Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Moving To Wordpress!

All of the cool kids are doing it, so I decided to do it too. Continue following my musings about religion over at the wordpress version: http://deusdiapente.wordpress.com

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Explaining Bayesianism Without Using Math Formulas

This post will be an attempt to explain Bayesianism without using any complicated math formulas. Granted, this won't be all encompassing, but will be a post meant to explain the Bayesian concept of falsifiability. As such, maybe this post could even be called an intuitive explanation of falsifiability. Thought experiment time!

Say you're sitting in the back of a tutoring session of two 2nd graders. The teacher is going over the end of a lesson by asking the two students a battery of questions about the math that they've just learned. The teacher asks to the two kids "So which one of you knows why 4 + 4 = 8?". Little Johnny raises his hand enthusiastically. The teacher doesn't actually ask him to explain why 4 + 4 = 8, but just takes a mental note. She then asks "Which one of you knows why 5 + 5 = 10?". Again, little Johnny raises his hand enthusiastically. She then asks "Ok. Which one of you knows why 1 + 1 = 2?". This time, both little Suzie and little Johnny raise their hands. Again she takes note and then asks another question "Why does 6 + 6 = 12?", and again only Johnny raises his hand. "Why does 2 + 2 = 4"? Both Suzie and Johnny raise their hands.

At this point the teacher starts throwing in random nonsense questions as a test. "Why does 11 + 10 = 99?" Johnny raises his hand. "Why does 10 + 10 = 20?" Both Suzie and Johnny raise their hands. "Why does 7 + 8 = 53?" Johnny raises his hand. On and on it goes, with Johnny raising his hand for the vast majority of the teacher's questions, with Suzie raising her hand for very few.

If you were the teacher, what would you think about Johnny compared to Suzie? Johnny can answer many more questions than Suzie can, but at the same time Johnny supposedly knows why 11 + 10 = 99. Would you conclude that, just because Johnny says he can answer more questions than Suzie can that he is actually right? That he actually knows the answers? If the teacher had asked the students to explain how they know what they know, would you think that Johnny actually knew what he was talking about? Would you think Suzie knew what she was talking about?

Hopefully, the you will arrive at the correct answer intuitively. That one being that Johnny probably doesn't know what he's talking about, and probably isn't going to be the one to give you the correct answer. This is what it means when it is stated that, as far as building correct models of the world, if you can equally explain any outcome then you have zero knowledge. It isn't so much what you can explain that determines whether to trust your explanations, but what you can't explain. That's the main problem behind unfalsifiable hypotheses like an omnipotent god, Sophisticated TheologyTM, most conspiracy theories like 9/11 trutherism, or psi. They are all analogous to Johnny in this thought experiment, able to explain the equivalent of why 2 + 2 = 4 and why 10 + 11 = 99; they don't restrict the types of things that they can explain, and that restriction is what makes a hypothesis more likely to be correct.

Of course, if you want the math for why this is so, the math behind it is in my Bayes' Theorem and Falsifiability post.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Dremora Lord

Again, another post that is slightly off topic from my usual themes of religion and cognitive science.

The Dremora Lord is a character in the video game series The Elder Scrolls. The most recent installation is called Skyrim. While playing Skyrim, I thought that the Dremora Lord was a pretty metal character. He is my favorite character, and I would love to just unleash him in any battle just to hear his quotes while killing people/monsters (really, who would say "I smell weakness" when fighting a dragon? That is metal!). So I thought to myself "If he's so metal, he should have a metal song about him!" so I wrote one.

Granted, this is just an instrumental with a bunch of quotes from the Dremora Lord in Skyrim.

This song isn't so much of an original song but more of a Frankenstein's monster sort of song. I got the riffs from a variety of different bands. The intro riff is a mix of a My Dying Bride riff and an Iced Earth riff. The second riff is influenced by another Iced Earth song. The bridge to the chorus riff was influenced by Nevermore. The chorus riff is again influenced by My Dying Bride and Anthrax. The bridge riff between the chorus riff and returning to the verse riff is influenced by, of all things, Gypsy Jazz. Then, the riff leading up to the solo and the solo itself are influenced by Metallica.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Are Jesus Mythicists Literal Antichrists?


("The coming curse, your antichrist, I am the watcher's eye" - Earl Doherty*)

Contrary to popular belief, the "antichrist" doesn't make an appearance in the book of revelation. The only mentions of "an" antichrist (it is actually multiple antichrists) is in the epistles of 1 and 2 John:

1 John 2:18
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.

1 John 2:22
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son.

1 John 4:3
but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

2 John 1:7
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

In historical context, the epistle writer is really talking about the docetists of his day. Those were the ones who thought that Christ had not come in the flesh but was just a phantom or spirit. So for example, Marcion would be considered an antichrist. The writer(s) of these epistles also seems to be railing against adoptionists, those who separate Jesus from Christ. Again, adoptionists were technically Christians who thought that the Christ was only a spirit that had possessed Jesus, such as what was happening at Mark 1.12 (the spirit literally throws him out into the wilderness: τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον::to pneuma auton ekballei eis ten heremon). And of course, the spirit leaves Jesus at his crucifixion at Mark 15.37. Even though modern translations say something like "he breathed his last", the wording that is used in Greek lends credence to the adoptionist interpretation: ἐξέπνευσεν::exepneusen literally means the spirit left him (ex = out; pneu- = spirit). An example of this sort would be Christians like Cerinthus, another antichrist.

But taking the epistle writer at his bare word, without historical context (since people that full stop didn't believe that Jesus existed at all probably didn't exist in John's day), it would seem that modern Jesus Mythicists might qualify as antichrists. They are also people who believe that Jesus didn't come "in the flesh" but was originally thought to be a celestial being. It might even apply to mythicists who think that Jesus never existed even though they might think that all early Christians thought that Jesus was a real human being walking around Galilee. Much like Ned Ludd or John Henry.

So to me it seems that even though the author of these epistles of John didn't have modern mythicists in mind, according to a more relaxed version of his definition of an antichrist modern mythicists might be considered antichrists.

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* Note, this is just me being funny, not an ad hominem...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Templeton Foundation Asks Neil DeGrasse Tyson If The Universe Has a Purpose

These are all arguments I've made before and are scattered all throughout my blog. The one argument I wanted to expand on, which NDT skimmed over, is the idea that the existence of god must give your life meaning.

If god did exist, and did give you meaning, what's god's reason for existence? If god has no reason for his existence, then your reason - being tied to god's - also has no reason.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cleanliness Creates Godliness

Another interesting article over at Epiphenom:

Recruiting subjects through the Mechanical Turk, they found that subjects primed with religious concepts tended to complete ambiguous, incomplete words by filling in the blanks to make a word related to cleanliness (e.g., they completed W_ SH as WASH, rather than WISH).

In another study, they found that subjects primed with religion rated cleaning products as relatively more desirable than other products. As with the first study, this effect seemed equally strong regardless of how religious the subjects were to begin with.

But the third study was the most interesting. This one looked at the reverse effect: whether a feeling of cleanliness can make you more religious.

In this study, the subjects were asked to copy out and mentalize a paragraph - either describing being grubby or being clean.The ones made to think about cleanliness later reported that religious beliefs were more important to them.

In other words, just thinking about being clean made these people feel like they were more religious!

This makes sense to me, since there's no real "separation" between mind and body. Every emotion we feel is physical, and if that is so then mental disgust should have the same reaction as physical disgust and vice versa.

However, something like this would not make sense if mind-body dualism were true.