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)

‘Witch’ set to stand in general election

Everyone's favourite Cambridge witch, Magus Lynius Shadee, is going to stand for MP for Cambridge. Policies include getting rid of faith schools (sort of want), banning RE lessons (do not want), more tax on booze (do want, I think). Previously, Shadee was in the news for summoning demons in the local Catholic church, and for threatening to open an occult shop in Cambridge. He's Satan's gift to local journalism.
(tags: witchcraft woo-woo paganism politics)

Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian

The Onion scores again. HT to Friendly Atheist.
(tags: politics religion humour funnny onion homosexuality)

Oh no! “Licentiousness breeds extremism”

"Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has a worrying column in The Independent. It is not worrying because of the concerns she raises about "licentiousness", "social nihilism", "debauchery", etc., but because it is another example of blaming the victims. Somehow the blame for Islamist terrorism is to be sheeted home to the relative sexual permissiveness of Western (in this case, British) society. It is also worrying because Alibhai-Brown is supposed to be an example of a moderate Muslim"
(tags: islam muslim uk politics sex religion terrorism)

Conversations About The Internet #5: Anonymous Facebook Employee – The

Interesting stuff about privacy and re-writing PHP. HT to Andrew Ducker.
(tags: culture internet facebook security privacy media social programming php)

Beyond belief

Short but interesting article on the growth of atheism in Australia.
(tags: atheism religion australia)

Heresy Corner: Sir Ian Blair defends the indefensible

I do try not to link to every single thing Heresiarch posts, but this is a particularly good one. " Evidence that the powers have been used inappropriately is not hard to find. Much more striking is the lack of evidence that the powers have ever been used appropriately. No terrorism-related charges have been brought against anyone as a result of a search carried out under the 2000 Terrorism Act".
(tags: terrorism politics ian-blair crime police)

I’m giving a talk to the Cambridge University Atheist and Agnostic Society tomorrow, Monday 19th October, at 7.30 pm in the Union Society building (the one behind the Round Church). Apparently it’s £1 for non-members, a bargain if ever I saw one.

I’ll cover some of the ground covered by my Losing My Religion essay, with a bit more of a Cambridge focus. I think they’re hoping for some dark secrets about CICCU, which is unfortunate, because as far as I know there aren’t any (anyone who knows different is invited to leave a comment below), but I’ll do my best.

Edited: I’ve blogged my notes and what I remember of the Q&A after the talk.

Atheism, Reason, and Morality: Responding to Some Popular Christian Apologetics

D Gene Witmer on how best to response to Christian presuppositionalists. I ran into one of them online recently, which was fun.
(tags: religion presuppositionalism apologetics christianity philosophy rationality logic induction morality system:filetype:pdf system:media:document)

God is not the Creator, claims academic

In a sense, this isn't news: a lot of the religions that were contemporaries of Judaism had a creation story involving gods making order out of chaos rather than creating the universe from nothing, though I'd previously read that this was referred to in the Bible more obliquely than the this new theory suggests (e.g. water + Leviathan symbolises chaos in Psalm 74). If this idea catches on, it'll be interesting to see the new ideas the Abrahamic religions come up with to harmonise this with science 🙂
(tags: religion bible history christianity creationism creation god chaos)

Plantinga: Religious Beilef as Properly Basic

A nice introduction to Plantinga's ideas. I've not read his books, so I don't know how accurately they're summarised, but it seems to fit with what I've read elsewhere.
(tags: belief philosophy plantinga epistemology christianity religion alvin-plantinga)

PRISMs, Gom Jabbars, and Consciousness

Peter Watts talks about a paper which claims consciousness arose out of the need to chose between conflicting motor impulses.
(tags: consciousness science scifi sci-fi peter-watts)

Demon ready to kill in city church

Magus Shadee (Wiz 5, Necromatic) apparently cast Summon Monster in the big Catholic church in Cambridge. Local clerics of Papem, god of guilt about sex, say they'll summon the City Watch, though it's not clear what they'd do about it. I'd've thought the clerics would be better off casting some defensive spells of their own.
(tags: woo-woo christianity cambridge occult paganism witchcraft)

The ever-reliable Cambridge Evening News reveals that dark forces are gathering in Cambridge: “Magus Lynius Shadee, self-named King of All Witches, has announced he will open in the city centre by December 24” (I don’t know what it means for a magus to “open in the city centre”, but I’m not sure I want to stick around to find out). Local church leaders aren’t too pleased about this, and warn of bad juju.

This set me thinking about the time the vicar at my former church told us that educated Cambridge Christians hadn’t taken the stuff in the Bible about demons seriously enough. Basic theism is all very well at first, but inevitably you move on to the harder stuff. Initially, you’re all “everything that begins to exist has a cause” but before long you start thinking that the Resurrection is pretty good evidence for Christian theism (after all, as the Christian sort of God exists, it’s likely that he would raise Jesus from the dead, therefore the Resurrection is not terribly unlikely; therefore, given the New Testament evidence, the Resurrection happened; therefore the Christian sort of God exists).

Tragically, for some people even that’s not enough. Not satisfied with a Trinity, they crave other supernatural beings. From there, it’s a slippery slope to “I had doubts about the validity of that Resurrection argument / fancied that boy/girl/sheep / had a bit of a funny turn late at night: SATAN DUNNIT!”

When I was a lad, the school Christian Union leaders told us Dungeons and Dragons was a doorway to danger, a gateway into Satanism. I’d like to suggest that Christianity is a gateway to Dungeons and Dragons. This isn’t a completely new idea: arkannath suggested it in the comments of one of my old posts, which you might also enjoy.

Father David Paul’s (Cleric level 1, patron: Papem, god of guilt about sex) warning that “People who go to these things often end up with mental problems” is best read as a caution to people with poor Will Saves. Rev Ian Church is clearly some sort of adventuring cleric (level 3, patron: Jeebus, god of circular arguments) on a quest to put a stop to Shadee (Wizard level 5, necromancer). Our hero has tracked the villian to his underground lair, wherein “there were several ritual and seance rooms and what really struck us was the intense and extreme cold in the rooms”. Church (by the way, am I alone in thinking that naming your cleric “Church” is only one step up from calling your characters “Bob’s fighter 1”, “Bob’s figher 2”, and so on? Not sure what the DM was thinking with “Shadee”, either) neglects to mention how he turned several undead and avoided some tricky pit traps while he was down there, but we can assume he’s just being modest. There were plenty of XP given out that day, I can tell you. Still, it looks like Shadee escaped, and now the campaign is coming to the streets of Cambridge. The local peasants are pretty excited by the prospect.

The Rev Steve Midgley, who I remember from my days at The Square Church, has been featured on the Dawkins site. The sermon he gave on Professor Dawkins’s views is about a year old now, but I suppose that a posting on the Dawkins blog might generate some more interest in it. You can find MP3s of it on his church’s site (the church is the Cambridge “plant” from St Andrew the Great which I think nlj21 attends).

Rev Midgley comes across as a thoughtful and careful preacher, eager to ensure he has presented Dawkins’s views fairly.

Midgley speaks about Professor Alister McGrath’s responses to Dawkins. I’ve not read McGrath’s books, but I’ve heard his discussion with Dawkins at the Oxford Literary Festival, and also seen him and Dawkins talking at length in out-takes from Root of All Evil?, Dawkins’s Channel 4 opinion piece from last year. I didn’t find McGrath particularly impressive in either case, mostly because of his irksome habit of telling Dawkins he’d made an interesting point and then answering something other than Dawkins’s question (now I think of it, in Yes, Prime Minister, I think that’s one of Jim Hacker’s tips to Sir Humphrey for dealing with the press). For someone who’s been associated with the infamously evangelical Wycliffe Hall theological college, McGrath seems oddly evasive on some fundamental, if unpalatable, bits of evangelical doctrine, like the Virgin Birth, penal substitutionary atonement, and the sovereignty of God even in natural disasters. I’d be interested to hear what any of you who’ve read McGrath’s books thought of them.

Midgley quotes Terry Eagleton’s LRB article to illustrate that reviewers have criticised Dawkins’s lack of theological knowledge. I think I’d be more receptive to those sort of arguments if someone could point to a rebuttal of Dawkins based on that theology. Eagleton’s attempt founders on its own contradictory assertions about what God is, as Sean Carrol points out. I doubt Midgely is willing to sign up for Eagleton’s theology, which sounds suspiciously liberal to this ex-evangelical. It’s illuminating to ask how Midgley would demonstrate that his theology was more correct than Eagleton’s, though, of which more later.

Midgley talks about Dawkins’s Ultimate 747 argument. He makes the valid point that ordinary Christians generally aren’t concerned with the Argument from Design. Similarly, he says that forcing us to chose between evolution and God is a false choice, since God may use evolution. I think this mistakes what Dawkins’s argument is. If the universe does not require a designer (as Midgley seems to concede), life itself and the universe are not evidence for the existence of God. If there are no other good arguments for God’s existence (the one from Design isn’t the only one Dawkins talks about, although it’s the centerpiece of the book), it’s reasonable to suppose that God’s not there (or he doesn’t want to be found).

Midgley goes on to point out that scientific theories change, quoting McGrath again, and asserts that Dawkins has a faith as much as a Christian does. Dawkins’s own response to McGrath points out the inconsistency here: Dawkins, along with any good scientist, is willing to admit the scientific theories are provisional. Midgley, to get his old job at St Andrew the Great and to speak to CICCU, presumably assented to some extremely specific doctrines (never mind the Nicene Creed, if you want to test for “soundness”, try the CICCU Doctrinal Basis). These doctrines aren’t subject to testing, peer review or later revision. How are we supposed to know that Midgley is right and Eagleton’s Marxist Christianity is wrong? I think we’d just have to have faith 🙂

Finally, I wish he could pronounce Dawkins’s name correctly. That sort of mistake lays you open to parody.