Archive for February, 2009
Two nights ago, I was riding a bicycle past a midtown St. Louis landmark, Saint Francis Xavier Church, better known as “College Church,” due to its location on the Jesuit campus of St. Louis University. I know this campus well, in that I am a graduate of the SLU School of Law.
I’ve often enjoyed this architecture–I decided to stop to take this photo.
The NYT just published an article (“Scandanavian Nonbelievers, Which Is Not to Say Atheists”) describing new research examining religious attitudes in Sweden and Denmark. Most of the people interviewed had been baptized and don’t consider themselves to be “atheists.” On the other hand, they aren’t religious–they’ve simply moved on from religion:
[Researcher Phil] Zuckerman found what he terms “benign indifference” and even “utter obliviousness.” The key word in his description of their benign indifference is “nice.” Religion, in their view, is “nice.” Jesus “was a nice man who taught some nice things.” The Bible “is full of nice stories and good morals, isn’t it?”
Beyond niceness came utter obliviousness . . . “In Denmark,” a pastor told Mr. Zuckerman, “the word ‘God’ is one of the most embarrassing words you can say. You would rather go naked through the city than talk about God.”
We’ve arrived late, Heidi and I. Our cab picked us up after 8 and we were forced to trudge three blocks from Symphony Towers to the NY-style wood-oven pizza dive (delish) for some spinach-and-ricotta-topped-dough before returning to The Towers for intermission. Word in the ladies’ room? The Symphony’s performances of Mendelsohn and Dvorak were “beautiful and melodic.” This description is too vague to inspire my trust, but I’ve heard that the SDS can deliver.
Never before have I witnessed the performance of a Chinese conductor or an African American, male flautist. Nor have I ever shared space with such a marvelous concert piano, except perhaps at the New York Philharmonic – but that was so many years ago. This piano is open full-tilt and provides a no-holds-barred-blast of bright, woody notes. I am instantly in lust with this Hummer of a klavier.
The walls surrounding a glowing orange stage are warm San Diego yellow. Walnut, perhaps? Discordantly gothic gray pillars and rosettes lit with lavender light decorate the remainder of the hall, conjuring Rhiems at night in February (not that I’ve been), Goethe and romantic German painters. As a result of this contrast, the musicians are bathed in golden sunshine. They appear precious and precise.
Twitter, undeniably addictive to at least some of its advocates, has only been around since early 2006. The co-founder of Twitter, Evan Williams, talked for eight minutes at TED about his product.
Twitter was originally invented as a means for sending “simple status updates to friends.” It allows you to say what you’re doing in 140 characters or less, with those people interested in you able to get those updates. According to Williams, Twitter “makes people feel more connected and in touch, sharing moments as things happen.” It allows your friends “to know what it’s like to be there.”
Twitter use is exploding. It’s now ten times bigger than it was at the beginning of 2008. According to this entry at Wikipedia, Twitter has 55 million monthly visitors.
Williams concludes his talk by noting that some Twitter users have used Twitter to enable real-time mass-action by armies of fellow Twitter users.
I”ll confess that I’m not a Twitter user (though I did set up an account due to the constant urging of a real-life friend, but I haven’t actually used it). I don’t think I’ll ever be a Twitter addict based on what I know about Twitter. I prefer writing in paragraphs rather than writing chopped up sentences. I don’t want real time commentary,even from my closest of friends–I’d rather you save it up a bit and then we spend quality time together exchanging our stories with more context and color. Also, I like to get away from my computer and phone for long stretches–I recharge by getting totally away from people. I’m also suspicious that many people are deluding themselves that their on-line contacts are true “friends,” in that we don’t have the that kind of cognitive capacity.
None of this is to deny that Twitter might sometimes be useful, even possibly life-saving in times of national crisis. I suspect, though, that Twitter is mostly word fidgeting–an addiction seemingly important due to the powerful illusion that motion–doing anything–constitutes progress. I’ll admit that many important inventions were derided in the early-going (e.g., the telephone). I might be wrong when I demean Twitter as a serious mode of communication.
Writing about Twitter reminds me of a recent book in which each author attempts to capture his or her entire life in six words or less.
Without further ado, here’s that eight-minute speech by Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter.
My growing impatience with creationists: a side by side comparison of evolutionary biology and creationism
Over the past three years of writing for DI, I have discussed evolution with many creationists who have posted comments at this site. These exchanges have been good for me. They have forced me to think harder about exactly what it is that I understand about evolution and what evidence supports my understanding. These exchanges have also helped me to understand the concerns and mental gymnastics of creationists.
I now find myself getting increasingly impatient with the creationists, however. It was initially interesting to banter with creationists because I enjoyed the challenge of trying to understand why they claimed the things they claimed. I’m now getting annoyed with these creationists arguments, and it mostly has to do with the refusal of creationists to acknowledge relevant scientific observations from the real world.
My frustration also stems from the anti-scientific mindset of creationists. As a group, creationists refuse to argue even-handedly. They become skeptical only when it suits their immediate needs—they don’t apply skepticism equally both to their own claims and to the claims of those with whom they disagree. As a group, they scurry to find disingenuous arguments to support points that they actually learned in churches, not in science books. Many of them are consciously dishonest, and when you call attention to their obvious untruths, they try to change the subject. There are exceptions to this rule. There are some creationists who aren’t consciously being dishonest, but those creationists tend to be so incredibly ignorant of the principles of the scientific theory of evolution that they lack the ability to meaningfully criticize evolution. Their arguments are aimed at things that no competent scientist has ever claimed. For numerous excellent examples of this problem, see these videos by AronRa here and here.
It is well-established that humans are susceptible to committing errors caused by the confirmation bias. We seek out evidence that supports our current beliefs. Scientists are imminently aware of this danger and they work hard to design experiments to counteract this bias. Creationists (who don’t even try to run experiments) excel at feeding their confirmation biases. They proudly exclude evidence that threatens their opinions. Creationists come to mind when I consider David Hume’s quote: “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” [A Treatise of Human Nature, (2nd Ed.), Book II, Part I, Section III (“Of the influencing motives of the will”) (1739)].