Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alito, TAM 4 [more]

Alito: Sworn in today. Yawn.

TAM More: Phil Plait has a third enstallment for his TAM 4 report.

ID and common descent: Sunday, Stephen Meyer claimed intelligent design does not challenge common descent, and TfK has found a comment at Uncommon Descent saying Intelligent Design advocates should avoid attacking common descent.

Daniel Morgan declares victory, while PZ Myers sees an attempt at strategy change that will fail. TfK (see above) however, has a round up of quotes from ID advocates rejecting it.

In other words, Meyer has made clear that while most ID advocates take a beyond indefensible position, you can believe some of their other arguments without being quite as crazy.

Reynolds on the Bible: Michael Reynolds weighs in a proposal to teach the Bible in schools.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Uncredible double carnival: Philosophy

When I signed up to host a philosopher's carnival, the date hadn't been decided yet, so I had no idea that it would be on the same day as the GOD or NOT I signed up for. But that's what happened, so while you're here, you might want to check out that one as well.

UPDATE: After posting this carnival, I realized I had ommitted some of the very first submissions to come my way. Sorry guys, you're in here now.

Our first entry today is from a new kid on the block - or is that a new kid on the blog? - John W. Loftus of Debunking Christianity. He is a former student of one of today's top Christian apologists, Dr. William Lane Craig. He has presented us with his very first post: The Christian Illusion of Moral Superiority.

At Telic Thoughts, Krauze looks at the history of evolution and argues that Intelligent Design may yet become respectable science, as big ideas take time.

Jerry Monaco looks at category mistakes like assigning a "soul" to a corporation.

Sixteen Volts Per Minute takes a look at a common thought experiment used in support of the pro-choice position, and spots some problems.

Now, a point of overlap. Francois Tremblay, who has also submitted to today's GOD or NOT (and previous ones, if memory serves) presents Christianity as an inter-subjective system.

At Heaven Tree, Gawain attempts to understand the concept of unutterable truths as related to aesthetic experience as a substrate of the human brain.

Lea looks at the difficulty of good decision making, and concludes "What can we do for our world? SO MUCH! Just try."

Kristopher of Mathetes has a post analyzing the ideas of truth contained in 1984, and shows they aren't as simple as they may seem.

The maintainer of this carnival, Richard Chappell, asked The Atheist Ethicist to clarify his position on the relationship between morality and reasons for action. AE provides it here.

Kenny Pearce writes up his thoughts on psychological continuity.

Creation vs. Discovery: Hesperus wonders why the later gets such a bad rap.

In The multiple natures conjecture, Cosmik Debris discusses a new model of the universe very different from Einstein's.

Alex of Atopian analyzes a well-known moral philosophy in Utilitarianism as moral minimalism.

At Consciousness and Culture, Ellis suggests that we need not fear that humans will be seen as machines.

Last, but not least, Richard Chappell provides us with a Rant against deontological ethics.

That's all for the 25th philosopher's carnival. The next edition will be held at Hesperus (or Phosphorus, depending on what time of day it is).

Uncredible double carnival: GOD or NOT

When I signed up to host an edition of GOD or NOT, I also signed up for the Philosopher's Carnival The date for the latter hadn't been decided yet, so I had no idea that it would be on the same day as GOD or NOT. But that's what happened, so while you're here, you might want to check out my edition of the philosophy carnival as well.

UPDATE: Here's two posts ommitted from the original carnival: Rev Bill's God is Love and RA's Big Daddly and the reptilian hindbrain.

In debates about things like the existence of God, it is sometimes complained that problems come out of bad definitions of the word "God." Just last week, I bought a copy of Skeptical Inquirer with several letters complaining that a previous issue's article, titled "The God of Eth," had worked of an erronous definition of "God." It was probably a good idea, then, for Donald to propose that we have a God or Not on the definition of God's existence.

When I began putting together this carnival, I had no idea so many entries would dwell on the above problem. The Evangelical Atheist went looking for a description that would apply to all gods humans have conceived, and could only come up with supernatural, immortal, worshiped - not a terribly satisfying definition.

Francois Tremblay lists further difficulties, and UberKuh makes our most definitive statement on the difficulty of defining God: "I have not seen a definition of God that does not contain internally contradictory properties or attributes, and I see no reason to suppose I might"

On the other hand, if you want a definition of God, why not go straight to holy writ? Based on such an analysis, Verum Serum has concluded three things: God is spirit, God is light, God is love. But after looking at the same books, Athana of Radical Goddess Thealogy declared that JehovahJawehAllah is "A jealous, sexless old sadist with a temper problem who gets off on war for the sake of war."

The above provide well-known approaches to the concept of God. I also received plenty of unconventional entries as well. Richard Blumberg argues that there is a sense in which God exists, but he nonetheless doesn't believe in him. Brendan McPhillps has made the novel proposal thatGod is energy At The Skwib, we have a story of Thang's attempts to understand the sky god, and the water god, and a whole bunch of other gods, who he does not grok. And Morgaine of The-Goddess has a multifaceted post that can be summed up by the sentence: "She is everything."

Last, Skeptic Rant has offered up a solution that is arguably most in keeping with the concept of semantics: put up a bunch of different Gods, let people vote. Perhaps that will finally solve our problem.

The next GOD or NOT will be held at Cadmusings. The topic: faith.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

ID Loses, More TAM, Bible textbook

Four Loses for Intelligent Design: Bring it On! has a roundup of loses for Intelligent Design, the most recent of which is a decision by Florida science teachers not to use a text book mentioning Intelligent Design.

Jody Wheeler on The Amazing Meeting: Va Pharyngula, Jody Wheeler is also blogging The Amazing Meeting 4.

SBL evaluates Bible Textbook: Friday, I mentioned proposals to teach the Bible in Georgia and Alabama. Now, Josh Rosenau has found an evaluation of the book at the Society for Biblical Literature's website. The review criticizes the lack of treatment of questions like Biblical authorship, but on the Bible's influence on culture, the reviewer says, "I found myself wishing that all my undergraduate students were exposed to this material."

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Review: The God Who Wasn't There

Earlier this week, I watched Brian Flemming's documentary The God Who Wasn't There. I got it, along with Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzel, out of interest in the claim that Jesus never existed. I considered reviewing the two alongside each other, but am doing separate reviews because they're wildly different works. How different? So different that I think Flemming's movie could have done the mythical Jesus stuff, indeed, should have done without.

Watching the movie, it felt less like an exposition of a theory than an atheistic call to arms. The claim that Jesus never existed is less the core of the movie than an easy way to make believers look stupid: he specifically asks some Christians outside a Billy Graham event if they've heard of similar saviors like Attis and Osiris; they haven't. It also is in the back of one's mind in a technically unrelated interview with a school administrator, where the admin claims there's good historical evidence Jesus rose from the dead.

Unfortunately, Flemming is more the one who comes out looking stupid. He simply ignores important pieces of contrary evidence like Paul's mention of "the Lord's brother." One imagines a Christian documentary maker asking him if he's aware about it, as Flemming did to the people outside the Graham event.

If he had put in the effort, he could have made other people look stupid without doing the same to himself. He might, for example, have talked about contraditions in the birth naratives, found people who think the Bible is a reliable historical document, and then asked them where the Magi visited Jesus. In the end, he may not have even had to put in much effort. Jay Lenno doesn't seem to have much trouble doing it in his man on the street interviews ("The Jay Walk").

Such interviews would have gone quite well in a movie that dropped the Jesus myth stuff and was sold soley as a rallying cry against fundamentalism. The thing is, much of the movie has nothing to do with Jesus myth claims: asking for the school admin to defend faith-based education, interviewing a guy who thinks the rapture will come in our lifetimes, and excerpting scenes from the Passion of the Christ while pointing out how it has outdone all other movies about Jesus. The last of those three hits made me think that perhaps everyone should see Gibson's movie, or at least excerpts. It forces you to consider the question: does it really make a bit of sense to think that this event is what keeps people (and only those who reach correct conclusions on religion) from eternal torture? That is, after all, what orthodox Christians believe, and scenes of Jesus' torture force one to do some thinking about it.

The movie also has great interviews with leading atheists - Richard Carrier, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Robert M. Price, and the Raving Atheist. These provide such great sound bites as "To explain it is to refute it" (Price on apologetics). Some of it is skillfully worked into a larger whole: Sam Harris is perhaps the best writer ever for arguing that religion is absurd; in Flemming's interview, he raises the question of what people would think if the president appealed to Zeus in talking about judicial nominations. When one reads such things in Harris' own work, one recoils at the absurdities of religion, when combined with Flemming's material on modern fundamentalists, one wants to do something about it. On the other hand, most of this material only appears in special features. There's no difficulty in going to the menu for these (unless you've got a finicky DVD player), but a better film maker would have incorporated it into the feature presentation.

If you're making a collection of modern atheist literature, it's worth getting, and I even suppose it's nice to have the views of several figures in one place. On the whole, though, its the movie that could have been.

Review: The God Who Wasn't There

Earlier this week, I watched Brian Flemming's documentary The God Who Wasn't There. I got it, along with Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzel, out of interest in the claim that Jesus never existed. I considered reviewing the two alongside each other, but am doing separate reviews because they're wildly different works. How different? So different that I think Flemming's movie could have done the mythical Jesus stuff, indeed, should have done without.

Watching the movie, it felt less like an exposition of a theory than an atheistic call to arms. The claim that Jesus never existed is less the core of the movie than an easy way to make believers look stupid: he specifically asks some Christians outside a Billy Graham event if they've heard of similar saviors like Attis and Osiris; they haven't. It also is in the back of one's mind in a technically unrelated interview with a school administrator, where the admin claims there's good historical evidence Jesus rose from the dead.

Unfortunately, Flemming is more the one who comes out looking stupid. He simply ignores important pieces of contrary evidence like Paul's mention of "the Lord's brother." One imagines a Christian documentary maker asking him if he's aware about it, as Flemming did to the people outside the Graham event.

If he had put in the effort, he could have made other people look stupid without doing the same to himself. He might, for example, have talked about contraditions in the birth naratives, found people who think the Bible is a reliable historical document, and then asked them where the Magi visited Jesus. In the end, he may not have even had to put in much effort. Jay Lenno doesn't seem to have much trouble doing it in his man on the street interviews ("The Jay Walk").

Such interviews would have gone quite well in a movie that dropped the Jesus myth stuff and was sold soley as a rallying cry against fundamentalism. The thing is, much of the movie has nothing to do with Jesus myth claims: asking for the school admin to defend faith-based education, interviewing a guy who thinks the rapture will come in our lifetimes, and excerpting scenes from the Passion of the Christ while pointing out how it has outdone all other movies about Jesus. The last of those three hits made me think that perhaps everyone should see Gibson's movie, or at least excerpts. It forces you to consider the question: does it really make a bit of sense to think that this event is what keeps people (and only those who reach correct conclusions on religion) from eternal torture? That is, after all, what orthodox Christians believe, and scenes of Jesus' torture force one to do some thinking about it.

The movie also has great interviews with leading atheists - Richard Carrier, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Robert M. Price, and the Raving Atheist. These provide such great sound bites as "To explain it is to refute it" (Price on apologetics). Some of it is skillfully worked into a larger whole: Sam Harris is perhaps the best writer ever for arguing that religion is absurd; in Flemming's interview, he raises the question of what people would think if the president appealed to Zeus in talking about judicial nominations. When one reads such things in Harris' own work, one recoils at the absurdities of religion, when combined with Flemming's material on modern fundamentalists, one wants to do something about it. On the other hand, most of this material only appears in special features. There's no difficulty in going to the menu for these (unless you've got a finicky DVD player), but a better film maker would have incorporated it into the feature presentation.

If you're making a collection of modern atheist literature, it's worth getting, and I even suppose it's nice to have the views of several figures in one place. On the whole, though, its the movie that could have been.

The Amazing Meeting, Girls of Riyadh, [more]

Phil Plait at TAM4: James Randi's Amazing Meeting is under way, and Phil Plait is blogging it: Part 1 - Part 2.

Girls of Riyadh Gone Wild: A novel involving homosexuality and women drinking, set in Saudi Arabia, hits the county. You can probably fill in the rest, but Austin Cline has the scoop.

Colbert and religion: This week, the Onion interviewed Stephen Colbert. Great piece, makes me badly want to find time to watch the show (not saying I will). He mentions the Last Supper, prompting Ann Althouse to add some more thoughts about Colbert and religion. The point about Christianity's soundbite is apt, though no one if the Jesus of John 3 were a player in today's political climate, the soundbite that would be quoted by most outlets would be not "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that those who believe in him shall not die but have eternal life" but "Those who do not believe are condemned." And that is as it should be.

NASA scientists faces "dire consequences": NASA climate expert James Hansen calls for emissions reductions, and is told there will be "dire consequences" if he continues to do so - mainly, it seems, because it makes the Bush administration unhappy. Tim F. says this is "One more example of why we shouldn’t trust these guys farther than we can throw them." Personal observations: a public affairs guy at NASA says scientists can talk about science, but not policy. But it would seem kind of silly to say the scientific things Hansen has been saying without drawing any policy conclusions. Another such officer has labeled NPR the most liberal outlet in the country. Excuse me? Does he need to be shown some of the papers that get passed out here in Madison, WI?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Walking

Ever get the urge to just walk?

I do, on occasion. One incident happened a couple of nights ago. It started out gradual. A group based out of my dorm decided to organize a discussion on the discussion of "what is social justice?" in the basement of a little restaurant/grocery across the street. I went. As we sat around, waiting for someone to start, talking in pairs, I thought I might be the sophisticated one and bring up Rawls - though then I worried no one would follow, and I would sound odd.

Then I thought about it a little bit more. I wondered to myself, "How many of these college students have had actual contact with social injustice? How many will change their actions one bit based on this discussion?"

I walked. Out, across the street, back to my dorm room.

There, I picked up my copy of Bertrand Russell's Sceptical Essays, a book I began reading, and determind I had to finish, because I didn't really have the time to read it. No, I'm not sure how that works. Anyway, I was down to the last essay: "Some prospects, cheerful and otherwise," in which he says:
IUf wars are eliminated and production is organised scientifically, then it is probable that four hours' work a day will suffice to keep everybody in comfort. It will be an open question whether to work that amount and enjoy leisure, or to work more and enjoy luxuries; presumably some will choose one course, some the other. The hours of leisure will no doubt be spent by most people in dancing, watching football and going to movies. Children will be no anxiety, since the State will care for them; illness will be very rare; old age will be postponed by rejuvenation till a short time before death. It will be a hedonist's paradise, in which almost everyone will find life so tedious as to be scarely endurable.
After reading that, I got up and stood in my doorway for a few moments, staring down the hallway, with a thought to walk down it.

But then I closed the door, stripped down, and went to bed, though I couldn't go to sleep. I thought to throw open my window, feel the January air, and perhaps yell something out it. Then I decided I would get the air by going for a walk. I put on my shorts, thinking to go out in them, knowing I wouldn't make it out of my dorm's courtyard. Then I thew on a sweatshit for good measure and put on my flip flops. Then I decided to walk to the grocery; I had done it before in shorts in cold weather, and one could run into anyone there. I went in, sat or wandered awhile, I don't remember which, then left.

Then I decided to continue my walk. I headed for the gravel path that runs along Lake Mendota, the lakeshore path. It only has a couple of lightposts; word has it that a couple of women have been raped there, hence it's nickname: the rapeshore path. I would walk, between the patches of yet unmelted snow to either side, until I couldn't bear the cold. Then I would walk back, however long a distance it had taken me to get cold. Would I make it to the end of the path? To the capitol building?

Madison is an interesting city at night. It never really gets dark, the horizon is always reddened by city lights, though as I looked across the lake I saw that on that night, a week night, it wasn't as bright as most. To think, that humans have become so mighty that we can reach up and paint the dome of the night sky with red!

I became conscious that my toes were cold, my toes were freezing, just not in a way that bothered me. I began to jog, hoping to cover as much distance as possible before I was forced to turn back. I got what - halfway down the path? Before I realized when I lifted my flip-flops, I exposed the bottoms of my feet to the night air, so slowed down.

At the end of the path, I decided my best strategy was to warm up in a library before the return trip - just a little farther, I knew, to get to one of those. Wait - I wondered - would a library still be open? Rather than chance it, I headed back.

Though I had turned back for cold, my feet didn't get any worse as I went, not that I could feel. Not until I made a misstep and my foot hit the wet earth. It didn't matter. I got to pay more attention to the trees - I think it's theoretically a nature path - reaching up with many fingers to each side of me. How easy it must have been for our ancestors to think they lived in a world of spirits - demon haunted, yes, but also with something mysterious and wonderful. Movement, a russel, to my left, a rabbit yes, but how mysterious it can seem nonetheless!

I kept walking. Off the path, past the neighboring dorm, wondering if it was always that long. I went inside it's "gatehouse" - where they have mail and stuff, but a garage-door like covering was over that area. I had the place to myself. I sat on a table to read some more out of that day's Onion, of "Christian Juggler Regrets Years Wasted as Secular Juggler."

Then I went to my own dorm, got in bed, and pulled the covers up. As I went to sleep, I could feel my feet as points of cold in the warm room. But I could sleep.

ID's fate in Utah, Dems and the Bible, negatives

Intent matters: Monday, I mentioned the emergence of a pro-intelligent design bill in Utah, was slow on the follow-up. After some more checking, both Ed Brayton and The Commissar have noted attempts to sneak this through which are likely to fail, given that intent can be used along with language to determine constitutionality. Ed Brayton has also made an interesting suggestion: before legislators can write legislation on science, they'd better be able to pass an AP test on the basic sciences.

Democrats introduce bill to teach Bible: Democrats in Georia and Alabama want to teach the Bible. The Times quotes some Democrats as saying they want to shed their secular image - though if it's done right, it could be a good idea in and of itself. The fact that they're doing this to boost their image may be a sign it won't be done right, though it's supposed to differ from a previously proposed Bible course:
Democrats in both states have introduced bills authorizing school districts to teach courses modeled after a new textbook, "The Bible and Its Influence." It was produced by the nonpartisan, ecumenical Bible Literacy Project and provides an assessment of the Bible's impact on history, literature and art that is academic and detached, if largely laudatory...

The state's Democrats, including some sponsors of the bill, opposed a Republican proposal a few years ago to authorize the teaching of a different Bible course, which used a translation of the Scriptures as its text, calling it an inappropriate endorsement of religion.
It's also encouraging to see the opposition they're getting:
"Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees," State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. "This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."

Saying he found "a little irony" in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, "It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn't use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course."
Well, at least it's encouraging if Johnson's side loses. Does this guy have any respect for separation of church and state.

Howard Dean has endorsed the idea, while Americans United isn't happy, saying it ignores "bad and ugly uses of the Bible."

Proving a negative Franc has a critique of the silly mantra "you can't prove a negative." This is one of those things that started as a semi-valid point (you can't prove a universal negative; there might be a white raven somewhere in the forest) into something that people just repeat without thinking about it.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

ID in the UK, a military study [more]

Maybe Britain isn't so secular: In "our first introduction to the British public's views on this issue", a BBC poll has revealed that only 48% of the British public believe in evolution, while 22% accept creationism and 17% accept the intelligent design. Yowzers, isn't the creationism number larger than the one for weekly church attendance? [goes and checks] Okay, maybe it isn't. But still, wow. I guess that's still better than America, where the numbers are more likely to be 48% creationism, 22% intelligent design, 17% evolution.

Rumsfeld ignores military study: Via Balloon Juice, the army does a study showing the Iraq war has streched the army to the breaking point, and how does Rumsfeld respond? "Rumsfeld said he hadn't read the 136-page report but 'it's clear that those comments do not reflect the current situation. They are either out of date or just misdirected.'"

Michael Reynolds has done a fair amount of writing recently about administration incompetence. One would think that a basic tennent of competence is seriously considering information like this.

More on the "Christian institute": Daniel Morgan has further analysis of the fact that some search engines turn up that description for the Discovery Institute.

Realy old earth creationism: PZ Myers has the scoop on a Hindu fighting to get some California textbooks changed. In an ironic reversal of traditional creationist tendencies, their website used to have a statement that Indian civilization is 111.5 trillion years old. Check out their website - proof that wacky "evidential" arguments for religion aren't limmited to Christianity.

"Doctor, do you believe in God?": Orac tells of the time a patient asked him that question. It's a great piece of writing - that's all I'll say, I don't think I could say any more and do the piece justice. Read it for yourself.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Alito, brainless politics, quotes

Alito confirmed or whatever: Apparently, Alito got confirmed today or something. [goes to check Yahoo news] Wait, no, he got judiciary committee approval yesterday. Shows how much I've been paying attention to this one. I got an e-mail from Americans United telling me to oppose it, seems they're not happy about the committee vote. It's kinda interesting to hear that Wisconsin's senators voted for Roberts but against Alito - but I'm still not worked up about it. Don't these liberal interest groups realize that a right-wing SCOTUS will give them the opportunity to feel much more important?

Politics and neuroscience:From the New York Times:
Using M.R.I. scanners, neuroscientists have now tracked what happens in the politically partisan brain when it tries to digest damning facts about favored candidates or criticisms of them. The process is almost entirely emotional and unconscious, the researchers report, and there are flares of activity in the brain's pleasure centers when unwelcome information is being rejected.

"Everything we know about cognition suggests that, when faced with a contradiction, we use the rational regions of our brain to think about it, but that was not the case here," said Dr. Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory and lead author of the study, to be presented Saturday at meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Palm Springs, Calif.
Surprise, Surprise. HT: Balloon Juice

Two quotes today:First, a humorous bit from Sullivan:
The latest target of nannying liberals: cereals making your kids fat. Please. Apparently, there's an organization called the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. After cigarettes, porn, steroids, weed, and prescription drugs, they're after my Lucky Charms.
Then a nastier quote from an evangelical dug up by Vjack, though it does have a humorous side:
With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.
Wait, isn't God supposed to be omniscient? So how can he be oblivious to some people's prayers?

What's with the Christian Coalition?

A commenter posted a link to the Christian Coalition's agenda, and I had a look. Some of it's frightening, some of it's at least defensibl, but one items is just plain weird:
3. Making Permanent the 2001-2003 Federal Tax Cuts The Christian Coalition is supporting efforts in the 109th Congress to finally make permanent the tax cuts passed during the years 2001 and 2003 including the increase in the child tax credits and the elimination of the marriage penalty tax.
What in the world do unafordable tax cuts have to do with Christianity?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is atheism a religion?

At Internet Infidels, yet another discussion of whether atheism is a religion. Setting aside specific arguments in the thread, I have a question: why do people debate this? It's just semantics!

Brains and testicles, ID in South Carolina, disco

Size matters: In science news today, we have another excellent application of evolutionary biology - this time, to explain why in bats, testicle size is inversely correlated with brain size. Could this have any application to humans?

Intelligent Design in South Carolina: Pannel meets to discuss evolution. Coverage at Panda's Thumb and Daniel Morgan.

The Disco Institute: Thanks to some vigorous Google bombing, searches for disco institute give you the Discovery Institute's page. What's more, Daniel Morgan has discovered something odd: searching for "discovery institute" turns up a description of the think tank with no mention of Christianity, while searching for "disco institute" tells you that it is a Christiain group. What's with that?

Blowing a gasket

Yesterday, I saw a piece on the Scientific American blog attacking the claim that evolution is philosophy. Today, I saw a Panda's Thumb report with this bit:
Keller’s talk apparently focused a lot on "-isms", noting that "Darwinism" is an "-ism" and is therefore some kind of philosophy or religion. And these have no place in science class. We’ve all heard this nonsense before — the level of hypocrisy it takes for an advocate of ID to accuse the other side of pushing philosophy or religion is mind-boggling, but never mind.
Yesterday, I got the urge to say something, but kept it under wraps. After seeing the second post in two days on this questiion, I had to comment.

Ya know what? Evolution does represent a philosophy - the philosophy that facts and evidence count for more than whether an idea makes you feel good or is consistent with received dogma. There's considerable indication that in the modern world, this is a controversial enough position to be labled a special philosophy. Ya know what else? Just because its a philosophy doesn't mean that any other philosophy should be counted as science.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Crisis pregnency centers, lying lawyers [more]

Raving Atheist on CPCs: The Raving Atheist takes on an attack on crisis pregnency centers. Argee with RA's basic position on abortion or not, you've got to admire such a good dissection of bad argument.

Why lawyers are liars: Michael Kinsley asks: "How did we get to this situation where the princes of the law claim a lifetime of insincerity while their enemies accuse them of having told the truth all along?"

Orson Scott Card endorses ID: And PZ Myers has the rebuttal. I have to agree with his closing paragraph: "I like some of Card's writing. It's sad to see that in addition to being a hateful homophobe, he's also an apologist for bad science and poor science teaching with a feeble grasp on what science is actually about."

Bob Park on Iran: The latest What's New has another depressing thought on Iran: "President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a religious looney, seems to be anxious to collect a martyr's reward in the next life."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hypnotism

Yesterday evening, I got hypnotized. Well, not really. It happened like this.

This week, Madison put on several of events in order to welcome new students - not that there are likely to be many at semester, but it was nice entertainment for the rest of us. One of those events was a hypnotist's performance. I had heard claims that hypnosis was not a special mental state, and decided to go get hypnotized myself. My plan was simple: follow all instructions for getting into the "hypnotic state," but do something contrary to given commands. Pretend to be Weird Al when I'm told I'm Fran Sanatra. Whatever.

The hypnotist, "Magic Mike," began by telling us about awards he had won for comedy and doing a stage magic routine. It was a rope trick I had done myself, but with several different variations such that I couldn't always keep track of what was happing. This introductory phase was peppered with bad jokes, and Magic Mike's own observations about how bad his jokes were.

When the hypnosis part began, he had people who wanted to be hypnotized stand up, clasp their hands, and point their index fingers up. On his command, he said, they would become like magnets, impossible to take appart. Knowing full well this was a test of suggestibilty, I kept my fingers together. Then he got us on state: 20, 30 college students sitting in an arc of chairs going from one end of the stage to another. Before the full hypnosis, he did one further test: had us clamp our hands together, and told us that when he counted to five, we'd be unable to pull them apart, and the harder we tried, the harder they'd be stuck together. As he counted slowly, he told us to squeeze hard. I didn't make a real effort to pull them apart, though it felt weird to do so when he said we could - likely from squeezing for so long, an effect that probably set in with some people after 10 seconds of hard squeezing.

Then came the full hypnotism. In They Call It Hypnosis, which I had begun reading earlier this week, Robert Baker mentions the similarity between relaxation techniques and some hypnotic proceedures. The instructions we got was essentially the same as those on some relaxation tapes my high school psych teacher had the class listen to one day: you're going deeper, waves of relaxation spreading through your body, etc. At the end of the proceedure, I was no more or less hypnotized than I had been after listening to the relaxation tapes, though I was less relaxed, as I had to sit back in an uncomfotable chair.

In general, the peformance wasn't all that different than a typical improve comedy routine, just with less improve and more outright silliness. At first, I thought I'd wait on big antics until singled out for some performance, though I never was. When he told us we were all children in a classroom who would make faces at him, the teacher, when he had his back turned. I stuck out my tongue and kept it out whether or not he was looking at me. Eventually, he came to me and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was pickinig my nose. In another part, he informed a few subjects (not including me) that they would be unable to remember their names. He asked others for their names for comparison, when he got to me, my name was George Bush. Then he told us we were all in a beach in Cancun, and there were birds that would sit on our fingers if we held out our hands. He went around asking us what kinds of birds we had; I declared I had a penguin. After that, one girl - following my example? - revealed that she was petting an ostrich.

I wasn't the only one who showed signs of not being fully in trance. One guy kept cracking smiles and the things he was being told to do, though he followed quite mindlessly. In an incident at the end of the show, the hypnotist told one guy he was from Jupiter, and another that he was an interpreter, able to speak both English and Jupinese. The hynposits asked several questions of the "alien visitor," then let other subjects asks questions. One girl asked if she could touch him. The interpreter rendered the response as "depends where."

When I got back, the people I had been sitting next to felt the need to inform me that I had said I was George Bush, which I remembered quite well. Other people were more suspicious. Walking back, I heard someone say "I think one or two of the guys were faking it," and a girl I went to highschool with told me via facebook she thought I had been faking.

Overall, it was not an experience that left me thinking much of hypnosis. And yet, as I was walking back, I heard some girls telling a guy about the pictures they had gotten of him.

"You didn't remember it?" I asked. I got an equivocal "not really" in reply. I asked for specifics, and he said he just remembered hearing the hypnotist's voice, not what he, the subject, had done. I don't know what research has been done on hypnotic amnesia. Baker mentions briefly that it's a myth. I suppose I should have given the guy my e-mail adress and asked him to sit down and try to remember a few days later.

So in the end, I'm not impressed, but that few sentences of conversation makes me wonder. Who knows, in the end.

Iran, misconceptions [more]

What to do about Iran?: Ambivablog looks at some rather scary discussions of Iran, with the comment "I don't have a reaction to all this yet, other than a primitive and stupid girl-child's horror at eavesdropping on the excited, alarmist deliberations of the men oiling their guns in the lighted kitchen, men getting ready to protect us at such appalling cost, insisting they're forestalling far greater cost." After learning a little more about their current leader, I'm no longer adverse to air strikes, though apparently there's some question about how effective they'd be. My other thought is that we need military strategists who know what they're doing to handle this - and our current president has shown he doesn't like listening to people who know what they're doing, whether the subject is war or science.

Misconceptions about atheists: Vjack is doing a series on the subject. His first one: "Atheists hate god." To his commentary I might add the quip: I hate the God of Christian fundamentalism the way I hate the Martians that killed my parents. Another random thought: Alleee's banner probably doesn't help the situation. Why, why do we encourage misconceptions? I know, because it's fun.

Read the bill: There's a new campaign to have proposed legislation posted online 72 hours before it gets discussed by Congress. This could be the begining of an era of hobby legislators - the nerdiest of those currently blogging, looking over bills and finding things that need to be fixed. Not an ideal system, but given that legislators are currently failing to do that job, it would be a big improvement.

HT: Balloon Juice

Quote of the Time Being:
Despite George Washington and the cherry tree, we no longer have a society especially consecrated to truth. The culture produces an infinity of TV shows and movies depicting the importance of honesty. But they're really talking only about the importance of being honest about your feelings. Sharing feelings is not the same thing as telling the truth. We've become a country of situationalists.
-Maureen Dowd, quoted by James Randi

GOD or NOT to appear hear on January 30th

I should have said this with my "back in business" post, but the next GOD or NOT will be here, on this blog. Topic: definition of "God". Submit your stuff to... whatever e-mail adress it says on the site. I can't check that now because the site seems to be down, but by the time anyone reads this, it should be up. And if not, it will be up later.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Miracles, classroom politics [more]

EA on miracles: The Evangelical Atheist has served up one of the most consise analysis of the argument from miracles ever:
The argument from miracles is one of the simplest (and stupidest) apologetic arguments. Essentially, it goes like this:

1. Miracles happen.
2. Therefore, god exists.
Monitoring leftie professors Ann Althouse has a discussion of a website called UCLAprofs.com, dedicated to monitoring radical professors at UCLA. Or ones of all ideologies who abuse thier positions. It seems they haven't made up their mind - compare the phrase "dedicated to exposing UCLA’s most radical professors" to the defense that Althouse quotes. The most disturbing thing, though, is that they seem to be targeting professors not just based on in class behavior, but also any attempts to express their opinions outside of class.

Vatican rejects ID: The Vatican's newspaper has run an article saying that Intelligent Design is not science and should not be taught as such.

Amusing website of the day: Chav Scum. Don't ask. I don't fully understand it myself. But the "what they say" section is pretty funny.

A mysterious document

At Skeptic Rant, a mysterious document that "seams to indicate a grand conspiracy to eliminate rational thought and promote superstition and credulity." Read it now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Isaiah or the Bogus Oracle

In preparing to write about Christian apologetics on the resurrection, one of the books I bought is Josh McDowell's The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It has a section on the resurrection, but it covers a great many other things, such as Biblical prophecy.

In that section, we see the claim that Jesus fulfilled 61 prophecies regarding the messiah, and that the odds of fulfilling just 8 of them are 1 in 10^17. Let's look at the 8 singled-out prophecies:

1) Born in Bethlehem

We have pretty good reason to this "fact" of Jesus' life is a fabrication. Matthew in particular seems to have fabricated a number of prophecy fulfillments, including the virgin birth, which fulfills a mistranslation.

2) Preceded by a Messenger

This is based on Isaiah 40:3, and supposedly fulfilled by John the Baptist. First, assuming all is kosher, preachers are pretty common, so the odds of being preceeded by one can't be that long. I suppose the wilderness part counts for something, but then there was a lot of wilderness in ther area. Furthermore, the passage isn't an unambiguous prophecy of Jesus. Just look at Isaiah 40:4. It says there will be some major re-working of the geography whenever whatever the passage prophecies comes true. This didn't happen when Jesus came. Or maybe it happened figuratively, but if you can get around prophecies by fulfilling them figuratively, it's hard to go wrong. Or, it could be about the second comming, but if unfulfilled prophecies get put off until then, its easy to be a fit.

3) He Was to Enter Jerusalem on a Donkey

The cited passage, Zechariah 9:9, says nothing about Jerusalem, just a donkey, and lots of people rode donkeys in that era. Once again, it is instructive to note nearby passages that went unfulfilled: Zechariah 9:8 says "Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch." The only sense in which this happaened is that for 19 centuries after Jesus' death, the Jews didn't have a nation to overrun. Well, they kinda did when they rebelled agains the Romans, and they got pretty badly overrun then and continued to get screwed for centuries to come.

4) Betrayed.

This is based on a combination of Psalm 41:9, which is the lamments of a depressed Israelite, not a messiah prophecy. Verse 4, for example, mentions talks about, "when I will die, and my name perish." As bad as Jesus' story turned out, his name is still around. Or, take a more famous verse from the Psalms: "The Lord is my shepard, I shall not want." Jesus spent 40 days in the desert without food or water (according to the Gospels, anyway). He likely did a fair amount of wanting at that time, after all, Satan was able to tempt him with the idea of turning stones to bread.

5&6) Sold for 30 silver, money thrown into temple and used for potters field.

This is based on Zechariah 11, where the person getting the money is someone in the position to "revok[e] the covenant I had made with all the nations." Would really fit better if Jesus, rather than Judas, had been the one to get paid 30 silver.

7) Silent before his accusers

This refers to Jesus' trial, supposedly. Here's Matthew 26:
63But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ,[a] the Son of God."

64"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Nuf said.

8) Crucified

This is another Psalm "prophecy," see #4. The particular Psalm is 22, which also includes a bit about being encircled by bulls, which never, to anyone's knowledge, happened to Jesus. To make matters worse, my Bible says that the meaning of the key word is uncertain, translating the sentence as "My hands and feet have shriveled" not "my hands and feet are pierced."

In response to the accusation that the prophecies about Jesus are like those of Nostradamus, McDowell says that Nostradamus' prophecies are vague. His section includes a longer list of 61 prophecies, begining with the fact that Jesus was born of a woman. Where the prophecies are not vague, they've been taken badly out of context and even twisted in ways that contradict the original text. What specific prophecies exist seem to be fabrications, based on the contraditions involved (differing explanations of how he came to be born in Bethlehem, contradicting geneologies to make him a descendent of David, etc.) The most significant similarity between the Jesus prophecies and those of Nostradamus is that they could only be correctly interpreted after the fact. Until Jesus came, the Jews were expecting an earthly ruler who would defeat their enemies in battle, and many passages of the Bible explicitly indicate this is what the Messiah would be. Jesus, rather than defeating the Romans, got killed by them. I think such an implausible post hoc reinterpretation of a prophecy would even many followers of the French astrologer.

(*With appologies to Lucian)

The virus of faith

One Good Move has a clip from a TV program by Richard Dawkins of that name. The full audio doesn't seem to be available this time.

Comment: His treatment of the evolution of morality was deeply unsatisfactory. He muddles evolution of moral instincts along with changes in cultural norms. I assume he's a bright enough guy to know the disappearance of racism in the West in the last 50 years is not a result of genetic changes, but it isn't obvious from the program.

Back in business

My computer trouble is over. I don't know if I'll have time for another post tonight, though soon, I've got one on Biblical prophecy planned for tomorrow at the latest. For now, go read the latest God or Not if you haven't already.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Computer trouble

I just got back to college after Christmas break today, which has resulted in a couple different kinds of computer problems. Expect little to no blogging for the next few days.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Chicks, DI in El Tejon, and misanthropy

4 million hot chicks: That's what I thought when I saw this picture:

combined with Athana's headline. Okay, probably a bad way to respond to the first person to submit a carnival I'm hosting (God or Not). Sorry, Athana.

The Discovery Institute in El Tejon: Daniel Morgan is on top of the Discovery Intitute's dealings with the "philosophy of design" course proposed in El Tejon, really thinly veiled Young Earth Creationism.

Atheist misanthropy?: Vjack has some thoughts on Dawkins' recent TV program, and looks at The Guardian's Charge that he was being misanthropic. I, personally, have trouble taking seriously an article that directly ignores Dawkins' point that we wouldn't speak of anything like Marxist children ("Furthermore, the concept of a child to be kept a blank slate, free from parental influence, is absurd - or does it just apply to religion, and if so, why?")

Friday, January 13, 2006

Scriptural literalism is not the issue

We hear a lot about scriptural literalism, particularly in the evolution/creationism debate. Or at least we used to, current creationist policy is to keep mum on the age of the Earth. But back before the advent of ID, there was always the question of whether you could believe the Bible but understand Genesis as metaphor, not historical fact. This is a reasonable solution to reading the Genesis story.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work for the whole Bible, because there are some passages that simply lack any possible metaphorical meaning. Here's one of them:
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.
4 The LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel."

5 So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor."[Numbers 25]
So much for the idea that American liberties like freedom of religion come from the Bible. Here's another:
1 Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "
This passage does have a larger message, but that message is also barbaric. Saul fails to do as the LORD commands, so God punishes him by making David the king of Israel. Messsage: do what God tells you, no matter how awful. Not that Saul comes out of this smelling like roses, he disobeys the order by saving the Amalekite king, rather than save a single child.

The question is not whether the Bible is to be taken literally, but whether it is understood to be completely true in any sense. The idea that the above passages are the word of a loving God belongs in the trash heap of history, along with the idea that blacks are inferior to whites and, well, that it's OK to kill people with different religious beliefs than yours. Rejecting Biblical inerrancy should be a non-question, a basic requirement for being considered a decent human being. I like to think that if I believed that the universe was ruled by a being who wrote such things as are found in the Bible, I would oppose him with all my might, and if I did not, it would be out of cowardice.

We've seen an encouraging decline in American belief in the inerrancy of scripture from 58% in 1996 to 41% in 2001. If that's a linear trend, less than a quarter of Americans believe in inerrancy today, which is still too many but would be a vast improvement. That may be too optimistic, however. Fundamentalists are fighting with all their might to keep their movement alive, and the political power they currently weild is frightening. Anyone got some more recent statistics to console me?

Need to know, Ed Brayton interview, [more]

Need to know info: If you're a female jogger. HT: PZ Myers, at his new URL.

UPDATE: Perhaps this is not such an urgent news flash. A female friend informs me: "they might not know about the sagging, but any girl knows that letting your boobs hang while exercising is a thoroughly bad idea, just cause it hurts." Shows what I know.

DarkSyde interviews Brayton: DarkSyde's been doing some great interviews of science bloggers. In his latest, Ed Brayton talks about labels and lies told about the ACLU.

The "It sucks to be me" generation: In Slate, just because it plays on the title of an awesome song.

Man the ape: For Science Friday, DarkSyde drives home the point that man is an animal whether you believe evolution or not. My solution is shorter: ask people whether they're aware that humans give live birth like all other mammals (except the platypus) rather than being brought by storkes. If so, we've got a good indication that humans are mammals, and therefore animals. Or, retort, "well the Bible says you're dirt!"

Randi on religion: This week, James Randi serves up not one but two great rants on religion, as well as a quip sent in by a reader:
I saw a quote I like, to rebuke the assertion that atheism is just another religion: "Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Madison on Alito, indigo children, end times, religion's future

Madison bloggers on Alito: Badger Blues has some of the most interesting commentary on the Alito hearings that I've read, highlighting Feingold's performance, an odd interpretation of the clean water act, and a bad football analogy. I wonder, though, if Ann Althouse has a more accurate view of their worth:
But even the Democrats are too dull to take much of. With the multiple rounds of questioning, we're hearing more questions of the I'd-like-to-get-back-to-the-issue-of type. It's often painfully obvious that the Senators have nothing left to say.
New Age and Ritalin: Althouse has passed along a weird news story involving children with "indigo auras" who are supposed to be:
share traits like high I.Q., acute intuition, self-confidence, resistance to authority and disruptive tendencies, which are often diagnosed as attention-deficit disorder, known as A.D.D., or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D.
Althouse comments: "I don't like all the Ritalin, but this new age stuff is worse."

Are the end-times (believers) comming?: Andrew worries about increased importance of the end times in modern fundamentalism, citing the Lef Behind books as evidence. I've read a couple, and it's scary stuff. All non-Christians are basically evil, and I'm told the last one has Jesus ripping people in half with a word. To think the average Left Behind reader wouldn't be happy to support a rather scary theocracy puts a great deal of faith in people's ability to compartmentalize. The ability has been shown to be wide spread, but it would seem to be unwise to be nonchalant about the climate these books represent.

The future of religion: Amba links to a couple of takes. A quote from one:
And yet there is something in all of us that, despite our proclivity toward delusion, knows the real thing when we find it.
I could feel more confident in that "something" if not for... well, if not for the number of people who get wrapped up in Left Behind

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

ID as philosophy

As Austin said in my comments yesterday, the attempt to teach Intelligent Design as philosopy is already under way. TfK has the best evidence I've seen that the class is a sham.

Is the resurrection pleasant?

One of the books I got in order to write my own on resurrection apologetics is William Lane Craig's The Son Rises. I suppose I should not have been surprised that, of its 150 pages, it has:

  • Two pages explaining why it doesn't matter if he's right, Christianity doesn't depend on the evidence for the resurrection.
  • Fourteen pages explaining how unpleasant it would be if he were wrong.
  • Twenty-two pages explaining how wonderful it would be if he were right.

Silly me, I had duped myself into thinking Craig was really concerned about the evidence. Seeing these sections made me realize the book would be more of an exercise in wishful thinking. But Craig's wishing does not even make that much sense.

One searches in vain for a logical argument in the first and last chapters. Rather, the whole thing is cloaked in methaphors that do not bear close enough resemblance to logical argument to contain logical fallacies. For example, at one point he says, "Thus, truly, modern man in killing God has unwittingly killed himself." That is an odd statement, as I at least appear to be alive, and I have an equally strong suspicion Dr. Craig's book was not written from beyond the grave. I am furthermore surprised to know that we have killed God; some religions have allowed that a god may be killed by a particularly great hero, but I thought that the Christian doctrine was that God is eternal.

He says that life is a mixed blessing if we are not immortal. The nearest thing in the book I could find to a logical argument is that we anticipate the future, so if there is no future, our lives can have no meaning. This would lead me to believe that the meaing of every moment is contingent on future moments, so even in heaven, each moment would be meaningless if not for the next, and the next would be meaningless if not for the one after that, and so on, making me wonder what the point is, ultimately.

He lists several options for dealing with this non-predicament, one of which is humanism. He wonders what reason a humanist has for acting morally, and says no atheist has ever lived consistently with his philosophy. I must in turn wonder what reason a Christian has for killing infidels on God's say so (and God does occationally say so in the Bible), and say that no [bible-believing] Christian has ever lived consistently with his philosophy, not since the brutal Protestant-Catholic wars. Then we see him refute humanism with an argumentum ad ignorantiam ("more seductive when it can play upon wishful thinking") and the point that evolution could not have happened by chance.

Then he tell us the other option is biblical Christianity, which "affirms personal immortality for man." He leaves out the point that it affirms eternal torment for all humans who happen to be mistaken on matters of religion.

In his final chapter, he tells the story of a clergyman who committed suicide because at the end of because, at the end of his life, some professors convinced him that Jesus didn't rise. Craig blames those who deny the resurrection for the clergy's death. It would make more sense to blame his death on those who, like Dr. Craig, tell us we cannot find meaning without accepting certain falsehoods.

The other main thing Craig accomplishes in his last chapter is to explain that "God loves you and created you to have a personal relationship with him" and will "bring full justice in dazzeling flame" on anyone who rejects him. What a psycho. I don't think I'd want a relationship with someone like that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Faith, creationism's next step, annoying bloggers [more]

Essay on faith: Ben at Badger Blues has an interesting essay on the topic of faith. One thing that puzzels me, though:
If the Christianity of Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson were true, I could not believe in it.
Meh?

If the Christianity of Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson were true, it would be our duty as moral beings to oppose their God with all our might rather than pretend he doesn't exist.

Creationism after dover:A forum member at About Atheism thinks he knows where its headed:
* Ditch the science angle, go into philosophy territory.

* Jump on the culture relativist bandwagon that believes that science is just one of many ways to rightly perceive the universe.

* Start a campaign to introduce philosophy classes in high schools nationwide. This would normally be a good thing, BUT...

* Creationists and their supporters will try to remake many tenets of a philosophy class in their favor. (see no. 1). Whatever name creationism is masquerading around, and other aspects of Christian fundamentalism, will get preferential treatment.
But what for would ID in philosophy class take? A rehash of Paley? An introduction of Behe's arguments on the subtext that we know they're bad science, but "philosophy" can act as an excuse to admit it? What?

Annoying bloggers: There's been a lot hubub about the new law against annoying people annonymously, but here's some commentary from a legal perspective. First, Orin Kerr thinks its not as bad as it seems, while Eugene Volokh sees real problems.

Behind Enemy Lines: Lya at God is for Suckers! has compiled some observations from several months on theistic discussion boards.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Quote of the Time Being

I've said it before: you can get your insightful analysis here sooner, cheaper, and with many more dirty words.
-Michael Reynolds

God and Family, Phelps is a Dick, the War on Information, and more

God and Family: The topic of yesterday's God is a Dick at the Evangelical Atheist:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (LUK 14:25-26 NIV)
Phelps is a Dick: Rev. Phelps of GodHatesFags.com has declared the deaths of the Sago miners to be God's wrath. What is wrong with these people? I wonder if they just like the publicity they get from this crap.

The War on Information: The Bad Astronomer writes about breakfast with Chris Mooney, and the different ways scientists and politicians deal with information.

Robertson and fundamentalists: Andrew Sullivan isn't surprised by Patty boy's remarks about Sharon:
He believes, as do most members of the religious right, that the world is soon coming to an end, and that the unification of Israel is integral to that story-line. (The Jews who don't accept Christ will all die in a second and more extensive Holocaust, orchestrated by Jesus.) He also believes, as do millions of Americans, that God directly involves himself in our lives, as does Satan, and that He is a terrifying God who has committed mass murder and genocide in the past against those who flout his will (the Bible proves it) and will do so again. A mere stroke for Sharon? He should count himself lucky.
Satanists desecrate room for hearing: Satanists have desecrated the room where the Alito hearings were to take place. But don't take my word for it, read it at UTI.

Hellfire: Hellbound Alleee writes about its importance in Christianity.

What's religion: Pixnaps has a minimal definition.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

CotG 31

The 31st Carnival of the Godless is up at Buridian's Ass.

Lawsuit or publicity stunt, holey writ, and Sylvia Browne

Althouse on the Italian lawsuit: On the case of the Italian priest being sued and forced to prove Jesus' existence in court, Althouse writes:
Cascioli, who has singled out one particular priest whom he went to school with, has a book about atheism to sell. I think he should be charged with "Prodezza Diabolica di PubblicitĂ ," that is, Evil Publicity Stunt.
Tremblay on the Bible:He asks what we would do if people behaved as follows:
Suppose we walk into a library - thousands of thousands of books all arranged in tidy rows and ordered by our good friend the Dewey Decimal Classification System. We walk around and look at all the different kinds of books there are - philosophy, religion (we walk fast around that one, only stopping to laugh at the Raelian books), social sciences, language, and so on and so forth. Suddently I stop at one specific spot in the library, point to a book and shout "AHA ! I found it ! This book is infallible !", and start reading it and regurgitating it as absolute truth.
Skeptico on Sylvia Browne: And her failed prediction about the West Virginia Miners. I'm not surprised. I do wonder, however, how I fell into the X on Y format for today's links.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Scroll-by shooting: Neism? WTF?

With Matt on hiatus, someone needs to make sure the poo gets flung, and I have decided to take up that role. However, this blog isn't Pooflingers, so I will call these posts "scroll-by"s, as in the scoll bar in my browser.

Bertrand Russell once said that when a stupid man hears a smart man speak, he will translate what is said into something he can under stand. He was talking about Socrates and Xenophon, but it seems an apt description of what Joe Carter's attempts to understand opposition to intelligent design. He explains it as follows:
Just as the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christianity, natural selection is the pillar on which neism stands. That is why neists have an apoplectic fit over Intelligent Design. The heretical notion does not just question a theory, it denys the foundation of their religious beliefs. Some even claim that their belief system must destroy other religions (see entry by Sam Harris. Neists may not have a god but their religion has retained the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
What in the world is "neism," you may ask? It's an imaginary religion dreamed up by Carter, in part on the thesis that "Hardcore materialists will eventually grow frustrated with the conservative dogma of Darwinism and its complete inability to account for ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical 'truths.'" I have seen no signs of such frustration, but Carter has found an entirely different set of evidence that this imaginary religion is taking hold: responses to the 2006 Edge question.

I suspect most defenders of evolution don't pay nearly as much attention to the kind of stuff delt with in the Edge survey as to solid, basic science. As it happens, I just linked to an interview with Paul Myers where he describes his work in evolutionary biology. For someone like him, seeing attacks on evolution is analogous to someone who's spent their life studying protein folding seeing attacks on the existence of atoms. For a protein researcher to accept that atoms don't exist means accepting that they've done years of reasearch that only makes sense on a false hypothesis. That evolution can be applied to keeping the peace is just a nice side effect of the basic science on evolution itself - kind of like how chaos theory, a brand of mathematics comming out of meteorology, has found wide applications in other fields.

Agknowledging the analogy between the resurrection and evolution is tempting - because of how embarrassing the analogy is the Christianity. The evidence for the resurrection consists of a few sentences of Paul's letters and a bunch of anonymous, hearsay accounts - roughly equivalent to the evidence that the old theater in my hometown is haunted. The evidence for evolution consists of libraries full of solid scientific research.

Carter does not seem to clearly grasp the idea of something being supported by objective evidence, so he recasts it as a matter of faith:
As Richard Dawkins explained in answering last year’s question, "I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all 'design' anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection." This is the core of their mystical faith system; everything rests on this claim being indubitable.
This badly misunderstands Dawkins in that Dawkins is conjecturing from the one case we know - life on earth - to all hypothetical intelligences anywhere. This is what he cannot prove. Evolution is unprovable only insofar as we cannot prove that God didn't create the world in 1921. Carter's willingness to get excited at the mention that science is unprovable is a classic example of the inability of fundamentalists to tell the difference between an unproven belief in one's own hands and an unproven belief in the tooth fairy.

He further fails to understand that a scientific worldview is not built on one central fairy tale, the way religions are. Yes much science is based on evolution. There is also much science based on the existence of atoms, the roundness of the earth, and inverse square laws. What underlies all these is a belief that while the world may often seem inexplicable; rigorous, objective investigation involving testable hypothesis can help us make sense of it. The alternative is "we don't understand this, therefore [God/psi/UFOs/ghosts/synchronity/etc]." The presuppositionalism of Carter, Johnson, and Ham denies that these questions can be settled objectively, so they instead try to force their ideas into the schools through political muscle. This makes them a whimpier version of their intellectual forebearers, who used inquisitions rather than school-board elections to enforce their faith-based beliefs.

Similarly, Carter translates Sam Harris' comments about science and religion into terms he can understand: those of the Jealous Jehovah of the Old Testament. Throughout the Bible, God is represented as a baby who can't stand it when people don't pay attention to him, putting him in conflict with gods ranging from Baal to Hermes. The reason scientific thinking causes trouble for religion is that science is inherently rational, while religion is inherently irrational. The only way for religion to survive in a scientifically-minded society is for there to be clear boundaries between where blind faith is applied and where reason is applied, and for people to clearly understand the difference between the two. Such a situation is dangerous for religion for two reasons, though. It may be tempted to creep into areas where reason is clearly the way to go, as in the case of Intelligent Design. Then the backlash is likely to damage religion. On the other hand, when the public is put in the habit of thinking scientifically about things like medicine and evolution, there's a risk they'll start thinking that way about God and immortality.

That's a slightly longer rant than I was planning. I think I needed it.

PZ interview, More Pat Robertson, science ethics, and ID in Ohio

Interview with a mad scientist: DarkSyde interviews PZ Myers, who is "mad as hell at the Bush White House, the GOP, and the religious right." Choice quote:
Being a nerd didn't exactly limit my social life--I wasn't aware that there was such a thing as a social life, and once I found out what it was, I wasn't much interested in it.
Roberetson, a map, and Iran The Commissar has produced a map of the vile things Pat Robertson has said. Meanwhile, Bob Park notes that Robertson is on the same side as Iran's nutjob president.

Little ethical lapses: SciAm Observations has an essay about lesser lapses in scientific ethics:
The trouble is that ethical lapses follow a power-law distribution: for every big one, there are several medium ones, and a lot of small ones. For every guy who holds people up at gunpoint, there are millions who go 60 in a 55 zone. Science is no different. The problems in biomedical research, where competition can be cutthroat and the dinging sound of corporate cash-registers is never far, have gotten some attention, but the pure sciences are hardly unaffected. I wrote about some of these issues a decade ago and have seen very little done since then to address them.


ID in Ohio: Panda's Thumb has an briefing about the upcomming fight there.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Skeptic's circle, did Jesus exist, Pat Robertson, and schadenfreude

Skeptic's circle:The latest edition at Saga of Runolf.

Book review: Atheist Revolution has a short review of Earl Doherty's book arguing that Jesus never existed. I've got it comming from Amazon, expect to see my own review in late January.

If Pat Robertson didn't exist...: skeptical bloggers would probably have to invent him. Orac's verdict on the latest Robertson sound-bite.

Schadenfreude: Mighty Middle links to a story of a Baptist pastor arrested on lewdness charges. In the comments:
Latham will asked to resign ... he will then convert to catholicism, become a Priest and spend his days playing leapfrog with the acolytes. Life will go on, GW will continue his reign and we will all remain stuck ....in the middle!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Expandable sidebar

Okay, my expandable sidebar is now up and running. Under "featured posts," "Philosophy" starts expanded as I think it most important, while other categories may be expanded by clicking on them. Similarly, "Philosophy" may be collapsed by clicking on it. My blogroll is now labled "reading list," as it contains magazines and James Randi's commentary, which is not strictly a blog. That list is also collapseable.

I must thank Chu for showing me how to do this. I saw a post on how to do something similar on his site, and, not having a clue about technology, asked how to do exactly this. For somereason, I couldn't get what he suggested to work, so I wrote back asking for more help. Then I got it to work. Here's what I did.

In the "< head>" element I put the following script:
< script type="text/javascript" language="JavaScript">
function simpleShowHide(elementId)
{
var element = document.getElementById (elementId);
if (element)
{
if (!element.style.display) element.style.display = "none";
if (element.style.display == "" || element.style.display == "none")
{
element.style.display = "block";
}
else
{
element.style.display = "none";
}
}
}
< /script>
Note that you will have to delete the spaces after the "<"s, which I put in to keep blogger from reading them as HTML. The following goes where sidebar links normally go, and requires similar space deletion:
< div style="cursor: pointer;" onClick="simpleShowHide('some_category_div_id');return false;">(+/-) some category< /div>
< div id="some_category_div_id" style="display:none;">
< li>< a href="some_post_1.html">Some Post #1< /a>< /li>
< li>< a href="some_post_2.html">Some Post #2< /a>< /li>
< li>< a href="some_post_3.html">Some Post #3< /a>< /li>
< /div>
A few points: you can put a header type around the "some category" part, in order to make it look like your normal sidebar headers. In order to get something to start out displayed, as I did with my "philosophy" category, set style="display:block" in the second div tag. If you want more than one of these, you'll have to give them separate labels in the sections that say, "simpleShowHide" and "id=". I screwed that up when I first added this feature to my blog.

Anyway, thanks a bunch, Chu! Oh, and people reading this may want to check out his blog for the tech section, it's got a couple of similar tricks.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Template work

If this blog looks weird in the course of the next several hours, its because I am hard at work trying to incorporate some Java script. I will post the script for others to use once I am finished - but first, I need to figure out exactly how to use it.

Christian apologetics, ID and music, a quiz, and more

With minds of children: Goosing the Antithesis tipped me off to this essay on Christian apologetics. It wonders who apologists expect to be persuaded by their claims, and notes that "Some apologists are quite open about the fact that it requires the mind of a child to take such stories seriously and accept them as truth."

Irreducible Complexity is Ridiculous - Even in Music!: Rockstar Ryan gives another example of how just because something seems "irreducibly complex" doesn't mean it came from nothing.

Quick Quiz:UberKuh demonstrates his Java skills, to humorous effect. Not as funny as the God FAQ, though.

Female Hormone Key to Male Brain: Aparently, too much estrogen can make female mice gay. Or something like that. Who am I to read carefully enough to avoid sensationalizing a story? Read all about it at SciAm.com!

Officially over: Dover school board rescinds Intelligent Design policy. HTs: Bad Astronomy and Pharyngula.

Quote of the Time Being

Haven't done one of these in awhile, but this was too good to pass up:
Isn't relying on unverified sources and broadcasting them before double-checking what blogs were supposed to do?
-Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Science v. Religion, weird Italian court case, more NSA

Science must destroy religion: Sam Harris never ceases to amaze with his skills as an essayist. Amba links, and reports an odd experience:
What will religious folks say about the fact that my computer froze and crashed six times during my attempt to post this? (It doesn't like the dial-up connection, and freezes at least once per session, but this is a record.) Or about the fact that I persevered and posted it the seventh time?
Confirmation bias! Confirmation bias!

Italy: Judge Orders Priest to Prove Jesus Existed: Austin Cline is puzzled. Me too. My take on this is that there's a difference between being unable to prove something and "abusing public credulity." There's enough evidence to make it reasonable to think Jesus existed, even if it isn't proven.

What harm? Michael Reynolds is demanding to know how the NYT revelations about spying have damaged national security. He's definately got the best coverage of this topic I've seen. Choice bit from today's post:
So, in order for national security to be damaged, we'd have to believe that Al Qaeda was under the impression that it was being protected from surveillance by the limitations of the FISA law...

...if Al Qaeda had somehow formed the belief that the FISA law inhibited the NSA, they would then have had to believe that the NSA strictly followed that law. In other words, once Osama had his legal opinion (and which law firm did he retain for that purpose?) he would have to believe strongly, not only in that interpretation, but be confident that the US government would feel itself bound by that same conclusion.

This is a wonderfully ironic notion. Osama's legal team would have had to reach a more restrictive legal interpretation, than the president's legal team, and then would have had to assume greater respect for law and due process than the president of the United States in fact showed.

Put simply, Al Qaeda would have had to have greater faith in American laws than the American president demonstrated.


No more poo:Matt, of Pooflingers Anonymous, is going on hiatus, citing the fact that, "the constant delving into various brain-melting materials is taking a toll that I cannot afford to pay." He's certainly taken his share of bullets in listening to Hovind and reading The Evolution Cruncher. Good luck on demobilization, man, and if you do decide to come back in a month or two, I'll try to be the first to get the anouncement out in the sphere.

Tranny barbie: Here, I'm quoting directly from Andrew Sullivan:
The religious right has another conniption.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Gambler's epistemology

It's been awhile since I've written about epistemology, and with the next philosophy carnival fast approaching, I think I'll take another go at it.

A common response to radically skeptical thesis (we can't know if the sun will rise tomorrow, we can't know whether we're living in a Matrix-type world or not) is, "well, true, but if the sun won't rise tomorrow, there's nothing we can do about it.

In toyed with a broader form of that idea in a previous post on proof. The broad form is "reject possibilities that cannot be evaluated on the evidence, because if they're true, there's nothing we can do about it." For example, if there's some evidence that we do in fact live in a Matrix-world, we could consider the evidence, but we must reject the idea of a Matrix-world that is impossible to identify as such. I still think that strategy is the best one, but I'm not sure the "there's nothing we can do about it" justification works.

The problem is one that occured to me when reading about William Dembski's abuse of no free lunch theorems. The skinny: he claimed that the theorems show no algorithm is any better or worse than random seaching for finding the high point in a fitness function, a measure of how well something works. This means natural selection won't work any better than random generation of organisms, and cannot generate the life forms we see. The flaw in this argument is that the theorems were for the set of all possible fitness functions - a set in which most functions are completely chaotic. The real-world scenarios that evolution deals with look more like rolling hills, however. (See the pictures in the link, they show this better than I could put it into words.) There may be lots of hypothetical random worlds where natural selection wouldn't work, but ours isn't one of them.

Now back to epistemology. Why not assume that worlds where "reject possibilities that cannot be evaluated on the evidence" works make up a tiny fraction of all possible worlds? Is there any a priori grounds on which we can decide whether a world of testable hypothesis has a high, 50/50, or infinitesimal chance of existing? I'm not sure.

This derives from a problem in determining a priori probabilities more generally. One person might say, "God either exists or he doesn't, that's a 50/50 chance," and another might say, "The standard God (omnipotent, etc.) is only one possibility of an infinity, so that's an infinitesimal chance." How do you decide between them a priori? You can't. That causes serious trouble for any theory of knowledge that attempts to start with certain probabilities.