philosophy

The Sad Futility of Trying to Stop Planes Crashing | VICE | United Kingdom
“There’s a rule of thumb when you’re designing a complicated system, which says that when you get to a point where you’re applying fixes to fixes it may be time to step back and reconsider the whole thing.”
(tags: flight 911 aviation terrorism crash cfit security)
Doing Mathematics Differently | Articles | Inference: International Review of Science
“Explanation is a form of compression. If a theory is smaller than the data, then in that case, as in so many others, less is more. A successful explanation is a matter of covering a large debt with a much smaller one.”
(tags: mathematics philosophy science computation)
Apple vs the FBI: Whoever wins, it’s a mess – Franklin Veaux’s Journal
A good look at the technical detail of what the FBI are asking Apple to do.
(tags: apple FBI security encryption)

Stephen Law: ‘Skeptical Theism and the Pandora’s Box Question’ – YouTube
Stephen Law did a half hour talk on the sceptical theist response to the Problem of Evil (“you can’t know that God doesn’t have good reasons for allowing some apparently gratuitous evils merely because you can’t think of such reasons”), and how adopting such a response leads to more general scepticism about just about everything (the Pandora’s Box objection, as he calls it).
(tags: theodicy theology religion philosophy problem-of-evil stephen-law epistemology)

Is a ‘lack of belief’ the best we can do? | The Philosopher’s Groan
“There is a common view – one you yourself may hold – that the only intellectually honest position for an atheist to have is a ‘lack of belief’ in gods. Today I’m going to argue that this definition is confused, and should be retired. It is too broad to be useful, and that we ought to reserve the word ‘atheist’ for active disbelief in the existence of gods. Furthermore, I’ll try to demonstrate that we have a much stronger positive philosophical case for rationally believing that no god – theistic or deistic – exists.”
(tags: atheism philosophy agnosticism belief)

Whig Party | Britain’s original progressive political party is back
Crikey. It’s like a Neal Stephenson novel: “The Whigs are returning to British politics. We are going into the 2015 General Election to provide a fresh choice to the British people, and to show that everyone can get involved in politics. Our campaign will be positive and optimistic, both online and in the streets. The Whigs are back. Come and join the party.”
(tags: whig politics election history uk general-election)
David Hume and the sensible knave | Ask a Philosopher
Is there a response to Hume’s “sensible knave”, who does evil only when he can be reasonably sure of not getting found out?
(tags: david-hume hume morality knave philosophy glaucon)
Why I Don’t Read The News Anymore | Thing of Things
I don’t, either, for roughly the same reasons.
(tags: news ozymandias psychology availability politics)
A fixed-term hung Parliament? | British Government and the Constitution
Prof Adam Tomkins explains the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Points out that, while a defeat which is not a motion of no confidence does not allow an early election, nothing compels a Prime Minister to stay in office: Labour could hold the threat of Milliband’s resignation (and the Tories being invited to form a government) over the SNP in order to pass a budget, for example.
(tags: constitution government politics election confidence)
The British press has lost it – POLITICO
Even the broadsheets don’t bother to hide the fact that they’re rooting for the Tories because their oligarch owners told them to (except the Graun, of course). No one in my liberal bubble actually reads print newspapers, they just share links to the Graun’s “Comment is Dumb” section on Facebook. Still, I might not be typical, so it’s all a bit worrying.
(tags: press newspapers journalism politics britain election)

Justin Schieber on Twitter: “Nobody just lacks belief in unicorns. We all believe (for good reason, mind you) that they are fictions. So too is it the case with gods.”
Justin Schieber (an atheist) argues against the claim that “atheism is just a lack of belief”. This seems fair enough: what atheists tend to use the claim for is to say that they don’t have a duty to rebut any random stuff someone comes up with, but in fact, we consider the eixstence of gods and unicorns unlikely based on our background knowledge and the lack of expected evidence (which is evidence of absence), and this is a legitimate belief.
(tags: belief god atheism theism unicorns evidence epistemology)
60 Years On: Academic Atheist Philosophers Then & Now : The Critique
Graham Oppy reviews 60 years of atheist thought in philosophy. Interesting stuff. Is it true to say that people think sceptical theism means that a theist should not be convinced by the evidential problem of evil? I thought that sceptical theism had problems of its own, but I rely on people like John Danaher to digest the literature for me rather than reading journals or anything…
(tags: graham-oppy atheism philosophy theodicy religion)
Faith vs. Facts – NYTimes.com
“a broad group of scholars is beginning to demonstrate that religious belief and factual belief are indeed different kinds of mental creatures. People process evidence differently when they think with a factual mind-set rather than with a religious mind-set. Even what they count as evidence is different. And they are motivated differently, based on what they conclude. On what grounds do scholars make such claims?”
(tags: faith facts psychology religion anthropology scott-atran)
Britain Uncovered survey results: the attitudes and beliefs of Britons in 2015 | Society | The Guardian
The Graun surveyed about 1000 people and weighted the results according to the UK’s demographics. Among other things, the bit about religion was interesting to me: their survey said “A majority of Britons (82%) do not actively practise a religion and a clear majority of the population (61%) agree with that “These days religion is a negative influence in the world rather than a force for good.” Unsurprisingly, those who associate with a religion are less likely to hold this view.”
(tags: survey britain secularism religion belief attitudes politics guardian)
God Doesn’t; We Do: The apologist two-step–McGrew and Marshall on Boghossian
Argues that Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” use “faith” in a very similar way to the way Boghossian does, namely “We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge.”
(tags: faith peter-boghossian apologetics religion)
The economists’ manifesto – FT.com
The FT asks a random selection of economists what they’d do if they were PM. A whole lot more sensible than the politicians’ one.
(tags: economics politics FT finance)

Peter Boghossian vs Tim McGrew – YouTube
Here’s an “Unbelievable” show in which Boghossian (“A Manual For Creating Atheists”) talks to Tim McGrew, who’s reasonably well known for his arguments in favour of belief in miracles. I’ve linked to a set of comments from “MrShamuto” where he undertakes more or less the process Boghossian describes in the books, of Socratic dialogue with “AdeToz”, a Christian. It is long and occasionally interrupted by other people who are bonkers, but it’s interesting to see Boghossian’s stuff in action.
(tags: street-epistemology epistemology peter-boghossian tim-mcgrew philosophy evidence unbelievable premier christian radio socratic)
W00tstock 5.0 – George RR Martin vs. Paul and Storm – YouTube
The singers of “Write like the Wind, George RR Martin” get a surprise.
(tags: game-of-thrones grrm george-rr-martin funny video wootstock)
List of testimonies from people who just know their religion is true
amymea, writing in the ex-Mormon Reddit, takes to task someone who argues that the “testimony of the spirit” is good evidence that Mormonism is true, by listing a bunch of other people who had strong feelings upon reading their own religious texts.
(tags: mormonism reddit feelings faith religion evidence)
Advanced Trolley Problems
Funny.
(tags: philosophy funny comic ethics trolley-problem)
What I’ve Learned About Female Desire From Reading
Mallory Ortberg is fun. “100% of women want to have sex with a man who embodies the fox version of Robin Hood from the cartoon Robin Hood, but most do not actually want to have sex with a fox or a man dressed as one.”
(tags: mallory-ortberg funny reading sex desire books)

Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? | Oliver Burkeman | Science | The Guardian
Cos it’s a Hard Problem. Geddit?
(tags: consciousness philosophy zombies david-chalmers daniel-dennett)
Believing that life is fair makes you a terrible person | Oliver Burkeman | Comment is free | The Guardian
Just World Fallacy leads to victim blaming.
(tags: victim-blaming just-world psychology fairness)

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