Monday, October 28, 2013


The Language of Will

Okay, since I already broke my pledge to myself not to comment anymore on Jerry Coyne's philosophical deficiencies, I might as well dip my toe in again, but I am going try to try to restrict myself to the occasional delectation.

As we all know, Jerry's defines free will "as the way most of us conceive of it: a situation in which one could have made more than one choice."

Now, he gives us some examples:
Clearly, if you're a compatibilist, then you might admit that a computer programmed to respond (deterministically) to many complicated contingencies has free will. So do robots. And perhaps a thermostat has free will. If it doesn't, then there's somewhere on the continuum of "response devices" where one must say, "I'll arbitrarily decide that free will begins at this point." And, of course, compatibilists must agree that some (but perhaps not all) animals have free will, and even some plants (after all, plants can respond to diverse environmental challenges in complicated ways).

But you needn't do any of this if, as Ben implies, you just deep-six the whole idea of free will and use other language to express what you mean.
But we also know that, especially when it comes to issues involving religion, Coyne likes to talk about rationality, reason and science. As a non-compatibilist, does Jerry admit that a computer, robot or thermometer programmed to respond (deterministically) to many complicated contingencies is being rational, is applying reason and is doing science?

Maybe Jerry should just deep-six the whole idea of rationality, reason and science and use other language to express what he means.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


When Will This ENDA?

The Washington Post has a story about Republican activists attempting to drag the party, kicking and screaming, into something more or less resembling the 21st Century:
[A] powerful group of Republican donors, who see the GOP's staunch opposition to gay rights as a major problem, is trying to push the party toward a more welcoming middle ground — where candidates who oppose marriage rights can do so without seeming hateful.

The behind-the-scenes effort is being led largely by GOP mega-donor Paul Singer, a hedge fund executive whose son is gay, and former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who revealed his homosexuality in 2010, long after he had left the GOP leadership.

Singer's advocacy group, the American Unity Fund, has been quietly prodding Republican lawmakers to take a first step toward backing gay rights by voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act ["ENDA"]. The measure, which is expected to come to the full Senate for a vote as early as this month, would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Baby steps, but ok.

But you know it won't be easy:
"Regardless of how much money [Singer and his allies] bring to the table, it is not to the advantage of Republican officeholders politically to support his agenda," said Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, one of the major evangelical groups opposing the ENDA. "Particularly in Republican primaries, the Republican Party is still strongly socially conservative. These are core convictions that people have."

Sprigg described the ENDA as a "legislative way to declare that it's morally wrong to disapprove of homosexual conduct." The bill, he said, is a "direct attack against the moral convictions of social conservatives."
I have a core conviction that the conduct of socially conservative, so-called "Christians," who oppose equal rights for anyone, based on their sexual orientation, should be disapproved of as being morally wrong!

Does that mean I can discriminate against them in the workplace?

When the Republican party can give me a reason that I should be barred (as I am) from discriminating against these faux Christians, while they are allowed to discriminate against gays, or can demonstrate that the party can free itself from being hostage to the political threats of this hateful minority, maybe then I'll consider voting for Republican candidates again.

Until then ... it's just lipstick on a pig.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Oh, Fuck Off, Jerry!

I have been trying very hard to keep my pledge to lay off the philosophical deficiencies of Jerry Coyne.

I have resisted the temptation to comment on Jerry's increasing banning of people from his "website," that he ridiculously insists is not a "blog," because they are "rude" to him (probably including me, though I didn't hang around long enough to find out, because I've been at this too long). He has also withdrawn the "title" of "Uncle" from Eric MacDonald for the "sin" of disagreeing with him about scientism.

His latest, "Bertrand Russell on why the term "agnostic" is for show," has driven me over the edge.

He quotes Russell's short piece, "Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? " as follows:
As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of Homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.
Of course, Russell is making a nuanced point. Some years ago, I was asked if I was "religious" and I respected the questioner enough to answer that I was not technically an atheist "but most people might not be able to tell the difference."

Jerry, the alleged animal lover, enthusiastically dons one of his many pairs of dead animal hides to cover his feet while trying to stomp out any nuance that might intrude upon his world:
One problem here is that yes, you cannot give a logical demonstration that the Greek gods don't exist. (That's the "you can't prove a negative" line.) But you can give a practical demonstration that their existence is improbable, for if they interact with the world you should find some evidence of that interaction; and you find none.

One concludes from this piece that philosophers, at least in Russell's time, respected logic more than evidence, and were more concerned with logical possibilities than with probabilities.

The answer, of course, is that if you have no belief in gods, you should call yourself an "atheist." The term "agnostic" is for wimps.
Logic is for wimps! The mind boggles!

Jerry is becoming a caricature of a supposedly liberal intellectual buffoon ... of the sort that Jack Chick might draw!

Monday, October 21, 2013


Uh, Oh!

The Baptist Press has an article, entitled "Nobel Prize winners highlight universe's design, profs. say."

It starts out:
Discovery of the so-called "God particle" not only helped two physicists win this year's Nobel Prize, it also unwittingly bolstered the arguments of the Intelligent Design movement, according to Southern Baptist scientists.

The particle, whose scientific name is the Higgs boson, derives its popular name from the title of the 1993 book, "God Particle," by atheist physicist Leon Lederman. However, "a closer consideration of the function and properties of the Higgs boson is very enlightening from a theistic perspective," Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, told Baptist Press in an email interview.

"In direct opposition to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg's remark that 'the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,' we can only recommend the more obvious and rational view that the greater our comprehension of the universe, the more we should be given to doxology: The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork (Psalm 19:1)," said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance. [Emphasis added]
Let's see ... a "doxology" (Greek for "saying") is a short hymn of praises to God in various Christian worship services. And, of course, Psalm 19:1 is a religious text. But wait a minute! ... ID doesn't have anything to do with religion because the DI tells us so! Maybe Gordon didn't get the memo!

Amusingly, the only scientist among the "profs" cited is not so enthusiastically sectarian as Gordon nor as dishonest as the DI:
William Nettles, professor of physics at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., agreed that discovery of the Higgs boson suggests the universe is orderly and designed, but he urged Christians not to blow the new scientific insight out of proportion.

The discovery "does not detract from the faith-held fact that God created the universe, and all things hold together in the Son," Nettles told BP. "We just have a better picture of God's details ... Our mission is still to bring glory to God through telling His Gospel to all.
Once again we see the IDer's dilemma: how do they signal to the faithful that ID is all about arguing, "scientifically," that there is a God, while keeping that fact from the rest of us, particularly the courts?

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Friday, October 18, 2013


New Jersey Joins the Civilized World

It is now all but certain that New Jersey will join 13 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting full marriage equality.

To its credit, New Jersey was an early adopter of "civil unions," a stopgap measure while public opinion caught up. In 2006, its Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide "full rights and benefits to samesex couples" as are given to opposite sex couples but gave the legislature the option to "either amend the marriage statutes to include same-sex couples or create a parallel statutory structure, which will provide for, on equal terms, the rights and benefits enjoyed and burdens and obligations borne by married couples." The legislature chose "civil unions."

Now, a state court judge has ruled that the state, starting October 21, 2013, must issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Governor Chris Christie sought a stay of the lower court decision in the state's Supreme Court, which was denied. Therefore, gay marriages can begin sometime next week.

While the Supreme Court will still hear the full appeal, its justification for denying the stay leaves little doubt that, barring some last-minute genius argument on the part of the state, gay marriage will certainly become a full reality in New Jersey. The Court ruled unanimously that "the State has not shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits" of the appeal. In other words, the state has lost but the Court will go through the motions.

The logic is impeccable. Having ruled that same sex couples must be given, under the State Constitution, the "full rights and benefits" of marriage, when the US Supreme Court overturned the key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act in US v. Windsor and required the Federal government to give all Federal benefits to couples, same sex and opposite sex, who are legally married under state law, those in "civil unions" were deprived of benefits that married opposite sex couple receive. It was no longer a Federal law that created this disparity but the state's civil union statute and, therefore, the civil union statute violates New Jersey's Constitution.

A few points to be remembered: since this ruling depends on the State Constitution, it is not subject to review by the Federal courts, short of overturning Windsor itself and reinstating DOMA ... a possibility too remote to be taken seriously.

Furthermore, this result is the best thing that could happen to Christie. He had vetoed a same sex marriage law passed by the state legislature and, while his gubernatorial reelection is in no doubt, the issue could have dogged any future campaign for national office he may run. On his right, he can truthfully point to his opposition to same sex marriage and even throw in something about "judicial activism." On his left, one volatile issue has been removed.

Congratulations, New Jerseyites and welcome to the 21st Century!

Via SCOTUSblog

Update: Gov. Christie has dropped the appeal ... possibly taking a swipe at someone at the same time:
The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.
Hmmmm! Who in recent memory does that remind you of?


Palm, Meet Face!

Oh, Lordy!
Award-Winning Filmmaker and FaithWords Author Joe Amaral Announces Upcoming Documentary "God's Big Bang!"

... "God's Big Bang!" investigates the question of whether faith and science can get along, or are they eternally destined to be sworn enemies. Does the Big Bang Theory automatically disqualify the possibility of an Intelligent Design by an omnipotent God? And does the belief in an Intelligent Design by an omnipotent God automatically disqualify the possibility of the Big Bang? This premise will serve as the driving force behind the film. Does the Holy Bible's description of creation fit with what we know from physics and science?
There is a Kickstarter page* where it gets worse:
Rich and beautiful images of stars, planets, clusters, nebulae and galaxies will be featured to display the glory and majesty of the universe. The film will refute and/or challenge the view that the cosmos was created by random chaos. In the end, it will be shown that the universe was designed with purpose and in the way the Bible describes. Special focus will be given to Bible verses that mention astronomical objects and events.
Oh, look at the pretty pictures! ... ergo God!

And this bit straight from the 19th Century Bridgewater Treatises:
In this section we will explore some of the most amazing facts and attributes about earth. We'll be analyzing the importance of gravity, oxygen, water, atmosphere and distance from the sun.
Really? The Goldilocks argument? Is that the best they can do?

*As of 1:30 am Eastern US Daylight Savings time (don't ask!) they had raised $1,500 out of a goal of $19,500.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Can't They Just Shut Up?

State Rep. Rick Saccone of Pennsylvania is pushing one of the Discovery [sic] Institute's phony "academic freedom" laws. Back in April, there was an article in the Murrysville (Pennsylvania) Star about one of the big supporters of the law, Donn Chapman, senior pastor at Cornerstone Ministries, who held a six-week "Origins" series that included Paul Nelson of the DI.

That article was revealing enough but now there are further details in a new article (amusingly enough, from Al Jazeera America):
The pastor of Cornerstone Ministries in Murraysville, Pa., last spring hosted a six-part series, Origins, in which he portrayed the teaching of evolution as a triumph of secularists and "neo-Darwinists" who want "to drive God from the marketplace and ... keep us from being able to give God the glory for what he's done."

"We are the spiritual children of the founders of this nation," Chapman said. "This has been stolen from us. We need to take it back and give it back to God."
But ID and "academic freedom" have nothing to do with religion ... because the DI tells us so!

Although Saccone said in an interview that the "academic freedom" bill had nothing to do with religion, he told the Origins class, "God is part of our government. We just need to get the word out. We, too, can turn back to our godly heritage."
Thank you Pastor Chapman and Rep. Saccone. If this act ever becomes law, you've made it soooo much easier.

The poor DI ... they just can't get the faithful to understand the 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean" strategy.

Via Ed Brayton

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Monday, October 14, 2013


Day and Night

A thought:
Nonetheless, the contributors to this volume also think that Larry Laudan’s famous dismissal of the demarcation problem— almost three decades ago now— as an ill-conceived and even pernicious pseudoproblem, and of terms like “pseudoscience” as pieces of hollow rhetoric, was just as premature and misguided. Laudan may have forgotten Socrates’ lesson: even if we do not arrive at a neat and exceptionless formal definition of some X, based on a small set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, we may still come to learn a lot in the process. If we raise the bar for the demarcation project too high, settling for nothing less than a timeless and essential definition, a death pronouncement such as Laudan’s is all too easy to make.
- Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry, eds., Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013.

If accurate, I am glad to see the philosophy of science community rejecting what I have long seen as Lauden's naïve dismissal of the possibility that we can know what science is and is not, just because there may be gray areas.
As Edmund Burke said in another context: "Though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are upon the whole tolerably distinguishable."1

1Gould, Stephen Jay 1980. "A Quahog is a Quahog", The Panda's Thumb. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., pp. 204-213.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Forever Busy

And so it goes:
An effort to overturn a new law allowing transgender students to choose which school restrooms they use and whether to play boys or girls sports got a boost Friday when a major player in the passage of California's now-defunct same-sex marriage ban threw its support behind the campaign.

The National Organization for Marriage announced it was working with another conservative group, the Capitol Resource Institute, to repeal the law at the ballot box. The marriage group provided early fundraising and organizing for the 2008 ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriages, known as Proposition 8.
But lest you think this is a grassroots reaction to the law:

The political strategist who ran the successful Proposition 8 campaign, Frank Schubert, has signed on to manage the referendum campaign. Noting that no one has ever qualified a referendum in California using only volunteers, Schubert said "it's a virtual certainty" the campaign will hire paid petition-circulators to supplement work already going on at churches statewide.

"We are actively talking with donors about helping to fund that," said Schubert "A referendum is a very hard thing to do. It's definitely an uphill thing."
So uphill is the campaign that Protect Marriage, long after the Prop 8 barn door has been shut, still wants an exemption from California's political campaign disclosure laws for the donors to the organization's future "campaigns regarding protecting marriage."

I'd almost have sympathy for that argument if there was significant harassment of small donors who gave over California's reporting threshold of one hundred dollars. But we all know that the idea is to protect big donors such as the Mormon and Catholic Churches.

Frank Schubert's statement about the trangender law is, however, illuminating:
This is not a law people support by a long-shot," he said. "This is an attempt to hijack an issue that may be legitimate for a small number of people and use it to impose a statewide mandate in pursuit of a larger political agenda ... to strip society of all gender norms so there is no difference between men and women.
Because, of course, there should be legal differences between male and female (and everything in between) human beings.

Henry Drummond may be fictional, but he is far more real than Schubert: "fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding."

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


Invading Academia!

The Discoveryless Institute is crowing about "some open-minded students at the University of California, Irvine, invit[ing] Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin to speak about ID on the campus."
Citing a lack of classroom discourse on intelligent design at the University of California Irvine – a highly regarded scientific research institution – a Christian student group recently brought in a scholar to discuss the merits of the controversial theory, which suggests an intelligence can be found in the blueprints of life.
Of course, "open-minded" and "Christian" are synonymous! ... Just ask any gay person!
"Intelligent design is a valid explanation that should be able to be freely taught on a scientific campus," UC Irvine biomedical engineering major Daryl Arreza, 23, told The College Fix.

Arreza, co-president of Ratio Christi, the Christian apologetics campus group that sponsored the recent talk, said the lecture was needed to expose students to the theory of intelligent design, which is ignored in campus science classes.

"We hope people think, 'How come we don't hear about this in our classes?'" Arreza said.
What's the matter, Mr. Arreza? Aren't you going to Sunday school? Oh, are you expecting a state university to hold Sunday school classes in its science curriculum?

This is kind of fun: "[t]he pro-intelligent design scholar" is, no less, Casey Luskin. Now, we can all think of many epithets for Casey ... but scholar?

Then there is this:
... Lusskin added intelligent design is neither simply a negative argument against evolution, nor is it necessarily an appeal to a supernatural power, such as God.
Of course, you wouldn't necessarily make an appeal to a supernatural power to a Christian apologetics campus group ... Heaven Forfend!

The rest is blather, borrowed, as always, from "Creation Science," such as:
"Common design could be another explanation," [Casey] said. "While human and ape DNA is said to be 99 percent similar, why couldn't the cause of that be a common blueprint, because it is a useful design?"
There is much other silliness but how many times can you beat the grass where a dead horse once peed?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


Sleight of Handwaiving

Stephen Meyer, in Darwin's Doubt is (surprise, surprise!) pulling some sleight of hand.

In Chapter 19, he argues against Methodological Naturalism and, in particular, tries to excuse the failure of ID to specify just how their relentlessly unspecified intelligent designer actually achieves its alleged effect on the material world. At page 397 he states:
At present no one has any idea how our thoughts—the decisions and choices that occur in our conscious minds—affect our material brains, nerves, and muscles, going on to instantiate our will in the material world of objects. However, we know that is exactly what our thoughts do. We have no mechanistic explanation for the mystery of consciousness, nor what is called the "mind-body problem"—the enigma of how thought affects the material state of our brains, bodies, and the world that we affect with them. Yet there is no doubt that we can—as the result of events in our conscious minds called decisions or choices—"will into existence" information-rich arrangements of matter or otherwise affect material states in the world.
On the next page, he says:
We do know of a cause that can produce the functional information necessary to build complex systems. But we do not know exactly how mind interfaces with matter. If we were to ask what caused the Rosetta Stone to arise, and then insist despite all evidence to the contrary that a purely material process is capable of producing the information-rich etchings on that stone, we would be deluding ourselves. The information etched into that black slab of igneous rock at the British Museum provides overwhelming evidence that an intelligent agent did cause those inscriptions.
First of all, notice the shift between talking about our present lack of knowledge of how "choices" in our "mind" (which many philosophers and neuroscientists think are, in fact, illusionary) act on the brain, to the assertion that "all evidence" is that our "intelligence" is not "a purely material process."

It's not hard to reach an "inference" to non-materialistic design when you assume it in your premise.

Of course, to use a favorite phrase of the IDers, "we have abundant experience in the present" that, if you physically damage a human brain, a material object, say by putting a bullet in it, the "mind" ceases to interface with matter ... fairly strong evidence that, in humans at least, "mind" is a material process ... unless ghost stories are now part of the "evidence" for ID.

Furthermore, we have good evidence exactly how those letters arose on the Rosetta Stone from the chisel marks and our discovery of the sort of period tools that made them. Humans do not "will" such things into existence, we use fully material means to produce material objects. Where is the evidence of how the designer caused the supposedly sudden change in animal morphology during the Cambrian? If IDers can't specify that, then their whole "analogy" of human design to disembodied design collapses from its lack of correspondence.

And, no, "poof" is not a scientific explanation.

P.S. By the way, in that chapter Meyer uses the same quote from Richard Lewontin that the openly creationist plaintiffs in Kansas used in their lawsuit ... showing, once again, that the only thing making ID distinguishable from creationism is that the creationists are (slightly) more honest.

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