Book Review: Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (Part 2)

[ I’m reviewing this book because I liked it, but also for a larger reason which will become evident at the end of Part 3 of the review, and in the weeks ahead. ]

[ Also, in case you missed it: Part 1 ]

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique by John Gribbin

Asked about the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, or in the galaxy, or in the neighborhood (of a size for technologically-conceivable visits), most of us here would say it was possible. We wish it to be, want it to be, yearn for it to be. We might point to this or that argument from common sense, or common experience, or simply private hope, and proclaim even that it MUST be.

But in the same way we rein in our religious neighbors, drawing them away from all their wishes and wants and arguments from common sense, at some point we have to rein in ourselves, and look at, not just those factors that seem to make it likely, but those that seem to make it less than likely. Continue reading “Book Review: Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (Part 2)”

Book Review: Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (Part 1)

Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique by John Gribbin

From the dust cover:

John Gribbin is one of today’s greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books, including In Search of the Multiverse, In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, and Science: A History. He trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is now Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.

Regarding life in the universe, I some years back concluded on my own that life is not some rarity, but a natural state of matter, pretty much inevitable given certain minimal planetary conditions. I based the conclusion on an odd idea I have about entropy – that life “hitchhikes” on the flow of energy from greater to lesser concentrations, and in the process ratchets up the speed of that flow, accelerates entropy, which is something the universe “likes” very much. So there’s a natural condition that pushes things toward … life-iness. Continue reading “Book Review: Alone in the Universe: Why Our Planet Is Unique (Part 1)”

World Ending! Again! This Time for Real! So Get Right With Jesus, Slacker!

I’ve got this thing I think about sometimes, an observation about religion and how it really is out in the real world.  How it works in people’s heads. Not the way Christians think it is, but the way it really is.

I think I’ve mentioned it before — I call it “the 180-degrees thing.” (As in ‘180-degrees-opposite.’ Someday I’m going to come up with a cool name for it instead of this kludge.)

The basic idea is that, whatever Christians say, astonishingly often, there’s something REAL just about exactly opposite. Probably the reason I don’t have a good name for it is that I always find it hard to describe, or point out. You kind of have to look for it, keep it in mind as you watch the workings of Christianity and churches. Continue reading “World Ending! Again! This Time for Real! So Get Right With Jesus, Slacker!”

Oh, Jeez. Memorial Day.

Memorial Day. The Internet is ablaze with it. All the proper things are being said, all the good, right sentiments are being expressed.

Yes, we – and I include myself – love our war heroes. My adopted Dad was a medic in the Navy, my two brothers were in Vietnam, and I have plenty of friends whom I truly respect for their service. I see the memorials and the fields of crosses – I made a point of visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC two of the times I was there – and I feel genuinely sad and angry about it all.

But since junior high school, I’ve had this thing for pep rallies. Or against them, I guess I should say. Because it worries me when people are driven together by the spur of strong emotions. It worries me even more when I can’t see who’s wearing the spurs. Continue reading “Oh, Jeez. Memorial Day.”

Duh, Idiot Me — or: Why The Catholic Church Soldiers On

Reading this article on Papal infallibility — Postponing Self-Destruction of the Catholic Church — I just now learned the real reason why the Catholic Church doesn’t update its outworn policies on things like contraceptives, marriage, or human morality.

Because, really, who hasn’t thought about how much good this huge worldwide organization could do if it reversed its stand on condoms and contraceptives? Rather than waiting for tardy governments to act, it could simply began distributing condoms and teaching how to best prevent the spread of HIV. It could give a kick in the head to overpopulation by telling Third World men and women that it’s okay to use contraceptives, okay NOT to have more and more and more children they can’t feed. Continue reading “Duh, Idiot Me — or: Why The Catholic Church Soldiers On”

In Which I Brag on My Friend … Again

If you’re in the biological sciences and expect at some point to get published, here’s someone you should know: Carl Buell.

He’s done heaps of illustrations for science author Carl Zimmer as well as cover and interior illos for countless other books and magazines. He has pieces in museums all over the world, and has designed blog headers for PZ Myers, Chris Clarke and a number of others. (And I’ve probably written about him before, but he’s just one of those cool people you can’t say enough good stuff about.) Continue reading “In Which I Brag on My Friend … Again”

Reason Not to Rest

I’m reading the book American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, by Nancy K. Bristow.

It’s pretty good by the way, well worth a read. It’s amazing reading about how many people were dying, and how the public reception, including media coverage, was so casual for so long. And really, how the thing mostly vanished from the public mind after it was all over, despite its impact.

Wikipedia says “Between 50 and 130 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.” Continue reading “Reason Not to Rest”

A Day to Draw Mo

Speaking of anniversaries (re: PZ’s 10 years), today is the second annual anniversary of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

From the Wikipedia entry, here’s a paragraph honoring people who live in some alternate universe in which the concept of freedom of expression is poorly understood:

Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse rejected the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day idea because “depictions of Muhammad offend millions of Muslims who are no part of the violent threats.” James Taranto, writing in the “Best of the Web Today” column at The Wall Street Journal, also objected to the idea, not only because depicting Mohammed “is inconsiderate of the sensibilities of others”, but also because “it defines those others—Muslims—as being outside of our culture, unworthy of the courtesy we readily accord to insiders.” Bill Walsh of Bedford Minuteman wrote critically of the initiative, which seemed “petulant and childish” to him: “It attempts to battle religious zealotry with rudeness and sacrilege, and we can only wait to see what happens, but I fear it won’t be good.” Janet Albrechtsen wrote in The Australian, “As a cartoon, it was mildly amusing. As a campaign, it’s crass and gratuitously offensive.”Writing for New York University’s Center for Religion and Media publication, The Revealer, Jeremy F. Walton called the event a “blasphemous faux holiday”, which would “only serve to reinforce broader American misunderstandings of Islam and Muslims”.

Anyway, if you’ve got something to contribute, I’m here for yuh. Send it!

Also, the end of the Wikipedia piece says the originator of the event, Molly Norris, “has since changed her name and gone into hiding.”

That REALLY just pisses me off.

Interlude, With Pack Mule

Sorry, all, about the recent paucity of posts. Among other things, I’ve been busy getting some stuff ready for an event – Mule Days, it’s called – happening in Bishop, California, where I used to live and where my Dad lived.

I’m trying to get all the people who knew him to contribute stories, photos, etc., memories of his life that will go up on a couple of memorial-type web pages. This event will draw quite a few people into the area, some of which will be old friends or acquaintances of his, some of whom will have some of this stuff I’m gathering. Continue reading “Interlude, With Pack Mule”

Celebrate, We Must. Yes.

PZ sits on the Tentacled Throne

According to the Wikipedia article on PZ Myers, “ was started on June 19, 2002.”

Surely that means there will be some sort of celebration — on or about June 19, 2012 — in honor of a full DECADE of delightful and curmudgeonly atheist blogging? (Few will remember that PZ’s entire first year was devoted mostly to talk of squid sex.)

I’m thinking backyard barbecue. Liquor should be involved.