Link blog: economics, money, currency, betrand-russell

King Under The Mountain: Soundtrack and Adventure Log

Someone actually ran a Dungeons and Discourse game (see the Dresden Codak cartoon). This is what happened. “In the middle of the Cartesian Plain at the confluence of the rivers Ordinate and Abcissa stands the mightiest of all, the imperial city of Origin. At the very center of the city stands the infinitely tall Z-Axis Tower, on whose bottom floor lives the all-seeing Wizard of 0=Z.”
(tags: betrand-russell philosophy roleplaying dungeons-and-dragons funny)

Cow Clicker Founder: If You Can’t Ruin It, Destroy It : NPR

Bloke makes spoof Facebook game to mock the grinding required by Facebook games. Facebook users play it for real.
(tags: games zynga facebook cow psychology)

Embedded in Academia : Nine ways to break your systems code using volatile

“The volatile qualifier in C/C++ is a little bit like the C preprocessor: an ugly, blunt tool that is easy to misuse but that — in a very narrow set of circumstances — gets the job done. This article will first briefly explain volatile and its history and then, through a series of examples about how not to use it, explain how to most effectively create correct systems software using volatile. Although this article focuses on C, almost everything in it also applies to C++.” Relevant to my interests as compilers get cleverer about re-ordering.
(tags: volatile embedded programming C threads multicore memory-model)

Ask Chris #81: Scooby-Doo and Secular Humanism – ComicsAlliance | Comic book culture, news, humor, commentary, and reviews

“On Scooby-Doo, do you prefer the monsters to be real or people in costumes?”
(tags: scooby doo rationality)

The Rise and Fall of Bitcoin | Magazine

Whatever happened to Bitcoin? Via Andrewducker.
(tags: bitcoin currency money economics wired crypto cryptography)

Link blog: daniel-kahneman, psychology, cognitive-bias, rationality

The Social Graph is Neither (Pinboard Blog)

The guy who single handedly runs Pinboard writing about Facebook and social stuff.
(tags: socialgraph social facebook graph pinboard relationships)

The Marvels And The Flaws Of Intuitive Thinking Edge Master Class 2011 | Conversation | Edge

The Edge also did a feature on Kahneman a while back. Here it is, with more examples of ways in which our thinking fails, but also things we can do which we’re finding difficult to program computers to do.
(tags: psychology intuition daniel-kahneman cognition cognitive-bias rationality)

Michael Lewis on the King of Human Error | Business | Vanity Fair

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky did ground breaking work on cognitive biases: the ways in which human thinking systematically fails. Fascinating article. Via andrewducker.
(tags: psychology rationality bias cognition cognitive-bias daniel-kahneman amos-tversky)

Requests: HTTP for Humans — Requests 0.8.0 documentation

An HTTP library for Python that’s less awful than urllib2. Hopefully someone will add it to the standard library at some point. Via Leonard Richardson.
(tags: python http library requests programming)

Link blog: cambridge, funny, philosophy, twitter

War of words breaks out among Jehovah’s Witnesses – Home News, UK – The Independent

For some reason, a bunch of newspapers in the UK have recently noticed that the Jehovas Witnesses are a cult. Nice to see so many people in the comments relating their stories of getting out.
(tags: religion cult jehovas-witness)

Richard Feynman on doubt, uncertainty and religion (subtitled) – YouTube

Feynman! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.
(tags: feynman doubt religion science physics)

Stephen Law: GOING NUCLEAR

A chapter from Law’s “Believing Bullshit” about the tactic he calls “going nuclear”: when the argument is going against you, blow everyone away by saying that “all arguments rest on faith” or “everything is relative” or some other such nonsense. Law anatomises the various forms of this tactic.
(tags: philosophy rationality argument stephen-law presuppositionalism)

Meeting Jesus at Oxford | Commentary | Fortean Times

CICCUs cousins DICCU and OICCU made the Fortean Times. Gripping stuff, with some ideas about why evangelical religion is so appealing to people at the famous universities.
(tags: ciccu religion university oxford cambridge)

An Interview with @AlmightyGod | Friendly Atheist

God has a Twitter feed (@almightygod). Hemant interviews Him.
(tags: religion funny god twitter)

Bad arguments about religion: faith and evidence

There’s an atheist bad argument which runs something like this: “Faith is believing stuff without evidence, believing stuff without evidence is always bad, therefore faith is bad”.

This seems reasonable at first, but sooner or later you meet a William Lane Craig or similar apologist type, as Jerry Coyne did recently:

Craig argues that science itself is permeated with assumptions about the world that cannot be scientifically justified, but are based on faith. One of these is the validity of inductive reasoning: “Just because A has always been followed by B every time in the past is no proof at all that A will be followed by B tomorrow.” To suppose the latter requires faith.

According to Coyne, as well as the problem of induction, Craig mentions last-Thursday-ism and the idea that we’re all in the Matrix as beliefs that we reject on faith. Some of commenters on Coyne’s blog react as if Craig is advocating these ideas that we all reject, that is, as if he really thinks that the Sun might not rise tomorrow or that we’re in the clutches of a cartesiandaemon. But that’s not Craig’s point. Nor is Craig being inconsistent if he gets on an aeroplane assuming that the laws of physics will carry on working as they always have to keep it flying. After all, he’s not the one claiming that it’s always wrong to believe things without evidence.

The problem here, which makes the atheist’s argument a bad one, is that the atheist has cast their net too broadly. Craig is right to say that there are things that atheists (and everyone else) believe “on faith”. To say that these beliefs are always unwarranted leaves the atheist open to Craig’s counter-argument that, to be consistent, the atheist should then discard those beliefs or admit that it’s not always wrong to believe things without evidence.

Doing better

Nevertheless, something has gone wrong with Craig’s argument if it’s supposed to be a defence of religious faith (as all Craig’s arguments ultimately are). Religious faith is different from belief in induction or the existence of an external world. The atheist should abandon the claim that unevidenced beliefs are always bad, and concentrate on the distinction between religious beliefs and, say, the belief that the external world is real.

One way of doing that would be to turn Craig’s allegation of inconsistency back on him. As Chris Hallquist puts it

belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threatened by Descartes & Hume-style skepticism (like belief in the reliability of our senses), but is an awful lot like beliefs most Christians wouldn’t accept without evidence – namely, the beliefs of other religions.

The atheist’s discomfort is now the apologist’s: either he must accept that, say, Muslims or Scientologists are right to take things on faith (in which case, why not join up with them instead?); or further distinguish his religion from theirs (probably by making arguments about the resurrection of Jesus). The atheist’s acceptance of the real world doesn’t come into it.

Hume’s own solution to radical scepticism was to note that he couldn’t entertain that sort of thing for long. Creatures like us soon fall unavoidably back on treating other people as if they were conscious, the world as if it were real, and so on. The great man tells us:

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I wou’d return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain’d, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Among educated folk, thoughts of gods rely on meetings with other believers to keep them going: believers are chronic sinus sufferers. They rarely anticipate the world being any different from a godless one, and those who act as if God is real are called crazy even by their fellow believers. To be sure, that doesn’t mean their avowed beliefs are false. But again, they are not like the commonplace beliefs that everyone takes on faith. In my experience, they fly forgotten, as the dream dies with the dawning day. How about a nice game of backgammon?

Edit: gjm11 suggests another reasonable response in this comment: admit that believing stuff without evidence is bad, and try to minimise it, and say that the problem with religious faith (in so far as that means holding unevidenced beliefs) is that it means having way more unevidenced beliefs than necessary.

Edit again: I’ve also commented with a shorter version of this on Coyne’s original posting, so there’s some discussion there too.

See also

Link blog: atheism, rationality, latex, integration

Oklahoma Freethought Convention 2011 (speech 3 of 5) – The Thinking Atheist – YouTube

Seth the Thinking Atheist, a former Christian, on the "God goggles" that prevented him from seeing the truth for many years. He's an engaging public speaker.
(tags: atheism ex-christian religion)

Detexify LaTeX handwritten symbol recognition

Draw a symbol, get the TeX code for it. Amazing what they can do these days.
(tags: tools mathematics latex tex)

Atheism isn’t a religion, but it is a brand | The Uncredible Hallq

Quotes Ian Pollock: "What you will probably not notice, however, is that increasingly when you don’t know what you think about some issue yet (say, your country’s stance on foreign affairs), you will take your cue from other self-identified conservatives, as opposed to thinking it through yourself and then describing your conclusion in political terminology. The normative self-definition has staged its coup d’etat. Whatever “conservatives” think, that is going to be your opinion. Of course, when I put it that way, it looks ridiculous. But from the inside, this process feels perfectly rational — like wisely throwing your lot in with a really smart group of people."
(tags: pseudoscience rationality religion brand atheism)

Worth Promoting to Its Own Post: Notes on Arguing « Whatever

"This dynamic of people asking for facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, is in itself non-partisan; implications otherwise are a form of ad hominem argument which is generally not relevant to the discussion at hand."
(tags: argument rationality)

Who broke the build? – PaperCut Blog / News

"Retaliation is a Jenkins CI build monitor that automatically coordinates a foam missile counter-attack against the developer who breaks the build. It does this by playing a pre-programmed control sequence to a USB Foam Missile Launcher to target the offending code monkey." Excellent.
(tags: programming humour funny missile build integration jenkins)

Link blog: roleplaying, psychology, science, youtube

The Reason We Reason | Wired Science | Wired.com

"new theory of reasoning put forth by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. In essence, they argue that human reason has nothing to do with finding the truth, or locating the best alternative. Instead, it’s all about being able to argue with others" And that's why we have confirmation bias. There's some dialogue in the comments about how it's not as hopeless as it may sound.
(tags: science psychology research cognition rationality brain bias)

YouTube – Roll a D6

Just in case there's anyone who hasn't seen this yet…
(tags: video youtube music dungeons-and-dragons roleplaying)

Link blog: psychology, science, sex, dan-savage

Savage Love by Dan Savage – Columns – Savage Love – Dan Savage – The Stranger, Seattle’s Only Newspaper

Excellent sex advice columnist Dan Savage responds to criticisms that he advocates an "anything goes" approach to sex at the expense of fidelity.
(tags: sex dan-savage advice marriage monogamy)

What Do Women Want? – Discovering What Ignites Female Desire – NYTimes.com

Interesting stuff on the differences between male and female sexual responses.
(tags: sex psychology women science)

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science | Mother Jones

"How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link." Amusing for the number of comments which say "But vaccines really do cause autism" etc. etc.
(tags: science psychology belief neuroscience rationality bias)

Link blog: japan, christianity, earthquake, pakistan

YouTube – PASTOR ULTIMATE FIGHT

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)

Link blog: homosexuality, christianity, law, foster

Misplaced outrage over High Court “ban” on Christian foster parents | Gavin Drake

Gavin Drake, a Christian journalist, points out that the judgement on foster parents doesn't do what the right wing press think it does (in fact, it does very little at all), and that the Christian Legal Centre are lying bastards (I paraphrase).
(tags: religion clc christian-legal-centre law foster homosexuality christianity)

Stephen Law: The case of the Christian would-be foster parents

"It's not the Christianity that's the obstacle. It's the bigotry (which happens to be religiously motivated)."
(tags: bigots homosexuality christianity law stephen-law)

Johns & Anor, R (on the application of) v Derby City Council & Anor [2011] EWHC 375 (Admin) (28 February 2011)

The full text of the judgement in the recent case of a dispute between some Pentecostal Christians and Derby Council over whether the Christians' views on homosexuality made them unsuitable to act as foster carers. Paul Diamond, the barrister who takes a lot of these "help! I'm being oppressed!" cases on behalf of bigoted Christians, gets a bit of a kicking from the judges, which is fun. The judges' reasons for their decision, and the limits of it, are worth reading for how they differ from the hysterical reporting in the right wing press.
(tags: religion christianity foster law homosexuality)

Mervyn King is right. If the banks face no risk, we shall all go down – Telegraph

"They are the trade unions of the modern era, sick dinosaurs that crush ordinary citizens, writes Charles Moore." Blimey, and this the Telegraph saying it.
(tags: uk banking corruption banks politics economics)

Hamlet and the Methods of Rationality

This is fun…
(tags: rationality hamlet parody)

Gender Differences and Casual Sex: The New Research «

Revisiting that "I've noticed you around, will you go to bed with me?" study (as popularised by popular beat combo "Touch and Go") and disputing the conclusion that women just don't like sex: "the only consistently significant predictor of acceptance of the sexual proposal, both for women and for men, was the perception that the proposer is sexually capable". It being a feminist blog, they then go against the science the other way and say that perception of risk is a much higher factor than the study suggested (the study thought it was an effect, but not the primary one).
(tags: science sex feminism gender)

Asking women out at partner dancing: a Less Wrong thread

Over on Less Wrong, an interesting post on ordinary skills that readers happent to lack has developed into an interesting sub-thread about guys asking women out at dancing. I’ve contributed a bit. As I’m male, though, I may be completely wrong, so if any dancing women want to comment, I’m sure it’d be appreciated.

PS: Read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It’s great!