Category Archives: Scrappy Doos

It’s cosmological arguments all the way down

For those keeping score not only has Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel Not to Feature an Actual Horror Novel, Brian Niemeier got a new post about the existence of god up (https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/a-proof-for-god.html ) but in a outbreak of morphic resonance John C Wright has a post up about the cosmological argument as well (http://www.scifiwright.com/2019/04/an-uncaused-first-cause/ ). There’s an excellent take down of the Wright post in the comments that’s well worth a read.

I’ll stick to Brian’s post:

“What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.”

OK but does he transcend time? Does he transcend mathematics? Does he transcend logic? Earlier Brian dismissed discussion about a god “making boulders he cannot lift” but there’s a reason why such cliched argument keep cropping up. What the heck does “all powerful” mean and what are the limitations to that. “No limitations” is fine and a god that can (but chooses not to) do paradoxical things is also fine but if we have a being that transcends logic then any argument about the necessary properties of that being is hogwash. On the other hand, if the being does not transcend logic then, sorry, you’ve still got to deal with tiresome questions about unliftable boulders and who shaves God’s beard if he doesn’t shave himself

“Anyone who says God’s existence can’t be proven is either ignorant or lying. The deception usually lies in moving the goalposts regarding what constitutes evidence. Materialists are fond of demanding physical proof of God while they themselves required no physical proof for materialism.

The claim that God’s existence can’t be proven contains another subtle a priori bias. It assumes that God exists in the same way that a hydrogen atom, a pencil, or an aardvark exists; that is, contingently within the order of creation. God does not have existence per se. It’s more accurate to say that God is Being. The Bible sees eye to eye with Aristotle here. “I Am that I Am.”

That last bit is the Popeye argument: I yam what I yam. It no more demonstrates god’s existence than it demonstrates Popeye’s.

The deception lies in moving the goalpost, says Brian, as he busily digs up the posts from one end of the field and moves them to the parking lot. ‘Exist’ normally means to exist physically but fair enough, there’s other kinds of ‘existing’. Popeye has tattoos (you can see them in the picture) so they ‘exist’ in a narrow sense but we all get that Popeye isn’t real and niether are his tattoos. Gods clearly can ‘exist’ in the sense that fictional beings exist. They exist in the sense that we can have discussions about them. Ficitional beings can have fictional truths about them: Popeye is a sailor and a man. How do I know? Because he is Popeye the Sailor Man!

But if I concede that ‘exist’ can mean something other than physically exist then maybe God exists in someway that is more real than fictional but a the same time not the same as physically existing? Sure! I really can’t prove that’s not the case and it’s not intrinsically irrational if that’s where your faith takes you. However, Brian wants to prove that God exists really real and that’s going to take more effort.

But before we go any further it’s worth pointing out an issue Brian has skipped over. Brian is dismissing God existing in a materialist physical sense. Brian also thinks *JESUS* existed in a physical sense. He’s half a step from demonstrating that Jesus was not God. There’s ways around that but I think most of them are heretical from a strict Catholic perspective. I digress.

“In truth, absolute, uncaused, necessary Being is self-explanatory. The physical universe is more in need of an explanation–both from its origins and at every moment–than the eternal, transcendent God.”

Brian is nodding back to the ontological argument: god is a necessary being and therefore exists because he necessarily exists because we said so. See Popeye above. However, today’s “proof” will be the cosmological argument instead:

“The most elegant and time-tested arguments for absolute Being are the cosmological arguments refined by St. Thomas Aquinas. Moderns and Postmoderns will glibly scoff that these arguments have long been discredited. But each attempt to refute the classical arguments from cosmology, such as David Hume’s, is revealed as a straw man under scrutiny.”

Yes, moderns, post-moderns et al will glibly scoff at the cosmological argument, also there was some scoffing at in the Middle Ages. The link is to a post by Edward Feser who I have discussed before and is a key source for a lot of this necromantic attempts to revive Thomas Aquinas. That link is worth following but it doesn’t adequately deal with the objection, it just points out that the objection has similar problems rather than making the problems go away.

Anyway the next step is the interesting one:

“Here’s a common cosmological argument. An apple ripens on a tree branch. That means the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness, and that potential was put into act. We can rightly ask where the impetus to actualize that potential came from. Apples aren’t self-sufficient. They need water, sunlight, and a host of other conditions to grow. You can try locating the source of the apple’s actualization in any or all of these contingencies, but that just kicks the can a little farther down the road since water, the sun, etc. all contain potentialities requiring external contingencies to actualize.”

You’ll note there’s another assumption of existence there: “the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness”. The assumption is that potentials are also things that exist in some sense or other. Brian then asks us to imagine what made all these dominoes of potentiality knock each other over.

“Positing that it’s contingent beings all the way down doesn’t do any good. That just gets you an infinite train of boxcars with no locomotive. Such a train would be incapable of motion. Similarly, an infinite chain of contingent causality could never move the apple from unripeness to ripeness.”

Except it doesn’t. The added hidden assumption here is that there can be no cases of something happening FOR NO REASON. “Reason” in the sense of things having a reason to happen is central to understanding how the term “cause” is used in these arguments. A bunch of random stuff just happening because of no reason at all is regarded as axiomatically not possible. Of course LOGICALLY we cannot assume that. It has not been established that everything happens for a reason and there’s good (ahem) reason to think the opposite. Sure, random effects at a quantum level MAY have hidden causes but there’s no logical reason to think they must. It’s an assumption, a reasonable and appealing and maybe even aesthetically nice assumption but not one that we can prove. If anything, it’s a habit of mind that we adopt because it is handy at the macro level and has a survival advantage when dealing with other human beings.

[Ed. Why not? Because there would be an infinite number of preceding steps that would have to be completed before the apple could ripen. But by definition, an infinite series of steps can never be completed.]”

Eeek. This is just an unforced error. I’d pick on it but Brian doesn’t need this point for his argument. Having said that over at John C Wright, he’s also trying to be moderate with his views on infinity:

“Infinite is a word that causes endless confusion. All it means is that there is no boundary, no stopping point, or, in this case, no starting point.
We call the number line infinite not because any real human being in real history ever counted all the numbers that exist and discovered that there were an infinite number of them: no, that is nonsense.
What we mean is that there is a rule of mathematics that says that for any given number, no matter how big, you can always add one and get a bigger number. There is no end point to the process of adding.”

Good grief, if I was going to start believing in a god it would be precisely so I wouldn’t need to be so mealy mouthed about actual infinities. Having said that, I think this is in line with Aristotle’s view on infinities, as in no limits to extension rather than there being an actual thing called infinity.

Except…well you can see the problem. Infinities don’t ‘exist’ in the materialist sense of exist as far as we can tell. We don’t find them in nature and either at the very big or the very small. Everywhere we have looked we find very big finitudes or tiny granularities. But we’ve admonished to take off our materialist spectacles and consider existence from the perspective of things with NECESSARY properties. Well in that sense of ‘exist’, the mathematical sense, we have not just infinity but infinities — an infinite number of infinities.

Circling back to both Wright and Niemeier, they want their version of god to exist in the mathematical sense of existing (which may not be existing at all) and also be a thinking person even though the are no examples of thing that only exists in the mathematical sense being a thinking person and all examples of thinking people exist materially.

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Triangles are the new front in the culture war and are possibly being controlled by demons

Imagine, if you will, a triangle. I’ll make it a very specific one. It has a base of 18 centimetres and a perpendicular height of 9 centimetres. It even has a specific orientation with its base horizontal on a grid. Here it is (or at least a version of it)

Am I being wholly honest? The actual picture I’m showing you is a .png file and you are viewing it on a computer screen. The image is made of tiny squares (visible with a magnifying glass) and the file itself, the more abstract description of the image, is a .png i.e. in principle a set of coordinates of colour information for a grid of data. Does that matter? The answer is “It depends”.

Here’s the image again and superimposed a set of largeish squares. They are there to represent a low-resolution version of the pixelated triangle.

Make the squares a bit smaller and our shpae made from squares begins to look a lot more akin to a triangle:

You get the picture. Smaller and smaller squares make for a smoother image. The first set of stacked squares really doesn’t look much like a triangle but with smaller and more squares the image gets more and more like a triangle. How small do the squares have to be for it to be REALLY a triangle? Trick question.

Here’s a different way of looking at it. As I make the squares smaller the area of the stacked squares gets closer and closer to the are of the triangle we would find from the classic half-the-base-times-the-perpendicular-height formula. Our stacked squares shape literally gets more triangular as far as area goes as we improve the resolution.

But what about the perimeter? Well that’s a mess. It’s not even clear whether perimeter is meaningful. We could define it taking into encounter the edges of the nominal squares. If we do that then (I think, correct me if I’m wrong) the perimeter would tend towards the perimeter of a 9 by 18 rectangle. Ooops. My pixelated triangle is getting more rectangular. However, if I treat the perimeter as meaning “number of pixels on the outside of the shape” then I get a different limit.

Yeah but make them small enough and it is basically a triangle right? Sure, unless you really care about counting pixels, in which case not so much. Every real, physical manifestation of a geometric entity is a messy, not entirely correct compromise. Doing actual useful maths with real things requires understanding the extent to which a thing is and isn’t the “pure” mathematical entity it resembles.

This is a basic fact about the universe. It’s true whether you take a strong Platonic realist view of mathematical entities (i.e. they really are really real, maybe even more real than other things) or not (i.e. they are essentially fictional abstractions that are useful but less real than physical stuff that you can bump your head on).

Too cut a long story slightly shorter I sort of maybe tried to engage our old pal and the inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Story That Is Actually A Space Opera Brian Niemeier about this. My excuse is that he said that “necessary being is what theologians mean by God.” and logically necessary things are to me like a flame is to a moth. Brian’s going to be doing the ontological argument for the existence of god and by golly if there’s one think I have opinions on it’s that. Then he used the necessary properties of a triangle as an example…

Anyway, the guy thinks I’m a demon anyway, so if he does the equivalent of drawing a summoning circle for me, I really have no choice but to manifest in a puff of sulphur. https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about.html

The discussion ended with this:

“You have two choices.
1) Confess that Jesus is the Christ, and God has raised Him from the dead. I shall forgive your violation of my hospitality, and you may continue commenting here.
2) You decline to make this just and logically irrefutable profession, and you cease commenting here. Persist in commenting without meeting my terms, and you get spammed.”

Point 1 apparently is how he expels demonically controlled beings from his blog. Which worked because I then vanished back to my demonic lair without even once twisting my head around 360 degrees. Brian then followed it up with an additional rant about the left being controlled by demons, in particular Doris: https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/im-not-saying-its-demons.html

Anyway, how was your day?

Did fandom cause the collapse of civilisation or vice versa? Let’s Assume Neither :)

It’s been a long time since I linked to a post by the improbable 2016 Campbell Award Finalist and Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel That Was Actually A Space Opera, Brian Niemeier but a posy at his blog caught my eye [direct link, archive link].

Brian’s politics mixes standard alt-right nationalism and misogyny with a particularly reactionary form of Catholicism. People may recall Brian’s concern that literal demons are controlling the left (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/demons-and-witches-and-the-left/ ), so not exactly a Pope Francis or Vatican II fan.

Anyway, Brian has a hypothesis about religion and fandom:

“Kicking Christianity out of public life didn’t usher in a bright, sexy chrome utopia. Instead of directing their pious energies into scientific pursuits, America did what everyone does absent Christianity: They turned pagan.”

‘X-thing is a religion’ is a bit of a cliche but I don’t think that analysis is wholly wrong. Rather, I don’t think religion is really a single social phenomenon at all but a whole bunch of things — which is why cultures don’t follow one of Christianity/Islam/Judaism have quite different boundaries as to what is and isn’t religious and how religion plays a role in wider society*. So, sure, I can believe there’s some commonality between fandoms and religion.

Indeed, I’d go further and say that I think how we engage with fiction and products of the imagination has a close connection with spirituality and how religion has become a part of human culture. Brian is making a different argument though:

“Human beings are wired for worship. If social pressure discourages worshiping God, those with less fortitude will worship trees, rocks, or even plastic figurines.


Religious identity was the engine that built the West, and it’s still a major motivating force elsewhere in the world. What has happened in the American Empire is that Christian identity has shattered, and the pieces have been scattered throughout various hobbies.


Which was precisely what the main players in the Enlightenment wanted–to reduce religion to a hobby indulged in the home with no effect on public life.”

Fandom therefore being the eventual warped expression of people’s instinct towards religion suppressed by the machinations of Enlightenment philosophers. I think we can safely assume that this is not the case. However, the next paragraph is what really caught my eye:

“To see how people’s identities have gotten mixed up in their hobbies, take a quick glance at the ‘gate controversies popping up among various fandoms on a more or less daily basis. #GamerGate was the big one, but it failed due to infiltration by controlled opposition and exploitation by online grifters. It’s telling that every subsequent fandom revolt has enjoyed a brief honeymoon period before skipping straight to the “milked by grifters” stage. “If a man loses faith in God, he doesn’t believe nothing, he’ll believe anything,” is illustrative here.”

It can be hard to tell with the alt-right what is a bad-faith nonsense and what is sincere nonsense. Occasional you get paragraphs like this that are so lacking in self-awareness that they can only be a sincere expression of some very confused beliefs.

As a reminder: Brian was not a major figure in the high points of the Sad Puppy campaigns (a relevant example of one of the right wing uprisings in fandom) but leveraged those campaigns to get his books promoted by the Rabid Puppy slates into a Campbell nomination and a Dragon Award. Brian was also the charmer who tried to stir up a second Dragon Award nomination into another culture war battlefront in a bid to get more votes for his book. (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ) There may be better example of the ‘milked by grifters’ stage of the Sad Puppy Campaigns but only because it was never not a grift but Brian is a good example of late stage band wagon jumping.

“Few now can imagine–by design–a time when popular culture wasn’t partitioned into myriad fractured fandoms. Sure, people had different tastes, but there were cultural touchstones everybody shared, and more of them. Everybody tuned in to The Shadow. Everybody read Edgar Rice Burroughs. Everybody saw Gone with the Wind. But a people with a shared culture and a strong identity is hard to conquer, so universal popular culture had to go. Fandom was the murder weapon used to kill Western culture.”

Again a reminder: Brian writes anime-inspired right wing science fiction about people fighting in space-robot suits. He’s not exactly aiming for the mainstream. It’s that lack of awareness of his own micro-niche writing that makes me think he genuinely believes that’s what happened — that rather than technology and population growth making it economically easier for people to find stories that appealed to more finely delineated niches, that this was an actual plot to divide society.

Does he really think he would be happier if the only books or films available where the most mainstream ones? Also, if he believed that then shouldn’t he be doing his utmost to just consume the most modally consumed media? But it is like the person who wants religion to be mandatory who doesn’t get that it wouldn’t necessarily be their religion that would be enforced

He finishes his essay thus:

“Fortunately, there are creators laboring to forge new culture in the tradition of our ancestors. For a refreshing take on the mecha genre that clears away all the stale cliche cobwebs, check out my new martial thriller Combat Frame XSeed.”

Irony is dead, a knock-off Kindle Unlimited far right combat mecha killed it.

*[Not that Christianity, Islam or Judaism follow the same template either, but the similarities are what tend to shape what Western culture regards as the things a religion has: a god, a priest, a temple, a holy book, quasi-laws, exclusivity]

FEED MY EGO!

I’m sorry to post a link to the Federalist of all things and to an article by Timothy’s erstwhile client and infamous litigant Jon Del Arroz but this is just way to funny not have here: http://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

“The establishment became angry. Several of the elite commentator class posted blogs, such as one by Hugo Award-nominated Camestros Felapton—a left wing troll known for antagonizing right-wing authors—who criticized 20Books for alleged rigging of the awards. His evidence was a post by one of the members in the Facebook group listing dozens of works by the group that were eligible for the current year. He calls it a “slate”—a term the establishment used to rile up their ranks against the Sad Puppies with the Hugo Awards controversy, where right-leaning authors tried to break the lockstep nominations of extreme political works.

The Sad Puppies produced slates of recommended nominations to make it more likely for readers to coalesce around certain books, which would then have better odds of succeeding. Martelle takes exception to the claim applying here, however, saying, “There was no slate or violation of the rules.”

The targeted blogs and social media posts are a coordinated effort by traditional publishing’s elites to diminish 20BooksTo50K’s credibility among establishment publishing and brand them as a political organization to fight. In 2019, being apolitical has become akin to declaring your politics to the extreme left. Much of the left has taken an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude to try to harm people who don’t want to take sides in the culture war. It’s a dangerous view to take, as writers have been blacklisted and banned, and now even worse.”

Archived version https://web.archive.org/web/20190304152905/http://thefederalist.com/2019/03/04/indie-sci-fi-authors-upending-traditional-publishing-turned-war/

As you can imagine, this is causing some tension in the house as Timothy has always wanted a column in the Federalist and now I’m there before him.

Captain Marvel versus the Trolls

Multiple news sources are covering that the new (and as yet unseen) Captain Marvel movie is being review-bombed by right wing trolls. The amount of coverage of this has itself increased just in the past few hours but this link seems to be one of the first articles on it: https://comicbook.com/marvel/2019/02/19/captain-marvel-rotten-tomatoes-fake-reviews-sabotage/

I’d actually thought about writing about how the alt-right campaign against the film had started to warm up the other day after seeing our old-pal Vox Day jump on the bandwagon (archive link)…but didn’t because I’m lazy and/or got distracted. What I can offer instead of an amazingly insightful prediction that obnoxious misogynists are about to be misogynistic obnoxiously is some graphs!

I grabbed the review data from Rotten Tomatoes so that I can show graphically the influx of reviews. Unfortunately, I would have liked to show another film for comparison but it’s hard to get a like for like. The nearest equivalent with a similar release date and no pre-screening reviews yet is Disney’s live action version of Dumbo. That has only one page of user reviews/comments so far, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s six pages but I don’t think it is a like-for-like in terms of organic interest.

Here’s the first graph for Captain Marvel. It’s a running total of comments over time. It’s a longgggg time axis because the first comment is from 2015! Rotten Tomatoes (and similar sites) create entries for movies that have been announced even before production begins.

Interest (mainly positive but some negative) starts picking up from last July and subsequent trailers lead to more comments (again some positive and some negative). Some of the coverage of this troll attack is focused on the absurdity of people rating films that haven’t been seen yet but at this point, it is technically Rotten Tomatoes allowing people to say whether they are “Not interested” or “Want to see it”. Some of the comments are literally spam and some of the earlier comments are anti-Disney etc.

The next graph zooms in to the last few months:

There’s a spike of comments in February. Obviously some of that is an inevitable increase as the release date gets closer but the more overt hate comments really ramp up. The worst include comments about the lead actress (Brie Larson) being hit by a bus. The length of the comments also increase in the form of what are best called rants:

“Why Marvel decided to cast a very vocal racist and sexist aimed at white males, I’ll never know. If Robert Downey Jr. started saying that he didn’t care about the opinions of 40 year old white chicks and he doesn’t want to be interviewed by a white woman as its not inclusive enough, people would lose their minds. His career would be over, branded a racist and sexist, attacked in the media and his legacy tarnished. As a white male, I will not be supporting this or any other movie that stars Brie Larson. They say that Captain Marvel will be the new face of the MCU? As the villain because she certainly isn’t a her-o. “

How many is it though? Well, one comment anticipating somebody dying in a bus accident is one too many but for a sense of scale it’s about 14 comments over the past 10 days that are of the ‘arrghh SJWs! Feminazi!’ style crap. It’s not a huge number and the spike shown above is inflated by other people querying why there are so many anti comments for a film nobody has seen yet.

It’s a reasonable assumption that this is just the start though.

Gab is the walking dead now

Speaking of far-right social media alternatives, Gab the ‘free-speech’ alt-twitter that became so toxic even toxic-trolls stopped using it, is somehow still in existence. However, Gab’s own web host is questioning the number of users it has. A Southern Poverty Law Center report on Friday reveals a huge discrepancy between the number of users Gab claims to have and the number it probably has:

‘In a series of interviews, emails and text messages, Lilac Kapul said Gab’s claims in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings on Dec. 19 and Jan. 28 of more than 835,000 users greatly exceeds the internet infrastructure capacity that London-based Sibyl is providing to Gab. Kapul, a resident of Brisbane, Australia, also said Gab’s user data indicates that most of the active users on the site signed up soon after it was launched in August 2016, raising questions about Gab’s claims of rapid growth. “Based on what they are getting through us services-wise there is no way they have 800,000 users, or it would be very odd if they did,” Kapul told Hatewatch. “I would say they probably have a few thousand or a few tens of thousands. That sounds a lot more believable.”

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/02/14/no-way-gab-has-800000-users-web-host-says

Perhaps the more interesting story in the SPLC piece is not Gab but the shadowy web-hosting service they use called “Sibyl”. Based in London but run apparently by people in their late-teens scattered in different countries, the company also is a web host for a “incel” forum and has even dodgier connections than that.

Grift all the way down

A recurring theme when looking at the media-right (and so much of the modern right is about its interaction or control of entertainment and news media) is the layers of grift, scams, self-promotion and get-rich-quick schemes.

The money fueling the right has long derived from rich donors such as the Koch brothers and the Mercer family. Added to this have been relatively wealthy children who fuel their media careers off inherited wealth — both models depend on the deep income inequalities in modern Western society and the concentration of wealth.

The third element is the attempt to pull in money from more distributed sources. YouTube advertising revenues are an obvious source but I’d add book sales and more general website advertising as well. What is not clear is how much the alt-right is fueled from above and how much from below.

With the specific focus on science-fiction media, the question has been the extent to which an outfit like Castalia House is a hobby funded out of Vox Day’s pocket versus it being a going concern pulling in cash from Vox Day’s followers. Clearly there are elements of both but at the end of the day, does one source exceed another?

I doubt we’ll know the answer to such questions anytime soon but here’s an interesting data point. Milo Yiannopolous has suffered multiple setbacks of late:

  • He was ostracised by conservatives because of his stated views on under-age sex
  • His book was cancelled by a major publisher (Simon & Schuster) and he had to self-publish it
  • Robert Mercer family stopped funding him
  • His own attempt at a Milo-branded media website flopped
  • He attempted to sue Simon & Schuster because of the book cancellation and then had to drop the lawsuit
  • His speaking tour of Australia got cancelled due to lack of interest leading to further legal woes
  • He was banned from PayPal after using the service to send anti-semitic content to a Jewish journalist

In relation to that Australian tour, a series of Tweets appeared today purporting to have court documents about Milo’s finances. Now, the authenticity of these documents haven’t been verified but they appear to be genuine.

(see also here: https://www.lgbtqnation.com/2018/12/newly-released-documents-show-milo-yiannopoulos-serious-financial-debts/ )

The ‘running debt’ spreadsheet has some familiar names on it:

Milo running debt spreadsheet entries

The debts all appear to be money owed from columns on Milo’s “Dangerous.com” website (e.g. John senior wrote about four columns and Jon junior wrote some columns and some news articles) It’s small sums of money that most of these names are owed but collectively it looks like Milo has lots of debts and very little income.

Although this sheds some light on the inner finances of one “alt-lite” media figure, the core questions remain. What has hit Milo hardest? The loss of patronage from the Mercers or the loss of the more distributed income due to PayPal closing access?

For the time being, we can all appreciate that somebody who set out to ruin many people’s lives is having a hard time paying their bills.