Notes on Dawkins (Colmes appearance) Monday, Mar 17 2008 

Dawkins is continuing his tour across the US, and recently landed on Alan Colmes’ radio show.

A few notes here.

I really appreciated (seriously) Dick talking about the religious pandering of our politicians. Of course McCain doesn’t care about religion. Hillary a Christian? Well, people certainly think so. It’s good to see Richard call Americans out on that bullshit (yes, that is two nice things I’ve said about Dick in a row. Don’t read into it.)

According to Dawkins, the argument from design is the only argument people take seriously. I don’t think this is true at all. In the philosophical world other arguments take precedence over the design argument. Perhaps a minority of “scientifically-minded” evangelical Christians use the design argument as the knockout punch, but that is about it. Even then, Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument or C.S. Lewis’s Moral Argument would probably get more airtime than the design argument. We just don’t hear about it as much because no one is trying to get those arguments placed in school curriculum.

“How does it help to postulate a Creator?” in response to the question of the origins of the universe. This is not very useful, Dick. I am thinking or writing something a little longer on this particular question, but in the meantime I’d check out Plantinga’s response to him here:

[S]uppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable—how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren’t given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true.

Beautiful as usual, St. Al.

Wow, Dawkins does have the patience of a saint. Those callers are absolutely retarded. He is right, they do “bleet like sheep” , and Dawkins was right about the bullshit thing.

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God and fallacies Wednesday, Feb 27 2008 

In a recent article an atheist from “God Be Gone” attempts to boil down the fallacies that theists always resort to while trying to show that God exists. While agreeing with him that many, if not most, theists will partake of these mistakes, I’m not entirely convinced that it must be so. I also don’t think that all of these are logical fallacies in the sense of being formal or informal mistakes in deductive/inferential strategies, but whatever. Let’s run through his list.

Argument from Ignorance

Does silence on the part of your opponent mean that you are right? Not necessarily, but I do think that it provides evidence for your position even if it does not prove it. Now, many of these cases (Intelligent Design stuff) erroneously inserts God as a kind of glue to keep their belief rational, but that is not what I am talking about (or most sophisticated theists do, for that matter). Consciousness is an example that I find myself personally drawn towards. Something about the first-person feel of the mind appears to give evidence that there was some kind of proto-intentionality outside the reach of current physics. This belief is bolstered by science’s inability to come up with some kind of explanatory framework. Does that mean I am committing the god of the gaps fallacy? I don’t think so. I think it is a matter of providing evidence without proving. Just like we agnostics like it.

Argument from Design

I am not really sure how this is a fallacy, or how it would differ from his first point. If the universe is indeed rare- say, only 1 chance of life-sustaining properties against 1 million hostile-to-life universes- then the theist has good reason to posit a reason for the existence of the life-conducive one. This is not necessarily an argument I would use, as the mysteries of physics are far from unraveled, but calling it a fallacious argument is quite another thing.

Straw Man

No qualms here. This is not monopolized by any group, though, as I’ve seen a great load of atheists set up wildly imaginative positions for them to take down for the kill. There is also a big difference between what a person verbalizes as his position and what someone believes some position leads to.

Anyway, it is good for both atheists and theists (and everyone in between) to lay out what they believe are poor strategies so we can move forward to the meat of the matter.

Why Inerrancy? Saturday, Dec 22 2007 

Evangelical Christians tend towards a position of inerrancy. Usually, this means that the Bible is without error. For the somewhat more sophisticated Christian, this means that the original documents are without error, but mutations/scribal errors, etc. made their way into the text over the thousands of years of their existence (see the Chicago Statement). The last qualification is made because there are indeed mistakes in the Bible you hold in your hand (yes, even the 1611 AV has mistakes), and so they apparently want to preserve some semblance of absolute truth in the originals.

But why?

The way I see it, whether the originals were inerrant or not, the texts we have now are not inerrant. We still have to test the the contents of the Bible we have whether it was originally inerrant or it was not.

I think inerrancy is an unfortunate burden for Christians to shoulder. Imagine how many trees would be saved if Christianity just stopped trying to mesh the Genesis story with modern science (that whole plants before the sun thing is pretty wicked), and just admitted that it is a myth? Does that mean that Jesus all of the sudden becomes Satan? Does that mean that the entire Bible gets thrown out, because of making mistakes? Wouldn’t have to be. I’ll be honest here, my parents have been wrong about things. Does that mean that everything they say is automatically worthless/false? Of course not. All it means is that you take things with a bit of salt and do your best to objectively test things out.

The equation of Inerrancy to Christianity is an unfortunate substitution, and I pretty much guarantee that the “silly stories” of the Bible are only harmful to one’s faith if just assumed into the storage banks of memory without discretion. Hopefully this is yet another thing Christianity progresses beyond.

Why I am beginning to think I am the only skeptic Sunday, Dec 2 2007 

I was reading the blog of a so-called “skeptic” today on the subject of consciousness. He obviously commands attention in this field, being an MD and having quite a bit of experience in neuroscience.

(Read the article here)

After about 20 minutes of taking what he was saying in, the look on my face most assuredly could be described as “sour”. How dare this man call himself a skeptic? If anything, he is selectively skeptical, touting the oft-overused phrase “science has established” as some kind of end-all for the discussion. Unfortunately, he is severely wrong.

The thesis of the article in question is as follows:

Dualists, those who believe that consciousness and the mind are something more than the material biological functioning of the brain, are, in my estimation, neuroscience deniers. They deny the current model of biological neuroscience in order to manufacture a gap, and then try to slip their dualism – their “ghost in the machine” – into that gap.

Is that really what happens? What gap did they manufacture to earn the unwieldy title of “neuroscience deniers”? Of course, they don’t deny that there is a such thing as neuroscience, but maybe they think that particular neuroscientists are confused about something. Nah, I don’ think that’s what they mean either. the explanatory gap is not something that was instigated by creationists, or IDers, or dualists- the explanatory gap is simply a fact of modern science and philosophy. Let’s take a look at the facts, shall we?

We know that we are conscious.
We know physical facts about the brain.
We don’t know which physical facts about the brain produce consciousness.

Do you see a gap there? Is it somehow contrived by religion peddlers?

Let’s continue to the heart of this:

Returning to consciousness and the brain – all the evidence we have suggests that the mind is a product of the brain. There is no mind without the brain (despite the unsubstantiated claims of paranormalists). If the brain is not biologically active, there is no consciousness. If the brain is damaged, the mind is altered. As brain function changes through drugs, lack of sleep, fever, or some metabolic derangement – so changes the mind. No reliable observation or experiment has been able to separate the mind as a phenomenon from the brain.

Every single one of those “facts” (note the non-skeptical tune of his post) is consistent with different varieties of dualism, from the soft- Chalmer’s property dualism- to the hard- William Hasker’s emergent dualism. And whether he believes it or not, there have been a host of arguments that argue for the non-identity of the mind and brain.

Dualists have therefore adopted the strategy of creationists by requiring that neuroscientists explain, in detail, exactly how the brain creates the subjective experience of mind. There are preliminary answers to this question. The mind is an emergent property of the brain and cannot be reduced to any single component of brain function. This is, admittedly, just a partial answer – merely describing the type of phenomenon we are dealing with, and not really explaining it.

Simply put, he does not understand the dualist’s position. The dualist usually begins with an assumption- the mind exists. Now, this mind displays properties that are unlike physical entities- rationality, volition, awareness. Furthermore, science has not found a neural correlate for consciousness, and it is very possible that they never will. And it is the dualists that are being unskeptical? The following is one trashy piece of thinking:

Likewise, the materialist paradigm of mind and consciousness – the notion that the brain is the cause of mind – has been and continues to be a very successful model. One manifestation of this is that neuroscience, as a discipline, has grown and progressed. As new tools come online our ability to explore the brain, and to explain the phenomenon of mind, has increased. The dualist paradigm, by contrast, has not produced anything tangible or reliable. It is still chasing its tail and pointing at the current gaps in neuroscience, without looking at the big picture.

Oh dear. For one, the so-called “materialist paradigm” is the exact same for the dualisms I mentioned. For them, it makes absolutely perfect sense that functions of the mind can be identified with the brain. It is things like experience itself that poses the big problem for physicalism. He simply makes philosophical blunders galore by equating the success of the physical study of the brain and physicalism. This does not appear to be a singular thing, either. I did a bit of digging through some of this guy’s stuff, and he does not touch on the “hard problem of consciousness” at all. I dare you to run a search on qualia on his blog. A big fat zero will stare at you in the face and hopefully lead you to the conclusion, as it did I, that some people are just not familiar with the range of topics they think they are qualified to speak on.

An agnostic looks at stem cell research Friday, Nov 30 2007 

I recently read an article by some self-serving bitch complaining about how the GOP hates science and some other bullshit like that. If you will remember, just a bit ago there was a breakthrough in stem cell research that was truly amazing. Skipping right over all ethical problems with embryonic research, it now looks like scientists will be able to use plain old skin cells to do the same tricks. All of this involves some pretty impressive sounding stuff that I will just trust is, well, impressive enough to work.

Anyway.

This Michael Kinsley fellow is going to hold on to his grudge because he feels that GOP has pushed science back for years:

[E]ven if this were a true turning point in stem-cell research, people like me are not going to quickly forget those six lost years. I am 56. Last year I had a kind of brain surgery that dramatically reduces the symptoms of Parkinson’s. It received government approval only five years ago. Every year that goes by, science opens new doors, and every year, as you get older and your symptoms perhaps get worse, doors get shut. Six years of delay in a field moving as fast as stem-cell research means a lot of people for whom doors may not open until it is time for them to shut.

It’s so nice that he cares so much about a cure for Parkinson’s. Oh wait, doesn’t he have Parkinson’s? Yeah, I guess that makes you a pompous asshole. Perhaps the entire enterprise of going about things carefully from an ethical standpoint should go on hold until we find a cure for Michael.

Alright, so maybe some particular members of government acted unscientifically. Still, thanks to whoever helped guide research away from embryonic stem cells is partially responsible for not only the potential death of bitches like Michael, but is also responsible for pushing science into a new, unoffensive branch. And from what I hear, the biggest leaps in stem cells have come from non-embryonic circles anyway; why isn’t this guy gushing about how stem cells (of the non-embryonic flavor) are bounding their way towards a cure for Type-1 diabetes and, hopefully Alzheimer’s? Oh wait, he has Parkinson’s, not Alzheimer’s.

Asshole.

Patriot Act Lite? Thursday, Nov 29 2007 

Read about it here.

The Violent Radicalisation and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act, co-authored by the former chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Jane Harmon, a California Democrat, passed the House by an overwhelming 400-6 vote last month, and will soon be considered by the Senate.

I don’t really know what this bill means, but it is either superfluous OR it is stronger than it sounds and is unconstitutional. Here is what the bill entails:

Harman’s bill would convene a 10-member national commission to study “violent radicalisation” (defined as “the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically-based violence to advance political, religious, or social change”) and “homegrown terrorism” (defined as “the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States […] to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”).

The bill also directs the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate a university-based research “centre of excellence” where academics, policy-makers, members of the private sector and other stakeholders can collaborate to better understand and prevent radicalisation and homegrown terrorism. Some experts are concerned that politics will unduly influence which institution DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff will designate.

There is enough ambiguity in that language to allow quite a bit of bullshitting, which is never good because politicians love to bullshit. Good thing is will cost us 22 million dollars over the next 4 years to implement it.

Is Naomi Wolfe “way out there”? Sunday, Nov 25 2007 

I don’t think she is crazy. Under our current administration our liberties are being consistently ignored/taken away. Now, whether Bush is the new Hitler or Stalin I’m not willing to speculate. He will be out of power in a year. I wish she would have broadened it a bit and aimed the gun at the government in general, and not treated individuals. Our government is taking actions that are strictly unconstitutional and idiots like John Kasich ignore what the person in front of him is saying. If you look at the issue from a completely neutral position, there are obvious similarities between the campaigns of those past dictators and the general direction of the US federal government. I have been motivated to pick up Naomi’s book and I will probably say a little something about it in a few weeks.

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