Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Human Pride

Gay, straight, we're all human.

I was reading Jesus Needs New PR and I came across this shirt:

Now, the morons who made this shirt decided to print bible verses on them that called for gays to be put to death. Versus like Lev 20:13, "If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to death."

Read more about it here.

That's an interesting form of straight pride: homicidal, bigoted pride. You go, girl!

That's when I decided to make this image. Hopefully you like it, and feel free to use it personally (though not commercially). I'm considering submitting it to Threadless so it can be (hopefully) voted into existence as a shirt.

If you or anyone that you know are affected by bullying based on your sexual orientation, I suggest that you check out The Trevor Project.

Comments welcome :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Walking the Journey

"What do you conclude?", somebody asked me today, "Do you have any religious views yourself?"

I've talked about my annoyance thoughts about this question to people before. I've blogged on the question, "What do I believe?" and discussed my thoughts with Jonathan on labels.

Yes, I replied, I have plenty of religious views. Probably on most things. Pick a topic!

I haven't necessarily come TO any final conclusions that would be fair to offer in lieu of the journey itself being walked. The notion of summarising myself or views in one sentence or label irks me, especially given that a relatively impersonal discussion without a shared history of friendship or trust will tend to favour oversimplistic categorisation rather than demonstrate respect for either of ourselves as complex, dynamic individuals. I'm also aware that it tends to mean that all comments in a discussion are then more likely to be read within the context of the label rather than examined for their own merits.

I am compassionate.
I am arrogant.
I am a brother.
I am devoted to truth.
I am a disappointment.
I am a social worker.
I am curious.
I am a lay theologian.
I am joyful.
I am a friend.
I am humble.
I am a success.
I am a philosopher.
I am a son.

I am contemplative.
I am irritating.
I am a lover of knowledge.
I am humourous.
I am a motorbike enthusiast.
I am encouraging.
I am changing.

(I'm reminded of the literal translation of Exodus 3:14, "I am becoming Who I am becoming")

As I said to the questioner earlier, I really do think that people usually don't know what they are talking about when they discuss metaphysics. I'm not sure whether that only fairly applies to myself, to some others, or to all others. I'm doing my best job at listening to others in order to find out.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Being and Nonsense

I dislike the ontological argument greatly.

The ontological argument (OA) is, in my opinion, such an example of philosophical obscurantism and wish-fulfillment that I'm actually embarrassed for the famous, historical philosophers who (apparently) took it seriously.

Here are two examples of OAs:

Descartes' OA
1. Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.
2. I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of God.
3. Therefore, God exists.

His argument basically says, "Whatever I define is true. I define that God necessarily exists. Therefore, God exists."

That's a FAIL. Do I need to explain why?

Saint Anselm's OA (paraphrase)
1. God is a being that which none greater can be imagined.
2. Existing in reality is better than to only exist in understanding.
3. If God exists only in understanding, He would be less great than one which exists in reality.
4. Since God is the greatest being, therefore God must exist in reality.

Again, I cringe. Kant pointed out that existence is not a trait, and a imaginary tree that is imagined to be identical to an actual tree is not less "great". Even if it were, Kant pointed out, the entire argument is premised on the definition again; if you reject the entire concept then the definition doesn't really matter. As an example, I define a shape called a "Squircle": squircles are square circles. It doesn't matter that I define Squircles to be so... they don't exist.

Here's what I consider to be an even better example of why the ontological argument is stupid.

Iain's OA
1. A "Flarn" is an actual creature that is 100% dog and 100% human.
2. If Flarns were not wholly dogs, then they would not be 100% dog.
3. If Flarns were not wholly human, then they would not be 100% human.
4. If Flarns did not exist, they would not be an actual creature.
5. Therefore, Flarns exist and are 100% dog and 100% human.

As you can see, Flarns help themselves to several necessary properties. Apparently, that's okay when you're making an OA.

Is anyone else embarrassed by Ontological Arguments, too?

What do you think?

Do you know of an ontological argument form that you think is good?

Do you disagree with me and think either of the arguments presented above work?

Is philosophy a helpmate to religion or do you think they are incompatible?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Burying Pascal

 Is it in your best interests to Believe? Pascal's Wager says yes.

Pascal's Wager, given by Blaise Pascal, is an argument designed to convince theological skeptics or agnostics that it is in their best interests to make a good go at belief. The best part about the wager is that it makes no presumption about the evidence for God's existence: it's all about the best bet.

Pascal's Wager (and the maths)
The wager says something like this:

(1) The rational person will want to minimise personal risk and maximise personal gain.
(2) If you believe in God and you are correct, you gain infinite reward; otherwise it is status quo.
(3) If you reject God and you are incorrect, you suffer infinite loss; otherwise it is status quo.
(C) Thus, the rational person should believe in God.

"But," I hear you say, "the chances of God even existing are very improbable." Well, that doesn't matter. The genius of Pascal's argument is such that probabilities are inconsequential. Let me explain. Imagine atheism is more likely (Pa = 0.9) and theism is unlikely (Pt = 0.1). In order to know how we should value (V) both choices we need to look at the rewards (R) inherent to each.

Pa [0.9] x Ra [0 or -∞] = Va of 0 or -∞
Pt [0.1] x Rt [0 or +∞] =  Vt of 0 or +∞

So, after you factor in the potential value to yourself, the value of theism is infinitely great whereas the value of taking the atheist position is infinitely bad.

Theism is win-win! If you rule out drawing even (a consequence common to both choices), it looks like the results are heaven or hell. The betting person would surely know which horse to back. Sounds clear cut, right?


There are, of course, the usual criticisms.

i) Religious revelations are inconsistent.
Different religions make different claims about the exact god that requires our worship and, hence, who we need to direct our affections (and our Wager) towards in order to be considered for salvation. This is all fairly beside the point, given that inconsistent revelations don't tell us that we should give up on the wager altogether. The betting man would still bet on some god, even if it wasn't a guaranteed result. You've gotta be in it to win it! Best bet is to choose a jealous god. If you're wrong, maybe the less jealous god would reward your faith anyway.

ii) God may reward honest seeking and thought, even if that means unbelief.
True. That's a perspective offered by Richard Dawkins. I suppose this is some kind of ultimate Scientific Deity, who rewards us because of our smarts and our sincere hearts. Aww. The question is, would this god turn around and punish the faithful who believe through simple faith and not through empiricism? Such a nice god probably wouldn't. Still sounds like belief is a good recipe for success, even if the heathen scientists get a free pass, too.

iii) God may be "Nahweh" (Perverse Master) who rewards unbelief and punishes belief.
This is some kind of Anti-Wager. This God works in reverse to Pascal's assumptions. The problem here is that if you have the chance of Yahweh rewarding the faithful and Nahweh rewarding the infidels then the Wager get's awfully sticky. Of course, you can't actually believe in Nahweh or he would punish you, wouldn't he? Still sounds like belief in some god (other than Nahweh) is the way to go. If you die and find yourself standing before Nahweh you can tell him, "Well, I was an atheist... with respect to you." Many people don't like this idea merely because they view it as an ad hoc manoeuvre by tricksssy philosophers; it lacks a religious tradition to lend it street cred.

iv) "This is mercenary..." etc
O noes! You can't BET on faith! God wants a sincere heart, not a person looking after their own skin. Well, you might argue that Pascal's wager is designed to make people attend church (see the next point). But, at the end of the day, if we find ourselves having to choose between good and bad, it can hardly be smart to select bad. Do the people who use this rebuttal expect the atheist "seekers" to leave church and wallow in their misery, awaiting their doom? Hardly. We make the "best" choice out of various options all the time. Anyone who disagrees should go and burn themselves on the stove out of principle.

v) You can't CHOOSE to believe at will.
What good is it to realise that faith is in your best interests when it is evidence, not will-power, that determines our belief? Well, that is possibly true, but possibly not. In Mark chapter 9, one man asked Jesus to help his unbelief. Some argue that faith is, in fact, a gift from God. I read one person's article where they advocated using Cognitive Dissonance as a means of personal belief modification! But putting that aside, Pascal actually felt that when we enacted religious behaviour we would actually increase our level of personal belief. I guess his plan is to attend religious services, pray, read the holy book of your choice, etc, and eventually you will believe. I don't know of any empirical studies to back his theory up but I would be surprised if it didn't have something to it. I would imagine that you can't be a member of a faith community for long without some of it rubbing off on you.

The Killer Argument
There is, in my opinion, one response that is far more effective. A "killer argument", if you will. Pascal's entire argument relies on the mathematics and not so much general argument or evidence. Therefore, it is worth looking at the argument from a mathematical perspective to see if it holds water.

The strength behind Pascal's advantage is that despite the evidence for God being low (or even excluded from the discussion), the infinite reward makes the value infinite. But this creates a problem. In order for any other competing views to be irrelevant, the chances of them producing any value must be utterly non-existent. To give the clearest example (and there are many others), I will bring in a third competitor to Pascal's Theism and Atheism: Universalism.

Universalism, specifically Universal Reconciliation (salvation) is the doctrine that says that beings will ultimately be reconciled to God. Universalism rejects the notion of hell altogether and some variants allow for a period of purgatory.

Why does this present a problem for Pascal's Wager? Well, in order for it not to break the wager, the chances of Universalism being true must be absolutely, utterly zero. It can't be very low, it can't be negligibly small, it can't even be infinitely small... it must be no possible chance whatsoever.

Remember our maths earlier? I put atheism at 90% chance, theism at 10% chance (just to prove a point. Let's make Universalism, Pu = 0.0000000001.

Pu [Pu = 0.0000000001] x Ru [+∞ for everybody] = Vu = +∞

So it looks like the value of Universalism is the same for Theism. Even if the chances of Universalism being true are less than the chances of Paris Hilton being U.S. President, the value of adhering to the doctrine of Universalism is infinitely great!

Now consider the implications. Pascal's wager is made on the assumption of zero evidence. That means that the "win conditions" are vague. There may be any number of ways that an individual might gain salvation (e.g. by drinking a latte, by worshiping the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by wearing green on mondays, etc) and all will be so patently absurd as to be basically zero chance of being true. But "basically zero" and "no chance" are very different animals when you are dealing with the infinite. If they happen to have an infinite metaphysical payoff (and why not?), then any one of these arbitrary actions gains just as much value as theism does using Pascal's Wager. The only way for theism to maintain its priority in Pascal's Wager is to beg the question and assume that these other options are absolutely impossible. That makes Pascal's Wager circular, broken, and worthless to the individual betting.

Pascal's Wager is now buried. He tried to appeal to the skeptics by providing them with an argument for God that relied on clever maths instead of evidence. Unfortunately, his ultimate tool, infinity, is also his greatest enemy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Are Miracles proof of God's existence?

I'm currently marking a collection of essays on - among others - the topic:

Are miracles proof of God’s existence? Give reasons for your answer.

A lot of people are referencing Hume (it was in the reading recommendations) and giving the answer, "Miracles don't exist".

The reason why they came to this conclusion is that Hume provides a fairly thorough discussion of why we may not be able to trust the testimony of the miraculous from others. Any account that tries to provide such an incredible claim as the miraculous must be sufficiently thorough, detailed, well witnessed, and well evidenced... and no written or verbal claims by hearsay or historical record can stand up to skeptical scrutiny to such a high degree. Hume also makes the point that religious testimony is self-defeating because of two reasons: (1) a miracle that apparently violates the laws of physics is remarkable precisely because of the uniformity of our experiences that miracles like that just don't happen, (if they did, they wouldn't be amazing); and, (2) miracles of opposing religions provide contradicting testimony that point towards different gods (the argument being that if e.g. Islamic miracles are true then Christianity can't be correct, and vice versa). And so, the students reasonably conclude, "Miracles don't occur."

In my humble opinion, THAT'S NOT A VALID ANSWER. In fact, that answer is non sequitur.

The question doesn't ask, "Do Miracles occur?". It asks if miracles, for the sake of argument, would be proof of God's existence.

It's a problem I've noticed with discussion about religion in other contexts. People don't simply say, "I don't have sufficient evidence to believe in your proposed god", they tend to lean towards universalising generalisations like, "No evidence exists for your god" or ... "Miracles can't happen".

Now I'm not saying I have ever witnessed a miracle. I don't think I have. I'm not convince many or any have. But that's irrelevant. You can't just make the strong, negative claim of nonexistent-evidence-in-principle when examining the philosophical link between a miracle and a deity. If I sit inside with my curtains drawn, that doesn't mean that the photons shining on my garden aren't caused by the sun. I don't have to see the photons to hypothetically discuss the relationship.

I'll put the essay question into another context.

Would naked photos of your wife sleeping with another man be evidence of her affair? Give reasons for your answer.

Stupid Answer: The naked photos don't exist.

Irrelevant. Nobody said they did. But IF they did, would they be evidence? Yes.

Do miracles occur? Yes, no, maybe. Who cares! (in this case, that is)

So, what do you think?

Are Miracles proof of God's existence? Why? (hint: the answer is not, 'they don't happen')

Is Hume being unfair? Why or why not?

Have you ever witnessed a miracle?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Living compassionately.

What does it mean to be happy? Can we be happy by ourselves, within ourselves, or is happiness ultimately dependent on community? The ancient greek philosophers praised the quest for eudaimonia, The Good Life, as a virtuous end goal for human thought and action. Is happiness a good personal goal to strive for, or should we look for an alternative "cognitive virtue" like contentment, satisfaction, hope, love, or peace?

Some people try to use 'positive thinking' to gain happiness. But is positive thinking really useful?

I think that positive thinking is only as true as this following quote is,

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. ~Abraham Lincoln

The reason why I say that is because sometimes I meet people whose lives are pretty much the same as anyone else and yet they are less content. As you will read in a quote below, the different is not one of material fact but seems to be more one of perspective or imagination. Sometimes I am surprised when I find joy in the smallest of things. It might be a tree (thanks, Leesa, I remember your blog about your friend with the panic attack), it might be the reflection of sunlight on water, it might be a cool breeze, it might be a nice coffee and relaxing music. Sometimes happiness finds me and ambushes me like a bandit, sneaking in to my mind when I am least expecting it. But happiness comes and goes and I think is not a good goal per se. I prefer the idea of contentment which can last whether I am immediately feeling happy or not.

Here are some quotes which you may or may not agree with. For the other side of things, and a recognition of the reality of the negative side of life, please do keep reading.

If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time. ~Edith Wharton.

Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness. ~Robertson Davies.

It's pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness. Poverty and wealth have both failed. ~Frank McKinney "Kin" Hubbard.

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet. ~James Openheim.

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want. ~Margaret Young.

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. ~Frederick Keonig.

Happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination. ~Immanuel Kant.

But, also, I really think that the world would be “A Better Place”(TM) if everybody made it their deep, personal goal to make others in their life happy. Imagine knowing that all of your friends and associates wanted nothing more than your own happiness! Imagine how your friends would feel knowing that you wanted nothing more than to see them content. I think that recipe for society would make a huge difference. Nobody would be alone, everyone would be supported by many.

Here are some final quotes to that effect,

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have a paradise in a few years. ~Bertrand Russell.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~Dalai Lama.

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. ~Mark Twain.

Sometimes people just get given the short stick. That is why I think that happiness is not a solo job (even though I'm not advocating unhealthy co-dependency). Too often our happiness is contingent on circumstance or relationships. And sometimes those circumstances or relationships really, really suck. We can’t help that (and I don’t blame the individual or think it is some part of a Grand Plan). What we can do, however, is to be there for each other.

I think we need a little bit of imagination, a little bit of courage, and a little bit of hope. As Mignon McLaughlin said (in the Neurotic’s Notebook), “Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent”.

When sadness is present, hope can still remain. And how much easier it would be to feel hopeful despite sadness if we also knew we were deeply and completely loved. For that, we need others. We also need to love ourselves. That means people need to care for people and it also means not be too embarrassed to keep the door open for love from others even when, in deep misery, we may (ironically) least feel like it.

Ah, what a great society we would have if even the government made “love” its civic duty.


What do you think?

Should we be striving for happiness or some other goal?

What is 'the good life' and is it possible?

Can happiness be achieved by yourself, or is it dependent on others?

Feel free to post any other thoughts.

[This post was originally a comment on Jonathan's blog, Spritzophrenia, where he suggested this could be its own blog post. Read his own thoughts on 'positive thinking' here.]

Monday, October 11, 2010

I think, therefore I am awake.

Ernest Sosa is the man with the answers, or so he thinks.

Sosa claims to have solved the skeptical problem of dreaming: are we awake or are we dreaming?

The cogito is famous: "I think therefore I am."

The cogito tells us that we are a thinking thing... that we can rely on our conscious self as existing.

Another way of phrasing this type of problem is whether we are dead: "I think therefore I am alive."

But what about dreaming? How can we tell the difference whether we are alive and conscious or simply stuck in a highly realistic and coherent dream? Well, Sosa thinks he has the answer. Sosa believes that one cannot question (let alone affirm) whether one is dreaming while one is within a dream. I'm not convinced. He doesn't have any trouble with lucid dreaming as lucid dreamers know the difference between beliefs within the dream and propositions about actual reality.

However, Sosa says, "If one is only dreaming, then one cannot be pondering any such question as whether one might be only dreaming, and one could not possibly assent to any answer, whether affirmative or negative. Knowing this, how can one sensibly deliberate on whether one might be dreaming? On our conception of dreams, one is automatically, rationally committed to supposing that one is not just dreaming, whenever one inquires at all. It is hard to imagine a better answer to the dream skeptic. ... We can just as well affirm as ." (p.20)

I don't buy it. I'd like to invite Sosa around for dinner and watch The Matrix with him and then see what he says. I think that it is feasible to imagine a possible scenario where one is dreaming and yet believe existential facts about the current (imagined) reality that happen to be false in actuality. I think that Sosa only privileges his solution by assuming that one can't have a sufficiently advanced enough dream-illusion that allows for existential confusion. In this regard, brain-death or unconsciousness are poor analogies for dreaming.

Do you agree with Sosa? Does Sosa provide a convincing argument against Dream Skepticism?

Do you disagree with Sosa? What problems does Sosa fail to answer?
Want to read more?
Sosa, Ernest (2007) A Virtue Epistemology. Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Find it at Better World Books or Google Books.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Video: Agnosticism & Labels

Jonathan from Spritzophrenia and I have begun meeting up recently across Skype. Along with another friend of mine we have some possible future projects in the works but here is a conversation that we had about "Agnoticism and Labels". Think of this as a small Phrenic Philosophy (or Spritzophrenia) teaser topic:

[Video: Jonathan and I discuss Agnosticism and Labels in religious conversation.]

I'm certain that we will do more of these. In the future we may also improve the videos with transcripts or other things. I'm happy to receive any feedback from anyone: what you liked, what you didn't like, and what changes you might like to see happen.

Edit: 12-Aug-2010

Due to some feedback over on Jonathan's blog, I have included the following transcript of our chat.

Transcript of Agnosticism & Labels (J= Jonathan, I = myself)

I don’t know how to characterise you and that’s for you to say.
But yeah, I fluctuate between being... you know, I’ve had times I’ve been like, “Atheism is the way to go” and times when I’m kind of quite fluffy and spiritual...
...although I’ve always had a strong kind of intellectual bent. I’m just trying to find my way through the world, I guess.
Yeah well, I mean, I could definitely describe myself in the same way I think... with the mix. Yeah.
Yeah. The term agnostic suits me quite well.
Mm. It wasn’t that long ago where I thought that... I think I had a fairly poor understanding of it and I just thought that it was kind of the cop out position, you know. 
Yes, yes.
(Laughs) But it has actually helped me to do a little bit more philosophy about that kind of thing and, like, even though I don’t really like the works by Immanuel Kant at all. Like I reacted quite strongly against them when I read Kant. But I still think he has a few good points and he taught me to appreciate some of the issues to do with, like, transcendency. The idea of “What is transcendent?” and so on. To see the difficulty in making transcendent claims some of the time, that you have to be pretty sure, you know? So sometimes I think that “I don’t know” is not a cop-out answer, that sometimes I think it’s a valid answer.
Okay, yeah. Yeah, certainly your comment about people thinking that being agnostic is a cop-out position: I used to think that too and now I’m much more comfortable with it being a valid position to have. The problem is that it’s perceived as fence-sitting so you get flack from both sides...
Yeah, yeah.
...People who are strongly committed to a belief system kinda go, “Well come over here and join us”, and the people who are strongly committed to atheism say, “No! Come over here and join us”, so you kind of get flak from both sides which can be a bit uncomfortable.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, I think that what you said is definitely true. But the whole idea of people want to be able to draw a line in the sand, I wonder whether that’s convenient for them rather than fair to the other people. Like, some of the time I think that the labels only serve to, sort of, help the Label-Maker rather than being accurate or generous to the other person that they’re labeling.
Labels are only useful up to a point and I think actually listening to other people, saying, “Okay, you’ve labeled yourself this, so I’ve got a general idea of what you might think” but actually listening {unclear} because, you know, most of us are probably a bit inconsistent. But that is one of the problems with ideas, being that ideas are perfect.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Are your beliefs logically consistent?

I played a game called Battleground God where you have to answer a series of questions about Religion and God in order to determine how logically consistent your beliefs are.

It's a fun and educational quiz. There are only 15-20 questions. You progress across the "battlefield" and, if you answer badly, the game alerts you that you either have to "bite a bullet" (ignore a contradiction), take a hit (admit a contradictory belief), or sometimes take a direct hit (an obvious and inescapable contradiction).

[My TPM Medal of Distinction for achieving second place]

I survived mostly unscathed. I had only one contradiction, and accepted it, thereby receiving the second highest award: The Medal of Distinction.

The game is clever in that it doesn't force you to answer the questions according to Theism, atheism, or agnosticism, and it isn't concerned with whether you are "right": the only criteria of judgment is logical consistency across all of your own personal beliefs.

I think the idea is fantastic. At the end, the game offers a breakdown of your performance and explains why you may have problems in the answers that you gave.

I won't tell you the details of where I went "wrong" because I think it's more valuable if you take the test without getting any hints from me. I think I agree, my problems arose because of vague terms, but I'm more than willing to "take the hit" and adjust my thoughts accordingly. I learned a valuable lesson indeed.

So how about you? Take the test if you feel like it. How internally consistent are your beliefs?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Fox News Porn Gaff

Racism, porn, and bad maths, oh boy!

It appears that Kelli Morgan, a journalist at Fox News, needs a lesson in skepticism and statistics.

[Muslims protesting the West. Fox News disagrees. Who has the high ground?]

She said on her recent article, "No. 1 Nation in Sexy Web Searches? Call it Pornistan",
The Muslim country [of Pakistan], which has banned content on at least 17 websites to block offensive and blasphemous material, is the world's leader in online searches for pornographic material, FoxNews.com has learned.
So here's the irony: Google ranks Pakistan No. 1 in the world in searches for pornographic terms, outranking every other country in the world in searches per person for certain sex-related content.
The country also is tops -- or has been No. 1 -- in searches for "sex," "camel sex," "rape video," "child sex video" and some other searches that can't be printed here.

It can't be printed there, Kelli, mostly because it's wrong.

I read into more detail about how Google provided the numbers on Google Trends and what I found was that they normalise the data BY REGION. This means that all numbers produced as, as far as I can see, scaled against ALL google searches per region.

That means that a country with a high population and high internet & google use (like the US) will appear to have lower numbers compared to a region like Pakistan with much less google searches.

My numbers MAY be wrong, but here is my attempt.

Pakistan region, "Donkey sex" = 80.
US region, "Donkey sex" = 61.

So the US looks lower? Oh really. What do those numbers actually *mean*?

Well, in order to know how they compare, you have to know what they look like against the regional search volume. The top search term per region is always "100".

I found a useful calibration search: "YouTube". This appears high on both the PK and US top search terms.

US region, "YouTube" = 55.
Pakistan region, "YouTube" = 20.

This means that the US probably searches, on average, 2.75 times more than the Pakistanis do (that is, Pakistan's local maximum of 100 is compared against the U.S. maximum of 275).

When properly scaled against regional output, the results for "Donkey sex" actually look like this (ratio):

US = 33.55
PK = 16

This means that the US actually searches for "Donkey Sex" 2.09 times MORE than Pakistan.

In other words, PK represents 47% the "donkey sex" search volume of the whole USA.
The combined "Donkey Sex" searches of Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Arizona, Missouri, Michigan, Washington, & Colorado beat the searches of the country of Pakistan.

While it may be true that dodgy searches represent a greater proportion of web searches performed by Pakistan, the U.S. still appears to be the King of Explicit Porn despite the statistical fumbling of their racist news media.

(No donkeys were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Oops, my pen slipped.

[Planet Earth, the distant past.]

"La la la, copying the bible, la la la, making a manuscript, la la la, dipping my quill in the ink well, la la l-" *SPLURGE*

"Oops. I just spilled some ink on the page. Oh well. La la la keeping on making my coping la la la."


"Brother Obsequious!"


"Is this your manuscript?"

"Sure, yep. 1 John 5. Uhuh."

"There's an error here."

"What?! Where?"

"There. Look" *points*

"Oh, no. That's just where I spilled some ink."

"Um. It's in Greek."

"Just a slip."

"It's more than 25 words."

"Nah, just some "gloss". You know Copyist Gloss."

"Copyist Gloss? That's not a real idea."

"Sure it is. Anyway, it's just a mistake."

"This is an entire doctrine."

"No it isn't!"

"It's the doctrine of the Trinity. You put the doctrine of the Trinity into 1 John 5:8."

"What? Let me see that. Hmm, no I don't see it. Anyway, what difference could it make? Who really reads this stuff?"


"Oh look, the Page has arrived. Quick, we've got to get this manuscript off to the printers!"

"But... you... I... screw it. Moron." *gives it to the Page*

Monday, August 02, 2010

If I Were A Rich Man

There are several podcasts and groups that I would like to support, if I were rich enough to pay for them.

Of course, I very much doubt that I will ever become a rich man. I can always dream.

Here is my list of people I would like to support. Given that this is a total fantasy list, then I will say that Iain the Multi-Millionaire would like to see these people become "full time" in their work so that they could ignore the other pressing needs of life and simply focus on their work in these areas.

I wonder, what would your list look like?

Science and Skepticism

The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe (website & podcast), by the New England Skeptics' Society [link]

Official description:
"The Skeptics Guide to the Universe is a weekly Science podcast talkshow discussing the latest news and topics from the world of the paranormal, fringe science, and controversial claims from a scientific point of view."

The people:
The SGU are Dr Steven Novella, Bob Novella, Rebecca Watson, Evan Bernstein, & Jay Novella.

Why I appreciate them:
The SGU podcast is educational, fascinating, packed with science news and discoveries, and just a really excellent listen overall. The crew are all very personable and they do a great service to the skeptical community. Podcasts like this provide excellent commentary on bogus beliefs and quack science claims.

Skeptoid (podcast): Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena, by Brian Dunning [link]

Official description:
"Skeptoid is a weekly science podcast dedicated to furthering knowledge by blasting away the widespread pseudosciences that infect popular culture, and replacing them with way cooler reality.
Each weekly episode focuses on a single phenomenon — an urban legend, a paranormal claim, alternative therapy, or something just plain stupid — that you've heard of, and that you probably believe in. Skeptoid attempts to expose the folly of belief in non-evidence based phenomena, and more importantly, explains the factual scientific reality.
From the sublime to the startling, no topic is sacred, politically incorrect though that may be."

The people:

Skeptoid is hosted and produced by Brian Dunning.

Why I appreciate them:
Skeptoid is a fantastic source material for those who are wondering about a particular claim that might be popularly made or believed. It's short (8-15mins), deliciously sarcastic, well argued, and well supported by evidence. Curious about a bizarre claim that your friend told you about? Stop by and see what Brian uncovers about it; if you're brave enough you might learn something.

Bad Astronomy (website), by Phil Plait [link]

Official description:
"Phil Plait, the creator of Bad Astronomy, is an astronomer, lecturer, and author. After ten years working on Hubble Space Telescope and six more working on astronomy education, he struck out on his own as a writer. He has written two books, dozens of magazine articles, and 12 bazillion blog articles. He is a skeptic, and loves fighting misuses of science as well as praising the wonder of real science."

The people:
The 'Bad Astronomer' is Phil Plait.

Why I appreciate them:

Phil Plait is one of the most passionate astronomers that I could name. His work goes beyond his blog and into authorship as well as his up-coming foray into television with his Discovery TV series, "Bad Universe" (click for YouTube sneak peek). Phil originally started debunking famous hoaxes but has moved into general science education. He is an energetic and driven individual who really deserves to go far in this world.


The Atheist Experience TV Show (TV & podcast), by the Atheist Community of Austin [link]

Official description:
"The Atheist Experience is a weekly cable access television show in Austin, Texas geared at a non-atheist audience. Every week we field live calls from atheists and believers alike, and you never know what you're going to get! Sometimes it can get quite feisty indeed! You don't want to miss it."

The people:
The AE hosts and co-hosts are Matt Dillahunty, Russell Glasser, Don Baker, Jeff Dee, Tracie Harris, Jen Peeples, and Martin Wagner.

Why I appreciate them:
The AE provides one of the best regular discussion shows that I am aware of featuring a rotating pair of atheist hosts willing to field any and every live caller about any topic on religion and atheism. Their debating and critical thinking skills are, combined, better than any others I have seen. Matt and Russell, and probably others, also do further work in the community such as hosting or attending debates and providing lectures on a range of topics. The are more than willing to discuss anything with any caller whether they simply have a question through to professional apologists wanting to debate a formal topic.

Atheist News (website & podcast), by Joe Prova and "Brother" Richard Haynes [link]

Official description:
"The Atheist News podcast is the official bi-weekly podcast of Atheist Nexus. For an hour, Joe Prova and his co-host, Brother Richard Haynes, serve you up news that is of interest to atheists, humanists, and skeptics spiced with a dash of humor, a pinch of sarcasm, and tonnes and tonnes of incredulity."

The people:

Atheist News is hosted by Joe Prova and Richard Haynes.

Why I appreciate them:
Joe and Brother Richard provide a humorous and sometimes sad glance at the recent news pouring in from the world of wacky religious occurrences. Good for a laugh, always interesting, and presented in a personable manner, this podcast is always fun. Joe and Richard both have their own need for money in their endeavours, so I imagine that a philanthropist would be putting money to an extremely dynamic cause if they supported these two.

American Freethought (website & podcast), by John C. Snider & David Driscoll [link]

Official description:

"The purpose of American Freethought is to serve freethinkers of every stripe: atheists, agnostics, skeptics, secular humanists, brights, rationalists, or whatever else you wish to call yourselves.  This publication casts a wide net.  In addition to perennial concerns like reason vs. religion and separation of church and state, it will also cover topics that any thoughtful reader should find interesting: science, politics, philosophy, the arts, and social issues.
You will find no agenda beyond promoting reasoned discourse as the best method for understanding reality and deciding how to live.  This is not an activist publication per se, nor is it a mouthpiece for any political party or special interest group."

The people:

The contributors are author and activist, John C. Snider, and A.A.I. advocate, David Driscoll.

Why I appreciate them:
As much as I enjoy their content, John and David are in themselves both personable and interesting guys. They provide a friendly approach to the topics, often sharing of their own personal lives as well as discussion both U.S.-relevant and worldwide issues. They do some very interesting interviews with authors and specialists and are both very skilled hosts.

Dogma Free America (podcast), by Rich Orman & assorted co-hosts [link]

Official description:
"From beautiful Aurora, Colorado, this is the Dogma Free America podcast. Your best source of information about religion, crazy dogma, freedom of speech, and the jackass of the week... and, on occasion, a really bad Southern accent."

The people:
This show is hosted by Rich Orman, with co-hosts varying between Flynn Owens, Rob Orman, and Jamye J.

Why I appreciate them:

I enjoy DFA because the hosts are friendly, have witty and often very dry humour, and banter about all sorts of amusing topics. The show provides a light-hearted mockery of all things wacky from the latest news events demonstrating crazy dogma.


Apologia Podcast (website & podcast), by Dr Zachary Moore & assorted co-hosts [link]

Official description:
"Apologia is a friendly forum for both theists and non-theists to come together in search of some common understanding. Rather than a contentious debate format, Apologia provides a setting in which all participants can discuss without confrontation."

The people:

Apologia is usually hosted by Dr. Zachary Moore, Rev. Kevin Harris, and includes a mix of theist and atheist co-hosts.

Why I appreciate them:
Apologia podcast usually provides an excellent, mutually beneficial, respectful, and non-confrontational discussion between atheists and theists on a range of important topics. A good testament to their positivity is that if, for schedule reasons, the show is hosted only by "one side" the discussion still remains balanced and fair. They tackle and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the discussion. I wish that more people could talk about issues as fairly, honestly, and comprehensively as these guys do on here.


The Vocal Trance Session, by Sonnydeejay [link]

Description (unofficial): The Vocal Trance sessions is a weekly, 60-90 minute mix of trance music offered free by podcast.

The people:
This show is mixed by an artist, Sonnydeejay, from Brazil.

Why I appreciate them:
The Vocal Trance sessions provide a consistently high quality mix of trance music. The sessions are largely uninterrupted by any DJ talk-overs, are mixed well, and is usually a very excellent track-list. If you enjoy trance, particularly vocal trance, or are wanting to know more about trance then I would not hesitate to recommend this podcast.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Science as "pantheism"?

Is the scientific worldview pantheistic or, possibly, panentheistic? By "the scientific worldview", I mean the prevailing highly educated, western, scientific story of reality seen in most top-selling cosmology or biology books currently popularising science information.

Pantheism: the belief that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God.

Panentheism: the belief that God is greater than the universe and includes and interpenetrates it.

To kick off the question, here are some videos:

[Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking at Beyond Belief '06]

[Video: Auto-tuned science song, "We Are All Connected", by John Boswell.]

[Video: Auto-tuned science song, "The Poetry of Reality (An Anthem for Science)", by John Boswell.]

To the pantheist, the universe and god are one. To the panentheist, god interpenetrates and abides through out all of the universe. Christianity, understood from one particular school of thought, could arguably be a form of panentheism (Colossians 1:17, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together").

As you can see in the first video's speech from deGrasse Tyson, the truths of science can inspire a great awe and a passionate sense of wonder as profound as those in any religious prophet. In my experience, it is very common to hear cosmologists and other types of scientists, whether they are religious or not, speak in reverential terms about their love for knowledge and about the numinous experiences that they have while studying reality.

I think that it is entirely possible to have an "atheist spirituality" because, if the atheists are correct, the feelings that atheist scientists have while studying their field literally are no different to those claimed by the religious camp. And, if the atheists are wrong about the nature of a transcendent reality, then I still feel that the experiences that go through the minds of such scientifically enamoured folks are found within a particular orientation towards whatever divinity or transcendency we can touch from within our limited view on reality.
   After all, as Francis Bacon believed, "God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation."

However, even given what I just said I do not feel that the scientific experience, however numinous, is in any way making any claims about religious matters (transcendent ones anyway, historical claims are another story). Because science only studies that which is immanent (i.e. our material universe), this is why I don't feel that the scientific worldview is ultimately a religious one.

So no, the scientific worldview isn't pantheism or panentheism, but I would forgive somebody for getting the two confused at a simple glance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love God Or Die?

I originally posted this as a comment on a friend's blog but feel it is worth its own post here.

He recommended watching the Mimi Rogers & David Duchovny movie The Rapture (1991). It was bizarre, somewhat disturbing, but highly worth my time. Here are my thoughts.

[Video: a YouTube mashup of scenes from The Rapture.]

Wow. Okay. Well I just (literally just) finished watching The Rapture.
I found the repeated urging to love God to be REALLY sinister. It creeped me out! The whole time there was this urging to love God as though the sword of Damacles was hanging over their heads. God was never seen, only vaguely hinted at. Suffering was clearly present (as was the theme of the movie), but any kind of “humanity” (so to speak) to God was not. It held a very high christology. Too high, IMO, and the notion of “a god who risks” and an incarnate, suffering deity (as found in Christ) was entirely missing.
Scary spokesmen for God, cultish and secretive adherents abounded, murderously insane delusions seemed the order of the day (even on the part of the protagonist), and the main theological message seemed to be “Love God Or Die”. Such a message seems to undermine the very notion of love itself.
If I had a gun, and I was a powerful head of state, and I said to a citizen, “You *must* love me for giving you the precious gift of living within my society (OR I WILL KILL YOU)”, I don’t see how an affirmative response from them would be any kind of true example of love at all. I certainly would never believe that they loved me even if they said that they did. You can’t coerce true love, especially not through violence. Love must be earned, it cannot be forced.
The final scene highlighted this problem especially well. As her child said, “Do you love God for giving you the gift of life?” with the threat of eternal damnation literally looming behind her words. What would they expect the answer to be? The best I could muster in that scenario would be a lie: “Yes. (please don’t hurt me)”
The rules of relationship apply to God just as much as any person. Give me a reason to respect you and I shall respect you. Give me a reason to love you and I shall love you. Try to force me to do either and you will instead force me to do neither.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Religion and Wish-fulfillment

Wish-fulfillment, or "wishful thinking", is a danger to reasonable religion.
Wikipedia says,
“Wishful thinking is the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality or reality.
Studies have consistently shown that holding all else equal, subjects will predict positive outcomes to be more likely than negative outcomes.”
This relates to the common, human optimism bias, and the logical fallacies of false relevance known as the appeal to emotion and the appeal to consequences.
The problem could be summed up as being: “filling gaps in your knowledge with emotionally satisfying answers rather than necessarily true ones”.
As one person said on a podcast that I heard recently, “Science, if it does anything well, is very good at throwing cold water on human self-importance.”
Here are some questions to consider:
Q: Do you feel that not knowing something is a problem?
Q: Would you feel uncomfortable with a worldview that doesn’t provide “all the answers”? Or, rephrased, do you think that if a worldview can’t provide “all the answers” that this is a black mark against it?
For example, some Big Questions(TM) might be:
“Why is there something rather than nothing?”
“What happens after we die?”
“What is ‘The Meaning Of Life’?” (notice the capitals)
If we just don’t know how the universe was formed (or anything "prior" to the Big Bang)... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know if an afterlife exists or not... would that be a problem?
If we just don’t know how to determine any one absolute Meaning to life... is that a problem?
If the facts available to humanity simply does not allow absolute confidence in any of these questions, if indeed any answers at all, is uncertainty really so terrible?
To provide more examples, there are some other ways in which one might appeal to the argument from emotion or use wishful thinking in religion:
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Justice to get payback against evil that prospers in this life.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Comfort because life can be very difficult.
In wanting - and thus believing - in some kind of Ultimate Love because sometimes we feel unloved.
This is not to say that any of these things are untrue, but what it means is that they are not going to be true purely based on your desire for them to be the case. The world does not conform itself to our desires, after all. Wishful thinking says absolutely nothing about the truth or falsity of the issue at hand, it only reveals something about the person doing it. It is irrational to believe something based on nothing (or you could believe anything and everything, arbitrarily) and I think that you owe it to yourself to make your foundations more secure than that.
One perspective is that, by relying on wish fulfillment, you tear down your own self-esteem and place it in the hands of an otherwise unexamined belief set. That’s a risky gambit and it doesn’t guarantee that you will end up holding beliefs that mirror reality.
Ask yourself: If you hold a particular belief, what have you done and how have you investigated it to ensure that your belief is actually true?
For those who are interested in the philosophy of Wishful Thinking and want to be able to spot it, it goes like this:

P1) X is nice/comforting/satisfying.
P2) Belief A doesn’t provide X.
P3) Belief B does provide X.
C) Therefore, on no other basis than P1-3, one ought to believe B.
After careful, honest reflection, do you think that any of your beliefs might be at least partly grounded in wishful thinking?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We get high, the fish die.

Anti-depression medication can kill marine life.

When humans take medication like prozac they don't absorb it all and a certain amount of it will make its way to the ocean where it has a potentially disastrous effect on marine life. Our sewage systems currently don't filter out such medication from the water, meaning that it can find its way into - among other things - the brains of shrimps. The medication then has an effect on them similar to a natural parasite that influences their brain chemistry and causes the shrimps to swim into lighter and more predatory waters.

Swim to the light, Willy! Swim to the light! Wait... no, don't!

From The Naked Scientists:
Anti-depressants that end up in sewage effluent could have a major impact on marine wildlife, causing shrimp to swim towards instead of away from light. That may not sound important, but it is, because hanging around in well-lit waters make these animals far more likely to be eaten by fish or birds, potentially disrupting entire food webs.
Publishing in the journal Aquatic Toxicology, Yasmin Guler and Alex Ford from the UK’s University of Plymouth, got the idea for this study from a type of parasite that infects shrimps, making them more likely to swim towards light where they are eaten by other animals, that are the next step in the life-cycle of the parasite. The parasites change their host’s swimming behaviour by manipulating levels of serotonin in their brain.
The researchers wondered if the anti-depressant drugs people take to target serotonin levels and control their mood might have a similar affect on other animals.

I work part-time in a psychiatric supportive residential accommodation service. I support a responsible application of the medical model of psychiatric treatment. However, I would like to see this human advantage gained without any expense to the beautiful flora and fauna of our lands and oceans.

Note to sewage treatment services: get with the programme.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Golden Rule(s)

Christianity’s golden rule isn’t alone. It turns out that most other religions also have rules similar to (and many times predating) Jesus’ own version. They vary between passive or active; positive or prohibitive. But the point is pretty much the same. That’s enough from me.

Religions: have your say!

African Traditional Religions
"One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts."
Yoruba Proverb (Nigeria)

"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
Udana-Varga 5,1

"Comparing oneself to others in such terms as "Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I," he should neither kill nor cause others to kill."

Sutta Nipata 705

"One should seek for others the happiness one desires for himself"

Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama, c. 563 - c. 483 B.C.)

"The Ariyan disciple thus reflects, Here am I, fond of my life, not wanting to die, fond of pleasure and averse from pain. Suppose someone should rob me of my life... it would not be a thing pleasing and delightful to me. If I, in my turn, should rob of his life one fond of his life, not wanting to die, one fond of pleasure and averse from pain, it would not be a thing pleasing or delightful to him. For a state that is not pleasant or delightful to me must also be to him also; and a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another? As a result of such reflection he himself abstains from taking the life of creatures and he encourages others so to abstain, and speaks in praise of so abstaining."

Samyutta Nikaya v.353

"Never do to other persons what would pain thyself."

Panchatantra (Buddhist Mythology c. 200 B.C.) 

"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."
Matthew 7:1

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Leviticus 19.18

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets"

Matthew 22.36-40 

"Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state."
Analects 12:2

"Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence."
Mencius VII.A.4

"Tsekung asked, "Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?" Confucius replied, "It is the word shu--reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.""

Analects 15.23 

"This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you."
Mahabharata 5,1517

"One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to selfish desire."
Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8 

"No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."
40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 13

"In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self."

"A man should wander about treating all creatures as he himself would be treated."
Sutrakritanga 1.11.33

"One should treat all beings as he himself would be treated."

Agamas Sutrakritanga 1.10.13 

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."
Talmud, Shabbat 3id

"As thou deemest thyself, so deem others."

"Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss."
Tai Shang Kan Yin P'ien

"That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself."
Dadisten-I-dinik, 94,5

"Whatever is disagreeable to yourself do not do unto others."

Shayast-na-Shayast 13:29

"Do not do unto others what angers you if done to you by others."
Socrates 436-338 BCE

"We should behave toward friends as we would wish friends to behave toward us."
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

"He sought for others the good he desired for himself. Let him pass."
Egyptian Book of the Dead (1580-1350 B.C.)

"Do not kill or injure your neighbor, for it is not him that you injure, you injure yourself. But do good to him, therefore add to his days of happiness as you add to your own. Do not wrong or hate your neighbor, for it is not him that you wrong, you wrong yourself. But love him, for Moneto loves him also as he loves you."

Shawnees Indians

This list was from here; I personally would also add the Wiccan Rede, "Do what you will, so long as it harms none".

Check out the Golden Rule here on Wikipedia too.

Sounds like a good start to Game Theory to me! ;)