Monday, 8 June 2015

Losing the will to review: Evidence Unseen or Arguments Unconsidered?

When I announced this book review project in September last year I made a proviso about reviewing James M. Rochford's Evidence Unseen:
...I've decided to read it and (if in my opinion it merits a review) to review it here on the blog.
I reviewed the introduction in March, and continued reading last weekend. Does it merit a review? It's going downhill fast. I had hoped for something substantial, but if the first chapter is typical I'm tempted to give it up as a waste of time. Rochford's arguments are ill-considered and sloppy, relying too much on emotion rather than logic. He refers often to atheists, "atheistic thinkers" and even an "atheistic ethical philosopher" as if they are a breed apart. I can only assume that atheists are not his target readership:
Yet, a certain tension of which they are unaware plagues them: While they are content in their atheistic worldview, they are not consistent with it... [Loc 325]
Basically telling atheists that they are psychologically defective. They are plagued with a tension — but they're unaware of it? This looks like classic projection.
If God doesn’t exist, is it possible to have a life that is ultimately significant? Unfortunately, it isn’t. [Loc 331]
Nothing unfortunate about that, as far as I know. Like many Christian apologists Rochford seems obsessed with ultimate absolute objectivity. It doesn't exist.
If the Christian God is real, then we have the hope of eternity. [Loc 368]
What is emerging here is a massive argument from consequences.
Of course, if the Christian God exists and all humans are made in his image, as the Bible teaches (Gen. 1:26-27; Jas. 3:9), then this would be both objectively true and truly important. On the other hand, if God does not exist, then human beings would hold nothing in common that could make them truly equal. [Loc 391]
This comes after a section trying to debunk "equality" — saying that people aren't really equal (when what he's actually saying is that people aren't all the same — which is true). But just because people aren't the same, that's no excuse for not treating them then with equal fairness, especially before the law.
But if everything in nature is only natural, then how can a naturalist call murder, rape, or genocide unnatural? [Loc 433]
I'm not aware that naturalists do call murder, rape and genocide "unnatural" — seems like he's setting up a straw man here.
...when we claim that morality comes from chimpanzees... [Loc 454]
Um ... we don't. More straw-manning.
Atheist Richard Dawkins argues... [Loc 455]
A Dawkins quote! (Just goes to show that Dawkins continues to rattle theists' cages.)
If morality is truly objective, then it is binding over people whether or not they agree to it. [Loc 501]
Now we're getting to the nitty gritty. Let's define "morality" and "objective", shall we? Apparently not — we're straight on to an argument with Sam Harris:
Why should we think that the flourishing of the human species is ultimately the greatest good? [Loc 508]
This is pretty easy if we're actually members of the human species ourselves (barring any quibbles over the use of "ultimately"). Then we get the seven dying patients in need of organ transplants versus one healthy person:
...wouldn’t it make sense to capture a healthy young man in the lobby to harvest his organs—the seven organs the dying people needed—to “maximize happiness”? [Loc 512]
Actually no, it wouldn't make sense — unless you're content to live in a world where you might be randomly killed so that your organs could be harvested.
While we might not know the right moral action, we still know that one must exist. [Loc 526]
By using the term "right" this is begging the question. There may be a preferable action, based on circumstances and consequences — an action that would be preferred by those affected by the consequences.
Many atheistic thinkers will openly admit that morality is not objective in a universe without God. [Loc 533]
It depends what you mean by "objective". If you mean independent of any single individual, then I'd disagree, because in a universe without God, morality can indeed be independent of any single individual. That's not to say morality is relative, or absolute. It has to be more nuanced than that (certainly more nuanced that a list of rules in a book).
“If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions, what reason have we to trust it?” [Loc 564]
This a C. S. Lewis quote. But as usual with Lewis, his facility with words outruns his analytic capacity. What he's saying is circular, because trust and reason are part of thought. And even if thought is undesigned, it certainly isn't irrelevant to the one who's thinking. Naturally this comes back to the theistic aversion to determinism and lack of free will. There's quite a lot in this chapter about determinism and free will, and what the consequences are if they are true. Rochford uses them to illustrate the horror of naturalism, but I couldn't help reading that section as a likely true account of reality.

That concludes my "review" of Chapter 1. It's not deep, but then the chapter reviewed is ridiculously superficial. And I should probably come clean and say that this concludes my review of the entire book. From the introduction and first chapter I infer that the rest of Evidence Unseen will be more of the same — not worth the bother.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Burnee linkblast

Time to catch up on a load of links I've been saving up for ... a while:

the exciting science discoveries | science experiments 2015 - YouTube

Tears in rain? Why Blade Runner is timeless | Film | The Guardian
Timeless indeed.

Attack on God // Justin Welby
Well that was a nothing clip if ever there was one.

BBC News - Rowan Williams responds to Stephen Fry's tirade on God
Same goes for this one (see above). Between them the once and current ABCs can only come up with platitudinous BS in response to Stephen Fry's heartfelt castigation — which after all was itself only a response to a TV host's question.

The Gambian despot who 'cured HIV-AIDS' and his British homoeopath allies - Telegraph
Maybe I should start selling my Tincture of Nothingium as a cure-all, on the basis of "the more you pay, the more it's worth". Or maybe not.

How the Christian Church is attacking itself with science - Baltimore Christianity |
"Even so, except for the most extremist among them, the non-religious community recognizes that morality and humane values are important to society, but how to divorce them from their religious roots?"

"...but how to divorce them from their religious contamination?"


It is not close-minded to demand reasonable kinds of evidence
Much as I am willing to give religionists the benefit of the doubt, I'm inexorably drawn to the conclusion that, on the whole, they are making stuff up.

On the foundations of morality | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
'...the question “How do we justify our morality?” does not admit of an answer that does not beg the question.'

Two Creationists Joke About Atheists’ Focus on God, Not Realizing It’s Because of the Awful Effects of Their Groups
Fundamentally at odds. This is why it's (probably) pointless arguing with fundamentalists on matters of doctrine, and (probably) more productive to argue legal points — non-discrimination, separation of church and state, etc.

Ten Facebook Pages You Need to Stop Sharing From
So much woo...

Breaking News: Over-Unity Reactionless Generator Invented In India | Collective-Evolution
"The second law of thermodynamics must be modified..." Er ... no.

This is not what scientists do
They've found God's Throne (and PZ Myers helpfully provides a picture).

I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)
Some people over at you-know-where have been getting unbelievably (ahem!) het up about a recent blogpost by Richard Carrier. Here's PZ Myers' take.

Atheist Debates - Interview: AC Grayling, DPhil - YouTube
Fresh from his magnificent keynote talk at last month's QEDcon, Professor AC Grayling sat down with Matt Dillahunty for this clear-headed, articulate interview ranging through philosophy, religion, debates and humanism.

Daniel Dennett Withdraws from World Science Festival Due to Templeton Foundation Sponsorship
Tainted money.

[Study] This Is What Happens When You Switch To Organic Food
Typical PR "study" in which the conclusions, though true, don't really matter. The measured levels of pesticides and other chemicals "before" are well below accepted standards of safety.

Death Is Not the Answer
"[T]he moral contradiction at the heart of capital punishment."

Prince Charles’ letters confirm that he’s not fit to be king
"The least that one can ask of the royal family is that they should not endanger the health of the nation."

Dementia WILL Affect You But Simple Actions Can Make A World Of Difference | Jamie Anderson
The most uplifting story I've seen all week.

Skyping with the enemy: I went undercover as a jihadi girlfriend | World news | The Guardian

International Humanist and Ethical Union | New president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union: Andrew Copson
This is almost certainly (translation: more likely nothing to do with it) because Skepticule interviewed him at QED2015.

Jehovah’s Witness Leader Rants Against Higher Education, Saying It’ll Lead to “Spiritual Disaster”
Short version: "Don't send your kids to Uni, they'll find out we've been teaching them BS."

8 steps to confront your wife’s sexual refusal | Biblical Gender Roles
So messed up.

Atheist Debates - Can Science Disprove God(s)? - YouTube
Half an hour of good stuff on the burden of proof.

Jonathan Sacks: ‘I’m optimistic when I speak to young Muslims. They have incredible idealism’ - Telegraph
I'm sure Jonathan Sacks is a nice guy, but he gets too much prominence in British media. His thinking appears shallow and unconsidered, mainly consisting of platitudes and vague metaphor. His comment about secularism shows that along with many religionists he cannot conceive of morality without a god:
"It is the secularisation of Western society, he argues, and the resulting moral vacuum, that leaves idealistic youngsters without anything in which to believe and susceptible to radical voices."

Thursday, 4 June 2015

"Humanism" up for grabs?

Catching up on my podcast-listening backlog I came upon this episode of BBC Radio 4's Beyond Belief, hosted by Ernie Rae. It features Stephen Law, Nick Spencer and Marilyn Mason, and a separate interview with Rory Fenton. The first half is amicable enough, but considerable disagreement surfaces as the programme proceeds. This isn't surprising, given that Nick Spencer co-wrote a Theos paper entitled "The Case for Christian Humanism" which attempted a proprietorial land-grab of the term "humanism".

What is also not surprising is that such an attempt should be made. Christianity in its many guises has survived to the present day by co-opting and subsuming other belief-systems. Humanism is simply grist to its mill. Stephen Law, however, was having none of it.

Ernie Rae, host of Beyond Belief
Here's the programme page:

And here's a direct link to the mp3 audio (available indefinitely, as far as I can tell):

Can Humanism include belief in God?

Last year Pope Francis, addressing the European Parliament, pleaded for a rediscovery of the ideals of humanism centred on respect for the dignity of the human person. He said, "A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks losing its own soul and that "humanistic spirit" which it still loves and defends." The Pope was clearly trying to reclaim the humanist tradition from atheism. But was he waging a futile battle? Is humanism by its very nature opposed to religious belief?

Joining Ernie to discuss Humanism are Stephen Law from the Centre for Enquiry and author of "A very short Introduction to Humanism; Nick Spencer Co-author of "The Case for Christian Humanism;" and Marilyn Mason, former Education Officer for the British Humanist Association.
When the Theos paper was published it was discussed on Unbelievable? — my as-it-podcasted reactions are archived here:

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Burnee links for the Ides of March

Cartoon: The first scientist
How science is done.

Why media coverage of alternative cancer cures is dangerous | Science | The Guardian
Is the Mirror just being lazy, or is this a carefully calculated slant to increase readership?

Bank of Canada urges ‘Star Trek’ fans to stop ‘Spocking’ their fivers | Dangerous Minds
The people have spoken (or at least "doodled with conviction").

Called "A Murder" for a reason - Album on Imgur
I for one welcome our new crow overlords...

BBC News - Google's Vint Cerf warns of 'digital Dark Age'
I have a stash of 5.25" floppy disks full of all sorts of interesting stuff, and kept for that reason. None of my current computers has a working 5.25" drive, and even if that wasn't the case I doubt my current software would be able to read the contents. Within a month or two every one of these disks will end up in landfill, unread.

Professor Brian Cox brands astrology-believing Tory MP David Tredinnick an 'outlier on the spectrum of reason' - People - News - The Independent
"...outlier on the spectrum of reason." A polite way of saying "bat-shit crazy."

Ten Things Christians Accidentally Tell Me About Themselves
This is a concise run-down of things atheists often hear in debates with Christians.

National Secular Society - Religious lobbying threatens European Parliament vote on gender equality
It's 2015 and we still have to argue about this?

Has Science Buried God? My opening statement from today’s debate | Center for Inquiry
Maybe science can't prove there are no gods, but it can show that the existence of certain gods is extremely unlikely, given the evidence.

Terry Pratchett in quotes: 15 of the best | Books | The Guardian
Miss him.

BBC News - Sex-selection abortion case 'not in public interest'
It says the doctors were "accused" of agreeing to arrange sex-selective abortions. Presumably the secret filming didn't show what the agents provocateur had hoped it would...

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Evidence Unseen (and probably unavailable)

Back in September I posted about James M. Rochford’s Evidence Unseen — Exploring the Myth of Blind Faith, which was free on Kindle at the time. Here’s my brief review of the introduction. I should make it clear, however, that I’m probably not the intended audience for this book. Over the years I’ve become fairly settled in my atheism, though I’m still on the lookout for new arguments for the existence of any gods. So far I’ve not found anything that’s convincing, but I don’t want that fact to shut me off from considering additional arguments.

Unfortunately the book does not start off well. The acknowledgements are couched in enough obsequious faux humility to induce a bout of nausea. But maybe that's just a style issue.

We begin with “Introduction: Who Needs Faith?” Essentially this is an argument implying the “god-shaped hole”, and it’s in three sections, the first being “Don’t Dump Your Brains Out”. Immediately we come up against the irony of claiming that Jesus used evidence, when the evidence that he did so is merely asserted:
Throughout his life on Earth, Jesus appealed to evidence—such as his miracles, his resurrection, and his fulfillment of messianic prophecy—in order to validate his divinity (Lk. 24:25-27; 44-46).[Location 154]
Rochford is arguing against fideism, which he attempts to refute mostly by quoting from the New Testament. This, to me, is putting the cart before the horse, but Christian apologists seem to do this a lot — placing their evidence for the truth of the Bible subsequent to arguments based on Biblical texts, as if they know the evidence for the truth of the Bible is flimsy but will be more readily accepted after substantial prior grooming.

The second section of the Introduction is “Don’t Be Afraid To Take A Step Of Faith”. Here Rochford is equating “faith” with “trust” — presumably based on evidence — but also claiming there’s a choice involved. There isn’t. If you are disposed to believe things on evidence, then you’ll believe something when sufficient evidence is available, not before. It all depends on what you consider "sufficient", but again, that's not something you can choose. (Check out doxastic voluntarism on Wikipedia.)

The third and final section of the Introduction, “Don’t Give Up The Search”, contains arguments that appear strictly binary: either God doesn’t exist, or the Christian God as described by Jesus in the New Testament does. This is the false dichotomy of Pascal’s Wager, which Rochford fully invokes in the following passage:
According to Jesus, our Creator loved us so much that he died for us. 
Can you even imagine a more egotistical thought? I can’t. God died for us. This is the very height of egotism. If human beings invented this message, then they have imagined the most conceited concept in human history. God died for us. It’s absurd! Hundreds of years ago, people believed the entire universe circled around Earth. While this is pretty self-centered, it doesn’t hold a candle to the message of the Bible; God died for us. How narcissistic would you have to be to believe something like this?
Unless, of course, it's true.[Location 258]
The problem here, of course, is that if it's not true, what is? The non-existence of any gods is not the only alternative. What if Islam is true, or Hindu polytheism?

At the end of the introduction Rochford fires this parting shot:
If you’re a close-minded person, then I doubt any of the evidence in this book will persuade you of the truth of who Jesus was and claimed to be.[Location 315]
The implication is clear (and vaguely insulting), which is why I don't think this book is aimed at atheists. But Rochford seems to be arguing against apatheism here, which is odd, because apatheists won’t be reading his book.

So that’s the introduction. Is it going the same way other apologetics books seem to go? Pretty much, but stay tuned while I continue to read.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The inflatable car

Blown up and scribbled on:


Friday, 27 February 2015

Burnee Fridayee linkee

Dino poop and the age of the Earth | Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism
Creationism in America, ha ha ha! Wouldn't happen in this country, would it?

Ethics in Podcasting?
Listening to The Audacity to Podcast special on the ethics of podcasting. Fascinating stuff (and especially relevant to Skepticule as the host quotes Bible verses but is nevertheless pursuing a consequentialist ethic).

Ian McEwan on free speech and religion | Free Speech Debate
"In the cities of the West, richly layered in race and religion, the only guarantor of freedom of religious worship and tolerance for all is the secular state. It respects all religions within the rule of law, and believes all – or none. The difference is negligible, since not all religions can be true. The principle of free speech is crucial. The cost is occasional offence. The lawful demand is that offence must not lead to violence or threats of violence. The reward is freedom for all to go about their business in lawful pursuit of their beliefs."

God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified -
The inevitability of life

Christian Parent Is Sick Of Dinosaurs Being Forced On Kids - Dinosaur Hoax: Fossils
I don't get this. Does she think that fossils are completely broken up when they are excavated? Hasn't she ever watched an archaeology documentary on TV?

Astrology could solve crisis in the NHS, says Tory MP - Telegraph
The Member for Holland & Barrett apparently said this: "Astrology may not be capable of passing double-blind tests but it is based on thousands of years of observation." Or in other words, it may be utter woo but we've been looking at it a long time. People have indeed been reading newspaper astrology columns, as well as tea-leaves, palms, irises and feet, for a good number of years. But a long-service medal is no guarantee of efficacy. In this case it just means you've been doing it wrong for a very long time.

But wait, there's more...

Astrology should never have any role to play in healthcare | Pete Etchells | Science | The Guardian
Why is an article like this even necessary? Tredinnick should be drummed out of the Brownies forthwith (or at least off any parliamentary committee dealing with healthcare). His ignorant promotion of woo is clear evidence that he's not fit to be making decisions that have anything to do with science.

We Are Spock
James Croft​ tells us why we can be so affected by the real loss of a fictional character.
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