Review: It by Stephen King

SK It coverThere was a time when I was younger when I was reading horror fiction but felt that none of it could scare me. I still enjoyed it, but I also wished I could find something really scary, too. Stephen King’s It was what people recommended to me when I asked what could be that something. Now, much later, I finally got around to reading it. And I was scared, sometimes.

I will start with a more general description of the book and then continue with a closer evaluation of some of its aspects.

What It’s all about

It is the story of a child-devouring monster, only referred to as “It”, haunting the town of Derry, and the children who confront it and the adults who they become who confront it again. The protagonists are a group of less-popular kids, referred to as the Losers, who go on to become successful adults. They have mysteriously forgotten what happened when they were children, but start to remember it as history starts to repeat itself as the monster awakens again. The earlier and the later parts of the story are told in turns throughout, almost to the very end. Continue reading

Can free will solve the problem of evil?

I recently read a good post on the problem of evil by another blogger. There was one thing I disagreed about, however, and I thought it deserved a reply long enough to be its own article.

As for what the problem of evil (or theodicy) is, I’ll just quote the mentioned article:

One of the many variations of the problem goes as follows: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” This is often contributed to the philosopher Epicurus, summarized by the theologian Lactantius. However the actual authorship remains debated.

The point remains, if God is an omnipotent being, then how does evil exist without God himself being at least in some form evil?

Well, I would put it as “god must not be perfectly good” rather than “god must be evil” if evil exists, but never mind that now. What I’m actually taking issue with is the discussion of one alternative solution to the problem:

The second issue is that many people claim free will, or more simply any human action at all, creates this evil. This is a sort of pessimistic view, but still a valid one. It claims that as humans have the ability to choose their actions, the result of those actions create the very evil itself, not god. I always found this argument to be curious just based on the fact that it uses free will to justify both evil and God. The discussion of God and free will has had an odd history, and for many people the Doctrine of Predestination pops up in their heads, but nevertheless it is a valid argument. To me it seems in many ways the existence of free will negates the omnipotence of God, and therefore changes the entire essence of God for so many defending it.

The question that sorely needs answering now is: What is free will? What are the options for what it could logically be — and do those allow god to avoid the responsibility for human evil? Continue reading

Could this be the end of the World (of Warcraft)?

World of Warcraft: Legion logo

Blizzard Entertainment recently announced their (wait, let me count) sixth expansion for World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG and the highest-grossing game ever (according to Wikipedia). It’s a game where you keep on playing and keep on paying to play, apparently forever, as the world is always being expanded to give you more to waste your time on. Not only do they extend the story, they give you addictively boring stuff you need to keep doing regularly for eventual rewards when there’s nothing else going on. So it’s no wonder Blizzard keeps making new expansions to keep it going.

This causes some problems, though, at least insofar as the players are to imagine they’re epic heroes in an equally epic fantasy world. Continue reading

Review: Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman

Consider the woven integrated complexity of a living cell after 3.8 billion years of evolution. Is it more awesome to suppose that a transcendent God fashioned the cell at a stroke, or to realize the truth: the living cell evolved with no Creator, no Almighty Hand, but arose on its own, created by the evolving biosphere? The truth is much more magnificent, much more worthy of awe and wonder, than our ancient creation myths.

Reinventing the Sacred proposes a new understanding of a natural divinity based on an emerging, scientifically based world view. Complexity theorist Stuart Kauffman does not propose somehow to insert “god” into a cold, lifeless universe. Instead he argues that the qualities of divinity that we hold sacred — creativity, meaning, purposeful action — are in fact properties of the universe that can be investigated scientifically. (…)

-From the cover blurb

Reinventing the Sacred coverLast week, I reviewed Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos and criticised it for answering the human world/physical universe problem in a way that effectively rejected current science. Fittingly enough, this review features one of the books I think successfully integrates science with humanity, even spirituality.

Stuart Kauffman’s Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason and Religion actually has much more scientific content than one would expect from its descriptions. Certainly, it offers a view of how we could see sacredness as a property of the evolving universe rather than a god outside of it. Continue reading

All the things you shouldn’t post on Facebook

So, these are the kinds of things that you apparently can’t post on Facebook:

  • About how you’re having fun or things are going great, because that’s just fake and bragging.
  • Complaining about how badly things are going for you, because that’s just annoying.
  • Ordinary things like what you had for dinner, or when you went to the gym, or what your child or pet did etc., because who cares?
  • Serious or political topics, because it’s supposed to be about socialising and telling your friends what you’ve been doing.
  • Dumb jokes and memes because those are too shallow.
  • Links to in-depth articles, because who has the patience to read that?
  • Any kind of photograph you took, because it will go under either “fake”, “bragging” or “uninteresting”, probably all three. Even if it was an interesting situation, you shouldn’t have been taking photographs because that officially means you weren’t really enjoying it.
  • Any given opinion, because someone will disagree, so they’ll find it annoying.
  • Your own blog posts because people won’t read them.
  • Complaints about the kinds of things people post on Facebook.

Review: Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel

Mind and CosmosThomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos is subtitled “Why the Materialistic Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False,” so obviously it’s moving in controversial territory. Unsurprisingly, it has been hotly rejected by the orthodox (though not that hotly), and praised by theistic creationists even though it entirely denies creationism and theism. Nagel thinks that Darwinian explanations of evolution cannot explain the emergence of things like consciousness and that a different kind of explanation will be needed.

I’m not crazy about this book myself, but it has some good points, and I have some respect for Nagel himself. I will review it as objectively as I can and in some detail.

It should be made clear that Nagel does not actually question the fact of evolution, merely the explanation that it has been guided by natural selection. For some reason or other, Nagel is not convinced by the power of natural selection to do this. He doesn’t really say why — it’s pretty much just an argument from incredulity. The first chapter does contain enough references to sources I hadn’t read that are supposed to support his views that it left me thinking maybe there’s something there worth looking into, but that something wasn’t given here. Mind you, the only author referenced whom I had really read was Stuart Kauffman, who surely would not support Nagel’s stance. Kauffman thinks self-organisation in addition to natural selection has had a role in evolution, but his self-organisation is something you get free as a surprising result of the known laws, not something you need to add like Nagel supposes. So Kauffman’s view mainly implies everything could have evolved more easily than Darwinism supposes — not less easily. Nagel’s stance that creationist arguments against evolution have brought out good points doesn’t really inspire confidence either, considering what I know of them. Continue reading

Anti-explanations

By S. Harris

What does it mean to explain something? To do it, you have to give some new information about it — how it works, how it came about, what it’s for, etc. To explain how a computer works, you might talk about, say, microchips or information processing — both explanations though different ones. To explain what a computer is, to someone who’d never seen one, you’d probably tell them what it does and what one looks like. These would also overlap with explaining where it came from (humans made them) and what it’s for.

Computers were made by people who more or less knew how they would work, and of course what they were for. If we’re explaining a natural phenomenon, or something done by a foreign people, we’ll have to find an explanation before we can give it. It will still have the same requirements: if we see something (say, that the sun radiates lots of energy), then we have to tell something new to explain what we see (that the sun is full of nuclear reactions).

What has been called the virtus dormitiva fallacy involves explaining something without really explaining anything. Continue reading