A short Humanist animation about how we learn what’s true through the use of evidence and science.
A short Humanist animation about how we learn what’s true through the use of evidence and science.
Aleppo is Syria’s largest metropolitan area and a millennia-old commercial capital. Today, however, it is a relative ghost town, threatened by regime bombing from the air and a militant offensive on the ground. For two weeks over the summer, VICE News embedded with the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad on one hand, and Islamic State militants on the other. From their secret tunnels beneath the ancient city to their threatened frontline outposts in Aleppo’s ruined medieval centre, VICE NEWS followed the Islamic Front as, against overwhelming odds, they battled to retain control of the capital of the Syrian revolution.
I have to admit that I understand almost nothing about the religion and politics behind these kinds of conflict, but it’s fascinating to see the underlying humanity. All of these men seem like decent people defending their homes by bombing the other side, all in the name of God. It’s very strange, and very sad. If God is real, I can see why he doesn’t hang around here any more.
I’m not a big fan of science shows like the new Cosmos, and while listening to the most recent episode of the podcast Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project Norm captured my feelings perfectly. He explained that it feels a lot like science propaganda and that if there was a creationist version of Cosmos that just stated things as if they were fact that he would be totally unsatisfied with it. Cosmos suffers from the same failings.
(That’s my highly paraphrased version of Norm’s words, but you can hear the Cosmos discussion right at the start of the episode. The nub is about 4 minutes in.)
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
The Neil deGrasse Tyson quote above (often simplified as “facts are true whether you believe them or not”) exhibits the same problem. It sounds compelling if you’re pro-science (as I very much am) but it’s a needlessly hostile statement to science skeptics, for whom the counterargument could just as easily be that the good thing about Christianity is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
It also seems to grossly misrepresent the ‘truth’ of science, which isn’t that it has all the answers but that it’s a working method for being able to discover all the answers. Religion is a fixed truth and only changes (when it does) by looking backwards and reinterpreting itself. By contrast science looks forwards to learn whatever it can, updating the facts as it goes.
The curiously revered world of irrational nonsense has seeped into almost every aspect of modern society and is both complex and multifarious. Therefore rather than attempt a comprehensive taxonomy, I have opted instead for a gross oversimplification and a rather pretty Venn Diagram.
“As such nonsensical beliefs continue to evolve they become more and more fanciful and eventually creep across the bollock borders. Although all the items depicted on the diagram are completely bereft of any form of scientific credibility, those that successfully intersect the sets achieve new heights of implausibility and ridiculousness. And there is one belief so completely ludicrous it successfully flirts with all forms of bollocks.”
Paul Braterman: Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”
A recent Harris poll asked Americans “Do you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution?” Others more eminent have commented on the answers; I would like to comment on the question.
It would be difficult to cram a larger number of serious errors into so small a space.
The word ‘theory’ means different things to the general public and the scientific community: In common language a theory always involves speculation. In academic discourse, it means a coherent set of ideas that explain the facts.
Darwin didn’t understand evolution (or ‘natural selection’) as well as we do today: He knew nothing about mutations or even about the existence of specific genes, and so he had no idea how new variants could arise and spread. His assumption of gradualism is in contrast to later ideas such as punctuated equilibrium, and we now know that much if not indeed most variation arises through neutral drift. Thus not only do we know far more facts about evolution than Darwin could have dreamt of, but our theories, too, incorporate numerous additional concepts.
Belief implies that disbelief is an option: Some people believe that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, but no one would say they “believe” that Barak Obama is the current incumbent, because no sane person doubts it.
ICR, together with the rest of the creation science movement, has made great strides in the last 40 years. In many areas, the superiority of the creation worldview has been clearly demonstrated. However, there is much work that still needs to be done, and this work is hindered by a lack of trained scientists.
I’m not entirely convinced that the post isn’t a parody of some kind!
I haven’t read all of these yet, but I thoroughly recommend all the ones I have. The posts are each an easily digestible mini-essay with a single point made very well. I’ve cut and pasted a few sound-bites below from some of the posts that grabbed my attention.
“It is a great strength of Homo sapiens that we can, better than any other species in the world, learn to model the unseen. It is also one of our great weak points. Humans often believe in things that are not only unseen but unreal.”
Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)
“Where it is difficult to believe a thing, it is often much easier to believe that you ought to believe it.”
Belief in Belief
“Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.”
Your Strength as a Rationalist
Cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett is one of America’s foremost thinkers. In this Guardian extract from his new book (Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Critical Thinking), he reveals some of the lessons life has taught him.
I hadn’t heard of deepities before, but I will have fun looking out for them in the future!
A deepity is a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial. The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth from the second reading, and the devastating importance from the first reading, and thinks, Wow! That’s a deepity.
Here is an example (better sit down: this is heavy stuff): Love is just a word.
Daniel Dennett’s seven tools for thinking
John Howell starts his article for Thought Catalog by proving that he doesn’t really understand atheism or religion:
“If you’re one of the growing number of young adults who identify as “other” when asked about religious affiliation, this is for you. Unlike those who claim to be atheists, you are honest enough with yourselves to realize that as a human being you are hardwired to be religious, but at the same time you don’t like the standard choices on the menu.”
It’s such a bad piece I’m not even going to deconstruct it, however there are the ingredients in here of a good idea.
Medieval thinkers such as St Thomas Aquinas or Maimonides would be astonished at the way we read, preach and pray today, says author Karen Armstrong.
“We’ve tended to lose older, sometimes more intuitive patterns of thought,” she says.
“They would see some of the ways we talk about God as remarkably simplistic.
“We are reading our scriptures with a literalness which is without parallel in the history of religion, largely because of this rational bias of ours.”
The BBC looks at how religions change their minds.
I find it very strange that people feel the need to look deeply into their own religions to justify changes they can plainly see need to be made.
The birth certificate is the first official document you are given in what is hopefully a long life of much lesser forms and documentation. It is the official record that you have arrived and is special for those involved. The current document feels historical and archival, but doesn’t offer much information or feel special.
I really like the layout, but I’m not keen on having nonsense like the Zodiac sign included – and especially not a given religion. As Dawkins points out, “There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents.”
Sam Harris on “Islamophobia” and other libels:
A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.
Sam Harris — Response to Controversy
Amazing photographs on The Atlantic of yesterday’s “topless jihad” protests.
The demonstrations were in support of a young Tunisian activist named Amina Tyler. Last month, Tyler posted naked images of herself online, with the words “I own my body; it’s not the source of anyone’s honor” written on her bare chest. The head of Tunisia’s “Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice,” reportedly called for Tyler to be stoned to death for her putatively obscene actions, lest they lead to an epidemic.
Amazing photograph from The Atlantic from the “topless jihad” protests of April 2013.