A Milestone (Millstone?) for Christianity in England and Wales

Results from the decennial census show that for the first time ever, fewer than half of English and Welsh citizens identify as Christian. The decline has been precipitous, as shown by the graph.

It appears that most of the Christians jumping ship end up in the ‘no religion’ category rather than converting to another religion. No data on how many of them still believe in a god or gods, or in a ‘higher power’. Also interesting that if established trends continue, the ‘no religion’ folks will become a majority in the not very distant future.

The graph comes from this BBC article.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 8: the Trinity

One of the strangest doctrines in all of Christianity is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine holds that there are three divine persons — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — yet only one deity. Each of the three persons is fully God, and not just a part of God. A famous diagram known as the “Shield of the Trinity” compactly summarizes the idea:

Continue reading

Conscious Perception: Continuous or Discrete?

A short 9-page paper presents a model of conscious perception as a discrete process:


Time Slices: What Is the Duration of a Percept?



We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.

(H/T J-Mac)

Circularity in Eric Holloway’s proof

In a recent thread, commenter Eric Holloway links to an article in which he claims to have proven that halting oracles are logically possible.

The one-page article can be found here:

The Logical Possibility of Halting Oracles

I’ve taken a look at the article, and the proof contains a blatant circularity. That is, it assumes that halting oracles are possible in order to demonstrate that they are possible.

Eric’s proof depends on the construction of an infinite table (which he calls an ‘index’, for some reason) containing an entry for every possible finite Turing machine. The entry includes a specification of the machine in question and a “halting status” that indicates whether the machine halts or runs forever.

Another machine (the “search machine”) is set up that can search through the infinite table to find any particular finite state machine. If it finds a match, it returns the associated halting status. The search machine together with the infinite table thus constitute a halting oracle, according to Eric.

The problem is simple: To populate the infinite table, you need to know the halting status of each finite machine, and to get the halting status, you need a halting oracle. Eric thus assumes the logical possibility of a halting oracle in order to prove the logic possibility of a halting oracle.

It’s plainly circular.

There are additional problems with the article that we can discuss in the comment thread.

Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life, revisited

In 2015, Winston Ewert, William Dembski and Robert Marks published a paper entitled Algorithmic Specified Complexity in the Game of Life.

The paper was a wreck. We examined it here at TSZ and found well over 20 substantive errors in it.

ID supporter Eric Holloway describes it as a “neat paper”. I describe it as an “abysmal mess”.

Eric has been touting the virtues of ASC here at TSZ, so now is a good time to reopen the discussion of this paper.

Christian List on free will

For many people, the idea of free will is bound up with the notion of “could have done otherwise”. By their lights, if only one future is possible for a person — that is, if the person cannot do otherwise — then free will is an illusion.

Philosopher Christian List — author of the recent book Why Free Will is Real — proposes an interesting species of free will based on the claim that while physics may be deterministic, behaviors at the agent level are not. Agents can do otherwise, according to List, and this is enough to ground free will even if physics is deterministic.

I think List is mistaken, but I’ll save my criticisms for the comment thread.

Readers can find List’s argument in this paper:

Free Will, Determinism, and the Possibility of Doing Otherwise

See you in the comment thread.

Moral luck

It’s Saturday night and you’re at a party.  You drink too much and foolishly decide to drive home.  On the way, you lose control of your car.  Then one of two things happens:

Scenario A

There is no traffic around.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and into a ditch.  It hits a fence post.  The car is damaged, but you are unhurt.  The police come  and arrest you for driving under the influence.

Scenario B

A car is approaching.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and clips the oncoming car, which crashes into a tree.  The driver and her two young children are killed.  The police come and arrest you.  You are charged with manslaughter.

The crucial difference between the two scenarios is sheer luck.  In scenario A, you were simply lucky that no traffic was around.  In scenario B, your luck wasn’t as good, and three people ended up dead.

You made the same irresponsible decision — to drink and drive — in both scenarios.  Is your moral culpability greater in scenario B than in scenario A?  If so, why?

He’s baaack

Granville Sewell has posted another Second Law screed over at ENV. The guy just won’t quit. He scratches and scratches, but the itch never goes away.

The article is mostly a rehash of Sewell’s confused fulminations against the compensation argument, with an added dash of tornados running backwards.

Then there’s this gem:

But while Behe and his critics are engaged in a lively debate as to whether or not the Darwinian scheme for violating the second law has ever been observed to result in any non-trivial increase in genetic information…

Ah, yes. Our scheme for violating the second law. It might have succeeded if it weren’t for that meddling Sewell.

An ‘edgy new video series’ from the Discovery Institute

From ENV:

As the news hammers home to us, young people are especially vulnerable to poisonous, Internet-mediated messages. That’s one reason Discovery Institute has teamed up with a gifted cinematographer who wanted to create a new video series, Science Uprising, that would be relevant to viewers in their thirties and younger. The series will launch on June 3, with new episodes to be released weekly through July 8.

An Edgier Style
The new series will have an edgier style than anything we have produced in the past. What does that mean? Take a look at the trailer…

Science Uprising is premised on the idea that a majority of us share a skepticism about the claims of materialism — the claims that people are just “robots made of meat, with a really sophisticated onboard guidance system,” lacking souls, lacking free will or moral responsibility, having emerged from the ancient mud without purpose or guidance. And yet, however skeptical we may be, the media labor intensively to correct our skepticism. Popular science spokesmen like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson insist that people are anything but designed children of a loving, intelligent creator…

Each episode features a masked narrator. Why? Because much of the burden of resisting materialism falls to scientists and others in the universities who have been made to fear speaking out in favor of the design hypothesis.

Scientists and scholars who have spoken out, pulling the mask off materialist mythology, share the truth with viewers. From episode to episode, they include chemist James Tour, philosopher Jay Richards, neuroscientist Michael Egnor, biochemist Michael Behe, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, physicist Frank Tipler, and others.

Genetics and individual ‘smellscapes’

From an article in the New York Times entitled You Will Never Smell My World the Way I Do:

The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.

If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.

Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water.

These — and dozens of other differences in scent perception — are detailed in a new study, published this week in the journal PNAS. The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person’s “smellscape” may be from another’s. It’s not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it’s that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than their peers…

The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in subjects’ genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet’s earthiness, the intensity of whiskey’s smokiness along with dozens of other scents.

walto’s paper on prudential values

The journal Philosophia recently accepted a paper by TSZ commenter walto, entitled CHOICE: An Objective, Voluntaristic Theory of Prudential Value. Congratulations to walto.

Our discussion of walto’s previous paper was cut short due to censorship by the moderators. Let’s hope they have the sense to stay out of the way and allow open discussion to proceed this time.

Prudential values are a good topic for TSZ, and a nice change of pace from our usual discussions of objective moral values and whether they exist. Hence this thread.

You can download walto’s paper here.

I’ll save my remarks for the comment thread.

This post violates site rules

Statement from administrator team:  This post is in violation of site rules, that we should discuss the message, not the poster of the message.

In the interest of transparency, we are making the post public.  We want to be clear that the administrator team does not agree with the accusations made in the post.  Our initial reaction was to make the post private, to give us time to review the situation.  We are now making it public again, but comments are closed for this topic.  If the original author of this post requests that we make it private once again, that will be considered.

We have kept Elizabeth informed of what we are doing.  And she has given one brief email response, which I am taking as tacit approval of our initial reaction.

Neil Rickert.

Original title: Swamidass caught lying at PeacefulScience.org

If you need some entertainment, here’s a story that follows a familiar Uncommon Descent plot line:

Charlatan lies; charlatan gets caught; charlatan digs the hole deeper; gets caught some more; and charlatan, in desperation, finally bans the messenger.

In this case the charlatan is Joshua Swamidass, the blog is PeacefulScience.org, and the ban is for a week, not permanent. But it’s basically the same old UD story.

It starts here. I hope the comments don’t get deleted. Given the recent censorship kerfuffle there, Swamidass will be feeling pressure not to delete them. But the evidence is pretty damning, and it will be painful for him to leave them in place. We’ll see what happens.

The Yanny/Laurel phenomenon

Another case of perceptual ambiguity gone viral, along the lines of the famous blue dress/gold dress phenomenon.

I emphatically hear “Yanny”, but roughly half of the population hears “Laurel”.

The New York Times explains:

The Times traced the clip back to Roland Szabo, an 18-year-old high school student in Lawrenceville, Ga., who posts as RolandCamry on Reddit. He said Wednesday that he was working on a school project and recorded the voice from a vocabulary website playing through the speakers on his computer. People in the room disagreed about what they were hearing. Some other students created an Instagram poll, which was then shared widely on Reddit, Twitter and other sites.

One detail may frustrate some and vindicate others: He found the original clip on the vocabulary.com page for “laurel,” the word for a wreath worn on the head, “usually a symbol of victory.”

The Times also provides a tool that allows you to modify the frequency response, transforming “Yanny” into “Laurel” and back again:

We Made a Tool to Help You Hear Both Laurel and Yanny

The Joe G Memorial Math Problem

Regular readers of TSZ will remember the hilarity that ensued when former commenter JoeG grappled unsuccessfully with the cardinality (loosely, the size) of various infinite sets. In honor of that amusing episode, I’m posing a new problem involving an infinite set.

Here’s the problem:

Consider the set containing every real number that can be described using a finite number of English words. For example, “thirty-three” and “two point eight” obviously qualify as members of the set, but also “pi minus six”, “the cube root of e”, and “Zero Mostel’s age in years on July seventh, nineteen sixty-three”, all of which designate specific real numbers. The set is infinite, of course.

Prove that the set of all such numbers takes up exactly zero percent of the real number line.

A dubious argument for panpsychism

At Aeon, philosopher Philip Goff argues for panpsychism:

Panpsychism is crazy, but it’s also most probably true

It’s a short essay that only takes a couple of minutes to read.

Goff’s argument is pretty weak, in my opinion, and it boils down to an appeal to Occam’s Razor:

I maintain that there is a powerful simplicity argument in favour of panpsychism…

In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience… The theoretical imperative to form as simple and unified a view as is consistent with the data leads us quite straightforwardly in the direction of panpsychism.

…the brains of organisms are coloured in with experience. How to colour in the rest? The most elegant, simple, sensible option is to colour in the rest of the world with the same pen.

Panpsychism is crazy. But it is also highly likely to be true.

I think Goff is misapplying Occam’s Razor here, but I’ll save my detailed criticisms for the comment thread.