About Me

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gene patents upheld in Myriad appeal

I haven't yet been able to get to this case, which overturned (by 2-1) a first-instance judgment against gene patents. Whether or not I manage to read and discuss the whole thing, David Koepsell is already on it, so at least for now I'll send you over here.

It appears that one aspect of the orginal judgment survived but that the legality of gene patents has essentially been restored, pending further appeal.

Friday, July 29, 2011

US trip in February-March 2012

I'll be travelling to the US east coast in late February and the first couple of weeks of March next year. The reason behind it is that I'll be speaking at the Council for Secular Humanism conference at the start of March. I'll also be taking the opportunity to have a bit of a holiday in New York City and Boston. Amongst it, I'll fit in some other gigs (including one at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY).

At the moment I'm just juggling some of the details, but this is something that I'm very much looking forward to - just wish I could go for a bit longer. Alas, I'm not going to be able to fit in everything that I'd like to. E.g. it would have been nice to get to Washington, DC,which I haven't visited for well over two, going on three, decades.

Metrosexy

This e-book by Mark Simpson, reviewed here by Sue George, sounds very interesting. I probably won't read it, to be honest, but that's mainly because I still have a (possibly irrational) bias against e-books. It sounds like quite a refreshing take on sexuality and sexual politics.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Interpreting Deuteronomy - with sophisticated theology

In one of the Bible's most notorious passages, Deuteronomy 7:1-7, the Jews are commanded as follows:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you - and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on Earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

You might think this injunction to commit acts of genocide would be an embarrassment to modern-day Christians, but Ian S. Markham, in his book Against Atheism: Why Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris Are Fundamentally Wrong, assures us that the key here is "to read the text closely and on a number of different levels." Fine, so that's how it's done. Let's follow Markham's analysis on pp. 89-91.

Apparently the the injunction not to intermarry with them shows the "self-correcting nature of the Hebrew Bible", since such a command shows that God's injunction to destroy them completely had not been carried out at the time when this passage was actually written down in the Book of Deuteronomy. After all, you can't marry them if you've killed them all, right? The real point is not the genocide that God is said in the book to have commanded, but the importance of holiness, in the sense of being separate from other peoples and being faithful to the God of Israel. That's all that was really being commanded. Or something like that.

Moreover, we can deduce that God could not have actually commanded the genocide of these seven peoples, because we can find other verses in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament where God calls on Israel's neighbours to find better ways of organising themselves (see the first chapter of Amos), while elsewhere the faith of an outsider, in this case a Moabite, is affirmed (i.e. the faith of the title character in the book of Ruth).

So, miraculously, the words don't mean what they say. The overall correct interpretation is that God did not order the massacre of the Hittites, etc., as represented here, because, well because he also explicitly ordered no taking of their children for intermarriage, and because there are passages in completely different books of the Bible where God is shown to care for outsiders. The opening passage should be read as saying: "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you - the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you - and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you do not have to utterly destroy them."

I hope that's all clear. This analysis is held out by Markham as an example of the sort of sophisticated theology that Richard Dawkins and others constantly fail to take into account. Indeed, Markham rebukes Dawkins for not understanding this passage correctly, and for failing to note that the biblical text gives as a reason for this total obliteration of the Hittites, etc. (the command that was not actually given) that they practised infant sacrifice. Markham accuses Dawkins of being lazy in comparing the genocide that was not commanded here anyway with modern day genocides because Dawkins neglects to discuss "the child-sacrifice issue." Right. Oh, and because Dawkins compares the actions ordered by God with those of secular dictators, which apparently isn't a legitimate comparison for reasons that escape me.

Apparently, if we try to follow Markham's logic, Dawkins should have thought carefully about whether or not to reason along the following the lines: "They practise child sacrifice. What will we do about it? Let's kill them all, making certain that we don't save any of their children for intermarriage! That'll solve the problem." Oh, and apparently it would have been better to find a modern example of genocide committed on strictly religious grounds (rather than grounds relating to racial or political ideology) before condemning what the Bible appears to approve of. Don't ask me why: I'm totally lost by this point. Apparently you can condemn the genocides commanded in the Bible only if you can find comparisons with modern-day genocides carried out on strictly religious grounds.

Look, it's always possible to take a text and apply a method of interpretation that turns its plain meaning on its head. Literary critics and lawyers (I'm trained in both of those disciplines) are pretty good at this sort of thing. But there are limits.

And yes, it's easy to see why theologians might want to reinterpret and rehabilitate an offensive text like this. But really, theologians are going to have to do better than that if they are going to take this sort of debate outside their own cloisters. The meaning, in its context within the Book of Deuteronomy, is absolutely plain. The whole conquest of the Holy Land needs to be turned into a metaphor or something; it's no good offering us this sort of weak attempt to claim that black is white.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another review of The Moral Landscape

This time from Skatje Myers, whose blog I've just discovered.

I agree with some of the criticisms (I've made some similar ones myself), but wow Myers really hated the book.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Elevatorgate-free zone

Let me just say, since someone tried to comment on Elevatorgate this evening, that this blog is an Elevatorgate-free zone. Yes, I may make some oblique remarks about it here and there, and indeed I already have, but any substantive contribution by me to the debate will be elsewhere. Any public contribution by me at all is likely to be rather minimal, as I don't think the discussion has been very productive and there's a risk that almost anything said publicly by me or anyone else will make matters worse. If you want to debate something that I've said elsewhere, then do it there or hold your peace.

Maybe I'll say something about the underlying issues when and if tempers calm down enough that that might be useful. Or maybe not, because even that could merely re-inflame passions. Meanwhile, in any event, I will not be posting on the topic or publishing comments on the topic. Nor will I be publishing any comments at all on this particular post: the post is intended purely as an announcement and not as the beginning of a thread. And even giving any further explanation of my reasons would be counterproductive in my opinion - sorry. That's how it is, folks.

I hope that's clear.

IQ2 debate on "Atheists are wrong"

I'm delighted to announce that I've accepted an invitation to take part in this debate on "Atheists are wrong" (speaking for the opposition in case you were wondering ... i.e. I'll put arguments that atheists are not wrong).

If by any chance you're in Sydney on 6 September, feel free to get a ticket and roll up. Otherwise, there will be opportunities later on to hear or see it (the debate will be broadcast on both TV and radio, and I gather that it will also be available for viewing on the internet).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A review of The Australian Book of Atheism

This is a very favourable review of The Australian Book of Atheism by Seventh Day Adventist blogger Steve Parker.

Sunday supervillainy - annual Marvel cosplay event at Comic-Con

After a heavy philosophical week let's go to Comic-Con, which is currrently happening across the Pacific Ocean from me in San Diego. Given that we're having an exceptionally bleak winter in south-eastern Australia, San Diego would be a good place to be right now (I'll actually be there later this year for the World Fantasy Convention).

This link takes you to Marvel's annual cosplay photo op, the highlight of which is some shots of a break-dancing Spider-Man - though there is also some villainy on display, with Dark Phoenix, Loki and Dr. Doom among others.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On deciding to do things that are important

Over at Why Evolution is True, Jerry has a post in which he tells us, among other things:

It's important for all of us to at least become acquainted with this [multiverse] theory because, as Jason [Rosenhouse] points out, it has theological implications — not only about whether our planet is the special object of God’s attention, but because multiverses are relevant to the “fine-tuning” argument for God beloved of religious scientists.  Theologians often sneer at the multiverse theory as a ploy atheistic physicists to reject what they see as strong evidence for God. That’s why it’s important (beyond simply keeping up with exciting ideas in cosmology) to know why physicists posit multiverses, and to see that the idea is not something scientists concocted to get around the fine-tuning arguments.

I don't disagree with that. Good on yer, Jerry.

Note, however, that this passage offers us a reason to become acquainted with multiverse theory. It appeals, for example, to our desire to understand whether multiverse theory is a contrivance to get around fine-tuning arguments. If I had no such desire, I could simply shrug all this off and say, "Who cares?" But Jerry is correct to assume that many of us, including me, actually do care about these sorts of things. Thus, when you combine this with some information about the theory, we have our motivation for reading up on it. Although this is only implicit in what Jerry says - he doesn't put it quite like that - it's there. And once again, I agree. He's put forward considerations that will motivate lots of us to read up on multiverse theory if we haven't already, or to read up on it some more.

But what does he have in mind when he offers us reasons for considering whether to read up on multiverse theory? He seems to think that we are capable of thinking about these considerations and coming to a decision to read up on the theory. If we're not really capable of doing that, why suggest that we do it? The point is that even Jerry, who denies the existence of free will, at least thinks that people are capable of deliberating (e.g., I think about the reasons he's offered me for reading up on multiverse theory), coming to decisions (I may decide to go and do the reading up), acting on them (I may actually do the reading up), and producing results (as a result of my reading I may become more knowledgeable and, among other things, better able to debate with theologians).

It's being assumed that we really do deliberate about our actions, make decisions based on our beliefs and desires, and so on. If I didn't think that, I wouldn't offer you facts and ideas to deliberate about. Neither would Jerry if he didn't think something along those lines (but see below!). If I thought all this was an illusion, I'd have no reason to offer you facts and ideas to think about for the purposes of making decisions.

I suppose the comeback might be that I'd do it anyway, since I'd have no choice in the matter! My actions in offering you reasons for considering things might just be "what happens". But really...

None of which settles the meaning of the term "free will", which is all-important to debating whether such a thing exists. But it does at least highlight the difficulty in adopting an error theory in respect of all our everyday discourse about deliberating, thinking things over, making decisions, choosing from options, picking, selecting, and so on. If we believe this kind of talk is analogous to talk about, say, witches - it doesn't refer to anything real - we'd better think through the consequences (though I suppose that would be impossible if we were right!).

If we're going to say that this sort of talk is okay, but that, nonetheless, we don't have free will, we'd better define what message is actually communicated when we tell someone, "You don't have free will."

As I said a few posts back, I'm not in love with the term "free will", which sounds rather grandiose and may not convey anything terribly clear when used outside philosophical discussions where it's defined. But telling someone she doesn't have free will is probably worse - more misleading - than telling someone she does. What she does have, unless her circumstances are very bleak indeed, is considerable ability to make choices that are based on her own values, and which then lead to actions that make a difference to the world.

Anglicans and Catholics now back ethics classes

Story here. I suppose this is commendable, so let's give credit where it's due, but I love the excuse that they didn't know what was in the course materials at the time they opposed the trial. The general nature of the course materials was not a secret. Even I, who had no involvement whatsoever in the process, had a rough idea and plenty of opportunity to find out more detail. They knew a great deal about it - they knew exactly what the approach was, and if they wanted to know how the approach would pan out in actual classrooms, well that's the whole point of having a trial.

Anyway, it looks like Fred Nile and his group are now isolated and that the ethics classes are likely to be retained, despite the change of government in NSW at the last election. I thought they were imperilled, with a Coalition government coming in ... but at this stage it looks like I was wrong. And this is a good thing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Page proofs coming soon

I am now expecting to have page proofs for Freedom of Religion and the Secular State on 4 August. So ... the book remains on target for publication relatively soon (late 2011 or early 2012). There is always some lead time from this point until final publication, partly to allow time for some marketing things. But stay tuned, it's going to happen almost before you know it.

On writing dialogue

I don't know anything about this author, Amy Rose Davis, but everything she says here seems to me to be good advice. She says she'll be blogging next about the rhythm of speech, so I'll look forward to reading that. Even professional writers sometimes seem not to have a clue about these sorts of things.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sean Carroll dobs me in - a little bit about fate and free will

Some time back now, I promised a further and better post on free will - having discussed at considerable length what people mean by the expression and whether the folk even have a coherent concept of free will. I did say that I'd set out my position, but since then I've come to have doubts as to how easy or helpful that would be. Oh well, some of it follows in this post.

It currently seems as if half of the blogosphere, or at least half of the little corner that I tend to live in, is devoted to this issue. I suppose I could ignore that, except that Sean Carroll has reminded everyone of my promise in a post that I think is well worth reading. Sean has dobbed me in (and he so owes me a beer).

This is still not a post in which I set out a full position on fate, free will, determinism, etc. I've come to wonder whether I can say anything very useful at less than the length of a book. The issues are very confused; I'm not sure that the folk have coherent concepts of any of these things; theologians often seem to be all over the place in their concepts; and the concepts used by philosophers are highly contentious, even if they are sometimes more coherent. Still, I'll sketch a little bit of my thinking.

I've yet to see a claim that we possess incompatibilist free will that makes much sense to me: when you dig into the explanations of how it is supposed to work they become very mysterious. We discussed this late last year, when I got into an interesting debate with Neil Levy, a philosopher who  specialises in this area (and took me to task for using the phrase "contra-causal free will", which he dislikes and considers inaccurate).

On the other hand, I can never see the point of simply insisting that we don't have free will. Unless it is explained carefully it sounds like a claim that we are at the mercy of Fate (however understood). I.e., it sounds as if what is being proposed is a fatalism of the kind that says I will die at the same age irrespective of whether I eat healthily or not, and of all my other decisions. That, of course, is not true: there may (depending on such things as your theory of the nature of time) be a fact as to when I will die, but the event of my death at time T will be causally dependent on, among other things, decisions that I make now, such as my decision to eat a certain kind of diet.

This debate goes back to antiquity. The Stoics discussed what was known as the Lazy Argument for fatalism. The Lazy Argument suggests that it is pointless to take any action. For example, if I am ill it is pointless to call a doctor. Why? Well, if I am fated to recover, then I will do so (whether or not I call the doctor). If I am fated not to recover, then I will not recover (whether or not I call the doctor). Because there is some fact as to whether or not I will recover, it makes no difference whether I call the doctor or not. The same reasoning applies to any action.

The Stoic Chrysippus responded to this by arguing that events can be "co-fated": one co-fated event (or, we would say, simply one event that will take place) can stand in a causal relationship to another. I may be "fated" to recover from my illness (i.e. the fact is that this will happen), but I am not fated to do so whether or not I call a doctor. My recovery from the illness, even if "fated" in the sense that it will happen, may stand in a causal relationship to my decision to call the doctor.

It's better not to talk about Fate at all, but simply to say that there may be facts about what events will take place in the future. Nonetheless, the Stoics were right that the existence of such facts does not change what we observe every day: namely, that our decisions can have causal efficacy. Our deliberations and their outcomes in choices and subsequent actions can and often do have a role in bringing about whatever events later take place.

Thus the Stoics developed a view that would now be called compatibilism. But note that they were not trying to deny that our actions are part of the overall causal order. They were opposing a doctrine that was popular at the time, and which has continued to be popular in much religious and folk thinking about the future, i.e. the sort of fatalistic doctrine exemplified in the Lazy Argument.

Sometimes people who claim that we don't have free will then go on to say that this knowledge should affect the personal and political choices we make, such as what kind of penalties we impose for crimes. But note what is being said here: it is assumed that we are able to make decisions about these things and that these decisions will play a causal role in what actually ends up happening.

For example, the penalties for crimes that will be on the statute books in Illinois in 2050 will depend on various decisions by human beings; they won't take a particular fated form, irrespective of what decisions we make. Even in the process of talking about why we should say that people don't have free will, we assume that fatalism is false. Our very decisions to use one form of language rather than another are assumed to have some causal efficacy.

I do get that when contemporary philosophers and scientists talk about people not having free will they usually have in mind the claim that we never step out of the causal order of nature, rather than the claim that fatalism is true. But so what? Like Chrysippus (and David Hume and Daniel Dennett, and most contemporary philosophers) I agree that we never step out of the causal order of nature. We are part of it. The fact remains that we often make decisions and our decisions can be efficacious. When we make decisions, that process is itself part of the causal order of nature. What else could it be? Try to imagine a coherent alternative.

There's much more to be said here. To be honest, I'm not particularly interested in using the language of free will. Such language really only comes up for me when I get into debates about theodicy, in which religious apologists often claim that we have a mysterious ability to make decisions in a way that lets God off the hook for the negative consequences of our actions. But there's no evidence that we possess any such ability. Indeed, I don't believe that any plausible account of what this ability would be like has ever been given. The concept of "free will" in this sense ends up being something spooky and probably incoherent.

But still, we are at least sometimes (even often) able to make decisions that are causally related to future events such as our own future health and how long we live, not to mention political outcomes such as what parties are elected to office, what penal approaches are adopted in various jurisdictions, what media ownership restrictions are put in place, and so on. Some of our decisions and consequent actions can be better than others in whatever plausible sense of "better" you like.

The future comes about through naturalistic processes, but those processes include our deliberations and decisions, and the actions that they lead us to. As the Stoics argued in the face of popular kinds of fatalistic thinking, the future comes about partly as a result of human choice.

Sunday supervillainy - Ahmadinejad is a mutant

At least his equivalent in the X-Men universe must be. I'm not the first to point out that this guy clearly has six fingers on his left hand. (Follow the link I've given to see how images in X-Men: Schism #1 have been photo referenced using pics of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

 Things get interesting when a young mutant with psi powers forces the gathered world leaders to reveal their deepest secrets on television. Voila!

 

Friday, July 15, 2011

What's so creepy about an age gap? Trying to understand...

The Rogneto controversy has settled down a little bit, but someone commented overnight on an earlier thread here, basically complaining that they found the relationship repugnant.

Not they say because of the large age gap between the two characters. But that's clearly a large part of what's bugging people.

I want to focus on this in a minute, but let me talk about a couple of other things first. Some people absolutely love the relationship that Marvel Comics presents between superheroine Rogue and semi-reformed archvillain Magneto. I expect that Dragon*Con this year will have some Rogneto cosplay going on, and there's plenty of Rogneto shipping on the internet.

Others express dislike for it based on the history of the characters - in villain mode, when they've been enemies, Magneto has done some pretty bad things to Rogue. We could have long debates about the rights and wrongs of that. I just want to say that I'm not really interested in yet another debate about how realistic the relationship is, or how much Rogue is being written out of character when she goes back to him after their failed romance in the Savage Land which was shown in the early 1990s and must have been about five years ago, in-world. That's all interesting but there are places to debate it other than this thread.

I'm actually more interested in the fact that some people go, "Eww, he's so much older!" Why do people do that? What's the problem about relationships with a big age gap?

The photo above on the left, of course, is not of a Rogneto scene, but of Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng. I'm willing to bet that many of my readers have an unfavourable visceral response to this couple, and that it's partly to do with the very apparent age difference that we can all see ... and not just because of a dislike for Murdoch's approach to journalism or politics.

But what, exactly, is the problem? Is it the sheer incongruity of an unattractive old man appearing with a beautiful young woman? Is it the thought that Murdoch has treated his previous wives badly? Is it the thought that what has attracted Deng to him is his money - and that this is somehow an unfair thing for a man to use in the social competition to attract desirable women? But if the latter, how is it more fair to use, say, your good looks, which are largely the result of the genetic lottery and your early upbringing ... neither of which you've earned or deserved in any way?

Part of the problem is that none of these things seem to apply to the Rogneto relationship, yet at least some people have the same response. Magneto doesn't look like Rupert Murdoch. He's been around in the world for a long time (in the comics, he was born in the 1920s), but he's usually portrayed as a handsome man of some indeterminate age betwen his late 30s and early 50s with the body of an Olympic athlete.

If we follow the continuity, he is about 40, physically speaking, as a result of a rejuvenation as part of his back story. His hair is naturally silver (much as the hair of his daughter, Polaris, is naturally green, and Rogue's own hair has that natural silver streak). Unlike my hair, for example, Erik's hasn't gone white with age. Even artists who depict his face on the older side, to convey his authority and experience, make him handsome and athletic.

In short, the couple just above on the right don't much resemble Murdoch and Deng ... yet some folks have the same response to them. It can't be something as simple as the incongruity of an ugly man and a beautiful woman: this is a very fine-looking, if exotic, couple. Nor is it that Rogue is attracted to Erik by his money (even if he does still have large amounts of gold robbed from the Nazis hidden away somewhere). She seems to be attracted to him in a raw sexual way, and by his fanatical devotion to a noble cause - or perhaps, in part, she gets off on his power (surely that can't be the problem!).

Is it thought wrong that people with formative experiences in different decades should be mutually attracted? If so, why? And anyway, wouldn't it be a trivial issue here, where both have had extraordinary experiences that are very different from normal people their own respective ages? The kinds of things they've experienced in their various superheroing and superheroing missions should give them plenty to talk about.

I can't immediately see how any of the things that we might normally find distasteful about relationships with large age gaps apply here, but the age-gap thing still bugs some people.

It can't be that there is something pedophilic involved. When they first fell for each other in the classic Savage Land story, Rogue was being presented as about 19 or 20 (and Magneto as physically in his early 30s), and on that occasion the relationship wasn't even consummated. Magneto backed out of it when he chose to kill Zaladane and physically leave Rogue by flying away to one of his other bases. Rogue is now being presented, I'd guess, as in her mid-20s. So she's quite old enough to understand the character of the sexual act, thank you very much - as she was even in the Savage Land story - and to have made an informed decision when she took Erik to bed back in X-Men Legacy #249.

So, I'm getting the feeling that there is something going on here whereby the age gap itself is considered a problem by some people. My question is about what the problem actually is when you strip away the particular things that might apply to Murdoch and Deng but don't seem relevant to the fantasy story of Magneto and Rogue. Or is this a case of rule utilitarianism in action? Do we come up with a rule that works in many real-life situations, and then we apply it to the full range of situations even where the utility-harming factors justifying the rule are not actually present, as in the fantasy example of two comic-book characters?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not about to chase after your daughter. And although I don't find Magneto and Rogue creepy, I do (I admit) find Murdoch and Deng a bit creepy. So perhaps for me it's mainly the ugly man/beautiful woman thing going on. I'm not trying to justify this response, just trying to work out what my problem is.

What do you think? Do Murdoch and Deng creep you out? Can you offer a good reason why they should? Would you extend your reason to a fantasy example like Magneto and Rogue - or to even more extreme fantasy examples such as Doctor Who and his various companions?

Does it matter whether the Doctor (who is over 900 years old) physically presents as an older man (Jon Pertwee, say) or, as has been the case with recent series, as a man who is physically in his twenties or thirties like David Tennant (who has actually just turned 40, but looks quite a bit younger)?

I'm confused about all this and would like to know how people (including me!) think about it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

American Humanist Association on stoning

Today, on the International Day Against Stoning, the American Humanist Association is raising awareness of the brutal practice of stoning and demanding the end of stoning as a form of punishment around the world.
The American Humanist Association stands beside the International Committee Against Stoning and its effort to eradicate the cruel tradition of stoning, an inhumane method of punishment which affects predominantly women and girls in developing countries. Fundamentalist religious zealots around the world are responsible for enacting laws based on stringent and unforgiving moral codes, sometimes punishable by sentences such as stoning to death. Women are stoned for “offenses” such as giving birth out of wedlock, extramarital affairs, and even in response to false accusations of murder.

Go here to read the rest.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The barbarity of stoning - support for Maryam Namazie

Please support the ongoing campaign against the cruel and barbaric practice of execution by stoning, which continues even now in the twenty-first century. Maryam Namazie discusses it, and is collecting statements in support of the campaign, over on her blog.

Of the many statements you can find there, one of the best must surely be this pithy summation by Fred Edwords, National Director, United Coalition of Reason: "Stoning is the very symbol of what it means to be primitive, barbaric, and cruel."

Friday, July 08, 2011

Back to Australia

Arriving tomorrow - which means that things return to normal at my end after a week and half in Vanuatu followed shortly thereafter by a week in New Zealand.

I had a great, if fairly low-key, time at the AAP conference: I renewed friendships, met people, made some new friends ... all good. I'm looking forward to a bit of "normal" life, though. I have a book to continue co-authoring (with Udo), another book to see through production, and a special issue of JET to co-edit (with Linda Glenn), and several other projects to deal with, so the comfort and familiarity of my own study will be very welcome indeed.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Patty Jansen on formatting a (fiction) manuscript

This is good advice.

Though if you are submitting material to JET please imitate recently published articles and follow our submission guidelines. Almost no one does these simple things, but it would make life much easier for them and for me if they did. You wouldn't believe some of the bizarre formats and styles that some people use.

Sunday supervillainy on Wednesday - strained friendships

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Two gigs down

I've done both of my gigs in Dunedin ... and enjoyed both. It's been especially good finally meeting Colin Gavaghan and Nick Agar. The "debate" about human enhancement (it wasn't really a debate) tonight was a load of fun, as was the dinner with the guys and Carol Jess afterwards.

I haven't been able to see much of Dunedin so far, but the area around Otago University is very attractive, with some beautiful old buildings on the campus; the views from the higher floors of the university's newer buildings are spectacular. It's been pretty cold in the mornings, predictably enough, but we've had still days, and they've actually felt quite mild despite the low temperatures. I'll have to send you over here for a bit more about Dunedin than I can provide from my very limited experience so far.

Tomorrow, I will start (belatedly) to concentrate on enjoying the AAP conference, and getting to as many papers as I can. With one thing and another, I've been a bit remiss so far and have missed quite a few papers that looked interesting. Damn! Having come all this way, I need to do a lot more than focus on my own gigs - which, alas, has been the main order of things so far (along with catching up on some much-needed sleep).

Monday, July 04, 2011

Next stop a seminar on human enhancement

My paper at the AAP conference (on freedom of religion and the secular state) seemed to go quite well today. Tomorrow evening I take part in a seminar-cum-debate with Nicholas Agar on the topic of human enhancement. I guess Nick is going to be "against" it, and I'm going to be "for" it - though that's really a parody of our positions. Both of us are political liberals, and it'll be interesting to see just how far we really do differ.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

In Dunedin

... and ready to give my paper tomorrow at the AAP conference. The paper is based on a chapter in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, so everyone will get a chance to read a longer version of the argument some months down the track.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Kong Reborn

My 2005 novel, Kong Reborn, ended up being a bit of a commercial disaster. Shortly before its publication, Byron Preiss, who owned the publishing empire that included iBooks, was killed in a car accident. Shortly thereafter the whole operation went bankrupt, and I don't understand who actually owns it now after the court proceedings in the US and some kind of buy-out. I never received all the money I was owed for the book, and I'm most unlikely ever to see another cent from it. In the circumstances, it never gained any real publicity or any decent distribution.

So ended my career as a novelist (at least to date), since I got caught up in other things about that time. My next book turned out to be 50 Voices of Disbelief. Still, there's a hardcover version of Kong Reborn in print these days, if you're interested, and it's possible to find second-hand copies of the paperback version.

I did enjoy writing the book, and I'm still quite proud of at least some aspects. Of course, there's no way to make Skull Island make scientific sense, but I had fun coming up with a lot of not-too-pseudo-scientific handwaving to explain it. I also felt privileged getting to write about such a revered icon in our modern mythology as King Kong.

I hadn't actually checked the customer reviews on Amazon for a very long time, but came across them just now while looking for something else. I'm pleased to say that they're pretty positive overall. But there is one very long and negative review that I have to point out to y'all (you'll find it at the link above, which I'll give again). Sheesh, it's just such an amazing, over-the-top rant. Go and have a look just for the hell of it.

This time tomorrow... I'll be in Dunedin

I'm attending the AAP conference in Dunedin, New Zealand - flying out tomorrow from Sydney, getting back this time next week. Blogging may be a bit more intermittent than usual; we'll see. I'll be giving a paper on the subject of freedom of religion and the secular state, based on material in my forthcoming book, and also taking part with Nicholas Agar and Colin Gavaghan in a seminar cum debate on human enhancement.

Ask Sam Harris anything

I might not be able to get a look at this for a while, but do check it out if you have time (those of you who haven't already). Let me know if there's anything I mustn't miss.

Jerry has an interesting thread, though most of it so far is about the issue of so-called transcendent experiences. What I want to know is "Transcendent of what?" I mean, I've had some interesting psychological experiences myself, but I don't believe that I transcended the natural world at any point. I doubt that Harris claims to have, either, but I do fret about this terminology.

Edit: But see the thread below.

Richard Dawkins site's thread on Islamophobia, etc

A longish thread over here if you're interested. Quite a diversity of views being expressed, including a couple of comments by Richard.

Robin Hanson on ...?

I think this is meant to be an argument against the Singularity. I'm not saying that I'm buying it, or even able to evaluate it until it's a lot more fleshed out.