News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 14, 2010 in News

Philosopher Gary Gutting critiques Richard Dawkins’s central argument for atheism at the New York Times.

Greta Christina video: What Atheists Can Learn from the LGBT Movement.

A lovely article on Hitchens, death, and atheism.

This is what happens when you actually take the Bible as your guidebook.

Sad: evolutionary psychologist and moral psychologist Marc Hauser (Harvard) apparently guilty of scientific misconduct.

Damn, I need to hurry up and get a Ph.D.! Richard Joyce just wrote a paper that I had been planning to write. :) Of course, it’s a better paper because he wrote it.

The long YouTube series Reasoning Under Uncertainty is a handy intro to Bayesian reasoning in many areas.

Great new article at SEP: Folk Psychology as Theory, by Ravenscroft.

Christopher Hitchens is a badass.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

G'DIsraeli August 15, 2010 at 12:45 am

In Pakistan ~20 million without shelter after floods…cholera is already spreading.

I still really like Hitchens, even tho I think his books was probably the worst when comes to content out of the three new Atheists, while Harris the bests.
I agree much with Hitchens in politics, love his style too.

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Mazen Abdallah August 15, 2010 at 1:10 am

I always thought of Dawkins’ central argument for atheism was the same as the Stephen Roberts’ quote. You know, how do you buy your God and not his?

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G'DIsraeli August 15, 2010 at 1:26 am

So far Pakistan received it’s major support from the US. More then 70 Million $ and military support (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4a7nm3R6-I).

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Mazen Abdallah August 15, 2010 at 1:40 am

Follow-up 1: He’s going after the argument that God would have to be even more complex than the universe
“Here Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers.”
The greatest theist fallacy of them all: Special Pleading
“Dawkins does not meet the standards of rationality that a topic as important as religion requires. ”
By implying religion is such a big deal you’re not rational anymore, but rather you’re a sniveling sycophant. And completely divorcing the debate from religious texts and ideas makes it a debate about metaphysics and not religion ,douchebag.
“But suppose that several astronauts reported seeing something that looked very much like a teapot and, later, a number of reputable space scientists interpreted certain satellite data as showing the presence of a teapot-shaped object,”
Trying to dismantle Russell’s teapot. That.Is.Precious.
“His case is weak because it does not take adequate account of the philosophical discussions that have raised the level of reflection about God’s existence far above that at which he operates.”
Remember kids, when you can’t hit someone’s lay-arguments, accuse them of failing to acknowledge philosophy properly. Never mind that you ignore their strong-suits(biology in this case) they totally need to confront you on your ‘philosophical’ points.(note:philosophy here is not taken to mean the actual study of philosophy but rather a collection of syllogisms arguing for God)

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Beelzebub August 15, 2010 at 2:37 am

From the Dawkins critique:

But suppose that several astronauts reported seeing something that looked very much like a teapot and, later, a number of reputable space scientists interpreted certain satellite data as showing the presence of a teapot-shaped object, even though other space scientists questioned this interpretation. Then it would be gratuitous to reject the hypothesis out of hand, even without decisive proof that it was true. We should just remain agnostic about it.

Ah, anyone else see a problem here? If astronauts saw a teapot shaped object and scientists interpreted satellite images as looking like a teapot, any of those astronauts or scientists who actually credited the hypothesis that an actual teapot was in orbit, I would certainly hope that their would either be fired or required to undergo psychiatric evaluation. And this is kind of the point. Which is more probable: an orbiting teapot or a teapot-shaped rock, plainly explicable by natural means? Which is more probable: personal experience of God, or self delusion or temporal lobe or hormonal/endorphin inspired, but very real and mundane, experience? For people who aren’t already disposed to be credulous regarding the flying teapot, the answer is plain.

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Hermes August 15, 2010 at 4:07 am

Re: teapot example…

Well, you note the data and then withhold a final conclusion. The actual teapot becomes plausible but not shown probable on one level, but as science it remains off the radar because the conclusion can’t be pre-supposed based on a prior speculation. What’s needed is a conclusion based on actual evidence.

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Mazen Abdallah August 15, 2010 at 4:42 am

I brought up the russell’s teapot once to a Craig clone. He did the smartest possible thing and denied that his cosmology used it. Plus the moron makes a classic mistake. Russell’s teapot is not a statement on the unlikelihood of orbiting chinaware. It’s a model of unfalsifiable data! If someone gives you a claim you can’t verify or falsify…it’s not real information now is it?

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Hermes August 15, 2010 at 5:11 am

Well said!

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Lorkas August 15, 2010 at 6:04 am

I just noticed that Hitchens is wearing a Mexican flag lapel pin in the Charlie Rose interview. Is he showing support for the gay marriage legislation, or is there another reason for it?

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lukeprog August 15, 2010 at 6:14 am

Lorkas,

Yeah, I’m not sure.

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Ajay August 15, 2010 at 6:31 am

That Primo Levi quote in the Hitchens article always gives me shivers.

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Joe Navy August 15, 2010 at 7:01 am

Its said thar Christopher Hitchens’ tears cure cancer…To bad he has never cried.

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lukeprog August 15, 2010 at 7:20 am

Joe Navy,

LOL!!!

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Reginald Selkirk August 15, 2010 at 8:01 am

“Philosopher” Gary Gutting:

Here Dawkins ignores the possibility that God is a very different sort of being than brains and computers. His argument for God’s complexity either assumes that God is material or, at least, that God is complex in the same general way that material things are (having many parts related in complicated ways to one another). The traditional religious view, however, is that God is neither material nor composed of immaterial parts (whatever that might mean). Rather, he is said to be simple, a unity of attributes that we may have to think of as separate but that in God are united in a single reality of pure perfection.

When the argument requires it, theistic philosophers will argue that God is simple. This does not comport well with other arguments and statements they make, rather is is a tactical maneuver to avoid an argument against. Consider that many of those philosophers, being Christian, will also argue for the trinity, which is neither simple, nor “united in a single reality.”

A God who “is neither material nor composed of immaterial parts” has only one alternative: nonexistence. Gutting embraces contradictory arguments, and gets caught holding the bag.

In the running battle between philosophers and scientists, Gutting scores an own goal.

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Reginald Selkirk August 15, 2010 at 8:06 am

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Torgo August 15, 2010 at 8:06 am

Found this critique of Gutting’s article by Ophelia Benson (via Pharyngula):

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2010/you-need-a-better-first-step/

She expands on the reaction I had to Gutting’s claim (and a similar claim that Luke raised in objection to Dawkins before):

The traditional religious view, however, is that God is neither material nor composed of immaterial parts (whatever that might mean). Rather, he is said to be simple, a unity of attributes that we may have to think of as separate but that in God are united in a single reality of pure perfection.

So, God is “said to be” X. But so what? I agree that Dawkins’ argument is flawed (Gutting does a good job of showing that in a different part of his essay). But it’s not flawed because Dawkins fails to disprove what God is said to be by theists. Dawkins tries to address the God that would be proved were Design Arguments sound, and then to show that such a God is untenable. He overreaches by saying God probably doesn’t exist, but his line of argument isn’t necessarily wrong in claiming that the God Design Arguments demonstrate is incoherent.

Gutting is doing something I’ve observed in theists in lots of other cases, but especially when it comes to Design Arguments: Defending an argument for God, but then ignoring what kind of God that argument demonstrates, and instead bringing in unjustified claims about that God. Design Arguments, if sound, demonstrate a Designer, but theists sneak in omnipotence, omniscience, etc. And Gutting is trying to sneak in simplicity.

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lukeprog August 15, 2010 at 8:34 am

Reginald,

Lol. Of course what I really need is the education that comes with a Ph.D., and buying one wouldn’t give me that. :)

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Reginald Selkirk August 15, 2010 at 8:40 am

Perhaps Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D. Ph.D. Ph.D. could loan you one of his.

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ildi August 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

Torgo: I love Chris Lawson’s explanation of the three god monte in the comments:

The monte goes like this:

THEIST: The universe is too complex too have come into being by itself. It must have a First Cause to explain its existence.

ATHEIST: But the First Cause must be even more complex than the universe it creates. So if the universe is too complex to come into being by itself, then a First Cause is even less explanatory.

THEIST: Oh no. You see, it could be that a very, very simple First Cause can create complexity in the same way that the simple arrangements of crystal atoms can create incredibly complex structures.

ATHEIST: But if a simple thing can generate enormous complexity, why can’t that apply to the universe itself?

THEIST: Because I’m a philosopher.

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matth August 15, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Loved the hitchens interview. News bits is my favorite kind of post you do.

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Hermes August 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Reginald Selkirk: Perhaps Massimo Pigliucci, Ph.D. Ph.D. Ph.D. could loan you one of his.

No need, I hear they pop-up from a convenient dispenser in the lavatory at his University. The bonus is that unlike other schools, you can top off your gas tank there too.

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Torgo August 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Nice one, ildi. But let’s not bash the philosophers unjustly. Not all of them advance such ludicrous arguments.

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mediainfidel August 17, 2010 at 3:47 am

I really enjoyed the Charlie Rose interview with Hitchens. Thanks for posting that. Though I have to say, when he gets into the issues of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan I can’t help but bite my tongue. Once upon a time he had a very nuanced view of the issues surrounding west Asia, but since Sept. 11 he has become little more than a fear-mongering neo-con, buying into and touting the most ridiculous chest-pounding war propaganda that is absent any empirical evidence, using fear of the “Other” as a basis for sending other people to war. I mean, what should the United States (and other concerned countries) do, maintain endless wars and bases in Iraq and Afghanistan? Then invade/bomb Iran?

The idea is futile and preposterous.

Maybe we should treat Islamic terrorism for what it is, a criminal act deserving criminal sanctions, investigation, and prosecution.

While most atheists (myself included) are rightfully sickened by Muslim theocracies and tyranny of any sort, is warfare against such wickedness really the answer, more us-versus-them memes permeating our culture? In my opinion, if we take — in our justified dislike of religious intolerance and violence — these absolutist perspectives like Hitchens has done of late, we are doing little more than adopting the inverted metaphysical view of what Osama Bin Laden preaches, the opposing side in the “Clash of Civilizations.”

Where that leads is predictable. The trash heap of Empires.

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