Ideas from 1915: “Herland”

If any of you out there are interested enough to stick around and read more of my blog, you’ll probably start to learn over time if you haven’t already) that, aside from being an English major (which means a ton of literature classes), I also enjoy all types of literature that doesn’t show up on any of my syllabi. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a 1915 novel which actually is on the syllabus for a summer class that is absolutely killing me right now (with the help of fiscal-year-end reporting at work), but thank goodness it’s at least an enjoyable read.

I ran across a passage in it tonight that I want to share. It’s not a new idea; in fact, it pretty closely resonates with PZ Myers’ message I posted last week. It wasn’t even new at the time of the novel. It serves to show, though, that maybe in another ~93 years, we’ll have made even more progress in teaching people to look forward instead of backward. (All emphasis is mine)

This was a lesson to me. No wonder this whole nation of women was peaceful and sweet in expression — they had no horrible ideas.

“Surely you had some when you began,” I suggested.

“Oh, yes, no doubt. But as soon as our religion grew to any height at all we left them out, of course.”

From this, as from many other things, I grew to see what I finally put in words.

“Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?”

“Why, no,” she said. “Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them — and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.

(etext here; passage from Chapter 10, page 111)

Even beyond the progressive thinking that pervades the book, I highly recommend it. It is a utopian novel on the surface, which naturally comes with a great deal of social commentary, and as with most utopian literature, a bit of an undercurrent of dystopian ideas as well. It is also well-written, easy to fall into and thought-provoking.

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The Scientific Method

I am beyond frustration by this argument:

“Understanding that both Intelligent Design and Evolution are both theories, and theories can not be proven, only disproven…”

It is way too overabundant, and has even been used by educators to justify teaching pseudoscience in our schools. I composed a response to the blogger I linked to above, but since the comments are moderated, and I have a dissenting opinion, I have little hope that what I wrote will see the light of day. And since I want to vent to the world, here is the gist of what I wrote, peppered with the passages that inspired my own comments:

In April of 2004, Myers wrote on his blog that a professor promoting Intelligent Design should not get tenure: [the link to the actual blog entry is here]

“I get to vote on tenure decisions at my university, and I can assure you that if someone comes up who claims that [Intelligent Design] ‘theory’ is science, I will vote against them. … If someone thinks fairies live in their garden and pull up the flowers out of the ground every spring, I will vote against them. Tenure decisions are not pro forma games, but a process of evaluation, and I’d rather not have crackpots promoted.”

You have to be amazed by the absolute hypocrisy of the existence of Myers.

Understanding that both Intelligent Design and Evolution are both theories, and theories can not be proven, only disproven, in reading Myers’ posts he constantly treats his theories as absolute proven sciences underscored by his complete intollerance of anyone else’s views other than PZ Myers’.

The poster obviously have little to no grasp on the scientific method. In its simplest form:

1) Observe
2) Hypothesize
3) Test
4) Analyze
5) Duplicate
a) If test results repeatedly support the hypothesis, you’ve essentially got a working Theory.
b) If they don’t, you go back to the drawing board

Evolution has made a great number of predictable claims (a few can be found here), such as what fossils we can expect to find, and where in geologic time to look for them, and every time such a fossil is found, then Evolution has been tested and deemed successful.

Intelligent Design has made no testable claims, thus cannot and should not be taught as science. Science is the scientific method. Without it, you have guesswork and philosophy – which belongs in another department at any university. Myers specifically says that he will vote against anyone who claims these beliefs are ‘science.’ They are not, and should not be taught as such. Far from hypocritical, this is as true to scientific principles as one can get. Myers’ recent controversy has nothing to do with the science he teaches, and has no need to be a part of his classroom at all, unlike a science professor who has declared he intends to teach unscientific claims.

Moving on to the blogger’s next point:

On RateMyProfessor.com, a web site where students rate their college professors, Myers over the past few years has received an average score as a college professor. In the 3.5 range out of 5. He’s average, nothing more; nothing less. There are a few students that think he is great, there is an equal amount that don’t. But the last student to rate him on his review, done after this controversy, offers insight to this situation and speaks of his ability to never again be viewed as a legitimate college professor going forward:

“Really disappointed in this guy. He obviously has no respect for his students beliefs that might be different from his own. Read Pharyngula and you’ll see what i mean. Scary”

These are the words from a University of MN Morris student. Not my words. Nor the Catholic League’s.

According to the class schedule posted on the school’s web site, it appears that Professor Myers’ largest available class in the Fall is full (at least, that’s how I interpret the class size in red, and the complete addition of a second section). If I’m interpreting correctly, that would suggest to me that maybe a concern about unfair treatment has been seriously overblown.

And as far as the http://www.ratemyprofessor.com deal – first, does anyone find it at all striking that this was posted on 7/24/08, well after the controversy started, in the middle of the summer, long after spring classes ended? Going back to the first review for Prof. Myers on his RMP page (2/4/03), there’s not one single complaint about unfair treatment because of a student’s beliefs. Not one student stopped by there to warn other students of this potentially egregious behavior.

All that aside, it’s important to note that there’s no telling whether or not this 7/24/08 review is from a student, since a person doesn’t have to be registered on the site (the review in question was not posted by a registered user), nor provide any proof they’re a student at all in order to post a review. In fact, I just posted one there myself, and I’ve never had any association with the university at all. For all any of us know, this could easily be the original poster’s words, and it doesn’t ‘stretch credulity’ to believe they could be Bill Donohue’s.

******************************************************************************************************

7/28/08, ETA: I just had to laugh at this… I announced that I entered a review on Rate My Professor to show it could be done, and someone ran over there to request a review of the entry. Fine by me, because it doesn’t need to be there, anyway. But did they question the other questionable review? Nope. Awfully suspect, no?

Nice, huh?

I’d just like to point out that there was not even a BIO3101 class on the Spring 2008 schedule, nor Fall 2007. The last time it shows up on a published schedule is Spring 2007. So this student waited over a year to post this, just waited for the perfect time? I know there are those of you out there that want to argue a fear of retribution finally being overcome by the need to speak out in the face of controversy. Yeah, okay, except this was posted by an unregistered, completely anonymous user. If this was a student afraid of being recognized, then this problem can’t be too widespread, can it?

Just sayin’…Β  πŸ˜›

Sorry, I don’t see it

But then, I’ve never really had much of an eye for pareidolia that others seem to pick up on right away, and which others often get hysterical over.

Mama Mary appears on TV cabinets glass panels (ABS-CBN News Dagupan, Phillipines)

Mama Mary appears on TV cabinet's glass panels (ABS-CBN News Dagupan, Phillipines)

Mama Mary appears on TV cabinets glass panels (ABS-CBN News Dagupan, Phillipines)

Mama Mary appears on TV cabinet's glass panels (ABS-CBN News Dagupan, Phillipines)

How did the spiel actually go?

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Underwear Researcher.

Oh, you’re conducting research on underwear? Come on in! What do you need us to do?

I just need to see your kid try on a few pairs of underwear, then I’m gonna take some measurements of your nearly-naked child.

Oh, okay, then. Come here, little Janey. Mr…?

Hawkins.

Mr. Hawkins, this is my daughter Janey.

Hi, Janey. I’m Ken. How old are you?

Oh, she’s shy. She’s eight. So what’s this research?

Oh, well, I just need to check the fit, take some measurements, and take note of the brand label. It’ll take, oh, about ten or fifteen minutes, then when I’m done, I’ll hand you twenty dollars cash.

Sweet, twenty bucks just for that? Sure…

The forgoing is my attempt to understand exactly how Ken Hawkins’s sick and disturbing stunt actually worked. At least twice.

While at the house of an eight-year-old girl, he instructed her to try on several pair of underwear while he took notes.

Hawkins then took several measurements of the victim while she wore only the underwear.

Prosecutors said Hawkins also ran his fingers around the waistband and looked at the rear of the panties to check out the labels.

After the victim tried on the underwear, Hawkins gave them a bank envelope with $20 and then left.

Prosecutors said Hawkins then returned home, where he would fantasize about the experience and masturbate.

In another incident, Hawkins met two children and their mother at a high school and took the children into a locker room.

This is obviously sick and disturbing behavior, as I’ve already mentioned. What’s even more frightening is the ignorance of the parents who allowed this man to handle their children. Did no alarm bells go off? The article doesn’t state whether he’s a stranger to these families or not, but even still – how many people get to see your child naked after the age of, say, three or four? Five at the most. After that, most kids have begun to realize that stripping down to nothing after an hour in Aunt Sue’s swimming pool at the 4th of July party is something to be done in private. Even most close family members don’t get to see as much as Hawkins did with twenty dollars in his pocket.

What is wrong with these parents? At least someone finally notified the authorities.

All for you, PZ!

Apparently, August 2008 is Officially “Pray for PZ Myers Month.” This could easily top every study ever done on the effectiveness of prayer. Not only will there surely be a great number of Christians praying like crazy – with sincerity no less – for the good Doctor’s soul, but there will be a testable, measurable result. If only we could harness all the self-righteous Christians who love this sinner enough to believe he could be the next disciple to be queued up for sainthood. Then we could really determine… just how many prayers does it take to get to the center of a godless liberal’s soul?

Oh, but wait… seriously, it gets better. Not only will they be praying faithfully out of love and conviction, but they (well, some… I can’t imagine they’ll all buy into this one) will attempt to incur God’s pity in order to move him to actually do something about PZ:

So beginning next Friday, August 1, let us all join in prayer for the conversion of PZ Myers every day, until Sunday, August 31. Let us pray Rosaries for his conversion, offer up the Mass for his conversion, engage in abstinence and fasting for his conversion, and spend time in Adoration for his conversion.

It all sounds pretty par for the course, right? Only one more week before you can officially start praying! On your mark, get set… you, in the back, do you have a question?

Oh, yeah, but hey… about that abstinence thing. How does that work again? So, okay, let me get this straight… If I can go 31 days without getting laid, even by my spouse – with whom I regularly have God-sanctioned lovin’, by the way – then this man that I’ve never met, and have no reason to care about except that he’s a real plight on society, will come to Christ and stop offending my sensibilities on a regular basis? Wait, what? I can’t have food, either? Aw, hell… er, heck, PZ: When you convert, you better come over and bless my house, kids, dog and bed (especially my bed – it’s gonna need it after 8/31) to thank me for this sacrifice which will save your eternal soul. I’m such a swell Christian.

Is Anyone in the Asylum Listening?

The asylum hasn’t seen much progress – there’s just way too much crazy out there to be battled, and so many insane folks that they’re running the nuthouse, and the country and, it seems, the world. The sane people who should be in charge of distributing the daily dose of reason are being overrun – trampled, ignored, and in extreme cases, eradicated. Some of them have even lost their own minds in the melee.

And then there are the strong ones – the rational men and women who stand their ground against the onslaught of madness, who plant themselves in the middle of the asylum’s halls, yelling their message into the screaming bustle of loons who would topple them at any opportunity.

It always amazing me, then, that these pillars manage to find some new way to say the same thing they’ve been shouting, be it poetic or idiomatic. One of the leading proponents of sanity managed that today, from the midst of a cyclone of inmates, attacking him from every direction. One can only hope that, being so close, some of them may actually hear.

Please, if you’re currently screaming about anything PZ Myers did yesterday or wrote today, please stop for just a few moments. Please consider this message. It is not written (nor copied) as a result of hatred, bigotry or intolerance as so many would claim. It is a genuine cry for the world to work together to move forward for the sake of our descendants yet to come, rather than living our lives for the sake of those who have lived and gone. Please, simmer down for long enough to read and absorb this paragraph.

Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity’s knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.

Maybe you understand what he’s saying, and you will decide to teach your children about a real hope, about a world governed and improved by the glory of science, rather than a whimsical God who has made little progress over the past two millenia. Maybe you’ll tell them about the beauty of a plan they can be a part of, that they can build on, rather than a plan they have been assigned by a God who seems to only care about a human’s needs when they mesh with his own.

If you don’t, then you’re the reason PZ Myers and others keep standing in the halls, trying to teach rational and critical thinking, trying to break through the delusion of religion and pseudoscience. It is not evil or hateful. It is actually an act of love: for our world that is spectacular enough in its own right, for our children who will inherit it, and for those of us who live in it now.

Wankadictery in Religion

So many people say, “What’s the harm in believing in God, whether he’s real or not?” This is a story of one of the many ways religion hurts people.

Evangelist Benny Hinn and an American guest speaker, Todd Koontz, took egregious advantage of followers in Johannesburg:

God’s blessing would last only two minutes and it would create 500 churchgoing millionaires or even billionaires – all they had to do was use their credit cards to pay $1 000 in offerings to televangelist Benny Hinn.

***

[O]ne of Hinn’s American guest speakers, Pastor Todd Koontz, spoke about financial burdens and said 500 audience members would receive “an exceptional blessing”.

He said the service would yield millionaires and billionaires within 24 hours.

***

Koontz apparently really had the congregation scrambling when he said, “This blessing will be poured out for only two minutes.”

***

Rapport spoke to an employee in Hinn’s South African office in Durban who said on Friday morning that they were still busy collecting money.

“We’ve had a very good reaction from last weekend,” said the employee, who asked not to be named.

He said that before the collection of the $1 000 donations, Koontz had delivered a message about “you reap what you sow”.

“Americans always talk in dollars. If some of the churchgoers believed that they would not be blessed, then they should not have given their money.

“The church-goers did not have to give $1 000. If they couldn’t afford it, then they could’ve given less. And, some of them did.

Will build an orphanage

“Pastor Todd (Koontz) spoke of good seeds. If you don’t actually sow them, you’ll never have a good harvest.”

The employee told Rapport that Hinn’s congregation soon would build an orphanage in South Africa.

Hinn’s South African office feeds about 1 000 children in Durban daily.

Rapport asked for a recording of Koontz’s sermon, but Hinn’s office said they could only provide one in four to six weeks.

You know, if you need to preach the “you reap what you sow” message to guilt people into giving you money for an orphanage, that’s one thing – it’s still underhanded and manipulative, but at least it’s (hopefully) not a complete fabrication.

Taking advantage of an entire congregation’s faith in God and desire to be rewarded – regardless of the end purpose of the money – is… well, there are no words strong enough to describe how slimy and evil that is. So I’ll make one up – it’s wankadictic. That shit is just downright wankadictery. That’s right… I said it!

I’m sure some will argue that it’s still harmless to believe in God, because this is the evildoing of man. But you see, belief in God becomes so powerful that someone like Hinn, known world-wide for his evangelism, takes on this persona of someone who not only can be trusted, but who speaks directly from God. And without solid evidence of the deity, and thus the requirement to tread forward on faith, evangelists have a ton of wiggle room to deliver promises that will never be kept and take as they please.

Cracker-Jack Journalism

There was an article published in yesterday’s Times-Herald in Coweta County, Georgia, titled, “Believe it or Not,” written by ace reporter Alex McRae.

It seems that McRae came across the published brochure for the 2008 Atheist Alliance International Convention, and decided to forgo the journalistic process and use his column to simply mock the AAI’s efforts. Apparently, once you’re granted columnist status in small-town, small-circulation newspaper, you don’t have to put any more effort into your work than goes into the average op/ed letter coming from your average joe.

Instead of taking the opportunity to learn more about the point of the convention and its attendees, McRae chooses instead to level a number of juvenile ad hominem attacks:

Don’t be alarmed. Atheist World isn’t a new planet. It’s a convention of people who don’t believe in much of anything. Small crowds are expected.

Maybe attendance to the Sept. 25-28 event would be higher if it were hyped like a political convention, complete with free whiskey, strippers, red-faced speakers, back-room bargaining sessions and bazillions of balloons.

Apparently, atheists aren’t fond of such frivolity. Guess it might imply they actually enjoyed life.

Is this because the attendees won’t be rolling in the aisles? Apparently, he finds the whole convention’s itinerary dull:

The promotional brochure on the Internet says …

“The Atheist Alliance International (AAI) will hold its annual convention on the Queen Mary, in Long Beach, Calif., Sept. 25-28, 2008. Titled “Unsinkable Atheism,” the conference will mix freethinking intellectual discussion with charity events, an atheist wedding, a salute to ‘atheists in foxholes,’ and a children’s summer camp.”

Intellectual discussion? Atheist wedding? Charity events? Set the snooze alarm and call me when the Cyndi Lauper concert starts.

How about nobody calls you at all? How about people who care about the message (and who want to remind themselves that the world’s not completely full of willfully ignorant, dismissive jerks) just leave you out of the party? I think that would make everyone happier in the long run.

Wait it gets better – we really get a glimpse into the mature, open-minded side of the author:

…[O]ne section of the brochure is titled “Who We Are.” But it doesn’t tell “Who We Are.” It actually describes “How We Live,” described in such nuggets as:

“Atheism is living one’s life without the supernatural,” and “We are responsible for humane interaction with other animals and for the preservation of our habitable planet.”

Yawn.

Nice. This passes for journalism. Here’s his closer:

By the way, AAI bills itself as religion-free. As opposed to sugar-free or fat-free, I guess. But the more you read about this group, it seems like what they’re most free of is a sense of humor. There’s not a light moment on the agenda.

You wonder why. Here’s an “enlightened” guess: Maybe atheists refuse to embrace laughter because they’re afraid that one day they’ll discover the joke’s on them.

I don’t recall seeing anywhere in the header of the brochure that this is meant to be a party-fest, but it seems to me the organizers have done a fine job of including plenty of levity (such as comedians Troy Conrad and Julia Sweeney), interspersed with informative speakers and interesting topics. Some people don’t find learning boring. In a perfect world, someone in the career of delivering news to the masses should be such a person.

Answering Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz (1911 – 2004) is an astoundingly insightful poet, elegant in his simplicity. As a writer, I aspire to reach the depths of humanity as he did. His poetry survives translation from its native Polish to English, and still rivals any native English speaker’s work.

That said, Milosz presents a literary paradox in his poem, “If There Is No God.”

IF THERE IS NO GOD
If there is no God,
Not everything is permitted to man.
He is still his brother’s keeper
And he is not permitted to sadden his brother,
By saying there is no God.

In the case of these five lines, I cannot agree with this poet I so admire. I have composed a response, because I feel this poem needs one. I humbly submit it here, not because I think I can better the poetic form or the poem itself. I am not a poet by trade; I deal mainly in prose. But I think my own quintet encapsulates my personal feelings on the matter:

IF THERE IS NO GOD
If there is no God,
Man must create his own permit.
He is then the keeper and servant of all society
And he is not permitted to let chaos reign,
By saying there is a God.

Because regular sex just isn’t good enough…

Dr. Jenny Wade has tapped into The Secret for the sex world: that gimmick that, once picked up by Oprah, will have people clamoring to the nearest B&N to pick it up:

Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil

I have not read the book; maybe someday I’ll pick it up. But it sounds like it is a compendium of 91 personal anecdotal accounts – notoriously not empirically sound. Here are some of the things Dr. Jenny claims can come through transcendental sex:

β€” Seeing visions;

β€” Feeling heat, light and energy waves throughout the body;

β€” Reliving past lives;

β€” Seeing the face of God;

β€” Paranormal powers;

β€” Being visited by gods;

β€” Feeling possessed by spirits;

β€” Working with natural forces;

β€” Nothingness, whiteness, pure bliss;

β€” One with everything – there is no β€œme” or time;

β€” A lack of sensory channels;

β€” Time travel;

β€” Enlightenment.

In an interview on Extatica Radio, Dr. Wade stresses that experiences were not culturally exclusive or centered. She recounts stories of Baptist women who had experiences found in Zen literature, of an atheist who converted to Buddhism because of the experiences she had that she later found described in Zen literature.

Interestingly, later in the interview, she talks of people who were so frightened by the experience that they sought therapy, but rarely discussed the actual event with the therapist, and instead focused on discomfort with the romantic relationship. Possible explanations include fear of medication or institutionalization, or fear of being laughed out. I think maybe Dr. Jenny is neglecting the concept of the power of suggestion. Is it just possible that they really had some sort of feelings about the relationship, but the introduction of the concept of some frightening spiritual transcendence gave them some sort of way to accommodate their desire to stay in a physical relationship that lacked emotionally, for example?

In the second segment, Dr. Jenny tells a detailed story about a woman who, while making love, began trembling violently and crying, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” and instead of calling 911, her lover held her, calmed her, and encouraged her to continue the out-of-body experience that had her so frightened. She awoke later, ecstatic about what she had seen, but soon was violently ill and spent most of the night throwing up. Still, this couple, and Dr. Wade believe this is a spiritual experience, not an emergency room kind of ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in incredible sex, and I believe that in a sense, you do transcend the moment. But I think the concepts Dr. Wade presents are exaggerations of such experiences, probably from the suggestion of “transcendental sex” as described by the good doctor. It’s funny how the human memory works.

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