religion

Ex-Communications – Recovering From Religion – You Are Not Alone
A new blog written by de-converts from various religions. Looks quite interesting so far.
(tags: ex-christian religion deconversion christianity)
Physics – Arrow of Time Emerges in a Gravitational System
“Standard approaches to the arrow of time typically require a rare statistical fluctuation, or, often, the smuggling in of assumptions about initial conditions. Their work offers evidence that ordinary gravitational dynamics may itself be enough to produce the simple “initial” point that can give time a direction.”
(tags: entropy time physics gravity)
Science AMA Series: We are a Group of Researchers Exploring Auditory Hallucinations – People Who Hear Voices. Ask us Anything! : science
Interesting comments on benign hallucinations.
(tags: hallucinations psychology reddit science)
cartesiandaemon – December Days: Dream Job
CartesianDaemon on what makes a good job. I think I agree with all of these. Where can I get one of those?
(tags: jobs dream employment software software-engineering)

A Parable On Obsolete Ideologies – Less Wrong
Yvain/Scott Alexander on why it might be a bad idea to continue to espouse a belief in God, the Devil and whatnot while having a sort of private understanding of what that means, even if that understanding is more palatable than the original theology.
(tags: psychology religion rationality hitler)
The Definitive History Of The West Wing
(tags: west-wing aaron-sorkin television politics)
The Fox Trot in the Jazz Age – YouTube
What they called Foxtrot in the 1920s was rather different to the modern ballroom version.
(tags: dancing foxtrot jazz)
Jazz Age Ballroom Dancing (“The Modern Dances”) | Mass Historia
A set of web pages on the Jazz Age ballroom dances.
(tags: 1930s 1920s dance jazz foxtrot ballroom)
Take The A Train
The AABA structure of “Take the A Train” illustrated in a neat little presentation which tracks the music.
(tags: jazz music)

Implementing non-recursive make
Recursive makes are considered harmful. Here’s a recipe for a non-recursive one where you can still put project files in subdirectories.
(tags: make programming nonrecursive makefiles build software)
Embedded in Academia : Proposal for a Friendly Dialect of C
John Regehr and friends note that C compilers aggressive optimising around use of constructs the spec says are “undefined” can lead to unexpected behaviour. They propose a friendly C dialect where compilers would produce unspecified values in response to use of these constructs, but would not feel free to make demons fly out of your nose.
(tags: C programming language software-engineering)
The Left must reject the relativism at the heart of the Rotherham scandal | Left Foot Forward
This, from Al Razi of Ex-Muslim Forum, seems a sensible response, although as the worlds only impartial observer, I’d say that both the class of the victims and the race of both victims and perpetrators contributed to the horrors being ignored for so long. The Guardian will only talk about the former and the Telegraph about the latter, I suspect.
(tags: rotherham abuse religion islam news multiculturalism)

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 

In Heaven We’ll All Be Sociopaths
“One question I see tossed around sometimes is how people could be happy in heaven knowing that their loved ones are suffering in hell. It may seem odd, but I never even thought of this problem as an evangelical. It wasn’t until later that I came upon it, already an atheist myself. Curious, I decided to look up how Christian apologists respond to this problem. I have to admit to being kind of horrified by the answers I’ve found.”
(tags: heaven hell religion sociopath christianity)

God, yesterdayMetafilter wonders whether God exists, or more specially, whether that William Lane Craig chap has good arguments for the proposition1. I missed it all kicking off, so only contributed at the end.

By the point I noticed it, the thread had got into people talking bollocks about induction (mainly the sort of nonsense I examine below, but also including atheists who just don’t get what the problems are). I think the tactic Stephen Law calls going nuclear must be in some apologetics manual somewhere, because you certainly see a lot of it about. So, this is how I’d respond to that:

All this induction stuff is very interesting, but let’s go back to shivohum’s original comment.

This uses a standard Christian apologetical strategy (one that Craig has used himself) in response an atheist’s to use of a naive evidentialism to discount religious claims. If an atheist says “All reasonable beliefs require evidence, there is no evidence for God, therefore belief in God is unreasonable”, the clever apologist will ask “All reasonable beliefs? Really? What evidence could there be for your belief that all beliefs require evidence?” They will then go on to point out that it seems we all have to accept some unevidenced beliefs (induction is a good example for the apologist because it’s pretty hard to see how we would get evidence for belief in it without making a circular argument, as Hume knew, but Cartesian doubts about the external world are also popular). “Aha!” says the apologist, “you see, we all rely on faith, and my belief in God, angels, demons and whatnot is just an article of faith, like your belief in this induction thing you’re so fond of. We’re not so different, you and I.”

The atheist’s evidentialism is pretty naive and they probably deserve that sort of response, but still, there seems to be something wrong with equating the rejection of fairly radical sceptical positions with belief in God. I think Chris Hallquist has it right: “belief in the Christian God isn’t very much at all like most of the common-sense beliefs commonly cited as threated 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. That kind of response is very hard to reject without special pleading on behalf of Christianity, and doesn’t involve commitment to any potentially troublesome epistemic principles.”

That is, religious beliefs do seem to be the sorts of things that require evidence, as even Christians agree if you ask them what it’d take to convince them of the truth of some other religion. If a Christian were to say, “no, but, you see, it’s only Christian beliefs which are like rejection of Cartesian doubt”, we’d just say “riiiiight“. OTOH, if it’s not just Christian beliefs which are now OK because we all have to rely on faith sometimes, why not be a pagan, Muslim or Pastafarian instead?

I followed up with another comment explaining why Craig gets (admittedly grudging) respect from atheists2. I also talked about what I think is the shakiest point of the Kalam argument: where Craig needs to show that the transcendental “cause” must be something like a person: he says mathematical concepts don’t have causal powers (a recent Mefi may disagree) but then wants to argue for that the best explanation is a person who lacks several of properties of all persons we encounter (not material, not existing in time) and has properties unlike that of any persons we encounter. If we’re allowed to do that sort of thing, why not just say that there’s at least one mathematical concept with causal potency? Or even that there’s maybe more than 2 kinds of transcendental thing, for all we know? Someone must have written a paper about this, right?


  1. In reality, we all know God exists, otherwise who’s writing that Facebook page, eh? Checkmate, atheists. 

  2. You’ll see atheists explaining that Dawkins was right not to have a debate with Craig because Craig supports genocide (by which they mean the Biblical massacres like the one recorded in Numbers 31). This is silly: Dawkins will not debate with Craig because Dawkins would lose, horribly (note that one can concede this and still remain an atheist). Dawkins’s refusal to dance with Craig is prudent, but let’s not see it as some great moral stand. 

Dueling Magical Negros on Vimeo
Looks like Morgan Freeman wasn’t available.
(tags: magical negro dueling funny race comedy)
What The Fuck Is My Wearable Strategy?
“MONEYCLIP THAT POSTS TO FACEBOOK WHEN YOU NEED A SHIT” “TEMPORARY TATTOO THAT TWEETS WHEN YOU HAVE NIGHTMARES”
(tags: funny humour technology wearable strategy)
Allah vs atheism: ‘Leaving Islam was the hardest thing I’ve done’ – Home News – UK – The Independent
Personal stories from some ex-Muslims.
(tags: religion islam de-conversion ex-muslim)
Ten Things I Want To Stop Seeing On The Internet In 2014 | Slate Star Codex
An interesting thread about the internet social justice movement, on Slate Star Codex: “I am having a hard time finding a middle ground between SJ and sociopathy. I don’t like what SJ does to my brain. But realistically it’s not actually feasible for me to not give a shit about anyone. Could use a little advice.” Commenter then gets good advice.
(tags: social-justice sjw internet sociopath)
▶ UKIP Shipping Forecast by Nicholas Pegg
The Shipping Forecast as delivered by UKIP.
(tags: politics humour shipping ukip funny)

The Course of Their Lives – JSOnline
A fascinating series of articles on the experiences of medical students dissecting a body during their training, interspersed with the reflections of someone leaving her body to the medical school. Via Mefi.
(tags: body anatomy death medical-school dissection medicine)
What Can We Learn About Human Psychology from Christian Apologetics? – Less Wrong
Chris Hallquist tries to work out what’s going on with apologetics. It’s Less Wrong, so *do* read the comments.
(tags: religion christianity less-wrong psychology apologetics chris-hallquist)
DanceSport DJ Ice
This chap has made ballroom remixes of various popular tunes. Epic (or something).
(tags: music dancing remix ballroom)
Joe Pass & Ella Fitzgerald – Duets in Hannover 1975 – YouTube
Great stuff. Via Mefi. Ella’s on about half an hour in.
(tags: singing jazz duet joe-pass ella-fitzgerald video)
Solitude and Leadership – William Deresiewicz
William Deresiewicz on the necessity for those who would lead to find time alone to concentrate their thoughts.
(tags: army leadership solitude william-deresiewicz)