Link blog: politics, bible, satire, jeremy-corbyn

The Book of Jeremy Corbyn – The New Yorker
“And they hearkened unto the word of Jeremy, and believed. For they said unto themselves, Lo, he bringeth unto us the desire of our hearts. He cometh by bicycle, with a helmet upon his head. And he eateth neither flesh nor fowl, according to the Scriptures. For man cannot live by bread alone, but hummus is quite another matter.”
(tags: satire politics bible jeremy-corbyn funny)
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Link blog: basic-income, google, sealioning, Christianity

We only hire the trendiest
More efficient hiring and better tools are cheaper than competing for candidates from the top universities.
(tags: tech programming hiring recruiters google)
Critically Examining the doctrine of gender identity – YouTube
A presentation by Rebecca Reilly-Cooper for Coventry Skeptics. The Q&A; (linked from the description) is interesting too.

A concept of gender identity which is entirely exhausted by “I am what I say I am” doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a professional philosopher like Reilly-Cooper, and I hadn’t realised that people were saying things like “my penis is a female sex organ, because I am female” (as opposed to saying “it’s a woman’s, because I am a woman”).

I do wonder how much harm is being done by people believing wacky things in this case, though: is it common for males to cynically claiming to be women in order to harass women?
(tags: gender sex feminism identity identity-politics biology philosophy)

Libertarian Social Justice Warrior: A Surprisingly Coherent Position | Thing of Things
“As far as I am aware, “libertarian social justice warrior” is a niche very rarely filled. This is annoying to me, because a really good case can be made for the social justice libertarian.”
(tags: social-justice libertarianism sjw basic-income economics welfare)
Infographic: Taking Easter Seriously – Jericho Brisance
“Many Christians read the Easter stories year upon year, as I did for several decades, yet we never compare them in detail. As a consequence, we often do not realize that they are not telling the same story. There are indeed contradictions in the texts, but it is very important to move beyond “mere contradiction” – the issues with our gospels are far more extensive than that. Comparison against the historical record and assessing the gospels for trends of legend development are probably far more crucial. As with many non-believers, I left Christianity specifically because of the Bible, and because I considered and examined its content very seriously indeed.”
(tags: bible easter crucifixion contradictions history Christianity Religion)
Sealioning
Not quite the original comic. Makes a good point though. Via andrewducker.
(tags: comic sealioning)
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Link blog: management, language, english, god

Twitter’s missing manual / fuzzy notepad
Things I didn’t know, as I rarely actually write to Twitter because my impression is that it’s useless for discussion.
(tags: twitter manual)
What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team – The New York Times
It’s all about psychological safety.
(tags: collaboration team work employment management google)
Which God Do Atheists Reject?: David Hume on Straw Gods
The theist will say that there is Something or Other that Created the universe, but they cannot tell us what this Something or Other was (other than that they call it ‘God’) nor can they say what it means for the Something or Other to Create. At most, as Anthony Kenny argues, they can say that ‘Create’ specifies some unknown and incomprehensible relationship between the Something or Other and the universe.
The atheist can agree to this much. There is some explanation for the universe’s origins. Perhaps future inquiry will reveal the explanation and we’ll be able to fill in the details.
(tags: hume david-hume philosophy theology god atheism)
Genesis chapter 1 through 1500 years of English – YouTube
via livredor, a reading of Genesis 1 through 1500 years of English.
(tags: language english bible)
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Link blog: nearest, work, nhs, politics

Imaginary Positions – Less Wrong
One I’d missed: Yudkowsky’s post on rounding to the “nearest cliche”.
(tags: cliche nearest eliezer-yudkowsky rationality)
The world is not falling apart: The trend lines reveal an increasingly peaceful period in history.
Steven Pinker argues we should look at trend lines rather than headlines.
(tags: statistics war politics violence world steven-pinker)
A Pasta Sea: Elijah and the Apologist of Baal
1 Kings 18 re-imagined as if Baal had a William Lane Craig on his side. Fun times. “A Pasta Sea” is a good name for an ex-Christian blog, too.
(tags: bible apologetics ahab baal elijah funny parody)
A&E in crisis: a special report – Telegraph
“As the NHS faces its worst winter in years, Robert Colvile provides an in-depth, first-hand account of the pressures facing the health service.” Interesting: combination of people unable to see a GP quickly enough and hospitals unable to turf old people to social care quickly enough. Targets sometimes provide perverse incentives.
(tags: nhs health healthcare medicine hospital)
Free exchange: Nice work if you can get out | The Economist
Why the rich now have less leisure than the poor. Via WMC on FB.
(tags: leisure work economist)
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Link blog: funny, programming, nsa, twitter

The 29 Stages Of A Twitterstorm
Tells it how it is.
(tags: twitter controversy funny storm satire)
Age-ism, Transhumanism, and Silicon Valley’s Cognitive Dissonance — Better Humans — Medium
“If you’re irrelevant at thirty, why live forever?”
(tags: silicon-valley ageism transhumanism aging)
Ken Auletta: Can the Guardian Take Its Aggressive Investigations Global? : The New Yorker
The NYT looks at the history of the Graun and its recent scoops (the NSA files). Apparently the paper is running out of money. 🙁
(tags: journalism nsa surveillance guardian edward-snowden internet gchq newspaper)
Hard Sci-Fi Movies (HardSciFiMovies) on Twitter
Hard SF plots from Twitter. Via AndrewDucker.
(tags: science-fiction scifi movies funny space)
Saint Paul says shit
Although you won’t find many English translations admitting it (try the Vulgate).
(tags: philipians paul st-paul bible language shit)
Reverse Engineering a D-Link Backdoor – /dev/ttyS0
Interesting post on using a disassembler to find a backdoor someone left in a bunch of D-Link routers.
(tags: dlink backdoor programming hacking router)
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Link blog: hugo-boss, bible, sociopath, gq

Making Light: Victory to the People
A history of the development of the Biblical canon, recounted as if it were fan fiction.
(tags: canon religion bible nicea)
Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath? – NYTimes.com
No, but you can note that some of them are Callous-Unemotional and may grow up to be psychopaths.
(tags: psychology sociopath children brain psychopath)
Russell Brand and the GQ awards: ‘It’s amazing how absurd it seems’ | Culture | The Guardian
Russell Brand on being ejected from the GQ awards for making a joke about Hugo Boss, the sponsors. He’s a good writer.
(tags: russell-brand comedy awards hugo-boss gq)
Putting Time In Perspective
Nice little timelines zooming out from the day to human history to evolutionary history to the history of the Universe.
(tags: time physics universe evolution)
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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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Stephen Law and the existence of Jesus

Stephen Law’s paper Evidence, miracles and the existence of Jesus argues that the New Testament (NT) is not good evidence for the existence of Jesus. He takes an interesting approach: he argues that the evidence for the NT miracles isn’t good enough, and that the presence of the miracle stories contaminates the non-miraculous parts of the story such that we should be sceptical of those too.

Law introduces and defends two principles:

P1 Where a claim’s justification derives solely from evidence, extraordinary claims (e.g. concerning supernatural miracles) require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there is good reason to be sceptical about those claims.

and

P2 Where testimony/documents weave together a narrative that combines mundane claims with a significant proportion of extraordinary claims, and there is good reason to be sceptical about those extraordinary claims, then there is good reason to be sceptical about the mundane claims, at least until we possess good independent evidence of their truth.

He then uses these in a deductive argument, concluding that “there’s good reason to be sceptical about whether Jesus existed”.

Debating P2

Most of the debate in the comments on Law’s blog is about P2. Law says that “Because once we know that a powerful, false-testimony-producing mechanism (or combination of mechanisms) may well have produced a significant chunk of a narrative (e.g. the miraculous parts), we can no longer be confident that the same mechanism is not responsible for what remains.”

Bradley C. came up with some counter-examples to P2. Bradley rightly says that the false-testimony-producing mechanism is key. What feels different about the ancient miracle reports (and perhaps Law’s “sixth islander” thought experiment) compared to Bradley’s examples is that in the ancient reports, we don’t really know what the mechanism was, we just know something has gone wrong. (In Bradley’s examples, we know that magicians and faith healers do tricks). If we don’t know quite what has gone wrong, we have to consider various possible mechanisms, which includes ones where the mundane testimony is also false. If we give such mechanisms any weight, that makes the mundane testimony less convincing (though it may still be positive evidence for the mundane events). But I think we’d have to consider how much weight to give them based on the circumstances, which makes it hard to come up with something general like P2.

So, I think Bradley’s come up with the equivalent of Gettier cases for P2 as it stands: even if they’re contrived, they show P2 needs changing.

Law responds to Bradley saying “You need to identify a mechanism as being the likely mechanism accounting for the false miracle claims, and then explain why that mechanism wouldn’t quite likely result in false mundane claims too.”

I don’t agree with Law here. If all we know is that something’s gone wrong with the testimony but the mechanism is obscure, perhaps it’s reasonable to say that it’s as likely that we’d have the testimony if it’s mundane parts were true as it is that we’d have it if the mundane parts were false. Then the testimony is no evidence for or against the mundane events: you should consider the events as likely as you did before you heard the testimony.

I’m not sure I’d want to go further than that and say that the burden of proof is on the people who believe the mundane portion of the testimony to show why it isn’t contaminated: mightn’t they equally well argue that the burden is on you to show that it is? But that’s what P2 says, I think: in P2, the testimony becomes evidence against the mundane events.

If you give a mechanism, though, maybe that’s just what you can argue: if you think Jesus’ disciples made it up, for example, who’s to say where the made up stuff ends? (Though why not make stuff up based on a real person, for verisimilitude?)

It looks like someone who wants to justify their belief in the mundane stuff has a motive to push the unbeliever to identify the mechanism so they can criticise it. The problem with my “average over possible mechanisms” idea, above, is that it’s pretty hard to identify them all. I don’t think we have a duty to do that with every weird testimony, though. Earlier, in defence of P1, Law correctly says that “the fact that it remains blankly mysterious why such reports would be made if they were not true does not provide us with very much additional reason to suppose that they are true.”

So, I’m not that convinced by Law’s general contamination principle, but I think he makes some good points along the way. For example, Law says:

It would also be foolish to try to construct a two part case for Jesus’ miraculous resurrection by (i) bracketing the miraculous parts of the Gospel narrative and using what remains to build a case for the truth of certain non-miraculous claims (about Jesus’ crucifixion, the empty tomb, and so on), and then (ii) using these supposedly now “firmly established facts” to argue that Jesus’ miraculous resurrection is what best explains them (yet several apologetic works – e.g. Frank Morrison’s Who Moved The Stone? – appear implicitly to rely on this strategy).



William Lane Craig’s rebuttal

The apologetical strategy Law talks about is used by William Lane Craig in his “4 facts” defence of the resurrection (see Craig vs Ehrman, for example). Craig read Law’s paper and attempted a rebuttal on his own blog, which I think was only partially successful.

Craig’s stuff about Ehrman is weird. I guess Craig’s point here is to show how reasonable he’s being by pointing out that even this bloke he beat in a debate (Ehrman) agrees with him. But Ehrman is not a radical sceptic, Law is not die-hard mythicist. The conclusion of Law’s argument is that we should be sceptical about J’s existence, not “Therefore J never existed”, so it’s not even clear that Ehrman’s ire applies to Law, or that we should care if it does, unless Ehrman’s arguments are made more explicit.

On Sagan’s dictum that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, Craig writes: “This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. … Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred. This can easily offset any improbability of the event itself.”

Craig makes a reasonable statement of Bayes Theorem. However, Sagan’s dictum can be read in a Bayesian way (by incorporating all the probabilities Craig mentions, so that the evidence is Bayesian evidence). Craig gives no good argument that the dictum must mean what Craig takes it to mean, or that Law’s argument relies on taking it to mean what Craig thinks it means.

Craig continues: “In the case of the resurrection of Jesus, for example, this means that we must also ask, “What is the probability of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, if the resurrection had not occurred?” It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred.”

This might be Craig’s attempt at that argument, namely, Craig saying that Law hasn’t considered that it’s unlikely we’d have the evidence we do if Jesus didn’t do miracles. But Craig plays fast and loose: the facts are that we have the gospel narratives (and whatever other historical documents we have to hand). The empty tomb and post-mortem appearances are not facts, and Law’s argument against the “bracketing” strategy is that they cannot be treated as facts. Craig cannot have the empty tomb or the post-mortem appearances as “facts” without addressing Law’s arguments.

Oddly, Craig doesn’t address really P2 or Law’s arguments for it at all: he just says “oh no it isn’t”. Craig’s strongest when he says that there is extra-Biblical evidence for Jesus’ existence. I’m not an expert, but my understanding is that Josephus’ mentions of Jesus is thought by historians to have a core around which Christian interpolations accreted, for example. Since even if we grant P2, Law’s argument fails without premise 6 (“There is no good independent evidence for even the mundane claims about Jesus (such as that he existed)”), perhaps this is a good tactic on Craig’s part. Law appears to agree that premise 6 is his weakest empirical premise: “6 is at the very least debatable”. In a way, it’s odd that everyone is concentrating on P2.

So, I think Craig casts doubt on Law’s conclusion about Jesus’ existence, but he doesn’t do much to convince us that Jesus rose from the dead or did any other miracles.

Jerry Coyne’s blog has some good comments on Craig’s rebuttal.

David B Marshall’s rebuttal

David Marshall also had a go at rebutting Law. He didn’t do as well as Craig, as his arguments relied on attempts to differentiate Law’s thought experiments (“Ted and Sarah”, and “The Sixth Islander”) from the claims about Jesus, but the distinctions he made between these, distinguishing magic from miracles, weren’t relevant to Law’s arguments, as far as I can tell. You can see my response to him here , his reply here and my response to that here, another attempt by Marshall here and my final response here.

I think this rebuttal is interesting for what it shows about what ordinary believers (rather than super-apologists like Craig) think are good arguments. Marshall appears to think that because the Jesus story is more fleshed out and more meaningful, it’s more likely to be true. I’m not sure whether this is a straightforward example of conjuction bias (obligatory Less Wrong link), or of the notion that the point of religion is to be in a meaningful story. Charitably, it might be an attempt at inference to the best explanation, but I don’t think the stuff that Marshall mentions means that the best explanation of the NT stories is that they are true.

So what do you think?

There was bloke called Jesus who was the basis of the NT stories. Pre-moderns had porous selves, so it’s pretty difficult to understand their writings in modern terms, but there is no good evidence that this bloke did miracles or rose from the dead. I don’t know how much of the NT is true, but I don’t accept Craig’s bracketing or 4 facts arguments: taking out the core miracle but leaving the context which points to a miracle does look like cheating without independent evidence of the context, because mechanisms where both the context and miracle are made up seem pretty likely to me.

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Link blog: bible, psychology, ai, gender

Boys’ brains, girls’ brains: How to think about sex differences in psychology. – Slate Magazine

“Fear of sexism has produced a bias against conceding sex differences, which gets in the way of frank discussion and investigation.” “Beware any explanation that relies on a single factor. Hormones matter, but so does socialization.” “The fishy part of neuroscience isn’t the data. It’s the spin we put on the data in the guise of explanation.”
(tags: gender neuroscience psychology feminism)

How Much Religion Should You Expose Your Children To? | Friendly Atheist

Tycho and Gabe talking about what they should teach their kids about religion. Interesting that Gabe (who’s son is also called Gabe) is a vague theist but didn’t want to pass on much formal religion to his son, but Tycho (an atheist) thought the kid should know about the Bible.
(tags: atheism religion bible penny-arcade children)

Strange Horizons Fiction: Tomorrow is Waiting, by Holli Mintzer

A short science fiction story about the Muppets. Heartwarming stuff. Via Sumana.
(tags: sci-fi science-fiction muppets ai)
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