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Showing posts from August, 2014

On the meaning of life

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Steven Jake had a post over at his blog The Christian Agnostic in which he quotes Thom Stark in an exchange with John Loftus on the nature of faith and the meaning of life. You can read the full post at Steven's blog, but my comment ended up being long enough that I thought I'd just repost it here.

And, just to shamelessly plug myself a bit, I discussed these issues not long ago in a post On death and dying.

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Why is the alleviation of human suffering the right thing to do? If the universe is a cosmic accident (and it may very well be just that), I can’t figure out why human beings should have impetus to behave morally, other than when it helps us to preserve ourselves or our species or to make us happier in some way. When morality conflicts with self-preservation or self-gratification, I just don’t know why morality should win out. [Stark]
I confess that even in my days as a Christian, this type of view (which is pretty standard boilerplate for religion, in m…

There's a movie coming out about Stephen Hawking, and it looks fabulous

I enjoyed 2009's Creation, about Charles Darwin, quite a bit. And now another renown and influential scientist is being graced with a biopic that, by the looks of it, could end up being pretty damn good.




Thoughts on the Ice Bucket Challenge

ALS is a nasty disease. Two people I greatly admire — Stephen Hawking and Jason Becker — have lived with the disease for many years. To most, it's not so kind. Years ago I trained a group of young people whose job it was to care for a wealthy man in his 50s who had ALS. I once asked one of the nurses if she thought she could live with the disease, and she bluntly said, "I would rather die".

If you're not familiar with the heavily viral "Ice Bucket Challenge", the gist is that someone gets a bucket of ice water dumped over them, pledges to donate to help ALS research, and then 'tags' several friends to repeat the challenge. Given its focus on social networking and its novelty, it's been hugely successful in raising money for ALS research. That's a good thing, right?



Yes and no. Raising money to fund treatment for a nasty disease is certainly a good thing. But as William MacAskill – a researcher in moral philosophy at Cambridge – pointed out, …

The militarization of police is one of the most important civil rights issues America has ever faced

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There's an old saying that when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So what happens when, despite violent crime being at a 44-year low, the Department of Defense is allowing local law enforcement agencies to acquire its surplus tactical armament? The answer is precisely what happened in Ferguson, MO — police confronted unarmed protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas while brandishing body armor and assault rifles based on the M-4 Carbine. This is a picture of police in Ferguson, from a poignant article in Business Insider:


One could be forgiven for thinking that these men do not look at all like American police officers. Indeed were it not for the "Police" sticker slapped on the front of their body armor, they could be mistaken for any arbitrary paramilitary force. Give police a soldier's armament, and you'll convince them that they are soldiers. And if they're urban soldiers, the streets become their battlefield, and everyone looks like a …

Dan Dennett and William Lane Craig on the decline of the church

It's pure coincidence that these were released around the same time, but they both provide unique perspectives on the decline of the Christian church here in the West.


Dan Dennett: "Can churches survive the new transparency?"




William Lane Craig: "Reasons youth are leaving the church" (podcast)

Update on current projects

You know how, in the past, I've said that I'm working a book (or several)? Well, I'm working on two, and they're coming along briskly. One is simply a sort of "best of", which will be called Confessions of an A-Unicornist. I've picked, with your help, my best work from the past 4½ years of this blog and I'm organizing it by topic and slightly editing the posts for flow. I honestly have no idea when it will be done, but I'm making a point to work on it a little bit every day.

The other book is on a topic that's been on my mind a lot lately, and I don't want to let out too many spoilers here but I think it's a topic that all intellectually engaged non-believers will find themselves reflecting on sooner or later. It's my primary writing project right now, which is why the blogging has been slow and will likely continue to be. It's one of those projects that started out as a very short book, but research into the subject has greatl…

A brain on a chip?

In Star Trek: Voyager, the titular spaceship had computers that ran on "bio-neural circuitry" stored in gel packs. Like human bodies, the bio-neural circuity was prone to viral infection and, in one episode, is treated with a makeshift "fever" created by an "inverted warp field", because Star Trek.

How far-fetched is the idea? As it turns out, not very. Scientists at IBM have developed a chip that mimics the neural structure of a brain. Wired explains:
In a [conventional] von Neumann computer, the storage and handling of data is divvied up between the machine’s main memory and its central processing unit. To do their work, computers carry out a set of instructions, or programs, sequentially by shuttling data from memory (where it’s stored) to the CPU (where it’s crunched). Because the memory and CPU are separated, data needs to be transferred constantly. [....]Neuromorphic chips developed by IBM and a handful of others don’t separate the data-storage…

Necessary beings don't exist

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As I'm prone to do, I hopped over to William Lane Craig's ironically named website Reasonable Faith last night and read the latest Q&A. This one addressed what I think remains the single most atrocious argument for God's existence — the ontological argument. The argument comes in several forms, but the theme is always the same: God exists by definition. And it still astounds me that otherwise bright people think this makes for a persuasive argument.

The Q&A discussion begins with a reader's inverse take on the the argument:
When I think about the concept of God --a maximally great being-- it seems clear that God, if he exists, exists necessarily. So if God exists in the actual world, then there is by definition no possible world in which God does not exist. But the problem is this: there seem to be a nearly infinite number of possible worlds in which God does not exist I'll let you read the full question for yourself, but the gist is that to accept the …

Tell it like it is, Steve Novella

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