Two philosophers defend the indefensible, try unsuccessfully to pwn me and my readers

Sometimes people become so bound up in their own career paths that they’ll defend anyone who’s walking a similar path, even if they’re doing it rong. Two philosophers have just done this, guarding their turf without realizing that some dog has deposited a large poop on that turf.

Remember last week when I singled out a California graduate student who was doing a Templeton-funded postdoctoral fellowship ($81,000 a year for two years, with $5500/year for travel)?  The subject of study was ludicrous: it was an investigation of how an omniscient God could both know everything we’re going to do and yet still allow us free will to make new choices. That, of course, means that God couldn’t know anything in advance. And that’s a big problem!  Time reversal!  Process theology!

The student was, as you recall, going to investigate how to deal with this problem:

His postdoctoral research project, “Divine Foreknowledge, the Philosophy of Time, and the Metaphysics of Dependence: Some New Approaches to an Old Problem,” assesses a core Ockhamist thesis about foreknowledge. William of Ockham was a 13th century philosopher.

“The central contention of the Ockhamist concerns a point about the order of explanation. According to the Ockhamist, it is because of what we do that God long ago believed that we would do these things. That is, God’s past beliefs depend in an important sense on what we do, and thus, says the Ockhamist, we can sometimes have a choice about God’s past beliefs,” he explained. “The overarching goal of this project is to develop and assess this core Ockhamist thesis along two underexplored dimensions: the philosophy of time, and the metaphysics of dependence – both of which have seen an explosion of recent interest.”

Now I hate to pwn other freethinkers, but philosopher Daniel Fincke at the Freethought blog Camels with Hammers has decided to go after my dismissal of that Templeton-funded Travesty.  His post is called “Jerry Coyne’s scientistic dismissiveness of philosophy,” and he defends that student’s proposal as being philosophically useful. Verbose Stoic does the same in a similar post called “Coyne (and his commenters) don’t know philosophy.

One of my several objections to that stupid project was that we shouldn’t worry about how God would handle free will if there isn’t a God in the first place.  Fincke takes issue with that:

In short, it does not matter whether there actually is a God. There is still philosophical illumination from exploring the implications of a hypothetical omniscient knower for our understanding of things like the connections between belief, causation, and time.

Verbose Stoic agrees:

So, that’s the translation of what Coyne calls “gobbledygook”. Now, does it depend on, as he puts it, “three completely unsupported premises”? Not if one understands philosophy, it doesn’t, because the question and the theory is philosophically interesting even if God does not exist. There’s a reason I talked about concepts above. If we have the concept of an omniscient being, we have the concept of something that clearly knows (okay, okay, that’s debatable, but grant it for now) everything that we will do before we do it. If it is conceptually consistent with our notions of time and dependence that any knowledge of that sort would involve the determination of a belief in the past by an action in the future, that would have very interesting consequences for the concepts of time and dependence, even if no such entity existed.

Well, these folks may be philosophers (I’m not sure about V.S), but they’re dead wrong here.  The theory is NOT philosophically interesting in the absence of an omniscient being.  If there isn’t one, as I presume both of these folks agree, then the project becomes an exercise in mental masturbation, musing about what something nonexistent would do if it existed. Why is that any more valid than wondering how an omnimalevolent God could allow good in the world, or why an omnibenevolent God allows evil?  Or, for that matter, how fairies would keep their wings dry in the rain, or how Santa manages to deliver all those presents to billions of kids in only one evening. And what if you assume that God isn’t omniscient? Then the whole project is moot.

That exercise is not philosophy, it’s theology. And it’s a waste of money, for it accomplishes nothing.

Both Fincke and Verbose Stoic claims that I’m opposed to philosophy in general, and V.S. accuses me of—horrors!—scientism. Fincke Verbose Stoic:

The first [reply to Coyne] is that he has no idea if these concepts will have applications in “the real world” anymore than he can say what portions of abstract mathematics will. The second is that while he may not care about concepts, philosophy does, and unless he wants to take away all funding to philosophy and give it to science — which, I’m afraid, would definitely be scientism — it seems odd to protest funding given for post-doc work that’s relevant to philosophy just because he doesn’t personally care about the results … or, rather, because it uses a concept that he doesn’t like.

Verbose Stoic Fincke:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: atheists need to take philosophy seriously.

My response:

1. I do take philosophy seriously, but only serious philosophy.  The kind of mushbrained lucubrations embodied in the Templeton proposal may be meant seriously, but they’re not to be taken seriously.  They involve spinning out the consequences of a nonexistent omniscient being. What’s the point?

The kind of philosophy I do take seriously is ethical philosophy—or any kind of philosophy that gives us logical tools to think about our beliefs, getting us to examine them closely and pointing out their fallacies.  In fact, one of my favorite colleges courses was a philosophy course in ethics, taught by a student of John Rawls.  And I’ve read and appreciated a fair amount of philosophy.  But I’ve studied philosophy, I know some philosophy, philosophy is a friend of mine, and, Dr. Fincke, that proposal is not philosophy.  It’s addled theology.

2.  I do indeed advocate scientism, if by scientism you mean “we accept no truths about the world that aren’t derived by logic, reason, and empirical observation.” That’s construing science broadly, but I think it encompasses what is meant by the term “scientism”. I’m proud to take that stand, though philosophers like Fincke and V.S. use it in a pejorative way. Philosophy alone cannot tell us what is true about the world.  It gives us tools to help us find what is true about the world. But that Templeton-funded Travesty tells us nothing about the world. It’s a waste of money that could be used to do something constructive, like funding scientific research.

I don’t need to go on because, if you look at the comments on Fincke’s post (there’s none on Verbose Stoic’s), nearly all of them take him to task for defending that postdoctoral proposal.  I find it very odd that a skeptic would defend a proposal to study what a nonexistent God would do if he existed. That defense can only be seen as a wider defense of the value of philosophy, and I don’t disagree that some philosophy has value.

Oh, and I’m not the only one taking flak from Verbose Stoic: so are many of you who commented.  So, stooshie, Mattapult, Parick, 386sx, jer, sally, Dominic, Tulse, and Andrew B., go over to Verbose Stoic’s post and see which of your comments have make the Stoic want to ” tear out his hair in frustration”. (I’m guessing that V.S. is male because he says he implies that he doesn’t have much hair left, but since he’s pulling the cowardly trick of attacking people under a pseudonym, I can’t be sure.)

403 Comments

  1. Posted October 30, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is a dead language. They are right to be worried. What has philosophy predicted, in the lase few hundred years. In fact, philosophy is pretty much ideology, wishful thinking and a bunch of indefensible ideas.

    It’s core problem is trying to come up with anything useful or even interesting using consciousness and natural language. Good luck with that.

    • Al West
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      That is an astonishingly ignorant post. The bulk of this website’s content is philosophy – mostly philosophy of religion, but there have of course been forays into free will and other important philosophical topics. If you think science isn’t philosophy, or has no philosophical implications, or that its only topics are consciousness and language, or that it’s “pretty much ideology”, then I’m afraid by having those thoughts, you are engaging in philosophy, whether you like it or not. And on this website, where arguments against NOMA are so common and discussions of the lack of validity of religious claims are the daily norm, it is an absurdity to claim that philosophy is in any way dead.

      Even if academic philosophy has the problems you suggest, and it doesn’t, that still says nothing about philosophy as a whole, which includes any rumination on almost any topic. Descriptive linguistics – clearly scientific – began as the philosophy of language. Cognitive science began as an off-shoot of philosophy of mind. Physics began as the basis of metaphysics, and not in some haphazard way, but as a logical and empirical process aimed at finding the truth – a philosophical goal.

      • winwar
        Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        And you’ve provided many excellent examples why many consider philosophy no longer useful. It’s been incorporated into other fields and applied in practical ways.

        How exactly is a philosopher doing a thought experiment superior to a specialist doing the same? Especially when the specialist can actually apply it?

        I assume that there is still a place for straight philosophy at universities, although defense of crap like this makes me reconsider. Hopefully this doesn’t involve teaching intro courses on the great philosphers that were really wrong but that we pretend were really awesome.

        • Outlaw_Philosopher
          Posted October 30, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          Well, philosophy seems mostly useful in that it can provide the seed from which actually useful fields can grow. In some areas, there really isn’t a good systematic science yet, and maybe by philosophical thought we’ll eventually get one.

          And maybe not, of course, but to pass judgement in advance, on less than no evidence, is…

        • Al West
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

          I assume that there is still a place for straight philosophy at universities, although defense of crap like this makes me reconsider.

          Fortunately, you don’t get to decide.

          Philosophical thought experiments have different purposes from what we think of as scientific ones. We already know that the universe is made up of elementary particles – or we may at the very least reasonably assume it. And we already know that *some* things entirely reduce to the properties of these particles – chemistry, for instance. How much can we say is reductive? Is consciousness, for instance, something that could potentially be reduced to the properties of elementary particles?

          I expect so. Dennett and Jerry Fodor and others don’t agree with that. One of the ways in which we tussle over the question is by using thought experiments. They have no practical application as of yet – if they could be tested, then no one would bother with an abstract thought experiment, but it appears to be the only tool we’ve got.

          And philosophy provides the seeds of subjects – that was my point. It’s not that philosophy has been superseded, it’s just that what began as rather abstract thought developed over the course of 2,500 years into more concrete understanding. That concrete understanding still has philosophical ramifications that biologists, for instance, are too busy to uncover. And rightly so. Academia has a division of labour for a reason.

          Chill. Your disagreement with “philosophy” (which for you appears to be the world’s most ridiculous strawman) is an absurdity on a website almost entirely devoted to the implications of science on metaphysics and the question of god’s existence.

  2. aspidoscelis
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, Jerry, those folks did pwn you. So far as I can tell, you’re engaging in the same kind of reasoning as the Republican anti-intellectual, anti-science crowd. “I don’t understand field X, and I can’t figure out how it could possibly be useful, therefore any funding for the field is illegitimate and should be ceased immediately.” Do you think this is reasonable when applied to your field? Would you like your next grant proposal to be evaluated by economists, literary critics, and political scientists? Or open to veto from bloggers in other fields? To the average non-biologist, research on fruit fly speciation is arcane and useless, and I suspect you would be defunded in short order. If that doesn’t strike you as a great way of running your field, why do you want to subject other fields to this kind of absurd non-peer review?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Sorry aspidoscelis, but I don’t buy your argument. What you’re saying is that nobody but other English critics can go after postmodernism, so Alan Sokal’s hoax and books about the stuff are misguided.

      I can point to TONS of fruit fly research that has had practical results. I doubt that anything useful has ever come out of speculating how a nonexistent omnisscient God would deal with free will.

      Besides, other philosophers have found that stuff stupid as well.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted October 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Sorry aspidoscelis, but I don’t buy your argument. What you’re saying is that nobody but other English critics can go after postmodernism, so Alan Sokal’s hoax and books about the stuff are misguided.

        If people outside the field take the time to learn it and can make a compelling critique from a thorough understanding of the field, yes, absolutely, outsiders can have valid critiques. OTOH, your approach here is “I don’t know anything about it and I don’t want to. Nonetheless, let me tell you why it’s wrong…” With all due respect, that’s BS.

        I can point to TONS of fruit fly research that has had practical results.

        Yeah, well, Sarah Palin is happily ignorant of your research and disagrees with you. Let’s just take her word for it.

        • Drosera
          Posted October 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          There is a slight difference between studying Divine Foreknowledge and fruit flies, in that one subject is accessible by the methods of science, the other not so much. Please inform us how one could possibly gain ‘thorough understanding’ of a field that deals with something as vapid as Divine Foreknowledge? Philosophers are not doing their profession a favour by legitimising such trash. It comes across as astronomers defending astrology.

        • Dan L.
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

          Yeah, well, Sarah Palin is happily ignorant of your research and disagrees with you. Let’s just take her word for it.

          Trying to intimidate people into agreeing with you by comparing them to Sarah Palin?

          I love these philosophy fans. They discredit themselves before you even get to respond!

          • Al West
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            I don’t see what’s intimidating about comparing someone to Sarah Palin. And no one is saying that Jerry Coyne actually is Sarah Palin, only that the arguments he put forward in the post are as anti-intellectual as those Palin makes about studies of volcanoes and other such things. The proposal is a bit rubbish, and certainly not worth the money, but saying that proposing hypothetical beings is somehow inherently ridiculous and not philosophical is moronic.

            • Diane G.
              Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:32 am | Permalink

              …saying that proposing hypothetical beings is somehow inherently ridiculous and not philosophical is moronic.

              Oh? Name one good reason for proposing hypothetical beings.

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

                Well, like I said: for thought experiments. As long as you say that the hypothetical being is just that, hypothetical, and not real, I think you’re okay to hypothesise whatever you like. And they can be very useful. Laplace’s demon in its original formulation has been useful to both physicists (less so now, of course – but it was an inspiration to critique the Newtonian, mechanistic picture of the universe, so…) and philosophers, who still find it useful.

                As long as we’re clear that the beings we propose to use for thought are not real, we’re okay. And I don’t know why anyone would object to that. Laplace’s demon certainly doesn’t legitimate Yahweh.

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            My comparison was intended to make this point:

            It is self-defeating to endorse in one context a line of reasoning that acts directly against your interests when applied to other contexts.

  3. tomh
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    There is a slight difference between studying Divine Foreknowledge and fruit flies…

    Exactly. And “studying” is the wrong word to use for anything to do with theology, or deities, or Divine Foreknowledge, for that matter, since there is nothing to study. To study something there has to be something to actually study, (like fruit flies). Everything to do with the “study” of god, is imagination, and making stuff up.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      Though you intend your criticism only against theology and particular areas of philosophy you don’t like, it is also lethal to logic (a subfield of philosophy), math (and its subfields like statistics), and all theoretical endeavours generally… including most of evolutionary biology and population genetics. Even the most purely empirical studies in biology require a sound conceptual framework to mean anything.

      Whether this particular study will yield useful results I do not know; but if it doesn’t, it won’t be because concepts rather than physical things are the primary object of study… and attacking it because it is conceptual is anti-intellectual in the extreme.

      • tomh
        Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        Ah yes, making up some random absurdity, like a god, or divine foreknowledge, and then claiming to study it is the epitome of intellectualism.

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, this study involves a hypothetical situation in which not all of the components have real-world analogues. Physics is absolutely full of that sort of thing, and biology has its share as well. “Infinite frictionless planes”, “spherical cows”, the infinite, mutationless, selectionless, randomly mating population of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, etc. What, exactly, is wrong with logical analysis of such hypothetical situations?

          Sure, this kind of study can’t tell you anything about god (but, really, you’re not going to hold that against it, are you?), but it might tell us something about those aspects of the hypothetical situation that do have real-world analogues (things like time, knowledge, etc.).

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

            Also, I’m guessing that you’re under the impression that once we’re dealing with hypothetical scenarios and dare to admit things that can’t exist in the real world through the hypothetical door, we just kind of throw logic out the window and meander unconstrained about in the hypothetical landscape smelling flowers and making up any damned thing we please. That isn’t how it works. Looking at how hypothetical scenarios function in science should make that clear (infinite frictionless planes can’t exist… but they still follow the laws of physics). Philosophy does not differ in this respect. We can let god into the hypothetical world, but we can’t kick logic out.

          • Dan L.
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

            “Spherical cows” is from an actual, factual joke about physicists. It does not strengthen your case when you cannot tell a joke from an actual scientific principle.

            “Infinite frictionless planes” are often good approximations. For example, the behavior of the humble capacitor can be modeled to a good first approximation as an infinite frictionless plane. What if you want to study something in the gravitational field “above” the disk of a galaxy? You’ll probably want to model the galaxy as an essentially infinite frictionless plane (granted, the frictionless-ness doesn’t really matter here).

            Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium describes something that you can point to in the real world and say, ‘Hey, that’s an example of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium.’

            So yeah, you’re pretty bad at this. No wonder you’re not a scientist.

            • aspidoscelis
              Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

              Forgive me for using a humorous example. I don’t think this detracts from the fact that people in science do indeed consider hypothetical scenarios that include things that don’t actually exist.

  4. tomh
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Sure, this kind of study can’t tell you anything about god

    Why not? If one can study divine foreknowledge one can certainly learn something about god.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      Well, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but god doesn’t exist.

      If you want to be picky, this study might end up giving insight on how omniscience could work if there were a god, but since there ain’t… (similarly, we know a great deal about what would happen on infinite frictionless planes, how Hardy-Weinberg populations would behave genetically, etc., but those things don’t exist, either).

  5. tomh
    Posted October 30, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    You keep trying to equate theological maunderings with math or science. It doesn’t work.

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      If conceptual or theoretical investigations and analysis of hypothetical scenarios work in science, then the fact that some other thing you don’t like happens to use those tools is not a solid basis for rejecting it. You’ll have to come up with something else.

      For instance, if we found out that the results of this study used scripture as a source for “truth”, made logical errors in the service of a Christian viewpoint, or posited god as an actual existing thing rather than part of a hypothetical scenario, we’d have good grounds for calling it “theological maundering” and rejecting it. That it involves a counterfactual hypothetical situation doesn’t get you there. And that you don’t like anything that (even hypothetically) involves god isn’t an excuse for sloppy, half-assed, or anti-intellectual criticism.

      • Tulse
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

        So let’s say the Islamic Accommodationist Foundation provides a two-year post-doc on how to understand the nature of flying horses. Would you say that such a project is free from any theological maunderings?

        Or say the Irish Leprechaun Research Foundation gave a post-doc a lot of money to ponder in what way rainbows could emanate from pots of gold stashed by fey folk. Would you describe such research as purely philosophical?

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 30, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      Compare this discussion with the following hypothetical scenario:

      A: I don’t like bananas.
      B. Why not?
      A: Because they’re yellow.
      B: But you like corn and yellow bell peppers, and those are also yellow.
      A: But… bananas and corn aren’t the same.
      B: Yeah, but they’re both yellow, so that can’t be why you like corn but not bananas.

      • Dan L.
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        Look, we understand perfectly why we talk about infinite frictionless planes, etc. It’s because they’re fruitful approximations — models — of real-world behavior. We can use them to do useful calculations about entities whose form approximates the hypothetical ones — the surface of the earth, at a certain scale, looks and behaves a whole lot like an infinite plane and that is why kinematics courses include the derivation of the G field due to an infinite plane (it’s how we get 9.8 m/s^2 acceleration at the surface of the earth — which isn’t literally true but it’s much more useful than the equation that is literally true).

        What we don’t understand is what “God” is supposed to be an approximation for. So your hypothetical conversation is not really representative. It’s more like:

        A: I don’t eat daffodils.
        B: Why not?
        A: They’re not food!
        B: But bananas are food and bananas are yellow!
        A: Yes, bananas and daffodils are both yellow, but the yellow-ness is irrelevant to whether or not they’re edible. Daffodils are not edible so I don’t eat them.
        B: But! Banana peppers!

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          Well, if you know how infinite frictionless planes work in physics, you know how god works in religion. The difference is that in physics you’re hypothesizing a counterfactual situation to shed light on the physical behavior of matter under normal circumstance, while in philosophy you’re hypothesizing a counterfactual situation to shed light on the normal behavior of concepts.

          So, we’ve got these everyday concepts of time, causality, and knowledge. The question this dude is investigating, AFAICT, is, “OK, how could those concepts interact in a hypothetical scenario in which we allow omniscience?”

          And if we’re going to modify my hypothetical conversation to account for your comments here & my response, I would suggest the following:

          A: I don’t like bananas.
          B. Why not?
          A: Because they’re yellow.
          B: But you like corn and yellow bell peppers, and those are also yellow.
          A: But… bananas and corn aren’t the same.
          B: Yeah, but they’re both yellow, so that can’t be why you like corn but not bananas.
          A: No, corn isn’t yellow.
          B: Yes it is.

          • aspidoscelis
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

            Christ, stupid typo, not enough sleep. Correct as follows:

            “Well, if you know how infinite frictionless planes work in physics, you know how god works in philosophy of religion.”

            • Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

              The difference is that we can build finite low-friction planes that actually behave as the equations predict, within the limits of measurement error for those with the type of equipment typically available to undergraduates. And we have similarly-excellent equations that take into account the friction, resulting in models that exceed the measurement error for any available lab.

              Your gods, on the other hand, aren’t only nowhere to be found, but as incoherent as married bachelors to boot.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

                We do have beings with limited knowledge available for study. Omniscient beings are just a hypothetical endpoint of knowledge, in the same way that infinite frictionless planes are a hypothetical endpoint of finite planes of varying friction.

  6. Drosera
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Yeah, this study involves a hypothetical situation in which not all of the components have real-world analogues. Physics is absolutely full of that sort of thing, and biology has its share as well. “Infinite frictionless planes”, “spherical cows”, the infinite, mutationless, selectionless, randomly mating population of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, etc. What, exactly, is wrong with logical analysis of such hypothetical situations?

    The difference is that ‘infinite frictionless planes’ are well-defined abstractions with precisely known properties. Physicists would not refer to ‘planes with properties subject to divine interventions’. Not every hypothetical situation is a fruitful starting point for logical analysis. If everything goes, as you seem to suggest, you would perhaps support funding a study about the mating behaviour of unicorns. Or wouldn’t you?

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:22 am | Permalink

      As I’ve mentioned to tomh above, philosophy involving hypothetical scenarios isn’t just an “anything goes” venture. God in this context is stipulated to have precisely defined properties. You don’t just toss an undefined and unpredictable god in there. That those properties are divine is beside the point; for the purposes of philosophical investigation, they have to be well-defined and to follow the rules of logic like everything else.

      The kind of thing you’re imaging would be as if physicists dealing with a hypothetical infinite frictionless plane decided, “Hey, so long as this is hypothetical, let’s just turn off the normal rules of physics and let random stuff happen.” It may be worthwhile to modify the rules of physics to see what that would imply, but if you just throw them out and operate without any solid rules, you’re doing it wrong. Same with philosophy.

      “Hypothetical” and “divine” in this context do not mean irrational and inexplicable.

      • Tulse
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

        God in this context is stipulated to have precisely defined properties.

        But the property of “omniscience” has been argued time and again to be incoherent. And once you start with an incoherent premise, then indeed “anything goes”.

        The problem is not that this is a thought experiment — the problem is that the terms are so loose and incoherent on their own, that any result is possible. In other words, this is not a good thought experiment.

  7. Drosera
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

    God in this context is stipulated to have precisely defined properties.

    That’s not what I read in the research proposal as quoted by Jerry. All I see there is a vague reference to what I presume to be the Christian God. That, however, is supposed to be a real entity, so you can’t ‘define’ its properties, anymore than you can define the properties of a rabbit without actually examining a rabbit.

    What this study will lead to is equivalent to a description of the behaviour of rabbits by someone who has no clue what a rabbit actually is. What possible insights might this produce? Who cares?

    • aspidoscelis
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:55 am | Permalink

      Wait… what?

      We’ve got an object that doesn’t exist being investigated in a hypothetical scenario, and you’re saying that… this nonexistent object is actually real and so it should be investigated empirically?!

      All I can figure is that you’re having trouble with the idea that “philosophy” isn’t, and isn’t supposed to be, a synonym of “science”. So you’re trying to imagine in what context scientific investigation of god would be reasonable, and then faulting a philosophical inquiry for not matching that imagined situation and being unlikely to give the kind of results you want from science. I’m not sure what to suggest to remedy this confusion beyond taking a course or two in philosophy so’s you’ve got some idea how it actually works.

      • Drosera
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink

        I’m merely describing what this Templeton study is supposed to be about. The existence of the Xian God is treated as a given (read the proposal). It is not pure philosophy (more like pure BS). That’s why I don’t quite understand why you and others are so eager to defend it.

        • aspidoscelis
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

          “Treated as a given” just means “assumed for the sake of argument”, not “definitely true, and with the stipulated properties verified empirically”. Again, cf. “assume a spherical cow”.

          As for why I’m defending this study–I’m not. There are more reasons to reject bad argumentation than disagreement with the intended conclusion. In this particular case, a lot of that bad argumentation amounts to a general rejection of the legitimacy of any rational inquiry that isn’t narrowly empirical. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of a cluster bomb–it might take our your intended target, but there’s a hell of a lot of collateral damage. Modifying slightly my earlier comments: That you don’t like anything that (even hypothetically) involves god isn’t an excuse for sloppy, half-assed, or anti-intellectual criticism of philosophy and abstract reasoning.

          • Drosera
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

            Yes, I know what ‘treated as given’ means, thank you very much. But unlike a spherical cow or an infinite frictionless plane, the Xian God is not an entity with known properties. How would you base a useful argument on such a vapid concept?

            I’m all for abstract reasoning. But start with well-defined concepts, otherwise it will be a case of garbage in, garbage out.

            • aspidoscelis
              Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

              Well, in the context of philosophy of religion god does indeed have the same status as a spherical cow in physics. It is a taken as a hypothetical entity with certain defined properties. Whether an entity with those defined properties actually exists is not part of the issue. God in this context is not treated as a thing that may or may not exist and whose properties are completely undefined except in the case that god exists and his properties are known empirically. That would be a reasonable conceptualization of god from the point of view of strictly empirical science, but not in a philosophical context.

              If you don’t want to take my word for it, Verbose Stoic & Fincke have said the same thing at more length, and probably written it much better. And, while I’m just a guy with an undergrad philosophy degree (as well as training in biology), they’re actual honest-to-god philosophers…

              • Drosera
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                You are, perhaps unwittingly, employing the same rhetorical trick as certain religious apologists. That is, when challenged about the theistic god they actually believe in, they switch to a deistic perspective and vocabulary. While I have made it abundantly clear that I am referring to the specific Xian God, entirely in line with the Templeton-funded project under discussion, you insist on focussing on some abstract entity with defined properties. You are creating a straw man, which in my book is a sign of “sloppy, half-assed reasoning.”

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                Basically, I’m giving the guy the benefit of the doubt and assuming that, as someone with multiple degrees in philosophy, he’s probably doing philosophy. Hence, I’m discussing how the kind of investigation described briefly in Jerry’s original post would proceed “in the context of philosophy of religion”.

                Maybe I’m wrong to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know. In either case, I’m not about to jump on the “philosophical inquiry into hypothetical scenarios can’t possibly be legitimate” bandwagon.

              • Drosera
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

                In either case, I’m not about to jump on the “philosophical inquiry into hypothetical scenarios can’t possibly be legitimate” bandwagon.

                Neither am I. So let’s agree on that.

          • Drosera
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

            Let me put this slightly differently. A spherical cow is something you define. It doesn’t exist but it still has properties. The Xian God, on the other hand, either exists or it doesn’t. If it exists it has certain properties, which we cannot define but which must be established empirically. If it doesn’t exist it has no properties. Either way, it doesn’t make sense to treat the Xian God as a given in a purely philosophical argument.

  8. Diane G.
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: atheists need to take philosophy seriously.

    Or what? You’ll throw a tantrum?

    • Al West
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

      What if you said to a religionist, “religionists need to take science seriously”, and then they responded in the same way you have?

      Atheists obviously need to take philosophy seriously because their position is a philosophical one. If you don’t think that is the case, then you’re being irrational.

      • Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

        +1

      • Dan L.
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        Sorry dude, you can’t make people interested in things they’re not interested in just because you think they should be. You physically can’t and ethically you shouldn’t try.

        • Al West
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          If someone is an atheist, then they have a philosophical position. If they are posting here, they likely have a philosophical position, especially when they reject certain ideas and support others. Rejecting philosophy is a philosophical position. Saying that only science can find out about the world is a philosophical position. Proclaiming your support for reason is a philosophical position. Saying that religion is wrong because we know enough to reject it is a philosophical position.

          Atheism in particular is philosophy. It’s not something other than philosophy.

          Do you really not get it? Atheism is a set of metaphysical beliefs. It is not something other than that. If someone says, “I’m an atheist, but I don’t care about philosophy and don’t consider it interesting”, that’s identical to saying “I think we should scrap the federal reserve, but I don’t care about economics or politics”, or, to use your earlier ridiculous example, “I drive a car, but I don’t really care about how to steer”.

          • tomh
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            Al West wrote:
            Atheism is a set of metaphysical beliefs

            You certainly have your own definitions – philosophy you define upthread as, “any rumination on almost any topic,” not to mention, “philosophy does incorporate science and every other form of study.” In other words, no one can argue that any topic isn’t philosophy if someone, somewhere has ruminated on it or studied it. Very convenient. Now, atheism becomes a “set of metaphysical beliefs.” Nonsense. My atheism is a single opinion, there is no “set” involved. Any beliefs you think are tacked on have nothing to do with the atheism.

            • Al West
              Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

              The reason I said that atheism is a set of metaphysical beliefs is because the definition of atheism is contentious, and if I say that it is one belief (god does not exist; denial of god’s existence; lack of belief in god), then someone will complain. Obviously, it refers to a single belief in each instance.

              But it still metaphysical. Obviously. If you believe something about the universe that no amount of empirical investigation could prove and which will, however likely it becomes, always be an extrapolation from the evidence, then you believe something metaphysical.

              Your belief about atheism – is it about deities? Their lack of existence? Denial of their existence? Something along those lines? If yes, it is a metaphysical belief. If instead you have taken your belief about the beauty of Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine and decided to label it “atheism” instead, then no, it’s not metaphysical, but it’s also not what I or anyone else would recognise as atheism.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                I don’t know what Tom’s position is, but mine is that “god” is a self-containt contradiction. I truly have no idea what is meant by the term (ignoring idols for the moment) because nobody has ever been able to present to me a coherent definition of the term.

                That is, I no more believe that there are gods than you believe that there are married bachelors, square circles, or gleeblefarbs. That nobody in all of history can point to something and state, “that, that right there, is (the work of) a god / married bachelor / square circle / gleeblefarb” is yet more empirical evidence of the usefulness of logic in evaluating the likely merits of a claim.

                Is that a philosophical position? Are etymologists philosophers?

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Diane G.
            Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:09 am | Permalink

            Al West, you’re playing the ol’ semantic switcheroo, here. There are many definitions of “philosophy,” and in the colloquial understanding of it, that of one’s general life view, I, too, see my atheism as a part of my personal philosophy. That has absolutely nothing to do with the narrow field of academic philosophy with all of its arcane jargon and huge amounts of off-putting superiority, not to mention ludicrous leaps of “reasoning” based on absolutely nothing concrete. To the extent that any of that tradition is at all necessary, you will find that scientists are using it. Otherwise, all the importuning you can post provides no actual reason for us to accede to your claims.

            • Al West
              Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:04 am | Permalink

              First of all, atheism has a lot to do with academic philosophy. If anyone studies atheism – not as a social movement, but as a conclusion reached after thought – who does it? I can tell you: philosophers. Specifically, philosophers of religion, like Robin Le Poidevin. So atheism obviously has something to do with academic philosophy in every meaningful sense. And it has been part of philosophy since Xenophanes! I’m just amazed that anyone could consider atheism to be something other than philosophy. This is not a contentious point – it just seems that every atheist here hates philosophy. As an atheist, I find this strange. Atheism is part of philosophy. It is a philosophical position, and there are no semantic games going on.

              But if your atheism is just some life-choice, some part of your “personal world-view”, then I don’t think you’ve considered it properly, frankly. Is it a position about the non-existence of deities, or is it a guiding principle in your life? If someone says, “does god exist?”, and you say, “nope”, then you’re making an ontological claim – a metaphysical claim, a claim about what exists and what doesn’t. To claim that this isn’t philosophy is just… it’s like saying that the study of bats isn’t part of biology because bats are really important to you. Bats are part of my personal philosophy, so they can’t be part of biology, because biology is icky.

              That is basically what the reasoning about philosophy on this page has consisted of. It’s ludicrous.

              • tomh
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                But if your atheism is just some life-choice, some part of your “personal world-view”, then I don’t think you’ve considered it properly, frankly.

                You actually think that the proposition of a magic man in the sky is deserving of proper, serious thought? You asked somewhere about my atheism, so I will tell you. I was raised in a household without religion. If the subject of the supernatural came up, (rarely), the idea that adults could take seriously, and actually believe they were true, fairy tales that included ghosts, or angels, or gods, was simply met with head-shaking and wonder. Now, nearly 70 years later, I still feel the same way. Yet, to you, this is philosophy. Incredulity becomes philosophizing. Nonsense deserves serious consideration. And, of course, this would make it philosophy, since, according to you, anything that anyone has ever ruminated about becomes philosophy. Even to you, this must sound a little silly.

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

                Atheism is not the position that there is no such thing as so-called ‘supernatural stuff’. You could be an atheist who believes in ghosts – and yes, the issue of ghosts is a philosophical one, of course, as well as a scientific one. And yes, ghosts are rejected, but this still required investigation. You can’t just reject it a priori as impossible, but only after empirical investigation. Ghosts are much easier to falsify than deities.

                One could also reject the supernatural and still be a deist. There’s nothing ridiculous, prima facie, about the notion of a first cause, although it is in principle unknowable, and moreover a ’cause’ somehow ‘before’ time seems to be an absurdity, as causation requires time. But this is a logical and not empirical topic, and one that it has taken a very long time, and an awful lot of mental effort, to get to.

                To say that atheism requires no real thought, that it just involves rejection of the supernatural, is simply wrong. It requires a good deal of thought to reject all possible alternatives. Rejecting religion – sure, that’s easy. Believing that there is no deity of any kind among those described by philosophers and religionists for the duration of recorded history is a somewhat harder endeavour, although atheism does seem to be the most reasonable answer, by far.

                And yes, it is philosophy, although being raised to believe something is less rigorous than most philosophers or scientists would like in terms of belief justification. Nonetheless, justified atheism is a philosophical issue. Specifically, it is an ontological question.

              • tomh
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                And yes, ghosts are rejected, but this still required investigation. You can’t just reject it a priori as impossible, but only after empirical investigation

                Ridiculous. Describe the empirical investigation that falsified ghosts.

                Ghosts are much easier to falsify than deities.

                Nonsense, they are both part and parcel of fairy tales and equally easy to reject.

                One could also reject the supernatural and still be a deist.

                Wrong. The most common definition of a Deist is one who “believes in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.” Other definitions include things like, “belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation.” Belief in God requires acceptance of the supernatural.

                Atheism is not the position that there is no such thing as so-called ‘supernatural stuff’.

                Gods require the supernatural so rejecting it is a good start.

                To say that atheism requires no real thought, that it just involves rejection of the supernatural, is simply wrong

                You are wrong. I am living proof that it is easily done.

                It requires a good deal of thought to reject all possible alternatives.

                You are wrong. All possible alternatives are equally silly and they can be rejected with little thought.

                Believing that there is no deity of any kind among those described by philosophers and religionists for the duration of recorded history is a somewhat harder endeavour,

                Nonsense. Every deity ever described is exactly the same as far as I am concerned. To believers, no doubt, they seem different, in the same way that sheep seem different to other sheep. To a reasonable outside observer they are identical. People just invent different fairy tales to surround them.

              • Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                The “Scientism” Thang

                This is the same rhetorical. straw man trick the theologians use with evidence-based arguments. The trick is clever since it plays to human thinking weaknesses and hyper-personalization of everything.

                It is an attempt to reframe evidence as a belief system/ideology/”ism”. Once a belief system or “ism,” any evidence is immediately discounted and just another person’s opinion.

                It is the “ethnic food defense” — everyone like different kinds of ethnic foods and they’re all good. It’s just a matter of personal preferences/tastes/feelings/moods/etc.

                Lots of people fall for this trick and end up defending the opponent’s straw man — thus, they win.

                Factually, there is no such unified belief system or set of precepts or even methods that we can call “science.” Journalists can make something up, but it’s a straw man again, even if used for complimentary purposes.

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

                Belief in God requires acceptance of the supernatural.

                No, it doesn’t – at least, not if you’re a deist. The notion of a first cause is not supernatural. It’s not within the confines of the universe (whatever it means for that to be the case), and so there is no physical law to break, no nature to exceed. Deism does not require belief in the supernatural. All it requires is belief in what was once a very commonly held notion: the first cause. Most people still have a problem with the idea that something can “come from nothing”, but of course, when that something includes the principles by which something cannot come from nothing, there is no reason to believe in a first cause.

                But that’s a complex argument. How did you come to reject the first cause so easily? How powerful your mind must be, to not even have to bother with reason!

                Your rejection of deities appears to be based rather more on emotion than good sense.

                And there was, by the way, no single investigation that proved the non-existence of ghosts, partly for the simple reason that proving non-existence is very difficult. No; the reason we can say ghosts don’t exist is because they make no sense given what we know about the nature of the human body and the nature of life, which is no longer held to be vitalistic. Ghosts have also never been encountered.

                But just because it has never consisted of a single scientific experiment, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t empirical. If you reject ghosts outright without doing any investigation, then you’re a crap thinker and not a scientific, rational person.

              • tomh
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                I said, “Belief in God requires acceptance of the supernatural.”

                Al West replied:
                No, it doesn’t – at least, not if you’re a deist. The notion of a first cause is not supernatural. It’s not within the confines of the universe …”

                So you imagine that there is someone, somewhere, who calls himself a Deist, and believes that God caused the universe to begin, but it was all natural. And that this proves that belief in God doesn’t require acceptance of the supernatural. Is this what passes for rigorous, philosophical analysis these days? I’ll grant you that person might exist somewhere among the 7 billion on the planet. For the other 99.999% of God believers, belief in God requires acceptance of the supernatural.

                And there was, by the way, no single investigation that proved the non-existence of ghosts,

                Then surely you can list a few of the multiple investigations that you are implying.

                the reason we can say ghosts don’t exist is because they make no sense given what we know about the nature of the human body and the nature of life, which is no longer held to be vitalistic. Ghosts have also never been encountered.

                So when you said, “ghosts are rejected, but this still required investigation. You can’t just reject it a priori as impossible, but only after empirical investigation” you were just making stuff up. You didn’t reject them after “empirical investigation” because there never was any empirical investigation. Now you reject them simply because they make no sense and we’ve never seen one. I can reject fairies and elves and gods all for the same reasons.

                And yet you still try to save your argument with,
                just because it has never consisted of a single scientific experiment, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t empirical. If you reject ghosts outright without doing any investigation, then you’re a crap thinker and not a scientific, rational person.

                In other words, even though we can’t investigate them, and don’t need to since they make no sense and we’ve never seen one, we can still call it empirical and we have to investigate them. Give up the ghostbusters routine, you’re floundering. It’s pathetic.

              • tomh
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

                Oops. The third paragraph, from “So you imagine” to “of the supernatural” shouldn’t be italicized. That’s mine.

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 2:21 am | Permalink

                It doesn’t matter whether deists exist or not – although they do. What matters is whether the idea of deism is a legitimate possibility. It is, clearly, and it has one argument in its favour that was not overturned until fairly recently. Jefferson, Voltaire – the Enlightenment was replete with deists, and they all believed in an essentially mechanistic, natural universe without any intervention from their deity, which they only saw as a necessity to get the universe started a la the first cause argument.

                As for ghosts, it was after empirical investigation that they have been rejected. They could still exist, but it seems extremely unlikely given that every investigation of so-called “hauntings” has come up negative (it’s not like there haven’t been plenty of those, and they are empirical) and given that empirical investigation of human beings has shown that there is no vital principle within them that could plausibly survive death. Ghosts cannot be rejected without empirical investigation of the universe, and your claim that they can is bizarre.

                Check out Randi’s site for investigations of ghosts. It’s not my forte.

                The validity of an argument doesn’t depend on how many people believe it, and deism could still be a legitimate possibility that needs refuting even if only one person believed it.

                Further, your statement “belief in God requires acceptance of the supernatural” is evidently false. One could be a deist, someone who definitely believes in something for which the term “God” legitimately applies, and not believe in the supernatural. And in any case, you can’t reject deism outright without any grounds. It seems like you just rejected it without thinking. That is not rational or sensible.

              • tomh
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

                Al West wrote:

                “they all believed in an essentially mechanistic, natural universe without any intervention from their deity,”

                The supernatural does not require an intervention from a deity. To posit a creator god, outside the universe, not subject to natural laws of physics, able to do things like create a universe, is to invoke the supernatural. Supernatural simply means, “being above or beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law or phenomena.” A God would certainly qualify.

                “Check out Randi’s site for investigations of ghosts. It’s not my forte.”

                Obviously. You’re talking about a magician exposing a charlatan’s tricks. It has nothing to do with an empirical investigation of ghosts. The whole idea is ridiculous, yet you cling to it like a drowning man to a lifeboat.

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

                You appear confused as to what exactly constitutes empirical investigation. No one is asking, “what are the properties of ghosts?” They are instead asking, “do ghosts exist?” The conclusion thus far reached to the latter question is, “no”, and to the former, “none; or non-existence”. But they are both empirical questions. It just so happens that one is essentially unanswerable and the other has ended in a negative conclusion. That doesn’t make it a non-empirical matter.

                To posit a creator god, outside the universe, not subject to natural laws of physics, able to do things like create a universe, is to invoke the supernatural.

                No, it isn’t. You appear to be confused here, too. If all you are proposing is a creator god – a first cause with no other attributes – then you aren’t proposing anything supernatural. Before there is a universe (whatever that means), there is no physical law, no nature, to break, so a first cause outside the universe cannot be supernatural by definition.

                But you also appear to be making a really dumb argument. Even if we arbitrarily extend the category of “supernatural” to include the argument of the first cause, that doesn’t invalidate the notion of the first cause, which appears to be your claim. If you can’t invalidate it on its own terms, and choose to do so only because you have arbitrarily included within a category that you have rejected, then you’re not thinking. You’re not rational.

                If you called yourself an atheist before thinking about and rejecting the argument regarding the first cause, then your atheism was not fully justified, frankly, and simply deciding to include under the category of “supernatural” does nothing to change that situation.

                You’re embarrassing yourself.

              • tomh
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                The only embarrassment is you claiming that there have been empirical investigations of ghosts. Because a magician performs a trick and then claims “the ghost did it,” you think that by exposing the trick one has made an empirical investigation of ghosts? What’s next, you’re going to reference the TV shows that have haunted houses in them? The movie Ghostbusters? Exposing bogus claims, made for fun or profit, does not equal an empirical investigation of ghosts. Give it up, it can’t be done.

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

                I’m mystified by your inability to grasp basic concepts. If you investigate a claim using observation and your senses, aided in this by machines and implements, then you have conducted an empirical investigation of that claim. If a magician claims that ghosts caused the effects the audience has seen and the claim is investigated, and no ghosts are discovered, and instead a natural, physical explanation is uncovered, then the specific claim of ghost involvement has been falsified through an empirical procedure.

                I don’t know how you could have a problem with that, or even why you think it’s important. What is important is the fact that you don’t think atheism is a philosophical issue – and more to the point, that your atheism appears to be emotional rather than rational. This is the problem with any ‘movement’ or group based around belief; some people just believe the right thing for the wrong reasons. You cannot reject the first cause argument out of hand simply because you see it (erroneously) as supernatural after having rejected all other supernatural claims. You must have a better reason behind it, or your position is simply not thought through well enough.

                If you are just emotively attached to the idea of rejecting the supernatural and deities of all kinds, even the simple first cause argument, now refuted, without thinking about them first, then I’d prefer the views of someone like Voltaire who, although a god-believing deist, was at least someone who had thought in advance about his views.

              • tomh
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                As for you saying that I can’t be a “fully, justified” atheist, a real, true atheist I guess, without considering abstruse philosophical arguments about first causes, or imagining what came before the universe, not to mention considering all the deities that have ever been invented, well, actually, I have done these things, for about one minute. I put all deities in the same category as Bugs Bunny, and the abstruse philosophical arguments in the same category as empirical investigations of ghosts. I guess that makes me not a real atheist. I’ll just have to live with it.

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:00 am | Permalink

                It’s not about identity. It’s not about “real atheism”. It’s about whether you have fully considered the issue or not. Your atheism is not justified by reasonable standards; you have no reason to prefer atheism over deism, so it is arbitrary and therefore irrational to go for atheism. You may be fine with this, but then you are fine with being an irrational person with beliefs that are not justified.

                And if you spent one minute alone on all possible claims of deities, then you are not a reasonable thinker or a scientifically-minded individual. If atheism is a “movement” and if “we” atheists are supposed to stand for reason (and I certainly don’t have the group-forming sentiments to make this so on my part, although I am not directly opposed to it), then I’m a little ashamed on behalf of what is supposed to be our cause. I much prefer thinkers to reactionaries, and you have decided to react rather than think, tomh. It’s not edifying to see.

              • tomh
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

                Godchecker.com lists over 3,700 different Gods. Unless you have carefully considered each and every one, and found a good reason to reject each and every one, you are not a “reasonable thinker or a scientifically-minded individual,” and certainly not a fully justified atheist. I’m ashamed to even be talking to you.

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                @Sastra

                Perhaps that is so – certainly, most deists that I’ve ever heard of have extrapolated various attributes from the first cause argument, just as theists do. The idea of the universe as an act of will by the deity seems quite prevalent, and is unwarranted, but nowadays so is the entire argument. Either way, if the first cause argument is not dealt with, then one must remain to some extent agnostic, as there would be little to choose between atheism and deism.

              • Sastra
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

                Al West wrote:

                The idea of the universe as an act of will by the deity seems quite prevalent, and is unwarranted, but nowadays so is the entire argument. Either way, if the first cause argument is not dealt with, then one must remain to some extent agnostic, as there would be little to choose between atheism and deism.

                My point is that there is little to choose between deism and theism, since both involve some sort of Mind or mind properties with causal powers — and thus both fall subject to the same sort of philosophical and scientific objections.

                A First Cause Argument which introduces an attenuated deism sans mind-like properties is I think irrelevant to the atheist position, since as far as I can tell such a deism isn’t really deism at all. It seems to be a sort of place holder under which one can try to sneak in deism if people aren’t paying much attention to what concepts are supposed to be about. A mindless value-less flutter in the quantum foam of a twisted superstring (or whatever) is not going to be considered a version of ‘god’ no matter how primary or crucial it is or was.

            • Al West
              Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:07 am | Permalink

              That has absolutely nothing to do with the narrow field of academic philosophy with all of its arcane jargon and huge amounts of off-putting superiority, not to mention ludicrous leaps of “reasoning” based on absolutely nothing concrete.

              And again, put this into the mouth of a religionist. “That has absolutely nothing to do with the narrow field of academic science with all of its arcane jargon and huge amounts of off-putting superiority….”

              Seriously, you’re acting just like a theist. “Science is so arrogant and superior. It’s off-putting.”

            • Al West
              Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

              If someone says, “that house is haunted”, then we can empirically investigate that claim. Just because the answer is almost 100% certainly going to be “nope, that house is not haunted” does not mean that the investigation is neither an investigation nor empirical. To disabuse yourself of the notion of ghosts, you can’t just say “nah, ghosts don’t exist because they’re supernatural”. If you do that, while you may be right, your belief is simply not justified. By investigating the universe, and especially human beings, we can say that some phenomena exist and others don’t, and that ghosts appear not to.

              That is empirical. And you can’t just reject claims that you put into the category of “supernatural”, especially if they are not really supernatural by any reasonable definition, like the idea of a first cause.

            • Al West
              Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I’m sure there are far more gods than that! Such a short list.

              But, of course, I’m not referring to every proposed deity. There’s not all that much to distinguish between those that have names. No: the necessary thing to do is to examine all of the proposed logical kinds of deity and the arguments in their favour. Yahweh is one kind of deity with particular characteristics; it doesn’t actually exist, but the logical characteristics, including personability, emotion, creator of the universe, moral arbiter, etc, are still things to be examined. I think they can be rejected after only a short time of thinking, and science invalidates most of the attributes straight off. No, only deism – the notion of a first cause deity – provides any kind of intellectual meat, and only because it’s not an empirical topic.

              Given certain assumptions, the first cause argument works. It’s the assumptions that turn out to be wrong – ie, that everything that occurs requires a cause, and that that must include the universe. It doesn’t, for the reason that I mentioned: time is part of the universe, causation cannot occur without time, and in absence of the universe, there is no reason to believe in any form of causation. That is the logical argument – physicists often propose other ones. But you only need one to show it to be wrong.

              But if you have never considered the first cause before, never really rejected it except by hand-waving as “supernatural”, then your atheism is not justified. You would have nothing to choose between atheism and deism until the first cause argument is shown illogical.

              I’m not ashamed to talk to you, and I’m not interested in your identity as a “real atheist” or otherwise. Metaphysics isn’t about identity, and neither is reason. What I am talking about is your lack of sense, and your emotional rather than rational rejection of deities. That is not something to be proud of, and your continued effort to find something objectionable in my reasonable words is a little strange.

              • Sastra
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                No, only deism – the notion of a first cause deity – provides any kind of intellectual meat, and only because it’s not an empirical topic.

                The difference between a “first cause deity” and a more generic first cause is that the deity really has to have at least some attributes of mind — or nobody would call it a “deity.” I think that then makes Deism subject to many of the same objections which can be made against both the more specific named theistic gods and the New-Agey consciousness-energy gods.

              • Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                Al, I’ve been fully in agreement with you for most of these arguments, but I don’t think your premise “time is part of the universe” is necessarily true, if I understand some cosmological theories correctly.

                /@

              • Al West
                Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

                Sorry Sastra, just posted in the wrong place.

                @Ant Allan,

                That is a crude phrasing, intended to make the argument into an easily digestible syllogism. What it might be preferable to say is that there is no reason to believe that there is any time “before” the universe, as it were. The first cause argument depends on making ordinary physical law apply “before” there is a universe, and I see no reason to make that judgement. All causation we’ve ever known is within the universe. It is a leap, and not an ordinary logical step, to suggest that physical law applied before the universe existed. That is the real point.

            • Al West
              Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

              The first cause is not about the first thing that happened in the universe – and any strings or particles or anything that we would recognise would not be consider as part of the notion of a first cause in Aristotle’s sense. It refers instead to a cause of the universe itself that is not part of the universe, and that is held to imply intention by just the same line of reasoning that sees the first cause as a reasonable argument in the first place.

              Your point is reasonable, though, and I see it as invalid as you do. I wouldn’t call it irrelevant to atheism, but it’s certainly not the best argument for a deity. It is ubiquitous, though, and the notion of a creator deity is pretty much the only remaining semi-respectable argument in favour of any deity. It’s necessary, at least, to examine it.

              • Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                Oh, come on.

                Anybody who thinks the First Cause is anything other than an introductory-level textbook example of faulty logic is an uneducated idiot, right up there with those who think that division by zero results in a super-ultra-mega big number.

                Sorry.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Al West
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:22 am | Permalink

                It’s funny, Ben Goren: I’ve read many introductory level books on logic, and many at higher levels, and while I can’t claim to have read the entire literature, or that I’m a genius at philosophical or mathematical logic, I can say that I’ve never seen the first cause used as an example – probably because it isn’t an introductory problem of any kind, and requires a great deal of thought. In order to realise that it is false, a person has to be aware of the notion of possible worlds where there need be no truth – ie, no reality, and no physical law, and therefore no contradiction, no necessary conclusions, etc. If you think that that is introductory logic, then you’re a genius!

                It also seems a bit strange to say that it’s somehow ‘faulty, introductory’ logic, given that some of the most famous names in logic – indeed, its creators, including Aristotle, Leibniz, and even Goedel – accepted it as valid, and given that the vast majority of people, even the majority of atheists, have not considered the problem as a logical one.

                You seem to believe that a sufficient level of disdain is all that is required to see off philosophical claims. This is not the case.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:54 am | Permalink

                Al West–

                FWIW, the intro. logic course I took did include some discussion of the Cosmological Argument(s).

                Also, I’ve been tending to agree with your statements in this thread, but then I see this:

                In order to realise that it is false, a person has to be aware of the notion of possible worlds where there need be no truth – ie, no reality, and no physical law, and therefore no contradiction, no necessary conclusions, etc.

                I find this unintelligible. Perhaps you could explain? So far as I can tell, at least the better forms of the Cosmological Argument are perfectly valid. The problems (which I assume are what leads Ben Goren to call it “faulty logic”) enter when we consider the soundness of the premisses (some of which are obviously speculative and unjustifiable) or whether the conclusion actually has anything to do with the Judeo-Christian god (AFAICT, it doesn’t; at most the argument establishes a uselessly vague deism).

              • Al West
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

                I’m trying to say that the background assumptions are false, making it impossible to say anything logical about it. What the first cause relies on is the assumption that not-universe has the same properties as universe. Causation occurs in the universe; assuming that the universe itself needs a cause is an unwarranted leap, resting on the assertion that even if there is no universe (whatever that even means), there is still causation. That is wholly unjustified.

                We aren’t dealing with the universe, and there is no reason to believe that anything we know applies in any form; nothing could be logically shown to be true or false, or even coherent, or sensible, or anything, about not-universe. Not only is it not possible to empirically investigate, there is no reason to believe that there is anything at all, or even that ‘anything’ or ‘nothing’ is coherent regarding not-universe. You could believe anything you like about not-universe, including contradictions, because there is no reason to believe that any restraints exist, as all restraints that we are aware of on logic, sense, and investigation are from in the universe itself.

                You would be as justified to say that there is a cause as to say that there isn’t, as to say that both are true, or both false, as to say that a pile of ground up teacup dust generated the universe, as to say that RoboCop did, as to say anything, even something wholly incoherent – because unless you can show that any property of the universe also somehow applies outside of it (and I’m sure no one can do that, whatever it means to say “outside the universe”), there is no reason to believe that the possibilities are not infinite and that any conclusion is based on spurious premisses.

                It’s a head-bending problem, and not a piece of elementary logic. It is also important to note that the conclusions do flow from the premisses, it’s just that, as you say, the premisses are flawed.

              • Al West
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

                Anyway, it’s been an interesting discussion, and it has been a productive way to spend a few days off (alongside other things, of course). But as of this afternoon, I’m busy again, and will not be able to continue the conversation until Sunday at the earliest.

        • Al West
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          Also, dude, if we followed your advice, then we should not do science outreach or try to convince anyone that they’re wrong. Apparently, “ethically” we “shouldn’t try” to interest others in new things or intellectual developments.

          Sounds like bullshit to me.

      • tomh
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Al West wrote:
        Atheists obviously need to take philosophy seriously because their position is a philosophical one.

        Only if you define philosophy to encompass any and all opinions about every possible subject – a silly and worthless definition. My opinion is that there are no gods – that somehow becomes philosophy? Ridiculous.

        • Al West
          Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Wtf.

          I honestly cannot believe that you are serious. On the assumption that you’re not some postmodern trickster trying to make WEIT look ridiculous, I shall answer you.

          When you say that there is no god, or make any statement even approximating to anything close to that, you are making a statement about the nature of the universe that goes beyond what can be simply and easily be proven by experiment but which is sensible on the basis of the knowledge that we have. This is not scientific, therefore, but it is reasonable and rational. It is not just an opinion like “lightly browned toast is my favourite kind”. It is a metaphysical statement – exceeding or going beyond (meta) what can be totally demonstrated of nature (physin). It is reasonable, and based on logic and sense, and science. It is philosophy.

          I’m not saying that out of academic territoriality. It’s just that it is philosophy. It seems absurd – it is absurd – to even have to show it.

          • Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            It’s also my position that there are no square circles. Is that a philosophical position? How about my position that there aren’t any married bachelors, monsters under my bed, or sane Republican presidential candidates? Philosophical positions all?

            b&

            • Al West
              Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

              Well, yes, they are. But they are also scientific positions, most of them, and logical ones. A square circle is a contradiction, because that which has the properties of a square does not have the properties of a circle; and even if it were hypothetically possible, induction has shown to my satisfaction and yours that square circles don’t exist. So that’s an entirely empirical topic that requires no real extra thought or a going beyond of what we can simply demonstrate. Although, having said that, unless you have solved the problem of induction, experience will not be enough to show that square circles don’t exist – and therefore, you are making a philosophical point, that also happens to be a scientific one.

              I think you are mistaken when you try to impose such rigid categories in an attempt to differentiate science and philosophy. Do you really hate the idea of philosophy so much that you can’t bear it that one of your (clearly primary) beliefs is an evidently philosophical one?

              In any case, the question of god is not wholly empirical. We must exceed what can be shown by experiment, and thus we are in the realm of philosophy.

              Like it or not.

            • Tulse
              Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

              How about my position that there aren’t any married bachelors

              Actually, Ben, your position on married bachelors may not be “philosophical”, but the notion of analytic truths certainly has received a lot of attention in philosophy, and many argue that the analytic-synthetic distinction is untenable.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:46 am | Permalink

                Wow.

                Talk about having too much time on one’s hands. Philosophical arguments over the precise reason why there aren’t any married bachelors? Damn.

                Maybe that’s an appropriate definition of the term, “philosophy”: that which one practices when one has too much time on one’s hands.

                b&

              • Al West
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

                *facepalm*

                How about a thought experiment? Let’s say that someone somewhere, possibly in a shack in Wyoming, the following question:

                “Investigating the evolution and speciation of fruit flies? Why the heck would you do that? That’s something you do when you have too much time on your hands.”

                Check your zipper.

                Your anti-intellectualism is showing.

                Anyway, I don’t think you’re really hostile to philosophy. You just don’t like the idea of being associated with those lazy philosophers, perhaps, or find their work less aesthetically appealing than what we think of archetypal science. Philosophy is, after all, mostly quibbling.

                But man, get over it.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

                I’ll give you an example from today’s headlines as to why we should care about fruit fly genetics and evolution.

                It’s not yet fully understood how DEET repels mosquitoes. It had been thought that they found the smell offensive, but new research in fruit flies — which share the same olfactory mechanisms — has demonstrated that it instead confuses the sense of smell. Once we understand how DEET works in fruit flies, we will understand how it works in mosquitoes and we may well be able to develop a safer, more effective, and cheaper alternative. By studying fruit flies, we may well reduce the incidences of malaria.

                Philosophy, on the other hand, as has been correctly observed elsewhere on this page, is to science what alternative medicine is to medicine. Philosophy that has any bearing at all on reality is simply known as, “science.”

                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

                Philosophy that has any bearing at all on reality is simply known as, “science.”

                That’s just silly, Ben. Political philosophy has had a huge impact on the modern world. Moral philosophy has played an enormous role in various social movements (and Harris’ arguments about human well-being are essentially just moral philosophy). The whole foundation of science rests on deep arguments about what science actually looks and what it can and can’t claim. It’s absurd to say that philosophy is just “science”.

              • Al West
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

                I can’t believe that you just made that argument. Should all research that serves no obvious practical benefit be halted? Should any fruit fly research – including boring old speciation stuff! – be stopped if it doesn’t help solve mosquito problems?

                Of course, I don’t think you’d assent to these things. I expect that, like any sensible human, you like learning as an end in itself – joie de vivre is just as much motivation as anything else.

                But now, here’s the crux of it: you routinely make statements that rely on an understanding of philosophy. Your questions about squares and circles, and married bachelors, are questions that have direct relationships to linguistic philosophy, logic, and epistemology. Your statements about the non-existence of deities are the very heart of metaphysics. Why not just accept it instead of bashing philosophy? Your evasions, misconstruals, and sophistical pseudo-arguments are becoming silly. You like philosophy, and science, whether you think you do or not.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

                How are political and moral “philosophy” not empirical disciplines — except, of course, to the extent that they’re mere masturbatory philosophical exercises in building fantastic and unrealistic sky castles?

                If your political philosophy tells you that centralized economic planning is the best thing ever but your workforce finds no inspiration in trusting the central planners to plan properly, wouldn’t the scientific, empirical response be to abandon central planning while the philosophic response would be to insist on milking the spherical cows?

                If your moral philosophy tells you that prohibiting alcohol will cure many of society’s ills, when implementing your philosophy turns out to do the opposite, wouldn’t scientific empiricism demand the repeal of prohibition? Yet why should your philosophy change?

                And the scientific method itself is constantly subjected to refinements based on empirical observation and analysis. Or how else did you think the peer review system came about in the first place, or why there’s a major shift now away from paywalled journals? Do you really think that either is the result of a bearded man in an easy chair with a pipe philosophizing away?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Al West
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

                Do you really think that either is the result of a bearded man in an easy chair with a pipe philosophizing away?

                en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

                Stop it. You’re being very, very silly.

                Again, this is the amazing thing about all of this discussion. You claim that philosophy has no bearing on anything in the real world. You live in the real world and made statements which are necessarily connected to problems like the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements; the distinction between empiricism and rationalism; the non-existence of god….

                You make philosophical statements practically non-stop. And it’s very fucking annoying to see you do this while saying, “philosophy? rubbish”.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                I see I’m still not getting my point across.

                Philosophy is bullshit because it’s in no way tethered to reality.

                As Hawking so brilliantly put it, science will win because it works. That’s the whole point of empiricism: test your ideas, show your work.

                Philosophy is worthless because it never gets its hands dirty, never goes out and tests anything.

                When it does, like alternative medicine put through a solid double-blind trial, it either works or it doesn’t. What works stops being philosophy, just as the medicine that works stops being alternative.

                Remind me again, what’s the common name of empirical philosophy?

                Oh. Yeah. That’s right — I forgot.

                It’s, “science.”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Al West
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

                You’re getting your point across alright. You’re just too stubborn to admit that you hold a large number of positions that are not empirical, like atheism. That simply isn’t empirical. Neither, by the way, is the question of square circles; it is logical, not empirical.

                We all hold a number of beliefs that cannot be empirically verified, but which are consistent with observations and empirical investigations of every kind. You have demonstrated that you hold many such opinions. Faffing around, trying to somehow prove the superiority of empiricism – that’s hardly necessary, as for a start, the vast majority of philosophers accept that. Yes, science is amazing, empirical investigation covers the vast majority of discussable topics, and there is a limit to what can be done through deduction, thought experiment, and simple thinking. But where empirical investigation cannot go, reasonable inductions on the basis of observation must, and that is precisely what philosophy is.

                If you truly follow the position you have espoused in that comment, then you must renounce any atheism that you have.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                You’re just too stubborn to admit that you hold a large number of positions that are not empirical, like atheism. That simply isn’t empirical. Neither, by the way, is the question of square circles; it is logical, not empirical.

                On the contrary. As noted by Hawking, it’s entirely empirical.

                The conclusion that logic is useful is based on an empirical observation: real-world examples of that which logic indicates should not exist (etc.) universally have not been found to exist. If logic were invalid, then we perhaps could actually find married bachelors and square circles. But we don’t.

                Show me an instance where logic fails, and I’ll empirically evaluate whether or not my faith in it is justified.

                Philosophy, on the other hand, as you go to such great lengths to point out, insists that one can know things about the unknowable. You’re no better than the “historian” who insists on gleaning meaningful information about the life of Jesus from the Gospels because, if we toss out the Gospels as unreliable, then we wouldn’t know anything at all about him otherwise. Or the drunk who looks for his keys under the streetlamp rather than in the alley where he dropped them “because that’s where the light is.”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                How are political and moral “philosophy” not empirical disciplines

                What “empirical” result tells you that some people should not be enslaved, or that everyone should have a say in their governance, or that people accumulating wealth by force is wrong? Not that it leads to bad outcomes for some, but that it is wrong?

                And if you think political philosophy didn’t lead to the American and French revolutions, you should really brush up on history.

                Philosophy is bullshit because it’s in no way tethered to reality.

                Much of theoretical mathematics is similarly “untethered”.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

                What “empirical” result tells you that some people should not be enslaved, or that everyone should have a say in their governance, or that people accumulating wealth by force is wrong? Not that it leads to bad outcomes for some, but that it is wrong?

                That would be exactly why I don’t worry about religious concepts such as “good and bad” or “right and worng.”

                For me, morality is an optimum strategy for living. It “just happens” that societies free of slavery and theft thrive, prosper, and generally outcompete those that aren’t. If your goal is to live a prosperous and productive life, it would behoove you (in the aggregate at least) to eschew slavery and other forms of oppression. If such isn’t your goal in life, one might place bets on how many more generations your genes will survive.

                On the surface, it may sound cold and dispassionate, but the instant you scratch the surface, you discover that those “moral” qualities we cherish most are actually the ones best suited to ensuring peace and prosperity for all.

                All empirically and logically derived, free of pollution from either religion or philosophy (though I’ll admit to certain amounts of intuition filling in the gaps I’ve yet to have a chance to rigorously close).

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                For me, morality is an optimum strategy for living.

                Optimum for you, or for society? There are plenty of dictators, slave owners, and sweatshop bosses who believe their strategy for living is optimal, and have the wealth and happiness to demonstrate the truth of that objectively.

                It “just happens” that societies free of slavery and theft thrive, prosper, and generally outcompete those that aren’t.

                In biological terms, you’re making a group selection argument when the unit of selection is the individual. Why should I care whether my society thrives? If I can grab power and wealth by causing others profound suffering, why shouldn’t I do it? Why can’t I cheat and steal and kill and rape and torture, as long as it benefits me in the end? And since nothing is optimal for me after I’m dead, why shouldn’t I use up as much of the planet’s resources for my own comfort, irreversibly polluting the landscape if necessary, even though such actions may have terrible outcomes for those who follow me. Heck, why can’t I rig a nuclear bomb to go off in a major city at the moment of my death? What principle of self-interest would prevent that?

                those “moral” qualities we cherish most are actually the ones best suited to ensuring peace and prosperity for all.

                And why ultimately should I care about “all”? Is there anything other than “morality” that can answer that?

              • Al West
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                May I suggest, Ben Goren, that you read a little Hume?

                Don’t be afraid: you might like it. And it might dispel you of the ridiculous idea that your values are somehow empirically gleaned.

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

                Optimum for you, or for society?

                In general, both. As with anything statistical, there are always and will always be local abnormalities.

                There are plenty of dictators, slave owners, and sweatshop bosses who believe their strategy for living is optimal, and have the wealth and happiness to demonstrate the truth of that objectively.

                First, there are fewer of all those nasty people today than before. Their numbers have been in a steady decline throughout all of recorded history — though, to be sure, there have been the occasional noteworthy localized upticks.

                But more to the point, it should be self-evident that, while it may be in the best interests of the exploiters to exploit others, it’s in the best interests of the exploited to not be exploited, and the sheer numbers of the exploited far outweigh the exploiters. Therefore, while the exploiters gain a disproportionate advantage by parasitizing the exploited, they also must devote a disproportionate amount of their own resources to protecting themselves from the exploited.

                The ultimate net effect is that you’ll live a far more luxurious life as a member of a healthy, free Western-style middle class than you will as the absolute tyrant of a Somali province. By behaving morally, you effectively use the entire society as a force multiplier for your own benefitm with all the members of the society collectively working together for the greater good. The despot, on the other hand, can only use a limited portion of the society’s power, as significant portions are played against each other to destructive ends.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Tulse
                Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

                As with anything statistical, there are always and will always be local abnormalities.

                Sure, but what if I am certain that I am such a n anomaly? By your argument, as long as it is reasonable certain that I can get away with it, I should commit crimes.

                there are fewer of all those nasty people today than before

                That is completely irrelevant to whether their actions were moral at the time.

                The ultimate net effect is that you’ll live a far more luxurious life as a member of a healthy, free Western-style middle class than you will as the absolute tyrant of a Somali province.

                That is a purely empirical claim, and certainly is not a necessary truth. Are you saying that it would OK to exploit people if it would lead to a more luxurious life for you?

                There’s also the scenario I mentioned earlier of moral actions towards the future — why shouldn’t I set up a nuke to go off in New York immediately after my death? That won’t harm me at all, so what’s my self-interest in doing do? Why not pollute all I can now, since I won’t have to worry about it after I’m dead? Why not use up all the resources now — as long as I’m not around to endure the consequences, why shouldn’t I take everything, and not leave anything for future generations?

                You seem to be arguing for some sort of ethical equivalent to Smith’s “invisible hand”, that somehow it is in everyone’s enlightened self-interest to act in a manner we would call “moral”. But I think that’s a big claim that is empirically undercut by history (just look at the “1%” currently). And even if historically it were true on average, it doesn’t address specific cases where that’s not the outcome — the dictator who lives to a ripe old age, the financier who embezzles and is never caught, the murderer who eludes capture. You seem to be arguing that it is only the consequences which should determine our actions, and if we are certain that we will be better off, then I guess it’s OK to kill, steal, torture, and rape.

                I’m sure I’m misunderstanding you, since you’re usually an extremely thoughtful poster here.

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 1:55 am | Permalink

                Ben wrote:

                Maybe that’s an appropriate definition of the term, “philosophy”: that which one practices when one has too much time on one’s hands.

                Works for me!

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:47 am | Permalink

                The ultimate net effect is that you’ll live a far more luxurious life as a member of a healthy, free Western-style middle class than you will as the absolute tyrant of a Somali province.

                This may be true, but if you became warlord of all of Somalia, or were King of Ethiopia, or Shah of Iran, you’d have a level of luxury unattainable for any but the top 1% of society in the developed world. And, perhaps more importantly, you’d also have unimaginable power, and that apparently feels good to some people. Not to me; as Democritus is reputed to have said, I’d rather discover a single causal connection than become King of Persia.

                In any case, your points about moral philosophy are astonishingly naive. You cannot derive what you ought to do from the way the world is. That is simply the case. You must already value things, think of functions – extrinsic, subjective qualities. Now, these extrinsic qualities may be obvious to most humans, but that doesn’t resolve the problem, and it is possible for people to value different things; and there is no simple way to prove that one set of values is superior. That’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. Get to the bottom of any moral statement and you’ve got some subjective, unprovable value. That’s alright. It doesn’t mean we should act in some other way. It just means that morals are not simple empirical matters.

                I’d also point out that any discussion of ethics just is philosophy. Ethics has been a branch of philosophy since Socrates. It effectively is what philosophy is to most people. So, please, stop claiming that you don’t do philosophy.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:49 am | Permalink

        What if you said to a religionist, “religionists need to take science seriously”, and then they responded in the same way you have?

        Is this supposed to be a tough question? Simple–I’d ask them to try foregoing the fruits of science for a while and see how that works for them.

        Go ahead; ask me to forego the fruits of philosophy…

        • Al West
          Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:15 am | Permalink

          Go ahead; ask me to forego the fruits of philosophy…

          Okay. Throw your computer in the bin – who needs formal logic, after all? It’s just wanky. I mean, it must have been scientists and not philosophers who developed the idea of the logic gate? Right?

          The truth is, it was both. Because there isn’t really a division. It’s all in your head.

          And if you were to give up the ‘fruits’ of philosophy, I suppose those would be the ability to make abstract claims. So you’d have to give up atheism, because that makes a not wholly empirical claim.

          This retarded notion that philosophy is some great house of abstract wankery and deceit based on thin air is just plain wrong. You do it, I do it, we all do it, and your objection to it – that it is ‘superior’, and that it has somehow given you nothing – is just dumb. It’s really, really dumb.

      • Dave Ricks
        Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        Al West wrote:

        Atheists obviously need to take philosophy seriously because their position is a philosophical one.

        This thread in one sentence.

    • Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      So, what’s you opinion of Dennett among the Four Horsemen and Grayling among the cohorts of gnu atheism?

      /@

      • Dan L.
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        Dennett has the same blind spots most philosophers do: he thinks his little thought experiments are actually normative w/r/t how reality works.

        I liked Fodor’s response to Dennett’s response to Fodor’s attacks on evolution. (Though I very much disagree with Fodor on evolution.) Something like:

        “Does Dennett even do philosophy any more? All I ever see out of him these days is intellectual posturing.”

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:26 am | Permalink

        I find Dan Dennett delightfully witty and approachable in person (mostly from attending the FFRF convention at which he received the “Emperor has no clothes” award). I find his books a mixture of enlightening and inspiring ideas when he emphasizes his not insignificant grasp of science, in particular biology; and murkier, harder-to-stay-interested-in material when he goes into philosophy.

        That said, I reluctantly agree with him more than Dawkins when he cautions that before we advocate the abolition of all religion we should spend some time thinking about just what might rush in to fill the vacuum.

        While the concept of the Four Horsemen has its plusses, I am too old to desire rock-stars. As with everyone else who has the guts to put themselves out in the public eye, I think they all have strengths and weaknesses, and am of course enormously grateful for anyone who’ll do so, including the host of this website; but I stop short of hagiography. (As I know you do, too!)

        • Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:00 am | Permalink

          So, do you think Dennett thinks he’s doing something other than philosophy when he he’s discussing science in general and biology in particular? Or when he’s discussing what might fill the vacuum once people abandon religion (rather than religion being abolished; I’m not sure who among us is seriously advocating that)?

          /@

          • Diane G.
            Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

            Al West notwithstanding, I am not completely anti-philosophy. The further it drifts from empiricism and science, though, the harder it is to distinguish from simply fancified opinion. Like many of the liberal arts, the prevailing school du jour seems based as much on charisma or who shouts loudest than on any hard ground.

            I simply think that sufficiently intelligent people can reach their own conclusions about most philosophical (small p) matters that are important to our lives.

            I’m glad we have Dennett to address the capital-P Philosophers.

            (Yes, of course, “abolition” was not at all the right word.)

            • Al West
              Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

              I am not completely anti-philosophy.

              Even though you think it’s entirely useless, a waste of time, and something you do when you’ve got too much time on your hands? Gee.

              Well, philosophy isn’t one of the “liberal arts”. It’s not lit crit, and it’s not art history. As you don’t even seem to know what it is, and dismiss it out of hand because you don’t understand it and have no inclination to study it, I’m afraid I find your opinion to be, simply, moot.

      • Diane G.
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        Oh, and Grayling; have to say, I haven’t paid that much attention to him. From the little that I have, he seems a bit smug and pompous…

        • Posted November 1, 2011 at 4:03 am | Permalink

          No more so than Dawkins, I think. :-O

          /@

          • Diane G.
            Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

            I’ve felt that way about him, too. . .

  9. TJR
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    When I saw the Camels with Hammers post on Friday I thought it might prompt a bit of discussion.

    I can see where Daniel is coming from, thought experiments are perfectly valid etc, but I think he’s chosen the wrong example with which to defend Philosophy. The proposed project is just the sort of thing that brings Philosophy into disrepute.

    The project should be pretty short after all:
    Xian God ==> contradiction
    ==> NOT Xian God
    (if you accept proof by contradiction).

    Don’t let this put you off Camels with Hammers, which has had many good articles and IMHO been the most interesting thing on FTB thus far.

  10. gr8hands
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Al West, you should do us all a favor and define what you mean by “Philosophy” as it is blatantly obvious that there is not a consensus as to the definition.

    • tomh
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Well, so far he’s defined it variously as, “any rumination on almost any topic,” and “philosophy does incorporate science and every other form of study.” I’m sure he has more definitions at the ready, though.

      • Al West
        Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

        No, those are not definitions. They are simply possible ways of looking at it. Anything can be considered philosophically, including nothing, so there is no real boundary to it. Any definition of philosophy is necessarily arbitrary. A lot of people go with the etymological response: philosophy is love of knowledge, and anything pursuant to formal understanding of any topic is philosophy. In large part it refers to fairly abstract thought about things – so taxonomy is not usually considered philosophical but scientific. But that’s also largely arbitrary.

        On the other hand, we could talk about academic philosophy, which clearly has certain specialisms. No one in a philosophy department is all that interested in human kinship or number theory or the Hymns of Zoroaster or amoebas, unless those things can illuminate certain abstract problems they deal with. The traditional divisions of philosophy are metaphysics, ethics, natural science, logic, mathematics, and epistemology; that is to say, what the world is like in its most abstract sense, how we should act, empirical investigation, how arguments are or are not valid, mathematics (needs no introduction), and how beliefs may be justified. The study of language has more recently become a true part of the philosophical stage, and so has the formal study of human society – ie, what it necessarily consists of.

        I don’t know what else you’d demand. Any definition I give is pretty pointless. Philosophy is concerned with any abstract problem, and it generated science – until very, very recently, the two were identical, and scientists were “natural philosophers”. The rise of empiricism and the greater specialism in the sciences has given rise to disdain on the part of scientists for the abstract problems philosophers deal with. Well, fine. But what irks me is not scientists hating philosophy, but atheists professing that they do. That’s a contradiction. If you have staked out a firm metaphysical position, or a firm epistemological one in Ben Goren’s case (ie, logic = firm knowledge, equal to the empirical), then you have taken a philosophical position necessarily. You may not like this, but that’s irrelevant. By any reasonable standard, atheism is a philosophical position, and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. In fact, it is stupid.

        • Posted October 31, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

          A definition that encompasses everything defines nothing. When my cat licks his hinders, he’s philosophizing. At least he engages in useful (if distasteful) hygenic activity when he does so.

          It would seem that the very word, like the activity it encompases, is useless.

          b&

          • Al West
            Posted November 1, 2011 at 3:40 am | Permalink

            It doesn’t encompass anything. And your focus on having such precise definitions betrays your lack of education in the philosophy of language. Philosophy is not useless; you engage in it all the time, and even if we define philosophy narrowly – in terms of its traditional spheres, epistemology, metaphysics, logic, and ethics – then your thoughts on deities, logic, and empiricism are certainly included. Feel free to find the word distasteful, but your very statements and actions show that you do not find the actual idea of philosophy to be distasteful. It seems to me that you’re just more aesthetically attracted to the idea of science, even thrusting it where it can’t go – empiricism cannot investigate morals, nor judge what is right or wrong. Even if we can find out everything there is to know about pain, we still have to make a judgement that pain and death are bad things, and that can come from nothing empirical. That is obvious to anyone with a rudimentary philosophical education, and your incredibly naive statements about trying to close the intuitive gaps in your morality really made me laugh.

            You need some philosophy, of the ethical kind. Try Mackie, Ethics. I have no doubt at all that you would like it, especially as Mackie was an atheist for similar reasons to yours.

            • gr8hands
              Posted November 1, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

              Al West, here’s a good quote for you:

              “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds,” according to physicist Richard Feynman.

              Your definition of Philosophy appears to use one word merely to say “thinking about things.” Which is hardly useful, or deserving of much.

              By the way, many of us posting here HAVE taken philosophy courses at the university level, or may even have degrees in philosophy. We are not speaking from utter ignorance. Even Sam Harris, who has a degree in philosophy, and doesn’t claim to be a philosopher, and is often accused (wrongly, it is obvious) by philosophers of not knowing what he’s talking about.

              It also appears that you keep dancing around the fact that discussions about the thought processes of something that doesn’t (and can’t) exist cannot have anything to say about reality.

              “Let’s discuss what rocks would think about if they could think.” This is also a silly topic of your “Philosophy.”

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:00 am | Permalink

                If I were to define philosophy, it would be simply thinking about fundamental problems. If you think that’s useless, then you are entitled to, but I don’t know how such a view is tenable.

                It also appears that you keep dancing around the fact that discussions about the thought processes of something that doesn’t (and can’t) exist cannot have anything to say about reality.

                I’m dancing around nothing. And the point of thought experiments is to succinctly reveal what is already known, effectively. Laplace’s demon is not positing that something exists. Laplace was saying that, given that the universe is determined by a set of reasonably simple laws and consists of particles, if there were some hypothetical being that knew the position and momentum of every particle in the universe at any given moment, it would also be able to know, given knowledge of physical law, the position and momentum of every particle in the universe at any other given moment.

                The point was to sum up the implication of physical law as known to Laplace. It’s a useful way to think about it.

                In modern philosophy, what Laplace’s demon would perceive is shorthand for the idea that everything in the universe consists of elementary particles.

                My point has never been that the Templeton proposal is reasonable or that hypothetical beings can tell us things about reality better than scientific experiment. The point is that the philosophical implications of scientific knowledge are often best grasped through thought experiments, many of which invoke totally hypothetical entities. If you think there’s something objectionable about this, could you tell me why? All I’ve heard so far is that everybody hates the idea of hypothetical entities being invoked just because they hate the idea of hypothetical entities being invoked.

                Also, please refrain from ipsedixitisms, even if they come from someone as great as Feynman.

            • Diane G.
              Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

              . Even if we can find out everything there is to know about pain, we still have to make a judgement that pain and death are bad things, and that can come from nothing empirical.

              Nonsense. You’re getting perilously close to the idiotic canard that it’s possible to boil a frog without it noticing if you just do it slowly enough. Frogs that feel pain that leads to behavioral thermoregulation live to produce a lot more tadpoles . . .

              So pain is actually a good thing. It alerts animals to dangerous situations and provokes actions that enhance survival. Death, in an evolutionary sense, can also be seen as good. What you may have meant is “causing pain and death are bad things.” I think that’s pretty easy to answer too, and the fact that Philosophers have to come up with absurd fat-man-and-trolley situations to carve out their niches show how desperate they are to be taken seriously.

              • aspidoscelis
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

                Frogs that feel pain that leads to behavioral thermoregulation live to produce a lot more tadpoles . . .

                So pain is actually a good thing. It alerts animals to dangerous situations and provokes actions that enhance survival. Death, in an evolutionary sense, can also be seen as good.

                Yeah… that’s philosophy. It’s just really bad philosophy.

              • Al West
                Posted November 3, 2011 at 2:05 am | Permalink

                You don’t understand the point. Yet again.

                The point is that moral judgements are not empirical. Even if you say that something is good because it allows a particular member of a species to reproduce – as you claimed – that is still an unproveable judgement. (Why on earth do you consider evolution the arbiter of good and bad here anyway?) And likewise with pain; saying that causing pain is bad is still a moral judgement that is not empirical, and cannot simply be derived from reality.

                I’m not coming up with a fat-man-and-trolley situation, nor am I somehow boiling a frog. I’m simply saying that Ben Goren’s absurd assertion that morality can be empirically derived is just that: absurd.

  11. gr8hands
    Posted October 31, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    Also, Laplace’s “demon” is not about the supernatural, but was about a data container — because Laplace didn’t have computers. If computers had existed when he was alive, he would have used them as his data receptical of all information rather than a “demon.”

    • Al West
      Posted October 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Laplace’s ‘demon’ is about something completely non-existent that is an impossibility in the universe. So, no, it’s not about the supernatural, and I don’t think Laplace used the word ‘demon’ to name it. But he also wasn’t talking about a computer, of any sort. The thing he was talking about would know the precise position and momentum of every particle in the universe; a computer of any kind existing in the universe would necessarily consist of matter that it was supposed to know about, and if it were made of matter, including its information storage, that would also have to be logged somehow and known about, and that too, and so on. So either way, Laplace’s demon is an impossibility. The point of the thought experiment wasn’t to consider the properties of the ‘demon’, but to consider the properties of the universe – logical ones, and nowadays properties with regard to reduction.

      • gr8hands
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        Al West, you are incorrect about the problem with Laplace being recursion.

        Did your philosophy training and processes reveal this conclusion to you?

        • Al West
          Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:04 am | Permalink

          No, you’re misconstruing what I said because you find my position objectionable, for, as far as I can tell, no reason whatsoever. You’re just leaping on the “fuck philosophy” bandwagon.

          The point is not that Laplace’s demon is “wrong” because of recursion. It is not nowadays considered accurate for other reasons. What I was pointing out was the simple fact that Laplace would not have used a computer as an example because of recursion. The point was to give a simple, succinct way of showing the implications of a mechanistic universe. It wasn’t to talk about data storage, so even if Laplace had been aware of computers, he would still have proposed a hypothetical being whose only attribute is that it knows the position and momentum of every particle in the universe. Whether you like to picture that as a demon or a computer or – I don’t know – a possum is up to you. But certainly picturing a computer inside the universe, made of matter, would have complicated and defeated the purpose of the thought experiment in the first place.

          • gr8hands
            Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

            Al West, your philosophy conclusions really are quite erroneous. I suggest you switch to something that might arrive at correct answers.

            I am not putting philosophy down — I just believe that you are in error trying to puff it up as some all-encompassing thing. It is not. You seem to think it does much much more than it does. It does not. You seem to think it frequently arrives at useful/accurate conclusions, the evidence suggests otherwise.

            Everyone, and I mean 100% of the people I have spoken to, in academia and around my community, who actually does something in a field (math, science, language, etc.) looks with disdain on people who merely have a philosophy of math, philosophy of science, or philosophy of language degree as their sole or main credential. They think even less about people who have merely philosophy degrees and attempt to have something meaningful to say about any other discipline. The consensus is that they are not to be taken seriously. “Mental masturbation” is a phrase used frequently.

            • Al West
              Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:41 am | Permalink

              I am not putting philosophy down — I just believe that you are in error trying to puff it up as some all-encompassing thing.

              Well, yes, you are putting philosophy down. And it’s common to do that. But it’s also a contradiction if you’re an atheist or take an interest in science for science’s sake, or actively promote a rational approach to the universe. Those are philosophical positions, and you are putting philosophy down, something that doesn’t seem to make sense. All these people trying to prove that atheism is somehow not a philosophical position are embarrassing themselves; it is a philosophical position, and it is a contradiction to hate philosophy and be an atheist, unless you’re an atheist for no reason whatsoever. If your reason for being an atheist is that the implications of scientific investigation of the universe suggest this conclusion, then tah dah! Welcome to philosophy. It’s not science; it’s not a straight empirical matter. It is about the implications of ideas on the fundamental questions of the universe. If there is a better summation of philosophy than that, I’m not aware of it.

              Anyway, my primary training is in anthropology, not philosophy. I just hate it when people with very obvious philosophical interests put philosophy down, because it shows a lack of clear thinking.

              Your posts have largely consisted of logical fallacies. “Look at what Feynman said” (ipsedixitism); “everyone looks on philosophy with disdain” (argumentum ad populum); “Laplace’s demon is not wrong because of recursion, so you clearly don’t understand it” (well, you just misconstrued what was said – less a logical fallacy and more a desire for me to be wrong). Perhaps, had you taken a course in philosophical logic, you would not make such elementary errors of reasoning.

              • gr8hands
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

                Al West, correcting your inaccurate puffing up of philosophy is NOT “putting philosophy down” regardless of how much your bruised feelings want it to be.

                You claiming that atheism is a philosophical position, without any evidence, is an example of your definition of ipse-dixitism (making you a hypocrite).

                The only logical fallacies in our exchanges are in your statements. You clearly misunderstand the terms. I did not state that BECAUSE so many people felt philosophy of topics was not terribly important THAT means it isn’t (which would have been an argumentum ad populum). I merely was pointing out that others have independently come to the same conclusion based on their own review of evidence. It was a report of the evidence I gathered, an informal study (so not suitable for scientific publication).

                You should review logical fallacies, as you have some serious misunderstandings about them — particularly how to identify them.

                But enough about this, it’s boring.

              • Al West
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                You claiming that atheism is a philosophical position, without any evidence, is an example of your definition of ipse-dixitism (making you a hypocrite).

                No, you’re right. It’s obviously not a philosophical position. Obviously.

                I mean, it must be science. Right? It’s an empirical point. Of course!

                /snark

                Where is the issue of atheism discussed academically? Ask yourself that question. It’s very easy to answer.

                It is discussed under the auspices of philosophy of religion.

                To claim that atheism is not a philosophical position is moronic. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

                I’m also not “puffing up” philosophy. It’s not a thing to be puffed up; it just happens to be the word we use for highly abstract thought about anything. It definitely includes the topic of the existence of deities, which is not an empirical matter and thus clearly under the purview of science.

                I’m amazed that anyone is blockheaded enough to claim that atheism is not a philosophical position.

                Anyway, my claiming that atheism is a philosophical position is not an ipsedixitism, as I made the claim, and did not make it using someone else’s name as authority. It’s the height of absurdity to make such a basic error and then claim that I’m the one who needs help identifying logical fallacies.

  12. gr8hands
    Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Al West, you are confused about “ipse-dixitisms” (among other things).

    “You are fat” is not an ipse-dixitism, or claim of authority. If someone is a recognized authority of fatness and says “You are fat” — it is still not an ipse-dixitism.

    • Al West
      Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      “You are fat” would be an ipsedixitism if you put it like this:

      “You are fat.” Abraham Lincoln.

      See? Lincoln said it, so it must be true!

      And that’s exactly what you did with Feynman. “Look, the great Feynman disliked the philosophy of science! Clearly, all of philosophy is a bit crap.”

      That is an ipsedixitism, a form of argument from authority.

    • Al West
      Posted November 1, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Unless you need further argument on the point, Feynman only referred to philosophy of science – which is mostly bunk, except, at least, for the very philosophical basis of science itself (methodological naturalism, physicalism, realism, etc). He did not say, “all philosophy is bunk” or even “all philosophy is useless”, so you can’t argue against the whole of philosophy on the basis of one part of it being not great.

      And secondly, Feynman may have been an authority on physics, which he obviously was. But he was also a philosopher, even while he disdained the term and many philosophers, including philosophy of science. He may not have been an academic philosopher, but if “The Meaning of It All” is not a work of philosophy, then nothing is, frankly.

      • Max
        Posted November 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        Did Feynman really say that? Wikiquote lists it as “unsourced.”

        I like it either way, but I don’t think it does much for the anti-philosophy or even the anti-philosophy-of-science cause. Ornithology may be useless to birds, but it’s useful for anybody who wants to understand birds. Analogously, scientists may not need philosophy of science to do what they do, but philosophy of science may be very helpful to others who want to understand science. And, leaving the bird analogy behind, it may be helpful to scientists who want to understand themselves and what they’re doing.

  13. AJMOBLEY
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    <>

    The theory remains philosophically interesting provided only that perfect foreknowledge of any event is possible. An omniscient being is not necessary.

    <>

    Also false. See above. Given the POSSIBLITY of perfect foreknowledge of even a SINGLE event, the theory remains philosophically interesting. God is not necessary, let alone an omniscient one.

  14. AJMOBLEY
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Guess I can’t use angle brackets as quotation marks. Full post:

    “The theory is NOT philosophically interesting in the absence of an omniscient being.”

    The theory remains philosophically interesting provided only that perfect foreknowledge of any event is possible. An omniscient being is not necessary.

    “And what if you assume that God isn’t omniscient? Then the whole project is moot.”

    Also false. See above. Given the POSSIBILITY of perfect foreknowledge of even a SINGLE event, the theory remains philosophically interesting. God is not necessary, let alone an omniscient one.

    You clearly just don’t have the philosophical wherewithall to conceive of the possible scenarios in which this is a philosophically interesting area of inquiry. Even if you’re an atheist, like I am, and even if you do not believe that there is any such thing as an omniscient being, as I do, this is still a philosophically interesting question. The question is whether or not free will is compatible with perfect foreknowledge of a “free” agent’s actions, and perfect foreknowledge does not require God or omniscience.

    • AJMOBLEY
      Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      That said, no one needs $80k+ a year to investigate this issue, interesting as it is. I certainly would not have approved such a sizable grant, even though I acknowledge the value of the inquiry.

  15. Al West
    Posted November 3, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Before I go, the philosophy-bashers out there might like this article for a collection of links as to why philosophy is not rubbish, is not inane, and is actually extremely useful and important.

    http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2011/03/why-philosophy-degrees-are-among-most.html


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