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Does Francis still believe in witches?

October 28, 2014

Andrew Sullivan, like many Catholics, is pleased that Pope Francis approves of evolution, the Big Bang, and other parts of modern science, explicitly rejecting a view of the Christian god as “a magician” running around with “a magic wand.” Sullivan sniffs:

None of this is new, of course. Catholics in general do not buy the irrational and anti-intellectual delusions of evangelical Protestants with respect to Creation and the origins of the universe.

Of course it isn’t new. The Catholic Church has never insisted on taking the creation story as history. Augustine argued against that in the 4th c. If we want to look at whether the Church is inching toward some accommodation with modern knowledge, instead of looking where it never conflicted, let’s look where it did. For example, witches. Over the course of a few centuries, the Church tortured and murdered many thousands of innocents who were accused of consorting with the devil. Innocent VIII gave this his full support with Summis desiderantes affectibus:

…persons of both sexes, unmindful of their own salvation and straying from the Catholic Faith, have abandoned themselves to devils, incubi and succubi, and by their incantations, spells, conjurations, and other accursed charms and crafts, enormities and horrid offences, have slain infants yet in the mother’s womb, as also the offspring of cattle, have blasted the produce of the earth, the grapes of the vine, the fruits of the trees, nay, men and women, beasts of burthen, herd-beasts, as well as animals of other kinds, vineyards, orchards, meadows, pasture-land, corn, wheat, and all other cereals…

If Francis wants to drag the Church into the modern world, let’s hear him declare that witches and demon possession are nothing but myth. Fortune tellers and curanderos, too. Catholics have little room to hold themselves more rational than southern snake handlers, while their Pope still approves exorcists. What is a god you call to cast out demons, if not a magician with a wand?

Nobel Peace

October 28, 2014

Twelve recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, including Tutu and De Klerk, are urging Obama to come clean on US torture. Their open letter is here. Andrew Sullivan points out that ISIS tortures its victims using techniques openly copied from US practice.

Khuldune Shahid explains well why heroes such as Malala Yousafzai are rarely so simply seen in their own time and place.

Economic wrongs

October 27, 2014

The various pundits who predicted inflation, or even hyperinflation, as a result of loose monetary policy since the fiscal crisis of 2008 have been spectacularly wrong. Which seems to perturb their economic notions not one iota. Discussing a 2010 open letter to the Fed, signed by variety of conservative luminaries, Jonathan Chait puts it this way: “None of the signatories have grappled with the total failure of worldview that this implies.”

According to a recent Pew poll on political polarization and media, The Economist shines as a source trusted by people across the spectrum. I agree it does a better job than many of the others named. So I’m disappointed to see it publish an article postulating that cheap human drivers will prevent the advent of autonomous vehicles:

The cost of the sensors and processors needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle is falling and is likely to fall much more as production ramps up. Yet the technology is still pricey, especially compared with a human, which, after all, is a rather efficient package of sensory and information-processing equipment. At low wages, a smartphone-enabled human driver is formidable competition for a driverless vehicle.

Unsurprisingly, this article has no numbers. So let’s imagine that the “sensors and processors” for an autonomous vehicle in production have a cost of $50,000 over a ten-year lifetime. That cost seems at least an order of magnitude too high. But let’s give the argument its best case. Not needing sleep or time off, these will operate a taxi at least 4,000 hours a year. Which works out to $1.25 per hour. Lower the cost of that package by an order of magnitude, as eventually will happen, or extend its lifetime and operation hours, and the more realistic cost is closer to a dime an hour. John Henry loses again.

This 2012 article on the many faces of Friedrich von Hayek is worth a read.

Universe, simulation, imagination

October 26, 2014

The notion that our universe might be the result of a simulation in a substrate universe with different physical laws — or at least, physical priority — has attracted the attention of both philosophers and physicists. If the substrate universe has finite computational power, the expense of maintaining the simulation sometimes would leak through as anomalous physics in our universe, allowing us to detect that we’re living in the matrix.

Over on Patheos, the Godless in Dixie author explains why their god is so apparent to many believers:

It’s because when you yourself are doing the work of creating a person in your own mind, nobody else but you can change your mind. Nobody. And it doesn’t do any good for someone else to argue that the person you’re experiencing doesn’t exist because to you, he does exist. He exists because you make him exist.

But many believers can’t do that heavy lifting. What if you want to believe, but your god is no more apparent to you than he is to the average non-believer? Then, as Bob Seidensticker points out, you might fall back on all sorts of convoluted argument:

Apologists imagine God belief as this kind of obtuse puzzle, not because the evidence points that way but because they’re forced to. They have no choice, since the simpler and more desirable option — that God’s existence is as obvious as the existence of the next person you walk past in the street — is clearly not available to them.

Wednesday night races

October 23, 2014

There were two sailboat races on the bay yesterday. The F18s are having their national regatta this week, sponsored by the CCYC. And there was the usual beer can race. Saw some of the first. Crewed some of second.

Good enough for the gladiators

October 22, 2014

Dinner last night was dal and greens. Breakfast this morning the usual oats. Perhaps not far from how Roman gladiators ate.

Oil and wind

October 20, 2014

Read a short interview with one of the few women mud engineers. And then this longer article about life in the Bakken oil boom. Though that article is about North Dakota, it explains much about the truck traffic in south Texas.

Kansas has lots of wind and land. Governor Sam Brownback supported wind farms. Then the Koch brothers got to him.


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