"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”.
>>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...
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.
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.
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.
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  is quite allegorical.
 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
So the Romanians that you have met were probably followers of dualism : 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 , rather than as a response to Darwin.
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 , 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.
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 . 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.
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.
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.
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.
> "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  -- 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 .
> "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 , 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 .
Now, you've made the same mistake about falsifiability that appeared in the other thread . 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 . "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".
 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...).
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!
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.
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.
Wow! If your understanding of evolution boils down to "great monkeys of old begat humans", well peace bro... Long live the USofA!
They were all...
> 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.
And it does reach beyond that, the whole "teach the controversy" is an eccentricism of an otherwise science-based curriculum.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 . 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.
 for some wicket interpretation of understanding
 e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latent_semantic_analysis
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.
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.
Note that these are algorithms for combinatorial logic problems/puzzles, not for searching game trees.
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 :)
The internet will still be there when AOL and netscape are gone.
The project is noted by many as the beginning of a computational approach to literature.
Contact his students.
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.
His opinion wasn't at all prescient. Computing gave unprecedented power to the people. It has absolutely never been a source of oppression.