Yes Mehdi Hasan, I Condem Those Atheists Texts Calling for Lashes, Stoning, Death

Mehdi Hasan is up to his usual rhetorical tricks.

On his Facebook page he links to the Richard Dawkins comments in the Huffington Post piece: Atheist Richard Dawkins Condemns Chapel Hill Shootings Of Three Muslim Students.

His comment accompanying the post:

Will we now see lots of pieces calling for ‘reform’ of New Atheism and a search for ‘moderate’ New Atheists? ‪#‎justasking‬

So, Mehdi, if you think New Atheism is in need of reform, can you point to the New Atheist scriptures that Craig Hicks might have followed in order to justify the killing?

Can you point to New Atheist scripture that demands lashes for sex outside marriage, or stoning of adulterers? Can you point to any New Atheist scriptures that denounce atheists for apostasy, for those converting to Islam or Christianity? Continue reading “Yes Mehdi Hasan, I Condem Those Atheists Texts Calling for Lashes, Stoning, Death”

It’s Tough Being a Secular Democratic Liberal Muslim

Maajid Nawaz is one of many reformist Muslims taking a tricky route through the quick sands of Islam. Danger is all around. I don’t think it helps is case if he’s not completely honest and consistent with his words. I support his efforts, but sometimes I think he’s in danger of playing the rhetorical games that make Islam such a mess.

In response to a tweet by Maajid Nawaz.
Continue reading “It’s Tough Being a Secular Democratic Liberal Muslim”

Consciousness – A Physicalist Perspective

There’s a Youtube video put out by the RI that sees Professor Nicholas Humphrey contemplating the nature of human consciousness.

Here’s the video: The Magic of Consciousness.

Some commenters seem to have trouble understanding how consciousness, and the mind, can be explained by physical processes when the subjective experience is screaming at them that the mind and consciousness are not physical at all. Continue reading “Consciousness – A Physicalist Perspective”

Mario Balotelli is Innocent!

The basic way to start walking is to lean forward and put one foot forward. The lean causes you to fall slightly, and your forward foot catches that fall. Your remaining back foot now gives a slight push to continue your momentum, and moves forward ahead of your first foot to stop you falling forward of that foot. The rhythm of continued walking is more complex, but that’s the basic start.

Now, think about how runners start to run. Here’s a link. They usually have one foot back, ready to give them some thrust as soon as the race starts. In a sprint from starting blocks this is so obvious: the blocks are there to give resistance to that thrust. In longer distance runs, runners start by getting into a near upright starting pose: leaning forward, one foot back ready to push off. Watch here.

Your turn. Try standing in an upright position with feet together. Then start to run forward. You only need about five steps to get running, but that’s not important. Try to start as fast as you can. The point here is about how you start to run most effectively from this position.

If you start running the way you start walking, then you can eventually pick up some speed, but it’s not the fastest way to start running from an upright stationary position.

Here is a better way to start running. Simultaneously, or nearly so, move both feet from under your body, putting your catching foot forward and your thrusting foot back. Because both feet leave the ground together your body starts to fall under gravity, causing your thrusting rear foot to be driven into the ground. The muscles in your thrusting leg tense and push. Add to this a slight lean forward from the hips with your torso, and you are off to a ‘standing start’.

Watch this video. The subjects are stopping momentarily to pass the ball, then starting off again. Watch carefully at the point where they take off (from right to left in our view). Some of them actually put their thrusting foot out in the opposite direction to their intended direction of motion. This is how they get a good start.

Here’s another. This time it’s about changing direction. Note how the thrust foot goes out opposite to the new direction to plant the foot for better thrust. Here’s some slo-mo to emphasise the opposite plant of the thrust foot.

Now, down to business. Mario Balotelli has been hung, drawn and quartered for this incident. Watch this.

Watching it live I thought the accusation was about his left calf striking Walker’s head as Balotelli is spinning, but that bit is clearly an accident. On watching the slo-mo on TV, and hearing the commentary, I at first agreed it looked like he followed through with a right foot stamp to Walker’s head.

I’ve played it loads of times since, and I now think this analysis fails to take into account Balotelli’s direction of momentum, the spin of his body, the extra trip that the left calf hit on Walker causes, and, crucially, the attempt to apply thrust in the direction of momentum, by the backward thrust into the ground (and unfortunately Walker’s head) as he attempts to recover and move, turning an awkward spinning fall into a forward roll.

All protestations that claim it was intentional don’t get some basic body movement. You can try this.

One the first couple of views, I agreed it looked like an intentional stamp. But on repeated examination, and the consideration of how you recover from falls, I think it is an inocent incident.

There are some serious issues at stake here, that go beyond the incident itself.

Not least of course is Balotelli’s petulant behaviour on other occasions. Everyone, including myself, was prepared to think the worst of him. So, even if he is innocent in this instance, he hasn’t helped his own case.

Then there’s the media outcry, led most of all by that nasty piece of work that is Graeme Souness. Here he is telling it how he’s been telling it all season. Although Neville (spit!) is a red (spit!), he’s a pretty fair, but he’s been in the company of Souness too much.

But here’s the thing. The decision to crucify Balotelli, in the end, was the FA’s. It’s odd how they refuse to use TV footage in football games officially, and yet, when it’s available, and when there’s a public outcry, they jump on the bandwagon to punish players. The biggest bunch of Pontious Pilot Pillocks there could ever be, with the possible exception of FIFA. Oh, and some referees (Phil Phucking Dowd).

This isn’t a Man City moan. I’ve seen many screw ups by refs, and cases of the FA being influenced by the other players, the crowd, pundits. Here’s Becham (spit!) and that stupid ref who has form for over-reaction. Simeone should have been sent off for outrageously bad acting – seriously, that should be an official offence. And here’s Rooney (spit!) standing on a player? Forget the later push and the atrocious Ronaldo (spit!) behaviour, look at Rooney’s (spit!) feet during the slo-mo of the tackles where he stands on the opponent’s balls and foot. This happens in quick real-time motion, falling under momentum. Fast footed footballers make all sorts of instinctive movements with their feet when falling.

Mario Balotelli is innocent!

A View of Science: Lawrence Krauss on Cosmic Connections

[This is part of a set: Thinking]

This is based on the following talk: Lawrence Krauss on Cosmic Connections – A Vimeo video

Over at Stephen Law’s blog I’ve been responding to criticisms of Peter Atkins by Stephen Law, Mary Midgeley, and comments on Stephen’s blog.

In his talk Krauss makes two important points that distinguish science from theology, and some philosophy (the ‘only thinking allowed’ type of philosophy, as opposed by Atkins).

The first is on the nature of the scientific method, in principle. I’m not talking about some of the details: come up with the hypothesis, design experiments to falsify it, run experiments, evaluate results, test a theories predictions, etc. I’m talking about the contingency built into science as a principle.

…The big question is, how did the water get here [on Earth]? And the answer is we don’t know – sort of. Which is, by the way, the best answer in science. ‘Cause the other thing people don’t realise about science which differentiates it from religion, is that the most exciting thing about being a scientist is not knowing. Well, there’s two things. Being wrong is up there too. Because that means there’s a lot left to learn. We have some ideas [about how water came to be on Earth]…

… As wonderful as that is, it’s wrong. It’s amazing when something works out perfectly and you find out it’s wrong. I’ve had that experience many times, ’cause I’ve been wrong many times. It just looks elegant and beautiful, and it’s wrong. And that’s the other gift that science has for us. I hope all of you have that experience, at least once in your life: that something you deeply and profoundly believe in because it’s beautiful and elegant and wonderful turns out to be wrong. Because then you can open your mind.

Now, sure enough, this isn’t always how science goes. There will, inevitably, be scientists who are a little too strident in pushing their particular ideas. Not that this matters much within their specific field, because their peers will see through any bluff and thunder and criticise the protagonists without mercy.

Obstinacy in holding to the status quo can sometimes stall progress; but then being open to every new idea leads to chaos and can in its own way prevent progress. It may be that sometimes the balance isn’t right – but scientists, the ones doing the science, are only human.

But there is a problem with the wider perception of science, particular when journalists fail to explain the contingent nature of what seems like an absolute assertion, or when an anti-science theist gets hold of an misrepresents the whole of science using one over egged pudding.

What should we expect from our scientists? Perfection? But the whole point about the benefits of science is, as Krauss frames it, it’s endeavour to look for answers, to make mistakes, to look for better answers, to dare to be wrong. And this in the hands of imperfect fallible human beings – yes, again, scientists are human beings.

The other point that came out of this talk by Krauss is on the benefit of science. Science is often compared unfavourably to other human activities, which we could simply call the arts. Krauss puts things in perspective.

I do theoretical physics, and it’s kind of esoteric. And people say why the hell do you do it. What’s it good for. Which amazes me when they say that because I rarely get asked what’s a Picasso painting good for, or what’s a Mozart concerto good for. But somehow science has to do something, and somehow make a better toaster, or something like that. But the biggest and most important thing about science is not that it does anything, but that it enhances our lives with beautiful ideas that change the way we think about ourselves. ‘Cause that’s what all good art and music and literature is all about; it’s changing our perspective of our place in the universe. And that’s what science does.

Well, I’d add to that. Science is just as enlightening to our lives as the arts, if not more so, since there is much art and beauty in science. But not only that, science also does stuff! It does build better toasters. Science has both beauty and practicality.

The beauty available to the arts is available to everyone, as is the added beauty of science, for those prepared to look for it. This is from Richard Feynman on this very point (no apologies for referring to this yet again). Richard Feynman – Ode on a Flower.

McGrath, Dennet, Dawkins – Memes

I read this debate between Dennet and McGrath: http://www.rsa.org.uk/acrobat/dennett_130306.pdf

I think McGrath is right to point out that the meme hypothesis is purely that – with no evidence. The hypothesis can be made to fit history, but is it falsifiable, and what supportive evidence is there?

McGrath points out Blackmore’s acceptence that atheism is a meme, just as theism is. Is atheism a meme? In some respects – when there is unquestioned belief in atheism. And I suppose the same hypothesis can be applied to any human idea – such as the appreciation of art, what art is, how it evolved, etc.

But scientific atheism accepts its own vulnerability, and does not claim infalability, and does not require faith. It is not a belief system in itself, but a consequence of what all humans do – attempt to understand and reason about the world around us. Atheism is a probabilistic conclusion, not a dogma, not a self sustaining belief. It may be that atheism as a world view is falsified in the future, by scientifically supported evidence of God. But how would theism be falsified? No matter what was discovered about the universe god could always be postulated to be beyond that.


McGrath points out some of the flaws in the meme hypothesis: “But my real question is this: how would Dr Blackmore and Professor Dennett be able to settle that point scientifically? If they are not able to do so, then we have a non-scientific debate about imaginary entities, hypothesised by analogy with the gene. And we all know how unreliable arguments based on analogy can be – witness the fruitless search for the luminiferous ether in the late nineteenth century, based on the supposed analogy between light and sound. It was analogically plausible – but non-existent. The analogy was invalid. Richard Dawkins tells us that memes are merely awaiting their Crick and Watson; I think they are merely waiting for their Michelson and Morley.”

I would agree with this, particularly about the inappropriateness of analogies sometimes. Dawkins Burka analogy in “The God Delusion” is suspect, for example.

McGrath makes another good point about the association of ‘evil’ with religion: “Now Professor Dennett might respond by saying that these are not typical of atheism. I believe he would be right to do so. But neither are the excesses of violence and intolerance that he does mention, typical of religion. I appreciate the need for a bit of rhetoric and exaggeration to spice up an argument, but one cannot represent the pathological elements of any movement, religious or antireligious, as if they were normal or typical. Few of us in this audience tonight are in favour of fanaticism; but it is clearly perfectly possible to be a fanatical atheist, as much as a fanatical religionist. It’s fanaticism that’s the problem, not religion or anti-religion.”

Agreed. I think the early use of the ‘evil’, as in ‘evil in the name of…’ and the other old chestnut ‘the problem of evil’ are fine as simplistic rebuttals of simplistic claims of theist about the inherent goodness of religion. Both theists and atheists would be better to leave these out of the main debate. Basically ‘evil’ can be performed by anyone, religious or not. And the problem of evil can be argued either way, as problematic for theism, or inconsequential as evidence against.

McGrath is right here: “In Oxford, we are facing a threat from one of the most fanatical groups in British society today: animal rights protestors. They are not religious. They are driven by an ideology – by a world view. Surely our common enemy is the fanatic, first and foremost. We need to reflect on how to control this phenomenon. But it is a clear factual error to assume that this is limited to, or necessarily characteristic of, religion.”

However, Dawkins point is that the dogmatic teaching of religion to children makes them amenable to irrational unquestioned ideas later. That would also be true if we taught dogmatic atheism to children too. I think Dawkins, (and Stephen Law in “The War for Childrens’ Minds”) are really promoting the teaching of reasoning to children, and the removal of teaching of dogmatic religion – and are not proposing the teaching of atheism. Read Stephen Law’s books on philosophy – they don’t promote atheism as such, but ask questions and invite the reader to think of their own answers.

Facebook Applications

I recently joined facebook, which is currently facelessbook for me, until I can post a reasonable mugshot that won’t offend the religious, or frighten young children, old ladies or those of a sensitive disposition. My social network so far consists of my son and his friend. Am I a recluse, or simply unpopular. Time will tell.

I had a look through the applications there, and found so much junk it took some time to find anything of interest. They’re mostly natty little games and social nutworking widgets that look novel when you see the first of that ilk, but are usually discarded five minutes after you start to use them.

The only ones I’ve found I can use are Causes, an advocacy toy, and one of the “places I’ve been” mapping apps. If you spot any app that you could really use over time and that isn’t some five minute marvel, please let me know.

I hadn’t looked at these apps until I read Marc Andreessen’s new blog, June 12 2007, as referenced in Adam Herscher’s blog, June 12 2007 – two blogs worth following.