Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

PZ on free will

Like PZ, I can’t get very excited about the question of free will. I agree with him that for free will to be anything other than an illusion, our minds would have to be able to reach into our brains and change it’s behaviour.  Minds would have to be intangible things, independent of brains, and this is demonstrably (and trivially so) not the case.

I’ve never been able to understand why people find it so difficult to accept that we could be fooled by a sensation of free will. It certainly feels like we can make choices, but what reason do we have to assume that makes it true?

Scooby-doo is a morality tale for secular humanists. Unfortunately, it is shit.

A post here makes some good points. As Tim Minchin points out in the excellent Storm:

That show was so cool

Because every time there’s a church with a ghoul

Or a ghost in a school

They looked beneath the mask and what was inside?

The fucking janitor or the dude who runs the water slide.

Throughout history

Every mystery

Ever solved has turned out to be

Not Magic.

This article goes further:

Because that's the thing about Scooby-Doo: The bad guys in every episode aren't monsters, they're liars.

More than that, they’re liars who prey on superstitious people so they can fleece them.  Sound familiar? 

The article goes on to point out that the episodes are about children searching for truth in a world where adults are either liars or believe the liars because they’ve been fooled by stories of the supernatural. 

Some other good points are made.  For example: “curiosity and thinking always triumph over fear” and 

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, Scooby Doo has value not because it shows us that there are monsters, but because it shows us that those monsters are just the products of evil people who want to make us too afraid to see through their lies, and goes a step further by giving us a blueprint that shows exactly how to defeat them.

The article is a little over-enthusiastic and the show heavily romanticised.  I’ve always been dismayed that the main  heroes of the show are the two cowardly idiots. No matter how often they pull off the monster's mask and find it was old Mr Johnson all along, Shaggy and Scooby never learn. Well of course, all those other monsters turned out to be not monsters, but let’s automatically assume this one is legit, despite our vast experience.  They never acquire any critical faculties and this is not an admirable trait.

Velma should have been the hero, but the show’s makers seemed to do everything they possibly could to make sure she wasn’t. She’s portrayed as a frumpy nerd who can easily be defeated by simply taking her glasses away. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only reason for Daphne existing at all (other than being Fred’s beard) was to demonstrate how frumpy, nerdy and undesirable smart girls are supposed to be.  The show didn’t do a thing to make kids want to be more like Velma.

The principle of the show was great and something I’d like to see a lot more of in both children’s and adult TV. Shows like the awful X Files could have been great as an adult Scooby-Doo.  It could have explored the nature of evidence.  The friction between Mulder and Scully could have been been about what counts as proper evidence rather than ‘spooky shit does/doesn’t exist’.  I think it might even work if they never got to the bottom of the mystery in some episodes and had to leave it unexplained.  Mulder would take that as proof that the supernatural is real and Scully would roll her eyes at him and try to explain why it’s not.  Scully wouldn’t have to be right all the time.  She could even be closed-mided rather than appropriately skeptical sometimes.  And hopefully she’d learn her lesson, just so long as there’s never any real evidence of the supernatural.  That could have been a great show.  But it’s easier to pander to superstition, so we got drivel instead.

While I find some of the principles of Scooby-doo laudable, I could never stand the show.  Even pre-Scrappy.

Hemant has a good comment about all this here:

There’s a lot of truth to that. After all, what scares you more? Frankenstein or a Christian pastor who thinks the Bible ought to be the playbook for your life? The former might send a temporary chill up your spine, but the latter permanently ruins lives by convincing so many people that he’s right, hurting their ability to think rationally, manipulating them into giving up their money (even when they don’t have any give), convincing them that people who don’t fall in line with the faith are eternally condemned, and persuading them to put their lives in control of an imaginary being instead of taking full control of it themselves.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Driving destroys virginity

According to the BBC:

A report in Saudi Arabia has warned that if Saudi women were given the right to drive, it would spell the end of virginity in the country.

Assuming that Kamal Subhi – who wrote the report – doesn’t think that women driving will cause babies to be born with sexual experience (not something I’m willing to put past him), the claim dissolves into the usual one.  He means that if women are allowed the beginnings of freedoms equal to those of men, then fewer of the women he might personally want to fuck would be virgins, which he seems to think is a national emergency.

The report contains graphic warnings that letting women drive would increase prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce.

These are all extraordinary claims, but the homosexuality one is especially bewildering.  I wonder if he means female homosexuality (women will be allowed to visit each other unsupervised so won’t be able to resist jumping on top of each other) or male homosexuality (the women will be off driving around so men will all have to fuck each other until they get home).

Silly as the report apparently is, the problem that women have effectively no rights in Saudi Arabia is highlighted by this sentence in the BBC story:

Though there is no formal ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, if they get behind the wheel, they can be arrested.

They can be arrested under the blanket acknowledgement that women don’t have the right to do anything at all.

Where to begin? Oh, I see now

The Fail reports that – according to the headline – "”Christians [are] a minority at ‘biased’ BBC where staff are more likely to be atheists or non-believers”

Wait a cotton-picking minute, aren’t atheists the same thing as non-believers?  I suppose the count might include those damnable fence-sitting agnostics, but either way this seems a clear attempt to dilute the number of atheists.  Times are bad, unbelievers are among us, but at least they’re not all atheists. We couldn’t allow atheists to be wandering around in a television company unpersecuted, could we? 

Ah, but this is a story about persecution, isn’t it?

The new research has been seized on by critics who accuse the Corporation of bias against Christianity and marginalising the faith in its output.

Because ‘only’ 22.5% of staff said they were Christian.

And there’s the story laid bare. It’s OK to discriminate against atheists, but not against Christians. Christians are automatically preferred staff and something must be done to thin out the atheist ranks.

I mean just look at this:

The survey found that just 22.5 per cent of all staff professed to be Christians.
Yet the combination of those who said they were atheists and those who had no faith came to a total of 23.5 per cent.

What do you mean “yet”?  It’s an implied assumption that – at the very least – Christian staff should outnumber atheists.  It’s pure bigotry.

Random BBC employee Roger Bolton said:

There is an inbuilt but unconscious bias against religion, fuelled by the fact staff are not representative of the public. It is not a conspiracy but it needs a correction.

What kind of ‘correction’?  This can really only mean the sacking of atheists in favour of Christians or the hiring of Christians instead of atheists in new appointments. 

Then a random Catholic opined that the BBC is:

…institutionally incapable of reflecting the society it serves since BBC staff are not representative of the audience they broadcast to.

I can’t imagine what this means.  Would more catholic canteen staff or technicians quantitatively change the nature of the BBC’s output?  It’s a familiar and stupid argument.  What they mean, of course, is that they want to have more influence on what’s broadcast.  They are quite aware that this has nothing to do with the religious affiliation of random BBC staff, but sense an opportunity for bigotry which they just can’t bring themselves to ignore.

Well, Catholic Church and Independent Christian Broadcasting Council, I accuse you of being institutionally incapable of reflecting the society you serve since we have a lot of atheists and people of non-Christian religions in this country.  Surely the composition of staff in your organisations should precisely reflect that mix?