June 10, 2022

Human nature

I saw this post on an Internet forum. The thread topic was about the war in Ukraine, but this post was not specifically about the war. I thought it a good description of one side of human nature:

I’ve been a commercial lawyer for over 30 years now, and in that time I’ve had a bit of exposure to the vile world of mega wealth and power. What goes on there is complex, revolting and without any degree of humanity. People only make it into that world if they are bereft of kindness and decency. Ultimately, it’s about wealth and privilege and the desire for power. That is a complex and impenetrable web of pulleys and levers.

Sadly, no revolution ever gets rid of that – it just replaces one group of dictators with another group of dictators, pulling the same pulleys and levers.

Incidentally, the author lives in England.

May 29, 2022

American Evangelicals

I grew up in Australia, and I was a member of an evangelical church there. I later moved to USA as a graduate student in mathematics, and I left Christianity after a few months there (at around age 23). I originally saw “evangelical” as a theological term, referring to particular theologies — particularly those that arose from Luther’s reformation. At the time of my youth in Australia, that made sense.

In America, I made similar assumptions about the meaning of “evangelical”. But experience has shown me that this was a mistaken view. It turns out that it makes more sense to think of “evangelical”, at least in the USA, a referring to a political and cultural identity. For example, I often hear the news media distinguishing between “evangelicals” and “mainline protestants”. Yet many of the “mainline protestant” churches would fit my original Australian understanding of “evangelical”.

Are evangelicals Christian?

What I see coming from American evangelicals does not fit the understanding of Christianity that I had in my youth. Yes, they call themselves “Christian”. But what, exactly does that mean? To me, it meant following the teachings of Jesus, such as “love thy neighbor”. And that’s where American evangelicals seem to fall short.

Here’s a post written by Rodney Kennedy, who is apparently a progressive Christian in America:

May 1, 2022

Nonsense about atheism at The Big Think

A recent post at Uncommon Descent mentioned a topic at Big Think:

The title is perhaps what attracted the UD poster. But the title is already absurd. Why would anyone think that atheism is particularly rational?

For starters, atheism isn’t actually a belief system. It is merely a matter of not being committed to theism. So it doesn’t actually make sense to ask whether atheism is rational.

The post lists the author as Will Gervais in partnership with John Templeton Foundation. A google search suggests that Gervais is a professor of psychology at UKY.

Absurdities

I chose to respond to this because of the absurdities that I noticed. The post begins with a subtitle:

Many atheists think of themselves as intellectually gifted individuals, guiding humanity on the path of reason. Scientific data shows otherwise.

This already seems dubious. The first sentence is undoubtedly true, if only because “many” is an undetermined number. Six people could count as many, and I know at least that many myself who match the description. But scientific data is unlikely to counter this. The scientific data more likely reports a statistical probability, which is not the same as “many”.

March 14, 2022

What are those things we call “laws of nature”?

There was a recent post at Aeon by philosopher Marc Lang:

I want to discuss that, and to discuss some of my disagreements. My first disagreement, is that I don’t believe there are such things as laws of nature. But there are certainly things that people call “laws of nature”. I’m okay with calling them scientific laws. But I doubt that they come from nature. That is to say, I see these laws as human constructs. I do not see them as something that we can just read from nature itself.

In our science classes, we all learned some examples of what scientists currently believe (or once believed) to be laws of nature. Some of these putative laws are named after famous scientists (such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton). Some are generally called ‘laws’ (such as the laws of motion and gravity), while others are typically called ‘principles’ (such as Archimedes’ principle and Bernoulli’s principle), ‘rules’ (such as Born’s rule and Hund’s rule), ‘axioms’ (such as the axioms of quantum mechanics), or ‘equations’ (such as Maxwell’s equations).

It is interesting to note the expression “what scientists currently believe (or once believed) to be laws of nature” for that already suggests that scientists can change their minds as to what they take to be laws of nature. And this seems to agree with my point that these laws are actually human constructs.

February 20, 2022

Does science require faith?

There was a recent post at the heterodox stem substack, arguing that science requires faith. My thanks to Jerry Coyne for the reference. Coyne has already expressed his disagreement with that viewpoint. In this post, I’ll add my own disagreement.

In elementary school, after we learned to use fractions we were taught to use 22/7 for the value of $\pi$. We did not actually use the symbol $\pi$ at that stage. We were not given any reason for using 22/7. We had to trust the teacher for that. This was for doing what we called “mensuration” problems — finding areas and perimeters. So, yes, you could think of that as a kind of faith. A child needs to trust teachers and parents while growing up.

The next year, we learned decimal fractions. And we began to use 3.14 or 3.1416 for $\pi$. I quickly worked out that this was not the same as 22/7, so by then I understood that these were approximations.

In high school, we studied physics every year. One of our first physics experiments was to find the value of $\pi$. We were given wooden cylinders, and wrapped a thread around the cylinder as a way of measuring the perimeter. And we directly measured the diameter. At first this seemed strange. I had done enough reading to know that the value of $\pi$ was usually found mathematically (with an infinite series), so the physics experiment seemed bogus. But then I realized the point being made. We did not need to depend on faith. We could find these things out by ourselves. And that’s what is distinctive about science.

January 25, 2022

A different kind of Christianity

I don’t often post on religion. But this is one of those times. I came across this video via a post at The Skeptical Zone.

The video is a bit long — 2 hours, though the last 30 minutes is commentary. It describes a church in Oklahoma, which is very different from typical evangelical churches. It sees Christianity as all about action — working to make the world a better place — instead of being all about belief.

This is much closer to what I understood to be Christianity from my own reading of the New Testament. And, in all honesty, if I had come across churches like this, I might never have deconverted from Christianity.

January 12, 2022

On what exists

I follow the philosophy blog of Ian Wardell via my RSS reader. I disagree with some of what he posts. And I find myself not very interested in others of his posts. But at times he posts things that interest me.

Checking, this morning, I found his latest post:

and that just happens to be right up my alley. It is a topic that I have posted about from time to time. So I suggest that you read his post.

As an example, physics describes the world in terms of mass, distance and time. Ian is arguing, in effect, that it is legitimate to doubt whether mass, distance and time actually exist. And I agree with him about that.

The way the world is

Ian asks “Do our theories in physics mirror how reality really is?”

I have been posting my ideas about this for some time. And my general view is that there isn’t a way that the world really is. There is a way that we describe the world. There are ways that we experience the world. But there is no human-independent way that the world is. No matter how we describe the world, we can only describe it in terms of our own interactions with the world.

December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas and a happy new year

I’m posting a bit early this week, so as to be in time for Christmas. And I’m already late, because Christmas day is under way in some parts of the world (Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific islands).

Best wishes to all.

December 20, 2021

Mathematics and science

In his blog post today:

thonyc gives some interesting history on the use of mathematics in science. I found this quite interesting, and it corrects some of my own misunderstandings. Popular books which touch on the history of mathematics tend to gloss over much of the detail.

We tend to see the use of mathematics in science as relatively sudden. But thonyc’s account shows that it was actually more gradual. In a way, that makes a lot of sense and is perhaps what we should have expected.

The experimental method

Discussions of the scientific method usually emphasize the idea of experimental testing. That’s how I was introduced to science in elementary school. Many internet discussions of science emphasize the experimental method. This can be a way of distinguishing between science and religious creationism, because the so-called scientific creationists do not use the kind of experimental testing that we see in science.

In reality, though, experimental testing is not limited to science. A good cook tests her concoctions. A tennis player tests his strokes. Experimental testing is ubiquitous in life, and is better thought of as part of pragmatism. Even a religious creationist tests his ideas by seeing how his intended audience responds to his stories.