Wednesday, November 29, 2017


-- This is amazing. It is the oldest piece of music known, dating from about 1400 BC. Obviously there is a lot of interpretation since it wasn't written in our musical notation, but it's still incredible. I'm linking to it instead of embedding it because you need to read the comments section.

-- I've written before about the book Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence by philosopher David Benatar. I've always asked, jokingly, "Did he dedicate it to his parents?" Well, a new article in the New Yorker reveals that he actually did. Bill Vallicella comments on Benatar's position, called anti-natalism, and actually points (here and here) to Christian anti-natalism: that is, that the Christian position should be to not bring any more people into existence.

-- "Flows of 'water' on Mars may actually be sand, new study reveals". I thought we already knew this. At least, I remember linking to a study that suggested it, but I can't find the post now, so it may have been on another blog.

-- The inestimable Edward Feser reviews the inestimable Daniel Dennett's most recent book, the inestimable From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds. Feser's review is entitled One Long Circular Argument. It begins thus:

How do you get blood from a stone? Easy. Start by redefining “blood” to mean “a variety of stone.” Next, maintaining as straight a face as possible, dramatically expound upon some trivial respect in which stone is similar to blood. For example, describe how, when a red stone is pulverized and stirred into water, the resulting mixture looks sort of like blood. Condescendingly roll your eyes at your incredulous listener’s insistence that there are other and more important respects in which stone and blood are dissimilar. Accuse him of obscurantism and bad faith. Finally, wax erudite about the latest research in mineralogy, insinuating that it somehow shows that to reject your thesis is to reject Science Itself. 
Of course, no one would be fooled by so farcical a procedure. But substitute “mind” for “blood” and “matter” for “stone,” and you have the recipe for Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

I haven't read the book yet, but that description sums up Dennett's whole oeuvre so well it's a little disturbing.

-- J.R. Lucas, "The Gödelian Argument: Turn Over the Page"Etica e Politica 5/1 (2003).

-- Peter van Inwagen, "The Compatibility of Darwinism and Design", in Neil A. Manson, ed., God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 2003).

-- Ted Chiang, "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", Subterranean Press (this last one is science-fiction, if you're wondering).

Friday, November 24, 2017


A Sufi mosque in Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula on the Mediterranean, was subject to a horrific terrorist attack. 235 people are reported dead so far. 235, including 15 to 25 children. My gosh, just pray for them. It's absolutely horrific. I've written before that Sufism is usually considered a mystical form of Islam, but many Muslims (perhaps most) consider it heretical. I presume that would be the motive here, but the larger part of me isn't interested in the motives of evil people for committing evil but on asking how we stop them.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Flatsy McFlathead

For earlier posts on flat earth advocates, see here, here, and here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Malcolm Young died. Here are some reactions from various rockers.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

On prayer, again

So we've had another couple of spree shootings, both by people without any ties to terror organizations, but with apparently significant mental and emotional problems. Neither shooter could legally own guns. The first was in a church in Texas on November 5, and 26 people were killed. Naturally, many people began to pray for the survivors and the families of those who were killed. Out came the knives. Rather than link to some of the venomous statements, I'll just summarize and sanitize them: "The people in the church were already praying and it didn't stop the massacre. Why do you think more praying will have any impact. Instead of praying (read: stop praying), try doing something instead."

Now I discussed this before, but one point I didn't make is that this kind of objection only works if we assume that God is some kind of mechanism, and praying to him automatically (or at least, in significant proportions) produces the desired effect. But of course, this contradicts the actual religions of the people doing the praying. God is a person, a mind, with free will. We can't make him do anything. This certainly creates an issue, which is commonly called the problem of evil, but that doesn't account for the condemnation and malice directed towards those who pray. This quote by C.S. Lewis gives a good summary of why asking whether prayer works is basically a category mistake.

But there was another issue that struck me in the aftermath of the Texas shooting. It has two parts. First, a few days beforehand, on Halloween, there was a terrorist attack in New York, where a man, claiming to be acting on behalf of ISIS, drove a truck over a bunch of pedestrians, killing eight and injuring a dozen more. The man called out the takbir, "Allahu akbar" (God is greater, or the greatest) which is a very common phrase in Islam, stated during all kinds of things, good and bad. It has, unfortunately, become strongly associated with terrorism, as terrorists say it when committing their atrocities. The takbir is a prayer, although it's not a petitionary prayer -- that is, it's not specifically asking God for something, but is instead praising him. And for days afterwards, there were several opinion pieces in the media defending this prayer, trying to separate it from its association with terrorism (examples here, here, and here). Fine. But this created a sharp contrast. When a Muslim prays while committing an act of horrendous evil, his prayer is defended. When Christians pray after a horrendous evil has been committed against them, their prayer is condemned.

Second, a few days after the Texas shooting, on the anniversary of the Presidential election, people in several cities who were, shall we say, displeased with the results, congregated to scream at the sky. That's pretty darn close to prayers offered in the aftermath of a horrendous evil, and I suspect (though I can't prove) that most of the people who engaged in this activity were those who would defend the takbir and lambaste the Christians praying.

The point, which I hope is obvious, is that there is some pretty severe hypocrisy going on by those who condemn Christians for having the audacity to pray after a horrific event. The Texas shooting was sandwiched between two events which provoked radically different responses from the same people. 1) Evil man cries out to God while committing his evil, 2) Christians cry out to God after evil man commits evil against them, 3) people congregate to cry out to God because of the political situation in the United States. If you're only condemning the second case, you're not being consistent.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Quote of the Day

Our present condition, then, is explained by the fact that we are members of a spoiled species. I do not mean that our sufferings are a punishment for being what we cannot now help being nor that we are morally responsible for the rebellion of a remote ancestor. If, nonetheless, I call our present condition one of original Sin, and not merely one of original misfortune, that is because our actual religious experience does not allow us to regard it in any other way. Theoretically, I suppose, we might say "Yes: we behave like vermin, but then that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault." But the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to commit. The situation is not nearly so hard to understand as some people make out. It arises among human beings whenever a very badly brought up boy is introduced into a decent family. They rightly remind themselves that it is "not his own fault" that he is a bully, a coward, a tale-bearer and a liar. But, however it came there, his present character is nonetheless detestable. They not only hate it, but ought to hate it. They cannot love him for what he is, they can only try to turn him into what he is not. In the meantime, though the boy is most unfortunate in having been so brought up, you cannot quite call his character a "misfortune" as if he were one thing and his character another. It is he -- he himself -- who bullies and sneaks and likes doing it. And if he begins to mend he will inevitably feel shame and guilt at what he is just beginning to cease to be.

C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain

Thursday, November 9, 2017


-- Here's an interesting (and long) series of quotes by political pundits on their reactions in the lead-up to, in the midst of, and in the aftermath of, the 2016 Presidential election. I couldn't focus on the election because I was still too overwhelmed by the flat-out miracle of the Cubs winning the World Series a few days earlier.

-- Huh. 84 confirmed facts in the last 16 chapters of the book of Acts.

-- Here's an article on "The Poisoned Will of Jean Meslier", an 18th century French priest, who wrote a book condemning all religion as evil, and which was only found after his death. If you want to read the poison itself, here ya go.

-- I know about the philosopher Sally Haslanger because I very briefly reference her husband in my book, but I don't know that much about her. This account of her career frustrates me. Immensely. Right out of her doctoral studies in the mid-1980s, she got a tenure-track position at UCal Irvine. Then a year later, she got a tenure-track position at Princeton. At this point, she hadn't published anything. Three years later she went to a tenure-track position at U Michigan, and in 1992, was offered a tenured (not tenure-track, but tenured) position at Cornell. At this point she had only published three articles. I assume things were different then, but I find that account nearly miraculous. I've published several articles and a book and I'm only an adjunct. I can't even find a non-tenure-track but full-time position. But that's not what frustrates me about the account of her career. Again, I assume that it was easier to get a tenure-track position then, and I strongly suspect that she knew the right people and knew how to network, two areas where I am sadly lacking. No, what frustrates me is that Haslanger says she has "a deep well of rage" inside her because of how shabbily she's been treated. Her career is proof of miracles and she says she's been mistreated. I have no words.

-- I'm sorry, but this is hilarious.

-- This is cool. Going over old astronomical photographic plates, scientists discovered evidence of planets orbiting other stars a hundred years ago, but the scientists of the time just didn't understand what it meant.

-- This . . . seems weird. A student group at a Catholic university (Georgetown) is being condemned by the university for defending and upholding official Catholic teaching on the nature of sexuality. I mean, I can understand why the topic would be controversial, but they're only promoting official Catholic teaching on that topic at a Catholic institution. They're being threatened with having their status as an official student group removed.

-- Alvin Plantinga, "A Valid Ontological Argument?" Philosophical Review 70 (1961): 93-101.

-- Dallas Willard, "The Case against Quine's Case for Psychologism," in Perspectives in Psychologism, ed. Mark Notturno (New York: Brill, 1989), 286-295.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Tu sei morta"

A few years ago I linked to a video of an aria from Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo. I linked to it because I couldn't embed it. Now I can, so here it is. Monteverdi was, depending on how you look at it, either a late Renaissance composer or an early Baroque composer. He died before any of the Baroque composers we all know and love were even born, but he was clearly developing music beyond Renaissance concepts. L'Orfeo is about the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the aria below is after Eurydice has died and Orpheus vows to go to the underworld and sing to Hades to try to convince him to let her return to the land of the living. I chose a video that translates his words, but for some reason doesn't translate the last line Orpheus sings before leaving for the underworld: "Goodbye earth, goodbye sky, and sun, goodbye." I find it heartbreaking.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

SF authors

For some science-fiction authors I plan to read as many of their books and their short stories as I can. Below are those who have achieved this elevated rank. I'm sure I've forgotten some people, so I will probably add to this post in the future (I tried adding to it in the past but it didn't work out too well).

Charles Sheffield -- I started with The Ganymede Club and this led to other books in that sorta series, Cold as Ice and Dark as Day. Rustam Battacharyia is one of my heroes. I've also read Mind Pool, Summertide, and Web Between the Worlds.

Robert Charles Wilson -- I first read his short story "Utriusque Cosmi" which may be the best thing I've ever read. I've since read ChronolithsDarwinia, and Blind Lake, all of which are well-worth the reading.

Liu Cixin -- I've only read his Three Body Problem trilogy, but it's enough to hook me.

Tim Powers -- This one's funny because a lot of his books aren't even sci-fi, they're often more like supernatural thrillers. The only thing I can compare them to is the novels of Charles Williams, except Williams is much drier. Powers also packs a lot of information into his stories. The Anubis Gates would have been a 1,000-page book for anyone else, he manages it in less than 400. I've also read Declare and Three Days to Never.

In addition,there are some authors who I will read many books of, but probably not all.

Fredric Brown -- He should probably go in the previous list because I will read all of his sci-fi. But he also wrote mystery/detective stories and novels, and I doubt I'll read any of those. A lot of his fiction is in the short story format, very short stories. He wrote flash fiction before flash fiction was cool.

Michael Flynn -- This one I recently switched from the first category to this one. And it's not because I don't like his writing, it's just that, of all the sci-fi authors I've read, Flynn strikes me as honest-to-God literature. It's too deep for me. It took me months to read The Wreck of the River of Stars which is a beautiful character study, but I just couldn't take too much of it in one sitting. I've also read Eifelheim, In the Country of the Blind, the Firestar tetralogy, and his short story collection The Forest of Time and Other Stories. Not to mention a book he wrote with Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, Fallen Angels. Speaking of which...

Larry Niven -- I've liked Niven's stuff, but most of what I read was what he wrote with Pournelle. I'm just recently getting into his solo writings (although I read Ringworld years ago). So far, everything I've read by him is great, but not all of his books appeal to me, so I put him on this list instead of the first one.

Robert Heinlein -- This one's easy. I love Heinlein's stuff, but starting in the 1960s his books started becoming more about evangelizing his particular political views rather than the story. Stranger in a Strange Land is a case in point. The stories in question are still outstanding, but I just dislike being preached to. I'm very much a pot calling the kettle black here, because I occasionally write sci-fi as an expression of my religious and philosophical ideas. My motive for doing so is that's just how the stories come to me, through contemplation of the religious and philosophical ideas. And, of course, that may well be how it is for others, but I still don't like it when other people do to me what I do to them -- or at least would do to them since I am unpublished and unread.

Kim Stanley Robinson -- I've mentioned before that I have a love/hate relationship with Robinson's writings. The only other author who has given me as much of a sense of place is Charles Dickens. But then a) Robinson also gets preachy, b) he can be pretty anti-Christian, and c) sometimes it seems like he's just trying to show off how much he knows. None of this is to say that I won't read his stuff, but not all of it. His novel Shaman holds no attraction to me. I first read his Mars trilogy, along with the short story companion book The Martians, the latter of which has the novella "Green Mars", a different story from the novel of the same name, and which is the best thing of Robinson's I've read. I've also read Icehenge, Years of Rice and Salt, Antarctica2312, and Memory of Whiteness. When I was living in Belgium the local library only had the first of his California trilogy in English, so I got that, and to my surprise, loved it. So I got the rest of that trilogy although I haven't read it yet. I may someday check out his trilogy on global warming, but I'm avoiding it because of his preachiness.