December 18, 2014

Is Christianity dead?

by Neil Rickert

I was brought up with the idea that God is love.  This was the centerpiece of Christianity.

Judging by what some conservative Christians have been saying, this is now changed to “God is torture” (see this recent slacktivist post).

There doesn’t seem to be much Christianity remaining.  Thankfully, Fred Clark’s “slacktivist” blog still makes a case for the “God is love” view.

December 18, 2014

Religious nut jobs

by Neil Rickert

They hate it when we call them that (see the title of this post).  But, at times, it seems appropriate.

Checking my email earlier today, there was a message about a comment to this blog needing moderation.  The email included the comment.  It was a bit iffy (over the top religion), but I was going to approve it anyway.

I went to the comment pages of the blog.  That comment was nowhere to be seen.  So I checked the spam pages.  And there it was amongst the spam.  The spam checker (akismet must have re-evaluated that and decided that it was spam).

The particular commenter had provided a link to his website, which was his own blog.  So I took a look at his blog.  And there, the most recent post appeared to be identical to his comment on my blog.

Ordinary common sense would be that this blogger write a short relevant comment to my blog post and include a link back to his full post.  But, instead his comment was his entire blog post.

In this case, the expression “religious nut job” seems to fit.  And akismet was right to flag this as spam.

I have deliberately chosen to not identify the spammer or his blog.  If he is reading this, I hope he can develop a little common sense.

December 12, 2014

On free will

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent video, “The Dark Side of Free Will“, of a TEDx talk by philosopher Gregg Caruso (h/t Brian Leiter).

Caruso argues that we do not have free will.  However, the main point of his talk is to argue that belief in free will has undesirable consequences, so we would be better off dropping any such belief.

I don’t get it.  I do not see any substance to his argument.  But I suggest you watch the video and decide that for yourself.

Among the undesirable consequences that Caruso mentions, are a retributive system of justice, and a “blame the victim” mentality.

I agree with Caruso that there are problems with our current system of justice, and that we should get rid of that “blame the victim” mentality.  But I don’t see that this as anything much to do with a belief in free will.

Caruso mentions evidence to support his case.  But all he has is correlations.  I am left wondering why he called his talk “The Dark Side of Free Will.”  Why not, instead, “The Dark Side of Conservatism” or “The Dark Side of Religion”?  Either of those titles would seem a better fit to the evidence that he mentions.

But here’s what leaves me puzzled about these kinds of arguments.  Caruso wants us to make changes, which involves us making choices.  To me, that we have an ability to make such changes is a very typical example of free will.  So I see Caruso as implicitly endorsing the view that we have free will, while explicitly denying it.

Arguments against free will always seem to involve that kind of internal contradiction.

December 5, 2014

Learning and knowledge

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent youtube video about attempts to revolutionize education (h/t Larry Moran).

There wasn’t anything that I found surprising in this video.  Over the years, I’ve been in several discussions of a similar nature.  Those discussions have also mentioned correspondence classes which did not seem to get a mention in the video.

This does relate to the nature of knowledge.  If knowledge were really justified true belief, then the methods which failed to revolutionize education should have worked.  For those are the methods that would provide the student with a large accumulation of true beliefs.

This is why I often express disagreement with “knowledge = justified true belief”.  That characterization of knowledge is not compatible with how we actually become knowledgeable.

November 25, 2014

On Ferguson, Missouri

by Neil Rickert

I’ll just quote a little from Fred Clark (the slacktivist), who says it so well:

In a sane universe, or a moral one, it would not be not reasonable to claim that the mere presence of an unarmed dark-skinned person was a basis to fear for one’s life. In a sane world, such fear would be regarded, rather, as the very definition of racial prejudice.

The argument that the presence of an unarmed black man prompted a lethal response out of existential fear would not be possible as a defense against the accusation of racial prejudice in a sane world, because it would be rightly understood as a confirmation of such prejudice — as a confession of it.

Now go read Fred’s complete post.

November 20, 2014

From a fundamentalist blog

by Neil Rickert

[posted as humor]

From here:

Not only did our traitor Congress have an imam as “guest chaplain” yesterday, which ought to be impeachable as treason, but the Pope they invited some time back has now confirmed that he plans to visit the country next year, and Congress is on his itinerary. According to the Constitution Congress decides the punishment for treason, apparently not anticipating that Congress itself would be guilty of it. I’m quite serious. This should be a treasonable offense, both these violations of our governing body, because it puts the nation under God’s wrath.

You can’t make this stuff up.

November 18, 2014

Teaching creationism

by Neil Rickert

In spite of the title, this post really isn’t about teaching creationism.  It is about the responsibilities of a teacher.  I use creationism only as an example.

Adam Laats raised the issue in a recent blog post “Firing Creationist Scientists“.  Laats mentions the case of Mark Armitage at CalState.  As to exactly why Armitage lost his job, I do not know.  Presumably that’s a personnel matter at CalState Northridge, and full details are not usually made public though they might come out at a later court hearing.  Laats surmises that Armitage probably lost his job because he was teaching creationism.

The responsibilities of a teacher

To me, this raises the question of what a responsible teacher should present to his/her students.  So let’s suppose, hypothetically, that a scientist comes up with his own theory X in his discipline, and strongly believes that his theory is true.  How should that affect what he teaches?

My view is that the students are there to learn the consensus science.  So the scientist has a responsibility to his students to teach them what is that consensus science, even if he disagrees with that consensus.

Continue reading

November 9, 2014

All the world’s a stage

by Neil Rickert

The title is a famous line from Shakespeare’s “As you like it.”  It seems apt for this post, where I comment on a question raised by Frank Schaeffer.  In a recent post, Schaeffer asks:

If we’re nothing, why bother to convince us of our nothingness? Who cares? I would like to have asked Sagan why he bothered to write with such poetic skill and beauty about the meaninglessness of writing, given our transitory and diminutive place in the universe.

Multiple worlds

The answer to Schaeffer’s question, I think, is that we live in multiple worlds.

We live in a material or physical world.  And that world is a vast cosmos.  We exist on a tiny planet in a tiny corner of that cosmos.  Relative to that cosmos, we are insignificant.  The cosmos will go on with or without us, and we have no significant effect on it.

We live in a biological world, which is exists within that material world.  Within that biological world, there is a different range of values.  Our biology requires that we sustain ourselves with food and other requirements, so those requirements set some values which serve to motivate us.  We are very significant to that biological world, if only because of the devastation that our species has caused to the habitats of other species.

We live in a cultural world, which results from our belonging to a social species.  And we are very significant within our cultures which are centered around humans and human activity.  We may actually belong to many overlapping cultures.  I consider myself part of western culture, but also part of scientific culture.

Schaeffer mentions Carl Sagan and Dan Dennett.  But I doubt that either of those see (or saw) themselves a part of the material world alone.  Sagan, in discussing the vastness of our cosmos, was addressing our cultural worlds and painting a picture of where we fit within the material world.  But, at the same time, he was appealing to what we value within our cultural worlds.

October 31, 2014

The cultural scene

by Neil Rickert

A few posts worth reading:

Some choice quotes:

In evangelical home schools by the millions science is treated as toxic. Meanwhile in the secular public schools education has been mugged by corporate utilitarianism.


If the British had reacted to Hitler’s bombing of London the way we overacted to 9/11 the entire city of London would be one vast memorial…

You can count me as siding with Kaci Hickox on this.

I’m not sure that I agree with Coyne’s diagnosis, though I agree that there is a decline.

I frequently receive email from the NY Times, asking me to subscribe.  But I probably read less than one article per day, on average, so I’m not inclined to answer their ads.  I get much of my news from NPR, and I do contribute to my local NPR station.  If the NY Times, the Washington Post and several other newspapers could get together in a consortium, and offer a subscription that would give on-line browsing access to all of those papers, I might sign up for that.  I won’t subscribe to the NY Times only, because I don’t like the idea of a single source.

October 30, 2014

Please vote on Tuesday Nov 4th

by Neil Rickert

If you are a registered voter in the USA, then please vote on Tuesday.

I won’t tell you how to vote.  I suggest you study the candidates and decide that for yourself.  But I will tell you how I plan to vote for the most important positions.

For Illinois governor, my vote will be for Patrick Quinn.  I don’t actually like Quinn, so this is more a case of voting against his Republican opponent (Bruce Rauner).

For US Senate, I’ll be voting for Dick Durbin.  In my opinion, he has been a pretty good senator.  His opponent, Jim Oberweis, should have stayed out of politics — he isn’t very good at it.

For congress, I’ll probably vote for the Democrat, but it will be a wasted vote.  The 14th congressional district is a safe Republican seat.  I hate that.  I hated it just as much at a previous residence, where I was in a safe Democrat seat.  Competitive elections are better.

And then there’s a bunch of other positions.  Our ballot is too long.

We need better candidates

Yes, the choice of candidates is often poor.  But vote anyway.  If you don’t vote, then the politicians will take you for granted, and things won’t get better.


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