PZ Myers on the radio

Did I mention I was on Christian talk radio once? No? Well, anyway, some other chap called PZ Myers was also on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable programme, talking about science and religion, a topic much discussed in blog-land recently. His Christian opposite number was Denis Alexander, who runs something called the Faraday Institute here in Cambridge, which was started by a grant from those naughty (but terribly well funded) Templeton Foundation people. You can listen to the audio on Premier’s site, and read Myers’s commentary on his blog.

It was an interesting programme. Myers is a strident shrill fundamentalist neo-rationalist atheist on his blog, but is softly spoken in person. The talk was pretty well mannered. <lj-cut text=”Who said what”>Myers and Alexander agree that there’s no place for god-talk in the science lab, and that evolution happened without divine meddling (amusingly, the presenter was careful to add a disclaimer that not all Christians believe the latter, presumably in an attempt to anticipate the letters in green crayon from creationists and intelligent design supporters). Myers was careful to limit the terms of the debate: he specifically objected to the project of using religious means to find out stuff about how the world works, saying that religion gets it wrong and science does better. Alexander accused Myers of scientism and argued that there are fields of discourse other than science which humans find worthwhile (law, art, and so on), but Myers kept coming back to how we find out how the world works.

Alexander argued that big questions like “why is there something rather than nothing?” are things we can reason about (specifically, using inference to the best explanation), but are not within the purview of science. He finds the human feeling that life has a purpose suggestive, because there’s a dissonance between atheism and the feeling of purpose. Myers argues that a sense of purpose is inculcated by successful cultures. Justin Brierley paraphrases Plantinga, but nobody bites. Summing up, Myers says that religion is superfluous not just in science, but in the rest of life also. Alexander says that science isn’t the only dimension to life, and that his personal relationship with Jesus makes his science work part of his worship.

I think I’d’ve been a bit less eager to attribute the human need for purpose to evolution, although Myers backed off that a bit when he talked about a cultural idea of purpose. Rather, I’d question the notional that an absolute, eternal purpose is the only real sort of purpose, just as I’d question the same assertion about morality.

I’d also question Alexander’s claim that Christians are applying inference to the best explanation in a similar way to scientists. According to philosophers of science, that inference should only be applied when an explanation is clearly better than the alternatives. The idea that a specific sort of god did it doesn’t seem clearly better, as Hume could have told you (unless by “better” we mean “in agreement with my religion”, I suppose).

Myers and Alexander spent a lot of time talking past each other when they were trying to work out what Myers’s objections were. Myers was wise to talk about methodology rather than disagreement about specific facts, on the grounds that science is a set of tools rather than a static body of knowledge. But Alexander is right that there are other legitimate ways to gain knowledge.

Perhaps we should talk about things that those legitimate ways have in common. As Eliezer says, if I’m told by my friend Inspector Morse that Wulky Wilkinsen runs the local crime syndicate, I’d be a fool to annoy Wulky. My belief is not established scientifically, but I’ve got some strong evidence, because Morse is much more likely to tell me that if Wilkinsen really is a shady character than if he isn’t. As Myers argues, reliance on holy books doesn’t work, but not because it’s not science. Rather, because a report of a miracle in a holy book may occur with or without the actual miracle having happened, with at least even odds (to see this, consider how one religion views another’s book, and note that if God wanted us to have a holy book, it would bear the 5 marks of a true holy book). As we saw last time, that your theory is compatible with the observation is not good enough. Rather, say, “Is this observation more likely if my idea is true than if it is not?”

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What is faith?

Prompted by Rowan Williams saying that neo-atheist fundamentalists aren’t attacking the religion ++Rowan actually believes in, the Barefoot Bum has a good bit on the role of the term “faith” in discussions with believers.

Getting killed on the next zebra crossing

The argument goes something like this: religious faith is sometimes taken by atheists to mean “belief without evidence” (Dawkins says as much in The God Delusion, for example). “Ah, no,” say believers, “that’s not what faith means, our belief is based on the evidence”. There follows an interlude for examination of this evidence, which turns out not to be so impressive. “Did we say based on? We meant compatible with,” say the believers. “That’s not good enough”, says the Bum, “all sorts of things are compatible with the evidence if you’re prepared to add ad hoc stuff to shore up the core beliefs you really don’t want to get rid of, but then those core beliefs are held without regard to evidence”. “But,” say believers, “you yourself have some core beliefs you hold without regard to evidence”. “Well,” says the Bum, “I don’t think so, but anyway, you’ve just conceded that I was right about faith, haven’t you?” “Oh dear,” say the believers, “we hadn’t thought of that”, and promptly disappear in a puff of logic.

Six impossible things before breakfast

The believers’ final attempt to parry the Bum is similar to an apologetic argument I’ve seen, whereby the believer says “If you have an unevidenced belief that your senses aren’t under the control of the Matrix or of a cartesiandaemon, why not round it off by believing in my religion?” This is an odd argument: the believer mentions beliefs you might doubt if you’re a radical sceptic (you’ll recall that you risk becoming a radical sceptic if you’re a university-educated Catholic), but which most people accept because it’s impractical not to. It turns out that belief in gods is something we can get by without. (On a related note, the folks over at Iron Chariots have a reasonable article on the proposition that atheism is based on faith).

Edited: Chris Hallquist puts it better than I did, when he says that “belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threatened by Descartes & Hume-style skepticism (like belief in the reliability of our senses), but is an awful lot like beliefs most Christians wouldn’t accept without evidence–namely, the beliefs of other religions. That kind of response is very hard to reject without special pleading on behalf of Christianity, and doesn’t involve commitment to any potentially troublesome epistemic principles.”

Three parts of faith

There’s another thing missing from the popular atheist definition of faith. At least for Christians, faith has an element of trust as well as acceptance of facts. After all, even the demons believe.

Over at Parchment and Pen, C. Michael Patton separates faith into three parts: content (faith in what?), assent (affirmation that the content is true) and trust (the part that the demons lack). Patton blames the lack of assent (which requires an examination of the evidence) for the loss of faith of the ex-Christians he’s encountered. He goes so far as to say that the statement “You ask me how I know he lives, he lives within my heart” is stupid. Patton seems quite different from other Christians, who say that the main reason they believe is the internal feeling of God’s presence, what they call the witness of the Holy Spirit. One can perhaps forgive atheists for using “faith” in a way Christians don’t like if the Christians themselves aren’t sure what it’s about.

The virtue of faith

A thought which should occur to anyone who reads Less Wrong: you can make people reluctant to give up religious faith by making them think that having faith is virtuous. And this is what we find: in Christian philosophy, the theological virtue of “faith” is holding on to belief in the face of doubt. But hang on, where is the virtue in this? Chopping and changing all the time would be impractical, but it’s hard to see why it’s wrong. I suppose that conceiving of a religion as a relationship with God makes faith seem virtuous, because then we apply our notions of faithfulness within a human relationship. But these notions do not apply to facts about the world (even the demons believe), and to think that they do is to fall victim to a cognitive trick (since if the facts of religion are not correct, maybe there’s no-one to have a relationship with). Rather, say:

If the sky is blue
I desire to believe “the sky is blue”.
If the sky is not blue
I desire to believe “the sky is not blue”.

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Music and dancing

I muck around with music a bit (I tend to sing for better keyboard players, although I did bash out tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber for Dummies at the last singing party we had), and I also dance. I thought it’d be fun to try to get these two things together in my head, by working out how the music for ballroom dancing works. After a bit of Googling for pages written by people who know more than I do, here it is. Seeing as there are better musicians and better dancers than me reading this, they can correct me if I get it wrong.

Foxtrot

Foxtrot is in 4/4 time, between 112 and 120 beats per minute (according to these people). It’s typically danced to Big Band music. The music emphasises beats 1 and 3. I think I can see that in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, where the accompaniment either hits more notes on the treble clef, or uses the bass line to keep that emphasis. In Bobby Darin’s version, the brass is hitting those beats in the intro.

The steps are typically 1 beat or 2 beats long, and we call them “quick” and “slow”, respectively (if I’m writing it down, I’ll abbreviate to Q and S). The basic rhythm of the dance is slow-quick-quick, which means the first two steps hit the emphasised beats. Some figures in the dance vary the rhythm, but the “slow” step, if there is one, starts either on beat 1 or beat 3. Here are the Hiltons giving us something to aspire to, with music and the slows and quicks, starting about 1:25.

<lj-cut text=”Waltz, Quickstep, Tango, over”> Waltz

Waltz is in 3/4 time, as any fule kno . The tempo for slow waltz is about 84 to 90 beats per minute. The music strongly emphasises beat 1.

The steps are typically one step per beat, one-two-three, leading off strongly on beat 1. Sometimes, to get more steps into a bar, one of the beats is split into two half beats, with the second half of the split beat being counted “and”. For example, in the whisk/chassé combination we count the chassé “one, two and three”. Once again, the Hiltons show us how it’s done, starting about 1:20.

The Viennese Waltz is a lot faster, about 180 beats per minute. It’s typically done to classical stuff from Johann Strauss, although other possibilities exist, and of course, a fast waltz gives you the opportunity to dance to silly songs. It’s danced at 1 step per beat, and the steps are mostly turns in each direction as you progress around the floor, and the fleckrl, where the couple rotate about each other rapidly in the centre of the room to show off. There are no split beats in it, it’s fast enough already. Here are some good people doing it.

Quickstep

Quickstep and foxtrot have common roots. Musically, quickstep is in 4/4 again with the emphasis on beats 1 and 3, but faster, at around 200 beats per minute. Again, it’s typically danced to fast Big Band or jazz music, usually about a drum kit that’s getting lonely waiting for its owner to come back from World War II, or some such.

The steps are timed as 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks like in foxtrot, and the rhythm is typically slow-quick-quick. But the figures we dance in quickstep have more in common with waltz than foxtrot. It’s also more common for figures to roll over the end of the bar, so that you lead off on beat 3 sometimes (the chassé and quarter turn that everyone learns as a beginner does this: it’s phrased as SQQS SQQS). Despite it being fast, we still get split beats in quickstep, too, usually called “quick-a-quick” (there’s obviously not enough time to even say the word “and”).

Tango

La Cumparsita is the quintessential tango. We’re still in 4/4, at about 130 beats per minute. The music is staccato (although I’m not sure how well the dots over the notes have come out in the image on the right). There’s a sudden “ba-dump” into beat 1: the piano has a half beat on the bass line of the previous bar in the example on the right, which came from 8notes.com. We usually feel like there’s an 8 beat phrase over the 4 beat bars.

Ballroom tango comes from Argentina via a bit of cleaning up in Paris. Again, there are 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks, and the odd split beat too. Typically figures are danced quick-quick-slow. It looks nothing like foxtrot or quickstep, though: the style of it matches the staccato style of the music. The dancers stalk around on the slow steps and hit the quicks as quick as they can, and then stop as still as they can, so that the quicks end up being shortened. Here are Marco Cavallaro and Joanne Clifton having some fun with it. I saw them at a ball some years ago: they were great.

Next time, I’ll try and work out what the Latin dances are about.

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The role of Mach 1+ attack helicopters in apocalyptic literature

The LadyMetafilter linked to a bunch of Star Wars versions of the opening titles of 80s TV programmes, which in turn lead me to Ernie Cline’s Airwolf monologue, which had me chortling merrily to myself. You should listen to it.

Was Airwolf airwolf? The Lady sure is pretty (pic related: it’s her). The programme itself was usually fun, if you were young enough not to notice that they only had so many stock clips of Airwolf flying through a canyon or shooting at things. Wikipedia says the first series was darker than the later two. I don’t remember that, though I do remember Hawke’s love interest being left to die in a desert by the baddie, a sort of reverse woman in a refrigerator.

Two things made it stand out for me. One was that it has the best theme tune of any TV programme, ever.

The other was that bit which, at least in my memory, occurred in almost every episode. The baddies think they’re having it their own way; then Airwolf rises over a ridge line with her guns out, howling like a demon, and the baddies realise they’re about to have a very bad day indeed.

It is the expectation of this moment that kept me watching. The firefight after that was a foregone conclusion, it was the sudden reversal which was thrilling, the knowledge that justice would now be done. Airwolf as apocalyptic: there must be a paper in that for someone.

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Dancing: Paul pp Clive: Cha-cha, Tango

<lj-cut text=”Contains explicit steps”>
Ballroom and Latin B (t’other PaulW pp Clive)

Cha:
Natural top
Rotate body to R (&), step forward L, replace, cha-cha-cha to L (2 3 4 & 1). Lead lady to spiral on &, ending in cuddle hold side by side, both man and lady with weight on L. Let go hold.
Close RF to LF, transfer weight to LF, step to side RF (2&3)
Close RF to LF, transfer weight to RF, step to side LF (4&1) – the overall effect is hip rotations: the hips start facing the training leg, close up for figure of 8 and you push off the standing foot rotate to face the other trailing leg. Or so it seemed to me.
Back RF, replace, forward locks (2 3 4&1)
Spot turn to L, forward locks (2 3 4&1)
2 more forward locks (2&3 4&1)
Spot turn, (2 3), 3 more forward locks (4&1 2&3 4&1), the last lock the woman turns and steps back instead.
Forward basic,
Back basic leading alamana,
New Yorker to R,
New Yorker to L,
Fast New Yorkers, R then L
New Yorker to R,
Spot turn to L,
Natural top if you want to repeat it.

Top tips: either turn or step, not both at same time. Isolation of upper body from hips is important for those hip wiggles.

Tango:

First half of long side:

Start near corner, facing diag wall.
5 step: forward, side, behind, side, rotate body to PP (feet stationary) QQQQS
Diagonally forward L, through R, flick L, bring LF behind RF and ball change (ball of LF, flat of RF) SQQ&S
Ronde LF round to put you back in the usual PP (S)
Flick head and hips to R then L (feet stationary) (S)
Diagonally forward L, R (after step, rotate body to L after step to lead lady to close), forward L, lock RF behind L (SQQ&)
Usual tango turn (KEEEERwick quick slow, KEEERwick quick slow) ending on RF, OP on her RHS. On the final step, keep hips rotated to her but rotate upper body to left to lead her to raise her leg (she’s standing on one with the other crossed in front just above the knee, I think).
Rotate upper body R (no step), recover weight to LF, return weight to RF, turn sharply to R and tap LF beside R (lady swivels and then taps), to end in closed position facing wall. (QQQQ)

Ballroom and Latin C

The tango above continues:
Step through L, side R, behind L, rotate upper body to R (no step, she swivels), forward R, side L, close R (QQQQ QQS) to end facing wall again.
Forward L, forward R, (SS)
Link (QQS)
Chase: through R, side L, forward R (OP, curving to R), back L (back along LoD, continuing to turn to R) (QQQQ), chasse to R along LoD (Q&Q), link to turn a corner (QQS),

Short side:
Forward R, forward L, lock R behind L (QQS) – stay in PP for the lock otherwise she can’t tell what’s going on, rotate to closed after final step.
Forward L, side R, behind L to end facing diag centre (diag wall of new wall) with her outside on your RHS (QQS)
Rock forward onto RF, back onto LF, step side R (QQS)
Start with the 5 step again. Phew.

There was also a samba, but who likes samba?

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