Jurassic Park is the story of humans playing god and bringing extinct creatures back from Death’s chilly embrace.  As with all of Michael Crichton’s sci-fi novels, it doesn’t go well for us.  But it’s just that, right?  Science fiction, not a kernel of truth anywhere to be found.

Well, maybe not.  Jack Horner (the paleontological advisor to the Jurassic Park movies) has had a little pet project going on for a while now: reverse genetically engineering a chicken into a dinosaur.


Not as cool as we’d hoped.

Ok so it’s not a lawyer-munching Tyrannosaurus rex, but this chickenosaurus (as Horner is calling it) does have some exciting implications for the field of genetics.  Creating a dinosaur out of a chicken is, at least cosmetically, a surprisingly easy feat: teeth, arms and hands, a long tail, and a modified snout.  That last entry was actually achieved through experimentation of chicken embryos by Horner’s team.


A standard chicken, a genetically modified chicken, and an alligator.

You see, as dinosaurs evolved into birds, certain genes were modified.  By analyzing two genes involved in facial development, Horner’s team found that they behaved differently in birds than in reptiles.  By altering this behavior, their chicken embryo developed a reptilian snout as opposed to a beak.  Not done there, they found to their complete surprise that the embryo had also developed a reptilian palate (the roof of the mouth), a surprise find as they were only expecting to alter the outer structure of the beak.

This development is promising, but there are still unanswered questions.  Even if we were able to genetically construct a dinosaur from a chicken, would it work right?  There’s no guarantee that by simply reactivating the genes for reptilian features like snouts, arms and tails that the nervous system will wire itself accordingly.  The brain may not be able to communicate with these limbs.  What if the resulting creature possesses the body of a dinosaur but the absurdly misplaced instincts of a chicken?

There are many questions to be answered, but the first signs seem promising.  Through the power of genetics, even a “glow-in-the-dark unicorn” [Horner] is not impossible, but now ethics get involved.  To quote the Jurassic Park movie: “Your scientists were so concerned with whether they could, they didn’t stop to consider whether they should.”

A Matter of Grave Concern

A couple of days ago in my ethics class, the topic of children’s rights came up.  I asked if parents have absolute power over their kids, or if children have rights which the state should, when necessary, intervene to protect.  As an example, I pointed out that some parents don’t believe in blood transfusions, and would rather let their children die.  This, of course, tends to be on religious grounds, with Jehovah’s Witnesses being the primary offenders.  Well, it turned out that one of my female students happens to be a JW, and I think she mentioned previously that she is pregnant, but that may or may not be the case.  At any rate, she stated that she does not believe in transfusions, and would not allow her child to have one.  Class ended, but at our next session, other students wanted to pick up the discussion.  I am cognizant of the fact that in my official capacity, I am a “state actor,” and have to be careful how I respond to matters of religion (this is NOT to say that I respect silly beliefs, but that I respect limitations placed on my by the first amendment).  So I tried the Socratic approach — asking her where her beliefs come from.  Well, the bible, of course.  But how do you know which parts of the bible to follow — doesn’t the bible say that women should cover their hair?  Well, some parts of the bible have been superceded.  How do you know which ones?  Well, of course, the Watchtower society makes that decision.

About this time, one of the more naive students asked her what biblical passage prohibits blood transfusions (and it really doesn’t anyway — the biblical authors knew nothing about blood transfusion or other modern medical procedures).  She looked up the passage, and the little naif immediately said, “Oh, I guess I can respect that!”

RESPECT it?  How does one respect delusional nonsense that can, and has, led to the death of a child?  This idea that we have to respect religious nonsense has got to go.  It is one thing to respect a person’s humanity, but not all ideas are the same.  Some are just not respectable.  If the JW student in question lost a child because she refused it a blood transfusion, I don’t know if she would be guilty of murder because it was not out of malice, but certainly of manslaughter or something similar.  As for the jerks at the Watchtower Society, they should spend the rest of their lives in jail for the harm they have wrought.  This isn’t merely hypothetical: children have actually died because they were refused blood transfusions.  I say “they were refused” because as minors, they cannot make such decisions for themselves, and this is clearly a case where parents are so dangerously delusional they are in no position to speak for their children.

If an adult wishes to be a fool, let her.  But the idea that she can force her deadly nonsense on her helpless child is outrageous.

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.


Idaho.  It’s a fantastic state, the land of potatoes and…um, well there’s, no that’s, that’s not…but there’s, uh.

Well, that’s unimportant.  You see, a bit of hilarity has come creeping from the land of spuds, an odd little factoid about the state legislature.  Republican State Representative Vito Barbieri supports a bill that would prevent doctors from prescribing abortion medication through telemedicine.  Ostensibly, this is to protect women who may have negative side-effects from the medications, though lawmakers are in no way shy about admitting that this is just another step in making abortions harder to come by in Idaho.

In 2013, the then-Representative Ron Mendive asked if the American Civil Liberties Union if their pro-abortion stance also meant they supported prostitution.  That snippet was to show you what living in a state where, apparently, no one gives any fucks whatsoever about the concept of correlation.

While hearing testimony from a doctor who opposed the bill, and who had just made an anecdotal statement about how colonoscopies may utilize cameras to better give doctors an idea of what’s going on, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked the question–and I shall directly quote here–“Can this same procedure then be done in a pregnancy? Swallowing a camera and helping the doctor determine what the situation is?”

The doctor, presumably trying to hide her astonishment at the rampant idiocy of this man, replied that swallowed objects do not find their way into the vagina.

“Fascinating. That makes sense.”

Rep. Barbieri later tried to pass off this comment as rhetorical, but I don’t believe this spud-muncher for a second.  Not only is the comment asinine in context (the context supposedly being that he wanted to show the lack of correlation between a colonoscopy and an abortion) but it fits with the complete lack of knowledge of female anatomy Republicans so eagerly trot out.  I’m not saying this is on the level of Todd Akin’s belief that vaginas have shields against dishonest sperm (which may just be the nicest way of summarizing his legitimate rape claims) but it completely fits the prevailing theme with Republicans that, when it comes to how the female body operates, they have no fucking clue what they’re talking about.

Atheist Ten Commandments

Over at WEIT, there is a post (by Grania) regarding proposed “atheist ten commandments.”  It should immediately be pointed out that these are not meant as “commandments” in anything like a religious sense, but rather as items of discussion; I think they are good in that regard.  Anyway, since we have been discussing shared values with the CPC folks (and even though that discussion has already taken place), I thought they might be worth re-posting here.

What does everyone think?

Atheist Ten Commandments


Inspiration from the Bible

I have been thinking about posting, from time to time, some biblical passages that might make believers uncomfortable, even progressive believers who like to claim the Bible is an inspirational book and a great moral guide. Of course, there are passages in the Bible that do contain some sound moral precepts, but, as Thomas Jefferson put it, it is a bit like extracting a diamond from a dunghill. Is that too strong? Decide for yourself. At any rate, here is today’s inspiration — I have long been familiar with this story but it just happened to be the topic on a Patheos blog I was reading:

23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Read more: Mock the prophet, get mauled: Morality lessons with ACE.

What Next?

So, you are an atheist.  You have let go of god, or perhaps never believed in the first place.  So what next?  You still have a life to live — how should you live it?  What is important and what is not?

This is known in philosophy as “the problem of conduct.”  What is the good life?  Is there only one type of “good life?” Is it available to anyone, or just a select few?

These questions were probably best addressed by philosophers of the Hellenistic Age (definition available on Wikipedia).  How to live a good life was the major unifying topic among Stoics, Epicureans, Cynics, and others.

English author and activist Alexis de Botton has come under fire from other atheists due to his endorsement of “atheist churches” and the like, but he is well versed in philosophy, especially the problem of conduct.  At our upcoming monthly meeting, Ken tells me (and sorry if I have stolen any of your thunder, Ken) that we will be viewing a video by de Botton regarding Epicurus, the Philosopher of Pleasure.  This moniker has gotten Epicurus a bad name; but before you judge, come and see exactly what it is that Epicurus meant by pleasure, and see if you agree with his prescription (or some of it anyway) for a good life.

At a Loss for Words…

Many of you are aware of Brittany Maynard, the woman with the malignant glial blastoma who moved with her husband from California to Oregon in order to end her life on her own terms.  Well, the Vatican has condemned her.  On WEIT, Jerry Coyne has reproduced a portion of the Vatican’s “Declaration on Euthanasia, which reads in part:

“. . . According to Christian teaching, however, suffering, especially suffering during the last moments of life, has a special place in God’s saving plan; it is in fact a sharing in Christ’s passion and a union with the redeeming sacrifice which He offered in obedience to the Father’s will.”

This makes my blood boil.  The tumor that led to the inevitable death of Mrs. Maynard is the same that my mother was diagnosed with several months ago.  My mother was able to have the tumor excised, and radiation and chemo have extended her life, though we don’t know how long.  But before we knew she had a tumor, I witnessed firsthand some of the effects.  She was often disoriented — we thought she was developing Alzheimer’s — she was anxious, and she was unable to perform simple tasks she had carried out all her life.  It sounds like in Mrs. Maynard’s case, there were also seizures (which my mother may have had — she fell on a couple of occasions and doesn’t know how she got on the ground) and pain.

This condition is fatal.  My mother will die of it also, if something else doesn’t happen first; all we were able to do is buy her an undetermined amount of quality time, although the quality of her life has been seriously curtailed.

My mother would almost certainly not make a decision such as that of Mrs. Maynard.  But damn it anyway, if she chose to end her life on her own terms as an autonomous human being, shouldn’t she be afforded that right?

You see, there is a point — I saw this with my dad when he died of leukemia — when it is all down, down, down, with never an up.  There is nothing to look forward to.

So the Vatican wants to condemn people who choose to end their life before brain cancer takes everything from them, including their identity.  Let the pope die that way if he wants to, but it is none of their damn business what others choose to do.

And this business about sharing in the suffering of Christ?  What the hell is that?  I thought Christ suffered so we did not have to.  What a stinking crock of shit.

Children and Religious Parents

A few weeks ago, Jerry Coyne had a lot on his blog about children who were denied life saving medical procedures because of their parents’ absurd religious beliefs.  I had this discussion with my students today, and I told them that while I am not trying to get them to think like me, this is an issue I am passionate about.  Imagine a child who by definition is not able to make adult decisions dying because their idiot parent is into a partuicularly pernicious form of woo.  Yet I was surprised that there were those who needed convincing that this was not a matter of relgious freedom, but of children’s rights.


I wonder if this is a topic we could bring up at the CPC.

More on Christian Parenting

Yesterday I posted about Adrian Peterson’s use of conservative Christian ideology to justify abusing his child.  The issue is still on my mind, so I thought I would follow up with another post, this one not directly related to the Peterson issue, but perhaps more frightening.

I decided it would be appropriate to have a discussion about the moral issues surrounding Peterson’s actions with my students.  One of them (and of course for the sake of anonymity I will not reveal names or even class sections) said that she had been raised in a strict Christian home, and that corporal punishment had been frequently resorted to.  She is young and I’m assuming single, but she said that when she has children of her own, she will be sure to spank them.  The reason for this, she said, is that she thinks it is important for children to fear their parents.

Fear?  Really?  I would rather have my children respect me, which is not the same as fear.

Again, I am not accusing all Christians of supporting child abuse — not by a long, long way.  But as I suggested in my last post, within the fundamentalist section of the Christian community, there survive some really archaic — and reprehensible — attitudes regarding women and children.