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Cool video and some random thoughts

I haven't posted for ages. I'd pretty much given up on blogging as something I just don't have time for. But I saw this www.fubiz.net/2010/10/11/linkin-park-waiting-for-the-end/#more-109882 and it is cool...a very cool video, I like the song too, different from what I am used to with Linkin Park, but interestingly still clearly them.

I am currently reading The Stuff of Thought by Stephen Pinker.  He is basically making the claim that the road to understanding cognition is through language, it's very cool.  It raises some interesting questions - how much does language define our thoughts?  How much can we escape it?  Clearly we can think without language otherwise we wouldn't be able to learn language (this is not a trivial claim, and is disputed by some schools of thought). 

Language is the most amazing thing, almost magical.  You see, when you read this I am physically changing you.  I am reaching inside your brain and chaning your neurological makeup in a new way, a way it's probably never been changed before.  And you can't stop it happening, other than stopping reading, but even by reacting I've changed you.

Yes, on some level that's trivial and it happens all the time, our brains are constantly doing this...but on another level it's just plain incredible.  Our brains are amazing things and I think we mostly take them for granted (why wouldn't we?).  I recommend The Stuff of Thought, it's a great read, coming from a Psycholinguisitic (I just wanted to say that, such a cool word) point of view, but delving into Epistemology, Sociology, Cognitive Psychology and Philosophy, all in a very engaging and readable way.  

And in a cool, brain hacking kind of way, linking my musings about language back to the post about music, in this video, Bobby McFerin hacks your brain www.youtube.com/watch

It explains, on some level, how I can think the Linkin Park song is so different from what I expect from them, and yet still so clearly them.
As context for this post I read an excellent history of atheism called The Twilight of Atheism recently (while I was in Sydney) and I have been mulling it over ever since.

One of the main things that really stands out to me is the the absurdity of the view that there is no meaning in the universe. Dawkins is a strident atheist and makes a fairly loud (though) logically flawed argument for it in The God Delusion essentially claiming that the universe is simply a brute fact. It just is and that's it. For example: "There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference...".

Okay, so it's pretty clear from this that he sees that the universe just is. There is no higher purpose, no morality external to it, to us. I'd be able to accept this is he was just consistent with it, but he is not. In the God Delusion he considers that one of the most vile things a person can do is give their child a religious upbringing. Do you see the problem here? This is a profoundly moral statement. He is expressing a deeply moral view and yet, if he actually adhered to his spoken worldview, what he is saying is actually meaningless.

It's meaningless because there is nothing upon which to base his view. The universe just is, there is "no evil". It literally makes no sense to call something vile if there is no good and evil. It's not even some kind of relativism, he is not simply expressing a personal opinion. According to his stated worldview there is literally no meaning in his moral statements, not in any of them.

He is in an obsurd position, where he denies anything that can give real meaning to his words, and yet he still makes them, loudly and stridently. And, in fact, any worldview that makes the claim that the universe is all there is, is left in the same position.

I read the paper and I see articles loudly proclaiming Israel's moral deficiency in their assault on Gaza; articles written by atheists (I know in a couple of examples that this is true, and guess it in other cases), by secular humanists. How can they declare that Israel is morally bankrupt in it's actions. There can be no morality, not moral statements here.

To quote Kai Nelson, an atheist philsopher: "We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egosist or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasent one. Reflection on it depresses me...Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality."

Nietzsche saw this, as did Satre, Camus, Monod and others, and grappled with it in different, equally contradictory ways. The reality is that if kill God any kind of ethic that allows you to make moral statements about others, to make meaningful moral statements, even about yourself, dies with him/her/it.

As Nietzsche said in The Gay Science:
"God is Dead...And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves?"

To take the universe as brute fact, that we are born, we live and then we die, literally makes it all pointless; absurd. If there is no God, then objective right and wrong cannot exist. As Dostoyevsky said, "All things are permitted."

It's a free for all, there is no compelling reason not to simply do as you wish. In fact, the most compelling ethic may well be to be completely selfish. If all you get is your four score and 10, why waste it in altruism? This is not a world I'd like to live in.

It reminds me of a story I heard once, that highlights the central inconsistency of this kind of morally relativistic position. I doubt this is actually true, but it's a good story. It goes that a philosophy professor was teaching a course in ethics. During the course of the year he demonstrated the flaws in moral relativism and all but one of his students rejected it. The guy who didn't remained stridently relativistic. When it came to marking the final essays the student wrote a brilliant defense of relativism, and the professor marked it with an "F". The student, upon getting his essay back, demanded to meet with the professor. He insisted the professor tell him why his essay had been marked so, as he thought it was a good essay. The professor replied: "Did you think it was a good essay? Well, one of the criteria I have for a good essay is that they are not written in red ink (as the essay was) so I gave you an F". The student replied "That's not fair" and the professor said; "Really, but it's my opinion, I think essays written in red are not as good as ones written in black. You are entitled to you opinion, this is mine." And in so doing demonstrated that the student was a moral relatvist, until such point as it impinged negatively on him.

Like I say, I doubt the story is true, but it highlights the central inconsistency that seems to plague writers who claim to hold a to a view that there is no deeper meaning to anything.

I don't think appeals to basic human rights really hild water when given some thought. Basically they suffer from the same problem.

None of this is an argument for the existence of God, just thoughts on the implications of worldviews that deny a transcendant morality (i.e. theism, platonism etc). I am still mulling it all over...

Silence

I am in Sydney at the moment, until late in the evening on Monday. I came over for a friends wedding. The wedding was today, it was beautiful. I barely got to see him, and he'll be off on his honeymoon now, so I probably won't really get to see him until I come back for the conference in March.

And that got me to thinking, why did I come? Why did I go to all the effort for a couple of hours? Simple, to share in his joy. To partake of the joy of someone who, though I haven't seen him since India, means a lot to me. To see him overcome with joy. To meet his new wife and see her joy. And it was totally worth it.

I came to share in their desire to commit to each other, to celebrate the journey they embark on with them. I really do think Marriage is a wonderful and beautiful institution, and something that I think should be celebrated whenever it happens; and to be able to celebrate it with a friend is just wonderful.

There is a kind of intimacy that comes with a marriage that cannot be found elsewhere. A kind of knowing of someone else, and being known, that is incredible. It's something that I feel particularly blessed to be a part of. It's a terrible tragedy that I take it for grant some, perhaps most, of the time. But that doesn't make it less wonderful.

I entitled this entry silence because I am in Sydney alone. Natalya is at home with the kids. With my friend away with his wife as he should be, I don't really know anyone here. I have spent the last two days largely in silence. I have talked, but it's been purely functional; ordering food, checking in to the hotel etc. I really notice the fact that there is no one to talk to at a deeper level. No intimacy. The funny thing is that if I was at home I probably wouldn't have deeper conversations with Natalya anyway, but now that I can't have them, I miss them dearly.

But at the same time I am enjoying the silence and anonymity. for the first time in what seems like ages, I have time to stop, to process, to reflect, to hope and to really pray. And it's good. Even if it's a funny place to be, alone but not lonely.

Something more upbeat ^_^

About a month and a half ago I submitted three abstracts for presentation at an international conference on testing in Sydney. Against all odds one of them has been accepted!

I already feel nervous...

I set this as a career goal a few months back and so submitted the abstracts, mostly just to try that out. I didn't really think that I'd get accepted. Now I have to have to actually come up with 40 minutes of stuff to present on "grwoing great testers" to a crowd of anywhere from none to several hundred.

Funny that this makes me feel nervous. I speak in church fairly regularly, to a group of about 100 people, and I'm fine. I'm usually a little nervous, but not much, and not this far out.

I guess this is an entirely new context of public speaking for me, so it's new ground. That and I suppose the audience at church contains many friends whereas I expect I'll know almost no-one at this conference.

I'm all a jittery, quivery...

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30 days of agony - day one

Cross posted from The Sanctuary Vineyard Church website

Susi Childers came and spoke at Capital Vineyard Church this morning. She works with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) as a missionary photographer. Her and her husband have published a book called Voice for the Voiceless. As she spoke I felt my heart breaking, as it has when I have seriously allowed myself to be confronted by the global industry of exploitation of women and children. And I had nothing on how broken Natalya was. So it begins. I am going to pray through the book, I am going to allow the full weight of these things to confront and upset me. For this is the heart of God.

The first day is on Child Prostitution.


Definition
"It is the sexual exploitation of a child for remuneration in cash or kind, usually but not always organised by an intermeiary (parent, family member, procurer or teacher).(1)

"10 million children worldwide are engaged in some facet of the sex industry. Eachyear at least one million children, mostly girls, become prostitutes." (2)

"In Thailand, 10 -12 year old girls service men in the sex industry. They typically have sex with men 10 - 15 times daily and sometimes as many as 20-30." (3)

"In South Africa there are 40,000 child prostitutes." (4)

"Children are more susceptible to HIV and other STDs." (5)



Before getting into this, lets not forget that the US State Department, in it's annual report on Child Prostitution, said New Zealand has a significant problem with child prostitution. (I can't find this report, but I remember there being a stink about it about a year ago).

I feel sick.

When I was in Thailand about 8 years ago now we worked with a bunch of orphan girls in the slums of Bangkok. Even in such difficult surroundings they were so wonderful and full of life. I was told then that the government would sponsor orphans until they are 13, sending them to school, clothing and feeding them. After that all support is withdrawn.

There is an extremely good chances that some or all of those girls have been working as prostitutes for some or all of the last 8 years. 10 - 15 men a day.

We once thought of trying to raise funds to open an orphanage for these kids, to get them through the rest of their education and get them into jobs outside the sex trade. I find myself returning to those thoughts now. I wish we had.

I feel sick. I can feel my heart breaking in my chest. I have an 8 year old girl. So precious and full of life and hope. To think that a parent could sell their kids into sex slavery staggers me. But then the parents are just as often seriously imprisoned by poverty and the like. They are often victims as much as the kids.

Today Susi told a story of a girl she met in a slum in Mumbai who was sold into slavery. Apparently the girls parents worshipped a particular Hindu goddess whose doctrines demanded that the first born girl be sold into prostitution.

From the moment that girl was born she had a destiny. She was born into prostitution and will die into it. When Susi when to the brothel to talk to this girl she saw that the upper floor had heaps of kids in it. These are the women's children. They sleep under their mothers beds. Let that sink in. No child should be forced to sleep in such an environment. How are these kids not doomed to join their mothers?

The particular slum had 100,000 women enslaved in prostitution in it. Consigned to a living hell by the lust and greed of their fellow humans.

Rob Bell wrote something to the effect of 'we know that we see Hell on Earth', so too we can see heaven on earth'(6). If ever anyone needed the Gospel it is these women. If ever anyone needed to see God's love in action it is these women. If ever anyone needed the Church to rise up for them it is these women.

Jesus came to put an end to all of this. I believe that with all my heart. And one day and end will come. In the meantime he chooses to use me, and others, as the instruments of his will on this earth.

I am not articulating this well. Fundamentally I believe the Church, the Body of Christ, exists to go to people like this and work to bring a stop to their suffering. To serve them. To save them. To rise up in their defense. That so many Christians and so many churches do not do this breaks my heart even further.

Moses once went into the court of the Pharoah and said: "Let my people go." Who will go for the millions of children forced into prostition?

What will I do? What will you do? Whether you believe in God or not, can you sit by and do nothing? I know people whose biggest concern in life is their mortgage. I am one of those people. It's time to get some perspective.

If you do want to do something, here is a good place to start The child sex tourism prevention project. Google "stop child prostitution" and you'll find other options too.

------
All references taken from the "A voice for the voiceless" booklet
(1)http://www.polity.org/govdocs/white_papers/social97gloss.html
(2)http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/pdfs/GFC_childtraffic_prost.pdf
(3)Pusurinkham, Sirirat: "A Globe of Witnesses"
(4)Bolowana, ANgela. 2004. The Mercury "40,000 Child Prostitutes 'Street Children Vulnerable to Sex Trade'" Edition 1
(5)http://www.ecpstusa.org/travel_tourism.asp
(6) My paraphrase of a section of his book The Velvet Elvis.

General update

So we are on holiday in Auckland. It's good. Auckland is about what you'd expect (except for the Zoo, but more on that anon), but seeing friend and hanging out is teh r0xx0r.

So we went to the zoo yesterday. It was really very good. I have this hangup about zoos from when I was a teenager and went to Wellington zoo and was depressed by the miserable enclosures and general pokiness of it all. Actually Wellington Zoo has improved alot too. There is an album of photos on my facebook page if you want to look. The tiger is immensely cool and awesome and, well, tigery. If ever I needed proof of God that tigers eyes gave it to me. So incredible.

Lots of other picks of animals too. The Zebra Finches were another favourite of mine.

Generally life is okay, but mega, stupidly busy. Work is especially out of control at the moment. Well not right now as I am on holiday, but generally. I am loving the job, I find I really like being a team manager, but I really struggle not to have it totally take over my life.

I am speaking on Church on grace in a couple of weeks. Two weeks on it. Not enough time really, I could spend all my life musing on it and still not come to the end. It really is so huge that it can't be fully grasped, and the more I dig into it, the more offensive to conventional social morality and to pious christian religiosity it is. It's great stuff. Jesus was a true revolutionary, he turned the world on it's head and we've been trying to put it back ever since, but it won't really go back. It's no surprise that grace gets caricatured into a box so that we can pretend to understand it.

On youtube there is a sequence of videos that are a last interview with serial killer Ted Bundy. Here is the first Fatal Attraction. It's ironic that he talks about being saved and outside there are Christians with placards saying he will burn in hell. Like I said, grace is offensive...it probably offends you. It does me, and that's a good thing.

Anyway, between work, church, ultimate and what little roleplaying I do I seem to have very little time for anything else at the moment. It's mostly work, it takes most of my energy and leaves me with little left for anything else. I am hoping my plans to mitigate this will come to fruition soon...

This will probably be the post for the third quarter the way my life is going ^_^

I am looking forward too:

1. The Aoteroa Vineyard churches national conference this weekend. Should be a good time.
2. Coming home next friday, I'll be well sick of Orcland by then.
3. Speaking in church on the 19th and 26th
4. Hopefully going to see Marcdog on Labour day.
5. Giving him, Anne and thier kids the present I have for them (a laptop).
6. Daggers Pirate party (Zeke is also going to have a pirate party, but that's not until next feb).
7. Ultimate starting on the 26th!

Tags:

Random thoughts

I have been very busy over the last little while.

Natalya had a pretty major seizure a few weeks ago. She fell and banged up her face pretty badly. She has healed remarkably well though, and is back at work this week. This really sent us both into a a bit of a spiral that we've only really come out of just now.

On top of that work is pretty full on. Managing a team is hard work, but generally rewarding. I have been brought in 4 new people to the team, gone to a conference, spent an exorbitant sum of money of test management software for team, battled some weird politics from a vendor, and more.

The conference was probably the highlight of the last few weeks. It was all about Software Testing and had some great speakers. The talk on Risk Based testing was great, as was the one on Classification trees...but I guess no one really cares about the inner geekdom of Sotfware testing (except me ^_^).

One of the speakers, Michael Bolton let a great workshop on Critical Thinking for Testers was great. One of the things I love about my job is that I use my Philosophy degree most days, and my Psych degree many of the other ones. This workshop actually inspired me, I might well see about writing and preparing a paper to submit for next years conference.

We'll see.

All the thinking about thinking got me thinking about Weltanschauung (wordviews) and their impact on our daily life. I suppose it's my philosophical pet project. I have been thinking a lot about thinking recently. I should probably take the time to write some of the thoughts down, but who has time?

It's funny, I have the whole scope of a paper on worldview formation and the synthesis of knowledge rolling around in my head, but mostly spend my time thinking about in awkward locations, like when I am walking, or on the loo, or driving, or in the shower. About the only productive time I thinking about it is in boring meetings, where I can jot notes on the pretense of taking minutes...

Or when I am lying in bed trying to get to sleep. Speaking of such things I should go to bed now.

On a final note I very Happy that Happy Creature has won the last 4 games straight, the last two by excellent margins (21 to 10 and 15 to 10). Go Happy!

Dawkins' God

I still haven't finished the God Delusion, although I am significantly further through it. I am finding it an enormously frustrating read. Not becasue I don't agree with him, or even that I am predisposed to disagree with him, I have read other atheist writing and enjoyed and been challenged by it immensely.

I find it frustrating because of Dawkins' style. He has been described as "Darwins Rottwieler" (in a explicit comparison to T.H Huxley who was known as Darwin's Bulldog - and inappropriate comparison in my view). It seems to me that the dog is rabid. It's frustrating because this work could have been an interesting contribution to a long standing debate over the existence of God, instead it is a patchy rant/whine.

Anyway, I was given back my copy of Dawkins' God, written by Alistar McGrath, a prominent philosopher of science. In it there is a great passage where he tackles this very issue, namely the "ferocty with which he (Dawkins) asserts his atheism."

an extended quote on Dawkin's reasoning process.Collapse )

To put it bluntly, Dawkins makes an inference about how to explain the world and then uses that inference to develop logically binding deductions about the existence, or lack thereof, of God.

This is something I have seen over and over again, especially on teh interwebs on sites like Panda's Thumb and respondants to David Heddle's blog He Lives. Essentially there is a confusion whereby some people, theists and atheists both, take physical evidence as absolute confirmation of metaphysical beliefs. Cognitive Psychological research has shown that people tend to seek and interprets evidence that confirms belief(2). So this isn't terribly surprising.

But it is frustrating for the following reasons.

First Dawkins (and others) accuse theists of making this logical error while making it themselves. Most of the skilled theist writers in this debate that I have read are very clear that there arguments are inferential only and thus not logically binding. Most of them seem acutely aware of the difference between physical evidence and metaphysical belief or theory. In fact the recent Intelligent Design writers take pains to point this out. Namely that they are arguing an inference to the best explanation, not a logically necessary deduction. At best they are saying it is eminently rational to be a theist, but that the argument is not logically binding.

There are poor theist writers in this area that make the same mistake and they should be rightly repudiated for it. But so should Dawkins. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I don't normally seriously engage with these writers because they have little influence. Dawkins' unprecendented influence means that it is necessary to engage with his work.

Second, this debate has gone on for centuries and has largely come to a stalemate (with the exception of the Intelligent Design revival based on recent scientific findings, but, as said, this has more modest intentions and does not set out to prove the existence of God). Dawkins rocks along with his lenghty rant and summarily dismisses the collective centuries of thought by specialists in this area with a few hand waves, some burning of straw men and some red faced ranting and presumes to have settled the matter.

The arrogance of the man is unsettling. Dawkins is, or was, a brilliant scientist. He has contributed profoundly to our understanding of evolution and is, or was, a highly respected Zoologist. What he is not, is a philosopher of any ability. To wade into complex philosophical debates and essentially try and shout everyone down jsut comes across as childish (much of the book reads like a schoolboy argument) and churlish.

To make matters worse, Dawkins has roundly tried to demonize philsophers who want to step into a debate that they justifiably see as on their turf. He has claimed of various people that they are not biologists so they shouldn't be getting involved. Even worse, he has personally attacked theist biologists; essentially damning them for their theism and so never having to actually engage with their actual statements.

All in all The God Delusion is a frustrating read simply because it lacks any real depth or character. Is is largely superfluous ranting that contributes little, if any, real value to the existing debate. It saddens me that he has such a wide influence that people will read it, and may be persuaded by it, when it is, in the final analysis, simply a (poor) piece of propaganda.

If people wanted to read good atheist or agnostic literature in this area I'd suggest Anthony Flew or Micheal Ruse as good places to start.




(2)Nisbett and Ross: Human Inference: Stategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgement cited in McGrath's Dawkin's God.

Unhappy Creature

So we had our first game as the new Happy Creature for the second winter league. We lost 17 to 8 I think; with the emphasis on lost. I think we essentially threw away the game, one we could have won with a bit of effort, and I played a large part in the in that loss.

First, as a team I think our defense was weak, especially in the zone. We did have some very good defense, but on the whole our opposition got clear of us often in the zone and we often got beaten to the top of the zone.

We generally we lazy in our running on defense too.

In offense we had some very good sequences of play where we played hard, passing quickly, cutting fast and moving the disc up to court quickly. We scored some good point this way. But generally our cutting for the disc was lacklustre. When I was handling I was frustrated that it seemed like no-one was open and hungry for the disc. When I as receiving I was just as lead footed as anyone on the team.

We also had some very good long plays, but we threw it away doing this more than we scored off it. I think our short to mid game is stronger and we should focus on that.

The other thing that Mas pointed out was that when people were cutting they were often not looking for the disc, this meant people missed passes they would have gotten if they were watching for it.

Overall I just didn't feel that we gelled well as a team.

But, as I said, we had some good sequences of play. I think we actually a strong team and the capacity to play togeather. At this stage, I think our first game was anomolous. I know we can do better, and I think we will.

Now to my performance. I take most of the above criticism on myself. I made several errors as a player and as a captain. The main error as a captain was failing to recognise that the offense has the right to enforce the new "two women on the court rule". given that we were losing for most of the game we should have been more relaxed in how we fielded our team. Would it have made a big difference? I don't know, some I think, but not a great deal.

As a player was lead footed as a handler, passed poor options, slow in cutting and offense. Honestly I feel like I had the worst game I have had in months. I contributed directly to the opposition scoring 4 or 5 points by giving a turnover they scored off. Over all I think I was a liability to the team.

I find this particularly frustrating because last week at the hat tourney I proved that I play very well. I had a great night, playing 2 hours worth of ultimate over the course of the night, scored about 8 points, passed 7 or 8, defended well, cut and passed well. Sure, it wasn't a perfect series of games, but it was definitely was my best so far. Tonight I played like a n00b. Worst on the team in my opinion.

At least starting from here there is only one way for me to go ^_^

Surprised

I just read an account of how long time atheist Anthony Flew has revised his views and become a theist. I studied several of Flew's arguments in my time studying philosophy; particularly his neo humean arguments for the irrationality of belief in God. So this came as something of a surprise to me.

I was particularly interested in the following:
While still rejecting the concept of special revelation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, nonetheless he had concluded that theism was true. In Flew’s words, he simply “had to go where the evidence leads.”

Flew is, or was, by far the best atheist writer I have read. Light years ahead of the likes of Dawkins (who's senseless rantings in the God Delusion make me feel like I am reading a bad blog) or Hitchens (who wrote God is not Good) who seems to want to emulate Dawkin's "I can shout louder than you form of 'philosophy'".

I'll be interested to read Flew's latest work "There is a God" to see how he puts it.

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