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.