Welcome to the final weekly link roundup of this year! And this one won’t be any different than usual: first, I’ll summarize this week’s essays, then summarize this week’s comment discussions, and then give you a bunch of links to read.
Horray and happy New Year!
This week I’ve been aiming to wrap up the year in a somewhat reflective manner. I did this first on Monday by outlining all of my current philosophical thought in “Web of Beliefs and My Philosophy”, discussing in fair amounts of detail my current view on metaphilosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, religion, morality, and politics.
I then moved on to write on Tuesday “Feedback for Me”, a request for feedback about how I am doing with this blog, and anything you would like to see improved or changed. I’d still love for people to give me feedback.
Then on Wednesday I wrote of “Blog Plans for Next Year”, where I looked at the questions I most care about and which drive my writing on this blog, and look at how close they are being answered, and how I will focus to contribute to answering these questions in the coming year.
Again, I’m lucky to have some pretty vibrant discussion on this site. This week, the discussions took place in two key areas:
In “Is God Good?, Part I” we discussed what I was aiming to accomplish with my essay — to demonstrate the Problem of Evil once and for all over the appeals to mystery. We also discussed further how God can be said to be evil counterfactually and without assuming some absolute morality — I argued it makes sense if you really care about whether someone is responsible for causing or allowing needless suffering if they existed, and the rest is just pointless quibbling over definitions.
In “The Twelve Reasons I Don’t Believe in Supernatural Claims, Part I”, we discussed the implications of cosmogenesis (how the universe came to be) and quantum mechanics (specifically the claims of true randomness) to ideas of materialism (the idea the world is made only of matter) and naturalism (the idea that supernatural hypotheses are incoherent), which of course is not my strong suit considering I am not very knowledgable in either subject. We also discussed the definition of naturalism and what it seeks to say about the world.
Remember, I enumerate the comments here as an invitation for you to join the discussion.
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. If you want to know whether I support a particular opinion you see, feel free to ask.
- How to be a Philosopher: “In Sense and Goodness without God I open with an impassioned plea that everyone be a philosopher, that they replace all the devotion and time they spend on religion, all to doing philosophy instead. To which I’m often asked ‘How?’ Indeed, someone on FaceBook just asked me that the other day. [...] I got to thinking I should at least publish some basic starter tips, which by following you can figure out on your own how to do philosophy and be a philosopher–by which I mean in a useful way, not a boring, useless, academic way. To that end I have four suggestions to get started on finding your own path.”
- Excluding the Supernatural: “Suppose this were wrong. Suppose that the Mind Projection Fallacy was not a fallacy, but simply true. Suppose that a 747 had a fundamental physical existence apart from the quarks making up the 747. What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe? If you can’t come up with a good answer to that, it’s not observation that’s ruling out “non-reductionist” beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence. If you can’t say what predictions the “non-reductionist” model makes, how can you say that experimental evidence rules it out? My thesis is that non-reductionism is a confusion; and once you realize that an idea is a confusion, it becomes a tad difficult to envision what the universe would look like if the confusion were true.”
- Rationality is Systemized Winning: “It is this that I intended to guard against by saying: “Rationalists should win!” Not whine, win. If you keep on losing, perhaps you are doing something wrong. Do not console yourself about how you were so wonderfully rational in the course of losing. That is not how things are supposed to go. It is not the Art that fails, but you who fails to grasp the Art.”
- Offense Versus Harm Minimization: “Imagine that one night, an alien prankster secretly implants electrodes into the brains of an entire country – let’s say Britain. The next day, everyone in Britain discovers that pictures of salmon suddenly give them jolts of painful psychic distress. [...] I think most decent people would be willing to go to some trouble to avoid taking pictures of salmon if British people politely asked this favor of them. [...] So why don’t most people extend the same sympathy they would give Brits who don’t like pictures of salmon, to Muslims who don’t like pictures of Mohammed?”
- Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?: “The diamond invention—the creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem—is a relatively recent development in the history of the diamond trade. Until the late nineteenth century, diamonds were found only in a few riverbeds in India and in the jungles of Brazil, and the entire world production of gem diamonds amounted to a few pounds a year. In 1870, however, huge diamond mines were discovered near the Orange River, in South Africa, where diamonds were soon being scooped out by the ton. Suddenly, the market was deluged with diamonds. The British financiers who had organized the South African mines quickly realized that their investment was endangered; diamonds had little intrinsic value—and their price depended almost entirely on their scarcity. The financiers feared that when new mines were developed in South Africa, diamonds would become at best only semiprecious gems.”
- Self-Fulfilling Correlations: “Correlation does not imply causation. Sometimes corr(X,Y) means X=>Y; sometimes it means Y=>X; sometimes it means W=>X, W=>Y. And sometimes it’s an artifact of people’s beliefs about corr(X, Y). With intelligent agents, perceived causation causes correlation. [...] Are vegetarian diets or yoga healthy for you? Does using the phone while driving increase accident rates? Yes, probably; but there is a self-fulfilling component in the data that is difficult to factor out.”
- 6 tips for giving like a pro: “This time of year, just about every news agency publishes an article titled something like ’6 tips to give wisely this holiday season.’ The advice they give makes sense to a degree – make sure the charity isn’t a scam, check that the CEO’s salary doesn’t account for 90% of the charity’s budget, etc. – but it’s really targeted at someone who’s aiming to not waste his/her money. For donors interested in accomplishing the most good possible with their money, here are 6 tips to help you take your giving to the next level.”
- Behind John Boehner’s Debacle on the Payroll Tax Cut Battle: “The kamikazes’ casualty list this year is long. They blew up the debt-ceiling vote this summer, sparking a downgrade in the nation’s credit rating. They blew up the appropriations process so thoroughly that routine spending votes morphed into philosophical standoffs that nearly locked down the federal government three times and required seven temporary funding patches just to keep the lights on. And this week, they managed to blow up not just a tax cut that nearly everyone in Washington agrees is a good idea, but also their party’s hard-earned reputation for cutting taxes and, quite possibly, their chances at a long-term majority in the House and future control of the Senate.”
- Why Does Anyone Like Ron Paul?: “I’ve been trying to understand why smart people I know support Ron Paul and I just can’t get my head around it. I get the sense that maybe the Ron Paul People I know just don’t realize what Ron Paul’s all about. That or they just don’t care.”
- Heaven and Hell: “The doctrine of heaven and hell is such a nonstarter, even from a Christian point of view. It does not fit with the Christian conception of God—it conflicts with the idea that God is perfectly good, perfectly just, and loving. One could go so far as to say that the doctrine of heaven and hell is anti-Christian. It thumbs its nose at some of the most fundamental Christian doctrines. One wonders why it has enjoyed such a long history within Christianity.”
- What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success: “The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.”
- Storming the Ivory Tower: “Part of what I aim to do is to (metaphorically) tear off the doors of the ivory tower and drag its inhabitants down to ground level, to show them the source of the clamor. Atheists aren’t causing trouble for no reason; we’re reacting to the real dangers posed by the aggressive imposition of religious ideas into law and public life. Of course, there’s a remaining question of how we can most effectively fight back, and whether sweeping attacks on religious belief might be counterproductive. I’ll address this further objection in an upcoming post.”
- Sunset: “So men say. I’ve heard that story too, and I know that a lot of people think it’s a convincing story. But like you said, he sun sets in the west, not in the north. No matter how convincing the story is, if we don’t see it happening in real life, it’s not a true story. The only reason it’s convincing is because Christians have spent 2,000 years finding out what it would take to convince people. And that’s not a good reason to believe that it’s really true…”
- How William Lane Craig misleads his followers: “For someone like me, it’s tempting to ignore this kind of stuff, because to any informed person it’s all just rhetoric. But based on my experiences with Campus Crusade types, that’s not the whole story. For someone who hasn’t read a few books on Biblical scholarship, this stuff is almost guaranteed to give a false impression of the facts. That’s why Craig needs to be called out on it.”
- Responding to the Most Common Arguments for God’s Existence: “I listen to a lot of theological discussions and debates. Often, someone will mention the name of a common argument for God’s existence… but I can never seem to remember which argument is which. Maybe you’re in the same boat. Accordingly, I’ve prepared the following guide for distinguishing five standard apologetics, along with my counterarguments. This isn’t a comprehensive list of arguments, nor does it cover the many nuances of arguments for or against God. Rather, it’s a guide for people like me who just can’t keep the arguments straight”
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