Category Archives: Religion and Philosophy

A Spriral Approach

I’ve heard of spiral approaches to learning, meaning that material is covered without much detail and making successive passes with more detail.

My recent experience makes me think of a slightly different spiral:

You understand, then you learn more, and then you are more confused than ever.


Maybe that’s why I like this particular representation of the Riemann ζ function?

[Citation Needed] — the intelligent heckler

The xkcd comics can be funny normally, but this strikes me as particularly humorous because of other things I’ve seen recently.   In particular, the You-Tube contributor potholer54 is a former science journalist who not only gives his comments on various bunk but explains why you don’t have to take his word for it and how to spot possible bunk through journalistic techniques.  In particular, follow up on the sources.  See if the proponent is just repeating (and further distorting) a mis-reported story, and find the original that started it.

In this Internet age, it is easier than ever.  Just click on the link, or use Google.  Long before I saw these techniques spelled out, I recall reading something that seemed fishy.  In a minute or two I figured out that all reports were just repeating the company’s own white paper (and each other).

In order for “news” outlets to return to some standard of accuracy and integrity, their readers need to care.  There might be resources like Snopes that people can easily check, and you can well imagine browser extensions that automatically indicate the credibility of an article.  But that would mean more people would care, and that should push back on the providers.

So really, if someone is telling you something (or posting, or publishing), you shouldn’t need to necessarily believe him.  Is he just making things up?  Did he get the facts wrong?  Is he deliberately distorting the picture?  For important issues like climate change and GMO foods, you can and should find out for yourself who to trust on the subject.

Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, again

Late this Saturday morning I eagerly answered the door, expecting a visit from a landscaper.  Instead, I met two religious evangelists.

Although they did not identify themselves until I asked for details, they turned out to be Jahovah’s Witnesses.  Not too long ago I had a similar visit, and was not very prepared.  I wanted to know more about them, so later I checked on the Internet. The Wikipedia article has a section on beliefs but wasn’t really the kind of practical details I was interested in.  I also tried You-Tube, since I knew there was a lot posted in reaction to other evangelists.  Perhaps if Jahovah’s Witnesses themselves posted some videos instead of just going door to door, there would be ten times as many posted in response, dissecting every statement and analyzing every point made.  But all I found were a few odd cartoons to expound on what JW’s believed and how they acted.

I’m still interested in a definitive (yet brief!) summary.  But here are some things I’ve learned about them:

  • The world is ending!  This time for sure!
  • No blood transfusions allowed!
  • Probably no modern medicine, but strictness varies.
  • Against education.  Instead of college, young people go door knocking, and don’t get paid for it.
  • No holidays or celebrations at all, not even birthdays.
  • Creationists.
  • Hostile toward homosexuals.

So this time, I at least knew what their group stood for.  I could probably argue over several points of their doctrine, if the matter came up.  But, what did he want?

The implicit assumption is that the real goal, in the long term, is “Join our cult; believe the same things we do; do exactly as we do.”  But that’s not what they come out and say.

This one (the talkative of the pair) seemed to be saying that he wanted to “spread the good news”, and had some thesis about making the world a better place and Man alone can’t manage it.  In the half hour that I talked with him, I learned that they feel compelled to do their characteristic door-to-door stuff because of some passage in the Bible.

He also thinks that the Holy Bible is the first and oldest Holy book, even older than the Torah!  That the Old Testament is, in fact, older than the Christian collection is not something he was willing to accept.

But it still leaves me wondering what I should have said.  Any (serious) pointers or suggestions?