Help make Google Scholar better

Google Scholar is a useful tool for finding high quality resources. Often those resources are peer-reviewed or otherwise scholarly. It’s great. Unfortunately, there is this one little problem.

Unfortunately, somebody or some algorithm is getting a bit sloppy, and it also returns articles for Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, and Creation Ministries International. It’s somewhat understandable — all of those institutions know deep down in their sweet stupid little hearts that rank theology has no credibility, so they do their very best to ape real science in style, if not in content.

As a result, there is an online petition to sign, for what it’s worth, to get Google to clean things up a bit. Sign it.

via PZ

Hawaii ends state prayer

The Hawaii state Senate has decided to do away with the prayer it used to open each session.

A citizen’s complaint had prompted the American Civil Liberties Union last summer to send the Senate a letter noting that its invocations often referenced Jesus Christ, contravening the separation of church and state.

That prompted the state attorney general’s office to advise the Senate that their handling of prayers – by inviting speakers from various religions to preach before every session – wouldn’t survive a likely court challenge, said Democratic Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.

“Above all, our responsibility is to adhere to the Constitution,” Galuteria said after Thursday’s vote to halt the daily blessings.

This is a pretty straight forward decision, one that reflects the fact that Christians don’t get to do whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to understand it.

“They (the ACLU) continue to threaten governments with lawsuits to try to force them into capitulating to their view of society,” said Brett Harvey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, made up of Christian lawyers to defend free faith speech. “Governments should take a stand for this cherished historical practice.”

Thank you for confirming that the prayers were all about Christians, but really? It’s an organization dedicated to defending free faith speech? Do they realize that there is no such thing? That if such a thing were to exist, that it would be a privilege, not a right? There is simply the right to free speech.

Besides, it isn’t free speech if it’s being endorsed by the government.

Uh-oh, astrologers are angered

Astrologers are all in a huff over comments made by two astronomers on BBC2 recently. In the future, they want a fair and balanced perspective given to astrology, but they want the BBC to apologize for allowing the astronomers, Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain, to denigrate their ‘field’ in the first place.

Shocking stuff, I think you’ll agree.

This is not the first time that Brian Cox has waded into the astrology controversy that has raged in science for literally almost none of the last couple of centuries. The hackles of Britain’s astrologers were raised last year, when Cox took a moment during his Wonders of the Solar System series to explain to the public that “astrology is a load of rubbish,” a statement which pretty much echoes the scientific consensus on the matter, which says that, “astrology is a load of rubbish.”

American media might give in, but I don’t expect to see an apology from the BBC anytime soon.

This guy is good

I’ve been reading The A-Unicornist by Mike D a lot lately. He’s the same guy who recently embarrassed a certain theist (who resorted to lying, as usual). What I really like is the great clarity in his writing. Every time I read one of his posts, I know exactly what he’s saying. Take this one, for example.

2. Genetic fallacy

I hear this one from believers a lot, most commonly misattributing it to statements like, “The main reason you’re a Christian instead of a Buddhist is because you were raised in a predominately Christian culture”. This may be an erroneous statement depending on the believer, but it’s a logically valid proposition – people do tend to adopt the prominent religion of their culture, though of course not all of them do.

Richard Dawkins and John Loftus have often talked about the powerful familial and sociocultural transmission of religious beliefs (it’s the basis for Loftus’ “Outsider Test for Faith”), but this is only meant to spur critical thinking in the believer, not to disprove the tenets of Christianity. The genetic fallacy would say, “Because Christianity is most commonly transmitted through familial or sociocultural tradition, its tenets are not true.” A proposition can be true regardless of how people come to believe it.

This isn’t anything that is difficult to understand, but I can’t help but appreciate how concise Mike has made it. Besides that, I’ve run into that exact misunderstanding with believers myself.

5. Special pleading

Special Pleading occurs when someone tries to justify a claim as being exempt from well-established logical principles, without justifying the exemption. It’s very subtle, but I encounter this one frequently with regard to religious experiences and Biblical history. For example:

* “If you do not believe in the historical evidence for the death and resurrection of Christ, you ought to disregard the historical evidence for George Washington.” The special pleading in this case is assuming that we ought not to be any more skeptical of supernatural historical claims than we should be about mundane historical claims.
* “The real proof to me that God is real is that I have experienced His presence.” This special pleading fallacy assumes that one’s subjective experiences constitute valid objective knowledge, when they may be tainted by a variety of assumptions and biases. Indeed the entire spectrum of scientific inquiry isn’t designed to eliminate bias from the researchers, but methodologically account for the fact that we are all highly biased so that invalid conclusions can be identified and disregarded.

I really appreciate this one as well, not because I’ve come across the same problem, but because I’ve come across the exact same example in the problem. A theistic friend of mine gave me that George Washington example when I told him that there was not solid evidence even for the existence of Jesus. (I do find it perfectly plausible that Jesus existed, though he was certainly not divine; but that doesn’t mean the evidence is solid.)

Start giving this blog, now featured on the FTSOS blogroll, a look.

Thought of the day

We all knew the Jets weren’t good enough to be this far anyway.

Good riddance.

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