Archive for religions

Le Monde puzzle [#869]

Posted in Books, Kids, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2014 by xi'an

An uninteresting Le Monde mathematical puzzle:

Solve the system of equations

  • a+b+c=16,
  • b+c+d=12,
  • d+c+e=16,
  • e+c+f=18,
  • g+c+a=15

for 7 different integers 1≤a,…,g9.

Indeed, the final four equations determine d=a-4, e=b+4, f=a-2, g=b-1 as functions of a and b. While forcing 5≤a, 2b≤5, and  7a+b≤15. Hence, 5 possible values for a and 4 for b. Which makes 20 possible solutions for the system. However the fact that a,b,c,d,e,f,g are all different reduces considerably the possibilities. For instance, b must be less than a-4. The elimination of impossible cases leads in the end to consider b=a-5 and b=a-7. And eventually to a=8, b=3… Not so uninteresting then. A variant of Sudoku, with open questions like what is the collection of the possible values of the five sums, i.e. of the values with one and only one existing solution? Are there cases where four equations only suffice to determine a,b,c,d,e,f,g?

Apart from this integer programming exercise, a few items of relevance in this Le Monde Science & Medicine leaflet.  A description of the day of a social sciences worker in front of a computer, in connection with a sociology (or sociometry) blog and a conference on Big Data in sociology at Collège de France. A tribune by the physicist Marco on data sharing (and not-sharing) illustrated by an experiment on dark matter called Cogent. And then a long interview of Matthieu Ricard, who argues about the “scientifically proven impact of meditation”, a sad illustration of the ease with which religions permeate the scientific debate [or at least the science section of Le Monde] and mingle scientific terms with religious concepts (e.g., the fusion term of “contemplative sciences”). [As another “of those coincidences”, on the same day I read this leaflet, Matthieu Ricard was the topic of one question on a radio quizz.]

soft atheism

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2014 by xi'an

New YorkA few weeks ago, I reported reading a dismal New York Times blog entry on atheism. The Stone has continued publishing entries on the topic of religions and atheism, with mostly poor tribunes (maybe because the interviews were with philosophers from various religious stands rather than philosophers of religion). The third one on deconstructing religion almost sounds like a joke  made by a follower of Sokal and Bricmont!

“Religion at its best (…) focuses on human problems, attempting to relieve want and misery, to provide opportunities for worthwhile life, and to deepen and extend important values.”

The sixth in the series is however more interesting, with an interview of Philip Kitcher, professor at Columbia. It is entitled the case of soft atheism and defends a separation between religious doctrines that are incredible (as a non-native speaker [and as an unbeliever], I am surprised by this use of incredible and would have instead used unbelievable) and religious commitment that the author sees as a mild form of humanism. This “refined religion” puts value on people without referring to a specific ritual or doctrine. I find the arguments of Kitcher quite interesting, even though they seem to stray from philosophy towards sociology, i.e. about why religion is an important social vector that may bring cohesion and inclusion in this soft version. As exemplified in the above quote. This is somewhat representative of the whole series, that again I find lacking in philosophical depth. (I also think Kitcher’s `refined religion’ is not very representative of the current conglomerate of religious believers. Who stick to their own doctrine as the only expression of truth.)

is atheism irrational?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by xi'an

“If a belief is as likely to be false as to be true, we’d have to say the probability that any particular belief is true is about 50 percent. Now suppose we had a total of 100 independent beliefs (of course, we have many more). Remember that the probability that all of a group of beliefs are true is the multiplication of all their individual probabilities. Even if we set a fairly low bar for reliability — say, that at least two-thirds (67 percent) of our beliefs are true — our overall reliability, given materialism and evolution, is exceedingly low: something like .0004. So if you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.”

On the (New York Times) philosophy blog The Stone, I spotted this entry and first wondered if I had misread the title, as atheism sounds (to me) as a most rational position. I then read the piece and found it mostly missing, even though a few points rang true(r). First, theism is never properly defined. (Even though the author Alvin Plantinga seems to stick to monotheist religions.) This is a not-so-subtle trick as it makes atheism appear as the extreme position, since it is rejecting any form of theism! Then, the interviewee is mostly using a sequence of sophisms as arguments that atheists are irrational, see e.g. the even-star-ism and a-moonism and a-teapotism entries. Further, some of his entries very strongly resemble intelligent design arguments, e.g. the “fine-tuning” line that the universe is too perfectly suited to human life to be due to randomness. Even though Plantinga also resorts to evolution when needed, as in the above quote. (The interviewer is not doing a great job either, by referring to evil, or the need (or lack thereof) of God versus science to explain the world. Rather than resorting to rational arguments. And without mentioning the fundamental point in favour of atheism that the existence of a sentient being driving the whole universe while remaining hidden to us humans requires an infinitely stronger step than arguing this is impossibly incompatible with the laws of Physics and the accumulated corpus of experience since the dawn of humanity.) The whole strategy of Plantinga is actually to turn atheism into another kind of belief “that materialism and evolution are true” and then to rank it equal with the theisms. A very poor philosophical performance. As also (and better) pointed out in this other post. (And as my daughter remarked, fresh from writing a philosophy essay, Plantinga is missing the best argument of all, namely Pascal’s wager, an early instance of decision theory applied to religion.)