Link blog: religion, mathematics, maths, atheism

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)

Link blog: funny, politics, equality, humour

Heresy Corner: Equality before the law

"If Harriet Harman's odious Equality Bill reaches the statute book in anything like its current form (in other words, if the House of Lords doesn't manage to delay it before a general election intervenes) then there may well be social and legal chaos in this country. There will also be a lot more work for lawyers. A lot." – Heresiarch reckons the Equality Bill is a bad thing.
(tags: law politics equality)

Killing In The Climb – rathergood.com

Why have them vying for the Christmas number one when you can combine them?
(tags: music video rathergood funny mashup)

DAVID SIMON – Vice Magazine

"David Simon is responsible for one of the greatest feats of storytelling of the past century, and that’s the entire five-season run of the television series The Wire." – Vice Magazine interview him.
(tags: vicemagazine the-wire tv-programmes tv television wire crime drugs politics journalism)

Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source

Members of the earth's earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.
(tags: religion funny onion history creationism)

IEEE Spectrum: Math Quiz: Why Do Men Predominate?

"among top math performers, the gender gap doesn’t exist in some ethnic groups and in some countries. The researchers conclude that culture is the main reason more men excel at the highest math levels in most countries."
(tags: maths mathematics gender feminism equality)

The C Programming Language: 4.10 by Brian W Kernighan & Dennis M Ritchie & HP Lovecraft

"C functions may be used recursively; that is, a function may call itself either directly or indirectly. Uninquiring souls may take this as just another peculiarity of those C folk, of whose ways their neighbours speak little to outsiders but much among themselves.

Keener news-followers, however, wondered at the events of the winter of 1927-28, the abnormally large number of calls placed upon the stack, the swiftness with which that list was sorted, the disturbing lack of heap allocation throughout the proceedings, and the secrecy surrounding the affair."
(tags: funny humour parody C programming lovecraft horror)

Link blog: religion, science, politics, christianity

How to Think About Science

Metafilter links to a bunch of podcasts from modern historians and philosophers of science. I've linked to Mefi rather than the podcasts as there are some interesting comments from valkyryn in the thread, on what Shapin and Schaffer were saying about the role of trust in the scientific community.
(tags: audio science metafilter history philosophy)

The late, mannerist years of identity politics

"I am X, and I am different from Y. Other people are ignorant of the difference between X and Y. They must be educated. People, you must call me X and respect my difference from yourself, and from Y. You must refer to me by the term I have chosen to refer to myself by, and stay tuned for any changes I choose to make in this label, and new terms you must use to describe me — those new terms which the stigma treadmill or reclamation of previously-taboo terms may, from time to time, make it necessary for me to substitute."
(tags: identity politics gender feminism transexualism)

A gay witch hunt in Uganda

Andrew Brown: "A bill currently before the Ugandan parliament (pdf) proposes seven year prison sentences for discussing homosexuality; life imprisonment for homosexual acts; and death for a second offence. Sober observers believe it will be passed. The Anglican church in Uganda appears to support it, and the Church of England in this country is absolutely silent."
(tags: homosexuality morality anglicanism religion christianity sex uganda john-sentamu sentamu)

Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name

Christian commenter on Unreasonable Faith: "All ex-Christians are in league with Satan and are fully aware of it, don’t let yourselves be fooled into believing otherwise." Bugger, I've been rumbled. Time to buy a red cape…
(tags: atheism ex-christian de-conversion satan lolxians christianity religion)

Because As We All Know, The Green Party Runs the World.

Peter Watts on the email leaks from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. "That’s how science works. It’s not a hippie love-in; it’s rugby."
(tags: global-warming climate science peter-watts politics environment email leak)

Richard Norman – Beyond belief

Richard Norman on the "New Believers": Terry Eagleton, Karen Armstrong and such like, the people who say religion is not remotely about believing stuff. "I cannot see how, in the end, a distinctive religious identity can be possible unless it is based on the acceptance of at least some non-metaphorical factual beliefs – beliefs about the existence of a personal deity and about how his intentions and purposes explain our world. Those beliefs do, inescapably, need to be rationally defended. And they can’t be. On that point, certainly, Dawkins is right."
(tags: richard-norman belief religion karen-armstrong terry-eagleton eagleton richard-dawkins)

‘The Evolution of Confusion’ by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009

Dennett on his project to interview clergy who no longer believe but are closeted (Dennett explicitly makes the analogy with gay people in the 1950s), on "deepities" in theology (interestingly, he rejects criticisms that other 3 horsemen don't know enough theology or philosophy), and on how we needn't suppose some people sat down and conspired to make up religions.
(tags: religion video dennett evolution daniel-dennett theology memes deepity)

The Daily Mash – CLIMATE CHANGE EMAILS STOP GLACIERS FROM MELTING

"This is the smoking iceberg that fires a polar bear of truth between the eyes of hysteria and communism."
(tags: funny climate environment satire global-warming science)

Link blog: religion, humour, video, politics

Is Obama About To Become Just Another War Criminal?

"Aghanistan is not a country, it's a criminal enterprise" – Evert Cilliers wonders what America is doing there, a question you might also ask about the UK.
(tags: drugs politics war afghanistan taliban pakistan islam)

George Carlin – Religion is bullshit.

Carlin's classic routine on religion, in which he tells us how he worships the Sun and Joe Pesci. May be "strident".
(tags: religion video youtube funny atheism humour god carlin comedy)

36 ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD —  By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

The Edge introduces and gives us an excerpt from Goldstein's novel. The 36 arguments (and their rebuttals) are included in the excerpt, handily: the moral argument and the cosmological argument are in there.
(tags: religion philosophy god atheism books morality)

Caveman Science Fiction

From the same people who brought you "Dungeons and Discourse": Caveman SF.
(tags: comics scifi funny science satire comic humour)

The Open Road London (1927)

Colour footage of London in 1927. Pretty amazing stuff.
(tags: london video history youtube archive)

Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent

The stories of former Islamists who came back from the brink, and just what went wrong to put them there in the first place. "From the right, there was the brutal nativist cry of "Go back where you came from!" But from the left, there was its mirror-image: a gooey multicultural sense that immigrants didn't want liberal democratic values and should be exempted from them. Again and again, they described how at school they were treated as "the funny foreign child", and told to "explain their customs" to the class. It patronised them into alienation. "
(tags: islam religion politics terrorism culture war hari johann-hari jihad islamism)

Link blog: christianity, religion, philosophy, cambridge

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)

Book: The Bible The Biography by Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong’s book is a potted history of the Bible and its interpretation, starting around the time of the Babylonian exile and continuing up to the present day. Armstrong’s writing is succinct: the book is short (229 pages in the main text of my copy) and easy to read.

Armstrong sees both the Christian Gospel writers and the Judaism of the first and second centuries CE as profoundly influenced by the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Their conflicting ideas on the future of Judaism can be seen in the attitude of the Gospel writers to the Pharisees as it became clear that the future of Judaism did not lie in a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, but in a revitalised Judaism which the party of the Pharisees would lead.

The parts of the book which deal with interpretation were most interesting to me. Armstrong interweaves chapters on Christian and Jewish interpretation. Later texts start out as reactions to earlier texts, drawing on them to find something useful in the writers’ times. The later texts may eventually come to be seen as scriptures themselves. Armstrong applies this idea to the Christian New Testament and to the Jewish Mishnah, as well as to modern commentaries like the Scofield Reference Bible, the source of much of fundamentalist Christian theology on the End Times.

Armstrong discussion how later commentators draw out meanings which they believe are hidden within the text, a process which she describes as pesher, referring to the commentaries produced by the Essenes. The methods of interpretation are often quite strange to modern readers, but reflect the belief that scripture was infinite, containing a variety of meanings. Sometimes passages are re-interpreted in the light of the Golden Rule, as in the case of Rabbinic punning on scripture to show God’s compassion, or Augustine’s statement:

“Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbour does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived.”

Some Christians, such as Origen, viewed the Old Testament as a commentary on the New, rather than vice versa, and produced detailed allegorical interpretations of OT events, which were taken to refer to Christ or the church (a tradition they could claim was started by the apostle Paul, in letters like Galatians).

The book contains some uncomfortable facts for someone in the modern evangelical wing of Christianity (as I once was). If evangelicals insist their approach is the only correct one, they must conclude that the church has been doing it wrong for most of its history. Worse yet, for evangelicals who claim to use only scripture to interpret scripture, is realisation that the New Testament writers would be seen as terrible exegetes by modern evangelical standards.

As I said, these are not comforting thoughts for evangelicals. While I was writing this, I found an interesting review of Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns. Enns has written a book which, if the review is anything to go by, talks about these exegetical problems and tries to address them, still remaining within a reformed Christian theology. Enns does this by drawing an analogy between the humanity of Jesus and that of the Bible. For this, he is well on the way to being drummed out of the seminary where he holds a professorship.

Back to Armstrong. As her story moves closer to the present day, she writes about modern scriptural interpretation with dissatisfaction, albeit tempered with some sympathy for fundamentalists who feel threatened by, well, practically everything that’s happened since about 1800. In the book’s epilogue, she calls for a return to Augustine’s principle of charity as the means of interpretation, arguing that “hurling texts around polemically is a sterile pursuit”, and that rather, the entire Bible should be interpreted as a commentary on the Golden Rule. She rejects criticism of the Bible by “secular fundamentalists”, presumably in the knowledge that in the past both Christians and Jews have seen the violent or otherwise “difficult” passages as an invitation to look deeper rather than as an invitation to imitate God or Israel’s bad behaviour.

I’m a little sceptical, because I think the horse has bolted, at least as far as Christianity is concerned (I’d be interested to hear what Jewish people think). Since Luther, the authority of the church to interpret the Bible has diminished. Everyone is their own pope, vigorously defending their interpretation and eager to anathematise the people closest to them (as Enns’s case illustrates), even more so as believers feel threatened by modern developments and batten down the hatches. I’d like it if Armstrong’s vision became reality, but I’m not sure how she intends to bring it about. More people reading her book might help. I recommend it.