Saturday, December 29, 2012

Z and my Noetic Web

Randal Rauser recently posted what was supposed to be a discussion of Justin Schieber's disproof of God. In the ensuing combox discussion he wrote:

 "Consider an analogy. Imagine that you hear a lecture by a fellow who argues that 9/11 was caused by the US Government. And he provides a powerful case for the conclusion which you are unable to refute. Would it be rational to conclude that the government in fact caused 9/11 based on that single lecture? It might. But for most people such a conspiracy theory would involve revising so many other beliefs, e.g. by adopting multiple levels of corruption and conspiracy in the government, that it would take much more than a single lecture to win one over."

 Randal already knew I was a 9/11 Truther and probably half-expected that I would take advantage of the opportunity to divert the discussion and bring up that issue, which I did. Part of his reply to me was

 "Life is short, and I can't research every case of disagerement among experts. So what I do, what seems reasonable to do, is side with the position that requires the least revisions in my noetic web as well as the position that is represented by the most experts in the relevant fields. In this case both factors are found on the non-conspiracy side."

I think Randal's position is rational (though I think he is mistaken regarding which side the "experts" are on) and probably explains why most people do not take the 9/11 Truth movement seriously. So this led me to ponder yet again my own "noetic web" and why it was so easy for me to accept 9/11 Truth. I think one of the early influences in my own life that made accepting the idea that government (or military) conspiracies happened was seeing the movie Z way back in 1969:

" The film presents a thinly fictionalized account of the events surrounding the assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis in 1963. With its satirical view of Greek politics, its dark sense of humor, and its downbeat ending, the film captures the outrage about the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time of its making.[2] Z stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as the investigating magistrate (an analogue of Christos Sartzetakis, who 22 years later was appointed President of Greece by democratically elected parliamentarians)."

Watching the film as a 15 year old made crystal clear to me that government conspiracies, especially those backed by military leaders, do in fact occur. And that when they do, it is very difficult to expose them. The film doesn't have a happy ending:

"An epilogue provides a synopsis of the subsequent turns of events. Instead of the expected positive outcome, the prosecutor is mysteriously removed from the case, key witnesses die under suspicious circumstances, the assassins receive (relatively) short sentences, the officers receive only administrative reprimands, the Deputy's close associates die or are deported, and the photojournalist is sent to prison for disclosing official documents.
As the closing credits roll, before listing the cast and crew, the filmmakers first list the things banned by the junta. They include: peace movements, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, The Beatles, other modern and popular music ("la musique populaire"), Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Aeschylus, writing that Socrates was homosexual, Eugène Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, Trotsky, the bar association, sociology, international encyclopedias, free press, and new math. Also banned is the letter Z, which was used as a symbolic reminder that Grigoris Lambrakis and by extension the spirit of resistance lives (zi = "he (Lambrakis) lives").

If ever there were an actual independent investigation into 9/11, I don't think the end would be any better than in the movie.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Plans for Christmas Eve

I was trying to decide between watching "It's a Wonderful Life" or "The Polar Express," when I saw Randal Rauser's announcement of a debate he had with Jonathan Pearce on the historical reliability of the Nativity. I'll try listening to it tonight, before I put out the milk and cookies for Mr. C.

Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Richard Carrier Publishes Peer-Reviewed Paper Arguing Accidental Interpolation of "Christ" in Josephus

Noted mythicist, Richard Carrier, has published a peer-reviewed paper that argues:


 Analysis of the evidence from the works of Origen, Eusebius, and Hegesippus concludes that the reference to "Christ" in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200 is probably an accidental interpolation or scribal emendation and that the passage was never originally about Christ or Christians. It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.

I'll be interested in seeing what if any reaction New Testament historians have.  My guess is that it will be debated, as most things are among scholars.  But I don't think it will have much impact on whether they think it reduces the probability that Jesus existed.   For example, Bart Ehrman's summary of the evidence for Jesus's existence didn't rely upon Josephus's mention of him.

I would guess that in order for mythicists to be taken seriously, they will need to propose what is considered a legitimate theory that explains how it came about that people believed that Jesus actually existed.

HT: Adam Taylor

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Laws of Internet Atheism

Mike Gene quotes some of David Heddle's Laws of Internet Atheism. I thought they were worth passing on:

The Law of the Converts: Every atheist who claims to have been a devout Christian was. Every Christian who claims to have been an atheist, wasn’t.

The Law of the Biblical Scholars: Atheist biblical scholars are credible because they have no agenda. Christian biblical scholars lack credibility because they have an agenda.
The Law of “When Ken Ham is right, he is really right!: YECs like Ken Ham are the dumbest jackasses in the world. Except when they interpret Genesis One. For that single chapter in the bible they are exegetical savants.
Irrefutable Proof that Miracles can’t happen: Miracles, by definition can’t be explained by science. Everything can be explained by science. Therefore miracles can’t happen. Because they can’t be explained by science. Therefore science and religion are incompatible.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Does Jerry Coyne believe that William Lane Craig has Free Will?

Jerry Coyne appears to be angry with William Lane Craig and believes  that Craig "should rot in hell." (One wonders if Coyne now also believes in an afterlife, where a place called "hell" exists). But here is an example of Coyne apparently blaming somebody, as if that somebody actually had free will and could have acted otherwise than they chose to act.  So does Coyne believe that Craig has free will?

 By the way, Coyne also accuses Craig of saying that "...the recent slaughter is God’s way of reminding us of “what Christmas is for, what it’s all about. And it’s almost as if Craig thinks that God engineered the murders to that end." But if you watch the video, Craig says no such thing. He says that the recent tragedy reminded  him of the story of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod, not that God engineered the murders.

 Coyne also says, " If asked why God didn’t enter into the world to prevent the killings in the first place, Craig would almost certainly reply that this were God’s will...."  I suggest that if God could have created beings with free will who would not choose to murder, He would have done so.  Given that we have free will (which even Coyne admits by blaming Craig), then apparently this is how God must redeem us.

 Finally, Coyne asks, " Does the Holocaust also bring him such reassurance?" I don't know what Craig's answer would be, but mine would be, "Emmanuel" ("God with us"), even in Auschwitz.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Learning Lessons about Guns from Israel?

I don't have firmly established opinions on the issue of gun ownership, and I try to be open to all ideas on what a reasonable policy for our country should be. So I offer the following article not because I'm convinced that it is correct, but because I think it offers ideas worth thinking about:

  Why Israel has no Newtowns

 HT: Bill Vallicella.

What's missing from this video?

Fox News clip on 9/11 Graffiti.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What to Get for the Geek Who Knows Everything

In case you're having difficulty finding a Christmas present for that special genius in your life:

China/Connecticut Connection?

In case you hadn't heard, there was a violent attack on a number of children at a primary school last Friday morning. No, not the one in Connecticut. The one in China. The perpetrator attacked and seriously injured 22 children.  But nobody was killed.  He didn't have a gun. Only a knife. One might conclude that people don't kill people. People with guns kill people.

But this isn't a post about gun control.  When I first heard the story about the attack in China, I wondered if it was only coincidence or if there was some other connection.  Then it occurred to me that the story about the attack in China might have hit the internet in time for someone to read it in Connecticut and become inspired to try something similar.   Perhaps we'll find out soon enough if that's what happened.  If so, then it brings home in a very sad way how much smaller a world we live in.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I Don't Understand What Jerry Coyne Means by "Free Will"

 Jerry Coyne just castigated someone for profanely accusing him of denying free will. Jerry labeled his post Someone Doesn't Understand Free Will. He responds,

 "Jane, if you’re going to troll here, at least try to understand what I’m saying, which is that of course there is blame for what one does, and punishment must be meted out for bad deeds."

I certainly don't endorse Jane's choice of language, but I'm afraid I share her lack of understanding in regard to Coyne's views.  We don't blame a rock for falling down instead of up, since we do not think a rock has free will.  It must obey the law of gravity.  It could not do otherwise.  If we do not have free will, then we cannot do otherwise than what we do.  No doubt we can be conditioned to do otherwise, the way one conditions animals to do otherwise.  But we do not blame animals for their actions, because we believe that animals cannot do other than how they are genetically and environmentally "programmed" to behave.  We do not think they have free will.  To say that there is blame for what a human being does is to say that we are different from rocks or animals.  It is to say that we have free will and that we can do other than how we have been genetically or environmentally "programmed" to behave.  To try to say that we have blame but don't have free will is to do a terrible disservice to the meaning of both terms.  Jerry might as well use a few cuss words, since at least they would have more meaning than the nonsense he insists on spewing.

Since I'm banned from Jerry's blog (even though I never came close to using profanity), I'm not able to ask him directly to defend his view.  Perhaps someone else could explain it to me.

Kudos for Larry Moran

It's not often that people who are diametrically opposed to certain views come to the defense of the people who hold those views. That requires a level of intellectual honesty that we all too often lack. So when we see that type of honesty being displayed, we should go out of our way to praise it. I found such an example. Jerry Coyne recently attacked ID proponent Paul Nelson, which should shock nobody.  What did come as a surprise is that the atheist professor of biochemistry, Larry Moran, who typically refers to most ID proponents as "IDiots,"  did come to Nelson's defense.  In the combox, past the halfway mark, Professor Moran chimes in:

Larry Moran Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

" In his letter to Jerry, Paul Nelson said, Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so. I think this is basically correct. All of these authors question in some way or another the “centrality” of natural selection to evolutionary theory. We can quibble about the exact meaning of words and sentences but I, for one, don’t think Nelson is way off base here. Perhaps Nelson shouldn’t have said “expressed doubts about selection” because it could be taken to mean that the authors deny that positive natural selection exists. I don’t think that’s what Paul Nelson meant. He may be an IDiot but he’s not that stupid. (Shapiro, on the other hand, may be that stupid.) Jerry wrote to the authors stating … I have read the papers of many of you, and while I know that several of you question aspects of modern evolutionary theory, I wasn’t aware that any of you denied the efficacy of selection in accounting for adaptations. I’m not speaking here of the prevalence among episodes of evolutionary change of selection versus other mechanisms such as drift, but of the prevalence of selection in explaining obvious adaptations like mimicry, the speed of cheetahs, and so on. I don’t think Jerry’s question is fair. Paul Nelson was not accusing these authors of denying a role for natural selection in “obvious adaptations.” The irony here is that Jim Shapiro is completely oblivious to the ideas of Kirschner, Gerhart, Lynch, et al. He acts as though he’s the only person in the entire world who ever came up with a criticism of the hardened version of the Modern Synthesis. (Anyone ever heard of Stephen Jay Gould?) Sometimes he even “borrows” the ideas of others—like when he talks of his version of facilitated variation but doesn’t bother referencing Kisrchner & Gerhart."

And then after a brief exchange where Moran asked Nelson to clarify his views, Larry concluded:

 Larry Moran Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

" Thanks, Paul. I interpreted your letter the same way you describe it but you must admit that you could have worded it better. Jerry Coyne jumped to the conclusion that you were saying something different about the views of those authors. I think your views have been unfairly represented in this thread. That does NOT mean I agree with your conclusions, as you well know."

After showing such gallantry in the face of overwhelming opposition at Coyne's blog, Professor Moran deserves to be held in high esteem. I now consider his use of the term "IDiots" as almost a term of endearment.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Where are the Twenty Children?

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish." (Matthew 18:10-14)

I think it is safe to assume that they are with their Father in heaven.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Five Things that We Rationally Believe that Science Cannot Prove

William Lane Craig lists five things that are rational to believe that science cannot prove:

I'm not sure about the fifth one that deals with the speed of light, but the first four are rather clear.

HT: Jeffrey Helix, in a comment at Mike Gene's post, which also deals with the problems of scientism.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sam Harris's Refrigerator-Sized Diamond and God

In an interesting discussion in the comments of one of Randal Rauser's posts,  J.Riv directed me to a lecture by Sam Harris, where Harris compared people who say they need to believe in God for their lives to have meaning (well, actually the need to believe that God answers prayer) to a man who says he needs to believe that there is a refrigerator-sized diamond buried in his backyard, and that finding it will bring meaning and fulfillment to his life:

Having thought more about it, I would say that this man is irrational on three counts:

1)  He believes that there are refrigerator-sized diamonds.
2)  He believes that there is one buried in his backyard.
3)  He believes that finding it will bring meaning and fulfillment to his life.

Now let's suppose that the man finds reasonably strong evidence that refrigerator-sized diamonds exist and that one probably is buried in his backyard.  Would I consider such a man to be rational?  No.  Because he still believes that finding it will bring meaning and fulfillment to his life.  To believe such a thing is to reveal that you are really sub-human.  There is something about you that falls below what it means to be a human being.

To admit that one needs to believe in God in order to have meaning in one's life is saying that existence must ultimately be good and beautiful and the end of all our desires.   Such an admission is not irrational, but the proclamation that we are more than just machines, or accidental evolutionary products struggling for survival.  We are beings made for something much greater than ourselves.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

John W. Loftus and The Ideologue Barometer

Randal Rauser relates a discussion he's had with John Loftus about their upcoming book, God or Godless . The most interesting thing was the test Rauser offered on how to tell how much of an ideologue you were:

 "Since everything needs a snappy name I’ll call it the Ideologue Barometer. Ask yourself this: if I were invited to discuss the three things that most bother me about my belief system, how quickly could I come up with a list and how long could I talk about them? The longer it would take you to compile the list and the shorter the ensuing speech, the more ideologically committed you are to your beliefs."

This reminds me a great deal of Mike Gene's Ten Signs of Intellectual Honesty.  So let me give myself the test:

 My theological belief system:

 1. If God exists, why isn't His existence as obvious as the physical world? 2. Why is there so much pain and suffering? 3. Why isn't there better historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection? 4. How can God know the future and there still be free will? 5. Why are there so many morally questionable things in the Bible about God (Canaanite genocide, etc.)? 6. Why are there so many contradictory religions to my own?

 My beliefs about 9/11:

 1. If 9/11 was an inside job, why didn't the Democrats demand an independent investigation? 2. Why didn't Obama re-open the investigation when he took office? 3. Why weren't there more leaks? 4. Why wasn't there more converage in the mainstream media? 5. Why didn't Bush and Co. manufacture evidence for WMDs in Iraq? 6. Isn't the thought that people at the highest level of our government would be willing to murder thousands of their own citizens just a little too incredible?*

  Okay. That took less than five minutes. Does anyone out there care to make a list of problems with their own belief systems?

* I forgot one: 7. How could the inside job have been pulled off without being noticed by countless numbers of people?

Tolkien's Terrible Influence on C.S. Lewis

When you go to see "The Hobbit" this coming weekend, be warned!  My creator was part of a grand conspiracy to turn C.S. Lewis from his comfortable atheism into one of those...Christians.

HT: Victor Reppert and Bob Prokop

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck Passed Away Today

HT: James F. McGrath

Dave Brubeck: Cosmic Variance

My favorite album of all time was Brubeck's "Countdown: Time in Outer Space," though I believe the above music video of "Blue Rondo a la Turk," was from his album, "Time Further Out." Scratch that.  It was from "Time Out."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Vincent Torley vs John Loftus on Whether ID is Science

Vincent Torley, pt.1
John Loftus, pt.1
Vincent Torley, pt.2
John Loftus, pt.2

UPDATE:  Instead of writing another reply at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley is posting his replies at John Loftus's last thread.

Stand by for Torley's reply, which I expect will pop up anytime, now.  Loftus misunderstands the distinction between accepting evolution and common descent and disagreeing with what the mechanism for it is.  He also misunderstands the difference between what ID claims to be able to infer:  Not a specific religion, nor the identity of the designer.  Just that something was designed by somebody.

However, I think Loftus does make a good point:  If Nature wasn't (pretty much) regular, we couldn't have science.  So in what sense could design events be considered science?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Two Trees and a Cat

In the Garden of Eden there were two trees: The tree of life and the tree of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We were told not to eat from the second tree. We ate from it so that we could be like God, knowing good and evil. That meant that we didn't need to trust God anymore. We could know on our own what was right or wrong and make our own choices. And if God did or said something, we could judge whether what He said or did was right or wrong and then decide whether we should trust Him or not.

 I recently trapped and neutered a feral cat and decided to keep him. And now he hides under beds and couches, trying to avoid me, since he knows that I am evil and will try to kill and eat him. I'm worried, because he doesn't seem to be eating or drinking anything, and I don't know how long he can survive. So I seek relationship with a cat. And the cat has no faith in me.

 I wonder if God is trying to tell me something.

Taylor Speaks Truth to Power

When I saw the title, Taylor Contra Power, I felt the need to improve upon it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rabbi Daniel Zion

Not many people know the story of Rabbi Daniel Zion, the chief rabbi of Bulgaria during World War II, who helped save the Bulgarian Jews from the Nazis, and then led them to immigrate to Israel after the war. The big secret was that he believed that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah.

Who's More Closed-Minded? The Right or the Left?

I had just read one of Paul Krugman's latest blog entries and then read Evolution News and Views latest entry and was surprised at their apparent agreement about the open-mindedness of liberals and closed-mindedness of conservatives.

No doubt, if we asked ENV if they felt this was a truth that could be generalized to all issues, they would disagree and offer plenty of data that suggests that liberals can be just as closed-minded regarding other issues.

My own view is that most people, including yours truly, have difficulty listening to views with which we disagree.  I don't think it matters much whether we are conservative or liberal.  We all want to think we are right about most topics and shy away from anyone who might threaten that self-image.

UPDATE:  I guess I should add that in my case, since most of my views are obviously true, there is no need for me to read the views of those who disagree with me. ;)