A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway

June 3, 2023 • 11:00 am

You’ll know Bret Stephens as a conservative columnist for the New York Times. He also got his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago in 1995 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for political commentary. Because of his journalism and association with the University, he was invited to deliver yesterday’s University Class Day speech, an invitation extended by the University. (“Class Day” is the beginning of the Convocation Weekend, or graduation, with the formal cap-and-gown ceremony taking place today.)

The students didn’t like that much, especially because they didn’t have a say in who got to speak.  And the speaker is a conservative who doesn’t hate Israel, which means he’s doubly damned. A coalition of students from the groups below thus wrote a very long Google document (see below the fold) calling Stephens a bigot, a racist, a “bigoted ideologue”, and an “apologist for Israeli apartheid” (yes, the signers included the Students for Justice in Palestine). There’s also a “content warning”. Here are the signers:

CareNotCops [JAC: they want to abolish the police]
Environmental Justice Task Force
Students for Disability Justice
Students for Justice in Palestine
UChicago Against Displacement
UChicago Democratic Socialists of America

They criticize Stephens for many things, the one most relevant to this post being his supposed attempt to suppress the speech of other writers at the NYT. The evidence, however, is merely a Twitter thread by writer Wajahat Ali that is entirely hearsay, saying that Stephens has criticized other writers, written to editors (no evidence is adduced), and has also responded to being criticized with more criticism.  This is thin gruel. I don’t agree with everything Stephens says in the NYT, but one thing I haven’t seen him do is call for suppression of speech.  If he ever did, he’d be violating the principles of the college from which he graduated—the principles he lauded in his talk.

The Chicago Maroon (our student newspaper) reported on the coalition’s criticisms (again, see below the fold), and gave Stephen’s’s response:

In an email to The Maroon, Stephens responded to the statement.

“I read the coalition statement carefully. It is a caricature of my views. It is based on cherry-picked and misleading quotations and bad-faith readings of my work. It also borders on self-parody: To accuse me of being an “imperialist” sounds like 1960s agitprop. For the record, I am not an imperialist, a racist, or anything else the statement accuses me of being.”

In the email statement, Stephens countered that he had a more moderate ideology than what the statement suggested, pointing to some of his political views.

“The more mundane truth is that I’m a moderate conservative and card-carrying NeverTrumper who opposes the Dobbs decision, supports repealing the 2nd Amendment, and favors a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Last year, the Russian government banned me for life from visiting that country and Tucker Carlson calls me a ‘leftist.’ If this puts me beyond the pale of the ‘coalition,’ it says a lot more about them than it does about me.” (Editor’s note: Stephens included the hyperlinks himself in his emailed statement.)

Well, all the student criticism is fine, even encouraged by our University, for it’s free speech. And to be fair, none of the critics called for the cancelation of Stephens’s speech. As far as I know, it wasn’t disrupted, either.

But Stephens got his own back with his talk, which he reprinted in the NYT. It’s all about the importance of freedom of expression, and gives special encomiums to our recently deceased President and free-speech promoter Bob Zimmer. You can read it by clicking on the link below.

I’ve listened to a lot of anodyne graduation speeches in myu career (this one is really not the official graduation address, which is always delivered by a member of our faculty—today colleague and law professor Tom Ginsburg). It’s the “Class Day” address. Read it by clicking the headline below, and it’s also been archived here.  After reading it, I’m guessing that the University invited Stephens to talk on Class Day precisely so he could impart the lesson below to the departing students. If they wanted to cater to the students, they’d probably invite someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Stephens begins by addressing his critics directly, and then praising two major figures at the University (I don’t know if there was a walkout):

To those of you who are protesting or planning a walkout, I thank you for not seriously disrupting my speech. And though I’m sorry you won’t hear me out, I completely respect your right to protest any speaker you dislike, including me, so long as you honor the Chicago Principles. It is one of the core liberties that all of us have a responsibility to uphold, protect and honor.

To those of you who choose to stay, I thank you for honoring another Chicago principle, one that was dear to my dear friend, Bob Zimmer: Namely, that a serious education is impossible except in an environment of unfettered intellectual challenge — an environment that, in turn, isn’t possible without the opportunity to encounter people and entertain views with whom and with which you might profoundly disagree.To John Boyer, who welcomed me to Chicago in 1991 when I was a nervous 17-year-old freshman, I want to salute you for everything you’ve done to make the college so much better, while preserving what always made it great: the conviction that to think clearly, we must be able to speak freely; that to disagree intelligently, we must first understand the views of our opponents profoundly; that to change people’s minds, we must be open to the possibility that our minds might be changed. All of this asks us to listen charitably, argue candidly, consider deeply, examine and re-examine everything, above all our own deeply held convictions — and, unlike at so many other universities, to respond to ideas we reject with more and better speech, not heckling or censorship.

And the ending (but do read the whole thing):

. . . . You are about to go out into the real world, as real adults, with a real hand in shaping the conditions of our common life. Many of you will soon join and eventually lead great institutions, and a few of you will create significant businesses, NGOs, schools and other institutions of your own. I’m guessing not many of you are thinking: “I want to make them just like the University of Chicago,” at least as far as subzero temperatures, midterms that begin the third week and the food at Valois are concerned.  [JAC: Valois is a downscale cafeteria in Hyde Park, known for its homey and inexpensive food. Barack Obama would occasionally eat there, even as President.]

But I hope you can at least say this: that, at Chicago, you learned that institutions become and remain great not because of the weight of their traditions or the perception of their prestige, but because they are places where the sharpest thinking is given the freest rein, and where strong arguments may meet stronger ones, and where “error of opinion may be tolerated” because “reason is left free to combat it” and where joy and delight are generally found at the point of contact — mental or otherwise.

If you can say this, then Chicago will have served you well. And if you can bring this mind-set and this spirit to the places you will soon make your own, then you will have served Chicago even better.

Go forth, good luck, and thank you.


Stephens delivering the talk:

Click “read more” to see the “coalition statement on Bret Stephens’ Class Day Invitation“:

Continue reading “A “progressive” coalition goes after Bret Stephens as our Class Day Speaker; he delivers an excellent address anyway”

Recently posted: John McWhorter talk on “Understanding the new politics of race”

February 11, 2023 • 11:15 am

Below you can (and should) see John McWhorter‘s 20-minute keynote talk in a January panel called “Towards the Common Good: Rethinking Race in the 21st Century” hosted by The Equiano Project at Emmanuel College and King’s College, Cambridge. The panel included Kenan Malik, columnist for The Observer, Munira Mirza, political advisor and Chief Executive of Civic Future, Dr Alka Seghal Cuthbertand (chair) and Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, University of Oxford.

I couldn’t find a video of the entire panel, but there’s another 75-minute discussion, featuring McWhorter, Sir Trevor Phillips, Alka Seghal, and Samir Shah, that you can watch here.

Here’s the theme of the discussion from which the video below was taken:

Despite the success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s in transforming the lives of black people, race politics in the US at the start of this century seems more polarised than ever. Racial inequality persists but there are fierce debates over the causes and solutions. Rather than seeking to realise the liberal ideal of a ‘colour-blind’ society, a new anti-racism politics wants to raise consciousness about race and the ‘problem’ of whiteness. Is this leading to more equality and progress or not? How should liberals approach this question? Crucially, how is the US experience influencing what happens in the UK and what can we learn from it?

McWhorter’s keynote deals with a topic he discusses often: the takeover of public discourse by a Social Justice crowd who flaunt their vindictive, authoritarian, and quasi-religious brand of antiracism, whose object is often to destroy the careers and credibility of their opponents. The talk is largely a precis of McWhorter’s book on Woke Antiracism, but has new stuff in it, too.

McWhorter exemplifies the Zeitgeist by describing several incidents. One is the suspension of USC business communication professor Greg Patton for using the Chinese filler pharse “negah. . negah. . negah” (equivalent to “that. . .that. . . that”) to show how people in different cultures use verbal marks of hesitation. But the fact that this Chinese word sounds like the American “n-word” slur was enough to offend students and then get Patton suspended and removed from the course. Intent, in this case, was irrelevant, for “offended” feelings, regardless of a speaker’s intent, are often sufficient to hurt someone’s career or get them fired.  The idea that “intent doesn’t matter” was also what got NYT reporter Donald McNeil Jr. fired for using the n-word in a didactic discussion with a student. As Reason reported:

“We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn said in a memo to staffers.

But the newspaper backed off on that (too late for McNeil!) when letting McWhorter himself spell the n-word out in full in his own column. Clearly didactic intent did matter, so long as it was the intent of a black man.

The other issue is a course in the history of Western classical music (including two weeks on jazz) that McWhorter taught for several years at Columbia. The last time, however, there was a new “antiracist” syllabus that omitted Brahms, Chopin, Wagner and replaced them with singer Nina Simone, who, McWhorter says, was a great artist but wasn’t involved in Western classical music. The reason for the change, says McWhorter, was because “two and a half people said so and everybody else was afraid of them.”

Here are two excerpts from his talk that I’ve transcribed that give you the tenor his feelings. But do listen to the whole thing; it’s eloquent and pretty short. Most of us will agree with McWhorter, but we can all use a dose of support from time to time.

He first describes the efforts of woke antiracists as:

. . . a reign of terror enforced by a small number of earnest but misguided people, and the reason that they get their way is because of how much progress we’ve made. Specifically, we in America are a society where the enlightened view is that to be a racist is almost equivalent to being a pedophile—it’s the worst thing you can be called that you’re actually likely to be. That is an accomplishment: that wasn’t true in 1960; that wasn’t really true even in 1980. That is a mark of advance in a society that, frankly, most human societies have not made. If people are a little oversensitive about it, that’s human nature. The fact is something great has happened. But the negative byproduct is that if someone says we have to have Nina Simone instead of Brahms, Chopin, or Wagner, then although almost nobody in the room agrees , they will do it because they know that if that person doesn’t get their way, they’re going to call the Music Department at Columbia “racist” on Twitter where the whole world could see it. . .

I find it ironic that the very success of the civil rights movement is instantiated in the pervasive fear of Americans of being called “racist”.  As McWhorter shows, that is a sign of success, and it’s good. His beef is with the fact that that movement has morphed into an authoritarian “reign of terror.” So what can we do?  As he argues in his book, just say “no” to these people.

. . . We can’t hope to change this by talking to people like that and saying, “Open up to new ideas.” They won’t. And that may sound cynical, but I’m basing it partly on my having experienced these people as an academic for the past 25 years, and especially over the past three. They’re impregnable; they’re thoroughly unreasonable. The issue is getting to most of us—all of the rest of us who are having our lives destroyed or affected negatively, or watching people having their lives destroyed or interfered with because of the actions of a vocal and frightening minority of people who themselves can’t be changed. There’s a bravery that’s necessary at this point. The only way we can keep society from being turned upside down by this religion. . . . we have to have the bravery to tell people like this “no” and to endure that there’s a certain kind of noice they’re going to make. But if we don’t have that bravery, if we don’t realize that being called a “racist” in the public square might not always destroy a life—sometimes, and in many cases, people are just scared— really, if we don’t do it, we’re going to lose what we have thought of as an enlightened society because of certain contingent things that happened during a pandemic and a particularly grisly murder of an innocent man. Just because of chance; just because of Zoom, Slack, boredom, habit, and fear. That is not the way that a mature society should operate.

The ending is quite eloquent, with McWhorter calling us to be “mensches” and stand up to the “misguided and recreational self-focused kind of manipulation” that goes under the name of “antiracism as social justice.” (I think the word “recreational” is quite appropriate.)

Anyway, ye who have ears, listen up

A rediscovered Martin Luther King, Jr. speech

January 16, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Greg Mayer spotted this talk on my colleague Brian Leiter’s website, and I’m stealing it. Listening to it is a good way to remember King on this day, and to see the clarity and focus of his mission. It’s also  chance to appreciate his powerful rhetoric.

The 26-minute speech, rediscovered about eight years ago, was given in 1962, and is about two documents, the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence—and how they failed to bring clarity or resolution to America’s “race question.” King recounts how the Founding Fathers were well aware of their failure to bring equality to all Americans.

Here’s the story from NPR:

Last fall, curators and interns at the New York State Museum were digging through their audio archives in an effort to digitize their collection. It was tedious work; the museum houses over 15 million objects. But on this particular day in November, they unearthed a treasure.

As they sifted through box after box, museum director Mark Schaming remembers: “They pull up a little reel-to-reel tape and a piece of masking tape on it is labeled ‘Martin Luther King, Jr., Emancipation Proclamation Speech 1962.’ ”

It’s audio no one knew existed.

That year — 1962 — fell in the midst of the Civil War centennial. At one commemorative event, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller proposed a focus on the Emancipation Proclamation and invited King to speak. No one had heard his speech since. When Schaming listened to the audio, he found it still relevant. “It’s 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation is released, and this promise is still unfulfilled, very much as it is still today in many ways,” the museum director says.

At the end of the speech, King quotes a slave preacher who he says “didn’t quite have his grammar right but uttered words of great symbolic profundity.”

“Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”

The passage, Schaming says, is so powerful it must be heard to be appreciated. You can hear the speech at the New York State Museum‘s online exhibit.

The ending is eerily similar to that of the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech—his final oration before he was murdered.

As you listen to King’s words, you can see the original typed speech go by—complete with King’s emendations, which markedly improve the text. Remember, this is two years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

It’s natural to wonder what King would say, were he still with us, about the racial divisions in America today, the hegemony of identity politics, and the rejection of his dream to have people judged not by their race, but by the content of their character.  Of course, it’s clear that King was expounding identity politics here and throughout his life, but in a way far more salubrious and less divisive than they’re used today.

There’s a loss of sound about 15 minutes in, but the talk quickly resumes.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Reith lecture on literature and freedom of speech

November 30, 2022 • 10:15 am

The Reith Lectures, named after Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director-general, are intended, as Wikipedia notes, “to enrich the intellectual and cultural life of the nation. It is in this spirit that the BBC each year invites a leading figure to deliver the lectures. The aim is to advance public understanding and debate about issues of contemporary interest.”

Delivered on the radio, they’ve been going yearly since 1946, when Bertrand Russell gave the first one. (Only one year was missed—1992, when the Beeb couldn’t find anyone to deliver the talk). Each speaker customarily gives four talks.

This year, however, there will be four Reith lecturers—the first time that more than one speaker has done the series. As the BBC’s Radio 4 page on the lectures notes:

Four speakers will feature in this year’s BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lord Rowan Williams Darren McGarvey and Dr Fiona Hill will deliver lectures inspired by Franklin D Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech. Each speaker will explore one of Roosevelt’s themes: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

The first one is online now, and you’d best listen soon as it will vanish. It’s by acclaimed Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and, according to reader David, who sent me the link, “She’s a powerful and eloquent speaker, and as I listened to her, I couldn’t help thinking of Christopher Hitchens and his robust defence of the same ideas.”  Well, listen for yourself. I’m doing so at the moment, and I like it very much.

Click on screenshot below to go to the “listen” link. There’s a brief introduction, and the lecture proper begins at 3:45.  It’s short (about half an hour), and finishes at 34:23. It’s followed by another half hour of questions by the interlocutor and the audience. If the link disappears, email me for a substitute.

The talk is anti-authoritarian, and Adichie is uncompromising in her defense of free speech (reminiscent of Mill) and in her criticism of book banning. I can’t say that she’s a new incarnation of Hitchens—whose eloquence can never be equaled—but she is, as David says, “powerful and eloquent” in her own way.

One quote from her talk:

“Literature is increasingly viewed through ideological rather than artistic lenses. Nothing demonstrates this better than the recent phenomenon of ‘sensitivity readers’ in the world of publishing—people whose job it is to cleanse unpublished manuscripts of potentially offensive words. This, in my mind, negates the very idea of literature.”

She also takes up (and rejects) the mantra that “speech is violence”.

My talk in Tallahassee in late March

February 25, 2020 • 12:00 pm

In almost exactly one month, I’m speaking to the Tallahassee Scientific Society in Tallahassee, Florida. My talk is on Thursday, March 26, and I think the time and venue are the same as those for the previous speaker: 7 p.m. at Tallahassee Community College’s Center for Innovation on Kleman Plaza. The topic is “Why Evolution is Still True”, and I’ll give a brief rundown of the evidence for evolution (updated in light of new discoveries), followed by discussion of why Americans remain so resistant to this scientific truth.

I’ll give one more announcement in mid-March or so, and all are welcome to come. I believe they’ll also have my two trade books on sale, which I’ll be glad to autograph. And, if you tell me the genus and species of any felid besides the house cat, I’ll draw a cat in it.

Here’s a photo I sent them to use for advertising the talk; the picture is from Wikipedia so it’s in the public domain. Toes, teeth, and size!

Photo credit: H. Zell (from Wikimedia Commons; CC license CC BY_SA 3.0).


New talk by Dawkins on taking courage from Darwinism

December 11, 2019 • 10:00 am

Reader Michael called my attention to this 40-minute talk from October’s CSICon in Las Vegas that was posted just this morning by the Center For Inquiry. There are only 150 views so far. First, the YouTube notes:

Compare two ways of knowing the world. On the one hand theologians claim that the universe and all that’s in it was divinely made and can be understood through faith and revelation. On the other hand there is science, and the scientific method which extols evidence, and demonstrated, repeatable outcomes.

Science knows a lot, but has the humility to acknowledge what it still doesn’t know, and is working on. Theology, by contrast, has contributed literally nothing to our knowledge, and hubristically makes stuff up.

Science is continually surprising, even shocking. Darwin dealt the biggest shock of all when he showed that the prodigious complexity of life has a stunningly simple explanation. Darwin’s courage should arm us to face the remaining deep puzzles of existence: how did the universe and the laws of physics originate? Why is there something rather than nothing?

Inspired by Darwin, this lecture celebrates the godless world-view as not just scientifically valid but courageous. We need intellectual courage to resist facile non-explanations. And we need moral courage to eschew comforting but empty illusions and face into the cold but bracing wind of reality.

Richard’s talk is actually two talks. The first discusses the contrast between religion and science, reprising, I have to say, many of the points I made in Faith Versus Fact. Dawkins notes, for instance, that some of the truth statements of Christianity, like the bodily assumption of Mary into Heaven, were simply made up by Church authorities—without even any scriptural justification. He also dilates on the minutely detailed rules of behavior promulgated by some branches of Islam: behavior that is both senseless and unjustified (he uses breast-feeding as an Islamic index or being a “relative”). He calls this religious authoritarianism “control freakery,” and contrasts the dogmatic certainty of religion with the tentativeness of science. He concludes that “religion has contributed exactly zero to what we know.”

Of course I don’t have Dawkins’s eloquence, and you’ll be amused at his contrast between how theologians versus scientists would answer the question, “Is second-hand smoke dangerous?” Finally, he calls out the Left for coddling religion, saying, “I find it nothing short of disgusting the way the Liberal Left in America, people who should be on our side, bend over backwards to overlook the illiberal, homophobic bigotry of Islamism.”

The second part of the talk gets to the title’s point: we should draw courage from Darwin. But how do we do that?

Richard’s solution is to list the “deep questions of science”, and admit that, in contrast to the certainty of theology, we don’t have the answers. These questions include how does our brain’s physiology lead to the subjective phenomenon of consciousness, where do the laws of physics come from, and why is there something rather than nothing. (He alludes to Lawrence Krauss’s solution to this question, but admits that Krauss’s definition of “nothing” is contested.) The intellectual courage that we should derive from Darwin is the courage to work on these deep problems, confident that there is a naturalistic solution even if we ultimately can’t find it. It is the courage to accept the possibility “that something as complex as life and the origin of the universe could have just happened.” It is the courage “to kick oneself out of our emotional incredulity and persuade yourself that there is no rational choice beyond accepting a naturalistic explanation, to think that solutions can be found to these deep problems.”

But why draw the courage from Darwin rather than science itself or pure naturalism? Because, argues Richard, Darwin already solved the biggest problem, the one that people thought could never be solved by reason: how the illusion of cosmic design could be explained in a purely naturalistic fashion. If Darwin could do that, then we should not quail before “lesser” problems like consciousness, dark matter, or the origin of life. As Richard says, Darwin’s success “should armor us with courage to tackle the remaining problems.”

And atheism should armor us with the moral courage: the courage to face our finitiude, and the courage to live our lives knowing that we’re not being overseen and protected by a celestial father.

It’s a good talk, but many of us who have been steeped in Dawkins’s speeches and books may not hear much that is new. Still, remember that he’s speaking not to the readership here, but to many people who can benefit from his kind of inspiration. As for Darwin, well, I greatly admire what he did, persisting in finding a naturalistic answer to the diversity and change of living creatures. Am I inspired by that to tackle harder problems? Well, I don’t tackle harder problems, but if I was inspired by anything when I was doing research, it was by pure curiosity. As scientists we’re inculcated with the idea that scientific problems have naturalistic solutions, and that comes unconsciously and not as an explicit lesson from Darwin. In fact there are many scientists working on hard problems who don’t even know much about Darwin.

But for this audience, yes, perhaps the lesson of Darwin should impart confidence that things appearing intractable almost surely have naturalistic solutions. I myself would have listed a bunch of problems that once were thought insuperable, requiring the intervention of a God, but now are known to have purely naturalistic solutions.



My upcoming talk on free will at Williams

September 22, 2019 • 1:00 pm

I’m headed to the lion’s den: Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to give a talk on free will (or rather the lack thereof) sponsored by the Biology Department, the Science and Technology Studies Program, and Phi Beta Kappa. It’s on October 3 at 7:30 p.m. and open to the public; the venue is the Wege Auditorium. On that same day I’m also talking to Dr. Luana Maroja’s class about evolution, as she’s teaching an evolution course that uses Why Evolution is True as a text.  You can see the more comprehensive announcement by clicking on the screenshot below:

Weddell seal chews breathing hole in the ice

August 14, 2019 • 1:15 pm

As I mentioned earlier, I’m preparing a set of talks for an upcoming voyage to Antarctica on which I’m a guest lecturer. One of them, which I posted on before, is about the science done by the Scott Expedition to the South Pole. It turns out that at least two of the group’s aims had something to do with evolution, and I’ll discuss those as well as dilate in general about the science that went on side by side with the exploration.

While these lectures are challenging, as I’m not an expert on polar biology, they’re also enormously fun, as I’m learning a ton about stuff that I’d never know otherwise. The second one is on the adaptations of animals to the extreme Antarctic environment (cold, windy, dry, and extremely variable in light regime over the year). I’m taking a few examples to show how these adaptations operate and how they evolved. One, of course, is the famous “antifreeze” proteins of fish that live at -1.9° C.

But this post is about the Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii), probably the most well-studied mammal in the Antarctic, for it lives close to the polar stations. It’s also the only pinniped in the region that lives under permanent ice. It can stay underwater for an hour and dive up to 2,000 feet (!!) to hunt for fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. It spends most of its time in the water.

But it’s a mammal, and so it needs to surface for air—and find land to breed on.  How does it do this under permanent ice?

It does it by finding “tide cracks” in the ice, but also by chewing “breathing holes” that it uses repeatedly. They gnaw these holes with special dentition having huge incisors and canines (arrows) that jut forward more than the teeth of other seals.

This picture, taken from a Research Gate post on tooth wear as a cause of mortality in the species, is captioned “Skull of a Weddell seal showing incisor and canine teeth (arrows) worn to pulp cavity and two abscesses in bone of palate (right canine removed for age determination). Photograph by B. M. Dukes.”


A few notes from TravelWild:

This chewing wears down their teeth and, by 20 years of age, the Weddell seal may no longer have viable teeth and, unable to hunt or maintain its breathing hole, may die.

The Weddell seal’s hole is its lifeline: critical for both diving for food and resurfacing for air. When on ice, the seal rarely travels beyond three meters from its hole. Since there are no polar bears in Antarctica, these seals do not use their breathing holes to escape from terrestrial predators such as those found in the Arctic.

But enough background: look at this seal chew! It’s more like scraping than chewing, but I find it mesmerizing. I’ve never seen an animal do anything like this. (Now if evolution produced perfect adaptations, it would give this seal permanently growing teeth, like rodents!)

And here’s a general video on the biology of this species (another nice video, from the BBC, is here):

Reminder: Discussion on Tuesday with Andrew Seidel about his new book on the secular origins of America

June 8, 2019 • 9:45 am

If you’re in Chicago on Tuesday, remember that I will be having a discussion at the University of Illinois at Chicago with Andrew Seidel, a constitutional attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and author of the new book below on the secular origins of America. The time and place are in the announcement, it’s free, and Andrew will be signing books after our talk.

I’ve read the book twice, it’s good, and I’ve outlined some questions for Andrew. I just now saw the bit on the poster about “Emphasis will also be placed on whether science and religion can be compatible”, which I hadn’t planned on discussing since that’s my schtick and not Andrew’s, but maybe we’ll work that in. (My job is to draw out Andrew and have him talk about and around his book.)

If you’re coming, and I hope some readers will, I’ll see you there.