- Simulating Religion: A Christian takes stock of Silicon Valley’s rationalist community by Alexi Sargeant
- A Christian takes stock of Silicon Valley’s rationalist community
(tags: lesswrong rationalism eliezer-yudkowsky Christianity philosophy transhumanism)
- How evolutionary biology makes everyone an existentialist | Aeon Essays
- “Each variant of human desire is ‘natural’, not in the sense of being required, but only of being made possible by nature. And it is in what nature makes possible, not in what it necessitates, that we should look for the answer to the question about what we should be or do.”
(tags: philosophy ethics existentialism evolution biology)
- Notes from the Intelpocalypse [LWN.net]
- A good, reasonably technical, summary of the Spectre and Meltdown attacks.
(tags: cpu hardware spectre meltdown security intel)
- Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality – Robert Wright – The Atlantic
- “Squaring recent research suggesting we’re “naturally moral” with all the strife in the world.”
(tags: morality science evolution utilitarianism joshua-greene trolley-problem)
- Djina Unchained
- A social justice blogger. I think it’s a parody, but it’s hard to be sure.
(tags: sjw social-justice privilege tumblr patriarchy feminism)
- The cult of Cthulhu: real prayer for a fake tentacle | The Verge
- Someone published a Necronomicon. I never knew that.
(tags: necronomicon h.p.-lovecraft fiction magic horror aleister-crowley)
- Waterstones’s social stories · Storify
- Turns out Twitter is useful for something after all. Waterstones (the bookshop) in Oxford Street have been writing short stories with theirs. I liked “Quantum Leap”.
(tags: twitter waterstones oxford-street books bookshop funny fiction storify)
- Burkhard Bilger: Inside Google’s Driverless Car : The New Yorker
- The engineers behind Google’s driveless car.
(tags: google cars robots automotive driveless artificial-intelligence)
- 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)
- Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim schools for stuffing children’s minds with ‘alien rubbish’ – Telegraph
- “He said that while he opposed faith schools as a whole, it was the Muslim ones that worried him the most.” That seems reasonable: the C of E schools are mostly harmless, as far as I can tell: they accept evolution and don’t examine the consequences for Christian doctrine too carefully.
(tags: evolution religon islam richard-dawkins dawkins education schools)
- Religious People Are Nerds – YouTube
- Following on from my post about how religion is a fandom, here are some more interesting parallels.
(tags: religion nerds fandom hobby funny)
- Strictly Come Dancing! | Woruld under wolcnum
- “Some exciting factoids from my trip to be in the Strictly studio audience (in no particular order!)”
(tags: television tv dancing)
- GodBlock – Protect your children
- "GodBlock is a web filter that blocks religious content. It is targeted at parents and schools who wish to protect their kids from the often violent, sexual, and psychologically harmful material in many holy texts, and from being indoctrinated into any religion before they are of the age to make such decisions." Via Metafilter
(tags: religion atheism software censorship children web internet god funny parody filter)
- Johann Hari: Did the media help to pull the trigger? – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent
- "Every time there is a massacre by a mentally ill person, like Derrick Bird's last month, journalists are warned by psychologists that, if we are not very careful in our reporting, we will spur copycat attacks by more mentally ill people. We ignored their warnings. We reported the case in precisely the way they said was most risky. Are we now seeing the result?"
(tags: murder psychology crime ethics guns journalism media violence uk suicide)
- The Turn – 93.12
- "At the very heart of winged flight lies the banked turn, a procedure that by now seems so routine and familiar that airline passengers appreciate neither its elegance and mystery nor its dangerously delusive character. The author, a pilot, takes us up into the subject"
(tags: flight history aviation flying banking physics)
- YouTube – N559DW full flight with radar overlay – Doug White King Air landing HD
- Via realinterrobang: passenger with a PPL for single engined light aircraft lands something a bit bigger when his pilot dies. Video of the radar with audio from the radio.
(tags: aviation flying pilot air-traffic-control emergency radar)
- FIREFLY: The Credits Sequence It Deserved!
- io9.com gives Joss Whedon's "Firefly' an 80s style intro sequence. Still not as good as Airwolf's, but a good effort.
(tags: video funny youtube television firefly intro)
- YouTube – Carl Sagan: A Universe Not Made For Us
- "Excerpts from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. More specifically, from the chapter titled A Universe Not Made For Us. I edited together the audio from the audio-book, and added the video from Stephen Hawking's Into the Universe and Brian Cox's Wonders of the Solar System. The music is Jack's Theme from the Lost soundtrack."
(tags: cosmology astronomy sagan science evolution universe video youtube religion creationism)
- Moral Realism in the Bible?
- "Most theologians seem to think the Hebrew Bible presupposes a subjective theory of ethics that grounds right and wrong in the nature or attitudes of a person, Yahweh. This is called divine command theory. Bible scholar Jaco Gericke has proposed an alternate view: that some passages of the Bible presuppose objective moral realism, such that right and wrong are grounded in something beyond the attitudes of a person or persons. Under such a view, Yahweh might sometimes be wrong."
(tags: bible morality philosophy religion christianity)
- Why We Haven’t Met Any Aliens § SEEDMAGAZINE.COM
- They're too busy playing computer games. Wasn't that the explanation in Charles Stross's "Accelerando", too?
(tags: evolution aliens alien fermi science psychology space future)
- Metamagician and the Hellfire Club: If I could lead the cat herd
- "I were leading the cat herd, I'd like to stress that the problem isn't so much religion in itself, or even the Abrahamic tradition in itself. It is, first, the many deplorable elements – the apocalypticism, totalitarianism, sexist, puritanism, intolerance, etc. – that are so prevalent in the Abrahamic holy books and traditions. But it is not every single element of those traditions."
(tags: religion karen-armstrong russell-blackford sam-harris)
- HOSTAGES RESCUED BY COURAGEOUS RACIST The First-Person Observer:
- “He threw one grenade but dropped, like, twenty N-Bombs". Via Metafilter.
(tags: humour games first-person fps counterstrike racism)
- We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!
- A long shot, but you never know, I suppose…
(tags: politics election liberal liberal-democrats uk funny)
- Facebook | I Blame Monotheism For The Earthquakes, Volcanoes And Global Climate Change
- The old gods are not amused!
(tags: religion earthquake volcano climate cthulhu quetzalcoatl)
- Commons library research note on hung parliaments
- or "How Hung Parliaments Work". Via Ben Goldacre.
(tags: government law politics research uk election parliament system:filetype:pdf system:media:document)
- ‘Richard Dawkins: I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI’ by Marc Horne – TimesOnline – RichardDawkins.net
- Dawkins Our Leader: "Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself. What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain."
(tags: richard-dawkins pope catholic abuse children ratzinger law uk politics dawkins)
- Christian faith and modern British politics, a layman’s view
- Mattghg has a post on the role of faith in politics. He mentions an illiberal attitude taken by Labour (they wanted to reverse an amendment which said that discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred). Robhu and I are having an interesting chat in the comments, concerning whether Britain is a Christian country, among other things.
(tags: robhu religion discrimination homosexuality politics christianity uk britain)
- Arresting comedy « Open Parachute
- Graham Lineham (Father Ted, Black Books) on what would happen if Dawkins and Hitchens actually arrested the Pope.
(tags: pope dawkins hitchens funny arrest graham-lineham richard-dawkins christopher-hitchens)
- Evangelical scholar forced out after endorsing evolution – USATODAY.com
- "Forced out"? Don't you mean "expelled"?
(tags: evolution theology bible expelled bruce-waltke lolxians seminary biologos)
- Special Investigation – Atheist Alert
- The horrifying truth about atheists.
(tags: funny video parody religion atheism youtube nonstampcollector darwin stalin)
- Hyperbole and a Half: The Alot is Better Than You at Everything
- The Alot is a mythical beast. Lots of people on the web write about them.
(tags: funny grammar spelling english language internet)
Bored with new atheism? Why not try the old school? David Hume‘s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a classic refutation of the Argument from Design. These days, evangelists are again turning to design arguments, notably the Fine-tuning Argument. Perhaps this argument is enjoying its day in the sun because it embraces and extends physics, in the way discussed previously, rather than suffering from the lack of respectability which attends arguments from design in biology. In any case, Hume’s book is as relevant as it ever was.
The book is quite short, and the text is freely available online, but still, I prefer the old-fashioned dead trees format. The Penguin classics edition only costs a few quid and has a handy forward and footnotes explaining what’s going on.
Talking about religion down the pub
The book is a dialogue between three friends: Philo, a sceptic, whose arguments many commentators identify with Hume’s own views (although exactly what Hume did think about religion isn’t clear, as in the 1700s you still had to be a bit careful about criticising religion); Cleanthes, a design proponentsist; and Demea, who believes God is beyond human understanding and is unimpressed with both Philo’s scepticism and Cleanthes’s anthropomorphisation of the deity. In modern terms, Philo sounds like an atheist (albeit a closeted one), Cleanthes an orthodox Christian who is persuaded by the design argument, and Demea a sophisticated theologian.
These three have a wide-ranging conversation, observed by Pamphilus, the narrator, a young man staying with Cleanthes. It’s fun to watch: John D over at Philosophical Disquisitions writes: “I always like to imagine myself a participant at the after dinner conversation imagined therein. Nothing can beat that: good food, congenial surroundings, intelligent companions and intelligent debate”. Once you’ve got the hang of the slightly antiquated language, the rhythm of it is itself enjoyable to read. Hume can write, a talent not common to all philosophers.
Designed by who?
As Alex Byrne’s article says, Hume’s arguments on cosmology are stronger than Dawkins’s in The God Delusion, though Hume was at the disadvantage of not knowing about biological evolution. Erik Wielenberg’s Dawkins’ Gambit, Hume’s Aroma and God’s Simplicty (which I first saw either at Common Sense Atheism or over at ex-apologist, so thanks to whoever it was) compares them in more detail, paying particular attention to Dawkins’s Ultimate 747 argument, and also favours Hume.
The arguments themselves are neatly summarised by John D. To be even briefer, Hume casts doubt on both the inference that the universe is designed, and on the inference to the identity of the designer (or designers: as Philo says, if we’re basing our argument on an analogy to human design, don’t many builders make a house?). In a diversion into the argument from evil, he also questions how someone could come to know that God is maximally good: certainly not by observing the world, it seems.
But to get the full effect of the book, you should read it (otherwise, you might find, like me, that your arguments from summaries are riposted by a counter-argument that Hume himself anticipated). Recommended.
- A Few Billion Lines of Code Later: Using Static Analysis to Find Bugs in the Real World | February 2010 | Communications of the ACM
- Bunch of academics write a static checker and take it commercial. They are surprised to find that: Compilers for embedded targets accept stuff which isn't quite C, embedded programmers use the stuff, because we're evil. A worryingly large proportion of programmers are clueless ("No, ANSI lets you write 1 past the end of the array"), concluding that "You cannot often argue with people who are sufficiently confused about technical matters; they think you are the one who doesn't get it. They also tend to get emotional. Arguing reliably kills sales." Also, managers like graphs of bad stuff to go down over time, so don't like the tool to improve. Fun article. Via Metafilter.
(tags: programming analysis security software coverity development tools C)
- A review of ‘The language of God’ (Francis Collins)
- Gert Korthof likes Collins's stuff on evolution, but thinks the Moral Law argument (which Collins acknowledges he got from C.S. Lewis) is terrible: "Collins fails to demonstrate
a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism)
b. the divine origin of the Moral Law
c. b follows from a "
(tags: creation evolution morality religion science francis-collins c.s.-lewis altruism)
- “I WANT TO TAKE GOOGLES OFF OF MY HOME PAGE” | MetaFilter
- What happens when your blog becomes one of the top Google results for "login to Facebook". Take it either as a serious lesson about user interface design, or an opportunity to mock the stupid.
(tags: facebook login funny internet computers ui user-interface browser google)
- Meat stylus for the iPhone
- I got yer meat stylus right here, baby.
(tags: iphone culture funny meat)
- Simon Blackburn (2) – Religion and Respect – Investigating Atheism
- Blackburn's interesting and slightly cheeky ("Even Christians are human") article on what it might mean to respect someone's religion. He thinks there might be something in respecting emotions but not attitudes, and bemoans religious appropriation of the sacred. Contains quote from Hume which is another example of the way Hume seems to have had everyone's ideas before they did (this time on belief in belief).
(tags: religion respect simon-blackburn philosophy hume)
- Why reject miracles? (Irrational Rationalist)
- An attempt at formulating the argument in a way which doesn't beg the question, and some talk about what Hume actually meant.
(tags: hume miracles philosophy religion rationality)
- Is there anything wrong with “God of the gaps” reasoning? by Robert Larmer
- Larmer argues that both theists and atheists shouldn't be so hard on "God of the Gaps" explanations (the phrase originated as a criticism of Christians by Christians). While it's certainly true that it's not a formal fallacy, I think what makes me uneasy about such explanations is the ease with which "the thing which explains X" is identified with "the Christian God" (say). But I'll have to think about it some more.
(tags: theology philosophy naturalism science religion god gaps larmer robert-larmer)
This round of bad arguments is about science. Before I start, I’ll acknowledge my debt to Jeffrey L. Kasser’s lectures, though, of course, any mistakes in applying them to the question of science and religion are my own.
Most people recognise science’s effectiveness at modelling the world, and theists are no exception. Some theists disagree with well established conclusions of science (for example, evolution). Some theists go along with the folk in liberal arts faculties who, in Kasser’s phrase, think science is a particularly dull literary genre. I’m not going to talk about either of these sorts of people. This post is about theists who claim their religion is compatible with, but has gone “beyond”, science. Their claims usually rely on making true, but uninteresting, arguments, in the hope that the hearer slides to a stronger conclusion than the arguments warrant.
This is the God of the gaps argument. Right now, popular choices for X are abiogenesis, consciousness, and altruism. To take that last example, Francis Collins argues that the theory of evolution has no explanation for pure altruism, and, following C.S. Lewis’s Argument from Morality in Mere Christianity, claims that the Christian God must be responsible. As the former director of the Human Genome Project, Collins’s opinions carry weight, but, poking around with Google Scholar, I found no evidence that he has contributed his criticisms to the peer reviewed literature on the evolution of altruism. Even if he had written a good paper on that subject, more is needed before we accept that the best alternative explanation is a particular god. As Gert Korthof’s review of Collins’s book puts it “Collins fails to demonstrate a. the failure of Darwinism to explain the Moral Law (true altruism) b. the divine origin of the Moral Law c. b follows from a.”
There’s a bad argument from atheists which leads to confusion here. Some atheists seem to use “science” to mean “anything for which there’s good evidence”, but the theists, quite sensibly, use it to mean “that stuff scientists do”. If the theist faces an atheist who says “your religion is invalid because it cannot be established by science”, it’s legitimate for the theist to dispute that statement by talking about other, non-scientific, forms of evidence which most people accept.
There are some things we do not use science to investigate, because they seem a poor fit for scientific investigation. To use one of Kasser’s examples, we wouldn’t get into a scientific investigation of the “universal law” that “all the beer in my fridge is American”, even if that is a statement which has the form of a scientific law (“all copper conducts electricity”). I prefer to distinguish scientific evidence from other rational evidence (though I think these forms of evidence have something in common which is not shared by religious “ways of knowing”): Eliezer Yudkowsky’s article on the subject describes what I mean.
So, the theists are at least partially right, but notice that none of this says much to convince us that there’s a God. When they try to do that, theists typically say that science or other rational evidence will get you some way towards theism (though, I’d say, not all that far), but then add that some “other way of knowing” or “faith” is required in addition. But if the theist claims they have another “way of knowing”, they must demonstrate its reliability, rather than merely knocking existing ways of knowing.
A specific case of the “science cannot explain everything” argument, this particular example gets its own section because it’s regularly trotted out by people who ought to know better (for example, John Lennox in his debate with Richard Dawkins). Again, this is one is true, but uninteresting. It’s not the job of science to prove my wife loves me, just as it’s not the job of science to explore my fridge looking for American beer. Nevertheless, assuming I’m not actually a stalker, I have sufficient rational evidence that my wife loves me, and I don’t have to invoke any special ways of knowing to get it.
Next time, we’ll look at claims that science arose from theism, and talk about reductionism and butter.