There Are No Santa Deniers In Foxholes

Dear Margaret, Tomorrow I ship out for my 5th tour of duty in the War on Christmas. I’ll be stationed somewhere near a place called Altoona, Pennsylvania. I doubt I could even find it on a map, ha ha. I’m being assigned to a creche removal and neutralization unit, and we’re being told that we shouldn’t expect to […]

The Lout’s Complaint, Revised 2nd Edition

[Originally posted May 27, 2008. This re-post has undergone moderate revision] Observers of the science/religion wars  may be aware of a rhetorical move called “The Courtier’s Reply.” This device, developed by science blogger PZ Myers, is a reformulation of a common objection to anti-theist tracts like The God Delusion or The End of Faith,which protests […]

Just A Fluke

A fluke (or flounder) is a kind of flat, bottom-feeding fish that is, according to lore, so easily caught that one may bait it with the most rudimentary tackle or technique. (In Gunther Grass’s The Flounder, the titular fish jumps right into the fisherman’s arms). Over time, the fluke’s disregard for the angler’s lack of competency […]

“Self” Abuse

The Art of Making Stronger What We Cannot Kill [Discussed in this essay: The Selfish Genius, by Fern Elsdon-Baker. Icon Books. 270 pages. USD $21, UK£8.99] When a public figure consistently displays the kind of self-congratulation that leads him to self-refer as “the most formidable intellect in public discourse,” and to dub his cyber-home “a […]

Who Is the Master Who Makes Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously?

[Originally posted March 9, 2008. This re-post has been lightly copy-edited] “Language of thought” theory (LOT), originally developed by Jerry Fodor in the 1970s, and now championed most famously by Steven Pinker in The Language Instinct and The Stuff of Thought, presumes a pre-literate conceptual language, sometimes called mentalese, upon which our conscious, tangible symbolic […]

The Banality of Evil Genes

Evil Genes: How Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend, by Barbara Oakley. Prometheus Books. 459 pages. One might be forgiven for assuming that the nature versus nurture argument had been quietly settled long ago, with credit and spoils agreeably distributed among all parties. But apparently that’s not what […]

The There That Wasn’t There

The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, by Denis Dutton. Bloomsbury Press. 278 pages. At the end of the introduction to The Art Instinct, Dutton sets himself a curious task. Having established that art is a phenomenon arising from a “universal aesthetic” that has been endowed in us by our genes, he then announces […]