News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 4, 2012 in News

At Facing the Intelligence Explosion: Don’t Flinch Away.

New at lukeprog.com: Nonfiction Book Choices for a General Audience.

Alonzo Fyfe: A Basic Review of Desirism, Desirism and Neurobiology.

Luke Barnes summarizes much of the fine-tuning literature, and in particular critiques Victor Stenger’s new book The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard January 4, 2012 at 7:21 pm

The “best fails of 2011″ points to a dead Youtube account. Probably as a result of a SOPA-style take-down, courtesy of our Google Overlords.

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Dan Stenning January 5, 2012 at 6:59 am

I just read Barnes paper the you linked to.

Seems to me that it does for Stengers’ book does for Stengers’ clearly deeply flawed attempt at what might be termed “atheist apologetics” what Thom Stark’s huge detailed pdf refutation of Paul Copan’s book “Is God A Moral Monster” did for evangelical attempts to
defend and whitewash the inerrant and immoral O.T. Yahweh.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 7, 2012 at 11:55 am

*Everyone* seems to think the universe’s hospitability to life needs to be explained in the manner of a low-probability anomaly, whether the explanation is causal or anthropic. The assumption strikes me as impressionistic and philosophically naive. If the probability that the laws of nature will conspire to permit life to arise is deemed low, then what *is* that low probability? How could one even conceive to measure it?

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Larkus January 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

An interesting blog with some good arguments, among others what appears to be a thorough refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

Angra Mainyu’s blog:
http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/

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Thrasymachus January 8, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Stephen:

Can’t we just play with epistemic possibility here? I mean, we have no idea about what ‘generated’ the laws of physics to be such and such with these parameters (or even if that makes much sense), but universes with the dials twiddled differently seem to be epistemically possible.

I don’t think this line helps the fine-tuning argument (as this explodes the probability space to make the confirmation of fine tuning so miniscule as to be not worth noting), but I think you can at least talk about it semi-sensibly.

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Stephen R. Diamond January 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Thrasymachus,

I agree with your argument in your second paragraph. The only question is whether those who think the universe’s hospitability to life needs to be explained *as a low-probability event* fail to understand that they *need* to define a probability space or whether, on the other hand, they do it wrong. Since they don’t (to my knowledge) discuss the probability space, I assumed they don’t acknowledge the need to define it. In either case, they haven’t established the need for an explanation, whether causal or anthropic, for “fine tuning.”

So, why all the concern with the fine-tuning argument as a supposed problem in substantive physics?

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Stephen R. Diamond January 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm

The Fife posting resolves some of the mysteries “desirism.” If nothing else, Fife is honest: his equivocation isn’t in the service of deceit. He’s genuinely confused about the nature of his project.
On the one hand, he wants to ground the normativity of moral in nature. He fools himself with a simple trick of pushing the issue to another level. He contends he can ground nomativity by switching the problem of “why act morally” to the problem of “why express approval of moral conduct and disapproval of immoral conduct.” He seems oblivious to the obvious point that he’s still beset with the origin of the normativity in a morality governing approval and disapproval.

How can an honest person persist in pursuing so ridiculous a red herring as is Fife’s approval rationale as bridging the is ought divide? It’s because Fife has in the back of his mind another problem: what is the biological function of morality? It’s a good question, and I don’t think it’s been seriously addressed by anyone. One answer is that it’s a precommitment device. But Fife, correctly, asks (in effect) what would make such a device _moral_. I would note that we have precommitting reactions that don’t appear to be moral in nature; for example, we may fear retaliation for breaking a commitment.

But Fife provides his own bad theory about the biological function (as I would term it) of morality). Fife proposes that morality concerns the use of praise and disapproval to change the desires of others. Fife has to admit that his project founders (if not completely) on new research: “we have not obtained a perfect fit.” Just as Fife’s confusion about his biology project keeps him from seeing the problems with his philosophy project, so the reverse is the case. Since he doesn’t realize he is making a claim about biological function, he picks a candidate function that’s pretty much a nonstarter. Why should Mother Nature have equipped anyone with a desire to modulate the desires of others in accordance with general human interests. Signaling is bound to foil Mother Nature in any such plan.

Which is what’s wrong in a practical sense with Fife’s desirism as a biological theory. We need less rather than more moral admonishment in society: they too readily are debased for signaling.

I have an alternative view of the biological function of morality (http://tinyurl.com/7dcbt7y), which I self-consciously distinguish from moral judgments’ epistemic emptiness. I view morality as a tool for using force of habit to resist temptation by narrow self-interest. What this view has going for it at the moment is only what I think is a sound recommendation on how to base personal morality: use it as a tool to shape your own character. And the way to shape it will depend on specifics, not general ethical theory, although ethical theories help inform us of the range of possibilities.

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Thrasymachus January 10, 2012 at 7:43 am

Stephen,

My grasp of the literature is patchy, but there are some attempts made (or implied) to give a probability space.

The most common ‘back of the envelope’ way discussed is just to treat each variable as an axis and then say the life permitting part of this n-dimensional space is very small.*

The obvious worry is drawing bounds on this space, as unbounded spaces give a normalizability problem. There’s been a back and forth between the McGrews and Collins about this. As far as I can tell though, it is no biggie. A finite life-friendly space will have P=0 in an unbounded probability space, which is great for someone proposing a fine tuning argument.

The big worry is how these probabilities are being constructed. As I noted before, one generally uses epistemic possibility: we don’t know the metaphysics of universe generation, but it seems a universe with a cosmological constant tweaked differently is conceivable (even if we wouldn’t be around to conceive it). The problem is the space of epistemic possibility is vast: it is also conceivable that our best physics is mistaken and all physics is derivable from a constant (and not free variables), and we can contrive any number of probability spaces with any number of constants with any life permitting range – all are conceivable. To work out whether a life permitting universe is a low probability event, we need to somehow sum all of these. That seems pretty impossible, and so the confirmation of fine tuning is either inscrutable or (at best) too miniscule to worry about.

Collins has taken a different approach to defining a probability space. Instead of letting all the various constants range freely, he’s argued we should restrict ourselves based on our ‘epistemically illuminated range’. So we only admit into our probability space those points we can have access to whether working out they are life permitting or not (so alien physics or constants with values a trillion orders of magnitude different are out). This strikes me as hopelessly inadequate (see this: http://www.thepolemicalmedic.com/2010/09/fine-tuning-multiverses-and-modal-space-a-dialogue/)

I think the reason folks are interesting in fine tuning is it does look weird with fairly naive ideas of ‘if the universe was slightly different…’ I think attempts to formalize the induction being made show this is at best illusory: if we want to talk about epistemic possibility, it is inscrutable, and if we want to talk about something else, we need to find a way to say ‘the universe could be different (but within finite ranges of these variables’, which is more plausible than saying ‘the universe could be different (but within *really* narrow ranges, such that the entire space is life permitting).

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cl January 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

Larkus,

An interesting blog with some good arguments, among others what appears to be a thorough refutation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

LOL! You’re kidding, right? No such refutation was made. He doesn’t even frame the “contradiction” claim properly… is this sort of stuff what really passes for solid atheist argument these days? I’m definitely not the biggest fan of the KCA, but why are so many seemingly intelligent people apparently taken in by such feeble counterarguments?

The key word in Craig’s claim is, “since.” Temporal since the beginning of time. No contradiction, just typical atheist puffery.

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nonchai January 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm

“LOL! You’re kidding, right? ” spoken by CL – the proponent of the thoroughly “internally consistent” view that good ole YAHWEH’s laws on slavery, divorce and treatment of women is the perfect embodiment of “Love your neighbour” . Nice.

You can play your philosophical games if you like, but you fail as soon as you try to put lipstick on that pig called the Old Testament Yahweh. I think thats why you refuse to even attempt to defend your bible from people who can plainly see what a stinking pile of moral poo your torah god is. Put some apologetic perfume on it – its still a moral poo.

And your philosophy DOES include the judeo christian interpretation of that book doesn’t it ?

After all there ARE theists out there who are so while in no way buying into any of the doctrinal nonsense and claims to revelations, but thats not you is it ?.

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cl January 22, 2012 at 12:44 am

Oh give me a break. You’re over there in the other thread making false claims to score rhetorical points and quite frankly nobody should take your ramblings seriously. Come with logic or don’t come at all. Don’t just copy and paste a bunch of non-fact-checked nonsense and try to pass it off as rational thought.

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nonchai January 22, 2012 at 5:54 am

Oh yes, indeed I do use rhetoric and polemic. But as to the claims, you keep asserting that my examples of yahwehs less than perfect morality are false, but to date you have given nothing in reply that in any way offers either a refutation, nay a discussion of any points i made. See heres the thing CL – you are happy to take potshots at non theists attempts to provide a godless moral philosophy, yet you shy away from discussing that which you claim to be the centre of YOUR morality – namely the BIBLE.

I am yet to see you tackle head on ANY of my examples on the other posts.

Let me give you one nugget you can chew on here – just to save anyone needing to go to the other posts: CL Please tell everyone here exactly why the laws and edicts handed down by YWH concerning treatment of divorced women can not be improved in the area of inheritance ( or lack of ) . And please explain why other laws in the ANE conceding divorce are more humane. For example making far better provision for the woman being divorced by her man.

I can back up every claim I make and will do so the minute you actually grab the bait.
Biblical scholars far better than either than you have made great study of these things, and it is only the dogma ridden theists that choose wilfully to stick their ostrich heads in the sand on all this.

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nonchai January 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

CL – you wing “Come with logic or don’t come at all”

But the point is that you seem to be mating theistic logic with the bible.
As soon as your system includes the bible and christian doctrine , any hope of logic breaks down.

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nonchai January 22, 2012 at 6:09 am

Just try and defend even the doctrine of the Trinity and lest see your word games and sophistry as you attempt to explain why this doctrine isn’t in reality polytheistic.

Talks about “essence” and the like all you want. Anyone can see the the “divine mystery” here is just a sham. Its yet another application of coloured whale fat on a porcine animal.

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cl January 25, 2012 at 6:26 pm

nonchai,

Oh yes, indeed I do use rhetoric and polemic.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but the problem is that you irresponsibly build your rhetoric and polemic from false claims and personal opinions as opposed to facts and cogent arguments. Big no-no.

But as to the claims, you keep asserting that my examples of yahwehs less than perfect morality are false, but to date you have given nothing in reply that in any way offers either a refutation, nay a discussion of any points i made.

False, and you appear to forget who bears the burden of proof: the positive claimant. It’s not up to me prove your Judges claim false. It’s up to you to prove it true, and saying it is so doesn’t make it so. You have yet to demonstrate the truth of your own claim so don’t grill me.

See heres the thing CL – you are happy to take potshots at non theists attempts to provide a godless moral philosophy, yet you shy away from discussing that which you claim to be the centre of YOUR morality – namely the BIBLE.

False. I have books and a blog with 500 posts where I do exactly that: discuss the Bible. That I’ve given you scant attention is not sufficient grounds to mistakenly assume that I lack interest in discussing Scripture. Rather, I lack interest in debating people with discernible disdain for logic and truth, and that’s you my friend.

I am yet to see you tackle head on ANY of my examples on the other posts.

Again, false. I tackled your Judges allusion head on, and you failed to make your case. Handwaving over in Thom Stark’s direction doesn’t cut the mustard. You’ve got to actually think about this stuff and craft logical arguments if you want to persuade me that your position is superior. Can you?

Please tell everyone here exactly why the laws and edicts handed down by YWH concerning treatment of divorced women can not be improved in the area of inheritance ( or lack of ) . And please explain why other laws in the ANE conceding divorce are more humane. For example making far better provision for the woman being divorced by her man.

Nope. One thing at a time. You’ve still got to support claims re Judges. Once we finish that conversation, I’ll be glad to address this newer issue. Don’t try to raise 20 different issues at once hoping to create the illusion of victory.

I can back up every claim I make and will do so the minute you actually grab the bait.

LOL! Get real. I already grabbed the bait and you failed to back up your claim. Again: handwaving towards Stark doesn’t cut the mustard.

Biblical scholars far better than either than you have made great study of these things, and it is only the dogma ridden theists that choose wilfully to stick their ostrich heads in the sand on all this.

Ah, yes… the ever so impressive appeal to unnamed “Biblical scholars” as if it should have any merit whatsoever in the development of MY reasoned conclusions. C’mon man, your technique is getting really thin here.

As soon as your system includes the bible and christian doctrine , any hope of logic breaks down.

False, and there is a perfect example of rhetoric built from illogic. There is no inherent incompatibility between logic and Scripture.

[YAWN]… this is getting old. I say we just drop it and pick it back up in the other thread.

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nonchai January 25, 2012 at 8:10 pm

@CL

I made many arguments and all you can do is repeat the mantra “False” and “prove it”.

Still you refuse to address ANY of the points I make. Whether it is to do with the Abraham texts, divorce law, or whatever. All I am hearing is “I wrote this book and Ive got a blog”

I really don’t care which of my many points you deal with just have the decency to engage and discuss ANY of them.

Lets throw one out now. Why does Yahweh get his main dude to perform an act on his son that is clearly condemned elsewhere in his holy book as being anathema and beyond the pale ?. The fact yahweh lets him off the hook makes no difference.

If I tell you to go fondle your five year old girl and then just when you’re about to go through the act I step in and say – “no don’t do it, well done for obeying me, but heres a teddy bear to fondle instead” – what would you think of me ?

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nonchai January 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm

And yes yahweh tells his Abraham to do something much much worse.

Is telling you to kill your 5 year old daughter somehow less despicable and vile than the above ?

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nonchai January 25, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Of course to everyone here who isn’t a slave to the idea that the OT is the word of god, the answer i.e. s plain and obvious. Namely that in the time these texts were written it was considered a noble and highest form of devotion to offer up your firstborn son to your deity. And this included the israelites. Yahweh simply morphs and changes his doctrine as the centuries go by, as israelites moved away from the idea that child sacrifice was acceptable.

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nonchai January 25, 2012 at 8:29 pm

of course the yahweh of the later centuries would never have commanded Abraham to kill his own innocent son as a form of sacrifice. A far more acceptable request would have been to instruct Abe to fall upon his own sword, or to saw off both his legs.

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nonchai January 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm

and then say – “nope abe – had yo fooled – don’t amputate anything – here’s a goat.”

Reminds me of “The Father The Son And The Holy Goat”……

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cl January 26, 2012 at 7:35 am

Wow, 5 comments in a row, eh? You must be very emotionally involved in this atheist apologist stuff! Nonetheless, I imagine you’ll be back with five more rambling comments, again failing to demonstrate any sort of endorsement. It’s too bad, because I get the feeling you really do believe you are speaking truth here, when in reality, you’re just spouting emotionally charged rhetoric like any other New Atheist or Fundamentalist.

Still you refuse to address ANY of the points I make.

Incorrect. I called you out on your false claim of YHWH endorsing child sacrifice in Judges, and you didn’t do anything except handwave towards Thom Stark.

All I am hearing is “I wrote this book and Ive got a blog”

I only said that once, but, if that’s all you’re hearing, you need to improve your reading abilities.

I really don’t care which of my many points you deal with just have the decency to engage and discuss ANY of them.

I have. I’ve engaged you on Judges and now you keep trying to change the subject to anything from Isaac to Jesus. It is actually you who needs to engage me — with something besides vacuous rhetoric based on fallacious thinking. Again: positive claimant retains the burden of proof. Can you demonstrate this alleged endorsement?

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nonchai January 26, 2012 at 9:41 am

@cl the five posts were because this comments system has no “EDIT” facility for correcting
or adding to posts after a time limit, and I’m forgetful.

Now as to JUDGES: Just so we don’t have to flit between CSA posts i’ll repeat the biblical passage here: “”Then Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh and said, “If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hands, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, shall be for Yahweh, and I will offer it up as a burnt sacrifice. So Jephthah passed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them, and Yahweh delivered them into his hands.”

I then proceeded to give an argument, combining my words with the excellent and thorough
treatment that Thom Stark gives this passage.

And what reply or response did we get from you ? Nothing. All we got from you is “prove it”. and “i’ve engaged you”. You’ve done nothing of the sort !. The closely argued case for early israelite endorsement for child sacrifice is here. It is already made. Not only do you have the biblical text itself but also a thorough argument to support the claim.

Either you did not read the closely argued paragraphs at all, or you have and simply cannot come up with an alternate explanation for what is going on in this text.

Please give us all YOUR reading of what this text says. I’m all ears. And for ease – i’m going to repost the extensive case for why Judges here is best read as endorsing child sacrifice:

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nonchai January 26, 2012 at 9:41 am

OK – here it is AGAIN ! :

I’ll now quote from Thom Stark’s article directly on this:

“Here is a clear example testifying to Israelite belief in this period that Yahweh would give victory in battle in exchange for the satiation of human sacrifice. Why does Jephthah make this vow? Because the Ammonites were a formidable enemy, and Jephthah needed that extra divine boost in order to ensure a victory. Note that the text does not condemn Jephthah. Yahweh does not stop Jephthah from sacrificing his daughter. Moreover, according to the text, Yahweh is engaged in this whole affair, because after Jephthah made the vow, “Yahweh gave them [the Ammonites] in to his hand.” Moreover, Jephthah is expressly one upon whom the spirit of Yahweh is said to have rested. In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews lists Jephthah as one of Israel’s great heroes of faith.

Copan attempts to dispense with this passage by arguing that Jephthah’s vow was a “rash vow” , and that “is” does not equal “ought” (in other words, just because it happened in the Bible doesn’t mean it was good). First, the text does not say that Jephthah’s vow was “rash.” That’s what Copan says. Certainly, Jephthah laments that it turned out to be his beloved daughter whom he had to sacrifice, but his daughter doesn’t! She sees that because Yahweh had given him victory, it is only right for him to keep up his end of the bargain. She takes the news of her impending inflammation rather well, all things considered. This shows that these assumptions were a normal part of life in that period. Human sacrifice to the deity was taken for granted; it was not a “rash” aberration.

Second, while it’s true that “is” does not necessarily equal “ought,” the assumption the text maintains is that because Yahweh gave him victory, Jephthah now ought to sacrifice his daughter. He didn’t lament having to sacrifice a human being; he lamented having to sacrifice his beloved daughter, and understand ably so. But that’s the point that’s implicit in the text. Yahweh wants real sacrifices, not easy sacrifices. Child sacrifice was considered noble in this world precisely because it was the greatest possible sacrifice that could be made. Children who were made subject to sacrifice weren’t despised by their parents; they were beloved. Sacrificing them was very hard, and that’s precisely the point. That’s what the ancient deities wanted — hard sacrifices. So when the story goes that Jephthah lamented having to sacrifice his daughter, that is the point of the text. Yahweh required a real sacrifice, and it hurt Jephthah, just as it was supposed to. But as Jephthah’s own daughter said, the bigger picture was the security of Israel, and she was happy to sacrifice herself for that cause.

Moreover, as we will see shortly, making a vow to a deity to offer a human sacrifice in exchange for victory in battle was a common feature of West Semitic sacral warfare, so this hardly comports with an apologists typical characterisation of Jephthah’s vow as “rash.””

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nonchai January 26, 2012 at 9:46 am

CL remember – ALL you’ve said on the above is the following:

“I tackled your Judges allusion head on, and you failed to make your case. “

how exactly did you refute any of this ? All you have said is that I didn’t understand the logic of the above argument. I stand by the above. I happen to agree with Starks assessment, since I came to the same conclusion decades before ever encountering Stark!. The fact that I choose to include his work on this instead of rewording it all in my own way is neither here nor there.

Read the damn post and lets see you defend for marvellous yahweh.

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cl February 4, 2012 at 11:38 am

ALL you’ve said on the above is the following:

“I tackled your Judges allusion head on, and you failed to make your case. “

False. I asked you to show YHWH endorsing child sacrifice, and you failed to do so. But let’s not continue it here, since comments are going to close any day now. I created a thread specifically to continue this discussion on my new blog (which I’m hoping to “officially” launch Monday). I trust that I’ll see you over there if you’re really confident in your position. Take care.

http://www.thewarfareismental.net/b/2012/02/04/open-thread-from-common-sense-atheism/

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