Link blog: funny, life, death, dying

Is This Feminist?
PROBLEMATIC.
(tags: problematic satire feminism funny)
Life in life – YouTube
Someone implemented Conway’s Game of Life cellular automata inside another Game of Life. Cool.
(tags: meta automata life conway)
A Life Worth Ending
“The era of medical miracles has created a new phase of aging, as far from living as it is from dying. A son’s plea to let his mother go.”
(tags: dementia medicine parents dying death aging)
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Mohammed pictures should have trigger warnings

There was apparently another Draw Mohammed Day yesterday: Hermant at Friendly Atheist covers it (that link may obviously contain links to pictures of Mo).

My previous LJ entry on Muslims vs Student Atheist Societies provoked some discussion about whether criticism of Islam is necessarily motivated by racism, and whether white atheists ought to be involved in such criticism. During that, cartesiandaemon linked to Yvain’s utilitarian argument against Mo pics which appeared on Less Wrong. Yvain argued against Draw Mo Day on the basis of harm minimisation (Less Wrong orthodoxy is consequentalist so people there are likely to be responsive to such arguments).

Vladimir M won the Less Wrong thread with the response that “In a world where people make decisions according to this principle, one has the incentive to self-modify into a utility monster who feels enormous suffering at any actions of other people one dislikes for whatever reason”. He also made the observation (due to Thomas Schelling) that “in conflict situations, it is often a rational strategy to pre-commit to act irrationally (i.e. without regards to cost and benefit) unless the opponent yields. The idea in this case is that I’ll self-modify to care about X far more than I initially do, and thus pre-commit to lash out if anyone does it”. He adds “such behavior is usually not consciously manipulative and calculated. On the contrary — someone flipping out and creating drama for a seemingly trivial reason is likely to be under God-honest severe distress, feeling genuine pain of offense and injustice.”. Yvain then behaved excellently by formally withdrawing his argument.

Muslims may be harmed by seeing Mo pictures. However, Vladimir M’s point applies. So, what to do?

There are things called “trigger warnings” which are popular in some parts of the Internet. Medically, a trigger is something which can set off PTSD symptoms. These trigger warnings are usually appear on links to, and the beginning of, pages about rape or domestic violence, where victims may suffer from PTSD on reading the text.

[Latterly, the term has been broadened to encompass not just PTSD flashbacks, but that uncomfortable feeling you get when reading something which advances a view different from your own (for instance, the trigger warnings for misogyny and Islamophobia on this post mean “comments disagreeing with feminists/Muslims”), and has also become a way of signalling that one is down with the identity politics posse (this is well known enough for it to be parodied: see Is this Feminist?, for example). However, I think that few people would disagree with the idea that some Muslims’ distress at seeing such pictures is more towards the PTSD end of things than the “people disagree with me”/signalling end.]

It feels like a Schelling point in this conflict might be to agree that pictures of Mo should appear behind trigger warnings. These might be specific warnings; or a general warning that by continuing to read a site, one may encounter such pictures, or links to them. In the case of the atheist Facebook group, Jesus and Mo cartoons should not be used for public events (since the cartoons may then appear on the feeds of people who are not members of the group) but would be OK for events which are private to the group, assuming that the group is covered by a general warning. Obviously, all Draw Mo Day pictures should appear behind such warnings.

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Link blog: philosophy, atheism, anglican, church-of-england

God Is Not Dead Yet | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
William Lane Craig lays out his best arguments for the existence of God.
(tags: kalam william-lane-craig christianity religion apologetics atheism philosophy)
On God and Our Ultimate Purpose
Stephen Maitzen argues that introducing a God does not solve the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.
(tags: god purpose stephen-maitzen maitzen atheism philosophy)
Cycle of Fear – NYTimes.com
Tim Kreider (of “The Pain, When Will It End?”) on the meditative value of fear: “When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in.”
(tags: meditation funny flow cycling anxiety)
How filthy lucre could subvert the Church of England | World news | The Guardian
“Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal ‘heretics'”. What fun.
(tags: andrew-brown money evangelicalism church-of-england anglicanism anglican)
Beyond Mitt’s Underwear: Part 1: Apostasy and Restoration
tongodeon did an excellent series on Mormon beliefs. This is the first part, which links to all the others. The conclusion is worth reading even if you skim the rest.
(tags: lds joseph-smith underwear mitt-romney religion mormonism mormon)
Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Whatever
An explanation which tries to avoid those problematic identity politics jargon terms (see what I did there?)
(tags: sexuality feminism race privilege gender)
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Bishops Gone Wild: York vs gay marriage

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, recently released a statement on gay marriage. It’s doing the rounds on Facebook. Here’s a comment I posted there:

What an odd article: long on words, short on reasons why broadening the definition of marriage would be a bad thing.

Civil partnerships aren’t identical to marriage for some people: for example, married couples where one person transitions from one gender to another are forced to dissolve marriages and get civil parterships. For such people, it is very clear that a civil partnership is a second-class marriage: see http://www.sarahlizzy.com/blog/?p=87 for example.

The Archbishop claims that no Act of Parliament touches upon a definition of marriage, but then quotes a Canon which defines it as being lifelong. Did Parliament lack the authority to legalise divorce and re-marriage (a practice which, as I’ve said previously in http://pw201.livejournal.com/71272.html, has much stronger Biblical condemnation than homosexual relationships, and yet is curiously rather more acceptable to evangelicals)?

The Archbishop fears it may become “impossible to say how a good society needs most of its members to live”. But, if we want government to be involved in marriages at all, it is presumably because we think they are a social good. The people who want to broaden marriage need not be seeking a free for all, they may just think that gay marriages would also be a good. The Archbishop gives no good reasons to think that they wouldn’t be.

Despite saying that he is not merely advocating Christian marriage, his argument ultimately seems to rely on an (evangelical) Christian conception of it and of gender roles. I agree that Parliament has no warrant to define what that conception should be, nor what Pagan marriage or Quaker marriage should be (the fact that Parliament would prevent religious ministers from marrying two people of the same sex is a similarly unwarranted intervention). Let us have a civil conception of marriage based on public reason, and let everyone else do as they like: evangelicals can choose to marry only straight non-divorcees, Quakers can marry gays, and so on, in separate ceremonies, with only the civil marriage being recognised in law, and no compulsion on ministers of religion from equality laws.

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Stephen Law: are unbelievers without excuse?

Stephen Law read a bunch of stuff by top apologist William Lane Craig and noted that Craig believes a bunch of odd things (apart from the odd things you’d already know about from Craig’s debates, I mean). There was some discussion in the comments over this one:

“Therefore, when a person refuses to come to Christ it is never just because of lack of evidence or because of intellectual difficulties: at root, he refuses to come because he willingly ignores and rejects the drawing of God’s Spirit on his heart. No one in the final analysis really fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; he fails to become a Christian because he loves darkness rather than light and wants nothing to do with God.”

[William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), pp. 35-36.]

This is all very Biblical: Craig’s “loves darkness rather than light” is a reference to the verse following that famous verse in John 3:16: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

As a good inerrantist, Craig apparently believes this and other passages like Romans 1 (see my old blog post about this) where the Apostle Paul writes that unbelievers are “without excuse”. Atheists know there’s a God really but don’t worship him because to do so we’d have to acknowledge how bad we are, or something. This is a culpable error, not a mistake, too.

The pathologising of non-belief based on knowing what people think better than they do is itself pathological, as Thrasymachus says, at least if it’s used to dismiss atheist arguments without engaging with them (note that Craig does not do this in debates, though he seems to do it personally, and to advocate other Christians doing it, which is bad).

In the comments, wombat suggests that the evangelical claim is that atheists are in the situation “where one accepts something intellectually but not at a more basic emotional level e.g cigarette smokers who continue in spite of acknowledging its dangers. The Christian apologists here are claiming that the “knowledge” is at that deeper visceral level.” wombat also linked to Jamie Whyte’s observation that religious believers don’t really act like they believe what they say they believe.

On that subject, there’s also Georges Rey’s “Meta-atheism: religious avowal as self-deception“, where he argues that Christians generally don’t act as if they believe what they say they believe. I’ve discussed Rey’s paper before.

There’s a folk psychology where “thoughts” are propositional sentences that occur to us, and “beliefs” are the ones we hold on to as true over time and use to guide our actions. But the way the phenomenon we call “belief” really works doesn’t seem much like that. This doesn’t just apply to religion: see The Mystery of the Haunted Rationalist.

If the evangelical claim is just to know that atheists are secretly lying, it’s bizarre, as Thrasymachus says. On the other hand, if the evangelical claim is that atheists anticipate-as-if there’s a God while avowing-as-if there isn’t, I don’t think that works. What are the things that atheists are doing which give away the fact that they are anticipating that way? And why does this make them culpable and deserving of Hell?

I don’t think the atheist version (i.e. Rey’s or Whyte’s) has the same problem, because there are plenty of examples of Christians who don’t act like there’s a God.

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The New Testament | I. G. Mansfield

Friend Iain recently read the New Testament and reviewed it. He made some comments on it, including the observation that the early Church members thought that Jesus would return within their lifetimes. This prompted some comments giving the standard evangelical gloss on these passages (see also), to avoid the conclusion that the Bible contains errors. I wrote a comment:

http://de-conversion.com/2008/11/09/the-psychology-of-apologetics-biblical-inerrancy/ is worth a read to understand what’s going on in the comments here 🙂 Short version: Quine says evidence alone doesn’t compel us to change a particular belief, because we can modify another one instead. Quine was writing in the context of scientific theories: if you don’t measure a difference in the speed of light in two directions, say, maybe there’s no luminiferous aether, but if you really think there must be one, maybe the Earth sort of drags the aether with it, or your instruments were faulty, or something. Paul thought Jesus was coming back within his life time, but if you really want Paul’s writings to be without error, what Paul actually meant is that you should live with a sort of Buddhist detachment to the things of this world.

Quine has clearly got something over the sort of naive falsificationism (i.e. if your theory is disprovedcontradicted by a single experiment, it’s curtains for that theory) which is supposed by some to be how science works. Nobody discards a trusted hypothesis so easily.

Still, something seems to have gone wrong with a theory when it allows anything: if you started from the position that the Bible contains no factual errors (call this innerancy1), you probably would not have predicted what Paul wrote in 1 Thess or 1 Cor 7:29ff, 1 Cor 15:51 (“sleep” = “die” here) etc; yet there they are, and what-evangelicals-call-inerrancy (call this inerrancy2) is somehow compatible with them. I think this means that inerrancy2 doesn’t compress anything: it’s just a list of what happens (the Bible) with a cherry on the top (“this list contains no errors or contradictions”). I’m using Eliezer’s ideas about http://lesswrong.com/lw/jp/occams_razor/ here.

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Alternative to God?

Over on Ask Metafilter, there’s a question about hope in a godless universe. Here’s a response I just posted (the original poster’s text is in italics):



Like where I could tell myself to turn it over to God or let things go and he will guide me and/or keep me from harm. This is so comforting to me



Suppose you “turned things over to God” or “let go and let God” in the past and things worked out. You now grasp there is no God, or at least, no God that makes any difference (gods that are identified with the good that is, in a very real sense, within us all; or with the universe; or any other gods which don’t cause you to anticipate the world being any different are gods which make no difference in this sense). But this didn’t become true at the moment you realised it, it has always been true! God did not in fact guide you or keep you from harm in the past, and you survived anyway.



What is true is already so.

Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.

Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.

And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.

Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.

People can stand what is true,

for they are already enduring it.

Eugene Gendlin



Can this feeling ever be replicated? What can I do to help guide myself through difficult times? I’ve tried to “act as if” there is a God (since I am in the camp that thinks we can never really know) but it seems empty and fraudulent.



When I was a child, I thought that my parents could make it all right and that nothing could truly harm me. It seems like your concept of God was a bit like that. Other people have suggested you can come to a kind of acceptance of the world as it is, a thread which seems common to the Buddhism and existentialism that people have been mentioning. In the real world, what hope there is must be tentative rather than sure, but I don’t see why that means there must be no hope.



There are plenty of de-conversion stories on the web where people similar feelings to yours: depending on how much you’d invested in your beliefs, it can be very unsettling to lose them. Maybe reading some of those stories would help.



But, as Gendlin says, the world is as it as always been, and you survived it before. At the end of my de-conversion story, there’s a longer quote along similar lines: there is no abyss.

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Link blog: missiles, london 2012, brian-whelan, olympics

Missiles over London: a new Olympic event | A Latent Existence
“Today Brian Whelan woke up to find information from the Ministry of Defence waiting by his letter box.

The leaflet informed him that during the London 2012 Olympic games the army will be putting missiles on the roof of his building and there will be soldiers on duty there 24 hours a day. He was not asked about this in advance, or given a choice, simply informed that his building was the best place to site these missiles.”
(tags: brian-whelan security military missiles london 2012 olympics)
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