Honeygate

The Internet is filled with a lot of annoying people. Sometimes they’re simply irritating because their educational level is so clearly so low. Other times they’re just trolls. It’s that latter category that mostly latched onto the “honeygate” ‘scandal’ involving Richard Dawkins, but I suspect a fair number are just unable to think beyond a very superficial level.

Briefly: Richard Dawkins made a Twitter post complaining about having a jar of honey confiscated as he made his way through a UK airport. The Internet lit up with mocking posts on Twitter and in the blogosphere about how Dawkins lost his dear jar of honey. Here’s his post:

Bin Laden has won, in airports of the world every day. I had a little jar of honey, now thrown away by rule-bound dundridges. STUPID waste.

Again, most of these people were simply trolls. They damn well know this isn’t about a jar of honey or any other particular liquid. The complaint is about overly strict airport security that does little to nothing to secure anything other than the paychecks and inflated egos of TSA and other needless agents.

But this is the Internet. This is where people go to be assholes.

This post isn’t so much about the annoyance of Richard Dawkins by a bunch of mooks. It’s about the fact that people routinely ruin worthwhile and potentially very fruitful discussions because they just want to watch the world burn. Or, less dramatically, they’re dickface trolls. These people are like less skilled versions of people who spread computer viruses. Viruses that are designed simply to hurt the computers of people, not to gain money, scam people, make political points, etc, but simply to cause harm are the worst ones out there. It’s like a vandal throwing a rock through your kitchen window. There’s no reason behind it. There’s no logic or thought behind it. The entire ‘point’ is to be an asshole. These are bad people.

Now, I don’t have the blog traffic for anything to come of this post, but I suspect a recounting of this post by these sort of people would paint me as a defender of honey or Dawkins or something this post isn’t about. Because why not? Intentionally misunderstanding something isn’t dishonest assholery. No, no, it’s just funny. Sure.

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Richard Dawkins on postmodernism

This is hilarious.

PZ Myers’ “The Happy Atheist”

I was considering reading PZ Myers’ new book “The Happy Atheist” so I could do a brief review of it here. However, I have decided against it after reading the user reviews on Amazon. Here are a few random excerpts:

“The Happy Atheist” is just a collection of blog posts cleaned up and converted into a book format, arranged in an order so they make sense. Unfortunately this leads to a lack of substance on some of the chapters, as it doesn’t appear anything new was added. In some cases this is a serious problem, because a book is not a blog – and it’s not unreasonable to expect a book to cover issues in more depth than a two page blog post would. There are some chapters just screaming out to be expanded on so that more info could be presented, more sources cited, more angles covered, more caveats added, etc. Reading along you can pretty much guess where the links to other blog posts or news stories would have gone in the text – but this is a book, so I can’t click them, and all that extra info is lost.

and

Hoping this would be entertaining, as it didn’t appear more than a series of essays, I figured it wouldn’t be a scholarly book or researched tome. Instead, it was a collection of essays that I realize much have been part of his blog. The Introduction, About the Author and next couple of chapters really had me interested. By the 7th, I was pretty bored.

I found myself skipping over whole passages, as they were just repeating themselves. It was chapter after chapter of stories outlining arguments and disagreements between him and different people and organizations. It just didn’t keep my interest.

and

If you read his blog,this books adds nothing. It breaks no new ground, offers no new perspective and has no insight. It is a very insular work, reflecting the experiences and thoughts of someone trying to “jump in late” with an atheist book – but not really having any justification or reason to do so. You get the sense he is like a “little kid” on the atheist schoolyard. His heart is usually in the right place but he’s immature (which you can also see on this blog sometimes). He’s just out of place on the basketball court where the older kids like Harris, Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins play.

Dr Myers is intelligent, and some of writing here is worth being read – but there is no coherent whole or central idea. Nothing here justifies a book.

and

Almost word for word, sometimes with a different intro or ending, and perhaps a few other very small changes, here are the chapters, er blog posts, that I found online with the same titles:

4) The Great Desecration
11) The Top Ten Reasons Religion is Like Pornography
13) Happy Easter! is from an original post titled “Sunday Sacrilege: The Silliest Story Ever Told.”
17) Imagine No Heaven
18) Daughters of Eve
19) Prometheus’s Sin
20) So Alone
21) One Nation Free of Gods
22) An Embryo is Not a Person
23) The Courtier’s Reply
28) We’re Happier out of a Straightjacket Than in One
31) The Active Hand
32) The Proper Reverence Due Those Who Have Gone Before
33) Niobrara
34) We Stand Awed at the Heights Our People Have Achieved.

If someone is putting out a series of blog posts as a published book for a price, readers would want to know so they can make an informed choice before laying down the required money to read it. A publisher would most definitely want to know. They surely paid him a huge advance, probably in the tens of thousands of dollars. Did they know?

So, in short, it appears that I have basically already read the book by virtue of having read most of these blog posts. It looks like PZ was just looking to get some of his more popular or contentious ideas into the public sphere as a way to make an easy buck. I see no reason to purchase this book.

In other news, Richard Dawkins has a new book coming out in a few weeks. I will be devoting a bit of money towards that purchase.

Richard Dawkins #1 on list of world’s top thinkers

Prospect Magazine has compiled a list of the 65 top thinkers in the world over the past 12 months. Topping the list is Richard Dawkins:

When Prospect magazine listed Britain’s leading public intellectuals in 2004 and invited readers’ votes, it was Richard Dawkins who emerged as No 1. Nine years on, the biologist, author and campaigner has bettered that by topping its “world thinkers” rankings, beating four Nobel prize winners (and another contender regarded as certain to receive one soon) in a poll based on 65 names chosen by a largely US- and UK-based expert panel.

Joining him in the top 10 are the psychologists Steven Pinker (3) and Daniel Kahneman (10), the economists Paul Krugman (5) and Amartya Sen (7) and the philosopher Slavoj Žižek (6), who all, like him, figured in the magazine’s first list of world-class thinkers in 2005.

A late run by the octogenarian British physicist Peter Higgs (8) secured him a place in an elite squad containing three other scientists, while the remaining slots are taken by academics turned politicians from the Middle East: Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani (2), an economist who served as finance minister after the US-led invasion; Iraq’s Ali Allawi (4), another ex-minister and author of The Occupation of Iraq and The Crisis of Islamic Civilization; and Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei (9), prominent in the Arab Spring and now in opposition to Mohamed Morsi.

To qualify for this year’s world thinkers rankings, it was not enough to have written a seminal book, inspired an intellectual movement or won a Nobel prize several years ago (hence the absence from the 65-strong long list of ageing titans such as Noam Chomsky or Edward O Wilson); the selectors’ remit ruthlessly insisted on “influence over the past 12 months” and “significance to the year’s biggest questions”.

Perhaps the most expected name to be nowhere near a list like this? William Lane Craig. This is the difference between a professional debater and people who make a real impact in the world with honestly considered arguments, opinions, and perspectives.

PZ Myers snub?

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss have a movie coming out later this year:

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.

This is interesting in and of itself, but what really grabbed my attention was the list of speakers:

The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers, including:

Ricky Gervais
Woody Allen
Cameron Diaz
Stephen Hawking
Sarah Silverman
Bill Pullman
Werner Herzog
Tim Minchin
Eddie Izzard
Ian McEwan
Adam Savage
Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
Penn Jillette
Sam Harris
Dan Dennett
James Randi
Cormac McCarthy
Paul Provenza
James Morrison
Michael Shermer
David Silverman
…and more.

These are the same people listed at the end of the trailer and I don’t believe anyone not on the list makes it into any of the preview clips. So that leads me to wonder: Was PZ Myers snubbed? Once one of the most prominent members of the online atheist community, he has fallen into a very narrow band of caricature-feminist thought where he wants to promote philosophically-ignorant claptrap that presumes a non-descriptive nature to atheism. (Atheism is only descriptive.) He even said some pretty stupid things about Richard Dawkins over all this feminist malarkey:

Let’s stop the shouting that Richard Dawkins is some kind of raving misogynist. What’s happened here is that he is at some remove from all of the details, and this issue got blown up by lunatics who felt their manhood threatened and who exaggerated the situation to an absurd degree. I think he is wrong, but what he was arguing against was a cartoon of feminism which far too many people have been peddling on the blogs.

The so-called “lunatics” were saying much the same thing as Dawkins. PZ never bothered to give any of them a backhanded defense, interestingly. I think Dawkins recognized this, as well as PZ’s general lack of common sense, so now the bridge between the two may be burned (or at least severely charred). This is a far bigger blow to PZ than it is to the good doctor from Oxford; I hope it’s why I’m not seeing PZ’s name anywhere on this movie.

Misunderstandings

One of the things I enjoy most when it comes to blogging is the creation of series. I have all my “Thought of the day” and “Fun fact of the day” posts, amongst others, and they tend to go over well. I’m hoping to make this current post the first in a series called “Misunderstandings”. Sometimes these don’t pan out, so who knows, but it’s worth a shot. I’ll probably focus on theological and creationist arguments, but I expect some variety. In fact, this first post is going to include two different topics, each dealing with misunderstandings by atheists (though one is regarding a theological argument). So let’s get started.

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science Facebook page:

A status update was made several days ago on the RDF page that said something to the effect of:

One of the greatest earthquakes in human history occurred in China in the 16th century, killing some 800,000 people. More’s the pity they hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ, thus denying them eternal access to heaven.

This is paraphrased because, unfortunately, the post was taken down. Many users objected to what they thought was an implication that those dead Chinese were ignorant; they found it crude and unliked the page. I think they all missed the point. Soon after, this post was made:

Some religious groups spend great amounts of energy and money to convince others that unless they accept Jesus as their personal savior they will burn in hell. Some people embrace science and, for example, focus on decreasing the death rate from a vicious disease such as pancreatic cancer. Which viewpoint is more compassionate? — Sean Faircloth, Dir. of Strategy & Policy

I believe Sean, a former Maine legislator, made the first post as well, but I don’t recall his signature. At any rate, the initial point of the posts is identical. The second one changes from natural disaster to disease and asks a specific question, but the premises are the same. And what was the reaction? A straight-forward discussion that understood the point.

It’s almost like Richard Dawkins and those in his group occasionally offend people. I just wish it were only the religious who misunderstood the points they make.

The First Cause argument on the Atheists of Maine Facebook page:

Staying with the Facebook theme, I posted a note to the Atheists of Maine page a couple of weeks ago. It was basically just a re-post of something I wrote on FTSOS about the First Cause argument. My rebuttal to that awful, awful argument goes something like this: A “cause” is the colloquial way we describe the scientific concept of a force. We define a force as mass multiplied by acceleration, f=ma. Acceleration is the change in velocity over time. Thus, time is clearly essential in the First Cause argument. However, time did not exist ‘prior’ to the Big Bang, so theists cannot use it in their argument. Since they cannot use time, and since time is necessary in order to even define “cause”, they need to argue something different.

This is simple enough, but one AoM member, Neil Cole, raised a rather incoherent objection:

As an atheist I obviously don’t think any god created the universe or caused it to exist. That said, there are some issues with this post that I would like to address. The first and most important would be the incorrect usage of Newton’s laws. A casual search for the range and validity of Newton’s laws will yield the following:

“These three laws hold to a good approximation for macroscopic objects under everyday conditions. However, Newton’s laws (combined with universal gravitation and classical electrodynamics) are inappropriate for use in certain circumstances, most notably at very small scales, very high speeds (in special relativity, the Lorentz factor must be included in the expression for momentum along with rest mass and velocity) or very strong gravitational fields.”-wiki

The big bang is a phenomenon which is subject to such restrictions. What we know about the universe breaks down around Planck time (5 x 10^-44 seconds). It is wrong to say that we completely understand time or that we completely understand causation.

It’s easy enough to see why this doesn’t even address the argument at hand: the First Cause argument concerns a ‘point’, realm, or whatever one wishes to call it, which existed (or exists) outside the Universe. We aren’t talking about the Big Bang. We aren’t talking about extreme speeds or small scales. Cole even admits this:

Clearly you don’t seem to get that I know this already but I will humor you even though you have not answered my question, [God is] outside [the Universe].

(We referred to the “first cause” as “God” for the sake of simplicity and since, clearly, that’s what the argument is getting towards anyway.)

Now that we had established that God is outside the Universe in this argument, I wanted to be sure we also established that he performed the act which created the Universe from that same place. Cole responds:

Since he is fictional and has magical powers, why not?

This isn’t exactly the best answer since I was asking my question in the context of the given argument at hand. That is, I was asking if God performed the act to create the Universe from outside the Universe, as per the First Cause argument. However, this is still progress. I next asked if God could exert a force (as defined by Newton’s second law) from his timeless ‘location’ outside the Universe. Cole says:

You assume God is exerting a force. In that “place” the word force may not even apply to what “is”.

It is the argument, not I, that assumes the exertion of a force, but still, there we have it. According to the First Cause argument, God is outside the Universe, he caused the Universe into existence, and he did this in a place where, at least as far as we know, the concept of force doesn’t apply since we cannot demonstrate the existence of time. Neil Cole admits each essential element, making my ultimate point for me as his conclusion to this point in the ‘debate’. Yet, we still see this later:

Your argument may not posit that it might not be a force but that is because you failed to understand that Newton’s laws are inappropriate here. You also conflate cause with force which may not be the same thing in the other “place”.

Despite admitting that we aren’t talking about the Big Bang – that is, he admitted that we’re talking about a ‘point’ prior to the Universe, which is necessarily prior to the Big Bang – he still reverts to his point about high speeds and small scales. He then goes one bizarre (and, frankly, embarrassing) step further and claims that a force is not the same thing as a cause. Let’s take a look at a translation of Newton’s own words:

“Law II: The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress’d; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress’d.”

The common way of saying this? ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’ or ‘For every cause, there is an effect’. It isn’t up for debate that the First Cause argument is premised on Newton’s second law, nor that this law is about causation on a macroscopic scale. Thus, the First Cause argument is specifically positing that God created the Universe by means of force on a macroscopic scale, and it is doing this because of the observation Newton made so many centuries ago that seems obvious to us today.

There was later a problem with Cole lying – he claimed I wouldn’t answer his questions despite my request for him to re-ask the one he had posed to me earlier, then, when I repeated that I wanted to answer him, he just continued to claim I would not – and so sometimes his tendency to misunderstand what others say is clearly nothing more than base dishonesty, but in the primary issue here, he just doesn’t get the whole picture. When broken down for him, he gets all the parts – the argument places God outside the Universe, presupposes the existence of time, and has nothing to do with the Big Bang – but he entirely misunderstands things when they’re all put together. I wish I could just say he was lying here as well because then I would get how someone could raise such incoherent points, but that isn’t the case. The fact is, he misunderstood the argument even as he agreed with all its parts.

Not once

Where are all the pre-Cambrian primates anyway?