Monday, November 30, 2009

Science vs. Lore

C0nc0rdance hits another one out of the park:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Science and Hollywood

Carolyn Porco examines how science and scientists are portrayed in the film industry (video by Josh Timonen for

Confirmation Bias

YouTube user C0nc0rdance posted a couple of superb videos exploring the topic of confirmation bias. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reason and Faith - Not the same thing!

Those wacky folks at Alive! are at it again, offering up one of the most stunning examples of self-serving circular reasoning I have ever seen, courtesy of an editorial by one Dr. John Murray, a lecturer in Moral Theology at Dublin's Mater Dei Institute. But don't take my word for it - here, for your reading pleasure, is the entire text of the piece:

We can know, by reason alone, that God exists
The notion that human beings cannot know if there is a God is called agnosticism. It’s a widely held view or assumption in Ireland today. Many people, including some Catholics, simply assume that we cannot know if God exists or not, that accepting his existence is totally a matter of faith. But the Catholic Church teaches, by an infallible doctrine of Vatican Council I, that man can know of the existence of God by reason alone. Now this knowledge of God from reason provides a reasonable ground for our faith. In other words, faith is not a mere leap in the dark, an intuition, a mere choice, or some kind of mysterious thing that simply happens to a person. Rather, it is a thoroughly reasonable decision to accept God’s revelation of himself and his love and his will. The idea that faith is a leap in the dark, a choice without justifying reason, is called ‘Fideism’, and is totally rejected by the Church. Fideism considers faith to be something separate from or even the opposite of, reason, a believing something against reason, or without any reason, except the choice to believe. Faith and reason belong together but are, of course, distinct. Faith is not a matter of reaching a conclusion by reasoning, nor is it the same as seeing something as true directly. Rather, it accepts truth on the authority of someone who reveals that truth to you, whose revelation you fully accept. In the case of “divine and Catholic faith” it is the authority of God that grounds our faith, not our seeing God or grasping him directly by our power of human reason. Faith is a divine gift, but it is also a human act. So it is only possible if we think we have good reason to believe. And we have good reason to put our faith in God and the Church. When it comes to the classroom, religious education would probably not be suitable for schools if faith were merely a matter of private and personal emotion, intuition, or choice. So it is easy to understand why both agnostics and fideists in Ireland today want confessional religion out of the education system. For them, schools are concerned with knowledge, which is not compatible with their notion of faith, so schools are not to be religious. The Church, however, has great confidence in reason, tremendous belief in man’s ability to know religious and moral truth. Hence her promotion of education down the centuries.

Pssst! John! Whisper it, but you can't prove an institution's belief system is valid by quoting from confirmatory statements issued by that institution! Haven't you been studying the diagram? And aside from all that, what's all this blurring the line between faith and reason about? You don't get to make up your own set of meanings for the words mate! There's nothing wrong with accepting something on the word of an authority, we do it all the time. The difference, however, illustrated beautifully here by Dan Dennett, between believing that, say, E=mc2 is true and believing in God is that when you ask a Professor of Physics to explain E=mc2, even if you don't understand the data yourself, you know that they, and many others like them, have devoted time and resources to gaining a deep understanding of the formula, to picking it apart, to examining and experimenting with every facet of its implications in an attempt to falsify it and, in failing to do so despite such efforts, can honestly tell you that the evidence points overwhelmingly towards the concept being true. Religious officials on the other hand tend to champion the ultimate unknowability of religious knowledge, making a virtue of ignorance while, bizarrely, claiming supernatural knowledge on such varied topics as sexual orientation, moral values and the possibility of an afterlife - hence the word faith. They wouldn't call it the 'Catholic Reason' John, nor should they.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

God? Sure! Creator? Nah!

The Irish Independent ran an interesting article yesterday, one which may have faith-heads up in arms or contemplatively stroking their beards depending on the level of their personal attachment to dogma. God, it seems, was never meant to be labelled 'creator' in the Old Testament, a mistake resulting from the mistranslation of a verb (bara) meant to denote 'spatial separation' rather than creation. The amended translation, courtesy of Professor Ellen van Wolde, has God fulfilling a more administrative role, sorting beast from bird, sea from land, in a worldscape already fundamentally formed - though he does retain credit for seeding life as we know it. Hoping to promote a "robust debate", the Professor has certainly stirred up a potential hornet's nest for hardline Christians and Jews, for whom the traditional position of God as creator of the Universe ex nihilo has been central for thousands of years - one can only imagine what the Vatican will make of it! Might make the 'God-as-extra-terrestrial-traveller' brigade happy though (y'know, the Chris DeBurgh theoreticians!).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Religion, The Card Game!

Move over 'Yu-Gi-Oh!', stand back 'Magic! The Gathering' and hold onto your balls 'Pokémon', there's a new game in town!
Whilst bouncing merrily across the information superhighway I came across this fun little link.




Burned Retinas, Hallelujah!

Thanks to Dublin-based 'clairvoyant' Joe Coleman, Ireland has managed to make a tit of itself on the international scene once more as thousands of rapturous mooks descended yesterday on the Knock Shrine, Co. Mayo, in anticipation of an appariton of Our Lady herself. Following several hours of staring at the sun observers noted shimmering coloured patterns in their eyes and proclaimed it a miracle, evidently taking a phenomenon observed by EVERYBODY ON A SUNNY DAY, EVER as a sort of spiritual IOU, in lieu of an actual appearance from the Holy Mother. Here's the Irish Times' take on the whole sorry business, while over at Pharyngula PZ is having second thoughts about his upcoming trip to Irish shores.
The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism