Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

Teleology and evolution

by Neil Rickert

A review of James Shapiro: “Evolution: A View from the 21st Century”

I recently “purchased” a copy of the Kindle version of Shapiro’s book, at a time when the price was zero.  My interest in this book has been piqued by claims from creationists and ID proponents, that Shapiro’s work supports their views.  In my opinion, the creationists and ID proponents are mistaken about this, though Shapiro does say things that make him sound open to ID.  When mentioning this Amazon offer, Jerry Coyne said “Jim Shapiro is heterodox in his views and opposed to much of modern evolutionary theory, so this may be a strange book.  Weigh in if you’ve read it.”  This review is my weighing in.

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September 26, 2011

Kindle for PC – a gripe

by Neil Rickert

The book “Evolution: A view from the 21st Century” (James Shapiro) is currently available free for Kindle, as reported on Jerry Coyne’s web site.  Shapiro is known to have some very non-standard views on evolution, and I am interested in reading those.

This post is mainly a gripe about my experience with the Kindle software.

I don’t currently have a Kindle device, nor do I currently want one.  So I thought I would read on the computer.  I mostly use linux, but Amazon does not have Kindle software for linux.  There is probably software for linux that does the trick – maybe even Okular that I have installed.  But the free book offer from Amazon does not give me a way of downloading as a file.  It requires that I have a registered Kindle or Kindle-for-PC software, and download with that.

My first step was to download the software on a Windows box (WinXP home).  That gave me an installer executable.

The next step is to install.  Typically, one needs to be an Administrator to install software in Windows.  So I opened an Administrator command prompt to install from there.  My normal Windows account is that of a limited user.  Having started the Administrator command prompt, I proceeded to begin the installation.

Sigh – and here is the gripe.  The software installed for the Administrative user only.  It put the application on the Adminstrative user’s menu, and created a Kindle database in the Administrative users files.

Scrap that.

I logged out as limited user, and logged in as admin.  I then changed my normal login to be an Administrator instead of a limited user.  I then logged back in as the normal user.  I then ran the installer again.  This time it set things up for the normal user.  I could now change my normal account back to a limited user account, logout, then login again.  Starting the Kindle application now as a limited user, it seems to work.  Perhaps I will run into problems later.

Sorry, Amazon, but that’s just the wrong way to do it.  It should be possible to run the installer as an Administrator, yet have the software made available to a limited user.  One of the reasons that Windows has virus problems, is that software developers pull the stupid trick of having software that only works for admins.

September 17, 2011

The Natural, the Supernatural and Miracles

by Neil Rickert

In his recent post “The four tiers of Intelligent Design – an ecumenical proposal” at the Uncommon Descent blog, vjtorley has attempted to define “natural” and “supernatural.”  In a comment, I pointed out what I saw as some problems with his definition.  And vjtorley has since asked how I would define them.  So this post is intended as a reply.  It is a bit too long to post as a comment on UD.

“Naturalism” is sometimes defined as the thesis that nature is all that exists.  Or, alternatively, everthing that exists is part of nature.  As a mathematician, I have problems with that definition.  I do not see mathematics and mathematical entities as part of nature.  We might try a broader definition such as “everything that exists is either part of nature or arises out of nature.”  And that would presumably include mathematics as arising out of nature, even if not part of nature.

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September 6, 2011

Philosophical and methodological naturalism

by Neil Rickert

I am often accused of naturalism, sometimes of the methodological kind and sometimes of the philosophical kind.  The accusations typically come from creationists or ID proponents.  And there’s some redundancy there, because most ID proponents are creationists.  I deny either form of naturalism.

I am posting, partly to draw attention to a recent New York Times column, “What Is Naturalism?” by Timothy Williamson.  In that column, Williamson explains why he is not a naturalist.  He is referring to what I have called “philosophical naturalism.”  My own reasons for rejecting philosophical naturalism are similar to Williamson’s.  I would add another reason.  Philosophical naturalism is a metaphysical thesis, and I cannot find any basis for settling metaphysical questions.  Until I find a legitimate way of doing metaphysics, other than just making stuff up, I shall reject it.

Part of Williamson’s reasoning has to do with mathematics, and the difficulty of giving it a naturalistic basis.  As a mathematician, I agree with his concerns.  It’s not that I see anything mystical about mathematics — I don’t.  It is just that mathematics is important, yet does not fit as a part of the natural world.

By contrast, methodological naturalism is not supposed to be at all metaphysical.  Some say that it is a requirement of science, namely that scientists only seek natural explanations.  However, I cannot find any basis for methodological naturalism either.  It seems to me that scientists seek explanations that are well supported by evidence and that stand up to testing.  Having found such explanations, they may then say that what they have discovered is part of nature.  Perhaps the distinction is subtle.  A methodological naturalist supposedly starts with an a priori idea of what is natural, and limits his investigation to what is part of that category of natural things and phenomena.  I see scientists as not so constrained, as starting without such an a priori commitment, but as later extending and expanding their idea of what is natural so that it will include what has newly been discovered.