News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 2, 2011 in News

New posts on Less Wrong: The Neuroscience of Pleasure and Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline and The Good News of Situationist Psychology.

From Twitter:

  • Sean Carroll: Does the Universe Need God? (This is why I’m an atheist. Specifically: Occamian priors + Bayesian updating does not confirm theism.)
  • New York Times: The Greatest Web Site of All Time.
  • New rationality blog by Julia and Jesse Galef. Sample post: Four Ways to Define Rationality.
  • And suddenly, GRANDMA!
  • Heartbreaking snapshot of Japan’s loss on 60 Minutes.
  • Short video with a bajillion facts on placebos.
  • TED video on the current state of biotechnology.
  • USA is approving many new oil wells in the gulf because of “rigorous new safety standards.” They are blatantly lying.
  • Photos of the most expensive natural disaster in world history.
  • Rob Freitas argues that intelligent self-replicating nanobots could cover the Earth within 2 days of being created.
  • Video: a history of the world in 100 seconds.
  • Video of working human exo-skeletons that give you super-strength, or let wheelchair-bound people walk.
  • Pakistani actress destroys a mullah accusing of her of immorality on TV.
  • Why did nobody tell me the iPad2 smart cover was so cool? [Must. Resist. Consumerism!]
  • Very negative review of Bradley Monton’s book An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.
  • Michael Nielsen (leading quantum computing researcher): Doing Science Online.
  • Newt Gingrich fears “a secular atheist country… dominated by radical Islamists.” Ummmmm…
  • A sad story about what it was like for American muslims the day before, and the day after, 9/11.
  • Fascinating history mindfucks.

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

David Iach April 2, 2011 at 5:06 am

Hi Luke, the TED video link is not working, can you update it?

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MauricXe April 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

Does the universe need god is a great link. Thanks!

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mopey April 2, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Also this week, Lawrence Krauss was kind enough to instantiate what it’s like to be ignorant and dismissive of philosophy in his pathetic mess of a performance. You too can come off like this once you realize that science and math somehow elevates us above the human condition.

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Ralph April 2, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Krauss’ performance was embarassing. At least Hitchens was entertaining and rhetorically effective – Krauss was just embarassing.

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antiplastic April 2, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Pretty awful. Not Loftus awful, but jeez, get some new slides or something. Wasn’t this the same guy who defended Harris’s question-begging moral objectivism in that last debate, but responded to a question about the moral responsibility of science for weapons of mass destruction with “it’s not science’s place to say how its tools get used”?

P.S. Hey WLC, “contingency” and “objectivity” aren’t “observations”, therefore they can’t be “evidence” of anything.

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The DoDo Bird April 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm

This is totally newsworthy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyARHscb8mU

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Haecceitas April 2, 2011 at 10:21 pm

“This is why I’m an atheist. Specifically: Occamian priors + Bayesian updating does not confirm theism.”

That may be how you justify your atheism now. Butthe arguments that originally led to your deconversion were very different, so I would think that Occamian priors & Bayesian updating are the reasons for your atheism only to a limited extent.

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Lorkas April 3, 2011 at 5:42 am

That may be how you justify your atheism now.

Hmmm, I don’t know about this. It seems to me that he didn’t use this language to describe why he’s an atheist from the beginning, but that might just be because he’s studied alot of philosophy and Bayes since then. It’s pretty much what he’s been saying all along though, he’s just putting different terms on it now.

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ayer April 3, 2011 at 11:59 am

Sean Carroll’s article is no more impressive than Lawrence Krauss’ performance in his debate with William Lane Craig last week (where Krauss apparently refused to have the debate topic address prior probabilities, thinking it would make his task easier–it didn’t work):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71ZhJL56bdQ&feature=relmfu

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Luke Muehlhauser April 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm

David Iach,

Fixed.

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Kyle Key April 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Phew. Thank goodness ayer’s here with some rigorous philosophy: “no more impressive”– ay chihuahua–what a rebuttal. Magic is saved to fight another day!

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ayer April 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Phew. Thank goodness ayer’s here with some rigorous philosophy: “no more impressive”– ay chihuahua–what a rebuttal. Magic is saved to fight another day!

Why add to the “rigorous” takedown of Krauss done by Craig last week? The video of the debate speaks for itself.

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ajay April 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Ayer, I can’t help but notice that you disappear for long stretches and then suddenly re-appear every time William Lane Craig has a new debate.

Question: …are you William Lane Craig? If so, why are you trolling? You’re doing great in these debates! They don’t mean much, but good job nonetheless!

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ayer April 3, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Ayer, I can’t help but notice that you disappear for long stretches and then suddenly re-appear every time William Lane Craig has a new debate.

Question: …are you William Lane Craig? If so, why are you trolling? You’re doing great in these debates! They don’t mean much, but good job nonetheless!

No, but I take the comparison as a compliment ;) I just noticed this major debate from last week was not included in the links as a “News Bit” and wanted to provide one to those interested. As to whether they mean much, well, major figures in atheism keep agreeing to debate Craig, so I guess they disagree with you (another one with Sam Harris is scheduled next week). I personally find them quite informative.

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Martin April 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Re: WLC/Krauss debate. I’m so SICK of this crap I am going to claw my eyes out.

How hard is it?

1. Yadda yadda, therefore it is controversial whether the universe began to exist or not.
2. Blah blah, therefore, it is controversial whether if God does not exist then objective moral values do not exist
3. So on and so forth, therefore, it is controversial whether the multiverse exists or not

Now that I’ve shown one premise from each of Dr. Craig’s first three arguments to be controversial at best, his first three arguments are no longer sound. His argument on the resurrection rests on the first three, so that is not sound as well. Now I will present two arguments for atheism:

1. If gratuitous evil exists, then God does not exist
2. Gratuitous evil exists
3. Therefore, God does not exist

1. If God exists, reasonable non-belief does not occur
2. Reasonable non-belief occurs
3. Therefore, God does not exist

Etc.

Twenty some-odd years and counting, and not a SINGLE atheist has EVER done their job. Not once.

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antiplastic April 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Thanks, Martin.

I used to think that showing someone had failed to establish that the premises of their argument were true is a good reason not to accept that their argument is sound, but now I know it’s all “yadda yadda yadda”.

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Ajay April 4, 2011 at 2:29 am

Ayer – I figured you would take it as a compliment ;-) I do agree with your point about people continuing to debate him, but I meant that the format of debate is intended for style points, rhetoric, etc. William Lane Craig has debated Quentin Smith, but I feel like the book they co-wrote together probably ‘gets at’ the problems in a little bit more of a sophisticated way.

Martin – I wouldn’t agree that ‘not once’ have atheists done their jobs. Despite Craig’s supposed ‘unbeaten’ record, I think you’ll find a lot of people – even Christians – who would say he lost debates to Tabash, Kagan, Dacey and Bradley.

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Martin April 4, 2011 at 6:33 am

he lost debates to Tabash, Kagan, Dacey and Bradley.

I’ve only listened to Tabasha and Dacey. Dacey made one of the few decent attempts, but you’ll note that he did not dispute any of Craig’s premises; he just made his own arguments. Craig then proceeded to formulate Dacey’s (non formal) arguments into formal syllogisms, and show why the premises were wrong. Craig understands “logical validity and true premises.”

All I remember about Tabash was him pounding the podium and yelling that he CANNOT believe that the bloody OT God is all-good! CANNOT!!! Well, that’s nice Eddie. Now what about Craig’s premises?

Most atheists, supposedly the very bastion of rationality against those ignorant Christians, do not seem to understand basic logic.

Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.
Logical validity. True premises.

Say it over and over.

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ayer April 4, 2011 at 6:41 am

I do agree with your point about people continuing to debate him, but I meant that the format of debate is intended for style points, rhetoric, etc.

If that’s the case, then you would expect Krauss and Hitchens to do quite well, since both have been praised as two of the best rhetoricians on the atheist side (e.g., on Krauss: http://www.examiner.com/secularism-in-national/physicist-lawrence-krauss-blows-everyone-s-minds-at-atheist-conference. And of course, Hitchens has made his living as a rhetorician for decades). Perhaps it has to do with the fact that their case is not as strong as they think it is. Maybe Sean Carroll can be next to step up and debate Craig?

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drj April 4, 2011 at 6:55 am

Martin – I wouldn’t agree that ‘not once’ have atheists done their jobs. Despite Craig’s supposed ‘unbeaten’ record, I think you’ll find a lot of people – even Christians – who would say he lost debates to Tabash, Kagan, Dacey and Bradley.

Add Keith Parsons to that list.

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Reginald Selkirk April 4, 2011 at 8:25 am

Larry Moran at Sandwalk launches a new series on the topic of Junk DNA in anticipation of a new book by Intelligent Design Creationist Jonathan Wells. Moran is a biochemist and textbook author.

Junk & Jonathan: Part 1—Getting the History Correct

Junk & Jonathan: Part 2— What Did Biologists Really Say About Junk DNA?

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PDH April 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

Martin wrote,

All I remember about Tabash was him pounding the podium and yelling that he CANNOT believe that the bloody OT God is all-good! CANNOT!!! Well, that’s nice Eddie. Now what about Craig’s premises?

Are you thinking of Parsons? That sounds more like the Parsons debate to me.

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ayer April 4, 2011 at 9:13 am

It occurs to me that one issue discussed in the Krauss/Craig debate also relates to this blog’s new focus on “machine ethics.” If “ought implies can” (as Craig asserted and Krauss was unable to refute), then “machine ethics” would seem to be an oxymoron, since a machine cannot do otherwise than its algorithm determines it to do, i.e., it has no free will. A machine can thus have no “ethical obligations” as such (of course, the humans who program the machine can have obligations to program it ethically).

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Martin April 4, 2011 at 9:53 am

Are you thinking of Parsons? That sounds more like the Parsons debate to me.

Oops. Sorry. You’re right. I mixed up Tabash and Parsons. I’ll have to listen to Tabash again.

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Ajay April 4, 2011 at 11:25 am

If that’s the case, then you would expect Krauss and Hitchens to do quite well, since both have been praised as two of the best rhetoricians on the atheist side

Ayer – I am not sure about Krauss, having only heard one of his lectures, but Hitchens makes quips. That’s really about it. Arguing from anecdote can only be so effective. You should work on the Presidential Debate Commission – building up the other debater and heightening expectations is a very old trick, friend ;-) – even when done retroactively! But you ignored the point about books – are you suggesting debates are really more sophisticated than what Smith and Craig did together?

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drj April 4, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Martin wrote,

Are you thinking of Parsons? That sounds more like the Parsons debate to me.

Yea, that sounds like the Parsons debate. The topic of that debate was actually “Why I believe/disbelieve in Christianity”…. so that sort of statement makes a lot of sense in that context.

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drj April 4, 2011 at 2:33 pm

It occurs to me that one issue discussed in the Krauss/Craig debate also relates to this blog’s new focus on “machine ethics.”If “ought implies can” (as Craig asserted and Krauss was unable to refute), then “machine ethics” would seem to be an oxymoron, since a machine cannot do otherwise than its algorithm determines it to do, i.e., it has no free will.A machine can thus have no “ethical obligations” as such (of course, the humans who program the machine can have obligations to program it ethically).

Perhaps the machines will be compatibalists!

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Ralph April 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

All I remember about Tabash was him pounding the podium and yelling that he CANNOT believe that the bloody OT God is all-good! CANNOT!!! Well, that’s nice Eddie. Now what about Craig’s premises?

That was Parsons and I think that was one of the highlights of the debate. It was at that point that he was hammering on the malevolence of the OT God. It was highly affecting and effective.

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ayer April 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Perhaps the machines will be compatibalists!

Yes, they will have to be some form of determinist–whether “soft” (compatibilist) or “hard,” so while we can say the human “ought” to have programmed the machine differently, I don’t see how we can ever say that the machine morally “ought” to have behaved in a certain manner

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ayer April 4, 2011 at 7:45 pm

That was Parsons and I think that was one of the highlights of the debate. It was at that point that he was hammering on the malevolence of the OT God. It was highly affecting and effective.

If Craig ranted and raved like Parsons did it would be embarrassing for theism (especially on an irrelevant point–their debate was not on the merits of inerrancy).

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drj April 4, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Yes, they will have to be some form of determinist–whether “soft” (compatibilist) or “hard,” so while we can say the human “ought” to have programmed the machine differently, I don’t see how we can ever say that the machine morally “ought” to have behaved in a certain manner

Huh? What’s the difference to a compatibalist, between choices caused by the choices of moral agents and choices caused by mindless, amoral entities?

Seems to me that if you’re a compatibalist, and believe that all choices are the result of prior causes, there would be no major distinction there… if humans “ought” to do things, then so should intelligent machines.

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ayer April 5, 2011 at 7:24 am

Huh?What’s the difference to a compatibalist, between choices caused by the choices of moral agents and choices caused by mindless, amoral entities?

Seems to me that if you’re a compatibalist, and believe that all choices are the result of prior causes, there would be no major distinction there… if humans “ought” to do things, then so should intelligent machines.

Sure, if soft determinism applies to both machines and humans, then the standard for both would be the same–you could not say that either machines or humans “ought” to do anything, since “ought implies can” and both were determined to do as they did.

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drj April 5, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Sure, if soft determinism applies to both machines and humans, then the standard for both would be the same–you could not say that either machines or humans “ought” to do anything, since “ought implies can” and both were determined to do as they did.

From what I understand, compatibalists generally don’t exclude words like “ought”, “choice”, “will”, ect from their vocabulary and would probably argue that those words can make sense (and track with how people use them) under compatibalism.

If “ought” simply means “has a moral obligation” – then any compatabilist who believes in moral obligations (there are plenty) commits no error or fallacy by using the term… at least not until you conclusively demonstrate the incoherency of compatibalism.

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ayer April 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm

From what I understand, compatibalists generally don’t exclude words like “ought”, “choice”, “will”, ect from their vocabulary and would probably argue that those words can make sense (and track with how people use them) under compatibalism.

If “ought” simply means “has a moral obligation” – then any compatabilist who believes in moral obligations (there are plenty) commits no error or fallacy by using the term…at least not until you conclusively demonstrate the incoherency of compatibalism.

Well, if a compatibilist would argue that a machine morally “ought” to take a certain action even when its algorithm means that it could not do otherwise, I guess that would be incoherent.

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Justfinethanks April 5, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Well, if a compatibilist would argue that a machine morally “ought” to take a certain action even when its algorithm means that it could not do otherwise, I guess that would be incoherent.

I suppose that depends upon how you define “can.” If you define “can” as practically, physically possible, then what you say isn’t true. Because though they may be unable to defy their programming, they are still physically capable of committing immoral actions. So if one’s moral algrothim, for example, determines it is immoral to allow a nearby submerged infant to drown, it is still sensible to determine the machine’s programming rescuing action as moral because the machine could have physically done nothing. And if that isn’t moral, then perhaps it is true that morality doesn’t exist. Because were I would near a living, but submerged child, I may be physically capable of doing nothing, but I would hope to imagine I would otherwise be incapable of doing anything else but offering rescue. That’s just my “programming,” so to speak.

Out of curiosity, what would “machine ethics” look like under Divine Command Theory. Would the programmer simply load all 6000 somewad commands in the Bible?

While (WomanMenstruating = 1)
{
WomanClean = 0;
}

if (myCheek= Strike)
{
TurnCheek;
}

if (people = swine)
{
KeepPearls;
}
else
{
peopleTramplePearls;
}

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ayer April 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Because though they may be unable to defy their programming, they are still physically capable of committing immoral actions.

They are physically capable of committing “actions,” but not “immoral” or “moral” actions.

And if that isn’t moral, then perhaps it is true that morality doesn’t exist.

I think that is the most consistent conclusion for someone who denies that humans have free will (and morality definitely doesn’t exist for machines, since they definitely have no free will).

I suppose that depends upon how you define “can.”If you define “can” as practically, physically possible, then what you say isn’t true.Because though they may be unable to defy their programming, they are still physically capable of committing immoral actions. So if one’s moral algrothim, for example, determines it is immoral to allow a nearby submerged infant to drown, it is still sensible to determine the machine’s programming rescuing action as moral because the machine could have physically done nothing.And if that isn’t moral, then perhaps it is true that morality doesn’t exist. Because were I would near a living, but submerged child, I may be physically capable of doing nothing, but I would hope to imagine I would otherwise be incapable of doing anything else but offering rescue.That’s just my “programming,” so to speak.

Out of curiosity, what would “machine ethics” look like under Divine Command Theory.Would the programmer simply load all 6000 somewad commands in the Bible?

Since “machine ethics” is an oxymoron, for the reasons previously stated, it would look like nothing. I guess you could have a “machine algorithm based on scripture quotations.”

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ayer April 6, 2011 at 10:08 am

On a side note, the aftershocks of the Krauss/Craig debate in the atheist community have been interesting. See Sean Carroll’s summary here:

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/04/05/debating-william-lane-craig/

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