“How do we know what is true?” Narrated by Stephen Fry

A short Humanist animation about how we learn what’s true through the use of evidence and science.

A super-simple guide to humanism, narrated by Stephen Fry for the British Humanist Association. (via Open Culture)

Watch other videos in the ‘That’s Humanism!’ series →

Ghosts of Aleppo

Aleppo is Syria’s largest metropolitan area and a millennia-old commercial capital. Today, however, it is a relative ghost town, threatened by regime bombing from the air and a militant offensive on the ground. For two weeks over the summer, VICE News embedded with the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad on one hand, and Islamic State militants on the other. From their secret tunnels beneath the ancient city to their threatened frontline outposts in Aleppo’s ruined medieval centre, VICE NEWS followed the Islamic Front as, against overwhelming odds, they battled to retain control of the capital of the Syrian revolution.

Glory to God

These bombs will target the areas containing “Assad’s cockroaches” and will kill them “God willing”, says this little boy.

I have to admit that I understand almost nothing about the religion and politics behind these kinds of conflict, but it’s fascinating to see the underlying humanity. All of these men seem like decent people defending their homes by bombing the other side, all in the name of God. It’s very strange, and very sad. If God is real, I can see why he doesn’t hang around here any more.


Cosmos: science propoganda

I’m not a big fan of science shows like the new Cosmos, and while listening to the most recent episode of the podcast Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project Norm captured my feelings perfectly. He explained that it feels a lot like science propaganda and that if there was a creationist version of Cosmos that just stated things as if they were fact that he would be totally unsatisfied with it. Cosmos suffers from the same failings.

(That’s my highly paraphrased version of Norm’s words, but you can hear the Cosmos discussion right at the start of the episode. The nub is about 4 minutes in.)

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

The Neil deGrasse Tyson quote above (often simplified as “facts are true whether you believe them or not”) exhibits the same problem. It sounds compelling if you’re pro-science (as I very much am) but it’s a needlessly hostile statement to science skeptics, for whom the counterargument could just as easily be that the good thing about Christianity is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.

It also seems to grossly misrepresent the ‘truth’ of science, which isn’t that it has all the answers but that it’s a working method for being able to discover all the answers. Religion is a fixed truth and only changes (when it does) by looking backwards and reinterpreting itself. By contrast science looks forwards to learn whatever it can, updating the facts as it goes.


The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense

The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense by Crispian Jago. (via Boing Boing)

The curiously revered world of irrational nonsense has seeped into almost every aspect of modern society and is both complex and multifarious. Therefore rather than attempt a comprehensive taxonomy, I have opted instead for a gross oversimplification and a rather pretty Venn Diagram.


The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense

“As such nonsensical beliefs continue to evolve they become more and more fanciful and eventually creep across the bollock borders. Although all the items depicted on the diagram are completely bereft of any form of scientific credibility, those that successfully intersect the sets achieve new heights of implausibility and ridiculousness. And there is one belief so completely ludicrous it successfully flirts with all forms of bollocks.”

Evolution icon by Michael McMillan

Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”

Paul Braterman: Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”

A recent Harris poll asked Americans “Do you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution?” Others more eminent have commented on the answers; I would like to comment on the question.

It would be difficult to cram a larger number of serious errors into so small a space.

The word ‘theory’ means different things to the general public and the scientific community: In common language a theory always involves speculation. In academic discourse, it means a coherent set of ideas that explain the facts.

Darwin didn’t understand evolution (or ‘natural selection’) as well as we do today: He knew nothing about mutations or even about the existence of specific genes, and so he had no idea how new variants could arise and spread. His assumption of gradualism is in contrast to later ideas such as punctuated equilibrium, and we now know that much if not indeed most variation arises through neutral drift. Thus not only do we know far more facts about evolution than Darwin could have dreamt of, but our theories, too, incorporate numerous additional concepts.

Belief implies that disbelief is an option: Some people believe that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States, but no one would say they “believe” that Barak Obama is the current incumbent, because no sane person doubts it.

Evolution icon by Michael McMillan

Humans and other animals

Wanted: Young Creation Scientists

An appeal from the Institute for Creation Research

ICR, together with the rest of the creation science movement, has made great strides in the last 40 years. In many areas, the superiority of the creation worldview has been clearly demonstrated. However, there is much work that still needs to be done, and this work is hindered by a lack of trained scientists.

I’m not entirely convinced that the post isn’t a parody of some kind!


Less Wrong
Humans and other animals

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions: Essential readings for skeptics

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions are a ‘core sequence’ of essays by Eliezer Yudkowsky from Less Wrong, a skeptic community blog, discussion board and general resource site.

I haven’t read all of these yet, but I thoroughly recommend all the ones I have. The posts are each an easily digestible mini-essay with a single point made very well. I’ve cut and pasted a few sound-bites below from some of the posts that grabbed my attention.

“It is a great strength of Homo sapiens that we can, better than any other species in the world, learn to model the unseen. It is also one of our great weak points. Humans often believe in things that are not only unseen but unreal.”
Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)

“Where it is difficult to believe a thing, it is often much easier to believe that you ought to believe it.”
Belief in Belief

“Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.”
Your Strength as a Rationalist

More Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions →