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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Hellfire Club is moving


In fact, The Hellfire Club has moved its activities over to the Skeptic Ink Network, run by John Loftus and Ed Clint.

This is the new link for The Hellfire Club for you to use, bookmark, and send to others.

You'll already find my first post on the new host site, explaining my decision, and introducing myself to a new audience.

As I say over on the new site, the invitation to join Skeptic Ink was offered some time ago now, but I was slow, and a bit reluctant, to make the move, mainly because I wanted to get a better sense of how it might work while I was also contributing at Talking Philosophy, a site that I’m equally committed to (and which I had not belonged to for all that long at the time).

I’ve now had enough experience to be sure that there’s room in my life for both Talking Philosophy and The Hellfire Club. Neither the administration of Talking Philosophy (i.e. Jeremy Stangroom) nor the Skeptic Ink administration has placed any pressure on me to exclude certain topics, but I now have a fairly intuitive idea of what will go where.

The mix of topics, etc., at The Hellfire Club is likely to be much the same as ever, in so far as there is a "same as ever", but there will be advantages for me in belonging to a strong blogging network, and I think there may be much in the other blogs within the network that you'll find interesting.

Existing threads on this site will remain open for discussion over the next few days. However, for the foreseeable future this site will have no new posts. Would my regular readers please bookmark and/or follow the new site for The Hellfire Club.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My top 10 posts of 2012 from Talking Philosophy - a personal selection

This list is not based on number of views or on feedback, but simply on my own personal likings and current whim. So there is no confusion, this is merely my top 10 of my own posts. It would be interesting to prepare a personal top 10 of all posts at Talking Philosophy in 2012.

Furthermore, I'm going to go light on posts about free will and determinism. I wrote a lot of them, and I (can't help but) think that the quality was quite high. However, I'll err on the side of variety and include (at number 1.) only my opening remarks in that particular lengthy debate.

My personal top 10 are, in order of appearance:

1. Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris on free will

2. Modern art and its alleged evils

3. What is a sexual image?

4. Is nice nihilism enough?

5. The Selfish Gene in The Guardian

6. Sam Harris on the Innocence of Muslims affair

7. Why can’t men shut up about abortion?

8. Freedom of religion and the contraceptive mandate (Missouri court case)

9. How can you say that if you’re an error theorist?!

10. Gaukroger, religion, and the rise of science

My ten most popular posts of all time

These are not necessarily my favourites - some are, but some rather cursory posts also make the list. Still, it's interesting to see what posts have struck a chord or incited a reaction over the years, and they do tend to have good threads attached.

Here we go, without further ado, as a New Year special, my ten most popular posts of all time:

1. Shallow, smug, arrogant; pot, kettle, black

2. Avengers movie

3. What you can't say about Islam - the backlash against Elizabeth Moon

4. More rubbish about "shrill" atheists - this time in The Daily Mail

5. Why this was never an atheist blog

6. Interpreting Deuteronomy - with sophisticated theology

7. Some Saturday supervillainy: Zeus vs the Hulk

8. Sunday superstuff - Marvel's first gay wedding: Northstar and Kyle

9. Islam and "Islamophobia" - a little manifesto

10. "The next step is to prohibit religious expression" - really?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday supervillainy - Amazing Spider-Man #700

I don't get creeped out easily, but even I am creeped out by this. Amazing Spider-Man #700 ends with a scene where Dr. Octopus is apparently about to rape Mary Jane Watson. Dr. Octopus has taken possession of Spider-Man's/Peter Parker's body and has access to all his memories. As readers, we know that Peter and Mary Jane still love each other, despite having broken up some time back (there was that whole "deal with the devil Mephisto" story, etc., etc.), and despite all the bad shit they've been through together.

Now, despite (on top of those other "despites") how oddly "Peter" has been acting, Mary Jane seems to be up for getting back to together with him. And Dr. Octopus seems like he wants to take advantage of the situation.

Ugh! Just no. I really hope that this is a fake-out and that Mary Jane is going to be revealed as too smart for what has been set up here and/or that Doc Ock, usually a relatively sympathetic villain, is going to be revealed as not that evil. Even if it does prove to be a fake-out, I'm going to be shaking my head at this development.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Some scattered highlights of 2012

As the year comes to an end, what were some highlights? Well, they would include my trip to the US early in the year, mainly to speak at a CFI convention in Orlando, Florida (but the trip also involved meeting some wonderful people, and visiting some great places for the first time, not least Yale University, The Kennedy Space Centre, and the superb CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY).

I'll also give shout-outs to the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, the national science fiction convention (also in Melbourne), and the splendid evening put on by the Hunter Writers' Centre for the annual Newcastle Poetry Prize.

As to the latter, I've been appointed at least until the HWC's next AGM in May 2013 as chair of its board of directors - a role that I'll perform to the best of my ability, seeing if I can do something positive for a small but effective community organisation. Please check out the HWC's website, and if you are in (or have connections with) the Hunter region maybe think about how you can be supportive in 2013.

Online highlights included a couple of interviews: this science-fiction-oriented one with journalist and horror writer Jason Nahrung; and this much more philosophical one for RationalHub. I was involved in some interesting online debates: the biggest one, over the issue of free will, ranged across this blog, Talking Philosophy, and other forums, including the ABC Religion and Ethics Portal, where I ended up writing this long piece. It's almost a manifesto.

It's been a delight to be involved heavily with Talking Philosophy - I'm sure the place will go from strength to strength next year (there's at least one pleasing announcement to emanate from there fairly soon). I also commenced in 2012 as a regular writer for Free Inquiry, which is another partnership that I'm very happy about.

I'm still editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology - most of JET's activity over the past two years has been devoted to the online publication of a bumper issue on the subject of minds and machines. I'm pleased to say that this is now almost complete. It's been the equivalent of co-editing (with Linda Glenn) a large book. Meanwhile, the fifth anniversary of my tenure in that position at JET is about to come around. Time really does seem to fly!

Dominating my own publications for the year was my latest book, Freedom of Religion and the Secular State (released in January from Wiley-Blackwell), though I also had a long peer-reviewed article published by Ethics and Information Technology, and there were numerous other publications, some of which I've mentioned in earlier paras.

And so we move into 2013. I've been working hard through recent months, and I've been professionally involved with other people who've been working hard. You'll gradually see announcements rolling out, starting soon. Very soon.

George Dvorsky on gene patents

George Dvorksy has an interesting article at io9 on the subject of gene patents, discussing the current litigation over the issue. This includes a quote that he got from me on the subject of contrived patents in general and on the so-called tragedy of the anti-commons (though I don't use that expression - the point is that, theoretically, intellectual property rights can be become too fragmented among different right-holders to operate in the public interest).

The article is worth reading, not only because it discusses my (rather wishy-washy) views sympathetically but also because it gives an up-to-date and accurate account of a tricky, often misunderstood, subject. Dvorsky has his own bias, but he's fair in presenting arguments from both sides of the debate without simply dismissing any of them or demonising people with whom he has disagreements.

There's also a vigorous discussion thread there, which looks like it may contain some worthwhile nuggets.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kuhn and his controversies

Over at The New Atlantis - a journal whose overall values often run in a direction opposite to mine - you can find an article on Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in honour of that much-cited book's 50th anniversary of publication.

This piece, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at Fifty", by Matthew C. Rees, appears, to me at least, to be an accurate account of Kuhn's views, including of the areas where they were vague. The points of vagueness and incompleteness led to much debate: at one point, Kuhn famously denied being a Kuhnian, with the epistemic relativism that that was thought to involve.

Rees also appears, to me at least, to be careful and fair in his assessment of the book's merit and importance, including its relationship to the respective ideas of Michael Polanyi and Karl Popper.

I'm sure there are contentious points of interpretation and judgment, but this piece is much better than most of what I read about Kuhn and the associated controversies. You could do a lot worse than giving it a read if you've wanted something that lays out the nature of these controversies clearly and fairly compendiously.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book of the year - Eric Anderson, The Monogamy Gap

My book of the year is Eric Anderson’s The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating (OUP, 2012). According to Anderson, moral and cultural expectations of strict monogamy are psychologically unrealistic, pervasively and deeply harmful, and (ironically enough) destructive of good relationships. He argues that the phenomenon of widespread “cheating” is the corollary of a system that is incompatible with human psychology and appears ridiculous when viewed from outside its assumptions. Far more research is needed, as the author acknowledges, but meanwhile he presents a lucid and persuasive, if incomplete, case against the ideology of strict monogamy.
Speaking of strict, my strictly philosophy book of the year will be announced in a forthcoming issue of The Philosophers' Magazine. If you don't subscribe, you should do so.
As for fiction, I read some great material by Alison Goodman, Margo Lanagan, and many others. I'm one of the judges of the Norma K. Hemming Award, so I'm expecting to read a lot of high quality fantasy, science fiction, and horror over the next few months. Doubtless I'll be blogging about some of it.