Saturday, April 11, 2015

True Confession

While I have given up writing things for the purpose of sending my detractors into a hissy fit swivet, I can't say that I've hesitated to write things that I know will send them into a hissy fit swivet.   I should confess that I sometimes smile while I do that. I did this morning.  And I smiled when they had their hissy fit swivet.  I might rise above that some day but today wasn't that day. 

Sara Lazarus - Morning (Jazz)

The other day I remembered how much I used to like Tony Cennamo's morning jazz show on WBUR, the Boston University radio station, in the days before the all-talk fascists took it over.  You wonder how they could have noted his passing after stabbing him in the back so ..... but that's water under the bridge.   I can't do four hours but I can start posting the jazz I'd post at night in the morning.  Tony's show always got me going on the days I could listen to it, jazz is a good way to start a day.  This young singer is pretty good, I didn't know about her till the other day, Gildas Bocle is apparently a fan as he posted one of her songs on his channel.

My Eyes Hurt From Too Much Online Research

so I'm going to leave you guys with a video while I take some aspirin and lie down in a darkened room.  

This virtuoso lecture by Richard Lewontin is the third in a series he gave at the Santa Fe Institute in 2003,  "Does Culture Evolve?"  Its explanation of the ideological and professional motivations of how we came to impose the Darwinist dogma to areas where it was such an obviously bad fit is nothing less than brilliant.  Even when I disagree with him I'd never accuse him of superficial reasoning and being misinformed.  His honesty about himself and his motives are part of his rigorous intention to present reality.  It's too bad that habit of honesty wasn't more practiced in science, not to mention history and other academic topics.

I would recommend the other two in the series and might post them later.  I've listened to a number of his lectures in the last two days and think one of them is the one in which he gives one of the most succinct explanations of genetic drift I've heard.

Final Word On Yesterday's Silly Reaction

Well, if I knew that tying in a pop song to a post was the way to get lots of you guys annoyed I'd have done it more often.   I defend my choice to do so because Betty Everett and Alan Turing were proposing ways of doing the same thing, trying to figure out what's going on where it can't be seen.   And I don't say that for humorous effect, it's true in every sense, the fact that one was a famous scientist and one was a R&B-soul singer who had one big pop hit makes no difference in that.

It is quite obvious that Everett's thinking in the matter was, actually, more sophisticated.  But, then, she was dealing with actual minds of which she and her audience had enough experience to know that just asking the boy, "Do you love me" carried the real possibility of getting a false answer that she would believe for any number of reasons.   She knew just getting an answer to questions wouldn't tell her what was really going on in the boys mind, she was looking for other methods to verify that.

Unfortunately, there is no way to do that by testing, you have to choose to believe or not believe it but you're never going to have absolute proof of it.  But, clearly the singer realized that just wanting it to be true or her erotic desires made her susceptible to fooling herself, she warned against trusting "his charms" and "his arms" in the song.  It's not only in love that what we want to be true carries a powerful incentive for suspending critical judgement and coming to conclusions that should be suspended for lack of reliable evidence.

Turing's proposal assumed that the person getting responses to questions posed to a machine in his test would have a level of sophistication in judging what was going on inside it by just asking questions that is not warranted.  For all he knew the machine could be made that, though not thinking would sucker people into believing it was.  Which was exactly what happened with Joseph Weizenbaum's ELIZA bot program about fifteen years after he proposed his test.  And it wasn't just unsophisticated, uneducated people who really thought that the machine understood the exchange the person had with it, it was college students, grad students, psychologists - who sold themselves as such experts on minds - and scientists such as Carl Sagan who would attain a cult like following on his pop books instructing people on how to spot "baloney" in claims.   Sagan's "skeptical" acolytes are all over the web, I suspect a lot of them are among those who got into a lather at my dissing Turing's follies yesterday.   What a bunch of suckers those guys are, they don't even understand what it is they're buying.  Clearly, in terms of reality testing, Betty Everett was miles ahead of them.

As to the anger over my saying that Turing was an idiot when he picked the boy he didn't know up but an even bigger one for walking into to a police station and, in effect, confessing to the cops for what was then a sex crime, one which the cops could certainly be guessed would be only too eager to imprison him for, there are no apologies required on my part.  It was as stupid a thing as any idiot of any identity has ever done and Turing was no young fool when he did it.   Gay bashing by cops was and is common enough for a gay man in early middle age to have known about it.  Turing was old enough, smart enough and aware of public events in Britain where men being arrested for consensual gay sex was covered in the trashy British press so that he should have been able to guess how the police were going to think about the situation he not only volunteered but called their attention to. Maybe you have to be a gay man who lived when gay sex was illegal to understand how incredibly clueless Turing was being.  Perhaps a gay man who reached that age who had been in an hermetically sealed box with no input from the real world his entire life would have been unaware of what would happen, that wasn't Turing.  I'm sure Betty Everett wasn't that clueless about what was likely going on in other peoples' minds.

If Turing didn't know that the results would be he'd be arrested for sex crimes and that he'd provided them with a virtual confession of that, it only proves my case that his method of discerning if a computer is thinking by getting output to questions was totally and obviously inadequate.

Turing, a genius able to guess at the thinking of the Nazis in their encryption technology on the basis of logical analysis and mathematical reasoning, among the most impressive acts of logical mind reading for all times, may have been misled by that into thinking that kind of mental activity was a bigger part of intelligence than it is.  I suspect, especially after reading Weizenbaum's reaction to the reaction of psychologists WHO ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SCIENTIFIC EXPERTS IN MINDS got suckered by his ELIZA program into mistaking what it was doing as thinking.   And Weizenbaum was not intending to deceive people with it, he was merely demonstrating the possibility of using natural language with computers, he was entirely upfront about it, you didn't need to decrypt his intentions.

My point yesterday is that people are always taking for granted the human abilities that the Turing test depends on when everything about people makes it known that we don't possess those abilities to that extent.   His test can't do what it's supposed to do for that reason.

I haven't seen the movie they made about him, though I've heard the biographer whose account of his life the movie was supposed to be based on was pissed off that they made stuff up about Turing, especially around the role of a woman Turing proposed marriage to in the early 1940s.  Well, you know what corners they have to cut and what liberties with reality they make when they're trying to reduce a person into a two-hour movie.   I'm not entirely certain Turing knew his own thinking all that reliably that he could have admitted it even to himself, which might also be a hint as to how incredibly badly he read the cops ten years later.  And he was in his own mind, it wasn't in some other black box.   I don't think he understood how big the thing he was trying to reproduce was and how much of what our minds do can't possibly be simulated by calculations.  The habit of practicing the reductionism science requires seems to take over quite a lot, just like the habits of people in other areas of life. Like love.

Yet people believe computers will be able to contain the totality of a human mind and that "we" will attain immortality in that way.   It was a lesser but still quite impressive bunch of computer guys who came up with that one.  My guess is that their hair-brained idea is not based in different assumptions than the ones Turing made.   I wish I could ask Betty Everett what she thought of that idea.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I'll Let Betty Everett Answer My Critics

I will say that Betty got that one absolutely right.

Update:   As I was walking down the aisle in the grocery store, I realized that the Betty Everett of this, her greatest song, was someone for whom that human application of the Turning Test as applied to people failed, as well as the Shoop Shoop test.  Only she was smart enough to admit that her judgement had failed in the face of deception and misjudgment.

If it were not my firm decision to not post the kinds of messages I've gotten over my critique of the Turing Test they'd make a great example of how atheists, materialists, sci-ranger and fan boys - none of whom, I suspect, could explain any of Alan Turing's ideas with any sophistication - become unhinged when you don't turn scientists into infallible gods.

Any gay man of the age of 39 in 1952 Britain or the United States who walked into a police station and complained about being ripped off by the man, twenty years younger, not legally an adult, then, who they had brought home to have sex with has to  have been not thinking too clearly about what reaction they should have expected.  At the very least.  No gay man of Turing's age and that education and experience could have reasonably expected anything but that they would get arrested for breaking the law against gay sex with the most drastic ill effect being certain.  Think of something as clueless as a bank robber leaving a note on something with their name and address on the other side for a close analogy.  Only stupider.

Even geniuses can do incredibly stupid things and misjudge the thoughts of other people.  Yet through such human wisdom we are supposed to be able to confirm the totally alien "intelligence" of machines.

Hate Mail: "They've Got The Bones of Jesus"

The challenge is made to my statement on Monday that they would need positively identified bones of Jesus and his family in order for science to be done refuting the belief that Jesus rose from the dead after the death penalty was imposed on him by the Romans.

But.... oh dear.  If you're going to make claims based on the PR campaign of a cable-TV movie producer, Simha Jacobovici, not a scholar in the relevant disciplines, you should, at the very least, READ THE STORY YOU CITE.   I read your cited article, from the Jerusalem Post (really, the Jerusalem Post) and it doesn't mention bones being analyzed*, it mentions boxes, including that "James brother of Jesus Ossuary" that was being peddled by the same cable TV movie maker, Simha Jacobovici, in the news a few years back.  Claims which were, as the present one, tied to a cable TV "documentary" which Jacobovici was peddling.  I don't recall if the first one was timed for release at the Easter season or not, but I suspect the timing, this time, isn't coincidental.

I will stop here to make up a First Law of this kind of thing, always be wary of archaeological and sciency claims made first in a cable TV "documentary" and the media instead of in a reviewed journal.  Jacobovici is not an archaeologist or a scientist and I've found nowhere is there a claim that he's ever done either of those things or published any findings in them in a reviewed journal.  He is called a "filmmaker-journalist" in the Jerusalem Post story but I don't see anything in his past to warrant the "journalist" title, either.  Though anyone can claim to be a "journalist" these days and take on the misplaced confidence that label carries, misplaced because anyone can claim to be one.

The claims being made are not based on straight forward identification and positive confirmation but are based on evidence and "evidence" of different quality and reliability of authenticity.  Some of the evidence and the "evidence" is turned into a simulation of evidence by asserting connections and identifications that simply aren't warranted.  The claims are that

1. Ossuaries, bone boxes, found in  a tomb discovered in the East Talpiot district of East Jerusalem while they were putting up a hotel in 1980 is the "family tomb" of the family of Jesus, including a wife whose bones are in a box carrying the inscription "Mary" and son whose bones are identified by an inscription on a box “Judah, son of Jesus”.

2. That the ossuary featured in the previous "documentary" and publicity archeo-controversy that was mounted around it, the "James brother of Jesus" ossuary was originally from the same East Talpiot tomb.   The claims, made on the claim of a geologist, Arye Shimron, that his chemical analyses place the "James" box in the Talpiot tomb. Oded Golan, the owner of the box, however, doesn't seem to be especially helpful for that claim, for reasons I'll get to in a while.

3.  That a statistical analysis of the names done by Adrey Feurverger give a very high probability that the names correspond with names from the New Testament accounts of Jesus and and give a slam dunk to the Jesus debunkers and Jacobovici legitimacy as the movie maker who got the biggest scoop of all times.

Only there are some big problems with all of it.   I won't do anything about the claims about the chemical analyses of alleged samples from various ossuaries involved (or not) because they don't seem to have been published and I don't trust the vague, sometimes silly statements made about that in the media.  I will note that actual authorities in the archaeology of the area aren't exactly supportive of the claim.

Critics like Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem district archaeologist at the time, essentially accused Mr. Jacobovici of jumping to conclusions to promote his movie...

... Shimon Gibson was among the Antiquities Authority archaeologists who entered the newly exposed Talpiot Tomb in 1980. He said recently that it was clear that the underground entrance to the tomb had been open since antiquity and that the tomb had filled with soil abruptly as a result of a single quick event — possibly an earthquake.

Dr. Gibson and other archaeologists concluded that tomb raiders had probably been there during the Byzantine period. But he discounted any possibility that the James ossuary had been spirited away when the tomb was uncovered.

“I myself have excavated a handful of tombs that were open and filled with soil,” Dr. Gibson said. “Personally I don’t think the James ossuary has anything to do with Talpiot.”

Still, Dr. Gibson said, the scholarly community was eagerly awaiting the publication of Dr. Shimron’s results in a scientific journal for peer review,

But even if Shimron's claims are true, the entire case rests on the positive identification of the names on the boxes as those of people mentioned in the scriptures and earliest documents of the life of Jesus.  There are no bones that have had DNA extracted from them making positive identifications of who those belonged to, the interpretation of the site is that it was altered, possibly by grave robbers in the medieval period and the result of some kind of catastrophic event that filled the tomb with soil.

A good part of Simha Jacobovici motive in this is to resell the highly dubious claims he made about the "James ossuary".   In order to do that he has to ignore one very important aspect of that.  The James ossuary wasn't found in the Talpiot tomb discovered in 1980, its present day owner said he bought it from an antique shop four years before the tomb was discovered.  You would have to explain how that could have happened before the tomb was even known.  Why some tomb raider would have taken that one box and not the others to sell on the black market is a question I haven't seen asked in any of the discussion about the claims.  If the name "James" is famous, that of "Mary" and certain a "son of Jesus" would be as saleable.  No, they would have been ten if not a hundred times as valuable to a tomb robber.  The "James" ossuary isn't exactly a thing of beauty in the way some of the others pictured in the various stories about this latest publicity push are nicer looking.  I have seen one critique of the claims for the "James" ossuary that noted it was weathered in a way that the others found in the tomb are not.  I have no idea how much of a factor that could be in refuting the claims made by Jacobovici but they are there.

In short, the claims of provenance for that box are far from reliable.  I won't go into the inscription on it and its authenticity, doubted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and some other authorities but supported by others, all based on analysis of the "patina" on the box.  I suspect that such "patina analysis" is not exactly hard science and is based as much on individual interpretation, considering the lack of consensus.  The fact that the judge said the authorities hadn't proved their case accusing the owner of the box with forgery and other charges related to the sales and handling of antiques from the classical period doesn't exactly clear him of suspicion and does nothing to confirm his claims.  It just means the judge didn't buy the case the government made against him.

But, even leaving aside the "James box" the inscription on the "Mary box" isn't exactly a slam dunk for the Jesus debunkers either.  Adrey Feurverger's paper in which he published his statistical analysis says:

This elegantly rendered ossuary (see Figure 1) has multiple possible readings.
Mara, an (absolute) contracted form of (the emphatic) Martha, is a rare name,
these being feminine versions derived from the Aramaic dominant masculine form mar meaning “lord,” “master,” or “honorable person.” The question of whether Mara was intended here as a title, such as “honorable lady,” or whether it was intended only as an alternate (i.e., second) name is disputed. If this inscription were understood as in Hebrew, then Mariamenou would be a diminutive (i.e., endearing) form of Mariamne or Mariamene and the inscription would read “Mariamene [diminutive] the lord/master” provided we also assume also that Mαρα (or [the Hebrew which I don't know how to type])is intended as “lord” or “master” and that “η” is meant as the feminine article “the.” An alternate reading requires that one interpret the stroke between “Mariamenou” and “Mara” as representing not an η, but only a scratch mark; in that case one interpretation is that this ossuary contains the remains of two persons—one called Mariame, and the other called Mara. However, the manner in which these two words run closely together, and on the same line, seems more suggestive of their referring to a single person. Rahmani (1994), pages 14 and 222, reads the inscription as follows: “The stroke between the υ of the first and the μ of the second name probably represents an η, standing here for the usual η και... used in the case of double names...” and he posits that the second name is a contracted form [not a contraction] of “Martha” leading to the reading “Mariamene [diminutive]who is also called Mara.” According to Greek usage of the time, the first word of the inscription is a genitive/possessive form for Mariamene, rendered in a particular diminutive form understood to be an endearment, so that the inscription then translates as “[the ossuary] of Mariamene [diminutive] also known as Mara.” Rahmani’s reading, which is the one we adopt, was accepted by Kloner (1996) and has been corroborated by others in the field.

I'm no expert in New Testament studies but apparently there is no precedence in the documents from that period which would back up that name ever being used for the most popular candidate for a "wife of Jesus" Mary Magdalene and there's absolutely no mention, anywhere of a “Judah, son of Jesus”.  This article says,

But many experts say that statistical case doesn't hold up. For one, almost all the names in the tomb were common at the time. In addition, some of the inscriptions, such as the name for Jesus, are hard to read, said Robert Cargill, a classics and religious studies professor at the University of Iowa in Ames, who was not involved in the study.

What's more, some of the names found on ossuaries from the tomb have no historical precedent — such as "Judah, son of Jesus."

"There's no evidence at all that Jesus had a son at all, let alone a son called Judah," Goodacre said.

One of the boxes is inscribed with what may be "Mariamne" or, alternatively, "Mary and Mara," Goodacre added. While Jacobovici argues that the name corresponds to one of Jesus' followers, Mary Magdalene, early Christians didn't call Mary Magdalene "Mariamne" — rather, she was just called Mariam or Marya, Goodacre said.

When those inconsistencies are also considered, the statistical case for the names matching those of Jesus' family falls apart, Cargill said.

You should want to have at least reliable confirmation that any known document of any reliable antiquity that used that name for any of the named "Marys" of the Bible before taking the claim that they have the bone box of the "wife of Jesus" as anything other than a movie maker on the make and a statistician with a theory to market.   Without that it would seem to me they've got nothing and neither do the rest of the claims made in the article.

The article as a piece of journalism doesn't do anything for the reliability of the reporter or the Jerusalem Post.  It doesn't consult anyone who doesn't have a stake in Jacobovici's movie or who doesn't have a financial link to him, including the geologist Arye Shimron and James Tabor from the University of North Carolina, who they present as if he were an independent scholar confirming the validity of what Jacobovici and Shimron are claiming.   Tabor was a consultant for Jacobovici's 2007 movie and the co-author of a popular book on his claims in 2012.   Tabor, the author of, "The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity,"  has his own highly unorthodox and widely rejected claims concerning Jesus and the earliest movement of his followers which are at odds with those lines which the large majority scholars of the literature and period support.  I haven't read his book but reading the skeptical reviews of it by scholars in the field, it's clear why he'd want to sell this story as well.

Most strikingly in all of this, to me, is that a lot of the guys, you, I suspect included, who are rejoicing in this as positive proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead, are also the same guys who deny he ever existed.   It seems that in this, as in everything about atheism, you want to have it both ways even as that is a logical impossibility and would have to debunk the authenticity of either this "find" or the others you use when you want to turn Jesus into an historical myth.  But, then, when you don't believe that it's a sin to tell a lie, you don't really value the truth, substituting whatever line gets you what you want as it gets that for you. Which is the reason I believe that what Jesus said was true.   The truth does make a difference, it sets you free.

*  Here is what Jacobovici's statistician has to say about the bones found in the tomb.

The vestibule of the tomb was damaged by the blasting operations that led to its discovery. The tomb had otherwise been covered by earth, apparently undisturbed since antiquity. On the exterior facade above the tomb’s entranceway there was carved in relief a circle beneath an upward pointing
gable—a rare feature. Within the 2.3×2.3 m tomb were six kokhim —two on each of the other three walls—each just over 1.6 m in length, and under 0.5 m in width, deep enough to store two or three ossuaries in each. Within these kokhim a total of ten ossuaries were found, some of them broken. Two ossuary lids, discarded in antiquity, were found beneath the soil fill in the room. Early Roman (Herodian) sherds (i.e., broken pieces of pottery) were also found on the floor which date the site to the late Second Temple period, that is, from the end of the first century BCE or the beginning of the first century CE to approximately 70 CE. Such bones as were within the ossuaries were in an advanced state of disintegration. Two arcosolia (shallow shelves intended for laying out bodies) had been carved in the tomb walls and contained broken and powdered bone remains. Disturbed bones, presumably swept off the arcosolia, were also found on the floor. The golal (blocking stone) to the tomb’s entrance was not found at the site indicating that the tomb had been accessed by robbers in antiquity.

Update:  I don't keep up with the Jerusalem Post but not that long ago it had the reputation of being a right wing rag.  This article is such a piece of unjournalistic junk that it doesn't lead me to believe its quality is reliable, today.

Shoop Shoop: Turing Failed His Own Test How Can Anyone Expect Anyone Else To Do Better?

If I'd thought of it as I was writing yesterday's post dealing with the materialist faith that computers do a version of what we do when we think and act, I would have said that you'd hear some echo of that nonsense pushed in the media within the next day or two.   It wasn't a day before NPR delivered on that unmade, perhaps unnecessary prediction.   Their film reviewer, Kenneth Turan, did a short piece on a movie called Ex Machina, which revolves around a computer- well a robot, the fabled "Turing Test" and the heart and mind of a young geek who has to decided how he is supposed to take the sexy computer gal his eccentric jillionaire boss introduces him to.  In other words, a 428,569th variation on Pygmalion and Galatea presumably without an Aphrodite to make it real. Perhaps the math god does that magic.

I am sure you all know what the "Turing Test" is supposed to be, if someone has a computer they claim can think it is to be tested by asking it questions.  If the person asking the questions and getting the answers can't tell the difference between the computer and what they think a person would answer to those questions, then the machine is to be declared a thinker.   Though Turing's actual concept of his test was considerably more sophisticated, that's what it is for most of us thanks to the vulgar popularization of science, what science is for most of us.   I doubt most of the guys who throw the term around would even read his paper, but here it is.  Maybe I'll go through it sometime but on a quick reading of it, Turning's argument rests on some rather large leaps of faith and unfounded assumptions.  He seems to take for granted the ability of people to discern authenticity on the basis of those kinds of judgments which is absurd.  His test presumes a power of discernment in people that simply isn't reliably there.  The test fails without it.

I'm old enough so that for several months in the mid-1960s I was first charmed, then rapidly afflicted by the constant background music of  "The  Shoop Shoop Song". The song where the fine pop singer Betty Everett asks how she can tell if her boyfriend really loves her.  As the backup singer gals propose a number of tests, she declares that "If you want to know if he loves you so, it's in his kiss" reiterated for emphasis, "if it's love if it really is, it's there in his kiss".  Now you know what's going to be going through my head all day.

The disconfirmation of that theory was obvious all over teenage America in the form of girls and boys finding out that despite having been convinced of finding true love by lots and lots of that kind of testing, they later discovered that the test was totally bogus.  The results in the form of breakups, tearful, angry and,  after the Hollywood example of the times, generally quite histrionic.  And, superior to  the Turning Test, the evidence for judgement of the entire Shoop protocol was far richer than just the "kiss test" you had to "kiss him and squeeze him tight to find out what you want to know".  In the context of real life application the decision would have included answers to questions, quite often the answers given to those questions initially believed with all the heart, only later to be falsified by other evidence.  Clearly teenage girls of the early 1960s required a higher level of evidence than that provided by the Turing Test.  And look at how well it worked out for so many of them in making important decisions.

As I recall, science majors, even those in math and the burgeoning field of computer science were susceptible to being deceived by the far richer range of questioning and testing of the hypothesis that the genuine nature of their boy or girlfriend was reliably revealed to them.   I never did a calculation to see if their saturation in the thinking of science made them more successful in discerning sincerity in their lovers than those of us in the humanities.   I can remember loud, noisy angry breakups and accusations of insincerity and betrayal in sci-majors. But, then,  I am sure that it wasn't science that informed my caution in trusting my feelings in love or my conclusion that wishful thinking was often a dangerously deceptive component in coming to such conclusions.

The idea that you could determine the genuine status of what was going on in a machine on the basis of your ability to be deceived by its output is contradicted by the most obvious and widespread experiences of humans interacting with other humans.   If we're so unsuccessful in determining if the expressed thoughts of other people are sincere, if we're so able to be deceived about those, completely misjudging the people who tell us that, there is no reason to think testing a machine will yield reliable results. THE TURING TEST PRESUPPOSES THE ACCURACY OF JUDGING PEOPLE ON THAT BASIS [I add because apparently fans of the Turing Test don't realize that ability is an absolute prerequisite for it to work.] The idea that you can use it in science is about as silly as the idea that economic choices are made on the basis of "reason" which is the oh, so, hoped for thinking in many of the same folks who push this kind of nonsense.

Alan Turing should have known better but it was just the same kind of wishful thinking that got him in trouble with the much younger guy he took home, who ripped him off and who Turing so naively and stupidly reported to the police, with such tragic results for himself.  I don't know much about his dating history before then but anyone with a brain should have figured out what he so obviously hadn't about judging other peoples' thinking, both the kid he picked up and -so stunningly cluelessly for a gay man of his age -  the cops in the 1950s.  I wonder if he bought a similar message encouraging wishful thinking from a silly love song from his youth.


I have thought more about it and looked at some things and I am more convinced than ever that any materialist model of the brain can't work unless precognition or some other psychic faculty IN THE FORM OF NON-MATERIAL TRANSFER OF THOUGHTS is part of it.  There is simply no other way for the brain to correctly construct the material basis of ideas and thinking unless the idea was already present to inform it of how to do that.   The atheists, the "skeptics" the "brain-only" guys can either accept that their idea requires that precognition or, perhaps, telepathy or clairvoyance must be real or their model fails, completely.  It doesn't work without those.  They can't keep their faith in thoughts as material substance while denying the only thing that makes it work.

Someone, tell me how you believe you could get a brain to construct the right idea or even wrong ideas, which would have to be as much the material construct of the brain, without having something to go on in the form of the idea that it was supposed to construct already being present in it.  I don't think you can do it.

Update:  Well, I don't know about being smarter than Alan Turing but I wasn't stupid enough to a. pick up a guy I didn't know who ripped me off, b. make a complaint about the guy ripping me off to cops who would arrest me for sex that was illegal at the time (I'm old enough to have direct experience of that past) and, c. think that a silly party game where people tried to figure out if a woman they were asking questions of was either a real woman or a female impersonator was a basis for deciding if a computer could think in the same way a person could.  Even really smart guys can be really stupid about things they want to be true.  You're wrong about what I said, which isn't what you want me to have said, but you definitely ain't no Alan Turing.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Doesn't The The Materialist "Brain Only" Model of Our Minds Require Precognition To Work?

The other day my friend, RMJ, at his fine blog, Adventus, noted the superstition flowing from the materialist "brain only" dogmas about human minds and intelligence.  That it will be possible to "download" human minds into computers and, in the most absurd and brainless assertions of the idea, that "we" can assume immortality as computer programs, or something is a firmly believed in given among the sci-rangers these days.  The idea has many problems of basic illogic and rests on the wildest of baseless assumptions about our brains being like computers, an idea which is one of the worst misunderstandings of metaphor ever committed by even genius level scientific inventors such as Ray Kurzweil.*

I have pointed out the problem of scientists and others not understanding that computers, including computer programs, are based on a human model of human minds and a very sketchy, abstract definition of what is taken to be an adequate representation of what "thinking" "knowledge" and "information" and their various uses are.  They are all metaphors, not even close reproductions of those, though frequently mistaken as something more.  Yet people who consider themselves quintessential examples of sophisticated thinking then think the metaphor of human minds can tell us things about the real minds they are a metaphor for.  It's equivalent to basing the study of the internal anatomy of birds on pictures of imaginary birds or the behavior of bears on teddy bears.  Only, when it comes to human minds and it's in service to materialist ideology, it's allowed and the pretense that it's science, encouraged.

But, even if they don't want to pretend that computers are the equivalent of human minds, there are huge problems of trying to turn our minds into material objects.  I've dealt with the frequently and ignorantly made claim that minds and thoughts arise from our DNA, claimed as a product of natural selection,  in a previous post, doubting that the action of constructing proteins happens fast enough for it to be involved in creating our thoughts.  It just simply doesn't happen fast enough, with the flexibility in variation that would be required for it to happen. Each and every one of our thoughts, including those which have nothing to do with anything real in the universe, many of them unique for all time in the known universe, would have to have an accurately constructed molecule or physical structure that would be the physical origin of it.  And those would have to be the product of an evolution which couldn't have possibly dealt with things like them.  The assertion that the thoughts of modern people are the product of natural selection is the quintessential example of using that phrase like a magical talisman.

The greatest problem of insisting that our thinking is a material entity is that even if you want to insist that our ideas are like random access memory, based in a physical structure of electrical connections instead of proteins, is that, somehow, our minds would have had to construct exactly the correct pattern of connections or other structure BEFORE THE IDEA EXISTED IN THE SAME BRAIN MAKING THE IDEA.  For our "brains" to construct exactly the right physical structure which would be the actual physical object that comprises a thought, it would have had to know what the results would be before it started constructing the physical structure that comprised the idea.   Otherwise it would have no idea of what structure to make and it couldn't make the right structure to comprise the thought.   The physical object which is our brain would have to have a psychic ability that is anathema to the very people who invented the materialist dogma of our minds as material objects.  It would have to know what the correct object to make was and how to make just that object-idea before it began making it.

I think the dogma that our minds, our thoughts, our each and every idea, perception and observation of the external world and our internal thinking is a physical thing would face the same problem no matter what the claimed nature of that physical structure is.  If every idea is a protein or a structure made of of proteins - what our DNA does** -, the formation of which is hardly instantaneous or the building of physical structures which would have to be of incredible precision and of effectively infinite variety and, also, absolutely accurate, our minds could only do that if they knew what they were making before it knew what they were making.   And every single idea in the process of forming a final conclusion would have to have its own, absolutely accurate physical structure.  There can be hundreds of attempts before coming up with the final result and a lot of those will persist in the memory even as they are discarded.

It should be insisted that materialists explain how our minds would know how to make exactly the right idea before it knew the idea which would be the thing it was making and how it would know how to make exactly the right physical structure before it contained the idea of what that was.

I don't think that the metaphor of our building things and our making things is a very useful metaphor for what happens in our thinking.   We use the words and language of our making things to talk about what happens in our minds but I think the problems that leads to when we forget that our words are metaphors for something we really don't understand and we begin to make believe that those words actually explain it and by doing that they seriously mislead us.  Which leads to problems, problems that you have to think about rather harder than is usually done to even notice them.   The results ain't science.

*  It's a shame that they don't require a critical reading of the myth of Pygmalion in computer science programs, emphasizing that it is a myth and that nothing short of divine intervention made his creation a real person in that story.  Those guys who came up with such stories, who the fans of the idea of transhumanism would  probably disdain as "ignorant iron age" goat herders, would seem to have that level of sophistication over our university trained geniuses, these days.  Ovid put the story in a collection of some of the wildest tales of impossible transformations, more far fetched than anything I can think of this morning from the Hebrew scriptures.  The nearest thing I can recall this morning is the relatively non-fantastic tale of Jacob's sheep and their markings.   Our science informed geniuses don't seem to be able to negotiate the difference between science and make believe as well as those people their fan boys disdain.

**  Actually, the role of DNA in the formation of physical structures in our bodies is hardly a solved problem.   There are those who doubt that DNA plays much of a role in it other than generating the chains of amino acids that form into proteins.

Update:  I talked about ideas having the status as "final conclusions" only out of convention, there is no actual thing as a "final conclusion" as even established ideas are constantly modified in applying them to different situations, exigencies and new experiences.  The idea that we have "final conclusions" are something of a myth, a convention we resort to in order to pretend that ideas exist as discrete entities of a fixed and definite character, a cog in a machine of thinking, when they're nothing like that in real experience.  The idea that even ideas as defined as laws of science mean the same thing to everyone thinking about it is problematic as disputes among the greatest of experts in the fields using them demonstrate.   Even more so the vague and highly controversial "law" of natural selection, which so much of this assertion is based in.  I'm rather convinced that the extent to which a scientist takes assertions about our minds as physical objects, the product of natural selection and, so, inevitably coded in our DNA is the extent to which they are demonstrating their lack of reflection on what it is they're asserting and, in some hard cases, an appalling lack of understanding of what DNA does and can do.  [That wasn't the link I intended to provide, but it's such a good one I'll leave it in.  This is the fine lecture I wanted to link to.]

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I Won't Poll Dance Don't Ask Me

A few minutes ago, I got a call from the Gallup organization, asking me to participate in the poll - living alone I passed their criterion for participating, it was undeniable that I was the person in my household who had the next birthday. 

The first question asked, on a scale of zero to ten where on that scale would I place the quality of my life, zero the worst, ten the best quality of life I could imagine.

The pollster wasn't prepared for my total inability to understand what the question was asking.   I've never imagined such a scale and doubt I could place my "quality of life" on one, even if not required to on the fly in about ten seconds.   Thought I'm sure that asking me first thing in the morning would get a radically different answer than asking in the afternoon.  I might even be prepared to give a baseless, thoughtless, meaningless answer on another day of the week.   Though I can't imagine doing that, either.   

She didn't waste much time with me when I told her I couldn't answer the question.  I wish I'd asked her how many of those they asked said they couldn't answer and how many said they could and what it could possibly mean to the range of people who gave them a number.  Not to mention the grounds for coming up with one.  This question, typical of polling, it seems, is total BS which could tell you absolutely nothing, though going through the motions of doing the calculations of the "data" would be child-play.   Thus is the "science" of polling that replaces the "news" in our freest press of all times.  

Nothing Is Set In Stone

Pieces will be edited as better ways of putting things occur to me.  Often this takes me reading what I wrote on different browsers that I can see better.   I am blind as a bat, as they say.  

Sometimes it's as I see that I said something stupidly.

Sometimes the antihistamines have to wear off a bit first.  That's what happened this morning. 

If I win the lottery, the first thing I'm doing here is hire an editor.   One who taught English grammar in a public school. 

Update:  I can't get my cats to sign the release, so no cat pictures.   Pictures of me are withheld as a courtesy to my readers. 

More About Human Beings As "Wild Animals"

Last week I noted that it was important for those who wanted to claim that natural selection was at work and influential in the human population to pretend that human beings were "wild animals" incoherently citing domesticated dogs, domesticated in artificial conditions imposed on dogs and, presumably, their near-dog ancestors in their arguments, which, by definition, are not "wild dogs" but "tame dogs".

The problems for citing the "traits" of tame animals which result from the selections made by people in an assertion of NATURAL selection in operation before human beings and human cultures were there to produce tame animals don't seem to be noticed much by such folk UNLESS IT IS IN THEIR INTEREST TO SUDDENLY NOTICE SUCH A DISTINCTION.   That is the sort of dishonest double counterpoint at work in eugenics and, I would assert, in the assertion of natural selection as a force of nature.   And it was there from the beginning with Darwin's citations of domesticated animals to lend plausibility to his theory of natural selection.

As soon as the selections in domestication of animals are made by humans are made, consciously, with a goal of some kind in mind, using human judgement and what human beings have managed to discern in such matters from our limited powers of observation and analysis, the claims of it representing what happens in nature is inevitably false.  Our choices and our analyses of the results are restricted by the limited scope of human capabilities and human understanding.  Nature does not have our limitations or our predilections such as those in both the breeding of animals for our use and using them in a formal and self-interested construction of an explanation of the workings of nature.  I would add that I think the even more radically limited scope of even human experience that is allowable in scientific consideration adds another and far more restrictive filter on what is allowed to be considered in the matter, a filter which doesn't exist in life in nature.  

Those filters might serve extremely well for discerning some of the relevant and useful facts about atoms, molecules, non-living physical objects and the nature of their motions and changes under different physical conditions.  Such things are rather limited in their variation and modes of existence as compared to living organisms.  The restrictions under which living organisms can continue as living organisms and reproduce should have, I think, rather been a hint that using the same kinds of observations that you do for non-living objects will not be as good a match in many, perhaps most aspects of the scientific study of life.

But in order to be taken as a science, biologists needed to shoe-horn life into the same kind of procedures and methods that worked so well for physics and chemistry in the last several centuries, even when addressing something as unsuited to that reductionist program as behaviors and consciousness which have such a large, presumed role in the evolution of animals which can behave and put themselves in different situations which impinge on their living to reproduce or not.

The problem is that it's all based in pretenses of being able to do things that can't be done, none of those so obvious as the impossibility of seeing animals in the past,  discerning which organisms did what, how they did it, the conditions under which they did it, whether or not those behaviors led to death or a reduction in the numbers of successful offspring those behaviors produced.  The behaviors, themselves, not being known to have existed in that past, never mind any physical basis for their inheritance or their survival in radically different environmental contexts, especially when those are imagined as if uninfluenced by other factors.  

Often, while listening to assertions connecting aspects of human societies to those of ants and bees, I wondered why other modern families of animals whose connection to the ants and bees is a common ancestor we share with them,  don't seem to have examples of the same social behavior contended to be the common heritage from that common ancestor.  Amphibians are such an example of animals which, presumably, share the common ancestor with ants that we do but which I can't seem to recall exhibiting "the same genetically coded behavior" as we are alleged to share with ants, presumably through the same ancestor.  I can't locate it in the reptiles or other classes presumed to have been descended from that same common ancestor.   Only, I'm sure, some evolutionary psychologist or Sociobiologist will come up with some purported "thing" asserted to be a tenuous strand of similarity, the creative imagination of such guys being always, remarkably able to find confirmation of their theory and, somehow, never seem to come up with stories that refute them.  What are the odds of that happening?


I haven't been able to do as much reading on this as I'd like to but I'm finding that there is actual evidence that human domestication of animals as near to the wild as the first generation of fish raised by humans or release into the wild already are removed from the conditions they would face in nature, with results that alter the population from those of natural fish, with resulting differences in reproductive rates in the wild.  For example, there is this paper.

Captive breeding programs are widely used for the conservation and restoration of threatened and endangered species. Nevertheless, captive-born individuals frequently have reduced fitness when reintroduced into the wild. The mechanism for these fitness declines has remained elusive, but hypotheses include environmental effects of captive rearing, inbreeding among close relatives, relaxed natural selection, and unintentional domestication selection (adaptation to captivity). We used a multigenerational pedigree analysis to demonstrate that domestication selection can explain the precipitous decline in fitness observed in hatchery steelhead released into the Hood River in Oregon. After returning from the ocean, wild-born and first-generation hatchery fish were used as broodstock in the hatchery, and their offspring were released into the wild as smolts. First-generation hatchery fish had nearly double the lifetime reproductive success (measured as the number of returning adult offspring) when spawned in captivity compared with wild fish spawned under identical conditions, which is a clear demonstration of adaptation to captivity. We also documented a tradeoff among the wild-born broodstock: Those with the greatest fitness in a captive environment produced offspring that performed the worst in the wild. Specifically, captive-born individuals with five (the median) or more returning siblings (i.e., offspring of successful broodstock) averaged 0.62 returning offspring in the wild, whereas captive-born individuals with less than five siblings averaged 2.05 returning offspring in the wild. These results demonstrate that a single generation in captivity can result in a substantial response to selection on traits that are beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild.

If that is true for fish bred under those conditions for one generation, presumably controlled in some attempt to make them fit for success in the wild, the idea that the conditions of animals at the end of many hundreds of generations of more highly controlled and manipulated breeding of a line of mammals bred with a specific goal of human beings in mind is going to give you a good model to draw conclusions about unrelated species in actual uncontrolled nature doesn't seem to have much to back it up.  I hope to be able to read more on the topic to see how much work has been done on this but nothing I've seen so far lead me to believe that the results of human breeding are comparable to those in nature, without such intelligent manipulation.  The reasonable conclusion to draw is that there is no reason for confidence that animals kept and bred under artificial conditions under conscious human control are going to tell you anything reliable about wild animals of even the same species.  The best you could do is look at wild animals and see if they do the same thing as your captive animals, but the confirmation of that in the wild comes from the wild population.

And there is no species which has longer been under the control of human breeding outside of purely wild conditions than human beings.  In recorded human history and presumably for some time into the period before records are preserved, many of the choices in reproduction under entirely artificial conditions, under entirely artificial rules and restrictions, often forced against choices of the individuals, other people making those decisions for them and restricting their range of choices.  I'm unaware of that happening anywhere in nature.  The assertion that "natural selection" is applicable to the human population is nonsense*.

The idea that the human population of the 19th century or today can be reasonably understood as if they were "wild animals" and their offspring reasonably evaluated by artificial HUMAN theories of animals in the wild would seem to not be justified. The Darwins and Haeckels don't seem to have understood that even the people they constantly referred to as "savages" didn't live under the same wild conditions as even our closest ape relations could be said to but lived in human societies, under human laws and customs, taking advantage of the products of human culture and human thinking as much as they and the great unwashed who they clearly hated and feared would live too long and have too many children in Britain and Germany.   Their sense of superiority, their class assumptions and their racism all blinded them to seeing those things as they were, their science surrounding those, the product of their unadmitted biases, prejudices and limitations.

The needs of biologists, especially those such as Francis Galton, Ernst Haeckel and, yes, Charles Darwin, whose thinking was radically influenced by their lives, their formal education, their acculturation into the milieu of 19th century, British and German science, to see things in accord with what they knew and how they felt, makes any assertion about things open to unacknowledged, unadmitted influences.  The opportunity to insert those influences in science is enhanced when the subject they are dealing with is largely unobservable and dealing with extremely complex entities whose observed behavior must be interpreted by those same minds which have such a hard time imagining alternatives to their own experiences.

That is what is behind the success with which eugenics was introduced into, first science, then the world of politics and the law, from where forced sterilization, unequal provision for education and pay, and everything up to and including mass murder.  From the introduction of eugenics in Galton's first articles in 1865 to the end of the Nazi period in 1945 is a mere 80 years, the lifetime many of us might reasonably be expected to reach.  The period between the beginning of eugenics and the first forced-sterilization laws under it was a mere forty-two years.  I can't find when the first university classes in the subject were started but eugenics was full blown science with the entire compliment of academic support and legal influence far earlier.  I've noted how George Darwin was calling for laws forcibly annulling marriages in the 1870s in influential magazines and could note that even earlier Heinrich Fick in Germany was, as well, advocating molding laws in accord with enhancing natural selection in his country.   The power behind eugenics was first the repute that Charles Darwin and natural selection enjoyed, I would say due to the good news for wealthy men that it was but also for materialist men, and second the ease with which it fit with the prejudices and experience of the affluent class of men who had control of science and academic institutions.   It was good news for all of them and they were not inclined to think with sufficient rigor about what it was claiming.

When the topic of science is extremely complex and most of it will never be available for study, the tendency is to cut corners and allow lesser standards of evidence because, well, for no better reason than that "it's hard".  That might be fairly innocuous at times, when the topic is human life or death, equality, morality, the topic is too important to allow that relaxed standard to those who want to make those claims.

*  The idea that "natural selection" exists outside of human imagination is, as well, susceptible to reasonable disbelief for many of these same reasons.

Update:  Since I am again made aware that even many people with university degrees, even some of those who have degrees in the relevant biological topics don't realize that there is difference between natural selection and evolution or have an emotional block on facing that obvious fact, I will assert again that evolution is a far more certain fact than any purported explanation of how or why it happened.   Biology and, even more so, the popular understanding of science has put the Darwin wagon before the engine, evolution, for so long a lot of people don't realize the real relationship between them.   They seem to think the wagon is doing all the pulling.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Don't Know Why People Believe Those Guys Are Smart: A Response

That it is shocking and controversial to the atheists I commented on yesterday, that people don't tend to like people who are nasty to them, who insult them and who lord it over them, asserting their superior intelligence, certainly debunks that last listed belief atheists have about themselves and their community.

Re-reading that old post of mine I linked to yesterday, representing an earlier and far more naive view of pseudo-skepticism and the atheism which is practically synonymous with it, I remembered another example of an atheist, pseudo-skeptic who also noticed that atheists tend to be rather nasty people,  Ray Hyman once noted that his fellow "skeptics" were not very nice.  In his study of the premier "skeptical" group, CSICOP*, George Hansen noted:

A few individuals in the national organization have expressed concern about the image projected by the local affiliates. Ray Hyman has been quoted as speaking of a “frightening” “fundamentalism” and “witch-hunting” when discussing the rise of the popular debunking movement (Clark, 1987). Hyman has also been quoted as saying: “As a whole, parapsychologists are nice, honest people, while the critics are cynical, nasty people” (McBeath & Thalboume, 1985, p. 3). Hyman (1987) wrote an article advising the local groups how to be effective critics; this was published in Skeptical Briefs and reprinted in a number of newsletters. He suggested using “the principle of charity,” saying “I know that many of my fellow critics will find this principle to be unpalatable” (p. 5, italics added). 
I dare any atheists reading this to go to any of the big atheist websites and suggest to them that they apply "the principle of charity" and I will guarantee you that Ray Hymans' assertion that "many of my fellow critics will find this principle to be unpalatable" will be demonstrated to the point of conclusively confirming what he said thirty years ago. [Update:  Hyman could be describing the atheist blogs of today in those comments. ]

Having read lots of the history of atheists in public life and lots and lots of those atheists' own words,  nastiness is a recurring theme in their style and content, going back from this morning, figures like Amanda Marcotte, P. Z. Myers, Thunderfoot, seriously nasty guys like Hitchens and Harris, through the neo-atheist period, back to when they were wearing those not so convincing disguises as "Humanists" and "Skeptics" and even before that in figures such as Madalyn Murray O'Hair, James Hervey Johnson, Joseph McCabe...  Perhaps it's just a natural consequence of an attitude that includes being convinced of your inherent intellectual superiority unencumbered by any real belief in an entity higher than you who imposes a moral obligation on you to treat people well, even when there isn't anything in doing so for you.

The more I think about it, the more likley it seems to me that even atheists who are not jerks will always bear the burden of the nasty boys among them. Including some, but likely not a majority, who are nasty girls**.   Given its long history, the dearth of examples of the alternative attitude among them, I think it's a feature, not a bug of atheism.

*  From the paper  CSICOP and the Skeptics

Table 3
CSICOP Member       Source of Information
George AbellFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Isaac AsimovFree Inquiry, Spring 1982, p. 9
Brand BlanshardFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Vern BulloughFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Mario BungeFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Bette Chambers Humanist, September/October 1973, p. 9*
 Francis CrickFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Jean Dommanget Free Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Paul EdwardsFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Antony FlewFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Yves GalifretFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Murray Gell-MannFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Stephen Jay GouldFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Sidney HookFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Marvin KohlHumanist, November/December 1973, p. 5*
Paul KurtzFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Gerald A. LarueFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Paul MacCready Free Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
 Ernest NagelFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
John W. PattersonAmerican Atheist, May 1983, p. 12-14
Mark PlummerAmerican Atheist, June 1983, p. 29-33
W. V. QuineFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
James RandiWho's Who In America (1990, p. 2683)
Carl SaganFree Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 59†
Al SeckelFree Inquiry, Summer 1986, p. 54
B. F. SkinnerHumanist, September/October 1973, p. 9*
Gordon Stein Free Inquiry, Fall 1988, p. 48-50
Robert Steiner Robertson (1984)
Marvin ZimmermanHumanist, September/October 1973, p. 9*

Those are certainly among the most well known and influential members of the group.   An interesting case to study is that of Anthony Flew who in his later years came around to sort of believing in a God.  The nastiness of the response of his former fellow atheists, asserting he was senile, past it, duped by evil "theists" etc. was typical behavior for them.  There are other names that could be added to the list, of course, one of those one of the co-founders of CSICOP, Dennis Rawlins, who is a pretty nasty atheist but who got kicked out of the group.  I'm not sure of another of the founders of CSICOP,  Marcello Truzzi, the original editor of Skeptical Inquiry, the groups magazine, who got kicked out for being too nice to non-"skeptics".   Rawlins had a hand in that, by his own admission.

**  Hansen also notes and the Pew figures confirm that a majority atheists  as well as an even large percentage of those who call themselves "skeptics" are men and the movement was dominated by them.  Though he notes that, in itself, isn't an explanation of the nastiness of the "skeptics"

The problems caused by cynicism and hostility have been recognized by the organization, and steps are being taken to diminish them. The severity of the problem cannot be attributed entirely to male dominance; after all, a number of other predominantly male organizations do not have such a reputation. It is likely that there are a number of other factors that contribute to the perceived demeanor.

It's never been my experience that the women of "skepticism" are not hostile and cynical, fairminded or even particularly honest, certainly not those of atheism.  It reminds me of that post referencing the anti-religious diatribe of the iconic "feminist,"  and, admit it, rather nasty person, Emma Goldman railing like a more articulate and less vulgar Madalyn Murry O'Hair about religious women.

It has thwarted her nature and fettered her soul, yet the Christian religion has no greater supporter, none more devout, than woman. Indeed, it is safe to say that religion would have long ceased to be a factor in the lives of the people, if it were not for the support it receives from woman. The most ardent churchworkers, the most tireless missionaries the world over, are women, always sacrificing on the altar of the gods that have chained her spirit and enslaved her body.

Of course, she knew better than them.  She followed Nietzsche's oh, so enlightened and charitable view of women.  Nietzsche, that nice guy, you know.
And Goldman was sweetness and light compared to today's online atheist women.

Update:  You don't seem to understand my theme, yesterday, included that atheists don't much like atheists either.  I haven't thought about it to that extent or studied it, as such, but the striking phenomenon of Marxists and anarchists who spit poison at each other, attack each other, struggle for dominance against each other, may be part of the same phenomenon of atheists who hate atheists.    If that is, as I am convinced, an inseparable feature of atheism, it would mark it as a liability for any left which included atheists in numbers where that propensity could manifest itself.

Update 2:   Someone has tipped me off to a tiff that is currently running on various atheist blogs, starting when PZ Myers dissed Ayaan Hirsi Ali for saying that everyone should lighten up on the Christian right in the US and concentrate on defeating Islam,  PZ isn't happy about such a suggestion. Called it "fatwa envy."   Well, once he did that a number of atheist blogs attacked PZ, including Hemant at the "Friendly Atheist" certainly one of the most ironically named of blogs, and PZ's good buddy at the "Freethought Blogs"  Ophelia Benson.  I didn't look too much at it but there is lots of PZ hatin' on those atheist blog threads as well as angry exchanges.

And I'm also informed that the worlds oldest 12-year-old not named "James Randi,"  Penn Jillette, is also both the instigator and the target of an acid spitting contest over his dissing a woman who failed to entertain him.   I won't repeat the word he called her but I'm sure if you guess, choosing the rudest and most vulgar of the several that my occur to you, yeah, that one.   You can read some of the less ripe garbage Jillette generated around that here.

Does it never occur to them that they obviously hate each other about as much as they complain about people outside their group hate them?   And these are some of the less nasty big name atheists and their camp followers.   And some of them are supposed to be friends.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Atheists In The United States Cannot Be Legally Discriminated Against, Many Groups Can Be

Updated below
There is an effort by atheists to misrepresent their status as the most beleaguered minority group in the United States when that is absurd.  Atheists have had the same civil rights status under law as other religious groups of any size for the past fifty-one years, have never been discriminated against in many of the ways that even some of those groups with equal legal status and nothing approaching the levels of discrimination in even some groups that are hardly major victims of discrimination.  Yet they still claim victim status.

More recently, the president of American Atheists, Dave Silverman, told CNN that “[t]he fact is, we’re the most hated group in the country.” During a commercial specially prepared for the broadcast, Silverman boasted, “American Atheists is leading the charge for equality and the separation of religion and government.” Even on Facebook and Twitter, American Atheists and their representatives often refer to themselves as a civil-rights organization.

Yeah, get back to me when atheists are legally discriminated against in public accommodations, right to marry, right to employment, buying or renting housing, etc.  Not to mention being the victim of fatal shootings BY THE POLICE on the average of more than once a day or the victims of routine, homicidal violence such as so many other really discriminated against minorities are.   It is quite possible a lot of that is due to the fact that atheists are about the whitest group of those polled on their religious identity.

I will point out that is is taken from one of the Pew Center's articles that seems to go out of its way to be atheist friendly.  It also say that atheists-agnostics, are more likely to be white men, one of the least discriminated against identities in the world.

Atheists and agnostics are particularly likely to be non-Hispanic whites. Fully eight-in-ten atheists and agnostics (82%) are white, 3% are black, 6% are Hispanic, and the remainder is of some other race or of mixed race. Those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” have a racial and ethnic distribution that closely mirrors that of the general public.


The unaffiliated population is more male than the general public. Among the unaffiliated as a whole, 56% are men and 44% are women. Among the general public overall, 48% are men and 52% are women.

Far from being economically disadvantaged, atheists, taken as a whole, are more likely to be affluent than most other religious groups.

I have to say, there's something about the atheist complaint that they're not liked which feels like members of the 1% complaining that people don't like them.  I mean, perhaps sometimes people have been given a reason to dislike some small groups of people, even sometimes provided by people in those groups, how they act, THEIR ATTITUDE TO PEOPLE THEY LOOK DOWN ON.  Things like that.

It is especially funny for Dave Silverman to be complaining about the unpopularity of atheists,  the group he heads, American Atheists was founded by that Vesuvius of hate and foulmouthed invective against about 95% of humanity, a person who even many atheists disliked, Madalyn Murray O'Hair*.  If atheists are unpopular, it's atheists like the founder of his organization who have done so much to earn that unpopularity.

Especially funny that it's David Silverman who is putting out the whine about being disliked, considering how many atheists don't seem to like him much, many of them hardly the most winning of individuals, either.  

Rebecca Watson  If Dave Silverman wants to pal around with the kind of people who are trying to take away the fundamental rights of other human beings, then that’s his prerogative. Personally, I’d rather work with people who agree with me on important issues (like reproductive justice) regardless of whether we agree if god is real or not, instead of prioritizing atheism over issues that affect people every single day. The arguments I often hear about why atheist activism is important is that religion is the root of inequality in our society, and if we tackle religion, then our society will be equal. Dave Silverman is proving that this is not the case, and atheism is not the panacea for equality.

P. Z. Myers I got the impression these were actually religious people trying to evangelize to the atheists with a pretense, and they stood out oddly from the rest of the crowd…rather like an atheist shilling at CPAC. So speak up, Dave, tell us what these secular arguments are.

I’m also wary because in my business we’ve run into folks peddling religious bullshit under the guise of being secular before: we call them intelligent design creationists. No one is fooled. Similarly, the anti-choicers who claim to be making a rational secular argument are easy to see through, since they ultimately always rely on some magical perspective on the embryo.

But here’s the bottom line: it is not enough to make a purely secular argument. It has to also be a good argument, unless atheism is to become a smokescreen for nonsense, to be accepted purely because of its godless label. And then atheism might as well just be another religion.

And, for someone who is trying to mount a civil rights movement -for people who already have the full compliment of legal civil rights protections, his lobbying for inclusion at one of the premier venues of right wing hate-talk and agitation AGAINST EQUALITY, CPAC is probably as much as you need to know about him.

That other people mentioned in the Daily Beast story are people I have had encounters with such as Austin Cline, who is a pretty unpleasant and dishonest person, doesn't do much to convince me that atheists particularly care about making friends.   Being liked is not a one way street, you have to make an effort, people aren't required to like you.  Being liked isn't a civil rights issue.

*  "I found more animosity among the atheist community toward her [than among Christians]. They felt like she had a golden opportunity and had blown it," Seaman said. "She couldn't delegate authority, she was mean to her followers, she was unappreciative of their sacrifices. They worked for a pittance because they believed in her cause, and she would curse them and write terrible things about them and fire them.
"As time went on, Madalyn got more and more dictatorial, so she made a huge number of enemies in her own camp."  

She was a "deeply corrupt, depraved human being," wrote Texas journalist Ted Dracos in an email interview. Dracos researched O'Hair's life for his 2003 book "UnGodly: The Passions, Torments, and Murder of Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair."

"As I was, a lot of people were attracted to Madalyn's staunch stances--the goodness of her Jeffersonian ideals when it came to religion and governance," Dracos continued. "Alas, they were taken in by her. Seduced by her brilliance."

And there is her bizarre lawsuit to get hold of the estate of an atheist millionaire who had hated her and with whom she brawled viciously while he was alive.

In a telephone interview, O`Hair voiced indignation that she is depicted as an opportunistic villain in the estate battle.

``There has been some Madalyn Murray O`Hair-bashing going on, and I`m sick of it,`` she said. ``I`m right, and everybody else is wrong, and that`s all there is to it.``

Her rivalry and disagreements with Johnson, whom she refers to as ``James Scurvy Johnson,`` go back several years. In 1983, for example, she sent him a letter imploring him to turn over the assets of his atheist enterprises to her organization.

``You are a dying, defunct, discredited old man who will grow moldy in an unmarked grave, having squandered atheist funds,`` she wrote to Johnson. ``In the interest of a movement which you have injured by your presence in it, it appears to me you should be now making arrangements to turn everything over to American Atheists, which can do something since it is a viable, militant organization of excellent leadership, organization and elan.``

But Johnson stoutly resisted a latter-day alliance with O`Hair, selecting a nonatheist executor for his estate and filing a handwritten codicil to his will designed to frustrate O`Hair`s efforts to take control of his funds.

It's almost like atheists, today took her example as their version of Dale Carnegie with the results that her kind of approach was likely to get.

Update:  Despite what you say, if I'd wanted to be really nasty about atheists who don't seem to like each other about as much as the general population doesn't, I wouldn't have stopped where I did.  The same newspaper report continues:

``I don`t think he trusted atheists, and especially Mrs. O`Hair,`` the executor, Lawrence True, told the Los Angeles Times before the judge in the case imposed a gag order.

Johnson was elected a San Diego County assessor more than 50 years ago but was removed after he was convicted of misusing public funds in improperly disbursing tax refunds.

He also was taken to court in 1952 by his dying mother, then 79, who accused him of taking control of her money and failing to pay her hospital bill.

By the early 1960s, Johnson had become editor and publisher of the Truth Seeker, the country`s oldest atheist journal, and had assumed control of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism and the National Liberal League. He used the magazine as a platform for his outspoken views.

His vitriolic attacks were an embarrassment to other atheists, and when he died the magazine`s circulation was less than 500.

I could go into the atheist wars of folks like Thunderf00t against Rebecca Watson, Thunderf00t against PZ Myers, PZ Myers and Ophelia Benson against Michael Shermer, etc.   Atheists don't seem to like each other, maybe it's for the same reasons that lots of non-atheists don't like atheists.

Unfinished Business

In various things come across in preparing my post on "Eostre" last week, I read some interesting things I haven't been able to look into, such as that the "Easter bunny" may have been developed out of the hare, believed in the medieval period to have been able to give birth without having sex, so a tie in with The Virgin Birth and, also, living underground they were seen as symbolic of Jesus rising living from the grave.   I don't know if any of those or others are true, an animal is there before anyone turns it into any symbol and if someone doesn't know the intentions for it being put in a religious work of art, they can come up with their own interpretations of it.  I have found little to nothing to back up the assertions that "The Xians stole it from rabbit worshiping pagans" line, which would seem to be a modern, perhaps even internet neo-atheist-era, as opposed to a medieval myth. 

Empty Tomb: "How Can You Believe In the Resurrection?"

One of the first times  that I decided to talk back to an atheist hate talker online was so long ago that I don't even remember where it happened.  It was in response to someone in the course of a long diatribe against Christians and religion, when he mocked The Resurrection as a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Now, the Second Law of Thermodynamics isn't a simple thing to comprehend, I only have a slight understanding of it.   I would be curious to know if any of the scientists who have the best understanding of it would claim to understand everything about it in every way.  I doubt one with any philosophical sophistication - perhaps a minority of present day physicists - would make such a rash and premature claim about anything.

I don't know a lot about The Second Law of Thermodynamics, I do know it doesn't claim that it's impossible that a miracle could be done by God, that the work of omnipotence entirely outside of the normal course of events can't happen.  As careful science it wouldn't address anything like that nor could it even if an honest scientist wanted to use it for that since such an intervention would not be within the thing that science does cover, the normal, typical way that things happen in the physical universe.  That is especially true of science entirely reliant on the statistical evaluation of large numbers of similar events to find out what is typical of such events, even casual outliers in the data thrown out.

Only a person really ignorant of what science is and what it can and cannot do would make the claim that The Resurrection of Jesus, as described in the Gospels and the statements of the first generation of the followers of Jesus can be addressed with science.  Science couldn't address The Resurrection short of making an absolutely positive identification of the remains of Jesus of Nazareth, complete with evidence of The Crucifixion.   How such an identification could be made without equally problematic identification of members of his family for comparison only needs to be stated and not asked.  The answer is obvious.

Not only do I admit to not understanding much about The Second Law of Thermodynamics, I also will admit that I don't understand The Resurrection.   I certainly don't rule it out on the basis of some faux scientific assertion but I can't claim that the idea isn't pretty hard to take.  Nor do I think it's supposed to be easy to take.  I used to hold that the entire idea of vicarious atonement just seemed wrong, that one person, even the Son of God, was, by his death taking on the entire burden of sin for people who included those who were killing him and those who violated every one of his teachings even as they made a mockery of the name of Jesus and the title "Christ".

To take a short detour for a purpose, a passage from The Book of Ezekiel in the Easter Vigil Liturgy describes what such "Christians" do quite well.

"they defiled it by their conduct and deeds..."

"...because of the blood that they poured out on the ground, 
and because they defiled it with idols."

those idols being mostly money and power, these days, the blood shed for them the same, though in vastly more quantity and by drone and bomb as well as knives and swords.  And, in the United States, in many places, the person doing that defiling and pouring out blood on the ground call themselves "Christians." When Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Phil Robertson and hundreds of other corporate media defilers and blood pourers perform the most blatant blasphemy of invoking the identity of Jesus and the God of the Prophets.  

The wonder is that anyone who had ever read the words of Jesus and the Prophets and who really believed them wouldn't be more moved to condemn their hypocrisy and slander than they are so conspicuously not moved to.  That silence is more troubling than what the FOX camp and related anti-Christians are doing, though it is true that the American corporate media would probably suppress anyone who did expose them.   If I don't know much about the Resurrection, I do know that you can't believe what Jesus said and claim that he said the opposite of what he did at the same time.  And that you can't read what Jesus said and come up with what Coulter or Robertson do without knowingly lying about what you read.

In the last few weeks, during Lent and into Easter I thought about The Crucifixion, the issue of vicarious atonement and The Resurrection and something occurred to me that I'd never thought of before.  In the way it had been presented to me the death of Jesus like the wages of sin are like blood sacrifices, tribute exacted by God to satisfy some desire of God.   But I really wonder if that's not putting the reason for it in the wrong place.  People are the ones with needs, not God, people are very stubborn and hardhearted, hard to impress and hard to convince, especially when selfishness and self interest aren't served by effective belief.  All through The Bible, even as those privileged to be shown such things are  shown signs and wonders and evidence, even among the Apostles of Jesus, the constantly chosen choice to doubt and disbelieve seems to require the ultimate demonstration, the most extreme demonstration before it will be accepted in an effective way.   Worth thinking about is this farther into the same text from Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities, 
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, 
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, 
careful to observe my decrees.

I doubt that anything less than the sacrificial death of the Son of God would make any widespread and deeply effective impression on the hard and unnatural hearts of people.  The daily and casual sacrifice of huge numbers of children, women, men, entire biospheres of animals makes no impression that stops the pouring of blood on the ground.   We're certainly no better, atheist or "Christian" than the people in the blood soaked, oppressing books of The Bible mistaken as modern history by too many people.

The idea that people are made with the ability to decide to do bad things as part of their existing as real, full, individuals is persuasive, as I find it to be persuasive,  if God was willing to go that far, making us capable of disobeying God, of doing wrong, in order to make us as we are, in order for us to be fully individual, then the idea that God would go as far as necessary to persuade us to choose what was good also makes sense to me.   It's not actual and full belief in the Resurrection as described in the Gospels, different accounts that exhibit different understandings of the event by individual people, it is my attempt to make sense of it, for me, perhaps for other people.   I don't think my understanding of it would ever be complete, nor do I think the understanding of any of those who wrote the accounts in the Gospel are complete understanding of that unique event, thus the differences.  It's part of the Catholic tradition I was raised in to see the most profound events in life as essentially mysterious, beyond understanding, even beyond acceptance in this life.   If this thinking will lead me to a fuller belief in the Resurrection, I don't know.   It certainly does make me want to get better at following the teachings of Jesus, so it's probably worth it.

I have to say, listening online to the Deacon at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston sing the Exultet, in English on Saturday night, really got to me.

O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!  O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Victimae Paschali Laudes

Lucia Sarinskii
Doina Buzut

Simply and beautifully sung.