Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Richard Carrier, Skepticon III

Awesome. Richard Carrier rarely disappoints and he's remarkably good in his Skepticon III talk.

(Via Richard Carrier Blogs)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Religion as an virus quasispecies.

On some distant forum somebody said that religions are nothing like viruses because viruses form quasispecies. It was a really terrible argument for a disanalogy (the person in question insists there's nothing that can ever be gleaned from thinking of religion like a virus), but putting the mootness aside, I addressed the comparison on the merits and it actually looked pretty good.


This isn't to say that we cannot apply quasi-species understandings to religions just that we have to apply it with regard to the various denominations and individuals adherents to the religion (you can't have multiple religions within an individual but rather within a society). Each of which is slightly different after all, and if for example, you were to attack Biblical literalism and certain elements of literalism were completely persona non grata  then the quasi-species response would adapt by having the non-literialist elements propagate in that environment. Just as the AZT resistant members of an HIV quasi-species within an HIV+ individual suddenly spike up when subjected to AZT. Which can allow the infection to become more benign but certainly prevents it from being defeated. It simply adapts within the quasi-species by having something akin to species variation between the individual's strains. So rather than just having one monolithic "true strain" there are a cloud of different individual agents each with pros and cons. And subjecting the group to a particular factor allows the group to adapt. As such, we really can, in a way, apply such quasi-species understanding to religions. There's not after all one true religion but a wide variety of different faiths, each slightly different. When one part is attacked, it is not necessarily universal to the entire collection but rather to some smaller section thereof.

As such, taking a cue from HIV research in an attempt to address religion as a quasi-species, we should focus on the most critical elements that are true for all religious viewpoints to have a provoke a broadly neutralizing effect, such as replication (indoctrination of children is immoral), or metabolic (religion is wrong for the various reasons, have some science). We should do this far more than we should focus on tiny elements like "Isaiah, according to the Bible summoned, two she-bears to maul children and this is horrible!" Because the small elements will not be broadly effective against the entire quasi-species. Rather one needs to focus on the absolutely critical elements true to all religion, for example: faith. While some religions do not exalt accepting crap on no evidence as a virtue, those religions are very benign. Rather than address some auxiliary characteristic of the infection (Errors in the Bible, Condones Slavery, Historically Inaccurate), we should address the most central element to have the best shot at a real impact, namely religious epistemology. If you allow things you want to be true to have priority of those things which are, by evidence, more likely to be true, you'll have any number of various and diverse religions, in fact you'll be able to justify any belief.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Obsure never to be read suggestions for programming languages.

I've always felt that:

if (0 < x < 30) ...;

Should be valid code. I currently don't know any programming languages that put a catch for it in their XBNFs but really it's pretty easy to convert at the compiler and pretty easy to read as well. Far better than:

if ((0 < x) && (x < 30))...;

Friday, February 4, 2011

Do We Really Need the Moon?

There's a BBC program asking, in a very pro-moon perspective whether we need the moon. It pretended to be objective then spent an hour explaining how the moon was absolutely vital. Apparently having seasons and critters that care about seasons, and not wobbling all over the place makes our moon very essential for life. But, really without the constant polar ice caps we'd have a lot more water and water critters could do plenty well, and saying that just because nothing has evolved to go from death-valley temperature to antarctic temperature and therefore it's impossible is rather bizarre. I mean, plenty of critters have the ability to hibernate, and trigger activity based on heat, and cope with heat and cold. Just because there's not anything around (save a few bacteria) that tend to do that doesn't mean nothing could. Somehow I always feel that doubting evolution is some kind of intellectual fallacy.