Welcome to the eighteenth Weekly Link Roundup, where I summarize the recent happenings on the site and then provide you with a bunch of links to the best of all the websites I’ve read in the past week.
On Monday, I wrote “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time”, in which I questioned why God doesn’t just kill Satan now, since it would end what is alleged to be a source of suffering that doesn’t need to be around. Like usual, I spend time deflating all the common excuses, and then go on to pose problems in both the Garden of Eden Fall story and question why God is taking so long with the second coming.
On Wednesday, I wrote “The Irreducible Sandwich: A Second Allegory”, a story of philosophers who doubt that a sandwich can be reduced to the ingredients which make up a sandwich, with nothing left over. The application to current philosophical questions of whether mere atoms can give rise to consciousness is clear.
On Friday, I wrote “Is God Good?, Part I”, the first in a series of essays to tie together all my previous essays about God causing needless suffering, and finally challenge the benevolence of God by dealing with the final excuses — that God is good because he has an unknown purpose, or that God works in mysterious ways, or many other appeals.
This website was also abuzz in comments. On “The Christian God Sure Takes His Sweet Time, I answer a question about whether God can be excused because of his atemporal nature, which also leads me to revisit some of my answers that I offered in the comments section of “Proving God Through Cosmology?”.
On “Bayes Theorem is Best Theorem”, a conversation is revisited about how to apply Bayes Theorem to real-world reasoning, specifically claims of ghosts, and the practical limits of doing so. A few misconceptions about Bayes Theorem are also resolved.
I also respond to some objections by Garren on “Identity Confusion as Definition Confusion, Part II”, from Garren on “P-Zombies Are Fallacious”, and from Tom on “The Spectre of Scientism”, continuing past conversations. Also, Deedlit offers numerous much-welcomed corrections on my Large Number series, which I hope to get around to fixing soon.
Now for the links! Here’s the three things you need to know:
(1) The links are also ordered so that the ones I like most are at the top, for those who don’t have time for all the links… but for those who do have time, I think all of them are worthwhile.
(2) The Link Roundup category has, I’d estimate, nearly 300 more links if you need the extra distraction. That’s enough links to keep you reading for a full month, if not more.
(3) I don’t necessarily agree with everything said by these links; I just post what I find to be interesting and well-written.
- A Parable on Obsolete Ideologies: “In the midst of the chaos, a group of German leaders come to you with a proposal. Nazism, they admit, was completely wrong. Its racist ideology was false and its consequences were horrific. However, in the bleak poverty of post-war Germany, people need to keep united somehow. They need something to believe in. And a whole generation of them have been raised on Nazi ideology and symbolism. Why not take advantage of the national unity Nazism provides while discarding all the racist baggage?”
- No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus: “Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.”
- Ethical Injunctions: “First, being human and running on corrupted hardware, we may generalize classes of situation where when you say e.g. ‘It’s time to rob a few banks for the greater good,’ we deem it more likely that you’ve been corrupted than that this is really the case. (Note that we’re not prohibiting it from ever being the case in reality, but we’re questioning the epistemic state where you’re justified in trusting your own calculation that this is the right thing to do – fair lottery tickets can win, but you can’t justifiably buy them.)”
- Luke Meuhlhauser’s Moral Pluralism: “When somebody adopts a moral theory, they do not necessarily adopt a set of beliefs about the world. Adopting a moral theory is to adopt a language – to decide to use moral terms in a particular way. When two people adopt two different moral languages, they will sometimes have trouble communicating. Because those languages are very similar to each other, they may be confused about the nature of their disagreements – mistaking differences in languages as differences in beliefs.”
- Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas: “If you’re going to spend years working on something, you’d think it might be wise to spend at least a couple days considering different ideas, instead of going with the first that comes into your head. You’d think. But people don’t.”
- The Guardians of Ayn Rand: “I admire Newton’s accomplishments. But my attitude toward a woman’s right to vote, bars me from accepting Newton as a moral paragon. Just as my knowledge of Bayesian probability bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate unbeatable source of mathematical knowledge. And my knowledge of Special Relativity, paltry and little-used though it may be, bars me from viewing Newton as the ultimate authority on physics. Newton couldn’t realistically have discovered any of the ideas I’m lording over him – but progress isn’t fair! That’s the point! Science has heroes, but no gods. The great Names are not our superiors, or even our rivals, they are passed milestones on our road; and the most important milestone is the hero yet to come.”
- Intransitive Gratitude – Feeling Thankful in a Godless World: “If you don’t believe in God, what does gratitude mean? I don’t mean specific gratitude towards specific people for specific benevolent acts. I mean that more broad, general, sweeping sense of gratitude: gratitude for things like good health, having food to eat, having friends and family, the mere fact of being alive at all.”
- Believers Think We Need Religion to Behave Like Good, Moral People — Here’s Why They’re Wrong: “Morality is real, objective, and perfectly compatible with a worldview that includes nothing spooky, mystical or supernatural.”
- Good Minus God: “Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. [...] (Imagine telling a child: ‘You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.’)”
- Why We Give to Charity: “Why do we give at all? From a rational perspective, it’s hard to see why people worried about their own families, taxes, and bills would want to give money to help strangers. Though the tradition of giving to the less fortunate has existed for millennia — and though researchers have long been interested in what makes humans want to help others at their own expense — social scientists have only begun to seriously examine the act of donating money in the past 20 years.”
- What Have We Learned about Fiscal Policy from the Crisis? and Fiscal Policy Works: “Via Brad DeLong, there’s a paper by David Romer (pdf) summarizing recent research on fiscal policy, inspired by the crisis and aftermath. And his conclusion is not at all what you hear on the talk shows; it is that there is now overwhelming evidence that fiscal policy does in fact work when it’s not offset by monetary policy. And since we’re now in a liquidity trap in which conventional monetary policy has no traction, that’s the world we’re in.”
- The Quiz Daniel Kahneman Wants You to Fail: “In the December 2011 issue of Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis profiles Nobel Prize–winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who pioneered research into ‘heuristics,’ or the shortcuts humans use when making decisions. Below, take our quiz to see how your own mind works.”
- Why I Am An Atheist: “So I picked something specific and unlikely, but within the realm of possibility. I prayed: Some time in the next week, I’m going to get a sign. Someone is going to walk up to me and give me a big cookie. No explanation, no reason, no strings attached. Just hand it to me and walk away. I said that if this happens, I’ll give a shot to that Christian church I saw with the Pascal’s Wager marquee. I figured that it was weird enough that it would be a respectable sign, but not outrageous enough to be seen as demanding favors. It didn’t happen, so I finally said to myself ‘Okay, I’m not the crazy one.’ And over time, I dropped the idea of praying for help and accepted my atheism as the best bet about how reality works.”
- Spend Money on Ergonomics: “Ergonomics is incredibly important. Sadly, so many of us in the techno-geek cluster ignore well-defined best practices of ergonomics and develop the infamous hunched back of late night computer toiling. [...] With straightforward monetary investment, you can dramatically improve the next hundreds of thousands of hours of your life. The effect size here is just enormous. Spend money on ergonomics, and you will be less fatigued, more energetic, more productive, and healthier into the later years of your life.”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.