MLP XX: Douglas and Daniel

Time to close some tabs, this time on my perhaps greatest intellectual heroes. Daniel C Dennett and Douglas Adams.  Starting with Adams:

  • Is there an artificial god?” – Douglas Adams brilliant speech on Digital Biota 2 Cambridge U.K., September 1998. Fabulous stuff in a rambling typical Adamesque way. Including the famous puddle analogy and the ages of sand. Long read, but worth it.
  • “Parrots, the universe and everything” – A likewise rambling speech, but this time on video. Hilarious and reflective, just what we loved him for. And do read the book, it is rather nice.

And now Dennett:

  • “Free Will” – A lecture from Edinburgh University. This is, if you like, a short version of his book Freedom Evolves. Which you should read (I’m re-reading now).
  • “Thank Goodness” – Reflections on his near death experience (from an atheist’s perspective) and a moving thanks to the advancements of science and medicine we tend to take for granted these day. I don’t think I could be as hard on the theists though, but the man has a point.
  • “Autobiography, pt I” – And if you need more, here’s some on the man himself.

Enjoy!

The Minimum Threshold Stand-off

Here’s a position I’ve been thinking about lately, and been tempted to try out, which has to do with the problems of communicating across different view points, mostly in paranormal, faith based or plain strange discussions (let’s call them “supernatural” for this post). Such discussions are often frustrating both for the skeptic and the believer as both sides tend to use very different language. But perhaps there’s a starting point we could use, a threshold to see if we should at all go on with the discussion?

Naturally I’m presenting this little exercise as a skeptic, but I’m genuinely interested in if this is a fair argument or not. Let’s call it “the minimum threshold stand-off”.

If you want to persuade me to accept a statement you have made as true which I currently do not believe, you must first, openly and honestly, acknowledge the possibility that you may be wrong. Furthermore, if I can provide you with examples of the kind of things that would be likely to sway me to accept you claim, the you must equally present me with examples of things that would sway you to change your opinion. If you cannot do this, it is either because you have honestly never considered the option and you may find it hard to come up with such examples immediately, or you are quite simply intellectually dishonest and uninterested in genuine argumentation.

Implied here is of course that if this minimum threshold fails, then I’m not interested in the discussion.What I’m trying to establish is mainly:

  1. A fair, double-edged starting point. If you want me to listen, you must listen yourself. If you want me to be open for alternative explanations, you must equally be open. This seems extremely fair and should not be controversial.
  2. A simple threshold based on meta-data instead of real arguments. Instead of arguing and getting involved in the messy details, let’s make sure we we start at the same page, and a page we can both agree to. This also seems fair, but in supernatural discussions it may seem skewed towards materialism (more on that below).
  3. A transparent agreement that both sides may be wrong. This should be obvious, but is remarkably often not.

Obviously I do not think very many supernatural proponents will be able to meet this test. And the reason I believe, is this: Many, if not all, supernatural ideas are based on faith, and faith, famously, is the belief in a proposition despite lack of evidence, or indeed in the face of conflicting evidence.

If this is a fair test it puts the supernatural proponent in a very difficult position. What, after all would make you stop believing in an almighty, all powerful god? What would make you stop believing in ghosts? What would make you accept that homeopathy does not work, and is mainly a fraudulent business?

Is this fair? After all we’re dealing with two kinds of changes here: the switch from “I do not believe” to “I believe” normally only requires positive evidence of some sort, whereas the opposite, going from the positive to the negative is often quite tricky. But in both cases it is a negative statement that is sought: what would it take to falsify you current beliefs? And as such, I’m beginning to think it is fair after all.

I do think that this test is slightly skewed to a materialistic view point, but in a good way. It requires simple, and verifiable examples to pass, and such examples, by the very nature of being verifiable, must be materialistic. There’s no other real alternative. But this is also one of the main strength of the test, in order to pass both sides must agree, in the real world, to examples of what is needed to persuade the other, that both can understand, and it should be nailing down an important point: The only things we can agree upon are facts, and those belong firmly in the real world; make belief can only take you so far.

This test is inspired by the Outsider Test of Faith, proposed by John W Luftus, of which one main point is that the only intellectually honest position from which to test ones faith is that of an outsider looking in.

What do you think?

The God of Eth

Lately I’ve started reading Stephen Law. Don’t really know why I picked him up, but so far so good, most of the stuff he publishes is very nice. In fact I shall have a look around for his books as soon as I’ve finished my current stack.In particular, his take of the problem of evil, is gratifying, The God of Eth:

This hardly sounds like the behaviour of a supremely compassionate and loving father-figure, does it? Surely there’s overwhelming evidence that the universe is not under the control of a limitlessly powerful and benevolent character?

In short, he uses a fictional dialog intending to show why the traditional religious responses to the problem of evil are at least inadequate, and the dialog does so by referring to an all evil god and showing that all arguments for the all good god can easily be turned around. Read the whole stuff, it good.Which reminds me; and I’ll leave you with a very beautiful lyric:

Credo in un Dio crudelche m’ha creato simile a sèe che nell’ira io nomo.Dalla viltà d’un germeo d’un atomo vile son nato.Son scellerato perchè son uomo;e sento il fango originario in me.Sì! Questa è la mia fè!Credo con fermo cuor,siccome crede la vedovella al tempio,che il mal ch’io pensoe che da me procede,per il mio destino adempio.Credo che il guistoè un istrion beffardo,e nel viso e nel cuor,che tutto è in lui bugiardo:lagrima, bacio, sguardo,sacrificio ed onor.E credo l’uom giocod’iniqua sortedal germe della cullaal verme dell’avel.Vien dopo tanta irrision la Morte.E poi? E poi?La Morte è il Nulla.È vecchia fola il Ciel!

I’ll leave the translation for you :-)

Link of the day: The Cult of Scientology

Everyone with normal IQ and access to internet or TV knows that Scientology is a cult. It is a cult, ok? A cult, as in an ugly damn cult. And if you wonder why I keep on calling it a cult, it is because of this:
  • Teenager in UK faces prosecution for calling Scientology a cult, here.

Of course, this may just be an up-strung police officer, but considering Scientologys normal tactics… Frigging nasty moronic idiots are what they are.So here’s something for you, link the word cult to Wikipedia, and Scientology Operation Clambake. Let’s google bomb the assholes.

Link of the day: The Woo Handbook

On the Intertubes no-one can here you scream. And as such I present you with a link to Sceptico’s excellent The Woo Handbook. Let’s pick up two of the passages:

4. Remember, your personal experience is always more valid than their scientific studies (or your lack of them). Anecdotes will convince more people you’re right than any number of “studies”, so have a couple ready. It doesn’t matter if they’re true – you’re on the internet so no one knows who you are and can check them anyway.

Oh yes. This is what drives must crap. We’re all emotional animals. Personally I have excema, and on and off in it has been fairly annoying. My parent would try literally anything (and who would blame them). So I have actually tried homeopathy. But it is a good example, as medicine can’t pinpoint the cause or really cure it the field is wide open for alternative “medicine” sold via personal experience ads.

10. Say that skeptics are “not skeptical enough”. This Zen-like approach makes you seem like the real skeptic while the skeptics look like rubes. In fact, extra points if you call the skeptics “Rubes” who have been fooled by _____________ (insert whatever they appear to support – big pharma / conventional medicine, you name it). You are then the “real skeptic” and can refer to the skeptics as “pseudo-skeptics”.

Because “real” skeptics are skeptic about skepticism and embraces woo. The irony is of course that those promoting this argument seldom understand that science does this all the time. Minus the woo. The difference is subtly but important: Evidence. 

And btw, if you haven’t read The Woo-Woo Credo, you should.

A small easter rant

You know, I never understood this easter thing. Even as a Christian I thought is was pretty dump to mourn on the black Friday. You see, I thought like this at the time:

  1. Judas betrayed Jesus to the romans. Ok.
  2. Jesus gets crucified by the jews. Mind you, not the romans.. Right.
  3. By dying on the cross for our sins, he saves our souls. Uhm… Ok, check.
  4. Consequently, if he hadn’t died we wouldn’t be saved. Seems right to me.
  5. Therefore, it is a good thing he was betrayed and died. Er… Right?
  6. I mean, seriously, isn’t this all a part of the divine plan? And god is almighty? Right?!
  7. So, hang on, almighty? He really couldn’t have not died then?.
  8. Because like, if he wouldn’t have died, the plan for our salvation would have failed.
  9. And, I mean… Really. This is getting strange. Ho hum…
  10. Ahh, sod it. Praise the lord brother.

Nowadays of course, I’d agree with most of it, except obviously step nr. 10. The Gospel of Judas does make a lot more sense than the traditional Christian gibberings in this case. We should mourn that he finishes off his glourious plan and saves our souls? Oh, bugger off. It just goes to show you what inane fantasies we’ve been taught to swallow the last 2k years. Stupid shit.As the t-shirt says: If Jesus comes back, we’ll kill him again.

Re: The Blasphemy Challenge

I really don’t understand what all the fuzz is about. The Rational Response Squad makes a PR-bid and challanges people to put a video of themself denying the holy spirit on YouTube, with the incentive that they’ll get a free copy of The God Who Wasn’t There.Were’s the problem? When PZ links to a defense, the normally thoughtful and readable Orac weights in:

[...] it irritated me because it was just plain immature and silly, not to mention probably based on a false premise. It also inspired truly childish and embarrassing spectacles like the guy who cleaned up dog crap with the pages of the Bible.

Silly? I don’t understand what’s silly with it, it seems like a well executed PR coup to me. It “inspired” childish spectacles? *shrug* I certainly couldn’t care less, the idea that athests are less childish than xians is misplaced, you will get all sorts, good and bad. And even so, who cares? I can point out childish xian behaviour, but I wouldn’t use it in an argument, and I expect any xian wishing to argue with me to do the same.And “based on a false premise“? Well, yes, perhaps and “probably”. From the article:

The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is making the claim that the works of the Holy Spirit are actually the works of Satan. It has nothing to do with denying the existence of the Holy Spirit [...]

So, if they had said “I deny the work of the holy spirit”, would that have been more palatable? I think not. This sort of defense is slightly emberasing if taken serously. Fortunately I don’t, I think it misses a number key point.Also I think Greta forgot a key point (although her post is very good, go read it) in why, perhaps The Rational Response Squad, but certainly many of the “childish” posters, are doing it: Because it’s good old entertainment poking fun at authority, even more so when the target can’t at all take it. Is poking fun at authority silly? I don’t think so. Is childish behaviour when poking fun at authority childish? Perhaps, but if the target takes it too seriously, they’re often being just as childish.And let’s not forget, as Greta points out, that there’s some really good responses in there, just look at the ones she posted for example.Anyway. I really don’t understand what all the fuzz is about. It seems like good old fun to me.

MLP VI:”Subways, Xenu and Philosopfy”

Celebrate Xenu! If you’re reading this and don’t know who this “Xenu” person is, you can start here. Thet’s right. It’s the space alien L. Ron Hubbard created as the back-story for Scientology. In Birmingham (UK) I was frequently annoyed by Scentology people on the streets, and my favourite answer as I swept pass them quickly became a sneering: “In Xenu I trust!” They quickly stopped bothering me. I wonder why?No more “oh shit, I don’t have a subway map, where the hell am I going!” for me. Here.Streaming philosophy radio on line? Why not? I havn’t had time to check it out properly yest, but it does seem like a cool idea.