Thursday 26 January 2012

Burnee links for Thursday

(60% pure Pharyngula links this week...)

5 Logical Fallacies That Make You Wrong More Than You Think |
Useful list with good advice, but does the "evolutionary argument for the origin of argumentation" have any factual basis?
(Via Rosemary Lyndall-Wemm.)

Primed by expectations – why a classic psychology experiment isn’t what it seemed | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine
Good illustration of why blinding in RCT's is essential.

The Bible is the Bad Book | Pharyngula
...or as PZ Myers puts it, "95% shit."

Alain de Botton is right about one thing | Pharyngula
PZ Myers is not enamoured of Atheism 2.0 (nor is Matt Dillahunty).

Irshad Manji discovers Muslim love | Pharyngula
"Next time you see an atheist accused of militancy or stridency, show the accuser this video. That’s what militant, strident fundamentalists look like."

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Two events — one local, one not.

Here are the next two events I'll be attending. First (tomorrow) we have the second anniversary of Winchester Skeptics in the Pub, with our honorary president doing the ... honours:

Then on Saturday (South West Trains' engineering works permitting) I'll be attending CFI's Blasphemy event at Conway Hall:

(And on Sunday evening we've scheduled the recording of Skepticule Extra's twentieth podcast episode — though given the current state of my voice, that might have to be postponed again.)

Thursday 19 January 2012

Burnee links for Thursday

Atheism Takes Hit From SOPA Protests
This is H I L A R I O U S — I haven't laughed so much since five minutes ago.

‘How do atheists find meaning in life?’ - - The Washington Post
Paula Kirby explains how the religious abdicate from moral responsibility.

Intolerant Islam | Rhys's Blog
You have no right not to be offended. If you "take offence" at something, that's something you're doing. It's nobody else's responsibility.

Announcing... A Question of God | QED Blog | Question.Explore.Discover
This should be good, but to be really interesting it needs some provocative questions. Some on accommodationism could cause sparks to fly if Ophelia Benson is given free reign. Sexism in the so-called "atheist movement" is also likely to set some panellists in opposition. Paula Kirby will be moderating, but I hope she has an opportunity to present her own views. (Will there be blood on the ceiling at the end of this session?)

New Humanist (Rationalist Association) - Student-organised talk on Sharia law at the University of London cancelled following threats of violence
Disturbing. Despicable. And in this country.

Rhode Island florists refuse to deliver FFRF’s flowers to Jessica Ahlquist - Freedom From Religion Foundation -
Young secularists need all the support they can get.
(Via PZ Myers.)

Sunday 15 January 2012

Storm in a teacup at Unbelievable?

I listened this evening to Justin Brierley's interview with Mark and Grace Driscoll (though Grace's participation was relatively minor). What have I, an atheist, to say about what is essentially a conversation between Christians about matters of tone and style? Isn't that kind of discussion irrelevant to me? Here's the streaming audio:{B568EE6E-C425-4285-BCE0-BE1CF6A6DF31}

In other circumstances I would have no interest in an interview of this type, concerned as it was with differing interpretations of Christian scripture and how they are to be applied to Christian ministry. But the audio of this interview was released on the Unbelievable? podcast feed, apparently as a response to some statements Mark Driscoll made on his blog regarding how the interview was conducted. Justin states in his introduction that the audio now aired is the full interview, and as someone who's been in the position of recording an interview (or at least a conversation) that has subsequently been the subject of comment by all participants, I have some sympathy with his apparent wish to put the record straight with the complete version of what transpired.

Having read Mark's blogpost I'm at a loss to understand his complaint. He's written (with his wife) a controversial book, and I would have thought he would want to promote it. Doing interviews for radio programmes and magazines is an obvious path to fulfilling this objective. Interviews about a controversial book will naturally focus on the most controversial parts of the book. Those parts are inspired by the authors' controversial views, so the interview will also deal with those views. But here's an excerpt from Mark's "A Blog Post for the Brits":
I have a degree in communications from one of the top programs in the United States. So does my wife, Grace. We are used to reporters with agendas and selective editing of long interviews. Running into reporters with agendas and being selectively edited so that you are presented as someone that is perhaps not entirely accurate is the risk one takes when trying to get their message out through the media.

With the release of our book, Real Marriage, we have now done literally dozens of interviews with Christians and non-Christians. But the one that culminated in the forthcoming article was, in my opinion, the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective. As a result, we’ve since changed how we receive, process, and moderate media interviews.
This does make me wonder what those "literally dozens of interviews" were like. Justin was entirely respectful of his interviewees while asking the questions his audience would want him to ask. I also wonder what good Mark's degree in communications did him when he seems so upset by Justin's quite reasonable questions and appropriately probing approach. For his part Justin did not flinch when Mark turned the tables at the end of the hour and probed him on his personal theology. Given the style of preaching Mark declares himself to use, his characterisation of Justin's interview as "the most disrespectful, adversarial, and subjective" beggars belief.

Justin's response on Christianity Magazine's website (his interview appears in the magazine) includes this:
My wife is a church minister so I asked the final question of the interview a bit tongue in cheek (for my own curiosity really). Pastor Mark then turned the tables and started asking me questions; we discussed whether my wife's church was the poorer having a woman up front. We disagreed on that! Then he asked me my view on Eternal Conscious Torment ‐ I admitted I side with John Stott ‐ an annihilationist. He asked me if I believe Penal Substitution ‐ I said it’s valid and one of a number of ways to view the cross, but can be expressed in an unhelpful way. He said I was wishy washy for qualifying things like that. That's just me, I'm not overly dogmatic on that issue.
Storm in a teacup? Probably, but it's a useful lesson for interviewers — including those doing interviews for podcasts — that one should distinguish facts from opinion, and be prepared to release one's original recordings.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Burnee links for Thursday

Kristen Wolfe: Dear Customer Who Stuck Up For His Little Brother
I have a lump in my throat.
(Via Matt Dillahunty.)

Head of Faraday Institute avers his Christian belief « Why Evolution Is True
Jerry Coyne reviews an edition of Joan Bakewell's BBC Radio 3 programme, Belief (another of which I blogged about recently). He's ... not impressed.

Main opposition to reform on assisted dying will come from well-funded but unrepresentative religious lobby | HumanistLife
Sorely needed though this reform is, the current coalition government is archly conservative in outlook, and seems to me unlikely — despite the evidence in favour of this ethical progress — to embrace such reform.

The Blog : Everything and Nothing : Sam Harris
Sam Harris interviews Lawrence Krauss about his new book (which I now have on Kindle).

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Beyond the Veil — this Saturday at Conway Hall

Apparently there's still time to get tickets to this whole-day event, organised by Stephen Law (who was also responsible for the Conspiracy Theory Day last year, of which the videos of the various talks are now available.)

It's a good line-up — I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

"The Vampire of Kabul" by Daniel Abraham

The full title of Daniel Abraham's short story is "Balfour and Meriwether in The Vampire of Kabul". It's the second in his Balfour and Meriwether steampunk duo series — the first of which I narrated for PodCastle about a year ago. I must have done it right, as they asked me to narrate the sequel, and here it is:

Queen Victoria, the Czarina of the Russias, hallucinogenic drugs, the undead and a certain amount of highly refined violence — just the ticket for the new year.

You can listen at PodCastle, download the mp3, subscribe via iTunes or via another podcatcher. And it's free (though you might want to throw some cash their way if you like their stuff). You can also leave comments in the forum.


Sunday 8 January 2012

The entire Christian faith is a gigantic lie

"We will be examining the history and beliefs of the major religious movements of the world; but let me say at the outset, we will begin with the pre-supposition that everyone of them is a legitimate expression of the cultural, social, psychological, and existential experience of its adherents. Though they may differ in external and formal statements of doctrine and practice, they all express a similar essence of the awe and mystery in life and the universe. Furthermore, we will assume that each of the founders of the religions were all, in their various ways, expressing similar and universal moral and spiritual concepts. Thus, we will assume they are all equal in their authority and revelational validity."
This — shock horror — was what greeted a 19-year-old Southern Baptist when he enrolled in a comparative religion class at his university, as related by Tal Davis in "Is Jesus Superior to All Other Religious Leaders?" — Chapter 38 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God. The student, however, was undeterred by this unexpected revelation and went on to convince himself (it took several months) that "all religions were not equal and that Jesus Christ was and is superior to the founders of the other major religions of the world. His conclusion was based on five lines of truth."

So let's go through these five lines of truth:

1. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who had no beginning in time or space.

The evidence for this assertion consists of a slew of Bible quotes — so it boils down to Jesus had no beginning because it says so in the Bible. (Even if it were true, I fail to see the link between timelessness and superiority. It sounds like an extreme example of the argument from tradition.)

2. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who came into the world as He did.

This is all about the virgin birth, which (as above) happened because it's reported in the Bible. Moreover, Davis claims this is unique to Jesus. Presumably Krishna, Buddha, Marduk and Huitzilopochtli don't count because their births were not exactly like that of Jesus (though each could be described as unique). Mithra beats them all of course, as he was born from a rock, which, you know, rocks. (Again we have an inexplicable link between superiority and being some kind of freak of nature.)

3. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who lived a perfect and sinless life.

There's a bit of a problem here, deriving from the Euthyphro dilemma. It's very easy to claim that your deity is sinless if you define everything he does as good. If goodness is his very nature, it's impossible for him to have sinned, because sin is defined specifically to exclude anything he is reported to have done.

4. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who died as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of humanity.

Lots of religious leaders die. If your religious leader dies a particularly humiliating death it can be somewhat deflating to the high hopes of the movement. Disappointed followers will desert in droves unless you can think of something to lift their spirits and convince them prospects aren't as bleak as they appear. Transforming an ignominious death into the potential saving of the whole of humanity is the kind of public relations coup that should — if you can pull it off — do the trick.

5. Jesus Christ is the only major world religion founder who rose from the dead to demonstrate His power and authority.

Given the success of number 4, this one should be a doddle.

The student in question apparently took several months to investigate all this, but I assume that's how long it took him to read the whole of the Bible (he had, I expect, other classes). But it comes down to one simple principle: Jesus is superior to all other religious leaders because it says so in the Bible.

Muslims, however, believe the Qur'an is superior to the Bible because the Qur'an came after the Bible. No doubt Jews believe the Old Testament is superior to the New Testament because the Old Testament came before the New Testament. These arguments are individually bullet-proof because they are completely self-contained — anything that contradicts them also confirms them, just as evidence against a conspiracy theory automatically (in the mind of a conspiracy theorist) confirms the conspiracy theory as true.
Christianity does not stand or fall on its moral principles or depth of mystical experience. If that were true, then it would be no better than any other religion in the world, and Jesus Christ would be only another great religious or moral teacher. No, Christianity stands or falls entirely on the person and work of one man: Jesus Christ. Either He was who He claimed to be, the Lord of the Universe, who came to earth as man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as an atonement for our sins, and rose again from the dead, or the entire Christian faith is a gigantic lie.
Thanks for making it so clear.

In search of the Absolute Shouldness Scale

Now that the holiday's frenetic activity is over (giving way to the new year's frenetic activity), I've found time to catch up on some older blogposts marked for later reading. One such is from the excellent coelsblog by Coel Hellier, Professor of Astrophysics at Keele University. In "Science can answer morality questions" he gives a clear explanation of why any attempt to ground morality in some kind of transcendent power is doomed to failure.
Perhaps the biggest red-herring in mankind’s history has been the quest for the false grail of Absolute Ethics, the idea that there is an Absolute Shouldness Scale, and that if we could consult the scale we would know for sure whether we “should” do X or “should” do Y or “should not” do Z.

Well, there isn’t. At least, no-one has ever found one, nor has anyone produced a coherent account of how such a scale could have arisen or even what it would mean. While some might want to regard “shouldness” as one of the fundamental properties of the universe, along with gravitational mass or electric charge, they have produced no good reason for so thinking.
Naturally this won't sit well with those who believe morality is God-given, but the evidence for transcendent morality just isn't there.
Thus there is nothing Absolute about our moral senses, they are cobbled together to be effective enough for the job, in the same way that our livers, lungs, immune systems and visual systems have been cobbled together as effective enough to do their job. Further, we do not need an Absolute ethical system, any more than we need an Absolute immune system or an Absolute liver; a functional one is quite sufficient.
Morality, it seems — much to the annoyance of the religious — is actually about what works, and nothing to do with any gods.
The commonest attempt to establish an Absolute Shouldness Scale is to embody it in a god: “It is right because my god says so”. Since our moral senses are human moral senses, it makes sense to try to embody them in an Absolute version of a human, imagining God in man’s own image, as a idealised tribal patriarch. By doing so one can ignore the reality — that religions get their morality from people — and claim instead that people get their morality from religion.

Unfortunately, any attempt at establishing Divine Ethics suffers from fatal flaws, the most blatant being that there is no evidence for any such divine being. Equally problematic is that it doesn’t actually explain morality. Just saying “it’s a property of god” is not an explanation, it is accepting morality without explanation. By contrast, an emergence of morality in social animals, as evolutionary programming to facilitate cooperation, explains what morality is and where it comes from.
It's heartening to read honest attempts by concerned individuals to establish the nature and origins of morality, in contrast to the dismissive attitude of those religionists who just want to crib their morals from a dubious book. I consider coelsblog to be one of the best discoveries of 2011.

Burnee links for Sunday

Andrew Brown is an idiot. It’s time for him to go « Choice in Dying
Eric MacDonald speaks as one who knows.
(Via Jerry Coyne.)

Penn Jillette: An Atheist's Guide to the 2012 Election (UPDATED WITH VIDEO) | Think Tank | Big Think
Penn Jillette has a problem.

Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness - Antonio Damasio - TED -
Consciousness and self — emergent properties of the busy brain?

Delete anti-religious posts: Court to networking sites - Hindustan Times
This is simply not going to work, because the internet is a distributed system that interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it.

Krauss finds something in nothing - Lawrence Krauss - asu news -
Two videos of Lawrence Krauss, one a book promo, the other a lecture on extra dimensions (with accompanying slides).

The Richard Feynman Trilogy: The Physicist Captured in Three Films | Open Culture
A valuable archive.
(Via Jerry Coyne.)
See also Brian Cox's BBC radio documentary.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Theological mendacity, or biblical spin?

I have elsewhere been accused of characterising theology as "piffle". But get this:
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important beliefs of Christianity. It is central to the Christian understanding of God and is accepted by all Christian groups.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the belief that there is only one living and true God. Yet, the one God is three distinct Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three have distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being. They enjoy eternal communion and are coeternal and coequal.
The doctrine of the Trinity denies tritheism. Tritheism is the belief that there are three gods. There is only one God. The doctrine of the Trinity also refutes modalism. Modalism is the belief that God is only one Person who appears in different modes at different times. The three Persons of the Trinity exist simultaneously. They are distinct and eternal Persons in the one God.
While the word "Trinity" is not found in the Bible, its truth is expressed in many biblical passages. The Bible recognizes the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Holy Spirit as God.
Piffle? Maybe, maybe not. It is, however, unadulterated poppycock. It's the opening four paragraphs of "The Trinity" by Bill Gordon — chapter 37 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God.

What follows these paragraphs is a bludgeoning array of Bible quotes that purport to show how the three-in-one isn't an utterly incoherent concept invented by theologians to explain away inconsistencies in Christian scripture. The last paragraph of the chapter reads:
The only conclusion is that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity accurately describes the biblical testimony about God. Finite humans cannot rationally explain the doctrine of the Trinity. This should not surprise us since there are many things the Bible teaches about God that we cannot fully understand. For example, the Bible affirms the existence of God, the creation of the universe, atonement from sin, and the resurrection of the dead although none of the truths can be totally understood by finite minds. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, Christians do not accept these teachings because they can rationally explain them, but because the Bible teaches them.
The mystery card — well played! Speaking as a finite human I might have reservations when physicists tell me that the photon is a wave as well as a particle, but I've noticed that physicists do experiments to test their hypotheses, and if they find out that they're incorrect, they come up with something better (and do some more experiments to confirm or deny the new hypothesis, and so the cycle repeats, giving us a progressively clearer picture of how things actually are). This chapter appears to be saying that the Trinity is the Trinity because it says so in the Bible and therefore there is no more to be said about it. This leads me to question — not for the first time — why Dembski and Licona put the sections of their book in the order they did. Since The Question of Jesus seems to rely so heavily on the Bible, why didn't they put it after the section entitled The Question of the Bible?

As it is, this chapter leaves me with the impression that there are three degrees (indeed, a trinity) of mendacity: lies, damned lies, and theology.

Friday 6 January 2012

Resurrecting yet another segment from that Facebook exchange

This Facebook thread (from which I have already quoted) was started by Justin Brierley as yet more disingenuous Dawkins-baiting. I forebore to snap at said bait, and eventually the conversation drifted to other matters. But further down Justin seemed motivated enough to whip it back in line with this bit of peevishness:
Unbelievable? I don't normally get that easily offended by silly things that Dawkins says, but that quotation from the piece struck me as so incredibly condescending and insulting.

Are those who are tortured and killed for their faith around the world "mewling and wimpering at the fear of death"? Are those whose faith have helped them to face incredible, harship, illness and death, "mewling and whimpering to an imaginery deity in their fear of death"?

Its a slap in the face to the sick Pirsoners of War that my grandfather tended to and gave their last rites in a Japanese camp in the 1930s, its a slap in the face to the people my wife visits today on hospital wards in their last hours to pray with and offer words of hope and love and peace.

If you think its an imagined source of stength and courage in the face of death, then you are welcome to that view, but please don't go around with the (there's not other word for it I'm afraid) offensive rubbish Dawkins passed off in this supposed eulogy.
If theists find certain characterisations of their worship of a god offensive, that's too bad. Some atheists find it offensive to be told they have no grounding for morality, and that therefore any moral judgments they make are completely without foundation — when in fact many of them have given moral questions a great deal of thought and come to their views and decisions based on consideration of a wide range of circumstances and consequences.

No-one, however, theist or atheist, has a right not to be offended. As for "mewling and whimpering" — read the Book of Common Prayer to see why such a characterisation is, in some atheist eyes, entirely justified. These were taken more or less at random from the Collects:
"we are sorely hindered by our sins"

"Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace..."

"Have compassion, we beseech thee, upon our infirmities, and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask..."
And particularly relevant to Justin's complaint — from Ministration at the Time of Death:
"We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may
please you to deliver the soul of your servant from the power
of evil, and from eternal death"

Into your hands, O merciful Saviour, we commend your
servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of
your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your
own redeeming."
But for a wholehearted mewl and a thoroughly downcast whimper I found Confession of Sin:
Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,
we have offended against thy holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done,

and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
spare thou those who confess their faults,
restore thou those who are penitent,
according to thy promises declared unto mankind
in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
It's not as if I had to ferret these quotes out; I simply opened up the book and there they were. Anglicans of Dawkins' generation grew up with this stuff, so it's hardly surprising that "mewling and whimpering" is seen by many as part and parcel of Christianity.

Christians, and other theists, will just have to get used to it. The ring-fence has gone, the free pass has expired, and religion must take its place alongside art, literature, music and food as a fit subject for robust criticism — and sometimes warranted ridicule.

My grandfather would never have been caught "mewling and whimpering". He objected to being cast as a "miserable sinner" — he was willing to accept he was a sinner, but he refused to be miserable.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Circular hallucinations are circular

"Were the Resurrection Appearances of Jesus Hallucinations?"

This is the question Michael R. Licona asks in the title of Chapter 36 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God. In the second paragraph Licona quotes the apostle Paul: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless." And therein lies a problem.

Christianity places so much stock in the resurrection, Christians arguing for the truth of Christianity seem to go a bit crazy about it, clutching at the flimsiest straws to show that Jesus rose from the dead, and therefore Christianity is true. So it is with this chapter — Licona tries to show that the disciples could not all have been suffering from a common hallucination, because, he says, hallucinations don't work like that: just as people don't share the same dreams, they don't hallucinate the same events. But this isn't necessarily the case — there's such a thing as mass hysteria, for example.

Licona attempts a statistical approach:
About 15 percent of the population experience one or more hallucinations during their lifetime. Research has shown that some personality types are more prone to experiencing them. Women are more likely to experience them than men. And the older we get, the more likely we are to experience a hallucination. So, it should come as no surprise to discover that senior adults who are in the midst of bereaving the loss of a loved one belong to a group that experiences one of the highest percentage of hallucinations; a whopping 50 percent! (See Aleman and Larøi, Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception, American Psychological Association, 2008.)

With these things in mind, let’s consider the possibility that Jesus’ disciples, the Church persecutor Paul, and Jesus’ skeptical half-brother James experienced hallucinations of the risen Jesus. All of the twelve disciples, Paul, and James were men, who were probably of different age groups and probably of different personalities. That the Twelve were grieving is certain. Yet proposals that the disciples were hallucinating must argue that more than 15 percent of them had the experience. In fact, more than the whopping 50 percent we find among bereaving senior adults would have experienced them. Indeed, it would have been a mind-blowing 100 percent! Moreover, it must likewise be proposed that when these hallucinations occurred, they just happened to do so simultaneously. And it just so happened that they must have experienced their hallucinations in the same mode for them to believe that they had seen the same Jesus. In other words, if a group hallucination had actually occurred, it would have been more likely that the disciples would have experienced their hallucinations in different modes and of at least slightly differing content. Perhaps one would have said, “I see Jesus over by the door,” while another said, “No. I see him floating by the ceiling,” while still another said, “No. I only hear him speaking to me,” while still another said, “I only sense that he’s in the room with us.” Instead, what we have are the reports that the disciples saw Jesus.
Licona appears to be claiming that because all of the Twelve saw Jesus risen, then it must be statistically true. But we don't have twelve gospels, so we don't have twelve independently attested eyewitness accounts. We don't know what the disciples saw, we only have relatively few second-hand reports of what they allegedly saw. The gospel accounts were written some decades after the events recorded, and those involved may well have built up a favourable picture in their minds — a picture that tended to converge on common aspects of what they all remember, despite possibly comprising wildly divergent elements. It's not something we can know with any degree of certainty, even if believers want it so very much to be true. Given the fantastical nature of the claims, the lack of correspondingly strong evidence leaves the balance of probabilities firmly on the side of skepticism.

Finally, as if his readers have already forgotten his own Chapter 33 in this book, Licona tries once more to use circular reasoning to prove his case:
There is at least one more difficult problem for those claiming that the appearances of Jesus were only hallucinations: Jesus’ tomb was empty. If Jesus had not, in fact, been raised from the dead and the appearances were hallucinations, once must still account for how Jesus’ tomb had become empty. Aside from the fact that hallucinations are horribly inadequate at explaining the appearances as we observed above, even if that were not the case they cannot account for Jesus’ empty tomb.
It's legitimate to claim that hallucinations cannot account for the empty tomb, as long as you don't try to use the empty tomb to account for the resurrection — as Licona has already implicitly done by co-editing a whole chapter devoted to just that.

Burnee links for Thursday

Things atheists need to stop saying? MAKE me. | The Atheist Experience
Russell Glasser refuses. (And says why.)

National Secular Society - Lawyer recommends a single, secular oath to be sworn in court
This is a good proposal - can we have it in England please?

Can it be rational for the religious to be non-rational? | Julian Baggini | Comment is free |
Julian Baggini on Plantinga and (although not by name) presuppositionalism.

Paul Wallace: Intelligent Design Is Dead: A Christian Perspective
Say no to a "tinkerer-God".

‘The single most threatening development on faith schools in a decade’: Government backs Church plans to take over many more state schools
Astonishing that the Government appears to be going ahead regardless.

Richard Wilson - Burden of proof: should evidence determine policy? | New Humanist
Evidence-based policy or policy-based evidence?

Wednesday 4 January 2012

More Christian double-speak

Last Saturday's Unbelievable? featured another itch-inducing segment from William Lane Craig. I've not yet heard his Cambridge lecture (not even sure I want to), but Justin Brierley broadcast a section of the Q&A, revealing the egregious double standards of religious language that I touched on in a previous post.

In response to a question about whether God needs to be caused (at 45'15"):
...God is omnipotent, omniscient, exists self-existently, is eternal, is morally perfect, and so forth. There are many many attributes that will round out and give you a very theologically rich concept of God, but it's important to see that in Christian thinking, traditionally God isn't a contingent being — that is to say a being that just happens to exist. God doesn't just happen to exist. He's metaphysically necessary — he's a self-existent being. His non-existence is impossible.
In response to the problem of evil and suffering in the world (at 47'02"):
The atheist has to show that it's either impossible or highly improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world, and we're simply not in a position to make those kind of judgements with any sort of confidence. God's morally sufficient reasons for permitting some incident of suffering in your life might not emerge until centuries later, maybe in another country, so that you would have no hope of being able to see what his morally sufficient reason is for permitting this [inaudible] your life. So it's simply impossible for us to make with any kind of confidence these sort of probability judgements when some incident of suffering occurs, that God probably lacks a morally sufficient reason for allowing that. That's sheer speculation.
Craig dismisses the problem of evil on the basis of the impossibility of knowing things about God (describing this as sheer speculation), only seconds after he has claimed all kinds of things about God that he cannot possibly know.

Woo or no? Rupert Sheldrake on BBC Radio 3

Monday evening — it could have been any po-faced radio documentary on theology or abstruse literary criticism, but it was framed by Joan Bakewell's guest as "science". Here's the blurb from the BBC website:
Tonight on Belief Joan Bakewell talks to Professor Rupert Sheldrake. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and a former Research Fellow of the Royal Society. He's worked at Clare College Cambridge and at the International Crops Research Institute in Hyderabad. During his seven years in India Professor Sheldrake studied the Upanishads, yoga and meditation but then went to live in a Christian ashram. He tells Joan about his journey through Methodism, atheism and Hinduism to the Anglican Church and explains why he finds more blind faith and dogma in the scientific world than among any religious community.
Unfortunately on Rupert Sheldrake's part it was all unsubstantiated assertion. He mentioned the dozens of scientific papers he's published, though didn't identify any in particular. He claimed telepathy is real, and (I think) that he has proved that some dogs can tell when their owners are about to return home. He made out these things were indisputably true, and that he has a theory that explains them. Joan Bakewell was commendably skeptical, and asked him about "morphic resonance" and how it actually works, but he didn't elaborate, other than that telepathy works through "morphic fields".

The half-hour radio programme is available to listen again (in HD sound, no less):

Rupert Sheldrake has a new book to promote (which to some extent explains why he's on the radio):

Original title, don't you think? And by the way, the Sun is a concious entity.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Late, later, latest episode of Skepticule Extra at last available

I've been busy. Plus, this episode of Skepticule Extra is the first I've done using the "triple ender" technique, designed to overcome problems with the variable quality of Skype by using three separately recorded voice tracks. I think it turned out OK, and if the individual recordings are up to scratch this should be the preferred way of producing a Skype podcast. Having done it once I've discovered there isn't that much extra work involved (although working out how to do it in GarageBand took a while).


In this episode the three Pauls discuss clerical gay-bashing, Kraussian cosmology, undesirable abortion, televisual archaeology and complementary medical soft-pedalling.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Burnee links for New Year's Day

No power in the ‘verse can stop us | Pharyngula
"Religion is not some mild happy recreational activity; it is a poison of the brain that taints the vast majority of humanity. It is bad shit."
PZ's call to arms.

The Pope asks Catholics to be stupid « Why Evolution Is True
Jerry Coyne on the Pope's Christmas message (which is a good example of a type of religious language obviously intended to obscure rather than enlighten).

Has religion made the world less safe? - Guest Voices - The Washington Post
I have Steven Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. It's a large tome, and will likely take me a fair while to read. But Jerry Coyne has been extolling its virtues, not the least of which is that it's well written — a major criterion for me, given my lack of precious reading time.

Jeff Schweitzer: Secular Guidelines to Moral Living: A Tribute to Christopher Hitchens
Regardless of this article's being pegged as a Hitchens tribute it makes a fitting reflection on goals and resolutions at the turn of the year.

Afterword from Lawrence Krauss' New Book - A Universe From Nothing - Richard Dawkins - RDFRS -
A new book from Lawrence Krauss, based on (or at least springing from) his AAI 2009 lecture, will certainly be worth reading. I've recommended the lecture many times; here it is again: