Weekend update

May 16, 2010 • 5:59 am

The good:

At New Humanist, Anthony Grayling skewers Terry Eagleton’s latest lucubrations on evil:

No one not brought up a Catholic or a Calvinist would even remember the concept of Original Sin, let alone bring it into a discussion of evil. But Eagleton does, and at length. For those not subjugated to the outlook only within whose terms can the doctrine appear to make any sense, Original Sin seems a doozy of an idea. Compare: a pharmaceutical company tells us that we are all born with a disease that requires that we buy their product all our lives long, and that if we do it will cure us after death. This reminds me of the joke about Bernie Madoff, that his big mistake was promising returns in this life; he should have taken his cue from the religions.

At Evolution: Education and Outreach, Carl Zimmer discusses the benefits, and problems associated with how the media teaches the public about evolution.  Surprise—he doesn’t lament a dearth of popular-science reporting, nor does he blame the scientists!  Indeed, Zimmer sees a glut of popular writing about evolution and, when that writing is misleading, as in the case of the primate fossil Darwinius, Zimmer blames a collusion between an uncritical media and scientists who are overeager to sell their work to the public.

At Greta Christina’s Blog, she demolishes the Argument from Fine Tuning.

The bad:

In  Tuesday’s New York Times, Robert Wright, who previously blamed the murderous rampage of Major Hasan not on Islamic doctrine, but on America’s war on terrorism, manages to reach an identical conclusion when analyzing the recent terrorist episode in Times Square.  It’s social difficulties, mental illness, financial problems, and American depredations in the Middle East—anything but religion.  Wright continues to earn the sobriquet bestowed by Christopher Hitchens, “the leading liberal apologist for the faith-based.”

In his syndicated column of last Thursday, the vile and and anti-Semitic Pat Buchanan complains that the Supreme Court has too many Jews:

Not since Thurgood Marshall, 43 years ago, has a Democratic president chosen an African-American. The lone sitting black justice is Clarence Thomas, nominated by George H. W. Bush. And Thomas was made to run a gauntlet by Senate liberals.

Indeed, of the last seven justices nominated by Democrats JFK, LBJ, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, one was black, Marshall; one was Puerto Rican, Sonia Sotomayor. The other five were Jews: Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

If Kagan is confirmed, Jews, who represent less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, will have 33 percent of the Supreme Court seats.

Is this the Democrats’ idea of diversity?

At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse laments the fact that nobody is buying and reading his newest book, Science and Spirituality.  And he complains about a bad review—on Amazon!

And the cute:

More interspecific love.  Mother Chihuahua brings up abandoned kitten.

24 thoughts on “Weekend update

  1. I gotta disagree on Hassan and the Times Square inept terrorist. US foreign policy obviously plays a huge roll in these issues. US support of Israel, Iraq war, Pakistan drone attacks, etc, are the reasons they’re attacking us.

    Islam is just the tool they use to recruit people and brainwash rubes into thinking attacking civilians is cool.

        1. Your website is not associated with a person as far as I can see, so links to it are no longer permitted.

  2. Several weeks ago, before the Kagan nomination, I stated on Ed Braytons’ blog that it would be a bad idea for the administration to appoint another Jew to the Supreme Court and that having the court composed of 3 Jews and 6 Catholics was a bad idea and might engender anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic commentary. I was eviscerated by many of the commentors, including attorney Peter Irons from San Diego. Mr. Buchanans’ comment only confirms my concerns.

    1. Please, let’s not start thinking that we should base our choices on how the batshit insane are likely to spin them.

        1. Unfortunately true, but that’s no reason for other 60% to nix qualified judicial choices because of race or religion (or sexual orientation or sex, for that matter).

  3. Islam is just the tool they use to recruit people and brainwash rubes into thinking attacking civilians is cool.

    I’d say it differently, but it amounts to the same result. Discontented/mentally ill Muslims who go on a rampage tend to do so by targeting “infidels”, just as discontented/mentally ill Fundie Christians who become violent tend to target gays, or abortion clinics. Catholics who have similar problems foam at the mouth for a desecration of the host. The animal-rights fundamentalists who turn violent target everything from the fashion industry to animal research.

    Meanwhile, other Muslims, Christians or animal-right activists who are not insane or marginalized manage to live blameless lives, without espousing a different set of beliefs than their violent co-religionists. Or maybe it is that, to that self-same doctrine of Islam, or Christianity, or non-specism, they add another doctrine, one rooted in humanism?

    Yeah. Let’s just say that I find the “oh noes, Islam is eeevul” type of argument fall short of logic.

    1. It usually goes without saying, but those who raises that argument compares with other social predilections such as knitting or atheism, which doesn’t regularly result in people foaming at their mouths.

      Except on the other side, because knitting and atheism are so strident and aggressive.

      1. Also, I should note, that religion makes for “eeevul” behavior is an empirical fact of statistics, not an argument.

  4. “I haz a case of kittenz!”

    More interspecific love.

    Huh! I (and my spell checker) thought that was a joke/mistake last time. Turns out the joke and mistake was on me, in an intraspecific way.

    WEIT – because our terminology beats your terminology.

  5. Ah, the infamous “Cuckoo Kitteh” – when no one is looking it eats another pup.

    And of course we need more Jews in the Supreme Court because they are far less likely to approve of a jesus cult theocracy.

      1. As long as it’s not a bible-thumping wingnut who’ll actually determine cases based on what the law says rather than ideology, I’ll be satisfied.

  6. A more interesting take on the extravagant unlikeliness of the “anthropic” constants fortuitously having just the right values for the formation of stuff sufficiently stable to form one and only one universe (with or without life) is to interpret them as indirect evidence for the existence of a multiverse!

    Spinoza and Einstein might perhaps have construed an infinity of universes to be as good a concept of God as any.

    1. Better than an interpretation as indirect evidence for such a theory, it can be tested as direct evidence for it. This is, to my knowledge, the best tested theory of a cosmology expanding on the standard inflationary cosmology. It makes and tests successfully on 6 predictions of the observable universe. Note also that standard cosmology basically predicts only 5 parameters.

      Also, it is interesting to note the immense range over which environmental selection (ES) gets the parameters correct. (See table 1 of the linked paper.) It is often said that dark energy, currently observed as the cosmological constant, is the least natural parameter seen. It is off from a natural value (i.e. ~ 1 in natural units of the observed system) by a factor ~ 120 orders of magnitude. However ES gets some parameters correct by ~ 180 orders of magnitude!

      [Though it is then actually instances of natural values. However, in turn precisely the prediction of the cosmological constant (CC) is, I believe, embedded in the newest set of parameter predictions in Boussou’s paper. ES is the first theory that got the CC correct, an early result of Weinberg decades ago.]

      Small nitpick: “unlikeliness”.

      Likelihoods are a posteriori, and as shown here ES predictions isn’t unlikely at all, it is in fact the likeliest values of predicted distributions that are used.

      Parameter values may be a priori improbable. (It is the confusion between probabilities and likelihoods that is the religious fallacy, a special case of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. Which is why I believe it behooves empiricists to avoid confusing the matter further.)

      And why not, a priori there is an infinity of magnitudes to choose from on the real number line! The gods are in the details …, ehm, numbers. (o.O)

      1. That’s interesting, thanks TL. Those Pythagoreans were onto something despite their abhorrence of irrational numbers!

        The instinct of certain physicists to happily infer something beyond physics to explain a curious physical fact is rather telling, I think.

        1. Yes, concepts of gods who relies on testable physics to imply “infer something beyond physics” are daft. The more interesting point is that environmental selection predict, successfully so, that there is no “curious physical fact” or in other word “unlikeness” in these parameters nor in multiverses.

          That is no surprise as physically such universes are the exact equivalent of having bias potentials in, say, electronic circuits. That is, they work the same regardless of the actual choice of ground potential.

          The physics is such that it is the same thing when you predict that there are no multiverses as to say that your circuit board works by happenstance and that it wouldn’t work in the other room (because of your power net resistance changing potentials slightly). Both of which are patently false. The fact that you can’t actually visit the other room (change potential) is not relevant to the actual physics.

          But for some reason people like to think that “their” observational universe is unique, neither mind that our universe most likely is neither finite nor special. In fact, the prevailing idea is that the circuit board is unique, the only one that _could_ work. (Fat likelihood, seeing that the alternatives work, and work better.) That all that is necessary for science is that the effects are directly observable and testable doesn’t penetrate.

          [In fact, if the likelihood factors out close to 1, in such a case it actually makes sense to note that it was also a priori improbable. :-o]

    2. I should also add that environmental selection works in similar classes of cosmologies.

      When you turn string theory into cosmology it can predict the cosmological constant too, but here in the form of vacuum energy. Turns out that the string landscape energy values from the ~ 10^500 possible string theories gets rather precisely down to the necessary graduation of energy levels of ~ 10^-123 that gives the cosmological constant. Or at least I have seen paper to that effect some years ago.

      The universe is then environmentally selected if string “bubble” universes can tunnel cascade down through the string “configuration space” multiverse to the lowest possible energies allowed for a FLRW universe of our type. It is an interesting exercise that, I believe, Bossou et al general theory applies here as well to put observers in place.

  7. Do you think Buchanan has actually *read* the Constitution?

    I think not…how else can one misunderstand the word “no” as in “no religious test for any office”?

    Of all the failed arguments against Kagan, this one has the added benefit of being supremely, utterly and totally anti-Constitutional, and therefore anti-American.

    Why does Buchanan hate America?

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