Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spew the Woo

Nobody can spew the woo like secularists/rationalists/materialists trying to explain free will. Behold (via wikipedia) the woo-master himself, the old fraud Daniel Dennett:
The model of decision making I am proposing has the following feature: when we are faced with an important decision, a consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined produces a series of considerations, some of which may of course be immediately rejected as irrelevant by the agent (consciously or unconsciously). Those considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent's final decision.
No theologian would dare write such nonsense. On a smaller scale, consider this new-age crapola from freethought blogger Daniel Fincke:
Further, I do not believe in an undetermined free will. I do think we have a will that makes genuine choices as expressive of who we are, but who we are is still ultimately determined by physical, chemical, biological, and psychological laws (and social determinants) in ways that make it ultimately impossible that we might have done otherwise than we chose to do. I just think that since we are these beings who are determined in these ways, what we do is a genuine expression of us.
Of course, not all atheists vomit up woo to explain the inexplicable. Some are quite honest. One well-known example is Cornell biologist William Provine who writes:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly.
1) No gods worth having exist;
2) no life after death exists;
3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists;
4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and
5) human free will is nonexistent.
Provine is quite right. The problem for the atheist crowd always has been and always will be that there is no physical mechanism for free will. In terms of quantum mechanics, the wavefunction of the universe at time t, which tells us all there is to know about the universe, is determined by the wavefunction at t = 0 and the Hamiltonian (Energy) operator H.

Ψ(t) = e-iHtΨ(0)

Free will demands that by some thought process (evaluating and choosing) you can affect Ψ(t) by altering the Hamiltonian. Ψ(t) ends up different than it would have if you hadn't made that choice. But the only way that can happen within the laws of physics is if your choice was already built into the Hamiltonian of the universe. But if so it wasn't a choice at all.

The only way that free will is possible is for something to affect the system from the outside. By altering the Hamiltonian through an intervention. There is a term for that: supernatural.

Provine understands this. Woo-masters like Dennett do not, or they do and they choose to lie about it. So they obfuscate due to ignorance or malice aforethought by penning impenetrable gobbledegook about "consideration-generators" and the like.

That is the only choice they have, short of being honest like Provine. Because nothing, ever, can rescue them. Ever. No philosophical solution, no matter how jargonized and obscure, can obviate the need for a physical mechanism which the laws of physics don't allow. You cannot, through mental processes, change the Hamiltonian in situ. It is what it is. It is, in fact, determining your mental processes, not vice versa.

The religious agree with Provine. The natural world cannot accommodate free will. Only the supernatural world can. Provine rejects that solution, we accept it, but we agree that it takes an intervention from outside to redirect the time evolution of the universe—which is precisely what free will represents.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's only a harmless bunny!

The unbearable mind of the "truly intelligent." If Pharyngula didn't exist, you'd have to.. well, you know.

So here PZ posts a comic designed to show how stupid the religious are. Alas, poor PZ, who's been slipping of late, did not properly vet the cartoon. He should have run it by Greta or Ophelia or one of the few other souls enlightened enough to examine anything, anything at all, for blatant, latent, or vestigial sexism. You see, the cartoon has two bunnies. The smart, rational bunny is a boy. (Danger Will Robinson, danger!) The dumb, religious bunny is a girl. Uh-oh. You don't have to be Fellini to figure that one out!

Predictably, the monster PZ has created reared its ugly head—no longer in the control of its maker. PZ enabled an atmosphere on his blog wherein Richard Dawkins becomes a "sexist pig" for using man and female in the same sentence. PZ nurtured and encouraged this hideous insanity, one that painted even mildly non-conformists as gender-traitors (if they were women) and rape-enablers (if they were men.)

So much so that now on Pharyngula a comment from a man often comes with a preemptive strike. The supplicant first acknowledges and apologizes for his unspeakable male privilege, doubly so if he is white, triply so if heterosexual. He announces, like a good re-educant, that he has learned a lot from the gurus and their moderated-by-intimidation discussions. He is, oh joy, much more sensitive to his own cluelessness. While he will still make mistakes (he is, after all, still a man--his bad) he stands ready to be corrected by the thought police. After all that self-flagellation he is tentatively and humbly prepared to offer a comment—but he'll "keep his finger on it" like kids do to a valuable piece when playing chess. If he gets the slightest whiff that it was a bad move, if he has disturbed the web and the spider is heading toward him ready to devour, he can still withdraw. Mulligan!

Poor PZ. You can almost feel sorry for him. He had this great cartoon bashing the religious as bumpkins (how original!) and instead of basking in its reflected glory he finds himself—PZ of all people!—at the heart of yet another sexism pogrom. On his blog! With PZ himself, P freakin’ Z, partially to blame for not seeing the evilness of this cartoon! Unthinkable!

So PZ starts a new thread, saying a bunny is sometimes just a bunny and that you can't judge from a sample size of one. This in spite of the fact that PZ has turned judging from a sample size of one into something of an art form.

Of course, trying to maintain his feminista street creds while at the same time refusing to acknowledge his error is not easy, and it is not surprising that PZ becomes relatively incoherent. The "Yes, but..." defense will eventually wear anyone out. So he writes mystical woo like:
Equality does not mean that the smart bunny in the dialog will always be the one in the dress.
It does mean that the bunny in the dress isn’t always the dumb one.
There is a difference between those two sentences, you know.

Oh, PZ, surely you know that's not good enough! (And it isn't, read the comments.)

The über-rational. They sure know how to throw a party.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What would you choose?

If you could have one vexing biblical verse or passage explained and clarified, which would it be?

I would choose James' passage on the effectiveness of prayer:
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16) 
I have heard and read many discussions of this passage from admired pastors and respected theologians. None of them satisfy. The plain reading of the text is that prayer can make the sick well. This is, quite frankly, neither demonstrable or logical. Not demonstrable because we pray for sick people all the time--and they sometimes recover and sometimes not, at normal rates. Not logical because it is our destiny to have our three score and ten and then, to first order, get sick and die.

No, I wouldn't choose having creation, or the end-times, or infant vs. believer's baptism, or the problem of evil, or anything else-- given one opportunity to have my eyes opened on one item--I would use it on the question of prayer. This passage in James bothers me so much I confess I sometimes wonder if James is really canonical. I will continue to go on the assumption it is, given I know that for the most part I'm an idiot. But I will probably never understand its straightforward teaching on the tangible effectiveness of prayer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

PZ is blowing a gasket

PZ Myers has always been an ass, but lately you can see the effects of a universal law: If that’s how you make a name for yourself, you have nowhere to go but to ratchet up the asshat-edness. People become inured to a constant level of self-righteous anger and banal antics.

Today, PZ is very angry. Clenching tiny fists O’ fury and gnashing teeth angry. He is a wee bit angry with a Christian who did something dumb. But he is head-exploding angry with some of his fellow atheists. Because they are not marching lockstep. He hates when that happens. It's just not fair.

Some background.

There was a Skepitcon conference (essentially now an atheism conference) in Springfield, Missouri. A thin-skinned Christian proprietor of an ice cream shop was unnecessarily offended by some silly atheist comedian. He placed a sign on the door to his shop: Skepticon is NOT welcome in my Christian Business. He was then subjected to understandable criticism via blogs and the like.

So this man apologized. A apologized again. And, lo and behold, in a very un-PZ like display of good manners and common courtesy, a significant fraction of the atheist community had the temerity, without PZ’s blessing, to accept the man’s apology. Bad form, that.

Now some did not—some questioned whether his motive was self-serving—and that’s fair. But quite a few, even some marquee atheists, decided that the apology was probably sincere, or should be accepted as sincere, since the man’s mind can’t be read, and the apology did not contain weasel-like “notpology” phrasing.

Fair enough—but not good enough for PZ!

Those who behaved PZ-like went further.  For example, they drove down the internet ratings for the guy’s restaurant. Whereas writing about what the guy did is fair game, whereas organizing a boycott is fair game, whereas making a personal decision never to darken the doors of the restaurant is fair game—dissing the quality of the fare is not—given that it was not, in fact, consumed. It is the moral, or rather the amoral equivalent of writing a bad review on Amazon for a book you never read, just because you despise the author’s politics. The PZ-ians, long noted for their lack of morality and common sense, had no trouble with this tactic, and PZ himself smugly declared:
Check out online reviews of the place at google/yelp. It’s getting trashed, plummeting to one star everywhere. This is atheists exercising their clout. 
What a dick.

Anyhow, PZ then gets a direct email apology from the ice cream man. He uses it to throw his fellow atheists  under the bus in a post entitled Fair Weather Atheists and Sunshine Skeptics.  PZ is always going down the True Atheist path. He, of course, is pure as the driven snow. But the others, you see, the others--well they are often only “dictionary” atheists (if you can’t offer a cogent enough defense of your atheism) or “Fair Weather” atheists (if you are not sufficiently belligerent). The dogmatic always have a minuscule radius to their circle of orthodoxy.

Of course PZ rejected the apology. That goes without saying. He wrote back to the poor schmuck:
Apology not accepted. What I see in you is a person who hates me for not believing in the nonsense of your religion; while you may now be in a panic because your actions were unethical and illegal, and you were caught out, and face economic consequences for them, I don’t see any sign that your attitudes have changed in the slightest. 
You’ll just have to live with the fact that I won’t be buying your ice cream on the rare occasions I visit your town, while I have to live with the fact that I live in a country where my rejection of your religion makes me a pariah. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to make up for that.
Did I mention, what a dick?

Now the rejection was just a pro forma move, a gambit setting the stage for PZ to unleash the Spanish Inquisition on his out-of-line brethren.

He segues by weeping the usual persecuted-atheist tears. The nation is so hard on him. Tough having a job that guarantees the upper middle class for life—he’s a tenured professor. Tough having a position of privilege where he can dictate who gets to speak and who gets invited to atheist conventions.

Tough when some of his fellow atheists for whom he has done so much, blazed so many trails, been feted with so many beers in pubs around the world—it is just so tough when they don’t see the truth.

So then…so then he attacks.

Go read his rant at the apostate. It is really very, very – pathetic.

PZ is on the verge of becoming a caricature of himself.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Not for those with a weak stomach: Something best described as the LDS version of the Westboro Baptists. At least I hope the views represented on that blog are as much ouliers of The Church of LDS as Phelps's gang of apostate idiots are to Christianity.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jason Rosenhouse at CNU

Jason Rosenhouse, mathematics professor at James Madison University and well known for his writings at EvolutionBlog, will be at CNU this week. He'll be giving two talks.

The first, on Tuesday, is sponsored jointly by the biology and math departments:

The second, on Wednesday, is a mathematics colloquium:

Both are open to the public.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Time to come out of the closet

It's true. It is time to come clean. I cannot keep living a lie.

I am a devoted acolyte of Scientism. A Scientismite (is there a better word?) More of a True Scientismite™ than most of the people my fellow Christians like to label, pejoratively, as Scientismites, if they use that word.

That is, if we define Scientism as this: The way we really know most everything that we really know, is through science.1

I am not going to define "know". I am going to use the working definition: I know (yikes!) it when I see it.

I know, for example, that General Relativity works because of the experimental tests of predictions of General Relativity.

Well, on second thought, maybe I'll define it this way: science gives me the most confidence in the things I think I know.

If we define Scientism as "That's all there is," then I am not a Scientismite. But that definition never works, even on paper.

Now, some of my best friends are philosophers, with proper oxymoronic blog names, BUT...

Seriously--I am not a big fan of philosophy. However, apart from science, the only things I know come from that discipline. For example, assuming it is proper to treat logic and the logical fallacies as products of philosophy, I know them to be true (valid?). Although it is a love-hate relationship. Who doesn't like to engage in the occasional false dilemma? I certainly indulge now and then. I would even go this far: It is philosophy, not science, that has revealed the law of the universe, the Law of Noncontradiction. I say that because a Christian I believe that this the only law that God himself is beholden to. God cannot be A and not-A, where A is some godly attribute, in the same time and in the same place, etc., etc., etc. Or maybe it is even broader than that: God himself is subject to the laws of logic.

In any case we don't say the same of science. We say that God can suspend/violate/ignore the laws of science. He is capable of physical miracles--but not whatever the equivalent would be in logic. He does not walk on rhetorical water.

But beyond the trivial--"owner" of the law(s) that even God must respect, what has philosophy done for me lately? Not much that I can enumerate. Philosophers write impenetrable papers with vague conclusions. Sometimes they invoke Baysian analysis.3 Sometimes they invoke Heisenberg. If they invoke both in the same argument I am sure they can prove that Goldie Hawn does not exist and she is God.

Other things I don't know, I believe. Viz.: That God exists, that the bible is his word, that my wife loves me, that science is worth pursuing. These things I believe.

And that science and religion are compatible. I believe that science and religion are compatible. I can't prove it, like I can prove that if you launch a rocket with this design, at this time, from this location, and with this series of burns then you find yourself zipping about with these orbital parameters. So I don't know that science and religion are compatible, I believe it. I can't know it because, as a devotee of Scientism, I only know things via science.

Not so with many of the people we charge with Scientism. They are actually Scientism apostates. Scientism Mormons, Scientism Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientism Whores of Babylon and Scientism Westboro Baptists. They argue that they know science and religion are incompatible. But they don't know this through science. There is no experiment they offer as a falsification test.4 No, they know this by philosophy. Which is to say: they don't know it at all, they believe it.

For example, on atheist-philosopher-writer Russell Blackford's blog, I pointed out that Coyne--so devoted to science--makes an utterly unscientific argument for incompatibility. To which a Coyne supporter replies:

[Coyne] wasn't making a "scientific" case for the incompatibility 'twixt S & R. He was making a philosophical and circumstantial case, describing the irreconcilable differences in the two pursuits' assumptions about reality and methods of testing truth, while denying there is some special realm of knowledge in which religion has expertise - a burden, BTW, it lies with religion to bear in the affirmative, which it has reliably and abjectly failed to do. Religion merely asserts that such special super-truths exist, and that theology is uniquely equipped to discover them. It's not up to Coyne to "scientifically" disprove their unsupported and largely unintelligible claims. He needs only show that whenever they have made intelligible, testable claims, science has routinely blown those out of the water. His message is "Will we get a clue, at long last, that there is nothing there, when the arguments and demonstration of religious truths are so bereft of meaning and validation?"

Well al-righty then! He even used scare quotes on the word scientific. The burden of proof is not on Coyne, who rants continually on incompatibility, and on how those who see, not even compatibility but mere orthogonality, as demons advocating the end of the free world. And not just the Ken Millers of the academy. Even celebrity skeptic Michael Shermer. But he (Coyne) has no burden of proof.

These folks need to look-up and read (and understand) Bertrand Russell's Teapot.

1 For the purposes of this discussion, I am lumping math in with science. Living in both worlds, math and science, I don't know if I have insulted both, neither, or just one--and if just one, I don't know which.

2 Forget that worthless Law of Identity. That it gets a name is sillier than Atwood's Machine getting a name.

3 Baysian analysis is especially powerful. A corollary of Bayes' Theorem should be: with ill-defined assumptions made to sound meaningful you can use Bayes' Theorem to prove anything. And then prove that it is wrong. A good example are Ikeda and Jefferys who use assumptions about the inscrutability and power of certain deities and Baysian analysis to "prove" that the more fine tuned the universe is, the less likely supernatural intervention is the cause. And of course others used Baysian analysis to prove them wrong.

4 For any newcomers, I have offered two: 1) Motivated by skeptic James Randi's challenge, a blind study where someone could read a collection of peer-reviewed scientific articles and separate them, accurately (with statistical significance) into two piles: those written by believers and everyone else. And 2) Devise a scientific experiment (or data analysis), just one, that would be impossible for a believer to do.

5 Who [Russell Blackford] by the way, has given no evidence of being a liar, in spite of being called one by PZ Myers. These folk like to eat their young. See this. But I warn you, if you start down that path you will trundle across the mother-of-all internecine wars in the atheist/skeptic community, an Armageddon known as "Elevatorgate". A war being fought over, in some sense, whether Richard Dawkins is a sexist pig. I kid you not.

Monday, November 07, 2011

There's that myth again

Eric MacDonald, former Anglican Priest1, is a previously unknown (by me) rich vein of bad new-atheist thinking expressed in especially bad new-atheist writing. With the exception of PZ, most of these white boys cannot turn a phrase. But where Coyne's niche is childishness ("Thinking Christian--that's an oxymoron!") MacDonald's approach is: the more words you take to say something trivial (On the Haught-Coyne debate: Coyne won!) the truer it must be. And you also get to ingratiate yourself with the master:
I swear, I wish Eric MacDonald would take up debating theologians on the stage rather than on his website.  As a former Anglican priest, now an atheist, he knows all the tricks and evasions of theology
Debate aside, I want to zoom in on one of MacDonald's snarky comments (I know about snark) on his own post. In addressing another comment on Haught v. Coyne that stated "the days when they [theologians] could expect to get their rings kissed in the ideological marketplace are behind them," MacDonald regurgitates:
[Well said.] I do think this is precisely what annoyed Haught the most. Of course, there’s intellectual arrogance involved. He just thinks that his arguments are so watertight (as he says at one point!) that he can’t conceive of anyone seriously doubting that they are. But I think more important is the fact that religion is no longer being given a kind of instinctual respect in the public sphere, and this is very unsettling. They will have to get used to not having their rings kissed in the ideological marketplace. It must be a bit of a shock.
Leaving aside the obvious strawman, that I suspect it is not true that Haught can't conceive of anyone doubting that his arguments are watertight--and if he does MacDonald can't know this--I want to address the ring kissing reference.

This is a common new-atheist fantasy, dovetailing nicely with their persecution complex. Here is the fantasy: It is only now, well into the 21st century CE, due largely to the efforts of the valiant new-atheists, that religion can be attacked, ridiculed, mocked and disrespected.

What a load of bull. Religion has been attacked, ridiculed, mocked and disrespected in the west for centuries. At least since the Enlightenment. By intellectuals, (e.g., Bertrand Russell) founding fathers (Thomas Paine), celebrities, and garden-variety common folk including, in my experience, public school teachers at all grade levels.2

I don't know what fuels this new-atheist delusion of grandeur-- that they are Rosa-Park-like trailblazers. I can only speculate that feeling "special" is worth perpetuating a myth that denies their own heritage.

The difference between the old (previous generations) atheists and new-atheists is not that new-atheists are boldly going where no atheist has gone before. Hardly. No, the difference is that the old atheists did it so much better. Who on the scene today can compare with Russell or Paine or Camus? Nobody.

I know I can't persuade any new-atheist that it is a myth that we are shocked and appalled that they dare to criticize. They enjoy the fantasy too much to let go. I can only hope that they improve their game. But there is no sign of that-- instead we get the same reprocessed crap over and over. Like from Eric MacDonald.

1 Granted, "former Anglican Priest" often indicates an improvement in one's spiritual acumen. Not this time.

2 With the exception, at times, of works of art. It is true that art critical of religion sometimes gets suppressed. It is also true that art supporting religion occasionally gets suppressed. Something about art can bring out teh stoopid.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Abortion: My Views

Discussion on another blog has pushed me to lay down my views on abortion. I think they need to be broken into three categories: theological, ecclesiastical, and civil.


I think a strong biblical case can be made that as Christians we are to consider the fetus to be a complete human being with a soul and an eternal destination. The humanity of the fetus is expressed most explicitly by the reaction of the en-wombed John the Baptist in the presence of the even less developed Christ.

The aborted child, however, is not the theological focus. Arguments that the child might have grown up to cure cancer are essentially arguments that the will of God can be thwarted by the abortionist. May it never be. The theological argument is, as it always is, about glory to God. How is the glory of God revealed and sought among those who live, work, counsel or for whatever reason fall into the abortion sphere? The focus, theologically speaking, is on those who involve themselves, one way or another, in the abortion.

Another theological point is that there is nothing in the bible about "age of accountability" as it pertains to salvation. And if it were so, then abortion would have to be viewed at some level as mercy killing. The bible describes an age of accountability in Jewish criminal law, but not in terms of avoiding God's judgment. We are born in rebellion and conceived in sin. We can have hope, as King David expressed, that we will see dead infants in glory as a result of God's mercy--but in fact the bible is silent on the matter.


It is a mistake if fighting abortion approaches anything like a raison d'être for a church. The church is not in the business of fighting abortion. It is in the business of making disciples and tending to the saints. Infanticide was present in the Roman world--primarily in the form of abandonment: taking unwanted newborns (usually girls) to the wilderness and leaving them to die. This would have been known to Paul, yet we find no instruction to any church that they should adopt fighting this atrocity as a primary mission.

Individual Christians should and did rescue abandoned children when they could. But that is quite different from making abortion a "cause".


Adultery is a sin. Adultery is not against the law. At some level we have to acknowledge that it is not our responsibility to make sin illegal for unbelievers. It is our responsibility to hold each other (in the family of believers) accountable for our behavior.

That doesn't mean that we should not vote for candidates who share our views. It does mean that in doing so we are participating in the secular government, and have to respect and obey the laws that are passed.

If a non-believer wants to have an abortion then we can offer, without subterfuge or misrepresentation, counseling and the gospel. We should offer the same services post-abortion. In fact, we should double-down on the love we show post-abortion. I am happy that the organization our church supports is well known for maintaining the relationship it has begun even when the woman decides to have an abortion.

For believers--we need sensitivity as well. We can all agree that abortion of a healthy baby in the birth canal, when there is no risk to the mother, is murder. That establishes the principle. How far back into the pregnancy you can extrapolate and what is the effect of extraordinary circumstances (rape, incest, severe deformity, etc) is problematic. What would I say to a sister in Christ who had an abortion? I would say: "I love you, and what's done is done. Let's move on." What would I say to a sister in Christ who was raped and contemplating a first trimester abortion? I would say: "I cannot pretend walk in your shoes." I would tell her to pray. I would tell her that if there is a clear right or wrong answer here I don't claim to know it. I would tell her that her salvation is not dependent on her making the correct choice here. I might hope she chooses to keep the child but I would not berate her into that decision.

I would support a law that made abortion (with no mitigating circumstances) illegal after some point in the pregnancy in the same manner that I support making murder illegal. How far I would push that I don't know. At some point I would rather be inclined to leave it between the woman and God.