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Diary
By TheophileEscargot (Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 02:02:04 AM EST) Reading, Listening, OBMS, MLP (all tags)
Listening: "From Jesus to Constantine". Reading: "Cosmopolitanism". OBMS. Web.


What I'm Listening To
Latest TTC course was From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity. by Bart D. Ehrman. Good course covering an interesting period: there was basically a kind of Cambrian explosion of differing forms of Christianity, eventually culled down to an orthodox core. In spite of the title, it concentrates on the first couple of centuries: Constantine and the Council of Nicea aren't covered till the last lecture,.

The Burgess-Shale-like diversity is impressive. Among them were purely Jewish followers of Jesus, expecting an imminent apocalypse along the lines of other Jewish period cults. Ebionites thought that they should obey Jewish law, including circumcision, but that Gentiles should be converted. Marcionites thought there were two Gods: a wrathful, harsh and judgmental Old Testament God; and a kind and merciful God heralded by Jesus. Manicheans took the concept further, deciding that the Old Testament God was actively evil, not just a too strict and hasty. Plus of course there were the Christian Gnostics, who believed in secret knowledge and rituals to assure salvation.

The course presents Paul as hugely important, but not exactly the Creator of Christianity: apparently most of his ideas were already floating around in the plethora of groups.

The course also goes some way to explaining the relationship and emergence of hostility between Christians and Jews. The Romans tolerated Judaism mainly on account of its great age, having a great respect for antiquity. So to justify themselves, the Christians couldn't afford just abandon Judaism completely, even those who abandoned the Mosaic law: they needed its antiquity. But if Christians were the true successors, that had to mean the existing religion was false.

It seems that in the first century or so, persecutions of Christians were mostly bottom up affairs started by local mobs, who found them secretive and suspicious, with dark rumours about their rites. Because they refused to sacrifice to the civic pagan gods, Christians would become scapegoats if their was an earthquake or catastrophe. Later on as Christian numbers grew, higher levels of Roman officialdom started to get involved and put the persecution on an official level.

One interesting question is why the proto-Orthodox view came to dominate. Scholar Walter Bauer thought that it was because the Roman church happened to be of this school: as Christianity developed they became the richest and most politically influential group and came to dominate.

However, it could also be that this view represented the best compromise between extremes: for instance between those who thought that Jesus was fully human, and those who thought he was wholly divine. This would explain some of the more tortuous theology, such as the trinity, as a tough compromise.

The course is very well-presented, told in a chatty and informative matter. Seems to be reasonably objective. Would probably be equally annoying to Protestants and Catholic/Orthodox, since it doesn't have a lot of support for either the bible or apostolic succession being terribly reliable. Worth a listen if you're interested in the subject.

What I'm Reading
Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Short book by a Ghanian-American philosophy professor, advocating a kind of pragmatic approach to cross-cultural ethics.

Elegantly written, summarizes the basic issues well, and has a lot of striking examples. The actual philosophy seems a bit nebulous though: it seemed fascinating as I was going along, but as soon as I put the book down I wasn't quite sure what I'd actually learned.

Still, a likeable book and easy to read. Worth keeping an eye out for in your library or second-hand, if not one to rush out and buy new. Review, review, review.

Operation Become More Stoic
Seems to be working pretty well for small irritations. I'm definitely less irritable in queues and crowds than before. Not sure if it's working for the big stuff, but it's supposed to be a slow process.

Have ordered this book, though it looks a bit treacly. Not sure what primary sources to do next. Liked Seneca and Epictetus, but can't really read Marcus Aurelius in large doses.

Web
G20 riot roundup. Coppersblog. Lenin's tomb. Spiked. Video: reporter interrupted. Daily Mash.

Articles. Microsoft defends H1Bs. Libertarians:

... libertarians have gone to war against the field of climate science. They made this choice not because they dislike the process of scientific inquiry, but because they dislike the policy implications of a specific scientific conclusion.
Julian Baggini New Atheist Movement is destructive (MeFi):
A second feature of atheism is that it is committed to the appropriate use of reason and evidence. In order to occupy this intellectual high ground, it is important to recognise the limits of reason, and also to acknowledge that atheists have no monopoly on it. The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only.

This is most evident when you consider the poverty of the new atheism’s "error theory", which is needed to explain why, if atheism is indeed the view evidence and reason demands, so many very bright people are still religious...

...if very intelligent people are so easily led astray by such things, then shouldn’t the new atheists themselves be more sceptical about the role reason plays in their own belief formation? You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips. Either many religious people are not as irrational as they seem, or atheists are not entitled to assume they are as rational as they seem to themselves.

Pics. Pen drawings. Bathorse. Hairy pigs.

Studies. Stumbling study: closing newspapers lowers voter turnouts, increases incumbent reelection. Too good to check: Office surfing boosts productivity (MeFi).

< Ho hum | one a penny, two a penny >
Constant Craving | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Atheism thing. by Herring (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 04:59:13 AM EST
Terrible argument. Also, straw man: "The new atheism, however, tends to claim reason as a decisive combatant on its side only".

And: "it is important to recognise the limits of reason". What the fuck does that even mean?

Read the thing on libertarians & climate change. There seem to be several web fora where outspoken denialists hang out (including The Reg). I think there's also an element of contrarianism in it: the government agrees -> the government are wrong about things -> it must be false. But yes, I can see why libertarians would be upset about anything that requires collective action and limits their freedom to do what the fuck they want.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

IAWTP - Failure to think alert. by Phage (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 05:24:38 AM EST
You cannot, on the one hand, put forward a view that says great intelligence is easily over-ridden by psychological delusions and, on the other, claim that one unique group of people can see clearly what reason demands and free themselves from such grips

BAH !

I had a whole paragraph here. But why waste our time ?



[ Parent ]
Limits of reason by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #3 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 05:32:18 AM EST
Well, reason alone is fairly limited when it comes to ethics and morals. It doesn't help that much about how to lead the best life you can.

Also, most people agree that a rational person seeks happiness, health, to help others and to have a long life. Studies generally show that religious people are happier, healthier, live longer and are more charitable than atheists. So it's pretty clear that on average, religious people are more rational than atheists.

[ Parent ]
The bit where atheist advocacy fails by Merekat (2.00 / 0) #4 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 05:36:06 AM EST
Is its inability to demonstrate you can have all that happy ethical healthy life without abdicating responsibility to an invisible sky giant, tree nymph or oddly shaped potato chip.


[ Parent ]
I strongly suspect by Herring (2.50 / 2) #5 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 05:52:07 AM EST
that religion evolved as a formalisation of pre-existing behaviour patterns. You can see in primate (and possibly non-primate) societies things like punishment of antisocial behaviour.

That behaviour, in turn, probably evolved as a survival mechanism in species where group living is the norm. Social cohesion is important in these scenarios and so behaviour has to be appropriate.

When explaining behaviour to a child, it's easier to use Santa/The Tooth Fairy/God than to try to give a proper explanation.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

[ Parent ]
Especially since by spacejack (3.50 / 2) #28 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 02:42:28 PM EST
telling people to be good because animals evolved altruistic instincts just isn't all that inspiring (or rational.)

[ Parent ]
"Studies" by Herring (2.00 / 0) #8 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:40:14 AM EST
Without exmination, I can't tell if studies show that middle-class CofE attendees live longer than council-estate residents. Or, if taliban era afghans lived longer than secular europeans.

"Happier" is easier to explain.

"Charitable" - well, since most religous organisations are registered as charities, again an easy one to explain. My wakeboaring club isn't a charity. Also, studies show that poorer people give more to charity (as a percentage of income) than richer people. Where does that fit in?

Also, I am not so sure that there aren't "reason based" explanations for moral behaviour. Maybe I don't punch random people in the street because I don't want to live in an environment where random stranger-punching is considered normal. Similarly with theft etc.

Anyway, being an habitual miserable bastard, I would always rather be right than happy.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

[ Parent ]
The limits of reason by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #6 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:10:07 AM EST
Werner Herzog's film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is about this - Kaspar Hauser is a mute dressed in regal clothes who appears in a village one day. He is studied intently by scholars who collect reams of data on him. Despite this, they find out nothing about him.

Reason is limited because some things are unknowable; that's where imagination, art, storytelling and other means of speculation come in.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Why do you think by Herring (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:21:21 AM EST
art (including writing, music etc.) is outside of reason? Unkowable even - which is a pretty strong term.

What gets my back up is the brigade who declare "Science can't explain X, therefore condoms are evil". OK, there are normally a few more steps in between, but that's the essence of the argument.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

[ Parent ]
It's not necessarily outside reason by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #9 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:41:35 AM EST
It's just that some things are. Of course art can be about rationalised things - but it doesn't have to be.

"Science can't explain X, therefore condoms are evil" is of course idiotic, but so as lumping any philosophy that embraces a bit of ambiguity in with it.

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Sorry, I wasn't clear by Herring (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 06:50:12 AM EST
What I meant is that there is, in my opinion, a reasonable explanation for why people produce and enjoy art/music/literature. It's not about reducing the production of art to a set of standard algorithms - even if it were possible it's probably not desireable.

So, what I was saying is that I belive that reason does explain the existence and the nature of art.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

[ Parent ]
There's a new book by spacejack (2.00 / 0) #27 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 01:37:05 PM EST
about this making the rounds lately.

I don't think it matters whether or not it's desirable to have art generated by algorithms because I'm sure that if we could we would. So far we've got occasionally neat-looking fractals, and sometimes a robot will happen to take a nice photo.

[ Parent ]
Isn't that strong agnosticism ? by Phage (2.00 / 0) #12 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 07:48:44 AM EST


[ Parent ]
Not sure by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #13 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 08:06:08 AM EST
I thought atheism was defined solely by not believing in God, and didn't stretch to a belief that all things are knowable through science?

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
Apparently not by Phage (2.00 / 0) #14 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 08:36:48 AM EST
One of the forms of Agnosticsm (or possibly weak atheism) is to say that the existence of God(s) is unknowable and there are no perceived effects in our reality. Accordingly the wjole question is moot.

IANAPhilo/Theosopher

[ Parent ]
The unknowable doesn't just apply to God by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #15 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 09:39:47 AM EST
See my original comment re: the Werner Herzog film

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
unknowability and Herzog by lm (2.00 / 0) #17 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 09:45:22 AM EST
Does Herzog define unknowability in terms of discursive reason? One of my biggest complaints about critical thinkers is the all too common conflation of knowledge with discursive reason. Something may lie outside the set of things which can be logically analyzed yet lie within the set of things which can be known. A few philosophers caught onto this (Plotinus, Husserl) but most of the western tradition, especially analytic philosophy, has lost sight of it.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
It's hypothetical by nebbish (2.00 / 0) #18 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:10:15 AM EST
He's not a philosopher. You'd have to see the film really.

What's discursive reason?

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It's political correctness gone mad!

[ Parent ]
as an oversimplification, logical analysis by lm (4.00 / 1) #21 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:36:13 AM EST
A logical syllogism would be an example of the use of discursive reasoning. Another example would be the Cartesian method that most of modern science is built on.

The common complaint among those who critique scientific knowledge as the only form of knowledge or logical analysis as the only form of philosophy is that these things can't explain themselves so if they are the only form of knowledge, we can't actually know that anything is true.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
That's interesting by Phage (2.00 / 0) #19 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:13:21 AM EST
Would you be willing to expand a little in those items which may be known but are not able to be logically analysed ?

[ Parent ]
The usual example is the rules of thought by lm (4.00 / 1) #22 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:41:35 AM EST
In philosophy, logical analysis cannot prove the law of non-contradiction or the law of identity or even solve the problem of the one and they many.

I believe (but I could be wrong) that the field of linguistics has a similar problem with meaning.

Then there are also the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Once one knows what the good or the beautiful is, one can use discursive reasoning to know if this particular thing is good or beautiful. But without first knowing what it means to be good or beautiful, logic alone fails.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
that's classical agnosticism by lm (2.00 / 0) #16 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 09:41:59 AM EST
The usual breakdown, which is certain to start a massive flamefest among atheists, is that agnosticism is certain form of weak (or soft) atheism. Soft atheism being a lack of a positive belief in any God. Strong atheism is the flip side of the coin,  a positive belief about God not-existing.

One can be a soft atheist without holding to the epistemological viewpoint of agnosticism. For example, one could believe that the question of the existence of God is answerable in principle but that there is not presently a preponderance of evidence on either side. Or one could simply not care about the question altogether and simply not have formed any belief about anything supernatural. The flamefest really stars up when one calls agnostics atheists in this sense and you get a rousing chorus of ``I'm not atheist, I'm agnostic'' which is about as funny as Evangelical chorus of ``I'm not Protestant, I'm Baptist.'' And then some agnostics start accusing all atheists, whether weak or strong, of being just as irrational as theists.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Heh - Sounds familiar by Phage (2.00 / 0) #20 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 10:15:28 AM EST
I thought I had seen a breakdown of the different types of agnosticcism somewhere, which was very good. It certainly agrees with what you've said.
I'll have to see if I can dig it up.

[ Parent ]
The newest Atlantic by georgeha (2.00 / 0) #11 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 07:01:40 AM EST
talks about the business positive aspects of early Christianity, it gave traveling Christian's a base to work from where ever they went.


As in client base? by greyshade (4.00 / 1) #26 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 01:10:27 PM EST
Wouldn't that be true of any faith?

"The other part of the fun is nibbling on them when they get off work." -vorheesleatherface
[ Parent ]
Hmmm by yicky yacky (4.00 / 2) #23 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 11:02:20 AM EST
That is to say, confronted by a problem demanding solutions inimical to libertarian beliefs, libertarians were faced with the choice of reneging on their beliefs or turning their back on science. Tellingly, they chose the latter. One might think that’s a rather drastic decision, given the role scientific endeavors have played in delivering the material prosperity so dear to the hearts of the libertarian world, and one would be right.

Having started reasonably well, with some valid points, that is where the author's car then leaves the road.

I don't think the Libertarian position is either inconsistent with or dismissive of the science. It is willfully obscurantist, strategic and cynical (much like the Straussians), but there's actually nothing which is inherently anti-science or denialist to their views. I know this because I've actually talked to a few of them about it, rather than inferring what I want to hear about it from weblogs.

The Libertarian position can (cartoonishly) be summarized thus:

"I'd rather take my chances with the consequences of Global Warming (ObWhichAreUnclearAtThisPoint) than with the consequences of the governmental and societal order required to do something about it; not least when you look at the motives and reason of those at the most vocal end of the environmental lobby."

If you then point out, "But the consequences could be very grave", they'll respond:

"I think we'll be OK. It'll be a change, sure, but we'll probably be OK. There's nothing in the science that we can't work around."

If you then say, "Well, even if we are OK and can find ways to work around it (East Anglia excepted), what about those places that aren't going to be OK, that can't work around it?", the honest answer (if they're prepared to provide it), goes:

"I don't give a fuck about Bangladesh. Why should I?"

There are two points to note here. The first is that the position isn't inherently unreasonable (in terms of pure logical inference). They place more weight on individual freedom and are content to stomach the consequences; the environmentalists aren't prepared to stomach the consequences and put less weight on individual freedom; it depends on the axioms you start with. They may be immoral, amoral, or even downright mendacious, but it's not strictly illogical. This goes back to Theo's point about reason often being vague and insufficient when it comes to issues of ethics.

The second thing to note is that this point of view presents them with what could be called a "PR problem". It's going to be a seriously uphill struggle to rally support around banners proclaiming "Fuck Bangladesh!", "Screw you, Jack: I'm OK!" and "Greed is Good!"; it's not exactly conducive to good media exposure. So what can you do, if this happens to be your position on the matter?

The easiest way of going about it in the near term is to oppose the societal controls they so fear in as many other ways as possible. Counter-balancing the drive towards the requisite controls by spreading denial is one of the techniques available, as is playing down the consequences. There are sufficient numbers of people in denial anyway, together with sufficient numbers who don't even want to think about it, together with plenty who don't want to have to do anything, in order to act as a substantial brake against change (the Dürrenmatt effect -- at some point Alfred is going to get bumped).

They're not choosing to believe in denial because doing otherwise would require them to abandon Libertarianism. They're promulgating denial as a tactic of war, and it works on two fronts. The first is as a battle standard for the disparate and disinterested as mentioned; the second is that it works the same way the 'Intelligent Design' wedge strategy works. The more the concerned environmental lobby throw darts at denialists, the more they make it look like there's a legitimate debate going on, causing even more people to enter the "unsure" demographic. The anti-environmentalist alliance (which is by no means restricted to Libertarians) don't need any more than that: the lack of a push for change is an implicit vote in favour of the status quo.

The irony of this is that many Libertarians (that I spoke to, anyway) don't actually care about the environmental debate itself; it's big government and control that bothers them. The environmental issue is little more that collateral damage. The other irony is that "disproving the denialists" isn't going to affect them at all; they'll use every argument necessary until they have to resort to the last one -- their real one -- by which time, circumstance depending, they may well have a more sympathetic ear.


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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
The libertarians by Breaker (2.00 / 0) #24 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 12:52:05 PM EST
I have read do nothing of the sort you propose above; they challenge the data quality and the model used to predict the effect. 

They see (to their eyes) bad science feeding into new bad laws and additional taxation (one of their bugbears) required to worship at the altar of "Climate Change".


[ Parent ]
And Derren Brown can really read minds ... by yicky yacky (2.00 / 0) #25 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 12:59:40 PM EST

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Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
[ Parent ]
I know! by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #29 Fri Apr 03, 2009 at 04:10:14 PM EST
He's good, isn't he?


[ Parent ]
Constant Craving | 29 comments (29 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback