Archive for September, 2012

September 30, 2012

Blasphemy Day

by Neil Rickert

Today is International Blasphemy Day, as I have been reminded by posts at several other sites that I follow.  I do not think of this as a day for the celebration of blasphemy.  Rather, I think of it as a day of protest against attempts to make blasphemy illegal.

Personally, I am not a big fan of blasphemy.  I don’t see a point in going out of my way to be offensive to other people.  However, freedom of speech is more important.  And freedom of speech includes the freedom to be offensive in one’s speech.  So this post is all about standing up for freedom of speech.

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September 27, 2012

Obama for President

by Neil Rickert

I rarely post on politics.  That’s because most political discussions generate more heat than light.  However, President of the United States of America is an important office, where it seems appropriate to express my opinion.

Most of the readers of this blog have probably already guessed that I would support Obama.  They will know that I generally support positions that are based on evidence and reason, rather than on unproven ideology.

I’m an independent

I’ll start with a brief comment on my broad political views.  I think of myself as an independent.  That is, I am not committed to any political party.

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September 20, 2012

I am continuing my non-boycott of Chick-fil-A

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I explained that I was not buying anything at Chick-fil-A, but I could not call it a boycott because the nearest store is far enough away that I wouldn’t buy anything there anyway.  So today, I am announcing that I will continue that non-boycott.

There is a related news report:

It seems that Chick-fil-A is backing down.  The conjectures are that the boycott has been hurting their business, however, they are not currently giving reasons for the change.

I have seen very little mention of this elsewhere, so the point of this post is to notify my readership of the change.  And those readers can make up their own minds on how they will react.

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September 16, 2012

Ways of knowing

by Neil Rickert

There have been several posts about scientism over the past few weeks, particularly at

I won’t single out specific posts at those sites, as I will only be making general comments.  Most of the people reading this have probably also read those other blogs and have already seen some of the relevant posts.

The claim made by proponents of scientism is, to perhaps overstate it a little, that the methods of science are the only way to knowledge.  I’ll count the first two of the sites I listed as favoring scientism, and the last two as opposing it.  And I’ll count myself as an opponent.

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September 14, 2012

Mathematical Fictionalism

by Neil Rickert

Massimo Pigliucci has a post on mathematical platonism, so I thought it appropriate to discuss that in conjunction with my own version of mathematical fictionalism.

Pigliucci begins with three principle of platonism, which he takes from the SEP entry:

  1. Existence: There are mathematical objects;
  2. Abstractness: Mathematical objects are abstract;
  3. Independence: Mathematical objects are independent of intelligent agents and their language, thought, and practices.

Here’s the parallel principles for my version of fictionalism:

  1. Mathematical objects are useful fictions.  They have no actual existence, but it is useful to talk about them as if they existed.
  2. Mathematical objects are abstract.  I take this as a consequence of their being fictions.
  3. Mathematical objects are mental constructs, so are not strictly independent of the intelligent agents who talk about them.  However, if some alien intelligence exists — let’s call them Martians, to have a name — were to construct their own mathematics for reasons analogous to why we construct mathematics, then many of their mathematical fictions would have truth conditions analogous to those of our mathematics.

My fictionalist version of independence is weaker than the platonist version, though it seems adequate for mathematics.

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September 12, 2012

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a good explanation of Bayes theorem, and its limitations. It isn’t a magic explanation, it is a limited tool to be used in assocation with an appropriate probability model.

Irreducible Complexity

This post follows from the previous review of Richard Carrier’s “Proving History”, which attempts to use Bayes’s Theorem to prove Jesus didn’t exist. In my review I point out a selection of the mathematical problems with that book, even though I quite enjoyed it. This post is designed to explain what Bayes’s Theorem actually does, and show why it isn’t particularly useful outside of specific domains. It is a journey through basic probability theory, for folks who aren’t into math (though I’ll assume high-school math). It is designed to be simple, and therefore is rather long. I will update it and clarify it from time to time. [Edit: There is also a new post on errors, which follows on from this].

Let’s think about the birth of Christianity. How did it happen? We don’t know, which is to say there are a lot of different things that could…

View original post 3,792 more words

September 4, 2012

On Sun Myung Moon

by Neil Rickert

Seen on the slacktivist blog:

So he was an exploitative megalomaniac and he supported right-wing politics — but I guess that’s redundant.

That’s a great way of putting it.  Thanks, Fred.

I suggest you read the entire post by Fred Clark.  There a lot of other good stuff there, too:  Right-wing ‘Messiah,’ ex-con Sun Myung Moon dies at 92

September 2, 2012

Gödel and the resurrection

by Neil Rickert

This is just too funny.

Seen in a comment on an ID blog:

Of note: It might surprise some to learn that Godel’s incompleteness theorem actually supports the resurrection of Christ

Yet they wonder why people laugh at ID proponents, why some folk call them IDiots.

September 2, 2012

filosophy food fight

by Neil Rickert

[update 9/04/12: added round n+5]

(Okay, some odd spelling there, to have every word start with ‘f’).

Draw up your chairs.  Bring plenty of popcorn.  This might be fun.