More balls than you can imagine
By TheophileEscargot (Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 02:34:46 AM EST) Me, God, Politics, MLP (all tags)
Me, God, Politics, Web.

Me
So, we're deploying Project A on Monday and Tuesday, due to golive Tuesday. First project I'm in my new role for.

Not looking as bad as some: got most things done, and even a little bit of extra testing, to make sure it doesn't immediately blow up some other applications it could do. Haven't worked the last two weekends, and the pace has slackened off for the last couple of working days. Not planning to work this weekend, though I carefully kept it free.

Getting a distinct "It's quiet. Too quiet" feeling.

Oh God, not again
Had a quick look through my old article Is There a God after the subject cropped up again lately.

Still pretty much stand by the main point, which was that the existence of God is an epistemological question that you can't meaningfully ask unless you have a framework to ask it in. The reason most web debates on the subject are futile is that people are trying to ask "does god exist" when they can't meaningfully answer "do desks exist" or "does Kazakhstan exist" or "did Julius Caesar exist".

One think I think was kind of implicit but I maybe should have said explicitly, is that it is actually very easy to prove either the existence of God, or the non-existence of God. All you need to do is to pick the right epistemological framework to ask the question in. As such, "Is There a God" is actually a trivial question. The difficult bits come when you try and integrate that position with reasonable ontological or ethical philosophies.

Something I didn't mention is that the existence of God is actually very handy when it comes to those other aspects of philosophy. You can start with a single premise, and follow that consistently through to create a big bunch of ethical and ontological conclusions.

So, I think lm and CRwM make very useful criticisms in the later discussion about the pure Dawkinsian argument that "there is insufficient evidence of God, so as a rational person I cannot believe it". That's fine, but if you then start saying that you believe in human rights, that mathematics is consistent, that physical laws apply uniformly across the universe, that a new-born infant has human rights but a chicken does not etc etc; then you are replacing one unprovable belief with dozens or hundreds of unprovable beliefs.

Politics
So, looks like the Met are continuing their media management tactics that were so successful with the de Menezes parka: splash an accusation over the front pages, knowing the retraction will barely register. This time it's the alleged child porn possessed by one of the Forest Gate arrestees.

CPS rules out Forest Gate child porn charges
Prosecutors have advised police not to bring child pornography charges against the man who was shot by police during a counter-terrorist raid earlier this year, it was announced tonight.

A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said Mohammed Abdul Kahar would face no charges over allegations that 44 indecent images had been found on electronic equipment at his home.

Mr Kahar, 23, was shot in the shoulder when 250 police officers raided properties in Lansdown Road, Forest Gate, in east London, in June.

Web
No need to change it: entry on the Daily WTF. I'm undecided on this one: I've seen plenty of colossal fuckups caused by attempts at grand rewriting, and lots of equally colossal wastes of time and resources caused by not rewriting obsolete stuff.

The thing is, the writeup fails to cite any actual problems caused by this odd decision. If he'd ended saying "and so it took 200 man-hours to fix a spelling mistake" or "so the whole Eastern seaboard system went down for two week" then it would definitely count, but he doesn't, and the thought of rewriting some vast, monstrous hybrid of accounting/loan-calculating/POS software gives me the jitters. Still, can't see why they can't just recompile the COBOL for x86 instead of emulating.

Games. Guess the hex colour. Awesomely hard bounce and balance game: keep the upper ball bouncing and the lower ball balanced at the same time.

More balls than you can imagine | 43 comments (43 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
let's just rewrite it in this week's fad language. by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 03:57:21 AM EST
What could possibly go wrong?

I'm sure there are still people selling and supporting COBOL on modern h/w.

I think the real WTF is how they're too risk-averse to attempt a re-write but comfortable with the risk of rolling their own compiler/frontend/screenscraper.

Needs to be AJAX [nt] by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 04:01:48 AM EST

--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Modern COBOL does exist by Cloaked User (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 04:56:22 AM EST
For example, Fujitsu produce NetCOBOL, a COBOL compiler targetted at the .NET Framework. I have a hard time believing that that's the only modern implementation available.

That was one of the things that struck me about that wtf, that because their compiler producer went out of business they had to switch language. What, their compiler would just stop working? They'd been using it for years, so presumably support wasn't an issue, and as you say, there must be other compilers they could use.

--
This is not a psychotic episode. It is a cleansing moment of clarity.

[ Parent ]
Yeah by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #6 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 07:03:48 AM EST
From 1993 to 1999, I worked on a system that used a special C cross-compiler from a vendor that stopped supporting it in the mid-eighties.

FWIW: I quit that job because the skill-rust was making me unemployable.
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[ Parent ]
without knowing how big or crazy the codebase is by clover kicker (2.00 / 0) #7 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 07:36:44 AM EST
It might legitimately be as hard to change compilers/platforms as changing languages. Can you imagine the horror of a 30 year old app tightly wedded to some oddball proprietary COBOL compiler/platform/database?

A lot of techies think there's always a good, elegant solution to problems, I certainly did when I was younger. But sometimes there's nothing but bad choices all around.

[ Parent ]
While that's true by Cloaked User (2.00 / 0) #9 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:27:43 AM EST
It doesn't dispute my other point, which is that presumably they don't need support for the compiler (as they've apparently been using it successfully for many years), so why was there a pressing need to change when the vendor shut up shop?

Of course, that assumes that they weren't simply putting up with endless problems, but I'd hope that wasn't the case...

--
This is not a psychotic episode. It is a cleansing moment of clarity.

[ Parent ]
DailyWTF by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #12 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:55:39 AM EST
A general problem is that the site admins have to disguise things enough to avoid getting the poster fired...sometimes, I think, the WTFness gets lost in the censoring process.
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[ Parent ]
Yeah by Cloaked User (2.00 / 0) #13 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 10:27:06 AM EST
I've noticed that a few times in the past, where Alex has has to edit a post after posting it as he's messed something up in the anonymisation process.

I can only assume that the wtf this time is that they didn't simply take a large, well-understood code base and throw it all away to rewrite it in the latest and greatest technology. It's not like that has ever been posted as an example of a wtf...

--
This is not a psychotic episode. It is a cleansing moment of clarity.

[ Parent ]
support by clover kicker (4.00 / 1) #16 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 01:18:14 PM EST
It might have been cheaper and easier to buy the source to the compiler from the bankruptcy trustee :)

The pro-open-source rant practically writes itself.

[ Parent ]
People by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 05:29:35 AM EST
I mostly agree with you. However, people can be a problem. No one comes out of college knowing COBOL, and COBOL is useless on a resume, so a shop that's still maintaining a COBOL app is going to have a bitch of a time getting and retaining people.

I suspect that that project truly was a WTF, but nothing in that write-up really explained why it was.
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A friend of mine who works in a fed department by cam (4.00 / 1) #5 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 06:26:36 AM EST
commenting that the department is having to switch over to .Net as all their cobol/mainframe people are retiring. It was a self-preservation thing. Those on the border-line of retiring are maintaining the existing apps as well as ensuring the new apps are fully functional/compliant.
[ Parent ]
retaining isn't such a big problem by bobdole (2.00 / 0) #43 Thu Nov 09, 2006 at 07:04:50 AM EST
as Good cobol-guys seems to at a fairly advanced age and as you put it "is useless on a resume". They usually stay put until they retire.

At which time you'll gonna have an even bigger bitch of a time trying to maintain some sort of organisational knowledge and get knew people up to scratch on your systems :-D
-- The revolution will not be televised.

[ Parent ]
Re: God by ucblockhead (3.33 / 3) #8 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 08:59:13 AM EST
Something I didn't mention is that the existence of God is actually very handy when it comes to those other aspects of philosophy. You can start with a single premise, and follow that consistently through to create a big bunch of ethical and ontological conclusions.

In other words:

1. I believe there are inherent human rights.
2. Inherent human rights can only exist if there is a God*
3. Therefore God exists.
* Note that this implies that a certain particular sort of God exists.

I'd also point out that Dawkins explicitly gives the rationalist answer to lm's and CRwM...it's the one I've been using when responding to lm in that thread. It is that things like "human rights" aren't inherent to the universe, but come from us, and are driven by our make up.

The difference between math and theology is not that math is not based on certain assumptions. Math certainly is based on certain assumptions. The difference is that math is useful in very concrete realms. Math allows physics, and physics makes your car go. If math did not do this, it'd be as much an intellectual wankfest as theology.

In other words:

Make certain assumptions in Math -> Figure out how to build an internal combustion engine.
Make certain assumptions about God -> Get to believe in "human rights".

One's a concrete, useful result. The other is merely a way of avoiding the thought of an uncaring, unthinking universe.
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Parsimony by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #10 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:29:30 AM EST
I didn't say God was essential for ethics, just that it's handy for ethics. It enables you to parsimoniously generate lots of conclusions, and to apply them consistently without lots of special cases.

For instance, consider the following propositions

1. A white man has human rights
2. A cow does not have human rights
3. A black man has human rights
4. A one-month fetus does not have human rights
5. A new-born baby has human rights
Because items 2 to 5 vary between cultures, it's more difficult to assign them culturally, or from "our make-up", than it is theologically.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
So what you are saying by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #11 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:53:12 AM EST
Is that it's best to believe what it's most convenient to believe?

You're saying that it's handy to just assume what you want to conclude...because in order for it to be "handy", you not only have to assume God...you have to assume God's ethics agree with yours.

"God" was almost certainly invoked in the ethical systems that varied between cultures...God was certainly invoked by the cultures that said black men had no rights just as others invoked God to say that blacks did have rights. Assuming God doesn't simplify anything. All it does is allow you to push your assumptions off onto some other entity.

Really what you are doing is saying "I assume a God that says that black men have human rights exists therefore black men have human rights". All you're doing is adding a cloak of authority to your conclusions.
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[ Parent ]
No by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #14 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 11:08:55 AM EST
As I said: it just allows you to be more parsimonious in your assumptions. You can reach a greater number and variety of conclusions, with fewer special cases and exceptions, from a fewer number of assumptions.

Don't tell me you've been arguing on the Internet all these years and haven't yet realised that people reason by deciding the conclusions they want to reach, then choosing the right premises to lead to them? ;-)
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Hardly by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #15 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 11:18:32 AM EST
It doesn't allow you to be more parsimonious about your assumptions. It just allows you to bundle all your assumptions into one package called "God".

All those special cases are still there...it's just that their part of the particular God package that you are assuming.

Instead of assuming X and Y and Z, you're assuming that there's a God that has feature X and Y and Z, and then claiming that it's fewer assumptions.
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[ Parent ]
Not really by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #19 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:27:20 PM EST
lm's your man for this kind of stuff, but Christian theology is pretty useful for parsimoniously generating conclusions like this. Your reasoning can go something like this:

What is the purpose of man?
To worship God.
Can a black man worship God?
Yes.
He is a man.
Can a new-born baby worship God?
No
What is the purpose of a baby?
To become a man, who can worship God.

Etc etc. It's a lot easier when you have a divine purpose to work with.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
if you want parsimony... by martingale (2.00 / 0) #23 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 12:34:55 AM EST
What is the purpose of man?
Man has no purpose.
Can a black man worship God?
I've seen it done.
Can a new-born baby worship God?
I haven't seen one do it. What is the purpose of a baby? A baby has no purpose.

Etc. That's pretty parsimonious, no?
--
$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
That's no more parsimonous by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #24 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 05:22:53 AM EST
Idea of a Christian God assumes all the answers to those questions. The idea of a deist God would give completely different answers. Again, you've just wrapped up your bundle of assumptions and put it in a box called "Christian God" and called that simplifying. The same complication is there...you're just hiding it behind a label.

It assumes that the purpose of man is to worship God. It (currently) assumes that a black man s a man. It assumes that the purpose of a baby is to become a man, and worship.

More to the point: It's complicating matters, not simplifying them. Half of the questions you list would not even be asked if there were no God.
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[ Parent ]
The questions are not assumptions by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #27 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 08:35:35 PM EST
So it doesn't matter how many questions there are from a parsimony point of view.

A deist God would not give any different results to a theist God for those questions. Whether God intervenes in the Universe or not: He is the creator or man, he has created man for a purpose, and you can draw conclusions from the existence of that purpose, whether you know it exactly or not.

Furthermore, the assumption of God can lead you to results across various fields of philosophy: ethical, ontological, epistemological and metaphysical. Very economical ;-)
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
"He has created man for a purpose" by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #28 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 06:11:15 AM EST
That's an assumption.

Furthermore, the assumption of God can lead you to results across various fields of philosophy: ethical, ontological, epistemological and metaphysical. Very economical ;-)
Nope. Only the assumption of a particular sort of God.

For instance, if I assume that God made the universe as a sort of galaxy dynamics testbed, and that what we call "life" is no more interesting to him than the algae in an aquarium, then my assumption leads me to an entirely different set of results.

If I assume that God made the universe because He is evil, and wanted creatures to make suffer, I am led to yet another set of results.

If I assume that God made the universe as a place to run experiments on the group behavior of primitive intelligences, then I am led to yet another set of results.

It is only easy in the sense that it is easy to invoke an impossible-to-prove authority instead of actually showing something by choosing the conception of God that says what you want Him to say.
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[ Parent ]
But by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #29 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 09:06:01 AM EST
What major religion believes those things?

You're playing with definitions there: saying "I define God to be an evil mad scientist intent on inflicting pain." But that's not a definition that other religions accept.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
Major Religion? by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #30 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 09:34:18 AM EST
Truth by opinion poll?

So what you're saying is that if you pick the definition of God that a major religion uses, it is easy to come to the conclusions that that religion makes?

Well. That's a surprise.

But yes. I'm playing with definitions. However, I am no more playing with definitions than any major religion is. It goes like this:

1. God is defined as defining ethical system X.
2. Ethical system X is "true" because God defines it.

It's easy, sure. And also utterly circular. Typically, (1) is left completely implicit because the person making the statement has his idea of God so utterly ingrained that he doesn't stop to think that it might not be the only one possible and (2) is dressed up in lots of fancy words.

There's a reason why no major religion believes "I define God to be an evil mad scientist intent on inflicting pain." It's because no one wants to live in that sort of universe. It has nothing to do with "Truth" and everything to do with human psychology.

Religions define Gods that give them the ethical systems that they want to follow. Dawkins, and people like him, are the only people who are actually attempting to discover *why* humans tend to want certain sorts of ethical systems. To me, this is far more interesting than empty justifications to agree with your culture's ethics.

It is not that assuming God makes it easy for you to come to conclusions about systems of ethics. It is that your definition of God allows you to come to the conclusions about systems of ethics that you want to come to. This has nothing to do with "Truth" in any context other than perhaps human psychology.
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[ Parent ]
Um by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #31 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 09:50:52 AM EST
I'm afraid you're begging the question here. You assume that God does not exist: therefore God can have any nature.

However, consider the following possibility: God does exist. You don't have to accept it: just think about it.

If God exists, all the major religions will have fairly similar notions of God.

Not perfectly identical, of course. Scotland exists, but people around the world will still have somewhat different notions of how often the men actually wear skirts.

Your idea that the concept God can be evil is the product of circular reasoning: it depends entirely on you assumption that God does not exist.

In fact, all the major religions with Creator-of-the-Universe Gods have similar beliefs: that he is good, and has created humankind with a purpose. That's all that's needed for the trails of ethical reasoning I outlined.

You're God-is-evil notion is way outside the definitions of God that any major religion accepts.

It's as if I said: "Science is wrong because it's just a bunch of guys in white coats making stuff up as they go along". My definition is so outside the accepted definitions, that any conclusion I make from it is meaningful.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
It's called "Occam's Razor" by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #32 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 10:34:35 AM EST
I also assume we're not in a Matrix-style simulation. I'm not "begging any question". I don't "assume" no God exists. Hardly. I have the idea that none of the conceptions of God that people have had likely do not exist that follows directly from the lack of evidence.

Just like the idea that we aren't in a Matrix-style simulation follows from the complete lack of evidence that we are. In neither case is it an assumption of any sort.

If God exists, all the major religions will have fairly similar notions of God.
They do? Throughout history?

You're God-is-evil notion is way outside the definitions of God that any major religion accepts.

Currently existing major religions, yes. But again, are you arguing for truth by vote? A thousand years ago, pretty much everyone thought the sun went around the Earth...was it true?

In fact, all the major religions with Creator-of-the-Universe Gods have similar beliefs: that he is good, and has created humankind with a purpose. That's all that's needed for the trails of ethical reasoning I outlined.
Yes, but the point you are avoiding is that the reason all major religions think like that is that it makes people feel good to have a purpose, and have some father-figure watching over them. And yes, it allows you to make the trails of ethnical reasoning you want to make, which is why you don't want to reject the idea of the current most popular non-fundie western conception of God...because if you did reject it, you'd have to call into question your ethical beliefs, and you don't want to do that. Easier to assume that the God you were taught to believe exists...that way, the ethics that you were taught to follow aren't called into question.
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[ Parent ]
It's called by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #33 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 10:52:51 AM EST

The psychological reason someone might have to believe something is irrelevant as to whether its true or not.

The comfort theory is just another shoddy bit of rhetoric from Dawkins.

Firstly, it's conveniently unprovable.

Secondly, even in this thread you're trying to have it both ways. To whatever degree religions disagree about God, you attribute it to the God not existing or being a meaningless concept. To whatever degree religions agree about God, you attribute it to a conveniently unprovable common psychological cause.

I could use exactly the same arguments against your position. Out of a belated adolescent rebelliousness, you have a deep psychological need to believe that God does not exist. Therefore, you make up this unprovable supersitition that there is a psychological tendency to believe in God, which somehow only sufficient clever people can break out of.

That would of course be just another circumstantial ad hominem, and hence logically invalid. But it's no less valid than yours.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
That may well be by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #34 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 11:43:02 AM EST
But the circumstantial ad hominem isn't the bulk, or even an important bit, of my argument.

Which is, I'm sure, why it was the only bit you responded to.
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[ Parent ]
Well by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #35 Mon Oct 30, 2006 at 12:05:06 PM EST
I'm still not sure what the important bit is.

The Dawkins argument is essentially just that God is an unprovable assumption.

The point of this diary isn't to deny that. It's to point out that any wide-ranging ethical, ontological or metaphysical system of philosophy must make some kind of unprovable assumption or assumptions.

Judged relative to those assumptions, the God assumption isn't particularly bad; especially since it can be elegantly applied across all those fields.

Now, that's not supposed to be a general criticism of atheism. In particular, it doesn't apply to Bertrand Russell's logic of atheism. Russell specifically attacks the internal logic of religion (or Christianity in that particular essay). Unlike Dawkins then, he can't get tied down in a simple battle of whose unprovable assumptions are more parsimonious.

Anyway, I won't be able to reply for a day or two since I've got an early start and a busy day tomorrow. Probably best just to agree to disagree and stop here :-)
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
COBOL tastic by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #17 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 02:53:51 PM EST
"It looked terrible and ran incredibly slow." That sounds like a negative to me.

I get where you're coming from on the rewrite, but if this is a POS system, surely that sales staff time, and the impression they give when cursing at its slowness in front of the customers, is worth real money.

The surprise to me is not so much they had a 21st century COBOL system but that they didn't attempt some sort of staged piece by piece migration.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

Sales staff by ajf (4.00 / 1) #21 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 11:53:05 PM EST
I recently interviewed for a job where they want to slap a shiny new browser-based front-end on a decades-old mainframe app for pretty much that reason: by the time the sales staff get the hang of it, they're halfway to the length of time the average employee sticks around in that job.

Oh and anyone who didn't say "WTF" to "they hired a small team of computer-science whizzes to develop a low-level emulator that would allow them to run System/3 binaries on the x86" wasn't paying attention.

"I am not buying this jam, it's full of conservatives"

[ Parent ]
Yeah, by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #25 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 06:07:24 AM EST
they should have used some kind of virtual machine. Not .NET or the Java VM, but something a little more recherche.

[ Parent ]
god: nul points by martingale (4.00 / 1) #18 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 05:52:42 PM EST
Still pretty much stand by the main point, which was that the existence of God is an epistemological question that you can't meaningfully ask unless you have a framework to ask it in.
Yes, but be careful to not imply that any framework will do. It has to be a framework which all rational(*) people can accept.

(*) irrational people have no need for frameworks.

One think I think was kind of implicit but I maybe should have said explicitly, is that it is actually very easy to prove either the existence of God, or the non-existence of God. All you need to do is to pick the right epistemological framework to ask the question in.
No. If you're going to make a proof, it has to be accepted by other people. As such, these other people must accept your framework, which reduces the total number of frameworks to a small handful. The trouble the religionists have with people like Dawkins is that atheists don't accept their framework. So yes, they can assert things about gods, but it's just personal (or group) delusion.

An assertion about gods is valuable when it is done within a universally acknowledged framework, such as mathematics, physics, etc. Otherwise, it's just mental masturbation. But I think you acknowledge that.

Something I didn't mention is that the existence of God is actually very handy when it comes to those other aspects of philosophy. You can start with a single premise, and follow that consistently through to create a big bunch of ethical and ontological conclusions.
I don't think you can. You use god with a capital G, and I presume by that you mean one of the christian gods (but which one?). Already, that uncertainty makes it impossible for other people to arrive at any ethical or ontological conclusions, as they cannot know what properties of God you are invoking. What you're really saying is that your British upbringing among Church of England devotees has shaped your picture of "God" and you want to use that picture, which most people in the world do not share, as a shortcut in arguments. But since most people do not share that picture or even understand what it refers to, your shortcut isn't so much a shortcut as a gaping hole of logic.

So, I think lm and CRwM make very useful criticisms in the later discussion about the pure Dawkinsian argument that "there is insufficient evidence of God, so as a rational person I cannot believe it". That's fine, but if you then start saying that you believe in human rights, that mathematics is consistent, that physical laws apply uniformly across the universe, that a new-born infant has human rights but a chicken does not etc etc; then you are replacing one unprovable belief with dozens or hundreds of unprovable beliefs.
No, you're going off the deep end here. There are plenty of things that can be proved to the satisfaction of everybody. For example, I can point to a chair and prove that it is solid, by pressing on it with my hand. Anybody else in the room can verify the proof by doing likewise. There are some things which aren't easy to prove, and there are some things which can't be proven. Religious claims usually fall within the unprovable section of commonly accepted frameworks, which is what many people criticise them for.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
Um, where to start by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #20 Sat Oct 28, 2006 at 09:38:01 PM EST
Mathematics and Physics are not epistemological frameworks.

There is no universally acknowledged epistemology, just various brands of positivism, realism, empiricism, idealism and so on.

In numbers terms, probably the widest accepted system of philosophy is Catholic theology.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
start at the beginning by martingale (2.00 / 0) #22 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 12:27:01 AM EST
Unless you begin with an acceptable definition of gods, you have no content. And unless you begin such a definition with relation to the physical sciences, you are extremely unlikely to convince that you may have something worthwhile to say.
--
$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$
[ Parent ]
You're confirming my point :-) by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #26 Sun Oct 29, 2006 at 08:28:29 PM EST
The distinct thing about Dawkinsism is that it tries not to bother looking for any internal inconsistencies in religion, such as the Problem of Evil. It says it's wholly enough just to judge that there is insufficient empirical evidence of religion: that God is an unprovable assumption.

What I've pointed out in this diary is that aspect presents a real problem if a Dawkinsian wants to make any statements on other aspects of philosophy. In particular, ontologicial and ethical statements generally rely on making a number of unprovable assumptions to start with.

When you say you say you're only willing to talk about empirical results in the physical sciences, you're confirming my point. A strict Dawkinsian loses the ability to talk about ethics or ontology, since that would rely on making unprovable assumptions.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
yes of course by martingale (2.00 / 0) #36 Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 12:27:55 AM EST
The strict Dawkinsian need not consider these as issues worth debating. So yes, many unprovable assumptions in ethics and ontology are beyond the reach of empirical discussion, but what you're not saying explicitly is that (it seems to me) you think this therefore puts the Dawkinsian at a disadvantage in conducting his life.

Take something as simple as the holocaust. Was it necessary to have an opinion of the right or wrong of it to be anti-Hitler? A strict Dawkinsian might have supported the war effort on the concrete grounds that the Germans were trying to invade England and subjugate it, threatening to make his life unbearable.

That's an example where the end result (supporting the war against Germany) is the same. An empiricist would say that what counts isn't what is in the mind of the person, but how they eventually act.

What we all want out of philosophical systems is the ability to use them to answer questions. An empirical approach has the advantage that most rules don't need to be carried in your head, they can be observed directly on the universe around you.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
No, the thing is by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #37 Tue Oct 31, 2006 at 08:16:10 PM EST
As I said in the diary, it's actually very easy to prove either the existence or the non-existence of God. All you have to do is pick the right epistemological framework and assumptions.

The question of how good your proof is depends on how useful and acceptable your framework and assumptions are.

In Dawkins case, this framework comes out extremely poorly. To make it work you have to chuck out entire domains of ontology and ethics, and pretty much the whole concept of a priori knowledge. I don't think any other atheist philosopher has made such a colossal botch-up of it.

The reason behind that isn't that Dawkins is an atheist: Bertrand Russell was also an atheist and managed solid systems in those areas.

The reason is that Dawkins wants to set up a simple and direct opposition between science and religiion.

That's a problem because there's no experiment you can do to disprove the existence God in the same way you can disprove the existence of the ether.

So, to get the opposition to work Dawkins has to chuck out entire categories of knowledge and ethics. Only with those safely removed can he get his science vs. religion thing working. By basically saying nothing can be valid or useful other than a posteriori empirical reproducible scientific experiment results, he can finally get a contest that science can win. Religion isn't very good at lab experiments.

The whole thing is just a embarrassingly bad philosophical kludge.
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It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
chucking things out by martingale (2.00 / 0) #38 Wed Nov 01, 2006 at 12:24:17 AM EST
I think it is important to recognize that people trained to be scientists nowadays, especially those in the hard sciences, are conditioned to distrust everything, especially themselves. In the modern hard scientific mindset, if you're not prepared to chuck out all your beliefs at a moment's notice, you're not really worth following. Dawkins certainly has such a mindset, and I presume it shows in his book.

To me, it makes perfect sense that religion, with its emphasis on faith, is antithetical to modern science. You cannot have both faith in some truth(s) and also be really prepared to distrust everything you believe. It's a contradiction. Similarly philosophical systems are antithetical to science, to the extent that they take some fundamentals beyond the possibility to deny them. That doesn't mean these systems don't have anything to say, but it does make them incompatible with the practical mindset of the modern scientist, and Dawkins certainly. And it makes them unjustifiable on those grounds.

This approach taken by modern science is a consequence of a number of traumatic events which did require throwing out the fundamentals, e.g. relativity, after hundreds of years of success with Newton's framework. It is unthinkable to go back to a framework based on self-evident a priori fundamental truths, even if it is tempting.

That said, writing a critique of religion that is accessible to the masses has a wholly different set of issues.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
Prove it. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #39 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 10:19:26 AM EST
"To me, it makes perfect sense that religion, with its emphasis on faith, is antithetical to modern science."

You should have to prove, empirically, this statement. You could start by showing that no person who professed a faith in any religion has made a contrabution to modern science.

[ Parent ]
what are you talking about? by martingale (2.00 / 0) #40 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 02:16:32 PM EST

You should have to prove, empirically, this statement.
I have. Did you notice how the sentence starts with "To me it makes perfect sense..."? I'm reporting my own experimental result. It's up to you to confirm it or figure out where it doesn't correlate with your experience.

You could start by showing that no person who professed a faith in any religion has made a contrabution to modern science.
Non sequitur, and you know it. You're confusing professing a faith publicly with actually using a faith as an integral part of some contribution to science. Plenty of people lie if it helps sell books or get a raise or when they're too old to contribute etc.

The nearest meaningful task is "show that scientific results do not rely upon the works of others when those works rely in a significant way on faith in some religion." That is pretty much an obvious paraphrase of the scientific method, modulo human error and fraud.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
You didn't say that. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #41 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 05:27:29 PM EST
You said religion was antithetical to science. Consequently, one imagines that religion and science shouldn't be found in the same cultures, communities, and people. In America, for example, where a majority of people claim to belong to one faith or another, we should find precious little in the way of science.

On the other hand, officially secular societies like France, should be international science powerhouses.

One presumes nations with national established churches would have laws against science. Lutheran Germany and the Anglican United Kingdom should be wallowing in the Middle Ages.

And yet, weirdly, science marches on. How weird.

And, though I'm no scientist, I thought scientific observation required a little more than something making "perfect sense." In fact, if that was the hallmark of science, wouldn't modern physics be in trouble?

[ Parent ]
you infer a lot by martingale (2.00 / 0) #42 Tue Nov 07, 2006 at 05:56:29 PM EST
You said religion was antithetical to science. Consequently, one imagines that religion and science shouldn't be found in the same cultures, communities, and people. In America, for example, where a majority of people claim to belong to one faith or another, we should find precious little in the way of science.
That's the problem when you extrapolate from facts into the realm of your own wishful thinking. What part of my statement denies the coexistence of religion and science in cultures? Antithetical means exactly that: the two are in opposition. It does not mean one has made the other close to nonexistent. You make a pretty large leap of logic, kind of like "there should be no people because everyone dies at some point".

Stop, take a deep breath and count to ten. Then read exactly what I've written, and do not add your own interpretation or leaps of logic to any part of it. If at that point you find a contradiction in my sentences, by all means point it out. I'm here all month.
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$E(X_t|F_s) = X_s,\quad t > s$

[ Parent ]
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