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.