Friday, June 29, 2012

The Fundies are Coming! The Fundies are Coming!

The Huffington Post, a news repackager privileged by AOL, has an interesting tidbit entitled:
Louisiana Private Schools Teach Loch Ness Monster Is Real In Effort To Disprove Evolution Theory

The story opens thusly:
Some students at private schools in Louisiana are being taught that Scotland's fabled Loch Ness monster is real, a claim that is then held as evidence disproving Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, the Scotsman reports [on 29 June 2012].
Heavens!  Nellie, bar the door!  "Some" students equals how many exactly?  A colleague of mine is a creationist -- and a Ph.D. chemist.  He is a gentle soul, and funds out of his own pocket a microlending bank in West Africa, helping African women become economically self-sufficient.  Truth to tell, I'd rather know such a man than a snarky atheist who does nothing to help. 

Evolution inaction
As far as I know, the theory of natural selection does not require that when a new species emerges that the old species must vanish in an instant.  The facts may tell us that no dinosaurs survived to human times, but the theory of natural selection does not.  I have seen people claim that "birds are dinosaurs," which is tantamount to the claim that men and dinosaurs have existed at the same time.  So I guess sometimes it's okay to make that claim. 

I don't know which is funnier: creationists who want to downgrade the Bible to a science text or people who get attacks of the vapors over creationism. 

The real puzzle is: Why should The Scotsman care about Louisiana private academies?  Well, the Loch Ness connection may be sufficient for a human interest story.  But where did The Scotsman get the story? 

Hard to say.  The Scottish Sun ran a similar story four days earlier, on 25 June, but it is only a precis.  And on 24 June, the Herald of Scotland ran the Scotsman story almost verbatim. 

The earliest report seems to be the Times Educational Supplement - Scotland, dated 31 July 2009, but "updated" on 28 June of this year.  It focuses on UK recognition of the curriculum rather than on Louisiana.  The TES quoted extensively from one "Jonny Scaramanga, a music lecturer who attended an ACE school in Bath as a child."  That is, given Scaramanga's age (27), the story is at least a decade and a half old.  And notice how the thrust changed from the UK approving the curriculum in TES in 2009 to "Louisiana" in 2012.

So why the sudden interest three years later?  There is a Romney connection. 
  • Romney advocates school vouchers
  • Some parents use vouchers to send their kids to schools using these books
  • These books have some mighty silly or obnoxious stuff in them.  
  • Therefore, we suppose, we should vote for Obama. 
HuffPo cited all "four" Scottish sources, although three of them seem to be simply cut 'n paste.  Curiously, no US sources were cited.   (A Google search on turned up numerous blogs repeating the story like a head cold at a day care center, but no independent confirmations that I saw.) 

The Scotsman story states:
Critics have slammed the content of the religious course books, labelling them “bizarre” and accusing them of promoting radical religious and political ideas.
Well, we can't have religious course books promoting religious and political ideas.  They should be more like regular text books which never do any such thing. 

But who were these unnamed "critics"? 

Who Are the Critics?
Apparently, the untermenschen teach that if the Flood happened only 4000 years ago, then a sea serpent could have survived.  Actually, it's hard to see how a flood at any time would bother a sea serpent at all.  What would it do, drown?  But then why is it necessary that dinosaurs perished in a Great Flood?  What in the story of the Flood, even if we take it at face value, requires that no other animals ever went extinct prior to it? (Remember, the Biblical clock starts running, as it were, with the beginning of human history; and that seems to have gotten rolling in the Middle East around 6000 years ago.) 

A little further on, The Scotsman tells us of "one former pupil, Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who ... now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism."  Hard to see how someone who campaigns against X would ever distort X, especially after his nervous breakdown.  This fellow is the only source mentioned in the Times Educational Supplement article. 

The other source mentioned in The Scotsman (and therefore in the Huffington Post) is one "Bruce Wilson, a researcher specializing in the American political religious right," who tells The Scotsman:
"It has little to do with science as we currently understand. It’s more like medieval scholasticism."  
The first thing to note is that "a researcher" apparently means someone who co-founds a blog as a sort of professional anti-rightist.  Calling him a "researcher" sounds so much more academic. 

The second thing is that this Wilson is also a blogger for ... (wait for it) ... none other than the Huffington Post.  This makes HuffPo blogger Laura Hibbard somewhat disingenuous when she refers to Wilson as a "researcher," if he were an outside source.   

And the third thing, which is what actually got my attention in the first place was that neither Wilson (who said it) or Hibbard (who "reported" it) seem to have a clue about medieval scholasticism.  They seem to think it has something to do with Late Modern, scientificalisitc fundamentalism. 

The scholastics, it is well to recall, had no reason to suppose that there were such a thing as evolution, having never seen an example of a new species arising.  In fact, all the kinds known to Aristotle were known to Darwin; and those known to Darwin within Aristotle's geographic scope were already known to Aristotle.  There is no reason to concoct a theory to explain a phenomenon that has never been observed. 

Tommy Aquinas
One scholastic who did consider the concept in passing was Thomas Aquinas (aka Da Man), who wrote:
Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.
-- Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
IOW, if any new species ever did arise, they would do so through the immanent powers of nature actualizing the existing potentials.  (Much as the word "gat" exists beforehand in the word "cat," being actualized by a simple mutation/phonemic shift.)  Moderns, who do not believe in immanent natures, have a mechanical philosophy "in which nature is seen as a kind of unnatural composite of passive, unintelligent, preexisting matter, on which order has been extrinsically imposed."  This led inevitably to Paley and Dawkins. 

The Louisiana textbook material is further presented as saying:
"God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals." 
Gus Hippo
But there is nothing that actually requires this, and it is a belief that dates pretty much to the 19th century novelty sects.  If we go back a millennium and a half, we find Augustine (who was not a medieval scholastic, the middle age having not yet quite begun).  He wrote:
It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.  In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in times to come.
-- On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11
IOW, various species need not have come into being at the same time, since God created "what was to be in times to come."  Not only that, but it was the "earth," that is, the natural world, which received from God the immanent power to do this, Gus citing the Bible as his source. 

Were I of a puckish frame of mind, I might even say that this means that evolution can be found in the Bible.  Fortunately, I am not; and so I will not. 
+ + +

This is too good.
On his blog, Wilson sheds crocodile tears because the fundamentalist textbooks he cites denigrate Catholicism and Mormonism, although they apparently do not say anything about them that atheists don't say as well.  (Fundies and atheists share a remarkable overlap of beliefs.)  He also finds it strange that Mr. Romney advocates school vouchers even though some parents use them to send their kids to schools that use books that disparage Mormonism.  He has apparently never heard the dictum "I may not agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it."  It's called freedom of speech; but in the circles inhabited by Mr. Wilson it is evidently considered normative to shut down any expression with which one disagrees. 

He goes on to write:
In the economic realm, as researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes, the texts "teach a radical laissez-faire capitalism. Government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage, and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible."
This strays a bit from the narrative of scientific illiteracy into kvetching that the untermenschen do not share the orthodox belief in Marxism or the Bismarkian welfare state.  By associating these stances with creationism he apparently hopes to color opposition to laissez-faire capitalism with the aura of being scientificalistic.  Being a man of the left, he cannot imagine a safety net not held in government hands, or how nets can be used to entangle the prey in captivity.  But that is another question entirely and does not have a categorical, ideologically-defined answer. 

And there is the further irony that Darwinian evolution is clearly modeled on laissez-faire capitalism.

But notice we once more see a "researcher" being cited.  Wilson fails to mention that by an amazing coincidence "researcher Rachel Tabachnick" is his partner.  (Undoubtedly, Tabachnick also refers to the "researcher Bruce Wilson.")  This is a little like the old 60s gimmick in which a small group of activists would form several organizations, all with pretty much the same membership, so that the SDS could cite the MEVW and the YSL as being "in solidarity" with them. 

This whole thing reminds me of what Kissinger allegedly said about the Iran-Iraq war.  Why can't they both lose? 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Congrats to Bro

I just learned that my brother Kevin has been inducted into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame.  He posts on his face book the following announcement:

Kevin Flynn
"I am honored to have been elected to the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame. Three years after the end of 27 very exciting years at the Rocky Mountain News, I was humbled when club President Bruce Goldberg notified me. What an honor is it to be... inducted in the same 2012 class as TV icon Bertha Lynn, author John Dunning, AP's giant Carl Hilliard and the late Father Woody, founder of Samaritan House. And filling out the Hall's historical roster, Denver Post founders Bonfils and Tammen are also being inducted. Hall of Fame Dinner is Sept. 21 at the club.
Actually, he had told me before by email, but with a press embargo until the official announcement.  He is currently Public Information Project Manager for the public-private partnership that is "to build and operate trains to Denver International Airport and Arvada/ Wheat Ridge, along with other FasTracks elements."

Kevin is the (co)author of The Silent Brotherhood, a book I highly recommend; and also the author of The Unmasking: Married to a Rapist, which one reader credited with saving her from suicide.  (It is the true story of a woman who discovered that her husband was the serial rapist that had been terrorizing the area.)

John Dunning
Coincidentally, John Dunning, inducted with him, is an award-winning writer of mysteries from whom I took a very excellent class on Writing the Novel, lo these many years ago.  So I tip my hat to him as well.  The idea of a Seattle ferry vanishing in plain sight of land, which was the basis of my own Hugo-nominated "Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth," was his.  The novel he was planning on it never gelled and he graciously allowed me to do with it what I wished. 

Against the Storks of Oldenburg

A Humean Being
A few centuries back as the crow flies, David Hume (among others) discarded the concept of final causation.  However, this left efficient causation hanging in the air.  If there is nothing in A that "points toward" B, then there is no reason to suppose that A causes B "always or for the most part."  So committed was he to discarding finality that, faced with this inconvenient truth, Hume discarded causality entirely.  A does not "cause" B.    It is only that B happens to follow A "always or for the most part."  So far.  Tomorrow, it might not.  What appear to be laws of nature are simply the human tendency to "see" patterns regardless whether they are there.  This, of course, pulled the entire metaphysical rug out from under the new natural science; but scientists responded with a clean, manly cognitive dissonance.  They accepted the premise (final causes = boo!) while while whistling past the graveyard (of efficient causes).  That is, they acted for the most part as if causality was alive and well.

Well, they were physicists.  But over the centuries, Humean correlation gradually encroached on causation.   In the social sciences, correlation is triumphant. 

Which brings us to the topic du jour.  Does belief in heaven encourage criminal behavior?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Slippery Slope? What Slippery Slope?

Because the Late Modern world has concluded that the End justifies the Means, provided only that the End is approved of by all right-thinking people (i.e., that it involves personal pleasure), we lately pay little attention to the form of the argument made in favor of the End.  The conclusion, after all, is predetermined, so the argument is typically ad hoc rationalization. 

The Undefeatable Argument in Philosophy

h/t Mark Shea

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Captive Dreams

Coming Soon

Order early  and often

Some blurbs that are not too unkind: 
Michael Flynn has quietly become one of the best sf writers of our time.  CAPTIVE DREAMS shows his intelligence, his compassion, and the dry wit with which he seasons them both.  Don't miss it!
-- Harry Turtledove

"Mike Flynn’s stories begin by intriguing your brain and end by piercing your heart.  Few other writers can combine cutting-edge science and emotional situations with Flynn’s skill and sensitivity.  Read these stories, and you will never forget Mae Holloway, nor Ethan Seakirt, nor Karen Brusco, nor any of the others who must live with the dilemmas that even the most hopeful science can bring."
-- Nancy Kress 
Each story builds from scientific what-ifs to a reality of human fragility and despair. ... While great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary outshine the scientific concepts, the stories will linger after the last page is turned.
-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mystery Solved

Ever wonder why Natural Science as we know it arose nowhere else in the world save Christendom?

Since their Grandmother Stone was removed to Germany, the
Pemon tribal area of Venezuela has suffered drought, pesti-
lence and a 1999 mudslide that killed 20,000.  Coincidence?
Wonder no more
"But to the indigenous Pemon Indians, apparently, its loss has caused disaster. In local culture the rock is called "Grandmother Kueka", and legend has it that it forms one half of romantic couple, turned to stone for an illicit love affair. The legend also maintains that if the grandmother stone is separated from the grandfather stone then disaster will strike.

Melchor Flores, a Pemon activist, told Venezuelan television. 'They took advantage of that to walk over our culture and wisdom, because wisdom comes from our ancestors.'"
TOF loves that "apparently" in the first quoted paragraph. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Game of Heads

Apparently, HBO's Game of Thrones, in need of a large number of heads for a head-on-spikes scene, used whatever was available, one of which was a head of George W. Bush.  The showrunners deny that there was a political motivation.  They just needed heads and took what they could get. 

However, there is a subtle political message here.  All the other heads on display were "good guys" who had been beheaded by a psychotic teenager.  So the implication is that George Bush is one of the "good guy" Starks and his enemies are psychotic Lannisters. 

Which is why I think the showrunners were telling the flat truth. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown

Have received Word that a fact article I wrote has been accepted by ANALOG SF magazine.  The title is:
The Great Ptolemaic Smack-Down
and Down-and-Dirty Mud-Wrassle

It opens thusly:
HISTORY MUST BE CURVED, for there is a horizon in the affairs of mankind.  Beyond this horizon, events pass out of historical consciousness and into myth.  Accounts are shortened, complexities sloughed off, analogous figures fused, traditions “abraded into anecdotes.”  Real people become culture heroes: archetypical beings performing iconic deeds.  (Vansina 1985)

In oral societies this horizon lies typically at eighty years; but historical consciousness endures longer in literate societies, and the horizon may fall as far back as three centuries.  Arthur, a late 5th cent. war leader, had become by the time of Charlemagne the subject of an elaborate story cycle.  Three centuries later, troubadours had done the same to Charlemagne himself.  History had slipped over the horizon and become the stuff of legend.(*)

This suggests that 17th century history has already become myth.  Jamestown is reduced to “Pocahontas,” and Massachusetts boils down to “the First Thanksgiving.”  And the story of how heliocentrism replaced geocentrism has become a Genesis Myth, in which a culture-hero performs iconic deeds that affirm the rightness of Our Modern World-view. 
(*)  In AD 778, a Basque war party ambushed the Carolingian rear guard (Annales regni francorum Ann. DCCLXXVIII).  Forty years later, Einhard, a minister of Charlemagne, mentioned “Roland, prefect of the Breton Marches” among those killed (“Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus,” Vita karoli magni [#9]).  But by 1098, Roland the “paladin” had become the central character,  the Basques had become Saracens, and a magic horn and tale of treachery had been added (La chanson de Roland).  Compare the parallel fate of a Hopi narrative regarding a Navajo ambush (Vansina, pp. 19-20).  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sidewise Nominations

Steven Silver sends the following announcement: 
We are pleased to announce this year's nominees for the Sidewise Award
for Alternate History.  The winners will be announced at Chicon 7,
this year's Worldcon, in Chicago, Illinois during the weekend of
August 30.  The Sidewise Awards have been presented annually since
1995 to recognize excellence in alternate historical fiction. This
year's panel of judges was made up of Stephen Baxter, Evelyn Leeper,
Jim Rittenhouse, Stu Shiffman, Kurt Sidaway, and Steven H Silver.

Congratulations and best of luck.

Short Form

* Michael F. Flynn, The Iron Shirts (
* Lisa Goldstein, Paradise Is a Walled Garden (Asimov’s, 8/11)
* Jason Stoddard, Orion Rising (Panverse 3, edited by Dario Ciriello,
Panverse Publishing)
* Harry Turtledove, Lee at the Alamo (

Long Form

* Robert Conroy, Castro's Bomb (Kindle)
* Robert Conroy, Himmler's War (Baen Books)
* Jeff Greenfield, Then Everything Changed (Putnam)
* Ian R MacLeod, Wake Up and Dream (PS Publishing)
* Ian McDonald, Planesrunner (Pyr)
* Ekaterina Sedia, Heart of Iron (Prime)
* Lavie Tidhar, Camera Obscura (Angry Robot)

The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History were conceived in late 1995
to honor the best allohistorical genre publications of the year. The
first awards were announced in summer 1996 and honored works from
1995. The award takes its name from Murray Leinster's 1934 short story
"Sidewise in Time," in which a strange storm causes portions of Earth
to swap places with their analogs from other timelines.
For more information, contact Steven H Silver at
or go to

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Great Expectations - Part II

What’s the Matter?
Being inexplicably dropped into the past, as happens to Martin Padway, is intrinsically interesting, as is Davy’s discovery that he can teleport to any place he has previously been.  Consequently, in both cases, the Situation is presented almost immediately with little or no set-up.  Padway is dumped into Late Antiquity already on the fourth page of the text.  Davy “jumps” on the second page.  The reader blinks and says WTF?

Great Expectations: Part I

There is no answer to boredom.  -- Katherine Fullerton Gerould
No one will read your story if it isn’t interesting.  So one of the first problems of a fiction writer is to make his story interesting.  It must be interesting to the writer (else he will not complete it) and it must be interesting to the reader.  Since reader interests vary widely, and in particular may vary from your own, this may seem a shot in the dark, a pig in the poke, a bird in the bush, a vote for…  You get the picture.  But while there is no royal road to story-writing, there are certain peasant footpaths. 
A story usually presents either a Decision to be Made or a Problem to be Solved.  These define two distinct kinds of fictions, sometimes said to be distinguished by having a Story Line or a Plot Line, respectively.  However, today’s remarks apply to both kinds of stories. 
One day, Jimmy decided he would drive the family car to St. Louis. 
Okay, we know who has set out to accomplish what.  But it’s not very interesting.  Why would anyone read further?  So, how about:
As the dust from the asteroid strike began settling over the ruins of Denver, Jimmy decided he had better take the family car and high-tail it to St. Louis before the engine became choked with grit.  
That’s better.  We not only know the Situation (drive to St. Louis) but we know why it’s Important.  Try this:
As the dust from the asteroid strike began settling over the ruins of Denver, Jimmy decided he had better take the family car and high-tail it to St. Louis before the engine became choked with grit.  But first he had to tie wooden blocks to his sneakers so his feet could reach the pedals. 
Wait.  He’s a kid?  Why is he driving the family car?  Where are his parents?  Why St. Louis?  WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

Friday, June 8, 2012

New Technologies

beget new art forms.  There have always been "dancing waters" ever since there have been fountains.  But add computers and a decent respect for s=0.5gt^2 and you get this:

Wonder and Anticipation, the Likes of Which We Have Never Seen

  Hello family, friends and fans of Michael F. Flynn.   It is with sorrow and regret that I inform you that my father passed away yesterday,...