News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 20, 2010 in News

I have read well over 300 self-help books, but today I finished reading the #1 best self-help book ever written, Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds. Wiseman is a skeptic and scientist, and so he debunks all the bullshit usually sold as self-help, and instead provides an impressive summary of everything scientists know about self-help so far – in a fun, short, readable little package. Wow.

Keith DeRose’s epic smackdown of postmodernism. [PDF backup.] Also, The Marketplace of Ideas interviewed Alan Sokal (see the Lingua Franca revelation here). Finally: in 2005, Robert Harrison interviewed Richard Rorty (jump to 13:30).

The Marketplace of Ideas also interviewed Steven Landsburg, the author of The Armchair Economist and the “everyday economics” column for Slate, about his latest book, The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics. See also the Big Questions Blog.

Scientific consensus statement on morality.” (Note that they are talking about “morality” as human moral behavior, not as moral value itself.)

Bas van Fraassen summarizes my view of metaphysics. He is also eye-opening here.

Video: Christopher Hitchens debated David Berlinski, a few weeks ago.

Galileo Was Wrong: First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism. Not a hoax, unfortunately.

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{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

TDC September 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Just got the book used for 2 bucks from some seller on amazon. Looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.

And Luke, you need to do a post on how you pull off such massive amounts of reading. 300 self help books??? And that doesn’t include all the other things you read! Do you stop to take notes or anything?

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lukeprog September 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm

TDC,

I read those self-help books years ago.

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Bradm September 20, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I like the part of De Rose’s “epic smackdown” where he admits that he hasn’t read any of the French writers he’s critiquing. I also like the part where he writes “Nothing in this post really shows that one should take a dim view of postmodern thought” and “a few examples prove nothing.” I couldn’t agree more. The fact that he relies on Sokal for much of his smackdown doesn’t gain him any points.

If you want to see a real epic smackdown, see this one of Sokal.

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Charles September 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm

The Keith DeRose link doesn’t work for me.

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Patrick September 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The point where I decided to completely disregard the field of postmodern literary criticism was when I first read an academic article proclaiming that Huckleberry Finn was homoerotic, and then in the same week heard someone defend postmodern literary criticism by claiming that the idea that they did things like infer homoerotic content into Huckleberry Finn was a straw man made up by people with an ideological ax to grind.

I’ve since walked back a little on my complete disdain for everything that stems from postmodernism (once you recognize the hidden premise that any political opinion of an author can be inferred from any sufficiently long work of literature by the author, you can get a lot done), but I do have to agree with this part: that postmodernism is more of a political party than a set of ideas, and much of it is willfully obscurantist, with the intention of hiding that there’s just not that much *there* there.

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Bill Maher September 20, 2010 at 5:33 pm

Berlinski is such a terrible debater. Glad to see Hitchens kick em.

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MichaelPJ September 20, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Actually, I was going to say the reverse about the Hitchins/Berlinski debate. I didn’t think Berlinski was great, but Hitchens didn’t really address his points. Hitch made good points, but they weren’t that relevant to the question at hand, which was defending atheism from the claim that it “poisons everything”. Personally, I would have gone for the point that totalitariansim was a more likely cause of the problems Berlinski listed, rather than atheism (and so on). Berlinski has this vague thing he pulls out late in the debate (that Hitch should have dragged out of him earlier) that the problem is that atheism removes an incentive for people to act well out of fear. If there was ever a target Hitch could have ripped apart rhetorically, that was it. Sadly, the opportunity was missed.

He answers the questions well, however!

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lukeprog September 20, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Great link, Bradm!

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orgostrich September 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm

For some geocentric-related fun [/sarcasm]: fixedearth.com
My favorite phrase: “the Copernican Keystone of the Pharisee Religion’s Big Bang Evolutionary Paradigm.”
I really really wish this was a joke, but I don’t think it is…

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Almost Chris September 20, 2010 at 6:51 pm

When I was a kid growing up in an Ultra-Traditionalist (Vatican II hating) Catholic family, my mom had a book by a super traditionalist priest in Boston writing in the 60′s. His main argument was that the Church went downhill and the world plummeted into moral chaos after….. the Church’s denial of geocentrism. He honestly claimed that the worst heretic after Judas was Galileo. He believed and preached this in his sermons and wrote books about it and saw his mission to re-convert the world back to geocentrism and morality. My mom bought his books but never read them, so was unaware of his views, but for me it was one of the first real cracks in revering my parent’s religion.

My point being that the group linked to above really does exist. They are not a joke. This priest, and I cannot remember his name, apparently had some converts to continue his work.

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antiplastic September 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Yeah, the De Rose link seems dead, and alternate googlings for it come up empty.

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Hermes September 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm

A few quotes from Alan Sokal in The Marketplace of Ideas interview that sums things up quite well;

If you are sloppy about evaluating evidence, then you are ethically liable for the mistakes that you’ve made. [ ~45:00 mark ]

* * *

The main point is … it’s important when you make claims about factual matters in the world, to understand clearly what is the evidence on which those claims are based and to and try evaluate that evidence as impartially as possible. [ ~45:50 mark ]

I’d add that if you have evidence before you, not evaluating it at all is also an ethical failure, not only a philosophical or logical one. Ignoring evidence is like a white lie and it should not be treated as a valid method of justifying a point of view.

Ignorance of details you are unaware of is a valid justification for drawing the wrong conclusion or having an invalid chain of reasons in reaching any conclusion at all.

Having the details available to you and then ignoring it in preference to your previous ignorance so you can reach a different conclusion or avoid any conclusion at all is not valid.

Along those lines, and in the spirit of Alan Sokal’s comments as well as many others; You can have your own opinions, but you can not have your own facts.

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lukeprog September 20, 2010 at 8:44 pm

Harumph. Did I kill the blog? The whole site is down. Anyway, I’ve now added a new PDF of the Google cache for the whole article. Enjoy.

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Brian_G September 20, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Have you ever looked into the geocentricism thing? Robert Sungenis wrote a book on it. In my opinion, he’s an intelligent man, but has drifted to the extreme end of the Catholic faith. He’s admitted that geocentricism isn’t official Catholic dogma. The argument basically is that using relativity, there’s no preferred “center” of the universe. There’s no observation that can show what point is truly the center. The earth being the center is argued for on theological grounds.

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lukeprog September 20, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Brian,

So… because there is no preferred center of the universe, the Earth is the preferred center of the universe? There seems to be a rather immediate fallacy, here.

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Rob September 20, 2010 at 10:19 pm

Luke,

I will gleefully shovel dirt on metaphysics with you and van Fraassen. But by induction I think that scenario unlikely. Metaphysics always buries its pallbearers.

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Mark September 20, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Three hundred is a lot…

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Thomas September 21, 2010 at 2:17 am

When you say that science will tell us everything we can now about reality, how do you know that? Does science tell you that? No, you have to step outside of science to make that statement. So no matter what you do, you cannot avoid being a metaphysician. If we thus have to do metaphysics at some level, why not do it well?

That´s basically what Peter van Inwagen is saying here:
http://www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/How-does-Metaphysics-Reveal-Reality-Part-1-of-2-Peter-van-Inwagen-/1086

I´m pretty surprised about the metaphysics-bashing by some contemporary naturalists and other people. It seems to me to be as self-refuting as verificationism of logical positivists.

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G'DIsraeli September 21, 2010 at 2:18 am

Great news bits! And post-modernism…which is always (not?) welcome. Lots of stuff to read on my cellphone…thx!

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liam September 21, 2010 at 6:21 am

As usual I had to have dictionary.com open during the Berlinski debate. Damn that guy is verbose.

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 7:05 am

Almost Chris: My point being that the group linked to above really does exist. They are not a joke.

Oh they’re a joke alright. They fall into the category I call “true jokes.”

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 7:07 am

The Holy Roman Catholic Church continues to preach morality by example:

Vatican ‘astonished’ by inquiry into its bank

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Tuesday said it was “perplexed and astonished” after Rome prosecutors placed the head of its bank under investigation for violating money laundering legislation.

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 7:07 am

No mention of David Berlinski is complete without an appearance of the word supercilious.

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 7:19 am

Brian_G: Have you ever looked into the geocentricism thing? Robert Sungenis wrote a book on it…

Yes, and Sungenis put a big “Ph.D.” after his name on the cover of that book, which is a) pompous and b) irrelevant, since his degree is apparently in theology and not any pertinent scientific field like astronomy or physics.

On the “relativity restores geocentricity” angle, you can find Joseph Ratzinger (aka Joey the Rat, aka Pope Indulgence XVI) saying pretty much the same thing in a 1990 speech. Note in that speech his annoying habit of phrasing every point he wishes to make as a quote from someone else, in order to maintain deniability.

Probably the most astonishing figure in modern geocentricity is Gerardus Bouw, who actually had degrees in astronomy and astrophysics. At least he indicates clearly that his acceptance of geocentricity is rooted in his religious faith.

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Brian_G September 21, 2010 at 7:38 am

lukeprog,

I think their argument is that from an observational standpoint there’s no way to tell. Since science can’t say one way or the other we are to let theology decide.

Every now and then I try to see if I can think of some observation about the world which prove them wrong. It’s a good exercise in scientific reasoning.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 8:24 am

Since science can’t say one way or the other we are to let theology decide.

I understand their argument, but it’s a bad argument on many levels.

First off, why? What are the credentials that allow theologians the preferential spot in that decision? Is it their stunningly accurate track record?

Secondly, if someone wants to make a claim they have to give evidence for it. If no place is the center, claiming a place is the center just because nobody else has a valid claim is not a valid claim either. It only show that they miss the point.

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lukeprog September 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

Brian_G,

Ahahaha. And we trust theology as a source of knowledge because… ?

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Brian_G September 21, 2010 at 10:09 am

Luke,
You want me to try to answer a question like that in a comment box? Just a bit ago you complained that the atheist doesn’t have enough time in a debate to answer the theist. The answer to the question is going to be based on the reasons for God’s existence and the evidence that he revealed himself to mankind. Do you really expect me to go though all the argument for God and then the evidence that Jesus rose for the dead and preformed miracles etc. in a comment box, a few minutes before I leave for work?

I’m not a geocentricist, btw, but I do find the discussion interesting. While I don’t see a problem with using a theological argument, I question whether God really intended to teach us the location of our planet in the universe, especially, when there’s no observational way of telling what point is the center anyway.

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Patrick September 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

Actually, I’m pretty sure that if you accept the speed of light as the upper limit on velocity, its just plain impossible for the earth to be the center of the universe. The earth rotates 360 degrees every 24 hours. Pick a star, any star. How far away is it in miles? Multiply that by 2*pi. That’s the circumference it would have to travel every day. Now divide that distance by 24 hours to get your miles per hour, and compare to the speed of light.

Anyway, the entire existence of space is a systematic refutation of Genesis, so I’m not sure why we’re bothering with this. There’s no water canopy, and there never was. Heaven isn’t on the other side of an oceanic dome. If we’re the purpose of creation, an awful lot of extra *stuff* was created that will never be relevant to us, and in the midst of creating galaxies untold light years away, God never had time to remove the appendix. The universe isn’t 6000 years old, or even 10,000 years old. Noahs flood never happened. The idea that every animal species fit on an ark, and then once they got off they evolved into the forms we have today in only a few thousand years is an intellectual travesty. The ancient Israelites didn’t know squat about this stuff, and its insulting to our intelligence to have to pretend that they did.

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lukeprog September 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Brian_G,

No. You are quite welcome to say “I don’t have time to answer” that, and I won’t complain.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Brian_G, how would the theologians know they have the proper answer?

As I said before; Should they be trusted based on the success shown by their track record? If that were the case, isn’t derisive mockery and guffaws the proper response to such claims?

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lukeprog September 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Brian_G,

Hermes is asking the question I was trying to ask, BTW.

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Patrick September 21, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Hey, just for fun.

Proxima Centauri is the closest star. Its 4.2 light years away. Based on my quick calculator work, that means the circumference it would have to travel in order to orbit the earth every 24 hours would be 8.4*pi light years, and that turns out to require a speed of approximately 2.9*10^9 kilometers per second.

The speed of light is approximately 300,000 kilometers per second.

2,900,000,000 / 300,000 = 9700 times the speed of light.

Proxima Centauri would, as far as I can tell, have to be traveling at 9700 times the speed of light.

It is the closest star.

All other stars would have to be going faster.

I’m sure theology will one day explain to us how this is possible. I wonder whether they’ll do so by carefully and analytically uncovering the mysteries of photons and the time space continuum, or by hand waving about the revealed nature of god. I’m sure it will be one or the other.

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I’m sure theology will one day explain to us how this is possible.

“With God, all things are possible.”

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits
by Carl Zimmer

An article about one of the current theories of consciousness, which involves applying information theory to it.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I thought it was “With God, all things are plausible.”

After all, couldn’t God make a Yeti that even God couldn’t find? :-}

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al friedlander September 21, 2010 at 1:22 pm

1. Actually, did anyone ever answer that weird hypothetical (can God create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?)

2. And does anyone have a simple explanation of how it is people with PhDs can believe the things they do? I’m not sure how the doctoral/academia systems work, but why? Honestly, why?

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Reginald Selkirk September 21, 2010 at 1:49 pm

My favourite version is: could God create a rock so large that bopping Himself on the head with it would explain the change in personality He underwent in between the Old and New Testaments?

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Brian_G September 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Luke and Hermes,

Theology is basically trying trying to understand God’s revelation to mankind. The theologian is trying to draw inferences from the Bible, Tradition, and Church teaching using deductive and inductive inferences. How can a theologian know he’s correct? The same way that anyone knows they’re correct. They make judgements. They could turn out to be mistaken, but so could anyone else.

Here’s an example that I recently read that you would probably enjoy.

1)Jesus is a sacrifice for our sin.
2)In doing so he fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices.
3)In the Old Testament the poor were allow to sacrifice flour for a sin offering.
4)It makes no sense to speak of punishing flour in place of someone else’s sin.
5)Therefore, probably, Jesus was not punished in place of our sin.
6)Therefore, probably, penal substitution is mistaken.

Given the Christian assumptions about the Bible, I find the above inductive argument convincing. I would think that even as an atheist you could say “I don’t buy the idea of the Bible being God’s Word, but there does seem to be some internal logic to that argument for someone who does.” Of course to really make a fair assessment of penal substitution you would want to study the arguments for the other side. But this at least shows that there is a plausible way to draw theological inferences using scripture.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Brian_G, let me rephrase;

What special characteristics of the Theologian’s trade gives them special insight into the topic you stated;

I think their argument is that from an observational standpoint there’s no way to tell [where the center of the universe is]. Since science can’t say one way or the other we are to let theology decide.

As I wrote;

I understand their argument, but it’s a bad argument on many levels.

First off, why? What are the credentials that allow theologians the preferential spot in that decision? Is it their stunningly accurate track record?

Secondly, if someone wants to make a claim they have to give evidence for it. If no place is the center, claiming a place is the center just because nobody else has a valid claim is not a valid claim either. It only show that they miss the point.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm

BTW, I have no problem with the Christian Bible being cited as a reference by the literary inventive branch of theologians or other fan clubs and cheerleading groups. That is, as long as the context is appropriate; objects within the fictional world of the Christian Bible.

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Brian_G September 21, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I don’t think theologians have special insight on the topic, because I don’t think it’s plausible that God wanted to tell us our location in the universe. Places in the Bible that speak of the sun rising are no more meant to be describing the finer details of astronomy then when your or I speak of the sun rising.

As I said before, I’m not a geocentricist, I was only explaining their view.

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Hermes September 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm

As I said before, I’m not a geocentricist, I was only explaining their view.

Got it. Their point of view is a good reason to not take their word for it.

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Patrick September 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I figured out what’s really bothering me about this geocentrism thing.

There’s a stupid human trick that people do when defending silly ideas, where they claim that everything is faith, even the belief that you can trust your eyes or your thoughts, and the belief that you’re not a computer program running in the Matrix or something. Then, after claiming that absolutely everything is equally faith-based, they claim that this somehow makes their point of view defensible when what its really done is make their point of view even more ridiculous. After all, if everything is just subjective opinion, they’ve got no business claiming that their beliefs are true. The argument essentially concedes that their belief system is utterly baseless, and the tries to use that as its own defense.

I think the geocentrists are doing a sort of non-philosophical version of that. If you begin with the premise that all motion and location is relative, and you end with the conclusion that the Earth is the center of the universe, you’re probably a fool. Your conclusion contradicts your premises. The best you can say is that you choose to call the Earth the center of the universe, even though you know darn well that it isn’t actually: you’re just saying so because you like the idea.

Just try to write out the logic.

1. Motion and location are relative.
2. Therefore no particular point is truly the center of the universe.
3. Therefore any point has equal claim to be the center of the universe.
4. Therefore I am standing at the center of the universe.

That’s just dumb, and there’s no amount of additional steps that will make it less dumb.

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MichaelPJ September 21, 2010 at 10:26 pm

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Brian_G September 22, 2010 at 6:40 am

Patrick,

I think that’s an oversimplification, but I think basically your right that they are taking advantage of the non-testability of their hypothesis. My explanation was an oversimplification as well.

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Reginald Selkirk September 22, 2010 at 9:23 am

How can a theologian know he’s correct? The same way that anyone knows they’re correct. They make judgements.

Ha ha ha – that one apparently went right over your head. The way a scientist knows she is correct is that she is able to repeat the experiment and get consistent results, and then design new experiments and get results which would be predicted by the original hypothesis, and then have other scientists critique her work for errors of experiment or errors of interpretation when she attempts to publish, and then have other experimenters repeat her experiment and get the same result, and design new experiments based on her finding and get consistent results…

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Reginald Selkirk September 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

OOL development:
Life on Earth May Have Had an Icy Start

Holliger was inspired to study how RNA replicates in icy conditions by a 2004 study that found when nucleotides — the building blocks of genetic code — are frozen in ice, they spontaneously assemble into random strands of RNA…

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Hermes September 22, 2010 at 11:05 am

[ Reposted from http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11303 where simple questions have been avoided. Unfortunately, that is not the only location. Another example can be seen throughout the comment thread here -- http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11245 -- with various people commenting on this tendency towards the end of the posted comments. ]

Cl, for what it’s worth, this was not directed towards you specifically but for people like you.

A few quotes from Alan Sokal in The Marketplace of Ideas interview that sums things up quite well;

If you are sloppy about evaluating evidence, then you are ethically liable for the mistakes that you’ve made. [ ~45:00 mark ]

* * *

The main point is … it’s important when you make claims about factual matters in the world, to understand clearly what is the evidence on which those claims are based and to and try evaluate that evidence as impartially as possible. [ ~45:50 mark ]

I’d add that if you have evidence before you, not evaluating it at all is also an ethical failure, not only a philosophical or logical one. Ignoring evidence is like a white lie and it should not be treated as a valid method of justifying a point of view.

Ignorance of details you are unaware of is a valid justification for drawing the wrong conclusion or having an invalid chain of reasons in reaching any conclusion at all.

Having the details available to you and then ignoring it in preference to your previous ignorance so you can reach a different conclusion or avoid any conclusion at all is not valid.

Along those lines, and in the spirit of Alan Sokal’s comments as well as many others; You can have your own opinions, but you can not have your own facts.

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Hermes September 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

[ Reposted from http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11303 where simple questions have been avoided. Unfortunately, that is not the only location. Another example can be seen throughout the comment thread here -- http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=11245 -- with various people commenting on this tendency towards the end of the posted comments. ]

Cl, for what it’s worth, this was not directed towards you specifically but for people like you.

A few quotes from Alan Sokal in The Marketplace of Ideas interview that sums things up quite well;

If you are sloppy about evaluating evidence, then you are ethically liable for the mistakes that you’ve made. [ ~45:00 mark ]

* * *

The main point is … it’s important when you make claims about factual matters in the world, to understand clearly what is the evidence on which those claims are based and to and try evaluate that evidence as impartially as possible. [ ~45:50 mark ]

I’d add that if you have evidence before you, not evaluating it at all is also an ethical failure, not only a philosophical or logical one. Ignoring evidence is like a white lie and it should not be treated as a valid method of justifying a point of view.

Ignorance of details you are unaware of is a valid justification for drawing the wrong conclusion or having an invalid chain of reasons in reaching any conclusion at all.

Having the details available to you and then ignoring it in preference to your previous ignorance so you can reach a different conclusion or avoid any conclusion at all is not valid.

Along those lines, and in the spirit of Alan Sokal’s comments as well as many others; You can have your own opinions, but you can not have your own facts.

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Evolution SWAT September 22, 2010 at 11:48 am

I just ordered 59 Seconds and Sense and Goodness Without God so that I could get free shipping. I am so lucky that you recommended Loftus’ Why I Became an Atheist. Without your blog, I would probably never have discovered it, and it’s such a great summary of the good reasons to be an atheist.

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Reginald Selkirk September 23, 2010 at 10:53 am

Book by Greg Graffin & Steve Olson:
Anarchy Evolution
release date September 28, 2010

“I’ve always had a problem with authority.”

This is how most of the world knows Greg Graffin, the rebellious lead singer of the legendary punk band Bad Religion.

What few people know is that Graffin also received a PhD from Cornell University and teaches evolution at UCLA. In Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God (It Books; On Sale: September 28, 2010; Hardcover) Graffin weds his experiences in punk culture and the academic world, and explores the deep connection between art, religion, and science.
As an adolescent growing up when “drugs, sex, and trouble could be had on any given night,” Graffin discovered that the study of evolution provided a framework through which he could make sense of the world. In this provocative and personal book, Graffin describes his own coming of age as an artist, as well as the formation of his naturalist worldview on questions involving God, science, and human meaning.
While the battle between religion and science is often displayed in the starkest of terms, Anarchy Evolution provides fresh and nuanced insights into the long-standing debate about atheism and the human condition. It is a book for anyone who has ever wondered if God really exists.

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al friedlander September 23, 2010 at 1:12 pm

“What few people know is that Graffin also received a PhD from Cornell University and teaches evolution at UCLA. ”

wha-wha-WHAT?

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Reginald Selkirk September 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Damn straight.

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Reginald Selkirk September 23, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Reading, Writing and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Bad Religion punk rocker Greg Graffin on his scholarly gig at UCLA
By Paul Feinberg ’85

Greg Graffin ’87, M.S. ’90 teaches evolution. His Life Science 1 syllabus at UCLA includes lectures on Darwin, natural selection and extinction. Graffin, who holds a Ph.D. from Cornell, considers evolution the basis of his students’ education and future careers as biologists.

He has a paper coming out shortly in American Scientist based on his dissertation The Cornell Evolution Project.

Evolution, Religion and Free Will
by Gregory W. Graffin, William B. Provine
in American Scientist

Evolution, Monism, Atheism, and the Naturalist World-view
by Gregory W. Graffin
Polypterus Press (2004)

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cl September 24, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Hermes,

What evidence do you claim I ignore, and on what grounds?

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Hermes September 25, 2010 at 9:49 am

Cl, taking things one at a time, not focusing on specific people or topics for now, I would be interested in your general comments on the Alan Sokal quotes and my additional comments that followed those quotes.

If you would like, I would be glad to re-post the whole message again for you to review.

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Alex September 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Wow, Sokal is still going on about the bloody hoax! Hilarious as it was, no one in continental philosophy calls themselves a post-modernist or has done for years. Time to get a new hobby horse methinks!

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lukeprog September 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Alex,

Nobody calls himself or herself a postmodernist anymore? This is news to me. In any case, the same kind of obscurantist philosophy is still widely published, and still worthy of Sokal’s attacks.

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Hermes September 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Alex, the mentality of postmodernism is still out there even if the name itself is avoided or simply not known by those who cling to it.

You’ll find people who in one breath condemn relativism and in the other insist on postmodernist flavored arguments for themselves. They may insist that there is no way to know anything. They may insist that reasonable doubt on small details are enough to discard all other known details. They may insist that if we do not know everything, that their preferred and unsupported claims are on an equal level to any other ‘guess’ (supported by facts or not).

Without self-reflection or irony logic is used to discard logic, and guesses are used to discard facts or in place of them. From “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” on the left to Dinesh D’Souza on the right, there is no want for this insanity. Just ask people you know. Pick any well founded conclusion that has personal, religious, or political implications, and you’ll get an earful. You may be surprised how many of them disdain facts and knowledge and hold ignorance in high esteem. Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised and hope mostly to discard my own false ideas and gain as many true ones as possible.

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Bradm September 26, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Luke,

Which philosophers do you know that call themselves postmodernists?

Hermes,

“They may insist that there is no way to know anything. They may insist that reasonable doubt on small details are enough to discard all other known details. They may insist that if we do not know everything, that their preferred and unsupported claims are on an equal level to any other ‘guess’ (supported by facts or not).”

Can you name a philosopher who believes this? The closest thing I can think of to the position you are describing would be philosophical skepticism, but even that would be an uncharitable view of them. In any case, there is nothing particularly postmodern about this position seeing as how it has its roots in ancient Greek thought.

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Hermes September 26, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Bradm, I honestly don’t track philosophers. Heidegger was sufficient to break me of that habit. These days, I do pay attention to people in general, and I gave a couple examples from different parts of the political spectrum. If you need more, another general category would include people who attempt to do ‘middle of the road’ arguments that are intended to show that no ‘side’ knows anything and attempts to claim that all ‘sides’ are equally unenlightened. A subset of that would be some people who self-identify as agnostics while scoffing at both theists and atheists.

To address your Stanford Plato link on philosophical skepticism specifically (aka a synthesized reality as in the Matrix or that of a brain in a jar hooked up to a simulator or downloaded into an electronic grid — no brain needed), it sounds like it is akin to a solipsistic point of view. I would say it is a different flavor of nonsense from the postmodernists, but nonsense none the less. Both groups would reject truth claims; they are either invalid and/or unreliable.

One way around that is to treat all claims as tentative. For example, I have no problem with making a firm or absolute claim. So, I could treat a personal relationship with someone else with unwavering confidence. Yet, if evidence comes to light that shows that my understanding of that relationship is invalid, then it would be justified to reach a new tentative yet also confident understanding of the relationship.

This is not the case with a postmoderist or others who do not take the best available evidence into account when reaching a conclusion.

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Bradm September 26, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Sorry I assumed you were talking about philosophers since Alex and Luke both were and your reply was to them.

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Hermes September 26, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Clarification: In the self-described agnostic example, that would mainly include those that don’t have an interest in actually examining the positive and negative evidence on specific claims and just make blanket statements that both ‘sides’ are equally wrong. It does not cover those people who have specific examples that are not artificially forced into the presupposition that ‘both sides are equally wrong’.

Unfortunately, these types of individuals — not just the subset of self-described non-theistic or atheistic agnostics, but anyone who claims or acts like ‘all sides are presumed to be equally wrong’ — tend to have an agenda and they are not actually interested in going through the details or making any decisions (tentative or not).

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Hermes September 26, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Sorry I assumed you were talking about philosophers since Alex and Luke both were and your reply was to them.

I try to be practical, and reasonably impatient with philosophizing for the sake of philosophy. I don’t have any philosopher trading cards.

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Bradm September 26, 2010 at 11:00 pm

I’m not exactly sure how talking about what a philosopher believes is more practical than talking about what Dinesh D’souza believes, but okay. I’ll keep that in mind in the future.

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lukeprog September 27, 2010 at 3:02 am

Bradm,

How ’bout the one I just interviewed, John Caputo?

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Hermes September 27, 2010 at 4:14 am

Bradm, I’m not snubbing philosophers. I’m just not limiting the scope to them alone since I don’t think that’s practical. There are plenty of examples of postmodernist thinking and equally bad patterns of thinking that end up in conversations where facts are given short shrift. These bad ideas or concepts can and do end up being dumped back into philosophical conversations or as justifications of points of view that are detached from reality in philosophical (or in the case of D’souza theological) conversations.

As an example, when I used to have discussions with some feminists (not all) used to question the use of ‘male logic’ as having properties that perpetuate ‘male domination and power structures’. Yet, when logic is removed from a conversation, what is the next step? I found that it was a magic get out of a conversation card regardless of how substantial a disagreement was; even minor differences where logic could be used to discern a better path would magically be labeled ‘male logic’ and thus invalid. Meanwhile, the feminist would use or abuse logic as they wanted, and even pointing out that they were using logic would be discarded or relabeled as a ‘female way of seeing things’ with the implied superiority to ‘male logic’ or simply different from it.

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Bradm September 27, 2010 at 7:16 am

“Bradm,
How ’bout the one I just interviewed, John Caputo? ”

I thought he made it pretty clear that he doesn’t really like that word, he pretty much only uses it for rhetorical purposes (to draw a crowd), and that “the state of philosophy these days is ‘post-structuralism.’” This seems to confirm what Alex said above.

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zaarcis October 1, 2010 at 4:49 am

Yeah, I got the book of Wiseman from friend. Will read first pages this evening. ;)

Looks very promising.

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