Archives April 2011


This was originally posted at Secular Perspectives.

Here’s something that occurred to me recently. It’s nearly-trivial, but I found it interesting.

The reason a subjective statement, like “Beethoven’s ninth is his best symphony” is subjective is that a) it refers mental state, and b) that mental state can vary from person to person.

But it can be turned into an objective statement by simply saying whose mind it refers to: “Smith thinks that Beethoven’s ninth symphony is his best”. This is an objective statement, and its truth or falsehood can be ascertained simply by asking Smith. In a few years, maybe we’ll even have scanners that can read the answer in Smith’s brain.

Or instead of specifying a particular subject to whom the statement applies, we can specify a class of people, e.g., “Most music critics think that Beethoven’s ninth is his best”, or “Nobody likes being humiliated” (vs. “humiliation is bad”).

One consequence of this is that it helps put morality on a reality-based footing: a question like “should the US intervene in the Ivory Coast?” seems hopelessly subjective, but we can at least ask questions like, “how many Americans think the US should intervene?” and “how many Ivorians want the US to intervene?”. These questions, and their answers, are called polls, and they’re used all the time. (I’m not saying that complex moral questions should be decided by polling. But polls can provide an objective underpinning to moral arguments. For instance, if 98% of Ivorians hated Americans and wanted the US to stay the hell away, that would undercut arguments like “we should move in: we’ll be greeted as liberators”.)

Secular morality is often attacked for being too subjective. I hope the above helps correct that perception. The whole point of having a system of morality is, presumably, to improve the universe in some way, and hopefully allow us to be happier and get along with each other in the process. What “better” means, above, is subjective, but at the very least we can see what people think, and what most of us can agree on.

Countdown to Backpedaling Widget

Over on the right, in the sidebar, you should see a countdown clock entitled “Countdown to Backpedaling”. (If not, then something went wrong.)

If you’ve been listening to Ask an Atheist, then you should recognize this as a widget version of the Countdown to Backpedaling clock. And if not, then you should definitely be listening to them. Because they’re cool.

At any rate, it’s a clock that counts down to May 22, the day after Jesus’ return and the Day of Judgment, when the backpedaling and excuses begin.

So anyway, now you want to know a) where to download this, b) how to install it, and c) how to complain to me about all the problems you’ve had with (a) and (b).


The main download page is .

If you’re using WordPress, you can download , put it in your wp-content/plugins directory, and with any luck, a “Countdown to Backpedaling” widget should magically show up in your “Widgets” control panel. You can then drag it into position, and it should work.

If you’re using some other software, you’ll want . Installation depends on what you’re using, of course, but you should be able to insert it anywhere that takes HTML.


The main configuration option is the “show_secs” variable at the top. If you want to see seconds in the countdown, set it to true. If you find the seconds’ flashing annoying, set it to false.

You can also look through the CSS part, and edit as you please. You might need to change the width.

I might improve on this, if time permits and I don’t get raptured before getting around to it.

If you have any comments or complaints, leave a comment. Bug reports accompanied by a rum and Coke will get higher priority. Bug reports accompanied by a patch will get even higher priority.

Let’s Get This Out of the Way

Here’s a link to something I claim you’ll find interesting:

Right. That’s April Fools Day taken care of. Now let’s move on.