Archive for September, 2013

September 27, 2013

The stalemate in Washington

by Neil Rickert

Frank Schaeffer, writing about the current political stalemate, says:

What the reality-based community, especially in our media savvy centers of intellectual life forget, is that a big chunk of our population has been groomed from birth to embrace delusional thinking.

Put it this way: you can’t understand who supports and voted for Senator Ted Cruz and the forty extremists in Congress holding the rest of us hostage, unless you first understand why the Creation Museum has so many enthusiastic visitors. When they are there they can learn how dinosaurs cohabited the earth with people and why the planet is only six thousand years old, sort of the scientific equivalent to claims that President Obama is a secret Muslim who was born in Kenya.

Until the root of myth-based political thinking is admitted and understood it can’t be addressed. Pointing out that the right lives in an echo chamber solves nothing. The point is why?

I recommend reading Schaeffer’s full post on the topic:


September 22, 2013

Perversion of religion

by Neil Rickert

This is good.

Even a religion based on a socialist hippie God preaching for everyone to basically live in communes and love, feed, and heal one another, gets perverted by the usual suspects to justify just about any grotesque act of greed, cruelty, and self indulgence imaginable.

That’s pretty much my view of Christianity — particularly the conservative kind of Christianity.

From Sunday school for atheists: James 5


September 21, 2013

Truth and pragmatism

by Neil Rickert

I have been intending to post on this topic.  Now my hand has been “forced.”  Sabio Lantz has a post:

at his blog, and there he displays a graph with usefulness (i.e. pragmatism) on one axis, and with accuracy (i.e. truth) on the other axis.  I responded in a comment, saying that those two (usefulness and accuracy) are not orthogonal.  My point appears to have not been understood.  So this post will attempt to flesh out the details.


To a first approximation, pragmatism amounts to making decisions on the basis of their usefulness.  We all make pragmatic decisions from time to time.  A person is often described as a pragmatist if that person is seen as taking usefulness as the most important criterion in decision making.  I doubt that anybody is a pure pragmatist, in the sense of only making decisions on a pragmatic basis.

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September 11, 2013

God is not omnipotent

by Neil Rickert

In a debate with an ID proponent ericB, I wrote:

Here’s my puzzle. ID proponents push the case for “fine tuning”. Yet, “fine tuning” would seem to call for something like deism — a god that created the cosmos in just the right way at the start, and then allowed nature (that finely tuned nature of the deities design) to take its course. It seems to me that a proponent of fine tuning should be a proponent of the view that the cosmos was so finely tuned that it was certain that life would emerge from that finely tuned nature.

In response, ericB wrote:

With the exception of living organisms, the rest of what we see in nature seems in principle to allow explanation based on law+chance. Law is causally adequate to account for order and regular arrangements. Chance is causally adequate to account for unspecified complexity and meaningless irregularities.

Yet living organisms are different in documented ways that cannot be reasonably denied. They are systems based upon specified complexity. We’ve never found anything else in the universe (other than artifacts) to have that property.

You can read ericB’s full response here.

So ericB seems to be saying that his God is powerful enough to create a universe in which there would emerge a planet Earth that is fine tuned for life.  But his God is not powerful enough to create that universe so that biological life will emerge.

It seems hard to see that as anything other than a denial of the omnipotence of God.

Not only is ID bad science (really, not much science at all), but it is also bad theology.

September 11, 2013

Against metaphysics

by Neil Rickert

For me, metaphysics is a bit of a puzzle.  According to the Stanford Encyclopedia, “It is not easy to say what metaphysics is.”  I take it that ontology, the question of what exists, is an important part of metaphysics.

Here’s my own tongue-in-cheek daffy definition:  Metaphysics is that core part of philosophy where many fundamental mistakes are made.  The rest of philosophy builds on those mistakes.

The main reasons that I am against metaphysics are:

  1. I have not found it useful;
  2. It seems to be a source of mistaken ideas.

What makes it a puzzle, is that some other folk seem to consider it important.  For example, when I explained why I am not a materialist, quite a few comments attempted to persuade me that metaphysics is important.  And when I posted on the ontology of mathematical objects, several comments tried to persuade me that it is important.

Personally, I am a mathematical fictionalist.  I don’t believe mathematical objects exist, except as useful fictions.  Most mathematicians are said to be Platonists.  They believe mathematical objects exist in some platonic realm.  So that’s an ontological (hence metaphysical) disagreement.  Yet the way that I do mathematics is pretty much the same as the way that a Platonist mathematician does mathematics.  So the metaphysical disagreement seems to be of no importance.