sex

How to Think About Science

Metafilter links to a bunch of podcasts from modern historians and philosophers of science. I've linked to Mefi rather than the podcasts as there are some interesting comments from valkyryn in the thread, on what Shapin and Schaffer were saying about the role of trust in the scientific community.
(tags: audio science metafilter history philosophy)

The late, mannerist years of identity politics

"I am X, and I am different from Y. Other people are ignorant of the difference between X and Y. They must be educated. People, you must call me X and respect my difference from yourself, and from Y. You must refer to me by the term I have chosen to refer to myself by, and stay tuned for any changes I choose to make in this label, and new terms you must use to describe me — those new terms which the stigma treadmill or reclamation of previously-taboo terms may, from time to time, make it necessary for me to substitute."
(tags: identity politics gender feminism transexualism)

A gay witch hunt in Uganda

Andrew Brown: "A bill currently before the Ugandan parliament (pdf) proposes seven year prison sentences for discussing homosexuality; life imprisonment for homosexual acts; and death for a second offence. Sober observers believe it will be passed. The Anglican church in Uganda appears to support it, and the Church of England in this country is absolutely silent."
(tags: homosexuality morality anglicanism religion christianity sex uganda john-sentamu sentamu)

Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Christian commenter on Unreasonable Faith: "All ex-Christians are in league with Satan and are fully aware of it, don’t let yourselves be fooled into believing otherwise." Bugger, I've been rumbled. Time to buy a red cape…
(tags: atheism ex-christian de-conversion satan lolxians christianity religion)

Because As We All Know, The Green Party Runs the World.

Peter Watts on the email leaks from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. "That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby."
(tags: global-warming climate science peter-watts politics environment email leak)

Richard Norman – Beyond belief

Richard Norman on the "New Believers": Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong and such like, the people who say religion is not remotely about believing stuff. "I cannot see how, in the end, a distinctive religious identity can be possible unless it is based on the acceptance of at least some non-metaphorical factual beliefs – beliefs about the existence of a personal deity and about how his intentions and purposes explain our world. Those beliefs do, inescapably, need to be rationally defended. And they can’t be. On that point, certainly, Dawkins is right."
(tags: richard-norman belief religion karen-armstrong terry-eagleton eagleton richard-dawkins)

‘The Evolution of Confusion’ by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009

Dennett on his project to interview clergy who no longer believe but are closeted (Dennett explicitly makes the analogy with gay people in the 1950s), on "deepities" in theology (interestingly, he rejects criticisms that other 3 horsemen don't know enough theology or philosophy), and on how we needn't suppose some people sat down and conspired to make up religions.
(tags: religion video dennett evolution daniel-dennett theology memes deepity)

The Daily Mash – CLIMATE CHANGE EMAILS STOP GLACIERS FROM MELTING

"This is the smoking iceberg that fires a polar bear of truth between the eyes of hysteria and communism."
(tags: funny climate environment satire global-warming science)

scribb1e enjoyed Valerie Tarico’s article on evangelicalese, and even watched the video Tarico linked to, of Susan Hutchison speaking at a prayer breakfast. If you’d like a shorter example of more of the same, here’s evangelical Christian Peter Vadala being interviewed on Fox News about how he was fired for telling a lesbian co-worker that homosexuality was “bad stuff” after the co-worker repeatedly provoked him by mentioning her fiancée. Intriguingly, Vadala once wrote a “Christian musical”: urbaniak has the full story, including a copy of the termination letter from Vadala’s former employer and links to MP3s of the musical.

Trigger Warning: watching the videos may provoke flashbacks for ex-evangelicals. To aid your understanding while watching them, here’s a brief glossary of terms I remembered from my misspent youth:

Prayer breakfast

An easy one to get you started: it’s a communal breakfast where you pray. My former church had “men’s prayer breakfasts”. I never found out what went on at them, as I regarded getting up before 9 am as an abomination before the LORD (“Woe to them that rise up early in the morning”, as Isaiah 5:11 says).

Speaking the truth in love

There’s a well known provision of the Highway Code which says you can park where you like as long as you leave your indicators on (well known, that is, to drivers of white vans). Likewise, in evangelical circles, the rule is that you can be as rude as you like as long as it’s done “in love”. A reference to Ephesians 4:15.

Lifestyle

You’d think this might mean “the way someone lives their life”, but in fact it always refers to having sex in a way God disapproves of (such as outside marriage, which obviously includes gay sex, as gays can’t really get married).

Convicted

What you feel when God tells you you’ve been doing something bad, like not telling off a so-called homosexual for brazenly flaunting their so-called engagement. Traditionally, one is convicted by the Holy Spirit, a reference to John 16:8.

Struggling with

Regularly enjoying something, and then feeling convicted (q.v.) about it afterwards. Always to do with sex, e.g. “struggling with pornography”. (I also liked revme‘s definition).

Bad stuff

That’s a new one on me, though it does follow in a long tradition of using understated words for things you really deeply disapprove of. When I was a lad, those things were “dodgy”, but that may be a Britishism.

Let’s not accuse of all Christians of being unreflective about this: Adrian Plass does a fine line in sending up this sort of jargon, as does Stuff Christians Like (Crafting the perfect Christian dating profile is particularly excellent) and Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Back in my misspent youth, I even had a go myself. Still, Vadala could do with a dose of Plass, I think.

‘Good Reasons for ‘Believing’ in God’ by Dan Dennett

Dennett talks about why it's sensible to profess belief in God. He lives up to his reputation of being a bit fluffier than Dawkins.
(tags: daniel-dennett philosophy religion atheism)

Valerie Tarico: Christian Belief Through The Lens of Cognitive Science: Part 6 of 6

The final part of Tarico's series, which links to the others. "Despite its boundaries, cognitive science, does offer what is rapidly becoming a sufficient explanation for the supernaturalism that underlies organized religion."
(tags: christianity science religion brain psychology cognitive-bias cognition)

WHY DOES THE UNVIERSE LOOK THE WAY IT DOES: A Conversation With Sean Carroll

"Inflation does not provide a natural explanation for why the early universe looks like it does unless you can give me an answer for why inflation ever started in the first place. That is not a question we know the answer to right now. That is why we need to go back before inflation into before the Big Bang, into a different part of the universe to understand why inflation happened versus something else."
(tags: physics cosmology big-bang universe inflation string-theory)

RegEx match open tags except XHTML self-contained tags – Stack Overflow

"If you parse HTML with regex you are giving in to Them and their blasphemous ways which doom us all to inhuman toil for the One whose Name cannot be expressed in the Basic Multilingual Plane, he comes." Quite right: you should use Beautiful Soup like everyone else does.
(tags: funny programming humour xml parse lovecraft stackoverflow regexp regex html)

The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality

Alex Rosenberg argues that scientism is a good thing, and puts forward a very reductionist naturalism which he applies to consciousness, morality and a bunch of other stuff philosophers like to worry about. His fellow naturalists disagree in the comments (notably, Richard Carrier and Tom Clark produce good arguments against him).
(tags: naturalism philosophy science reductionism morality consciousness)

Riffs: 11:14:09: Patrol Magazine and Evangelicals Who Won’t “Get Over It”

"It is astonishing that so many intelligent Christians seem to believe there is a deficit in emphasis on evangelism and scriptural literalism, and that, if the hatches are just battened down on a more solid “worldview,” evangelicalism can resume explaining the universe to new generations of believers."
(tags: evangelicalism christianity)

I’m Belle de Jour

Former blogging prostitute Belle de Jour reveals her real identity to the Times. She was an impoverished PhD student.
(tags: culture sex identity anonymous science prostitution)

What Stormtroopers do on Their Day Off

Funny photos of stormtroopers at play.
(tags: humour funny scifi images starwars toys photo photography)

Valerie Tarico: Speaking Evangelese: Tips for Politicians

Tarico's article on evangelical jargon phrases and dog whistles. Some of these sound familiar
(tags: evangelicalism christianity politics religion jargon language)

Experimental Theology: Christians and Torture: Part 6, Hell and Torture

Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology has been doing a series of posts on Christian and torture. His survey said: "Christians who believed in a horrific and never-ending hell were more likely to endorse torture. As God tortures so we torture." Unsurprising, perhaps, but interesting to see it backed up by research. In the comments, Beck notes the correlation is not strong, but is significant.
(tags: hell torture politics religion christianity morality)

This journal has been a bit high-brow lately, you know? Time for some light relief.

  • Yellow, university chaplain and all-round good egg, was going through some back issues of Christianity magazine when he happened across the problem page. Maggie, the Christian agony aunt, deals with her readers’ sexual problems, while strangely neglecting to deal with the most glaring problem suffered by her correspondents. Yellow found a letter from, and reply to, a lady who “can’t leave the little man in the boat alone”, who has been petting the pussycat, strumming the banjo and flicking the bean, if you take my meaning (I’m saying she’s been wanking a lot). Maggie knows that God doesn’t approve of that sort of thing, and suggests a number of interesting remedies.

  • Those of you who were watching the apotheosis of President Obama might have heard about the controversy surrounding Obama’s decision to ask Rick Warren to pray at his inauguration. Warren’s views are fairly typical among evangelicals. With regard to women, he’s a complementarian. He’s against gay marriage, abortion and so on. His views are quite different from those espoused by Obama. So what was he doing at the inauguration, and behaving himself too? bites_the_sun has the answer.

  • Dan Savage also runs a sexual problem page, although his answers tend to differ from Maggie’s. Savage reacts in a fairly direct way to the anti-gay mob. For example, he’s responsible for the new meaning of former Sentator Rick Santorum‘s surname. “Warren” is already a place where rabbits live, of course, so Savage has instead turned his attention to Saddleback, Warren’s mega-church. Savage is pleased to announce a new term, saddlebacking, which I’m sure will come in useful, especially to the people who write in to Christianity‘s problem page.

There’s a new LiveJournal meme doing the rounds, where you make a post about what you think of theferrett‘s Open Source Boob Project. All the cool kids are doing it, so I thought I’d join in. Here’s a compendium of comments I’ve been making elsewhere.

I agree with springheel_jack‘s point that this is all about geekery. theferrett has been here before, expressing similar sentiments about how it would be easier if you could just tell women you wanted to do them.

The dance that most heterosexual courtship rituals involve is (what? all my courtship rituals have involved dancing) at least partly about face saving if it goes wrong, but also about not scaring off the woman, who is physically smaller and weaker, on average, and probably has reason to fear the sort of man who would ask direct questions of the sort theferrett talks about. Some geeks do dispense with some of the dance, and that can work for them when they’re dealing with other geeks.

theferrett wants to dispense with more of the dance than most people are comfortable with. He had a nice time at the convention, which is fair enough. It also seems that the original thing was instigated by women who are happy to defend it. His mistake is to think that experience can be generalised and codified into a “project”, and his other mistake is writing about it on LJ, especially in the style he used.

I’m becoming a big fan of synecdochic, whose postings on the drama itself and how not to be That Guy are excellent.

Things that caught my eye on the web recently:

  • marnanel supplies the ultimate version of all those “which local dialect do you speak?” questionnaires that people have been doing lately.

  • Zarf, otherwise known as Andrew Plotkin, gives us LOLGRUES. Makes a change from cats, I suppose.

  • scribb1e thought I’d like The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus. Some of them are good, some of them are typical “the church is the people, not the building” Christian greeting-card verse (but as cartoons!) The artist shows some signs of creationism, but as I’m no longer a Christian, I don’t have to do my “please get off my side, you’re making it look stupid” bit.

    Inevitably, the cartoon with the most comments is the one about gay marriage. Inamongst the usual godhatesfags stuff (or rather, God hates the faggotry but loves the fags, naturally) there were a couple of links to interesting interviews with N.T. Wright (no relation), the Bishop of Durham. There was also an interesting comment from Tyler on just what Paul did mean by arsenokoites (the word translated by the NIV as homosexual offenders, about which there’s considerable debate as it’s a novel coinage as far as we know). Tyler points out that the Septuagint puts the two words that Paul has used in his portmanteau word right next to each other in everyone’s favourite bit of Leviticus (scroll down a bit for the Greek). So it looks like you practising gays (or even those of you who aren’t practising because you’ve got very good at it) are pretty much out as far as Christianity goes. Have you considered atheism?

  • If your internet connection comes from BT, Virgin Media or Carphone Warehouse’s Talktalk service, you should be aware of the evil that is Phorm, a cunning plan to intercept all your web browsing and use the knowledge of what you’re interested in (from your web searches) to display targetted advertising on collaborating websites. Richard Clayton has spoken to Phorm and has technical details of how the system works. It’s a horrible hack, in all senses of the word.

    Talktalk aren’t all bad though: they just told the British recording industry to get stuffed in a highly entertaining way. The BPI are now threatening to sue.

The views of the Roman Catholic Church on contraception are well known, although perhaps fewer people appreciate that they form part of a pro-life viewpoint (including opposition to capital punishment, for example) derived from the RCC’s understanding of natural law. The current dire warnings on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are, to the bishops sending the warnings, an obvious extension of these ideas. It’s a bit less obvious to the rest of us, though.



Cardinal O’Brien’s sermon betrays some misunderstandings about what the Bill allows. According to various source (including this one, from a real biologist on LJ), the “hybrid” embryos it allows are not going to be viable and would never be allowed to be implanted anywhere, so conjuring visions of ghastly chimeras is just plain scaremongering. Indeed, our LJ biologist objects to these things being characterised as embryos at all. What they seem to be (and I’d welcome comments from any other biologists out there) is factories for making cells of interest to researchers.

Like Yellow, I’m not sure how anyone knows what “natural” means in a technologically advanced world. Aquinas’s natural law isn’t merely the claim that anything which doesn’t occur in nature is bad, but rather seems to be an attempt to start from things which are basic in nature and argue to an ethical stance on a particular issue. Starting off with “respecting human life is a good thing” and ending up with “this Bill is bad” is requires an excursion into RCC precedents for what “respecting human life” means, which come to some surprising conclusions that you’d struggle to get from the Bible, even (no little rubber devices on your John Thomas, no abortion despite the soul entering the body at birth, and so on). They’re certainly not the sort of arguments you’d expect a secular legislature to take notice of, so I’m disturbed to see how much influence the bishops have over the British government. What was the Glorious Revolution for, you might wonder? (The commenter on the BBC’s Have Your Say site who called for “disestablishment now!” seems to be a few hundred years behind the times).

A free vote seems the best way forward now, as the excellent editorial in the Times argues. If the bishops and their flock in Parliament do sink this thing, I hope we’ll see a few MS sufferers picketing episcopal residences, as well as a few MPs who are unpleasantly surprised to learn that they made a courageous decision come the next election.

The Bible has much more to say on divorce and remarriage than it does on homosexuality. Ignoring the vexed question about what exactly the Bible does say about homosexuality (and the assumption implicit in the idea of “what the Bible says“, namely that the Bible is a unitary document which is to be read in the way evangelicals do), the New Testament statements on divorce are clearly and directly against both divorce and marrying a divorcee. Jesus describes the latter as adultery in all of the synoptic gospels. St Paul explicitly states that divorcees must not remarry.

There are a couple of exceptions to the rule: sexual malpractice of some kind (the Greek word which the New International Version translates as “marital unfaithfulness” here, and “sexual immorality” elsewhere, usually rendered “fornication” in the King James Version) and the case where a Christian has an unbelieving spouse and that spouse deserts the believer.

Nevertheless, my impression is that evangelical churches are more willing to re-marry divorcees (whether or not they would be subject to the exceptions mentioned above) than, say, Catholics are, while at the same time being steadfastly against gay marriage. I’ve been asking an evangelical about this on uk.religion.christian, after he made a statement which seemed to confirm my impression. He’s said some good things about repentance and forgiveness in regard to divorce, but hasn’t yet addressed the point that the second marriage itself is described as sinful by the Bible, so it’s hard to see how one can repent of a sin while one is doing it.

I think these churches are doing the right thing in letting compassion overrule “what the Bible says”, of course, but once you’ve done that, why not do it for the gays too? The reason why they don’t do that is, I cynically suspect, because they know what their members want: there are a lot more straight divorcees than there are gay people wanting to get married. As St Jack of Lewis pointed out, it’s very easy to condemn a sin to which you feel no particular temptation.

The Magistrate is in a lyrical mood today, publishing the full text of the sentencing in a tragic case (not one of his own), from which I learned the meaning of the word “condign”. The comments on that entry reflect my own contradictory reactions to the case. The judge’s words sound majestic, but the offender will probably be out in 3.5 years.

After that, we need a little light relief. The Magistrate goes on to quote his favourite sonnets, on philandering and post-coital guilt. Harry of Chase Me Ladies has his own amusing take on the latter sonnet, but Harry’s commenters come up trumps, with Wendy Cope’s adaption of it. I also liked her Wasteland limericks, though not quite as much as the ladysisyphus‘s previously-posted Harry Potter version.

So, Ted Haggard, eh? Some of you might remember him from his clash with Dawkins (video link) in The Root of all Evil?. He came across as a fairly typically fundie nutter, and ended up throwing Dawkins off his land; to be fair, Dawkins did start out by comparing a service at Haggard’s mega-church to a Nuremberg rally. However, it turns out that Haggard’s positions were slightly more nuanced than the TV programme might have lead you to believe: he was concerned for the welfare of immigrants in a way which brought him into conflict with the Republican regime, for example.

Readers who’ve been around in Cambridge for a while might remember the fuss when Roy Clements came out (or, it appears, was pre-emptively outed by his wife and some Christian friends). Clements was senior pastor at Eden Baptist Church, the other big student church in Cambridge. He was also an internationally renowned author and preacher, famous for his clarity and insight.

In the UK, evangelical Christianity can best be compared to a fandom, right down to the interestingly-dressed people at conventions and the perennial arguments about the canon. Like any fandom, evangelical Christianity has its leading lights. As a newcomer to evangelicalism at university, it wasn’t uncommon for me to offhandedly tell other Christians about someone I’d heard preach and be told that I was lucky, as that man was a Big Name Preacher: the sort of person you might see at a Christian conference, but which it would take a University Christian Union with CICCU’s undoubted clout to get hold of. Clements was a Big Name Preacher (John Stott and Don Carson are other examples of people who are famous-to-Christians, who I heard as an undergraduate). Eden Baptist is no mega-church, and evangelicals in this country thankfully do not have the political influence they do in the USA, but both Clements and Haggard were published authors and influential pastors of large and important churches.

When the story broke, Clements dropped out of view fairly quickly. This was partly his decision, I think, but also partly down to some frantic retconning by Christian publishers and bookshops, who, according to Clements, suddenly found that his teaching actually hadn’t been so great after all (the vicar at my old church continued to quote Clements in his sermons, for which one must respect his integrity).

But then, a few years later, Clements was back with a website and a theology attempting to combine conventional evangelicalism with the idea that God thinks committed gay relationships are OK after all. Contrast this with Haggard’s decision to take one for the team in his final letter to his former church. There’s nothing wrong with your theology, says Haggard, it is absolutely all my fault, and I must change.

Should we respect Haggard’s integrity in staying the doctrinal course, or is there no merit in continuing to believe something so wildly wrong, or in being part of a movement so dedicated to doing harm? As for Clements, one could say he’s done a little retconning of his own. The Bible says less about homosexuality than the evangelical obsession with it would lead you to believe, but, arguments about the importance of the issue aside, if you read it the evangelical way, it’s hard to reach any other conclusion than the traditional one. To attempt to maintain an evangelical approach to scripture while denying this conclusion seems untenable, to this ex-evangelical at least. Better to give up these contorted attempts to salvage inerrancy (or even, perhaps, theism 😉 and just carry on doing what we know to be right anyway.

And with that, I’ll end on a song. Via Helmintholog, I give you a rollicking gospel number: Meth and man ass.