrong.

Giant Locomotive Arthropod: Arthropleura

I decided to take a break from modern animals for a while and give something of a crash course on prehistoric creatures, other than the ones we all know about, dinosaurs and mammoths and whatnot.  So I think to myself, “What’s the best way to launch a series on prehistoric beasts?” and the answer comes to me, we start off with a ten-foot long millipede.

Arthropleura

Here it is, bursting from the primordial ooze like any eldritch beast worth its weight in horror.

I suppose the first question is “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHY?”  The easy answer to that is that there is no god.  A more scientific answer is that the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere during the Carboniferous period when these monsters lived was dramatically higher than what it is today, 35% as opposed to the 21% of our atmosphere that is made up of oxygen nowadays.  The growth of arthropods is directly linked to how much oxygen they can get into their bodies (arthropods not being able to simply breathe in and out like we can, this process is more complex) and it was only the massive amounts of oxygen in the Carboniferous that allowed these things, the largest land-dwelling invertebrates ever, to exist at all, alongside giant spiders and eagle-sized dragonflies.

arthropleura-size

Here it is again with Suicidal Size-Comparison Alan. Hello, Alan!

I suppose I should stop taunting you with implications of flesh-rending horror, arthropleura ate detritus, all the rotting and decomposing bits of plants and animals that get pounded into the topsoil.  Though it was certainly large enough so that an adult arthropleura would have no natural predators, these things were borderline harmless (presumably) as they munched away on rotten mulch in their forest homes.  An extra fun fact is that the forests of the Carboniferous weren’t made up of trees, they hadn’t evolved yet, but instead were made up of giant ferns.

Arthropods would never again reach their Carboniferous heyday after the Permian period started, the atmosphere simply wasn’t as saturated with oxygen, which may just be a good thing.  Apart from the fact that “dropped dead from fear of seeing Labrador-sized pill bug” would be a fairly common diagnosis in the mortuary, this oxygen-heavy atmosphere was highly explosive.  Fire needs oxygen, and it had all the O2 it could ever want in the Carboniferous period.

P.S.–about the odd title, it was inspired by the Legend of Zelda series, where all the so-called “boss” enemies have some sort of title before their name.

 

 

What a Tragedy

Many of you have probably seen this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/world/middleeast/from-minneapolis-to-isis-an-americans-path-to-jihad.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0

On the one hand, it is frightening that young American men — boys really — from a place like Minnesota would be taken with ISIS propaganda and actually go so far as to join the group.  But at the same time, what a tragedy.  The individual featured in this article was a college student from Minneapolis, with aspirations to become a lawyer.  Now, he has thrown away his life for a bunch of brutal nonsense.  What a waste.  It is tragic to think of what this person has traded away for a chimerical fantasy.

Mencken Again

Well, Mencken has entered into to our discussions with some frequency of late, so I thought I would post another Mencken quote.  This one, while succinct, is very reflective of Mencken’s biting wit:

“We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

Another Mencken?

Jerry Coyne has been posting comments and links regarding a fellow named Jeffery Taylor for a bit now. Mostly it is because Taylor is publishing critiques of religion or religious “apologetics” in places they are not usually seen, but also because of the style of writing. Recently he had noted that the quality and style of writing were clearly improving and, to both Coyne’s and my eye, reviving a style not seen much since H.L. Mencken. Clear, unapologetic, full of sarcasm and clever choice of words…in other words, fun to read.

Taylor’s recent post was a response to David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times about how secularists needed to improve their well…secularism. Those of you interested in Brooks have probably already read his article. There have been a large number of critiques, but none like Taylor’s. If you want to see what may be a new rising star in the secular/atheist realm of writing and commentary, you may want to read his article.

He starts by referring to Brooks as a “religious clown” and the NY Times “laziest” columnist. But name calling is not the focus of the article. Rather, it is a pointed critique of Brooks’ ideas and lack of any persuasive evidence or argument to support those ideas. Maybe not as literate as Hitchens, but certainly as snarky as Mencken. It’s got to be painful to see your ideas revealed as garbage in such a way. I doubt that Brooks will respond since he could likely end up just whining about being smacked. He doesn’t have any argument left at this point.

Taylor will be worth watching it seems. Now if only he could end up in debates and panels where Hitchens provided so much fun. I’ll have to check YouTube. He may already be out there.