Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why Do William Lane Craig's Views Merit Respect?

William Lane Craig seems, for some reason that I've never understood, to garner disproportionate respect from theists and even some nontheists. (But then, I'm also mystified by the cult around C. S. Lewis, who seems to me to be a sloppy and childish thinker.)

Take a look at this debate entitled "Does the Universe have a purpose?" and see if Craig lives up to his reputation. Of course, in debates, where there is a limited time, we are all forced to simplify our statements, so perhaps Craig doesn't really believe exactly what he is saying. Nevertheless...

In his opening statement (jump to 13:41) , he piled false claim upon false claim. For example:

"If God does exist, then the universe does have a purpose." Really? That doesn't follow. Just because an intelligent being makes a thing X, that is insufficient to show that X has a purpose. After all, I could pick up a couple of rocks aimlessly at the seashore and put one on top of the other. What would be the purpose of that pile of rocks? Perhaps there is none at all.

"According to Biblical theism ... The purpose of life is to be found in a personal relationship with a holy and loving God. As the Westminster catechism asks, What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever." Huh? This was a non sequitur. The subject of the debate was whether the universe had a purpose, not the purpose of life or man.

Craig relied upon a false dichotomy - the only two choices he presented are "Biblical theism" and "atheism". But these are clearly not the only possibilities. Why couldn't the Universe have been made by a nasty and childish god, who delights in tormenting us in new and ingenious ways? Maybe the purpose of the Universe is to amuse this god with our suffering. Or perhaps there are multiple gods, each wagering on our behavior when confronted with new diseases or painful medical procedures.

"God gives an objectively purposeful life." Not true, since we have no objective way to determine this purpose. Craig think the purpose is spelled out in his holy book. Another might say the purpose is spelled out in a different book. We have no objective way to determine which is correct... or maybe they're all wrong. Maybe a god designed our universe for the purpose of making atheism the single world belief.

"What is evil? - I maintain that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be..." Let's look at the sensibility of this definition. Perhaps I think the way things "ought to be" are that we should all have jet cars and live on Mars. Since the current state of affairs is different from the way things "ought to be", using Craig's definition I would have to say the current state of affairs is "evil". But this would not be assented to by most people who use the word "evil". Yet if I say, "Hitler was evil", this would be assented to by most people. So Craig's definition does not capture the way most people use the word "evil".

"If there is a way things ought to be, then there must be some transcendent design plan or purpose that determines how things ought to be. And so there must be some transcendent being - a Creator in fact - whose will is the basis for how things ought to be. And so evil is actually evidence that God does exist." This doesn't follow at all. Why could not a sense of "the way things ought to be" be the product of biological evolution?

And to top it all off, this was delivered with a kind of wheezy smugness out of proportion to the quality of the arguments. Bleh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Hack Thirty

A fun article from Salon about the very worst of opinion journalism.

But how could they possibly have forgotten Charles Krauthammer, the embodiment of everything that is wrong with mainstream commentary?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Perspectives on Islam

Here are two perspectives on Islam of today:

A Palestinian doctor who lost his children in an Israeli attack, but continues to work for peace.

A network of Islamic schools in Britain that teaches that Jews look like "monkeys and pigs" and demonstrates the proper place to amputate hands and feet as punishment.

Which is more representative? I hope the former.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yet Another Reason to Doubt the Relevance of Philosophy

Read this Globe and Mail article about the philosophy of mind.

If philosophers think the view that "The brain is not an organ of consciousness. … The brain has no cognitive powers at all" deserves anything more than a good horselaugh, this simply shows how irrelevant philosophy has become.

Our future understanding of cognition will come from neuroscience, not from Wittgenstein.

It's fun to read the comments, which are almost entirely negative.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harun Yahya Blames 9/11 on "Darwinists"

Just when you thought he couldn't get any weirder, here is the crackpot Turkish creationist Harun Yahya (pseudonym of Adnan Oktar) blaming 9/11 on the CIA, and "deviant Arab communists, Darwinists, and materialists".

Of course, anyone who has studied the incident knows that in fact the 9/11 attackers were pious Muslims who worshipped at mosques like al Quds in Hamburg and spent much of their time talking about religion. There is simply no indication at all that they knew a damn thing about evolutionary biology or Darwin.

Yahya isn't much different from the theocrats at the Discovery Institute, who want to link Darwin to both fascism and communism.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Creationist Mathematics

Those creationists are just so darn cute when they try to do mathematics, you just want to pinch their cheeks.

Here's Robert Sheldon, who babbles about infinity so incoherently, the folks at Uncommon Descent thought they should reprint it for all to see. And what a mess it is.

Despite claiming that he's "gotten quite comfortable with infinity", he emphasizes that "the important thing is not to think about it too long". And that is certainly what he's done!

How many errors can you spot in this word salad? This is a good one: "For example, take the number line from 1 to ∞. It’s infinite of course. But now divide every number by the largest number on the line." Yeah, that'll work really well.

And here's another: that the cardinality of the irrational numbers is denoted ℵ1. I guess Mr. Sheldon has never heard of the continuum hypothesis.

I think Mr. Sheldon and Marvin Bittinger should get together. What a great book they could write!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Call For Papers: Special Issue in Honor of Alf van der Poorten

Call for papers: A special issue of Journal of the Australian Mathematical Society dedicated to Alf van der Poorten.

We solicit submissions in all areas of mathematics, and especially in the areas close to the research interests of Alf van der Poorten (e.g., recurrence sequences, continued fractions, diophantine approximation, and p-adic numbers). The submission deadline is 1 May 2011. We hope to have all submissions evaluated and make the acceptance/rejection decision by th end of October 2011 with the goal to have this issue to appear early 2012.

Please direct all submissions to Igor Shparlinski.

The Editors
Francesco Pappalardi
Igor Shparlinski
Jeffrey Shallit