Shaky Scaremongering

December 5, 2018

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Apparently a paper by NASA researcher Silvano Colombano has caused some excitement by suggesting the possibility that aliens might have visited Earth, but of course that’s not quite what he was saying. Speculating about the wide variety of forms extraterrestrial life might take, he wrote, “I simply want to point out the fact that the intelligence we might find and that might choose to find us (if it hasn’t already) might not be at all be produced by carbon based organisms like us.” So of course the headlines are variations on “NASA SCIENTIST SAYS ALIENS MAY HAVE VISITED EARTH.” Derp derp derp.

Sarah Marquart at Futurism explains what’s actually being discussed:

Physicists should engage in “speculative physics” — still grounded in evidence-based theories, but that stretch the limits of space-time and energy. At the same time, they should engage technologists in futuristic exploration of how technology might evolve — especially in relation to AI and ways that humans can combine with machines. They should further engage sociologists in speculation about what sorts of societies might come from these sorts of posited civilizations, and how they might communicate. They should also consider UFO phenomena worthy of study in the context of a system with very low signal to noise ratio, but nevertheless with the possibility of challenging some of our assumptions and pointing to new possibilities for communication and discovery.

Rev. Mark Harris appeared to have narrowly won his bid for the U.S. House in North Carolina, that is until allegations of election fraud. For what it’s worth, Harris seems to support everything we’re against: banning same-sex marriage, anti-trans “bathroom bills,” and keeping women from entering the workforce.

Here’s something Rev. Harris would probably like: In Alberta, Canada, two women are forced out of their jobs as paramedics for being “too gay.” CBC reports:

Sheri and Alyssa Monk say they were discriminated against and expected to follow different rules than their heterosexual colleagues, saying they were told not to talk about their personal lives at work and that the word “wife” was off limits.

Lucas Maiman at the Detroit Metro Times explores how pseudoscientific gay-conversion therapy has damaged the lives of people in Michigan, as well as the tough slog to get legislation to ban the practice (and the difficulty of enforcing it if it does pass).

Apple CEO Tim Cook, receiving the Anti-Defamation League’s first Courage Against Hate Award, declares that Apple will not serve as a platform for white supremacy or “violent conspiracy theorists,” adding that major platforms like his have a responsibilty. “My friends, if we can’t be clear on moral questions like these, then we’ve got big problems.”

Scott Adams, the guy who draws Dilbert, denies climate science, and thinks Trump is a genius, also seems to think intelligent design is pretty legit. The creationist Discovery Institute (at their cynically titled Evolution News blog) seems to think that having Adams on their side bolsters their case. Poor bastards.

Props to the folks at the Illinois State Capitol for greenlighting the Satantic Temple’s “snaketivity” display.

It’s already known that, broadly, religious people as a group have better mental health than “nones” — consolations of belief and whatnot. But interestingly, new research shows that within the nones, atheists’ mental health is better than the rest of the squishier unaffiliated types.

At Motherboard, Daniel Oberhaus looks into the new documentary on Bob Lazar, the UFO conspiracy theorist who says he worked on alien spacecraft at Area 51 and has otherwise “seen some shit in his time on Earth.”

An atheist struggling with a feeling of alienation and a “tug” toward religion during the holidays seeks guidance from Asheville Citizen Times advice columnist John Shore, who has these pretty wise words:

Honoring the person you are now doesn’t mean negating the person you used to be. You were always growing, discovering, evolving. Sometimes the person you used to be will call to you. When that happens, let your former self know that you hear them. That you’re listening. That you love them, that you respect them, and that you thank them for forging the path that you took to becoming the person you are today.

Here’s a good way to get people to take the “parsonage” tax exemption seriously: have clergy living near people who do have to pay hefty property taxes, and see if any resentment boils up. Oh look, here’s one Marcia Rickle writing in to the Asbury Park Press:

This is so wrong, especially as we struggle to make ends meet in New Jersey. I live on a street with one of these homes. I pay almost $9,000 a year in taxes and the clergyman pays none. He lives there with his wife and a few kids. We all use the roads and emergency services, and all have access to schools, the library and parks.

All property owners should be good citizens and not expect others to cover their share. Have your religion but stop expecting to be above doing your civic duty. A “Holier than thou” attitude does not cover our shared bills. How much is this costing our already strapped state?

At The Verge, Rachel Becker reports on research showing that “the foundation for smartphone scaremongering is shaky,” as people turn out to be awful at reporting their own screen time. As one expert put it, “It’s amazing that such a simple study could undermine almost the entire foundation of the fear against cellphones.”

Elaine Pagels’ Why Religion?: A Personal Story, a book looking at religion through the lens of her own losses (husband and child) is reviewed by Mark Epstein at the New York Times:

In the end, though, Pagels makes her own peace, not through religious doctrine or mystical experience — although both are vivid in her account — but through a willingness to look squarely at her pain. Suffering happens to everyone, she eventually realizes; it is not a sign of personal failure. Religion helps make suffering sufferable, but so does science. The randomness of the universe explains loss better than the doctrine of original sin. And, miracle of miracles, even if things are still not fine with her, “sometimes hearts do heal, through what I can only call grace.”

Scientists grow a placenta in a petri dish. You know, in case you need one. Like, to make into pills or something.

Quote of the Day

A letter written by Albert Einstein on the topic of God and religion fetches almost $3 million at auction. Among the sentiments Einstein expresses in “the God letter”:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

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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.

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