30/3/2011

Our Side

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:11 pm

I’ve talked about it a bit here before, and some discussion has ensued, but I thought I’d come back to it.

Pointing

It’s a bit of a trite cliche to say that ‘when you point the finger, three are pointing back at you’, but it actually seems to me to be about the right ratio: if I’m critical of myself three times as often as I’m critical of others, I’m much less likely to be a hypocrite. Looking for the log in my eye and taking care of that first, then perhaps being willing to help others with their dust specks, just makes sense.

I think the same applies for in-groups and out-groups: if we criticised the groups of which we’re members three times as often as we criticise ‘the opposition’, we’d be in better shape.

I think one of the terrible shames of the age is that the world is descending into armed camps, in which those inside can never do anything wrong – or if they do, we must never acknowledge it – and those outside can never do or say anything right (or ditto).

It’s just a way to foster division and damage and war, rather than mutual understanding.

And that, my dear friends, is why you’ll read a lot more criticisms of Christians and people of faith here on this blog than you will read criticisms of atheists1. Because I try hard to live by this principle, and criticise my in-group first, most and most rigorously, and myself even before and more rigorously than that.

  1. LOL – I’m still working on the whole ‘criticising left-wingers more than right-wingers’ thing: I find that tough!

Faiths and Atheisms

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:47 am

Thanks to Mark for this link to New Scientist:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928055.600-religion-is-irrational-but-so-is-atheism.html?full=true

Debate, and particularly internet debate, tends to conflate things that are actually quite different in order to simplify, but I would argue that often necessary complexities for a useful understanding of the phenomena under discussion are lost in the process1.

This article identifies a couple of different kinds of atheism, and while I think there are more forms, the distinction drawn is a useful one.

It also recognises that, much as we like to think so, our religious decisions2 are not so much the pure result of our own individual cold reason but the outworking of much larger social, relationship and other processes in us.

  1. I’ve also argued that this is a mistake Dawkins makes in ‘The God Delusion’ – losing necessary complexity in shoving all of religion into one basket
  2. I know, atheist friends, atheism is not a religion, but the decision to be an atheist is a decision about a religious matter

29/3/2011

Excellent article, by a theist, on theism, atheism, evidence, the stars and the silence of God

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:57 pm

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=91384

28/3/2011

Time for some good news stories!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:06 pm

http://www.salon.com/news/viral_video/index.html?story=/news/feature/2011/03/27/week_in_uppers_32711

27/3/2011

Yep

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:49 pm

Comments (1)

26/3/2011

Extinction of Religion?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:19 am

First, please note that I post this without glee: I seem to be developing a bit of a reputation for being anti-religious among some commenters here that I think is undeserved. I’m interested in news about religion, and like anything it’s often not the good news that makes the news…

And besides, this story has physics, too! It’s a paper published at a physics conference, and is based on physicists using mathematical modelling tools developed for physical processes to look at the rates of growth on national censuses of those declaring themselves unaffiliated with any religion.

There’ve been a number of articles about the paper going around, but journalists often get things wrong or have odd emphases, so I always prefer, where possible, to go directly to the original scientific paper.


http://arxiv.org/pdf/1012.1375v2

The language gets fairly mathematical, but the graphs and figures are pretty easy to read and interpret, as is the main thrust of the paper. Their notion is that people tend to conduct a bit of a cost-benefit analysis when deciding whether to be affiliated or unaffiliated with any particular group. To the extent that people judge there are more costs and fewer benefits in being affiliated than not, they will tend to drop their affiliation.

The study took census data from 9 countries – Australia is one of them but the US is not – and looked at the rates of change of people identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Most of the obvious caveats were addressed, so please do read the paper (or at least skim it) before assuming they missed something obvious.

It needs to be said that the ‘extinction’ would not be absolute, would not happen in all places evenly (or at all) and will not happen tomorrow… the graph suggests perhaps 70 years for effective extinction of religion in the Netherlands, for example.

There’s more to say and some links to add, but perhaps I’ll do that in the comments. In the mean time, just an interesting story.

25/3/2011

Gravity as Information

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:16 am

I actually posted about this just over a year ago: http://www.bravus.com/blog/?p=1558

So when, for one of my courses, I was required1 to do a literature research project on some physics related to fields, I thought of it again.

Being as new and as high-level as it is, it’ll stretch me, but I’m excited by it, which will make the project seem more like fun than work.

  1. I’m doing an undergraduate course as part of a postgraduate program, so they give us one extra assessment task…

22/3/2011

George Monbiot hits yet another one out of the park

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:06 pm

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

21/3/2011

Literalism and Bibliolatry

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:58 am

Recent forum discussions1 are just the latest manifestation of an issue I’ve been thinking about for quite a while now. I’ll let one of the forum denizens, ‘John317’, speak for himself:

People have to decide whether to accept their feelings & opinions about this or whether they are going to trust the Bible[…]2.

If the Bible […is] untrustworthy on something so central in Scripture as this {whether God kills}, perhaps it is wrong on many other things.

Do you trust the Bible […] when it comes to telling us that Christ is both fully man and fully God? Or that homosexuality is a sin? […]

My point is that once we start jettisoning ideas and teachings that we don’t like for whatever reason, it becomes a matter of accepting what we like and rejecting everything else that we might find personally objectionable. At that point, people are no longer placing their faith in the word of God or even in God Himself but in their own opinions.

That particular post was in response to a discussion about whether God kills, and John317 kind of had the wrong end of the stick. I was agreeing with him: if you take the Bible literally, then God does indeed kill. He killed pretty much everyone on earth in the Flood, making God the most effective mass killer in history.

Now, what one does with that is obviously more complicated, but all I was trying to do at the time was to force believers to take their own beliefs face-on: if you believe in a literal Bible, you believe in a killer God. Whether or not God has every right to kill is another debate.

But the bigger issue is that one about ‘do you believe the Bible or your own opinions?’

The Bible is full of contradictions. I don’t think that statement is even controversial. There’s a list here, and sure, some of them are kind of petty, but there’s mountain of them.

Different people do different things with that. Some, like my friend Lawrence and other friends, throw out the Bible. The claim is made that it’s infallible, yet they see the contradictions and feel they have no choice.

Others deny that it is so, and find ways to explain away the apparent contradictions. If pushed into a corner they tend to fall back on ‘well, we can’t know everything, so you just have to have faith’.

What that also tends to mean, though, is that they then cherry-pick the bits and pieces of the Bible they like – pick their preferred pole of each contradiction, if you like. Of course, if one picks the opposite poll – well backed up with Biblical evidence – one is ‘trusting to your own opinions’.

I guess the position I’ve come to, if it can even be called a position, is that I trust God, but have to discern God through what is a human document. It’s a human document with particular purposes, and one with flaws. And yes, I know that there are particular texts within it that claim it is all perfect, but whence the contradictions?

(PS I’ll be particularly interested in comments from Paul, my brother, who is the person I know who knows his Bible best.)

Given that, of course there’s the temptation to rationalise away anything inconvenient! I have to trust myself and my own honour and honesty not to do that: and recognise that I’m flawed and fallible.

But if we recognise that the Bible is a library of books written by humans, then we can recognise that *perhaps* the Creation story is a religious origins story about God’s role, rather than a literal history of how the universe and world came to be.

We can recognise that *perhaps* the Flood was actually a local event that covered the *known* world rather than the entire planet, and perhaps people ascribed to God’s wrath what was a natural event.

We can recognise that it was the war leaders of the time who claimed God’s imprimatur when they commanded that all the men, women, children and babies be slaughtered and just the young virgins kept to be ‘wives’ for the soldiers.

We can recognise that human homophobes projected some of their fears onto God.

And so on.

There are arguments about where to stop and what is real and what’s the point and…

But there is, in my view, no alternative to consulting our own minds: there is simply no coherent and consistent Biblical set of doctrines and practices that can be unproblematically drawn from the text. And, as I’ve discussed before, God is too big and too strange to be captured in one book – or a billion.

Hence the reference to ‘bibliolatry’ – book worship – in the title. When the book itself is worshipped, rather than God, that’s not that different from any other form of idolatry.

The book points to God, and God is bigger than the book.

  1. Paul is probably correct when he says in the comments that those are not always helpful, but they do provide food for thought
  2. Given that it’s a Seventh-day Adventist forum he referred to Ellen White in the same breath as the Bible but IMO that’s a separate and narrower issue. If you want to follow that up I’ve discussed it on the ClubAdventist forum (google it)

17/3/2011

Functioning Moral Sense?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:48 am

A majority of the Christians I’m talking with have said, one way or another, that God caused (or at the very least intentionally allowed) the disaster in Japan as a punishment or a warning.

Look, I’m still clinging on to being a follower of Jesus. But this complete failture of empathy, sense of reality and moral sense keeps making it hard.

If that’s your God, then I repudiate that God utterly. A ‘loving’ God who capriciously kills off 10,000 innocents to make a rhetorical point is no God I want any part of, now or in eternity.

13/3/2011

I approve this message

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:01 pm

From the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/opinion/13kristof.html?_r=1

12/3/2011

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:05 pm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/phil-zuckerman/why-evangelicals-hate-jes_b_830237.html?view=print

It’s true…

2/3/2011

Truth and the Postmodernist

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:42 am

I’ve talked about myself as a postmodernist here, claiming that all grand narratives (meaning frameworks) can be deconstructed in terms of their internal logic, and therefore truths are contingent, situated in time and place and culture, rather than absolute. (Or, slightly more carefully, that if absolute truths exist we have no direct access to them.)

And yet… it really annoys me when people don’t tell the truth!

Discussions around climate change recently on a forum. (Yeah, I know…)

One person claimed repeatedly that the world is cooling, not warming, and is cooler now than it was in 1979.

My response:

temperature graph

(I’d already addressed this blatant lie here)

Another posted a scurrilous text floating around the web that the Iceland volcano negated all carbon dioxide reduction efforts so far, and that the Mt Pinatubo eruption released more carbon dioxide than all human activities ever.

On the second point I noted that Mt Pinatubo released 43 million tonnes of CO2 while human activities release 27 billion tonnes every year. On the wonderfully named Eyjafjallajoekull volcano, this link shows that its net result was a *reduction* in emissions: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/2010/planes-or-volcano/

Of course, none of the ‘skeptics’ (and ain’t *that* a misnomer!) has taken a step back and said “Oh, apparently I have been misinformed…” They’ve just ignored the refutation and moved on to reporting the next lie…

My point here is not to rant about dishonest people, or to make points about climate change, but to explore my own philosophical positions.

On the one hand, I’m a convinced postmodernist. On the other, the truth matters to me.

Perhaps (and I know this is a pretty superficial analysis) part of the truth is encoded in the statement: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.” There could be different units and different ways of measuring, but no grand narrative (with the possible exception of insanity or mendacity) can make Mt Pinatubo’s emissions exceed those of human activity. The universe insists on some things…

1/3/2011

God and the Quantum Universe

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:17 pm

So, I attended my first lecture in the quantum physics course I’m taking this semester this morning, and thoroughly enjoyed it1.

It got me thinking though. The lecturer started out with a statement from Richard Feynman (a Nobel Prize-winning physicist) that basically said ‘no-one really understands quantum’. We have formulas that allow us to use it, but it’s just too odd to really understand.

The lecturer then described the Stern-Gerlach experiment, which I won’t go into here, but the bottom line is that it demonstrates just how odd and unintuitive the universe really is.

Given all that, if God exists then clearly S/He is much stranger, more gnarly, less clockwork predictable than is often imagined. A God who created this universe is not at all simple… and of course this is a point I’ve made a number of times before in different ways.

Such a God is also not ‘safe’ or comfortable, and includes a fair bit of chaos alongside the order…

Seems to me like lots of people are entirely too comfortable with their God – which means they are actually dealing with a neutered image rather than the reality.

  1. It’s possible I’ll end up having to drop out because I have other commitments and/or because it’s too hard – this is third year quantum and it’s something like 24 years since I did second year quantum! Hope I can hang in there though… and if it’s all too hard, I’ll do the relevant second year subject next semester and have another go next year.