Sunday, March 30, 2008

Too many books to read

(dare I say it). Since Christmas, I seem to have acquired several thousand pages of books, and I am just not keeping up. Here are the books outstanding:

Desiring God, by John Piper
A Fraction of the Whole, by Steve Toltz (to review)
The Design Matrix, by Mike Gene (to finish - about half way through)
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever (to finish - about half way through)
Shakespeare's Plays (think it's about time I worked my way through those that I haven't read - which is most)
The third and fourth volumes of the "Ender's Game" series, by Orson Scott Card
1 Out Of 10 by Peter Hyman
The Heart of Evangelism, by Jerram Barrs
A couple of books by Alvin Plantinga that I've had since the previous Christmas!
One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to those Seeking God, by Christian Scharen

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Design Matrix - First Post

It must be a nervy time to be a thinking ateleologist. It might have seemed as though the anti-ID brigade had successfully fended off their challenge - proponents of ID in general could be dismissed as creationists in a cheap tuxedo (although they weren't, in general); an apparent counter-example had been found for Behe's irreducible complexity (although it wasn't one); Dembski had failed to successfully apply Complex Specified Information to real life; the Privileged Planet had been dismissed as the Weak Anthropic Principle (although it wasn't). And yet ...

A Meaningful World showed how narrowly you need to look at the world to regard it as having no meaning. There is also still the unsettling fact, pointed out early in The Design Matrix, that biology works using engineering and design terminology, rather than physics or chemistry terminology. There's still the fact that, setting aside the genetic code, every example of encoded information that we know about has come about through intelligent agency. And whilst the ateleologist may feel that the explanations offered are making great inroads into understanding the world from a naturalistic perspective, teleologists looking on are becoming increasingly confident that the darwinist explanation is not satisfactory on its own as a comprehensive description of the progress from the earliest life to today, but is perhaps no more than a special case. In fact, Mike Gene, the pseudonymous author of The Design Matrix, makes the point that had crossed my mind some years ago, that a good designer allows his or her designs to adapt to changing environments, otherwise they risk an early obsolescence.

The purpose of the book is not to "prove" that there is a designer - the author points out early on that much of the debate has foundered because both sides assume they can either prove or refute design in one easy step. The God Delusion is an example of that. So rather than trying to do that, Mike Gene is seeking to come to a conclusion firstly as to whether design is possible, and from there whether it is plausible, and then whether it is probable.

I haven't got a long way into his arguments, yet, although it is a good read. As with many other of the best books, The Design Matrix is too full of good quotations to meaningfully pick just one or two. But I intend to post again on it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Telebid - don't do it!

Telebid have significant amounts of advertising on Facebook, promoting the auction of new items at apparently very good prices, so I thought I'd go and see how it worked.

Here's their guide for new people.

's some commentary on how the whole thing actually works.

Effectively, it is bidding with added gambling. Unlike eBay, a late bid can extend the auction - that's a feature that would probably improve eBay. Unlike eBay, each bid only adds a few pence to the price - again, no problem with that. But most significantly, unlike eBay, you pay Telebid (50p!) for each bid that you make. It is this radical difference that makes Telebid gambling.

So supposing an item - let's say a mobile phone worth £100 - is sold for £20. To get to £20 from the starting price of 10p, there will have been about 200 bids, each of which cost 50p. The "lucky winner" may have only bid once, and only pay 50p for that bid, and the £20 closing price. However, to get to that price, another 199 bids will have been made and been unsuccessful. And the total income Telebid gets from those bids is about £100 on its own. Whoever made those bids gets nothing for them. So the person getting the phone for £20 may have done well. Telebid have certainly done well. But all the other bidders have done very badly.

Bids cost 50p each, even when they are unsuccessful. To highlight the fact that the real winner here will be Telebid, it is even possible to bid on "FreeBid vouchers". As I write, a bidding war is going on for a 300 FreeBid voucher. The price has reached £22.19, and the auction is continuing. So, with an increment on this auction of 7p per bid, 315 bids have been made for the right to make 300 bids. The "winner" may end up with the right to make 300 bids. But the real winner is Telebid, which will have already received over 300 bids as payment for the voucher. (An auction for just 150 FreeBids has reached over £41. That's £205 in bids for £75 worth of bids.)

If you are the sort of person who thinks, "It might be me" - as the National Lottery campaign used to suggest - this might be your cup of tea. Or if you are prepared to work out a system and cynically apply it, exploiting all the other suckers on the site, you might enjoy it. For the rest of the world, I would strongly suggest leaving well alone.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another couple of photos

Here is a house in Levi. Notice balconies on different levels. Many houses also have ladders on the outside. I guess this is really to allow access if the doors on the ground floor are blocked. In addition, the "ground" floor of many houses is often several feet above the level of the ground around.

Timber was the dominant material used, although a new hotel being built in Levi was the usual concrete box structure. Rooves are often flattish, and the snow tends to sit on it - adding a layer of insulation in the winter.
This is a through road in a town in Levi, Northern Finland - notice the signpost at the junction. Also notice that it is basically covered in compacted ice and snow. Even the main roads don't have ice and snow completely removed. And gritting/salting doesn't really clear snow if the temperature is too low, as it often will be here.

Snow is cleared after it falls - we heard snowploughs working through the night. It is often banked up between the road and the pavement - which has the effect of both providing a protective wall for pedestrians, and also providing a buffer for cars that lose traction (though I didn't notice that happening very often). In between significant snowfalls, the layers of snow get dirty - the places where dogs have weed marked until the next snow! (We didn't take a photo of this....). You can see layers in the snow by the road, like geological strata, marking the course of the season.

So the locals simply get used to driving on icy roads. I wonder if the fact that you psychologically get used to being slightly wary of your footing/roadholding is linked to the general cautiousness of the Scandinavian temperament.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Photos from Lapland again

The traditional Lappish accommodation is the kota, a kind of teepee. The ones we saw were made from wood, and shaped like teepees familiar from Westerns. In the centre would be an open fire, with a supply of wood. In addition to keeping the teepee warm, this would be used for heating drinks and cooking.

The "traditional" fare offered was warmed berry juice (think hot Ribena) and grilled pancakes, with berry jam or sugar, served in carved wooden cups and bowls. Around the edge of the kota would be wooden benches, covered in reindeer fur.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel

A bit of hyperbole for a Wednesday morning?

From here.
Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution? By Suzan Mazur

It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them "the Altenberg 16" – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accomodate "other" new phenomena. So the theory Charles Darwin gave us, which was dusted off and repackaged 70 years ago, seems about to be reborn as the "Extended Evolutionary Synthesis".
Incidentally, although I've gone quiet on ID for now, this is basically because I didn't feel the discussions here were adding anything to what had gone before. I am still not convinced that mutations in DNA can generally be an engine of selection for structures on a completely different scale; I still don't think that there is evidence that evolutionary processes can move smoothly over biological quantum leaps (eg. changes in numbers of chromosomes, addition of new structures); I'm still not convinced by "selfish-gene" type explanations of behavioural phenomena, which seem like post-hoc rationalisation. And I still think that The God Delusion is the laziest bit of scientific/philosophical writing I've read in 20 years.