Saturday: Hili dialogue

April 16, 2022 • 7:00 am

Welcme to Cat Sabbath: Saturday, April 16, 2022: it’s Passover, too, so all the cats get gefilte fish! It’s also National Eggs Benedict Day—a dish that Anthony Bourdain said never to order (he despised brunch) because it, and most of brunch, is made up of leftovers.

It’s also National Librarian Day, Save the Elephant Day, National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day, and World Semicolon Day, and World Voice Day

Stuff that happened on April 16 includes:

  • 73 – Masada, a Jewish fortress, falls to the Romans after several months of siege, ending the First Jewish–Roman War.

Below are the remains of Masada (a World Heritage site), and the legend goes that the siege ended because the remaining Jews all killed themselves. This is what I believed for years, but now I learn that it might not be true.

Quimby (below) was the first woman to get a pilot’s license in the U.S., and died in an airplane crash at 37. If this picture from Wikipedia shows her in her flying clothes, those are some pretty fancy duds!

  • 1919 – Mohandas Gandhi organizes a day of “prayer and fasting” in response to the killing of Indian protesters in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre by the British colonial troops three days earlier.

That massacre, a despicable and bloodthirsty attack of the British Army, is vividly depicted in the movie “Gandhi” (below). Estimates of the killings range between 379 to 1500 victims—or more. 120 dead were pulled out of the well you see.

As for General Dyer, he was removed from duty, but remained a hero to many Brits who hated Indians.

Gandhi in 1918:

  • 1943 – Albert Hofmann accidentally discovers the hallucinogenic effects of the research drug LSD. He intentionally takes the drug three days later on April 19.

He was a very strait-laced man to have discovered this drug, but so it goes:

  • 1945 – World War II: The Red Army begins the final assault on German forces around Berlin, with nearly one million troops fighting in the Battle of the Seelow Heights.
  • 1947 – Bernard Baruch first applies the term “Cold War” to describe the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.
  • 1961 – In a nationally broadcast speech, Cuban leader Fidel Castro declares that he is a Marxist–Leninist and that Cuba is going to adopt Communism.
  • 1963 – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pens his Letter from Birmingham Jail while incarcerated in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting against segregation.

You can read that famous letter here.

Here’s the last three minutes of Jordan’s last game. Sadly, he didn’t do that well and the Bulls lost, but what a career the man had. I’m sad that I never saw him play.

Breivick killed 77 people and got the maximum sentence: 21 years in jail. But it can be extended indefinitely in increments if the prisoner isn’t deemed safe to release, and I suspect that Breivik will be in for life. This is one reason:

Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people on July 22, 2011, in a bomb attack in Oslo and a mass shooting at a summer camp for children. (Lise Aaserud/AP)
  • 2012 – The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced, it was the first time since 1977 that no book won the Fiction Prize.

There was no prize given for International Reporting, either.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1844 – Anatole France, French journalist, novelist, and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1924)
  • 1867 – Wilbur Wright, American inventor (d. 1912)
  • 1918 – Spike Milligan, Irish actor, comedian, and writer (d. 2002)
  • 1939 – Dusty Springfield, English singer and record producer (d. 1999)

This is my favorite of her songs, though Dusty’s most popular release was “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me“, which reached #1 on the British Pop Charts.

  • 1971 – Selena, American singer-songwriter, actress, and fashion designer (d. 1995).

Here’s Selena Quintanilla Pérez , live in Houston and singing a disco medley. Wildly popular, she was shot at just 23.

Those who became extinct on April 16 include:

  • 1828 – Francisco Goya, Spanish-French painter and illustrator (b. 1746)
  • 1958 – Rosalind Franklin, English biophysicist and academic (b. 1920)

One of Franklin’s favorite hobbies was trekking; here she is on a hike in the Alps:

  • 1991 – David Lean, English director, producer, and screenwriter (b. 1908)

What can you say about a man who directed The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and Doctor Zhivago (1965), all of them epics and all of them terrific (Lawrence of Arabia isthe best)? I know the second two movies almost by heart. I looked at a number of clip from Zhivago (I’ve seen Lawrence too many times), and decided to put this one up. (The “wife” of Strelnekov turns out to be Lara, with whom Zhivago has an affair.) I think Strelnekov is modeled on Trotsky. The best of these movies is Lawrence, but they’re all good.

  • 1994 – Ralph Ellison, American novelist and critic (b. 1913)

Here’s a short documentary on Ellison, who wrote one good novel (“Invisible Man”), but it’s a doozy:

*There is no banner headline in the NYT today, but here’s the upper-left corner headline—the most important. And it’s not good news. Click on screenshot to read:

Here’s the NYT’s news summary:

A large explosion rocked Kyiv early Saturday, and the Ukrainians claimed to have shot down missiles aimed at Odesa in the south and Lviv in the west — a reminder that even as Russia prepares for a large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine, it can still strike targets across the country.

The targeting of military-related facilities across Ukraine with precision munitions came as Russia continued to move equipment and forces into position for a renewed offensive. The moves appeared to be aimed at degrading the Ukrainians’ military capabilities in advance of the anticipated assault, which military analysts have warned could be both long and bloody.

I still think that the whole country, and not just the eastern bit, will be taken over by Russia. Putin is desperate and has tactical nukes, and is now threatening the U.S. if we keep giving weapons to Ukraine. My fingers are crossed. But in his latest Substack column, Andrew Sullivan proposes his own peace solution, which I don’t like:

How does this unwind itself without a more widespread catastrophe? The key, it seems to me, is to keep our focus on a feasible settlement: a pledge never to admit Ukraine to NATO, a referendum — conducted by international bodies — in the two eastern provinces to determine their future in Russia or Ukraine, and a guarantee of Ukraine’s neutrality. But we are fast walking backwards into something far larger: a Western attempt for regime change in Russia, with Ukraine as the lever. That could make the war truly existential for Russia. Which means, with a nuclear power, truly existential for the world as well.

Worried about a much wider war, Sullivan is urging Ukraine to promise not to join NATO and to hold elections that could (and would, given Russian perfidy) hand over much of eastern Ukraine to Russia.

*In other news, the U.S. is now convinced that the Russian cruiser Moskva was indeed sunk by Ukrainian missiles, and there is much rejoicing, which I share. But remember that people are starving in Mariupol and the body count of Ukrainians will be rising fast–and soon. There is really not much to celebrate. The governor of Donestsk pronounced that Mariupol “has been wiped off the face of the earth”.

*Elon Musk has been trying to effect a hostile takeover of Twitter, though I’m not sure what changes he proposes to make. At any rate, according to the Wall Street Journal, Twitter is fighting back:

The company on Friday adopted a so-called poison pill that makes it difficult for Mr. Musk to increase his stake beyond 15%. The billionaire founder of Tesla Inc. TSLA -3.66%  already owns a more-than 9% stake that he revealed earlier this month.

PayPal Chief Executive Peter Thiel, left, and founder Elon Musk, right, pose with the PayPal logo in 2000.PHOTO: PAUL SAKUMA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Poison pills, also called shareholder-rights plans, are legal maneuvers that make it hard for shareholders to build their stakes beyond a set point by triggering an option for others to buy more shares at a discount. They are often used by companies that receive hostile takeover bids to block an unwanted suitor or buy time to consider their options.

Twitter said in a statement that the rights plan doesn’t prevent the company from engaging with potential acquirers or accepting a takeover bid if the board determines it is in the best interest of shareholders. It earlier confirmed it received Mr. Musk’s offer and is rewriting it.

As long as Musk doesn’t ban cat tweets, I’m not overly concerned.

*Talk about the demonization of the godless! CNN reports that a Nigerian atheist pleaded guilty to blasphemy in the neighboring state of Kano, and was sentenced to 24 years in jail (both countries are majority Muslim).  (h/t Paul)

Charges against Mubarak Bala are linked to comments he posted on Facebook in April 2020 that were critical of Islam and which authorities in Kano considered blasphemous and an insult to the religion, his lawyer said.

Bala, who heads the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was arrested at his home in the northern Kaduna state two years ago and was then moved to neighbouring Kano, a majority Muslim and conservative state.

*The Guardian reports that, due to the paucity of chemicals needed for lethal injections (drug companies won’t sell them to prisons), firing squads are making a comeback. (h/t Steve)

 On Thursday, South Carolina scheduled the execution of Richard Moore – convicted of murder in a 2001 convenience story robbery – for 29 April. Because state officials say they have not been able to secure lethal injection drugs, they will give him the choice between the electric chair and the firing squad.

Man, there’s no choice there: take the firing squad! Or better yet, have them shoot you in the back of the head with a single bullet. But of course all this is pilpul because I’m adamantly opposed to capital punishment.

Until now, Utah was the only state still using firing squads, and the last execution was in 2010.

This all comes from a recent Supreme Court decision that “if prisoners want to fight an execution method, they need to propose a ‘known and available’ alternative in court.”  They thus become complicit in their own death.

It is true that if you’re going to kill someone painlessly, either give them pure barbiturate, as they do with assisted suicide in Switzerland, or shoot them, which often kills them more quickly than does lethal injection. But no form of capital punishment is acceptable. (The reason people object to firing squads is that it’s messy) And if we’re going to have it, we should televise it. Let people see what they’re in favor of!

*Over at Freddie de Boer’s Substack, he argues that “Self-actualization is not the sole purpose of human existence.” He’s pushing back against “the notion that healthy, well-adjusted people are possessed of absolutely deranged self-confidence and pursue their desires with remorseless and violent ambition”; and sees this instantiated in some Disney films. He’s got a point, in that one must take others into account, but I think he goes a bit overboard.

*A snide characterization of some lousy news from reader Ken: “Turns out, a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a nine-year-old girl from having her picture taken with the Easter Bunny at the mall.”

A Southern California shoe store owner opened fire at two shoplifters, police said, but mistakenly shot a 9-year-old girl about to get her picture with a mall Easter Bunny. The store owner fled the state and was arrested in Nevada, authorities said Wednesday.

Marqel Cockrell, 20, was chasing the shoplifters out of the store Tuesday evening at the Mall of Victor Valley in the small city of Victorville when he “fired multiple shots at the shoplifters,” Victorville police said in a statement.

“Cockrell’s shots missed the shoplifters and instead hit the 9-year-old female victim,” the statement said.

First of all, you don’t fire at shoplifters. Second, if you can’t fire properly, don’t use a gun. Third, the poor girl, who will live (she had three wounds), may have permanent nerve damage.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili’s been unsuccessful in her hunting:

Hili: I’m losing hope.
A: What for?
Hili: That something tasty will come to me.
In Polish:
Hili: Tracę nadzieję.
Ja: Na co?
Hili: Że coś smacznego samo do mnie przyjdzie.

Here’s Karolina grabbing Kulka:

And Szaron with book by Anjuli Pandavar that arrived in Dobrzyn yesterday–translation by Malgorzata. The title in Polish is Islam – faith and humanity. Malgorzata says, “The original title was Muslim’s inner struggle. It’s about how in every believer in Islam, a Muslim is fighting with a human. And humanity often loses.”

From Jesus of the Day::

From Facebook:

From Doc Bill:

From my magical Twitter feed: puppy imitates rabbit:

From Barry; this is new to him and to me, too. The cat is apparently feigning injury to get back in the house!

From Ginger K.:

From Simon, who says the guy probably just pissed off the ants:

Tweets from Matthew. Is the one on the left really a Ukrainian stamp?

A lovely arthropod that is not an insect:

It’s lunchtime for the eels:

This is proposed as a solution to the trolley problem, but I don’t think this is one choice. Translation: “How to save everyone in the ‘trolley problem’ How about such an answer?”

Matthew found this on the Auschwitz Memorial site:

Sunday: Duck report

August 25, 2019 • 3:30 pm

I’m trying to catch up on the duck reports, and am getting closer. Katie’s brood is almost completely gone (there’s one offspring left, but it could be Anna’s), but Katie is still here, as is Anna. It’s curious that both moms are hanging around after their brood has departed, as these moms have fully molted and can fly quite well. Maybe they have a sentimental attachment to a place where all their young were treated well.

Daphne, on the other hand, is in the middle of regrowing her feathers, as her offspring have just started flying (in fact, several appear to have left the pond for good; I counted just six this afternoon). Here’s a short video from August 15, when all nine of them were still here:

Here’s the lovely and graceful Anna, who gave us 8 fledged ducklings. She’s instantly recognizable by her long neck and grayish bill:

Look how much she can twist it when she’s grooming!

Anna in the green water:

And here’s Katie, the first mom (sometimes I think it’s really Honey, but I doubt it):

 

A huge and handsome drake showed up about ten days ago. His head isn’t fully green, so he may be in eclipse plumage, but it’s clearly a male. Because he’s spiffy looking, I’ve named him Ritz Quacker. He is BIG!

Katie, who has an eye for a good mate (remember Gregory, her ex?), has taken up with Ritz. He’s much larger than she is, but they’re always swimming about together:

They like to share a duck island. See how big he is?

Duck poop, just so you know what it looks like:

Daphne’s brood of nine is the most sociable brood of ducks I’ve seen: they are always together, even now when they’re starting to fledge. In the next two photos they’re gathering for lunch:

In the heat of the day, they all lie down together under the trees:

And they rest together on the duck island, where they closely resemble the wooden “knees” of the cypress:

And we mustn’t forget the turtles. They often sport a coat of algae (like this one), which the ducks like to eat by nibbling on the shell. I think the relationship is a mutualism as algae must weigh down a turtle, but the turtles don’t like being grazed by ducks:

 

Caturday felid trifecta: Cats wait for the mail, cat paw hand cream from Japan, a cat song performed by a Coyne

December 29, 2018 • 10:00 am

Happy Caturday from Hawaii! As usual, we have three items today for the devoted ailurophile. First, a lovely 15-minute video of a variety of cats getting the mail. Some are friendly, some are vicious, but all are exactly like cats:

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This article from Grape (found by Grania) shows a variety of Japanese hand creams that supposedly make your hands smell like cat paws! (Click on screenshot.)

After the brilliant invention of the Meomeo hand cream, made to attract cats to your side with its unique fragrance, another dreamy cat hand cream has arrived for cat lovers. The new Punipuni Nikukyu hand cream (literally, soft cat paw), will magically make your hands smell exactly like cat palms, while working as a perfect moisturizer for your dry hands.

The hand cream even comes in different colors of paw.

Here’s one for the ginger-cat lover:

According to the many people who’ve already tried it out, it appears that the hand cream smells 100% like cat paws.

Now I happen to be one of those weirdos who love the smell of cat paws: they’re musty and slightly pungent—an attractive feral smell. But, it turns out, many Japanese also share this penchant:

It’s not uncommon to smell cat paws in Japan, in fact, many cat lovers enjoy their scent in the morning, saying that they smell like sunflowers and bring you energy. Similarly, many take a whiff to feel refreshed after a stressful day of work. Now they can smell their own humans paws anywhere they go, and relish in the same effects. The Punipuni Nikukyu hand cream is sold for 1,050 yen (10.15 USD), and is available in three different colors.

**********

Reader Shirley found a “Fred. Coyne” who, as I gather from trawling the Internet, was somewhat of a music-hall sensation in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century. Shirley wrote this and attached a photo of sheet music:

I’ve been sorting my books and came across the attached cover page (in a set of 12 Music Hall Songs covers). Most are undated, but 3 bear dates 1897, 1898 and 1899, so I guess they are all of about the same vintage.
I wondered whether you were aware of your ailurophile (?) ancestor Fred, who was singing cat songs (with immense success) so long ago?
“Sung with immense success by Fred. Coyne”. What does “immense success” mean? Why is the cat bristling? Is the woman with the broom about to bash the cat? Did he try to get the cockatoo? All is mystery.
I found this cover, showing a person who may well be Fred. Coyne, on the UK’s National Portrait Gallery site. He appears to have had immense success with every song! However, I don’t think Fred. is a relative.
And at Song Facts, you can read this about Fred (minus the period) Coyne:

In Coyne Of The Realm, an article published in the summer 2005 issue of The Call Boy, the quarterly journal of the British Music Hall Society, Peter Chorlton said that Fred Coyne (1847-84), who popularised this song, rode one daily, and for some time, and actually came on stage riding it. Velocipede (literally fast foot from the Latin) is an antiquated (and now somewhat humorous) term for a bicycle, which at the time this song was written was still in its infancy, and included all manner of odd looking contraptions, most notably the penny farthing.

Coyne’s ditty contains the lines:
“Everyone should try one,
Everyone should buy one…”

which begs the question was he sponsored by a manufacturer? – as was George Leybourne (of “Champagne Charlie” fame).

Actually, Coyne rode a tricycle; the song has lyrics by Frank W. Green and music by Alfred Lee, and is far from unique; at this time there were many songs and pieces of music dedicated to or inspired by the new invention.

Okay, the first reader who finds the article “Coyne of the Realm” and sends it to me will win a signed paperback copy of Faith Versus Fact, embellished with a cat.

Brother Tayler’s Sunday secular sermon

January 4, 2016 • 9:30 am

Clearly Jeff Tayler has no intention of letting up on religion in 2016. Amazingly, Salon continues to publish his regular Sunday attacks on faith, yesterday’s being “Religious delusions are destroying us: “Nothing more than man-made contrivances of domination and submission.

This is his year-end summary of all the damage done by faith in 2015, including, of course, the Charlie Hebdo attacks and similar instances of Islamist terrorism. Nor does he let Christianity off the hook, noting the Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood, the failure of “abstinence-only” sex education in the American South, the continuing saga of the Duggar family, and the ways that Christian fundamentalists still try to sneak creationism into public schools.  N.B. The link to one intriguing study cited by Tayler below is incorrect. I hadn’t known about that work:

That religion retards children’s cognitive development has been well established: little ones indoctrinated to believe in miracles find it tough to distinguish fact from fiction.

A working link to a description of that study is here, and the published study itself is here (reference at bottom, free access). I haven’t yet read the paper, and I’m dubious about these psychological tests, but I’ve printed it out to peruse. (Note the correct usage of the frequently misused term “peruse“.) Here’s the abstract:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 9.03.03 AM

Tayler’s paragraph below encapsulates several of the characteristics of New (as opposed to “Old”) Atheism: the claim that gods and religious dicta are hypotheses, many testable in principle; that they fail the test of reason and evidence; and on that basis we should not only reject religion, but persuade others to do so, engaging in “anti-theism”. (Tayler’s reference to heads and eye sockets refers to trepanation and lobotomy, which he earlier characterized as the medical equivalent of faith):

The baseline for progressives should be, however, the truth. If a proposition, however unpleasant, can be supported by objective evidence, we need to recognize it as true, at least until new evidence arises that disproves it. If we’re interested in the wellbeing of our fellows, and we see them behaving in accordance with disproven propositions, we should tell them so and help them see the light. We should, thus, importune our faith-addled friend on the way to the church, mosque, or synagogue, and patiently explain to him the errors of his ways. He needs religion, in short, like a hole in the head or an icepick up the eye socket, and we should tell him so.

After listing the woes of the year, he also gives some high spots, and I was chuffed to find my book among them:

Yet harbingers of real progress did emerge. The brave, indomitable Ayaan Hirsi Ali published “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now,” and one of New Atheism’s founders, the neuroscientist Sam Harris, put out, with former Islamist Maajid Nawaz, “Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue.” Both tomes deal with the faith and what can be done to mitigate the extremism it produces. On religion and its discontents more generally, the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist (and 2015 Richard Dawkins Award winner) Jerry Coyne authored “Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible,” a well-crafted vade mecum for all rationalists wishing to mount a cogent challenge to the religiously deluded. And David Silverman, president of American Atheists, helped close out the year on a positive note with his “Fighting God,” a polemic for firebrand atheism that will pour oil on faith’s funeral pyre. Yes, that pyre is already burning. The “Nones” are rising, as readers of this column know.

I’ve read all those books save Fighting God (which I will read); Heretic and the short Nawaz-and-Harris book are well worth reading, though I seriously doubt whether Hirsi Ali’s solution for Muslims, which involves reading the Qur’an non-literally, will really work.  A huge majority of Muslims throughout the world see the Qur’an as the literal word of Allah.

Finally, Tayler urges us to keep the pressure on faith and the “religiously deluded” (a term that will make him no friends among their ranks!), but really, isn’t what he says about religion in the second paragraph the truth? Religion is to adults what Santa Claus is to children.

We need to argue our case relentlessly, challenge the faith-deranged in every venue, and never lose sight of how free speech about religion can and does convert believers into nonbelievers.

We need to stress the indignity of religion. Superstitions ordaining us to submit to God are the enemies of human dignity. That God is wholly imaginary only compounds this indignity. Coddling the religiously deluded by showing “respect” for the undignified shams to which they are attached (denouncers of “Islamophobia” take note!) drags out the misery they impose on themselves and on the rest of us. In contrast to religious folk, we nonbelievers know how to live free and should never hesitate to point this out. Religion and freedom are incompatible. In fact, religion and true adulthood can’t coexist. One who shies away from bleak facts surrounding our time on Earth is really a child, no matter his or her age.

“No gods, no masters,” declared early feminist Margaret Sanger. Such is the slogan for human dignity and reason, whether we are male or female.

We should remember this during the upcoming year, which may be anything but easy.

___________

Corriveau, K. H., E. E. Chen, and P. L. Harris. 2014. Judgments about fact and fiction by children from religious and nonreligious backgrounds. Cognitive Science, DOI: 1111/cogs.12138

 

 

A Mancunian New Year

January 1, 2016 • 2:00 pm

by Matthew Cobb

New Year’s Eve in UK cities can be a pretty horrendous experience. The Manchester Evening News has just published a delightful selection of photos by Joel Goodman, showing what happened last night. They are generally pretty grim, but this photo, taken on Withy Grove, stands out. As various people on Tw*tter have commented, it looks like a Renaissance painting. Click twice to get the full glory:

Photo (c) Joel Goodman.

Long-standing Manchester DJ Dave Haslam tw**ted:

Open thread: how did you become an atheist?

July 6, 2015 • 2:10 pm

by Grania

We’ve often talked about reasons for being an atheist on this site, but not so much about how we became atheists – that is if we weren’t one before. Probably few of us had as dramatic an experience as Jerry’s own Road to Damascus deconversion experience where there was one pivotal moment that marked: Here believer; and afterwards no more. Probably several readers here never believed and grew up in secular homes (you fortunate people). Jerry thought it would be interesting to ask readers: what did it for you?

TL;DR: you don’t have to read my overly-long saga below – you can now skip to the comments and add your own story.

For myself, looking back with the sort of 20/20 vision that hindsight blesses us all with, perhaps I was never a fervent believer. But I certainly had what Dan Dennett would call Belief in Belief. Raised in a moderately conservative family by a Catholic mother and a hard-to-pin-down father (he is technically Jewish, Lutheran on paper and was almost certainly skeptically agnostic but polite enough to never say anything about it).

I received a better-than-average schooling in being a good Catholic than the average Catholic circa 1970s. Unlike some modern Catholics who are outraged when Richard Dawkins had the nerve to point out that they are supposed to regard the transubstantiated communion wafer as the literal body of Christ, I was taught in painstaking detail exactly what Catholics were required to believe in. (Oh dear god, the wasted hours of frustration and boredom… )

I believed because everybody seemed to believe, perhaps not in my particular flavor of Christianity; but certainly pretty much everybody appeared to adhere to one of the myriad versions of it. But I expected more of it than tedious Catechism books and hours spent reciting mind-numbing prayers on and endless repeat cycle. Also the knees, damn wooden pews hurt like a sonofabitch after half an hour. I expected that the very least a benevolent God could do was at least once reply to my earnest prayers. There was never anything though, not even something that a relatively imaginative child could try to pretend might have been a response from a seemingly disinterested deity. The people and priests I talked to about this were kindly and patient and offered me all manner of conflicting advice: pray harder, don’t pray – just listen, read more about your faith (bad advice, really), maybe He has already answered you, sometimes God says No, sometimes God says Wait A While, don’t overdo the bookish learning – too much knowledge is enemy of faith (that’s true).

In the end, what killed my belief – or belief in belief was the following:

  • a serious lack on God’s part of ever trying to acknowledge my existence. That was just plain rude.
  • Latin in High School – Pliny opened my eyes to a version of early Christianity I had not ever heard about in church – especially the bit about female deacons.
  • Actually reading the bible. Paul pretty much made me lose my temper with his sexist twaddle and I couldn’t take the book seriously as a moral guide after that.
  • Law School – courses in subjects such as Comparative Law and Roman Law pretty much destroyed the last shreds of credibility the bible had left and laid bare its cobbled-together, plagiarised and fabricated origins. Ironically two of my very excellent lecturers were Catholics too.

Anyway, I came out of university accidentally unable to sit through any more Sunday sermons without getting fairly furious at the inaccuracies, the omissions and the one-sided version of morality that got served up. I didn’t call myself an atheist for many years to come after that, but I could not take religion seriously any more. It no longer held any interest for me and we parted ways amicably.

An erstwhile creationist becomes a biologist, due in part to us!

May 18, 2015 • 11:30 am

Over the past five years, one of our readers—Dan Metz—has been undergoing an odyssey. This involved leaving a strict religious background, abandoning belief in creationism and accepting evolution, and then, ultimately, becoming a biologist. It’s a heartening story, one that shows how even a “strident” atheistic site run by a biologist can, despite the godlessness, turn people towards science.

We first heard from Dan in 2010, when, writing anonymously, he described how learning about evolution was the key factor in his leaving religion (he was originally a Southern Baptist creationist from the Appalachians). Here’s just a small bit from that letter:

You probably know the rest. The initial rejection of what I’d read, trying to get someone to explain to me why all the evidence pointed toward evolution instead of away, realizing that the answers that I was getting from the creationist side were either evasive, inconsistent, or deceitful. And the long, slow, painful process of shedding a belief I’ve had instilled in me since childhood.

In 2012, Dan wrote again, this time making his identity public and recounting how he worked two years in banking to save up enough money to go to college and study biology. Again, a small part of his testimony:

In that letter, I mentioned my “biggest regret”–that I had never pursued the opportunity to study biology academically. I now proudly report that in another two weeks or so, I will have completed my first semester as an undergraduate in biology and mathematics. Your book, your site, and the comments of encouragement that your readers posted in response to my first letter were all instrumental in nudging me toward my current position in life. And I couldn’t be happier!

Note that you, the readers, get a large bit of credit for helping Dan fulfill his dreams. You might want to look back at the comments to see the encouragement he got.

I heard from Dan again yesterday, and he’s succeeded brilliantly:

Dr. Coyne,

It is amazing how things can change in so short a time. I wrote to you five years ago as a confused and floundering young apostate, unsure of my place in a world suddenly bereft of gods and magic and neat little explanations for every manner of phenomenon.

The encouragement I received from you and the readers of your website (which I continue to peruse daily) led me to pursue a degree in biology, mathematics, and chemistry.

I completed that degree last week, with the titles of Summa Cum Laude, Dean’s Scholar, and Artis Fellow (head of all Dean’s Scholars of the graduating class). I am also a National Research Fellow through the Ecological Society of America, and have the honor of describing not only a new species, but a new genus of eukaryotic parasite as the fruit of my undergraduate research.

I’ve been accepted into a PhD program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography under the tutelage of a scientist I’ve admired for years.  This would not have happened had it not been for our initial correspondence. So thank you, and thank your readers.

My friends, family, and professional contacts have given me the support I needed to excel as an undergraduate. But I seriously doubt that I–an uneducated man from a very rural, very religious background–could have even conceived of a career in understanding the chemical mechanisms of parasite-mediated behavioral control had it not been for our initial correspondence.

So I simply wanted to thank you, and to wish you well on the outreach of your new book. I, of course, will be ordering a copy as soon as my next paycheck comes in.

Thanks,
-Dan

You can see the announcement of Dan’s success, and of his ESA fellowship, at this post from Radford University’s newsfeed.

And here’s the man himself demonstrating how to get pinched by a crab:

Finally, Dan asked me to convey this to the readers:

[G]ive my warmest regards to your commenters. They’re a big-hearted bunch, to throw such well-wishes to a guy they never met. It’s a trait they share with their host!

Now isn’t that nice?

Two readers testify that evolution helped them give up religion

April 30, 2015 • 9:55 am

Since Tuesday I’ve gotten two heartening letters from readers, both erstwhile religionists who abandoned their faith at least partly after learning about evolution. One was a Mormon, the other a Jehovah’s Witness. And both gave me permission to publish their emails and their identities.

I have to admit that I’m pleased that I was given credit for some of their enlightenment about the truth of evolution and the falsity of faith, so one of the labels I’ll put on this post is “self promotion.” But I want to make two points about these emails, and about similar ones I’ve received over the years.

First, you can change religious people’s minds about evolution, even though it’s not common. Accommodationists tout the alternative strategy of evolutionists kissing up to religion, saying that once religious people realize that evolution is compatible with their faith, they’ll flock to Darwinism. Well, that hasn’t worked. And there’s no evidence for their assertion that being an atheist and at the same time promoting evolution actually drives people away from atheism and science acceptance. I claim that the number of believers in the world has been reduced by my writing WEIT.  I’ve heard from a fair number of people who left religion because if it, but none who abandoned evolution in favor of faith because Professor Ceiling Cat is a Strident Atheist. (And believe me, those people would tell me!)

Second, I’ve learned that abandoning faith often begins with learning facts: often the scientific facts supporting evolution. I have heard many times (twice at TAM from Orthodox Jews—and in a single day!) that people’s journey to rationality and unbelief began with learning about evolution. This shows, to me at least, that religions do depend heavily on believing actual facts about nature, and are not simply vehicles for communality and empathy that are devoid of factual content. Were that the case, learning about evolution would not motivate people to leave religion. In the case of the two men who testify below, it was the dissonance between what their faith taught and the actual facts about evolution that made them see their religion was purveying lies. If those lies could easily be re-cast as metaphors, as Sophisticated Theologians™ urge, this wouldn’t happen.

So all of this does indeed justify the fears of some believers that evolution is dangerous to their faith.

On to the emails. In both cases I verified the identities of the correspondents.

*******

Hello Mr Coyne,

I would like to thank you for writing the book ‘Why Evolution is True’, and I am really enjoying the posts on your website.

I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, and last week they forcibly disassociated me from the religion (meaning that I am now labelled a ‘wicked’ person, to be shunned by all JWs). I am still waiting to find out whether my dad and in-laws will ever talk to me again. The reason I was given the boot is that I wrote an account of my reasons for leaving the faith (although I never tried to persuade anyone else to leave).

Anyway, inspired by your book, but wanting a more concise resource summarizing some of the more impressive evidence for evolution, I wrote a compact list of the evidence for evolution, which can be found here.

Thank you for helping me make the transition from belief to scepticism. I am a lot happier for it!

Regards,

Russell Walker.

In our further correspondence, he told me that it was difficult to leave the faith. Jehovah’s Witnesses have a policy of completely shunning those who leave: a border-collie tactic designed keep sheep in the fold. (Here’s their own explanation of how this odious practice works.)

He added this in a subsequent email (Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course, completely reject evolution):

Leaving the JWs was quite a traumatic experience. From initial doubts to being completely honest with myself that I didn’t believe took about 10 years (I left in 2010, but was only officially expelled last week). After admitting to myself that I did not believe, I spent several months reading voraciously. Early on in that process I found out (in part thanks to your book) that the people who lead the religion, whom I had trusted implicitly, had been shockingly dishonest about the evidence surrounding evolution. I was absolutely appalled at the quotes taken out of context, logical fallacies (I had to learn what a logical fallacy was), and thoroughly biased presentation of the subject. None of this was apparent to me when I was a believer because of the information control that the religion imposes (including not trusting ‘worldly’ sources of information, and completely shunning apostates – refusing to even look at anything they have to say).

Within a few weeks of leaving, I had come to terms with the fact that there is simply insufficient evidence for a supreme being, and that I was not going to live forever. When I was a believer, I thought that such a realisation would render my life meaningless (and that prevented me from pursuing answers to my doubts), but in reality I very quickly adapted, and now feel that my life has much greater meaning than ever before. I am mentally free. I no longer live with the anguish of doubt, and other psychological baggage that comes from being in a high control group.

Sadly, it looks like the JWs will continue to cast their pall over my family life for some time yet. Still, I have no regrets.

Russ.

Finally, I wondered what kind of role learning about evolution really played in Russ’s de-conversion, so I asked him this:

“It does surprise me that reading about evolution is enough to turn the tide. I wouldn’t have expected that a priori, but, I suppose, evolution is the one solid bit of evidence that everyone can understand AND that contradicts one’s faith.  Maybe that’s why reading about Darwinism tends to dispel faith.”

He responded in this way:

I think the reason evolution was such a clincher for me is that my whole belief was built on what I thought was solid and logically sound proof of creationism. My faith was a house of cards built on ‘proof’ that God exists (rather than any personal religious experience or anecdotal evidence). In effect, I was ‘reasoned into’ belief in God (albeit the reasoning was unsound), and therefore was able to be ‘reasoned out’ of it too. I think this is rare among the religious though – when I was a believer, I was often a little frustrated with the fact that my fellow believers ‘believed the right things for the wrong reasons’ as I saw it!

Russ.

To those who argue that religion isn’t based on factual beliefs, but on beliefs that are really “fictitious imaginings” (see my previous post about Tonia Lombrozo’s  and Neil van Leuuwen’s defense of this indefensible claim), Russ’s story stands in stark contrast. I think he’s right that people aren’t “reasoned into belief” (indeed, that was the point of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience), but that doesn’t mean that their religion, arrived at by emotion or revelation, doesn’t need to be buttressed by beliefs about what is true.

The notion that factuality of beliefs has little or nothing to do with religion is a recent trope of accommodationists, faitheists, and others who want to render religion immune to scientific and rational criticism.

I applaud Russ’s desire to put truth over falsity, even if abandoning superstition meant abandoning his social network. As you see, he’s actually much happier now.

*******

Here’s an email I got from Chris Smith of Bakersfield, California, who in subsequent correspondence ask that he be identified:

Dear Jerry Coyne
I finished reading your book “Why Evolution is True” about a year ago, and I loved it! I was raised in the Mormon church, and I left partially due to your book. I never understood evolution until I read your book, so I wanted to email you and say thank you so much for your clarity and sincerity in the way you explained evolution. Since leaving the Mormon church, I’m so much happier. And thanks to you, I’ve discover how much I love science! Evolution is true!
Thanks again for your book. It meant a lot to me.
Sincerely,
A fan
Kudos to Chris as well. I have another “testimony” that I might publish if I get permission, from another Mormon who told me how strongly the church and its adherents reject (or ignore) evolution. Chris’s account jibes with that.