Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Atheism and Logical Consequences

Jen McCreight and Natalie Reed are two bloggers (among others) who have lately written of "conflicts internal to the Atheist Movement." I found both of those entries fascinating, in part because they represent a bit of a reality check for some people who had idealistic hopes for a movement that, unfortunately, like all other movements, involves people. And so many hopes have been dashed.

Jen McCreight writes: "It's been five years now since I first became involved with the atheist and skeptic movements. And for most of those five years, I felt like I belonged... Until I started talking about feminism."

And then in this follow-up establishing "A+" atheism, Jen includes the following quote from danielmchugh that "perfectly" summarizes how she feels:
Religion is responsible for generating and sustaining most of the racism, sexism, anti-(insert minority human subgroup here)-isms... it gave a voice to the bigotry, established the privilege, and fed these things from the pulpit for thousands upon thousands of years. What sense does it make to throw out the garbage bag of religion yet keep all the garbage that it contained? 
I can't help but see social justice as a logical consequence of atheism. I'm for getting rid of all the garbage.
That social justice would be seen as a logical consequence of atheism is quite astounding. I certainly admire the social justice atheists for putting social justice and atheism together, as opposed to choosing only the latter. And yet, the very reason these posts were written is that sexism was discovered --- no! --- within the ranks of atheism!

This interesting argument follows from the claims being made:
  1. Religion is responsible for generating and sustaining "most" of the sexism (among other social injustices).
  2. A number of people involved in the atheist and skeptic movements have demonstrated sexism.
  3. Therefore: a number of people involved in the atheist and skeptic movements are either (a) religious, or they're (b) members of the tiny group of non-religious sexists.
#1 is quoted from above, and I take it to mean that each instance of sexism (or another social injustice) springs either from religion, or from a tiny class of non-religious causes. How tiny? I don't know.

#2 is the fact that has led to Jen's posts, and to the foundation of A+ atheism.

#3 is an interesting consequence that one really can draw, logically, from the claims Jen and danielmchugh have made here. If we go with (a), then it's not OK to admit that atheists can be just as bigoted as anyone else can be, and instead one must allege that the sexist ones aren't really atheists at all, or else they couldn't be sexist! Or if we go with (b), then they are accused only of logical inconsistency, in failing to notice that their atheism condemns their sexism.

Of course, Jen and danielmchugh don't really want to accuse other atheists of being closet theists; the charge here is (b), that many atheists are logically inconsistent in neglecting social justice.

Neither of (a) or (b) seems to me to be the case. Arguments have been made, on non-theistic grounds, that social justice is rationally required of us; just peruse the history of ethical theory. (Aristotle might be a good starting place.) But to call social justice a logical consequence of atheism surely overstates the case. (To be blunt, it reminds me of the kind of group-think that I've seen come up in Sunday School classes. Christians are often just as over-confident as danielmchugh in the obviousness of their rightness.)

There's a better explanation for the occurrence of sexism among atheists than either (a) or (b). People tend to think quite a lot of themselves, and this inherent human pride and selfishness is manifested in many ways. One of those manifestations is the kind of sexism that Jen and Natalie are right to criticize. Some sexist people are Christians, some of them are Hindu, some of them lived in ancient Athens, some of them drive imported automobiles, and some of them don't. Also, some of them are atheists.

No one group -- atheist, Christian, or otherwise -- has any claim whatsoever to a pristine historical record on social justice, or any exclusive claim to the grounds for social justice. Arguments for social justice can and have been made on Christian principles, on non-theistic principles, and on lots of other principles besides. To believe that "religion is responsible for generating and sustaining most of the ... bigotry" requires a highly selective reading of history. Here's how Terry Eagleton put it, in his review of Dawkin's The God Delusion:
Such is Dawkins's unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history -- and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.
So -- hats off to Jen McCreight and the other A+ atheists, who are +ing social justice to atheism. That's surely a move to be applauded by anyone.

I hope they also take their skeptical principles even more deeply to heart. I, for one, am skeptical that "religion" is as bad as they think, and that the logical consequences of atheism reach so far as they think.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Easy Apple Scroll Handle Patent Workaround: Dim the scroll handle

I've read about Apple's new disappearing-scroll-handle patent twice. (Most lately, here: http://blog.inner-active.com/2012/07/oh-no-here-we-go-again-check-out-the-new-patent-apple-was-just-granted/)

I'll be frank. I don't like the disappearing scroll handle. I like to glance at the scroll handle to know how long the page is, and here's a frequent scenario: I start reading an article/blog/forum post and think "this is good, but should I keep reading, start skimming, or just stop now?" Then I twitch the screen so I can see the scroll handle again.

So instead of making the scroll handle "cease" to be displayed, which is what the patent seems to cover, why not just dim it significantly? If it's transparency is high enough the content underneath is still visible. Sounds great to me.

That seems not to be covered by the patent -- based on my cursory reading -- and I would personally see it as an improvement.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stereoscopic Southwest

I've been taking stereoscopic photos for years. I'm an amateur's amateur, and I just do it the easy way: take a picture, move the camera to the side, take another. Then line them up and cross your eyes — sometimes it's interesting. The following were all taken on my recent trip - I haven't touched them up at all; I just ran a small shell script that put the images alongside each other.

I used my iPhone 4 (8MP camera) to take these pictures, just because I didn't want to bother taking our real camera on the trip. I'm sure I could GIMP (Photoshop for poor and/or principled people) these pictures into much better shape, but these and all the ones you don't see here would definitely have been better if I had taken them with a real camera. So maybe I'll manage to do that next time.

In order to get the 3D effect, I recommend clicking an image to open it as large as possible. Then try to cross your eyes so the two images blend into one, and then bring that one image into focus. It may help if you roll or step back from your screen so you don't have to cross your eyes as much. You may also need to practice tilting your head slightly from side-to-side in order to get the blending to line up properly.

Let's start with this one, which isn't worth opening up larger. I moved the camera too much from side-to-side in between shots. (Nobody's eyes are 12 inches apart.) I am very nicely 3D, but the canyon behind me is just headache-inducing. Best to practice with this one just the way you see it here, and then open up the following ones to be larger:




These four were taken along the South rim of the Grand Canyon:






These two were taken at the Mohave Point stop on the shuttle bus. That river you see down there is approximately 4.5 miles away.




Spruce Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park:


Looking up while standing by Spruce Tree House:


Part of Spruce Tree House:



Looking across the top of Spruce Tree House:


Somewhere on the trail back up from Spruce Tree House:



My brother Mark:


I was lucky to catch this view at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE. I was riding on the Skyfari and managed to keep the camera steady enough and avoid other Skyfari cars, poles, etc.




Thursday, August 04, 2011

everythingisaremix is a rehash

A friend of mine pointed me recently to http://www.everythingisaremix.info/. I watched parts one and two, and I thought they were interesting but underwhelming relative to the thesis.

For example, doesn't every movie buff know that Lucas lifted this shot from Triumph of the Will?
It's quite well-known that Lucas was intentionally hearkening back to the serials of yesteryear, so the Flash Gordon tie-ins, while not something I already knew directly, were hardly surprising.

The "Language of Christianity" piece was even less impressive, because (for me) there wasn't any new trivia to discover. It was also disappointing to discover that a primary achievement of this video is simply to rehash some old confusion again. Take this screenshot, for example:

Well, as Kirby has already said in this video, "salvation" is a word with many meanings. The authors of the scriptures knew that, the Hebrews knew that, the Jews in Jesus' time knew that, Jesus knew that, Paul knew that, Augustine knew that... Now we skip a couple millennia and realize that Kirby's just figuring it out.

Furthermore, since this screenshot shows his attempt to clarify 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, it's obvious that he still doesn't understand the different meanings very well. Those verses are clearly about death and resurrection. (See verse 13 if you're not sure.) Kirby's argument seems to be: (1) The Bible refers to "salvation" in some places in the sense of making things better in this life. (2) 1 Thessalonians 4 seems to be referring to "salvation" somehow (even though the word isn't mentioned at all in , e.g., the NIV, which I happened to check first at biblegateway.com). Therefore, the concept of the "rapture" as it is drawn from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 is merely based on confusion about what "salvation" means. There are some problems with that argument as Kirby makes it.

Kirby is one more in a long line of folks who are confused about the Gospel of Christ. It includes both justification (by which Christians are made right with God) and sanctification, the process in which Christians strive to do good as the Holy Spirit refines them in the image of Christ. Justification and sanctification are not the same thing. Kirby's right: words can be tricky. I wish he had done a bit more research on the ones he attempted to expound.

I don't mean to knock what Kirby Ferguson is doing too much -- it's interesting storytelling with some surprising trivia for those of us who aren't experts in each of the areas he covers. It looks like Parts 3 and 4 get into the nature of creativity -- and that sounds more interesting, and more promising.

Lastly, I want to mention that Kirby doesn't really seem to be claiming that everything is a "remix". You "remix" recorded stuff: footage, sounds, etc. He talks about that once in a while, but he's really focused on ideas. I think his real thesis is that everything is a "rehash" of old ideas -- and both Solomon and I agree with Kirby about that:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9

Perhaps ironically, the fact that everythingisaremix is itself a rehash of a very old observation only goes to prove its point.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Twits

Today Joel Spolsky (Joel on Software) wrote the following, with which I heartily agree:
Although I appreciate that many people find Twitter to be valuable, I find it a truly awful way to exchange thoughts and ideas. http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2010/03/14.html


I just can't get myself the least bit interested in Twitter, but I can't help being interested in why other people are interested and I'm not.

Maybe the thing I don't like about Twitter is how empty it feels to me to "shout [sound bytes] into the abyss", as Joel puts it. I related this to a friend (in IRC, which is arguably not that far away from Twitter on a certain continuum) and he replied that "it's not the abyss. It's your follower's inboxes." Fair enough. But what percentage of Twits have followers, and why would I ever want to follow a Twit?

There's a certain type of fascination many people seem to have with being broadly up-to-date on lots of topics. Many of these people probably use readers (such as Google Reader) to keep up with the RSS feeds they've subscribed to and filtered. I tried using Google Reader briefly, until I realized rather quickly that I just don't care about using the Internet that way.

I also have trouble caring about the "status" of the hundreds of people I know (sorry, Facebook). I like reading longer, more thoughtful updates on people's lives, but I don't care what you had for breakfast today (sorry, Sarah). I log into Facebook every once in a while just because there are occasionally new connections made with old friends, and it's as good a way as any to keep some sort of link so we can contact each other if we want to. Once I'm in there, I often end up reading just a bit on somebody's wall, or looking at somebody's photos, or something. But "keeping up" is just not something I worry about at all, and my Facebook apathy seems to well up from the same spring as my Twitter apathy.

Maybe, someday, I'll catch the wave and become a Twit myself. But in the meantime, I plan to keep puzzling out why the Twits care so much while I don't give a hoot.

Edit: On an ironically related note, see http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2010/03/14/.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

4-Handed Pits Rules (card game)

Today I played a fun, four-handed version of Pits. Here's what we changed relative to the only written rules I know about.

  1. drop all spades and the deuce of clubs (so only 40 cards remain, four of which are wild)

  2. Scoring:

    1. 1st place wins 3 points, gives least desired card (face up) to 4th place in next hand

    2. 2nd place wins 2 points

    3. 3rd place wins 0 points, but gets to deal and lead the next hand

    4. 4th place wins 1 point, gives highest single card (face up) to 1st place in next hand



  3. play to 26 points

  4. we played with equal jokers (because otherwise it feels like you should also order the deuces)



The advantage given to the 1st-place finisher by taking the highest card from the 4th-place finisher in the next hand isn't as pattern-forming as I expected. Three of the four of us finished 1st several times, and the 4th person got 2nd once.

(Thanks to Tim Hunt for introducing me to 6-handed Pits.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The End Of Faith: Preliminarily, meh.

I'm reading Sam Harris' The End Of Faith because a friend recommended it to me as a moving book. I'm only 23 pages into the book, and I have dwindling hopes for any real argumentation to follow that may substantiate any aspects of the so-far endless string of assertions. Here's an easily isolateable assertion that makes me fear the book will have no real argument:

The only reason anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought (democratic politics, scientific advancement on every front, concern for human rights, an end to cultural and geographic isolation, etc.). The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. (Harris, Sam. The End Of Faith. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, NY. 2004. p. 18-19.) [emphasis original]

This statement would be embarrassing to its author, were he familiar with the last 2500 (or so) years of human thought about Judeo-Christian scripture. Augustine was interpreting Christian scripture non-literally in the fourth and fifth centuries (a 10-second google search finds reference to this in Augustine through the ages: an encyclopedia. (Fitzgerald, Allan and Cavadini, John C. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1999. p. 367.)) But even before Augustine, scripture is seen to take itself non-literally (in at least some sense -- though what it means to take something "literally" is not always very obvious). For examples, we need look no further than the Skeptic's Annotated Bible:

  1. "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." God says that if Adam eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then the day that he does so, he will die. But later Adam eats the forbidden fruit (3:6) and yet lives for another 930 years (5:5). 2:17

  2. God promises to make Isaac's descendants as numerous as "the stars of heaven", which, of course, never happened. The Jews have always been, and will always be, a small minority. 26:4


If Genesis 5:5 doesn't take Genesis 3:6 literally (in at least a certain sense), then Harris' assertion is almost as groundless as it could possibly be. Judeo-Christian scripture has never been taken entirely literally, so it can hardly be the case that modernism has at last come to our rescue and knocked some sense into all those otherwise exclusively literalist believers.


I will cheerfully add an assertion here that Harris and the Skeptic's Annotated Bible are both making the mistake of criticizing without any apparent regard whatsoever to how Hebrews and Christians (at least) have historically viewed scripture. It is not difficult to conclude that an opponent's view is ludicrous if you apply all of your own presuppositions to it while ignoring those of your opponent. In fact, I'm inclined to think that creationists of the 6-24-hour-day camp far too often take such an approach with regard to science.


Instead of ignorantly railing against the beliefs of others, we should all strive to understand one another and carry on respectful discussions. This goal became easier for me when I read Harris' acknowledgments at the end of The End Of Faith. "I began writing this book on September 12, 2001..." (p.323) I can empathize with Harris -- this book is clearly a cathartic work for him, and I can respect that even while I see that his seemingly-extensive research unfortunately did not apparently include anything to bring him understanding of or respect for his opponents.


But, as I mentioned, I'm only on page 23. Maybe he'll surprise me with thoughtfulness somewhere in the remaining 204 pages -- I hope he does.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar: Meh

Films don't often inspire me to write, but Avatar is an exception. As a visual experience it is fantastic, stunning, vibrant, inventive. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything else particularly interesting about it.


The premise -- obvious from the trailers -- is that there's some military-ish group of humans on some extra-terrestrial world, and they have some way of taking on bodies that match the indigenous people. Now that you know the premise, you're all set. Imagine the story you would expect to be told based on that premise, and imagine the characters you would expect to meet. Imagine the character arcs intersecting with all the main plot lines at all the major plot points. Yep, that's the movie. And the experience of your expectations being precisely met doesn't end with this exercise -- it continues in much greater detail through the entire film.


Titanic didn't tell a daring story, either. That's probably why I only saw it once. I'll want to see Avatar again in the theater, definitely in 3-D (again). But after that, I don't expect to maintain any lasting interest in the film. This is obviously a case of high expectations being dashed -- if only I hadn't expected a daring film, I might be going to sleep right now thinking about how gorgeous it was. But I had hoped for more than a retread of the stereotypes, clich├ęs, and Messages ("war is bad (but using LOTS OF GUNS to illustrate this is entertaining)" and "yay for the environment!") that I've gotten from Cameron before.


Avatar's timid story has really distracted me from how great it looks, and that's a shame. It's just worth seeing, just for the seeing.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Wishing for Truth in Politics

On the way home from work today, I heard an NPR story about the Stupak Amendment to the health reform bill that just passed by a narrow margin in the House.

NPR read the text of the Stupak Amendment after "translating it into plain English" in order to clear up apparent confusion about what the amendement actually does. Bart Stupak claims that it merely applies the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using certain Federal monies to pay for abortions, to the new health reform bill.

When I arrived at home, one of the emails that greeted me was a statement by president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Terry O'Neill. It contains a few short paragraphs, but the meat of the email says that "The Stupak Amendment, if incorporated into the final version of health insurance reform legislation, will:

  • Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;

  • Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase private insurance that covers abortion;

  • Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases."



I suppose NOW is very concerned about getting attention, and, unfortunately, not very concerned about telling the truth in this case. The actual text of the Stupak Amendment (IANAL) directly contradicts the first two points, which are the meaty ones (casting aside the unintentional meaning of "100 percent of their own money"). Here's what the bill says:

Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting any nonfederal entity (including an individual or a State or local government) from purchasing separate supplemental coverage for abortions for which funding is prohibited under the section, or a plan that includes such abortions, so long as--


...and then there are some stipulations. But the stipulations appear merely to pedantically establish that this document is consistent with itself. The freedoms granted for individuals and States to purchase abortion coverage simply cannot be exercised with Federal money, which is the whole point (IANAL) of the amendment in the first place.

I really felt like I should be able to respond to the email's senders and point out the obvious untruth of the claims being made, but I know there would have been no beneficial result. At least now this is off my chest.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Skim Once and Move Along

In tangential response to Is Google making us stupid?:

I used to be able to romanticize the past like nobody's business. These days I can't even get a good reminiscence going. *sigh*

Friday, January 02, 2009

One of the coolest moments ever. Sort of.

Mark your calendars, because Fri Feb 13 23:31:30 UTC 2009 is on its way. Run
date +%s -d 'Fri Feb 13 23:31:30 UTC 2009'
if you want to know why that's interesting. (Ah! Or you can google it instead if you like.)