# Chess in Philadelphia

I’m leaving town! For the next two weeks. Among other things I shall be sallying forth to Philadelphia to participate in the annual chess extravaganza known as the World Open. Regular blogging shall resume when I return.

# Does it Spoil Anything to Know How the Tricks Are Done?

Writing in The New York Times, Tim Kreider wonders if the immediate availability of information has robbed us of the romance of not knowing: Instant accessibility leaves us oddly disappointed, bored, endlessly craving more. I’ve often had the experience of reading a science article that purported to explain some question I’d always wondered about, only…

# Peter Falk, Dead at 83

This is sad news: Peter Falk, who marshaled actorly tics, prop room appurtenances and his own physical idiosyncrasies to personify Columbo, one of the most famous and beloved fictional detectives in television history, died on Thursday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 83. His death was announced in a statement from…

# Evolution and the Second Law

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the creationist chestnut that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics. For people with a basic science education it is something of a litmus test. As soon as you hear someone make this argument you can be certain that you are dealing with a crank. You see, if someone…

# Are Christians Required to Accept Evolution?

I often write posts arguing that it is difficult to reconcile evolution and Christianity. When you consider that evolution challenges certain claims of the Bible, refutes the traditional design argument, exacerbates the problem of evil, and suggests that humanity does not play any central role in creation, you have a pretty strong cumulative case. But…

# Monday Math: Solving the Cubic, Part One

We mathematician types like solving polynomial equations. The simplest such equations are the linear ones, meaning that the variable appears to the exponent one. They have the general form: \[ ax+b=0. \] If you remember anything at all from your basic algebra classes, then you know that this is readily solved by bringing the b…

# Phrases I Hate

I spend a lot of my free time reading, one result of which is a long list of rhetorical pet peeves. Little phrases and expressions that, for me at least, immediately make the writer look like an amateur. Starting a sentence with “Uhm” or “Hmmmm,” for example. This is an especially common one among blog…

# The Republican War on Expertise

Chris Mooney has has a new article in The American Prospect about the Republican war on expertise. There are a lot of interesting nuggets, but Chris somehow manages to avoid making the really obvious point. First, let’s set the tone: Increasingly, the parties are divided over expertise–with much more of it residing among liberals and…

# Baptisms Down

Some encouraging news: Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, have dipped to their lowest point in 60 years, according to a new report. Last year, there were 332,321 baptisms in the church, which is 17,416 less than 2009, according to the report from Nashville-based LifeWay Christian Resources. There was only…

# Republicans and Religion

Over at The American Prospect, Paul Waldman has a helpful rundown of the views of the Republican Presidential candidates on religion. Here’s a sample: But if you’re a Republican voter looking for the most devout candidate, you’ve got yourself an embarrassment of riches. There’s Tim Pawlenty, who left the Catholic church for an evangelical megachurch…

# Moving the Goalposts in the New Atheism Debate

We New Atheist types are used to having hyperbolic claims leveled against us. A while back author Ron Rosenbaum, writing at Slate, wrote “And some of them [the New Atheists] can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.” Clearly so. The most unbending religious Inquisitors…

# X-Men: First Class

So, I went to the midnight show of the new X-Men movie yesterday. Short review: Wowee wow wow! What a great movie! Best comic book movie in quite a while, and since there have been several good ones that’s really saying something. Longer review below the fold. Only minor spoilers ahead, but if you truly…

# Scientists and Spirituality

That’s the title of a new paper from Elaine Ecklund and Elizabeth Long, published in the academic journal Sociology of Religion. I’m playing catch-up here, since other bloggers have already discussed this paper, but why should they have all the fun? But first, a story. Many years ago, when I was home from college over…