Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My name is DarWIN.....not DarLOSE

OK, call me puerile but I find this reasonably hilarious: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/05/id_watch_it.php

There's a thread-winning comment at Pharyngula by sam.sparx, which you should look at.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Andrew Wakefield has been struck off the medical register, not over his outlandish claims about MMR, of course, but because of the unethical way he conducted the research:


Good news although doubtless the anti-vaxers will cry victimisation of anti-establishment heroes.

It's also discouraging that the BBC is still refusing to accept their role in the MMR scare:

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.

No, the findings were discredited at the time, not just later and the Lancet paper did not in itself cause vaccination rates to plummet: uncritical reporting of the issue, sustained over more than a decade and coupled with failure to report stories that contradicted Wakefield's research were what caused vaccination rates to plummet. The BBC was as bad as any media outlet in this respect and it needs to 'fess up. This is a sense in which Wakefield is indeed being victimised: as awful and unethical and guilty as he is, it was the media that turned his crank story into a global vaccine scare and deliberately kept things that way for a decade.

Turning on Wakefield now and pretending it was all his voice is hugely dishonest and not exactly classy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What would you do?

I know what I'd do.


I dislike violence, particularly as a means of changing people's minds. But perhaps there are situations where appropriate violence is...well...appropriate. An example is when laws are entirely unfair and there is no hope of changing them through any kind of political process.

I don't know what motivated this woman to violence, but I can't imagine that the police officer didn't deserve it. I wish I could believe that it won't work out horribly for her, but I'm not that optimistic. I'm just optimistic enough to believe that some other people might be inspired by this act of defience and try to do something about this horrific regime.

I think the key to this has to be the emancipation of women. It might be the key to lots of other good stuff too, such as eliminating poverty.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The baby-eating bishop of Phoenix


This man rebuked, 'moved to other duties' and ecommunicated a nun, who was also a hospital administrator, because she authorised an abortion at 11 weeks in order to save the life of the mother. In this situation, it wasn't possible to save child. If no action was taken, mother and foetus would die. If the abortion was carried out, the foetus would still die, but the mother would not. Rarely are moral decisions so clear cut: could there possibly be an argument for witholding the abortion? Olmsted thinks there is:

"An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother's life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means."

The end of SAVING A WOMAN'S LIFE does not justify the means of killing a foetus THAT WOULD HAVE DIED ANYWAY.

When are we going to stop accepting these monsters as weilders of moral authority?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

it suddenly becomes so clear

If you're anything like me, by the time you were, lets say, six, you'd have come up with an argument against the idea that god made the universe. You'd have said "well who made god then?" The argument is much derided because, well, a six-year-old can come up with it. I'd be surprised if most don't. But simplicity isn't necessarily a flaw and it's a compelling argument. You just have to see the antics of theologians as they try to refute it to realise it's pretty much a deal breaker.

For example, a popular rebuttal is that god exists 'outside time' or 'outside the universe' and therefore that his existence is not contingent on the prior existence of the universe. This is a fairly incoherent argument to begin with, but more importantly it suffers from a total lack of evidence and a bewildering lack of parsimony. To accept it, you need to invent enormous swathes of imaginary physics. So let's be clear: in order to argue that a being whose existence we have no evidence for created the universe, we have to invent a whole bunch of physics that we have no evidence for either. To a certain mind, this is a reasonable and compelling argument.

There are others, equally vapid and desperate, which you can google if you bear it. None of them make any more sense than the above and I had started to bask in the unassailability of the who invented god argument.

Sadly, however, it has finally been refuted by a philosopher and theologian called David B. Hart:

These claims start, rather, from the fairly elementary observation that nothing contingent, composite, finite, temporal, complex, and mutable can account for its own existence, and that even an infinite series of such things can never be the source or ground of its own being, but must depend on some source of actuality beyond itself. Thus, abstracting from the universal conditions of contingency, one very well may (and perhaps must) conclude that all things are sustained in being by an absolute plenitude of actuality, whose very essence is being as such: not a “supreme being,” not another thing within or alongside the universe, but the infinite act of being itself, the one eternal and transcendent source of all existence and knowledge, in which all finite being participates.

Well that certainly clears things up. I hope you followed that argument. You'd have to be pretty stupid to think it was a badly strung together list of meaningless wank. That's real philosophy, you understand, not just a tawdry attempt to blind with bullshit.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on Hart. After all, as he takes pains to point out, the argument is true even if it doesn't make sense. That's some powerful reasoning all right and I for one cannot fail to be convinced by it.

Hart says lots of other stuff. I'm not one of your high-falluting big city philosopers, of course, but Hart seems to smear together a rather odd version of the already blithering ontological argument and sets an army of tottering strawmen lurching toward Hitchens of all people. His dismissal of A C Grayling seems more smarmy than anything. Grayling seems to be talking about the common argument that without religion we wouldn't have art and saying that on the contrary we could do with fewer canvasses rendered with a scene of torture and death. Hart says Grayling should consider why that particular scene has so captured our imaginations that we seem to prefer as a species that depiction over something more obviously lovely. In my unsubtle way, it looks to me as though he's saying that the existence of lots of pictures of Jesus constitutes evidence of a sort of the existence of god.

I have an alternative explanation for the pervasion of Jesus on the cross in our art. WE ARE ALL IDIOTS.

Whatever happened to parsimony?

Hart's stuff is here: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/04/believe-it-or-not

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

At last

The Catholic church has finally begun to put its house in order. It is investigating three communities of nuns for sexually abusing chi..... No, wait, they didn't do that. They beat children in their ca... No....no, they didn't do that either.

In fact, they are being investigated on complaints of "feminism and activism".

It's certainly easy to see why the church views this as a moral emergency which they're obliged to put an end to: its power is based on the unquestioning obsequiousness of its members and of those non-members who insist we respect the church's ways. If women are getting all uppity and wondering why, for example, they can't be priests when there's no such prohibition in the bible, that certainly needs to be quashed. Go home people, there's nothing to see here.

Global institutionalised child rape? Knowledge of that should be suppressed like the knowledge that women don't actually have to do what they're told.

Think about which is actually more urgent for the Catholic church. If it isn't clear, take a look at their evident priorities.