28 December 2011

Orthodox jews' spit

Meanwhile, the other kind of orthodox religious folk (Orthodox Jews this time), decided that an 8-year old girl going to religious school in the town of Beit Shemesh, Israel, was immodestly dressed and spat on her.
They also want women to walk at different sides of the road than men.

Oh, I love religion, especialy the *orthodox* kind (jews, christians, etc.)

Orthodox christians' fight (deja vu)

It's now a custom that Orthodox Christian priests, Greek and Armenian, will pick up a fight between one another, in Bethlehem's Church of Nativity.

The clashes took place, again, today. They were stopped by Palestinian police force. It seems that such clashes take place almost yearly. The reasons are financial.

19 December 2011

North Korean "god" dies

Kim Jong-il, died today. He was a vile dictator. His country is a hell-hole. People are starving. Gulags, concentration camps. Torture. Total lack of freedom. You name it. And yet, the cult of personality enjoyed by Kim Jong-il is amazing. North Koreans are grieving. They lost their god. Look at this:

And a similar video at BBC news.

This is religion. The same kind of unreasonable attachment to the irrational which makes people revere gods and obey, like sheep, is the one which makes the young woman in the first video declare:
I will change sorrow into strength and courage and remain faithful to respected comrade Kim Jong-un [Kim Jong-il's son, who is expected to be his successor; she has already chosen her next god.]

17 December 2011

On bullshit

By now, Harry Frankfurter's little treatise On Bullshit, is a modern classic, I dare say. Published in 2005 by Princeton University Press, it studies one of the most common anathemas of our society, i.e., bullshit. The word is almost a neologism, which, according to wikipedia, was coined by T.S. Elliot's poem, The Triumph of Bullshit, some 100 years ago. I had bought the book back in 2005 and read it with interest and amusement. Some time later, my friend Joe Higgins, not knowing that I possessed a copy, sent it to me as a gift. I kept it because I had lost (or lent to someone) my original copy.

The word is not easily translatable in other languages. But we do have, of course, the almost equivalent "malakies" (μαλακίες) in Greek [caveat: in plural, not in singular!], and google translate knows that, but google translate does not know a word better than "mierda" in Spanish; whereas in German it says "Bullshit" [capital B, of course] and in French it gives "connerie", bien sur.

Etymology aside, bullshit is a well-recognized, daily-used. word. Bullshitters exist everywhere. You can find them among politicians, academics, lawyers, managers, business people, journalists, scientists, uneducated folk, etc. Frankfurter argues that a bullshitter is not a liar. A liar knows he is lying and, in a sense, is more honest (to himself) than a bullshitter. A bullshitter is a different sort of guy, one for whom lies or truth is irrelevant. He explains that in this 10-minute interview.

We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production, but why is bullshit so much tolerated? There are no laws against bullshit, whereas there certainly are for lies. Is a bullshitter less harmful than a liar? Is it because it is harder to tell what constitutes bullshit? Why do we tolerate bullshit? No good answer exists (yet).

What has bothered me, throughout my academic career, is Academic Bullshit (ABS). This is a special kind of bullshit, one that academics specialize in, ranging from philosophers (c.f. the Sokal affair) to scientists, engineers and mathematicians. It is the last two categories that concern me mostly, because I have worked in such academic environments. A special case of ABS is Academic Bullshit in Teaching and Education (ABST). Frequently using as an excuse the criterion of customer [read student] satisfaction, a large number of academics have transformed teaching into boring, jejune, stupid, false act. I wrote about this at the beginning of the year. I have based my observations on ABST on my personal experience during the past 5 years in the UK, previously in Greece and before that in the US. I have encountered many, a large number indeed, of people practising ABST and have collected a number of glaring examples. The presence of ABST in the University is what brings a university to its knees. In the meantime, universities collect students' fees, deliver ABST to them, but it is not easy to distinguish ABST from true teaching. This is precisely the success of ABST. But it also shows why ABST, and more general forms of Bullshit, should be punishable by our legal system. It is as bad as lying, if not worse than it. 

16 December 2011

Untheism, Antitheism and Atheism

I was recently made aware of a post by Eliezer Yudkowsky on two concepts, related to atheism, which he calls untheism and antitheism. This was a response to my comment (taken from a pseudo-scientist's (John Lennox) site) that "I am neither atheist nor theist nor deist". With this I meant that it is my wish that we lived in a society where religious dogmas and all that were as irrelevant as Bertrand Russell's celestial teapot. Yudkowsky argues that an untheist
would be someone who grew up in a society where the concept of God had simply never been invented - where writing was invented before agriculture, say, and the first plants and animals were domesticated by early scientists. In this world, superstition never got past the hunter-gatherer stage - a world seemingly haunted by mostly amoral spirits - before coming into conflict with Science and getting slapped down.
He imagines an untheist society progressing to the point where they develop science, but without passing through the stage where they were slapped by religion. They have had no need for gods in their society. Suppose then that, at some point, they get in touch with a person from our society who tells them
"The universe was created by God -"
"By what?"
"By a, ah, um, God is the Creator - the Mind that chose to make the universe -"
"So the universe was created by an intelligent agent. Well, that's the standard Simulation Hypothesis, but do you have actual evidence confirming this? You sounded very certain -"
"No, not like the Matrix! God isn't in another universe simulating this one, God just... is. He's indescribable. He's the First Cause, the Creator of everything -"
"Okay, that sounds like you just postulated an ontologically basic mental entity. And you offered a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. Besides, where are you getting all this stuff? Could you maybe start by telling us about your evidence - the new observation you're trying to interpret?"
"I don't need any evidence! I have faith!"
"You have what?"
The untheist cannot understand the argument of the theist. It is alien to them, irrelevant. If the encounter persists, the untheist will develop arguments against the irrational beliefs of the guy from our civilization, at which point, says Yudkowsky, the untheist becomes antitheist. And then, he argues, this is atheism. The argument is nice.
And as for the claim that religion is compatible with Reason - well, is there a single religious claim that a well-developed, sophisticated Untheist culture would not reject? When they have no reason to suspend judgment, and no anti-epistemology of separate magisteria, and no established religions in their society to avoid upsetting?
He concludes thus:
Yet in the long run, the goal is an Untheistic society, not an Atheistic one - one in which the question "What's left, when God is gone?" is greeted by a puzzled look and "What exactly is missing?"
And this is my point too.

He also mentions the following very logical concept: that in a pre-agricultural society, one of hunters gatherers, the concept of good god is absent:
Before you have chiefdoms where the priests are a branch of government, the gods aren't good, they don't enforce the chiefdom's rules, and there's no penalty for questioning them.
Again, this is a very precise observation. Religion was invented to keep people subordinate to a chieftain, a lord, a king, an emperor. It's a cheap substitute of opium for the masses, distributed freely by the rulers.

15 December 2011

Happy Newtonmas cards (reposting)

A reporter of www.religionnews.com recently asked me if she could interview me about my Newtonmas cards. "Sure", I said. And she did. I'm still waiting to see my interview online. Meanwhile, here are the cards again. Enjoy.

New Zealand church "challenge"

I just read that St Matthew-in-the-City Church in Auckland erected a billboard with the following image:
People found it offensive and defaced it. The church explained that they want to challenge people and think what  Christmas is all about, about the virgin birth or about love. A spokesman for the Catholic Church replied:
"Our Christian tradition of 2,000 years is that Mary remains a virgin and that Jesus is the son of God, not Joseph. Such a poster is inappropriate and disrespectful."
Here we go again. Tradition, no matter how obscure it may be, is put above reason. Whereas I applaud the first church's act to challenge an irrational tradition, I think that, if taken to its eventual logical conclusion, the first church would have to eventually challenge every aspect of its religious dogmas. But then why have a church at all? This is what the critics fear.

A politically motivated conservative organization called Family First, replied:
"To confront children and families with the concept as a street billboard is completely irresponsible and unnecessary,"
This is nonsense. As a child, I loved to be confronted with a reasonable explanation of the traditionally irrational. It made me feel happier and better able to confront the world. Why should children be treated as stupid? Who said that imposing upon them the beliefs and superstitions of a 2000 year old tradition is good for them? The eventual harm done to children by indoctrinating them with irrational absurdities is much higher than a moment's truth.

7 December 2011

Those silly pseudo-scientists, II

I just checked Lennox's site, and saw a posting of mine there, a response to other postings, going like this:
The reason that it is ridiculous to bring god/religion into society is precisely because I care a lot about the well-being of all human beings and all life on Earth. Infanticide had been practiced in the name of gods in the past.
The second reason that it is irrational to talk about gods and religions is that there are many gods and many religions. Which one should I choose? By convention, typically, one chooses the gods/religion he/she is brought up with (like Lennox). But why is this a right choice?
The third reason it makes no sense to have religion in our society it is because it makes people lazy: for instance, you think it is a cosmic accident that we are here. You need to spend lots of years and effort in order to understand scientific facts which are not possible to grasp by trivial observations. If someone says “the Bible says so”, most likely this person is lazy.
Finally, let me correct you and others in three of your inferences:
1) Someone mentions the word “random” in their message. I very much doubt that they know what it means.
2) You say I am a leftist. I am not. You also think that being leftist is related to being atheist.
3) Perhaps you are implying that I am atheist. I am not. I am neither atheist nor theist nor deist.
4) Lennox is an ex-mathematician, just as Collins is an ex-atheist. The thing they have both in common is that they use their credentials in order to impress people who don’t have them.
5) Somebody else talks about god (i) as if there is one god and (ii) as if god is male (he uses the male pronoun). Hindus claim there are many gods. Why should I accept one and not two or five and a half gods?
One person replied to me and, among other things, he said this:
One must first investigate the claims of religions, and which one produces the best explanation. Christianity, of course, provides the best explanation and best evidence over any other religion. Saying “there are many religions” does not entail “all religions are false,” which seems to be the kind of logic you are implying here.
Can you see what  kind of mistakes he makes? (Hint: they are underlined.)

5 December 2011

Those silly pseudo-scientists

Listen to this guy, John Lennox, explaining why science cannot explain everything. His argument is this:
Someone makes a cake (it is his aunt, Matilda). The chemists can tell what elements the cake consists of. The physicists can tell the particles comprising the atoms in the cake. The mathematicians can describe the equations of motion of these particles. But can we assert that the cake was completely explained? Suppose we ask the experts why the cake was made. They can't tell! But, aunt Matilda can! Of course she can, because she made the cake herself.

I've heard this fellow use this idiotic argument several times in the past. Live. With this argument, he wants to "prove" that science has its limits. And, therefore, he implies that (his) god exists.  Go figure.... The sad thing is not that John Lennox is (was) a mathematician (he is now a priest) at Oxford. It is that he has followers...

There is no limit to human idiocy: "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." (Einstein)


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant