Short and stout


Bertrand Russell famously said that if he stated that there was a teapot circling the Sun, nobody could prove him wrong, and that this was exactly the same as saying, without proof, that a god existed:

“Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time”

Or as Carl Sagan put it more succinctly “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

Note that Russell was writing exactly 60 years ago, and so could happily include in his argument that the teapot was “too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes”. Sixty years on and we have massively stronger telescopes. Well, ok, he could certainly still say that the telescopes wouldn’t see a small teapot wandering through space between Earth and Mars, but a medium-sized teapot?

Telescopes can see almost back to the Big Bang, see the earliest stars and galaxies that formed. Can see the tiniest perturbations in the rings of Saturn, tiny colour differences on Mercury, changing seasons on Titan. Billions of galaxies can be seen, black holes in abundance, nebulae, distant planets circling different stars, every phenomenon of the universe. Can see every small rock and sandstorm on the surface of Mars, can see where the ice melts in Summer. Can look at details of the surface of asteroids, of comets, of lumps of rock that whizz past Earth. Can do experiments on our own Moon and see the results. Can analyse in detail the surface of the Sun, describe the history of other stars.

Telescopes can view the universe not just in the visible light spectrum, but in infrared, UV, XRay, radio waves. Can see where the “dark matter” is, can “weigh” galaxies, estimate the size of black holes. Can see the echoes of the big bang in the cosmic background radiation. Can see the arrangement of the universe in local groups of galaxies and in the super groupings.

The detail in our description of the universe is now quite astonishing. And nowhere in all that is there a sign of a teapot. Not a big one or a little one. Oh, and no sign of a fellow with a white beard and flowing robes either. Nor tall skinny gods or short stout ones. Nor any of the other imaginary elephants or buddhas or rainbow serpents. No imaginary figures, unless of course they are hiding in a sunken cave on Mars, or under the frozen surface of Titan, or shyly peeping from behind the dust clouds in a nebula, or popping in and out of a black hole in the middle of a galaxy, or, well, you get the idea. No one out there.

For the religious, like homeopaths, the less you can see the greater the proof, until the point where absolute zero evidence equals absolute certainty. So I guess they have it now – whatever the size of the telescope, or all the other devices with which we see the universe, the evidence for teapots, sorry, gods, is zero, zip, zilch, nada, nothing. Them gods ain’t nowhere man.

Nor is the teapot.

To be hanged with the bible


When the bible was written humans* didn’t know:
About bacteria and viruses and parasites
Blood circulation
Earth going around sun
More than 5 planets
About galaxies
There was a southern hemisphere
Earth round
What lightning is
That whales aren’t fish
What mental illness involves
About genes and inheritance
About Chinese, Aztecs, Zulus, Aborigines, Navaho, Japanese, Papuans, Bushmen, Mayans, Eskimo, Indonesians, West Africans, Britons
Composition of matter
Any history
Composition of moon
About fossils
There was a western hemisphere
The age of the Earth
About the great apes
About continental drift
About kangaroos, lemurs, opossums, emus, iguanas, alpacas, platypus, kiwi, gila lizards, sloths, tree frogs, humming birds, horseshoe crabs, peripatus, tasmanian tigers, rhinoceros

When bible written humans had never:
Travelled faster than a horse can run
Communicated except by speaking directly
Elected a government
Swum under the ocean
Read books
Looked through a telescope
Looked through a microscope
Warmed themselves by anything except wood fires
Been cured by antibiotics
Had a surgical operation
Seen a hospital, school or factory
Seen a town of more than few thousand people

When bible written humans were happy about:
Women as chattels
Divine kings
Child marriage
Destruction of environment
Gods living on mountains
Child labour
Human sacrifice

And yet there are people in 2012 who believe everything written in the bible. There are people who use it to determine who to vote for, where to send their children to school, how they feel about burning environmental and social and economic and cultural issues. And if that wasn’t bad enough, incredible enough, we can’t just smile wisely and say “there there, one day you will grow up” as we might to a child who tries to live their life by, say, the Harry Potter books, because there are people who want to insist that the rest of the world obey these silly old books as well. There are people making all kinds of pronouncements about the environment, about bringing up children, about justice, about science, about art and literature, based not on some independent and rational analysis of an issue, but on what they think is said in the bible about it. And in turn appearing in the media, influencing politicians about it, indeed running for political office themselves. Some countries, notably Iran, Saudi Arabia, and America, are now theocracies run by people who know nothing except what someone has told them an old book says.

Angry? You betcha. The modern world is difficult enough, will become more difficult in the future, without the drag on political life from people living in the past. Can’t laugh at these people any more, this is serious.

*By “humans” in what follows I sometimes mean “the whole human race” and sometimes “the humans who wrote the bits and pieces of old manuscript that got collected together and called ‘the bible’”, which is which will be obvious and not of much importance anyway.

Kissing Cousins


[Note this was written to follow on from discussions which began in comments on post "When you wish" below and continued into those of "Extraordinary". One of my most regular commenters on this blog, Eric, is trying to understand evolution. I, we, are trying to help him. This post arose from Eric's comment that "I don’t get the 'every generation' being a transition between the species at all." So, Eric, let's try it like this.*]

I don’t know if you are interested in your family history, but let’s assume you are. And let’s assume that you know all your ancestors, way way back (will come to how way back soon). And let’s imagine that not only do you have photographs of your ancestors going back 150 years (when the camera was actually invented) but there was a previously unknown mechanism which enabled photos of all your ancestors going way way back.

So you start to arrange the photos on your table. Parents first, then grandparents, great grandparents and so on, back through the generations. And let’s assume (last assumption, promise) that you have not only told your immediate family what you are doing, but have told your more distant family of cousins etc, your community, and, through the internet, the whole world.

OK, with me? Right. You are putting your great grandparent’s photos on the table, your children remarking how much you look like them and you not being sure if it is a compliment, when in walks your second cousin and says, hey, they are my great grandparents. You chat for a while and keep working. Down go the photos generation after generation.

Back to six generations and a previously unknown cousin from Germany drops in and points out you share a great great great great great grandparent. He still lives in the same village your ancestors migrated to America from (I have a real example of that, a sixth cousin living just a few miles from the village in England my six times removed grandparents lived in).

I don’t really know your background so I will switch to me now. I keep adding more and more generations (roughly 4 per hundred years). Back a thousand years. All those people, all 45 generations look much like me – variation in hair colour here, different height there, shorter nose over this way – all residents of the English Midlands.

About a thousand years ago a bit of a change – more men and women seem to be of strapping solid build with red or yellow hair. Just as I am putting their photos out, trying to keep track of which generations I am up to, there is a knock at the door and a couple of strapping red haired gentlemen tell me that I have just identified some common ancestors of their’s which means I now have Danish and Saxon distant cousins.

Another 500 years back and a knock at the door tells me those dark haired olive skin ancestors are the reason I have Italian cousins. And so on, back thousands of years. Little differences between generations, but all recognisably the same group. Tens of thousands of years, still the same, and if you put any of them in modern clothes they could drink in my local bar unnoticed.

Oh there are changes, as you [that is me, "I" became awkward!] realise when you look back to your recent ancestors, and when you hear knocks on the door from people from Germany, Hungary, Turkey. But still, generation to generation, no obvious change. And then as more tens of thousands of years tick over you get vists from Australian Aborigines, Asians, South Americans, and finally Africans. Still no obvious change from generation to generation, but your ancestors are now recognisably different – shorter in stature, with curly hair and darker skin – from those ten or twenty thousand years later or those today. You realise if you put the photos in a bundle and flicked them like those old children’s moving picture books, you would see a gradual change over time to the present day.

And still you go back, ancestor after ancestor. You’ve lost all sense of time. What is it, a million years maybe, gosh, that’s, um, 2500 generations. Curious, you hadn’t noticed change, but these G G G G …. Grandfathers of yours are much heavier built, more muscly, bigger jaws, bigger brow ridges. Other cousins drop by from Indonesia, far east Russia. Similar but a bit different again.

And still we go on, another 2500 generations and another. Is it your imagination or do these ancestors seem shorter, darker, more, well, hairy? No it’s not. You look along the table, can’t see the change, until you jump forward a couple of million years (big table this) and compare. And then you get a phone call from zoo, chimpanzee there wants to tell you that you and he are 10,000th cousins, sharing a 9999 great grandparent. Seems odd, he looks quite different to you when you arrive at the zoo, but on a table he has arranged all his ancesors going back same number of generations as yours. You look at his photos and notice the same pattern. The later ones all look just like him, “typical chimpanzees”, but as you get further back you notice small changes – slightly shorter arms perhaps, jaws a little larger, hair colour a little different, slightly more upright. He points at another slightly different looking chimpanzee, and you discover that when your friend got back to about a million years ago he got a visit from a Bonobo chimp who said he was his long lost cousin, just like the calls you had along the way. By the time you look at his ancestors and yours from about, say, 9000 generations ago, there’s not much difference at all, and when you get back to the shared ancestor they are of course identical.

Seeing that you are a bit puzzled your Chimpanzee cousin points at you and points at the ground, then points at himself and then at a tree outside. Light dawns – your common 9999 great grandparents were mainly ground dwellers, but around 4 million years ago his direct ancestors were in a group that became separated from yours, and while your ancestors adapted more and more strongly to ground living, his were in an area where tree living was all the go. Adaptation proceeded in the two directions in different parts of Africa, and by the time conditions changed and the two groups were in contact again they had become different enough not to interbreed.

You go home, pleased to have discovered more long lost cousins, and keep working through your photos. Back to 7 million years, 17500 generations and another zoo call, this time the gorilla wants to say hullo to his cousin. Same thing. A line of photos on a table, call from a distant gorilla cousin (separated in east Africa), not much change from one photo to next, but change over longer time. Seems quite different to Humans and Chimps initially, but doesn’t look that much different to the common human-chimp grandparent perhaps 5 million years ago, and as you get further and further back they converge in appearance (and genetics of course) until they look more and more like a kind of generalised ape – Australopithecus (again with various cousins).

And… Well, you get the idea. You can continue generation after generation through the other apes, then back through the early mammals, the reptiles, the amphibians and so on. Not much evident change from one generation to next but over immense time substantial change. No modern species the direct ancestor of any other modern species, just like your cousins are not your grandparents, but all are cousins to some degree.

There you are Eric, evolution over four billion years in a short post – gradual adaptive change, and equally importantly, geographic separation of different populations forming new species. What a wonderful world that has such potential in it.

* I’d love to claim the credit for this idea of how to present evolutionary change, but saw it (in the marvelous illustrations by Dave McKean) and read it originally in Richard Dawkins 2011 “The Magic of Reality” Random House, London. However I have added the calls from cousins, and the zoo, as my own piece of originality.

Never on a Sunday


The big advantage of having an atheist prime minister is that she can give the country seven days a week hard work instead of spending Sundays in the company of imaginary beings and people who believe in imaginary beings. You get 14% more work out of an atheist prime minister than a god-botherer.

But in recent times the Prime Minister has made it more and more clear that her atheism is only skin deep. In an interview the other day she suggested that many great literary works owed their existence to the Bible. She is following a well-worn path of religious apologists here. Whenever the chant of “God. What is he good for?” rises skyward yet again, religious apologists will pour out of the woodwork to suggest all kinds of benefits that religion has brought to the human race. They will talk about art works, and cathedrals, and music (and now our PM adds “literary works” to the list), and suggest that the world would be a much poorer place in the absence of the inspiration that religion has bought to artists and musicians and architects. Poppycock.

Economists talk about “opportunity costs”, that is the cost not only of taking the actual course decided upon, but the cost of not taking a different course. Religion has been the ultimate opportunity cost for the human race over thousands of years, perhaps only approached in its negative effects, its lost opportunities, by wars (many also the result of religion). An obvious case is in schools. Picture a fundamentalist religious school of any flavour, picture the children rote learning scriptures – in some cases that is all they learn, in others they spend considerable time on religious “studies”. But even where they only have limited religion activities, any at all is taking time away from productive educational activities, the kind that, as a society, we profess to want children undertaking. If a parent was to demand that a child spend several school hours a week watching cartoons, or playing video games, or chatting on facebook, or engaging in some hobby, would we be happy with that as a useful way to enhance education? Yet we turn a blind eye to the hobby of religion.

On a larger scale whole societies have sacrificed considerable opportunity costs as huge proportions of their population, often over generations, laboured to build christian cathedrals and monasteries, or stonehenge, or giant buddhist statues and temples, or Easter Island statues, or large numbers of mosques in a town, or the Egyptian pyramids; and then staffed many of these structures with people who could also have been gainfully employed in the economic, cultural or social activities of their society. Huge amounts of money have also been withdrawn from the labour of the population and frozen beyond recovery in such religious architectural assets, as well as the accumulated wealth in gold and other art objects held by religious hierarchies. Just think what the genius of the Egyptians could have achieved if not dragged down by the pyramid building cancer.

But did not the demand for religious art and music and architecture drive artistic development, produce works of great beauty and inspiration? Well, perhaps it did, but they are no more substantial than sand castles, or ice sculptures, or decorations on coffee foam – it is endeavour based on an imaginary being with imaginary characteristics and imaginary activities. Oh I guess there can be beauty in mythology, in fairy stories, in tall tales, but we generally think of them as being for children, thinking as children. Its existence as apparently being for adults again imposes an opportunity cost, replacing the potential of works related to real human beings and their aspirations,  their triumphs and tragedies, hopes and fears, loves and hates; the beauties of the natural world; the wonders of the universe.

But, oh, wait, we have been getting those works, haven’t we, since the churches lost much of their power over human minds, at least in the West, and artists and musicians, yes, and writers, started celebrating real beings instead of imaginary ones. So using art production as an excuse for literature is no more valid than suggesting we need religion to produce values. I will set my literary endeavours, and values, against those of the religiously inspired any day of the week. Including Sunday.

Peter Principle


This post was inspired by this latest piece of offensive nonsense from Australia’s Pope-in-waiting, the awe-full Cardinal P-ll. It compares the pathways to the top of their professions followed by scientists and religious leaders.

To get promotion
Religious leaders – on the way up show absolute willingness to obey, follow, believe, totally accept authority. Are fearful. Reach top by being able to demonstrate more than your rivals that you completely accept dogmatically every piece of dogma, that you are in fact holier than the pope. Remain unchanged as the world changes, in fact go backwards where possible. Apply old conclusions to new issues.

Leading scientists – on the way up show an ability to question, investigate, and an inability to accept authority, even the highest authority and the most popularly accepted theories. Lack fear. Reach top by overturning old theories, ideas, authorities. Change as data changes, ideas shift, debates are won or lost. Apply new hypotheses to old problems.

Increasingly I find, as I age (as gracefully as a belly-flop from a diving board), that I do all my best writing when I have no access to a keyboard or even a pencil. Driving down the highway, or drifting fitfully into sleep, blog posts spring unbidden, fully-formed – metaphors, clever titles, literary allusions, and all – into my head. Only to disappear almost entirely, leaving only a lingering taste like a madeleine, when I reach my destination, or shake my sleepy head, and put fingers to keyboard ready to reconstruct the masterpiece.

The above post was one of those. I have put back together what I can, but it is a mere ghost of a post, a shadow of its former bedtime glory. Perhaps next time I sleep, perchance to blog, more of it will return to beguile you. Or perhaps my more wide-awake readers, keyboards at the ready, can add to my lists.

If ever I was foxed it was now


Yet again the tired old phrase “There are no atheists in foxholes”, raises its tired old head and looks around the battlefield and concludes it is the killer blow by the tired old religious army. Once more over the top, hunting bugle blowing, and the atheists will be put to flight, vanquished at last.

PZ Myers has had a go at this latest piece of nonsense too, but it stimulated me, in my present state (somewhat foxed, as Pepys might have it, though I wish my condition was also the result of too much wine), to set down my thoughts on it.

As best I understand the tired old phrase, what our religious friends think it means is something like this: the only reason anyone would want to be religious is because their life had really been mucked up by something they call “god” and therefore they need to ask “god” to stop mucking them around. Atheists are just people who have had it easy, and “god” has not let anything bad happen to them, so they don’t have to ask him to stop, but when it does, in a foxhole, then they do. No, that can’t be right, can it?

Let’s try again. Everyone is born an atheist and continues to be one until something goes wrong, at which point they become religious. Since so many things can go wrong more people are religious than atheist, but the laws of chance eventually catch up (in foxholes) even with atheists and then they become religious too. No, still don’t think I quite get the logic.

OK, how about this. Atheists are like naughty children in school playing up in class while the teacher’s eyes are elsewhere helping the good children, but any moment one of those naughty atheists is going to fall off a desk and hurt himself and then who will go crying to teacher (that’s “god” for those not following the metaphor closely) eh?

Look all of that sounds so silly, even by the very very low standards of theological logic, that I can’t, quite, believe that this is what people mean when they use this phrase yet again. So let me indulge in a little plain speaking. If I have gone through life with the help of many real friends and no imaginary ones, why would I change that pattern, invent an imaginary friend, just because I discover that my old body isn’t functioning quite as well as it did a few years ago? Sure, having intimations of mortality puts a different complexion on how you think about life, the universe, and, well, many things, but it doesn’t put the “fear of god” into you, why would it? And if it hasn’t done it to me after being in two medical foxholes in three years then it sure ain’t going to do it now.

One of my doctors asked me hesitantly the other day if I was “taking any alternative medicines”. I laughed and said “No, I believe in science”. Why would I change that pattern either? Foxed or not I am not about to take up the irrational beliefs of stone age goatherders in preference to the scientific findings of the Enlightenment.

I reckon, if you must know, that foxholes (metaphorical, as well, presumably, as literal) are exactly the places you would expect to find atheists. That if you are faced with real bullets whistling over your head, or metaphorical bullets whistling through your body, what you really need is a good hard clear-eyed grasp on the real world. Imaginary friends are of no more use than imaginary body armour or homeopathy, and to the extent that they stop you making rational decisons based on facts, are actually a great deal less use.

I’m with Thomas Otway – “These are rogues that pretend to be of religion [now they are in a foxhole]! Well, all I say is, honest atheism for my money.” [I made up the foxhole bit].

And real friends.

The evolution of chocolate


There used to be, and still may be, a computer facility that allows you to program particular function keys on the keyboard to produce a whole phrase with one keystroke. Particularly useful for politicians (“there is only one poll that matters”, “I can’t comment on this because it is now the subject of legal proceedings”, “the leader has my full and complete support”, “this study was based on figures from last year/last month/yesterday and things have now changed”) but also useful when reporting science matters (“chocolate good for you scientific study shows”) or social ones (“Discovery of artefact rewrites history books”). In particular there is one that is used over and over again “New find rewrites evolutionary theory” which is more inaccurate than even the political ones. There was another example the other day where a discovery of a minor detail of the eye structure of a very ancient fossil might result in a minor change to our ideas about the exact sequence by which the two main groups of animals respectively developed eyes by using more of one cell type than another (the eyes of octopus and humans, for example, are based on different cell types). Yes, that’s all. Last year there was the find of a fossil primate which far from “rewriting evolution” (or “rewriting human evolution”) as headlines around the world trumpeted, merely filled in a small detail in one minor branch of the early primate evolutionary tree.

Every time you see a headline “rewrites evolutionary theory” mentally substitute “may result in minor change to some minor aspect of a hypothesis about evolutionary sequence in one minor group of species” – yes, I know that is longer, but it will be much more accurate. You see the time to “rewrite evolutionary theory” was in the first few decades after 1859, and only one discovery, that of genes, has ever done that. Not because it proved anything wrong about Darwin’s work, but because it provided a clearer understanding of the mechanism of genetic inheritance, something that was still unclear before Gregor Mendel started growing pea plants in a monastery garden in the 1850s (his work remained unknown for decades).

That’s it, nothing else in the last 150 years has “rewritten” evolutionary theory, and it is quite clear that nothing will now. That is because the fundamental mechanisms proposed by Darwin – variation, natural selection, adaptation, geographic separation, are as fundamental as the axioms of any mathematical theorem. His supporting observations, of different distributions of different plants and animals across the surface of the planet, and of fossils buried in the ground that showed the stages of evolution of life on Earth, are also so fundamental that they can’t be altered. All that does change, occasionally, is the finding of a new fossil that more clearly illustrates the exact sequence of the evolution of say, whales, or snakes, or birds, or indeed primates including that species particularly dear to our hearts, Homo sapiens.

So why does the media do it? Well, to sell newspapers and tv programs obviously – here is something new and exciting and revolutionary. But in the case of evolution I think there is another factor involved. The journalists appear to believe that there is a significant part of the Australian population that doesn’t believe in evolution (and writing that seems as silly as “doesn’t believe in gravity”) and that if they put up a headline suggesting that evolution has been challenged in some way people will rush to have their prejudices reinforced. If you were an American journalist this assumption might well be correct, but I think the Australian public is still a bit more scientifically savvy than that. However there are religious forces beavering away to have “creation science” (an oxymoron much worse than “military intelligence”) taught in Australian schools, and they are making inroads in some schools, especially in Queensland (“smart state one day, dumbed down the next”). The constant headlines in the media about “rewriting evolution” can only reinforce that campaign and take us down the slippery American anti-science slope.

It’s only a little thing I know, but it does matter. Next time you see or hear a headline like this let the media outlet concerned know you are not happy about it. Unless of course you believe that Gillard and Abbott really never look at polls, and that they are both fully supported by Rudd and Turnbull.

Or that chocolate really is good for you.

‘Noble Atheist’ Seeks Paris Trip

Yet again, Planet Religion comes out with something that makes you realize that communication between Fantasy World and Real World is not easy.

The Vatican announced that they were creating “a new foundation where atheists will be encouraged to meet and debate with some of the Catholic Church’s top theologians.” However, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the foundation would only be interested in “noble atheism or agnosticism, not the polemical kind — so not those atheists such as [Piergiorgio] Odifreddi in Italy, [Michel] Onfray in France, [Christopher] Hitchens and [Richard] Dawkins.” He said that they view the truth with “irony and sarcasm” and tend to “read religious texts like fundamentalists.”

The Pope, that old freethinker, announced the initiative six months ago: “We, as believers, must have at heart even those people who consider themselves agnostics or atheists,” he said. “When we speak of a New Evangelization, these people are perhaps taken aback. They do not want to see themselves as an object of mission or to give up their freedom of thought and will. Yet the question of God remains present even for them, even if they cannot believe in the concrete nature of his concern for us.”

I am not sure how to explain this to Mr. Ravasi and his boss without sounding polemical, or even — heaven help me! — sarcastic, but there isn’t actually anything to “debate.” This isn’t some difference of theological opinion where, both sides agreeing on god as a given, the debate centers on angels and heads of pins. There is no god, or gods. There, I’ve said it. So what do they imagine will be the outcome of any meeting? Are they hoping that by inviting the kind of people who think that science deals with one part of life while religion deals with another part and that neither should intrude on the other because both have a valid place in human minds, they will get such nonsense reaffirmed in a public forum? Do they hope to say, “See, some scientists do believe in God, so it must be true. Now, if only those other atheists could be realistic about this and come to the party, then everyone would be happy!”

But this isn’t right. Science deals with the real world, and religion deals with an imaginary world. No atheist could possibly debate this. There is no open question. If you guys want to debate the nature of reality, go get yourselves some evidence for the existence of a god or gods, then we’ll talk. Until then, we’ve got nothing to talk about. Yes, really.

On the other hand, I’m ever the pragmatist, and these guys have lots of money. Look, I’m an old union man from way back, and I’m not into strike-breaking. I am inclined to say, “Hey, one out, all out. If Richard can’t go, I won’t either.” But still, Richard gets a lot of trips, and I don’t, so if they’d like to pay for my trip to Paris, “where atheists will be encouraged to meet and debate with some of the Catholic Church’s top theologians,” then I’m your man. Can I do “noble atheism”? Yeah, sure I can (though give up my freedom of thought, nah, don’t think Paris is worth a Mass). Consider this post an application form. I might even manage to convert some of these theologians. Just kidding, just kidding.

Not in Kansas


Why can't I be banned in Oklahoma? Look, I know I haven't actually been invited to give a talk there, but that's not the point.

I've tried to get banned, tried so hard – insulted the religious believers here, insulted creationists there, insulted climate change denialists another day, said that I would rather have a monkey as a grandfather than an evangelist, suggested that children be vaccinated against the disease of religion at a young age, said that believers in Noah's Ark should be forced to sail on one to Australia. How much ruder can I be? But do they pass resolutions in the Oklahoma legislature condemning me and asking that my books be burnt, my blog be wiped from the server's hard disc, my identity expunged from Huffington Post? No they don't. But they do try to ban Richard Dawkins.

Is Richard a better atheist than me? A truer unbeliever? Someone with less faith in invisible friends in the sky? Someone more convinced than I that from May 1859, the origin of the Origin of Species, it was impossible for an intelligent person to be religious? I think not. Are not all atheists evolved equally? So this must be just prejudice, and I demand my right to have my freedom of speech trampled on too.

If China can put blocks on words like freedom and Tianamin, and fundamentalists put bans on words like sex and condom, then why can't Oklahoma put a total block on words like evolution and chimpanzee and speciation and Dawkins and Horton? Just block it all from crossing the electronic border into the land of tall corn and short elephants.

My "published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory" are just as "contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma" as those of the good Professor Dawkins. So come on Oklahoma legislators, this is not the time for wimps, demand that every computer in Oklahoma has a block on The Watermelon Blog. And hurry up, or next thing you know young Oklahomans will start thinking for themselves, and then where will you be? Kansas?