Link blog: atheism, christianity, religion, anglican

If every hardware engineer just understood that…

Bunch of low level software people whinge at the hardware designers. A bit Windows-specific, but there are some generally applicable things in there (write-only registers, oh my).
(tags: programming embedded drivers windows hardware interrupt)

Ruth Gledhill – Times Online – WBLG: Gays could soon ‘marry’ in churches, synagogues

Civil partnerships are like civil weddings: you can't have anything religious in the ceremony. A group of theists is now asking for that restriction to be lifted so they can perform partnership ceremonies in their churches and synagogues. Seems reasonable to me: we wouldn't want to place restrictions on religious freedom, would we? Oddly, the same Anglican bishops who recently defeated an amendment to the Equality Bill providing greater gay rights (previously) also seem to want to prevent other churches from doing what they want.
(tags: homosexuality religion christianity judaism bigot civil-partnership anglican anglicanism politics)

The Richard Dawkins Foundation net forum (RDF) self-destructs — yet another big atheist board immolates itself

The Dawkins site maintainer decided to re-do their forums. The existing (volunteer) moderators were annoyed that all old comments would be lost and that their positions as mods been done away with without a word of thanks. Maintainer responded to criticism (and to attempts to organise a move to another site) by wielding the banhammer all over the place. Dawkins responds with a post exhibiting no clue about the politics of web forums and what the existing forum users were upset about. Therefore God exists.

This will, I suspect, run and run: the Graun and the Times have already picked up on it with some glee.

Remember: if you post something you think is worthwhile to a forum, keep your own copy.
(tags: lolatheists dawkins richard-dawkins internet drama atheism forum)

Sceptics Beware: The Dangers of Debunking

When debunking popular but false information, it's better not to present the false information over again, as you just re-enforce the availability bias of the false information.
(tags: rationality cognitive-bias debunking availability)

Open Mic: What Have We Wrought? |

iMonk links to a short video of Os Guinness on the Biologos site (can anything good come from there?) Guinness says, “In many ways, the new atheists are partly created by the Religious Right. You can see that in America there is no vehement repudiation of religion until recently. In Europe, the atheism is a reaction to corrupt state churches. Here, you’ve never had that until the rise of the Religious Right.” Part of the reaction against religion, he argues, stems from the poor ways people of faith think about science.

The commenters almost immediately tell us that it's not that atheists are annoyed about the corruption of science, it's that we're in league with Satan (though other, more, sensible Christians also disagree with them). I've commented and linked to Suber's logical rudeness paper.
(tags: religion atheism new-atheism christianity science culture culture-war)
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Link blog: funny, livejournal, parody

Made from Truth and Lies – The TRUTH about Livejournal

"LiveJournal is 95 percent female. Like an acting club or cheerleading squad, the minority of males who use it are either gay or there for the chicks. The all-female atmosphere means that 95 percent of LJ comments consist of people hugging each other, and the other 5 percent consist of people apologizing for judging someone’s Harry Potter rape fanart." I'm there for the chicks, obviously.
(tags: livejournal funny parody)
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Belief in electrons, sleeping through earthquakes

Elsewhere on the web, people are having to suffer my attempts at philosophy:

Belief in electrons

Over at Debunking Christianity, there’s an interesting dialogue about science. John W. Loftus has some guest postings from Kenneth J. Howell, a Catholic who wrote a book about the relationship between religion and early science. Howell’s been asking interesting questions about what atheists think of unobservable things (like electrons) in scientific theories, and later, on different kinds of evidence and whether all fields of inquiry should use the same standards. Armed with the Kasser lectures (you too can become an expert in the philosophy of science in just 21 days!) and some stuff I vaguely remember from my degree, I had a go at some responses: here, on electrons; and here, on standards of evidence, reductionism and all that jazz. There are some good comments there, although there’s also an awful lot off-topic wibbling.

Sleeping through earthquakes

Over on the Premier Radio forums, they’re wondering where God was in Haiti. Somewhat mischievously (but in a fine Biblical tradition), I’ve suggested he was asleep. I also linked to Stephen Law’s God of Eth (soon to be published as The Evil God Challenge) where Law argues that most arguments from Christians defending God’s goodness, despite the fact there’s so much evil in the world, can be turned into defences of an evil god’s evilness, despite the fact that there’s so much good in the world. A chap called Nick disagreed with the God of Eth argument and has been trying to paint me into some sort of corner involving Aquinas and Augustine, but unfortunately he seems to have gone away before getting around to telling me what his argument was. We’d got as far as arguing about whether all pleasures are good. Anyone have any idea where he might have been going with it?

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Link blog: religion, philosophy, funny, hume

A Few Billion Lines of Code Later: Using Static Analysis to Find Bugs in the Real World | February 2010 | Communications of the ACM

Bunch of academics write a static checker and take it commercial. They are surprised to find that: Compilers for embedded targets accept stuff which isn't quite C, embedded programmers use the stuff, because we're evil. A worryingly large proportion of programmers are clueless ("No, ANSI lets you write 1 past the end of the array"), concluding that "You cannot often argue with people who are sufficiently confused about technical matters; they think you are the one who doesn't get it. They also tend to get emotional. Arguing reliably kills sales." Also, managers like graphs of bad stuff to go down over time, so don't like the tool to improve. Fun article. Via Metafilter.
(tags: programming analysis security software coverity development tools C)

A review of ‘The language of God’ (Francis Collins)

Gert Korthof likes Collins's stuff on evolution, but thinks the Moral Law argument (which Collins acknowledges he got from C.S. Lewis) is terrible: "Collins fails to demonstrate

a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism)
b. the divine origin of the Moral Law
c. b follows from a "
(tags: creation evolution morality religion science francis-collins c.s.-lewis altruism)


What happens when your blog becomes one of the top Google results for "login to Facebook". Take it either as a serious lesson about user interface design, or an opportunity to mock the stupid.
(tags: facebook login funny internet computers ui user-interface browser google)

Meat stylus for the iPhone

I got yer meat stylus right here, baby.
(tags: iphone culture funny meat)

Simon Blackburn (2) – Religion and Respect – Investigating Atheism

Blackburn's interesting and slightly cheeky ("Even Christians are human") article on what it might mean to respect someone's religion. He thinks there might be something in respecting emotions but not attitudes, and bemoans religious appropriation of the sacred. Contains quote from Hume which is another example of the way Hume seems to have had everyone's ideas before they did (this time on belief in belief).
(tags: religion respect simon-blackburn philosophy hume)

Why reject miracles? (Irrational Rationalist)

An attempt at formulating the argument in a way which doesn't beg the question, and some talk about what Hume actually meant.
(tags: hume miracles philosophy religion rationality)

Is there anything wrong with “God of the gaps” reasoning? by Robert Larmer

Larmer argues that both theists and atheists shouldn't be so hard on "God of the Gaps" explanations (the phrase originated as a criticism of Christians by Christians). While it's certainly true that it's not a formal fallacy, I think what makes me uneasy about such explanations is the ease with which "the thing which explains X" is identified with "the Christian God" (say). But I'll have to think about it some more.
(tags: theology philosophy naturalism science religion god gaps larmer robert-larmer)
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Bad arguments about religion: part 3: Science cannot prove your wife loves you, Francis Collins, etc

This round of bad arguments is about science. Before I start, I’ll acknowledge my debt to Jeffrey L. Kasser’s lectures, though, of course, any mistakes in applying them to the question of science and religion are my own.

Most people recognise science’s effectiveness at modelling the world, and theists are no exception. Some theists disagree with well established conclusions of science (for example, evolution). Some theists go along with the folk in liberal arts faculties who, in Kasser’s phrase, think science is a particularly dull literary genre. I’m not going to talk about either of these sorts of people. This post is about theists who claim their religion is compatible with, but has gone “beyond”, science. Their claims usually rely on making true, but uninteresting, arguments, in the hope that the hearer slides to a stronger conclusion than the arguments warrant.

Science has not explained X, therefore God did it

This is the God of the gaps argument. Right now, popular choices for X are abiogenesis, consciousness, and altruism. To take that last example, Francis Collins argues that the theory of evolution has no explanation for pure altruism, and, following C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Morality in Mere Christianity, claims that the Christian God must be responsible. As the former director of the Human Genome Project, Collins’s opinions carry weight, but, poking around with Google Scholar, I found no evidence that he has contributed his criticisms to the peer reviewed literature on the evolution of altruism. Even if he had written a good paper on that subject, more is needed before we accept that the best alternative explanation is a particular god. As Gert Korthof’s review of Collins’s book puts it “Collins fails to demonstrate a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism) b. the divine origin of the Moral Law c. b follows from a.”

Science cannot investigate/explain/prove everything

There’s a bad argument from atheists which leads to confusion here. Some atheists seem to use “science” to mean “anything for which there’s good evidence”, but the theists, quite sensibly, use it to mean “that stuff scientists do”. If the theist faces an atheist who says “your religion is invalid because it cannot be established by science”, it’s legitimate for the theist to dispute that statement by talking about other, non-scientific, forms of evidence which most people accept.

There are some things we do not use science to investigate, because they seem a poor fit for scientific investigation. To use one of Kasser’s examples, we wouldn’t get into a scientific investigation of the “universal law” that “all the beer in my fridge is American”, even if that is a statement which has the form of a scientific law (“all copper conducts electricity”). I prefer to distinguish scientific evidence from other rational evidence (though I think these forms of evidence have something in common which is not shared by religious “ways of knowing”): Eliezer Yudkowsky’s article on the subject describes what I mean.

So, the theists are at least partially right, but notice that none of this says much to convince us that there’s a God. When they try to do that, theists typically say that science or other rational evidence will get you some way towards theism (though, I’d say, not all that far), but then add that some “other way of knowing” or “faith” is required in addition. But if the theist claims they have another “way of knowing”, they must demonstrate its reliability, rather than merely knocking existing ways of knowing.

Science cannot prove your wife loves you, but you believe that, don’t you?

A specific case of the “science cannot explain everything” argument, this particular example gets its own section because it’s regularly trotted out by people who ought to know better (for example, John Lennox in his debate with Richard Dawkins). Again, this is one is true, but uninteresting. It’s not the job of science to prove my wife loves me, just as it’s not the job of science to explore my fridge looking for American beer. Nevertheless, assuming I’m not actually a stalker, I have sufficient rational evidence that my wife loves me, and I don’t have to invoke any special ways of knowing to get it.

Next time

Next time, we’ll look at claims that science arose from theism, and talk about reductionism and butter.

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Link blog: newnham, evangelicalism, funny, economics

Colin Marshall talks to economist, blogger and rationalist Robin Hanson

"Robin Hanson is a professor of economics at George Mason University, research associate at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and chief scientist at Consensus Point. He’s also the thinker behind Overcoming Bias, a popular blog about issues of honesty, signaling, disagreement, forecasting and the far future, around which a large rationality-centric community has developed on the internet."
(tags: rationality signalling robin-hanson overcoming-bias economics)

Evangelicals warn: women bishops will ‘put men off ordination’ – Times Online

"They have girl cooties," a spokesman for the Doctrinal Rectitude Trust said today.
(tags: evangelicalism christianity religion women ordination reformed)

Brainboxes, booze and sex – what a fascinating combination – Telegraph

Ah, Newnham. (Though Celia Warden rightly says that the papers are only interested because of "posh girls shagging" angle).
(tags: sex newnham cambridge-university funny)
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Shaking Hands with Death

This posting is about terminal illness and assisted suicide and the recent lecture by Terry Pratchett on the same.

Terry Pratchett (assisted by Tony Robinson) recently gave a lecture entitled Shaking Hands with Death. It’s on BBC iPlayer (possibly only viewable in the UK), on Youtube, and you can read the Guardian‘s edited transcript. It is funny and moving. I recommend it.

Pratchett has posterior cortial atrophy, a variant of Alzheimer’s disease which currently effects his vision and motor skills while leaving his memory intact. Eventually, though, Alzheimer’s will deal with him as it does with everyone else who has it.

The burden of the lecture is that Pratchett wants to be able to chose the time and manner of his death, and wants anyone who helps him to do so to avoid prosecution. He says:

I would live my life as ever to the full and die, before the disease mounted its last attack, in my own home, in a chair on the lawn, with a brandy in my hand to wash down whatever modern version of the “Brompton cocktail” some helpful medic could supply. And with Thomas Tallis on my iPod, I would shake hands with Death.

Currently, the helpful medic (or any other helper) would probably be breaking the law. What Pratchett suggests is that there should be a tribunal which would pre-emptively exonerate such helpers:

The members of the tribunal would be acting for the good of society as well as that of the applicant – horrible word – to ensure they are of sound and informed mind, firm in their purpose, suffering from a life-threatening and incurable disease and not under the influence of a third party.

The sound mind and firm purpose are important to Pratchett, who prefers the term “assisted death” to “assisted suicide”. He tells his listeners how he wrote about suicides as a young reporter. The phrase the coroner always used was that a person had “taken his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed”. What he wants is for a quick death to be available to those whose balance is level.

It’s hard to see how one could deny someone like Pratchett the opportunity to die in the comfort of their home. There would have to be precautions, limits which would put some helpers we might think were morally justified on the wrong side of any new law. I think limiting euthanasia to people with a terminal illness who are able to express their desire for it is one of those precautions: there would still be hard, tragic cases where we’d might wish the law were laxer, but the government must also protect the vulnerable from pressure to die.

Pratchett has his opposition: Archbishop John Sentamu says we must not listen to opinion polls or dying celebrities (though, we must, of course, listen to bishops). We should, says Sentamu, listen to disabled people. clairlewis, a disability rights activist, gives her opinion over at Heresiarch’s blog. Unfortunately, her arguments seem completely unrelated to Pratchett’s request.

The comment from someone called “KeepOut OfMyLife” puts it best, I think. Being poor and disabled is hard, and someone who is struggling to cope may consider suicide. Their desire to die could be alleviated if their standard of care were better. It would be negligent to hand these people the means to die without improving their care, just as it would be negligent to hand a gun to someone who was deeply depressed. But this isn’t the case that Pratchett wants the government to deal with. In fact, a government could (though, given the budget deficit, will not) improve care for people with disabilities and allow people with terminal illness to get help in dying when they chose.

clairlewis‘s argument appears to be that terminally ill people should not have what they want until disabled people get what they need. While I can understand her frustration that disabled people are ignored while Pratchett is able to use his clout to get a hearing, preventing Pratchett and others like him from having the death they want will not help anyone else.

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Link blog: religion, lolxians, homosexuality, funny

YouTube – Charlie Brooker – How To Report The News

Every news report you've ever seen.
(tags: news video funny journalism parody bbc media charlie-brooker)

The Devil Rides Out | Features | Fortean Times

Dennis Wheatley: "virtually invented the popular image of Satanism in 20th-century Britain, and he made it seem strangely seductive. If the appeal of Black Magic in popular culture was ultimately erotic, then this was largely due to Wheatley’s writing, with its reliable prospect of virg­ins being ritually ravished on altar tops." Via Metafilter
(tags: satan satanism occult magic dennis-wheatley devil fortean-times)

Tales of a Wayward Classicist: Latin Tattoos

Latin tattoos gone wrong. Probably SFW, shows a lot of skin (obviously) but no rude bits. Via Stoat.
(tags: tattoo funny latin language)

Luke on reformed epistemology and moral realism : The Uncredible Hallq

Nice: "A better response to Plantinga is just to point out 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."
(tags: philosophy plantinga hume descartes alvin-plantinga epistemology religion reformed)

Signature in the Cell | The BioLogos Foundation

Darrel Falk, a Christian and a professor of biology, finds problems with the science in Stephen Mayer's "The Signature in the Cell". Via Jerry Coyne.
(tags: evolution intelligent-design science religion creationism dna rna stephen-meyer darrel-falk biology discovery-institute)

The ex-gay files: The bizarre world of gay-to-straight conversion – This Britain, UK – The Independent

Indy journalist goes undercover to Christian counsellors who try to cure him of Teh Gay. Apparently, gayness can be caused by Freemasonry: who knew?
(tags: psychology uk homosexuality quacks lolxians religion)

Harriet Harman defends equality legislation following Pope’s criticism – Home News, UK – The Independent

No pot pourri, as Ian Paisley would say.
(tags: pope catholicism catholic bigot homosexuality religion lolxians)
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