I haven’t been all that good at writing essays regularly this month, so this is the first weekly link roundup of the past two weeks, rather than the past one. Thus, I’m going to use this one to roundup the past two weeks. Also, because I skipped a week, I’m going to stick five more links here than I usually to in order to make my exobrain that much larger! Get ready!
On Monday, January 23, I wrote “The TL;DR Version of SOPA Opposition”, which summarized my writings on SOPA that I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks into a short <1000 word essay. This essay was featured in my school's newspaper, the Denisonian.
On Wednesday, January 25, I wrote “Friggin’ Inconvinient” about how I broke my power cord, which made it so I couldn’t use my laptop and work on this website. It was one of the most annoying first world problems of my week!
On Monday, January 30, I wrote “Opinions, Perceptions, and Networks – More Political Science Research”, where I published the political science research I did last summer on the formation and study of political opinions.
On Friday, February 3 (today), I wrote “What’s Up with SOPA?, Part II”, finishing all I had to say about SOPA and why I oppose it.
The discussions on this blog of enough substance to merit reporting are as follows:
In “Continuing Comments on Randomness and Naturalism”, we… well… continued comments on randomness and naturalism. More specifically, we discussed reasons for adopting one interpretation of Quantum Mechanics over another interpretation, and what each interpretation meant for naturalism.
Secondly, in “Why Not to Take Pascal’s Wager”, I answered an objection from a commenter about whether I could be wrong about atheism, and what that meant for me taking the wager. I pointed out how the Wager doesn’t give me any reason to accept this minuscule probability as anything other than minuscule.
Lastly, in “Is God Good, Part II?” I address commenter “Theodicy from divine justice”, arriving with some concessions, questions, and objections. I also address long-time commenter Tom’s thoughts on the issue that while you can’t meaningfully say God is good, you can’t also meaningfully say God is evil, because suffering could be necessary for the survival of human society.
And just to sneak this in here one last time, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m still seeking feedback in “Feedback for Me!”. Please keep the feedback coming as it helps me improve my website to better meet the desires of my target audience!
(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, over 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.
- 3 Strikes Against Fatalism: “Here are three brief sallies against the plausibility of fatalism, one by Bob Miller of Charlottesville. They are designed to prevent any plunge into pessimism that determinism might engender among those who suppose we must have free will for life to be worth living. Fatalism is pretty obviously false, but we want to make sure no one gets demoralized by a naturalism that understands all our behavior as fully a function of environment and heredity. It’s important (and not difficult) to avoid the false conclusion that determinism disempowers us. It doesn’t in the least; rather it shows us how to make the most of our abilities. If after reading these, you find yourself depressed about not having free will, please be in touch.”
- Pay No Attention to the Deity Behind the Curtain: “I can imagine a world where cities in heathen nations regularly exploded in flames for no apparent reason; a world where we could go to the Middle East and see the entrance to the Garden of Eden, locked and barred and guarded by a flaming sword, with misty green Paradise visible in the distance beyond the gates; a world where angels flew alongside planes blowing trumpets and calling on sinners to repent. I can imagine a world of miracles and spirits, where faith healers could cure severed spinal cords or regenerate lost limbs, where prophets called fire from heaven, sent rain, parted seas and multiplied loaves and fishes, where voices boomed from the sky in answer to prayers, and where the entire geologic record consisted of fossils randomly jumbled throughout strata of flood-deposited sediments. I can readily imagine a world like this. However, we don’t live in that world.”
- Thoughts in Captivity: “Many critics of organized religion have compared it to brainwashing or mind control. Personally, I would not describe it in these terms. These are strong words with overtly pejorative connotations, and their use is likely to be perceived by believers as an ad hominem attack, rather than contributing to a civil and productive dialogue between atheists and theists. Nevertheless, the fact remains that their application is not without merit. Even the staunchest defender of theism cannot deny that, to an extent, religions teach their followers to prize faith over facts, to rely on the word of authorities rather than their own judgment, and to disregard arguments that run counter to their beliefs.”
- No, Atheists Don’t Have to Show “Respect” for Religion: “Progressive believers often ignore religious differences in the name of tolerance. But this ecumenicalism promotes anti-atheist hostility and shows a disregard for the truth.”
- Is Religion an Identity or an Idea?: “For most atheists, religion is an idea. It’s a hypothesis, a truth claim about how the world works and why it is the way it is. It’s the claim that the world works the way it does, in part, because of invisible supernatural entities or forces acting on the world. [...] But for many believers, religion is an identity. They see it as a central part of who they are: like race, or gender, or sexual identity. [...] So when atheists criticize the idea of religion — either the specific ideas of a specific religion, or the idea of religion generally — the believers take it personally. [...] So what can atheists do about it?”
- Urges vs. Goals: The Analogy to Anticipation and Belief: “Joe studies long hours, and often prides himself on how driven he is to make something of himself. But in the actual moments of his studying, Joe often looks out the window, doodles, or drags his eyes over the text while his mind wanders. Someone sent him a link to which college majors lead to the greatest lifetime earnings, and he didn’t get around to reading that either. Shall we say that Joe doesn’t really care about making something of himself?”
- The Romney Conundrum: “As president, would Mitt Romney follow his all-star economic advisers—or the promises he has made to the Republican base?”
- The Post-Truth Campaign: “Over all, Mr. Obama’s positions on economic policy resemble those that moderate Republicans used to espouse. Yet Mr. Romney portrays the president as the second coming of Fidel Castro and seems confident that he will pay no price for making stuff up. Welcome to post-truth politics. Why does Mr. Romney think he can get away with this kind of thing? Well, he has already gotten away with a series of equally fraudulent attacks. In fact, he has based pretty much his whole campaign around a strategy of attacking Mr. Obama for doing things that the president hasn’t done and believing things he doesn’t believe.”
- I Was Wrong, and So Are You: “Shouldn’t a college professor have known better? Perhaps. But adjusting for bias and groupthink is not so easy, as indicated by one of the major conclusions developed by Buturovic and sustained in our joint papers. Education had very little impact on responses, we found; survey respondents who’d gone to college did only slightly less badly than those who hadn’t. [...] Still, the fact that a college education showed almost no effect—at least for those inclined to take such a survey—strongly suggests that the classroom is no great corrective for myside bias. At least when it comes to public-policy issues, the corrective value of professional academic experience might be doubted as well.”
- How to Do What You Love: “Once, when I was about 9 or 10, my father told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, so long as I enjoyed it. I remember that precisely because it seemed so anomalous. It was like being told to use dry water. Whatever I thought he meant, I didn’t think he meant work could literally be fun—fun like playing. It took me years to grasp that.”
- Religion and “More Harm than Good”: “There are those who clearly believe that religion does do more harm than good. Rather than hold that religion might do 10 units of good and 9 units of harm, they would argue that it does 1 unit of good (perhaps) and 10 units of harm. However, for the purposes of this posting, this dispute is of little consequence. However much or how little good comes from religion, we can do better if we can get rid of the harm. We can set the question of how much good remains once the harm is removed for another day.”
- The Pledge and the Motto: “From the time a child enters grade school, he or she encounters a very strong anti-atheist message. The pledge of allegiance tells her that people who do not support a nation ‘under God’ are to be thought of the same way as those who promote rebellion, tyranny, and injustice. If she looks at her money – when she learns to read the message printed there – she learns that if she lacks trust in God then she does not qualify as ‘one of us’. ‘We’ trust in God.”
- Dark Side Epistemology: “If you once tell a lie, the truth is ever after your enemy. [...] If you pick up a pebble from the driveway, and tell a geologist that you found it on a beach – well, do you know what a geologist knows about rocks? I don’t. But I can suspect that a water-worn pebble wouldn’t look like a droplet of frozen lava from a volcanic eruption. Do you know where the pebble in your driveway really came from? Things bear the marks of their places in a lawful universe; in that web, a lie is out of place.”
- Homosexuality and the Choice Argument: “Recently, when people are confronted with the opinion that homosexuality is a choice, will make the retort, ‘When did you choose to become straight?’ Clever, right? Actually, no. It is a clearly flawed response that suggests that the speaker is clutching at straws in a desperate attempt to defend a strongly desired conclusion, without regard to the reasonableness of the response.”
- Why Alvin Plantinga’s Ontological Argument Isn’t Even Halfway Good: “Here’s my view of the argument: Plantinga’s argument uses some esoteric ideas, and I don’t expect anyone unfamiliar with these ideas to understand what is wrong with the argument. However, I do claim that once you understand the underlying ideas, it becomes totally obvious that the argument is not a good one. Plantinga’s ontological argument does not reflect well on Plantinga as a thinker, nor does it something people should be pointing to to say ‘look, theism isn’t so crazy, there are sophisticated arguments for it!’”
- Levels of Action: “Suppose that you go onto Mechanical Turk, open an account, and spend a hundred hours transcribing audio. [...] This is an example of what I’d call a Level 1 or object-level action: something that directly moves the world from a less desirable state into a more desirable state. On the other hand, suppose you take a typing class, which teaches you to type twice as fast. [...T]he typing class can still be very useful, because every Level 1 project you tackle later which involves typing will go better- you’ll be able to do it more efficiently, and you’ll get a higher return on your time. This is what I’d call a Level 2 or meta-level action, because it doesn’t make the world better directly – it makes the world better indirectly, by improving the effectiveness of Level 1 actions. There are also Level 3 (meta-meta-level) actions, Level 4 (meta-meta-meta-level actions), and so on.”
- Locked in the Ivory Tower – Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research: “Step back and think about this picture. Universities that created this academic content for free must pay to read it. Step back even further. The public — which has indirectly funded this research with federal and state taxes that support our higher education system — has virtually no access to this material, since neighborhood libraries cannot afford to pay those subscription costs. Newspapers and think tanks, which could help extend research into the public sphere, are denied free access to the material.”
- Don’t vote for a politician like Obama. Just don’t do it. Ever.: “We need to spread the meme that you should never vote for a presidential candidate who thinks the president should have the power to order his own citizens killed or detained forever without trial. Just don’t vote for someone like that. Ever.”
- “Born Again” Involves an Impossible Play on Words: “While talking to a man named Nicodemus, Jesus tells him that he must be born “from above”. However, the word Jesus uses – ανωθεν (anwqen) – can also mean “again”, and Nicodemus understands Jesus in this second sense. [...] What the author of John apparently failed to consider is that this misunderstanding between Jesus and Nicodemus cannot have occurred, since Jesus and Nicodemus would have been speaking Aramaic, not Greek, and there is no such double meaning in Aramaic.”
- How To Explain Gay Rights To An Idiot: “Explaining gay rights to people who make the huge leap that if we legalize gay marriage it will open the doors to all sorts of ridiculous things like marrying your toaster, children, the dead, or your dog”
I now blog at EverydayUtilitarian.com. I hope you'll join me at my new blog! This page has been left as an archive.