Ideology Trumps Facts

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 25th, 2008

Participants were shown news reports that contained inaccuracies, followed by a correction. The news reports were not real, but were presented to the volunteers as coming from either the New York Times or Fox News. Again, the findings suggest that facts that contradicted political ideology were simply not taken in; if anything, challenging misbelief with fact checking has the counterintuitive effect of reinforcing that misbelief. Ars Technica

More Linked Reviews

Posted by on September 23rd, 2008

Carrying on from a previous post which linked to the “Only A Game” Blog and its fascinating series of posted reviews on Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age” – here is Part 4 “Religion” versus “Science” – It is in brief a description of the false dichotomy that the above phrase engenders not to mention the partisan psychology of many of its adherents.

Well worth a read.

Thoughts on Dawkin’s “The God Delusion”

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 21st, 2008

I have recently finished reading The God Delusion. I have complicated feeling about the book. On one hand it is well written with interesting anecdotes. On the other hand it does appear to be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

The book could perhaps be shorter if this argument was more focused rather than attack every aspect of religion. An example is the argument “because we cannot explain X, god did it.” Dawkins first points out that this is not logically valid but then goes about explaining X with X in this case being complexity of life. This causes Dawkins’s critics to attack evolution but this distraction causes the invalid argument criticism to be forgotten.

The writing style is aimed at a general reader which necessarily involves some simplification of the arguments. I don’t think much is lost in the simplification but it does annoy philosophers. Most of the arguments are taken from Hume, Epicurus, etc so there is nothing new. What Dawkins brings to the debate is to contemporise them. Interestingly, there is very little overlap between Dawkins and Nietzsche although they have similar goals. Nietzsche would have blasted Dawkins’s humanism.

Dawkins has become infamous for his views on the non-existence of God. I feel I should mention the common criticism and note that they are wide of the mark. For those who criticize Dawkins for simply expressing his opinion, this hardly seems compatible with modern (free speech) or biblical (turn the other cheek) ethical standards. Others assume criticism of religion is the same as calling for its eradication. Dawkins does not calls for this in the book. Those that call Dawkins’s position a “religion”, a faith or an indoctrination method are usually committing ad hominem tu quoque. And finally a common criticism against Dawkins is agnosticism causes evil actions. I have not heard any valid causal connection between the two and it is a non sequitur as it stands. I suggest anyone trying to read the book to ignore previous views, either for or against.

He makes a good point on the source of morality in religion and almost taken from the pages of modern philosophy. Most religious people interpret religious texts to find a moral system. The literalists have an untenable position due to inconsistencies in the text. But what do we use to guide interpretation? Dawkins argues this interpretation must necessarily come from outside scripture. This undermines any claim that morality comes from holy books and puts religious morality on the same level as secular morality.

He also cites studies that different cultures have an instinctive grasp of a common morality. Reading between the lines, it is almost like calling for that to be the basis of morality. This reminds me of Hume’s attempt at founding morality on empirical observation. This approach to morality is incomplete since it only addresses morality when everyone is in agreement with moral law. For novel moral questions, our instinct is often silent.

Dawkins has no time for agnosticism. He distinguishes between two types of agnosticism. For the first type (which he calls Permanent Agnosticism in Principle) is a deistic God beyond the reach of evidence. He seems dismissive of this position and treats it as similar to ignosticism (the concept of God is meaningless). It is difficult to fathom Dawkin’s argument on this point. This brand of agnosticism is perhaps a distant relative of a postmodern God (in that the significance of God comes from the believer rather than from an objective source). The second type of agnosticism (Temporary Agnosticism in Practice) treats God as being inside and part of nature (an empirical hypothesis). Dawkins dismisses TAP because, in his view, the empirical evidence implies that there is no God. Before the postmodernists object to this argument, remember that most religious people believe God is very real and capable of physical manifestation. Dawkins’s book explicitly does not address Deism, Pantheonism, Buddhism or any similar world view. His argument is against the mainstream God of Abraham.

The aim of the book takes a controversial stance in today’s “tolerant” society. Dawkins sets out to deconvert believers whose belief is wavering. He recognises that it is impossible to deconvert a firm believer using rational argument and this is not his aim. The second and perhaps more difficult point is he equates religious instruction of children to child abuse. He argues that children never had a chance to make a free and informed decision to belong to religion. Children should therefore be protected from their parents. Liberals should note that an outside agency disrupting a family has a certain precedence; we allow the state to interfere with family affairs. But Dawkins assumes that free choice in belief is possible and I am not sure if that is true! When I child is part of a family, the teaching of some moral system is unavoidable. Independent thought can be encouraged but at some point this is oxymoronic – a young adult is told to have original thought and freedom. To obey this instruction is then not free or original! I find it difficult to imagine a society in which children are protected from the religion of their parents. The alternative is for parents to voluntarily not teach religion until early adulthood. I doubt many religions would agree to that constraint.

A final note: attaching the labels “militant”, “religious” or “fundamentalist” to Dawkins is ad hominem. If an argument is to be made against his religious position, please people, address his argument directly and don’t go after the man. It annoys me when implicit atheists (“the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it”) are grouped with other variants of atheism. The absence of belief is obviously not a type of religion or fundamentalism.

Anti Citizen One

Creationism Thought Experiments

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 16th, 2008

There has been several creationism news articles recently. Instead of the usual analysis, I present four thought experiments that relate indirectly to the issues.

Thought experiment:

You have won a lottery (by random draw of a winner). There are three explanations for your winning:
1) It was part of God’s plan for you to win.
2) You were the only one to enter the lottery so winning was inevitable.
3) Many tickets were distributed and you won by chance.

If you don’t know how many tickets were distributed, is it possible to decide which possibility is correct?

Thought experiment:

You see a rock archway in a sea cliff. If any part of the arch was removed, the structure would collapse. The rock archway could have been formed by:
1) Being created in its current form.
2) Created by erosion to form its current shape.

If you are uncertain about the truth of 2, can you infer 1?

Thought experiment:

You see an illusion in which the magician appears to vanish and reappear. You might conclude one of the following:
1) The magician can really vanish and reappear at will.
2) The magician has performed an illusion and you do not know the method.

If you are uncertain about the truth of 2, can you infer 1?

Thought experiment:

If belief X causes life to be full of unhappiness, reckless behavior, materialistic concerns or immorality, is it
1) false
2) true
3) unknown as to is truth or falsity.

If we are unclear as to the religious instinct, it is stated thus:

There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger. This is the disease of curiosity. It is this which drives us to try to discover the secrets of nature which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing, and which man should not wish to learn. St Augustine

Further reading: Who are the British creationists?

Anti Citizen One

In other news, India’s use of brain scans in courts dismays critics

PS. I have been thinking about these ideas for a while but it seems they are half remembered examples from Dawkins.

PPS “Nitimur in vetitum, semper cupimusque negata” (Ovid), we strive after the forbidden.

Update: ‘Creationism’ biologist quits job

Monarchist Fallacies

Posted by on September 16th, 2008

I was engaged in a lively debate recently on the merits or demerits of a monarchical system. Personally I am a republican and in general I consider monarchism an outmoded relic of a bygone era of social repression.

As the debate wore on it became obvious that on most points I was possessed by the spirit of reason. The supporters of monarchy in general could only make appeals to tradition whereas mostly my arguments were based on sound pragmatic opinion.

Then they wheeled out what they consider their strongest argument. Namely “The Royals bring in so much money” i.e. through tourism and as industrial and trade ambassadors.

It is a fairly good argument. Why? Because it sounds empirical – rather than being an appeal to tradition this is an argument based on pragmatic concerns.

There is one problem – basically it is what Wittgenstein would call nonsense. The sentence or proposition though constructed in a way that is similar to an empirical proposition, a proposition about a definite state of affairs, is in fact a clever charade – and according to ‘logical’ rules is a non-argument.

The proposition reads: we must not abolish the monarchy as they provide substantial income for the nation through tourism and trade and industry ambassadorships.

The objection reads: Can you verify this – and is this open to falsification?

The conclusion is: technically one could only hope to measure the “value” of the monarchy by its abolition and subsequent measuring of financial effects.

Naturally no monarchist is going to vote for its abolition – so the argument is null.

The moral of the story – be careful of making psuedo-empirical propositions. When the falsity of their factual basis is uncovered you may find the validity* of your viewpoint eroding away rapidly.

* Validity depends on the language game being played. Just as Anselm famously said “God is a special case” one may choose to argue that psuedo-empirical propositions are in certain language games still valuable and valid as rhetorical tools.

Some Links

Posted by on September 16th, 2008

Over on the “Only a Game” blog there is an interesting series of reviews on Charles “Chuck” Taylor’s latest book “A Secular Age”.

Charles Taylor is considered possibly the greatest living philosopher in the english speaking world. I must admit rather shamefully to not having heard of him until recently. He is an interesting guy and is in many respects an intellectual descendent of Wittgenstein.

A practising Catholic he nonetheless holds views that are a very unconventional fit to what most people expect a Catholic to be. He is clearly an original thinker. His latest book “A Secular Age” charts the historical development of religion in the west leading up to and including secularism. His study focuses on how society has undergone the transition from a time when it was virtually impossible not to believe in God to a time where even  those of the strongest and most determined faith accept that their is but one of many options available to them.

Rather than post a copy of somebody elses review (I haven’t read the book yet) I thought i’d just link to them. It makes interesting reading and the book is top of my wishlist. It is a serial review – here are the first three in the series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

On the same blog an excellent (though sarcastic) post on the horrors of a “science pope” (warning may contain Feyerabend).

The Onion: Coin Flip

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 8th, 2008

Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jacksonville Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life

in other news, Evolutionists Flock To Darwin-Shaped Wall Stain.


Is the Scientific Community necessary for Science?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 7th, 2008

I was reading the Gene Expression blog and it claims that generation of scientific knowledge is generated through the scientific community acting as the overall arbiter and gatekeeper. Without this collaboration, science would not function. Individual scientists are not fully rational and presumably the rationality of the scientific process arises through ‘”wisdom of the crowds” at its apotheosis’.

Because at the end of the day science does not rely on the rationality of a scientist. It relies on the cumulative and self-correcting rationality of the scientific community.

[…]science is such a superior method of extracting information about the world around us[…]

[…]the power of science arises from the intersection of the communal wisdom of tens of thousands of individuals over decades with the nature of the subject at hand. Gene Expression blog

The author implies that no individual scientist is capable of really doing science in isolation.

Granted, there are individual geniuses of great brilliance such as the great Isaac Newton, but the outcomes of his dabbling in alchemy and scriptural hermeneutics should go to illustrate that cognition applied to a fool’s errand only results in glorious foolery.

I picture this as an infinite amount of research monkeys almost randomly striking keys on type writers and the gate keeper of science, the community, allows anything that happens to be scientific. As Newton said, possibly with sarcasm, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”.

Peer review and the scientific community is not what distinguishes science from other areas of knowledge. After all history community decides what is good history knowledge, theology community decides what is good theological knowledge and the law community decides what is good law knowledge. Since they have similar process for publication and dissemination of knowledge, why are they not also “a superior method of extracting information about the world”?

What distinguishes science from other fields of knowledge is empiricism. Production of scientific knowledge occurs when we use our personal experience about the world to form predictive theories and we attempt to verify them. When Galileo looked through a telescope and saw dots circling Jupiter and him realizing they were moons was a scientific achievement. Since there was no community, it is clearly false to say the community is necessary to progress science.

Referring to the scientific community as this monolithic truth machine is not helpful considering that good science is decided by a very small subsection of the community who have the relevant background knowledge to review cutting edge research. In some fields, everyone knows the other researchers by name. I will admit that science has progressed more quickly because collaboration and teamwork is more efficient than solo working. But teamwork it is not necessary for science to occur.

Anti Citizen One

Review: The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 6th, 2008

Compared to the other Nietzsche books I have read – Will to Power (fragmentary and repetitious) and Birth of Tragedy (obscure but rather conventional), the Gay Science is a refreshing blast of fresh mountain air. As part of the middle period of the authors works, it is written in Nietzsche’s iconoclastic and aphoristic style. What is unusual about the book is the lightheartedness and humour with is contained in the prose and poetry.

This book contains ideas and many turns of phrase that recur in his next book Thus Spake Zarathustra. In some ways the key ideas of Zarathustra are already expressed in The Gay Science but I don’t feel it is repetitive because, although Nietzsche distrusts systemization of philosophy, the narrative story is a weak system. Some ideas are again restated in Twilight of the Idols but that book seems to be intended as an overview and written in a highly condensed style to the point of the ideas being crush under their own weight. Things are expressed more expansively in The Gay Science and is as good a starting point as I know into Nietzsche.

As usual, it is impossible to summarize the content of the book since it contains many disparate lines of thought. But that perhaps is the message? He claims it is untruthful to rob existence of its ambiguous nature. To provide a final immovable answer, as most ancient philosophy and theology attempts to do, is a flat denial of the ambiguous world. Nietzsche quickly points out that the ambiguous and apparent world is the only world. His explains why he is often misunderstood by others (including Bertrand Russell). I have heard it asked that if he can be misinterpreted, does he share the responsibility of how is works are misused? Interestingly, this argument is also leveled at the Bible, Koran and other holy books as a way of disparaging religion. This argument can be rebutted by considering any and all language can be misinterpreted to support any action, so to assign guilt to an author would be to potentially condemn all writing and speaking (reductio ad absurdum).

“All philosophical idealism has hitherto been something like a disease…” 372

‘One not only wants to be understood when one writes, but also – quite certainly – not to be understood. It is by no means an objection to a book when someone finds it unintelligible: perhaps this might just have been the intention of its author, – perhaps he did not want to be understood by “anyone”.’ 379

The mind boggles. 🙂

This book is the most pro-science I have read of Nietzsche. He is, as always, an acute observer and discusses the bounds that science may address. He is again skeptical about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Nietzsche’s idea of power and the abundance of power does not seem compatible with his perception of evolution and its “struggle for life”. I think this is Nietzsche’s misinterpretation and he perhaps would have accepted the gene centric view of evolution which was popularized in the book “The Selfish Gene” by Dawkins.

The most famous section is the “God is dead” speech. I won’t reproduce it again since it is already easy to find on the internet. The speech is put into the mouth of a madman – probably Nietzsche’s concept of his own public image or perhaps a foreshadow of himself considering his mental collapse in 1889. Obviously, “God is dead” is not meant literally. One interpretation might be “the concept of God has come to an end”. The madman speaks to the onlookers who were already atheist. Why is it necessary to proclaim the death of God to atheists? The speech is a statement of existential removal of the foundations of civilization and a call for their reestablishment on new footings. When he finishes the speech, the crowd look at him in amazement. The madman realizes the news of God’s death has not yet reached them but is still on its ways to the ears of men. This is probably in reference to the assumptions and ideals that were taken from Christianity were carried into the secular societies of the modern world without being closely examined. The news of the death of God would call them into question as not being timeless and objective.

I love the end of book 4 of The Gay Science (aphorisms 340-342). It is rare that just two pages can contain so many ideas and written in such a vibrant manner.

340 Discusses the death of Socrates and its implication for his philosophy. This has huge significance for the modern world as much of this as been intellectually passed down through St. Augustine and the Catholic Church. Socrates, at his trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, goaded the court into sentencing him to death. Socrates’s last words (according to Plato) were “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

“For him who has ears, this ludicrous and terrible “last word” implies: “O Crito, life is a long sickness!” “Socrates, Socrates had suffered from life! And he also took his revenge for it…” “We must surpass even the Greeks!” 340

Nietzsche attempts to connect Socrates’s denial and hatred of life to idealism and to equate the two. This connects with the idea of the ambiguous world being the only world. To claim a thing exists “in itself” is to value a non-existent thing above an existent thing. Hence, Nietzsche’s fondness for accusing idealism of nihilism.

Aphorism 341 is the first statement in his writings of the thought of the Eternal Return. This circular view of time again emphasizes the apparent existence on earth as the only existence. It perhaps is simply an inversion of the thought of an afterlife. This ideal is the core idea of Zarathustra and also a theme in the Unbearable Lightness of Being. The “lightness” is perhaps the terror and uncertainty at the lack of external significance of life – considering eventually the universe will suffer heat death and also from the death of God. The novel also discusses the “weight” provided by the Eternal Return (“It must be so! It must be so!”). If each of our actions are to be repeated for eternity, we are almost forced to place a massive but subjective significance on every action we perform. Nietzsche seems to regard the thought of the Eternal Return as a thought experiment and a requirement for the Superman. In the Will to Power his seems to have the intention of arguing for the physical reality of the concept. Eternal Return is a form of Eternalism and Hard Determinism. I hardly need add that Nietzsche argued against “free will”.

Aphorism 342 is simply the first section of Zarathustra’s prologue. I suppose I find self quotation and interconnections of ideas amusing. The Gay Science’s close connection is again confirmed when Zarathustra “quotes” Nietzsche:

When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: “Could it be possible! This old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that GOD IS DEAD!” Prologue, Z

Since I was too busy enjoying The Gay Science, I forgot to record interesting quotations. I also lack an electronic copy of the book. I normally would have included more quotations but I hope you can overlook their absence.

Anti Citizen One

“Correlated” Facts and How Not To Play The Didgeridoo

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 3rd, 2008

At the risk of repetition, there is a good piece on correlation on the BBC.

And a piece on offense overriding expression of ideas is also interesting.

I just finished The Gay Science. Really good and really quotable (unfortunately for you dear reader!). “April weather” is present in it.

Anti Citizen One