Friday, 16 December 2016

Estranged Notions: Strange Notions is the #4 Ranked Atheist Blog on the Internet! (not)

This went up yesterday and I missed it:

Strange Notions is the #4 Ranked Atheist Blog on the Internet!

“Feedspot” seems to be a typical feed-reader site that also posts a regular stream of “Top <N> <subject> blogs” articles, all from the same template and quite possibly automatically generated. Their “Top 30 Atheist Blogs” post, which actually contains 32 entries, lists SN at #4 (after Friendly Atheist, r/atheism, and Atheist Revolution); Brandon seems to think that this means something. The meaninglessness of the list, though, is clearly demonstrated by the fact that the #7 entry confuses the blogging network “The Orbit” with Greta Christina's blog which is merely one of the blogs hosted there; #14 is Randal Rauser's blog (even less of an atheist blog than SN is); #16 is “Atheists are Idiots”, a deranged rad-trad Catholic; #18 is “Atheism Analyzed”, another deranged anti-atheist (and evolution denier); and #21 is “Atheistwatch”, one of Joe Hinman's blogs (Joe is resident theist gadfly at the Secular Outpost).

So congratulations, Brandon, you have been given an award by… a purveyor of meaningless awards.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

USA election thread

Let's keep discussion of the US election and its aftermath in just this thread, please.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Price / Ehrman debate thread

On October 21 there was a debate on the historicity of Jesus between Bart Ehrman (for historicity) and Robert Price (against), hosted by Mythicist Milwaukee.

I did not see the debate, but some reactions are starting to appear online, so I thought I'd collect links here:

Vridar has writeups on Ehrman's opening and Price's opening.

James McGrath has his own thoughts and also participated in a post-debate discussion, though Vridar points out a howler of McGrath's.

Aged Reasoner at Freethought Blogs.

Added: René Salm responds at Mythicist Papers.

Added: Richard Carrier's response.

Added: Roger Viklund has a post, unfortunately it is in Swedish; Google Translate link.

Added: Vridar also has a links page.

Anyone have any more links? I'll update the post as needed.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Altemeyer's The Authoritarians

For those people who have somehow managed to avoid it despite the fact that it's been linked all around the Internet for the past 10 years, this is a reminder that Bob Altemeyer's book The Authoritarians is available free in PDF form at the link.

If you want to take the RWA-scale questionnaire from the book, I have put up a convenient online version; this is completely private, all scoring is client-side and no results are stored or sent anywhere (not even to me).

(Edited 2018-10-04: update book link to new site)

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Ozy Frantz contra John C. Wright on sexual morality

Wright's conversion story (warning, have barf bag ready before reading, it's pretty bad even by SN standards) went up on SN in the relatively early days. One of Wright's claims in it is that as an atheist he had argued himself, by means of nothing but ‘pure’ ‘rational’ philosophy into positions otherwise held by Christians; his conversion story doesn't go into details about what those were, but from his other writings it seems clear that sexual matters were at least a significant part of this.

So I was interested (and amused) to see that Ozy Frantz has done a long takedown:

John C Wright is an absolutely delightful person whose blog posts have given me endless hours of enjoyment and who has recommended many excellent short stories (admittedly, by talking about how they are the Morlockian death of science fiction, but a good recommender is a good recommender, even if it’s wired backwards). I have recently discovered an old blog post of his which purported to lay out natural and worldly reasons why a rational atheist should follow Christian sexual morality. As an atheist libertine, I find this a tremendously interesting proposal and wish to argue with it.

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part The First

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part The Second

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part The Third

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part The Fourth

Against John C Wright’s On The Sexual Nature of Man, Part the Last

Friday, 7 October 2016

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Human Population Bottleneck Sizes

Various apologetic arguments claim that the scientific estimate of the minimum human population is some value such as 2,000, which is not supported by the actual scientific literature; in this post we'll look at where some of those numbers seem to be coming from.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Misunderstanding and Misrepresenting Mitochondrial Eve

Every time there's a discussion of Adam and Eve, someone who doesn't understand the biology will inevitably bring up ‘Mitochondrial Eve’ (or sometimes ‘Y-chromosomal Adam’) as though this is somehow relevant to the Biblical fictional characters.

The latest example over at SN is LHRMSCBrown, who links to this piece by William Lane Craig:

It has been shown by geneticists that all living human beings on the face of the earth today, based on their mitochondria in our cells, are descended from the same woman. There is literally a mother somewhere in the distant past of the entire human race. Scientists have called her the Mitochondrial Eve. They don’t think that this is the Eve of the Old Testament because they would say this woman was just one of probably thousands of women who existed at that time but remarkably if there were all these other thousands of women their descendants have all died off somehow in the course of history and everybody that exists today is a descendant of this woman who actually lived at some time in the prehistoric past.

Craig can rarely be accused of getting the science correct, and this is no exception.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Estranged Notions: Is the Passage of Time Real or Just an Illusion?

Today's post:

Is the Passage of Time Real or Just an Illusion?

Vogt calls the B-theory of time “controversial”, but according to the Philpapers survey the B-theory is much more popular than the A-theory, especially with philosophers of physical science; A-theoryism is correlated with such positions as Aristotelianism, not being a philosopher of science generally or physical science in particular, being a philosopher of religion, belief in libertarian free will, non-physicalism of minds, non-consequentialism in ethics, and so on.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Estranged Notions: Why Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” Is Too Small

Today's post:

Why Sean Carroll’s “The Big Picture” Is Too Small

Vogt has been promising us his review of Carroll's book for some weeks now, but this is merely an ‘introduction’ to the review; nothing of substance here. The closest Vogt gets to that is the usual knee-jerk criticism of reductionism.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Estranged Notions: 5 Reasons Why the Universe Can’t Be Merely a Brute Fact

Today's post:

5 Reasons Why the Universe Can’t Be Merely a Brute Fact

As usual, the proponents of the PSR find themselves making unjustified claims for the very basic reason that they have no valid criterion for defining what an ‘explanation’ is.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Estranged Notions: Why the Resurrection Was Not a Conspiracy

Today's post:

Why the Resurrection Was Not a Conspiracy

Broussard here starts off badly by attacking a strawman. The idea that the disciples stole Jesus' body and made up the resurrection story is not something that anyone necessarily needs to take seriously. It is more likely as an explanation of an empty tomb than an actual resurrection would be—people involved in founding religious sects often do engage in frauds, just see Joseph Smith for an example—but we don't have any particular reason to believe that there was an empty tomb at all, even assuming Jesus did exist as a historical person. If there were strong evidence for an empty tomb, then we would have to consider the question of how that happened.

But even so, Broussard's argument is remarkably weak.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Estranged Notions: The “3:10 to Yuma” Proof of God

A post! Only been two whole weeks since the last one…

The “3:10 to Yuma” Proof of God

In this one, Gordon attempts to top Kreeft's “Argument from Bach” with an “Argument from Western Movies”.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Estranged Notions: Doubting Jesus: A Catholic Biblical Scholar Responds to Skeptical Questions

Today's post:

Doubting Jesus: A Catholic Biblical Scholar Responds to Skeptical Questions

So here we have Pitre's response to a handful of the questions posted a couple of weeks back, and it's... pretty pathetic.

Many of the questions answered are of course from believers, not atheists, and many of the questions chosen are not actually relevant. Pitre is apparently completely committed to the ‘traditional’ authorship of the Gospels, never mind the extensive contradictory evidence, and he presupposes the literal truth of whichever part of whichever Gospel he wants to use to answer any other question. This isn't scholarship, this is pure apologetics.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Is It Reasonable to Believe in Miracles?

Today's post:

Is It Reasonable to Believe in Miracles?

Broussard makes a bit of a dog's breakfast out of what is actually a fairly straightforward subject. Hume had it right in what the modern Bayesian recognizes as being the precisely correct way: a hypothesis with low prior probability has to be supported by evidence which would be more improbable were the hypothesis false.

Broussard's examples all either ignore major relevant evidence or make Hume's argument a strawman (or both). Why do we believe that the Big Bang happened? We have evidence that not only would be vastly improbable had it not happened, but which was predicted in advance from theory, which eliminates a whole class of post-hoc justification biases. We don't say that scientific laws can't be revised, because the revised laws must not be inconsistent with the previously established evidence, while new evidence may be inconsistent with the old laws. Hume never said that merely being rare would make it impossible to believe in some event; indeed, he gives examples of the kind of evidence that would justify belief even in highly unlikely propositions.

So Broussard's claim that Hume is setting too high a bar is completely unjustified, and the modern Bayesian knows (as Hume did not) that this can be justified mathematically.

And then the whole thing degenerates into farce when Broussard claims that human activities such as lying or stealing bodies are somehow more improbable than an actual resurrection of a dead person. And the argumentum ad martyrdom is ridiculous: we have no good reason to believe that any church figure from the 1st century was martyred at all, and we especially do not have any reason to believe that of any actual disciple of Jesus.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Bart Ehrman’s Botched Source

Yesterday's post:

Bart Ehrman’s Botched Source

I am ... confused.

Ehrman's Did Jesus Exist? has been criticized from various quarters for its sloppiness. But Akin here chooses to nitpick Ehrman's sources for literacy rates in Roman Palestine. It certainly seems that Ehrman's handling of his sources here isn't entirely adequate, but that's true of essentially the whole book and it seems odd to pick out this one instance. Akin in turn handles the same source at least as badly, giving a massively over-simplified account of Catherine Hezser's conclusions.

Perhaps Akin thinks he can build some kind of argument based on higher literacy rates, but in fact there are many lines of evidence suggesting that literacy in the region was lower than the Roman average even if the exact percentage can't be precisely determined.

Of course if Akin feels the need to rebut Ehrman's arguments in Did Jesus Exist? then he should by all means continue the project; but somehow I do not think that defending Jesus-mythicism is anywhere in Akin's list of goals.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Estranged Notions: Modern Atheism: Dragging Plato Along Aristotle’s Coattails

Today's post:

Modern Atheism: Dragging Plato Along Aristotle’s Coattails

Gordon slobbers all over Aristotle while accusing all and sundry of not recognizing Plato's inadequacies; never mind that people reject Aristotle because he is wrong, not out of any regard for Plato. (Though one obvious thing that the two have in common is that neither had access to anything like enough raw facts to have any chance of reaching correct conclusions.)

Part of the problem with Aristotle is expressed in Boyden's review of Feser thus:

In this chapter, Feser discusses Plato and Aristotle. He accepts a fairly standard view on which Plato is the crazy metaphysician, and Aristotle tries to take the good parts of Plato's metaphysics and ground them with a healthy mix of common sense. As I understand it, this is roughly Aristotle's interpretation, and I think it has misleading aspects, but it's at least partly true. It's also why I like Plato better than Aristotle, which is of course the reverse of Feser's judgment. The problem with tempering your philosophy with common sense is that it's actually pretty common for common sense to be wrong, and if you make a mistake as a result of faulty common sense, people may fail to notice the mistake for centuries, or even millennia. On the other hand, if you make a mistake in your wild metaphysical flights of fancy, people are sure to call you on it, as they apparently did with Plato; the progression of the metaphysical theories in the dialogues seems to show that he was presented with a variety of criticisms, and tried to revise his theories in response to them.

When the universe turns out not to look anything like the common-sense version, then a commitment to ancient metaphysics becomes a liability.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Estranged Notions: And This All Men Call God

Today's post

And This All Men Call God

I recently asked in a comment:

  1. Why do religious schools pretend to offer "tenure" to professors?
  2. Why does anyone believe them when they do?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Return of the Thread

New open thread.

Holiday season I know, but this is now the seventh consecutive week of missing or irregular content from SN, and only 7 actual articles since Nov 20th. If this continues, I might actually have to write something (!).