Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I mean, I said in the title. Do I need to repeat it?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blogs at a Glance!

Over at Reppert's blog, the local Village Idiot atheist yammers on at length about something (philosophy of intentionality) he demonstrably knows nothing about. People fight him and point out his flaws. He doesn't understand, or care to understand: he's too busy angrily denouncing all things theological, because he's certain that to reject naturalism is to embrace Christianity.

Meanwhile at Feser's blog, a new Village Idiot atheist shows up and yammers on about the exact same thing, with the same lack of knowledge, the same responses, and the same inability to understand why he's getting some basic facts wrong - and an apparent lack of either understanding or care for the fact that he can, in fact, be wrong.

I could probably repeat this for almost every site of interest. Well, not so much Valicella's blog, since he has the wisdom to be a comment nazi. Or Triablogue - I don't comment there anymore, since Steve went apeshit with the anti-Catholic stuff (I was able to put up with it until the graphic images came into play), but they at least know how to keep a conversation properly framed.

It's sad that 95% of all worthwhile Christian blogs go down this same hole. There really has to be a change to comment culture, because holy God, you can generally find the same 5-10 atheists on a wide variety of sites, babbling like crazy and drawing fire all day. And they Never*. Are. Very. Intelligent. And I just don't have the time to engage in this shit anymore - I'd rather converse with people, or present an idea. Not fight the same ten jackoffs who aren't even saying anything salient.

(* I'm talking here about the guys who camp multiple comment boxes, and make it their living to basically fight the Big Scary Theist Ideas wherever they show up. Except they fight the Big Scary Theist Ideas the same way dogs fight the Big Scary Mailman. By making a lot of noise, and hoping that does the trick. It doesn't, but there ya go.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meanwhile, in New Zealand

Glenn Peoples writes an obit for Hitchens that goes against the grain. I like it. Stern, but not mean. Honest. I'd probably have done it with more reserve - I'm picky about my dial between 'respect and courtesy' and 'being blunt' when it comes to a situation like death. But I gotta say, I like Glenn's entry more than I dislike it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

About Hitchens

I stumbled upon this comment over at Quodbileta:

No, you fools. Hitchens wasn't a great thinker, but he was a great--I won't pussy out and say "very good" or something--writer, speaker, and general stylist of words. I say this as an orthodox Catholic who was against the war in Iraq and hostile to most of his other views. I saw him speak at the University of Tennessee in 2009, and he was both hugely charismatic and charming and possessed of an astounding facility with words. He talked better than most people wrote, and wrote better than nearly everyone.

That said, he was polemical to the point of punditry--and on a lot of things, just kind of stupid--and no one will know who he is in fifteen or twenty years. But everything he wrote and said, even when it was wrong and stupid, was striking and comely and interesting. He was wrong, but he was brilliantly, admirably wrong.

Of all the commentary I've caught wind of so far, this quote seems to do Hitch the most justice in the truest sense of the word. A very skillful writer, great with words, but not exactly wise or supremely intelligent - and probably destined to fade out of the public's memory before too long. It was nice to read this, because I felt somewhat alone in my lack of praise of Hitchens on his death. Everywhere I turned, Christian after Christian piling on praise for him. It felt overdone.

The problem in this case is partly on my end: I'm not all that impressed with a grand command of words. I can recognize and appreciate a stirring speech, a good turn of phrase, but a minute after the experience I'm done with it and onto examining the idea - and if you start to examine Hitchens' (or Dawkins', or Harris', or...) ideas, to the point where they take center stage, the magic disappears immediately. You start to notice how much bullshit is present, or how the abundance of skillful writing is camouflaging the lack of depth or some flimsy reasoning, and by then it's all over.

That's not to say that the great command of language isn't impressive, or hell, deserving of praise. But there's this nasty habit of confusing "the guy who speaks well" with "a guy who's really a genius and intelligent". As our idiot president of the moment shows, it simply doesn't cash out that way. But damned if you can't get a lot of people mistaking the two.

Anyway, RIP and all that. And Merry Christmas to anyone who stumbles on by here, if I don't get a chance to wish it on the appropriate day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Scientism: Not As Popular As You Think

Stop me if you've heard this bit before, or something very much like it.

The problem with the New Atheists is that they are beholden to scientism. They have, understandably, a tremendous respect for the power of science - as well as reason - but their enthusiasm for science has combined with their ignorance of philosophy and metaphysics. The result is that they fail to appreciate the power and utility of reasoning that comes from sources other than science, and... (At this point comes a range of examples.)

I come across this often. "The New Atheists - they love science and reason. The problem is they love science too much!" It's a great line. But after encountering dozens of the Cult of Gnu over the years, I've come to realize that this is a complete load of crap.

Now, I speak from anecdote here. Years of anecdote at this point, but anecdote all the same. And my experience has been that most of the Cultists of Gnu could really care less about actual science. Rather, they love science the way a politician or an activist loves statistics: people who would have trouble defining "margin of error" and aren't all that interested in learning, but give them a study that supports the issue they want to boost and they won't be shutting up about it anytime soon. Give them a study that undermines an issue they want to boost, and their interest extends as far as their ability to undermine or discredit it. Give them an extremely detailed, well-researched, well-supported study that does neither of these things, and they will get very bored, very quickly, if you try to tell them about it.

It should go without saying that that isn't a love of science - or, if that does constitute a love of science, then just about everyone loves science. Young earth creationists love it. Parapsychologists love it. Intelligent Design proponents love it.

Worse, it doesn't even tend to provoke very much interest in the science they quote. I've run into multiple Gnu cultists who will not shut up about quantum physics, and proceed to tell me about how "scientist see particles come into existence from nothing all the time, and they see it's totally uncaused!" I've run into evolution fans who struggle to explain what natural selection really is, and cosmology fans who will excitedly talk about the multiverse and who are barely aware that there's a multitude of, rather than a single instance of, multiverse concepts.

Now, maybe you can reply, "That's just the pedestrian Gnu cultists, Crude. The guys they look up to though? Those guys love science!" And again, that's a popular attitude. But does it stand up to scrutiny?

Have a look at the best example - Dawkins. And hey, he's got quite a rep as a scientist doesn't he? How many times have you seen him introduced as an evolutionary biologist? And he certainly praises science like mad. He loves it so much, his last peer reviewed paper - what I'm also told is the gold standard of science - was written, what... two decades ago? Are we pushing three at this point? If Dawkins really loves science, one can only suspect that he decided scientific research was best served by him abandoning the field years ago in favor of writing popular science books. There's evidence the guy hasn't even bothered to keep up with his field since he's left it - he's preaching old-school selectionism in what's increasingly an Evo-Devo world.

No. The scientism charge - scientism taken as loving science too much, having too much of an attachment to science, being too damn interested in science - doesn't wash. The Cult of Gnu is beholden to science the same way the Cult of Reason was beholden to reason: hardly at all. What they love is the authority that comes with suggesting their beliefs are backed by science - even if those beliefs are philosophical, metaphysical, or purely political. Just as the Cult of Reason loved reason, only insofar as the 'reason' in question lined up with what they wanted.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Violating the Separation of Church and State

American soldier's remains have been disposed of by dumping into a landfill.

The government should be sued immediately, on the grounds that the soldiers were given an atheist-style burial without their consent.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prophet Dawkins and the Cultists of Gnu

I see Feser chimed in on the Dawkins-Craig debate fiasco. And at this point it really is a full-fledged fiasco, at least in an intellectual sense. Anyone who'd stumble on this blog doesn't need a recap of the events - but what may be necessary is a convenient distilling of what's been going on since William Lane Craig's UK tour.

Here it is: Dawkins is afraid of debating Craig because all odds favor he'll get his clock cleaned, which will harm both his reputation and his cause. He's tried to think up multiple excuses why he's ducking Craig - none have been even remotely believable, and some have actually been inconsistent with his other statements.

Now, the reflex is to say that the above is a biased view of the situation. I'm a theist, I'm a Catholic - shoddy of one as I am - so I'm giving Team Theism's version, which is in conflict with the current dogma of the Cult of Gnu. But frankly, I don't think that holds up. Except for the real slow-wits among them - not to be discounted - most of the Cult of Gnu realize the summary I gave is correct as well. They just see it as strategically unwise to admit it.

There's a line from a Steven Seagal movie which differs from all the other lines from Steven Seagal movies in that it's actually worth repeating: "Guangzhou is a chemical weapons plant masquerading as a fertilizer plant. We know this. The Chinese know that we know. But we make-believe that we don't know and the Chinese make-believe that they believe that we don't know, but know that we know. Everybody knows."

That's the line that keeps coming back to me whenever I see atheists and theists discuss Dawkins ditching Craig. The theists know that Dawkins is ducking Craig to avoid an assbeating. Atheists know that Dawkins is ducking Craig to avoid an assbeating. And the theists know the atheists know, and the atheists know the theists know that they know. But the theists make believe they don't know, and the atheists make believe they don't know. But, as the quote says... everybody knows.

Now, there are a few reasons why theists - even reflexively - would make believe they don't know. For one, it involves psychoanalysis. And even if you have good reason to believe the psychoanalysis is true, it's bad form to bring it up in debate. It's a conversation stopper, and it gets the discussion nowhere. And for some of the Cult of Gnu, there's always the possibility that they really are just that credulous. (Remember, the prime effect of the appearance of the Cult of Gnu has been to pick up some of the slower, less stable individuals from Team Theism.) Also, these debates tend to be carried on by people who just plain have an addiction to arguing at length, and the one thing deemed most important is to just keep the conversation going at all costs.

Of course, the Cult of Gnu has their reasons for pretending they don't know as well: Dawkins is the closest thing the Cult particularly, and atheists generally, have to a leader right now. Certainly he's a, even the, figurehead. (Dennett's a philosopher embracing ideas which sound nutty if they get drawn out, Hitchens isn't respectable beyond being a good trash-talker, and Harris is too much of a punk and controversial besides.) If Dawkins is viewed as losing to a theist, or almost as bad, avoiding any particular theist in an intellectual capacity, it's a defeat for the most central idea of the Cult of Gnu: that theism is not only wrong, but irrational to believe. As Dinesh D'Souza noted, the Cult of Gnu has framed the question such that if theists or religious people so much as argue atheists to a draw, the Cult loses badly. Theism, period, in any form, is supposed to be irrational and crazy. Lunatics shouldn't be able to pull a draw in discussion. And if they actually make the better case? Disaster. I congratulate D'Souza for noting this, which is impressive since really - I can't help but look upon the guy as the Scrappy Doo of Christian Apologetics.

There's more to this - hey, humans are complicated and psychology is multifaceted - but the short of it is, what you have here is an opportunity to see the cultier aspect of the Cult of Gnu in full play: the protecting and attempted promulgating of a pious lie for a certain brand of atheists. Everyone knows why Dawkins is ducking Craig. But the Cultists of Gnu, God bless 'em, have to pretend they don't know why, and that no one else knows why either. And little demonstrations like this are educational - they let you see how supposedly secular, irreligious and even atheistic groups can, easily can, take on the nastier modes of thinking and behavior that are normally attributed to the worse forms of "religion".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A List of Roman Catholic Scientist-Clerics


And before non-Catholic Christians mention - yes, I know there's a tremendous amount of non-Catholic Christian scientists too. But I stumbled upon this one by accident and was pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Undoing a Seemingly Gratuitous Evil

A simple question.

Let's say I hear about a seemingly gratuitous evil. Say, a woman senselessly stabbed to death in New York.

I say, "That woman's death has inspired me to devote my life to charity." Assume I follow through on that pledge.

Since there was an apparent causal link between the woman's death and my devoting my life to charity, does that mean her death was no longer seemingly gratuitous?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prophecies of Crude

Herman Cain is a black man who knows his place, says MSNBC analyst.

Really, I don't like any of the people running for president. Even Cain seems to be a guy who is deeply entangled with the financial forces that routinely bilk the government out of millions. But, I'll make a prediction.

If Cain manages to win the GOP nomination - if Cain manages so much as to win the VP slot and take on a prominent, Palin-like role - we will see someone slip up on live TV and call Cain a nigger. Someone liberal-left.

Because, there's two sides to the Cain coin. While the some conservatives may love him as the rare black man who is in line with their political ideals, some liberals will love him for the reason that he can be a black man they can "safely" hate. Much like Sarah Palin was the woman those of a particular liberal bend could safely hate. And they will go a bridge too far when in the grip of emotion.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Cult of Gnu and the War on Metaphysics

I'm lately realizing that quite a number of people who maintain a hatred for metaphysics and who claim to reject metaphysical reasoning don't seem to realize that materialism and naturalism are metaphysical views.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Congratulations, but...

To the late Ralph Steinman, congratulations - of sorts - are in order for his belated Nobel prize. But here's the problem, straight from the article.

He never knew his life's work had been crowned with the highest accolade science can bestow,

"Science" doesn't bestow anything. In this case, a committee "bestowed" the award on Ralph Steinman.

There's a reason this word is treated like a person, and mangled so consistently. Fight the abuse at every corner.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Those damn extremists.

Brandon over at Siris has an interesting reference regarding Martin Luther King on extremism. It helps to build a thought I've had for a while now: Ranting against "extremism", as if extremism itself were the problem, is nonsense. Especially in America, a country founded by extremists. Ones who were willing to kill over taxes, no less.

And of course, there's Martin Luther King himself. You know, praised up and down nowadays, but frankly at the time he was a real pain in the ass. That's the point of him, you know, but somehow one gets the impression that MLK mostly gave stirring speeches and somehow that changed everything. The whole "dragged away kicking and screaming by police, when they weren't having firehoses turned on them" part gets downplayed heavily. I suspect some people think only "the bad ones" did that.

I guess that's the lesson. People, even "moderates", don't hate extremists. They often love them. They just call them something else.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Faith tradition?

What kind of a person describes their religious beliefs as their "faith tradition"? Do they also describe their spouse as "life partner"?

Why are more and more people talking like corporate and government press releases in casual conversation?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vox Day versus Dominic

So we're on to part two now. And all I can say is, "Huh."

On the one hand, I liked that Vox brought up the general scope of what qualifies as God and gods, and how atheists are committed to rejecting the existence of all of the above. On the other hand, Vox goes by a dictionary definition that identifies as key that gods are 'beyond nature' (supernatural), whereas my reply is 'What is and isn't natural, particularly with regard to gods, is a tremendous mess that cannot be sorted out easily, if at all'.

Dominic, meanwhile, just seems to be performing terribly. For one thing, he basically entered the debate conceding in essence that if one believes that causality always holds, one ends up at theism automatically - so his response is to question causality. That should have ended the debate then and there, since giving up on causality is giving up on science and embracing absurdity (DS seems to think this is okay, if he lets only a 'little bit' of acausality enter the picture - you know, because you can attach rules to acausality).

Someone in the comments section reported that they think DS is coming on stronger now - I disagree. I think he's flailing madly now. His argument against inferring God due to the presence of (conceded) objective evil seems to be "Because the first explanation is always wrong, and gods were the first explanation". Er, okay. His argument against accepting the testimony of people who have encountered God/gods amounts to "I bet they were influenced by their culture, so bring me a person who never heard of God or aliens and have them say they experienced that." Wow. Really, that's the move?

I like Vox. I think The Irrational Atheist is a brilliant book. And he brought up, at least somewhat, a very important point that I think needs to be made more in these debates. But honest to God, this whole debate just strikes me as so underwhelming. DS seems out of his league and comes across as a guy who has barely considered these issues with any amount of depth. Vox's arguments are pretty esoteric and hard to follow, at least for me - but I half expected that, since Vox isn't very orthodox.

In a way, though, we're getting exactly what the debate was supposed to offer: A proxy for a Vox-Myers debate. Except almost all of the excitement that debate could have generated would have been due to the internet presence of Vox and Myers respectively. It certainly wouldn't have been because Myers is a brilliant guy who's intellectually stimulating to read. So instead, we get a Myers-level argument from a guy who isn't Myers. It's just not very interesting.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Proving God Exists (or doesn't exist) in 2 Easy Steps!

How to prove to any individual that God exists, in 3 easy steps.

Step 1: Find out something the individual believes exists.
Step 2: Define God as that same thing.

Voila! You're done.

Ah, but wait. You're an atheist? Then here's how you prove God doesn't exist!

Step 1: Find out something the individual doesn't believe exists.
Step 2: Define God as that same thing.

So easy and simple!

And best of all, it works for more than God! Try it on free will! (Are you a materialist who wants to believe in free will? Free will is just deterministic outcomes! Do you want to NOT believe in free will? Free will is a ghost!)

Philosophy is just so easy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

In Which I Add My Input

So, an article by John Farrell is being discussed on Catholic blogs recently? Let me guess: He's causing controversy because of his defense of Catholic theology and/or moral teaching, or his stern criticism of the Cult of Gnu's abuses of science, and he's doing so by displaying he actually is more than thinly informed about the details he's discussing?

Ha! I'm kidding. He's playing Catholic water boy for PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne, right?

Really, I'd throw in my two cents here - but Valicella, Ilion, M_Francis and others have already beaten me to it, M_F being his usual devastatingly effective self about the whole thing. So I'll just do a little fast commentary.

Valicella's endorsement of him aside, I don't take Farrell seriously. He's every bit as much of a combox punk as yours truly, and his main claim to fame is the usual one among a certain class of Catholic pseudo-intellectual: 90% vicious, angry, furious offense against Christians he disagrees with (his specialty: Intelligent Design), 5% mewling pleading with atheists that maybe they kinda-sorta could tone down their criticism a smidge (because there are GOOD Christians too, like, well... Farrell himself! Right? Right? Pat on the head, please, Mister Myers? Brothers in arms, wink wink, nudge nudge?), 5% minutae.

But oh well, at least he indirectly contributed to a worthy discussion by prompting a variety of people vastly more learned than him to correct him on this topic. So at least there is that.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Secular Crimes and Religious Crimes

If a man walks into a room full of people, yells "Allahu Akbar!" and starts shooting, that gets classified as a religious crime.

If a man walks into a room full of people, yells "Death to the capitalist pigs!" and starts shooting, that gets classified as a crime.

But it's a secular crime.

Somehow, it evades that distinction. You can go to the wikipedia page on secular ethics and you'll be treated to adorable little examples like "The Boy Scout Oath". Missing is the Thief in Law code.

Yet another one of those ridiculously common omissions. See, secular ethics are only secular if they're advocated by a man with a soothing voice and are popular at the time - or at the very least, if they're being advocated in company that won't find it unspeakably revolting. Otherwise, they're not called secular. Why, they're not even called ethics half the time. It's just 'crime' or 'craziness'.

It makes conversation more fun, though. For fun, tell an atheist of the Cult of Gnu variety that "rape is an overwhelmingly secular activity".

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A modest confession...

When a man starts to complain to me about "the patriarchy" in anything approaching a serious tone, my instinctive reaction is "Get the hell away from me, you gerbil of a person."

I could explain why I think "the patriarchy" is nonsense, why men get a bad rap, why modern discussions of sex, gender, and "roles" is deluded, but I'm not trying to make a an intellectual point here. I'm just being honest. Talk about the patriarchy as anything but a joke, and my ability to take you seriously crashes.

And yeah, I'm just one guy one the internet, and a nobody at that. But there you have it. Crude's confession of the day.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

No, I won't call you intellectually honest.

Here's a gimmick I keep seeing repeat over and over. In fact I'm seeing it happen over at Ed Feser's blog - Ed being a philosopher I admire greatly, and who has explained Aquinas, Aristotle, and metaphysics in a tremendously accessible way.

The short of it is this: Erin MacDonald was tapped to be the little philosophical junkyard dog of Jerry Coyne, and was relied on to attack Ed's book "The Last Superstition". MacDonald mangled the arguments badly, made it clear he didn't even understand what Ed was talking about in large part, insulted him personally more than once (complete with nazi comparisons). Ed easily parried these, and proceeded to stomp MacDonald intellectually. There's some back and forth between them, but that's the sum of it from where I sit.

So at the end, Ed shows up on MacDonald's blog to reply. MacDonald - who at this point is pretty much clutching for any credibility he can get - merely responds to Ed with something approaching courtesy, even while pretty much defending all of his past, and very recent, BS. And Ed posts an update on his blog that he's having a conversation with MacDonald that's semi-polite, and that MacDonald has 'graciously and honorably offered to bury the hatchet' and that Ed happily accepts his offer.

I'm going to repeat: I like Ed's blog. I like his thoughts. But accepting this offer was ridiculous. It's not merely that MacDonald did not deserve to be treated graciously, and that Ed took the high road and decided to be gracious anyway. It's that MacDonald is clearly a bombastic punk who thinks nothing of lecturing people about concepts he barely grasps all while acting like an internet pissant. Why pretend otherwise? Why give him credibility? Why throw up the false image of this person as, golly, a swell guy deep down?

I won't read Ed's mind here - the man can do as he pleases on his blog, and act as he wishes. I will read my own mind, though, and I can say that I understand the temptation to do this. I've done it myself, repeatedly. Sometimes it was because I just didn't want to have an eternal back and forth with someone, so I was willing to put things aside for peace. Other times I thought I was doing the mature thing, even the Christian thing, by downplaying the lies, slander and obfuscating I saw, and praising the person in question.

In the end, I got tired of bullshitting. Worse, I started to realize that this was the ultimate escape hatch for anyone of even moderate note online - say whatever you want, lie as much as you want, bullshit as much as you want. If the heat gets to you, just humbly offer an olive branch to your critic, or act semi-civil for thirty seconds. What's he going to do? Tell you to piss off? Why, he'll be thought of as ungracious!

I run into this even now. I'll, against my better judgment, get into it with someone online. I'll watch - even document! - their inconsistencies. Their backtracking. Their redefining their words. Their unprovoked insults. Their equivocations. And when I finally point out that they are exactly what they are - a bullshitter - it starts. They say that they assume that I argue in good faith, so surely I can do the same for them? I reply, no, because I've watched you discuss, I've seen you engage in this crap repeatedly - I've seen it firsthand! - and clearly they're not arguing on the up and up.

They're speechless. Suddenly, they insist that I more or less MUST say they argue in good faith, because they're insisting they do so and they know better than me. I point out their track record and say I have to call it as I see it, and that a man doesn't magically get treated as honest merely by insisting - despite evidence to the contrary - that he's honest. They point out I'm being uncivil and that I MUST acknowledge their intellectual integrity, because... they never explain this part, it's apparently some Internet Law I'm unaware of. I say I could care less if I'm being uncivil. I see things as I see things, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise just so everyone can continue chatting happily.

Maybe that's it. I don't really care about making sure the conversation train stays on track. In fact, I think it's important to make sure some trains don't leave the station anymore. I don't think that when Stephen Hawking goes off on subjects he knows nothing about that the proper reply is to praise his ass off for his past physics speculation then gently explain why a person may disagree with him. I think the proper reply is, 'You don't know anything about this topic, clearly, so please keep your mouth shut and stop acting as if you're an authority here. You're just an ignorant plebe shooting your mouth off when it comes to God, and it shows.' A few of those in the right place at the right time, and we'd actually be able to move forward in conversation.

But it's not about moving forward. It's not even about intellectual rigor very often. It's about making acquaintances and being pleasant and keeping the damn eternal conversation going, and any bumps in the road are meant to be dealt with using some indignation - temporary, always temporary - before everyone sits down and agrees we're all intellectually honest again. Or worse, before we act like suckers and praise the intellectual honesty of those who actively questions ours.

Ah well. This was a bit of a rant, but I felt it had to be said.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Yet more atheist observations.

An atheist blogger can routinely mock everyone who disagrees with him as 'Jebus worshipers', deride theists as fools, and the blogger's fans will cheer him on.

Refer to the blogger as a hack and a blowhard, and suddenly they tense up, accusing you of being mean-spirited.

I think this is related to the atheist habit of screaming how anyone who believes in God is a child and a fool, then marveling at how people who believe in God tend to have a very low opinion of atheists.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A simple question...

Do skeptics who go to camp sleep in debunk beds?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Machinations of Materialists

Finished up an argument with a materialist a couple of days ago. A few things I've learned.

* If a person uses a lot of :) symbols when they argue, and makes plenty of indirect insults rather than direct ones, a surprising number of theists will go on about how nice and civil and polite and smart the person is. Apparently the internet has reached a point where you can be a smug, inept, insulting jackass and so long as you're subtle people will praise you like crazy.

* Self-contradiction is a hard concept for people to grasp. Argue that a given person X is making an argument which is self-contradictory or incoherent - say, that they say A, and they also say B, and A and B are incompatible - don't be surprised if they respond to you, "Well, he couldn't be saying A! Because look, he says B! And B isn't compatible with A!" That the point is that A and B are incompatible, and that it's even possible for a person to make a contradictory or incoherent argument, seems to not even register for some people. Unless, of course, they disagree with the person in question.

* There are materialists who think saying the words 'emergence' or 'recursion' is sufficient to completely defend materialism, particularly with regards to the mind. Really, all they have to do is say 'the self emerges' or 'experiences emerge' or 'consciousness is recursion' - no more explanation than that - and they think they're done. Point out that some types of emergence are in principle impossible, unless emergence is brute, and they seem to not even notice.

Just proving more and more that arguing on the internet is (surprise) pretty hopeless.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Atheists are not a group! And other bull.

Tales from the internet.

Being told by an atheist that my thoughts that there are groups of atheists intent on spreading atheism is a delusion, and that in reality atheists do not form groups or have interests in common related to atheism.

Putting the Cult of Gnu aside - which is putting one hell of a thing aside - you have everything from the American Atheists to the Beyond Belief conference illustrating that yes, there are groups of atheists who have the stated goal of stamping out religion as much as they can. I used to think that atheists were only tactically ignorant about the 20th century. Apparently, they're also just as ignorant about a couple weeks ago (with an organized Atheist group meeting in Dublin, Ireland.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What's with all the pro-lifers?

Did the whole country become more strongly pro-life when I wasn't paying attention?

I don't have an article to go with this. It's just a feeling I'm getting - something out there in the ether. Even a curmudgeon like myself feels the urge to actually start attending some rallies.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bas van Fraassen on Materialism

Found linked at Vic Reppert's blog was this piece by Bas van Fraassen on Materialism and Naturalism, saying what I've been saying for years now, but doing so better.

One great quote: To identify what naturalism is, apart from something praiseworthy, I have found nigh-impossible.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thomism and the Common Man

If there's one objection I have to Thomism, it's not with the content so much as the approach I see Thomism offering. See, I'm a big fan of Ed Feser, and due to him, a growing fan of scholastic and classical thought. I've learned a tremendous amount by my spur-of-the-moment decision to buy The Last Superstition when it first came out, and it's done wonders for sharpening my understanding of formal and final causes, of just what Thomists (and Cartesians, for that matter) mean by the 'soul', the obfuscation often in play by materialists, etc. To put it simply, there's a tremendous amount of knowledge there. I'm still absorbing it, and the more I absorb, the more I see how modern philosophy has gone wrong.

But... there is one problem I have. The problem is that Thomism is just not really accessible for the average person. And like it or not, Christianity - while having a ferociously potent intellectual and philosophical tradition - is not thoroughly a religion for the intellectual or the philosopher. And by that I mean is, it seems obviously meant to be more accessible than that. This is not to say that Thomism is not valuable, even tremendously so - far from it, especially as a Catholic. It's that I think Thomistic thought and argument should not comprise the entirety of proclaiming the Christian message, or even the theistic message.

Put another way, I think there exist - while imperfect - more accessible arguments for God. Or at least, arguments for the belief that the natural world is self-evidently arranged such that concluding the intention of a mind or minds from it is powerful, natural, and intuitive. And I more and more think that it's there where the conversation with the modern world really has to start. Simple arguments with strong rhetoric, that give a man a reason to suspect a powerful mind or minds in nature. Not a definitive proof of the Christian God, but enough inference of a mind to give a man reason to investigate further, and to approach the world strongly or reasonably suspecting that it does, in fact, have an Author. And if so, that perhaps there's more that can be learned about this Author.

There's a prominent place for Thomism, even now. There's a place for the likes of William Lane Craig. But there also needs to be a place for the common man - and I'm as common as they come - who simply looks at everything from the periodic table to planetary formation to the human circulatory system to evolutionary theory and says, "This really has the look of a mind's work about it."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meanwhile, at Peter Woit's Blog

Woit and company give their thoughts on Stephen Hawking's musings as of late.

Their short take: Hawking no longer is making much sense (on the cosmological end of things) and has basically given up intellectually. They're engaging in some fairly heavy psychoanalyzing, which I'd normally say is off limits - but Hawking sees fit to psychoanalyze everyone else, so screw it.

Oddly enough, I think what they think may be happening with Hawking may well be happening with far more scientists: Maybe they're getting the sense that we're approaching a wall on the 'big questions' as far as science goes, where all that's left are ideas and no real way to test them. But rather than admit that answers may not be forthcoming, they just swap in speculation and call it science. It's all multiverses, you see!

It reminds me of that bit about the scientists scaling the cosmological mountain only to come across theologians saying "What took you guys so long?" Except in this case, the scientists are looking for what the most comprehensive theories about the universe shall look like, and they find them in a book labeled "Metaphysics".

Which, I suppose, would constitute evidence that hell exists - for certain scientists, anyway.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life After Death - A Curveball

One problem I've had with the claim that there is no life after death is that it involves making a bet that even a die-hard atheist shouldn't be confident making.

See, the focus is normally on particular kinds of life after death - "you die and then you're in heaven/some place". Now, I think there's actually some very suggestive evidence there, empirical and philosophical and otherwise.

Now what about actual physical resurrection? That's key in the Christian tradition of course, and apparently so in the jewish and muslim ones as well. Oddly enough - without getting into questions of deeper metaphysics - superficially it seems even a materialist would have to entertain the logical possibility of life after death if it's put in the form of a resurrection. Put the right matter back the right way and, there you go - death undone.

But here's where the problem comes in. Eternity... that's a very long time, and even the atheist is going to believe in eternity by and large. And if at death you either don't have consciousness, or don't have the right sort of consciousness, any resurrection of your body at any point is going to make any amount of time pass in a blink for you. Couple that with matter/energy being unable to be truly destroyed as opposed to changed - according to scientific theory - and it seems to me you have reason to be pretty spooked about the possibility of life after death, even if you're an atheist.

Granted, this leaves all kinds of specifics up in the air, and it's certainly not a proof of *heaven* or the like. My greater point here is that a lot of things can happen given eternity, and there is no quicker way to wait through eternity than to die or sleep through it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Well, that's pretty culty

Just saw a New Atheist (complete with the self-description of "gnu atheist") over at Valicella's blog. The cult-like behavior practically glowed off his responses.

* Constantly talking about "we". As in "what we, gnu atheists, believe". You know, because he's a representative. Because he's even conducted a single scientific poll. Not only making use of this word and imagined position, but doing so incessantly - practically every other sentence is "we gnu atheists believe" or "we gnu atheists want".

* As mentioned, he was pretty much pulling gnu beliefs out of his ass. "Gnus are against pseudoscience!" Well, every person thinks they're against pseudoscience. Even the timecube guy. The idea that gnus are - as a group - against eugenics though? That's laughable.

* Defending the idea that anyone or anything lacking a belief in God is an atheist, expressly including spark plugs. So, you know, apparently I flushed an atheist down the toilet this morning, and Magic Johnson became ill when his body was adversely affected by various atheists invading his body. Anything at all in order to avoid being put on the defensive, it seems. Including sounding creepy and crazy.

* Insisting that most people understand evolutionary theory adequately, then admitting he has no data on this. Remember, science is important, but don't let that stop you from making claims about whatever you want when the data is lacking. Likewise for the 'gnu atheists focus on arguments for theism that are bad and popular because that's why most people believe in God'. Right, because - given Dawkins' mangling of Aquinas' and other's beliefs in his own book, we can trust gnus not to construct strawmen? We can trust them to even be aware of them?

But really, the whole thing was just freaking culty. In my anecdotal experience, the creepier religious people I've ever come into contact with communicated much like this. The irrationality, the droning, the hivemind attitude. I get the impression that the one benefit of someone coming up with that 'gnu' label is you'll be able to identify a nutjob and/or a supreme asshole far more easily now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who Wants God to Exist?

For some reason, I never see this question asked, or at least not nearly enough:

"Do you wish the God of Christianity existed?"

Clearly you could guess the answer in most cases - I'm talking new atheists here - but still, I think it's important to ask the question that way. Though I also suspect most NAs would refuse to answer the question.

Another question I'd like to see thrown around:

"If the God of Christianity was here right now, what would you say to Him? Not ask, but say."

I've asked this one myself to a few people. If recollection serves, each response has just been something close to a string of expletives.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Well, I'm Stunned.

Well, damn. Well done, sir. I laughed out loud at several points, and I'm a pretty stodgy bastard when it comes to humor.

It's rare to find someone who can mix anything approaching conservative positions with humor, but this was damn near flawless. And on a social issue no less.

I haven't seen much of his other work, but this guy's style should be regarded as a kind of blueprint.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Atheist Sightings

Paraphrased: "How come Christians never let me argue against THEIR God? Instead they always want to talk about why there's something rather than nothing, or first causes or things like that! I don't want to talk about those gods, I want to talk about theirs!"

Except an atheist isn't supposed to deny only that specific God over there, but God and gods, period. And understanding those fundamental attributes of God is, and has historically been treated as, key for understanding the specifically Christian God. Imagine trying to justify the existence of whales to a man who denies the existence of all aquatic life. You try to explain the plausibility of how a creature could move and live underwater, and he just gets angry: No, he wants to talk about WHALES. All this talk about fins and algae and so on, he doesn't want to hear about it.

Whales are so improbable and ridiculous-sounding after all - why, how would they move and what would they eat?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Crude versus the Infinite Multiverse Proponent - Strawman Version

IMP: ..And anyway, Crude, there are no compelling arguments for God's existence.
Crude: Sure there are. Plenty of 'em in fact.
IMP: I disagree.
Crude: Not really.
IMP: What?
Crude: You believe in an infinite number of universes, such that all physical possibilities are realized, right?
IMP: Yes.
Crude: Alright. So there's an infinite number of you, all throughout these universes.
IMP: Okay.
Crude: Well, plenty of you encountered these arguments and immediately found them compelling. So, no, you don't really disagree. You're just experiencing a kind of multiverse hiccup.
IMP: Plenty of me wouldn't find it compelling, though!
Crude: Sure, we're dealing with a lot of hiccups here.
IMP: And plenty of you don't find the arguments compelling!
Crude: Nah, I'm skeptical of the existence of multiple universes.
IMP: ... Anyway, they don't agree because of the force of the argument. It's just due to physical necessity.
Crude: Let's run with that. You're no different, of course.
IMP: Fine, if that's what it takes, then so be it. But the upshot is that I can still say there are no compelling arguments for God's existence.
Crude: Because compelling arguments do not exist on your view. All that compels are brute physics, ultimately aimed towards nothing in particular. There's an infinite number of yous drawing every possible conclusion in response to a wide variety of arguments. But you're telling me with confidence you know for certain whether or not an argument is compelling because, what... you're sure you're in the lucky universe where you're making a correct inference on this question?
IMP: That's not fair. All I can say is what I think the be true and try to give arguments to that effect.
Crude: And, what? Assume you're correct, despite having every reason to doubt you're correct?
IMP: Yes.
Crude: And I suppose all your other "you"s, including the ones who disagree with you, get that assumption too don't they?
IMP: ... Even if they did, it's a practical necessity. You can't go through life doubting everything you think.
Crude: Funny, I think you could go through life being skeptical of the claim that there are no compelling arguments for God.
IMP: But I should be skeptical that there ARE any compelling arguments for God too!
Crude: Granting your view of reality, perhaps. But that'd be one hell of a difference in your current attitude. Shifting from claiming there are no compelling arguments to claiming an inability to evaluate the question is a big shift. It's like going from saying there's no evidence for X, to admitting you wouldn't know evidence for X if it bit you on the ass.
IMP: ... Maybe I'll just regard what you say as a puzzle to figure out in the future, but in the meantime work with the assumption that my beliefs are right.
Crude: Gonna grant that sort of consideration to everyone else while you're at it?
IMP: ...
Crude: What I'm saying is, you have a metaphysic which mandates serious skepticism, and the only ways to improve it would be to impart directionality and finality to an infinite number of universes. And the more you do that, the more your view of reality will look like a creation rather than the happenstance, purposeless thing you need it to be. And really, stick with it if you want. But at least do me the favor of not talking about serious intellectual questions with me as long as you hold this view. It's a waste of time on your metaphysic, and only amusing for so long given mine.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Racism and the Presidential Election

So apparently racism is the advance reason Obama may have trouble during his re-election. Granted, he successfully won the presidency, but damnit, this time the racists are actually coming out to vote! Or, perhaps, the racists have made huge gains and have converted millions to their cause since 2008. Hard to say.

I have trouble even getting charged up about this sort of thing anymore. I suppose there's something to be said for being outraged - OUTRAGED - at the insinuation that one is racist for opposing Obama. But I'm coming closer to reacting to the mere charge of racism with a shrug and apathy. If, say... mere and simple opposition to Obama is enough to raise the charge of racism - even warrant the label of racism - then what has been accomplished is to make it justifiable to support someone who is racist.

I want to be clear what I mean: If "racist" has been redefined to mean, oh... "opposing Obama's health care plans"... if that act alone, as stated, is somehow now an example of what it means to be a racist, that's fine. But if opposing Obama's health care plans is justifiable, even while that interesting redefinition of "racist" has taken place, then the result is this: An act of racism is now justifiable. There are now situations where it's okay to be a racist.

Now of course the sort of person making the racism charge in a hypothetical situation like that probably isn't trying to say that a racist act can be justifiable. No, they're probably hoping that by calling such an act racist, they are doing much to discourage it. But communication doesn't always work out the way a single party hopes. See how "Brights" was intended to mean "more-intelligent-than-average, free-thinking individuals", but the actual result was closer to a dictionary entry of "Brights: See "loud, annoying assholes"."

Monday, April 25, 2011

In praise of Leibniz

Leibniz more than any other philosopher gets the short end of the stick, doesn't he? The man was a genius. He invented binary code, and so many other things. He had all kinds of interesting philosophical ideas. An intellectual powerhouse by any measure.

But some pseudonymous prick makes fun of him for one eccentric (though in my view, surprisingly defensible) belief, and that's what he's remembered for. "Oh, he believed we live in the best of all possible worlds, what an idiot!" What did deist Voltaire ever do other than be the enlightenment, deist equivalent of Christopher Hitchens? Screw him and his poetry, on this count.

Mind you, Voltaire is leaps and bounds beyond the gnus who worship him. But he'll always have a demerit for heaping scorn on a man who was his better.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Nothing more for now!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Problem of Pain: A Confession.

I admit, one aspect of criticisms of Christianity that strikes me as naive is the idea that a good God would not allow torment or pain in the world.

The problem is that Christianity seems like the one major religion where a criticism like this is ridiculously out of place - what with the crucified God and all. The crucifixion, to me, highlights the very real possibility that perhaps we as humans are making a mistake when we regard pain as "something a good God would never allow", or is somehow out of place in a created world.

This is an undeveloped thought right now, but I think there's something to be said purely by comparing the claim - "It is a surprise, counterintuitive, that the Christian God would allow pain and harm in the world" - to the bare image of God crucified.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Programs Without a Programmer

Physical science shows that a designer is not needed to account for design in physical nature in the same way computer science shows that a programmer is not needed to account for design in software.

Put another way: The fact that I don't (and shouldn't expect to) find Will Wright somewhere in my PC when I play a game of Spore does not mean A) Will Wright plays no role in explaining Spore, B) that Spore was not designed, or C) that Spore, in and of itself, cannot strongly point towards the existence of some designer.

I honestly wonder if and suspect that many of these 'advances of science that show God isn't necessary as an explanation' are essentially of the same form as assuming that for Will Wright to design Spore means I'd better find him in my PC, whatever that would mean. In other words, a kind of explanation even the most sloppy, anthropomorphic theists weren't typically expecting.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is Strong Emergence Vitalism?

Huh. Never made this connection, myself.

A refinement of vitalism may be recognized in contemporary molecular histology in the proposal that some key organising and structuring features of organisms, perhaps including even life itself, are examples of emergent processes; those in which a complexity arises, out of interacting chemical processes forming interconnected feedback cycles, that cannot fully be described in terms of those processes since the system as a whole has properties that the constituent reactions lack.

That's one hell of an interesting way of looking at it, especially when strong emergence is trotted out as (somehow) a physicalist reply to, for example, the hard problem of consciousness. Of course, that would suggest quite a rewriting of science history.

Whether emergent system properties should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy.

Oh, I think there's more going on here than semantic concerns.

Emmeche et al. (1998) state that "there is a very important difference between the vitalists and the emergentists: the vitalist's creative forces were relevant only in organic substances, not in inorganic matter. Emergence hence is creation of new properties regardless of the substance involved."

So a key problem with vitalism was that it was too conservative?

"The assumption of an extra-physical vitalis (vital force, entelechy, √©lan vital, etc.), as formulated in most forms (old or new) of vitalism, is usually without any genuine explanatory power. It has served altogether too often as an intellectual tranquilizer or verbal sedative—stifling scientific inquiry rather than encouraging it to proceed in new directions."[17]

Of course, what makes the vitalis "extra-physical" anyway? We've revamped our definition of physical in the past. It seems likely we will in the future. Sounds like regarding vitalism as extra-physical is a semantic concern, eh?

On the flipside, let's say something akin to strong emergence or vitalism is possibly true. Then is it really "stifling scientific inquiry" to entertain the possibility, or even be persuaded by it? Or are some conclusions always to be rejected in science?

Ah, wait, I know the answer to that one.

A Government Atheist

Does believing that most of the problems in life could or should be solved by government constitute a form of theism?

I think the instinct is to say no, that's hyperbole. And yeah, perhaps it is. On the other hand, I do wonder if it is in theory possible to worship government as a god. And if it is, then would I be an atheist with regards to that god?

People can worship nature as god. Or natural things. Why not government? How would I know if they were doing this thing?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A favorite quote, recorded.

From Epictetus:

What else can I do, a lame old man, but sing hymns to God? If I were a nightingale, I would do the nightingale's part; if I were a swan, I would do as a swan. But now I am a rational creature, and I ought to praise God. This is my work. I do it, nor will I desert my post, so long as I am allowed to keep it. And I ask you to join me in this same song.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sun Tzu's Art of Brief Commentary

So I downloaded Sun Tzu's Art of War onto my iPad, since the ebook was free.

Either I'm misunderstanding something, or this is a shockingly short book. I mean we are talking SHORT. 50 pages maybe? If that?

It's more like Sun Tzu's WarFAQ or something. Why did I always get the impression this book was huge?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yet more pointing out of the obvious.

One the one hand, theists get accused of being utterly arrogant in their belief. Thinking that they and they alone know the truth about the universe. Where's there skepticism? Where's their admitting that maybe they're wrong? (Nevermind if they do, in fact, admit as much. Better to act as if every religious believer is really the caricature numerous atheists make them out to be.)

And then, right after denouncing the arrogance of thinking one has all the answers, turning around and admonishing people for not accepting the wilder speculations coming from certain scientists (Evolutionary psychology, natural selection as the primary driver of evolution, string theory, multiverses, etc) as answers that are beyond questioning.

Skepticism and qualification (or even suspension) of belief is, as ever, only laudatory when it's of a belief people don't like anyway.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pointing Out the Obvious!

Ever notice so many atheists inevitably tend to be people who openly hope like hell that Christianity (or Judaism, or Islam or..) isn't true? And that these same people turn around and accuse people who believe in God as being engaged in wish fulfillment?

Friday, March 25, 2011

On Evangelizing Jews.

There's some discussion recently over what the Pope thinks about evangelizing jews. I have only one short comment.

If someone's mother was a jew, but they themselves are at best a cultural or 'secular' jew who is at best agnostic about God's existence, are you really a jew by the pope's standards?

Monday, March 21, 2011

On Skepticism

Imagine for a moment you lived in a world with technology on the level of The Matrix. What I mean is that some Matrix-level technology - the ability to convincingly simulate an illusory environment - existed and was easily accessible.

Should the mere existence of this technology prompt one to be skeptical that the experiences they're having at any given time are real as opposed to illusory? Or at least, to greatly increase the odds that that may be the case?

I ask because it seems to me that one common reaction to brain-in-the-vat style thought experiments is, "Well, that's a science fiction scenario. It's fantasy." And of course, usually bitv style scenarios leave the environment untouched - you're just a brain in a vat, sans much context. Maybe "a mad scientist" is thrown in. But does the mere presence of the technology influence whether or not we should take that sort of skepticism seriously in the normal course of our lives? Do worries about being a brain in a vat become more pointed when you live next door to a R&D lab where there are thousands of brains in vats?

Now, no matter which way you answer that question, let me try another angle.

Should the mere fact that humans spend up to two hours per day dreaming cause us to be skeptical that the experiences we're having are real as opposed to illusory? Or at least increase the odds, etc.

Hopefully not, since otherwise we now find ourselves with a good reason to be very skeptical of day to day experiences. In fact, apparently around two hours out of the day we'd be *correct* to be skeptical! I don't see that pointed out very often.

Alright, let's go back to technology considerations again. Assume that the technology to convincingly simulate an illusory world is possible. Then it seems to me this is one (novel?) solution to the Fermi paradox: Beings who reach a suitable level of technological advancement sink into simulated realities as a rule.

At first that may seem unlikely - "there's so much out there to explore!" But is there, really? And how much of what's out there to explore needs to be visited to be explored? We can see quite a lot on the moon just fine from where we are. We can see quite a lot with a Hubble telescope too. Does that mean we want to go there? Do you really want to visit the freaking sun?

"But what about aliens? What about strange, foreign civilizations?" Good question - what about them? At a certain level of technological advancement, we'd be supposedly able to create those things, certainly virtually. Really, if we're able to simulate worlds and universes (and explore them as if they were real) it seems we'd have vastly more things to explore and see in our little neck of the woods than anywhere else. To put it another way, what would you find more interesting: Mars? Or the Matrix (that could, incidentally, contain any conceivable Mars-like planet)?

Of course, if we take it as a rule that advanced civilizations expand 'inward' rather than 'outward', and that they create simulations every bit as convincing as reality, we're swamped with skeptical considerations here and now - really, it looks like some version of Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument kicks in. And, I maintain (and it seems Bostrom may well agree) that if the SA is regarded as true, then at least some form of theism must be regarded as true along with it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Augustine on Babies

It can hardly be right for a child, even at that age, to cry for everything, including things which would harm him; to work himself into a tantrum against people older than himself and not required to obey him; and to try his best to strike and hurt others who know better than he does, including his own parents, when they do not give in to him and refuse to pander to whims which would only do him harm. This shows that, if babies are innocent, it is not for lack of will to do harm, but for lack of strength.

I have to admit, that's quite an interesting way to frame the (at that age) human condition.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's Not Magic!

Now and then I run into this sort of claim.

"I don't think consciousness is magical. I think it's an emergent property of neurons."

Honestly, it sounds to me like...

"I don't think consciousness is magical. It's just the standard effects of Neptune's mighty trident."

Similarly, I'm not a big fan of...

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Really? Is that because both magic and technology have similar effects? What if someone said...

"Any sufficiently reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology."?

Talk of 'magic' seems like a bluff to me. Magic really seems to reduce to "a theory about nature that turned out to be incorrect". Phlogistons? Magic. Miasma? Also magic. Steady state theory? Magic.

Which means that science journals are overflowing with magic. We just can't always be sure which theory is magical and which one is scientific.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is It Stupid? Then It's Not Darwinism!

From What's Wrong With The World:

Steve Burton quotes Lawrence Auster on Darwinism: How do the Darwinians explain the prevalence of male baldness in much of the white race (the Irish being the big exception)? That a man 50,000 years ago had an accidental genetic mutation which caused him to lose his hair, and the women in his tribe were more attracted to him with his bald head than to all the other hairy men, and so he had more offspring than the hairy ones, and so the genetic mutation for baldness spread through the population?

Burton assures readers: Well, ummm, no, Larry - I don't think that's how "Darwinians" would try to explain male pattern baldness.

My question: Why not? It's an example of sexual selection. Granted, one pulled straight out of the ass. But how many Darwinian explanations are like that anyway?

However, Burton goes on: Heck if I know - but, knowing evolutionary theorists as I do, I'd be willing to bet that they can come up with a dozen or so reasonably plausible hypotheses in about as many minutes.

I'm not sure what Burton's standards for 'reasonable' are. But apparently, his problem with Auster is that he pulled out an example which just sounded silly. And no Darwinian explanation can sound silly. Right?

He then goes on to mention: Apparently, our Larry thinks that the existence of male pattern baldness is simply inexplicable, absent the intervention of the God of the Gaps.

To which I wonder... has it really come to this for so many people? Either 'Darwinism' is true, or it's 'the God of the gaps'? Or perhaps it's something close to the opposite: If God isn't called upon as an explanation, then any other explanation must be Darwinism? Does the word 'Darwinism' really have meaning anymore?

I say this as someone not all that opposed to evolution, even macroevolution. But I've long shaken off the need to feel as if I have to give far too much credence to Darwinian explanations, or even Darwinism as a theory, to prove my willingness to accept those things. The fact that some flat-out YECs think this or that (say, evolutionary psychology) is a load of bull doesn't mean it must be true, or that I'll become a YEC for agreeing with them. I hope others learn the same lesson.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Just who are you trying to convince?

Seen recently in an argument: "Arguments for God are only convincing to theists!"

My thoughts: Well... I suppose they'd have to be, wouldn't they? Anyone persuaded by an argument for God's existence would be a theist, at least from that moment on. What's expected here? An argument for God's existence that atheists, remaining atheists, find compelling?

A similar problem pops up with a claim like this: "Science has solved every other question so far, so we have every reason to expect it to solve (problems X and Y)."

My thoughts: Okay. So except for all of the problems science hasn't solved, science has solved every problem it's encountered. What the hell are you talking about?

I suppose what someone may be going for is: "Lots of problems were considered unsolvable by science, but they ended up being solved." Of course, then I'd want to know just who considered these problems unsolvable. Making reference to vitalism won't work, since vitalism was a competing explanation. If vitalism turned out to be true, that would have just been another victory for science.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Practical Atheism" is bull!

I hear this now and then - the claim that most people who call themselves Christian are "practical atheists". The reasoning is that people call themselves Christian, but they don't go to church very much at all and tend not to make decisions in their lives necessarily consistent with their church's teaching. Ergo, they call themselves Christian, but in practice they act like atheists.

Frankly, I think this is bull. In fact, I'd be tempted to say that most people - even self-described atheists - tend to be practical theists. They act as if there are objective moral standards, even if they violate them at times or disagree on those standards. They act as if life has purpose beyond what we personally assign to it. They act, even think, as if the future is something more than oblivion. Put another way, a person may be a practical atheist in one situation or with regards to one attitude, but a practical theist in another situation or attitude.

Though the truth would be that labeling people as 'practical atheists' or 'practical theists' seems useless for the purposes of gauging actual belief, inclinations, and potential. It's a way to roughly and imperfectly evaluate one aspect of a multifaceted query.

Monday, March 7, 2011

On Burning Strawmen!

Here's a question I have to every person who's ever denounced another person for burning a strawman: Have you ever actually tried burning a strawman before?

It's fun!

There's a reason every protest that gets out of control usually pulls out the effigies and gasoline, and I'm convinced it has little to do with making a point. Fire's fun. Setting things on fire is fun. Setting things that look human on fire? Well, it's often said that there's little difference between comedy and cruelty - and I'm willing to bet the inventor of the flamethrower had a great sense of humor.

The point is that burning strawmen is an enjoyable activity, and I see no reason to deny this, nor to abstain from it entirely. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Anglicanism reconsidered!

I admit, all I can say is "You know, the vicar's got a point."

Minds create order?

One of the lamer moves I routinely see atheists take is that desperate dive when attributing the order of the universe to a mind.

"Well, maybe the universe is really chaotic, but all we see is order because of how our minds work!"

Okay, so... You're saying we should either embrace theism (The universe really is orderly) or radical skepticism (we can't trust what we attribute to the universe.)

The defenders of reason ain't what they used to be.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Comments & Crude!

As any commenter has noticed on this blog, I'm a hardass with comments. I decided to explain some of my commenting philosophy - maybe even sticky this entry - so people understand where I'm coming from and what my standards are. Let's go with the tried and true FAQ format.

What sort of comments do you weed out on Crude Ideas?

Generally, posts that fit in the following categories: Spam comments, rude comments from people I neither know nor respect, comments from people acting like over the top social autists, comments from people trying to argue with me about something I'm not interested in arguing about at any given time. These are all standards filed beneath the greater banner of "Whatever I feel like, but these are the general standards." I'd also skunk a comment if I thought doing so would provoke a funny reaction. Honestly, I'm pretty casual about all this.

But don't you want to encourage an active community of people participating in your blog?

The first reply is, not really. Maybe if I start to update this blog on a regular schedule. As it stands, this is more or less a place for me to unwind, less loose with ideas at times, and maybe receive comments from people I consider worth hearing back from.

The second reply is that even if I was interested in building a community here (that still seems like a foreign idea to me), I'd want one that's actually worthwhile to build. I don't know if you've been through the comments sections of most sites, but the rule - especially on sites with no or little moderation - is that they're cesspools. And the majority of their activity usually comes from a handful of diehards who will not stop responding until the topic falls off the page, until they have the last word, or until they are exhausted.

Which leads into the third reply. I'm not a fan of the Scott Adams "dance monkey dance" philosophy of blog adminning, where what brings people back isn't so much any redeeming offering on the part of the host as the (usually very off topic) pit fights in the comments section. Put simply, I'm not interested in having anyone who shows up here do so to witness or take part in the spectacle of comments section arguments.

Mind you, that's a ridiculously easy recipe for modest site success - so long as the guy in charge really couldn't give a crap about any of his readers. I'm not interested in that attitude, or in wasting the time either of myself or of thoughtful, reasonable people who care to comment here.

You rag on New Atheists at times. Don't you want someone around to provide a valuable counterpoint?

Not particularly. I enjoy hearing the thoughts of (actual) agnostics, panentheists, (non-materialist) pantheists, mormons, hindus, (actual) buddhists, protestants, catholics and more. I have little patience for mere anti-theists and New Atheists, a group which has entirely and explicitly defined itself by its militancy, its ignorance and its loudness (split into equal parts whiny, dishonest, and idiotic.) I see as little reason to have any leniency with New Atheists when discussing religion as I see to have for holocaust deniers when discussing the history of 20th century Europe. Less, in fact, since at least holocaust deniers typically make efforts to focus on actual pertinent details, wrong as they are.

So there we are. Hopefully this gives you some idea of just where I'm coming from on all this.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"Scientific" Pantheism?

While trying to read up on pantheism in general, I kept coming across this talk of 'scientific pantheism'. As near as I can tell it's mostly for atheists who want to say they're "spiritual".

One thing I repeatedly bumped into was this sort of talk:

Pantheism believes that we live on in nature where we are re-absorbed, but also in people's memories and in the achievements we leave behind. Therefore we have a powerful incentive to be good and kind to people, and to achieve lasting good in our lives. The kinder we are, the more good we do, the longer will be our "afterlife" in people's memories. If we do harm, then our memory will be execrated.

Yeah... kind of missing where the powerful incentive part shows up.

First there's the angle of, "Oh boy, so if I really do good and luck favors me, I'm remembered for 100 or 1000 or 10000 years instead of 10 years, before being utterly forgotten. Well hey, sign me up!" Not to mention, fictional characters probably have more of an "afterlife" than most people by this yardstick. Compare the number of guys who know and have memories of Joe Barbera to Scooby freaking Doo.

Second, if merely being remembered is desired, then Judas, Hitler, Napoleon and others have some stellar advice on achieving a long-lasting afterlife, and it's not really clear why happy memories are better than ones of hate or fear. This sort of pantheism conceivably can come in misanthrope versions, but this just gets nicely glossed over. I recall how General Woundwort ended up in Watership Down, what the memory was of him, and the comment of what Woundwort would have possibly thought of that very legacy.

Third, to the idea that "we live on in the memories of our loved ones" sort of talk. As mentioned prior, what sort of memories we leave or what we should want to leave is an open question. Also unappreciated is this: It's not just our loved ones who remember us. It's also the people who hate us. What, did the people who thought say.. FDR was an asshole forget all about him when he died? There are people who think that of FDR *now*. How's his afterlife doing?

Mind you, these criticisms are largely restricted to materialistic pantheisms. Idealistic, dualistic, even simulation theoristic versions are another matter, at least on this front. But I have a natural distaste for empty poetics, and that seems to be all that this type of pantheism has going for it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Lighter Side of Verificationism

There's an aspect to verificationism I think goes unappreciated.

A short wiki summary is: Verificationism is the view that a statement or question only has meaning if there is some way to determine if the statement is true, or what the answer to the question is.
For example, a claim that the world came into existence a short time ago exactly as it is today (with misleading apparent traces of a longer past) would be judged meaningless by a verificationist because there is no way to tell if it is true or not.

The few times I've encountered them, I notice that fans of verificationism tend to give what would normally be considered outlandish examples like the one mentioned. "The world came into existence a short time ago exactly as it is today"? Why, that's meaningless! No way to tell! Every verificationist I've bumped into loves examples like that, and I wonder if it's because it plays to common sense intuitions and beliefs. You get to (in essence or practice) rule out something most people would consider to be utter nonsense - after all, how do you empirically verify such a thing?

Here is, as near as I can tell, an equally valid example that is never brought up: "The world didn't come into existence a short time ago exactly as it is today."

Bring up examples like that and suddenly verificationism isn't so fun. You get to disregard some things you find ridiculous as nonsense, not even worth discussing - but quite a lot of common assumptions and beliefs end up in the crapper too, no longer able to be asserted without inconsistency. A good way of thinking about this is that it's possible to come across as a lunatic due not only to what you believe in, but don't believe in. (If you believe there's a superplanet-sized demonic bat beyond the very edge of the observable universe, that's crazy. Crazier than not believing that minds other than yours exist, or that the world began a week ago? That's not so clear.)

The same goes for other questions - God, other minds, etc. The impression I get is that people dive for verificationism, oddly enough, for pragmatic reasons: They want a hammer to take to the God question, for example. But they don't want to have to give up on belief in other minds, inferences to multiverses, accepting that there really was a past, etc. No, verificationism is only supposed to work against beliefs they don't like and wish would go away. Please don't make them apply it to cherished beliefs, or beliefs they'll seem lunatic for rejecting.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blinded with science!

One thing I'm always amused of in the usual religious debates: How "science" is constantly anthropomorphized, and is said to give us different - even conflicting - orders as human beings.

Science shows us how reality truly is!
Science has nothing to say about reality as reality, it's just useful for predictive models!
Science says we should always be skeptical and accept nothing without qualification!
Science says X is true and we are duty-bound to accept it without question!
Science never allows unobservables in, for that would taint its holy power!
Science tells us multiverses very likely exist, because they would explain so much!

Etc, etc.

And of course there's also that move to make "science" mean "scientists", engaging in full-blown personification of a method. Which leads to gems like: "Scientists are totally skeptical and spend all their waking hours trying to disprove their most cherished and beloved theories." Which usually means I'm either in the presence of a bullshitter, or someone whose entire knowledge of scientists and the history of science comes from that idiotic Golgi Apparatus bit from Dawkin's book.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Praise of Pagans

Vox recently ran this quote, and I admit, I love it.

"As for those who go in for self-indulgence and are slaves of their own bodies - people who measure everything they should seek and avoid in life by the yardstick of pleasure and pain - even if they are right (and there is no need to take issue with them here) let us tell them to preach in their own little gardens and let us ask them to keep away for a little while from any participation in public life, an area of which they know nothing and have never wished to know anything....

What can be more certain than this, that no one should be so stupid and arrogant as to believe that reason and intelligence are present in him but not in the heavens and the world? Or that those things which are barely understood by the highest intellectual reasoning are kept in motion without any intelligence at all? As for the person who is not impelled to give thanks for the procession of the stars, the alternation of day and night, the regular succession of the seasons, and the fruits which are produced for our enjoyment - how can such a person be counted as human at all?"

Cicero, one of the 'virtuous pagans'. And quotes like these help to illustrate why I have utter disdain for atheists and materialists, but feel more at home with sincere pagans, pantheists, panentheists, and more despite important disagreements. Being able to appreciate the world as the workings of a mind - even with greater particular metaphysics put aside - is central. It's not a rigorous argument that Cicero is laying out, but it has both its place and its power.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Post-Grad Degrees Not Harming Belief in God

Apparently, belief in God remains high even among the most highly educated in the US.

Somewhat surprising to me, I admit. I'm not that impressed either way, since I have a pretty negative view of higher education in general (at least in the sense of pursuing a degree, not the actual process of learning, particularly autodidactism.) But, there you go.

I'm sure more interesting observations could be wrung out of this data, such as it is, but for now I'll just let it speak for itself.

Monday, February 14, 2011

All Paths Lead to God?

If all religions are 'valid ways of approaching God', then it doesn't matter if I discriminate against every other path but my own, right? My way is as good as any of the others, thus those other paths are obviated.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Catholics Proselytizing?

I wonder if there any any Catholic organizations devoted to proselytizing in the West? Specifically targeting inactive catholics and agnostics, even.

In fact, does ANYone bother targeting the 'none's in the US? Not the radically smaller 'atheist' group, but those generally 'religiously nothing' sorts.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Emergent Materialism

Been reading up on (strong) emergence. Trying to figure out why this is even called 'materialism' - the impression of "because if they admit it's not materialism most of the people they want to convince will drop it like a rabid squirrel" is hard to shake.

As ever, Fodor provides the convenient essential summary.

Maybe the hard problem shows that not all basic laws are laws of physics. Maybe it shows that some of them are laws of emergence. If that’s so, then it’s not true after all that if Y emerges from X there must be something about X in virtue of which Y emerges from it. Rather, in some cases, there wouldn’t be any way of accounting for what emerges from what. Consciousness might emerge from matter because matter is the sort of stuff from which consciousness emerges. Full stop.

It would then have turned out that the hard problem is literally intractable, and that would be pretty shocking.

Well, points to Fodor for noting that emergent materialism does not offer some 'materialistic explanation' of (for example) the hard problem of consciousness, but is in fact the positing of a limit of explanation. One problem I have is: In what way does "Y emerge from X" if we're admitting that there's nothing "about X" which is the reason Y emerges from it? It's those laws of strong emergence which is responsible for Y, not X itself, which makes the use of the word "emergence" seem like some sleight of hand.

Not to mention, emergent materialism re: mind in any way seems like a suicidal for any would-be naturalist. So there exist these special laws that "kick in" for certain configurations of matter, and suddenly you have these irreducible and novel properties/traits? This is starting to sound like formal and final causality, but more muddy. Worse, the idea that there are these laws of strong emergence directly related to minds, just waiting around for the right configurations of matter to show up?

Nah. If you want to be a proper naturalist, reductive materialism is the only game in town. Pity it's downright incoherent.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Angry at God?

Maybe you are.

Or maybe not. Of interest:

According to Exline's findings, Protestants, African Americans, and older people tend to report less anger at God; people who do not believe in God may still harbor anger; and anger toward God is most distressing when it is frequent, intense, or chronic.

So, that 'atheists are angry at God' thing actually does have some scientific evidence to back it up now.