Archive for August, 2012

August 30, 2012

Answering V.J. Torley’s questions

by Neil Rickert

Over at the Uncommon Descent blog, poster vjtorley has posed “Ten Questions for Professor Coyne.”  I am not a spokesman for Jerry Coyne, and I disagree with some of what he writes.  But I thought I would try giving my own answers to those questions.  I’m pretty sure that Jerry Coyne would disagree with me on some of the answers.

Question 1 – Is science the only road to knowledge?

I’ll note that there is some ambiguity on what is meant by “knowledge.”  For myself, I would never claim that science is the only way to all knowledge, though it is an excellent way to knowledge about the natural world.  In any case, vjtorley breaks this question into several parts.

August 26, 2012

On metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

In an earlier post, I hinted that I would discuss the two essays by Massimo Pigliucci on naturalized metaphysics.  So that will be the goal of this post.  For convenience, I shall refer to those two essays as NM1 and NM2.

The goal

It is not my aim here to argue that Pigliucci is wrong.  Rather, the aim is to present how I look at the questions he is discussing.  Partly, this is because I have rather non-typical views, and am sometimes asked to explain them.  Partly, it is because I have indicated my dislike for metaphysics, and some have suggested that we cannot actually do without metaphysics.  So perhaps the discussion here will help my readers better understand my viewpoint.

August 25, 2012

That’s one small step for man …

by Neil Rickert

Neil Armstrong has died at the age of 82.  This is a brief note celebrating the achievements of Neil Armstrong and his colleagues at NASA.

News reports:

I still remember watching that landing on TV.  My son saw it too, but he was only a few months old so probably does not remember.

I see this as a time to celebrate his achievements, not as a time for sadness.


August 25, 2012

A couple of links for weekend reading

by Neil Rickert

I have added a new category “humanism” as a partial response to a recent post by Jen.  I expect to have occasional posts in that category.

So here are two links, that are at least slightly related:

  1. Parables Of The Not-So-Social Gospel” is a fun read.  It is an updated version of part of the gospels, written so as to truly represent what Christianity has become today.
  2. Radical Feminism, the Unwitting Ally of ID and Creationism” is a criticism of Atheism+.  It will either make your blood boil, or give you a good laugh.  Silly me.  I thought that “atheism+” was simply adding ordinary human decency to  atheism, that there wasn’t anything radical about it.  Perhaps I have never understood the meaning of “radical.”

I am taking the “good laugh” approach to the second of those links.


August 24, 2012

Science and philosophy

by Neil Rickert

In a blog post last month, John Wilkins expressed concern about what some scientists say about philosophy:

What gets my gander is that Perakh, or more recently Lawrence Krauss, Hawking and Molodinow, and a steady stream of physicists, seem to think that while their own discipline is noble, authoritative and has extensive conceptual ramifications (that we should really call philosophical), my discipline is just “entertainment value”. In a rejoinder to me and others just posted, Perakh tries hard to back down from this, but it’s pretty clear that he, and his entire field, has a set against philosophy. Why is this?

August 21, 2012

Memo to Todd Akin

by Neil Rickert

According to news reports, Akin is now saying:

The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold.

No, Mr Akin, the mistake was not in the words that you said.

When I first heard reports on that speech, I immediately understood that you had misspoken, and that the work “legitimate” was a very poor choice.  And I took that into consideration as I read what you had said.  And, after factoring in that correction, what you said remained stunningly ignorant and offensively sexist.

Apologizing for your choice of words is not enough.  It is not nearly enough.  That “apology” leaves us suspecting that you yourself are deeply ignorant and offensively sexist.

August 20, 2012

Why people laugh at ID proponents

by Neil Rickert

Just take a look at a recent post at Uncommon Descent: Why people laugh at Creationists but have a harder time refuting ID-ists.

The discussion to that thread (the comments) provides plenty of reasons to laugh.

August 19, 2012

Against sexism

by Neil Rickert

I have been travelling for the last few day, and it has been difficult to find time for a new blog post.  So, instead, I’ll say “Bravo!” to Jen for two recent posts:

How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism


I also suggest reading “The campaign against Amy Davis Roth” for an example of the kind of behavior that Jen is posting about.

August 13, 2012

Symbols and categories

by Neil Rickert

In earlier posts, I have preferred the Shannon notion of information, according to which information is a sequence of symbols.  And I have emphasized that symbols are abstract objects.  The symbols are usually considered to be intentional objects, because it is only on account of our intentions that we consider them to be symbols.

In this post, I want to relate the idea of symbol with that of category.  I’ll start by assuming that the readers have at least an informal idea of what we mean by category.

August 11, 2012

Romney’s principles

by Neil Rickert

New Republican VP nominee, Paul Ryan, has praised Romney for his principles.

I’ll have to admit that he has a point.  Romney’s principles are perfect.  As a mathematician, I cannot think of anything that could be more perfect than the empty set.