Thursday, November 30, 2006

Science, Burleigh, Times

Interesting pieces:
  • In Science (The Brain's Dark Enegry) pointing out that most of the energy used in the brain goes on activities which are not directly realted to external stimulii - and suggests the brain as a bayesan inference engine. I wonder though whether it's not a bit like a fusion reactor - using a lot of energy to get to a state where the "plasma" of freewill can exist without touching the "walls" of deterministic mechanism.
  • In The Telegraph Michael Burleigh lays out some perspectives on what is needed for "winning hearts and minds".
  • In The Times MaryAnn commends brave Trevor Phillips
  • An Ishan Manji on some reactions to her calls for moderation in Islam.
Discussion on Radio 4 from the Royal Society on why young Brist are giving up on science, science depts closing etc.. I think Dawkins is one factor - his aggressive reductionism and trashing the beliefs and values of the great majority of people gives people the idea (quite false) that scientists are spiritually illiterate and despise non-scientists.

Younger daughter has first night of school play - we'll be at Confirmation at our local Church (St Andrew's Day) seeing her tomorrow.

Lots of work to do - fun but time-demanding.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chess, Iraq, etc..

Took Grandson M to his first chess tournament on Sunday. This meant travelling up to Cambridge on Sat night so v good dinner with son and Daughter in law celebrating good week. There were 22 in the under-9 section: M won his first 3 games, lost the 4th to the eventual winner, carelessly lost the 5th (queen skewered) and won his 6th so coming 4th= and the highest placed 7-year-old.

Some quite encouraging developments on the Dawkins front (watch this space and others) but loads of work limits the time I can devote to this.

Coalition casualties in Iraq on a downtrend again thank the Lord - Oct was worst month since Nov 04 but so far Nov is only 5th worst this year and barely above LT average of 2 killed per day. Of course this is 2 too many, but far far fewer than are killed on the roads in the UK. Mood in the media very pessimistic - but who knows what the medium- and long-term effects will be. Famous remark of Chinese leader asked, on the 300th anniversary, what he thought were the effects of the French Revolution: "it's a little early to tell."

Finished Evolutionary Dynamics - brilliant!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Golden Wedding Anniversary

A platinum day! C's parents' Golden Wedding celebration. I was playing the organ, Son & daughter-in-law were signing Virgra Jesse Floruit from the Bach Magnificat, both daughters and elder grandson reading. My mother was also invited, so every living ancestor/descendant. Did a couple of nice 'descants' to the hymns. Hard work and an early start, but a v joyful occasion indeed, marred only by a dodgy sermon from the priest (who went on about apocryphal when he meant apocalyptic and seemed to be suggesting some very dubious things, I think by mistake.) Making some progress on Dawkins-related issues, digging deeper into Dennis Noble's book which is a continuing delight to re-read. Making some progress with Martin's Evolutionary Dynamics which is fabulous, but I have to switch to Alexander Kent for light relief.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some Dawkins "arguments" easily refuted

Gosh this Wikipedia business is hard work!

Part of the problem is that some of Dawk's arguments are so bad than no-one has yet bothered to publish refutations. So even obvious logical points get deleted cos they are "Original Research".

For example the 747 Gambit is obvious rubbish the moment you think about conditional probabilities.

Dawkins does not explain what he means by statistically improbable. The standard probabilistic form of the argument from design is to take some feature of the universe (X) and to argue that p(X|God) >> p(X|No_God). Obviously p(God|No_God)=0 < p(X|No_God), but this says does not address the argument for design. So Dawkins seems to be arguing:

  1. If "D designed X" then, for any Background assumptions B, p(D|B) < p(X|B)
  2. Hence for any B and X, if "God designed X", p(God|B)< p(X|B)
He gives no justification of (1) and consideration of an artist D who designs n paintings all but one of which are destroyed shows that (1) is not necessarily true. And this argument says nothing about a comparison of p(X|N) with p(X|G).

And the teapot/God analogy totally breaks down when you consider that:
  1. No scientist has made such a farcical claim as to seriously advocate the existence of this "teapot"
  2. There is ample ground for disbelief in the claim.
  3. The cumulative case for God, on the contrary, has persuaded at least a considerable minority of scientific minds.
  4. This teapot is a rhetorical and non-scientific device to associate a serious case with a ridiculous one.
However the usual atheist Wikipedian editors have removed these points from the articles, not becuase they have any arguments against their validity, but because they are "Original Research." Ah well. Of course if they were published we could cite them.

Interesting post here "Richard Dawkins is probably among the finest evolutionary biologists of our time [hmm...] but ... that does not preserve him from making some remarkably bad--indeed, in some cases embarrassingly bad--arguments when he steps outside the domain of his own area of expertise. To notice the badness of his arguments, however, is not the same thing as to be fully immune from their effects."

Sunday, November 12, 2006

PhD graduation, Remembrance Day etc..

Elder Daughter's PhD graduation at Cambridge yesterday - a wonderful occasion. To while away the monotony of having to listen to 63 conferrals I started counting how many of them had "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" at the end (which is the traditional formula but can be omitted for anyone who objects). Remarkably only 7 of the 56 objected, and of these 6 had names which suggest they are of Asian origin, so probably of other religions rather than active Atheists.

Remebrance Sunday - Church far less full that I or Vicar expected, many fewer children. 2 WW2 veterans present with medals, who were able to talk to the children afterwards about what it was like.

Some useful progress in Wikipedia: it's iterative but increasingly people build on the contributions rather than simply reverting them. It emerges that, not only doesn't Dawkins use a philosophical defintion of God, he doesn't use the scientific definition of Delusion (on which on his own admission God is not a Delusion). Bit like the Holy Roman Empire!

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Times - and more on the Delusion.

Libby Purves in The Times has wise words about the trivialisation of sex. Rupert Shortt also had a good Thunderer a couple of days ago about the serious persecution of Christians in many Muslim countries.

Some progress on the Dawkins/God Delusion front. And interesting feedback during my periginations about the City. A world-famous scientist thinks, as I do, that Dawkins is "bringing science into disrepute." And someone who knows him quite well (D's been to stay in his house) thinks that Dawkins has become a performer and doubts how far he believes his own rhetoric. Certainly a book which devotes more space to quotations from a few abusive letters/emails from "Christians" to another author (not Dawkins) that to the main Aquinas arguments for the existence of God, and which will not engage with the arguments of first-rate scientists like Polkinghorne (preferring to give D's own potted summaries and definitions) is nether scholarly nor a serious intellectual contribution. The Nature review described it as a "sermon" and John Polkinghorne describes it as "simply an atheistic rant - a very disappointing book."

Alister McGrath has sent me the MS of The Dawkins Delusion - an interesting slim book. Much excellent material although of course far more could be said. But time may be of the essence. It will be interesting to see if/how Dawkins can be encouraged to debate it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Launch of Theos

Read about the new think tank Theos in an article in the Telegraph by Michael Burleigh. They look excellent - their initial report is a stunning piece of work (I'm 1/2 way through it).

I also learn that Alister McGrath has written The Dawkins Delusion which is to be published by SPCK in Feb. Dawkins's "arguments" in The God Delusion are so weak that it will be a bit like shooting fish in a barrell, but it has to be done - since the general level of ignorance about theology and philosophy in the Meeja is such that Dawkins's hapless excursions into these fields (where he has had not formal training, and precious little informal training - his "critical reader" was his wife, a former Dr Who's assistant) are taken seriously, even though pretty well every serious reviewer has visibly winced, however much they may be a Dawkins fan. The Economist was a notable exception but that was almost certainly written by Matt Ridley who is a former pupil and needs Dawkins's approval to sell his books.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wikipedia, Nowak, Haggard

Well at least there is now a para in the WikiPedia article on Dawkins which points those who want to know to some of the leading scientists who are critical of his positions. Sadly not Simon Conway Morris - yet, though he is a very important critic. It has been quite an "experience" getting this in, Dawkins is protected by a ring of Acolytes. Ah well.

Martin Nowak's book has been published to acclaim. Must get it tomorrow (& get it signed when I next see him).

I guess we all could have done without this scandal about Haggard. The Bible is very clear that we are all sinners - this is not 'labelling' but a fact of Life.