Caution: The pope is coming

But there’s more!

Hugh Dallas, head of referee development for the Scottish Football Association has been sacked because he passed on, by eMail, a joke about the pope. His dismissal was called for by a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. This nasty little weasel is called Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office. His details, in case you feel like sending him a message, are as follows:

Peter Kearney, Director, Scottish Catholic Media Office, St George’s Buildings, 5 St Vincent Place, Glasgow G1 2DH

Similarly, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Football Association, responsible for this craven giving-in to Catholic censorship is Stewart Regan. The address of this coward is Scottish Football Association, Hampden Park, Glasgow G42 9AY

It would seem, from the YouTube video posted here, that the joke concerned is the one that heads this page, warning children of the approach of the pope. The caption was censored, but it isn’t difficult to find the original. It is at

My suggestion is that we should do our best to make this joke go viral, beginning by sending hundreds of copies of it to these two addresses:

But there are probably funnier jokes along the same lines, and I would encourage you to send as many as you can find.


Thought of the day

People who argue for ‘a higher purpose’, or intelligent design, or a ‘necessary creator’, or any other intentionally vague idea are being fundamentally dishonest when they don’t admit that they are merely talking about their specific, cultural god.

Double undue respect

We give undue respect to religion every single time we give a stand to a religious figure who prattles on about something when the reality is that that figure has no qualifications in the given matter. For example, virtually every time the pope opens his mouth there is no reason we ought to be consulting him, yet millions of people still listen to him as if he has something to add to any conversation. This latest incident is no different.

Pope Benedict XVI called Saturday for politicians, the media and world leaders to show more respect for human life at its earliest stages, saying embryos aren’t just biological material but dynamic, autonomous individuals.

Now on top of the undue respect we already give him, the pope is encouraging everyone to respect a bunch of nothing cells. There is no scientific basis for offering respect to embryos. There is no reason we ought to be listening to the pope on this. For instance, he says embryos constitute autonomous individuals (it’s unclear how they might exercise any autonomy), but does anyone for a moment believe he is aware that twinning can occur several days after an embryo initially forms? Does he still want to say that embryo was one individual? Or was it two? Or was it one and then it became two? If that is the case, then did it always have two souls or did a second soul find its way into the process post-twinning? And most importantly, how does the pope know any of this? How does he know he might be wrong? What method is he using to know? Can anyone else consult this method? Are there ways to verify this method?

Cellular potential is not a definition of being a human, the pope has no basis -nor any qualification – for saying otherwise, and we ought not give him any sort of respect on this or any other important issue.

Thought of the day

I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but I shouldn’t be able to easily outrun the majority of my local police department officers. In fact, that goes for members of all police departments. Unfortunately, the fact is that most of the police departments I see around Maine have members who would have no chance outrunning a reasonably fit 20-something male. There ought to be a target point on a BMI chart that, should an officer meet it, results in some sort of monetary reward. Ideally, perhaps we might want to punish officers for not meeting some reasonable standard, but it is effectiveness, not ideology, which matters here.

Hitchens-Blair debate

There is a YouTube channel devoted specifically to the recent debate between Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair. I’ve yet to watch it, but I find both men to be quite intelligent. (Update: I have watched it.) Hitchens’ intelligence is crashingly obvious; I’ve never seen him lose a debate point. And I absolutely love how he will routinely bend over backwards to grant as much as possible to his opponent just so he can point out that he still has the point won. Anyone who saw that awful creationist movie with Ben Stein should be familiar with this tactic: In the Richard Dawkins interview, Dawkins granted that it’s possible that we could have been designed by aliens, but even if that were so, we would still need to appeal to evolution in order to explain their existence. Stein, unsurprisingly, takes the dishonest route of claiming that Richard Dawkins is only against intelligent design when it involves a god. This was rather expected since the creators of the movie lied to every biologist involved, not to mention the fundamental dishonesty behind creationism intelligent design. But I digress. Blair’s intelligence is clear enough, but I think perhaps some of my perception of it comes from the contrast of it with Dubya’s lack of smarts.

Anyway. Watch the debate. (Skip the first video if you just want to get to the meat of the debate.)

I refuse to believe it

I just came across an article about Mount Kilimanjaro. It says something I find difficult to believe.

There’s no clear number of how many people attempt to climb Kilimanjaro each year, although it’s at least 20,000. Steinhilber said probably less than half that number make it to the true summit.

When they reach Stella Point — about 800 to 1,000 feet below the actual peak, Uhuru Peak — many figure “good enough,” she said.

Upon reaching Stella Point, I actually thought I was practically there. But then I saw how far the trail continued. It was no longer so steep – it’s a very significant incline to that point – but it was still another 1-2 hours from the summit. And perhaps that was the most excruciating part. It felt like I should be seeing that idyllically simple African sign indicating the summit of the mountain at any moment, but it seemed like it was perpetually ‘just around the next corner’.

But could I have ever just stopped? Could I ever have just called it good because the rest of the way was mentally frustrating?


Summit day is roughly 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Stella Point is a mere 700 or so feet lower than the summit – and that’s over the course of a good distance. It constitutes an insignificant portion of the entire hike, even if it is in some ways the most difficult. Unless the person is physically struggling with the elevation (I was told after the fact that someone in another group died near Stella Point on the same day I was there), I find it impossible to believe anyone could just say ‘good enough’.

(Please excuse Buga for the crooked horizon.)

Update: I am reminded by a member of my hiking group that the peak is actually visible from Stella Point.

Thought of the day

We can hardly talk about morality without speaking in subjective terms.

An average conversation with a red herring theist

This is an extension of a previous post. Both that post and this post are influenced by common arguments I’ve heard from theists who just have no clue about how to stay on topic or, perhaps, just don’t want to stay on topic. It’s easier to engage this same point (which I will post in a moment) over and over – and then ignore the given answers – than to engage more difficult points. William Dembski is guilty of that recently, providing me the final impetus for this post. So here it is:

A = Atheist

T = Theist

Atheist: So yeah, I guess to summarize, I disagree with your position on how we should approach North Korea over the next year.

Theist: Yeah, well, why does your opinion matter?

A: Huh? Well, I suppose I’ve become fairly informed on the issues and I think…

T: No, no. You’re an atheist. You have no basis for morality. So why is your opinion good?

A: That’s really a red herring. We’re discussing North Korea (our allies according to Sarah Palin).

T: Stop dodging my question.

A: So you want to change the subject?

T: You aren’t answering me!

A: Okay, I’ll just pretend like you acknowledged that you want to change the topic rather than continue to discuss North Korea. So why is my opinion good? It depends on how we want to define “good” and then it depends on how my opinion comports with that definition.

T: So how do we define good?

A: We are a social animal that has evolved a general concern for ourselves and for other members of our population, “population” initially being defined as the small group in which we lived. As with every other social animal, we developed rules for interactions. This served and serves to better the health of the group. It’s important to note that this group betterment is ultimately being done for the sake of the individual gene, but I digress.

T: So then we should all individually just do whatever it takes to survive? Then why shouldn’t I just kill you if you’re standing in my way to a better job or position in life?

A: …uh, no. No. What I’ve given you is a description of reality based upon scientific observation. Do you know the difference between a descriptive position and a normative one?

T: No.

A: Right, then. You ought to know that since you aren’t 14, but briefly: A descriptive position describes something and is not a claim of value. A normative position is a value position that says how something should or should not be.

T: I still don’t get it.

A: You should. But let’s move on.

T: Okay, so why shouldn’t I kill you if you’re in the way of that sweet new job?

A: That we evolved to best survive in a particular environment does not dictate how we ought to act now. Besides that, even if our past evolution did say how we should presently act, it would not follow that we should kill each other. We’re a social animal. Killing each other probably wouldn’t help us out individually (or as a group) in the long run.

T: So if we shouldn’t act based upon our previous evolution, then what should our basis for what is good and bad be?

A: I probably can’t give you a satisfactory answer. In fact, most of your fellow Christians will disagree with you on some points concerning what is good and what is bad, but I digress. My basis is rationality. I cannot rationally justify hurting someone in any way unless I say they can do the same to me under the same circumstances. Often I don’t want to face pain – nor do I want that for the ones I care about and love.

T: So what stops you from acting irrationally?

A: Love, empathy, self-interest, sympathy, culture, social pressures, norms, dominant values that surround me, my upbringing, assumptions, passion for science, etc. Irrationality conflicts with my personal identity. Fortunately, it also conflicts with the personal identity of many of my fellow humans.

T: Then there is no ultimate right or wrong.

A: You’re right. We have to define these terms with practical and operational considerations. If we want to say anything and everything is right (or wrong), then we’re likely to undermine our own interests (interests which may directly be our own or which may be reflections of the interests of those we care about and love).

T: So my opinion on North Korea has a basis for ultimately being right and yours does not.

A: In theory, yes. Unfortunately for you, the important question here is, ‘Is it true?’ Is it true that we have accurate information from your basis? Is it true that your basis isn’t arbitrary and capricious? Is it true that your basis even exists? In reality, you have a claim to an ultimate basis, but credible evidence has yet to be given for that ultimate basis. All you’ve done is based your opinions off the same sort of things I previously listed as my own basis, perhaps minus the rationality. Furthermore, without any valid, self-correcting method for determining what is true in religion, you only have personal, often anecdotal, and usually subjective interpretations of any given evidence. This makes your conclusions just as ultimately subjective as anyone else’s but with the key difference that many other conclusions – namely scientific ones – have a superior empirical basis. We can say those conclusions are objective within a given framework of reality, a framework most everyone except the most pedantic amateur philosopher accepts. We cannot say the same of yours.

Thought of the day

The Teabagger portion of the Republican Party claims to hate when government tells them what to do, but when it comes to civil rights for gays they love to use government to say what others can’t do.

A Quantum of Knowledge

Just a quick blogroll update: After reading A Quantum of Knowledge, I’ve decided to add it to the blogroll links on the right side of the site here.

Take a look.

Oh, and don’t forget to take a look at the blog of Jim Hodgson, bike and font enthusiast.