On Illness and the Eternal Wheel of Law & Order

On Christmas I fell deathly ill and have been incapacitated (destroyed would be the better word) ever since. Only just today have I had the energy and wherewithal to go back on the internet since. Sadly my disease infected my dinner guests, too. (Sorry about that.) One of the only things my wife and I could do this whole week (so incapacitated we were by coughing, nausea, and fatigue) was watch TV and lie desperately still while experimenting with meds to get the coughing fits to stop (Benadryl eventually did it for me, i.e. diphenhydramine, but it leaves me dizzy, floaty, and dead inside, so it’s almost as bad as the disease…but dead inside at least works for sleeping).

Today is the first day since Christmas that I’ve had any energy or ability to get online again. So I’m clearing my much-delayed comments queue today, most without reply.

I rarely get ill. But when I do, it’s usually bad. It has literally been years since the last time I was so ill, though, that I couldn’t even do anything. Even for a day. Much less over a week. So this is the first time in years I discovered that you can watch episodes of Law & Order: This or That literally 24-7 if you have a large enough channel array on your cable service. An endless wheel of Law & Order. Anytime. Whether it’s Law & Order “Classic” or SVU or CI. When one marathon or syndication block ends, it’ll be starting up again on some other channel, rest assured.

Jen and I like the show so it was a tolerable thing to watch endlessly, especially as it’s mostly sad or serious and mostly not comedy (laughing is the worst thing when you are trying to suppress your horrible fits of coughing…as I found out when Jen and I started sharing jokes about the commercials and it didn’t go well for either of us, which became a joke between us all on its own…”oh no, don’t start that again…!”).

Though I did notice Sam Waterston’s character is apparently so beloved now that no one shows the eps before his tenure anymore, back when Michael Moriarty played the ADA. And yet I miss those. Channels kept shilling the Waterston eps in commercials as the “first” Law & Order and I felt that was kind of rude. As if the original series didn’t even exist. You know. Back when they had a black man as the assistant prosecutor? Golly, remember that? I liked Richard Brooks’s character. And does anyone even remember Chris Noth’s first partner was played by George Dzundza? Then Paul Sorvino? Before Orbach stepped in and became the mainstay wisecracking partner for ages and ages? (Far outlasting Noth.)

Not that there weren’t great characters and episodes all the way through L&O’s 20 season run, SVU’s (now) 15 seasons, and CI’s ten. But sometimes I get nostalgic for when it all began. And being stuck at home in the middle of a workday staring at a thousand channels and an endless wheel of Law & Order, it just seemed strange not to get a chance to see them again. As if they are now forgotten.

Merry Christmas, God Is Still a Delusion

William Lane Craig once again advertised he’s past it last week when he published on the Fox News website A Christmas Gift for Atheists — Five Reasons Why God Exists, demonstrating that he hasn’t upped his game since, well, ever. He is still repeating the same illogical, refuted, lousy arguments. And somehow still thinking atheists are going to fall for it. Other bloggers here have taken it apart in their own way (e.g. PZ and Avicenna). But I’m struck with real sadness that there are still people as smart as Craig who are still convincing themselves with this delusional nonsense. It’s so astonishingly dishonest and irrational. Let me inoculate you.

[Read more…]

Ergo God Maximally Enjoys Getting Gangbanged

This started as a half-serious joke I told in a bar earlier this year. It has become a running gag among some of my drinking compatriots, who, like me, agree it’s, well, let’s be honest, kidding on the square. Apart from it being funny (if rather rude…so, yeah, people offended by kinky sex-positive porny stuff should stop reading and go look at pictures of modestly clothed kittens instead), I wouldn’t normally blog about this except, reality imitating art, a serious discussion of the principle the joke plays on has been engaged recently in academic philosophy, after the release of Rob Lovering’s new book God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers (2013), recently reviewed by Clayton Littlejohn of King’s College (London) in the Notre Dame Philosophical Review.

The Boring but Essential Backstory

Lovering’s arguments are not exactly new, but they represent an evolution of those arguments in response to the latest attempts by theists to get around them. Of the five modes he employs to show theism is untenable, the fifth pertains to kinky fun gangbangs. Oh, of course, Lovering says nothing of the kind. But his argument is only just a polite way of saying the same thing I did over a snifter of fine whisky. (And I had not then even heard of his book.)

Lovering’s other four arguments are, basically, (1) “if the evidence were good enough to warrant belief, there wouldn’t be so many nice, smart people who remain unconvinced”; (2) “a god can have no good reason to hide in the way he indisputably does”; (3) “just having faith” despite all that is immoral (by the theist’s own standards); and (4) “making excuses for why the evidence doesn’t fit what we expect from a benevolent superpower renders theism self-refuting,” because (and now I’m quoting Littlejohn) all arguments for God’s existence “assume that we can know what God would do in some situations (e.g., share evidence with us),” whereas the excuses apologists resort to all require asserting we cannot know that.

And then, Lovering’s fifth argument is “omniscience is impossible.” But he gets there in a smart way: he proves a maximally great being cannot exist (and thus all ontological arguments necessarily fail), because no being can be maximally great who fails to know something someone else really does know. This is, again, not new, but it is a good focus of the argument on a genuine problem with the kind of omniscience theism requires. One can easily dismiss arguments from incoherence by just changing your definitions (hence I’m a bit harsh on them in Sense and Goodness without God IV.2.4, pp. 275-77, although I still present some there that do work). For example, showing that there are things it is logically impossible for anyone to know (even a god) can be bypassed by simply defining omniscience as “knowing everything it is logically possible to know.” But there is a way to nix that tactic: identify something that is not logically impossible to know (because, for example, you can point to someone who actually knows it), which God should or must be able to know.

Especially if God must know it in order to be considered maximally great.

Because if there is someone who in some respect is greater than God, God cannot be the greatest being. But even apart from that. If there is something someone knows, which God cannot or does not know, then God cannot be considered omniscient in any appreciable sense. Of course, one can always bite the bullet and admit God isn’t omniscient (just as one can always bite the bullet and admit God is evil…all hail Cthulhu!), but that opens Pandora’s beautiful box of Her Majesty’s Most Unsettling Cognitive Dissonance. Wait, if God is not the greatest being, how do I know how great he is? Or that he is great at all? And how can a bodiless mind have knowledge of stuff anyway? And how did that mind come to know anything? And if God can be ignorant, doesn’t that mean he can also be evil or incompetent or pathetic, too? And if he doesn’t know some important things, doesn’t that mean he can make mistakes? And be wrong about stuff? My world is c-r-u-m-b-l-ing!!!

In short, belief in God can survive the realization that God cannot be meaningfully omniscient, that in fact he must be ignorant of things even ordinary puny humans have knowledge of. But such belief is not likely to survive long. Because once you’ve taken that step, belief in God starts to look ridiculous. Yes, yes, it looked ridiculous already. But now the believer can’t avoid admitting it.

Okay, Now to the Gangbangs

(you know that’s why you’re actually reading this)

So what does all this have to do with exhilaratingly naughty group sex? I’m getting to that. But I have to bore you a little more, first. (Technically this teasing counts as S&M; my apologies–although to those who love being ruthlessly teased, you’re welcome). [Read more…]

Be Counted in the Secular Census

The logo of the American Secular Census, showing colored graph bars against a light blue background, the organization's name, and the start of their tagline, 'the independent national registry...'If you haven’t already registered yourself with the American Secular Census, and are an American and a nontheist, please go over there and create an account and fill everything out, as much as you can or have time for or feel comfortable with. In fact, even if you did register there already, please go back and sign in to see if there are any new questions for you to complete, because they may have added new important polling questions for everyone to answer (like the gender you identify as, or new options for level if education like “associates/vocational degree”). Likewise if you didn’t have time or inclination to answer all the questions being asked the first time, but would like to now. Or if your answers have changed (e.g. you completed more education, or changed your gender). More questions may be added over time, so if you are a new registrant or a previous one, remember to keep coming back every six months or so to see if there is more to fill out for the benefit of the study (I have asked they start counting how many identify as polyamorous or in an open relationship, for example).

The ASC is gathering a huge amount of data, but you’ll want your own opinions and history and other data to be counted along with everyone else’s (since it’s “the independent national registry of demographic and viewpoint data recorded by Secular Americans,” so if you are a secular American, you should be included). The data is all anonymous, of course, and ASC has a strict privacy policy. There are two links atop the page, one “before you register” and one for registering. Under the former you can see who they want to register and how they manage privacy issues, and also answer other questions.

The ASC just posted a new update this month, “Baseline Achieved–All 50 States, Every Race Now Registered.” There it is explained how the census works, what it’s advantages are, and why it’s important to register and be counted in it. So far they only have a few thousand people counted, and they want to break 10,000. So please help them do that! It’s valuable and important.

Their latest data snapshot shows almost as many women have been counted as men, and half of the counted are under 40; over a quarter are under 30. So a past skewing of the data toward older male members of the movement is fading. But more minorities are needed. Black respondents number less than 1% and the largest minority-counts are for Hispanic (3%) and “Other” (2.7%), and “Other” is not very helpful. Possibly the racial identification options expanded over time, so if you registered as “Other,” maybe go back and check to see if your racial identity is now an option and select it…or if it’s not shown as an option, please contact the site to tell them what your category is that’s missing.

The Gettier Problem

Among my many forms of cobbled-together self-employment I provide specialized tutoring to graduate students in ancient history and philosophy around the world. Which is rewarding in lots of ways. One of which is when my student ends up correcting an error of mine. That’s when you know you are a successful teacher, and they are starting to surpass you in knowledge and acumen. I’ve actually been excited to report on this, and correct the record. Gratitude goes to Nick Clarke.

The short of it is that long ago in a comments thread on my blog many years ago I was incorrect in my analysis of Gettier Problems. I was on to the right solution, but I made the mistake of assuming an unsound conclusion could not be considered justified (and without realizing that’s what I was doing). Conclusions in Gettier Problems rely on false premises to reach true conclusions. I was right about that. But I wasn’t right about that being grounds to dismiss them.

Backstory is required. [Read more…]

Is Philosophy Stupid?

Photo of me behind the podium, hands raised in gesture, speaking. Red-silver tie on white shirt under a dark grey suit jacket. Hair shaggy. Glasses hipster.My Skepticon 6 Talk is now available for viewing. Check it out on YouTube: Is Philosophy Stupid? (Thankyou Hambone Productions!). Ad revenue goes to charity. Also for convenience here is the link to my ancillary materials for that talk, a page that includes a link to a non-animated PDF of the slideshow, a rough text for the talk (not exactly the same as what I spoke, but close enough in most salient points, and the text has a few gems I didn’t have time for in the speech), and two bibliographies for further reading, one on how to become a good lay philosopher, and another on popular recent critiques of philosophy.

Beyond the Black Rainbow…and Other New Films in my Amazon Store

Besides adding a Blu-Ray section, I’ve added five new films to my “Favorite Films” portion of my Amazon store. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the backstory.)

  • Whip It (directed by Drew Barrymore), with my remark, “Google ‘Bechdel test’. This is how it’s done. Also the best roller derby film ever made. By far.”
  • Licence To Kill (directed by John Glen II), with my remark, “Really the best under-appreciated Bond film. And has Pam Bouvier, my favorite bond girl (not just beautiful but funny, capable, has real skills and actually calls bond out on his shit).”
  • Howl’s Moving Castle (directed by Hayao Miyazaki), with my remark, “Second best Miyazaki film ever [the first being Spirited Away]. Steampunk + magic + surprisingly moving story of friendship and self-discovery. You won’t ever have seen a film quite like this.”
  • The Whisperer in Darkness (directed by Sean Branney), with my remark, “The same production company nailed it again, this time producing another Lovecraft classic by mimicking a 1940s talkie,” referring to the entry now immediately before this one, the excellent Call of Cthulhu silent film.
  • Beyond the Black Rainbow (directed by Panos Cosmatos), with my remark, “This bizarre 80s noir scifi film is an artistic masterpiece, but requires multiple very careful viewings to see why (and to understand all the nuances of what’s actually happening).”

Cover of the DVD for Beyond the Black Rainbow. With a dominant color scheme of red, shows the silhouette of a girl running toward the viewer from a glowing and radiating pyramid of light, above whom is a man whose face is oddly hairless, and eyes black, and whose grasping right hand and scary dagger-wielding left hand looms many sizes larger above her, all on a background of pitch darkness. Title above reads: Beyond the Black Rainbow, a Panos Cosmatos Picture, in red over the blackness. Tagline at bottom in white reads The last of those requires a bit more explanation. It’s definitely now one of my favorite films, but for reasons that will be quite mysterious to someone who sees it for the first time and gets frustrated wondering what the hell. (It’s worse if you watch it in a lit room with background noise, then you’ll be totally confused and not at all in the right mood. So…don’t do that. Darkened room, quiet, no interruptions. Best viewed on whiskey at 1am.)

The most fascinating thing about Beyond the Black Rainbow is how superbly well it captures the entire feel of a 1980s noir scifi film–it’s literally made as if it were produced in 1983 (right down to the minutest detail of the cheesy faux-80s pop song playing incongruously over the closing credits, exactly as you’d find if this really had been made in 1983), while trying to top Video Drome, Warriors, and Repo Man for weird atmospheric but totally excitingly bizarre cult classic (while also not being at all like any of those films). The music alone is teleporting and evokes a feeling of odd nostalgia–as if you had seen this movie thirty years ago and had forgotten about it. But even such things as a shag carpet, a plastic faux-futuristic chair, the look and sound of a 1980s computer keyboard, are emphasized masterfully by the director to evoke the feel, the sights and sounds, even–I honestly have to say–the smells of that bygone era.

The script is minimalist and the shooting impressionistic, so you may have too watch the whole movie multiple times to understand what’s going on and what the point is behind every bizarre choice made by the director (and there are a lot of bizarre choices–this movie was made well outside the box of mainstream filmmaking cliches). But even on first viewing you’ll be stuck to your chair, mesmerized, wondering where on earth this is going and what on earth is happening.

The product description is apt but nowhere near captures the reality:

Held captive in a specialized medical facility, a young woman with unique abilities seeks a chance to escape her obsessed captor. Set in the strange and oppressive emotional landscape of the year 1983, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a Reagan-era fever dream inspired by hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons. From the producer of Machotaildrop, Rainbow is the outlandish feature film debut of writer and director Panos Cosmatos. Featuring a hypnotic analog synthesizer score by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain, Rainbow is a film experience for the senses.

I caught this by accident on uVerse On Demand some time back, where the preview was so weird and nostagia-evoking I just had to see the thing. My wife and I have been weirdly drawn to this film ever since. We later explored the net looking for takes on the film, which ranged from outraged disgust to fawning admiration for its genius (just look at the wild inverted-bell split in the Amazon customer reviews). Overall, I find the people who hated it didn’t understand it (and don’t have the patience for suspense). Whereas I’ve found more and more depth and genius to the film the more times I watch it and realize why the director did what he did at each particular moment, and what it was supposed to evoke or communicate. I love art like that. But it’s not for everyone.

Pat Condell Gets Seriously Fucking Pwned

Oh snap. This. Is. Beautiful.

For those who don’t know, Pat Condell is primarily known in our community because Dawkins likes and endorses him repeatedly. Condell is everywhere billed as a “comedian and atheist internet personality,” I suppose because he doesn’t have any actual qualifications in anything (beyond that). He’s sort of like the Rush Limbaugh of criticizing Islam. Indeed, so far as I can tell, that’s Condell’s only substantive contribution to the atheist movement. And getting a hundred thousand Likes for it.

Now, Condell has said some really stupid and ignorant things before, demonstrating his tremendous and epic failure to adhere to even the most rudimentary principles of skepticism (like “check your facts” and “be suspicious of extraordinary claims”). Avicenna has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia). PZ Myers has pwned him (and exposed his implicit racism and ethnophobia).

But now it’s just straight off world’s end into the abyss, as Alex Gabriel meticulously demonstrates (with, you know, facts) that in Condell’s latest right wing rant he could not have provided a clearer or more consistent example of…

  • Not knowing what the fuck he is talking about (while arrogantly claiming he’s the one who knows what he’s talking about).
  • Why criticism of Islam needs to be Way Fucking More Nuanced than his racist, ethnophobic bullshit (and, through Gabriel’s deconstruction of it, how to actually effect such a nuanced critique).
  • Why Dawkins needs to start listening to smarter friends who Actually Know What They’re Talking About (given that Dawkins repeatedly praises Condell as the man to heed on this issue).
  • How not to do skepticism (and, amusingly, giving Gabriel a superb opportunity to demonstrate how to do skepticism really well).

Alex’s takedown (with its even more beautiful and educational and extensive statistics addendum) is a tour de force of admirable measure. I cannot fathom how anyone so brutally and thoroughly exposed as wrong about nearly everything he says, and wrong for no plausibly good reason (thus demonstrating that it is very probably bigotry driving his rants and not, say, facts), and never apologize and correct it, can continue to have anyone’s respect in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities.

In a world using objective outcome measures, Condell would be done and dusted. Sadly, too many people in the atheism, humanism, or skepticism communities replace objective facts with subjective feelings and defend their Brave Heroes rather than admit when they’ve destroyed their own credibility and their entire efforts have been exposed as a factophobic sham. Condellians will probably pepper my comments with defensive screeds somehow trying to restore Condell’s bullet-riddled body in logic-space to some semblance of crypto-ethnophobic zombie life. Just not with actual facts or logic. (Or they’ll just attack me with complete non sequiturs that don’t even defend their Hero, like I’ve seen them do time and again to others.)

There are lots of things wrong with Islam. But there are lots of things wrong with Christianity, too. And fascism. And poverty. And superstition. And ignorance. And bigotry.

Don’t listen to the Rush Limbaugh of Islamocriticism anymore. Please. Listen to people who know what they’re talking about, and aren’t ignorant ethnophobic bigots. We have at least six blogs on our network with contributors who have extensive experience with or knowledge of Islam and Muslims, some of them by or featuring actual ex-Muslims. I’m sure if you take the trouble to explore our roster you’ll find them (yes, I’m challenging you to do that…assuming you haven’t already!). Hear what they have to say instead.

Support My Work with Your Christmas Shopping!

My FaceBook personal photo, me in glasses and shaggy hair and nice white collared short smiling while facing 30 degrees to the left of toward the viewer.Want to send me some dosh in appreciation for my independent scholarship and speaking and blogging, without actually spending any extra dosh at all? This is how…

When you do your Christmas or Solstice or other holiday shopping this season, you can buy gifts for people (friends, family…yourself!), or spend your own Amazon gift cards or credits after the holiday ends, by using the Richard Carrier Recommends Amazon Store. Not only can you buy stuff I’ve put in that store (lots of my own favorite or recommended stuff in several categories, from books to videos), but you’ll notice on the right margin you can buy other stuff as well (maybe from your own wishlist, if you’ve logged in to Amazon beforehand). The prices are all the same for you, but I get a small commission on every sale through there. So you basically end up getting Amazon to support my work, by using my recommendations to inspire you to give them your business.

You can also, of course, support me by just buying my books (that’s a special page just for them that includes audio and electronic editions), and now also any of my amusements or games (only one game for now, but another is on the way, though not in time for the holidays), and I get a cut equal to my share of pageviews out of all my fellow bloggers from what you pay to subscribe to FreethoughtBlogs (that subscription also lets you view our entire website without ads).

When I spoke to a few people at Skepticon this year they were often surprised to learn that I don’t make very much selling my books or blogging or speaking. Anyone who knows the industry, of course, knows no one makes any appreciable money blogging. My books, as obscure nonfiction, will never make Stephen King money (or even Richard Dawkins money). And I keep my speaking fees low as a way to help the movement, so more groups can afford to bring me in to speak or debate. When all my income is added up, and taxes and expenses are subtracted, I only take home about $15,000 a year. I could just barely live on that, with extreme “starving artist” frugality. But I live with an awesome woman who earns considerably more, so I’m not living like a starving artist. I gladly operate as her domestic manservant to earn my keep at home, in addition to my cash income paying our mortgage (and property taxes & insurance to boot).

But the more money I can bring in, the more it’s appreciated by both of us, and the more it keeps me going doing what I do. Because it shows I’m having an impact and my work is appreciated and valued. The advantage of being an independent scholar is that I do not have to fear the threat or meddling of any academic institution and don’t have to kowtow to their expectations or exhaust enormous amounts of time on endless committee work and other things they bury profs under. The disadvantage is that I have to cobble together my income from disparate sources. One of which is passing the hat to everyone who wants to show their appreciation for what I do, like any street busker would. You can of course just send me money (through PayPal at rcarrier@infidels.org) just to show me you value what I do.

But buying gifts for Christmas through my Amazon store is just one more way to do that that costs you nothing extra at all. So keep that in mind for this holiday season!