Saturday, February 21, 2015

Shorter James Randi: The Dog Ate My Data

Ultimate Decadence In Science Is The Product of The Successful Insertion of Ideological Materialism Into It

In my eagerness to point out what was incompetent in the neo-atheist straw man debunkery of "Pascal's Wager" the other day - most importantly to point out that it was not the basis of anyone's religious belief -I overlooked something more useful than that side show.  The same "thought" that included the "wager" began far more remarkably with a keen insight into the nature of our minds and our perception of the physical universe and some conclusions implied by that, including the limits of our abilities in addressing what was beyond us. 
Infinite—nothing.—Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature, necessity, and can believe nothing else.
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God, as between unity and infinity.
The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast is less vast, and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy towards the elect.
The beginning of that, "Infinite-nothing." is interesting in that it sets up the problem in the most stark  terms.  Now a days it is sometimes phrased, "Why is there something instead of nothing," or more to the point, why our incredibly unlikely universe which can support our life and not nothing?  And the implications of that question, the perceived unlikeliness of it leads some people to conclude that believing it is the will and purpose of God makes the most sense.  That is a conclusion that has led atheists in modern physics, in lieu of explaining the presence of the something we can see and experience, to invent jillions of universes, invented out of nothing so much as their use of the probability that Pascal pioneered to make the significance of our universe in that question seem to disappear.

Literally atheists creating the most incredible addition of matter, energy, ... up to, in some of the most ambitious schemes, the creation of every single thing that could possibly be, so they can make God go away in our one and only known universe.  So, the "evidence only" guys who constantly make fun of people who believe in entirely more modest things, have to make up a scenario where everything exists to pretend that it makes a belief in God irrational.   Of course it's as easy to ask why jillions of universes instead of nothing as it is to ask why one universe instead of nothing.  There are even some who point out that the "fine tuning" of "a" multiverse would probably have to be infintely more fine to produce whatever scheme the atheists wanting to make our "fine tuning" disappear*.  I don't see their reasoning gets them where they want to go.   I wonder if the equations could be invented so that if every kind of universe exists it makes the probabilities of ours being so finely tuned to allow life even more stupendously improbable.  
The modesty of Pascal's observations on the inescapable conditions of our minds, acknowledging our total dependence for anything we can think or articulate on our sensory experience is rather stunning in its succinct statement.
Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature, necessity, and can believe nothing else.
in contrast to the claims of contemporary atheists which discount the very entity, consciousness, that produces all of that thought.  For the neuro-sci, cog-sci, materialist assignment of non-existence or insignificance to consciousness, Pascal assigns it a value of unity, what every one of us who can articulate or read him experiences in our own consciousness, without which we can do none of those things.
Even more incredibly, even as he reduces our unity to nothing, when compared to the infinity which is God, he immediately goes to the question of justice, something which in the materialist scenario, reducing consciousness to nothing in the absence of comparison to infinity, is generally left out of the question, entirely as being wishful thinking, non-existent, a misnaming of some artifact of natural selection.  Though Pascal's reason for doing that is to support what I'd call an unsupportable contention in theology, what else he says on the way is interesting for more general reasons.
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God, as between unity and infinity.

After setting up the ratio of one as opposed to infinity, in which the value of the one virtually disappears and is, for all practical purposes, reduced to nothing, Pascal points out that the justice God dispenses is infinitely greater than anything we can conceive of.   And in the next sentence he demonstrates the radical nature of that justice in a comparison of it with compassion and how it confounds our habits of thought. 
The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast is less vast, and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy towards the elect.
Here we part company, Pascal, as a Jansenist, a sort of Catholic puritan, believed in predestination, the division of people into the elect who were chosen to be saved and the outcast who are destined for eternal damnation. In that, I think he is more a follower of Augustine in that than he is of Jesus who declared that prostitutes and tax collectors would enter into the Kingdom before the puritans of his day would. Predestination in life seems to me to produce a level of callousness in regard to those who are unfortunate and who have been weak which is at odds with the Gospels.  I don't think the idea produces justice to the least among us and it makes the ministry of Jesus, who said he came to save sinners, nonsensical.  If, what Paul said is to be taken as true, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.," predestination makes no sense at all.

But that's not what I find interesting it is that, today.  I'm interested in how even while they are arrogantly claiming to be the champions of scientific empiricism, the requirement that all hypotheses and theories find their ultimate test by being held up to observations of the natural universe, it is atheists who are the ones cutting themselves exemptions from that requirement and even insisting that it is an outmoded requirement when the prospects of having that verification are everything from vanishingly remote to of known impossibility.

It is, today, atheists in science are who the ones demanding the right to call their ultimate act of making stuff up "science" and that, without any evidence, whatsoever, that it be inserted into the very heart of science.  And they go so many magnitudes beyond the inventors of mythical creatures in the classical and post classical period so as to make those people seem restrained and carefully rigorous.  I think what we're seeing is the decay of science that Bertrand Russell feared he was witnessing ninety years ago, or at least its fall into a period of decadence comparable to the one that scholasticism fell into in the baroque era. Considering what Russell said, there is a wonderful irony that it's materialists who are insisting on that, Stephen Hawking, Sean Carroll, etc. in physics and, especially, cosmology, the evolutionary psychologists in biology, and in the ongoing scandal that the social sciences are.   In every case I can see where everything from the most pudding headed of the Darwinian fundamentalist inventions, reifications and conflations regarding "behaviors" and their alleged and entirely unobserved roles as positive adaptations to the inventions of 10 500 universes** if not an infinity of them, the motive is to construct a materialist tautology that provides the motive in its invention and, also, the entire substance of what is to be regarded as evidence, if not, in some of the more naive instances "proof".

I am encouraged that even a lot of atheists, many of them rather arrogant in their atheism, are beginning to notice that their fellow ideologues are in serious danger of doing a lot of damage to the reputation and reliability of science.   The extent to which the power of science is dependent on its rigor and the influence and respect it is granted in science is dependent on whatever manages to get itself called science following its own claims will turn out to be important.  If, for example, the collapse of the cracking, crumbling mud arch that is evolutionary psychology forces a decisive critique of the natural selection it relies on in lieu of evidence is far from a settled matter.  If scientists don't take the occasion of its collapse to make that critique I think science will pay a price in credibility and support.  Studying the actual history of natural selection, the radical variation and patching up of the vague idea and the fantastical conclusions derived from it and the horrific actions drawn from confident application of it it makes the triumphalist assertions about it ridiculous and their continued repetition a scandal.   Yet anyone who wants to be taken to be a rational and educated person is required to pledge their faith in it in exactly the same way that professors at English universities used to have to pledge belief in The 39 Articles of (Anglican) Faith.  If that was the actual beginning of the neo-scholasticism which I'm seeing overwhelming science is worth thinking about.  Its gestation in the most unChristian mind of the Parson Malthus before it was brought forth by Darwin into the same intellectual establishment might not be a total coincidence.

What all of this and previous disasters of the insertion of materialist ideology into science, violating the most basic ideals and claims of scientists about methods and rigor says about the limits of those methods to protect the integrity that the reliability of science depends on needs to be considered more often.  I think it will turn out that materialism will turn out to be as much a problem for science as the often feared but nearly non-existent pollution of it by religion, the thing which has, actually, been kept out even as the most outragous and incredible garbage has been allowed in due to it being beneficial for ideological materialism.  If the integrity of science is more important to scientists than the promotion of atheism is an open question but the reputation of science isn't a matter that can just be left in the interested hands of the ideologues. 
* If I understand anything about this article, it would seem that there might need to be a large, if not infinite number of "multiverse" multiverses or at least more than one.  This passage is rather amazing in that it shows both how futile the effort is and how extreme the attempt is.

The Quanta piece isn’t an infomercial like the TV program, it does explain some of the problems with this whole endeavor, including this from Erick Weinberg:

“My own feeling is you need to adjust the numbers rather finely to get it to work,” Weinberg said. The rate of formation of the bubble universes is key. If they had formed slowly, collisions would not have been possible because space would have expanded and driven the bubbles apart long before any collision could take place. Alternatively, if the bubbles had formed too quickly, they would have merged before space could expand sufficiently to form disconnected pockets. Somewhere in between is the Goldilocks rate, the “just right” rate at which the bubbles would have had to form for a collision to be possible.

Researchers also worry about finding a false positive. Even if such a collision did happen and evidence was imprinted on the CMB, spotting the telltale pattern would not necessarily constitute evidence of a multiverse. “You can get an effect and say it will be consistent with the calculated predictions for these [bubble] collisions,” Weinberg said. “But it might well be consistent with lots of other things.” For instance, a distorted CMB might be evidence of theoretical entities called cosmic strings. These are like the cracks that form in the ice when a lake freezes over, except here the ice is the fabric of space-time. Magnetic monopoles are another hypothetical defect that could affect the CMB, as could knots or twists in space-time called textures.

Weinberg isn’t sure it would even be possible to tell the difference between these different possibilities, especially because many models of eternal inflation exist. Without knowing the precise details of the theory, trying to make a positive identification of the multiverse would be like trying to distinguish between the composition of two meteorites that hit the roof of a house solely by the sound of the impacts, without knowing how the house is constructed and with what materials.

Peter Woit is an atheist of the kind who is dismissive of religion instead of rabidly hostile to it but I don't think even a reasonable atheist who is interested in the integrity of science can avoid the fact that science has been hijacked by atheists to promote their ideology, insisting that even the very definitions of what science is and what you need to do it be changed to suit their ideological campaign and that the results discredit anything that gets called "science".  It's time for that ideological hijacking to be exposed and ended before all credibility is sacrificed to their non-god.

**  You could get the feeling that they felt the need to come up with a bigger number than the one often cited as an estimate of the incredible improbability of the fine tuning.

Many examples of fine-tuning have to do with star formation. Stars are important since life requires a variety of elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Stars contain the only known mechanism for producing large quantities of these elements and are therefore necessary for life. Lee Smolin estimates that when all of the fine-tuning examples are considered, the chance of stars existing in the universe is 1 in 10 229. “In my opinion, a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly not do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case”

Friday, February 20, 2015

'pity this busy monster, manunkind'

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
                          A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

E. E. Cummings

Sciatica Blogging

It is another day of debilitating pain here, so another recommendation for alternatives.  Oddly, something at Salon,  where Haroon Moghul begins a worth while article about the disaster of "the West's" encounter with "Islamic" radicalism with a point I've made in response to the assertion that "The Nazis were Christians":

Imagine a group of people who rape.  Enslave.  Maim.  Murder.  Ethnically cleanse.  Extort.  Burn.  Behead.  But then imagine this—they don’t lie?  Can’t lie.  Won’t lie.  That’s what Graeme Wood’s recent Atlantic essay, “What ISIS Really Wants,” really wants us to believe.

Yeah, there's no one who is more believable about their motives than people who do those things, right?   I mean, why wouldn't they lie about their motives, their high moral standards?

While I will leave it to others who know Islam to defend Islam, the similar libel against Christianity always involves the actions of people who are violating the very heart of the Gospel which are, then, used to characterize Christianity and the entire body of Christians, attributing violence, oppression, slavery, etc. to the teachings of Jesus and others whose entire teaching was opposed to them.  The intellectual dishonesty of that nearly ubiquitous practice comes in tandem with the ever renewed indulgence granted to atheism and secularism when their adherents do the same things but which have no defining prohibition in those ideologies.

The only honest intellectual standard for judging those things has to be is if the defining ideas comprising the religion or ideology permits or encourages people to commit depraved, criminal acts.  If they don't then people who profess a belief and adherence to those intellectual frames are personally and collectively guilty of hypocrisy and lying about their belief and adherence, if they do permit them, as atheism clearly does, then the basic ideology is, in fact, deficient.

That the modern, Western, practice in assigning guilt is exactly backward is related to its disastrous encounter with Islam, though racism, bigotry and anger at people who have been very successful in resisting Western domination plays a part in it, as well.  I think it is exactly the content in Islam that has fueled the resistance to Western domination is at the bottom of our failed imperial domination of those people and which is the basis of the present reaction to it.  It's not as if the West hasn't been able to fully accommodate the oppressive features found in those countries elsewhere, as the ease with which the American and European governments have worked with, coexisted with and encouraged dictatorships in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere proves.   It is as true that the atheist regimes of the last century were quite able and willing to do business with some of the most depraved of governments, including those in the middle-east and elsewhere.

It is a fact that the Reagan administration got along perfectly well with Saddam Hussein in his war with the more resistant Iranian Islamic government, supplying him with weapons, intelligence and encouragement even as he was committing atrocities against any number of people.  And it was quite willing to try to work with the Iranians when it was useful in mounting the illegal war against resistant Central American liberation movements, favoring some of the most murderous dictators of the past half century.   The same is true for virtually every administration in our history, so, secular government has had no problem on that count.

I could go on, news to no one, but my leg is throbbing and I'm going to have to take something.  I will try to not write while I'm hopped up on pain killers.

You might find this Youtube encounter between David Bentley Hart and Terry Sanderson of the UK National Secular Society on  worth listening to while doing the washing up.  It's in five parts, unfortunately.  

Speaking of D.B.H. someone was upset that I linked to a piece published in First Things, implying that because I did that I was buying everything that was or ever has been published there.  What a ridiculous way to run a life of the mind, as if entire and complete agreement was even a real possibility.  If you're going to reject everything someone said because you disagree with something they said you're going to find yourself living in the most radical of all solipsisms, even rejecting yourself as your ideas change.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Anatheism And The Superiority of Theology Over Most Of Current Philosophy: Heresy Thursday

I am not in a good way, today but I want to give you something and I'm grumpy with a sore back and leg so I want it to be an outrageous thought crime so I will give you a lecture by one of my favorite heretics,  the reasonable and well spoken and quite funny Rupert Sheldrake.   I went to look for something from him because earlier this week an atheist-"skeptic" slammed him while being obviously and entirely ignorant of his career as a rather eminent scientist who has done some extremely important and beneficial work and who works in his look at topics on The Atheist-"Skeptic" Index of Prohibited Topics well within the accepted methods of science.   In fact his work on both is well represented in peer-reviewed journals of science, something that most of the big names in atheism-"skepticism" can't have honestly said about them.

Here he is on "Anatheism" the phenomenon of people who go from being atheists to believing in God, something which he experienced.   He makes a number of really interesting points in it.  One of the more interesting to me [ at about 32:00 on the recording] is that contrary the common belief, on the basis of ignorance, a lot of theology is far more interesting than the current obsessions of academic philosophers.  That has been my experience, the liberation theologians, who are entirely more practical than the trendy political theoreticians as well, but even more orthodox theologians.   I've been reading more and more from theologians and find that a lot of them are entirely more rigorous thinkers and better scholars than the stars of atheism.   Here's an non-theological example of that from David Bentley Hart, who Sheldrake mentions later in the lecture, his masterful take down of the materialist philosopher, Daniel Dennett.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

José Maurício Nunes García - Immutemur Habitu

Camerata Barroca de Caracas y
Collegium Musicum Fernando Silva-Morvan

Music for Ash Wednesday isn't as commonly set as for Christmas, go figure.

Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth ...

I Suspect You Won't Be Reading About This Part of Volta's Thinking Elsewhere Today

I have got to go get my back and associated loci of pain looked at, all the snow shoveling seems to have brought on sciatica and it's either that or I go out on an ice drift, assuming any will be drifting anytime soon.

Turning on the computer just now, I see Google is celebrating the 270th birthday of Alessandro Volta.  Being idly curious, I read some of the links and found this piece which says he flirted with the Jansenism I mentioned yesterday.

Volta came from a Lombard family ennobled by the municipality of Como and almost extinguished, in his time, through its service to the church. One of his three paternal uncles was a Dominican, another a canon, and the third an archdeacon; his father, Filippo (1692-ca. 1752), after eleven years as a Jesuit, withdrew to propagate the line. Filippo Volta’s marriage in 1733 with Maddelena de’ conti Inzaghi (d. 1782) produced seven children who survived childhood; three girls, two of whom became nuns; three boys who followed precisely the careers of their paternal uncles; and Alessandro, the youngest, who narrowly escaped recruitment by his first teachers, the Jesuits.

The doctrines, social life, and observances of the church of Rome consequently made up a large part of Volta’s culture. He chose clerics as his chief friends, remained close to his brothers the canon and archdeacon, and actively practiced the Catholic religion. Examples of his religiosity include a flirtation with Jansenism in the 1790’s a confession of faith in 1815 to help defend religion against scientism (Epistolario, V, 290–292); and an appeal in 1794 to his brothers and to the professor of theology at the University of Pavia for advice about marriage. Not that Volta was prudish or ascetic. He was a large, vigorous man, who, in the words of his friend Lichtenberg, “understood a lot about the electricity of women” (Epistolario, II, 269). For many years he enjoyed the favors of a singer, Marianna Paris, whom he might have married but for the weight of theologial, and family, opinion.

Volta was about seven when his father died. His uncle the canon took charge of his education, which began in 1757 at the local Jesuit college, where his quickness soon attracted the attention of his teachers. In 1761 the philosophy professor, Girolamo Bonensi, tried to recruit him; his suit, sweetened by gifts of chocolated and bonbons, alarmed Volta’s uncle, who took him from school. Bonensi continued his compaign in letters (Epistolario, I, 6–33) carried secretly by Volta’s eccentric friend, the future canon Giulio Cesare Gattoni (1741-1809), until Volta’s uncle the Dominican, who shared his order’s opinion of Jesuits, put an end to the affair.

You could get the feeling that you won't be reading much about his confession of faith to help defend religion against scientism.   Looking around for that, online, I found it in an article,  "Scientists and Faith" from The American Catholic Quarterly Review of July 1909.  The prose around it is a little old fashioned but it makes some important points:

The distinguished discoverer in electricity, having heard it said that he continued to practice his religion mainly because he did not want to offend his friends  nor scandalize his neighbors, and above all did not want the poor folk around him to be led by his example into giving up what he knew to be their most fruitful source of consolation in the trials of life answered this unjust suspicion by deliberately writing out his confession of faith.  He said:   

"If some of my faults and negligencies may have by chance given occasion to some one to suspect me of infidelity, I am ready as some reparation for this and for any other good purpose to declare such a one and every other person and on every occasion and under all circumstances, that I have always held and hold now the holy Catholic religion as the one true and infallible one, thanking without end the good God for having gifted me with such a faith, in which I firmly propose to live and die, in the lively hope of attaining eternal life.  I recognize my faith as a gift of God, a supernatural faith'  I have not on this account, however, neglected to use all human means that could confirm me more and more in it, and that might drive away doubt which could arise to tempt me in matters of faith.  I have studied my  faith with attention as to its foundation, reading for this purpose books of apologetics as well as those written with a contrary purpose, and trying to appreciate the arguments pro and contra.  I have tried to realize from what sources spring the strongest arguments which render faith most credible to natural reason and such as cannot fail to make every well balanced mind which has not been perverted by vices or passion to embrace it and love it.  May this protest of mine, which I have deliberately drawn up and which I leave to posterity, subscribed with myown hand and which shows to all and every one that I do not blush at the Gospel -  may it, as I have said, produce some good fruit."  (Signed at Milan, January 1815, Allesandro Volta.) 

When Volta wrote this he was not in his dotage, but, on the contrary, was in the full maturity of his power, not yet sixty years of age, and for the next decade he was looked up to as one of the greatest scientists of Europe and one of the profoundly original thinkers of his time.  Indeed, he had shown by important discoveries and original investigations of great value in many departments of physical science that he was one of the exceptional intellects in the history of mankind.  His confession of faith then must be taken as his well weighted declaration of what he thought were the relations of science and faith.  Far from finding any antagonism between his science and his faith,  he had only to report complete harmony.  Far from science having disturbed his faith, he seems rather to think it had strengthened it and that the little additional knowledge that he had picked up on the shores of the infinite had served to make him appreciate better the depths of his ignorance, yet how much that ignorance could be supplied for a defective knowledge complemented by faith. 

Suspecting they're going to make use of the discoveries of Alessandro Volta to diagnose whatever has put me in a world of pain, I am paying him the tribute of typing out the confession he left for posterity.   I doubt you'll read about it much of anywhere else today.   Oh, and it was well after Volta would have been in any danger of being burned at the stake or tortured for infidelity.  For the typical history challenged guys who would probably gas on ignorantly in that manner if presented with his statement.

Update:   Reading that article linked to above, I had no idea that Luigi Galvani was a member of The Third Order of St. Francis who requested to be buried in the Franciscan habit, and looking that up, Volta is also listed here as a member.   The article is worth reading, it points out that though it was the materialist philosopher, Herbert Spencer who sloganized the mutual incompatibility of science and religion,

"Of all antagonism of belief, the oldest, the widest, the most profound and the most important is between religion and science."

Lord Kelvin, who was probably the most prominent British scientist at the time, on the basis of his experience while being a scientist, disagreed and said that science confirms religion.

"science confirms the existence of A Creator"

 I wouldn't go that far but, then, I'm no Kelvin and neither was Spencer.   I do agree with the quote from Galvani based on my own experience,

"Small draughts of philosophy lead to atheism but longer draughts bring one back to God."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I Have Never Met Someone Who Took Pascal's Wager Seriously As A Matter of Faith

Greta Christina is one of the stupider of the neo-atheist hate talkers and considering the low level of most of it, that's saying something.   If you want a good example, you can read her piece up at Alternet in which she takes on Pascal, or what she understands as..... no, that's not the right word.  What she pretends to understand of "Pascal's wager".   If you want to look at what I'm certain is a collection of cribbed comments about it from previous pop atheists, I'm powerless to stop you.   You might well skip the comments because with Greta, her posts are never of superior quality to the lower end of neo-atheist commentary, an asset in her field of hate-talk entertainment.   

It's a straw man in my experience because I have never known of anyone who claimed to have been converted to belief, or more relevantly out of disbelief by taking that wager.  I've never encountered someone who gave it any importance as an argument or a claim that it is a "proof" of God,  except for some of the stupider of the atheists who talk about it.  Which would, in itself be proof of their ignorance of what the "wager" consists of.   Pascal said in the 233rd "Pensee", where "the wager" is found,  

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. This being so, who will dare to undertake the decision of the question? Not we, who have no affinity to Him.

Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam;[90] and then you complain that they do not prove it!  If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in lacking proofs, that they are not lacking in sense. "Yes, but although this excuses those who offer it as such, and takes away from them the blame of putting it forward without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it." Let us then examine this point, and say, "God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Which makes G. C.'s decision to mount "her" take down of it in terms of  an especially absymally incompetent version of "The God hypothesis" a demonstration of her incompetence.   Either she never read what Pascal said, which I think is just about a certainty or she has no idea what it means or what an hypothesis is, though, I admit, all three of those are probably true.  Her piece is more likley compiled from crap garnered from the standard neo-atheist "skeptical" excuses for reference works.  If I had a dollar for every time an idiot online used the word "hypothesis"  badly I'd be in a spa having a massage of my aching back right this minute. [Pascal states exactly one explicit hypothesis in his book, this rather enigmatic one].

As to the further meaning of what Pascal, one of the more accomplished mathematicians of his or any time implied in his "wager" and the logical coherence or lack of it among people equipped to handle that aspect of it, here's part of what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has to say:

“Pascal's Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal's Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several important strands of thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity.

Certain that most of those expressing an opinion on the topic are as if not more at sea than I am, the problems of writing out of ignorance on it only mount rather steeply.   For just a little of that:

... But what is distinctive is Pascal's explicitly decision theoretic formulation of the reasoning. In fact, Hacking 1975 describes the Wager as “the first well-understood contribution to decision theory” (viii). Thus, we should pause briefly to review some of the basics of that theory.

In any decision problem, the way the world is, and what an agent does, together determine an outcome for the agent. We may assign utilities to such outcomes, numbers that represent the degree to which the agent values them. It is typical to present these numbers in a decision matrix, with the columns corresponding to the various relevant states of the world, and the rows corresponding to the various possible actions that the agent can perform.

In decisions under uncertainty, nothing more is given — in particular, the agent does not assign subjective probabilities to the states of the world. Still, sometimes rationality dictates a unique decision nonetheless. Consider, for example, a case that will be particularly relevant here. Suppose that you have two possible actions, A1 and A2, and the worst outcome associated with A1 is at least as good as the best outcome associated with A2; suppose also that in at least one state of the world, A1's outcome is strictly better than A2's. Let us say in that case that A1 superdominates A2. Then rationality seems to require you to perform A1.[1]

Being quite out of my depth, already, I will warn anyone who wants to continue that math is required as well as a knowledge of regular and Bayesian probability that I doubt one in five hundred of the neo-atheists who go on about these things has any competence in.  Pascal is sometimes considered the father of probability mathematics, after all. 

Having said that I've never encountered anyone who used Pascal's Wager for religious purposes, except atheists, their railing against it is rather funny in a mildly annoying way.  Its use by legitimate researchers is as a problem in probability mathematics which has yielded different opinion and no conclusive results, which would obviously not surprise Pascal as he started by saying reason was no help in the matter.  I doubt he ever considered it was going to be persuasive in convincing people to act as if they believed in the moral teachings of his version of ultra-fundamentalist Catholicism.  Pascal was a Jansenist and a defender of Jansenism and, in a kind of delicious twist, thus a heretic as Jansenism was declared heretical by a long string of bishops and popes.  Just to put in a fun fact.  Though I'm anything but an expert on Pascal's thoughts, I know his thinking on religion is not restricted to the atheist use of his "Wager" which is a thought experiment, as he said a game, but one in which a choice was to be made.  I don't think anyone has ever made that choice on the basis of the stakes he puts up, he merely put those up to come up with what he already concluded from his real experience. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lincoln An Atheist, Ha!

 I was looking around the collected writings of Abraham Lincoln and came across this passage that shows he came to the came conclusion about the motivating power of religion in the struggle against slavery and in the demand for rights that I mention below.

It is a cheering thought throughout life that something can be done to ameliorate the condition of those who have been subject to the hard usages of the world. It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him. 

Abraham Lincoln:  August 14, 1862

Disappearing The Religious Force That Fueled The Abolition and Civil Rights Struggles

Harriet Tubman was known as "The Moses of her people," for a reason.  As I noted a while ago, all through the accounts that former slaves gave, the story in the biblical Exodus of God freeing The Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt was cited and alluded to, over and over again.   Other than that the claims made in The Declaration of Independence that their Creator had made them the equal of anyone else and endowed them with the right to freedom and that their life was their own is what inspired slaves to risk the dangers of escaping slavery and opposing it.  Over and over again, in recent biographies of Harriet Tubman I've found that her religious beliefs were attributed to the injury to her head given to her by a slave owner when she refused to help him prevent another slave from escaping.   This, from one found on PBS, is typical.

As a teenager, Tubman suffered a traumatic head injury that would cause a lifetime of seizures, along with powerful visions and vivid dreams that she ascribed to God. She would rely on these visions first in planning her own escape from slavery and later, when leading others to freedom in the North.

Rather interestingly, that follows from this first paragraph in the short bio.

Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1820, Harriet Tubman (named Araminta Ross at birth) is remembered for challenging stereotypes of race, gender and class. As a child, she learned Bible stories from her mother, finding inspiration in the Exodus narrative and rejecting the admonitions for slaves to obey their masters. She would later become known as "Moses" for her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, leading slaves North to freedom.

t seems that,  after saying that, there's a felt need that the anonymous author of the bio attribute Harriet Tubman's religious experience to pathology so as not to risk anyone suspecting he or she takes it seriously, as seriously as Harriet Tubman obviously did since she recounted such experiences and attributed significance to them.  And, I will point out, there is no real scientific evidence to go on in making that assumption, it is based on meager evidence filled in with a popular and superficial understanding of "neuroscience" as it is presented by the media, the farthest thing of an expert opinion on the matter.   You would have to have a modern medical assessment of the living Harriet Tubman to do anything valid about it.

That is a pattern I've found in this look at the motives and reasoning of major figures in the abolition of slavery, figures in the past struggle and, as I'm finding ever more, now.  The direct testimony of those who are the only experts on their experience, over and over again, cite their religious experience and reasoning about the scriptures as the thing that powered their resistance to slavery and oppression is discounted or unmentioned instead of being acknowledged as central to it,  The motives of that in the academic and media class is partly ideological but, I think even more so, the result of the coercion to suppress any acknowledgement of positive religion and a felt need to demonstrate that someone is reliably non- or anti-religious so as to be acceptable in the peer group and hierarchy of those institutions and groups.   As I noted a while ago, nothing from the injury to her head seems to have effected the brilliance with which she planned, studied and carried out many successful missions to rescue people from slavery, an effort in which she was able to say that she had never lost a passenger as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

That it is a fundamental distortion of history and a serious impediment to understanding what has worked in resisting one of the major evils that human beings face makes this disappearing of positive religion a means of supporting the continuation of that evil.  Clearly for those deputed to be on the left who do that, ending oppression is not their primary goal, ending religion is.  That has been announced as part of the intention of ideological atheists, to make religion into something seen as evil, as bad, as backward and superstitious and unkewl and so to convince people, especially the young that religion is nothing they need to or want to consider and think about seriously.

One of the major figures in the early post-abolition civil rights movement is the great journalist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett who I've seen presented as having rejected Christianity through selected quotes from her so as to make them seen condemn Christianity.  I've seen quotes from Fredrick Douglass used the same way.  In both cases the writers were not rejecting Christianity, they were pointing out how those involved with lynching and those who refused to do anything to end it were being hypocrites BECAUSE THEIR RELIGIOUS PROFESSION REQUIRED THEM TO END LYNCHING.  They were being as bad at being Christians as it was possible to be, if they were doing it the right way, no one would be lynched or oppressed in any of the ways that comprised the Jim Crow period, in the South or in other and not so different ways in many other parts of the country.   Both saw that as an offense against the religion that they took very seriously.   Ida Well-Barnett began her anti-lynching campaign in church newspapers, she continued it through the churches, she taught Sunday school even as her anti-lynching campaign was well underway and continuing.

The same effort even led Christopher Hitchens to lie about the fact that THE REVEREND Martin Luther King jr. was primarily motivated in his civil rights resistance by what he learned from The Bible and the Christian theological tradtion.   I guess Hitchens and the many online atheists who have parroted him on that are saying The Reverend Martin Luther King jr was lying about that, even in his last sermon as he compared himself to Moses who was allowed to see the future where civil rights would be won but which he, though still a young man, would not enter into himself.   And it's obvious from the context of that sermon that he knew he was going to be assassinated, he clearly saw that as well.

But the fact that The Reverend King led the last great successful campaign of the left, with the clearest of religious motives and working primarily within the churches and with them, can be disappeared by the coercive force of atheism which did virtually nothing in that effort that yielded any results.  If anything, it was a burden and a hurdle that had to be gotten over, one of the major lies told about The Reverend King in his lifetime was that he was a fraud and a communist.  I sometimes wonder if he had it to do again if he would have not gone to address the Highlander School where someone took his picture and used it to lie about his commitment to Christianity from the other side.  The same lie told from two sides, serving the same end.  

I would guess that any school teacher who told the truth about that would be in hot water for proselytizing or inserting religious propaganda into history classes, though the facts of the matter couldn't possibly be clearer.  You can't honestly teach The Reverend Martin Luther King jr or the civil rights struggle without noting the major motivating force that the religion of the people involved is what made it happen.  You can't ignore that it was their understanding of The Bible in the context of their lives that allowed slaves to imagine freeing themselves and ending the institution of slavery.   It is often forgotten, especially in movie and TV costume dramas that it was the slaves, former slaves and free black people who are the primary force in the abolition and civil rights struggles and what they, themselves, articulated as to their motives and thoughts are the primary, primary source material in the period during which that first becomes available to us.  No doubt it also was true when that was in the oral tradition which is, of course, lost to us now.  To disappear the motives of those who struggled, fought and died to end slavery, to free people from it, is to lie about them, their struggle and to impede the continuation of that work which is certainly not over.