Spot the godOver on top cosmologist Sean Carroll’s blog, there’s a guest post by his fellow top cosmologist Don Page, who is a Christian. Page was responding to Carroll’s debate with William Lane Craig. Page does not find Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument persuasive, but has his own reasons for being a Christian, which you can read about over there (spoilers: maybe God is the simplest explanation for the fact that the universe is orderly; also the Resurrection happened).

The comment thread beneath the post is huge and goes off in all sorts of interesting directions. Page makes use of Bayes’ Theorem in his arguments. There are some people who use in their day jobs (rather than just reading Less Wrong and bullshitting, as I do) who respond to him, notably Bill Jefferys, staring here.

I’ve been commenting on and off. I reconstructed the threads I got involved in as the lack of threaded commenting over there makes it difficult to follow. I’ve been reading Peter Boghossian’s “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I hope to post about at some point) so I was trying for some Socratic dialogue and questioning of “faith” as a means of knowing. See how I got on:

Mathematicians wanted

I was interested in Daniel Kerr’s comments (for example, here, here, and finally here, in response to one of mine). He says that simplicity depends on a choice of mathematical language, but I thought this was just a constant factor. However, the comments rapidly go off into model theory and stuff about the Axiom of Choice, so I got lost. Can anyone comment on what he’s saying and whether he’s right?

I’ve been talking elsewhere, so I thought I’d make some posts about that.

Previously, I talked about the push to introduce codes of conduct for lindy hop events in the wake of a high profile sexual assault case. Over on Reddit, /r/SwingDancing saw quite a bit of discussion of the whole business, as you’d expect.

Someone calling themselves The Logical Lead started a Reddit discussion about a blog post of his and another discussion about where the boundaries of flirting are. His burden seems to be that Mobtown Ballroom’s Code bans flirting and victimises men, because of the third rule, which begins “Don’t treat the ballroom like a pick-up joint.”

He makes the true point that, in the recent case, things were made worse because the perpetrator was a famous and popular teacher. But he then went off the rails in saying that the community’s reaction was victimising men by targeting them rather than only dealing with the abuse of fame, and even implying that the codes would be abused by popular men to corner the market in women. I commented saying that, although the recent case was certainly about the misuse of fame, the discussion that followed allowed many women talk about problems they’d had, most of which were not with famous teachers.

On the question of differentiating flirting and harassment, this thread linked to Dogpossum’s own guide to dating dancers. Some people quibbled about Dogpossum’s advice, but I think the point is that if you’re asking how to do it and not fall foul of a code of conduct, you’re saying you’re not sure of your social skills and need rules. If you are skilled enough not to creep people out anyway, you can probably treat them more as guidelines.

I also bigged up the Northerners’ STEPS code and their FAQ, where they make it clear that “we certainly aren’t suggesting that dancers aren’t allowed to form romantic relationships at our events (including, a-hem, extremely short relationships)”.

On Metafilter, Reddit has a reputation as a terrible place full of MRAs, libertarians and other ne’er do wells, but The Logical Lead didn’t get a very good reception for his stuff, so I suppose it depends which sub-reddits you’re talking about.

This post links to descriptions of sexual assault.

Lindy hop got its own version of the Jimmy Saville revelations recently, when it became clear that a long standing international dance teacher (who wasn’t someone I’d heard of prior to this, as it happens) had abused various women. Jeff Leyco has collated a bunch of links to people talking about it, the most important of which is Sarah Sullivan’s original blog posting describing her experiences.

Elaborating on some comments I’ve made in other places:

There’s sometimes a confusion about types of evidence, and between degrees of evidence and degrees of belief, that happens when people read accusations like this online. Testimony is evidence, especially if it’s potentially costly to the testifier if they lie. We rightly demand a very high probability of truth before we bless certain beliefs for certain uses (for example, in a court of law or a science journal). But that the probability doesn’t need to be as high before deciding to keep someone away from young women at dance camps, for example. There were surprisingly few “oh, the Internet says it, so it must have happened, riiiight” comments, but not none. Those commenters looked pretty foolish when the other shoes dropped, and a pattern of predation emerged in the reports of other women. If you’re not actually having to decide whether to allow that teacher to come to your dance camp next weekend, it seems wise to shut up and wait for those other shoes to hit the floor rather than sounding off on the Internet.

There was some use of the word “awkward” to refer to the perp. People who are socially awkward don’t do the stuff described by these women, which, moral considerations aside, requires some nerve (in the case of initiating physical contact) and Dark Side social skills (isolating the victims, telling them they’re special, and so on). Let’s stop calling predators “socially awkward”, it’s an insult to socially awkward people.

Codes of Conduct

One popular suggesting in the wake of all this is to institute codes of conduct for dance events. Having been initially a little wary of that, I’m now in favour as a result of chatting with friend C (who got me into lindy in the first place) and reading around.

One thing that seems to be happening is that people are adopting language from codes for professional conferences. I’d argue that these codes are not suitable for use at dance events without modification. If you’re going to have a code, it’s not a talisman against predators that you can just hold up like a crucifix in front of a vampire and hope they go away. You have to enforce it, and that means getting language right so it’s enforceable.

The general

What am I on about? Broadly, that there’s a difference between the environment you want at a conference where everyone’s on the clock (and subject to employment law) and something that’s a cross between a party and the practice of an art.

There’s also some danger of confusion between the social justice concept of a Safe Space, and the sort of environment the general public would want to dance and socialise in. A Safe Space in the former sense is typically heavily policed against a fairly strict and specialised language code which bans certain words, and the police usually prohibit discussion about matters they consider settled. Assuming that such Spaces make anyone safer, they do so at the expense of other good things, which are put aside in favour of an overriding concern for Safety; and the converse is also true: not making your Space Safe means you’re trading off those other goods against the risk of some people not being Safe (see Mefi, previously). Face this, accept there’s nothing wrong with trading off goods against each other, and don’t use the phrase “safe space” to describe the environment you’re trying to create.

Elizabeth Dingivan criticises this post on safe conferences both for advocating an over-patrolled environment and for concentrating on preventing problems rather than promoting positive values. It’s worth checking our her comment.

Edit: another thought that occurs is that unless you have the resources to police heavily, you cannot in fact offer a totally safe space even if you want to, so your terminology should not offer something you’re not going to deliver.

The specific

More specifically, we need to say more about banning “sexualised material”: if it means porny pictures are banned that’s fair, but do you want to ban a bunch of those songs about food which aren’t actually about food or the songs in which there’s sexual commentary on men’s and women’s bodies? Probably not, because we allow things in an artistic context that we don’t want to see around the office (if you were trying to create a Safe Space, the answer would be different here).

Relatedly, partner dancing got started in part as an early form of speed dating, and some people come to dancing hoping to meet romantic partners, in a way which would not be appropriate for a professional conference. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself, though there are wrong ways to go about it and one needs to be alert for the difference between dance chemistry and sexual desire. I don’t know how to convey this in a short document, but just “no harassment, no sexy stuff” won’t cut it.

When we dance, we’re touching another person and, in some dances, adopting a close hold. It’s worth going into more detail about what’s OK here, rather than just banning “inappropriate touching”. It’s also worth dealing with what to do when bad stuff happens by accident when moving at speed, not something that ForkMyDongleCon ’13 attendees had to worry about, I guess. (I’d also like to ban teachers from initiating back-rub circles at the end of lessons, please: that sort of touch isn’t what people signed up for).

Good examples

I like the policies of Mobtown, Baltimore (though the bullet about various banned -isms shades towards Internet social justice jargon and makes me wonder if I’ll get the boot for saying “Mark’s such a crazy dancer”) and Holy Lindy Land, Israel. I like Bryn’s suggestions on Sarah Sullivan’s posting.

A couple more general points: it’s worth distinguishing hints and tips from serious offences. It’s worth emphasising that we’re dealing with hopefully rare stuff here and most people are lovely. I remember discussion of Cambridge Dancers’ Club’s etiquette page where people wondered whether a long etiquette manual might put the punters off. Both these points can be addressed by having a serious bit and a funny FAQ (a FAQ’s a good format for avoiding the CDC page’s wall of text). I like Holy Lindy Land’s pictures, too.

Final point: there’s no point in any of this if there’s no-one to tell about problems or if problems are not investigated and resolved once you tell someone. This requires a lot of the people who organise events, who are often volunteers. In the case I’ve heard about where harassment was not dealt with at an event, those organisers were women, so it wasn’t a case of men belittling women’s problems. Organisers want to be liked and find confrontation difficult, just like anyone else. I’ve never done that job, so I don’t know what to do about that.

A red flagThis post discusses victim blaming in the context of both murder and sexual assault.

Scott Alexander wrote, on dealing with social justice debates on the Internet:

H.L. Mencken writes “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats.” Well, this is my temptation. It requires more willpower than anything else I do in my life – more willpower than it takes for me to get up in the morning and work a ten hour day – to resist the urge to just hoist the black flag and turn into a much less tolerant and compassionate version of Heartiste1.

Hoist the colours high

I felt this urge most strongly while reading the Metafilter thread about the attack on Charlie Hebdo (I’m pw201 on Mefi), where many commenters were engaging in what elsewhere might be called victim blaming or de-railing, and then flouncing when called out.

What passes for Leftism in America and in her cultural sphere of influence (i.e. the Guardian) seems to be the the establishment of an ordering of identity groups and the promotion of the interests of those groups lower down the order over those groups higher up. (The claims that there are multiple orthogonal pecking orders or that there’s no strict total ordering in people’s heads seem false: there are only two directions one can “punch”, and, whenever there’s a debate, it’s about who is really higher or lower).

It is one thing to bite the bullet, as I think Arthur Chu does, and admit that the accusations of victim blaming and the like are properly made only against his ideological enemies, without any attempt to pretend that victim blaming is universally bad. But to do this is to admit to special pleading, which most people don’t think is fair.

What I saw in the debate about the attacks and subsequent anger/flouncing was the painful dissonance that arises when Leftists-of-this-sort have to deal with members of a group whose interests they would naturally promote (identifying the murderers as Muslims and brown people) carrying out heinous crimes against people higher up the ordering (identifying the victims as white people or even as racists). Suddenly, those L-O-T-S who in other contexts would be assiduous in calling out any implication, however subtle, that “she was asking for it, dressed like that” or “maybe it was a bad idea to drink so much at the frat party”, are using those same tropes and hoping that a big disclaimer will do the trick.

I guess what’s happened is that the ordering was established as an instrument to promote the positive values of some sort of Leftism, but has now become almost an end in itself. My political leanings were formed growing up in the 1980s reading the Daily Mirror, but it’s fair to say I’m not an “ally” of L-O-T-S. Which isn’t to say I haven’t learned anything from reading Mefi, LJ and even Tumblr (the shocking prevalence of street harassment, to take one example).

Mais je ne suis pas votre ennemi

Scott Alexander’s urge doesn’t really make much sense rationally, though it’s psychologically understandable. If you have lefty views but think the special pleaders are bad, recall that their ideological rivals are worse, or at least, seeking worse outcomes. If you’re just posting and commenting on the Internet (as opposed to, say, voting), you don’t actually have to join up pick a team and buy their views as a package. If people you agree with about a lot of stuff argue with you about some other stuff, you don’t have to feel bad about that, because you’re not letting the team down: remember, you’re not on a team in the first place. People who are experts on social problems aren’t necessarily experts on how you personally should deal with them, as previously discussed. And thus I survive on Mefi, and places like it.

The Mefi thread went in quite a good direction in the end: there was a debate about cartoons and caricature, some attempt to understand what the cartoons were about, and translated commentary from French people. It is long, but worth reading. I’ve been posting the good bits to the link blog, but allow me to recommend Lost in translation: Charlie Hebdo, free speech and the unilingual left in particular.


Kitty Stryker said bad things and should feel bad, but that’s no reason to get into bed with Heartiste. He certainly won’t respect you in the morning.

  1. Heartiste is a well known pick up artist, men’s rights activist, and all-round bad egg. Ozy Frantz did a Anti-Heartiste FAQ which might save you some unpleasant research. 

The Scotts Aaronsen and Alexander both worry that following feminist doctrine makes geeky guys miserable and too scared to even attempt to form a romantic relationship with a woman. Hugh Ristik looks at feminist guilt, along similar lines to Catholic guilt. Laurie Penny responds compassionately to Aaronsen.

I still think of myself as in the Scotts’ tribe because of my awkward formative years, which my brain tends to give undue weight when compared to pieces of evidence like “you haven’t been single for more than, say, 6 months since you were, say, 22” (hint: learn to dance). So, I hope they won’t mind a little criticism.

Firstly, I wonder why arch-empiricists like the Scotts swallowed whole everything they were being told by the feminists. Why don’t the Scotts quickly work out that either they’re not being told what they think they’re being told (e.g. I bet if you asked the people conducting the harassment seminar, they wouldn’t have said Aaronsen was meant to take home the lesson that he did) or the people telling them this stuff are wrong about some things (e.g. if the people conducting the harassment seminar genuinely meant to say that men should never approach women under any circumstances just in case it’s harassment, they can safely be ignored without feeling bad about it)?

We get our beliefs wholesale

Possibly, if you’re starting from zero and desperately looking around for some rules on how to relate to women romantically, you might just latch on to the first subculture that claims to have expertise. It could have been much worse: Aaronsen could have run into the pick-up artists before the problematic patriarchal privilege posse, then he’d be going on about alphas and betas instead of privilege and de-railing, all the while wondering why having sex with people he despises for being stupid enough to fall for his con doesn’t seem to make him happy1. So, lucky escape there.

The Scotts might respond to me that I swallowed evangelical Christianity whole at the same age and that also messed up my relations with women a bit, so I’m in no position to criticise. That seems fair enough. What on Earth was I thinking? Both American Social Justice Internet Feminism (using my previous definition) and evangelicalism have the ability to form a rules-based system2. The temptation to swallow whole an ideology which has got some things right (especially things that everyone else seems to be ignoring) is common to all of us3, but geeks feel even more of a pull towards systems and clear “right answers” (previously, previouslier). Without wanting to say that evangelicalism and ASJIF aren’t problematically deontological, maybe some of the geeks’ troubles with them are down to these geeky tendencies.

Requirements analysis

Geeks: suppose you are writing (or, more often, updating) some software, as many of you do. The customer (or, more often, the person employed to prevent customers from seeing geeks that might alarm them) comes along and says “we want it to do X”. You’re like “but X will take ten years, will break Y, and the standard clearly says we must do Z not X”. But they’re like “No, X is super important and Customer won’t buy it unless it does X”. What’s the question you should ask now?

“What is the problem you are trying to solve?”

You should ask this because often in these situations you’re being given a solution to an underlying problem (the solution X) and you have to dig a bit to work out what the underlying problem is. The customer is an expert on the problem. You don’t get to say that their problem isn’t real (if you want to keep your job, anyway), but if they’re asking you to do something you’re going to have to live with for a while, you can and should look at that and see whether it makes sense in your context. This will usually involve talking to some people, tricky as that may be. Perhaps you can find a sympathetic geek on the customer’s side of the fence to thrash things out with. That usually works best.

Edit: in response to my question on Mefi (“why didn’t Aaronsen detect the bullshit?”), officer_fred reminds us that geeks take everything a bit seriously and have malfunctioning bullshit detectors.

  1. This assumes that the PUA stuff actually gets geeks laid, of course. 

  2. The fancy word for this when applied to morality is deontology. As previously mentioned, ASJIF is “deontology on steriods”

  3. See in group bias and conjunction bias

Image by Graham Stratton
Alexei Sayle’s Marxist principles mean he doesn’t like Strictly Come Dancing, and by extension, all ballroom dancing.

Sayle doesn’t like SCD because it’s a dumbed-down popularity contest. This might be fair: the judges do have dancing knowledge, but the public get a say via a phone vote, and on the programme itself there’s lots of other bollocks which has little to do with art or skill, which is why I got bored with SCD.

Alas, Sayle seems to have falsely conflated the whole of ballroom dancing with SCD. tangokitty’s excellent comment at the Guardian points out that this neglects the large number of social dancers. One unfortunate effect of SCD is that it leaves people (including prospective and newbie ballroom dancers) with the impression that true ballroom dancing will culminate in fake tan and sequins.

Sayle likes the freedom of Northern Soul, which isn’t a partner dance, so is an odd choice for comparison with ballroom. There’s a limit to how much you can go crazy on the floor and also keep dancing with another person. (Neither was Nothern Soul “unselfconscious”, according to the Guardian’s expert commenters). Silly Sayle: improvisation and freedom is why lindyhop is better than ballroom, not why Northern Soul is. Naturally, you should also feel free to make up your own reason why ballroom is better than lindy.

Sayle goes on to say that ballroom tango is “robotic”. I say staccato, you say potato: Sayle’s free to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry, but it’s not clear what that has to do with our moral obligation to assist in Marxist class war. He adds that the music is terrible, but in fact, SCD’s music for tango (and paso doble) is often the wrong music for the dance, leading to horrors like this. Ballroom can in fact be sexy (previously), although Sayle’s assertion that a partner dance involving a man and a woman is always about sex is problematic and I’m tempted to set the Tumblr SJWs on him til he’s sorry.

tl;dr: Sayle’s at his best when talking about how crappy popular TV is, but knows bugger all about dance and/or is just trolling to drum up publicity for his new show.

Edit: Metafilter has some interesting discussion on the article.

1755 Lisbon earthquakeThe Problem of Evil is a pretty difficult one for Christians and other theists. One response to it is to say that atheists have a problem too, either because they also must cope in a world with so much evil and suffering in it, or because without a way to “ground” morality, they have no basis to call anything evil. As we’ll see, these are both Bad Arguments.

Bad argument: Atheists must cope psychologically with evil, and this is a problem for them

Stephen Law dealt with the response that atheists must also cope with the evil and suffering in the world (which actually came from an agnostic, not a theist, in the linked example). As Law says, this sort of response relies on shifting the problem we’re talking about to the problem of how to cope psychologically with evil and suffering (which is indeed a problem for both theists and atheists). But this is not the problem that the discussion was originally about, which is that evil and suffering make theism less likely to be true (i.e. they’re evidence against it), but are not evidence against atheism.

Bad argument: Atheists have no grounds to call anything evil and so cannot make an argument from evil

Wintery Knight and Cornelius Hunter are both Christians, and both make the second sort of argument: if there is no God, they say, there is no matter of fact about what is evil, it’s an entirely subjective judgement either of particular individuals or of human societies, and as such cannot be binding on God.

Firstly, both Knight and Hunter just assert that if there is no God, there are no moral facts1. But in fact the philosophical debate about whether there are moral facts is carried on largely without reference to God: there are atheists who say there are, and atheists who say there aren’t, and a lot of debate about just what it means for something to be an objective moral fact anyway. Apologists like to pick an atheist who says there aren’t moral facts and quote them as defining The Atheist View on Moral Facts, as if there were only one.

But suppose for the sake of argument that Knight and Hunter are right, and if there is no God, there are no moral facts. Conventional Christianity still faces a problem of evil as an internal contradiction. Here’s a little argument from evil:

1. If God exists, God is objectively morally perfect.
2. If God exists, it is objectively morally imperfect for someone to permit human suffering which it is in their power to alleviate (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example).
3. There is human suffering which it would be in God’s power to alleviate, were God to exist.

Now, assume for the sake of argument that God exists. From 3, suffering which it is in God’s power to alleviate exists. From 2, God is objectively morally imperfect, but this contradicts what we get from 1. So God does not exist, proof by contradiction.

Any theist worth their salt will attack premise 2 (and probably say that there should be a “without good reason” after the “permit”, and then say that God either has good reasons or that we have no way of knowing that he doesn’t). But my purpose isn’t to present a comprehensive argument from evil, but rather, to point out the shape of the argument: notice that the argument does not rely on a claim that there are in fact objective moral values, only that if God exists, there are, something which Knight and Hunter agree with. In fact, more robust arguments from evil generally rely on putting together statements which theists should accept and showing that they lead to the conclusion that there is no God.

A couple of Knight’s commenters (1, 2) point this out to him (one even explicitly telling him that the Argument from Evil is what’s known as a reductio ad absurdem) but he just doesn’t seem to get it. I hope you do, but let me know if this could be clearer.

  1. Along with the claim that if there is a God, he’d provide a grounding for moral facts, which seems dodgy, see previous discussion 

A combination of notes on the lessons and general diary stuff about Hullzapoppin, a dance camp in Hull. I don’t always make these public out of a vague fear of the lindy blogsphere descending on me and telling me what I got wrong, but what the HellHull. Possibly only of interest to dancers, though the rest of you may be interested in the part with the blow up doll, I suppose.


u6EDiUp the A1 and over the Humber bridge to Hull. A nun walking in the grounds of the Endsleigh Centre welcomed us in and wished us a lovely weekend. We registered and got our wristbands: Intermediate Advanced ones were black, which goes with everything.

We stayed in Westfield House, which was great. It’s a big house in a leafy suburb of Hull. All of the 4 rooms were occupied by lindy hoppers, as it turned out. The landlady made the breakfast room available at all hours, which came in handy for late night toast parties. Unfortunately, the house is on the market, so we may not be able to stay there next year.

We ate in Fudge, which seems to be the subject of some sort of smear campaign on Trip Advisor but which was rather good.

Back to the Endsleigh Centre for the Friday night dance. It was crowded but manageable. I danced with once of the teachers without realising she was a teacher, so don’t technically deserve my Courage Wolf meme, but managed not to totally embarrass myself.

The link posting script (which copies my bookmarks from Delicious to occasional blog posts here) has gone awry and posted the same link three times, so I’ve turned it off until I can fix it.

Last time this happened, it was because Delicious was feeding it the same link with different Globally Unique Identifiers, so maybe they’ve done that again. The obvious fix is just to use the link’s URL rather than the GUID from Delicious, so I’ll do that when I get a moment.

Apologies for spamming your feeds/friends lists/newsfeed/wherever else you’ve been reading the blog.