Apr 1, 2020

This thread has been created for discussion on themes relevant to Reason and Science for which there are not currently any dedicated threads.

Please note it is NOT for general chat, and that our Comment Policy applies as usual. There is a link to this at the foot of the page.

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89 comments on “OPEN DISCUSSION APRIL 2020

  • Welcome to the April 2020 open discussion thread.

    If you wish to continue any of the discussions from earlier Open Discussion threads, please do so here rather than there.

    Thank you.

    The mods

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  • 2
    Michael 100 says:

    Today, April 2, Jerry Coyne posted on his website, whyevolutionistrue, that Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury and now Lord Oystermouth will debate Professor Dawkins sometime next year.  Dr. Coyne provided a link to a report of Williams’ remarks on the subject.  In turn, Dr. Coyne posted his own appropriate remarks.
    Oystermouth, by the way, is a village and electoral ward in the district of Mumbles, Swansea, Wales.  From the pictures I saw on Wikipedia, it looks like a lovely place.

    In any event, I hope the debate will be available for viewing by those of us who won’t be fortunate enough to attend it in person.  Also, it would be nice if the former sacerdos magnus would be prepared to offer up so much as one scintilla of evidence to support the god hypothesis that I assume will be the subject of the debate.  Of all the debates I’ve seen posted on YouTube, I have yet to hear any of the proponents of religion, point to a single piece of evidence to support their beliefs.

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  • ABSOLUTE COMPREHENSION Considering China is known for its Propaganda Ministry, the Corona Virus is likely a propagandistic tool of distraction because of the Hong Kong conflicts. China is once again exercising its ‘absolute’ control without regard for ‘absolute’ comprehension. “Yes. We just killed you, yet look at the virus we must save you from…” standard propaganda technique.
    1. In other words, China lost face in Hong Kong killing its own citizens, so the government initiated the Corona Virus propaganda campaign to reassert its authority. Then, the American media picked up on the propaganda because its deep in Big Pharma’s pocket…

    Covid19 is a Propaganda Virus. I am an extreme comprehensionist and a psychological explorer.

  • 4
    Cairsley says:

    Michael #2

    Thank you for the notice of the upcoming debate. That will be worth looking out for.

    … it would be nice if the former sacerdos magnus would be prepared to offer up so much as one scintilla of evidence to support the god hypothesis that I assume will be the subject of the debate. …

    Aye, Michael, that would be very nice, and it would give us grounds for taking his argument seriously and respecting his position. So I hope the goodhearted Lord Oystermouth takes your advice and comes up with more than one scintilla of evidence. And I hope Professor Dawkins presses him for evidence that supports whatever hypothesis the worthy Lord sees fit to present at that debate. Without knowable, objective, publicly verifiable evidence, arguments refer to nothing real.


    John Norman #3

    Considering China is known for its Propaganda Ministry, the Corona Virus is likely a propagandistic tool of distraction because of the Hong Kong conflicts. …

    … China lost face in Hong Kong killing its own citizens, so the government initiated the Corona Virus propaganda campaign to reassert its authority. …

    John, are you suggesting that the Chinese government produced the coronavirus COVID-19 and released it among its citizens? This is not the first coronavirus to jump species in China and start bothering humans. Of course, the Chinese government’s cynical use of propaganda has long been a recognized feature of its modus operandi, but your wording comes close to suggesting that the Chinese government was somehow responsible for the outbreak of the viral disease itself. What propaganda has the Chinese government put out about COVID-19? The government’s response to the outbreak in China followed the pattern of a competent government responding to an unexpected natural disaster, with initial problems until the rapid spread of the virus was brought under control. How was this propaganda? Was the outbreak something the Chinese government set off, having discovered a way to introduce the virus to human hospitality? Not the sort of charge you can seriously make without some good evidence.

    The Hong Kong people’s struggle to defend their democratic and civil rights has my full support. There is no objective reason why we should see the COVID-19 outbreak in China as a government-initiated distraction from the Hong Kong issue. Yes, the Chinese government can use its success in bringing the viral disease under control in its efforts to persuade citizens to accept its authority by demonstrating its ability to take care of their interests, and that has long been its candid position in justifying its authority. More than that we have no grounds to infer.

  • John Norman says:

    Covid19 is a Propaganda Virus. I am an extreme comprehensionist and a psychological explorer.

    That sounds more like a conspiracy theorist self-delusionist, and navel-gazer, to me!

    The scientific evidence shows the coronavirus to  originated in bats and has has been passed to humans via the illegal sale of Pangolins or less likely, in snakes, at some unregulated wild animal market.
    Now, a study in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research refutes both ideas and suggests that scaly, anteater-like animals called pangolins are the missing link for SARS-CoV-2 transmission between bats and humans.


    The Chinese are now clamping down on such sales and some cities have now also banned the sale of cats and dogs for meat.




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  • How on earth did a  stupid, self-deluding conspiracy theorist get on to this site? Some weeks ago my sister-in-law told me of the Hong-Kong/Chinese government perfidy/germ-warfare-plant-in-Whuan conspiracy; she’s a charming lady but not very well educated.  I was not long in disabusing her.

    The trouble is that if people read such rubbish here, and read the glitterati of the site troubling to refute it, they might begin to take it seriously, as this is known as a serious place.  If governments or owners of mass media suppress discussion, that can be called censorship, but minor players like this organisation, dedicated to serious issues (usually), have the right to refuse rubbish, and avoid wasting time and effort in refuting it.

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  • Hi eejit,

    We couldn’t agree more, and that is very much the line we usually take, but unfortunately we have no way of picking up on such posts until after they’ve appeared, and we’re not online 24 hours a day. In this case, we did not see the post until after it had already been firmly rebuffed by Cairsley and Alan, which meant that we’d have had to remove all three, as C and A’s replies wouldn’t have made sense standalone (and one of them included an extended quote from the original in any case). So on this occasion we decided to leave the original in place but to prevent the user in question from posting again.

    Although we greatly appreciate people’s efforts to counter such nonsense, it probably is best not to reply to posts from obvious conspiracy theorists, as it’s much easier for us to deal with them when they’re in isolation.

    The mods

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  • Thanks Mods.  I wasn’t having a go at you, though I did wonder how the post got past your eagle eyes. I agree that Cairsley and Alan did an excellent job – though I doubt very much that it will have any effect on John Norman and his fellow conspiracy theorists.  There isn’t much that can be done to keep the occasional bit of rubbish from sneaking on to the site, unless someone has the money to mount a 24 hour guard, so you made the best possible decision.

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  • cats and dogs for meat

    I once heard a rhyme on the ABC’s science show in Australia.  The item was about the eating of dog meat, and the rhyme ended “but meat of dog is dreadman’s food.”  I can’t remember the rest of the “poem”, nor can I find it on the Net.   Alas, as I was going to impress you all with my erudition, so I wonder does anyone know the jingle?

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  • eejit says:

    How on earth did a  stupid, self-deluding conspiracy theorist get on to this site?

    I think it is useful that examples of conspiracy theories, and science denials turn up and are shot down.

    What should not happen, but happens on some other sites, is that those posting them  are allowed to demand respect for their crazy views, with claims that their  ignorance should be given the same respect as the expert views from respectable scientific bodies and journals.

    Unfortunately there are many sites which allow or even encourage, this sort of ignorant trolling.  Some even have moderators who delete constructive criticism as “offending” the delusional idiots’ strongly held  views when  they resent being told they are wrong!

    Some weeks ago my sister-in-law told me of the Hong-Kong/Chinese government perfidy/germ-warfare-plant-in-Whuan conspiracy; she’s a charming lady but not very well educated.

    “Debating the pseudo-controversies” produces the click-bait volume which advertisers like, so the “post-truth” sites keep spreading disinformation and profiting from doing so.


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  • Thanks Quarecuss.  Just the sort of jingle I love.  I’m sure that it has to be dreadman’s foodI can’t see why it would be deadman’s, after all, eating  goodgirl Lassie  might be vile, savage and revolting, but it never killed anyone.

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  • Last year I did some campaign work for a charity trying to raise awareness about the dog and cat meat trade in Asia…

    China might be trying to stop it, but it is thriving in Vietnam and Cambodia.

    As the link mentions, Rabies is also a health concern within the conditions the animals are held and slaughtered.

    Our campaign focussed on the problem of pet cats and dogs being stolen for slaughter in these countries.

    The imagery we were given to work with was really grim – the animals are often butchered whilst still alive.

    It is a hard problem to tackle as people in these cultures believe eating cat and dog meat has health benefits.

    Regular animal farming out here is also terrible for its lack of welfare – pigs crowded into trucks in 35° heat for hours without water.


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  • 14
    Cairsley says:

    I think it is useful that examples of conspiracy theories, and science denials turn up and are shot down. (Alan4discussion #10 above)

    Right, Alan. It would also be a shame if this forum became a comfortable echo-chamber, where members could count on reading only what they agreed with and never coming across anything that might annoy or offend them. If it ever becomes such a forum, it will have ceased to have anything to do with Richard Dawkins, whose commitment to truth, even when it hurts, is well known and publicly stated by the man himself. That said, the moderators have my sympathy and support in their efforts to keep out trolls, who can initially be difficult to recognize.

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  • eejit says:

    cats and dogs for meat

    This outbreak has just shown a nasty potential for escalation.

    A tiger in a New York zoo has tested positive for coronavirus and three others are showing symptoms of the highly contagious respiratory infection.

    Nadia, a four-year-old female Malayan tiger, and three African lions had developed a dry cough at the Bronx Zoo located within the Bronx Park.

    The US Department of Agriculture, which confirmed Nadia’s test result at its veterinary lab, believes it is the first known coronavirus infection in an animal in America or a tiger anywhere in the world.

    If this virus has made the jump to cats and may be passed back and forward to humans, that is going to make isolating it a whole lot harder!



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  •  never coming across anything that might annoy or offend them

    Conspiracy theorists and ult right Christians don’t offend me – anyway I’ve always thought that saying “it will cause offence” is an absolute mealy-mouthed cop out.  Being offended by someone in a debate about belief, behaviour, politics, religion or cultural matters etc, is tough luck, or super sensitivity, but has no bearing on whether or not the debate should take place.

    In a civilised society people have learned to say things in a way that respects other people, thus attempting to moderate offence; hence the essay form, the rules of meetings and parliaments, and of academic discussions, but, aside from good manners, people do get offended by contrary views and they just have learn to cop it sweet.

    On the other hand, those who peddle absurd, unfounded, occultist or conspiratorial views do not deserve the compliment of being given space or time on serious sites.  They have plenty of their own web space anyhow, where anyone can engage them if they want to.  And the point is, that whilst I don’t get offended, I sure am allowed to get annoyed by their rantings and if I want a fix of adrenalin I can always go to social media to get one.











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  • 17
    Michael 100 says:

    Here is a link to a live web cam of an eagle nesting in Decorah Iowa.

    According to Wikipedia:  “About 470 million years ago, an asteroid as big as a city block smashed into what is now Decorah, supporting a theory that a giant space rock broke up and bombarded Earth just as early life began flourishing in the oceans.  The impact dug a crater nearly four miles wide that now lies beneath the town, said Bevan French, one of the world’s foremost crater hunters and an adjunct scientist at the National Museum of Natural History. The Decorah crater lay undiscovered until recently because almost none of it is above ground. Instead, it is filled by an unusual shale that formed after an ancient seaway sluiced into the crater, depositing sediment and an array of bizarre sea creatures that hardened into fossils. One such creature is Pentecopterus decorahensis, which was named for the city.”

    In any event, the video of the eagle which is now sitting on her nest is pretty cool.

  • 18
    Michael 100 says:

    I thought the eagle was sitting on eggs, but this afternoon, I happen to tune in while one of the birds was feeding two chicks.  And I think there is another egg waiting to be hatched.  The link to the webcam is in #17.

    While writing this the bird stood up and the two chicks and an egg are clearly visible. She/he is feeding the chicks. I expect the female will soon be sitting on the young ones and egg for the night.

    She just sat down and tucked in the chicks. This is beautiful.

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  • 19
    Michael 100 says:

    Its been said that sometimes you can observe a lot just by looking: 

    I just saw one of the birds return carrying a fish.  I’ll assume it was the male.  He puttered around the nest for a bit, ate some of the fish and then left.  The female got up, ate some of the fish and then has been tearing off bits and feeding the bits to the chicks.  Decorah is not on the Mississippi river, but the river is within easy flying distance, it’s very close to other rivers that feed into the Mississippi.  You can see a stream of some sort below the nest.  So there is an abundance of fish for the birds to catch and feed on.  Another thing I’m noticing is the number of flies around the nest and chicks — it’s still early April.  One year the insects, especially gnats, were so bad that I think the chicks were not able to survive them.  Mother and the two chicks just finished eating and she sat down on them again.  Having read Professor Dawkins’ books, I’m reminded of the genetically driven behavior I’m witnessing, and watching the birds tend to the nest – I’m reminded of the lessons set out in The Extended Phenotype.  The male just returned again. this time he brought a smaller fish – at first I thought he was empty handed, but then he produced it from somewhere.  The female just flew away (I have no idea if I’m labeling the birds correctly.)  The chicks have their eyes open and are covered in down.  Now the bird who flew in just sat down on the checks – maybe that’s the female, not sure which is which. For a while I could see the first bird perched on a nearby limb, then it flew in and the other bird got up and flew off. So they trade places from time to time at pretty short intervals. He/she is feeding the chicks again.

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  • 20
    Michael 100 says:

    A CNN headline reads: “Pope says coronavirus pandemic could be nature’s response to climate crisis.”  To be honest, I didn’t see that sentiment expressed anyplace in the body of the article.  Nevertheless, am I mistaken in my understanding that nature is completely indifferent to what happens, whether caused by humans or a a super nova? Yes, there are consequences for what we do, but “nature” does not devise punishments to teach humans lessons, via viruses, earthquakes, floods or whatever.  I think this way of thinking, be it from the headline writer or from the Universal Supreme Pontiff, assumes nature to be the proverbial mad scientist, vowing to destroy the fools en mass.  I prefer to live in the 21st century, not a demon haunted world.

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  • My more benign view, Michael, is that this is not about a causally sequenced account but a causally parallel one.


    Too many people, upon us too suddenly, results in too many under-attended consequences.


    Wet markets are the result of not fixing life for the rural poor who have insufficient sources of  safe produce to bring into the city to sell. China has recognised this since 2014 with a series of five year plans to eliminate the inequality and introduce super modern and green practises for its rural communities. It will though take generations given its low level of urbanisation (59%, OECD 80%).

    The Pope’s failure is to not see through to a significant solution, population control.

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  • Hi Vicki,

    Far be it from me to answer for Phil, but just in case it’s a while before he sees your post, I think that means that only 59% of the Chinese population lives in urban areas, compared with a figure of 80% for OECD member countries taken as a whole.

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  • Thanks, Marco, that makes sense.

    And it seems modernizing the wet markets affects both the rural and urban populations in terms of both rural production and urban availability. Which makes those percentages even more dire, I would think.

    India’s rural percentage is even higher; I wonder what differences cause that country to provide better markets (assuming they do).

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  • Thanks, Marco. That’s exactly it.

    There is a fairly reasonable correlation with say GDP and perhaps (with caveats) income equality.

    China, with its complete democratic deficit, can only govern by giving its people what they need. This they have done spectacularly well since the near catastrophe of extreme poverty in the first half of the twentieth century and the disaster of Mao’s technological incompetence returning terrible agricultural output. (Indeed wet markets mushroomed at this time as people starved in millions.)

    The current modern technocracy transformed China providing notable annual growth of 6% for forty plus decades. But the rural poor (40% of the population) are being left behind. This will become a huge problem of governance, and out of the goodness of their own survival instinct, the Chinese Government have indicated (and enacted policy) that they intend rural folk should see an income growth of 12% pa until caught up.

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  • I just spotted that on 9th April Cosmic Sceptic (a.k.a. Alex O’Connor) posted a video on YouTube [The Sophistry of Christopher Hitchens].

    I admire the late Mr. Hitchens and, unlike Mr. O’Connor apparently, I can recognise when Hitchens sets aside philosophy in order to deploy a different skill set: rhetoric.

    For that very reason I highly recommend you all go and watch this video.

    At a time when we’re being bombarded with political rhetoric this video, and its central lesson – analyse what you hear and really listen, could not have been better timed.  Please watch it.

    Rhetoric – usually understood to mean: Language designed to be persuasive and attention-grabbing, whilst also being insincere and/or fact-free, has been studied as an art at least as far back as the Ancient Greeks.  Sadly, today, it is often confined to Media Studies – an appalling oversight in my opinion.

    Rhetoric should be a part of every high school curriculum Civics classes, and a master class in the practical application of critical thinking which, of course, is an integral part of any good education system.

    A note to clarify, before I get to the meat of this piece: Alex is perfectly correct on two points: No one is above criticism and no one is perfect – and that includes Hitchens.

    Alex confines himself to video examples of Hitchens using rhetoric and critiquing Hitchens’ performance (for entertaining performances they certainly are).  To be fair, YouTube is a video platform.  That said; is it fair to vilify Hitchens in full ‘debate mode’, because he swerves a question, turns over the informal rules of the debate, is inconsistent, or gives an answer that fails to fully address the historical, philosophical and logical context of a question in such a debate?  No.

    I say that criticising Hitchens in this way is unfair for two reasons:
    1. If we’re going to discuss informal social rules, let’s start with an old one: Taking the dead to task is unfair, they can’t answer back.

    2. Philosophy and rhetoric are different disciplines.

    Alex himself essentially concedes this last point as he signs off his critique with this sentence: “Please don’t think that because he won the debate he also won the argument.”

    Correct Alex: In all the examples you cite Hitchens was in a debate first, and comparing arguments only as a by-product of that debate.  The singer Dean Martin, when performing in Las Vegas, would often fail to finish his songs.  When questioned about this he replied that if the audience wanted to hear the whole song, they could go and buy his records.  Hitchens’ version of the Dean Martin aphorism was: “As I fully explain in my book, available from fine bookstores everywhere”.

    In rhetoric one of the key skills is to hold the audience’s attention – indeed to divert it from any debate opponent where possible.  As Sam Harris’s wife is quoted as saying: “Nothing that Hitch does is ever boring”. In short: Hitchens excelled at this.

    For me Alex’s criticism misses the mark – he’s applying philosophic sophistry to a rhetorician.

    However, Alex redeems himself when pointing out that rhetoric is not argument.  This is something we all need to internalise and act on, every day because Mass Media are bombarding us with political rhetoric every day.  We need to recognise that what the politicians are doing is attempting to come out of the COVID-19 debates over ineffective, mis-managed and late action, on top – so that they can say later: ‘We already won that argument’.

    We’re not just living through a coronavirus containment phase, we’re living through a political damage containment phase – and the chief weapon is rhetoric (spoiler alert: cuz that’s all they’ got).  By-the-by: If you think this is unusual, you really need to see Alex’s video – all sides have access to these tools of persuasion, and they use them all the time.


  • 28
    Cairsley says:

    Stephen of Wimbledon #27

    Greatly as I too do admire Christopher Hitchens, I was always aware that philosophy was not his forte. By education and professional training, he was a rhetorician, and an excellent one at that. The criticisms Alex O’Connor makes of the late Hitchens’s responses to certain questions concerning morality, will and cosmology are justified, though what would have been satisfactory responses in Mr O’Connor’s opinion are in my opinion questionable.

    Concerning an objective ground for morality, Hitchens answers the question by referring to a natural moral sense (Socrates’s daimon, Adam Smith’s moral censor). Mr O’Connor’s charge of circularity is fair enough, but he is unfair on Hitchens in supposing that the question posed by the religionist is itself valid and requiring of an answer. Had Hitchens been a little more philosophically savvy, he might have challenged the requirement of an objective, external ground for morality, pointing out that morality is something only higher animals are aware of, according to the sophistication of their brains and reasoning abilities. Morality is what arises when brains develop to the point where consciousness is rational and abstractive (universalizing). Immanuel Kant, for example, did not know how brains work, but he was aware of the important role played by reason in human affairs and based his moral philosophy on rationality. David Hume, on the other hand, based morality on sentiment, which could be refined by education and training in civil society. Although both approaches to morality and how they are based have their difficulties, they both have the advantage that they are known to us by experience, whereas the basis claimed by the religionist for his morality is not known to exist at all. It seems to me, then, that, despite not answering the question satisfactorily from a philosophical viewpoint, Hitchens’s response to it was closer to the mark than any theistic notion of grounding morality on a supposed supernatural entity.

    Likewise on the question of free will, Hitchens does evade the question of how to account for it, but so what? Hitchens seems to have thought, as most of us do, that, in some sense or other, we do experience from time to time a certain freedom to make choices. He does not attempt to explain how it is that we have that experience, nor does he raise questions arising from neurology about the causes of those experiences. But the term ‘free will’ is such a slippery one, that he might have done better to respond to the question by asking what was meant in that question by ‘free will’. That might have brought to light the groundless assumptions that were concealed beneath that term. In any case, being neither a philosopher nor a neurologist, he responded to the question in the manner he knew best, as a rhetorician.

    Cosmology is a very different animal from the animal it was when Plato and Aristotle ruled the academic roost. It is no longer a matter of philosophy but of empirical and theoretical science, in particular astrophysics and theoretical physics, both of which require oodles of mathematics. Hitchens never claimed to be a theoretical physicist or, for that matter, a cosmologist in the older (metaphysical) sense of the word. If he did not answer the question about the origin of the cosmos, so what? Positing the existence of something one does not know to exist as an explanation of the origin of the cosmos we know is no explanation of anything, and that was ever the only point Hitchens had to make on the subject, but, being the entertaining rhetorician he was, he made the point in a variety of ways. And on that point he was clearly right, and well within his rights to speak as he did.

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  • 29
    Michael 100 says:

    Stephen of Wimbledon #27 and Cairsley #28.  Thank you both for those excellent essays.  I found them very interesting and informative because I’m a fan of Alex O’Connor and Christopher Hitchens equally.  

    I was reminded of the forward Hitchens wrote for Victor Stenger’s book “God: The Failed Hypothesis.”  It’s been a while since I read it so I need to reread it.  I may have mentioned it when I wrote about Stenger’s book in our book club section.  While he wasn’t a physicist, I think it’s fair to say Hitchens respected the work done by scholars like Stenger and Lawrence Krauss.

    Again, thanks for both of your excellent pieces.

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  • Hi Cairsley [#28],

    Thank you for the kind thoughts.

    Hitchens was well read, and had a prodigious memory, and would often pepper his rhetoric with ideas for further reading that anyone really listening could use to further their own understanding.  Though in some cases I would have needed a pencil and notebook if I’d been in the audience.  Thank goodness for YouTube.


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  • Hi Michael [#29],

    Thank you, it’s good to be appreciated.

    I wrote an essay?  I didn’t count the words but I’m pretty sure my little post would’t have met my English Teacher’s minimum number of words to qualify as an essay.  I recommend reading Charles Lamb for examples of a good essay.

    I’m a fan of Alex O’Connor and Christopher Hitchens equally.

    Me too. As Alex rightly says: No-one is above criticism.  This is why I always struggle when anyone asks me who my heroes are.  I usually reply that I don’t really have any.  There are people who have done lots of admirable things, but nobody is perfect.  Holding up anyone as a messiah is, to me, inherently wrong.

    I think it’s fair to say Hitchens respected the work done by scholars like Stenger and Lawrence Krauss.

    Yes, Hitchens respected the work of anyone that he could learn from – that part of his life is a model for us all.


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  • 32
    Cairsley says:

    Michael #29

    Glad to know my effort was in some way beneficial. Victor Stenger’s book God, the Failed Hypothesis is on my reading-list. I have not been giving much priority of late to books concerned with deity, but I note your mention that Christopher Hitchens wrote the foreword to it. Thank you; that does bump it up the list a few places.


    Stephen #30

    How we all miss the Hitch. He did not get everything right, but there was never a doubt about his honesty and commitment to seeking out the truth. Nor was he prepared to let what he ordinarily called bullshit go unchallenged; hence his readiness to speak and write against religious superstitions. I wonder what he would have made of the Trump presidency!

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  • I wonder where to find the book club thread. Where is it?

    Anyways, I’ve finished reading Some Assembly Required by Shubin. It was a good challenging read. I need to skim back through it and take some notes.

    I just checked the website of the Harvard Book Store to see if there are any book talks coming up. That store is an independent book store across the street from Harvard U. and not owned by them. The store schedules most of the book signings in the Boston area. They have a feature that seems new and uses a big science lecture hall in Harvard science center for the presentation of book talks by science writers.

    Shubin had been scheduled to appear there to discuss his new book but was cancelled due to the virus but I now see that his book talk will take place online. I’m very happy about this. I did want to attend the event at the science center but at least this is the next best thing.

    It’s free to connect to the event. Here is the link to the H Bookstore info page.

    Robert Reich on May 11. It’s ticketed.

  • Was reading the chapter  “you did it yourself in 9 months ” in “The Greatest Show on Earth ” by RD. Was fascinated by how cells follow “local rules” with no central planning.

    Could anyone throw light on “apoptosis ” as a part of this process? How do we explain apoptosis of some groups of cells to form, say, digits? This seems to go against survival programme of these individual cells.

    Analogy would be flight of starlings…individual birds do follow local /individual programmes….but are still programmed to survive…not self-distruct as in apoptosis!


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  • I have followed many of the richest Richard Dawkins debates and I have never heard him say to the opponent that God is improbable because you cannot guide evolution he often say that you don’t need God to guide evolution but he never said that you cannot guide evolution so god could not even have been there to start evolution and then plan ahead for the human being 2 end up at the end of the path natural selection decides if you want to use the word decide on its own where this process will go the fact that we ended up here with our Brilliant Minds etc is in essence a coincidence it could have gone totally in a different Direction because that is how evolution works but God could not have planned beforehand if you understand evolution that eventually they will be something like a human being with a brain because that is a miss understanding of evolution and I don’t say that Richard does not understand that he actually says that or means that bud is never said it feels to me as a strong point to say that to someone that believes that God could even have been the agent in the evolution process because he could not have because evolution goes where it wants to

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  • 37
    Robert says:

    we ended up here with our Brilliant Minds etc is in essence a coincidence it could have gone totally in a different Direction because that is how evolution works

    God guided evolution, is the commonly preached pseudoscience of “theistic evolution” (or evolutionary creationism), which promotes this view, but is totally incapable of explaining a credible mechanism for it.
    Their problem is that the actual selection and genetic mechanisms don’t work like that,  but most who “BELIEVE” in theistic evolution (as an alternative to UNDERSTANDING science) , have no idea about the actual science of genetics or ecology, but have been told by priests it is OK to believe it.

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  • M K Ammembal says:

    How do we explain apoptosis of some groups of cells to form, say, digits?

    I think it is a matter of HOX genes which control other genes switching on a “make digits program”, and then switching off at the appropriate time.

    Various vertebrates have various number of digits, and we can see mechanisms when they malfunction.

    While the number of fingers and toes is usually stable in human genomes, we are descended from lobe-finned fishes which had more rays on their fins.

    Chinese boy born with 31 fingers and toes

    Family of 14 who all have six fingers and six toes celebrate latest addition


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  • but most who “BELIEVE” in theistic evolution (as an alternative to UNDERSTANDING science) , have no idea about the actual science of genetics or ecology

    I’m not sure that you’re entirely correct there Alan, there are plenty of smart cookies who are still annoyingly theistic.  The thing is; does it really matter if they think that God gives evolution the odd nudge in the right direction, provided that they accept that the universe developed over vast aeons of time, and that life evolved also over great periods of time by natural selection, albeit with a cognitively dissonant nudge?  I wouldn’t think that was anything to get  your knickers in a knot about

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    eejit says:

    I’m not sure that you’re entirely correct there Alan, there are plenty of smart cookies who are still annoyingly theistic.

    As you say, they are heavily into cognitive dissonance.
    From a political point of view, it is better if they are not denying and opposing the teaching of evolution outright.

    The thing is; does it really matter if they think that God gives evolution the odd nudge in the right direction, provided that they accept that the universe developed over vast aeons of time, and that life evolved also over great periods of time by natural selection, albeit with a cognitively dissonant nudge?

    The problem is, that biological evolution is a tree or a web, NOT a ladder leading to human worshippers as theistic evolution teaches.  Natural selection is the part they deny.
    For anyone trying to teach the science of biological or cosmological evolution,
    “God-did-it to create worshippers”, contradicts all the scientific mechanisms which students need to learn.
    Theologians promoting theistic evolution, merely produce whatever argument suits their agenda of the day, plus contrived obfuscation, with nothing coherent presented to explain any mechanism.
    They simply hi-jack bits of science to embroider their magical mythology and label it “evolution”.

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  • 42
    Michael 100 says:

    eejit #40:  I would argue that it does matter if people think that god gives evolution the odd nudge.  It’s wrong, and it matters that it’s wrong.  It’s significant that the first words of the Creed recited by Christians every day are “credo in unum deum.”  The first words of the Islamic creed are “There is no god but Allah.”  If god(s) exist, then those who accept that premise are justified in believing that the god revealed itself to the profits (pardon me) of old, established a church with leaders who influence religious thought, who either influence the state or become the state, and who make it a sin/crime to disagree with the dictates of the local god promulgated by the clerics.  When, in the late 18th century, governments began to be established by leaders influenced by The Enlightenment, the first thing the did was to erect a wall to separate church and state, e.g.  “Congress shall make no law…”  When the church seeks to regain some of the power taken from it by (lower case d) democrats, they make common cause with fascists.  When lesser theists gain control of governmental organizations such as school boards, county commissions, state legislatures, etc, the first thing they want to do is prohibit the teaching of evolution and other inconvenient realities such as climate science – and we could go on from there with an endless list.  So, yes, I believe it does matter if people think it alright to believe that one or more of the gods gives evolution the odd nudge.

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  • I find it very unsettling to observe people going about their daily lives while holding two completely different and conflicting explanations of the origin of the universe, origin of life and the origin of humans. I can only relate to this from a great distance. There was a short period of time between my quitting the Methodist church in my teens and the end of my University education when I still held a few principles of Christianity in my head and also, at the same time, the theory of evolution by natural selection.

    Those few theological beliefs that had been programmed in me from childhood remained mostly because they had not been adequately challenged but as years went on, they were directly challenged by others who were already ahead of me in their deconstruction process or they were believers of other religions who were indoctrinated into dogma that conflicted with Christian dogma. Some of these ideas are; the existence of the soul, that Christ died on the cross and was observed to be alive in days after his death, that Christ died for our sins, and various other principles of Christianity that once they are installed, become part of our worldview.

    If you can excuse my panglossian take on cognitive dissonance,I wonder if we can see it as an opportunity to engage a significant group of people in a way that is similar to the one that led me to discard those ridiculous old remnants of childhood indoctrination.

    The current state of affairs in the Catholic church provides an obvious pathway to a gentle, compassionate, possibly socratic method of pointing out the existence of those two conflicting stories that exist in that same brain at the same time and a prompting for the believer to attempt to reconcile that conflict.

    Public statements by the current Pope have opened an opportunity for these very discussions. Every Catholic that I’ve ever engaged has been unaware of the actual position of their own church on the topic of Big Bang and Evolution. They are visibly disturbed when I ask them to confirm for themselves that they are not in violation of their religion if they accept the principles of science as an explanation of these big questions.

    The theories of evolution and the Big Bang are real and God is not “a magician with a magic wand”, Pope Francis has declared.
    Speaking at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope made comments which experts said put an end to the “pseudo theories” of creationism and intelligent design that some argue were encouraged by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
    Francis explained that both scientific theories were not incompatible with the existence of a creator – arguing instead that they “require it”.

    Now, of course I know what we’re all thinking; Wishy-washy muddled thinking that is not intellectually honest! Just a blatant exhibition of the Catholic church backed into a corner and flailing about in a pathetic effort to survive! But I submit to you now that this is a great opportunity to engage Catholics in a dialog that can really make a difference. Isn’t it better to plant seeds of doubt and tend to those seeds with the hope of future bounty than to confront believers in a negative way? Doesn’t this just confirm the theologian’s claim that atheists are the tool of the devil sent to shake their belief in the true faith?

    From a website (Not sure how reliable any of these sites are) that advises Catholics on these weighty issues, the following explains their presentation of positions: usually take three basic positions on the origins of the cosmos, life, and man: (1) special or instantaneous creation, (2) developmental creation or theistic evolution, (3) and atheistic evolution. The first holds that a given thing did not develop, but was instantaneously and directly created by God. The second position holds that a given thing did develop from a previous state or form, but that this process was under God’s guidance. The third position claims that a thing developed due to random forces alone.

    Try not to get aggravated right off the bat. There is plenty of material in that paragraph to start a discussion with. The next paragraph in the article presents even more:

    Related to the question of how the universe, life, and man arose is the question of when they arose. Those who attribute the origin of all three to special creation often hold that they arose at about the same time, perhaps six thousand to ten thousand years ago. Those who attribute all three to atheistic evolution have a much longer time scale. They generally hold the universe to be ten billion to twenty billion years old, life on earth to be about four billion years old, and modern man (the subspecies homo sapiens) to be about thirty thousand years old. Those who believe in varieties of developmental creation hold dates used by either or both of the other two positions.

    Although the explanation of a difference between us existing in timelines, there are plenty of factual errors that need correction here. I won’t even take up the space to list them all. To be honest, that terminology Atheistic evolution just can’t be allowed to stand. If Catholic believers are being given the opportunity to accept theory of evolution, even if directed by God, then it’s not very atheistic at all anymore, is it?

    From the same article:

    Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that “the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.
    While the Church permits belief in either special creation or developmental creation on certain questions, it in no circumstances permits belief in atheistic evolution.

    This is risible, is it not? It reminds me of a toddler handing over a toy to a new little friend only to grab it right back in a selfish panic. And then, after dancing around and flirting with principles of science that are whirling all around them, the toddler makes a grab for his beloved toy:

    The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

    Ah, yes. Flirt and dance with the evil atheists if you must, true believers, good Catholics, but then you will come back around to the good girl, the prim and proper pure girl, the Catholic dogma that must be defended because if we don’t hold the story of Adam and Eve and the talking snake to be solid truth then the whole concept of original sin goes flying out the window and what the hell will be left of Christianity at all after that?!

    Well, I’m waaaaaaay too long winded this morning. A side effect of our imposed isolation I suppose. But as a loosely applied strategy, in the presence of someone in a condition of profound cognitive dissonance, can we try to:

    1. Explain the concept of cognitive dissonance

    2. Point out the conflicting ideas that are floating around in the believer’s head.

    3. Correct statements that are scientifically incorrect and statements that are demeaning to non-believers.

    4. Prompt the believer to reevaluate their current position on the big questions and morph their position to be more in line with the current state of science, even if that means they position themselves within position number 2 as explained above, but maybe, just maybe, allowing themselves to lean over the line into position number 3, as much as they can bear it.

    5. Reassure the conflicted believer that they are still a good person all on their own even if they find themselves leaning over that line into position 3. There are more than just two positions in this life of either pious devout Christian and doomed atheist. There are any number of intermediate states and that it will be upsetting sometimes but in the end they are good and smart and will find their comfort zone.

    “I don’t have faith in Jesus or God but I have a wealth of faith in you!”

    6. Future discussions can gently point out the superiority of construction of morality from a framework of ethics and humanist values as opposed to heinous “morality” of original sin, Jesus the scapegoat dying for our “sins”, etc.

    Take it slowly.

    Now then, that kitchen of mine isn’t going to clean itself.  😉

  • 44
    Cairsley says:

    LaurieB #43

    The time it took you to type out your thoughts at #43 was well spent and is much appreciated.

    What I liked about Pope Benedict XVI was that he tended to avoid cognitive dissonance, preferring to state plainly the Catholic church’s traditional beliefs, even, indeed especially, if these conflicted with modern scientific views. He made it much plainer to the rest of the world just how wacky Catholic and traditional Christian doctrine actually is and he thereby undermined the church’s credibility in the minds of better-informed Catholics and other traditional Christians. Sexual scandals of more than one kind are believed to have had something to do with Benedict’s sudden resignation, but it is also thought that rapid decline of attendance in parishes in the Western world was another factor behind it. Certainly, the current pope, nice chap that he is, is much better (as your quotation instances) at accepting modern scientific findings as compatible with the church’s traditional and immutable superstitions and dulling the cognitive dissonance with comforting holy talk of salvific faith and the calming haze of burnt incense, thus shoring up the church’s credibility among the remaining faithful, especially those less inclined to inquire further.

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  • Excellent post Laurie (#43). Much to think about.

    On cognitive dissonance; I never gave it much thought, thinking myself trained to be sceptical, often happy to think the unthinkable, even delighting in being controversial, until fairly recently when I was surprised to see how often I held ideas, that I thought compatible that were in fact not.

    Ageing, my already mediocre memory took a turn for the worse. Nothing unusual, just the typical downturn in converting short-term memories into something longer term. I consciously set about trying to remedy this using the mental prosthetics of a smart phone, laptop and notebook, always finding the term or information I had temporarily lost, making notes of more of my thoughts and bookmarks of research undertaken and reviewing both frequently.

    It didn’t just restore what I had before but there was a notable critical uplift it seemed to me. I found a lot of ideas I had had before became less tenable. By more often having to put into words what I had left in my head in impressionistic form, incompatibilities became noticeable.

    In many ways this is what Stephen of Wimbledon was promoting about “Street Epistemology”. Simply having to use the inbuilt logic of language can reveal the illogical nature of some idea compatibility by laying out more points than we normally hold in our heads at one time. In dealing with Evolution deniers, say, it is notable that they always ask for one clinching argument, that they can set about. The least complexity seems defeating for them.

    For evolutionary reasons we are still very parsimonious about using our noggin as it is the single biggest resting energy drain if used. Now we have cheap calories and it is often the rich that can afford to be slim.

    My endless advice now is to “think on paper”. Not tiny tweets, or writing-as-conversation like in social media, but expansive and considered expositions of what is in your head. I think this is almost an educational imperative. 500 (?) words a day in a personal diary.

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  • Cognitive Dissonance

    Perhaps I have just become too tolerant in my old age – from radical Marxist, Trotskyite, Trades Union official to apologist for religious fuzzy thinking.  Ah me!!

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  • eejit

    apologist for religious fuzzy thinking.

    Ummm. Well, I was just thinking that maybe we could remake that concept more in the image of stealth rational thinking.


    (There’s some small possibility that I might get away with this…)

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  • I think, Laurie, you’ve made a very interesting post up at #43.

    You talk about approaching believers in a gentler way that would increase the success rate in terms of getting them to think for themselves, and possibly enter a ‘de-conversion’ of sorts that many of us have had to experience.  I don’t know how this has happened, but I’ve found it impossible to take a softly-softly approach, and am possibly a bit too caught up in my right to criticize and ridicule religious belief. Especially since discovering Christopher Hitchens 12 years ago.

    I recall Richard Dawkins interviewing Hitch, in what turned out to be his final interview with him, and Rickard perhaps lamenting a bit about how he is often labelled “strident”. Unsurprisingly, Hitch’s reply was the tonic needed, and, being a scientist myself, I’ll never forget it:

    RD One of my main beefs with religion is the way they label children as a “Catholic child” or a “Muslim child”. I’ve become a bit of a bore about it.

    CH You must never be afraid of that charge, any more than stridency.

    RD I will remember that.

    CH If I was strident, it doesn’t matter – I was a jobbing hack, I bang my drum. You have a discipline in which you are very distinguished. You’ve educated a lot of people; nobody denies that, not even your worst enemies. You see your discipline being attacked and defamed and attempts made to drive it out.

    Stridency is the least you should muster . . . It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements.” If you go on about something, the worst thing the English will say about you, as we both know – as we can say of them, by the way – is that they’re boring.

    Full interview here.

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  • Centauri

    I still feel the loss of Hitch keenly.  I count myself among the lucky ones to have seen him work his rhetorical magic at an event here in Boston some years ago. After the event I met him at the reception after that. It’s times like the present that we need our brilliant orators the most and I feel a vacuum now where his presence ought to be.

    The clip from the interview you copied is wonderful. I reject the accusations against Richard of being strident. I’ve never seen him behave in any way close to strident. I find him to be absolutely measured in his communication. I don’t consider Hitch to have been strident either. Just smart, direct and assertive. As an American, I will point out that on many of our TV shows and in public interactions we contend with nasty communications and vulgar irrational displays ten times a day. Those two Brit men come off as prim and proper, to tell the American truth. Hitch may have let loose an F bomb on occasion, I can’t say as I recall such a thing. I think he liked his drink and I’ve seen a video of him staggering and shouting about something but to my mind, in general, both of those guys come off as having an air of dignity and what is to this American, excessive formality.

    It would make my day to observe Richard shout STFU to one of his most vile interlocutors. Just musing. Better if it never happens.  🙂

    These two public intellectuals present ideas that are directly threatening to the interests of large groups of people in our society. To those people, even the slightest benign mention of anything that disagrees with their internalized ideology is blown up to an outright attack in their minds. An accusation of “strident” is the least of their insults, and all of us here can probably relate to that.  ~eye roll~ Of course, to my mind, the utterances of these two men are music to my ears. A confirmation of everything that I don’t believe. The hope of a future of the society that I want to live in and leave to my descendants. It’s a lofty hope indeed.

    In the interview above, Hitch says:

    It’s the shame of your colleagues that they don’t form ranks and say, “Listen, we’re going to defend our colleagues from these appalling and obfuscating elements.”

    Yes, and what a shame it is indeed. Shameful. Would you say that this is a function of the hesitation to confront religious privilege? Turn a blind eye to the religious establishment? Don’t ruffle up the faithful? WHY do the colleagues not band together and shove those appalling elements into a dark corner? From across the pond, my impression of Richard and colleagues is that they inhabit the rarified air of the British higher education system. It appears to be, again, excessively formal and unapproachable, giving these elite intellectuals a great authority that perhaps the most accomplished American academics just don’t enjoy. Ours are easily approachable in my opinion. This is my opinion and of course it’s arguable. 🙂

    The approach that I’ve presented above, a stealthy measured interaction is only one type of strategy amongst many. Hitch was a force of nature. He was talented in that way that many (most?) could never be. Richard has a different and wonderful style too. What I’ve recommended must be a form of manipulation if I’m honest. Manipulation may be scorned and even in some cases reprehensible, it’s true, but can manipulation also be valued if used for the greater good?

    If I construct, in my mind, a strategy of several points in a certain order that I want to move through in a conversation that will hopefully move us toward an agreement or at least a truce, and then succeed in bringing that goal to fruition, have I been dishonest? I understand that my idea of what constitutes the “greater good” could be entirely subjective and how could we ever trust any interlocutor to do the right thing in this. The only guarantee I can offer is that the rules of debate be strictly observed to block any rhetorical trickery and that the ten ethical obligations always be in the front of our minds when we act to influence another person. I high order, I’m aware.

    As humans (a few other species too) , we possess this big brain with all of its strange and wonderful abilities, including such things as a theory of mind and the ability to deceive others, judge their intentions, deceive ourselves, plot and scheme and construct strategies that can be implemented in interaction with others to achieve certain goals and serve our own self-interests. So as secular, rational thinkers, we need to employ our personal talents and skills to achieve our common goal – move society toward newer, better ways of living and away from the bad old ideas that are responsible for harm and misery that we find in our society and others.

    Some of us have access to lecture halls full of people and the ways and means to write wonderful books that deliver information and perspectives to large numbers of readers but others of us move in smaller circles. We encounter ugly opinions at the holiday table and in line at the grocery store. That’s when we need a kinder, gentler way to make correction and plant that seed of an idea with the hope that it’ll grow to a flower of ethical, rational viewpoint. If a manipulative conversation accomplishes that goal then so be it.

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  • 50
    Cairsley says:

    LaurieB #49: If I construct, in my mind, a strategy of several points in a certain order that I want to move through in a conversation that will hopefully move us toward an agreement or at least a truce, and then succeed in bringing that goal to fruition, have I been dishonest? …

    No, Laurie, you are in that case seeking an intelligent and respectful way of engaging with someone whom you see to be misguided and would like to lead and prompt through dialogue towards a more truthful, enlightened viewpoint. There you use the ‘strategy’, which is not at all to be thought of as some kind of manipulation, a word that quite misrepresents what you are proposing.

    Manipulation is good in the context of what we do with things, but not good in the context of what we do with people (or any rationally conscious beings). The latter we have to respect as other selves equal to us as autonomous subjects (to use Kant’s language). To treat them as things and manipulate them by deceptive means to serve some purpose we want them to fulfil would be unjust, a moral injury, an offence against their inherent dignity as autonomous subjects or as persons. I agree completely with what you propose at #49, and I do not think any of it can be called manipulation. What you propose is an intelligent, benevolent strategy for engaging with misguided people.

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  • Laurie


    It would make my day to observe Richard shout STFU to one of his most vile interlocutors. Just musing. Better if it never happens.


    RD: “Science! It works…., bitches!”

    was a blunderbuss aimed at the vile, a veritable cathartic delight.

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  • Phil


    I do remember that. It’s a good start. But my question is; Can an Oxford Don ever reach the depths of the vulgar swamp that the American hoi polloi inhabit all day, every day?

    I’m allowed to say that because I’m one of them. 🙂
    (The hoi polloi, that is)

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  • Cairsley #50

    Manipulation is good in the context of what we do with things, but not good in the context of what we do with people (or any rationally conscious beings). The latter we have to respect as other selves equal to us as autonomous subjects 

    Your point is well taken. I’ve played fast and loose with the word “manipulation”. But we may have stumbled upon a nice little ethical gray area here. I thought a quick read on the word in question to be necessary before I blunder along further.

    Manipulation is often characterized as a form of influence that is neither coercion nor rational persuasion. But this characterization immediately raises the question: Iseveryform of influence that is neither coercion nor rational persuasion a form of manipulation? If manipulation does not occupy the entire logical space of influences that are neither rational persuasion nor coercion, then what distinguishes it from other forms of influence that are neither coercion nor rational persuasion?
    The term “manipulation” is commonly thought to include an element of moral disapprobation: To say that Irving manipulated Tonya is commonly taken to be a moral criticism of Irving’s behavior. Is manipulation always immoral?Whyis manipulation immoral (when it is immoral)? If manipulation is not always immoral, then what determineswhenit is immoral?…

    3.1 Is Manipulation Always Wrong?
    Suppose that Tonya is a captured terrorist who has hidden a bomb in the city and that her preferred course of action is to keep its location secret until it to explodes. And suppose that Irving is an FBI interrogator who wants Tonya to reveal the bomb’s location before it explodes. How would this way filling in the details of the case change our moral assessment of the various ways that Irving might induce Tonya to change her mind?
    One rather extreme answer would be: “not at all”. This hardline view would hold that manipulation is always morally wrong, no matter what the consequences. Inasmuch as this hardline view resembles Kant’s notorious hardline position that lying is always wrong, one might look to Kant’s ethics for considerations to support it. But just as hardly anyone accepts Kant’s hardline position against lying, the hardline view against manipulation also seems short on defenders.
    A less extreme position would be that while manipulation is always pro tanto wrong, other moral considerations can sometimes outweigh the pro tanto wrongness of manipulation. Thus, we might think that manipulation is always wrong to some extent, but that countervailing moral factors might sometimes suffice to make manipulation justified on balance. What might such factors include? One obvious candidate would be consequences—for example, the fact that Irving’s successful manipulation of Tonya would save many innocent lives. Non-consequentialist factors might also be thought to be countervailing considerations: Perhaps the immorality of Tonya’s character, or the fact that she is acting on an evil desire or intention, is a countervailing factor that can outweigh the pro tanto wrongness of Irving’s manipulation. It is important to note that, on this view, the fact that an action involves manipulation is always a moral reason to avoid it, even if stronger countervailing considerations render it not wrong on balance. For example, even if Irving’s manipulation of Terrorist Tonya is not wrong on balance (e.g., because of the innocent lives that will be saved), if Irving can get Tonya to reveal the bomb’s location without manipulation (or anything else that is comparably immoral), then it would be morally better to avoid manipulating her.

    I acknowledge that my manipulative strategy with the goal of moderating what I consider to be immoral viewpoints of devoutly religious interlocutors is in no way comparable to the terrorist Tanya example above, but do I still have a viable case to call what I do as ethical manipulation?

    I think now that the bold section of that section is quite a decent guideline going forward.


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  • 56
    Cairsley says:

    LaurieB #55: I acknowledge that my manipulative strategy with the goal of moderating what I consider to be immoral viewpoints of devoutly religious interlocutors is in no way comparable to the terrorist Tanya example above, but do I still have a viable case to call what I do as ethical manipulation?

    Thank you, Laurie, for the thoughtful reply. The article “The Ethics of Manipulation” on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy webpage sets the ethical considerations of manipulation out very well. In response to your question, “Do I still have a viable case to call what I do as ethical manipulation?” my point is merely that, given the ethical difficulties regarding manipulation, to use the word to describe your strategy against religious interlocutors is tactically unhelpful for your own cause. Why accuse yourself of manipulation when you are in fact describing how best to present ideas to the religious in a clear and reasonable way that may enable them (eventually) to see the validity, and perhaps even the truth, of the view you may be representing?

    Your comment at #49 reminded me of a time when I was eight years old and my mother told me, the day after I had been to the dental nurse for the six-monthly check-up, that the nurse had sent her a report saying that I was taking too much sugar and should not be taking sugar in tea and coffee. From that time I have drunk tea and coffee without sugar; but it was a few years later, in my early teens, when I realized that my mother had on that occasion lied to me. The memory of her speaking to me in an unusually solemn tone, sitting side-on to me, not looking at me but down at the floor, makes me laugh, because she had a horror of lying and was no good at it, having been brought up by a Lebanese mother (along with all the aunts and uncle). But she must have thought it was a serious enough matter for her to think that she could save me from future health problems by lying about a report from the dental nurse. Was she right to do so? I am inclined to think she was. I have grown up without the bother of a sweet tooth. Yes, I enjoy sweet things, but only in small quantities. I have never had a weight problem. In my sixty-ninth year my trouser-size is only one size up from what it was in my twenties. And I still drink plenty of tea and an occasional coffee. I would say my mother did me a favor by lying to me as she managed to do all those years ago.

    The case of a mother lying to change her child’s behavior for its benefit is a good contrast for your present case, Laurie. Although your strategy in dialogue with religionists is benevolent, your interlocutors are not children but people you have to treat as social equals, your peers. You not seeking to deceive or trick them; on the contrary, you are seeking to undeceive them. Although there are grey areas where someone’s influence on others may involve some kind of manipulation that is difficult to assess ethically because of such factors such as consequences or purposes, there is no need to obscure the rightness of your own strategy by needlessly using the word ‘manipulation’ in your description of it.

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  • Thank you Centauri. This conversation will remind me to stay on the high road in future interactions. In the heat of those conversations it’s too tempting to go low and I find that to be counterproductive and always leans into the category of unethical. A solid ethical framework offers the best way forward.

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  • Having just seen yet another video of a certain type of American throwing a tantrum about the virus restrictions because “freedom” and “USA” and “constitution”, I can’t help thinking it would have been a very good thing if the Founding Fathers had also created a Bill of Responsibilities.

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  • Flexiblity of Meaning

    I once had the (unpaid) job of setting English exams for the technical education department in Western Australia.  Our students were seldom premier league.  In a vocabulary section I once included the word “manipulate” which had appeared in a comprehension passage.  To my puzzlement, one girl gave the definition as “put back” – a meaning which was not remotely derivable from the context.  When I entered her marks on the spreadsheet I noted her name, Martinovic;  the name of a famous clan of West Australian chiropractors!

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  • From time to time the logical people try to convince the religious and emotional people that they are wrong according to science and rational outlook. I am always amazed at how those who argue on both sides will waste their time trying to convince the other about being wrong. Those who believe without proof will never except the scientific proof that they are wrong. Nor will a logical person or scientist ever except a religious or emotional point of view that the science is wrong. Instead of giving each other a tremendous headache on who is right we just need to realize that the poor and less educated will always gravitate toward religious and emotional points of view. Those that are wealthy and well educated will gravitate toward the logical or scientific point of view. This also means the scientific and logical group will always be the minority in a wilderness of emotional views. Countries like the US are extremely dangerous not because they have all this military might but because the majority of the country has this religious and emotional point of view and they are more likely to use this military might to advance the emotional point of view. The governments throughout history have manipulated populations that have large religious or low educational standards and used these to achieve terrible ends. That we are able to advance at all is amazing but our religious and emotional views on the world will always be the potential undoing of everything we have achieved. I have been around 80 years now and everything just seems to repeat on the religious and emotional side while the scientific side advances at great strides. Those who do not understand or do not think in logical terms often see it all as a threat and go for leaders like Trump or others who promise the impossible.

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  • People who follow the Christian faiths never seem to be interested in how the Christian faith came about. Rome was at war very frequently and they had a score of religions to deal with. A religious day every day of the week was not very efficient for an army. Then there was the problem with the old religions of the gods having many sons and impregnating the ladies of the day. It did not sit well with the soldiers of the day to come home after a few years and find more children that were attributed to one of the gods.

    So in 312 Rome decided to negotiate with the Christians on a designer religion that suited the Roman view of a warlike state. An agreement was reached and some of the main points were to drop all the contradictory books of the new testament (37 I believe) and only accept the 4. Also, there would not be any more sons or daughters of God.

    The Roman-style Christianity made war on the east for 600 years and then in response to defend itself Muhammed crafted the Muslim religion. Also a warlike religion.

    These religions were created for the benefit of the state to make war and control the populations and prevent uprising since the religion and the state worked hand and hand to keep populations stable and wars successful.

    Any additional beliefs interpreted by the populations as part of the religion so much the better. Education is the only effective way to combat religious, emotional beliefs. Artifacts throughout history have become points of focus for religions. The current one in America is the flag. No other country citizens look upon their flag the way the Americans do. It has all the makings of a religion.

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  • 62
    Michael 100 says:

    Greatgrandpa.  Regarding your posts, especially #61, I wonder if you could provide some citations for the interesting facts you reference.  I have no doubt that you are correct, but I’m always looking for new sources of information to explore.  Maybe you could insert some ideas into the Bookclub section of this site.   Have you read The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey?  I wrote about it in. #147 of the bookclub. I enjoyed reading both ##60 & 61.

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  • 63
    Michael 100 says:

    Just when you think its safe…   Go to YouTube and search for Michael Moore Presents: Planet of the Humans.  Moore explores how we are being fooled into thinking that the green energy movement is the answer to carbon pollution.

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  • 64
    Michael 100 says:

    That was possibly the most frightening film I’ve ever seen.  Kurt Vonnegut referred  to the 20th century’s wars as the world’s two unsuccessful suicide attempts.  After watching the film I’m afraid we may finally achieve success in this century.

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  • @Michal 100 #64

    That was possibly the most frightening film I’ve ever seen.

    As I understand it, that is Moore’s intent. I see Moore as the flip side of conservative moguls like Rush Limbaugh and Rupert Murdoch: the ultimate goal is to make a pile of money, and it seems presenting a slanted version of events results in significantly higher profits. Sorry Michael, I know there is a humanistic purpose to Moore’s productions as well as the joys of profits, but I cannot bring myself to experience the unrelenting onslaught of a Michal Moore production.

    On a lighter note, I submit for your pleasure some thoughts from Bertrand Russell as we all shelter in place:


  • Well I just watched the entire documentary. Well almost. A warning: there are moments where animal slaughter and injuries are shown in the film. I don’t ever want to have my head in the sand about anything but the clips of slaughter about 20 mins before the end I didn’t need, and I didn’t watch the last minute or two on the impact on orangutans in Indonesia. Just a heads up for those about to watch it.

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  • 67
    Cairsley says:

    Michael #63

    That is a perturbing documentary, crafted with Michael Moore’s special talent for focusing on the wickedness of whatever he has decided to warn us gentle souls against. But what he brings to our attention does matter, namely the manoeuvres of the corporate élites (mostly based in the USA), whereby they are doing to the clean-energy movement what they have now long accomplished with the US political system — bringing it by degrees, through incentives to certain known advocates of climate-change action and judicious slanting or suppressing of information, under their corporate management. Ethanol and other biofuels and biomass, along with natural gas, have been proposed misleadingly as clean or cleaner alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, while the efficiency of photovoltaic panels and windmills has been misleadingly downplayed, more recent technical advances and improvements in these being ignored. As always with something from Michael Moore, the aim is not the usual balanced investigation one might expect from a professional journalist, but a predominantly emotive warning against a real threat from powerful operators acting largely outside ordinary people’s awareness and against the human world’s present urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of its future. It is hard to understand how anyone could want to frustrate efforts to stop greenhouse gas emissions when it has well established by the best scientific studies that failing to do so will inevitably lead to no end of disasters; but we are not billionaires and do not live in their removed and rarified bubble.


    Vicki #65

    Thank you for the link to that famous essay by Bertrand Russell. It is the perfect antidote to the perturbation caused by Mr Moore’s documentary.

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  • I am so angry at this simple minded Michael Moore exec. produced pamphleteering. It will take generations to learn how to optimise sustainable energy. What you need to look at are the deltas in the processes over the years and decades. You need to see how compounded businesses integrating power generation and using all its byproducts to produce value starts to really dramatically reduce CO2 from other processes and lift conversion efficiencies.

    Newly installed power generation near me takes bio-waste, that would have gone to landfill and methane release, digests it producing green gas to help burn the remainder extracting most of its calorific value. Next stage is to sell the low level heat and CO2 into the local glass house businesses to provide season extended growing.  Germany has recently learned how to burn human and animal solid waste. It has the same calorific value as brown coal. Its clever and complicated and it will transform sewage farms and animals farms.

    Wind turbines are now going out to 50 year lifetimes from 25 and much lower maintenance with clever simpler designs, antivibration measures and blade surface treatments, This dramatically alters the levelised cost of power.

    HVDC transmission increases the viable area of sale of power by at least four fold hugely decreasing the level of baseline provision needed. My own work (and very many others) in part is about creating processes that make night-time wind power particularly useful, greatly enhancing the value of turbines.

    HVDC and uber reliable turbines can now go off-shore in huge numbers, where wind resources are even more reliable.

    Flow batteries that China is getting behind are already up to 200MW installations with arbitrarily large capacities (They just need bigger storage tanks.) My prediction is that these will replace not only every battery and gen set based UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supplies) system (like the back-up generator in the film) for every hospital, public and private building and every manufacturer’s factory, but in doing so with small extra cost provide massive support for the grid buying surplus power and selling it during peak demand or low supply. Even better the fleet of BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles, by 2050 85% in the civilised and world 60% in the US) will serve the same function and fast top up charging will be done from refuelling stations smoothing out supply with flow batteries.

    Sustainable energy provision is only a part of the bigger picture of sustainable living and integrated functioning. This crass expectation that we’ll just be swapping out things of the same singular function and behold green, really gets my goat.

    Now I must get back to my part of the design for a major power provider, capturing carbon from biomass and producing a variety agri-products.

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  • Centauri #69

    I owe more time to the documentary. I watched the first 15 mins or so then dotted through the thing seeking out its points. I think I got most of it though.

    I totally understand that corporations are often using Green as a cloak for business as usual. I followed BP Solar from its inauguration in 1981 and soon realised at the subsequent rebranding of BP as an energy company with the appearance, the hint  of flowers of green plants and yellow sun in its logo, was cynical. When BP tired of its commercial use and following a political climate change it got out of the business and flogged it to Tata, where I nearly worked to incorporate Solar PV into its steel building panels PV on the outer surface, battery in the middle and LED lighting on the inner surface, in fact a bonkers idea. They/we had lots of stupid ideas failing to see the real kinds of integration of system needed.

    The USA is utterly hamstrung in cleaving to a narrow neo-classical economics. The real integrations to achieve sustainability depend on the integration of parts currently not possible with the division of corporate interests. The economic focus of its financial institutions even now is too short term, preferring economic survival and the feeding of its hungry owner/investors through investments more akin to short term gambling.

    By contrast the Pacific Rim and Europe out invest the US over the last decade and do so with longer more sustained investment cycles and with considerably greater dirigisme allowing public policy to drive the needed integration. China is actually to be deeply studied and admired as a technocracy putting the needed opportunity for huge scale developments as an opportunity to learn how this can all fit together, Renewable sources combined with gas fired heat’n’power’n’product businesses (that can later become green gas fired) coupled with Smart HVDC grids, to Smart Loads and growing storage will carry them fastest to full sustainability.

    The failure is not of corporations. Though the US grants them person-hood, they aren’t obliged to have moral sensibilities, laws notwithstanding. Indeed the law requires them to be cold-hearted deliverers of mere profit for its owners. What is needed is a state endorsed by a public that wishes to reform financial institutions and favour through tax incentives much longer term investments over short term gambling; a state that is prepared to act with a degree of greater dirigisme in its medium term objectives to build a national expertise; a state that is prepared to legislate to facilitate the building of compounded (circular economy) enterprises and underwrite until resolved the balancing of the businesses therein.

    The problem is an ideological politico-economic one and will persist until resolved. Corporations need to be incentivised in the national interest, reducing international trade and dependency, in the material. Energy companies need to be given an opportunity to earn as soon as possible from the sustainable path. They seem the enemy, and indeed are, but they need to be brought into the sustainability tent. Their resources need to be more redirected towards sustainability investments rather than against it by being better able to earn from it.

    I fear the documentary has failed to enthuse folk of the profound viability of being sustainable if only we could re-imagine (indeed re-discover) how we could do economics and governance better. I suspect it of doing harm.

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  • Well, might not reach Mr Dawkins, and it’d be egotistical to expect it should. But sending it anyway because mailing international letters requires going outside in lockdown. So hopefully if not him, others read and this means something to someone. I recently have watched your interview on the AI podcast. And well, i was reminded to not judge upon others judgement. Spent a decade thinking Dawkins is a cumdungeon that agitates because well media and people that talked about you in my surroundings said so. I was pleasantly surprised at how enlightened you are. And wish you the best with the rest of your time.

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  • 71
    Apostle Matthew says:

    Spent a decade thinking Dawkins is a cumdungeon that agitates because well media and people that talked about you in my surroundings said so. I was pleasantly surprised at how enlightened you are.

    Welcome to the site.

    It would indeed be very enlightening for many,  if they actually read the works or viewed the videos of Richard Dawkins, rather than looking at the venomous strawman Dawkins image,  which is presented and promoted  by some of those whose damaging misconceptions, and pseudoscience claims, have been debunked by him.

    Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, has topped a public poll of the most inspiring science books of all time, commissioned by the Royal Society to mark the 30th year of the prestigious Royal Society Science Book Prize
    Participants called The Selfish Gene a “masterpiece” and Dawkins an “excellent communicator”, with many commenting on how the book had changed their perspective of the world and the way they were trained to see science.

    This false image is often uncritically picked up by people who have never read his books, but have read garbled accounts by others who disparage them and him!

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  • phil and others

    re michael moore/jeff gibbs doc

    i watched it   grisly bits and all    right to the bitter orangutan end
    (i eat some meat so feel obliged to watch animal slaughter and distress)
    the message of the film seems to be capitalism poisons everything
    like religion?

    and that includes well-meaning green energy initiatives

    problem is    the film is being used by right wing press
    (as here in canada) to attack all green energy initiatives

    phil    may i use your two posts (credited or not?) to send to the journalist corcoran
    who wrote that linked financial post piece?

    as an antidote to that film here’s another pair

    though you may have to pay for the first one outside canada

    and easily available in uk attenborough’s climate change the facts

    (mods   linking to text does not seem to be working properly)

  • Hi quarecuss

    (mods   linking to text does not seem to be working properly)

    Can you be a little more specific? Do you mean quoting another user’s posts, or linking to external sites? Or something else? And in what way is it not working?



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  • I’d like to thank mr dawkins again. I think he helped me accept my mortality. I sort of refused to accept there’s no afterlife even if there is no god. tried many worlds or quantum whatever or reincarnation woo….Tried hard to convince myself. And well i don’t completely agree with dawkinses arguments or stephen frys. I don’t think i should be grateful i was born…it’s probably the same as if i wasn’t.

     It’s a part of a talk  i had with myself, a lot of soul searching. i found a way to come to terms with my mortality Basically it’s based on a couple of principles stemming from daoism(acceptance of the universe as is) .First principle of course is that humans can’t imagine non-existence and that’s what a non religious death is and only through imagining it is anything bad 2nd is that humans think of themselves as immortal, you can’t imagine the world without you 3rd is that non-existence is neither good nor bad 4th is heideggers facing death -to accept that you are mortal and that you are already dead at some point in time and live your life as a dead-man accepting that you are dead makes you true to yourself. You act as a person with nothing to gain. 6th one is hitchen’s leave the party early principle -you are mad you are leaving the party early, accept you are dead and the party isn’t in your honour. You are not the main character of the story. When i hear Steven Weinberg decry that the universe has no purpose and that the only solace is in facing your death with honour, i ask myself was the universe built for Mr Weinberg? It’s a bit morbid but i’d rather be at peace with the idea of a non-personal god conducted death than with the idea a personal god conducted hell. And well if it’s heaven it’s heaven. Not discounting gods or heavens or hells because you can’t disprove them, but it’d require serious woo for them to be true.

    Thank you for letting me come to peace with myself through nudging me to finally accepting the atheist supposition that this is the one life you have. Even if i don’t agree with your reasoning. It also helped me broker the topic with my mother and accept hers as well, and we can leave free of denial or fear.

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  • I came to accept my mortality through Mark Twain: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” – Mark Twain.  It’s easier to comprehend if you think backwards, of the past.  I would like to (re?)visit the Roman Empire though…

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  • i don’t fear death
    it’s the preliminaries that worry me

    I totally agree.  My wife has strict instructions, that when the time comes, she should buy me a ticket to Switzerland or Belgium, or better still obtain a phile of something lethal dissolved in Green Chartreuse.

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