29 November 2011

“All will have appetizing vaginas”

We’re all familiar with the promise of 72 virgins waiting in Paradise for devout Muslim men who martyr themselves in jihad against the enemies of Islam. But I recently came across a rather vivid description of said promise, written by Qur’anic commentator and polymath al-Suyuti (who died in 1505):

Each time we sleep with a houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas.

So Paradise is going to be full of guys strutting around with perpetual boners. I imagine that this being the afterlife, medical concerns regarding erections lasting longer than 4 hours are moot. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

Here we have a Saudi cleric, Muhammad al-Munajid, giving a lascivious description of the virginal delights awaiting good Muslim men when they shuffle off this mortal coil (and apparently only the men will have hot unvirgining sex to look forward to in Paradise).

If Al-Munajid’s Quranic exposition doesn’t make clear the misogyny and male chauvinism inherent in Islam, I don’t know what does. The women in Paradise are nothing more than the juvenile projections of selfish, immature boy-men who can’t stand the fact that women have flaws. It wouldn’t surprise me if this poisonous perfectionism contributes to the horrible treatment that women receive from a conservative Muslim patriarchy. Al-Munajid obviously finds certain natural aspects of women to be unseemly, if not outright disgusting.

Also, how is visible bone marrow supposed to be a turn-on? Or is that some Arab fetish I’m not aware of?

HT: Justin Griffith at Rock Beyond Belief


23 November 2011

A good rant from PZ Myers

Biology professor and popular blogger PZ Myers is one of the more outspoken public atheists, and a recent incident involving a gelato shop owner has roused Myers’s legendary ire. While I’m not completely sympathetic to his fierce and combative style, I do agree with many of the points he makes in his blog-post-cum-rant. Specifically, the charges he lays against those in the skeptic community who shy away from applying their vaunted skepticism and critical thinking to religion are spot on. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be exempt from the same level of scrutiny and evidential demands applied to UFO claims, conspiracy theories, psychic powers and Big Foot sightings.

I also agree with the spirit, if not the delivery, of Myers’s rant against ‘fair weather atheists’, which I take to mean atheists who adopt a holier-than-thou attitude towards their fellow unbelievers who are so vulgar as to noisily advocate for atheism. Knowing a few such fair weather atheists myself, I wonder if they realise that their freedom to not only not believe, but to also not have to fight for their right not to believe, is contingent on several factors: that they live in a mainly secular society, that they have been brought up in an environment conducive to tolerance of differing creeds and lifestyles, that they are protected by laws prohibiting discrimination against atheists or agnostics, that their social circle mostly consists of like-minded individuals who prevent them from feeling like they’re lonely islands of reason in an ocean of religious fervour.

It’s much harder to be a smug fair weather atheist when you’re an unbeliever in, say, Pakistan, or Iran, or the American Bible Belt. And the values that atheist advocates – from Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens to Myers, Greta Christina and Maryam Namazie – are standing up for are universal. They are fighting for the intellectual freedom and basic human rights of people everywhere, the sort of human goods that may be taken for granted by fair weather atheists, but most assuredly not by atheists who are harassed, persecuted, assaulted, killed or otherwise viciously discriminated against because they happen to be unbelievers in a society that hasn’t quite elevated snark and noncommittalism into a hip cultural institution.


07 November 2011

Mississippi redefines what it means to be a ‘person’ (and yes, God’s involved)

This is what happens when religidiocy butts into biology. A lump of undifferentiated cells suddenly becomes a person, and abortion and birth control become acts of murder.

From the New York Times:

A constitutional amendment facing voters in Mississippi on Nov. 8, and similar initiatives brewing in half a dozen other states including Florida and Ohio, would declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person, effectively branding abortion and some forms of birth control as murder. [...]

Many doctors and women’s health advocates say the proposals would cause a dangerous intrusion of criminal law into medical care, jeopardizing women’s rights and even their lives.

The amendment in Mississippi would ban virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest. It would bar some birth control methods, including IUDs and “morning-after pills,” which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. It would also outlaw the destruction of embryos created in laboratories.

The Mississippi amendment is the demon baby you’d expect from the unholy copulation of religiosity and scientific ignorance, as one doctor points out:

Dr. Randall S. Hines , a fertility specialist in Jackson working against Proposition 26 with the group Mississippians for Healthy Families, said that the amendment reflects “biological ignorance.” Most fertilized eggs, he said, do not implant in the uterus or develop further.

“Once you recognize that the majority of fertilized eggs don’t become people, then you recognize how absurd this amendment is,” Dr. Hines said. He fears severe unintended consequences for doctors and women dealing with ectopic or other dangerous pregnancies and for in vitro fertility treatments.

For those folks, Mississippian or otherwise, who think that a zygote is a person, here’s a picture to helpfully illustrate the error of your reasoning.

The Economist also covered this issue, with one reader, Benjamin Iwai of Missouri, writing a letter to the editor that displayed the merit of consistency vis-à-vis the idea of embryos being persons:

Sir, I was delighted to read your article about the effort in Mississippi to pass a state constitutional amendment to recognise embryos as people from the moment of fertilisation. My wife and I have been considering IVF to address our lack of success in conceiving a child. Mississippi’s proposed amendment gives us even more reason to pursue this treatment, and to move to Mississippi.

After the procedure we will insist on taking custody of any extra embryos that result from IVF – it is our right as parents after all. Once safely in our home we plan to keep them in a freezer in our basement and list them as child dependents for tax purposes, thus giving us a tax deduction. To protect the lives of our children in case of a power outage we will buy a backup generator. Anything less would be bad parenting.

HT: Jerry Coyne


06 November 2011

Thee-OH, Lo-JEE! What is it good for? Absolutely nuh-thing!

Ah, theology, a unique intellectual discipline where intelligent people write and talk intelligently about… nothing. Sure, they call this ‘nothing’ God, but it’s still nothing, since there’s no evidence that such a being not only exists, but exists in the manner or form that theologians conceive it to exist. Theology is a hollow exercise in hypothesis-making without any possible means to test those hypotheses. Theologians must be so lacking in self-awareness (or a functioning irony meter) that they can’t see the absurdity of trying to comprehend the supposedly incomprehensible. To explain the unexplainable. To say something about nothing.

A few weeks ago biology professor Jerry Coyne debated Catholic theologian John Haught at the University of Kentucky. The topic was a stomping ground of Coyne’s: are science and religion compatible? Unsurprisingly, Coyne’s rational, evidence-based arguments trumped Haught’s rhetorical obfuscation and unsupported claims. Post-debate, scandal erupted when Haught refused to allow the organisers to upload the video of the debate (he eventually relented after a justifiably severe public backlash, so you can watch the debate here, and the subsequent Q&A session here). Russell Blackford has given his thoughtful take on the Coyne-Haught drama.

03 November 2011

Science and politics (and how postmodernism can fuck things up)

Here’s the introduction for a New Scientist special report on the worrying state of science in the US (‘Decline and Fall’, 29 October):

The US was founded on Enlightenment values and is the most powerful scientific nation on Earth. And yet the status of science in public life has never appeared to be so low.

As campaigning for the 2012 presidential election gets into full swing, US politics, especially on the right, appears to have entered a parallel universe where ignorance, denial and unreason trump facts, evidence and rationality.

Almost all the main Republican presidential candidates subscribe to some variety of anti-scientific bunkum. Michele Bachmann thinks science classes should teach creationism; Rick Perry rejects evolutionary theory because “it’s got some gaps in it”; Newt Gingrich considers embryonic stem cell research to be nothing less than murder; Herman Cain claims that people choose to be homosexual.

Meanwhile, Republican candidates who display a modicum of scientific literacy are practically committing political suicide. Shawn Lawrence Otto writes:

Republicans diverge from anti-science politics at their peril. When leading candidate Mitt Romney said: “I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer… humans contribute to that,” conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh responded with “Bye bye, nomination”. Romney back-pedalled, saying, “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”