30 open questions in physics and astronomy « Locklin on science
(tags: questions astronomy physics science)
Going Soul-o: one young atheist’s week at Christian camp (Day One)
Gay atheist Alex Gabriel went to Soul Survivor, a charismatic Christian festival, and blogged about it (the link is to part one of the series). I went in about 1998, shit was so crazy (to my conservative evangelical eyes) but bits of it were inspirational, and indeed, Alex does find some good things to say about it, but mostly worries about people converting for the wrong reasons (i.e. no reasons at all).
(tags: festival conversion alex gabriel charismatic christianity soul-survivor soul survivor)
Philosophy Bro
Excellent summaries of philosophical works in bro-speak, plus readers’ questions answered. Fist-bump!
(tags: aristotle descartes religion morality kant david hume bro funny philosophy)

One True Morality
Muflax attempts to come up with a classification for morality, as clearly no-one knows what we mean by “objective” or “subjective” in this context.
(tags: subjective objective muflax philosophy metaethics morality)
Why yes, I have spent the past few days exploring the Catholic blogosphere
“Atheists say that it’s not necessary to wear green clothing on Saturdays. And I see where they’re coming from. Wouldn’t it be really convenient to wake up on Saturday and not have to worry about digging through your dresser, looking for your one pair of good green pants? Wouldn’t it make life easier? … But here’s the secret that modern society has forgotten: there’s more to life than just being comfortable. True, it would be easy not to wear green clothing on Saturday.” A nice satire of a certain type of religious blogger.
(tags: yvain satire funny religion catholic)

There was apparently another Draw Mohammed Day yesterday: Hermant at Friendly Atheist covers it (that link may obviously contain links to pictures of Mo).

My previous LJ entry on Muslims vs Student Atheist Societies provoked some discussion about whether criticism of Islam is necessarily motivated by racism, and whether white atheists ought to be involved in such criticism. During that, cartesiandaemon linked to Yvain’s utilitarian argument against Mo pics which appeared on Less Wrong. Yvain argued against Draw Mo Day on the basis of harm minimisation (Less Wrong orthodoxy is consequentalist so people there are likely to be responsive to such arguments).

Vladimir M won the Less Wrong thread with the response that “In a world where people make decisions according to this principle, one has the incentive to self-modify into a utility monster who feels enormous suffering at any actions of other people one dislikes for whatever reason”. He also made the observation (due to Thomas Schelling) that “in conflict situations, it is often a rational strategy to pre-commit to act irrationally (i.e. without regards to cost and benefit) unless the opponent yields. The idea in this case is that I’ll self-modify to care about X far more than I initially do, and thus pre-commit to lash out if anyone does it”. He adds “such behavior is usually not consciously manipulative and calculated. On the contrary — someone flipping out and creating drama for a seemingly trivial reason is likely to be under God-honest severe distress, feeling genuine pain of offense and injustice.”. Yvain then behaved excellently by formally withdrawing his argument.

Muslims may be harmed by seeing Mo pictures. However, Vladimir M’s point applies. So, what to do?

There are things called “trigger warnings” which are popular in some parts of the Internet. Medically, a trigger is something which can set off PTSD symptoms. These trigger warnings are usually appear on links to, and the beginning of, pages about rape or domestic violence, where victims may suffer from PTSD on reading the text.

[Latterly, the term has been broadened to encompass not just PTSD flashbacks, but that uncomfortable feeling you get when reading something which advances a view different from your own (for instance, the trigger warnings for misogyny and Islamophobia on this post mean “comments disagreeing with feminists/Muslims”), and has also become a way of signalling that one is down with the identity politics posse (this is well known enough for it to be parodied: see Is this Feminist?, for example). However, I think that few people would disagree with the idea that some Muslims’ distress at seeing such pictures is more towards the PTSD end of things than the “people disagree with me”/signalling end.]

It feels like a Schelling point in this conflict might be to agree that pictures of Mo should appear behind trigger warnings. These might be specific warnings; or a general warning that by continuing to read a site, one may encounter such pictures, or links to them. In the case of the atheist Facebook group, Jesus and Mo cartoons should not be used for public events (since the cartoons may then appear on the feeds of people who are not members of the group) but would be OK for events which are private to the group, assuming that the group is covered by a general warning. Obviously, all Draw Mo Day pictures should appear behind such warnings.

Times Higher Education – Divine irony

Blackburn’s summary of Hume’s “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion”.
(tags: simon-blackburn david-hume hume history religion philosophy atheism)

A Christmas Cracker

“On 16 December 1893, when Parliament had been in continuous session for 11 months and it had been announced that members would have only four daysě°˝€™ recess for Christmasě°˝€”Mr Gladstone received a letter in a neat but childish hand, written on ruled paper, from the infant son of the Earl of Pembroke.”
(tags: parliament history funny politics)

Good Minus God: The Moral Atheist –

Louise M. Antony writes a reasonable introduction to the idea that being an atheist does not lead to moral nihilism. Mentions the Euthyphro dilemma but doesn’t deal directly with apologetical responses about “God’s nature” (but then we’ve dealt with those here before, I think).
(tags: Euthyphro morality ethics philosophy religion atheism)

Of Hume and Bondage –

Simon Blackburn defends Hume from some sillier criticisms, and wonders what philosophy is for.
(tags: simon-blackburn hume david-hume philosophy)

Talking Philosophy | Religion and science: the issue that won’t go away

This is great, and has productive discussion in the comments too. Subscribed!

“Recall that the rise of science did not subtract from our pre-existing resources for investigating the world. Rather, it added to them; and the old pragmatic and scholarly methods and the new, distinctively scientific, ones can always be used together in any given case. We need to know whether such claims as that Jesus rose from the dead and that the universe was created by God are plausible when set against what we know overall about how the world works, both through methods that we could have employed anyway and through the distinctive methods developed by science.

When the question is framed like that, surely we don’t think that these claims come under no pressure at all from our best empirical investigations of the world?”
(tags: resurrection russell-blackford philosophy science religion)

Islam and “Islamophobia” – a little manifesto

“The extreme right benefits from the availability of politically respectable criticisms of Islamic thought and associated cultural practices. As this goes on, there is a risk that the word “Islamophobia” will be used to demonize and intimidate individuals whose hostility to Islam is genuinely based on what they perceive as its faults. In particular, we should remember that Islam contains ideas, and in a liberal democracy ideas are fair targets for criticism or repudiation. … After all, there are reasons why extreme-right organizations have borrowed arguments based on feminism and secularism. These arguments are useful precisely because they have an intellectual and emotional appeal independent of their convenience to extreme-right opportunists.”
(tags: islamophobia politics religion islam)

All things to all people, but Christmas is … people – The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A very human Christmas to you all 🙂
(tags: religion christmas)

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)

YouTube – Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie

Tim Minchin's beat poem about New Age bullshit has an official animation to accompany it. I'd not seen it before: thanks to gjm11 for linking to it.
(tags: funny religion new-age science)

The Daily Mash – Biblical apocalypse leaves much of Britain unchanged

Mother-to-two Emma Bradford lives in Penzance, where a horde of creatures straight out of the painting Garden of Earthly Delights is on a bloody rampage.
She said: "They're scaly and bulbous-headed and they soil the streets with their demon fire-piss.
"And then they have a kebab."
(tags: funny rapture religion uk)

The Blog : Morality Without “Free Will” : Sam Harris

Sam Harris asks how the neuroscience of free will, or the lack of free will, should affect moral questions. I don't think people have libertarian free will, so it's nice to see Harris arguing that this doesn't mean an end to morality.
(tags: sam-harris free-will morality philosophy neuroscience)

Honolulu Magazine | The Secret Life of Storage Units in Honolulu

What people do with their storage lockers. Including running a business from them…
(tags: storage culture housing)

Here’s what I currently think about morality. Perhaps the pros in the audience can tell me whether this has a name.

It is very hard to come up with a general theory about what makes something right which isn’t open to objections based on hard cases where the theory contradicts our intuitions (consider the dust speck problem if you’re a utilitarian; or the thought that God might command us to eat babies, if you’re a believer in Divine Command Theory). Russell Blackford says:

I’ve seen many attempts to get around the problem with morality – that it cannot possibly be everything that it is widely thought to be (action guiding, intrinsically prescriptive, objectively correct, etc.). In my experience, this is like trying to get rid of the bump in the carpet. The bump always pops up somewhere else. We have to live with it.

Call something an “intuition” if it’s something we just seem to feel is true. Perhaps there’s no empirical evidence for it, perhaps it even doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing there could be empirical evidence for. There’s a question of whether intuitions are reliable, but since one of the things we want from a theory is that it seems compelling, and the abovementioned problems with the conflict of theory and intuitions typically result in us not finding the theory compelling, a successful theory seems to involve satisfying our intuitions (or at least, our meta-intuitions, the means by which we can change some of our intuitions, since there are convinced utilitarians who really believe in torture over dust specks, Divine Command Theorists who believe God can justly command genocide, and so on).

In the case of free standing feelings that we ought to do something regardless of other benefits to us (assuming that such feelings exist and aren’t always just concealed desires for our own benefit, for example, the pleasure we get by doing good), it seems that our upbringing or genes have gifted us with these goals (even in the case of the pleasure, something has arranged it so that doing good feels pleasurable to us).

Assuming that we could work out any particular person’s process for deciding whether something is right, we could possibly present it to them and say “there you go, that’s morality, at least as far as you’re concerned”. There’s the amusing possibility that they’d disagree, I suppose, since I think a lot of the process isn’t consciously available to us. I think the carpet bump occurs at least in part because the typical human process is a lot more complex than any of the grand philosophical theories make it out to be.

We might also encounter people who disagree with us but are persuadable based on intuitions common to most humans, humans who aren’t persuadable, human sociopaths, or (theoretically) paperclip maximizers. In the cases where someone else’s morality is so alien that we cannot persuade them that it’d be bad to kill people for fun or turn the Earth and all that it contains into a collection of paperclips, we can still think they ought not to do that, but it doesn’t really do us much good unless we can enforce it somehow. I see no reason to suppose there’s a universal solvent, a way of persuading any rational mind that it ought to do something independent of threats of enforcement.

And that’s about it: when I say you ought or ought not to do something, I’m appealing to intuitions I hope we have in common, or possibly making a veiled threat or promise of reward. This works because it turns out that many humans do have a lot in common, especially if we were raised in similar cultures. But there’s no reason to suppose there’s more to it than that, moral laws floating around in a Platonic space or being grounded by God, or similar.

I don’t find that this gives me much trouble in using moral language like “right” and “wrong”, though to the extent that other people use those terms while thinking that there are rights and wrongs floating around in Platonic space which would compel any reasoning mind, I’m kind of an error theorist, I suppose, but I don’t suppose that everyone does do that.

Metamagician and the Hellfire Club: On moral evaluations

Blackford points out that morality doesn't require anything spooky or metaphysical to be rational and non-arbitrary, so long as we're prepared to accept that "[w]hatever judgments we make do not compel all comers, regardless of their desire-sets, to act one way or another on pain of making a mistake about the world or something of the sort."
(tags: philosophy morality ethics error-theory mackie russell-blackford)

“Have friends who are atheists? Agnostics? Into Wicca? Or New Age?”

Mefi discovers "Dare2Share", which is one of those worldview based Christian evangelism things where they're training Christians to understand other people's worldviews (which is good) as a preamble to converting them to Christianity (which would be bad). I've linked to Mefi rather than the site itself as the Mefites discussion is interesting. The site has cutesy names for their examplars, like "Willow the Wiccan" and "Andy the Atheist", so the Mefi crowd have come up with a few of their own.
(tags: metafilter apologetics christianity evangelism worldview)

New Statesman – The bugger, bugged

"After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story . . . " Coppers taking backhanders from journos, oh my. No wonder the Met dragged their feet about the phone hacking case.
(tags: news journalism crime phones privacy surveillance police hugh-grant hacking)

Scientism « Why Evolution Is True

Jerry Coyne: "when used as a derogatory adjective, “scientism” means this:

the practice of applying rationality and standards of evidence to faith.

For religious people and accommodationists, that practice is a no-no. That’s why the adjective is pejorative."

I think there is something which we could validly call "scientism", namely the belief that science can answer all our questions, or that all questions reduce to scientific ones, or something. However, Coyne's point stands: "scientism" is often code for "how dare you ask us for evidence?"
(tags: scientism science religion jerry-coyne)


OK, so remixing videos of Pentecostal services is like shooting fish in a barrel, but you've got to love the person who though of turning it into an 90s video game.
(tags: funny pentecostal video youtube charismatic christianity)

Blogging in App Engine

Still vaguely toying with ditching LJ, and this looked interesting.
(tags: appengine python blog bloggart)

William Hague accused of ‘anti-Christian’ foreign policy – Telegraph

"Cardinal Keith O’Brien accused the Foreign Secretary of doubling overseas aid to Pakistan to more than £445 million without demanding religious freedom for Christians and other religious minorities, such as Shia Muslims. " I think O'Brien has a point: nobody should be coerced into conversion, and it's clear that Christians need some protection from the Religion Of Peace.
(tags: religion politics aid pakistan islam christianity)

Stop Being Wrong: A Moral Imperative

C.S. Lewis wrote that "You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house." Wrongbot points out that to behave ethically one must have correct beliefs as well as the right theory of normative ethics.
(tags: ethics philosophy rationality morality wrongbot)

Some Perspective On The Japan Earthquake: MicroISV on a Shoestring

"Japan is exceptionally well-prepared to deal with natural disasters", and apparently, the system worked.
(tags: japan earthquake engineering culture)

Fukushima is a triumph for nuke power: Build more reactors now! • The Register

"Japan's nuclear powerplants have performed magnificently in the face of a disaster hugely greater than they were designed to withstand, remaining entirely safe throughout and sustaining only minor damage. The unfolding Fukushima story has enormously strengthened the case for advanced nations – including Japan – to build more nuclear powerplants, in the knowledge that no imaginable disaster can result in serious problems."
(tags: science nuclear safety physics japan earthquake)