News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 24, 2010 in News

Bitches Ain’t Shit“, performed with pathos by female a capella group Bacchantae.

Philosopher Stephen Maitzen’s popular summary of why theism threatens morality will appear shortly in Free Inquiry. (Also see my interview with Maitzen here.)

John Danaher’s latest podcast episode discusses Bill Craig’s chapter “The Absurdity of Life Without God” through the lens of Thomas Nagel’s “The Absurd.” Steve Maitzen mentioned this earlier, and I wrote about it here.

Dr. Wynne Legrow, atheist, is running for U.S. Congress in Virginia. (via)

The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

Only 6% of Brits regularly attend a religious service.” Is that true?

The Incoherence of Free Will” – a 2009 article by Massimo Pigliucci that is very short and spot-on.

The first episode of the Rational Skepticism podcast has been published.

A gender role-reversal episode of a popular Saudi TV comedy angers Saudi males.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Hendy August 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Where the hell do you constantly find this stuff. Unbelievable. ‘Bitches aint shit’ and the visual PhD were phenomenal!

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ColonelFazackerley August 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm

“Only 6% of Brits regularly attend a religious service.” Is that true?

Sounds about right to me. The annoying thing, is that non-attendees still have some poorly thought through attachment to the idea of Church, even though they can’t be bothered to go. When they were children, they got the impression that it was a good thing, and no longer question it. Mostly “Church of England”.

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Josh August 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Thanks for the Pigliucci article! I don’t always agree with him but he’s usually a great writer. I’m looking forward to reading it.

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Al Moritz August 24, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I am a believer, but I would vote for Legrow without the blink of an eye if he has better political ideas than his opponent (sure can’t be too difficult, given the sour state that the Republican Party is in).

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Jacopo August 24, 2010 at 2:02 pm

I think the 6% figure – whether correct or not – will rise with the Muslim population, viz. sharply. Also, the gap left by the C of E is being filled by evangelical churches, as far as I can tell. So even if that figure is correct, I would bet a considerable amount that it will rise greatly in the coming decades. To the detriment of the country.

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Leomar August 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Where the hell do you constantly find this stuff. Unbelievable. ‘Bitches aint shit’ and the visual PhD were phenomenal!

Yeah!, they’re great.

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cl August 24, 2010 at 2:40 pm

“The Incoherence of Free Will” – a 2009 article by Massimo Pigliucci that is very short and spot-on.

I was far less impressed. Declaring something incoherent doesn’t make it so, and I think Pigliucci danced around the unwelcome implications of rejecting free will. It seems to me that he, too, needs to engage in what he called “painful feats of mental gymnastics.”

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Evolution SWAT August 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Also, PZ Myers is sick …

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Martin August 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm

cl,

It seems to me that he, too, needs to engage in what he called “painful feats of mental gymnastics.”

Can you expand on that?

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Cl: I was far less impressed. Declaring something incoherent doesn’t make it so

Yet, he gave specific reasons, so the declaration was substantiated.

I think Pigliucci danced around the unwelcome implications of rejecting free will.

Why should he write the article with those extra details?

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cl August 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Neither the fact that “our neurons are made of matter” or the possibility that “quantum events might bubble up” demonstrate that free will is incoherent. Pigliucci’s logic is incoherent – literally. If you don’t believe me, write the syllogisms out yourself.

Martin,

Specifically, he danced around the “lumbering robots” question.

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Then I don’t think you read it right.

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Kaelik August 24, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Oh Cl:

The negative implications of something have no effect on it’s truth value.

If free will is incoherent, which it is iff you reject supernatural claims about non physical selfs, then the fact that you personally don’t like the implications of lack of free will doesn’t actually have anything to do with it.

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stamati August 24, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Thanks, Luke, for the quality of your postings. Out of all the atheist blogs I started on, this is pretty much the only one i read with any seriousness. Although Daylight Atheism is damn good.

ANYWAY, I’d like to comment on the proposed negative implications of Pigliucci’s article. I think that his assessment of determinism is actually pretty fair- at least, it’s the most fair I’ve heard of. It’s not doom and gloom, and this is the first time I’ve heard that there are non-deterministic physical systems and unpredictable deterministic systems. Well, okay, everything’s not as cut and dry as the Calvins of the world might say. This is, it seems to me, a hopeful thing.

Also, regardless of what the “truth” is fundamentally of this matter, what remains true is that believing you have a choice makes you act as if you did have a choice. You make better decisions, you think with a greater range. And I don’t think that’s delusional. I think that is acknowledging how the mind works and playing to its strengths.

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Kaelik August 24, 2010 at 6:28 pm

“Also, regardless of what the “truth” is fundamentally of this matter, what remains true is that believing you have a choice makes you act as if you did have a choice. You make better decisions, you think with a greater range. And I don’t think that’s delusional. I think that is acknowledging how the mind works and playing to its strengths.”

Um… And you base this on…?

I believe that we do not have free choice, or really, any choice at all because it’s an illusion of a complex system, but that doesn’t mean that I stop seeking the truth, or demanding evidence for belief. Those are in fact, part of the complex system that is me, so the fact that I can’t choose to stop seeking truth is preferable to the ability to stop.

How do you even define something like “better decisions” or “greater range.”

Sounds to me like you just feel like it’s true, so you make some justifications up for why your inability to feel that you aren’t making choices is a strength.

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Lorkas August 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

cl: Pigliucci’s logic is incoherent

earlier cl: Declaring something incoherent doesn’t make it so

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Martin August 24, 2010 at 7:16 pm

cl,

If you don’t believe me, write the syllogisms out yourself.

Like this?

Physical neurons

1. If neurons are made of matter/energy, then they are not free of physical laws (determinism)
2. Neurons are made of matter/energy
3. Therefore, they are not free of physical laws (determinism)

Quantum bubbling

1. If free will comes from quantum indeterminate interactions, then the will is random
2. Free will comes from quantum indeterminate interactions
3. Therefore, the will is random

At least, that’s a guess. I’m not good at translating English into syllogisms.

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Lorkask, LOL! She does that quite a bit and gets pissed off for quite minor reasons.

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Silver Bullet August 24, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Maitzen is in fine form: concise, clear, effective.

I am eager to hear the theistic rebuttals.

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Hermes August 24, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Kaelik, I had some salient comments for you but I could not give clear examples of what I was thinking. Like you, I don’t think free will is what we have. OTOH, I don’t think that the false alternative of mechanistic determinism is accurate either.

If I can flesh it out, I’ll post a comment.

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G'DIsraeli August 24, 2010 at 10:21 pm

A gender role-reversal episode of a popular Saudi TV comedy angers Saudi males. How surprising!This probably has nothing to do with Islam, which commands these roles in the Quran or Wahhabism.
The total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma’moun [a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars—WPR] to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year.
Cause the religious are serious when they mean there is only ONE IMPORTANT BOOK (Quran)….If not the bloody black gold (oil) where would Islam & it’s ambitions be today…

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Clark Enwell August 25, 2010 at 4:23 am

““Only 6% of Brits regularly attend a religious service.” Is that true?”

Yes, I would say so. And half of them are atheists trying to get their kids into the local school.

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Reginald Selkirk August 25, 2010 at 5:54 am

Also, regardless of what the “truth” is fundamentally of this matter, what remains true is that believing you have a choice makes you act as if you did have a choice.

Of course you have choices, even if free will is incoherent or does not exist. The question is whether those choices are “free” in whatever sense is determined by the definitions at issue. If you are discussing contracausal free will in a setting of naturalism, then the lack of free will simply means that the decision-making apparatus is a part of the natural world, not outside of it.

Do not confuse determinism with fatalism.

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Reginald Selkirk August 25, 2010 at 5:59 am

“Bitches Ain’t Shit” – the acoustic quality was terrible. I could hardly understand any of the lyrics.

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stamati August 25, 2010 at 8:50 am

@Selkirk

Do you mind elaborating on what you mean by the difference between determinism and fatalism? I think I’m saying something similar.

@Kaelik

I base that thought on my experience working in schools, and so my definitions of “better” and “greater range” are things like grades and behavior. While I doubt it’s this cut and dry, those students who are either presented with options or believe they have options tend to be more optimistic and productive than those who think fatalistically, who tend to have behavioral issues and lower quality work.

I think that it is best to believe that in some ways the world is indeed open to you. As Primo Levi says, “…I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing blind, deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head…”

I think we’ll get closer to an understanding if we keep this discussion going.

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Kaelik August 25, 2010 at 11:09 am

@stamati

There is a difference between being given a choice as a student by some authority figure vs not being given a choice by the authority figure and believing my “choices” are contra causal and stem from a supernatural me-soul.

When an authority hands down an outcome, there is basically no reason to think that it has anything to do with what you want. On the other hand, if you as a non-supernatural determined agent pick from a set of options, even if your wants are determined entirely by outside factors influencing you meat computer, you can still expect to get the thing you want more often.

Acting like you the determined agent has the power to get what you want is certainly more empowering than you the determined agent not getting what you want because other people have power over you.

But that says nothing about free will thoughts whatsoever, and it still meets your criteria of children being given choices or not.

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Reginald Selkirk August 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Determinism – the idea that all present and future events are determined by previous states of the system, with your brain states (i.e. choices) being included in “present and future events.”

Fatalism – the idea that outcomes are pre-determined, no matter what decisions you make or course of action you take. The classic illustration of fatalism is the story of the man who is told that the grim reaper will meet him at a certain day & time, so he leaves town that day and travels to the next village…

True randomness, as opposed to simply the inability to make predictions, would be an argument against determinism, but randomness is pretty much exactly what people do not mean by “will,” free or otherwise.

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cl August 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Kaelik,

The negative implications of something have no effect on it’s truth value.

I never said they did. What are you alluding to?

…that you personally don’t like the implications of lack of free will doesn’t actually have anything to do with it.

That’s correct, but unfortunately, irrelevant to what I claimed. I deny that Pigliucci’s logic is coherent, and I’ve already given my reasoning above.

Lorkas,

cl: Pigliucci’s logic is incoherent

earlier cl: Declaring something incoherent doesn’t make it so

Quip away, but I didn’t simply declare Pigliucci’s logic incoherent; I demonstrated it to be incoherent. Address that if you wish, or not.

Martin,

I would challenge your first premise in both syllogisms:

That neurons are not free of physical laws isn’t what’s being disputed here. At least, that’s not what I’m disputing. IOW, the fact that neurons follow physical laws doesn’t preclude free will.

If free will comes from quantum indeterminate actions, that doesn’t mean it must be random. I see no reason teleology couldn’t underwrite these quantum indeterminate actions. Do you?

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Justfinethanks August 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I see no reason teleology couldn’t underwrite these quantum indeterminate actions.

Wow. We’ve pushed the God of the Gaps all the way down to the Quantum level?

Great job atheists! God has almost nowhere else to hide in our scientific understanding of the universe.

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cl August 25, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Justfinethanks,

We’ve pushed the God of the Gaps all the way down to the Quantum level?

Quip away, but who’s talking about God?

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Kaelik August 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

@cl

“I never said they did. What are you alluding to?”

Probably the part where you claim that in an article about the incoherence of free will, “I think Pigliucci danced around the unwelcome implications of rejecting free will. It seems to me that he, too, needs to engage in what he called “painful feats of mental gymnastics.” ”

“That’s correct, but unfortunately, irrelevant to what I claimed. I deny that Pigliucci’s logic is coherent, and I’ve already given my reasoning above.”

and

“Quip away, but I didn’t simply declare Pigliucci’s logic incoherent; I demonstrated it to be incoherent. Address that if you wish, or not.”

No you didn’t give your reasoning, nor did you demonstrate anything. You have made two posts before this one where you claimed you had already demonstrated:

1) “I was far less impressed. Declaring something incoherent doesn’t make it so, and I think Pigliucci danced around the unwelcome implications of rejecting free will. It seems to me that he, too, needs to engage in what he called “painful feats of mental gymnastics.””

In other words, “bad stuff happens if you reject free will.”

2) “Neither the fact that “our neurons are made of matter” or the possibility that “quantum events might bubble up” demonstrate that free will is incoherent. Pigliucci’s logic is incoherent – literally. If you don’t believe me, write the syllogisms out yourself.

Martin,

Specifically, he danced around the “lumbering robots” question”

In other words, “His argument is incoherent. I don’t have time to demonstrate this, do it for me.”

In neither case did you present any reasoning at all, good or bad, or demonstrate anything.

In fact, further, when someone else presented with coherent logical arguments modeling the subjects covered in the article, you claimed not to agree with a premise. Which of course, has nothing to do with it’s coherence. So you have already accepted that his arguments are coherent, and that combined with your failure to even point to any aspect of it as incoherent, makes your position look pretty poor.

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Hermes August 25, 2010 at 3:13 pm

The same people who are talking about Zeus.

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stamati August 25, 2010 at 8:44 pm

@ Kaelik

I understand the difference you’re talking about, and I’m not denying it. I also get what you’re saying about cause and effect in the second paragraph. I suppose what I’m getting at is that I don’t feel that I am obligated to submit to a positive or negative reading of the issue of free-will vs. determinism.

I think that a reason we care about this discussion is because the questions associated with it carry a lot of emotional weight. Am I a robot? Does God have a plan for me? Do I have any control over my life? and so on. I think that clinging to the affirmative or to the negative of any of those questions will produce delusive behavior, and I think that because it seems to me as though we don’t have the final answer on this subject. Why should I act as though we did? And so I am pretty agnostic about the will.

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cl August 27, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Kaelik,

Do you like to debate by putting arguments in people’s mouths or what?

In other words, “bad stuff happens if you reject free will.”

No, IOW, that neurons follow physical laws doesn’t prove the concept of free will incoherent. That random quantum bubbling might occur doesn’t prove the concept of free will incoherent. These are the exact same things I’ve been saying all along: Pigliucci’s got a lot more work cut out for him if he wants to make his case. If you need even more reasoning to understand something so simple, I don’t know what to say. Maybe your retorts are motivated by something other than cogent logic.

So you have already accepted that his arguments are coherent, and that combined with your failure to even point to any aspect of it as incoherent, makes your position look pretty poor.

Who are you to tell me what I’ve accepted, and more importantly, how would you know? No offense, but if you really believe that either the fact of neurons following physical laws or the possibility of random quantum bubbling shows the concept of free will to be incoherent, I’d rather not waste any more time getting your induction up to speed! However, if you believe either of those things and can actually argue them successfully, let’s hear it.

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Kaelik August 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm

“Who are you to tell me what I’ve accepted, and more importantly, how would you know?”

I know because you’ve admitted to his arguments being coherent when you responded to the coherent arguments presented by Martin with a rejection of premises, rather than a claim of incoherence. And since those arguments are identical to the ones made in the article, just slimmed to a simple form, they are coherent arguments made by the person you are claiming is incoherent.

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Hermes August 30, 2010 at 12:06 am

:)

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Kaelik August 30, 2010 at 5:45 am

Hermes, any word on that stuff from earlier that you were working on?

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