2011

A. J. Ayer to the rescue! « Measure of Doubt

Ayer vs Mike Tyson, apparently really happened. "A. J. Ayer is known for writing "Language, Truth, and Logic." Lesser known is his sequel, "Language, Truth, and Being a Friggin' Badass.""
(tags: philosophy a.j.-ayer positivism funny biography)

TSA Agent Threatens Woman With Defamation, Demands $500k For Calling Intrusive Search ‘Rape’ | Techdirt

A woman sexually assaulted by a Transport Security Agency employee is then threatened with a libel suit when she blogs about it. Thugs Standing Around, indeed. Her own lawyer writes an excellent letter in response. Note: contains a description of the assault.
(tags: privacy surveillance rape defamation tsa security transport)

What People Don’t Get About My Job: From A(rmy Soldier) to Z(ookeeper) – Derek Thompson – Business – The Atlantic

"Tell us what people don't get or appreciate about your job. The response was so eloquent and overwhelming, it was practically encyclopedic. So we made an encyclopedia. From A to Z, we went through your responses to find the best vocational essays for each letter."
(tags: work jobs)

He Said/She Said

Grim-meathook-future SF author Peter Watts's wedding vows: "And you and I are going to kick biological determinism in the balls." Aw, sweet.
(tags: wedding marriage biology monogamy)

Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity

"One might think that, once we know something is computable, how efficiently it can be computed is a practical question with little further philosophical importance. In this essay, I offer a detailed case that one would be wrong. In particular, I argue that computational complexity theory—the field that studies the resources (such as time, space, and randomness) needed to solve computational problems—leads to new perspectives on the nature of mathematical knowledge, the strong AI debate, computationalism, the problem of logical omniscience, Hume's problem of induction, Goodman's grue riddle, the foundations of quantum mechanics, economic rationality, closed timelike curves, and several other topics of philosophical interest. I end by discussing aspects of complexity theory itself that could benefit from philosophical analysis."
(tags: philosophy programming complexity compsci turing)

Does the future have a church? | The Briefing

What evangelicals think of the general decline in church attendance in the UK. Their churches are holding their own numerically but not growing, so becoming a smaller percentage of a growing population. However, they're doing better than other Protestant denominations, which will die out as their older members die off. Getting them while they're young is essential for propagating religion, and they worry about the lack of youf in the church. Social trends like cohabiting couples and single parent families are worrying because evangelical churches don't really know how to cope with those people so won't evangelise them effectively. Via the artist formerly known as nlj21.
(tags: church religion statistics christianity uk)

Kayonga Kagame Shows Us The World. Episode: Darkest Austria : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive

A hilarious spoof on ethnological documentaries: an African TV team comes to the Austrian province to document the strange behavior of the natives… including the Feast of the Chicken. *
(tags: funnny anthropology ethnology)

The Problem of Induction

Nice summary of Hume on induction.
(tags: philosophy hume induction knowledge epistemology science)

OK Go, The Muppets – Muppet Show Theme Song – YouTube

OK Go and the Muppets!
(tags: okgo muppets video music)

Mr. Deity and the Philosopher – YouTube

"Well, if I did order genocide, I'd have a pretty good reason, or at least, an apologist could make one up." Nice. The begging bit at the end is funny too.
(tags: euthypro-dilemma philosophy funny mr-deity religion)

A Sketch of an Anti-Realist Metaethics – Less Wrong

Nice explanation of the map/territory distinction, and seems to accord pretty closely with my own views on morality.
(tags: hume philosophy metaethics ethics morality less-wrong lesswrong)

There’s an atheist bad argument which runs something like this: “Faith is believing stuff without evidence, believing stuff without evidence is always bad, therefore faith is bad”.

This seems reasonable at first, but sooner or later you meet a William Lane Craig or similar apologist type, as Jerry Coyne did recently:

Craig argues that science itself is permeated with assumptions about the world that cannot be scientifically justified, but are based on faith. One of these is the validity of inductive reasoning: “Just because A has always been followed by B every time in the past is no proof at all that A will be followed by B tomorrow.” To suppose the latter requires faith.

According to Coyne, as well as the problem of induction, Craig mentions last-Thursday-ism and the idea that we’re all in the Matrix as beliefs that we reject on faith. Some of commenters on Coyne’s blog react as if Craig is advocating these ideas that we all reject, that is, as if he really thinks that the Sun might not rise tomorrow or that we’re in the clutches of a cartesiandaemon. But that’s not Craig’s point. Nor is Craig being inconsistent if he gets on an aeroplane assuming that the laws of physics will carry on working as they always have to keep it flying. After all, he’s not the one claiming that it’s always wrong to believe things without evidence.

The problem here, which makes the atheist’s argument a bad one, is that the atheist has cast their net too broadly. Craig is right to say that there are things that atheists (and everyone else) believe “on faith”. To say that these beliefs are always unwarranted leaves the atheist open to Craig’s counter-argument that, to be consistent, the atheist should then discard those beliefs or admit that it’s not always wrong to believe things without evidence.

Doing better

Nevertheless, something has gone wrong with Craig’s argument if it’s supposed to be a defence of religious faith (as all Craig’s arguments ultimately are). Religious faith is different from belief in induction or the existence of an external world. The atheist should abandon the claim that unevidenced beliefs are always bad, and concentrate on the distinction between religious beliefs and, say, the belief that the external world is real.

One way of doing that would be to turn Craig’s allegation of inconsistency back on him. As Chris Hallquist puts it

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.

The atheist’s discomfort is now the apologist’s: either he must accept that, say, Muslims or Scientologists are right to take things on faith (in which case, why not join up with them instead?); or further distinguish his religion from theirs (probably by making arguments about the resurrection of Jesus). The atheist’s acceptance of the real world doesn’t come into it.

Hume’s own solution to radical scepticism was to note that he couldn’t entertain that sort of thing for long. Creatures like us soon fall unavoidably back on treating other people as if they were conscious, the world as if it were real, and so on. The great man tells us:

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Among educated folk, thoughts of gods rely on meetings with other believers to keep them going: believers are chronic sinus sufferers. They rarely anticipate the world being any different from a godless one, and those who act as if God is real are called crazy even by their fellow believers. To be sure, that doesn’t mean their avowed beliefs are false. But again, they are not like the commonplace beliefs that everyone takes on faith. In my experience, they fly forgotten, as the dream dies with the dawning day. How about a nice game of backgammon?

Edit: gjm11 suggests another reasonable response in this comment: admit that believing stuff without evidence is bad, and try to minimise it, and say that the problem with religious faith (in so far as that means holding unevidenced beliefs) is that it means having way more unevidenced beliefs than necessary.

Edit again: I’ve also commented with a shorter version of this on Coyne’s original posting, so there’s some discussion there too.

See also

Oklahoma Freethought Convention 2011 (speech 3 of 5) – The Thinking Atheist – YouTube

Seth the Thinking Atheist, a former Christian, on the "God goggles" that prevented him from seeing the truth for many years. He's an engaging public speaker.
(tags: atheism ex-christian religion)

Detexify LaTeX handwritten symbol recognition

Draw a symbol, get the TeX code for it. Amazing what they can do these days.
(tags: tools mathematics latex tex)

Atheism isn’t a religion, but it is a brand | The Uncredible Hallq

Quotes Ian Pollock: "What you will probably not notice, however, is that increasingly when you don’t know what you think about some issue yet (say, your country’s stance on foreign affairs), you will take your cue from other self-identified conservatives, as opposed to thinking it through yourself and then describing your conclusion in political terminology. The normative self-definition has staged its coup d’etat. Whatever “conservatives” think, that is going to be your opinion. Of course, when I put it that way, it looks ridiculous. But from the inside, this process feels perfectly rational — like wisely throwing your lot in with a really smart group of people."
(tags: pseudoscience rationality religion brand atheism)

Worth Promoting to Its Own Post: Notes on Arguing « Whatever

"This dynamic of people asking for facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, is in itself non-partisan; implications otherwise are a form of ad hominem argument which is generally not relevant to the discussion at hand."
(tags: argument rationality)

Who broke the build? – PaperCut Blog / News

"Retaliation is a Jenkins CI build monitor that automatically coordinates a foam missile counter-attack against the developer who breaks the build. It does this by playing a pre-programmed control sequence to a USB Foam Missile Launcher to target the offending code monkey." Excellent.
(tags: programming humour funny missile build integration jenkins)

Git Immersion – Brought to you by EdgeCase

Looks like a nice introduction to the "git" version control system. Must get round to understanding that one of these days.
(tags: programming version-control git development tutorial software tools)

I’m starting to think that the Left might actually be right – Telegraph

In the Torygraph of all places.
(tags: politics economics journalism murdoch news telegraph)

philosophy bites: Nick Bostrom on the Simulation Argument

"Nick Bostrom doesn't rule out the possibility that he might be part of a computer simulation. Find out why in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast." Hard to fault the argument, as far as I can tell, though I should probably check how people have responded to it.
(tags: philosophy computers consciousness simulation nick-bostrom transhumanism)

fic: the joinery (game of thrones) (1/2)

A nice alternate history of A Game of Thrones from Cersei's perspective: what would have happened if Ned had taken the throne instead of Robert? Spoilers for the first book/TV series.
(tags: fandom fanfic game-of-thrones books cersei/ned)

[Updated] Rooting Explained + Top 5 Benefits Of Rooting Your Android Phone

Just for me, so I can decide whether to root my HTC Desire.
(tags: tutorial hack android rooting)

Chromium Blog: Connecting Web Apps with Web Intents

This looks like a nice idea, allowing one site to offer facilities to another similar to the way Android apps can advertise the ability to, say, share a link or send email. I imagine there'll be security stuff to work out. If Chrome and Firefox support it, that'd be great.
(tags: internet browser android intent api google firefox chrome web)

New Statesman – Faith no more

"Earlier this year, Andrew Zak Williams asked public figures why they believe in God. Now it’s the turn of the atheists – from A C Grayling to P Z Myers – to explain why they don’t "
(tags: atheism richard-dawkins philip-pullman daniel-dennett sam-harris)

Pompous Theist

You've seen Advice Dog and Courage Wolf, now enjoy Pompous Theist. Well observed stuff: I've seen quite a few of these "arguments" in my time.
(tags: atheism meme funny humour theism religion)

“Shut Up, Rich Boy”: The Problem With “Privilege.” | No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

"I’m a feminist writer, but I don’t like to use the word “privilege” in my writing. Here’s why not:"
(tags: feminism privilege)

Why Have Hackers Hit Russia’s Most Popular Blogging Service? – TIME

Where LJ has been the past week or so. For once, it's not their fault.
(tags: internet security livejournal politics ddos)

Apologist Josh McDowell: Internet the Greatest Threat to Christians, Christian News

McDowell is worried: “The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not.” Kind of revealing: McDowell is admitting that if you want to get kids into your religion, you need to get them young enough, before they've been exposed to other ideas.
(tags: internet apologetics josh-mcdowell christianity religion)