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An Extra Hand Dangling Off One Arm

January 7, 2019

Oh look, it’s 2019 already. I’ve been off for the holidays so there’s a lot to catch up on. I’ll try to be succinct (ha!).

China put humanity’s first lander on the far side of the Moon. That’s cool but New Horizons got a picture of space-snowman Ultima Thule, the farthest object ever explored.

Hear more about New Horizons from Alan Stern himself on my final episode of Point of Inquiry from last April. Also on that episode was David Grinspoon, Stern’s co-author, who has a piece at Slate on how being all grim about climate change and the end of the world helps speed along climate change and the end of the world.

Pew Research tallies up the religious makeup of the new Congress which, despite some important firsts, remains overwhelmingly Christian at 88 percent, as opposed to 71 percent of the general public. 23 percent of that public happen to be religiously unaffiliated, but only 0.2 percent of Congress identifies as such, the totally-not-an-atheist-and-why-would-you-think-that new senator from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema. (Rep. Jared Huffman, who is really agnostic, didn’t identify on the survey as such, so he’s in the “refused” category.)

Speaking of Sen. Sinema, you have to love that when being sworn in by Orthodox Patriarch Pence, she chose not a Bible but a book with the U.S. and Arizona constitutions.

Kavin Senapathy, in two articles, rounds up the worst woo of 2018, such as raw water, non-GMO vodka, and the resurgence of science-y racist tropes. Here are Part 1 and Part 2.

Stephen Law takes to Aeon to offer “a brief guide to the leading ‘Wittgensteinian’ defences of religious belief.

Katherine Stewart writes in the New York Times about how evangelicals see Trump as a modern incarnation of King Cyrus, “the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.”

This is lovely: Muslim volunteers in Detroit give their Christian neighbors the day off on Christmas by serving up meals at an Episcopal church soup kitchen.

A UK study shows that kids tend to stop believing in Santa around age 8. Dig this response from one 9-year-old: “[I] learnt enough about math, physics, travel, the number of children on the planet ratio to the size of the sleigh to figure it out on my own.”

The Vatican’s chief astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, talks to WSJ about how religion shouldn’t try and use science to back itself up:

[Doing so] always makes the science come first and God come at the end of your chain of reasoning. To a scientist who’s a believer, it goes the other way around. I’ve already experienced God. I’ve already had religious experiences. I’ve already had things that have made me look at the universe and say: ‘What’s going on?’

Bill Laitner at the Detroit Free Press reviews a biography of the late Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer, who “made major decisions based on many forms of intuition, from his Ouija board to dowsing rods to psychics to directives he believed came from his past lives.”

India’s Catholic Church has its own particular horror show, as the AP exposes the decades of sexual assault nuns have endured at the hands of priests, as well as the cover-ups and inaction of the Vatican.

Pope Francis says, yeah, okay, I can kinda see how all this rape and sexual abuse of kids and women could be hurting the church’s reputation. Coincidentally, his chief spokesperson, Greg Burke, resigned all of a sudden.

A federal judge shuts down a dumb lawsuit to end Drag Queen Story Hour in Houston. The losers claim victory, because of course.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declines to reconsider a ruling that barred prayers at school board meetings, but with dissents from eight conservative judges. Now it looks like the case may go to the Supreme Court, which means of course things will go badly for secularism.

Chuck Todd says Meet the Press will no longer give air time to climate change deniers, and devotes an episode to the topic.

Russ Dobler, at his “Thoughtful Conduit” column, brings the skeptic perspective to San Diego Comic-Con, and despite poo-pooing Ant-Man‘s misuse of quantum terminology, finds he is not run out of town.

Also at the CFI website, Jamie Hale explores ways of rethinking science education, teaching the notion that “understanding science is about more than just retrieving scientific facts from memory” and the importance of thinking about how we know what we think we know (“personal epistemology”).

Ben Radford explains that, despite what some news headlines suggested, Canada did not outlaw witchcraft.

Coptic Christians in Egypt, feeling left out a bit I guess, consider moving their Christmas Day from January 7 to December 25.

Julia Belluz and Christophe Haubursin at Vox produce a video on how literally all “detox” products are absolute crap.

Vox also rounds up 2018’s worst (or most-wrong) science and health ideas, including the dumb idea that addressing climate change will hurt the economy, the false health risks attributed to immigrants, and the sad news that exposure to contradictory ideas will open one’s mind.

Frank Amedia, a televangelist I never heard of, says Trump’s Space Force is what helps bring about the events of Revelation, “an apocalyptic vision of fantastical creatures and a cosmic end-times battle between good and evil that ushers in a victory over Satan.” Cool, bro.

Non-fluoridated water makes your teeth worse, says science. Your precious bodily fluids will be fine.

We live in a world in which it is actually necessary that a medical expert advises us not to drink the blood of decapitated bats. Harriet Hall does the thankless work, and adds:

Vampire bats are the best vectors of rabies, and while the blood itself is not likely to transmit the infection, handling rabid bats could easily transmit it, and bats can carry and transmit other pathogens.

I think it’s time we fight for the religious liberty of the worshipers of Xipe Totec, a pre-hispanic god of the Popoloca people of Mexico, whose priests wore the skin of the dead. AP reports:

Experts found two skull-like stone carvings and a stone trunk depicting the god, Xipe Totec. It had an extra hand dangling off one arm, suggesting the god was wearing the skin of a sacrificial victim. Priests worshipped Xipe Totec by skinning human victims and then donning their skins. The ritual was seen as a way to ensure fertility and regeneration.

Dig this setup by John Timmer for an article on behavioral science:

In the latest sign of just how stupid we can get, researchers found that people are willing to adopt an ethical standard after being told that people like them were assigned that position at random.

In case you were curious, headphone burn-in is not a real thing.

Apparently the Golden Globes were held last night, at which Christian Bale accepted the award for best actor in something-something for playing Dick Cheney in Vice. In his speech he said, “Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration on how to play this role.” Satan’s response comes via Adam Best:

While Satan appreciates a talented actor like Christian Bale namedropping him in an acceptance speech, the Prince of Darkness denounces and disavows war criminal Dick Cheney.

Quote of the Day

If there’s any justice in the world (and there isn’t), this Tim Minchin song will become a huge hit. In “15 Minutes” he sings:

Don’t need perspective or a heart
Leave humility at home
Welcome to the glasshouse, hope you brought your stones

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Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.