Archive for June, 2010

Baldur’s Gate II …

June 30, 2010

Okay, so I have a confession to make: I hated Baldur’s Gate.  I started it the way they expected me to, played it a little ways in … and quit.   Part of this was because I prefer my D&D to let me create all my party members, and it didn’t let me.  So, I heard about the multiplayer “hack” where you could play on Serial and create your own party, tried it … and quit again.  This time, it was too easy to get the whole party killed since we were all low-level.

Meanwhile, I was really liking Icewind Dale and Icewind Dale 2, even though the latter was a little incongruent between your character level — starting at 1 — and what you did and were supposed to do.  In IWD, that you’d be an inexperienced party looking to join an expedition made sense, and that you end up being the only ones to make it through makes it make sense that you go around doing what you do.   But you come to a war zone in IWD2, and very quickly become an elite commando unit.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense, really.

Anyway, moving on from that digression, obviously I never picked up Baldur’s Gate II, because I couldn’t stand the first one.  And now, I have it, because someone sold a used copy cheap and I thought I’d give it a try.  So I’ll give it a try.

I’ve decided to do a hybrid: I’m going to create two party members in multiplayer, and fill in the rest as I go along.  Ideally, I’ve decided (by looking through the FAQs at Gamefaqs) that these party members are the ones that I want to ultimately have in my party most of the time, or at least for as much as I can.  Note that the restrictions were that I didn’t want any Evil characters in the party, and then it was based on what I thought of the characters.  So, I want:

  1. Minsc (I wanted a fighter from the start, and he’s known for being entertaining).
  2. Jan/Imoen (I needed a thief or a mage, and Imoen is an important character, so I think I should keep her).
  3. Mazzy
  4. Valygar

This did leave me heavy on fighters, but these were the ones that I thought would be interesting just by reading brief descriptions of them in a FAQ.  It may not work out that way, but I’ll try it anyway.

This leaves me with two more slots.  I really need a Cleric, since I didn’t like any of the Druid/Cleric options all that much (I can see right away that Jaheira will irritate me).  And having a mage or thief would be the next option, since I have one person (Jan -> Imoen) covering both.  The FAQ says that Imoen’s a good enough thief, so I’ll take a mage, then.

So, I’m going to create a pair: a male Cleric of Helm and a female Wild Mage.  The cleric of Helm is the protector of the somewhat precocious Wild Mage (she’ll be younger, he’ll be a bit older, but likely not by much).  So that fits, and Wild Mage looks like a very interesting class to play.

So, I’ll see how this works out.  If anyone has any other suggestions or criticisms of this plan, feel free to comment and let me know.

Note that I do plan to play on “Easy”, just so that combat difficulty doesn’t cause me to quit the game.

Rosenhouse on Eklund …

June 28, 2010

Jason Rosenhouse has posted a discussion of some of the claims and numbers in Elaine Howard Ecklund’s new book Science vs. Relgion: What Scientists Really Think:

Off the start, I’ll give him kudos for saying that the book is worth reading even though he has some problems with it.

I, however, have some problems with his problems, starting with this:


“Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.”


Problem:  while “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out” is an agnostic position, it’s not agnostic in the sense that allows it to slide into the atheistic camp.  I am, as everyone should know by now, a theist.  And yet I would, in fact, be able to chose that option and be quite honest.   That’s because I accept the definition of agnostic that Huxley defined, which is, in fact, just that: I don’t and can’t know.  However, that doesn’t say anything about belief.   So, agnosticism is a stance on knowledge, and theism/atheism is a stance on belief (atheists don’t belief, theists do).  Thus, since they address two somewhat separate domains (we always believe what we know) I can, in fact, be an agnostic theist.  Or an agnostic theist.  So it’s a bit quick to jump from that statement to the claim that they are agnostic and therefore not theistic.

He’s probably right to say that these agnostics were at least weak atheists.  After all, most people don’t really know what the term agnostic really means, and the common definition is pretty much how he uses.  But he can’t get there from that statement of agnosticism itself; he really should acknowledge that the claims are, in fact, distinct.

The next issue is this:


“Now explain to me, please, how anyone can look at that data and write this:

As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense…. (p. 6)

This claim, that fifty percent of scientists are traditionally religious, is repeated in the jacket copy.”


He’s counting the atheists and agnostics and getting 64% at least, and adding another number into it — not unreasonably — and getting 72%  being non-theistic.  And then questionning how then you could say that almost 50% are religious in a traditional sense.  Unfortunately, there is data that shows why she might say that:


“Also stark is the data on religious affiliations. Here we find that 53% of scientists claim no religious affiliation at all. I was very surprised by that number, since religious affiliation is as much about cultural identity as it is about specific beliefs. For example, when asked for my religious affiliation I always say that I am Jewish even though I am also an atheist.”


So, if 53% claim no religious affiliation at all … then doesn’t that mean, at first glance, that there are 47% left over?  If all of those did have a religious affliliation, then there’s a not unreasonable case for saying that almost 50% are traditionally religious.  At least at first glance.

Now, there are some issues here, and I haven’t read the book in detail so I don’t know the numbers.  One issue that really does require the numbers is how many simply didn’t answer the question, since that would take some out of the 47% and leave it a bit lower.  Let’s assume — until further evidence is provided — that that was insignificant.

The other issue is the one that Rosenhouse himself raises: is it fair to count people who claim religious affiliations but are atheists?  This, of course, depends on the people who are in that boat.  Do they reject religion, or just God?  Recall that her quote above talked about traditionally religious, not theistic.  If they really aren’t hostile to religion and really do respect it, then they might count for her purposes.  Of course, I suspect that Rosenhouse is not such an atheist who would answer that he had a religious affiliation.

That being said, his use of Jews to support his point is a bit weaker.  There is a much closer association between cultural identity and religion among Jews than is the case among other groups.  For example, I am of Polish descent, and Catholicism is a major part of the Polish cultural identity.  Yet I’d never consider using the terms interchangeably, and so if I became an atheist while I’d remain of Polish descent I wouldn’t even think about still claiming to be Catholic.  For Jews, my impression is that you could use the term “Jew” for both descent and religion, which makes it a poor example and would explain the high number of Jewish atheist scientists.

But I’m not an expert in how the Jews view the terms for themselves, so if I’m wrong someone who knows better than me can correct me.

So, at any rate, there’s some work to be done before either side can claim to have said anything definitive, and some confounds in the data — on either side — that need to be dealt with.

50 posts on disbelief …

June 28, 2010

So, I finally managed to get 50 Voices of Disbelief yesterday, and I’ve started to read it.  What I think I’ll do is comment on every one of the essays in that book, generally pointing out issues and concerns I have with the atheistic arguments; in short, I’ll try to point out why the reasons they give aren’t as convincing as they might look.

Now, there’s a bit of a risk here, in that doing that means that I’d be criticizing what people believe.  Since most of the atheists in that book — I’m sure — don’t have any problems criticizing the beliefs of others, that shouldn’t be too offensive.  And while I can’t always guarantee that I’ll be completely diplomatic, I will try to be fair — even if in some cases I might generalize over atheists and not just theirs.

Note that it probably won’t be 50 posts, as some will be too short to do as one post.  So I’ll combine comments on ones that I don’t have much to say about.

In some sense …

June 26, 2010

Russell Blackford made a post on Metamagician about how accomodationists don’t really understand the nuances of his position:

Now, I’m all for understanding the nuances of people’s positions — or, as I put it, understanding their actual position — but there are a couple of problems with his post.

The first, and more minor one, is that he says this: “What we say isn’t just “religion and science are incompatible”, which is ambiguous, and could mean various things that are false. We do say that, but we go on to gloss what we mean by it.”  followed shortly by : ” … it is misleading to state simply “science and religion are compatible” as if there’s no problem. ”  Why is this an issue?  Because it isn’t clear that accomodationists just say that.  Some of them might simply say that they don’t think there’s any reason to consider them inherently incompatible, or incompatible in an interesting way.  Some of them flat-out say that religion has to be properly understood itself to not be incompatible.  So, in complaining that they miss the nuances of his argument, he risks missing the nuances of THEIRS.

The bigger problem, for me, though, is this statement: “In my case, what I say is something like this: they are incompatible in a sense.”  While he does go on to gloss — um, I mean explain — what he means by that in a little more detail (it seems to boil down to the sense of religion makes claims that sciences says is false, and vice versa), the “in some sense” is a word with a ton of potential to become weaselly.  If he can say is that all he says that he can find a way or a sense of the word “incompatible” where religion and science are incompatible, then his point is correct we still have to ask if that really matters.  Is  that sense of incompatible worth worrying about?

For example, let’s take bacon and steak.  In some sense they are incompatible because they are different meats.  In another sense they are incompatible because they come from different animals.  In another sense they are incompatible because, in general, they’re used for different purposes and at different meals (bacon generally being breakfast, steak dinner) even though there’s some overlap.  In another sense they are incompatible with your dinner because they are different meats and so if you’re preparing a meal you’d only prepare one of them because if you didn’t you’d have two meat portions, and you generally only have one.

And then you have this:

So, all of those other senses, although at least mostly true (yes, I know that you can have steak for breakfast, and it’s not unpopular) just aren’t relevant, in general.  They are, in another real, important sense, compatible.  You can make claims that depending on certain purposes compatibility and incompatibility are fluid, but if this is accepted then we have to note one key, critical thing: if Blackford is going to make comments that they are incompatible in a sense, he can’t stop there.  He has to show that it is a sense that we should really care about and that really matters.  That scientists who are religious should care about, for example.  And then he has to stick very carefully to those purposes and make sure that he doesn’t exceed the evidence his sense can provide.

To his credit, Blackford has outlined what he thinks the sense is.  Supposedly in the book 50 Voices of Disbelief there are more details (I haven’t ordered it because it’s too inexpensive to get free shipping and I don’t want to pay shipping to get it).  But this, at least, outlines the issue: if you want to minimize the risk of you starting to weasel, you have to outline not only what sense you’re talking about, but why that sense matters and what it impacts.  Otherwise, you risk proving yourself right by finding a trivial incompatibility that wasn’t worth the ink and photons spent on the issue.

New site about the incompatibilist/accomodationist debate …

June 26, 2010

Is here:

I’ll be watching it to see if it can help me figure out what the debate is, and to see if interesting arguments come out of it.

Critiquing “The God Delusion” …

June 24, 2010

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but laziness kept winning.  I started — a couple of years ago, unfortunately — critiquing “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins.  I posted the first two parts on a Google group, and was working on the third part (of about 4 planned parts) when laziness overtook me again.

So, as stated in one of my original posts on the blog, I’m moving it here and hope that having it here will encourage me to finish it.  I overcame laziness today because my poor planning left me with an hour or so to kill, and so it just seemed like a good time to finally get it up.  And no, it didn’t take an hour to move it [grin].

(Oh, and this is post 50, so it might be appropriate to do it here).

One note is that in the first part I criticized Dawkins for making some egregious mistakes, but later found out that the mistake he was making was pretty common, and not really his, then.  I added a short paragraph pointing that out, but still think the issue needed to be raised where it was, so left it in.


Wait, what do I have to get now?

June 24, 2010

So, I’ve been missing City of Heroes and hearing good things about the Old Republic MMORPG, which is making me think about getting a new desktop (mine’s sorely out of date).  And I had been looking at the models on the easy-to-find sites like Best Buy and Future Shop, but wasn’t sure if they actually were all that much faster than mine.

And then I saw someone ask a similar question on a newsgroup and get answers like dual-core and quad-core and all sorts of things like that.

Now, long, long ago, this was all easy.  Buy the thing with the highest number, and that had to be fast enough to run all the latest games.  But now, is a dual-core 2.4 better than a quad-core 1.7?  Can you even get that stuff?  Does any of that matter?  Or is this all here just to make my head explode?

I could just update my RAM and play City of Heroes (I think that’s my problem), but it probably isn’t worth it.  And right now I know too much to just buy anything but too little to know what to buy.  That probably means I won’t buy anything, or will buy something for another purpose and hope that it can play the games.  Not a good outcome.

Now, I know how they feel …

June 24, 2010

So, for a long time I’ve been pondering this, and today seems like a good day to post it.  I used to wonder, when I posted on groups, why so many people reacted so strongly and so angrily and aggressively to some comments.  Why couldn’t they just, you know, be civil?  Why did they have to lambaste people as being stupid or idiots for making an argument or a comment?  Why did they seem so frustrated?

Over the years, I think I’ve finally ended up in the same position as some of them, and now I understand why, with the recent realization that _I_ get that frustrated now, too … because they keep tossing out arguments that I’ve heard before, dealt with, and still have to deal with.  So, then, you get frustrated at having to say the same things over and over again, and that bleeds into your replies.

And that’s a bad thing.  I now have more sympathy for the people who have such strong reactions, and now know that I have to work on my own reactions to those sorts of arguments.

Probably do wonders for my blood pressure if I can do that [grin].

Why I’m sad that I won’t comment on “Why Evolution is True” anymore …

June 24, 2010

So, if you’ve read my post on “Jerry Coyne asked …”, you’ll know what’s just recently gone on between us.  At this point, I’m pretty sure that I won’t comment on his blog anymore, at least in a comment — I’ll still make posts here about posts he makes that I have something interesting to say about — because of all the hassles.  The hassles of being called a troll and a thread-jacker just for disagreeing with most of the people there.  The hassles of having a longer comment called out as something that should be put on my blog — even though most of the people there (and Coyne himself) to the best of my knowledge don’t read or comment on my blog.  The hassles of having a comment deleted because either it was too harshly critical or too aggressively defensive.  Yeah, I contributed to all of it, but it isn’t worth it.

Now,why will I regret that this happened?  Because, in general, Coyne’s blog is popular.  A lot of people, thus, read and post in the comments.  And so it gave a decent venue for me to discuss things with people who don’t agree with my views on things, but who might have some sort of common ground.  That’s why I started posting there more frequently; for me, it was working — even with the annoying posts — to get my views out and getting people to criticize them.  Maybe for me to even learn something.  Yeah, not going to happen now.  But it’s sad that it went this way.

Oh, well.  Maybe I’ll just have to put more effort into my own blog, then …

Jerry Coyne asked …

June 24, 2010

… and I complied.  I made a long reply to his most recent post because it related to something that I had said in other comments and that people had taken me to task for.  He asked me to move it to my blog.  So, I will.

His original post is here:

My comment was this:

At the risk of people accusing me of being a troll or thread-jacker, I’ll move my comments on human intelligence interrupting evolution here.

See, while this is interesting, it also allows me to clarify my point, which was that intelligence and tool-making ALLOW humans to interrupt evolution by choosing what impacts them. Let’s look at the impacts of the EPAS1 gene:

“but can also cause excessive production of red blood cells, leading to chronic mountain sickness that can kill people or reduce their reproduction. Some mutations in EPAS1 that increase its expression, for instance, are associated with increased hypertension and stroke at low altitude, symptoms similar to that of mountain sickness.”

But if you look at the effects, particularly hypertenson and stroke, those can, in fact, be treated with drugs. So someone that has those additional side effects might be able to live perfectly well and reproduce perfectly well simply by taking drugs to reduce hypertension, and other things to reduce the risk of stroke. If there are enough of these, there wouldn’t be ANY significant statistical difference caused by those extra factors; people with the hypertension and stroke risks from the EPAS1 gene expression simply wouldn’t die or reproduce statistically significantly less than those that didn’t have the gene or the added risks from it. Thus, those selective factors end up going away, because we filter them out and correct for them.

The same thing can be said for the differences in high and low altitude. It is, in fact, theoretically possible for us to invent a drug that someone can take to increase red blood cell production when at high altitudes and reduce it at low altitudes (it might not be the same drug). So, then, people who don’t naturally have increased red blood cell production can simply take the drug and in fact have that — temporarily, while in the environment that needs it. And those who have the increased production, when coming down to lower altitudes, can take the drug to reduce it. Thus, as long as the drug is readily available and has no other significant side effects (which rarely happens), there’s no difference selectively between those who have the EPAS1 gene and those who don’t. Or, rather, there ARE differences, but no selective factor can select on them since humans control for it.

Now, you’re correct that practically selection will work on us for quite some time because we don’t correct for everything and can’t correct for extremely drastic changes that we aren’t ready for. So, as I said elsewhere, the big things and the little things will always count. But we interrupt evolution in a signficant sense using our intelligence and our tools, and I just want to make sure that that is properly recognized.

Feel free to discuss …

EDIT:  Coyne deleted my last comment, which essentially said that what he claimed in the comment that asked:

“You’ve got your own blog, so could you post these long comments over there? I’m not going to point out your many misconceptions, including the fact that mountain sickness can be successfully treated at high altitude, or that drugs are always completely successful at reducing hyptertension.”

misread my comment, since I never claimed that mountain sickness can be treated at high altitude — I never mentioned it at all, and at best said that in theory we could create a drug to increase or decrease red blood cell production as required — and never claimed that drugs are always completely successful at reducing hypertension — I said that it can reduce it so that the differences are not statistically significant.  I also added an I admit harsh statement that he should be careful about his own misreadings before criticizing mine.  So, since I had also said that that might be my final comment … well, it looks like it is.  At least there.

I’ll write a new post on that one.