Monday, March 29, 2010

“Probably” isn’t enough in the argument against God

Quite so. But I reproduce the hoary old argument below because it told me something that I didn't know: Dawkins is uncertain. By contrast I am completely certain. I don't even think the word "God" is meaningful. You certainly can't point to God and just try to define "him"! Speculation isn't a definition. Because I am certain that there is no God, however, I feel no need to evangelize. I regard Christian faith as a great and good gift and support Christians and Christianity instead of trying to tear them down. Comment below from Australia

I love it when Richard Dawkins comes to town. It’s like Christmas for people who don’t believe in Christmas.

Even though he’s since departed our fair shores, Dawkins’ wake of influence still ripples like the aftermath of an intellectual tsunami, and if anything you have to give him credit for almost single-handedly putting religious debate back on the map.

The debate that follows Dawkins across the globe is largely confined to the mission of getting rid of this pesky notion of a creator once and for all, by using the atheist mantra “celebrate reason” to expose all who entertain the divine as delusional, idiotic disciples of fairies or flying spaghetti monsters or whatever convenient and patronising analogy fits best. Needless to say, there’s a lot of love in the room.

But who needs love when you have science? Love is irrational, fleeting, impossible to measure let alone stuff in a beaker. Science on the other hand is rational, quantitative, and definitive.

And in the eyes of the atheist, God deserves no free pass from enlightened scientific scrutiny. Hear bloody hear. But surely if the big guy isn’t getting handouts, neither should “religious nuts” nor “strident atheists”. The problem with the latter is, the more atheist you are, the more your own logic forces you out of a gig.

In his well-known book The God Delusion, Dawkins postulates that “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other”, and has illustrated the concept with his “spectrum of theistic probability”. It’s a seven-point sliding scale of belief, ranging from strong theist (100% probability of God), to strong atheist (100% probability of no god).

Let’s start by applying reason to the first flank of the scale, religion: “I believe God exists”. Calling for religious people to produce evidence of their belief is by very nature a logically absurd proposition. Religion doesn’t require evidence, it has faith. By definition, faith negates the need to produce tangible evidence, never claims to possess tangible evidence, and therefore stands up to reason.

The only time when reason fails religion is when believers claim to possess earthly evidence of things that are by their own admission not of this earth, not of the physical realm. It is these extremists who Dawkins so logically and effortlessly scalps, and rightly so.

In the middle of the spectrum you have the agnostics: “I don’t know if god exists”. The agnostic makes no claims in either camp. They say, “There is no evidence for or against, so it is impossible to say for sure. Either could be true”. Applying reason, the agnostic’s case holds together.

Then finally we come to the atheist position: “God does not exist”. The atheist will say it is not up to them to prove the non-existence of God, but for those who do believe to substantiate such claims. However reason dictates once you claim a statement as fact, you are then required to provide evidence to support your statement, evidence of which so far does not seem to exist. This does not hold up to the atheist’s own standards of reason.

Atheists will of course see this as an unfair comparison, comparing “moderate” theists with “extreme” atheists. Yet it seems the modus operandi of vocal atheists to place all people of faith into the extreme “God deluded” bucket, and to argue their own position with all the vigour of someone who possesses concrete contrary evidence, of which on Dawkins’ scale one can only be seen as an extreme position.

It is often difficult to figure out where on the scale any atheist sits. Even Dawkins doesn’t call himself a strong atheist, rather “a de-facto atheist” leaning towards the full monty, and has said would be surprised to meet any atheist who was a 100% non-believer. And why? Because being a strong atheist actually goes against reason and starts contradicting its own definition by becoming a belief.

Maybe that’s why those atheist billboards didn’t say, “There’s no God”, but instead, “There’s probably no God”. But surely probability that something isn’t, means that there’s a possibility that something is? I guess the billboard, “There possibly is a God” didn’t quite have the same kick to it.

If you buy a lottery ticket, the odds of winning may be completely fanciful, but they’re still odds. Winning might not be probable, but it is possible. Now only a complete fool would run around town clutching their supplementary numbers telling everyone they’re definitely about to win the big one, but only a liar would tell them that it’s impossible.

So great existential warriors, which do you want to be: the liar or the fool? Without sounding too evangelical, the good news is you don’t have to be either.

We all love facts, so here is the only fact any human being has ever come up with about the meaning of life that makes any lick of sense:

Who bloody knows.

Not one person on this planet knows what happens to us after we die. Not one. No enlightened Buddhist monk, no hyped-up televangelist, no intellectually evolved atheist convention ticket holder. The fact is we don’t know, we’ve never known, and we’re never going to know.

Sure we can have a bit of a stab in the dark, chuck a few assumptions around, use faith and reason to construct belief; but while we inhabit this mortal coil we know just as much about what goes on after the curtains close as did the primordial organisms that slurped their way out of the soup.

Yet even though it’s logically impossible to know what by definition is unknowable, it’s like atheists have embarked upon a mission to prove they can count to infinity, without ever acknowledging the lunacy and futility of the entire endeavour.

“We’re not there just yet, but were getting pretty damn close. Just a few more numbers to go I reckon. Trust me guys, you just gotta have faith”.

Heh, and I thought only creationism was funny.


Women in science: The news isn't bad

But it may lead to bias against men

by Jeff Jacoby

"THE NUMBER OF WOMEN in science and engineering is growing, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions."

So begins a new research report, Why So Few?, published last week by the American Association of University Women, a Washington-based advocacy group that describes itself as "the nation's leading voice promoting education and equity for women and girls." The report claims that "social and environmental factors" -- negative stereotypes about girls' math skills, for example, or an unconscious bias that deems science and engineering as "masculine," or the hard-driving culture of many science and technology workplaces -- contribute significantly to the "striking disparity" between the numbers of men and women in the so-called STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.

That disparity, says the new publication, is reflected in statistics like these:

* The Labor Department reports that women account for only 10 percent of the nation's civil and aerospace engineers, 8 percent of the electrical engineers, and 7 percent of the mechanical engineers.

* In 2006, women made up less than 14 percent of the tenured faculty in the physical sciences in four-year colleges and universities.

* Among PhDs who work in the field of computer and information sciences, 79 percent of the full-time positions are held by men.

If the AAUW's goal was to sound an alarm about the distressing state of women in scientific careers, it appears to have succeeded. "Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences," a story on the new report was headlined in The New York Times. The message was the same at AOL News ("Report: Stereotypes, Bias Hurt Women in Math and Science"), while The Washington Post's education blog mournfully asked, "Why aren't there more women in STEM?"

But don't break out the sackcloth and ashes just yet. For if you look beyond the report's gloomy title and its call for a jihad against "stereotypes, bias, and other cultural beliefs," you discover a determined effort to miss a forest of good news in order to rail against some atypical trees.

The AAUW report acknowledges, for instance, that "today girls are doing as well as boys in math." In high school, not only are girls earning math and science credits at the same rate as boys, but their grades tend to be slightly higher. Though boys continue to predominate among the most gifted math students, their lead has shrunk severely. Since 1980, the ratio of boys to girls among students scoring above 700 on the math SAT has dwindled from an overwhelming 13:1 to just 3:1.

The girls' strong performance continues in college, where "the overall proportion of STEM bachelor's degrees awarded to women has increased dramatically during the past four decades." Women now earn 60 percent of the degrees awarded in the biological and agricultural sciences, a majority of the chemistry degrees, and just under half of the degrees in math. Many go on to earn advanced degrees -- nearly half of all biology PhDs are now awarded to women, as are more than one-third of the doctorates in earth sciences and chemistry.

In the workforce, too, women are now highly visible in many scientific fields. The new report notes that a majority of the nation's biological scientists are now women, and that even in fields that few women are attracted to, their numbers have jumped. Thus, while women accounted for a mere 1 percent of working engineers in 1960; by 2000, their share was 11 percent.

And in academia? The AAUW report concedes that "when women ... apply for STEM faculty positions at major research universities they are MORE likely than men to be hired." (emphasis added)

Not even "the nation's leading voice promoting education and equity for women," it turns out, can make a convincing case that sexist bias is a serious problem in science, engineering, or math. Its report doesn't refute what common sense and impartial observation already suggest: that women and men may not be equally attracted to every scientific or mathematical discipline, but where women do have an interest, they cannot be kept down.

The predominance of men in engineering is no more a cause for alarm than the fact that most veterinarians are women. The links between gender and vocation are interesting and the subject of much research and lively -- sometimes very lively -- debate. Finding disparities in the workforce is not the same as finding bias or injustice. When all is said and done, women and men are simply not the same. Vive la différence.


Absurd Canadian safety correctness insults the Queen

A row over a staircase has led to the Queen withdrawing from an appearance at the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo during her forthcoming visit to Canada.

The tattoo would seem to be an ideal event to be graced by Her Majesty. It was a favourite of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who opened the original one in 1979, and gained its royal title in honour of the Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006. However, the Canadians reckon that Her Majesty is too old to manage the stairs. Now the Queen has withdrawn from the military display after an extraordinary row over safety between her representatives in Canada and the organisers of the tattoo.

The Queen, 83, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 88, had been due to attend the tattoo, the world’s largest indoor gathering of its kind, in Halifax in July as part of her official visit. Then someone raised the subject of the stairs and suddenly a simple royal engagement turned into something a lot more contentious.

The offending steps lead up to the 12ft-high stage where, it was suggested, the Queen could have addressed the tattoo. There are 17 of them, rising at an angle of 60 degrees.

Too steep, said the organisers in a report, and too dangerous for the royal couple. Not at all, said the Queen’s people: the Queen and the Duke are perfectly fit.

Indeed, the Queen regularly climbs the 47 steps of the grand staircase at Buckingham Palace. Even to get to the West Terrace from her garden after a stroll with the corgis requires a ten-step ascent. What is more, the Palace said, if she cannot address the tattoo from the platform then she would not be appearing at all.

Although it is only five years since the Queen and Prince Philip visited Canada, the Canadians may have forgotten that Windsor women are made of stern stuff. The Queen Mother was still making public appearances when she turned 100, while the Queen — as a Palace source pointed out — still goes riding regularly.

Perhaps the Canadians still harbour memories of the criticism that they received during the Golden Jubilee tour in 2002 when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had to sit out in the biting cold in Winnipeg without so much as a rug to keep them warm.

Although the Canadian Government refused to comment on the issue, saying that it has yet to publish details of the Queen’s visit, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the tattoo — which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Navy — is not on her itinerary of events.

“Many different events are initially considered for an overseas visit, but the tattoo is not in the Queen’s programme,” a spokesperson said.

Ian Fraser, the show’s artistic director, produced a report into the matter, which said that climbing the steps would be “very, very dangerous” for the royal couple. One member of staff said that it would be madness for them to attempt it at all.

“The ascent and descent of the stage would be undignified and the potential for disaster is very high,” the report said.

Mr Fraser said that the tattoo wrote to the office of Nova Scotia’s premier, Darrell Dexter, confirming their objections to the Queen using the stairs and suggesting alternatives, including the option of making a speech from the royal box. “We were firmly informed that, ‘No, I’m sorry. The matter is closed and the decision has been taken. She [the Queen] will not be attending the tattoo’,” Mr Fraser said. “The position of the province was that — this is the wish of Buckingham Palace — that she goes up on the stage.”

He added: “If it is a condition [to use the stairs] for her to turn up then we can’t accept it. Do people still get their heads chopped off for defying the Queen?”


Self-obsessed Western-world feminists

Don't we love gender stereotypes. The subject can fill an entire library and is the subject of the latest splash book about feminism, Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism, by the British journalist Natasha Walter. Her point can be summed up in this passage: "I think it is time to challenge the exaggerated femininity that is being encouraged among women in this generation . . . questioning the claustrophobic culture that teaches many young women that it is only through exploiting their sexual allure that they can become powerful."

Good point. It occupies the first half of the book. The second half is a critique of gender stereotypes. Walter argues that the world is much more complicated than the accepted stereotypes. We get that. In my house, I do most of the housework. Stereotypes are merely indicative.

You could drive a truck through what's missing from Living Dolls as Walter fixates on men's raunch magazines, like Nuts, or Zoo or FHM, and reality TV shows, ascribing to them a great deal of blame for the obsession among so many young women with glamour, modelling and highly sexualised self-packaging.

Walter largely skates over the damage done to the self-image of women by other women, the ones who dominate the vastly bigger fashion industry, via the air-brushing of bodies in fashion magazines, the selection of absurdly unreal body types as the ideal, the use of extremely young women as models, and the obsession with air-brushed female celebrities. All this is driven by women, to exploit women.

You could also drive a truck through the gaps and silences at a symposium I attended last week at the University of Sydney, "Feminism Matters". It featured a panel of five feminist scholars from Australia and overseas. I attended because feminism matters. More than ever.

By the end I wondered what I'd got for my $20. There are 3.5 billion women in the world and half of them are living in societies where their rights and freedoms are being rolled back or are at risk of going backwards. As a global force, feminism is not triumphant. We live in a time of giant questions concerning women.

Why is much of the most corrosive pressure on women coming from other women? Why is the rise of militant Islam so intent on curbing the freedoms of women? What has happened to nearly 100 million "missing" girls in Asia?

A report by the United Nations Development Program, published this month, found: "The problem of 'missing girls', in which more boys are born than girls, as girl foetuses are presumably aborted . . . is actually growing. Birth gender disparity is greatest in East Asia, where 119 boys are born for every 100 girls."

This is an epic time for feminism; attending the "Feminism Matters" session was like watching public servants discuss how to increase their budget allocation. For me the low point was provided by Dr Sue Goodwin, a senior lecturer in the faculty of education and social work at the University of Sydney, who said: "We've just come through a very conservative, repressive 15 years in Australia."

The energy only picked up after young women from the audience began asking questions. For the first time, the word "Muslim" was mentioned. One of the American participants, Professor Karen Beckwith, rushed in with praise for the way Muslim countries had elected women prime ministers in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey. No mention that one of these women was assassinated, or that the freedoms of women are under attack in many parts of the Muslim world. Not a word.

Another young woman complained that while 75 per cent of veterinary science graduates were women, male graduates average $10,000 a year more than women. "We are pissed off," she said. She then answered her own question: in large animal practices strength is required and men are stronger than women; country people respond better to male vets; women are perceived as future maternity leave candidates.

Or, as one of the panelists offered, "Children are the glass ceiling." Yes they are. It is one of the conundrums between the theory of equality and the complexity of daily reality. I found the gaps in Living Dolls, like those of "Feminism Matters", a metaphor for contemporary "feminism", which is proving largely irrelevant to the great struggle being waged by women beyond the bubble of Western progressive secularism.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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