A cynic’s guide to academic departments

Mathematics: Mathematicians get to make up anything they want as long as it's consistent. They therefore have a tenuous connection to reality and tend to be susceptible to crank notions.Statistics: Supposed to be about nothing in particular: a statistician can tell you how to analyze data gathered from any field of inquiry. This works exactly as well as the notion that you can manage a company without having to know anything about the industry it operates in.Computer Science: There is some … [Read more...]

Materialists and dualists

There's an interesting blog-debate between skeptic Steven Novella and intelligent design proponent Michael Egnor. Both Egnor and Novella come from a neuroscience background, though Novella's materialism is by far the more scientifically mainstream view than Egnor's dualism.I am entirely in Novella's camp, I confess. The materialist position is continuous with the rest of science, is making steady progress, and occasionally comes up with surprising explanations rather than just rephrasing folk … [Read more...]

Reasonable Doubts interview part 1

I got interviewed by the Reasonable Doubts podcast while I was visiting CFI-Michigan last month. Part 1 of the interview, concerning Islam, is available online now.Reasonable Doubts seems to be an interesting program. It started last year, I hope it catches on. … [Read more...]

Another fundamentalist death sentence in Afghanistan

Nonbelievers have to put up with a good deal of nonsense in places where fundamentalist Christians have a lot of influence. But then, there are fundamentalist Muslim environments, where never mind outright nonbelief, you can get your life ruined just for exploring more liberal interpretations of Islam.Afghanistan, which Western powers "liberated," is at it again. According to the UK newspaper The Independent, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a journalism student, "was accused of blasphemy after he … [Read more...]

No Atheists on MySpace

According to the Secular Student Alliance, MySpace.com has deleted what was the largest atheist grouping in the world. They say this was "due largely to complaints from people who find atheism offensive."Interesting. I wonder what to make of this. Conservative Christians demonstrating that they can be as nasty as conservative Muslims? The very existence of active nonbelievers being threatening to some people? Some religious people deciding they need to be more aggressive in the culture war? … [Read more...]


World population growth is in the 1-2% per year range. GDP growth is typically 2-3%; US economists consider about 3% the ideal.Most of what is decent about modern life depends on growth. From biology, we might expect a nasty, Darwinian competition for resources. In Richard Dawkins's words,During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from … [Read more...]

The Evolution of Religion

Anyone interested in current scientific approaches to explaining religion as a human phenomenon should take a look at The Evolution of Religion: Studies, Theories, and Critiques, edited by Joseph Bulbulia et al. It has a lot of good stuff. … [Read more...]

The Suicide of Reason

I recently read The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the Enlightenment, by conservative commentator Lee Harris. It's pretty worthless, except as evidence that anyone seems to feel free to write a book on Islam, without the benefit of research or experience.Some of Harris's points are sane enough. Liberal Enlightenment-based politics is different. It's a historical accident, not some kind of natural default state. Neither is it a way of life that's automatically appealing to people … [Read more...]