10 April 2013

Dragonflies in the New York Times science section.

Natalie Angier has a piece on dragonfly biology in the New York Times science section. Dragonflies, Nature's Deadly Drone, but Prettier, is worth a read. Well, what are you standing around here for? Click on the linky thing.

09 April 2013

Catholicism is Characterized by Another Trinity.

The Unholy Trinity: 
Self-loathing, Dishonesty and Hypocrisy

My iPhone died on the way home from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tonight.  This is an unremarkable fact of course but it did deprive me of the excellent, often hilarious podcast Thomas and the Bible. Having nothing else to listen to, I decided to listen to some religious programing on the drive. Blog fodder of course, and I do enjoy the arguments I can have with Christian fundamentalists. I'm not averse to calling in. Tonight I couldn't call in, despite how deeply annoyed and saddened I was by the subject of the show (at least the segment I -briefly- listened to).

It is, almost anywhere in the US, exceedingly easy to stumble on to religious programming. There are at least ten fundamentalist Christian radio stations in my area here in Maine. It is impossible not to notice that there are no liberal Christian radio stations. Tonight, my torture took the form of a call-in advice show on a Catholic channel. I don't know if the host is certified psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist of  any kind.  Whatever her credentials her advice and preachments were prescriptions for personal disaster.
I would not like what heard there.

A father called in, in desperate need of advice.  I think the show was called Catholic Answers. He wasn't quite sure what to do with his five year old girl. Apparently she masturbated on the couch occasionally.  He said they had asked their pediatrician what they should do.  The pediatrician replied, sensibly, that this was natural, there was nothing wrong with her, and that they should have a talk with the girl about hygiene and doing such things in private. No panic, almost sanguine the good doctor seems. The contrast between the pediatrician and the host of the show is stark, troubling and unpleasant.

The host was immediately displeased.  The doctor, she said, was wrong. Masturbation, she informed this idiot parent was a sin, it was an actual evil. It was only normal in that many people did it. "That's what doctors really mean when they say normal."  "But just because lots of people do it doesn't make it right, does it." The host continued, "You need to tell your child that it is wrong, and we don't do that." This broad and robust assertion about masturbation being a sin, and a moral evil was made without even a hint of irony or self reflection.  Is it too easy to point out what a spectacularly bad idea it is to be getting advice on childhood sexuality from an organization whose sexual transgressions against children and the vulnerable give news cycles the world over fresh new atrocities to report almost weekly? Listening to the host you might actually think that the Roman Catholic church and its army of apologists had something important to say on the subject of human sexuality.
Of course they don't.

According to Catholic Advice Lady (hereafter CAL) the little girl was too young to hear why masturbation was so wrong, evil and sinful. However, CAL was able to explain to listeners why it was wrong.  No, strike that.  She was able to assert a suite of pseudo reasons for this ancient stupidity concerning masturbation. Later when the child attained the age of reason CAL suggested that the parents teach her that masturbation was evil and that masturbating was greedy. It would deprive her from giving herself to some one else, and cause her to not bring pleasure to her husband. Masturbation, catholics learn, subverts natural human instincts to give themselves to a mate, for their mate's pleasure, and, oddly, God's.  Does God watch all this marriage bed fucking? One has to wonder. And does he get bored while watching devout Catholic fucking? I have an opinion. If CAL has an opinion on this, she is keeping it too herself, which, as it happens, is probably for the best.

"Train your child to do something else when she feels these urges."  Apparently CAL used to make her son, who had this "problem," run whenever he felt these greedy, carnal urges. Teach that little girl that it is wrong to touch herself to bring herself pleasure. Have her do jumping jacks when she gets that "tingle."

Father-of-the-year was on board, but he had a follow up question, which I will paraphrase. It is all well and good to apply Catholic reasoning to my child when she is on the couch, but what about when she is in her room?

It was at this point I simply turned off the radio. I was worried CAL was going to suggest some horrific invigilation of this child while she was in her room. I imagined CAL was going to say something like, well you will have to be in there until she goes to sleep. I didn't want to hear whatever life crushing advice she was going to give, so I flipped the channel off and thought about coyote ecology.

Of course every single thing CAL said was wrong. Or merely unprovable. Given the preponderance of masturbation in the lives of nearly every human on the planet, CAL's hypothesis seems, at best, implausible. I'm not going to bother exploding it further.  The experience of everyone one reading this probably does that, sadly, necessary work for me.

While CAL and her ilk osculate the rump of human dignity as if it can possibly justify a single claim they make about human sexuality, lets reflect on a few salient features that make this call-in show a perfect example, in microcosm, of almost everything that is wrong with Catholic moral reasoning.

The Church teaches human beings to be self-loathers, liars and hypocrites.  It does this from a very young age, making it a way of life. While any examination of Vatican leaders and the Councils of Bishops makes this abundantly clear, imagine the beginnings of this cycle, through the eyes of the five year old girl at the heart of this ugly vignette. What will she learn from CAL and Father-of-the-Year (FOTY)?

Of course CAL and FOTY are deluding themselves that they are going to stop their children from masturbating. So where does that leave a catholic child? No where pleasant.

Unavoidably there will be self-loathing accompanying the act (especially if the parent is zealous in the preaching the sin and evil of self pleasure). This may carry over into future sexual relationships.  Indeed it probably will, given that the Catholic Church seems to frown on the very idea of pleasure during sex (to be fair, the Church sort of talks out of both sides of its mouth here). Unsurprising, given that its priests are not permitted to openly engage in that sweet act openly.  If they must feel dirty every time they have sex with themselves or others, I suppose there is a certain logic in wanting to see everyone else's good time dashed on the rocks. And so we find CAL enthusiastically suggesting that guilt and shame are to be heaped on this girl for an act which hurts no one, and might conceivably provide her insight into her own body.

Since the child is very likely going to continue to masturbate she will have to add dishonesty to her bag of tricks.  This means, within the Catholic paradigm, a life time of lying about masturbation.  A life time of faux shock, and faux disgust at even the suggestion of masturbation. This lying will also produce some guilt and shame. So kind of a double whammy there.

Hypocrisy. The child will likely grow up, and spout this same line to their children, to their friends etc, all the while continuing to engage in the same act. This isn't mere theorizing on my part.  While I never heard this kind of nonsense from my parents (thanks Mom and Dad!), I did see the unholy trinity of self-loathing, lying and hypocrisy play out among many of my Catholic School peers at the parochial school I attended. While my views on human sexuality weren't exactly sophisticated in those years (fourth to eighth grade) it was impossible not to notice these salient features of Catholic teaching on sex. Now as then the verdict on these teachings is and was clear.

Unhealthy nonsense, all of it.


07 April 2013

A Brunch Movie Review: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
A very brief history

Just marvel at that cover for a moment if you will.
The year was 1984. Frank Miller had not gone crazy (though to be honest, there were probably hints even back then) and he was at the height of his powers.  Every book he touched, Klaus Janson's precise inks brought the Millers pencils depth. DC execs asked Miller if he would like to do a Batman story.  He could do what ever he wanted.  That is the short version.  It probably doesn't matter.  What does matter is that Frank Miller produced an industry changing four issue mini-series that was not only one of the best Batman stories ever told but, as Stephen King said, "one of the finest pieces of art ever published in a popular format."

The original work itself probably deserves a considered review of its own here at Brunch.  Until then though, what you need to know about what Miller did with The Dark Knight Returns was cause comic books to grow up. It was a process that had been happening in fits and starts all over the industry (probably beginning with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the crew at Marvel 30 years earlier). Miller demonstrated, in a profound way, that comic books, even comic books about larger than life super-heroes could be made compelling, that they could say things important about human nature, about politics, and just about the heroes themselves. He helped to make comic books hard to ignore as a creative force.  I don't want to overstate the matter, but after The Dark Knight Returns, and perhaps Alan Moore's Watchmen, comic books became literature. Comic books became the best kind of mythology. In The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller creates the end of the Batman myth, while at the same time explaining the character in a visceral way. He gave us a Batman in old age, who cannot resist his, costly, obsessions. Miller also gave us the coolest Robin ever.

It was only a matter of time before the ambitious DC Animated Studios tried to tackle The Dark Knight Returns. They have hinted at it ever since Batman: The Animated Series. One has to admire them for trying to adapt Miller's material. Not difficult because the material is excessively hard to adapt, Miller more than most comic book writers of his era wrote and structured his panels as if he was producing storyboards. He was ever the most cinematic of comic book writers. The difficulty lies in the length, and its iconic status.  Adapting long and beloved works to the big or small screen is a difficult task judging by the low success rate of the endeavor.  Did DC Animated succeed? Told in two parts, they tried, they really tried.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (clicking the title there will take you to the IMDB page for cast details etc)

Obsession is a Cruel Master

Without including spoilers, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part One, introduces us to a Bruce Wayne much different than what we are used to.  To start, he is much older.  In many ways he has become the playboy he only pretended to be as a young man.  No longer does he spend his nights beating criminals, preventing/solving crimes, and hunting for justice. He has retired.  And he isn't alone.  It seems like all the heroes have hung up their spandex and kevlar. Batman hasn't been seen in Gotham in ten years.  Sociologists, talking heads, pundits debate the morality of his actions on TV on the anniversary of his last sighting. Some people doubt that he even existed.

Crime in Gotham is at an all time high. There is a new gang, calling themselves the Mutants, terrorizing the city.  Also, Harvey Dent,  apparently healed (inside and out), by humanitarian psychiatrists and plastic surgeons is released from Arkham Asylum. It is into this turbulent mix that Bruce Wayne finds he can no longer stave off his internal demons, and almost as if he has no choice in the matter, The Batman returns to Gotham.

Choosing the right material to adapt is only the first part of the battle.  The Dark Knight Returns is the right material.  But after that comes the task of actually adapting (creating a script), casting and producing it.

Starting with the last point first, production is typically sharp.  DC Animated is an established company, with an army of animators, methods and infrastructure. The movie looks crisp.  The action is amazing, and well choreographed. Even though Batman operates at night, the movie manages to make the action set pieces and the fights, logical (within the closed frame of reference that is the superhero movie). Only a very good animated movie can make you wince. Batman the fighter should certainly make you wince.  Part One brings the fright and the crunch to Batman that is necessary to establish why he is so intimidating to the Gotham underworld.  Even at fifty, the Batman is a force with which to be reckoned. This is to be expected, after all he is a ninja, built like a linebacker with gadgets that would make James Bond jealous. Also to be expected is the production excellence.

But the awesomeness of any movie isn't built on fisticuffs alone, unless that movie is Ong Bak 2. Nor is it built on production value. The quality of the storytelling is also crucial.  The Dark Knight Returns falters a little to a lot here.  The editing is uneven, and the pace, often, too slow.

For me, a person who has read the source material dozens of times over the years, the worst problem was the adaptation.  This came as a shock, because the team at DC Animated has actually done a splendid job of adapting material elsewhere.  Their work on Justice League: New Frontier was brilliant. So to, was their work on Superman/Batman: Public EnemiesSuperman: Doomsday, and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse to name just a few.  On this outing though they have produced maybe their worst adaptation of a previously published work to date. Its probably true this will only rankle if the viewer is sufficiently acquainted with Miller's masterwork. If the viewer isn't that familiar with the source material, this version of the sstory will probably seem quite good.  However, the adaptive work just seems lazy to me. The writers, just ignored, or didn't properly know what to do with, too much of Miller's Dark Knight. The team at DC Animated, ignored almost completely Miller's text boxes, and by ignoring these, the film loses much of the depth of the original work. Text boxes in comic book can serve many narrative purposes. Miller used them as a way to explore the events of the story from the point of view of each into each of the key characters in The Dark Knight Returns. In Miller's hands these text boxes allow us to view the events of the story from the perspectives of all the key players in the story.  We are also privy to a series of unspoken conversations between key characters (notably between Clark and Bruce, and as well as the Joker and The Batman).  I would imagine, though I haven't measured them, that these text boxes wouldn't take up a printed page, but neglecting them bleeds away much of the character, conflict and drama. It was through these narrative devices that we learn what the characters think of each other.  They are shrewd observers, and while they may not understand themselves perfectly, they do understand each other.  It would have been nice to have used this content more effectively.

For reasons I don't understand the writers opted to change key dialogue, or omit certain conversations all together.  Again, this will probably only rankle people well acquainted with Miller's work. Still, it sheds depth, and spares viewers some pointed questions we might ask of our hero.

The voice acting, especially in the lead, Peter Weller voices the Bat,  is often very, very flat throughout.  Peter Weller, on paper anyway, seemed like an ideal choice.  His voice has a deep quality that, in another actor, might have lent gravitas to the aged Batman. Generally though he seems like he is just reading the lines and maybe a little bored. Rarely does he inflect, or emote,  change tone, or any of the things you might expect a human being to do while speaking in a wide array of fraught circumstances. As you watch, it becomes clear why Weller's best performance remains that of a cyborg. In Part One, Weller is largely the only person guilty of playing it monotone.  This doesn't hurt the Part One nearly as much as it hurts Part Two, but it does hurt. The rest of the cast takes their work more seriously.  To be fair, Weller may also take it seriously, he may just be incapable of playing any role differently. 

Overall Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part One works as a film.  I can't recommend it as highly as I can some of the other DC Animated films mentioned above but I can certainly recommend it.  The animation is very good, and imitates the book well enough.  The action is well plotted and the fights make sense.  8/10 Stars

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part Two 

Triumph defeats the Batman

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part Two is story told in two parts.  The first describes another long delayed return to Gotham. The second half is the denouement of the Batman.  With the return of Batman, Gotham's twenty four hour news cycle is abuzz with tales about the Dark Knight. An assortment of talking heads weigh the pros and cons of a brutal vigilante dispensing justice without due process. Opinions, as you might imagine, vary. Gotham's pundits and anchormen and women were some of Miller's most brilliant and trenchant creations, and it is good to see that they are preserved and faithfully rendered on the small screen. From the famed Arkham Asylum the Joker, upon seeing the news of Batman's return, emerges from several years in a docile catatonic state. He hasn't returned to turn over a new leaf. The first half of the film deals with the terror of Joker's return, and the Batman's pursuit, and attempt to end the threat of the Joker once and for all. Wending its way through this half of the The Dark Knight Returns is a second tale.  The Batman is simply too big an entity to escape political fallout. He is in violation of a murky agreement with the US government and superheroes to hang it up.  Retire. Something, the President of the United States confides to Clark Kent, will have to be done.  And that something will have to be done by Superman (the only superhero who is permitted to work by the US government).

Strangely, there is an obvious legal, and moral case to be made against the Batman in The Dark Knight Returns. The Batman is a vigilante, operating outside the law, with no chain of command, no due process.  If he were just a detective, a consultant, ala Sherlock Holmes, this probably wouldn't be a problem. But he isn't, he is at war, and while he doesn't kill people, he isn't above crippling people for life, or brutally beating them to acquire information, or simply to inflict fear. This is not the rationale used in The Dark Knight Returns (either in the movie version or in the comic book).  Miller was trying to make a political and moral point himself.  That however was a point for the 1980s, and a very specific cultural milieu.  The film fails to make Miller's point about apathy and cowardice, and fails to insert the rationalization above. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Every problem from the first half of The Dark Knight Returns is magnified in Part Two. The adaptation of Miller's last two issues seems lazier. The screen writers have left out more material from the comic book.  They have also altered several key scenes for reasons quite beyond me (largely by altering dialogue and/or excluding dialogue).  The writers didn't save time by cutting a scene, they simply altered the scene. Opting for a shallower approach to the story.  Of course these changes meant later character development would have to be scrapped. Though not in any way that would reduce running time. This meant that Miller's elucidation of the dark psychologies at work in the in Gotham would never make it to the screen. That is something of a minor tragedy.  The genius of Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, for me anyway, wasn't in the dystopian Gotham (Gotham has always been a place where the social contract is radically broken).  Rather what makes Miller's work stand out from much of the dark themed Batman comics that would follow in his wake, was the deep and plausible insight he had into the mind of not just Batman, but everyone in Batman's universe. These insights into the characters are priceless and serve to make these larger than life characters seem like people we could almost understand. All this psychological depth is lost, leaving only the skeleton of the story, and the film reduces to an exercise in punching and kicking and action.  In another film, there would be nothing wrong with that.

The flatness of the voice acting is much worse in Part Two. Peter Weller continues to eschew emotion, or changing the volume his voice. As bad as Weller is voicing the Batman, Michael Emerson's turn in the Joker will have you crying out for Cesar Romero. It is one of the worst voice acting jobs I've ever heard. Flat, soft, lacking the joy of an amoral anarchist. Emerson gives the Joker a timid voice. The Joker may be many things, but timid isn't one of them. Mark Valley's Superman? Flat, flat, flat, flat. His Clark was pretty nice actually. But no actor in the movie seems to understand that the tone of a human voice changes over the course of the day, and in response to various stimuli. Part Two almost seems like everyone is talking over a picnic table about nothing interesting at all.

There is a lot more I could say about these films but I think you get the point.  They have deeply disappointed me. Part Two more than Part One.  How could it not though.  They started with a flawed script and the hired actors apparently didn''t care. 6/10 Stars.

(Potential spoilers lie in wait below)

I feel like I should give an example of how Miller's unspoken conversations between characters, through text boxes and other comic book story telling devices to add depth and insight into the characters. I would like to juxtapose this with the way the film chose to ignore this potential avenue.

Early in issue 3, Batman and Robin are nearly killed in an explosion (a trap laid by the ever resourceful Joker). While the dynamic duo may have escaped the apartment building unharmed, the same cannot be said for many of its tenants.
Panel: Batman and Robin diving away from a firey explosion, a swirl of yellow and black capes.
Text box: I'll send Robin home
Text box: I'll help the emergency teams as best I can.
Panel: Close up: Batman and Carrie (her Robin mask gone) faces red from the light of the flames observe the carnage. Carrie is horrified, eyes wide with shock.
Text box: I'll count the dead, one by one.
Text box: I'll add them to the list, Joker.
Text box: ...the list of all the people I've murdered--
Panel: close up, batman's right eye
Text box: --by letting you live.

Shortly after this, Joker's therapist, impressed with both his own "success" with the Joker, and the Joker's need to have his side of the story told, arranges an appearance for them both on a talk show. While Dr Bartholomew Wolper may not see it, this is one episode of "The Dave Endocrine Show" (clearly David Letterman) that cannot possibly end well.

Like the real David Letterman, David Endocrine is capable of asking a pointed question or two.
"You're said to have killed about six hundred people Joker. Now don't take this the wrong way, but I think you've been holding out on us."

The Joker's therapist is immediately hurled into paroxysms. The Joker is not bothered, and almost seems to welcome the question.
"I don't keep count." He blows out smoke from a cigarette, and continues, "I'm going to kill everyone in this room."

"Now that's darn rude." Dave was ever a fan of understatement.

The Joker tolerates a brief, and goofy conversation between his doctor and Dave's other guest Dr. Ruth Westheimer before doing exactly what he says he was going to do.

Cut to the close of the issue:
Panel: Joker and his henchman passing out cotton candy to a troop of cub scouts at the Gotham Fair
Text Box: The could put me in a helicopter and fly me up into the air and line the bodies head to toe on the ground in delightful geometric patterns like and endless June Taylor dancers routine
Text box:....and it would never be enough.
Text box: No, I don't keep count
Text box: --but you do.
Text box: And I love you for it.

This kind of thing would not, I don't think, have been too terribly difficult to have added to DC Animated's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.  The film has almost all these scenes, but almost none of the dialogue from the text boxes at all. On top of this the screen writers crafted fairly weak dialogue to fill the same space. Why the trade? I'm not sure.

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02 April 2013

Pastor Carl Broggi confirms my worst suspicions

In my continual hunt for blog fodder I listen to a lot conservative, and conservative Christian radio. While hunting a month or two ago, I heard a familiar line, it comes up at least once a week on these shows, but this iteration of it was on the ill-informed show Search The Scriptures. Hosted by Carl Broggi (obviously a pastor, as well as some kind of doctor), this show offers all the typical answers to life's most pressing questions. It even offers pseudo-profundities on questions that don't matter. What I learned while listening to Pastor Broggi was this.
Atheists don't exist.

I know, I know, some of you will be saying, "Now wait just a damn minute. I'm an atheist, and I am pretty sure I exist." Not according to the enlightened Pastor Broggi. This is such a bizarre thing to do, to assume that the person with whom you are arguing is lying that I had to ask him if this was a wide spread belief among evangelicals. He was kind of enough to respond to my question on his podcast (at least I think that is what it was). Broggi thinks people who claim to be atheists actually know in their heart (he means mind) that God exists. God stamps an awareness of himself on us through the wonder of Creation. Broggi's proof of this amounts to nothing more than mere assertion backed by a few dubious scriptures.  I don't want to steal too much of this thunder (you can hear his response here -luckily my question gets "answered" first so you won't have to wade through a lot nonsense) but I do want to point out a common mistake in part of his response to me.

In his effort to demonstrate his point, the good doctor Broggi wheels out the rotting corpse of William Paley (1743-1805) whose utility for Christian apologists has never really waned even though the content of Paley's argument has been completely exploded and eclipsed by actual science.  Nevertheless, and generally without attribution, Paley has given the tenacious fundamentalists, what probably remains their best case for a creator, "The Watchmaker Argument."  This argument, also referred to as "The Teleological Argument,"or the argument from design, adduces a deity (or at least an extremely powerful creative agent) from the design, real or imagined of natural things.  On the off chance you have lucked into avoiding this gem let me give you a brief synopsis/refresher. Actually lets just quote the old man himself:

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there."
-Natural Theology

Paley probably thought the rock and the watch both needed an explanation from the standpoint of a designer.  But he might have known that rocks are sometimes formed from that activity of volcanoes, or  geological processes may have been well elucidated enough at that time that he couldn't really invoke a designer in the case of the rock. Rocks were and are simple.  The hypothetical watch on the ground though was different. Its complexity, and the purposefulness of its parts cried out for a design explanation.  That is to say, watches are designed by intelligent minds who had in mind a purpose in mind.  Watches are for something. A watch couldn't just have chanced together.  This isn't a terrible observation by Paley.  The watch does need a explanation from design. Paley, of course, was trying to draw an analogy with biologically complexity and his carelessly discarded watch.  If a watch needs a designer how much more must the biota need a designer as living things are vastly more complex than even the most intricate watch?  Paley was right by the way.  Living things do need an explanation for their, apparent design.  Paley's mistake, and the mistake of his intellectual descendants,  was and is to think the designer was a who (and a very specific who at that) and not a natural algorithmic process.

Paley's mistake is wholly excusable.  He was, after all, not privy to all the facts (On the Origin of Species wouldn't be published for another 54 years after Paley's death). Living things really do look designed. There really is no excuse for Pastor Broggi and his ilk to make the same mistake and then wallow in it.

In his response to me, Broggi says atheists (who don't exist) know there is a god because, essentially, nature is so awesome. Out comes Paley's watch, needs a designer, blah, blah, whoa nature, look how big and complex, it must need an even bigger, greater and awesomer designer.  I, and all atheists, must know God (at least a god) exists,  Broggi insists, because the living world, and the universe generally, are so intricate that the only thing we can do to explain them is to invoke a supernatural designer.  "You know in your heart that all this can't have come about by chance." God does this, I guess to ensure that people are without excuse when they reach there judgement seat of Christ. There can be no honest mistakes.  One wonders what the people in countries not immediately adjacent to Palestine were supposed to do with this alleged inkling of gods banging around in their heads. Why wasn't Christianity independently discovered by other people if this knowledge is innate in humans?
I digress.

As it happens Dr. Pastor Broggi, I don't think the biota came about by chance, if by chance we mean produced by completely and utterly random events. No atheist/agnostic believes this. Broggi's false dichotomy assumes only complete randomness on the one hand, or "God did it" on the other.  It is this mistake, this false framing I mainly want to address. The explanation most atheists (indeed most scientists atheist, agnostic or believer) find consistent with the evidence is found in evolutionary biology. Evolutionary processes are the designer Broggi and his ilk seem to miss or at least to mistake as random. The only random element of evolutionary process is mutation (I'm intentionally ignoring drift, and other stochastic events that alter gene frequency; they do little to perpetuate the illusion of a purposeful designer). Local environments create certain selective pressures on individuals in a population. Some individuals, owing to a random differences in their genetics, handle these processes better than others.  The former leave more offspring than the latter. And thus any genetic component of that evolutionary success is likely to find its way into the offspring, spreading generation after generation. Selective processes are ongoing and constant, gradually shaping the behavior and morphology of species. Natural processes certainly explain the biota (natural processes explain a great deal more than just this). More than just sounding like a plausible explanation, evolutionary processes are wholly supported by the scientific evidence.

We are actually really convinced by this evidence Dr. Pastor Broggi. It is not an act of rebellion. One cannot assume, on the basis of scripture, that atheists/agnostics/freethinkers are actually lying about this. We are not, as the pastor claims later in his response to me, suffering under a moral problem and trying to find an out from god belief and thus dodge our responsibilities to God.. Hard as it may be to believe, atheists/agnostics/freethinkers have sincerely examined the evidence and have come to a different conclusion.  It really is the height of arrogance for evangelicals to assume they can know what we are thinking, and why we think it.  If nothing else it makes conversation pointless. It absolves such pastors of the responsibility of understanding, or trying to understand our position in any real or significant way. These are not the actions of intellectually honest sparring partners.

I continue to want to bring these things up to Pastors like Carl Broggi because I think this idea (that athests/agnostics really do know that god exists but are foolishly choosing to reject God) he and others promote is pernicious bullshit for which there is no evidence aside from a few passages of scripture. And lets face it, quoting scripture is no kind of evidence at all.

I've written elsewhere that I thought this tactic was St Paul trying to expiate the guilt he and other believers surely must have felt at the notion that so many people would be going to hell simply because they hadn't heard the good news. Or having heard it, rejected it often with good reason.  Burning someone in hellfire for eternity for the minor transgression of being mildly wrong must have seemed like an extreme over reaction on the part of God, even to a fervent believer like Paul. I wonder if these oft quoted scriptures weren't some attempt to alleviate this guilt?

An aside: Isn't it strange that believers of this sort harp incessantly on complexity and purpose needing a conscious designer.  According to them, complexity of the kind found in our universe, from the origin and structure of solar systems and galaxies, to hummingbird bumble bees, and quarks definitely requires a designer to explain it all.  However, any god  capable of creating our cosmos would also have to be enormously complex itself.  Wouldn't such a being also need a design explanation. No question invites special pleading more than "Uh, okay, but who created God?" There is no answer to this question that doesn't try to exempt God from the question.  I am not the first person to point out that such special pleading is not justified and unconvincing.

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