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A 1956 encyclopaedia's view on the computer (osnews.com)
120 points by thomholwerda 1084 days ago | 79 comments



Regarding evolution, I believe the denial of evolution is something characteristic for american evangelicals. Most other christian denomination either accept evolution or doesn't really have an opinion on it, and AFAIK it is not really a major discussion outside of the US.

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You might want to expand your world view. Stupid is not the unique domain of the US.

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/south-korea-evolut...

"The country’s [South Korea] anti-evolutionary sentiment appears to already be widespread within the schooling system, with a recent survey of trainee teachers in the country revealing half of those questioned disagreed with the statement that “modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes”.

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I've noted this phenomenon around the world in mostly English-speaking countries, where it appears to have historically been derived from American Evangelism, due to access to certain literature, films and song (i.e. culture). South Korea, I imagine, has had a lot of input from the U.S.

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Quoting from the article:

>>In South Korea 26 percent of the population belong to a Christian denomination...

>> Creationism in South Korea gained more attention following the 1980 World Evangelisation Crusade, which was held in Seoul. The following year, the Korea Association for Creation Research was setup. The association’s website stays up to date with current evolutionary research, publishing news stories that often state the facts as published, before going on to poke holes in the results, point out that “accidents” of “random mutations” were surely by design, before finishing off with a few references to “the Creator”.

Looks like a direct import of American evangelism to a distant land...

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Stupid is not unique to any country or culture. But each culture breeds its own stupidities. The modern denial of evolution seems to be of American origin since it is only widespread in with large American influence. The South Korean evangelicals draw much of their ideas from American evangelicals.

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Who said it was stupid? Evangelicalism is one of the fastest growing Christian denominations AFAIK, so arguably it is a quite successful belief. Of course it is unscientific, but that is a different issue. It might be smart to deny science depending on what you want to achieve.

I don't know much about religion in South Korea, but I would assume that the denialism is due to American influence, since it seems to be a recent phenomenon (according to the article). Jehovas Witnesses is another world-wide movement that denies evolution, and it also originated in the US.

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> It might be smart to deny science depending on what you want to achieve.

This is not the kind of smart I'd like to be promoted. I'd prefer people being set free by the truth, not to be enslaved by fairy tales.

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Calling it fairy tales is never, ever going to get that side of the argument to converse in any manner better than defense. Engagement would be better. Some very, very smart people believe exactly the way you wish they wouldn't.

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Unfortunately, basing your worldview on unprovable and self-referential axioms like "the Bible is the word of God because it says in it that it is the word of God" and "the Bible is literal truth because it's the word of God" makes it hard for people who base their worldview on scientifically derived axioms to debate with you effectively. If you can't agree on the foundational axioms, then debate on higher order results of those is usually pointless. I think that's the crux of the impasse there. I'm not sure if I've ever seen someone change their fundamental beliefs, probably because it would involve refactoring everything, and that's a ton of work.

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The world is not as black and white to all believers as believers seem to be to you.

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I know, I'm referring to evangelicals, many of whom are biblical literalists.

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I'd prefer people being set free by fairy tales, not to be enslaved by the truth.

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There are many who believe that the truth can set you free, but fairy tales will enslave you.

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Who said it was stupid?

I say it is stupid, because I think it is stupid. And it doesn't matter if there are loads of people out there who believe in it, or if their numbers are growing, I still think it is stupid. The available quantity of cult followers doesn't really faze me on this, that just means there's an unfortunately large volume of stupid, and it might need keeping an eye on, in case it overflows and makes a horrible mess.

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As a Brazilian Catholic, that is my impression too. This supposed incompatibility is mainly perceived by Americans.

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Most Brazilian Catholics are a very pragmatic bunch. Most believe in reincarnation.

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True, but even if you take Brazil out of the picture, the Catholic position on evolution would probably be surprising to most Americans in the same way the OP was surprised about the position of the Reformed church.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution

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> "I believe the denial of evolution is something characteristic for american evangelicals."

It's pretty easy to trace the history of this belief.

In the late 1800s, a movement sprang up primarily in the US called "Liberal Christianity", which at its most extreme treated the Bible as essentially a useful and unreliable fairy tale. In response to this, a countermovement called "Christian Fundamentalism" arose, which at its most extreme treated the Bible (typically King James Version) as completely literal and completely perfect, and viewed any study of external data (like manuscripts or culture) with great suspicion. Fundamentalism became fairly influential in American Evangelical circles, even among those who did not explicitly adopt the title Fundamentalist.

As a result of the rise of Fundamentalism, the idea of a literal six-day creation becameentrenched in the US, which directly led to the rejection of the theories Darwin had recently proposed regarding speciation.

When I say the literalist belief became entrenched, I do not mean to say it was nonexistent before, only that it was rare. Various non-literal understandings of the creation account can be found throughout Christian history. For example, Augustine's treatise on Genesis 1 [0] is quite allegorical.

[0] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf101.toc.html - from where the word "Genesis" first appears on the page, down to where the list of names starts, you can click through to read each individual paragraph/section.

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It's not really the denial of evolution, it's the selective denial of the scientific community's ability to understand the world. Especially where it would be inconvenient.

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Christian Orthodox people are another group that oppose evolution strongly, but they have a tendency to be less vocal.

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Wait, do you speak of the Eastern Orthodox Church[1]?

I'm middle eastern(Lebanese to be precise) and a very large segment of the Christian population here belongs to various Orthodox churches(Greek, Antiochian, Armenian and Syriac) and none of them, to my knowledge at least -- and I've talked to quite a few priests and bishops having worked as a missionary in Aleppo for a year -- deny evolution. I have never heard a single teaching in church(or outside of it by some church official) that denied evolution. In fact, those I've talked to who were versed on the subject usually treated evolution as fact. None of the whole "theory" hogwash.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church

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Yes, that's the one.

At least all the ones I've met in Romania (and I've met quite a few) have tried to help me see the error of my ways and believe in the extremely literal interpretation of the creation myth as fact.

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While there is internal debate among Orthodox leaders about evolution, with both for and against camps, the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never published official opinions on scientific matters, including evolution, implying such matters are of no concern. To understand the above statement, one must know several facts about the Eastern Orthodox (from now on EO) faith:

- In a phrase, the EO world is peer-to-peer. There is no leader, similar to the Pope. Each country's Church is autonomous (they use the term autocephalous), including in theological matters. When they meet, they meet as peers, and the Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized as the chairman of such meetings (primo inter pares, the first among peers or equals). The different Churches recognize each others' Orthodoxy, which stems from following the same theological principles, agreed some time ago during several Ecumenical Councils. Instead of EO Church, I should use EO Churches everywhere, and if I do not, it's a mistake.

- The EO are very conservative on issuing theological statements. This stems from the conflict and fragmentation that rash statements have caused in the past, which have included millenia-long strife with the Catholic Church and various groups regarded as sects or heretical splinter churches. It does not help that the last Ecumenical Council to be recognized as valid by all EO was the Council of Nicaea of 787. Yes, that is not a typo.

- The EO Churches regards material welfare with indifference, if not suspicion. They have strong ascetic traditions, at the extreme end ressembling nihilism, that underpin the faith and the recommended lifestyle. This attitude flows towards science as well. That is why we have not seen something similar to Islamic banking discussed among the EO. These concerns are so foreign, the EO faithful I've asked about similar things have been surprised I've thought faith could influence such a metter at all.

- In stark contrast with American Evangelicals, the EO rarely, if ever, seek to influence state law or to seek enforcement of religious principles. AFAIK, the EO opinion is that a sinful action stopped by another still is a sin commited.

- Evolution is not a hot issue in the EO countries. It looks to me like it's a hot issue only among the American Evangelicals, and the foreigners that share their faith.

TL;DR So the Romanians that you have met were probably followers of dualism [1]: science can be incompatible with faith, and they exist in separate planes, which is a more complicated position than it looks, not dissimilar with doublethink. It would be wrong though to say this is the official EO position. For that to be true, dualism would have to be universal (or almost) among the EO faithful in all EO countries, and the next Council would have to ratify that position. That will not happen, IMO, before the heat death of this universe. Dualism is, AFAIK, popular among a minority, mostly the elderly faithful.

FWIW, You would have to search hard for a dualist EO scientist or engineer.

As for me, I'm a secular, not-very-observant, born EO, but I understand that Christian principles are foundational for European cultures, even in secular countries. My, was this a long reply. I felt the first statement would be hard to understand without its peculiar context.

Edits: lots of typos, improvements.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution#Eastern_Orth...

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Yes, as a fellow born-EO from another country, this is more or less accurate.

Tiny sects built around EO do exist that are against evolution, etc, but are by no means the prevalent force. Let's say, 5% at most.

Another nice feature of EO, is that it's practitioners could not care less about tons of things that enrage evangelicals and such. EO takes a more pragmatic view, man if flawed, see the error of your ways if you do bad, but even if you don't, peace bro, etc.

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I'm from Romania and I have not experienced what you describe. The Eastern Orthodox priests I have interacted with didn't care about evolution from a theological standpoint and didn't consider the relationship between science and religion relevant in any theological manner.

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I'm yet to meet anyone who denies evolution. It's actually a product of strawmanism, which is absolutely an American political habit.

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Really? Almost everyone I grew up with didn't believe in evolution. It was far more difficult to find somebody that accepted it than to find somebody that denied it.

I grew up near Jacksonville, FL. A pretty big city, but I've recently moved to NC, and the problem isn't much alleviated up here.

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They totally exist. My dad (an Epidemiologist by trade) didn't believe in evolution. He also wouldn't agree that gravity is the force that holds celestial objects in orbit around each other. People can be funny like that...

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Your dad is a good man. I still don't believe in evloution. Supposedly we are related to monkeys in 98% genetically wise, but yet monkeys still have their children. They don't give birth to human. Further, just because something is similar doesnt mean that one come from other. Look at silver and gold molecules-wise.

As of gravity, we still not sure what causes it and how it actually works. We can't re-create it, we just assume how it works.

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> Your dad is a good man.

Thanks, I'm sure he would appreciate the sentiment.

> Supposedly we are related to monkeys in 98% genetically wise, but yet monkeys still have their children.

We're not descended from monkeys that are alive today, just like you're not descended from your other cousins. Modern monkeys like all creatures are at each generation adapting to their conditions so they may evolve into something else, but that something will be distinctly non-human. Either way, the process would take millions of years (i.e. a monkey isn't going to suddenly give birth to some future version of a monkey, just like you're not going to wake up one morning with a head full of grey hair).

> As of gravity, we still not sure what causes it and how it actually works.

We've been through a few iterations and I think we have a pretty good model for its behaviour at everything from human to interplanetary scales. As evidence of this, in the 70s we managed to shoot a robot across the solar system that we aimed to fly-by all of the major outer planets. It (Voyager 1) did a spectacular job, and is now the furthest man-made object from Earth, currently entering the interstellar space.

It would be hard for us to pull this off if our understanding of gravity (at the aforementioned scales) was flawed.

IMHO our understanding of gravity on an interstellar or intergalactic scale is still a work in progress, though there are a number of points in which astrophysicists have reached consensus.

> We can't re-create it, we just assume how it works.

This is true of all natural phenomenon in the beginning stages of research and discovery. In science the first stages are almost always 'stamp collecting', the part where we observe phenomenon, and only then can we start making assumptions about how they work. We create theories, test them against the evidence, and if we're lucky we can find ways to refine them to better predict results. If we can disprove a theory by experiment, then we have to throw it away.

Our understanding of gravitational force (and more recently evolution) has been refined over the past few hundred years to the point where we can start making accurate predictions about real-world phenomenon. Everything else (from my dad, from science teachers, from you and me) is idle chatter.

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Unfortunately, people who have not experienced the joy of how well models work, have no clue how important they are. The GP may assume that "Advanced Technology" can get you to wherever you want. For Eg. he may look at a rocket engine and assume that you just need to start a powerful engine and keep steering your way to your destination as you would do in a car. He knows it is more complex that, but will probably never appreciate the fact that, if Newton's laws of motion or gravitation were off even by a small margin, we would never have achieved what we would have achieved. I hope more and more people realize that science and technology is more than just advanced or complicated.

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Assuming you're serious, please, please research how evolution works. Evolution doesn't predict that a species will spontaneously give birth to another similar species - really the opposite, in fact. Almost all people who "deny" evolution do so because they've been misled about what it means.

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> Almost all people who "deny" evolution do so because they've been misled about what it means.

If they deny evolution as a natural process whereby mutations advantageous for survival are propagated, then yeah, they probably don't understand it. (The GP certainly doesn't.)

But just because you accept evolution as a process doesn't mean you have to believe it is the origin of all biological diversity on Earth. It certainly doesn't mean you have to become an atheist.

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> It certainly doesn't mean you have to become an atheist.

Technically, you're correct, but believing in a deity similar to the Abrahamic god and also accepting evolution is usually a sign of compartmentalization. You reach an acceptance of evolution by examining the evidence, and you reach a belief of god by starting from an unfalsifiable conclusion.

The processes required to be both religious and accepting of evolution are so diametrically opposed that, while technically possible to reconcile the two, it's rationally inconsistent to do so.

Beliefs like deism are much more understandable, although I don't personally subscribe to them. But if you're a deist, you wouldn't need to think that evolution isn't the sole source of biological diversity on Earth, either.

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> "The processes required to be both religious [Abrahamic] and accepting of evolution are so diametrically opposed"

What makes you certain you have identified the process required to be religious? "Required" is a strong word, implying that it is impossible to become religious through any other process than the one you assume.

But the data shows otherwise. People become religious through a lot of very different processes. Some are drawn emotionally, others intellectually. Some are drawn by the religious community and by "fitting in", others by scholarly writings. Some are drawn because they don't like looking at evidence, others are drawn because they are dedicated to looking at evidence. Some may begin from premises that are not falsifiable, but it's quite a stretch to say that's required.

> "if you're a deist, you wouldn't need to think that evolution isn't the sole source of biological diversity on Earth"

You don't need to think that even if you're a total Bible-thumper. As long as your Bible-thumping includes an appropriate understanding of history, such that you recognize the creation story as a response to the Egyptian creation account [0], rather than as a response to Darwin.

[0] http://transformedthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/08/genesis-1-in...

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> What makes you certain you have identified the process required to be religious? "Required" is a strong word, implying that it is impossible to become religious through any other process than the one you assume.

I was probably ambiguous, but I didn't mean to imply that there was only one process to be religious. Only that the processes to be religious aren't compatible with the processes that one uses to accept science. If you used the same level of scrutiny on religion as you do with evolution or gravity (or luminiferous aether), you'd reject religion.

> Some may begin from premises that are not falsifiable, but it's quite a stretch to say that's required.

Are there any falsifiable assertions that can convince someone to rationally become religious, and which address religion itself rather than the social and mental effects of being religious?

> You don't need to think that even if you're a total Bible-thumper. As long as your Bible-thumping includes an appropriate understanding of history, such that you recognize the creation story as a response to the Egyptian creation account [0], rather than as a response to Darwin.

Assuming said Bible-thumper doesn't interpret the Bible literally, I suppose so. But there's still the problem that they started with a religious belief and were able to mold it to fit evolution in - they didn't apply the same base standards to both ideas. I don't believe that's rationally consistent.

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> "If you used the same level of scrutiny on religion as you do with evolution or gravity ... you'd reject religion."

I've used the same level of scrutiny on religion as on science -- an extremely evidential approach, I might add -- and yet I have become more religious rather than less. Your idea of the required process(es) is in error. Indeed, you appear to be guilty of exactly the error you accuse the religious of -- you are not applying an appropriate level of scrutiny to your assertion that "the processes to be religious aren't compatible with the processes [of] science". Given your assumption that the Bible would normally be interpreted literally, I submit that you've probably based your conclusion on interactions with a vocal minority which has only been around for about a century [0]. You would do well to expand your horizons to a broader cross-section of the religious community before making such sweeping generalizations about "the processes to be religious".

For reference, my masters degree is in applied mathematics; my masters presentation was a mathematical biology model of adaptive speciation. If you search through my HN comment history (consider using hnsearch.com and looking for terms like "evidence" and "falsifiable" with my username) you'll find I have a pretty firm grasp not just on the conclusions of science, but on the process as well. You'll also find a fair bit of discussion of such topics as the relation of faith to reason, and the role of evidence in religious belief.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_fundamentalism

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> I've used the same level of scrutiny on religion as on science -- an extremely evidential approach, I might add -- and yet I have become more religious rather than less.

What evidence did you find to make you more religious? I ask out of genuine curiosity - one or two examples would be great.

> Given your assumption that the Bible would normally be interpreted literally

You've misread. I assumed that a Bible thumper would interpret the Bible literally (since you were using it as an example of a logical extreme). Perhaps I am in error in that case. But, no, I don't assume that the Bible is interpreted literally normally.

> You would do well to expand your horizons to a broader cross-section of the religious community before making such sweeping generalizations about "the processes to be religious".

I admit that is a generalization but I'm not sure if it's sweeping. You say that it's possible to use evidence to support religion, but I hold that this can only happen if someone erroneously interprets the evidence, as humans (all humans, religious or not) have a tendency to do. That's why we have the scientific method to keep our ideas in check. Religion bypasses the scientific method and it's not an accurate description of the universe because of this reason.

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I searched for your username and "falsifiable":

The first area of concern is that you seem to believe that god can communicate with people, including you (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2963530). I would be curious to know what mechanism is used to do this, and why you think it's more plausible than your own brain communicating with yourself.

The second concern is this:

> Now, if one person who I trust is His follower says "God told me X", and then X is wrong, the theory would be disproved -- so the theory is falsifiable.

Based on this quote, I severely doubt that you apply the same level of scrutiny to religion as you do to science, as you claim. There are several problems with this statement:

1. How to validate that someone is a "follower" of god.

2. How to validate that the person is telling the truth about what they were told.

3. How to validate that the person received a metaphysical message from god (whatever what means) rather than a hallucination. This is one point where falsifiability breaks down because I'm fairly certain that metaphysical events are unfalsifiable (since we can't analyze them "outside" the universe).

4. Even if these validations were made, I guarantee that most religious people would try to claim that god was just testing their faith, or something similar. People do this all the time when errors in the Bible are pointed out, or if a prayer isn't answered, and so on. In that sense, it still isn't falsifiable.

This is why we don't build our understanding of the world based solely on human intuition. It just isn't accurate because the universe is not a human. It's just reality. It doesn't share any of our assumptions or ideals or desires, and projecting them onto the universe to try to divine some cosmic purpose is a mistake.

I contend that nothing you've brought up is sufficient evidence to justify religion as a correct belief to hold. In fact, I'd argue that the amount of assumptions and intuitions that religion presents as truth is good reason to shed it as it seems to make it very hard to analyze it objectively.

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> "I hold that [using evidence to support religion] can only happen if someone erroneously interprets the evidence" > "Religion bypasses the scientific method"

Do you have any sort of evidence to support these assertions? Can you explain precisely what it is about religion that makes it necessarily incompatible with the scientific method? You've waved your hands in the direction of falsifiability, but haven't really made a specific argument to that effect (and I don't think you understand the concept of falsifiability very well; more on this below.)

I concede that some people's approach to religion is not evidential. I concede that some people make religious claims which are not falsifiable. But you have erroneously assumed this is a necessity of religion rather than simply the failing of some individuals. You have asserted that "most religious people would try to claim that god was just testing their faith", and perhaps that is true among the religious subgroups you've interacted with, but that's not the approach I see among my subgroups.

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> "I would be curious to know what mechanism is used to do this, and why you think it's more plausible than your own brain communicating with yourself."

The mechanism might be described as telepathy: a thought coming into someone's mind which is not their own thought, and which was not communicated through known physical means (such as sound or sight).

I describe a few of these experiences later in the linked thread [0] -- things like hearing turn-by-turn directions to previously unknown locations, or being told to give a particular item to a stranger who had some specific need for that exact item. It is implausible that this is just my own brain, specifically because it's information my brain doesn't have at the time it's communicated.

Verifying someone is a follower of the same God is much like verifying that someone else is really friends with your mother -- they give accurate and specific descriptions which correspond to your own observations, and their behavior shows the appropriate characteristics. Verifying they're telling the truth about these experiences is much like verifying someone is telling the truth about any other experience -- partly it comes down to their credibility on other, verifiable matters (do they lie about what they were doing yesterday?), partly it comes down to the details of their story (do they get tripped up when retelling it? Is the level of detail consistent and appropriate for a true story?), and partly it comes down to the same thing as validates it's not a hallucination: there's some tangible result, such as their having found a specific person at a specific location who needed a specific item. All of the bits of scrutiny you accuse me of not applying, I have applied, and I've found that my position stands fairly strong while the alternate explanations people tend to propose are woefully inadequate [1].

> "What evidence did you find to make you more religious?"

Partly the above experiences, and personality/behavioral changes I've observed in myself and others directly following similar experiences (I regularly ask thoughtful atheists for explanations, with the honest desire for viable alternatives, but they always end up with goofy explanations requiring some combination of telepathic aliens, very honest people lying, and an unreasonable amount of luck.) A lot of it has been examinations of what are supposedly the "best" secular theories about some of the things my wife describes in [2], such as the origins of the New Testament gospels, and finding those explanations not to correspond to the evidence very well while the Christian explanations do [3].

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Now, you've made the same mistake about falsifiability that appeared in the other thread [4]. Specifically, you've attempted to apply the criteria of falsifiability to experiences or observations, and complained that supernatural experiences don't qualify. But falsifiability doesn't apply to observations/data, it applies to theories/explanations. Falsifiability means that a theory is constructed such that, if it was false, you can conceive of a particular set of data that would be inconsistent with the theory [5]. "I counted three white swans" is data and therefore has no relation to falsifiability; "all swans are white" is a theory which is falsifiable. Likewise, "I heard a voice that told me to do X" is data; "I recognize the voice of God, who tells me to do things which He's always right about" is a falsifiable theory (if I hear what I think is the voice of God tell me to do something that turns out to be wrong, say, "such-and-such person will be at such-and-such place" and they're not there, this is not consistent with the theory.)

You are correct that I haven't brought up sufficient evidence to justify religion as a correct belief; that's well beyond the scope of a Hacker News post. All I hope to show here is that religion is not necessarily incompatible with the evidential approach that characterizes science, and that some people who take an evidential approach become or remain religious without "compartmentalizing".

[0] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2971781

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3016150

[2] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2971214

[3] if you're willing to spend some time, watch from about 9:00 to 33:00 of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5Ylt1pBMm8 for a fairly intriguing argument about the names, and disambiguators, present in the gospels

[4] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2956963

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability

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> I describe a few of these experiences later in the linked thread [0] -- things like hearing turn-by-turn directions to previously unknown locations, or being told to give a particular item to a stranger who had some specific need for that exact item. It is implausible that this is just my own brain, specifically because it's information my brain doesn't have at the time it's communicated.

You need psychological help.

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> "You need psychological help."

This is one of those woefully inadequate responses that comes up pretty much every time I talk about this. I've taken the time to research delusions and hallucinations -- how they present, what sort of secondary issues they are correlated with, and so on -- and the explanation simply doesn't fit. Those I know who've had these experiences are otherwise extremely stable and "together", the sort of people others turn to because they've clearly "got it". The only reason to believe there's a psychological issue is these specific stories, only they don't fit the profile -- because they're so consistently and impressively right. Delusions simply aren't that lucky.

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Atheism is just as unprovable as theism.

And it's fairly easy to reconcile a belief that evolution is true with a belief in a complex force that influences things in the background, outside of our observation - humans have never kept tabs on more than a small percentage of happenings on this planet at once, and without being able to accurately model everything at once, we won't be able to prove that there's nothing outside our model of the universe at play. Even then, something with a suitably powerful influence over reality could alter our observations. To believe that this is impossible and that we're capable of observing/measuring every part of reality is hubris. We only evolved to see and intuitively comprehend the small piece of it that helped us best survive given our environment and unforgiving energy and developmental constraints.

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> Atheism is just as unprovable as theism.

Perhaps, but what matters is that it asserts less than theism. When you start from no evidence, you need to believe in as little as possible until enough evidence presents itself that you can change your mind.

This is especially true given that religion has a highly plausible explanation as man-made, a creation of human imagination. When you have a collection of assertions, with no evidence, and the only physical source is the human mind itself, why would you believe it has any correspondence with reality?

> And it's fairly easy to reconcile a belief that evolution is true with a belief in a complex force that influences things in the background

I never disputed this.

> To believe that this is impossible and that we're capable of observing/measuring every part of reality is hubris.

I feel like you have created a strawman, because I never used any of these arguments.

Yes, of course we don't know every happening in the universe. Yes, our senses and reasoning skills are limited. That doesn't make religion true. How could it? Religious people have the same senses, the same access to knowledge as everyone else. I don't believe that religious people have any insight into the workings of the universe that no one else does, especially given that there are so many religions that can't agree with each other about even basic tenets. It's a very human creation - not a truth of the universe.

But I'll never assert that theism is impossible. That wouldn't be defensible, because we don't have all the information in the universe (or outside it!). Of course it's possible, but that doesn't matter, because we have no evidence whatsoever to believe it.

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Sure, Occam's razor and all that. That doesn't really point out a correct explanation, just which one is more likely in the absence of other evidence, and it's not really something I'd bring into an argument with someone firmly on the other side of the fence.

I never argued that religion is true, I argued that atheism (rejecting the existence of a God) is no less unprovable, and might be a bit worse - the theists at least have personal experiences that might have made them believe - it seems less likely to have an experience that proves to one that there cannot be a deity. I'm personally agnostic.

And some people do have different senses and sensitivities than others, people aren't working from the same vantage point. Perhaps some religious people have experiences that others of us haven't had that proved to them just as concretely as seeing would to nonbelievers.

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you reach a belief of god by starting from an unfalsifiable conclusion

That doesn't pass the smell test. If that were true, no intellectuals would ever convert to Christianity. In point of fact, they regularly do.

Take Lee Strobel, for example. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Strobel). You can find his particular evidences unpersuasive, but you can hardly call his process irrational.

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> If that were true, no intellectuals would ever convert to Christianity.

That doesn't follow. Intellectuals are also susceptible to cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization, especially when there is social pressure to change your beliefs, and doubly so if you hadn't explored the rationality behind being an atheist (speaking in general, not necessarily about Strobel).

I glanced briefly at the Wikipedia article and some of its references but couldn't find anything particularly noteworthy (perhaps you could point out some examples). My first impression is that there's no reason to think he used a rational process over a process motivated by some other reasons.

Atheists converting to religion is mostly support for religion's incredible strength as a meme (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_reli...).

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Intellectuals are also susceptible to cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization

True enough! I guess what I really mean is that if rational processes don't lead to Christianity, you would never see people convert by following those processes. But they do all the time!

I think Lee Strobel is a good example, really. As somebody with a Master's in law and a background as a criminal investigative journalist, he certainly is reasonably well qualified to understand what evidence is and how it works. And the story he tells about his conversion is that he undertook to investigate Christianity by the same standards he would expect to use in a court case, and found it true!

Now, you could claim he's lying about that -- that he really wanted to convert because his wife did (though the story he tells is that he wanted to assemble evidence to challenge her). Or you could claim he did an incompetent job -- as critiques of his book often do. But I don't think you can claim the process he documented Case for Christ wasn't rational or evidential.

What I mean is, you don't have to buy his arguments. But I don't think you can fault him for buying them. And I don't think you can call his process anything but rational. Sure, he doesn't seem to set his prior probability on God's existence as low as some people would like, but he does certainly appear to be following the evidence where it leads.

Moreover, it's my perception as a Christian that, "Tried to evaluate Christianity to prove it false, was qualified to do so, found it true, converted" is a common story for Christian apologists. It applies to Josh McDowell, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis, just off the top of my head. (Not to mention a number of personal friends of mine.) You can say these folks are all lying or deluded, but I think that's an unlikely claim. If they didn't arrive at Christianity by rational means, they sure do a convincing job of writing like they did!

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While I am an atheist and do believe that evolution is the origin of all biological diversity on Earth, I think it's monumentally important that traditional theistic beliefs and evolution be reconciled.[1]

Before making the jump, I had no problem with this at all (i.e. I believed that a deity put things in motion, then moved around a few probabilistic sliders to make sure things turned out the way they did). I have a few friends who are professional scientists, all of them devout Christians, all of them totally happy with evolution.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution

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> It certainly doesn't mean you have to become an atheist.

Since the existence of an all-knowing all-mighty god may not be either proven or refuted (because such entity can meddle with any observation and turn it into whatever it wants), you can always be a theist. You just adapt your deity's role to whatever fits in the current scientific understanding.

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>> Supposedly we are related to monkeys in 98% genetically wise, but yet monkeys still have their children. They don't give birth to human.

Wow! If your understanding of evolution boils down to "great monkeys of old begat humans", well peace bro... Long live the USofA!

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For my first ten years of school, I was at a small private Christian school that taught science from a series of "Science for Christian Schools" books. The world was only thousands of years old, etc. It's not a strawman.

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Selection bias much? It's very common in the South.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/darwin-birthday-believe-ev...

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During my first trip abroad, within Europe, I had an embarrassing moment when telling a new friend (from Bahamas) about an embarrassing moment I had when telling a new friend (from US) that I once met someone who was a creationist.

They were all...

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Shrug. They're out there somewhere, though I have yet to meet one either.

> strawmanism, which is absolutely an American political habit

I'm sure you could delete the word "American" from that sentence and it would be just as accurate.

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This is very uninformed and related to a US-centric view of the world: there is plenty of ignorance and opinions to go around outside of the states. The issue is only so visible in the states because we are so divided, go to other countries outside of the 1st world/Europe and consensus is often toward creationism; there is not much controversy.

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I agree the fact that it's very hotly debated in the US is part of what makes the US such an infamous example of this irrationality, but I would say the fact that the US is a scientifically advanced first world country definitely also contributes to why this is a phenomenon to so many people. Third world countries don't exactly have the best education system. The US (even though it gets a lot of slack) still has a comparably very good one, that should reach beyond "god put us on the earth with magic, the end".

And it does reach beyond that, the whole "teach the controversy" is an eccentricism of an otherwise science-based curriculum.

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As a species we haven't had that long to get used to the idea. I hope sincerely that we will have all the denial out of our system in a few hundred years time.

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Human language, on the other hand, has an infinite number of "nuances", and as such, a "translation computer will never be able to give a sufficiently satisfying solution". Since I make my living translating texts, I can certainly attest to this very fact.

I don't agree with that. I think machine translation is a very difficult problem, but I don't think it is impossible. We are just getting started to do research on it. It is only since the 90ies that we have the computing resources which are necessary to build statistical, data-driven machine translation software like Google Translate, and it is only since the mid-2000s this approach became mainstream.

If the computer were to end up and remain in the hands of a small elite, e.g. of a dictator, [the computer's] power will make the common man powerless and utterly submissive. And this tyranny will be introduced under the guise of the advancement of human well-being.

I was thinking maybe a cynical person would say that the power of the internet is the actually is in the hands of a few right now (namely Google and Facebook).

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Bear with me, this won't seem immediately relevant, but I'll get to the point.

I have at various times created solvers and helpers for the sorts of logic puzzles you sometimes see in newspapers alongside the crosswords -- you can find a bunch of them online and with many of them, the limiting problem is simply time investment for applying automatic, pithy little rules. Just as an example, I wrote a helper script in Greasemonkey at one point for large versions of http://www.puzzle-loop.com/ , the rules of which are "You have to draw lines between the dots to form a single loop without crossings or branches. The numbers indicate how many lines surround it." It's very satisfying to click once and then see an algorithm performing all of the drudge-work, leaving you to focus on the really interesting bits which you haven't yet been able to articulate as rules. One interesting problem in the above link is knowing when you're about to create a region which only has an odd number of ends inside of it. I found a very pretty way to do this in most cases.

The central problem of the translation computer is that often, knowing which translation of word W is important depends on understanding the context around W, sometimes out a couple of sentences. The central problem of understanding the context of W, however, would demand a much more holistic approach than the above translation program seems to provide.

The problem in both is precisely a declarative/imperative divide. We are very good at working out, given the adequacy conditions for the solution (the "rules of the game"), what sorts of automatic reflex actions we can do (the "moves" of the game, I suppose). We know the rules, we figure out the moves. Ideally, we would like to just tell a computer the rules of chess without specifying that there is something called 'value' of a piece, and that the computer should find values for e.g. the loss of a knight in comparison to the loss of a bishop. It should be able to work out the principles of effective play, if we want true machine learning.

It is my contention, to tie this all together, that without something which appears like machine learning, we won't have anything which appears like machine understanding, and that a machine translation would appear like a machine understanding, due to context-sensitivity in translation: you will hand it "Knives were good for helping humans to hunt" and it will accidentally translate "good" as the equivalent for "ethical" rather than the more-likely-intended "efficient", because it correlates "helping" and "humans" with ethics.

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The thing is this: the first generation of machine translation system were hard coded systems that translated a string in one language into a string in another language using a set of hard coded rules. These systems were bad at the sort of semantic ambiguities that you describe. Also they tended to give too literal translations.

The new generation like Google Translate are statistical systems. Semantic ambiguities actually are fairly easy to resolve using statistics. The basic idea is this: Google can use the entire Internet to check if "Knives were ethical" or "Knives were efficient" is a more common thing to say. Also Google tries to translate the largest possible phrase, so if there is already a translation of "Knives were good" in their corpus then the problem will never occur.

Of cause there will always cases where this fails, but you'd be surprised how well it works. At least that is not the main concern at the moment. Maybe ultimately you could have a UI where a human selects the best translation. The actual problem with these systems is that they don't even have an understanding of syntax. With Google translate often entire parts of a sentence get lost.

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I agree that syntax rules are themselves also a huge obstacle, and mostly for the same reason: we often teach languages by saying "here are some valid grammars for you to use in sentence construction," it's not hard to declaratively specify, but computers don't have this universal translation I describe from "what the solution (may) look like" to "how to find the solution."

But still, the reason that I chose this particular example is because if you used the entire Internet, even with the new translators that are sensitive to semantic nuance, you still get the problem of "which do I trust? the statistics of knives-are-amoral or the statistics of helping-humans-is-moral?" We can see that the amoral aspect of knifehood "wins out" in almost every circumstance, but I don't expect even the entire internet to contain the relevant sentence often enough for the statistics to know that, unless the machine does something special to approximate the underlying understanding of the semantics.

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Machine Translation is an application of Machine Learning which is a subfield of Artificial Intelligence which is a subfield of Computer Science. However, what often separates AI from the rest of CS, is that AI often tries to solve NP complete problems, which are not possible to solve exactly. In AI it's enough to solve the problem in 99.9999% of the cases (and sometimes even only in 80% of the cases).

In other CS problems it is often a good approach to come up with an algorithm and then think of an example why your algorithm or approach will not work. You can keep doing this until you come up with an algorithm for which you can not come up with a counter example.

In AI this approach does not work, because there simply is no exact solution. What you do instead is find the simplest solution which works for your problem (for some measure of best which can be measured by a machine), you find the biggest source of errors, improve your solution and keep iterating.

So after this general introduction, my points:

1. Yes, there are semantic ambiguities that can only be resolved with real understanding, but the real question should be how common they are.

2. The idea of statistical machine translation is not find specific rules or heuristics, but to find mathematical models that make a trade-off between computational complexity, the effects they can model and the amount of data needed to get good results (this is known as the bias/variance trade-off in machine learning and statistics). Also you want models that generalize to different languages and different domains.

3. It will probability surprise you that are algorithms that can understand semantics of language already to some degree [1][2]. So you should not see it like you understand the text or you don't but it's more like a scale. However these methods are not applied in the context of machine translation yet, simply because it's pointless before you get the syntax part right.

[1] for some wicket interpretation of understanding

[2] e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latent_semantic_analysis

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There are programs that given enough time will come up with piece values for arbitrary board games like chess. Non random board games are actually one of the easier things to translate into computer code, the problem is games like go are inherently difficult. I suspect with perfect play the first go player completely dominates the board just like with smaller boards that have been solved, but the ultra aggressive gameplay required to pull this off is impossible to pull off with any sort of reasonable hardware. So, it's really a question of discovering heuristics that allow computationally reasonable pay to still create an acceptable level of imperfect play, and piece values are just one of those heuristics. Perfect play in chess can ignore positional concepts and just look for paths that either force a checkmate or a tie.

The problem with language translation is you need to understand the context of an idea before you can accurately translate it which is why humans have such issues translating technical content they don't understand.

That said, humans can decode things that are close to linguistic gibberish so even a poor translation is often good enough. Google translate is already rather useful though a great set of heuristics despite an endless array of edge cases it fumbles though. It's a useful path that get's ever more expensive the more demanding the problem.

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I guess maybe I wasn't clear. Some modern chess algorithms begin by telling the computer, "here are some numbers you must determine, and how you combine them into an assessment of the game's winnability. Go and analyze a bunch of games and statistically determine which numbers are optimal."

To me, that phrasing is itself the problem. I should be able to just say "here are the adequacy conditions for a solution" and then have my computer humming away to guess and then prove possible moves which tend to quickly bring you towards a solution.

Mind you, they don't have to be complete rules that solve every case -- that would probably end up implying that P = NP. But most of my logic-puzzle-helpers begin with some sort of code which says, "here is how I will define rules, here is how you should match against them and what you should do when you find a match." Then I have to work out all of these rules for myself and then tell the computer about them one-by-one.

If I could just tell my computer, "work out all of the automatic reductions where the logic tree goes less than 20 steps, build rules for those, I will try to handle anything more sophisticated," that would be much better. As yet I've never seen anything like a general algorithm for this, though. :< Turning the declarative to imperative in a portable way would simplify both these programs that I'm writing, and machine translations, I feel.

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You should look into constraint satisfaction algorithms and SAT solving algorithms. With these you can encode almost all logic puzzles meant for humans fairly easily. For example for sudoku you just say that each cell contains a number {1..9}, and that all the rows, columns and blocks cannot contain duplicates. This is usually done with a declaration like alldifferent(cell1, cell2, cell3 ..., cell9), where alldifferent is a built-in constraint in any constraint solver worth its salt. These algorithms usually solve the complete logic puzzle in less than a millisecond.

Note that these are algorithms for combinatorial logic problems/puzzles, not for searching game trees.

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"There are programs that given enough time will come up with piece values for arbitrary board games like chess. "

Would different instances of those programs potentially develop different 'values' for the pieces based on their own history and experience of playing?

There are some humans that 'prefer' (emotionally) knights over bishops, and will sacrifice one before the other all the time, even when they don't win. Part of that may be that they just don't play enough to develop better strategies, and part of it may just be human attachment to ideas vs 'facts'.

I'm no chess master, and I'm not saying knights are better or worse than bishops :)

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The current machine translation systems work with parallel texts, and they will for the foreseeable future. However, to properly translate you need to understand the meaning of a text, not just look up words or phrases in a table as is currently done (and using statistics does not address this). In other words, you need to have a connection between language and world, which is something only an intelligent agent has, hence the problem is AI complete. In terms of the nuances that were cited, it's not so much that they are infinite which is the problem, as other potentially infinite combinatorial systems such as syntax can be analysed effectively by computers. Rather it is the fact that choosing the right nuance depends on a completely arbitrary amount of context, such as the whole history of Russia when you're translating a Russian novel. So the problem is not impossible, but considering that even humans need years and years of study to do a good job at translation, I'd say machine translation that replaces humans is quite infeasible.

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That cynical person would confuse the internet with its usage :)

The internet will still be there when AOL and netscape are gone.

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I would imagine he/she was referring to the power of Google and Facebook to analyze & exploit the data of billions of people, something that is perhaps uniquely available to them, that the average man will never obtain or have access to this data

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I don't think a couple of network hubs and cables is what most people would refer to as the internet, e.g. "I went on the internet to find it", "I posted it on the internet".

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As a side note, it was only a few years before this (in 1949) that Robert Busa approached IBM's Tom Watson with the idea of using a computer to make a concordance (of the works of Thomas Aquinas). Tom apparently said it was impossible (IBM was a number-crunching business, and parsing huge volumes of text was an entirely new field). Luckily the company's motto at the time was: “What's difficult we can do straight away, the impossible takes a little longer”

The project is noted by many as the beginning of a computational approach to literature.

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"Sadly, Van Riesen passed away in 2000, but had he still been alive, I would have tried to get into contact with him."

Contact his students.

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When I was reading this, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that we no longer have paper encyclopedias. (For the most part. There are still some, but I think their very nature is different.) It's kind of depressing.

In 60 years, no one will write about Wikipedia articles in this key. Not just because it's digital, but because it's biased, full of edit wars and topic exclusions.

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Exactly - I believe that there is a really interesting space to fill in the future days to come: solving the problem of authority on a subject, without relying on the 'social network' solution. I may be quite a few degrees away from being friends of friends with the expert on, say, Galapagos iguanas.

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"What struck me most about the entry was Van Riesen's philosophical approach to the matter, which is remarkably prescient of the challenges we, as the human race, face with how to deal with the computer"

His opinion wasn't at all prescient. Computing gave unprecedented power to the people. It has absolutely never been a source of oppression.

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Never say never.

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/14/143639670/the-technology-helpi...

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Y'know, for an article entitled "A 1956 encyclopaedia's view on the computer" I was kinda hoping for something that included more than one paragraph of quotes from the 1956 encyclopaedia.

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The text is probably still copyrighted. I'm not a lawyer, but I imagine creative paraphrasing of the original work with small excerpts is much preferable, legally, to wholesale copying.

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More importantly, if you read the article, the text is in Nederlands and the more you excerpt, the more you will have to translate.

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