Link blog: video, humour, youtube, hardware

A Turing Machine Overview

Someone has built this excellent mechanical Turing machine (OK, so it has electronics in the read/write head, but it's got real tape).
(tags: computers hardware programming software turing video algorithm history logic compsci)

YouTube – The Daily Mail Song

Shooting fish in a barrel,but still funny.
(tags: video music youtube funny satire humour mail news newspapers daily-mail dan)

The Other Journal at Mars Hill Graduate School :: Worshipping a Flying Teapot? What to Do When Christianity Looks Ridiculous by Randal Rauser

"Restoring Christianity's place as a live intellectual option requires not simply superior rational argumentation, but the restoration of a background framework in which Christian claims seem minimally plausible." One of the few worthwhile articles in The Other Journal's edition on atheism (the others being either Vogon poetry or articles about that nasty Dawkins fellow).
(tags: religion christianity atheism teapot)
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Arguing elsewhere

I’ve not posted for a while, mostly because I’ve been busy discussing elsewhere. Here’s where:

Not a Scotsman in sight

Michael Patton writes about ““How People Become Evangelists of Unbelief” or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic. I’ve linked to Parchment and Pen before: it’s written by Christians who get it. In this case, what Patton gets is the process involved in leaving Christianity. While his Calvinism commits him to the position that people who leave the faith and don’t come back were never Real Christians, he writes to his fellow believers that “Looking to transcendent reasoning for the problem offers us no practical look at what you and I can do as we are called to make disciples… From their point of view, they truly believed. It would be hard to tell a difference from their faith and ours.” I’ve commented on his post.

Things are also busy down on the Premier Christian Radio forums. There was a bit of a drought for a while, during which most of the discussion was of the “evilutionists, hur hur; creationists, hur hur” variety, but some interesting things have come up recently.

Presuppositionalism again

The presuppositionalism thread I mentioned previously has started up again. I’ve read a bit more philosophy since it went into hiatus, so I think I’m giving a better account of myself in the more recent postings. Comments from people who know more philosophy than me are welcome, though: I don’t expect my opponent to spot my mistakes. You might also enjoy Stephen Law’s argument that presuppositionalists were hit on the head with a rock.

I’m also wondering about the popular Christian statements that God “grounds” things like morality, laws of nature, and logic. I’d quite like to know what it means for something to be “grounded” in this sense. Since we intuitively know what it means for physical objects to be grounded, but explicit arguments that, say, God is necessary for morality to be meaningful don’t seem to work, I wondered if this sort of statement might be an intuition pump (in the bad sense).

Science and faith

There’s also been a fun thread on science and faith. I’ve stuck my oar in, and even managed to quote one of my Bad Arguments postings (provoking the evangelicals to accuse me of worshipping myself, or something: I remember these people had a real thing about masturbation). There was also a discussion on whether scientists and mathematicians who deal with concepts like irrational numbers are hypocritical for saying the Trinity is a silly idea. I did some evangelising for Bayesianism, which was followed by an argument that God exists because we’ve not encountered any aliens yet. All good clean fun.

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Link blog: culture, islam, rationality, development

Aretae: Cognitive Antivirus

"Suppose that you are a bear of very little brain, or perhaps an average human on the street, of nearly average proportions, intellect, and character. What is the best thing you can do, belief-wise, in order to make your life better. I am beginning to believe that you should believe in your parents' God, and go to church on Sundays. God and tradition are perhaps the best and strongest way to avoid believing really stupid stuff that could actually mess up your life, or others' lives." Via the Less Wrong threads on undiscriminating scepticism.
(tags: religion epistemology rationality cognitive-bias)

FT.com / Reportage – Immigrant Muslims in Belleville

"Yet there are two main reasons the Belle­ville scenario looks more likely than the Eurabia one. The first is demographic: no serious demographer expects Muslims to become a majority in any western European country. The second is attitudes: only a tiny minority of French Muslims appears to want to establish a medieval caliphate in Europe. In surveys, most French Muslims say that they feel French… Many of them no longer observe Islam. And although here and there Muslims have made France a little more north African or Islamic, the influence seems to be more the other way: Muslim immigrants are being infected by Frenchness."
(tags: islam europe religion anthropology culture immigration demographics eurabia)

Johann Hari: The Pope, the Prophet, and the religious support for evil – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent

"What can make tens of millions of people – who are in their daily lives peaceful and compassionate and caring – suddenly want to physically dismember a man for drawing a cartoon, or make excuses for an international criminal conspiracy to protect child-rapists?" Anyone, Bueller, anyone?
(tags: atheism catholic christianity culture evil fundamentalism islam johann-hari pope religion mohammed cartoons)

Less Wrong: Undiscriminating Skepticism

"Since it can be cheap and easy to attack everything your tribe doesn't believe, you shouldn't trust the rationality of just anyone who slams astrology and creationism; these beliefs aren't just false, they're also non-tribal among educated audiences. Test what happens when a "skeptic" argues for a non-tribal belief, or argues against a tribal belief, before you decide they're good general rationalists."
(tags: culture rationality scepticism eliezer-yudkowsky)

WebSequenceDiagrams.com – Make Sequence Diagrams with one click

Nice tool for drawing message sequence charts: sort of the MSC equivalent of GraphViz.
(tags: design development programming software tools msc message sequence diagram)
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Link blog: christianity, funny, atheism, de-conversion

On knowledge and consistency « Evolving Thoughts

John Wilkins talks about the on-going debate on whether religion and science are compatible.
(tags: religion science jerry-coyne knowledge epistemology philosophy)

Preachers who are not Believers

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola, a social worker, look into the question of what it's like to be a pastor who doesn't believe in God. They've interviewed 5 closeted non-believing church leaders. Fascinating stuff: Dennett and LaScola write of the pastors' loneliness and conviction that there are many like them. They wonder whether they learned too much: "What gives them this impression that they are far from alone, and how did this strange and sorrowful state of affairs arise? The answer seems to lie in the seminary experience shared by all our pastors, liberals and literals alike… It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God."
(tags: christianity religion ministers dennett daniel-dennett atheism de-conversion bible system:filetype:pdf system:media:document)

The new Buddhist atheism | Mark Vernon | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

"In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes of Buddhism as the sleep of reason, and of Buddhists as discarding their minds as well as their sandals. His passionate diatribe appeared in 2007. So what's he doing now, just three years later, endorsing a book on Buddhism written by a Buddhist? The new publication is Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Its author, Stephen Batchelor, is at the vanguard of attempts to forge an authentically western Buddhism."
(tags: buddhism atheism stephen-batchelor religion buddha)

Jobcentre’s sorry for the spurn of the Jedi | The Sun |News

"A JEDI believer won an apology from a Jobcentre which threw him out for refusing to remove his hood." This is absolutely right: we must respect religious freedom.
(tags: jedi religion politics jobcentre news sun funny hood)

Daryl, The Christian Volunteer

Darryl, the Christian Volunteer, gets a bit more than he bargained for when he sends out a flyer requesting permission for David Thorne's kid to attend a presentation on the true meaning of Easter. An increasingly hilarious and deranged set of emails from Thorne follows: "Also, is it true that Jesus can be stabbed during a sword fight and be ok due to the fact that he can only die if he gets his head chopped off?" No idea whether it's entirely made up, but it's fun anyway…
(tags: lolxians funny religion christianity easter school)
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Link blog: religion, mathematics, maths, atheism

Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

For Cambridge folk: what's holding up the MisGuided Bus. Looks like the building contractor has the council in some sort of catch-22 about accepting defects in the construction. Should have built a monorail.
(tags: cambridge mgb guided-bus bus transport)

How Mark Zuckerberg Hacked The Harvard Crimson

Ah, the old "get people's failed logins, assume they typed the password for some other place" trick. Someone I knew at university did something similar with his Linux box, back when we all ran Linux boxes in our rooms: he rigged the login to fail the first time and log the password (this being easier than hacking up a special version of the login demon: you just write something to prompt, fail and then pass you on to the real login), and assumed what he got would do for other servers too. Happy days.
(tags: facebook history privacy ethics journalism security harvard internet)

Odds Are, It’s Wrong – Science News

What goes wrong with the 5% significance level in scientific papers.
(tags: science mathematics maths statistics biology medicine bayes bayesian)

Debunking Christianity: Loftus vs Wood Debate: My Opening Statement

"No one would value the opinion of any judge who had a double standard, one for the plaintiff, and a different one for the defendant. Any judge who did that would be placing his thumb on the scales of justice. He wouldn’t be weighing the evidence fairly. And we would object to his ruling. All of us. Tonight I’m going to argue that this is what Christian apologists do when it comes to the evidence for their God."
(tags: religion atheism christianity apologetics)

YouTube – Finite Simple Group (of Order Two)

Maths filk is funny: this one is oddly sweet, although I also groaned at various points.
(tags: music video youtube humour mathematics funny maths acapella)
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Georges Rey: Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception

Georges Rey‘s Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception ties together a lot of things I’ve been thinking about on this blog. Rey writes that:

I find myself taking seriously the following hypothesis, which (for lack of a better name) I call meta-atheism: Despite appearances, many Western adults who’ve been exposed to standard science and sincerely claim to believe in God are self-deceived; at some level they believe the claim is false.

How wude

This looks like an atheist version of a Christian argument (which originated with St Paul): the Christian claims it’s obvious that God exists, deep down everyone knows it, and if you claim not to, you’re deceiving yourself because you don’t want to admit to your own sinfulness and God’s moral authority. If you sign up to a scheme like this, and you view your opponent’s arguments as mere evidence of their self-deception, you’re engaging in logical rudeness.

That said, there are some differences between Rey’s version and the Christian one, which boil down the way Rey is less insufferable about it all (Rey says that meta-atheism doesn’t entail atheism, he does engage with Christian apologists in his paper, he admits he might be wrong, he doesn’t think believers are evil or stupid, and so on). So, assuming we’re mollified a bit by some counterbalancing logical politeness, what’s the argument for meta-atheism? Rey has 11 points which he thinks count as evidence. A couple seemed particularly relevant to my interests, so I’ll concentrate on those.

That’s just too silly

One was what Rey calls “detail resistance”: the way believers find it odd or even silly to investigate the mechanics of God’s supposed actions. As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the final straws for me, before I stopped going to church, was an argument I was involved in on uk.religion.christian, on the details of how God acts today (yet another rehearsal of the argument that caused me to write this essay, as it happened). During the argument, I realised that I somehow found the discussion itself silly. I started to wonder what was going on in my head, and things unravelled from there.

Likewise, Christians who think God caused the Big Bang would find it silly to look for details of God’s involvement in black holes. This feeling of silliness is a clue: Rey observes that “this resistance to detail is strikingly similar to the same resistance one encounters in dealing with fiction. It seems as silly to ask the kind of detailed questions about God as it does for someone to ask for details about fictional characters, e.g.: What did Hamlet have for breakfast?”

Invisible dragons

Rey also mentions “betrayal by reactions and behaviour”. Christians would respond that of course, they’re not perfect, but what Rey has in mind is not moral failings. Rather, it’s the sort of thing Hume refers to: though people make protestations of faith, “nature is too hard for all their endeavours, and suffers not the obscure, glimmering light, afforded in those shadowy regions, to equal the strong impressions, made by common sense and by experience”.

We’ve been here before: Rey is thinking about how someone who anticipated-as-if a religion was true would behave, and comparing that with how most believers actually behave. Previously, we’ve mentioned that it’s odd that believers already know the ways in which tests for God will fail: if you’re a Christian, you’ve got an idea of which prayers are realistic, a strange proposition, when you think about it. And if you’re an atheist and feel like stumping a Christian, ask them what sin is committed by parents who pray for healing rather than taking their dying kid to a doctor.

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Link blog: society, church, funny, christianity

Experimental Theology: How Facebook Killed the Church

Richard Beck reckons Facebook killed the radio star, erm, church: "Millennials will report that the "reason" they are leaving the church is due to its perceived hypocrisy or shallowness. My argument is that while this might be the proximate cause the more distal cause is social computing. Already connected Millennials have the luxury to kick the church to the curb. This is the position of strength that other generations did not have. We fussed about the church but, at the end of the day, you went to stay connected. For us, church was Facebook!"
(tags: facebook church society religion christianity social-networks generation-y internet)

A nice cup of rabies – What is LJ doing to my links? Part 4

LJ has been messing about with links to Amazon and other online shops: there's some Javascript which they're serving which re-writes the links (possibly to get LJ some money as an affiliate) and then makes the browser display the old link when you mouse over it. The script source is posted here: it's illuminating.
You do wonder how long LJ can keep cocking it up like this. I'm still here because I don't think Dreamwidth is financially credible and I've noticed that people who've moved tend to get fewer comments, but I'm annoyed that this script was also served on the journals of paying users and boggling at LJ's excuse that they didn't check what the thing did before they started serving it: putting unknown Javascript on your site is such a good idea.
(tags: livejournal internet dreamwidth javascript programming)

A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever – Funny Videos | Cracked.com

"LEAD FEMALE'S NAAAAAME!"
(tags: funny video movies trailer humour comedy parody cracked movie)

Persecute me – I’m after the Brownie points | Frank Skinner – Times Online

Frank Skinner (who's a Catholic) on whether Christians are persecuted in the UK. "We’re a bit like Goths — no one can remember us being fashionable and we talk about death a lot. I love the glorious un-coolness of that"
(tags: catholic christian christianity church culture religion politics uk society funny)
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Book: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume

Bored with new atheism? Why not try the old school? David Hume‘s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a classic refutation of the Argument from Design. These days, evangelists are again turning to design arguments, notably the Fine-tuning Argument. Perhaps this argument is enjoying its day in the sun because it embraces and extends physics, in the way discussed previously, rather than suffering from the lack of respectability which attends arguments from design in biology. In any case, Hume’s book is as relevant as it ever was.

The book is quite short, and the text is freely available online, but still, I prefer the old-fashioned dead trees format. The Penguin classics edition only costs a few quid and has a handy forward and footnotes explaining what’s going on.

Talking about religion down the pub

The book is a dialogue between three friends: Philo, a sceptic, whose arguments many commentators identify with Hume’s own views (although exactly what Hume did think about religion isn’t clear, as in the 1700s you still had to be a bit careful about criticising religion); Cleanthes, a design proponentsist; and Demea, who believes God is beyond human understanding and is unimpressed with both Philo’s scepticism and Cleanthes’s anthropomorphisation of the deity. In modern terms, Philo sounds like an atheist (albeit a closeted one), Cleanthes an orthodox Christian who is persuaded by the design argument, and Demea a sophisticated theologian.

These three have a wide-ranging conversation, observed by Pamphilus, the narrator, a young man staying with Cleanthes. It’s fun to watch: John D over at Philosophical Disquisitions writes: “I always like to imagine myself a participant at the after dinner conversation imagined therein. Nothing can beat that: good food, congenial surroundings, intelligent companions and intelligent debate”. Once you’ve got the hang of the slightly antiquated language, the rhythm of it is itself enjoyable to read. Hume can write, a talent not common to all philosophers.

Designed by who?

As Alex Byrne’s article says, Hume’s arguments on cosmology are stronger than Dawkins’s in The God Delusion, though Hume was at the disadvantage of not knowing about biological evolution. Erik Wielenberg’s Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma and God’s Simplicty (which I first saw either at Common Sense Atheism or over at ex-apologist, so thanks to whoever it was) compares them in more detail, paying particular attention to Dawkins’s Ultimate 747 argument, and also favours Hume.

The arguments themselves are neatly summarised by John D. To be even briefer, Hume casts doubt on both the inference that the universe is designed, and on the inference to the identity of the designer (or designers: as Philo says, if we’re basing our argument on an analogy to human design, don’t many builders make a house?). In a diversion into the argument from evil, he also questions how someone could come to know that God is maximally good: certainly not by observing the world, it seems.

But to get the full effect of the book, you should read it (otherwise, you might find, like me, that your arguments from summaries are riposted by a counter-argument that Hume himself anticipated). Recommended.

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Link blog: atheism, christianity, religion, richard-dawkins

Dr. Marlene Winell speaks about indoctrination by authoritarian religion

Dr Winell speaks to Valeria Tarico. Winell's experiences and those of her clients were much more traumatic than mine, because their churches really did deserve the "fundamentalist" label, but it's still an interesting video on the psychology of leaving a religion. The part about how if something doesn't work for you it's your fault and you must try harder rang some bells. Via Debunking Christianity.
(tags: video religion valerie-tarico indoctrination hell rapture psychology fundamentalism christianity)

txt2re: headache relief for programmers :: regular expression generator

Generate regular expressions from some sample text by clicking on what you want to match. Neat toy.
(tags: programming software tools regexp regex)

‘An Apology’ by Richard Dawkins – RichardDawkins.net

Dawkins apologises for the forum drama: "I would like to start by apologising for our handling of this situation. We have not communicated well with our forum volunteers and users (for example in my insensitive 'Outrage' post, which was written in the heat of the moment). In the process we have caused unintended hurt and offence, and I am very sorry about that. In a classic case of a vicious circle, some of the responses to our announcement also caused considerable hurt and distress to us, and in the atmosphere of heightened emotion that followed, some of our subsequent actions went too far. I hope you will understand the human impulses that led to this, and accept my apology for them. I take full personal responsibility."
(tags: drama internet dawkins richard-dawkins atheism)

Fallacies on fallacies : Evolving Thoughts

"Appeal to authority is not fallacious, so long as the authority cited is relevant and reliable. A principle known as the division of cognitive labor (I think due to Hilary Putnam) suggests that we literally must rely on authorities in the absence of time, resources and cognitive capacities to rerun all experiments and observations since the beginnings of science and history."
(tags: logic fallacy appeal authority putnam philosophy rationality)

Furious backlash from Simon Singh libel case puts chiropractors on ropes | Martin Robbins | Science | guardian.co.uk

"A staggering one in four chiropractors in Britain are now under investigation for allegedly making misleading claims in advertisements, according to figures from the General Chiropractic Council." Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.
(tags: science simon-singh chiropractor guardian health pseudoscience quackery woo-woo libel legal law)

Photographic Height/Weight Chart

Self-submitted photographs of people, tabulated by weight and height. Interesting stuff. Via Metafilter.
(tags: health photos photography images height weight statistics photo biology)

Parchment and Pen » DO WE NEED TO TELL PEOPLE THE BAD NEWS BEFORE THE GOOD NEWS?

Paul Copan has some sensible thoughts on how to do evangelism. On no account should Christians put any of them into practice.
(tags: evangelism religion christianity sin gospel)

Heresy Corner: A Reading from the Book of Dawk

This is hilarious: "And some of the disciples said, O Dawk, our anger is not mixed against thee, but against thy servant Josh, who hath offended us. But others said, Hath not the Dawk deserted us? Come, let us depart the land of Dawk and hearken unto some other prophet, for the Dawk loveth not his people."
(tags: richard-dawkins drama internet forum atheism funny parody dawkins)
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