Monday, 28 February 2011

Naive Will

Free Will is one of those conceptions that can come in and out of existence depending on what is meant by it. Libertarian free will, for example, is absurd as decisions are made by purely causal systems. But at the same time, to try and separate one's thoughts and decisions from their brains in an egregious abuse of language. If you didn't make the decision to do something on your behalf, then what are you?

But from the conception of free will stems personal responsibility. How responsible can we all really be? A naive conception of free will dictates ultimate responsibility, which is a level of responsibility that simply isn't realistic. It's evident that relying on such a conception of free will just doesn't work in the real world.

Through education, new possibilities arise. Inform people of choices, of consequences, and give them an empowerment of choices, and this increases the responsibility one has over their behaviour. For those concerned about all those women "choosing" to get abortions, perhaps they would be heartened if they looked at statistics from countries like The Netherlands where comprehensive sex education and empowerment of women means low teen pregnancy rates and low abortion rates. Surely if the desire was to lower abortion rates then this would be the path to follow. But when it's treated like an ultimate choice, that the girl is ultimately responsible for her pregnancy, it justifies punishment. For the girl could have chosen otherwise...

Sunday, 27 February 2011


Yesterday I was wandering though the National Botanic Gardens and came across a butterfly that took my eye. It had brightly coloured wings, but when it landed its wings closed and the underside looked very much like a dead leaf. Now in an evolutionary sense this seems explainable. The wings of the butterfly would be that way as to attract a mate, and the underside would be a camouflage again predators. There would be selection in both directions.

I wonder how Jerry Fodor explains that.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Misplaced Outrage

Imagine someone rejecting God because they don't like the way the Catholic Church behaves. Perhaps there might be an argument that satisfies the link, but in general it's misplaced outrage. The Church's actions and whether God exists are just two different issues.

In general, I find these kind of misplaced arguments common. Denial of climate change because of its support by the Green movement is one example. Rejecting medicine because of Big Pharma is another. Supporting conspiracy theories because one cannot trust their government, denouncing carnivores because of factory farming... I could go on.

It takes effort to characterise a position right. In the case of climate change, there are many who agree that the environmental movement is problematic while still supporting the science. Having large corporations in charge of our medical knowledge can be argued to be problematic while the data still working. Being distrustful of the government doesn't mean trusting any random crazy person who can string seemingly coherent sentences together. And meat-eaters can be concerned with farming practices and the suffering of animals, yet will just advocate for more ethical practices.

It's dealing in red herring arguments, distractions from the real issues surrounding those very real questions. The worst thing is that the red herring arguments make for interesting discussion, if only applied correctly. How we take on board government information or the role of the Catholic Church in society are issues that should be debated. Putting them in the wrong argument is not only devastating to that argument but framing the issue correctly.

Friday, 25 February 2011


"A theologian is a person who uses the word "God" to hide his ignorance" - Lemuel K Washburn


The GM issue does seem a contentious one. To look at it one way, scientists are still in the infancy in terms of decoding how life works, while some is known there's simply not enough known to act in such a reckless disregard without knowing the full consequences. This sounds fair enough, if not for the fact that the new technology is largely a refinement of old practices - removing the chance element from the process. The issues with the technology are the largely the same issues with food in general - crop viability, environmental degradation, nutrition, health concerns, etc. All these are things that should be addressed which is something that scientists are working on.

Yet this discussion is derailed in the same way that climate change is by denialists - people who don't want a discussion on food prosperity and security, but see a grave danger in humans playing God. The essentialist fear of frankenfoods is nothing more than an absurd distraction from real issues with food security. The debate is shut down because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the technology, and of what life is - and worst of all, an unwillingness to change that. After all, why would we want to listen to corporations who are trying to control our food supply?

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Darwin Myth

There's a myth going around that Darwin repented on his dead bed, something so prevalent given how utterly irrelevant the argument is. If Newton renounced gravity, it wouldn't mean that apples ceased to fall straight down. So the patterns in nature of what Darwin spoke of will still be there regardless of whether Darwin renounced them. If you shoot the messenger, the message remains.

So if it were true it would be irrelevant, that it's not true makes it all the more pernicious. But why should the argument work at all? Perhaps it's in the courage of others convictions that we find confidence. Experiments have shown that individuals are more willing to trust "experts" on the basis of confidence even if they're not very successful as predictors. Likewise, the science of evolution is not very well understood outside of scientific circles and most people are subject to authoritative statements by relevant experts. It's not hard to see that if Darwinism doesn't even have the support of Darwin, then what does it have left? And we are story-telling creatures. A story about a man who was opposed to God repenting on his death-bed might be a quite powerful one to the right audience.

For whatever reason it persists, it's important to remember that it's quite simply not relevant to the truth of evolution whether Darwin believed in it or not. The point of this exercise is making a argument from authority, and even though biology has moved on since Darwin he's still the great scientific authority.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Dropping the Em Ess

I've been doing morning scepticisms for around 7 months now, the goal being to make a post every day. It's been a challenge to come up with stuff, but I somehow managed with only some repetition (even if some topics got covered ad nauseum). But now I think it's time to drop the Morning Scepticism from the label, yet continue posting something each day as a force of habits. It was restrictive on what titles I could use, plus it seemed somewhat superfluous. So I'll continue in my daily posting (7am Canberra time) but not call it morning scepticism anymore. It's kind of implied anyway.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Conflict

When it's said there's no conflict between science and religion by way of citing religious scientists, does that mean that citing instances where scientists reject science on the basis of their religion as conflict? Surely the latter case is more compelling because the relationship in the former is a passive one, while the latter is a causal one. It seems the only real reason to prefer one view over the other is a strategic one, to get those who would be sympathetic to such a view on board. Even if when arguing on religious terms, it's hard to see why to prefer one view over the other. Those who argue for a conflict often times refer to their holy books as justification.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Culture Business

Cultural identity can be so often wrapped up in expressions of art. To be part of a culture is to partake in it, so to be deprived of what is considered essential to that norm would be an undesirable state. And thankfully there are those who have made a business out of it, in exchange for a few shiny units of prosperity the cultural norm can be bought. Yet we can obtain these cultural norms without paying. Because the act of sharing these cultural norms and participating in experience isn't in the transaction of obtaining it, the mode of delivery becomes somewhat irrelevant. This is the trouble of putting a price tag on a cultural commodity, the relationship we have with culture doesn't fit the model that it is sold to us with.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: University Education

Universities are in an awkward position when it comes to what an education means. Is it just preparing students for their desired profession? Does it involve giving the students more short-term or long-term goals? Does it mean a wider or narrower interpretation? And how can universities go in terms of rival universities? A university that gives a wider curriculum for a given academic area might be providing their students with a wider education, but are putting them behind in their chosen field. The relevance of needing an education might even be questioned if it doesn't align with prosperity in the real world. And what about knowledge for the love and appreciation of it?

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Euthyphro

It's often just assumed that God-given morality is a coherent idea, leading to questions about morality in the absence of God. Yet there are problems with this conception of morality, mainly that divine command theory makes for an arbitrary set of moral principles. Is murder wrong because God commanded it, or did God command it because it is wrong? If the former, then it's an arbitrary requirement. If the latter, then the principles are external to God. This is the Euthyphro problem.

"But God commands against murder, and you agree murder is wrong. So how can the command be arbitrary?" That's a case of projecting morality onto God, not the other way around. that a God commands us not to murder doesn't make it any less arbitrary as a grounding for that moral precept, any more than God commanding us to murder being moral. Because it would be just what God says without reason, and if there's reason then it's not grounded in God.

Friday, 18 February 2011


"Academics in particular maintain the illusion that, on the contrary, things like the complex details of the latest revision of the ontological argument might actually matter when it comes to determining whether or not God exists. If they did, we might see more regular changes of mind. As it is, philosophers of religion seem to be at least as consistent in their fundamental commitments as anyone else." - Julian Baggini

The Sock Goblin Cometh

I was a self-identifying sceptic, a cold-hearted reductionist materialist set on dehumanising nature and pushing science as more than merely a profession of what scientists do. The a priori rejection of the immaterial, I thought, was vindicated by its empirical success. After all, we have cars and computers and cats in all different shapes and sizes. I don't care much for cats for they haven't been selected to be tasty, but that's another issue[1].

I haven't abandoned science, even if it's demonstratively little more than applied collective belief[2]. Because despite Thomas Kuhn showing that shifts in paradigms were nothing short of religious conversions[3], and Stephen Hawking admitting that no theory is better than another[4], it's hard to deny that there's something to the methodology. The moon landing may have been a hoax, but to stage the hoax would have required sufficient technology. So either way science is vindicated[5]. But the a priori dismissal of the non-material is an untenable position.

I speak of course of a phenomena we've all experienced: missing socks.

In my cold-hearted nature-denying materialist dogma I would have come up with any number of explanations to explain those missing socks. Maybe they'd fallen down the side of the washing machine, or gotten into any number of small cracks. or perhaps it's a question of memory, that I wasn't good at keeping track of socks that got thrown away over long periods of time. Or perhaps a tumour was growing in my brain that made me think I had more socks than I really did. I'd come up with any number of these materialistic accounts, yet none of them seem sufficient to explain the phenomenon.

But I can't run from the undeniable truth any longer. The epistemology and pointed out a flaw in the ontology[6], and thus the only tenable position is a rejection of my a priori commitments on empirical grounds. Missing socks are the proof of the supernatural agents that haunt our world. These supernatural agents are the sock goblins - scourge of socked civilisations.

I'm sure you materialist dogmatists out there are wondering why supernatural? Surely if there are agents acting in our world then they're as natural as us. But natural beings that would be large enough to carry the socks wouldn't be able to get into the building. A dog using a lock-pick? That's crazy talk. Next you're going to say the Intelligent Designer that made us in their image was an alien! Quite clearly it has to be supernatural because the materialist framework has physical limits that would have to be violated. Thus supernatural.

And why an agent? Because an agent explains the fine-tuning of the missing garments. It's not underwear or shirts that go missing too. Explanations like disintegration or wormholes opening should give an indiscriminate pattern. But the pattern fits the socks so precisely that any materialist explanation needs to account for that. An agent is the only plausible explanation for the phenomenon of missing socks.

This opens up a metaphysical research problem, one that shows the limited boxed nature of the reductionist agenda, and can embrace the holism that fits the sense of narrative much better. For example, the sock goblin could answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing. The universe exists for us... to make socks. After all, the laws of physics are exactly the way they are to allow for the existence of socks[7]. This should also give us a purpose in life, that we are on this planet in order to make socks.

Morality can best be explained this way too. Clearly we need to be good so that we live in a society where socks can be freely manufactured and bought. And what is more good than providing tender warmth than giving socks on Christmas? Our survival as a shoe-wearing society is intricately tied to the very reason for the universe in this view.

Even outside of the sciences we find validation, namely in the eyewitness reports of people throughout history. In England, these were reported as "little people", categorised as fairies and gnomes. In Finland, reports of elves and their magical powers are prevalent. Is it any surprise that these beliefs existed in countries where socks were worn? Such stories don't exist in African and Australian tribal societies where there was a barefoot culture. Why these descriptions don't specifically mention socks could best be attributed as the sock goblins hiding their intentions, after all it's no good in revealing the desire for socks in a time when resources are scarce.

In short, the discovery of the sock goblin should radically transform our world-view[8]. If anyone isn't close-minded in their dogmatic atheism they will accept that the sock goblin offers an answer to the most confounding and profound questions, of which must be lacking. From such a humble observation as missing socks, we have stumbled on a greater truth that gives our existence meaning and purpose.

And if you are one of those close-minded reductionist materialists, prove there are no sock goblins. If you're so confident in your Faith, then surely you can prove the non-existence of Sock Goblins. But you can't, and you won't, because you know in your heart that Sock Goblins are real, and you're just rebelling in your sandel-wearing denial of the Truth. Let's face it, to be a materialist is just another faith position - something you would know if you would only look in your sock drawer.

[1] - And what is it with dogs? What panadaptationist breeder thought it a good idea to select for butt-sniffing?
[2] - If science was about measuring nature, why is it most things scientists learn from textbooks, and graded on that knowledge? Checkmate!
[3] - Geocentrism is just one revolution away from being back in favour.
[4] - Philosophy is dead! Long live model-dependant realism.
[5] - Unless an evil demon is tricking me into thinking that there's such thing as the moon.
[6] - And let's not even begin on the problem of induction.
[7] - If the weak nuclear force weren't as it is now, then stars couldn't form and there would be no such things as socks.
[8] - This is so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science.

Morning Scepticism: Fundamentalism

I've often heard that even though there are fundamentalists who are at odds with scientific knowledge in their beliefs that there's no real conflict between science and religion. It's just that those fundamentalists are engaging in bad theology, interpreting their holy book in a way that isn't warranted. Fundamentalists charge non-fundamentalists also with an interpretation error, interpreting the holy book in such a way as to diminish any authority it may have.

Which view is right might be a matter for theologians, historians, philosophers, and those claiming divine revelation, but for those outside the belief argue on the basis of political preference. That is to say the non-fundamentalist view is right because the fundamentalist view is detrimental to education, to morality, to science, to history, to a sense of culture and pluralism. They're right because it's better for us pro-secular types that they're right, yet this argument is hardly convincing.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Dissonance

When someone believes in the power or prayer or psychic healing, there's something odd about the behaviour of going to a doctor or hospital to accept treatment. This is somewhat of an internal contradiction, and goes to show the power of internal dissonance. But in this case, it's one area where dissonance is desired. After all, it's much better for a loved one to be receiving treatment while praying for healing, than praying for healing without receiving treatment. Though it is irksome that the woo is credited when all those people who dedicated their lives to helping others through medical training and research aren't.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Classical Theism

When I hear God being described as an abstract, I freely confess I can not comprehend what that could possibly mean. It sounds like an instance of bullshit, but without being a sophisticated theologian or philosopher of religion I'll accept the possibility that I am missing something fundamental in my understanding.

Perhaps a good way to demonstrate such incredulity is to make a creationist-like statement. When creationists say things like "how can you have a watch without a watchmaker" it offers an insight into the kind of thinking which points to the incredulity. Some are no doubt better than others, the watchmaker argument is much better than incredulity expressed in "how can chance produce an eye?" or "have you ever seen a dog give birth to a cat?" But at least there's a means to explain why such arguments fail, even if the creationist might not be receptive to correcting that misunderstanding.

So here is my creationist-like incredulity at classic theism:
How can you have agency without an agent?
While I think the statement is self-explanatory, I feel it deserves a little more explanation. The notion of agency is something I feel central to the belief in God. We are told that God hears prayers, heals the sick, watches over us, empathises with us, knows our beliefs, creates order in nature, etc. In other words, God as is described is what we understand as an agent. How can something experience empathy if it has no experience? What does it even mean for an abstract to be omniscient? To know implies cognition, an abstract cannot have cognition as cognition necessitates experience.

There's no point in praying to an abstract any more than there is to gravity. There's no point in worshipping an abstract any more than there is in worshipping pi. There's no point in saying that something has divine authorship, unless it is meant in the most diffuse sense - in the same way as describing the big bang as causing authorship. And there's certainly no point in making arguments to design any more than crediting the idea of a unicorn as a designer.

I can't see how a classical theist could even possibly hope to reconcile anything that makes God worthy of the concept with what they profess to believe in. The best I can gather is that it's a more philosophically-defensible position, a concept can be used as a grounding to any problem of regress, yet at the same time carry the cultural baggage that comes with the concept unchecked. Just start with existence being a necessary quality of maximal greatness and from there the sacrifice on the cross is defended on classical grounds.

I honestly don't think that there are many people who really are classical theists, but traditional theists - believing in some form of agency but that which is unlike (but analogous to) what we know as agency. That God has a mind, that God has the capacity to observe and interact, and that we can have a relationship with such an entity. I'm not sure if traditional theism is anywhere more coherent than classical theism, but at least it seems in line with the conception of what God is meant to be. Because describing an abstract with terms that only make sense to use on an intelligent agent seems as confused as describing God with the quality of carbonated, yet God is not a soft drink.

Morning Scepticism: Deduction

How we know abiogenesis happened is a matter of deduction. Life at one stage had to arise from non-life. Whatever that process entails, it had to happen. How it happened is still unknown, but for all those who condescendingly mock "how can life come from non-life?" have to accept that it happened. I suppose that's being unfair, as they aren't really suggesting the infinity of life but supernatural intervention. Of course, the deduction of supernatural intervention is only going to be achieved by exhausting every natural possibility, so all it's doing is making a "God of the gaps" argument.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Doubt

Doubting is easy, being in a state of doubt is not. I think this is why, in part, humans tend for frameworks that allow for easy answers. Why try to work out what it means for something to be right or wrong when morality is just doing God's will? Why work towards a godless morality when it's easy to dismiss the concept altogether? Either way, it's a lot easier to justify both positions than to work at formulating what it means to be moral. That requires contemplation, reflection, and study. It's susceptible to failure, to being misapplied, and worst of all will be dismissed by those who will just say what's moral is what God commands or argue there's no such thing as morality. Maybe one of them is right, but the heuristic seems a hindrance to being able to ascertain who, if at all.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Evidential

When it comes to the debate over rational arguments and evidential arguments for the existence of God, I tend to think that despite the focus on making rational arguments that people would more likely be swayed by evidence. To demonstrate this, would would be more compelling as a reason to believe? A sound ontological argument, or everybody in the world hearing in their heads "I am Yahweh and my son Jesus Christ died for your sins" in their own language while an amputee being prayed for regrew a limb in full view of a wide audience and captured through a variety of cameras? I'd tend to think the latter, even though that may have a possible natural explanation. It's also why I think the argument from design has swayed many a person to believe in God while I'd be willing to bet that the number of people swayed by ontological arguments could be counted on one hand - that is if they could be found.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Vitamin C

We once had genes that synthesised vitamin C. We still have them in our DNA, but with deleterious mutations. But we still need it, so we have to get it from the environment. This comes from our diet. So it should ask the question why if we needed it did we lose it? The answer is that it's costly to synthesise for ourselves, and when we get it as part of our food source we're essentially get it "for free". I think this is a great example of how the environment is an important part of an organism, that in our phenotype there is the necessity for something that can only be gotten through consumption.

The implications of this give an explanation for items like glasses. Those who have problems with being short or long-sighted have no disadvantage in reproduction thanks to being born in an environment with a correction. Just as we don't need to spend our days eating because of the invention of cooked food, or have to worry about extremes in temperatures because we can live in dwellings that we don't need to make either.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Gap

I really wonder just what people set out to achieve when they say things like "evolution is God's way of creating life", especially when it's used as a means to inject God at the beginning of the process. With no positive evidence for this claims, it's merely putting God in at a gap in our current knowledge, and for what? Perhaps it's the gamble that science as an enterprise will never be able to account for life through purely natural means, because what happens to God then? Does God become the fine-tuner of constants that allowed for life to arise? If that gets solved by something such as a multiverse, does God become the architect of that? It hardly seems a useful exercise, other than to say "I'm not ready to let go of God yet".

Friday, 11 February 2011


"Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority." - Thomas Huxley

Morning Scepticism: Complete

In comparisons between Creation and evolution, I've seen arguments where Creationism is taken as superior to evolution because Creationism explains the origin of life while evolution cannot account for it. While it would be nice to have a theory of life's origins, it doesn't mean that all the evidence for evolution can just be ignored because Creation can explain what evolution cannot. The fossils are still going to be in the same strata, dead genes will still sit in the DNA, species will continue to change over time, and the earth will still date to billions of years old. That one idea has the potential to explain more than an another is useless if that one idea doesn't explain what is already known. You just don't get to ignore evidence because "God did it" explains* gravity while dendrochronology can only count tree rings.

*it doesn't actually explain anything, only the perception of explaining something.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Prior

Abiogenesis is often coupled with evolutionary theory in that the failure to have an explanation of life's origins is seen as a failure of evolutionary theory. This is like complaining about plate tectonics because plate tectonics require planetary formation. "How can there be plates if you don't have a theory that can account for the formation of planets to have plates on?" would be a comparable statement. Though to show the absurdity, perhaps a more extreme example should be used.

"How can you say that recipe makes an apple pie, when that recipe doesn't explain where spacetime came from?" As Carl Sagan said, if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe. The recipe for the pie doesn't need to explain cosmology, just how to make a pie. Likewise the theory of evolution doesn't need to explain the origin of life, just how life changes over time.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Absolutes

To have an absolutist worldview is something I can't really understand. History, if nothing else, should teach us that holding absolutist views isn't a wise idea. So for those who try to build a fortress of unassailable rightness, to me, seem to be doing little more than protecting their sacred cows. This is not to disparage the desire or search for truth, but to question why absolutes would be considered desirable in that quest. they're not desirable, they're a hindrance on making real progress.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Implications

I really don't care about going into the details on a lot of nonsense, there's too much real stuff to learn without wasting time on things that clearly aren't worth consideration. yet some knowledge is useful for what is a fruitful exercise, carrying the implications of a position to their rational ends. That way, if the statement is absurd in its own right, then it can be shown as such in its own context. I often find myself getting sucked into discussions of the absurd for this reason, the absurdity is what makes the otherwise tedious interesting.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Presuppositions

One really devious tactic of argument is to take the argument away from the merits of what's in question, and turn it into a conflict of worldviews. Take homoeopathy, for example, that instead of arguing that homoeopathy is reasonable, it would be to take the opponents of homoeopathy as being materialists and that the criticisms of homoeopathy only work under that commitment to materialism. The tactic, in effect, is saying that the proponent and the sceptic are working in different realities, and thus the debate shifts to the relative merits of the worldviews rather than the topic at hand. In other words, any unreasonableness of a given proposition can be hidden behind the alleged absurdity of the sceptic's prior commitments.

And that pesky problem that the presupposition may be a conclusion rather than a prior commitment? That's letting accuracy get in the way of apologetics.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Astrological

Astrology is, generally speaking, a way to ascertain knowledge about affairs and events that happen here on earth. It's like trying to figure out how a ball would behave if let go - for if we knew how the ball would behave then we have a predictive power for the future. The hope, ultimately, is to use such a tool in order to have better outcomes than would happen without. The problem, though, is in the notion of a causal mechanism. There's nothing linking the stars to personalities or events, except through the practice of astrology itself. The belief that Mars ascending might signal a good time to go to war will mean that looking back there will be a correlation between war and the ascension of Mars. It's causation, in other words, is entirely imposed by the pattern itself.

It's not to say that one needs to know a mechanism in order for the pattern to be meaningful, after all washing hands helped reduce infection before the germ theory of disease was known. But the lack of mechanism, combined with the tautological nature of causation based on the explanation is what makes astrology an unwarranted belief.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Pseudoreligion

When science is done wrong, it's called pseudoscience. It's pseudoscience because it's theoretically or empirically unfounded and making scientific claims that don't sit within the body of knowledge that is collectively referred to as scientific knowledge. Now it's often said that like bad science, there is bad religion. That is religion done right is a good thing while religion gone wrong is the problem. That sounds reasonable, except by what standard does religion become a pseudoreligion? With science, there's the strength of the claim proportional to the evidence and the commitment to methodology. I really don't see a parallel when it comes to religion going wrong.

The only way it makes sense to me is that religion gone wrong is akin to describing the atomic bomb as science gone wrong. The science is just fine, it's just the negative consequences that came from its use.

Friday, 4 February 2011


"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." - Abraham Lincoln

Morning Scepticism: Problem Of Indifference

The problem of evil is a devastating argument against God - taken by many as an argument for atheism, and taken seriously by believers. The concept of natural evil is particularly hard to shake off, and for good reason too. While it's debatable that free will can explain what agents do to each other, how does one explain the devastation of an earthquake? Yet an earthquake is not inherently evil in itself, it's a consequence of living on the planet we do. And this is where I think there's a problem of indifference rather than one of evil.

The universe does what it does irrespective to the desires of humanity. while people can attribute floods to God's wrath or ponder the ultimate greater good that comes from such an event, the notion that the flood is just a flood is far more devastating emotionally. There's nothing to reconcile because there's nothing there. We could be wiped out tomorrow by an asteroid and the universe would continue without us. Natural evil might pose an apparent contradiction, but at least there's something there to be seemingly contradictory.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Life

Let's, for the sake of argument, assume that life can only exist in a narrow band on physical constants. And let's, for the sake of argument, assume that those constants are incredibly improbable. And let's, for the sake of argument, find ourselves in a world where life exists. Now for the important question. What's so significant about life?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Labelling

To define positions or beliefs by labels is a useful shorthand for conveying information quickly, generally speaking. But when it comes to discussing relative merits of those positions or beliefs, labels start to become problematic. The danger becomes arguing against the perceived connotations or weaknesses of the label, rather than discussing the relative merits of the arguments. It's then about what people identify with, rather than stressing the importance on what the position is and how it's justified. Because when using the label, it's arguing to a meaning held in one's own head - minimising the significance of the arguments that don't conform to that label.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Morning Scepticism: Anecdotal

There are so many problems that come from the subjective nature of anecdotes that it really should be obvious that they aren't data. Take astrology, for example. That there are people born around the same time as you who might have a similar personal is not evidence that astrology works at all. At best it's going to be an amusing coincidence. But beyond that, how can anyone possibly see it as fitting a pattern? It's trying to find a pattern with only tiny pieces of data, data that is gathered and recalled subjectively, prone to all the problems that come with being human.

It's nice to hear that two similar people have found each other, but to think that it could possibly mean that there's a link between us and the constellations? Be serious!