March 20, 2015

ID vs. Bill Nye

by Neil Rickert

I had to laugh at this:

While most Bill Nye-fans — myself included — enjoyed his wacky experiments and corny jokes, few if any realized there was another side to Bill, one that he didn’t start unveiling until just the past few years: Nye advocates a hardline, intolerant, and divisive atheistic worldview view that stands diametrically opposed to the values shared by most Americans.

That’s from Casey Luskin at Real Science vs. Bill Nye the “Science” Guy.

I guess Casey doesn’t like it, that Bill Nye is honest and describes science as it is, even when that science is incompatible with the wacky ideas of creationists and ID proponents.

March 19, 2015

Notes on free will

by Neil Rickert

In a recent post at his blog site, Jerry Coyne writes:

Based on statements of some compatibilists, I realized that one reason philosophers spend so much time trying to define forms of free will compatible with determinism is because they see bad consequences of rejecting all free will.

Obviously, Jerry is a mindless mechanical moron, meaninglessly mimicking a memorized message.

Well, actually, I don’t believe that about Jerry.  Rather, I take it that Jerry has free will, in spite of his repeated insistence to the contrary.

I’m quite puzzled about what Jerry Coyne means by “free will”.  I take it to mean only that we are not mindless morons, that we do participate in making decisions.  I doubt that Jerry thinks he is a mindless moron, yet he seems to insist that he has no free will and that his decision making is illusory.

Jerry starts his post with:

I’ve long been puzzled by the many writings of “compatibilists”: those philosophers and laypeople who accept physical determinism of our choices and behaviors, but still maintain that we have a kind of “free will.”

I consider myself a compatibilist, but I do not accept physical determinism.  The evidence seems to be against it.  If there were physical determinism, then, as I see it, we would all be mindless mechanical morons.  Yet we don’t seem to be that, so I doubt physical determinism. Continue reading

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March 18, 2015

ID and the 2nd law of thermodynamics

by Neil Rickert

At the ID blog Uncommon Descent, there have been several recent posts that attempt show that the 2nd law of thermodynamics (or 2LOT) poses a serious problem for proponents of biological evolution.

ID (intelligent design) proponents claim that theirs is a scientific program.  Yet they undermine that claim of science when they demonstrate their misunderstanding of 2LOT.  It is well known  among physicists that 2LOT does not pose any problems for the existence or evolution of biological life.

It is, of course, well understood that random motion of molecules is not life.  Living things are not random.  They extract energy from elsewhere (food, sunlight, etc) and use that energy to maintain their organization.  2LOT allows this.   But this is what the ID proponents are arguing against.

Granville Sewell, in his post, shows photographs of Moore, OK before and after the tornado that destroyed the town.

It is certainly true that we observe that designed things decay over time.  Sometime the decay is catastrophic, as with a tornado.  Sometimes it is more gradual, as with the erosion damage to Mt. Rushmore.

We see this with all designed things, from your automobile to your computer, from your hand knit sweater to your house.  There are no known exceptions.  Using induction or abduction (the preferred “scientific” methodology of the ID proponents, we can reasonably conclude that all designed things decay over time.

This ought to pose an enormous problem for the proponents of intelligent design.

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March 10, 2015

Dear Iran

by Neil Rickert

Here is my paraphrase of the letter from 47 Republican senators, including the parts that were unwritten but implied:

Dear Iran,

We understand that you are ignorant and stupid people who do not understand how the US government works.  So we are going to explain it to you.

The reason we don’t want you to reach an agreement with our government, is that we want an excuse to be able to go to war against you.

Apart from being borderline treason, this was a stupid thing for Republicans to do.

Link for relevant news report: Republicans Warn Iran — and Obama — That Deal Won’t Last

March 9, 2015

What does truth have to do with knowledge?

by Neil Rickert

Nothing.  Nothing at all.

Well, that’s the quick answer.  But now some more detail.

Commenting on my previous post, Philomath asked:

If everyone agrees on something do that make it true?

He clearly saw this question as relevant to my posts on knowledge.  My title question arises from this.  My own view of knowledge is such that there are no truth criteria for having knowledge.

There’s an old  saying:

  • if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

The version of this for philosophy is:

  • if the only tool you have is logic, then every problem looks like a proposition.

Philosophers — or, at least, analytic philosophers, attempt to discuss everything in terms of propositions and the truth values for those propositions.  I see that as a mistake.

Continue reading

March 7, 2015

Knowledge vs. belief

by Neil Rickert

[I seem to have taken a long vacation from blogging.  It’s time to get back into the swing.]

I’ve posted before about my dislike for the view that knowledge is justified true belief.  I have recently seen a couple of blog posts that are related, so I’ll comment about those.

Infinite worlds

The first is:

The author begins with:

In an infinite universe we would be absolutely ignorant, if my calculation is right.

The author does not give an argument to support that assertion.  He seems to take it as self-evident.  And I guess I’m not quite sure what he means by “absolute” here, as that qualifier does not seem to fit.  I presume him to be going by the assumption that knowledge is justified true belief.  And, with that assumption, presumably knowledge of an infinite world would require infinitely many beliefs.

Continue reading

February 1, 2015

Penelope Maddy interviewed

by Neil Rickert

Penelope Maddy was recently interviewed by 3am magazine (h/t Brian Leiter).  I found the interview interesting.

Maddy is a philosopher of mathematics.  In the past I have read some of her work related to set theory.  I very much disagreed with her philosophy, but her work was still worth reading.  She was very much into questions such as whether axioms are true.  That’s sometimes called “mathematical realism” because it is based on the idea that mathematics is saying something about the real world.

For myself, I could never make sense of mathematical realism.  As I saw it, axioms were neither true nor false.  I saw axioms as just useful assumptions whose consequences interested the mathematician.

It seems that Maddy has now moved away from that realism, so is adopting a view a bit closer to mine.  She now also doubts the Quine-Putnam indispensability thesis (that mathematical platonism is indispensable to physics).  Again, that is closer to my view.

I’m not at all sure that one’s philosophy of mathematics affects how one does mathematics.  But I did find it interesting to read of this evolution in her thinking.  And I’ll put this down as recommended reading for those interested in the philosophy of mathematics.

January 31, 2015

Structuring the world

by Neil Rickert

I noticed this yesterday:

Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.

It’s from actress Julianne Moore.  I only noticed it, because it was quoted in a post by Hemant Mehta.

I agree with Moore, and appreciate her insight.  But I do wonder why I am hearing this from an actress.  Why am I not seeing it discussed by philosophers?

Maybe it is being said by some philosophers, but not by most of them.  When I say or write something along those lines, philosophers seem to react as if I have said something that is obviously wrong.

I expect to write more on the idea of structuring in future posts.  So this will serve as a light introduction to the topic.

January 22, 2015

A heretic’s take on scientific realism

by Neil Rickert

Note that the “heretic” in the title refers to me, and comes from this blog’s title.

I have long considered myself a scientific realist.  At least, on some definitions, a scientific realist is one who believes that science provides the best available descriptions of the natural world.  And, in that sense, I surely am a scientific realist.

I’ve been noticing that some people have been suggesting that I am an instrumentalist or an anti-realist.  So they must be using a different notion of “scientific realism.”  There’s a post, today, at Scientia Salon which gets into such an account of scientific realism:

Here, I will discuss that post and where I have difficulty with the way that it looks at science.  My own view of science, and how it works, should be apparent from that discussion.  And I think it will be clear that my own view is non-standard (and, in that sense, heretical). Continue reading

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January 21, 2015

Against ontology – part 2

by Neil Rickert

My second example of why I don’t like ontology, is a TEDx talk by Kit Fine (h/t Brian Leiter).  In that talk, Fine discusses what is the fundamental nature of the being of numbers.

It’s a puzzle to me that anyone would suppose that numbers have any fundamental being.  It seems obvious that they do not.

Fine gives three possible versions of the nature of numbers.  The first is due to Frege and Russell, the second to von Neumann, the third to Cantor.  The only one of those that I find useful is von Neumann’s.  But I do not take it as being about the nature of numbers.  Rather, I take it as a useful way to model arithmetic within set theory.  I have always assumed (perhaps wrongly) that was why von Neumann proposed that definition.

Kit Fine seems to think that there are puzzles about numbers and mathematics, that can be resolved by understanding the nature of numbers.  He suggests that there is a puzzle as to why mathematics is so useful in science.  Others apparently also see that as a puzzle.  Fine asks (about numbers):

How can they be so far removed from the familiar world, yet so intimately connected to it?

Presumably, he thinks that understanding the fundamental nature of numbers will answer that question.

Numbers have no fundamental nature.  Perhaps knowing that will help Fine.

The usefulness of numbers and of mathematics is explained by how we use them, not by what they are.  The usefulness of numbers in science is explained by how scientists use them.

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