Wednesday 26 December 2012

Burnee links for Boxing Day

Some old ones, some new ones...

It’s time to abort the Catholic Church | Pharyngula
PZ Myers tells us what he thinks.

On Shunning Fellow Atheists and Skeptics | Center for Inquiry
A measure of calm rationality at CFI.

‘How do atheists find meaning in life?’ - - The Washington Post
Paula Kirby gives the obvious but eloquent answer to one of the dumbest theistic questions.

The 21st Floor » Blog Archive » Easier to be good without god
You cannot out-source your moral decisions.

Is the Geek Movement bad for science? | Martin Robbins
The Lay Scientist expands a comment.
(Via Kash Farooq)

The Goodacre Debate » Richard Carrier Blogs
Richard Carrier blogs about his debate with Mark Goodacre on Unbelievable? 

Four lessons I learnt in 2012 | Hayley Stevens
Hayley is an inspiration.

How to become a charlatan | Edzard Ernst
So very tempting...

Tuesday 27 November 2012

What's this? A blogpost? Surely not!

Not much of one, I admit. But as a means of easing my way back to blogging after a hiatus of several weeks I thought you might like to know that there's a new episode of Skepticule Extra available for your downloadable listening pleasure (or frustration, depending on whether or not you agree with any of the four Pauls).

Anyway, give it a listen:

And then give us some feedback (iTunes review, blog comment, email). In this episode we talk about a secular parachuting prison chaplain who promotes alternative medicine in space. Or something like that.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Burnee links for Tuesday

Google Europe Blog: A worthy winner for the inaugural Tony Sale award
And a worthy first commemoration of the man who rebuilt Colossus.
(Via National Museum of Computing.)

Philip Kitcher: The Trouble With Scientism | The New Republic
Lengthy and thought-provoking, but I was initially confused by his usage of "humanistic". A more careful explication of what he means by "scientism" would also have helped.

The Way of the Mister: Mormonism is Racism - YouTube
This, and magic underpants.

Claims of Peer Review for Intelligent Design examined … and debunked « Skeptical Science
"Intelligent Design" is not science.

Documents cast light on Causeway creationist wrangle - Local - Belfast Newsletter
Apparently there was a possibility that private public grant funding for the information centre could have been made conditional on the creationist interpretation being included in the information. Whether or not that condition was ever made, or accepted, it remains true that the creationist interpretation was included. This illustrates the insidious nature of creationism, and the necessity for eternal vigilance.
(Via BCSE.)

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Creationist road trip conspires against reality

Yesterday I noticed BBC Three was to broadcast the second in a three-episode series ostensibly on conspiracy theories, this one taking a small group of creationists on a coach trip in America and showing them the evidence for evolution. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and so it turned out, more or less. Jerry Coyne was in it:

Soon after watching the whole thing, I posted my reaction on Facebook:
OK I watched it, and some parts were indeed disastrous — kind of like Big Brother Goes On The Road. They started in Las Vegas, for no other reason (that I could discern) than it allowed for some clichéd photo-opportunities.
Jerry Coyne doesn't suffer fools, and his debunking of Noah's Ark did not go down well with the creationists. The creationist who appeared to have appointed himself "star-of-the-show" also seemed to be entertaining the idea that the show itself was a conspiracy, and he was impervious to reason, maintaining that the purpose of science was to deny God.
The presenter, Andrew Maxwell, nailed it with his bemused announcement that he couldn't understand how, in the face of so much evidence for evolution, the creationists simply dismissed anything that was contrary to scripture. He asked one of them why they even bother to look at the science if they're not going to accept anything that doesn't agree with what they already believe.
A frustrating programme that generated — on my part — more than its fair share of sighing and head-shaking.
Conspiracy Road Trip: Creationism is on iPlayer at the moment, and as it's BBC Three it's likely to be available again fairly soon.

UPDATE 2012-10-13:

Here's the whole thing on YouTube:

...and here's Jerry Coyne's post about it:

The ontobollocksical argument is not one of my favourites

A link to BBC Radio 4's In Our Time was posted in the Unbelievable? Facebook group, as it dealt with the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God. In a fit of snarky dismissal I posted the following comment:
This was followed by some disingenuous (I felt) puzzlement, which led me to expand on my remark:

  • Paul Jenkins My objection to the ontobollocksical argument is that it's entirely about concepts. A concept is something that exists only in minds, and no matter how much you conceive of an entity — or its maximal greatness — there's nothing to make that magical transition from concept to reality.

    Of course it's possible for something to exist as a concept as well as existing in reality, but these are two different things than can be causally related in only one direction: from the real thing to the concept of that thing — not the other way around. For a concept of an entity to have a causal relationship towards an actual entity something else has to be involved. The concept alone is not enough.

    The ontobollocksical argument is no more than a fancy and roundabout way of saying, "I can imagine something, therefore it must exist."
Yet further responses asserted I was wrong about this, and suggested I should deal with the premises of the argument — something I felt disinclined to do at the time, given that attempts were being made to shift the burden of proof on to me by mere assertion.

Nevertheless I stand by what I posted, and in case anyone's still interested here's how I deal with said premises. The ontological argument goes like this (from Wikipedia):
  1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
  2. The idea of God exists in the mind.
  3. A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
  4. If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
  5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
  6. Therefore, God exists.
Premise 1 is fine as far as it goes — you can conceive of God any way you want. But is it really possible to conceive of ultimate greatness? I think not, other than as a label for what is frankly an inconceivable nebulosity. Can you, for example, conceive of infinity? You can have the idea in your mind of a very big number, a number so big that there isn't any number above it — but can you hold that concept in your mind as a number, rather than as a label for something that is, in actuality, inconceivable? Saying — in the St. Anselm formulation — that God is a being than which no greater can be conceived is of no use because you can't actually conceive of even that. You can give it a label, but it's a label that cannot be attached to anything.

So the ontological argument falls at its first premise, proving only that it is — as it has always been — bollocks.

Monday 8 October 2012

Burnee links for Monday

Stephen Law: William Lane Craig: "Animals aren't aware that they're in pain"
I was present when WLC made this claim, and I didn't believe it then. But I'll bet he continues to use it in debates despite being comprehensively refuted by several scientists who know whereof they speak.

Evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory are “lies straight from the pit of hell” – US politics and the misrepresentation (misunderstanding) of science | A Tippling Philosopher
Science is an evil conspiracy intent on turning people away from God!

Philosophy v science: which can answer the big questions of life? | Science | The Observer
A civil discussion between two sides of essential agreement.

Atheism’s growing pains -
Is this the definitive article on the +plus?

Gay Marriage Could Turn Britain Into Nazi Germany, Lord Carey Tells Rally At Conservative Party Conference
Carey has been beyond parody for some time now — does anyone pay attention to his crazy rants?

Sunday 7 October 2012

Lawrence Krauss has nothing to talk about

Last Thursday I was very pleased to attend a lecture at Portsmouth Grammar School given by Professor Lawrence Krauss. His book A Universe from Nothing has caused a stir in both religious and scientific circles. Richard Dawkins has (somewhat hyperbolically) characterised its significance on a par with Darwin's Origin, while apologists such as the mathematician John Lennox have complained that the "nothing" that Krauss writes about is not a "real" nothing (non-tautologically speaking, if that's possible).

Krauss is an excellent speaker, and though his talk did get into some very abstruse concepts — which gave him a legitimate opportunity to suggest that a more expansive explanation is available in his book — he was engaging throughout.

I have the Kindle version of A Universe from Nothing, so could not get it signed by the author. But I also have a copy of Quantum Man, so my dad (who has his own copy) and I queued up after the lecture for the signing. Here's Dad with the Prof:

Jonathan Pearce posted a response to the lecture on his A Tippling Philosopher blog. I commented as follows:
It was great lecture and my dad and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

As for the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” — I tend to the view that there was always something, and that the philosophical nothing is a concept only.

The way I see it there are four options:
1. There never was anything, and there never will be.

2. There was something, and then there wasn’t.

3. There always was something.

4. There was nothing (the philosophical nothing) and then there was something.
Clearly (1) is not the case, and (to us) is indistinguishable from (2) as both these positions are refuted by the existence of anything at all. (4) is contentious if one believes that a true philosophical nothing is incapable of spawning a something. Which leaves (3) — the eternal something (at least, eternal in the past — it may be possible for the sum total of all the somethings to self-annihilate and become a philosophical nothing).

If theists want to complain that Krauss’s nothing is not a philosophical nothing, that’s fine by me, but then I would ask them if their God is eternal. If God is eternal then the philosophical nothing is an impossibility, and they should stop asking how something can come from nothing.

Sunday 30 September 2012

Skepticule goodness

The latest episode of Skepticule Extra — number thirty-three — is ready for download, streaming, retrieving from the feed, and generally being the internet's best batch of triple skeptical paulness. (The shownotes are pretty awesome too.)

We discuss the plus, survive the live, pull a leg, refuse abuse and scorn the horn.

A challenging way to prove you're a True ChristianTM

Skepticule co-host Paul Thompson has issued a challenge to all Christians (and two in particular) calling for them to prove with hard cash that they are indeed True ChristiansTM in accordance with the teachings of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament:

So head over to The Skeptical Probe to monitor progress as these True ChristiansTM show what they're made of.

Or alternatively, anticipate the prospect of porcine aviation.

Monday 17 September 2012

Burnee links for Monday

Repudiation | Pharyngula
Don't say there isn't a problem.

550 complaints | Butterflies and Wheels
Tom Holland's film Islam: The Untold Story has been withdrawn from re-screening by Channel 4, due to the "offence" it has caused. Interesting that those offended aren't saying his film isn't factual — I'm reminded of Rageh Omaar's documentary, The Life of Muhammad, in which he repeatedly used the phrase "according to Muslim tradition" when describing allegedly historical occurrences.

But…but…is it Biblical? | Pharyngula
The creotards have come up with a good one: the Ark had gas-lamps fed from environmentally friendly methane digesters. Whatever next? Read the comments for some great ideas, including my favourite: the Ark was powered by a nuclear reactor (I'm sure there's a biblical verse that mentions this — I just need to find it and give it the "correct" interpretation. Exegetical hermeneutics FTW.)

Is Prayer Selfish? | Alternet
The truth about praying. Forget the ridiculous "Atheist Prayer Experiment" — this is an honest, rational appraisal of what it is to pray.

Skepticule Extra 32

Download the latest episode of Skepticule Extra here:

...and listen to some cutting remarks, some experimental remarks, some Sunday supermarket remarks and some healthy streetwise remarks.

(The next episode — already recorded — will be available with all due slowness.)

No more NOMA, no, no, no.

This evening I watched something my faithful telly-watching machine recorded for me last week — Rosh Hashanah: Science vs Religion, a half-hour programme presented by the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.

Lord Sacks is often on Thought for the Day, speaking with his characteristic measured pace, endowing each word with great meaning and authority. His precise enunciation, however, fails to conceal an embarrassing fact: that the meaning and authority are wholly spurious. It's almost as if he strings words together solely based on their euphony, without consideration of what the words might actually mean.


"For me, science is one of the greatest achievements of humankind — a gift given to us by God."

Well, which is it, Lord Sacks? An achievement of humankind? Or a gift from God? (Is it any wonder he thinks science and religion are compatible when he obviously can't see the blatant incompatibility of what he's saying right at the start of his own TV programme?)

You have a couple of days to catch the whole thing on iPlayer:

Some clips:

The blurb from the BBC website:
Religion and science are frequently set up as polar opposites; incompatible ways of thinking. The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks begs to differ. For him, science and religion can, and should, work together. To mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he puts his position to the test. He meets three non-believing scientists, each at the top of their field: neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield, theoretical physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and the person best known for leading the scientific attack on religion, Professor Richard Dawkins. Will the Chief Rabbi succeed in convincing the militant defender of atheism that science and religion need not be at war?
It's clear that all three of the atheist scientists to whom Lord Sacks puts his plea are willing to concede that there are limits to science — and that's where the Chief Rabbi jumps in to claim the ground for himself, while simultaneously decrying "God of the gaps". But he doesn't seem to realise that just because science doesn't have answers to certain questions, he cannot claim that religion does. Because it doesn't. All that religion can do is interpret scripture — which more often than not means making stuff up.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Thought for the Day will not be opened to atheists

"Thought for the Day will not be opened to atheists, says BBC religion chief" — says the Telegraph:

Not a surprise, but some of us will keep plugging away. I object to the implication that theists are the only commentators qualified to think. The BBC should include non-religious viewpoints on Thought for the Day, or else rename it Religious Thought for the Day or something similar — something clearly indicating that these are thoughts from a religious perspective.

I was alerted to this latest non-development — and latest demonstration of BBC obstinacy — by Justin Brierley's post on the Unbelievable? Facebook page, to which I added a comment (whole thread to date follows):

Unbelievable? · 1,641 like this.
Thursday at 23:32 via Twitter ·
The BBC won't be letting atheists on Thought For The Day - but you can still come on my radio show instead
The BBC will resist calls to include atheists on Thought for the Day, the corporation’s head of religion has said.
  • 7 people like this.
  • Alan Vaughan Good for them! Those with no religion have no place on a religious programme. If it were a stamp collecting programme I would expect only those who collect stamps to participate. Listeners would have no desire to listen to someone with no interest in stamps. Kudos
  • Justin Schieber We appreciate it Justin.
  • Paul Jenkins “People have complained, as they have the right to, and I have taken a view that at this moment in time as far as I’m concerned we stay as we do.

    “It is a specific slot within the
    Today programme which is a reflection from a religious perspective on stories of importance in the news.”

    Well, the slot *is* called "Religious Thought for the Day", so therefore no-one but the religious is qualified to be on it. If, however, the slot was called merely "Thought for the Day" then one could naturally expect non-religious viewpoints to be given a proportionate hearing.

    Or have I got that wrong?
  • Paul Jenkins Frankly I can't decide whether I'm disgusted or simply resigned.

    (In protest, I'm resolved to look elsewhere for my platitudes.)
  • Andrew McBrearty Booooo! for the BBC... Yay! for Justin. :)
  • Ian-Luke Penwald Where is the share link????
  • Peter Byrom We've been given plenty of rhetoric recently about how atheism is not a religion or even a worldview (e.g. "if atheism is a religion, then off is a TV channel, and abstinence is a sex position" etc) so if this really is an officially religious slot then, frankly, the atheists can't have it both ways.

    However, I must say I'm disappointed that the BBC doesn't have a programme like Justin's! Indeed there's plenty of anti-religion and pro-secularism bias in the BBC already so, again frankly, I hardly think the NSS have much to complain about and it looks much more like they're trying to encroach upon one of the few religious slots left.
  • Fergus Gallagher Atheism is not a religion, but it is a position with respect to religion.
  • Paul Jenkins If TftD is an officially religious slot, that ought to be clear from its name.
  • John Humberstone "We've been given plenty of rhetoric recently about how atheism is not a religion or even a worldview (e.g. "if atheism is a religion, then off is a TV channel, and abstinence is a sex position" etc) so if this really is an officially religious slot then, frankly, the atheists can't have it both ways."

    All that needs to happen is that they stick to the title of the slot - Thought for the Day. Couldn't be simpler really.

Monday 10 September 2012

Burnee links for Monday

Unintelligible theology — The Uncredible Hallq
As I have suspected.

The myth of how the hijab protects women against sexual assault | Women Under Siege Project
Meanwhile, the men do what they like.
(Via Ophelia Benson.) 

Computer leads to Humans failing Turing Test | Robinince's Blog
Robin Ince on learning to be human.

BBC News - Five Minutes With: Ben Goldacre
Bad science, good science, plus the what and why of the randomised controlled trial.
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