29 January 2012

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

A bit more than a year ago, whilst being at Cambridge, I cam across the then new book of Philip Pullman, "The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ". It was available in two colours: white (with black letters) and black (with white letters). I bought the latter one. It had a promising look. I read it quickly and, quickly again, I found it disappointing. I must have givent it away (to whom?) because I don't have a copy of it any more (and do not regret it).

The book is about (yes, you guessed it) a retelling of parts of the New Testament. Mary gives birth to twins (and other children), one of whom is called Jesus, the other Christ. The formet os good, the latter a scoundrel who uses Jesus charisma in order to establish a powrful church. And I'll let you guess what happens when one dies and the resurrection story becomes known (yes, you guessed it).

You see, I hadn't read Hitchens' review, and couldn't have done so, because it appeared after I had bought the book. Hitchens calls Pullman a Protestant Atheist™. "Sometimes what [Pullman] say  is common sense, sometimes it is alarming or inconsistent", says Hitchens. And I agree. I would add that the book, although quite short, becomes rather boring soon.

I had guessed that the book would be considered "blasphemous" by many. Here is what "thetruechristianity"   says, and here is what "christian-teachers.org.uk" think about Pullman himself.

What I had not known was that Rowan Williams, in trying to be modern--I guess-- described the “Jesus” character as “a voice of genuine spiritual authority” and the book itself as “mostly Pullman at his very impressive best, limpid and economical.” Impressive voice of modernity from the mouth of the most reverend himself (I'm only joking).

And it seems that many Christians like the book. Here is an example of a reader's review from "amazon.co.uk". He calls it, "[a] beautiful and clever story" and finds that the book is not anti-Christian, but anti-church, concluding that "Pullman's description, spoken through the mouth of Jesus in this book, of what the church is and what the church should be, is one of the most finely tuned expose of where we (Christians) have gone wrong."

My review of the book is very short: Boring.

A year and a half pass, and I come across a newly published (but not new) book called "The Balloonist"  by Macdonald Harris, an unknown author. I bought the book based on the introduction by Philip Pullman who describes it in glorious terms but also because (I have to admit...) a rather silly reason: that one can read the occasional Swedish words in it (which is rare, isn't it?), and so I was curious. Pullman mentions that Macdonald Harris is rather unkown and attributes this to the fact that he has written few books, all of different sorts and styles. The balloonist is about an expedition to the North Pole at the end of the 19th c., and Pullman thinks of it so highly that he's willing to forgive Macdonald Harris for writing in the present tense, something that Pullman hates.

I (tried to) read the book recently. My review of it will be equally short: Boring.

Unless you have the patience to go through lengthy descriptions of jejune situations, you won't manage to finish it. It did look promising. It is written in a Jules Verne style. Its main character knows a lot about science (especially electricity) and, occasionally, he brings in some elementary mathematics too. But that alone, won't change my mind. The book is (to me) boring.

What do I learn from the above? Well, I think I will use Pullman's writings and reviews as examples of what I should avoid.

19 January 2012

The trouble with Michael Ruse

Michael Ruse, a philosopher from Florida State University, is known for his efforts in trying to compromise christianity and evolutionary theory. He describes himself both as an atheist and agnostic. But he likes to keep the other side happy. Many people claim that his knowledge is insufficient and his arguments confused. Here is an example (Ruse defends adaptationism), and here is another (Ruse on the nature of morality).

But one does not need to go to great philosophical depths to realize that Ruse's views are flawed. For very simple reasons. Let me explain one. Look at this 6.5 minute video where Ruse describes what he thinks is the trouble with Richard Dawkins. He says that Dawkins is too simplistic and that he spends no time in trying to understand how christians think. "Come on", says Ruse, "no Christian really believes in the old testament literally. The god of the old testament may very well be an ethnic cleanser, as Dawkins points out, but learned christians (St Thomas) would never consider this seriously. If you find a christian who wants to sacrifice his child because god told him so then you would take him to a psychiatrist".

Now, all that is true. I think (and hope) that only a very small minority of christians (and jews and muslims) would take all aspects of the Bible literally. But, in this case, I'd like to ask Michael Ruse, why has the Bible (or the offending parts of it) not been banned yet by the religious folk, the church, the Rabbis, etc? At which point of time has any religious leader stood up to say that parts of these texts contain gruesome, unethical, disturbing stories and, implicitly or explicitly, suggestions? If nobody believes in them or if they are not taken seriously, then they should be removed.

But last time I went into a church (a Presbyterian church to be precise), I looked in the Bible, turned to my favourite Deuteronomy and saw that the gruesome parts were still there.

Yes, nowdays, christians do not behave in the same way they did 400 hundred years ago. I can say and teach Newton's mechanics and their consequences for the motion of celestial rocks (planets, ...), without fearing that I will be burned. There have been changes, thank god [sic]. But these changes were not changes that were initiated by the church. Rather, they were natural consequences of the way people live nowadays. Church had to accept the changes, but it was not its choice.

So, this is the trouble with Michael Ruse. He doesn't see that the reconciliation he is defending is one-sided.When he describes the trouble of Dawkins, he doesn't see that there is a big trouble in what he is saying.

13 January 2012

Most visited postings of this blog

According to the Stats page of blogger.com, the following postings have been the most frequented ones (listed in decreasing frequency):
  1. Saint Joseph Stalin
  2. Joaquin Malats: Serenata Española
  3. Ryuichi Sakamoto - Chinsagu No Hana
  4. Mathematicians earn top pick as the best job
  5. Happy Newtonmas cards
  6. The shroud of Turin and the blood of St Gennaro
  7. Irish atheists challenge blasphemy law
  8. Happy Newtonmas cards (reposting)
  9. Greek signs
  10. Can you believe that?
I'm happy to see that my (very few) postings on music have been considered as interesting. I do find the Serenata Española and the Chinsagu No Hana very beautiful.

I'm rather surprised to see that my posting on Stalin is by far the most visited one. The cult of personality is as strong as religion. A few years ago (ca. 2004), at the University of Patras, Greece, a group of students had a Stalin day, promoting his "ideas", "work", etc., by propagandist leaflets, posters, etc. I made the mistake of trying to understand. It was, of course, futile. These people were, simply, believing in Stalin, in the same way an Iranian person I know believes in Ahura Mazda. (Actually, believing in Stalin is worse than believing in Ahura Mazda. The latter did not hurt anyone [hint: consider his existence issue].)

As for my miracles/beliefs postings (#6, #7, #10), I do hope that those who have visited them find them as funny as I do. The problem is that for many people this is serious business.

Last but not least, thanks to those downloading and sharing my Newtonmas cards.

10 January 2012

The religion of "kopimism"

A new religion has been recognized. This is the religion of "kopimism". They claim that copying and pasting is a religious act. I'm not joking. Sweden's Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency (Kammarkollegiet) has recognized the above thing as a religion. Here is an article from The Local.

Now, rationally speaking, the definition of a religion is rather weak. Islam is a religion only because it has been around for some 1400 years and has many followers. However, rationally speaking again, I would expect the state to get rid of religions rather than recognizing them.

I still haven't figured out Swedes' attitude to religion. On one hand, Sweden is supposed to be one of the least religious places on the planet. On the other hand, however, I think that a lot of Swedes behave as if they were religious. I have encountered more resistance towards inquiry in this country than in many others. In my experience, people tend to accept things as are, rather than critically thinking of why or why not things are the way they are. Another piece of evidence which could justify my statement about the Swedes' "religiosity" is their conservatism and resistance to change. At a more pedestrian level, many social gatherings in Sweden resemble a Church supper but without the religious aspect.

As for veritable religions around, I have commented in the past about the pentecostal loonies who, apparently, have one of the largest churches around. (Disclaimer: "Loonie" is someone who does this.)

end this note, I still don't understand the reason behind the church of kopimism. But is there any reason for any religion?

Greek orthodox high priest against Islam

This is funny. The high priest of the city of Pireaus, Greece, Mr C. Mentzelopoulos (a.k.a. Serafeim), likes to sue anyone who is against his religion. Recently, he sued the greek state because it intends to build a (the first) mosque in the city of Athens. He claims that this is against the constitution and that it will offend the morals of the people.
The establishment of a mosque in the center of Athens will not only affect public order and morality of Greek society but will also trigger a series of events which, with mathematical precision [sic],  will lead to degradation of the cohesion of the Greek Nation as Christian Orthodox People.
Some background: Greece is a theocratic state. A state where one religion is official and funded by the state: priests are civil servants, paid by tax money. Although, in theory, there is religious freedom, in practice, there is intolerance and any this is why there has never (in modern times, that is) been a mosque in Athens, a city which has a considerable number of muslims, many of them recent immigrants.

It goes without saying that the only rational behaviour of a modern democratic state is to abandon its support for any religion and let religious organizations seek support from their followers. Why should anyone be obliged, by law, to pay clerics' salaries? This is the case in Saudi Arabia. It is also the case in Greece.

Mr Mentzelopoulos fails to see that he acts exactly in the same manner that Saudis behave towards his religion. He is simply annoyed that some of the state money will go to another religion (for the first time). He wants everything for his own lot.

He is a disgusting individual, one who doesn't like anyone except those who agree with him. He is in agreement with Greek fascistoids. He doesn't like Jews either. His conspiracy theory is that Hitler was funded by Jews. 

Happy New Year 2012 (the end of the world is nigh!)

I wanted to collect some of the stupidities around regarding the common perception amongst many that 21 December 2012 will be the (new) end of the world. But I can't. It is too ambitious of a project. There is no end to stupidity. According to some count, there are 600 thousand web pages devoted to the 2012 phenomenon. If you have nothing else to do (and why should you, if you believe that the world will end soon), you can start reading.

Recall, however, that the end of the world has been set and reset many times. It was 2000. Then it was 2001. Then it was 2011. Now it is 2012. For a larger list of the end of the world dates, see here. For example, according to the Talmud, the world will end in 2240.

There are all kinds of versions of 2012-phenomenon idiots. Many are the  conspiracy theorists: the government doesn't want you to know that the world will end. Others are geometrically-oriented: we are entering the 4th dimension. Then there are the alarmists: they don't tell you that things are going to take place for sure, but they want to make you feel fear. The amount of excrement is endless.

As for books, there are plenty. Enough to fill a bookstore. Sample titles: The Everything Guide to 2012; The Mystery of 2012; How to Survive 2012; The Mayan Prophesies for 2012; Fractal Time [sic]; 2013: Envisioning the World after the Events of 2012; ... There is even the Complete Idiot's Guide to 2012. (As if the "Complete Idiot" adjective was needed...)

Nah, I give up. I can't waste time on s**it.

Happy New Year!


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