Link blog: religion, science, politics, christianity

How to Think About Science

Metafilter links to a bunch of podcasts from modern historians and philosophers of science. I've linked to Mefi rather than the podcasts as there are some interesting comments from valkyryn in the thread, on what Shapin and Schaffer were saying about the role of trust in the scientific community.
(tags: audio science metafilter history philosophy)

The late, mannerist years of identity politics

"I am X, and I am different from Y. Other people are ignorant of the difference between X and Y. They must be educated. People, you must call me X and respect my difference from yourself, and from Y. You must refer to me by the term I have chosen to refer to myself by, and stay tuned for any changes I choose to make in this label, and new terms you must use to describe me — those new terms which the stigma treadmill or reclamation of previously-taboo terms may, from time to time, make it necessary for me to substitute."
(tags: identity politics gender feminism transexualism)

A gay witch hunt in Uganda

Andrew Brown: "A bill currently before the Ugandan parliament (pdf) proposes seven year prison sentences for discussing homosexuality; life imprisonment for homosexual acts; and death for a second offence. Sober observers believe it will be passed. The Anglican church in Uganda appears to support it, and the Church of England in this country is absolutely silent."
(tags: homosexuality morality anglicanism religion christianity sex uganda john-sentamu sentamu)

Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Christian commenter on Unreasonable Faith: "All ex-Christians are in league with Satan and are fully aware of it, don’t let yourselves be fooled into believing otherwise." Bugger, I've been rumbled. Time to buy a red cape…
(tags: atheism ex-christian de-conversion satan lolxians christianity religion)

Because As We All Know, The Green Party Runs the World.

Peter Watts on the email leaks from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. "That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby."
(tags: global-warming climate science peter-watts politics environment email leak)

Richard Norman – Beyond belief

Richard Norman on the "New Believers": Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong and such like, the people who say religion is not remotely about believing stuff. "I cannot see how, in the end, a distinctive religious identity can be possible unless it is based on the acceptance of at least some non-metaphorical factual beliefs – beliefs about the existence of a personal deity and about how his intentions and purposes explain our world. Those beliefs do, inescapably, need to be rationally defended. And they can’t be. On that point, certainly, Dawkins is right."
(tags: richard-norman belief religion karen-armstrong terry-eagleton eagleton richard-dawkins)

‘The Evolution of Confusion’ by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009

Dennett on his project to interview clergy who no longer believe but are closeted (Dennett explicitly makes the analogy with gay people in the 1950s), on "deepities" in theology (interestingly, he rejects criticisms that other 3 horsemen don't know enough theology or philosophy), and on how we needn't suppose some people sat down and conspired to make up religions.
(tags: religion video dennett evolution daniel-dennett theology memes deepity)

The Daily Mash – CLIMATE CHANGE EMAILS STOP GLACIERS FROM MELTING

"This is the smoking iceberg that fires a polar bear of truth between the eyes of hysteria and communism."
(tags: funny climate environment satire global-warming science)
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My inner witness is tingling

In her series on Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science, Valerie Tarico reports on the work of neurologist Robert Burton. Burton argues that “Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of knowing what we know arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that, like love or anger, function independently of reason.” I thought of Burton’s stuff recently: over on Common Sense Atheism, Luke Muehlhauser linked to William Lane Craig’s Q&A blog. Someone asks whether Craig would still be a Christian if his favourite arguments were defeated or if Jesus’ bones were found, and Craig responds by saying that “even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit’s witness”. Muehlhauser remarks that Craig “doesn’t give a damn about evidence”.

Muehlhauser is right to say that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit cannot be good evidence. People will believe God has caused certain beliefs to arise in them regardless of whether God has or not. It’s hard to see how evangelicals like Craig could disagree with this, since, for example, they presumably do not think that God convinced Muslims to be Muslim, whereas at least some Muslims do think this.

My sensus divinatatis is tingling

Unfortunately for atheists, lack of evidence will only worry evangelicals if they accept that all beliefs should be derived from evidence. Craig, following Alvin Plantinga, does not accept this (although Craig disagrees with Plantinga on Christian theology: Craig thinks that God “witnesses” to people, Plantinga thinks that people have a sensus divinatatis, a faculty which enables them to know things about God). According to Allen Stairs, Plantinga argues that some beliefs are formed legitimately, but without being inferred from other statements which serve as evidence. Take, for example, my belief that I have a headache, or my belief that I can usually trust my senses, or that the world was not created 5 minutes ago with the false appearance of age. Plantinga calls such beliefs “properly basic”, and says there is no good reason not to put belief in God in the same category.

One objection to Plantinga is that this sort of argument proves too much: Matt McCormick wonders whether he might have a sensus atheistus which assures him that anyone who claims to have experienced God is mistaken. This seems weaker than Plantinga’s claim (since it’s not clear where the atheist sense comes from, whereas Plantinga claims his divine sense comes from God), but then, who cares whether the argument goes against you when you have a sensus atheistus? What of other religions where people claim revelations from God? Craig says his job is to use factual arguments to convince those people that their apparent revelations are merely internal experiences. He says this is what atheists should also do with him, though this seems to contradict his earlier statement that such persuasion shouldn’t work on him.

There’s also the problem of the content of this revelation. Just what is included in it, and how can you tell? Christians are a bit reticent about it, in my experience: Sye the presuppositionalist never did tell me whether he could distinguish between knowledge revealed by God and knowledge he obtained by other means, nor did I ever find out whether the Holy Spirit witnesses to robhu that Hebrews is inspired scripture but 1 Clement isn’t.

Craig seems to go further than Plantinga in one important respect. Plantinga’s work, as described by Craig, tries to address the allegation that Christianity is unmotivated or irrational, by shifting the burden of proof onto people who disagree with it: they must show I’m wrong, Plantinga says, I don’t have to show I’m right. Craig goes further, and says that no arguments or evidence should convince him: that’s unmotivated and irrational.

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Dancing: Bruce: Paso Doble

<lj-cut text=”The woman is the cape, she is not the bull”>
Start square to wall with feet apart, upper body rotated left a bit and right arm reaching around and supporting the woman’s back, she’s in front of you leaning back into it so her head is on your left.

1 2: wait 3: rotate right so she straightens up, 4&: she spins to man’s right 5: close RF to LF, man catches her left hand in his right, right arm outstretched to the right, 6&7 8, lead her by pulling on the arm, she spins back to man’s left side, man catches her right in his left, and you’re facing each other, not too close together.

& appel RF, forward walks as she walks backwards: 1 2 3 4 (L,R,L,R) aiming for her RHS so you catch up to her by 4

& appel LF taking promenade hold (she turns to walk forward with you), walks: 5 6 7, on 8 step across her raising left hand hand (R, L, R, L).

Twist turn: 1: step behind on ball of RF without weight, &: twist to R, unwind so you’re facing along new LoD (assuming you’ve just hit the corner), lowering left hand to waist level 2: forward RF, continuing to push left hand forward and up 3&: wait, turning her under left hand 4: small jump on both feet, leaving weight on RF, now facing her, normal hold, 5&6 chasse to L (L,R,L), 7: step through with RF, 8&1 chasse to L (L,R,L)

The woman’s doing all the work with the spins in this one, so it’s a small matter of getting the arms in the right place to help her while also getting the footwork and timing right.

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Link blog: religion, humour, video, politics

Is Obama About To Become Just Another War Criminal?

"Aghanistan is not a country, it's a criminal enterprise" – Evert Cilliers wonders what America is doing there, a question you might also ask about the UK.
(tags: drugs politics war afghanistan taliban pakistan islam)

George Carlin – Religion is bullshit.

Carlin's classic routine on religion, in which he tells us how he worships the Sun and Joe Pesci. May be "strident".
(tags: religion video youtube funny atheism humour god carlin comedy)

36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD —  By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

The Edge introduces and gives us an excerpt from Goldstein's novel. The 36 arguments (and their rebuttals) are included in the excerpt, handily: the moral argument and the cosmological argument are in there.
(tags: religion philosophy god atheism books morality)

Caveman Science Fiction

From the same people who brought you "Dungeons and Discourse": Caveman SF.
(tags: comics scifi funny science satire comic humour)

The Open Road London (1927)

Colour footage of London in 1927. Pretty amazing stuff.
(tags: london video history youtube archive)

Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent

The stories of former Islamists who came back from the brink, and just what went wrong to put them there in the first place. "From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of "Go back where you came from!" But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn't want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as "the funny foreign child", and told to "explain their customs" to the class. It patronised them into alienation. "
(tags: islam religion politics terrorism culture war hari johann-hari jihad islamism)
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Evangelicalese: the author reminisces

scribb1e enjoyed Valerie Tarico’s article on evangelicalese, and even watched the video Tarico linked to, of Susan Hutchison speaking at a prayer breakfast. If you’d like a shorter example of more of the same, here’s evangelical Christian Peter Vadala being interviewed on Fox News about how he was fired for telling a lesbian co-worker that homosexuality was “bad stuff” after the co-worker repeatedly provoked him by mentioning her fiancée. Intriguingly, Vadala once wrote a “Christian musical”: urbaniak has the full story, including a copy of the termination letter from Vadala’s former employer and links to MP3s of the musical.

Trigger Warning: watching the videos may provoke flashbacks for ex-evangelicals. To aid your understanding while watching them, here’s a brief glossary of terms I remembered from my misspent youth:

Prayer breakfast

An easy one to get you started: it’s a communal breakfast where you pray. My former church had “men’s prayer breakfasts”. I never found out what went on at them, as I regarded getting up before 9 am as an abomination before the LORD (“Woe to them that rise up early in the morning”, as Isaiah 5:11 says).

Speaking the truth in love

There’s a well known provision of the Highway Code which says you can park where you like as long as you leave your indicators on (well known, that is, to drivers of white vans). Likewise, in evangelical circles, the rule is that you can be as rude as you like as long as it’s done “in love”. A reference to Ephesians 4:15.

Lifestyle

You’d think this might mean “the way someone lives their life”, but in fact it always refers to having sex in a way God disapproves of (such as outside marriage, which obviously includes gay sex, as gays can’t really get married).

Convicted

What you feel when God tells you you’ve been doing something bad, like not telling off a so-called homosexual for brazenly flaunting their so-called engagement. Traditionally, one is convicted by the Holy Spirit, a reference to John 16:8.

Struggling with

Regularly enjoying something, and then feeling convicted (q.v.) about it afterwards. Always to do with sex, e.g. “struggling with pornography”. (I also liked revme‘s definition).

Bad stuff

That’s a new one on me, though it does follow in a long tradition of using understated words for things you really deeply disapprove of. When I was a lad, those things were “dodgy”, but that may be a Britishism.

Let’s not accuse of all Christians of being unreflective about this: Adrian Plass does a fine line in sending up this sort of jargon, as does Stuff Christians Like (Crafting the perfect Christian dating profile is particularly excellent) and Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Back in my misspent youth, I even had a go myself. Still, Vadala could do with a dose of Plass, I think.

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Link blog: christianity, religion, science, humour

‘Good Reasons for ‘Believing’ in God’ by Dan Dennett

Dennett talks about why it's sensible to profess belief in God. He lives up to his reputation of being a bit fluffier than Dawkins.
(tags: daniel-dennett philosophy religion atheism)

Valerie Tarico: Christian Belief Through The Lens of Cognitive Science: Part 6 of 6

The final part of Tarico's series, which links to the others. "Despite its boundaries, cognitive science, does offer what is rapidly becoming a sufficient explanation for the supernaturalism that underlies organized religion."
(tags: christianity science religion brain psychology cognitive-bias cognition)

WHY DOES THE UNVIERSE LOOK THE WAY IT DOES: A Conversation With Sean Carroll

"Inflation does not provide a natural explanation for why the early universe looks like it does unless you can give me an answer for why inflation ever started in the first place. That is not a question we know the answer to right now. That is why we need to go back before inflation into before the Big Bang, into a different part of the universe to understand why inflation happened versus something else."
(tags: physics cosmology big-bang universe inflation string-theory)

RegEx match open tags except XHTML self-contained tags – Stack Overflow

"If you parse HTML with regex you are giving in to Them and their blasphemous ways which doom us all to inhuman toil for the One whose Name cannot be expressed in the Basic Multilingual Plane, he comes." Quite right: you should use Beautiful Soup like everyone else does.
(tags: funny programming humour xml parse lovecraft stackoverflow regexp regex html)

The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality

Alex Rosenberg argues that scientism is a good thing, and puts forward a very reductionist naturalism which he applies to consciousness, morality and a bunch of other stuff philosophers like to worry about. His fellow naturalists disagree in the comments (notably, Richard Carrier and Tom Clark produce good arguments against him).
(tags: naturalism philosophy science reductionism morality consciousness)

Riffs: 11:14:09: Patrol Magazine and Evangelicals Who Won’t “Get Over It”

"It is astonishing that so many intelligent Christians seem to believe there is a deficit in emphasis on evangelism and scriptural literalism, and that, if the hatches are just battened down on a more solid “worldview,” evangelicalism can resume explaining the universe to new generations of believers."
(tags: evangelicalism christianity)

I’m Belle de Jour

Former blogging prostitute Belle de Jour reveals her real identity to the Times. She was an impoverished PhD student.
(tags: culture sex identity anonymous science prostitution)

What Stormtroopers do on Their Day Off

Funny photos of stormtroopers at play.
(tags: humour funny scifi images starwars toys photo photography)

Valerie Tarico: Speaking Evangelese: Tips for Politicians

Tarico's article on evangelical jargon phrases and dog whistles. Some of these sound familiar
(tags: evangelicalism christianity politics religion jargon language)

Experimental Theology: Christians and Torture: Part 6, Hell and Torture

Richard Beck over at Experimental Theology has been doing a series of posts on Christian and torture. His survey said: "Christians who believed in a horrific and never-ending hell were more likely to endorse torture. As God tortures so we torture." Unsurprising, perhaps, but interesting to see it backed up by research. In the comments, Beck notes the correlation is not strong, but is significant.
(tags: hell torture politics religion christianity morality)
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Argument, authority and batshittery

Following on from my link to The Ad Hominem Fallacy Fallacy, londonkds wonders how legitimate it is to say “This person has previously shown themselves to be ignorant/misinformed/lying/batshit on this subject on several occasions, therefore I have better things to do with my time than to rigorously investigate all their arguments this time”. I’ve replied on the original thread, but I thought I’d create a new post with my reply in:

Reminds me of Yudkowsky’s stuff on reversed stupidity and the follow up, Argument Screens Off Authority.

If someone is reliably wrong (a well informed liar), you can learn something by listening to them: you just increase the weight you give to beliefs which contradict what they say on topics where you know they tend to lie. But this might not be useful, if you already strongly believe stuff which contradicts what they say.

In practice, the people are ignorant or batshit haven’t carefully studied how to be wrong. There are more ways to be wrong than right, so they probably are wrong, but you don’t learn anything by listening to them, because their statements aren’t tangled up with the truth at all. As Yudkowsky and brokenhut say, you can decide not to listen to such people because life is too short, but that decision shouldn’t influence your opinion on the truth of their argument (though it’s hard not to be influenced in practice). So I think your quoted statement is a justifiable one as long as you don’t append “and I’ll believe their argument less as a result”.

Suber’s stuff on logical rudeness covers the case where your belief that they’re batshit is because of some theory you hold which includes explanations of how all critics of the theory are batshit (examples exist in evangelical Christianity, atheism and feminism, that I’ve seen). ISTM that such a theory can’t be used to dismiss critical arguments, though it can be used to explain why so many people apparently don’t believe the theory.

(You can comment on the original post: I’ve disabled comments on this one to keep all the discussion in one place).

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Link blog: debate, funny, game-theory, humour

Mitchell and Webb – Stalin Vs Hitler (arguing the moral toss)

"Welcome to Arguing the Moral Toss". You know who else said that: Hitler!
(tags: hitler stalin mitchell-and-webb funny video youtube morality humour debate)

The Redheaded Skeptic

"Notes on the journey from minister's wife to atheist". Laura from Arkansas was married to a Baptist pastor who sounds like a real charmer. She writes about the emotional side of her transition to atheism.
(tags: atheism christianity religion de-conversion fundamentalism complementarianism)

The ad hominem fallacy fallacy

What is, and is not, an ad hominem argument (for example, insults aren't, unless they're part of an argument).
(tags: logic philosophy argument language fallacy writing debate ad-hominem)

The Loitering Presence of the Rational ­Actor

A review of "The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences" by Herbert Gintis. The reviewer goes into examples of where human behaviour deviates from economists' ideas of rationality.
(tags: rationality economics cognitive-bias game-theory prisoners-dilemma)

pshift man page

The manual page for the paradigm shift utility on Unix. An oldie, but a goodie.
(tags: funny unix paradigm kuhn)
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Link blog: philosophy, morality, science, video

Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism — Pitts 59 (4): 675 — The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Paper on whether the Big Bang supports theistic arguments for creation ex nihilo, and particularly the Kalam argument. Notably, the author points out that if the singularity in the past requires a Creator, surely singularities in the future (such as black holes) require a Destroyer.
(tags: science religion creationism kalam bigbang big-bang Singularity philosophy)

August and Everything After (San Francisco, 2004)

Adam Duritz singing the Counting Crows song whose lyrics are on the album cover of August and Everything After (but which doesn't appear on the album itself). There are a couple of live versions of this: this one's better because the crowd aren't yelling through it.
(tags: counting-crows adam-duritz music)

Gastronomic Realism—A Cautionary Tale

Loeb's charming paper comparing Moral Realism and Gastronomic Realism (the idea that some foods are simply better than others, independent of individual tastes).
(tags: philosophy morality food realism gastronomic don-loeb system:filetype:pdf system:media:document)

“The Collapse Of Intelligent Design”

Ken Miller demonstrating why ID is not backed by evidence. Miller's a Catholic, not a neo-sceptical atheist neo-rationalist.
(tags: ken-miller intelligent-design id evolution creationism science biology dna)

Don Loeb – Moral Irrealism

Philosopher Don Loeb in conversation about moral irrealism, the view that there are no moral facts independent of our beliefs about them. Touches on whether introducing a God would help moral realism: Loeb thinks not.
(tags: philosophy morality atheism don-loeb)

Mr. Deity and the Identity Crisis

"any time anyone's said anything comprehensible about the Trinity the Church has declared it a heresy." – Gareth
(tags: funny video religion christianity trinity mr-deity)

The Non-Expert: IKEA by Matthew Baldwin

A walkthrough of the various levels of the IKEA game: "As you continue through the main SHOWROOM you will see groups blocking the walkways while chatting and others moving against traffic. These people should be killed immediately."
(tags: funny humour culture parody games ikea furniture shopping)

David Nutt: Governments should get real on drugs – opinion – 04 November 2009 – New Scientist

David Nutt's opinion piece in New Scientist.
(tags: drugs science badscience government law medicine politics david-nutt)

A life changed by evidence

Series of videos by a former evangelical Christian explaining why he became an atheist. Well produced and informative stuff. The chap makes a palpable effort to show how he was a Christian and how, for much of the time before his deconversion, he thought the things he was learning could be incorporated into Christianity rather than working against it.
(tags: video youtube de-conversion christianity evangelicalism bible morality)
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God and physics or Who is this Kalam person, anyway?

Over at Ex-apologist’s blog, the former apologist links to a paper and a response to it which straddle the boundary between physics and theology. I’m a sucker for this sort of stuff. The paper is J. Brian Pitts’s Why the Big Bang Singularity Does Not Help the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Theism, and the response comes from William Lane Craig, who revitalised the Kalam argument for the existence of God.

There are some real physicists reading this, so I’d be interested to know what you think of this stuff. I’ve left a comment over on the ex-apologist’s blog, which I’ve pasted below:

I love this stuff: it combines physics, philosophy and religion. I don’t think Craig’s response addresses Pitts’s paper terribly well: they appear to be talking past each other. I have a physics degree gathering dust and a passing acquaintance with the philosophy of science, and I don’t find Craig terribly convincing (but then, I’m also an ex-Christian atheist, so I wouldn’t, would I?)

Craig seems to have misunderstood Pitts. Craig says the Kalam does not rely on a singularity but merely on the universe having a finite age, but as a matter of fact, Craig does appear to argue that the Big Bang singularity represent divine intervention, so Pitts’s Cosmic Destroyer argument seems to have some force. When Pitts makes this argument, he accepts, for the sake of the argument, Craig’s own claim that the past singularity of the Big Bang represents God’s creative intervention, and asks why someone who accepts that claim would not also say that God intervenes destructively in black holes. The idea that God would do so probably seems silly to Christians, but Pitts says that on Craig’s own argument, this feeling of silliness isn’t well motivated. On the other hand, if the feeling of silliness is correct, perhaps Craig is wrong about singularities. A third possibility is for Craig to find some way to distinguish between the singularities, but Craig does not address this directly in his response.

Pitts’s thoughts about possible other theories aren’t necessarily an expression of Pitts’s theological commitments (whatever those may be). The reference to van Fraassen is a clue (and the fact that this stuff is published in a philosophy of science journal): Pitts is talking about the arguments between scientific realism and more empiricist philosophies of science which owe something to logical positivism, such as van Fraassen’s own constructive empiricism. He’s taking a middle position: the unobservable objects posited by theories are meaningful but we ought to be careful about how far we believe they are real (van Fraassen says we can have no grounds to do so, though, contra positivism, we can accept that our theories meaningfully make such claims about unobservables; realists say there are grounds for believing in unobservables). Craig appears to be quite a bit more of a realist about General Relativity than Pitts, or indeed than working physicists like Sean Carroll.

The references to Bach-Weyl and so on are waved away (I’m no expert, but I think in that specific case, rightly, since as far as I can tell Pitts is talking about an early, failed attempt at a unified theory of gravity and electromagnetism), but the possibility of a theory which does not give lengths (durations) to curves should worry Craig, unless he is completely committed to GR. What does it mean to say “the Universe began to exist” on such a theory, or if the universe looks like Carroll thinks it does? Dennett: “What Professor Craig does, brilliantly and with a wonderful enthusiasm, is he takes our everyday intuitions—our gut feelings about what’s plausible, what’s counterintuitive, what couldn’t possibly be true—and he cantilevers them out into territory where they’ve never been tested, in cosmology where whatever the truth is, it’s mindboggling.” (thanks to Daniel Fincke for that one).

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