Tuesday, February 28, 2006

God or Not: Truth

Okay, so I'm putting the link up one day late, but it's here.

Sitemeter check

Gee, 38 visitors by 10:20 - am I scaring people off with a long critique of Craig? I guess I'll try something else tomorrow. These things take awhile, and I do have other stuff bumping around in my brain.

This is a serious message to readers - all ye who lurk, speak up!

Reasonable Faith, chapter 4 part 2 and chapter 5

This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Reasonable Faith, chapter 4, part 1

This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Reasonable Faith, chapter 2

This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

I feel special

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!
Yeah, I got number 4 wrong. On my first two tries. Don't go around telling people.

Hat tip: Pharyngula

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Reasonable Faith, chapter 1

This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

"Sick and tired"

Michael Shermer fills in for James Randi, and is a little grumpier than usual.

Fieldnotes on apologetics

In an effort to learn more about Christian apologetics, I decided to pursue a simple tack: going out and asking people. Yesterday, my subjects were the college students (from out of town, I learned) who hand out tracts Friday nights.

Of the six I talked to, only one had read a little bit of Josh McDowell. Another said her mother had all three entries of Lee Strobel's The Case For series on her bookshelf, but she (the student handing out tracts) hadn't found time to read any of them. Mostly, though, they agreed Christianity could be shown by evidence, with one exception of someone who wasn't sure. With the two girls who I raised the issue with, they agreed that the Gospels were written by the people who Irenaeus said wrote them. One mentioned "thousands" of people seeing Jesus resurrected; a bit of an exageration from what the Bible claims.

Also, probably as a result of little reading, knowledge of arguments was uneven. One girl sprang a random claim about Isaiah predicting the reign of Sirus the Great.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Padody this tract

Below is a religious tract I got handed awhile ago, I'm working on writing a parody. THIS IS A PLEA FOR HELP IN THE COMMENTS.

"PAID IN FULL" [Picture of Cross]

"DID YOU KNOW? YOU are in debt because of your sin?
"ROMANS 3:23 'For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.'
"ROMANS 3:19 'Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.'

"DO YOU REALIZE? What the cost of YOUR sin debt will bring in eternity?
[Okay, you get the picture with the Bible verses, I won't retype them all]

"HAVE YOU HEARD? YOUR sin debt has been 'PAID IN FULL':
[more Bible]"

"WILL YOU BELIVE? THE BIBLE, the record of what God has done for you.
[still more Bible]

"WILL YOU TRUST? The eternity of your soul completely to JESUS CHRIST.

"REMEMBER: You must trust Jesus AND NOTHING ELSE.
[Bible, and not the last of it]"

[Bible, and that's the last of it - yay!]

Please send this tract to us to let us know that after reading it, you have decided to trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour.

[Place to give them your name and adress and all that]"

Okay, that's the tract. Now, how to parody it? I'm thinking a six point thing on thinking for your self, something on this plan:


If anyone has a better plan, say so. But what I really need is quotes from famous - probably famous atheists, but anyone works really - to back up these headings, in place of Bible verses. Something snappy on the inquisition would be nice for the second point.

Craig's Reasonable Faith, introduction

This page was originally part of a series of posts that was turned into a paper for the Internet Infidels library. It is now located here.

Pooflinging resumes

Matt at Pooflinger's Annon. is back in action. Good to have you back, Matt.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

If you like science fiction...

Go pick up the March edition of Asimov's. I got a subscribtion recently and am reading my first issue. Some of the stories are just OK, but the one called "Rwanda" is excellent.

Liberal Christianity

When I was a kid, my parents took me to a congregationalist church. Not every Sunday, but most ones. It wasn't a conservative church by any strech of the imagination, wich leaves me without the dramatic deconversion story of, say, a Dan Barker or Robert M. Price.

I do, however, have the experience of believing, in Bertrand Russell's phrase, that Jesus was "the best and wisest of men." Some of the things the Gospels portray him as saying are quite wise. A funny thing began to happen, though. Whenever I came upon something that was not obviously wise, if I did not skim past it, I reasoned, "Well, there must be something to it, because these other things are quite wise."

This, though, does not follow at all. I have come to have a great respect for Russell, and a similar respect for Carl Sagan. I suppose if I were asked to name the wisest men I know of, I would name them. Bu I do not think that everything in their writings must be true. Similarly, Russell held up Socrates and the Buddha as more moral than Jesus but did not show them the undue reverence religious people show their wise men (when they admit they are only men).

I did this even though I did not believe everything in the Bible by any strech of the imagination. Why? It seems there is something in human nature that makes us ready to revere anyone labled as great, even when the basis for the reverence - say, belief that a man is God incarnate - is not present. The pluralistic mindsethold religion to be good. This leads to a feeling that one ought to pick some teacher and give him great reverence, as long as one is not dogmatic about it.

Such a position simply makes no sense, though I do not think liberal religion could survive without it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A simple defense of Biblical inerrancy

I just got done with Richard Carrier's absurdly long essay on a single Biblical contradition, The Date of the Nativity in Luke. Some of the attempts to avoid a contradiction are pretty desparate, not that that's anything new. This resulution of Biblical contradictions feels the need to appeal to a copyist error on no more than nine occasions.

If fundies are willing to go to such lengths to avoid admitting the Bible is fallible, why not just take up this position: The Bible is infallible, but whenever anyone reads it, a malignant demon causes them to hallucinate contradictions?

COTG #34

The 34th Carnival of the Godless is up at Goosing the Antithesis.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Arguing from the Bible

Today, I was out, standing by street evangelists belting the first chapter of Bertrand Russell's Skeptical Essays at the top of my lungs. When I was near the end of the first chapter, one of them approached me. After finding out what I was reading, here's how the conversation went:

"Do you believe in Jesus?"
"Believe he existed?"
"So, what, was he just a great guy?"
"He probably believed that the world was going to end within his lifetime, but it's hard to know. We don't have first, even second-hand accounts. We do have Paul's letters, but those don't tell us very much."
"We have the Gospels."
"Those are annonymous."
"What about the Old Testament. Do you believe the Old Testament?"
"Oh, so that's out."

And that was about all he had.

It struck me that many Christians do not know any way to argue except from the Bible. They're supposed to go out an convert non-Christians, but have no real way to do it.

Moderate Muslims? Moderate Christians?

The second truth — one that the West needs to come to grips with — is that there is no such human persona as a "moderate Muslim." You either believe in the oneness of God or you don't. You either believe in the teachings of his prophet or you don't. You either learn those teachings and apply them to the circumstances of life in the country you have chosen to live in, or you shouldn't live there.
-from an LA Times column, via Andrew Sullivan

Is there such a thing as a moderate Christian? Is it the case that one either believes "No one comes to the father except through me" or doesn't?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Smile! There is no hell.

I've talked about the evangelists that swarm the streets of Madison. Today, I went out to parody the sign-holders:

These pictures were taken by a random woman who saw my sign and liked it (I had her e-mail them to me). Another guy took pictures as well, maybe I should have given him my e-mail adress too. He said he got the other guys in the background. That would have been nice to have, though I think the guy in the blue cap in the first picture was one of them.

It was a great time. In addition to the people who took pictures, I got high-fives, thank-yous, two hugs, and more smiles than I could count. I wasn't sure what the evangelists would do at first. Shortly after I arrived, one of them began preaching about hell; I kinda felt that the whole thing was directed at me. He talked a lot about mocking God. I did get a couple of direct references. At one point, he asked, "who are you going to believe, the Bible, which is 2000 years old, or the sign of that young man, who's maybe 18 years old?" I thought of going up to ask him, "who would you rather trust, Ptolmey or Stephen Hawking?" I didn't ask this, however, because it would be hard to hold up my sign and dialogue at the same time. I think this was a good idea in retrospect, because for all I knew, they believed that the Earth does stand still. Like these guys. At another point, he said that there are agents of Satan about, and one of them was standing right there (i.e. me). At that point, I couldn't help but laugh histerically.

Next time, I may get a partner, so one of us can read something. Perhaps I'll use Bertrand Russell's Sceptical Essays.

EDIT: Here is the source for the sign's design.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

28th Skeptic's Circle

The 28th Skeptic's Circle is up at Unused and Unusable.

Review: Carrier-Licona and Barker-Licona debate

Okay, my reviews of debates between apologist Mike Licona and atheists Dan Barker and Richard Carrier.

Before watching the deabates, I was much more excited about seeing Carrier debate than Barker. Carrier's material on the resurrection is some of the best around. He knows the historical context well, allowing him to bring in parallel stories from antiquity, as he does in Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection, Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire, and elsewhere. Dan Barker, I thought from reading this debate, tended to hammer the whole spiritual/physical resurrection thing too much. I, for one, am more sure that Jesus did not rise than that Paul would not have used the word "physical" for the resurrection.

Carrier, though, only made a little use of parallels, something of a disappointment. He makes a long case for a spiritual resurrection - interesting stuff to him, I suppose, but it doesn't cut to the heart of the issue. His whole presentation too often strays into using complicated explanations for flimsy pieces of evidence. Interesting, but a bit of a distraction from the main point. Carrier did get a good blow in when he gave three examples of of claims "I have a car, I have a nuclear missile, and I have an interstellar space ship" - and compared the resurrection to the last one.

In the end, the debate was stalemated - I think, anyway. Much of it I was obscure, scholarly stuff that I didn't take much interest in.

One bizzare claim comming from Licona - that observing the frequency of false miracle claims and true ones is a philosophical argument. I also got the first taste of Licona arguing by assertation. At the end of the debate, he complained that a spiritual resurrection couldn't explain the empty tomb - after Carrier had spent plenty of time explaining why it was a legend. He had to do a fair amount that with Barker.

Dan Barker, contrary to my expectations, creamed Licona. He came out with arguments from Hume, Paine, and Sagan against extraordinary events. Then he went on to show how the disciples could have come to believe in a resurrection, drawing on a story of his grieving grandmother and his own religious experience. The spiritual resurrection thing came up, but it didn't become to central. Once again, we see Licona simply asserting that the tomb was empty (once again) when Barker had argued it was a legend, and saying he hadn't heard an explanation for the appearances (was he not listening?). Most galling of all was when Licona went after Barker's motives given that Licona often throws false accusations of ad hominem attacks. He needs to read my post on the subject. For example, he cried ad hominem when Carrier called the disciples superstitious - not understanding that the term is inapplicable to criticism of sources.

That was kinda short... anything else I need to say about the debates?

Ebay atheist

That's the name of a new blog by an atheist who sold his soul on E-bay - well, not really. He said he'd go to church for one day per $10 bid, to a church of the winning bidder's choice. This blog recounts his experiences.

Quote of the Time Being

For most people, meeting an Atheist is a little like coming across someone who double-majored in Communications and Industrial Engineering: "I didn’t know people like you existed..."
-From a Secular Student Alliance newsletter.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Torture photos

Recently released photographs from Abu Graib are must-sees if you want to grasp what happened here. These go far beyond having someone stand on a box merely thinking he could be hurt.

What I'm watching

The Carrier-Licona debate, on the historicity of the resurrection. I got it at Licona's website. There's supposed to be one on Internet Infidels, but I can't find it, and Licona's version includes debates with Dan Barker and a Muslim apologist (the latter may be worth watching for entertainment value, who knows).

Review to follow.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hate speech

A letter to a campus paper attacks a previous defense of free speech. My response:

Let me start this letter by taking the opportunity to be as offensive as possible: the only thing that makes orthodox Christians and Muslims morally better than neo-Nazi’s is Auschwitz was a real place, but Hell exists only in the deluded imaginations of religionists.

This letter was prompted by Saif Syed’s letter saying that “hate speech” must not be allowed. He cites cases of racial violence to make his point, but to extend the point to religions is patently absurd.

Religions are not something people are born into, like racial groups. They are belief systems, and protecting them from criticism makes no more sense than protecting communism, socialism, nationalism, pacifism, Nazism, libertarianism, or environmentalism. Some religions, furthermore, are every bit as vile as any secular ideology.

Among those religions are the strains of Christianity and Islam that proclaim their holy books infallible, for both cannons make clear that anyone who disagrees with the ideology is damned. “Whosoever does not believe is condemned” declares John 3:18 (why isn’t that quoted as often as 3:16?) and the Quran repeats a similar statement ad nauseum, saying that unbelievers will suffer an “awful doom.”

Some will say there is nonetheless such a thing as going overboard. So what? The important thing is not making sure that people are as nice as possible when challenging medieval insanities. The important thing is making sure that such insanities are challenged at all.

Stanley Fish on the cartoons

Andrew Sullivan and Michael Reynolds are pissed about a Stanley Fish op-ed in the New York Times, where Fish talks about liberalism and the Muhammed cartoons. Sadly, I'm inclinded to side with Fish. His editorial may not be a good description of what liberalism should be, but it does describe how liberalism is practiced in much of the West. Andrew has written a lot about British complacency in the face of fundamentalism; I'd expect him to agree on this point.

Respectful Insolence moves

Update your bookmarks, Respectful Insolence has moved.

Oh, and I suppose now is the time to do the same for Pharyngula.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Encountering evangelists

Every weekend in Madison, there are evangelists out on Library Mall. One group just hands out pamphlets, others have big signs, preachers, and the occasional singer. Maybe they're just attracted because it's a big city and big campus, though I've overheard a couple of comments to the effect of "this city needs it" - Madison has a reputation as a bastion of liberalism and liquor.

I decided that I would try confronting these people. My first attempt didn't go much of anywhere. I started one day by asking a guy what he hoped to accomplish by holding up his sign, I thought I would point out to him that he gives no one any reason to believe what he's saying is true. He said that he didn't expect his sign to have much of an impact on all but a very few people. I had a hard time disagreeing, end of argument.

My second attempt, last weekend, went only a little better. I received a pamphlet with a title along the lines of "how to know you're going to heaven." I read it in front of the evangelists, and then informed them it didn't tell me how to know anything. This got one of them annoyed, he told me to be respectful, I said "no, really, it doesn't" and walked away.

It so happened that they started going home only shortly after I did, and they walked faster. They caught up to me, and I found myself trying to explain about justified true belief to them. At my first request for justification, all I got was a repetition of the statement, "Jesus died for your sins." Then, one of them said "To be justified, don't you need a law? You know, JUST-ified?" I began bringing out a vaguely remembered example from Plato involving court cases, but then decided the situation was hopeless, and went home.

This weekend, I decided to avoid asserting anything, and instead responded to claims of knowing with this question: "Last year I had a teacher who was an enormous Packers fan, and insisted that the Packers were going to win the Superbowl that year. Suppose they had won the Superbowl. Would she have known it?" Both times I asked this question, the answer I got was no, which then allowed me to ask how belief in the Bible was different.

The first time I got a response involving Biblical prophecy. I had the guy show me; he turned to Psalm 22. I asked at what point bulls had encircled Jesus. He explained that the bulls and dogs represented demons that encircled Jesus as he was on the cross. After unsucessful attempts to provide a more impressive prophecy, he began talking about sin. I went along for awhile, but perceiving the conversation had gotten off track, I left.

The second time I tried my question, I was told that the Holy Spirit allows people to know that the whole Bible is true:

"Does the Holy Spirit allow everyone to know this?"
"Why not?"
"I don't know."
"And you believe the Bible when it says that that those who do not believe are condemned?"
"And belief is contingent on whether God decides to give someone the Holy Spirt?"

A girl from my chemistry class had stopped to listen to the conversation; she had a disgusted look on her face. The guy had seemed quite nice, but I left the conversation frightened to think that Evangelicals have considerable political clout, and that they may gain more.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Quote of the Time Being

When I'm on right-wing whackjob radio, when people call up to inform me that I'm going to hell, I concede the point. [Laughs.] "I'm going to hell. Yes. Can you leave me alone now? Isn't that enough? Isn't punishment for all eternity enough? Do you have to screw with me here on Earth, too? Can't you just sit back content that I will roast on a spit in hell right next to Ronald Reagan, adulterer?" And often if you concede their theology and let them have their crackpot religious beliefs, you can make a little progress. The left has made a mistake trying to argue with religious people about their religious beliefs. They have a legitimate beef when it comes to thought police from the left getting up in their business and telling them how they should interpret Leviticus. Well, who gives a fuck how you interpret your fuckin' Grimm fairy tale?
-Dan Savage, in an interview with The Onion's AV Club.

Re: SocialScientist777

I recently got a proposal from a commenter to hold a debate on evolution. This is in response to that call, consider it open for any and all arguments on the subject. I'll start things off with a response to his post:
With such a strong similarity and connection between theoretical science and science fiction the demarcation between science and pseudoscience is difficult. Karl Popper (1902 – 1994) a professor of physics and philosophy attempted such a demarcation between what he termed ‘science and non-science,’ which became accepted by leading scientists. Popper outlined important demarcation tests in several books as a criterion to identify non-science.

The first point Popper made (Magee, 1975, pp. 23 – 47) is that evidence alone could not verify the truth of a theory, and no number of tests proved a theory. Popper realised this when Einstein’s theory of gravity (relativity) displaced Newton’s theory of gravity. Newtonian physics was confirmed by countless observations, technological advances and accurate predictions. Predictions of undiscovered planets, the movements of tides and even the operation of machinery were formulated from Newton’s laws of physics. Einstein’s theory was different to Newton’s and went beyond Newton’s theory (in speculations about the speed of light). Yet all the observational evidence which supported Newton’s theory also established Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The second point Popper made (Magee, 1975) was that though theories were not verifiable in an empirical sense, they could be falsified. Popper held that scientific laws were testable and a balance between verification and falsification must be maintained. He insisted that even the most proven theories should only be accepted as provisional knowledge, not as facts.
A theory can no more be truly verified than truly falsified. Perhaps Newtonian mechanics works, but a "malignant demon" has tricked us into thinking otherwise.
Popper’s guidelines (Magee, 1975) for making a statement testable, and therefore scientific and refutable were as follows: A theory must be compatible with all know observations and contain its predecessor, contradicting it were it failed, and accounting for its failure. It must yield precise predictions with a high informative content consisting of non-tautological propositions. If all possible states of affairs fit in with a theory then no observation or experiment can be claimed as supporting evidence. And having proposed a theory in this manner, he required theorists must not evade refutation. They must not reformulate either their theories or their evidence to accommodate contradictory evidence. Nor should they dispute the reliability of every test that refutes their theory then ignore the results.
Were physicists evading refutaion when the postulated the existence of a yet undiscovered planet to explain the motion of Uranus? It turned out that such a planet existed; it is now known as Neptune.
Popper (Magee, 1975) denounced Freudian Psychology and Darwinian Evolution as unscientific because they were unfalsifiable and did not advance scientific knowledge. Popper was cautious and never judged a theory to be true or false, he distinguished only between what was and was not scientific.
Two points:
1) PZ Myers denounced Intelligent Design and Creationism as unscientific. Your point is?
2)When Popper called evolution "a metaphysical research program," he was talking about something he thought was an essential part of science. Furthermore, he later reversed himself on this point.
When Darwin published the origin of species (1859), his theory predicted that countless transitional forms must have existed (for evolution to occur). To date no missing links or living links in previously unexplored regions have been found. But the predictions Popper (Magee, 1975) outlined differed to this, in that he required achievable tests that could refute the theory, to be built into the theory.
This picture speaks for itself.
The claim by theorists that radioactive carbon dating supports their assertion that evolution happened over millions of years, would not validate the theory by Popper’s standards. The accuracy of radiocarbon testing as a technique to date geological discoveries would have been refuted by Popper’s demarcation procedure also.
Would it falsify young-earth creationism?
Evolutionists claim it takes thousands of years for wood to petrify into stone (according to carbon dating methods). But petrified wood of a know age (less than a hundred years old) is consistently discovered. For example, the Chapel of Santa Maria of Health (Santa Maria de Salute), built in 1650 in Venice, Italy, to celebrate the end of the plague is a prime example. Because Venice is built on water saturated clay and sand, the chapel was constructed on 180,000 wooden pilings to reinforce the foundations. Even though the chapel is a massive stone block structure, it has remained firm since its construction. How could wooden pilings have lasted in these conditions for longer than 35 years? The chapel now rests on (petrified) stone pilings (Segment on Burke’s Backyard, Channel 9 TV, Sydney, Australia, June, 1995).

Pearce (1970, p. 33) reports similar discoveries, Pearce says "I understand that down in the Sandhill country below Boulia [S.W. Queensland, Australia], where fences are often completely covered by shifting sand, it’s a common thing for the sand to shift off after a number of years, leaving stone posts standing erect."

Evolutionists claim it takes millions of years for sediments like mud or sand to harden into rock (according to carbon dating methods). But in the Creation Science Answers in Genesis Museum in North Kentucky, there is part of a clock mechanism encased in solid rock along with sea shells, on display. The ‘Clock Rock’ was found in 1975 by Dolores Testerman, near the south jetty at Westport, Washington, USA. The Creation Science Foundation (Creation 19 (3) June – August 1997, p. 6) states "Obviously, the clock was not made millions of years ago!"
What's the relevance of this?
When determining the age of the universe or distant stars, the main method is redshift measurements. Radioactive carbon dating has established the age of the Earth and its Solar System at 4.5 billion years old. Theorists have conjectured the universe to be between 10 to 20 billion years old (in agreement with evolutionary requirements). Hubble’s redshift measurements (Gribbin, 2000, p. 128) revealed the distance of stars moving away from us and calculated how long the inflation had been happening, making it possible to date the universe. If the expansion had been going on at the same rate, it can be calculated from the constant of proportionality in the redshift distance relation, how long it has been since the galaxies were a compressed lump (Big Bang theory).

Using Hubble’s constant (a value of 525 Km/sec) the age of the universe comes out at about 2 billion years, which is less than half the radioactive carbon dating age for the Earth. Theoretical scientists evaded refutation by questioning Hubble’s interpretation of Hamason’s redshift measurements. Then they speculated that the universe has not been expanding at the same rate, carbon dating was never doubted. By Popper’s standard this would not only falsify the accuracy of the radioactive carbon dating method, but constitutes rejecting the reliability of contrary evidence and reformulating the theory to accommodate the contradiction.
1)See Uranus story.
2)Again, what would falsify creationism?
Every aspect of the evolution of the universe of life has been reformulated to accommodate contradicting experimental or observational evidence. The scientific community announced (New Scientist, 11 April 1986, p. 26) that the expansion of the universe was accelerating with ever increasing speed. But then they changed their mind (New Scientist, 15 December 2001, p. 15) and claimed the accelerated inflation was an illusion caused by a mirage of axions dimming light as it travels.

According to theorists axions are hypothetical particles postulated as a candidate for (cold) dark matter. Together with neutrinos, photinos, gravitinos, black holes and antimatter they account for 90% of the universe’s mass (gravity) causing galaxies to congregate. It is hypothesised that axions are formed when protons decay into axions, the creation of axions depends on protons decaying. But it was discovered that (Pagel, 1985, p. 275) "... it would take the 30 proton 10 years to disintegrate into a positron and a neutral pion. This is 100 billion times the age of the universe – a very long time indeed." But scientists are still searching patiently for proton decay to show up in tests.

Meanwhile researchers at the CERN nuclear physics laboratory near Geneva have spent a year analysing data from the LEP accelerator. Researcher detected neither symmetry nor super-symmetry particles, which includes axions (New Scientist, 8 December 2001, pp. 4-5). Though Popper never equated non-science with science fiction, the lack of evidence with theoretical science such as the evolution theory and science’s agreement with science fiction rather than evidence of reality, implies it strongly.
I don't think there's anything worth saying about this that hasn't already been said.

Like I said, open thread. Have at it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

One among 27.2 million

That's what I am, according to the latest State of the Blogosphere from David Sifry. I no longer feel so bad about being ranked a mere 16,084th on Technorati. Hey, that's top 0.06 percentile!

Hallq Trivia

Philosophy et. ectera has a list of Philosopy Trivia, begining with, "Philosophy was originally called Cheerioats. Amazingly, it includes a link that can provide trivia on anything. Here's what it has to say about this blog:

Ten Top Trivia Tips about The Uncredible Hallq!

  1. The Uncredible Hallq will give a higher yield if milked when listening to music.
  2. A bride should wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and The Uncredible Hallq.
  3. Koalas sleep for 22 hours a day, two hours more than The Uncredible Hallq!
  4. There are six towns named The Uncredible Hallq in the United States!
  5. It's bad luck to put The Uncredible Hallq on a bed.
  6. It is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same The Uncredible Hallq!
  7. The Uncredible Hallq can't sweat.
  8. Some birds use The Uncredible Hallq to orientate themselves during migration!
  9. The Uncredible Hallq is the sacred animal of Thailand.
  10. The Uncredible Hallq can squeeze his entire body through a hole the size of his beak.
I am interested in - do tell me about

Bad luck to put me on a bed? Hmmm...

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The faiths of Martin Gardener and Ken Ham

I think it was reading Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things in which about Martin Gardner's fideism.

Gardner, for those who don't know, is one of the founding members of CSICOP and the author of such skeptical works as Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Confessions of a Psychic (an expose of Uri Geller).

Most members of CSICOP and the anti-pseudoscience movement in general identify as atheists or agnostics, so when I read that Gardner believed in God, I wanted to know more. His rationale? Credo consolens - I believe because it is consoling.

I got a copy of his Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, and read the essays that had to do with religion. I no argument that went beyond the simple fideism mentioned by Shermer and in an online interview I had found. He says he has much sympathy with Bertrand Russell’s lecture “Why I am not a Christian.” He says we cannot know why there is evil in the world. In one particularly dramatic passage, he declares:
Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything! To a rational mind the world looks like world without God. It looks like a world with no hope for another life. To think otherwise, to believe in spite of appearances, is surely a kind of madness.
Even more striking was the chapter “Prayer: Why I Do Not Think It Foolish.” This was totally unexpected. Gardner was a critic of things like parapsychology.

But once again, perfect fideism is maintained. There is no way to establish the effectiveness of prayer on evidence, he says, and if we did, it would just become another element of the natural world.

I must say I cannot fathom Gardner’s position, but I have a hard time advancing criticism not advanced by Gardner himself, and feel no great urge to. Gardner is no fundamentalist, he has been a critic of such movements as "creation science," and does not even label himself a liberal member of any traditional religion.

I wonder if fundamentalism is possible in such a pure fideist. When one admits that one believes on faith alone, it is hard to believe in eternal perdition for those who disagree, and similarly hard to believe that one’s ideas must be forced into public school science classrooms.

Then, however, I think of Ken Ham. Prominently featured on his website is an essay titled
Creation: 'Where's the proof?' in which he more or less declares that the issue cannot be decided on evidence. How different is this from Gardner's postion?

The difference is that with Ken Ham and his cohorts, this fideism is intermixed with a belief that their claims can be proven. The entire rest of the site it dedicated to pretending to do so. I think, then, that the problem occurs when people refuse to make up their minds on whether they believe on faith or evidence and reason. When this happens, they can put forth various arguments when they want to make life difficult for others but fall back on faith when these arguments fail, only to rebound the next day, claiming they can prove their view is the right one.

I will not, therefore, spend my time denouncing a belief on faith, at least until I see evidence contradicting the above paragraph. However, to those who oscillate between faith and argument, I must say this: please make up your minds!

CotG 33

The 33rd Carnival of the Godless is up at Superlicious,

Resurrection debate available

I just finished watching this debate on whether Jesus rose from the dead. I'm putting it out there for anyone really interested in the subject, but it's far from the best stuff out there - Flew is mainly an expert on Humean arguments against miracles, and only got a few minutes to talk about those. He lets Habermas get away with several sophistries and one major, outright falsehood - that legends about Alexander the Great didn't arise until centuries after his death. I ended up kind of forcing myself at the end to watch it. If anyone else is willing to spend the time, tell me what you think.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Did a controlled demolition bring down the towers?

Last month, a friend directed me to a video claiming that the September 11th attacks were a masssive conspiracy by the U.S. government. After watching it, I sent her the well-known Popular Mechanics arcticle that deals with most of these claims.

Later that day, she responded by sending me a link to the updated version (linked above) which includes a calculation showing that the towers came down at nearly free fall speed. She said she had checked with an engineering student at Madison, and he had confirmed that if the towers had been pancaking, as the PM article claimed, the would have taken longer to fall.

I then gave something of a lecture on the impossibility of concealing such a conspiracy, and the absurdity of the idea that the whole engineering community would be silent if the PM article was wrong about the pancaking. She replied that people are afraid, with all criticism of Bush being considered unpatriotic. I wasn't all that concerned with the data at that point, but I did say that the pancaking might be accounted for in the ~1s longer it took above free fall (a figure we seemed to agree on).

At the end, I demanded to see the engineering student's calculations and see his data sources. I was ready to get some engineering textbooks and learn, learn the relevant material, and do the equations myself.

After telling her this in a somewhat emotional burst, I paused to think about it for a moment: how fast did the towers really fall? To answer this question, I drew upon a skill I had learned in high school physics: the art of making marks on a video screen.

In my first couple analysis, I used pencil and ruler. My efforts are recreated below using Microsoft's paint program (note that I had to put these into jpg format to get blogger to take them, so they're somewhat fuzzier than my originals, but they should be clear enough when you click for the full versions):

The first picture shows a line at the bottom of the smoke cloud, a line at the burning part of the other tower (to compensate for camera movement) and a line across one tower to establish a scale. This scale would be 91 pixels:64 meters (at least it's 91 pixels on my computer). The 64 meter figure for the width of the tower may be found here:


In the second picture, we see that the camera has followed the fall 131 pixels down, while the bottom of the dust cloud is 10 pixels higher on the screen. This means the tower has fallen 121 pixels, or ~85.1m.

As best I can tell, the number after the colon on the timer is 30ths of a second. Put in decimal form, we are 5.73s in to the fall. From all this, we have

85.1m = 1/2 * a * (5.73s)^2

a = 2 * 85.1m / [(5.73s)^2] = 5.18m/s^2

(5.18m/s^2) / (9.8m/s^2) * 100% = 52.8% of freefall acceleration

When I attacked this with ruler and pencil, I got answers from 53% to 56%. I suspect that this is perfectly consistent with pancaking, though I only sent these screen shots to my friend today, and she hasn't found out from the engineer how long pancaking should have taken. This is something of an ongoing story, I may update this if the situation warrants it.

New favorite painter

Thanks to The Huge Entity, I have a New Favorite Painter:

I thought I was looking at a Dali at first. But the guy's painted in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Muslim protesters work to vindicate cartoonists

Some provacative cartoons get published, Muslims get pissed. How provocative? According to the LA Times, one shows Muhammed with a bomb for a turban, and another shows him "standing on a cloud as he tells a group of suicide bombers that paradise has run out of the virgins said to await martyrs upon their death." The sort of thing that would, of course, lead reasonable Muslims to protest that Islam is a religion of peace:
In the Gaza Strip, masked Palestinians fired weapons into the air as they surrounded an office of the European Union and a French cultural center. Two Palestinian militant groups threatened to retaliate against the newspapers by kidnapping European citizens and targeting churches and European offices...

In Jakarta this morning, Muslims protested in the lobby of a high-rise that houses the Danish Embassy, pelted the building with eggs and burned the Danish flag outside.

Editorialists, political leaders and advocates of press freedom said the Muslim backlash, which has included boycotts, death threats and flag burnings, jeopardized democratic rights.
Additionally, according to the New York Times:
"We will not accept less than severing the heads of those responsible," one preacher at the al-Omari mosque here told worshippers during Friday prayers, according to wire service reports. Other demonstrators called for severing the hands of the cartoonists who drew the pictures, unflattering to Muhammad and to Islam.
UPDATE: Ed Brayton's photos of some protesters are a must see.

I'm a loyal grassroots Republican

At least that's what Elizabeth Dole thinks:
(Click for full images, money quote is on the second page.)

Here is how I am sending back my survey document.

And yes, the envelope will contain $1. I figure postage alone will take up most of that.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A bit of linkage

I've decided to discontinue daily blog round ups in order to leave more time for other writing projects. Essays will continue (and I've got three comming down the pipe) but it certainly won't be a daily affair. However, this doesn't mean random linkage will stop entirely, today I've got Prometheus' account of the war on irrationality and a website that has recently come to my attention, The Gay Black Jew. Sample headline from the later: "Terrorist Trades Promise of 70 Virgins For Reality of One Filthy Whore."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Review: The Jesus Puzzel

I've just finished reading Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzel, a book that argues that Jesus never existed. This is, in a sense, a continuation of my review of The God Who Wasn't There.

A general problem with the book is it is hard to separate argument, conclusion, and secondary extrapolation. Too much hinges on a too brief analysis of Paul's letters. There is little in the book that could stand on its own if Doherty's conclusions on these were rejected. Key statements about the Gospels - the Mark was not written until 85-90 A.D., that the first chapters of Luke were a later addition - are argued to briefly.

Doherty's argument concerning Paul is that Paul gives no indication of equating Jesus with a historical man. The problem is that he does, as in Galatian's where he mentions "James, the Lord's brother." Doherty proposes that this was meant figuratively, and I suppose it may have been, but he does not give convincing argument that it definitely was. Then, however, the argument becomes that if Paul had known Jesus was a historical person, he would have talked about him that way more often. Nobody, however, is saying that Paul viewed Jesus in purely historical terms - Paul claims to have seen him post-mortem and never met him in life, so it is not surprising that he refers to him as being historical only occasionally. The more surprising claim is that Paul had no notion of a historical Jesus, but just happened to say things that implied such a figure.

A good point of comparison might be C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. As I recall, mentions of the life of Jesus are sparse in the book, but Lewis certainly believed that Jesus was a historical figure. [I don't plan on re-reading the book for the sake of this one post, but if people can provide even partial lists of HJ references in the book, I would be thankful.]

Without a surer argument from Paul, the rest collapses. For example, Doherty mentions that there seems to be some connection between the Q and the Gospel of Mark. It takes a great deal of confidence in the verdict on Paul to deny that this connection could be a historical Jesus. The argument from the Q is also troublesome. That such a doccument existed may be the most probable explanation for correspondences between Matthew and Luke, but the fact remains that we do not have the doccument, so to make lots of definite statements about it is a dubious undertaking.

One part that comes close to standing alone is his argument that the whole passion account was created based on Hebrew scripture, but the argument is very weak. In his frantic search for the vaguest parallels between the Old Testament and the passion story, he ends up looking rather like Christian apologists who claim that similar passages predicted Jesus' story. Indeed, I suspect Doherty borrowed some of his citations from such apologetic works.

Though Doherty did not hammer parallels with other gods as much as I had expected, these do not prove very much. Consider the following passage from a book on the Native American Ghost Dance movement:
All the delegates agreed that there was a man near the base of the Sierras who said that he was the son of God, who had once been killed by the whites, and who bore on his body the scars of the crucifixion. He had now returned to punish the whites for their wickedness, especially for their injustice toward the Indians.
That the figure described, Wovoka, has been mythologically mixed up with Jesus is obvious, but Wovoka was in fact a real person. It is entirely possible that Paul identified the real figure of Jesus with other gods of his day.

There are two points in Doherty's argument, "smoking guns," he calls, them, where he does not merely argue from silence, but they do not smoke as hot as he thinks. He claims Heb 8:4 says "If he had been on earth" but as Richard Carrier points out in his generally positive review of the book, the correct reading is "if he were on earth" (See Appendix 1, 10x). The other is a passage where a 2nd century Christian apologist appears to reject the idea of a historical Christ, but this is not nearly as clear as Paul's mention of Jesus' brother.

In sum, I must concluded that this book does not merit the attention it has gotten in atheist circles.