Sunday, March 26

Brief Notes on Books

Currently reading: Collapse : How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Next up, or in parallel: Breaking the Spell : Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.

I saw yet another new anti-evolution book in the bookstore today. Or more precisely, an anti-human evolution through a messed up and naive understanding of "Darwinism" book by a philosopher way out of his depth. More later.

An Urban Outfitters opened in town recently. Last week the local chapter of the Girls Shouldn't Want To Have Fun Brigade protested them because along with the clothing and accessories they have the audacity to sell Books!On!Sex! The odd thing was that they didn't have signs about what they were protesting, just identical printed signs with just a website address. According to Technorati and Google, they have no inbound links at all.

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Time to update the sidebar a bit. Google Reader unveiled a new feature, sharing your reading lists. It allows you to publically share your "starred" items or items with a certain label (tag). I've decided to share my starred items in the sidebar, making a no-fuss recommened reading list. Google Reader has some interesting bells and whistles and could be a great RSS reader instead of a mearly good one if they could work out some of the interface and backend kinks.

The blogroll also badly needed an update, as a lot of my favorite blogs have moved around the past few months.

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Wednesday, January 18

McCarthyism at UCLA

There was a time when Red-hunting John Birchers had to be surreptitious in taping teachers when looking for dirt, and face embarrassing national exposure when caught. Today, they openly solicit their narcs by offering them beer money, and the national media gives them free advertising. A recently formed UCLA alumni association has named a "Dirty 30" professors they're targeting. Their crime is being liberal and allegedly indoctrinating their students. Sounds more like a bunch of crybabies who don't like being exposed to contrary opinions.

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Tuesday, January 17

El Tejon Case Settled

The El Tejon school district has settled the lawsuit against it and has agreed not to offer a Young-Earth Creationism slanted "Philosophy of Design" class, or any other class that endorses creationism.

Americans United press release

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Monkey Business on My Mind

If humans evolved, it's obvious that evolution shaped our brains as well as the rest of our bodies. But some people can't get over the monkey connection. Joe Carter argues that natural evolution can't explain why "monkey minds" are reliable. It's basic presuppositionalism, which is a standard issue Joe Carter argument.

But what they fail to realize is that non-teleological evolution is, as Roy Clouser says, self-assumptively incoherent:

Being able to trust our belief-forming capacities is an assumption necessary to believing in the theory of evolution. Unless we can trust our perceptions and belief-forming capacities to reveal reality, there are no reasons to believe the theory of evolution at all. In fact, if we can’t trust our perceptual beliefs, there is no reason to believe that there are such things as brains or life forms to be explained. [emphasis in original]

This is not to say that that the relation between evolution and our capacity to acquire truth is outright false. It just means that the claim undercuts its own justification: If we believe we have reliable belief-forming apparatus then we have reason to believe that non-teleological evolution is false. Likewise, if we believe that non-teleological evolution is true then we have no reason to believe the theory since we would have no reason to trust that our belief-forming apparatus is reliable.

But isn't our ability "to trust our belief-forming capacities" necessary to believeing that anything is true? Replace "theory of evolution" with X and it's obviously applicable to any belief at all. This hardly makes for an argument against evolution, or against anything else unless you're shooting for a postion of universal skepticism. It just begs the question to say that a reliable mind is evidence that evolution is false.

Joe lists what he consideres four errors in "naturalisitc epistemology". In summary:

  • It's circular reasoning to assume rational beings are produced through non-rational processes
  • It's wrong to assume that all true beliefs are adaptive, and vise versa.
  • Material processes can't explain beliefs in non-material things.
  • Naturalists are too emotionally attached to their theory to notice that it's absurd.
The last is just typical mud-slinging from Joe. He just gets upset when others don't appreciate his obvious brilliance. The first is confusing arguing from evidence that evolution occured with a "circular argument".

Joe makes a major error in shifting from "reliable mind" to "true beliefs" as the thing being selected for. It is not the beliefs themselves that are advantagous, it's the ability to accurately interpret and respond to the environment. Let's say that a monkey is looking for some fruit to eat. She has learned from prior experience that green fruit make her sick, but red fruit don't, so she'll act on her beliefs and look for red fruit. And of course she has to have an accurate means of determining which fruit are red, and so on.

Simply fixing true beliefs through evolution implies a hodgepoge, not the ability to reason, and sounds akin to a distorted version of divine revelation. It sounds like Joe is viewing naturalism through his presuppositionist glasses, and his criticism is suffering for it.

There is another point. Any standard of "reliable" is not the same as "perfect". It is acceptable, indeed unavoidable, that some of our beliefs are mistaken. This isn't a flaw, but something any epistomology has to deal with. Atheistic naturalists, such as myself, see the whole history of belief in spiritual entities as mistaken. What counts is that there be a process to correct errors in our beliefs and reasoning. Atheistic naturalists do so by turning the many of same tools proven on the natural world to the spiritual world and have found it lacking.

Moreover, it could be argued, ala Carter, that since the immaterial is not a part of the environment, and therefore beliefs about the immaterial are not adaptive, that beliefs about the immaterial are inherently less reliable.

Carter's criticisms don't stand up, and his main thesis, like much presuppositionalism, is simply begging the question.

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Sunday, January 15

Is Intelligent Design legit as a philosophy class

The latest creationism case involves El Tejon Unified School District ("The Grapevine" in Calif.) and the attempt to teach a "philosophy" class in creationist doctrine. Pro-evo blogger wonders if this is a good fight to get into.

nightlight: Creationism in California - Lawsuit and revised syllabus
What is less clear, to me at least, is that this class should not be taught in conjunction with a public school. It should be plain that I am in favor of opposing the spread of "Intelligent Design" pseudo-science, but I also favor a method of resistance that considers the probable benefit to the effort.

In other words, is this class so egregious - legally, politically and scientifically - that it must be addressed in the courts? Or is it small potatoes, something that taking action against will, in sum, diminish the reputation and resources of those who oppose pseudo-science?

Yes, it's egregious. Simply labeling it as a philosophy class doesn't get around the fact that they're promoting a religious viewpoint. As I commented on the post, there is no constitutional requirement for scientific purity. There is one for the separation of church and state. It's quite clear from the history of this course that the teacher is advocating creationism.

In fact, labeling it as philosophy makes it less legitimate, legally. In Establishment Clause cases, one criteria examined is whether there is a legitimate secular purpose. The aim of Scientific Creationism in the 80's and Intelligent Design today is to provide what appears to be a scientific reason to teach it in public schools. The courts found their scientific legitimacy lacking, just a thin veneer over religious doctrine, and failed that criteria. By abandoning even the veneer of science, no secular justification is even possible for advocating creationism.

This is not to say that it should be censored outright. After all, theology is a legitimate branch of philosophy. But, this class is more appropriate for Sunday school than public school.

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Monday, January 9

Brief Notes on Books

Browsing in B&N today I see that Marvin "Compassionate Conservatism" Olasky jumps into the Intelligent Design fray with a new book: Monkey Business: The True Story Of The Scopes Trial with co-author John Perry, reiterating a non-sequiter argument every other ID advocate has committed to print.

Shorter Olasky and Perry: The Hollywood version of the Scopes Trial fudged the history, therefore Darwinism is an empty religious philosophy, and ID is the real deal, and any attempt to portray us as the anti-intellectual know-nothings we are is just bigotry fostered by the secular-liberal-media-elites.

In the same vein is A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion by Pamela Winnick. I've read a few chapters in the store, and I have to say it's exceedingly difficult for her to come to any sort of coherent point in the evolution chapters. (e.g. Some scientists are "celebrities"? How horrible!)

On to books worth purchasing. I'm close to finishing Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science. It's been a good read and I'll be posting a full review later.

Four months till the new Vinge novel is out.

Sunday, January 1

Christian quote of the day

Someone clicked the "Next Blog" button from purposedrivenforchrist and ended up here. I just had to check it out when I saw it in my referers. Blogger reads Biblical porn poem and gets hot.

I also I have been reading in Song of Solomon it is a really great book it real comforting that God could love me as a husband could that our relationship is that intimate. link

Lordy...And there's more where that came from.

A bit of maintenance for the new year

It's a new year so it's a good time to do a little template/blogroll maintenance. I did find an oddity or two that may have resulted from Blogger helpfully updating it for new features, even though I've tweaked the original a bit. The standard Tic Tac Blue didn't handle text scaling well (old monitor was going fuzzy), so I changed some of the measurements to be font-relative. Plus I moved the about text from sidebar to header, and added the requisite blogroll and buttons. I've added the new RSS icon for feed links.

My blogroll is pretty much all the blogs I'm currently reading minus inactive and comment feeds. It's generated from an OMPL file from my local feedreader. I've also dethroned Slashdot from my 10 Best catagory in favor of Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory. He's been doing a fantastic job analyzing the whole warrantless wiretapping scandal, and rebutting the thin defenses from the Bush administration and its blogger supporters. The 10 Best catagory stems from the fact that I needed a way to get my ruthlessly alphabetical feedreader to prioritize my must-reads, and I'm too lazy to edit them back to whatever catagory they belong. Just take it as my personal recommendation for great writers.

Enough meta stuff for now. Hopefully I'll actually write more on this blog this year than last.

Saturday, December 31

Reflections on Rain

We finally got our first really good rain storm of this winter today, the last day of the year. We just keep catching the tails of storm fronts as they plow through north of us lately. That means scattered, light showers at best. But this latest one was apparently a "100-year storm" for the Bay Area and we got a fair amount of rain here as a result.

I like the rain. I love the sound on the roof, especially at night when I'm going to sleep. I find it very relaxing. I like the smell of it too; during and after. I like going out in it on occasion. And today I did. It's neat to go downtown and watch the swollen creek rush by.

Growing up in Northern California, we got decent rainstorms often in the winter (occasionally even snow!). Here in SLO, not so much, and it was one of the first differences that struck me with winter here. It all has to do with the jet stream. Some years, it carries the storms to the north of us, other years it dips down and we get hit. Our latitude places us right on the fringe.

My oddest rain experience (for a Californian): I was in Houston for a student conference when a tropical storm hit. The group I was with were all standing under the hotel's carport waiting for our airport shuttle. We were all standing outside quite comfortably in t-shirts and shorts (for our flight back to LAX) while globules of rain fell not more than a few feet from us. It was a torrent of big fat drops that were warm to the touch when I held out my hand to them.