November 25, 2014

On Ferguson, Missouri

by Neil Rickert

I’ll just quote a little from Fred Clark (the slacktivist), who says it so well:

In a sane universe, or a moral one, it would not be not reasonable to claim that the mere presence of an unarmed dark-skinned person was a basis to fear for one’s life. In a sane world, such fear would be regarded, rather, as the very definition of racial prejudice.

The argument that the presence of an unarmed black man prompted a lethal response out of existential fear would not be possible as a defense against the accusation of racial prejudice in a sane world, because it would be rightly understood as a confirmation of such prejudice — as a confession of it.

Now go read Fred’s complete post.

November 20, 2014

From a fundamentalist blog

by Neil Rickert

[posted as humor]

From here:

Not only did our traitor Congress have an imam as “guest chaplain” yesterday, which ought to be impeachable as treason, but the Pope they invited some time back has now confirmed that he plans to visit the country next year, and Congress is on his itinerary. According to the Constitution Congress decides the punishment for treason, apparently not anticipating that Congress itself would be guilty of it. I’m quite serious. This should be a treasonable offense, both these violations of our governing body, because it puts the nation under God’s wrath.

You can’t make this stuff up.

November 18, 2014

Teaching creationism

by Neil Rickert

In spite of the title, this post really isn’t about teaching creationism.  It is about the responsibilities of a teacher.  I use creationism only as an example.

Adam Laats raised the issue in a recent blog post “Firing Creationist Scientists“.  Laats mentions the case of Mark Armitage at CalState.  As to exactly why Armitage lost his job, I do not know.  Presumably that’s a personnel matter at CalState Northridge, and full details are not usually made public though they might come out at a later court hearing.  Laats surmises that Armitage probably lost his job because he was teaching creationism.

The responsibilities of a teacher

To me, this raises the question of what a responsible teacher should present to his/her students.  So let’s suppose, hypothetically, that a scientist comes up with his own theory X in his discipline, and strongly believes that his theory is true.  How should that affect what he teaches?

My view is that the students are there to learn the consensus science.  So the scientist has a responsibility to his students to teach them what is that consensus science, even if he disagrees with that consensus.

Continue reading

November 9, 2014

All the world’s a stage

by Neil Rickert

The title is a famous line from Shakespeare’s “As you like it.”  It seems apt for this post, where I comment on a question raised by Frank Schaeffer.  In a recent post, Schaeffer asks:

If we’re nothing, why bother to convince us of our nothingness? Who cares? I would like to have asked Sagan why he bothered to write with such poetic skill and beauty about the meaninglessness of writing, given our transitory and diminutive place in the universe.

Multiple worlds

The answer to Schaeffer’s question, I think, is that we live in multiple worlds.

We live in a material or physical world.  And that world is a vast cosmos.  We exist on a tiny planet in a tiny corner of that cosmos.  Relative to that cosmos, we are insignificant.  The cosmos will go on with or without us, and we have no significant effect on it.

We live in a biological world, which is exists within that material world.  Within that biological world, there is a different range of values.  Our biology requires that we sustain ourselves with food and other requirements, so those requirements set some values which serve to motivate us.  We are very significant to that biological world, if only because of the devastation that our species has caused to the habitats of other species.

We live in a cultural world, which results from our belonging to a social species.  And we are very significant within our cultures which are centered around humans and human activity.  We may actually belong to many overlapping cultures.  I consider myself part of western culture, but also part of scientific culture.

Schaeffer mentions Carl Sagan and Dan Dennett.  But I doubt that either of those see (or saw) themselves a part of the material world alone.  Sagan, in discussing the vastness of our cosmos, was addressing our cultural worlds and painting a picture of where we fit within the material world.  But, at the same time, he was appealing to what we value within our cultural worlds.

October 31, 2014

The cultural scene

by Neil Rickert

A few posts worth reading:

Some choice quotes:

In evangelical home schools by the millions science is treated as toxic. Meanwhile in the secular public schools education has been mugged by corporate utilitarianism.

and

If the British had reacted to Hitler’s bombing of London the way we overacted to 9/11 the entire city of London would be one vast memorial…

You can count me as siding with Kaci Hickox on this.

I’m not sure that I agree with Coyne’s diagnosis, though I agree that there is a decline.

I frequently receive email from the NY Times, asking me to subscribe.  But I probably read less than one article per day, on average, so I’m not inclined to answer their ads.  I get much of my news from NPR, and I do contribute to my local NPR station.  If the NY Times, the Washington Post and several other newspapers could get together in a consortium, and offer a subscription that would give on-line browsing access to all of those papers, I might sign up for that.  I won’t subscribe to the NY Times only, because I don’t like the idea of a single source.

October 30, 2014

Please vote on Tuesday Nov 4th

by Neil Rickert

If you are a registered voter in the USA, then please vote on Tuesday.

I won’t tell you how to vote.  I suggest you study the candidates and decide that for yourself.  But I will tell you how I plan to vote for the most important positions.

For Illinois governor, my vote will be for Patrick Quinn.  I don’t actually like Quinn, so this is more a case of voting against his Republican opponent (Bruce Rauner).

For US Senate, I’ll be voting for Dick Durbin.  In my opinion, he has been a pretty good senator.  His opponent, Jim Oberweis, should have stayed out of politics — he isn’t very good at it.

For congress, I’ll probably vote for the Democrat, but it will be a wasted vote.  The 14th congressional district is a safe Republican seat.  I hate that.  I hated it just as much at a previous residence, where I was in a safe Democrat seat.  Competitive elections are better.

And then there’s a bunch of other positions.  Our ballot is too long.

We need better candidates

Yes, the choice of candidates is often poor.  But vote anyway.  If you don’t vote, then the politicians will take you for granted, and things won’t get better.

October 26, 2014

Dembski’s “Being as Communion” — a review

by Neil Rickert

I’ve had a copy of Dembski’s new book for a little more than a week.  That has been enough time for me to read it in preparation for this review.

The title itself is strange, at least to me.  It is a title that suggests that this is a book on religion.  It isn’t, though it does not completely avoid religious ideas.  The more complete title is “Being as Communion; A Metaphysics of Information.”  And that suggests that it is a book about information.  To some extent it is, though it also comes across as a diatribe against materialist metaphysics.

Dembski begins this book with:

What does the world look like if the fundamental stuff of reality is not matter but information?  That is the question animating this book.  We live in an information age.  Yet we also live in an overwhelmingly materialist age in which the things that seem to us most solid and inspire the most confidence are material.  Information itself therefore tends to be conceived in material terms, as a property of matter.  But what if information cannot be reduced to matter?  To turn the tables even more sharply, what if matter itself is an expression of information?

Continue reading

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October 19, 2014

Physicalism, materialism and all that

by Neil Rickert

I have previously posted about why I am not a materialist.  In this post I’ll say a little more on that topic.  This clarification is partly related to my current reading of Dembski’s new book.  Dembski seems to think that materialists are missing something important.  He says, parenthetically, “intelligent design being, frankly, incredible within the materialistic metaphysics that dominates so much of contemporary intellectual life.”  Given that I am not a materialist, it must be something else that leaves me unpersuaded by Dembski’s argument.  However, I presume that Dembski will conclude that I am a materialist in spite of my denial.

For starters, here are two relevant posts by John Wilkins:

John does seem to consider himself a physicalist.

Continue reading

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October 17, 2014

I’ve been neglecting this blog

by Neil Rickert

It’s been a little over a month since my last post.  I took a few days of travel, but never got back to posting on my return.

Mostly, I have been engaged in similar philosophical discussions at The Skeptical Zone, where I continue to see people look at things with a “God’s eye view” philosophy that cannot work (in my opinion).

Now reading

I am currently reading Dembski’s new book “Being as Communion” and will probably post on that when I have finished.  I won’t say that the book is disappointing, because I started with low expectations.

In the meantime, I’ll try to get back to posting around once per week.

September 13, 2014

Metaphysics — an example of what I criticize

by Neil Rickert

This morning, I came across a blog comment which is a good example of where I see metaphysics leading us astray.  I replied to that comment, and this post will mainly be quoting my reply.

Here’s what I wrote, starting with a quote from the comment to which I was responding:

Kantian Naturalist: More precisely, the point of the act/potency distinction (energeia and dunamis, respectively) is to characterize how the world must be in order for there to be modally robust empirical generalizations.

As a piece of metaphysics — indeed, a fundamental position in what might be called “transcendental realism” — it strikes as perfectly right that we should ask “how must the world be in order for science to be possible?” as well as the Kantian question, “how must the mind be in order for science to be possible?” And in answering the former question, it seems perfectly right to say that the world must have modal structure, otherwise there is nothing to make our counterfactuals correct or incorrect. (This is different from the epistemological question of how to explain our conceptual grasp of modality.)

Wow!

To me, this reads like philosophy’s version of “Adam and Eve.” That is to say, it comes across to me as the origins myth that is the founding belief of philosophy seen as religion.

I prefer the alternative: it is obvious that science is possible, so let’s investigate how does it actually work. Let’s not start with a dubious a priori assumption, that it works by generalization (induction).

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