Monthly Archives: February 2008

Secular Humanism

The tenets of secular humanism are:

  • Need to test beliefs – A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith.
  • Reason, evidence, scientific method – A commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions.
  • Fulfillment, growth, creativity – A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general.
  • Search for truth – A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it.
  • This life – A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us.
  • Ethics – A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility.
  • Building a better world – A conviction that with reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.

Does anyone agree that these are good ideas?

11 Comments

Filed under Atheist

The Lady, or the Tiger?

I was looking up thought experiments on t’Internet last night.  Look I do these sorts of things, OK.  I found this one which I’ve read before and thought I’d post it to see what you lovely blogging folk would say.

In an ancient land a “semi-barbaric King” rules.  He has an unusual form of trial justice for criminals.  Place the accused in an arena with two exits.  Behind one door was a beautiful woman and behind the other was a ravenous and slightly annoyed tiger.   The accused is given the choice of picking only one door. 

The door with the woman behind it leads to a declaration of innocence and as a reward he was required to marry the woman, regardless of previous marital status.

The door with the tiger behind it leads to a messy and noisy death as punishment for his crime.  Clearly he is guilty if he makes such a bad decision.

One day the king found that his daughter, the princess, had taken a lover far beneath her station.  The king, not being a progressive ruler, threw the man in prison and set a date for his trial in the arena.  When the trial day arrives the man looked to the princess for some indication of which door to pick.  The princess knows which door leads to the woman and which door leads to the tiger but is faced with a conundrum.  If she indicated the door with the tiger, then the man she loved would be killed on the spot; however, if she indicated the door with the lady, her lover would be forced to marry another woman and even though he would be alive she would never be with him again. Finally she does indicate a door, which the suitor then opens.

The question is:  Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?
Not TiggerShe's a Wonder

32 Comments

Filed under Bad things happen, Reasons to be cheerful, Thought experiment

This season I am mostly reading

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

So far I am mostly enjoying it.  Expect blog entries about thought experiments in the near future.

2 Comments

Filed under Reasons to be cheerful

Prophecy

It started the other night when I was walking home with Cake Worm.  We started talking about how witches always seem to be portrayed as wizened old hags and never as beautiful women.  Inevitably we ended up talking about MacBeth and the witches prophecy:

First Witch 
All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch 
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch 
All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Also the comment from Deb

Mr. Frog…I hope u’ll hop over and give me your explanation on how things that were written thousands of years ago have come to pass, are coming to pass and will come to pass…I’m sure there is a logical explanation

got me thinking about the nature of prophecy.  Actually it goes back to Greta’s post on predictions from earlier in the year. 

Is it that they that come true because we make them come true or because they would come true anyway?

Now, before anyone leaps up and yells “Hey Mr Frog.  You don’t believe in the supernatural.  How can you believe in prophecy?” let me explain.   A prophecy that does not come true isn’t a prophecy.  It just doesn’t count,  That’s why so called psychics throw scores of predictions out and then grandly announce the fact when they get one right.  It is prophecy because it becomes true, before that it is simply a statement.

I have some tips for people who wish to write their own prophecies.  As a gamer since I before I was a teenager (and that was a while ago) I have enjoyed writing and being subjected to prophecy in a game (or The Game as we often call it) environment. 

Multiple meanings: Come up with three meanings for every element in a prophecy, so that if one thing is prevented, the others can step in.  Daniel 9 26 “After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.”  Suitably vague.  Sixty two ‘sevens’ could mean weeks or loaves of bread or anything else that you get lots of.  The Anointed One could be the Jesus figure, a holy pilgrim or someone who got rained on.  It doesn’t matter as long as you leave the answer open to interpretation.

The Wizard’s Bluff: Find ways to make avoiding a problem, cause the problem.  An unfair technique but useful if you need something to happen or to explain something that can’t go another way.  For instance, say you need to prophecy one person being in Ankh Morpork but they refuse to go there.  In avoiding the problem they try to escape and end up getting lost and going to the very place that they wanted to avoid.  A simpler method is a lever that either opens a trap door or prevents it opening.  If you need someone to fall through the trap door then it doesn’t matter if you pull the lever or not because it’s going to happen the way it has been foretold.  This is very much a “heads I win, tails you lose” gambit.

What’s your name?: Don’t give names but use vague references instead.  When you want Bill the plasterer to be your focus of the prophecy never use his name.  Use “the third son with hands of clay”or “the dark eyed laughing one”.  If you want to prophecy a death don’t say that “only a man who was born by Cesarean section can kill you”.  Turn it round to the positive and mysterious.  Say instead “None of woman born shall harm MacBeth”.  It’s suitably vague and leaves unsaid the key point.

When was that again?:  Don’t give dates of events at all if you can help it or use an odd method of calculating dates like an ancient language or a vague unit like age or season.  For example say “In the season of darkness” when you mean winter.  You can always reveal later that this meant a time of lunar eclipse or night time or even a very overcast day.  Avoid specifics.  Daniel 9 26s sixty-two ‘sevens’ is another example.

Where was I?:  Don’t use place names.  Use a description instead.  Instead of saying Rome, for example, say The City of Seven Hills.  That way you can use another city that happens to have seven hills (or mounds, or piles of rubbish even) if your first choice lets you down.

Retroactive Prophecy:  One of my favourites.  Have a figure of importance make some off hand comment that is open to interpretation.  Write it down.  Later some event could occur and people will point at that comment and say “Wow, that was spot on.  Amazing!”.  My example is another biblical one Matthew 24 1-2 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

The key to prophecy is to be vague and to get others to look for meaning.  Never be explicit, never clarify.  When you get close to the mark make sure that you shout out that you got it right.  Only then should you explain that you meant this or that all along.  If anyone doubts you then all you need to do is accuse them of lacking faith and demand that they explain how you could be so accurate with your prophecy.

5 Comments

Filed under Pedantic, Religion, You decide

A bit of fun

This is just for discussion. I would love to hear some comments from people. Here’s the issue:

Someone approaches you and states that yesterday never existed. In fact everything has only existed since 6am this morning.  When everything came into existence, it was already “pre-programmed” with the appearance of age and we were installed with our memories of non-existent past days.

Your goal is to attempt to prove them wrong.  How would you?  What would you say?

22 Comments

Filed under Debate, Pedantic

What’s in the box?

I’ve once again been chatting online with people of religious belief.  It struck me that many people often look at things as either black or white, positive or negative.  This isn’t a trait of the religious but I have noticed it in my Christian verses atheist debates.  You know the spiel: atheists have no morals because they follow no Gods, Christians are all proselytizing Jesus-freaks.  Nonsense, of course.  Yet, as human beings, we find it convenient to simplify and categorise things that we encounter.  There’s probably some sort of inherited survival trait responsible.

One particular thing that bothers me is the idea of sin.  I’ve often been seen to praise one or more of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins (Greed, Lust, Pride, Gluttony, Envy, Wrath, and Sloth) as having positive aspects.  I don’t think that I’ve ever explained my reasoning though or put them all in one place.

Well this is my blog and I’ll write about sin if I please.

Greed or a desire for wealth may be bad when taken to extremes but in a modern society wealth means that you pay more taxes and contribute more to society.  You have the ability to spend money on consumer goods which need to be made by someone.  Someone whose job you have secured with your expenditure.  Wealth begets more wealth and greedy people are willing to invest in order to secure that wealth and increase it.

Lust or strong sexual desire often accompanied with fertility is one of my very favourite “sins” ;).  Our very species relies upon sexual desire for procreation.  We wouldn’t want to go the way of the panda now would we?  A dose of lust keeps a relationship healthy and allows us to overlook small foibles in our partners.  I’m willing to let the fact that The Hildy puts spoons in the draining rack upside down when I know I’m going to get some action at some point.  She similarly forgives my minor annoyances (not that I am ever annoying) that would otherwise build up without some healthy release.

Pride or feeling of self-respect and personal worth is another of my favourite “sins”.  I feel proud when I perform a task well or create something that I place value upon.  I am willing to stand up for my opinions and ideas that I think are right.  Lack of pride can lead to others taking advantage of you as you lack self worth and so defer to others.

Gluttony or the consumption of food and drink in abundance isn’t one of my favourites but eating a hearty meal is a pleasure.  More than the actual consumption though the very fact that you can provide a large repast speaks of your success.  We don’t live my hunting and gathering any more but a large meal has to be paid for and being able to provide it is cause to celebrate.

Envy or a feeling of grudging admiration and desire to have something that is possessed by another, an eager striving if you will is an excellent motivator.  I’m not so keen on “keeping up with the Joneses” but seeing someone else’s well earned success may well prompt me to work harder.

Wrath or belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong is a righteous anger against something.  The key thing here is that the anger is in response to a perceived wrong.  If some ‘tard blocks the footbridge at the train station with their foolishly placed luggage then I have a right to be angry and express that anger.  In fact if anyone does something that angers me then I may well be prompted into action. I shouldn’t let my anger control me but I can certainly let it motivate me.  Some of the greatest changes in society have been prompted by wrath.  Do you think that the civil rights movement would have even started if people had not been angry at the unfairness of their situation?

Sloth or a disinclination to work or exert yourself or simply to rest and recover is a fine reward for hard work.  To describe it as a sin is to dismiss the efforts that allow a person to rest and relax.  How often have you simply needed to take a break?  Recovery is important to keeping a person going.

Well these are my justifications for why sin can be good and why looking at the world in black and white means that you miss the shades of grey.  I’d love to expand on this and hear any comments that you might have.

27 Comments

Filed under Atheist, Reasons to be cheerful, Religion