People who are not participants are welcome to comment to give book recommendations, talk about what other people are reading, or talk about books that they’ve read recently that they disagree with. If you are confused about what the epistemic closure challenge is, read this.
Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues In A Changing Culture: I was interested in reading this book before the challenge. I felt like I had a pretty good handle on the thoughts of people who oppose homophobia but who accept the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality; however, I was less certain about the beliefs of people in the same group about trans people. This book specifically explores that transness.
The Biblical position on transness is much less clear-cut than the Biblical position on homosexuality. The latter, it seems to me, is clearly “homosexuality is not a very important sin, but it is a sin”, unless you are planning to do the creative interpretation that most Christians already do about slavery, women talking in Church, etc. (I think a very plausible interpretation of Romans 1 is that homosexuality is not in and of itself sinful, but it is a punishment for sin, similar to pain in childbirth and toil in the fields. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a particularly popular position, probably because affirming churches don’t want to suggest that being gay is bad in any way.
On transness, you have Deuteronomy 22:5, but “we now know that people can have gender identities different from their sexes, and therefore a trans woman wearing men’s clothing is what’s really crossdressing” seems like a much better answer. Otherwise, one has to look at the Biblical position on eunuchs. (This is actually a much better analogy than the author thinks it is, as some eunuchs were clearly what we would call trans women.) Like homosexuality, early books of the Bible condemn eunuchs; for instance, Deuteronomy 23:1 teaches that eunuchs must not enter the temple. However, unlike homosexuality, later books walk this back; in Matthew, Jesus clearly implies acceptance of eunuchs, and in Acts, a eunuch is converted and baptized. Using Deuteronomy 23:1 as a proof text, in my opinion, clearly fails to read the Old Testament in the light of the New. I think that– whether or not it implies that Christians should transition– there is no reasonable way to interpret the Bible that means that an already transitioned Christian should detransition. And I think the Bible is far more ambiguous on transness than it is on homosexuality.
The author discusses three frameworks for understanding transness, which I think is the most interesting thing I read in this book: the diversity framework, the disability framework, and the integrity framework. The diversity framework says that transness is an alternate way of being, just as good as any other way of being; it treats transness as an identity and as a community. Strong forms of the diversity framework argue that sex and gender should be deconstructed. (The author cites Judith Butler, somehow managing to find the one paragraph where Butler manages to make a coherent point.) The disability framework says transness is a medical and mental health problem, much like depression; from a Christian perspective, it is a non-moral condition which happens to be the product of the fall. (I am mildly annoyed by this characterization of the disability framework, because I think from a Christian perspective my mental illnesses are totally how I happen to manifest original sin.) The integrity framework t holds that male-female differences and complementarity are literally sacred; God created humans male and female and intended them as companions for each other.
The author argues that the integrity, diversity, and disability frameworks should be combined by Christians into an integrated framework which affirms the sacredness of gender, offers compassion to gender dysphoric people, and allows gender dysphoric people to find meaning, identity, and community with other gender dysphoric people. I think that that’s pretty much the best view of trans people you’re going to get from an evangelical Christian, and I hope it is more widely adopted; that has great potential to reduce the harm from transphobia in evangelical communities.
I think I’m generally much less annoyed by Christian books when they aren’t trying to convince me God exists all the time. I actually agreed with this book a lot about the facts of the matter (e.g. we don’t really know the etiology of transness), although we disagreed on certain matters of values.
SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down The Thought Police: Now, you might think that after reading this I would call Vox Day racist or sexist or homophobic. But in reality the true problem with Vox Day lies much deeper. Vox Day does not understand meta-level moral reasoning.
He condemns social justice people for getting people fired from their jobs for their beliefs, then writes a list of Gamergate successes that consists solely of the various people they got fired from their jobs for their beliefs. He criticizes social justice people for thinking all white men are evil and all women and people of color are good, then says that his calling a black science fiction writer an “educated but ignorant half-savage” is not racist because he is mixed-race and therefore it is impossible for him to be racist. (Indeed, he says that calling mixed-race people racist means that there is no possible way to defend against charges of racism.) He describes the evil SJW tactic of entryism, but proudly talks about how he transformed the Sad Puppies (itself outsiders interfering in a fandom for political purposes) from an attempt to increase diversity in Hugo nominations to a Vox Day Destroys SFWA organization. He expresses his sympathy for Larry Correia when social justice people called him a wifebeater without evidence, but claims that Jim C Hines is a man you “wouldn’t allow anywhere near your children if you saw him lurking around on the playground” without presenting a single shred of evidence that Hines has ever hurt a fly, much less a child.
I mean, it’s not that I disagree with what he’s saying. It is bad to get people fired from their jobs for their beliefs! It is bad to decide people’s moral worth based on their race! It is bad to wander into other people’s groups and then decide that they’re all going to be about you now! It is bad to falsely accuse people of abuse! But I just feel that these things are also bad if Vox Day happens to be the one doing them.
Vox Day’s justification for this is that the social justice warriors started it. Of course, the social justice warriors might argue that they famously got fired for their beliefs as far back as sixty years ago, while Vox Day dates the rise of the SJW to only thirty years ago. So I think that either you can try to track down the first person ever fired for their beliefs and figure out whether they were a social justice person or not, or else everyone can just collectively agree to stop trying to fire people for their beliefs. The latter seems to be a much more effective tactic to end people getting fired for their beliefs.
Relatedly, Vox Day claims that Christian forgiveness only applies to those who have repented, to which I can only respond “forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does.”
Overall, this book gives the impression of a wildly petty person, carefully documenting every dumb tweet that has ever been sent to him on Twitter. Like, God knows I’ve wasted enough of my life in petty social media bullshit, but at least I never wrote an entire book about it. I’m actually kind of concerned? Does anyone know the last time Vox Day got some exercise? Do you think he has a vitamin D deficiency?
Ginny Weasley and the Sealed Intelligence: Recommending me fanfic is a very easy way to get me to read whatever it is you want me to read.
This is super-cute. “What if we just… subvert all the assumptions of the thing I’m writing fanfic of?” is one of my favorite genres of fanfiction. I particularly appreciated the discussion of the More Sane Squad becoming a cult. Gilderoy Lockhart’s first day of class speech was excellent: both exposition and a clever take on something in the original text. I liked the examination of how “heroic responsibility” can look like “being incredibly stuck up and refusing to listen to anybody else.” While I don’t want to describe the climax in more detail– as it’s a spoiler– I thought it was a quite thematically coherent and justified-in-story repudiation of rationality and AI risk.
I felt like many of the plot threads were rather underdeveloped. For instance, I would have liked much more about the Ginny/Luna pairing and Ginny’s worries about whether homosexuality was a sin. Early chapters led me to believe that Ginny would wind up reconciling her theism and her rationality, but I never really felt like she put the two together to my satisfaction (there were a few gestures at the simulation argument, but that is a bit of too-clever-by-half argumentation that even Ginny Weasley in story didn’t really find satisfying). The ending was extremely abrupt and felt to me like a lot of plot hooks had been left dangling; I’d have liked a few more chapters to tie things up more neatly.
There was a shoutout to me in it! Since HPMOR is completely lacking in shoutouts to me at all, I think this clearly establishes it as the superior story.
Where The Conflict Really Lies: Plantinga is very thoughtful and I enjoyed this book much more than I enjoyed the works of William Lane Craig. That said, Plantinga has a bad habit of slipping into formal logic which is very hard to understand and which often seems to cover over fallacies that would be far clearer if he wrote in prose. The amount of time he spends complaining that Dawkins is kind of mean seems very unphilosophical to me. “This person is mean” does not disprove any of their arguments!
I agreed with Plantinga on certain subjects; for instance, we both agree that methodological naturalism is bullshit. There is no principled reason to exclude the supernatural from scientific study. Our disagreement is that Plantinga believes that methodological naturalism is the product of an unwarranted bias against supernatural explanations, while I believe that methodological naturalism is a product of people being polite to religious people and/or engaging in doublethink.
Plantinga argues that evolutionary arguments for why religion exists aren’t proof that God doesn’t exist, since obviously a God who desires a personal relationship with humans would create humans who do that. I think this is an absence of probabilistic reasoning on his part. If there were no evolutionary reason for belief in God to exist, this would be evidence in favor of a personal God existing. Since there are plausible evolutionary explanations for belief in God (although admittedly some of the ones Plantinga cites are bad– “not freaking out about death” does not necessarily increase your reproductive fitness!), this decreases the likelihood that a personal God exists. Of course, it’s possible that a personal God exists.
Plantinga also seems very confused about evolutionary arguments for the development of morality. He seems to believe that people who think morality evolved think a rational person should maximize their reproductive fitness. This is, of course, absurd. It is uncontroversial that a desire for sex evolved, but few atheists believe that having sex and never having children is morally wrong. Even fewer endorse the reproductive-fitness-maximizing “in between egg donations, get pregnant once a year and give the baby up for adoption” strategy, even though this strategy allows one to have potentially more than thirty children. The cause of our desires is different from what we desire. My desires exist because they maximized the inclusive genetic fitness of my ancestors, but I don’t give a shit about inclusive genetic fitness.
I didn’t previously realize how complex cosmological fine-tuning arguments are to wrap one’s head around. I’m not even sure what it means to say the value of a particular constant is “likely” or “unlikely”. To be honest, I have washed my hands of this entire business, and if it turns out God is the most likely explanation I expect physicists to report this to me. But this does make me have somewhat more sympathy for deists, although cosmological fine-tuning doesn’t get you any traits that people typically desire in a God, such as “cares about whether people are moral”, “loves people”, “wants worship” or “has any opinion about life whatsoever beyond thinking that it is an odd byproduct of creating a universe in which there are stars, which is what God really cares about.”
Plantinga’s biological fine-tuning arguments seem far weaker to me. It seems to me that if God is going around causing animals to have mutations, one would be able to figure this out. We can argue about whether such-and-such in the fossil record is a mutation with no purpose other than to someday become a wing, but why aren’t we observing mutations with no purpose other than to someday become a wing in laboratory insect populations right now? (Perhaps God doesn’t care about beetles? But if that’s true, why did he make so many of them?) Why does genetic drift typically harm animals, instead of being guided by God so that it increases their fitness? Why don’t we notice a pattern where parasites that hurt humans are less likely to mutate than parasites that don’t? Why hasn’t HIV mutated to no longer kill people?
Plantinga keeps saying that the adequacy of the mind to understand the world is evidence for God. But I see no evidence that the mind is adequate to understand the world? There is this tiny little band of the world we can understand intuitively, and then all the rest of the time it’s like “the math definitely suggests X but no one has any idea what X would even mean.” It is very plausible that there are all kinds of quantum physics we are simply incapable of understanding.
Plantinga argues that naturalism means that it’s very unlikely that you have the reasoning ability to form consistently accurate beliefs, which means that you can’t coherently say that naturalism is true. You might say “but accurate beliefs often increase an animal’s fitness more than inaccurate beliefs!”, but that’s not necessarily true. Under naturalism, a belief is just an arrangement of atoms, caused by certain facts about the world, which leads to certain actions. We observe other arrangements of atoms in the human body which are caused by certain facts about the world and which lead to certain actions, and which have no belief content at all (for instance, reflex withdrawal from a painful stimulus); these are presumably still adaptive. So there’s no reason to believe that there’s any relationship between the belief content and the action you perform. If a zebra doesn’t run away from a lion, it will be in trouble, but it doesn’t matter if it believes that the lion is a lion, a horse, a giant mecha, a pretty flower, or the inevitable creeping death that will destroy us all.
I think that this is a dualist attempting to understand materialism and failing badly. I think his model is something like “there is an arrangement of atoms, and a connection to an epiphenomenal Belief Thing, and there is no reason to believe it has connected to the right Belief Thing.” But under materialism the arrangement of atoms is the thing that a belief is. Saying “the zebra might believe that the lion is a pretty flower and that would cause it to run away” is like saying “my computer’s calculator program might believe that two plus two is 22 but that would cause it to output 4 on my computer screen. There is no necessary connection between what the computer thinks and what it does.”
An Essay on the Principle of Population: The most fascinating fact I learned from this book is that at least one person thought we’d reach the actuarial escape velocity in the eighteenth century. The optimism of transhumanists has apparently not diminished in the past two centuries.
Malthus argues that because population increases geometrically and land use increases arithmetically, population growth will continually outstrip the ability of the land to produce food unless checked by “misery or vice”. By “vice” Malthus appears to mean birth control, non-PIV sex, homosexuality, etc. I found it striking how he not only appears to be indifferent between misery and vice but seems to actively prefer misery, because misery makes people virtuous. The past is weird.
I’m not actually sure what Malthus means by “arithmetically”, and I’m not certain if the Green Revolution is a counterpoint to it or not.
Malthus appears highly confused about economics. He argues that factories cannot possibly increase the wealth of laborers. Laborers who work in factories aren’t working in fields, so there is less food grown. When there is less food, laborers will have to pay more for food. All the stuff laborers make (like lace) just goes to benefit rich people, because laborers cannot afford them. Therefore, factories do not increase wealth.
Patriarcha: This Book contains a Superfluous number of Capital Letters, and I am Not precisely Certain what Emotion is supposed to be Conveyed by all this Unnecessary Capitalization. Possibly this is Because it was Written in the Seventeenth Century. Either way it is Extremely Distracting.
Patriarcha holds that kings are supposed to rule on account of parents are supposed to rule over their children even after they are grown, and kings are the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son of the etc. of the progenitor of a particular country, so they have the right to rule because they are parents. He does acknowledge the existence of usurpers, but says that the people owe them loyalty anyway, because God commanded loyalty to rulers and anyway if you plead to God about your mistreatment probably He will help. Patriarcha argues that it is wrong to assassinate kings, because the people often seem to assassinate good kings and not assassinate bad ones. He further argues that “the consent of the governed” is a silly way to govern things, because no one has ever managed to convince 100% of the governed to agree on a thing, and therefore even in a democracy much of the governed is having its consent violated.