Saturday, June 29, 2013

Test your intuitions

"Unless we start testing [our] intuitions, we're not going to do better." - Dan Ariely


"Everything" may never be the same again

The asymmetry in the cosmic microwave background is generating some buzz about the possibility of a multiverse. Here's a recent Minute Physics explanation of the main theories out there, followed by several recent (longer) discussions with scientists and others on the question.

In March, Neil deGrasse Tyson moderated the 2013 Isaac Asimov Debate on "The Existence of Nothing" with physicists Lawrence Krauss (Arizona State University), Eve Silverstein (Stanford), and J. Richard Gott (Princeton) and journalists Charles Seife and Jim Holt in which Gott shows a physical model of a multiverse.

Then in June, John Hockenberry hosted a discussion between cosmologists and physicists Andreas Albrecht, Alan Guth, Andrei Linde, and Neil Turok.

Update (July 2, 2013): And cosmologist Sean Carroll just posted this recent interview that he did with Jim Holt on "Why Does The World Exist?"

And if you made it through all that, you will know what I mean when I say that Richard Feynman had the best response to Jim Holt's complaining. You might also be interested in Victor Stenger's 'The Comprehensible Cosmos' for a physicists take on where the "laws of physics" came from (spoiler alert: It's us!).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"I often wished I had never written that fucking book"

Update: July 6, 2013 - Salon just posted a response to White's "literarily lazy, inconsistent and mendacious" posthumous attack on Hitchens by Carlo Dellora, an honors student at the University of Melbourne.

Paul Feyerabend was "one of the twentieth century's most famous philosophers of science...[and] an imaginative maverick" who was shocked at the response to his attack on reason and scientific method. It is not completely clear why Feyerabend finally uttered the title of this post (and the subtitle of my blog) in reference to his tour de force, but it might have served Curtis White well to reflect on this episode in the history of the philosophy of science before calling a dead man a liar. White's justification? "I do no more than what Hitchens himself did. Speaking of Jerry Falwell, Hitchens pointedly refuses a 'compassionate word' for this 'departed fraud.'"

But what I am most concerned with here is not White’s "sloppy or altogether missing knowledge" of what constitutes a valid moral justification for his own action. Instead, I want to focus on "how irresponsible his thinking is" with respect to the justification and value of science. And it really is pretty simple...

The arts have also made significant contributions, including contributions to our understanding of the danger of science used for savagery and the power (to move us) of appeals to emotion. And I believe Hitchens would agree with this. I starting following Hitch in 1981, and I disagreed with him (strongly) on some issues (Iraq). But he was nothing if not a huge fan of, and major contributor to, western philosophy and literature. And a passionate advocate of science and reason and eloquent explainer of how science inspires more awe than religion.

The arts, philosophy, and literature are powerful normative forces (for good or evil), and science is also a powerful force that can be used for either good or evil. We should use them wisely. But science is also the best way to find out what is true. And it's anti-dogmatic, and encourages doubt, which is the only thing it's ok to be dogmatic about if what you value is truth.
"For my part, I should wish to preach the 'will-to-doubt'...[because] what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.
 - Bertrand Russell

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hotline Project on its way to becoming a reality!

It has been a little over a year now since we started a local chapter of Recovering From Religion in Maiden, North Carolina. We had just returned from the Reason Rally and were inspired by Nate Phelps. Since then, I have met a bunch of other amazing people who volunteer to provide support and encouragement to people who are questioning their faith or dealing with the problems associated with leaving religious belief.

Today, I am very excited to hear that they have reached their fundraising goal for the Hotline Project which will "provide trained volunteers to answer a 24-hour, toll-free hotline and provide real time, caller-specific support to each person who calls." According to Sarah Morehead, Executive Director of Recovering from Religion, "Our next challenge is to recruit and train enough volunteers to make 24-hour, 7-days per week support possible." So what are you waiting for? Go submit your application now!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Outing Sheldon Cooper

No, I don't mean he's gay.

I mean he's an atheist! I know you're probably still skeptical. But come much more evidence (of his absence) do you really need? Still, for his own good, Sheldon needs to come out and help us change the descriptive norms on "atheism."

Yes, there may be consequences (his mother's reaction). And he may need a lot of support in the short-term. He may need to call the Recovering From Religion hotline or attend one of their support group meetings facilitated by Nate Phelps. But can you just imagine how it would make Shelly feel to finally hear his mother say "Not that there's anything wrong with that"?

"If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves."

- Richard Dawkins on "
The Out Campaign"

CBS: Are you listening?

#HotlineProject Coverage:

Hugs Shelly...and Raj!

"I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time."
 - Isaac Asimov, Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)