Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Foreword

Welcome back!

Here I just want to lay out what can be expected of this blog. What follows began as the germ of an idea on the Richard Dawkins forum some years ago, prior to its ignominious demise. It was eventually to be a book, compiled from the posts of the members of the forum, and dealing with how we think about things, what we think of as knowledge, and why we think that. The idea was to lay out, in easily accessible terms, how to go about assessing truth-claims, what tools were necessary and how to acquire them.

Now, for those coming to these pages for the first time without any prior experience of my output from all the places on the internet in which I've been writing for the past decade, I should probably declare my prejudice - or, more accurately, post-judice - up front: I'm an atheist. This doesn't mean, for me, that I actively believe that nothing that could reasonably be described as a deity exists, only that I don't actively believe that any such entity does. But that's a topic for another post.

In each post, I'm going to try, as comprehensively as I can, to tackle a specific area, or a specific claim. Some of the posts will be addressing common arguments for such claims such as deities, aliens (and the probability that we might have been visited by them and/or anally probed), expanding Earth, creationism (and ID, a.k.a creationism in a stolen lab-coat), perpetual motion machines, claims concerning evolution, superluminal travel, quantum teleportation (and what we actually mean by that), and a whole host of other things.

When I joined the Richard Dawkins forum, it was somewhere I'd just chanced upon, while looking for some scientific information pertaining to a particular claim. I'm an autodidact, and a didact. I love to learn, and I love to teach. In the forum, I found somewhere that I could do both, the former by engaging with tenured professional scientists in their fields of study and testing my understanding against that of the professionals, and the latter by delivering that learning to others. I've always enjoyed finding really good analogies that firm up my understanding of a subject area, and I found I had a knack for formulating and delivering them. Oh, and swearing. A lot. Here's a nice précis of why this is desirable and, some would argue, even necessary (though not in the technical definition of 'necessary').

There was such a wealth of knowledge and understanding there, and plenty of instances of those with claims they wanted to lay at the door of the heathen skeptics to see if they stacked up (they fairly uniformly didn't). It occurred to me that it would be wonderful to put all of that knowledge and understanding in one place that one could pluck off one's bookshelf at will and peruse. Then the forum went tits-up.

We moved ourselves, and set up a new forum at Ratskep, and the idea went on the back-burner. I toyed around with it for a while, and it internally morphed into a book just about what I'd learned about thinking, about science, and about how to assess truth-claims.

What will unfold here is basically that idea, though it will be all my own writing.

With all of the above in mind, I wish to acknowledge the help I've had from many and diverse people over the years, far too numerous to recall completely. This set is composed of all the people I've ever interacted with during discussion of these topics including, and in some cases especially, those with whom I've shared disagreements. I would like to name a few, though. I'll use their forum names, as I don't even know quite a few of their real names. They can mostly be found at the above address, or in some other places which I'll link to.

First, I want to thank LIFE, for providing us with a lifeboat after the night of the long knives. Calilasseia, famous blue flutterby, entomologist and mathematician, whose broad knowledge of diverse topics, including an almost autistic knowledge of Linnaean Taxonomy have, at various whiles, kept me astounded and entertained in equal measure. Goldenmane, because he's a cunt. DarwinsBulldog, for his steady stream of new material from the primary literature, especially in evolutionary theory, and for his challenges to my own thoughts. I especially want to thank Twistor59 and Campermon, physicist and physics teacher respectively, for their invaluable input in firming up my understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics.Pulsar, for the  brilliant knowledge of physics, the beautiful sums, and the fantastic LaTeX tutorial (shame it isn't working...), Vazscep and Thommo, mathematicians and logicians, for not laughing too hard when I talked crap about mathematics, and for helping me to find things to say about it that weren't crap, as well as for being among the only people I know of who can talk about consciousness without talking through an orifice most readily associated with a more solid form of waste, to borrow a phrase from the aforementioned blue butterfly. Vazscep also warrants a special mention for helping me out with Gödel's incompleteness theorems. susu.exp, for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the minutiae of the modern quantitative synthesis of evolutionary theory, probability, chaos, Bell's theorem and its implications, and many other areas. Darkchilde, for her helps with various areas of physics and mathematics. Evolving, for hers. Fallible, for her incisiveness and her humour. Cito di Pense, for his wonderful sarcasm and often labyrinthine prose, which I always liken to Edmund Blackadder on steroids, and for his laser-like precision in identifying the guff. Speaking of lasers, Occam'sLaser, for his pragmatic analysis. ADParker, for the same reason. surreptitious57, for that trick so beloved of three-year-olds (but why..?) which, while sometimes frustrating, always has me grasping for better ways to explain things, and keeps me looking closely at what I think I know. Starr, for her patience and for her impromptu songs about forum members. Pappa and Rachel, for just being fabulous friends. Rumraket, for his exceptional knowledge of evolutionary pathways and the chemical foundations thereof. Genes4Life, research oncologist, who may one day change the world, for his dedication to real knowledge, his height and his ability to dodge raindrops (seriously, if you want to see string theory in action, he's yer man!) Shrunk, headshrinker, for his takedowns. Sciwoman, whose coming-out tale still puts a lump in my throat. Paul Almond, philosopher, for his analytical skill and humour. Sendraks, ScholasticSpastic (quoted as saying that you've got to be a real asshole to quote yourself), and many others. Spinoza'sGalt, for my lovely avatar, and for his incisiveness. Also AndromedasWake, AronRa, Lawrence Krauss, Gawdzilla, JustATheory, Cdesignproponensists, RoaringAtheist, Opiedid, Concordance, Potholer54, my old friend DPR Jones, CDK007, Ozmoroid , philhellenes and, indeed, all the rest of the rationalist crowd at Youtube.
 

I could keep this up at some length, and I'll necessarily miss some off that I would have wanted to include, so I'll simply say thanks to all the members of RDF, Ratskep, Rationalia, The League of Reason (these latter two especially for opening their doors to us after the demise of RDF), the Atheist Foundation of Australia, TalkRational and all the other forums and social media groups I've contributed to and learned from over the years.

I'll add the usual clause here about how anything I get right is due to all those people I listed above, while anything I get wrong is my own fault. I'm more than happy to accept serious corrections, though it isn't my intention to make this a debate platform. 

So, are we sitting comfortably? Then let's begin. And where should we begin..?

Edit: Just for info, where you see blue text, it's a link. Where you see yellow text, it's a footnote in a mouse-over pop-up.