Category Archives: science

Jerry Coyne To Feser: Shutup, Because I Lack the Cranial Capacity To Understand What You’re Saying.

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And he does. Which he has proven time and time again; and has, unsurprisingly, furnished us with more evidence of it:

In defense of Lawrence Krauss’s latest piece of intellectual self-immolation, Jerry argues:

“But if in fact one construes science broadly, as a combination of reason, empirical study, and verification, yes, existence of God should show up in “scientific” inquiry.” [But it does not, he goes on to argue].

If one “construes science” in such a manner, then yes, the existence of God, contra Jerry Coyne, does show up in “scientific inquiry”, for if we were to take, say, the argument from first cause, then we’re starting from principles that are not only based in reason, but are also empirically verifiable, and have in fact been empirically verified before the process of ’empirical verification’ had even been conceptualized.

But it’s even worse than that for Jerry, since “science”, so broadly construed, makes everyone a scientist — yes, even the theologians he expends great effort to criticize — for (almost) everyone goes about his merry way using reason, empiricism and verification. Apparently for Jerry, the mere act of mixing peanut butter and chocolate because reason and empirical verification has determined that the result can be extremely pleasing to the palate is already to do science.

And since Jerry is defending Krauss’s piece where Krauss argues all scientists must be militant atheists because “Belief or nonbelief in God is irrelevant to our understanding of the workings of nature . .”, then Jerry (and Krauss for that matter) might as well ride the crazy train all the way and argue all bakers need to be militant atheists given that belief or nonbelief is like totally irrelevant to making a cake.

And these guys — these scientists, no less! — claim to be rational and evidence-based.

Hilarious.

As an aside, I can certainly say I used reason and have empirically verified that on matters philosophical Jerry Coyne demonstrably does not know what the hell he’s talking about. So, really, it’s just science.

But, yes, I’m sure other Christians like myself will be vastly amused to know that, as per Jerry, we can all start happily referring to each other as fellow scientists, since his broad definition of science not only grants us the status of scientist, it also grants theology the status of science.

Thanks, Jerry!

We Have The Answer! I Repeat: We Have The Answer!

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Notify the media! Call a conference of Astrophysicists.. or er.. Theoretical physi.. I mean.. just call some scientists who know stuff about planets and stuff!

Wait.. hold on.. no.

I’ve just been told what it is and it appears to be quite.. how shall I put this.. dumb beyond comprehension.

I read this to the end only to be disappointed that the answer which the author kept teasing he had to the question of why the universe’s constants are so finely tuned was so terribly unsatisfying:

In short, the reason we see the values that we see is that, if they were very different, we wouldn’t be around to see them.

Why does light travel at a specific speed, or why do the universal constants hold the seemingly arbitrary values they do? Well, after about 3 thousand words, the answer, apparently, is that this is what we observe because had they been different, nobody would be around to observe them! — nobody would be alive to observe them, essentially.

Thanks for that, Mr. Scientist! You sure answered the hell out of that one.

This would be like surviving a nuclear bomb exploding in your face, only to be told that you shouldn’t wonder how you survived — it would be ridiculous, in fact, to ask why you survived — because if you didn’t, oh yesiree bob, you wouldn’t be around to be curious how you did! So strike that from your list of curiosities, you apparently should.

It’s clear that the universal constants can only be the way they are because they were either designed or just happen by chance to be that way. The problem with the latter is that given the unbelievably large spectrum of possibilities, it’s more probable that a chimp banging its fist on a typewriter will be, by chance, churning out lines from Shakespeare.

Of course, to avoid the rut of having God as a hypothesis (as most are keen on doing) some people have ingeniously come up with the theory of the multiverse, where — get this! — everything that can possibly happen has happened and will for all practical purposes happen again (and again.. ad infinitum) in one of the infinite universes that exist. And of course that merely puts the problem a step back since we can still ask how the devil this large ensemble of infinite universes came to be, but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

But if you can forget those annoying little details and believe that a universe within that large ensemble of infinite universes exists where another me had typed this very piece, only this time while standing on my head, then goodluck with that. Surely — surely! — that’s an easier swallow.

Lawrence’s “All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists” Article Is Quite Dumb

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Arguing with Lawrence about matters that don’t require the use of bunsen burners, the Hubble telescope or integrated calculus, is increasingly proving to be more than a bit sisyphean. The guy might be smart on matters scientific, but on everything else, he’s downright incapable of learning. As others have already written on his inimitable incoherence, I will, in this piece, skip his mistreatment of Kim Davis and Planned Parenthood, and concentrate on his central claim, which is that “all scientists should be militant atheists”.

Lawrence Krauss, as you might recall, is the author of A Universe From Nothing, where he purports to have solved how universes can come from nothing, only to say that ‘nothing’ is actually something, and in fact turns out to be a whole lot of something from which universes can emerge. That book itself is enough evidence that this guy is a hack. I mean, if I sincerely proposed that cars can come from nothing, only to say that by ‘nothing’ I actually meant large production assembly lines, I’ll be put into a mental asylum.

I won’t bother to link to his intellectually sloppy diatribe, you can google that for yourself, but let’s allow him to make his case and see if, like he claims, “all scientists should be militant atheists”.

Reading…

So far as I can see (and, indeed, one would have to look past Himalayas of play-ground rhetoric) his primary argument for the claim is that science does not — indeed, cannot — have “sacred” ideas, as everything should be open to criticism, thusly somewhat precluding, by fiat, subscription to any religious idea. Therefore holding religious views alongside scientific ones (the case for a religious scientist) is to be cognitively dissonant at such an epic scale as to be laughable and worthy of not only dismissal, but outright derision.

Of course, Lawrence makes no distinctions — and is likely ignorant of the distinctions — between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. A fatal error, as we will see.

Since science is the study of nature, it is by it’s very nature methodologically naturalistic in that it needs to presuppose naturalism to work. That is because in science, for every phenomena under study, the required explanans is a natural one, and this axiomatically rules out the supernatural from the getgo. Again, that is simply how science is done, else it’ll cease to work and render us unable to build upon knowledge already acquired. Because a supernatural explanans, unlike a natural one, wouldn’t be within our ability to understand, let alone control, a scientist needs to find natural causes against which he can test and compare other natural facts about our universe. So, every scientist, to do science, needs to adhere to a strictly naturalistic methodology. That is simply what science requires — that scientists, to put it trivially, use the scientific method.

Lawrence, however, does a little sleight of hand, citing that very requirement and extrapolating it to argue for the philosophical position known as metaphysical naturalism, which is the position that only the natural, or in his case, only the physical, exists. This is, needless to say, illogical, since one simply cannot infer from study of the natural that the supernatural does not exist.

So, his conclusion that ‘metaphysical naturalism’ — atheism — is true, or that it’s a view that scientists ought to hold (making them, of course, atheists) is non sequitur.

Or to spell it out in simpler terms (let’s see if you can immediately spot the illogic): As per Lawrence, belief in naturalism is the logical entailment of presupposing naturalism to do science!

Again, here is what he’s saying, further simplified: To be a scientist, you have to believe science is the only way to describe reality.

Or here, again we can go on and simplify Lawrence’s claim until his logical misstep becomes clear to even the most moronic of individuals:

Scientist = Someone who believes science is the only way to describe reality.

Of course one could be pedantic and point out the self-refuting nature of that statement in that it is a statement that purports to describe reality but isn’t itself knowledge that was acquired through science, but let’s overlook such abstract arguments for now.

So far so good?

It is but incumbent then for us to investigate what it means to hold the view that science is the ‘only way to describe reality’. And I’d say the best way to do this is to look at the nuggets of wisdom these “militant atheist-scientists” impart.

On meaning and purpose:

the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.” — Steven Weinberg, scientist; militant atheist.

“[The world] is physical and purposeless” — Jerry Coyne, scientist; militant atheist.

DNA just is. And we dance to its music” — Richard Dawkins, scientist; militant atheist.

On morality:

Nihilism—even my “nice nihilism” is a public relations nightmare. Most of my fellow travellers think that if the scientific worldview saps morality of its truth, correctness, justification.. They might be right. It’s an empirical matter.” — Alex Rosenberg, Philosopher, Militant Atheist.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” — Richard Dawkins, scientist; militant atheist.

On freedom of the will:

Sam Harris says the concept of free will is incoherent. Humans are not free and no sense can be given to the idea that we might be” — Paul Pardi, on (scientist and militant atheist) Sam Harris’ book Free Will.

“..but in the end we are simply federations of molecules, tissues, and neurons whose morphology, physiology, and behavior are determined by interactions between genes and environment..” — Jerry Coyne, scientist; militant atheist.

—————————————

So, to be a “scientist“, these are, from the horses’ mouth, the logical entailments:

1. The universe is “pointless“, “purposeless“, any meaning we can derive from this “pointless” and “purposeless” universe can only be subjective (“personal” for Jerry Coyne), and ultimately as valid — that is to say, equally as “pointless” — as anyone else’s subjectively derived meaning.

2. We have no free-will — every belief we have and choice we make had been determined by temporally prior states that are essentially traceable to some initial state moments before the big-bang. In other words, it’s all an elaborate kabuki dance, as none of us are free to choose or believe anything.

3. Morality is an illusion; there is no good and evil. These feelings of right and wrong are merely illusory; sentimental predispositions that are the result of our particular evolutionary history.

—————————————

Yet, suddenly — suddenly! — when it comes to religion, evil suddenly can exist, as long as it’s in the form of religion, of course!

Suddenly, we have purpose; to point out religion is evil.

Suddenly, there are moral absolutes! — religion is absolutely immoral.

And suddenly, meaning can be made to be objective, as the meaning derived from religion is often said by them to be objectively wrong.

And yet, according to Lawrence, we, the indoctrinated sheeple, seem to be afflicted with some debilitating form of cognitive dissonance.

What the?!

Another Kraussian Gem.

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I am completely unaware of, and have little interest in finding out, who Eric Metaxas is. But penning this piece, which certainly reeks of an agenda, got him an apoplectic response from Lawrence–Mr. Bait and Switch–Krauss.

Lawrence Krauss though, as appears to be his wont, keeps missing the point. You’d think a renowned scientist like him would have little trouble understanding something that’s been expounded for him by the likes of William Craig ad nauseaum. But I suppose that would be asking too much from someone who, for a quick buck, piques our interest by claiming to have the solution to how the universe emerged from nothing, only to later admit that the nothing from which the universe emerged is actually a whole lot of something.

About Eric’s piece, Lawrence–Mr. Bait and Switch–Krauss, rather smugly whines:

“To the editor:

I was rather surprised to read the unfortunate oped piece “Science Increasingly makes the case for God”, written not by a scientist but a religious writer with an agenda. The piece was rife with inappropriate scientific misrepresentations. For example:

1. We currently DO NOT know the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe. We know the many factors that were important here on Earth, but we do not know what set of other factors might allow a different evolutionary history elsewhere. The mistake made by the author is akin to saying that if one looks at all the factors in my life that led directly to my sitting at my computer to write this, one would obtain a probability so small as to conclude that it is impossible that anyone else could ever sit down to compose a letter to the WSJ.” [..]

The thing is.. we DO know the factors that WON’T allow the evolution of intelligent life, and we DO KNOW that playing around with the values of the universal constants produces a universe that is inhospitable to life — moreso to intelligent life.

So perhaps Lawrence is privy to some new scientific information that opens up the possibility of intelligent life emerging from a universe that consists of only Hydrogen or only Helium, or one where small stars and not a single planet exists, or even a universe where atoms don’t exist. Perhaps he’s figured out a way to circumvent the Pauli Exclusion Principle, a principle which makes it impossible for life to evolve out of non-complex structures (because evolution requires a sufficiently complex environment to get going). Perhaps Lawrence has, in recent yeas, been able to solve all that, because, certainly, fiddling with the values of the universe’s constants results in a universe that’s something like any one of that, which, as far as I know, makes it unlikely, if not impossible, to produce any kind of life, much less ‘intelligent’ life.

I have my doubts, however.

If Lawrence’s history of bait-and-switch is any indication, it’s likely he is yet again blowing smoke. But, hey, maybe Lawrence is able to imagine intelligent beings made solely out of Helium, so I suppose it’s possible — who knows?

Lawrence’s analogy is flawed because it addresses an argument that wasn’t made (assuming it’s the teleological argument that was being made). The teleological argument, which is what Eric Metaxas — whoever he is — is no doubt bandying about (something I cannot confirm because his artice is behind a pay wall), is not about the astounding improbability of intelligent life on earth, but the astounding improbability of intelligent life itself!

This can either be to only chance or design. Or, actually, maybe it’s a brute fact (it’s magic!).

Scientists take the anthropic principle more seriously than Lawrence would have us believe — which isn’t to say that they believe God exists, rather, that they believe the constants being so finely tuned requires an explanation, and not merely a waving away. That’s why we see all sorts of theories purporting to be able to solve it, like the various multiverse theories, or other theories where there are lesser and more fundamental universal constants that exist that determine what the values of the other constants will be. A lot of these theories, I would argue, have little going for them and are likely unfalsifiable, making them therefore border on the metaphysical, which is something we should perhaps overlook for now. But the salient point is that Lawrence Krauss.. well, he ought to know better than serve us up with more dialectical ploys.

Professional Victims Strike Again!

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The professional victims of the feminist movement strike again. Scientist, and now, hero, Matt taylor (pictured above) successfully lands a spacecraft on a comet (not an easy thing, trust me), meanwhile, and apropos of nothing at all, Chris Plante of the Verge whines about being offended by Matt’s shirt, which he argues is ‘sexist’, and “ostracizing”:

This is the sort of casual misogyny that stops women from entering certain scientific fields. They see a guy like that on TV and they don’t feel welcome. They see a poster of greased up women in a colleague’s office and they know they aren’t respected.

[…]

” This is the climate women who dream of working at NASA or the ESA come up against, every single day. This shirt is representative of all of that, and the ESA has yet to issue a statement or apologize for that.”

The problem, Chris, is that it is people like you, and not people like Matt, who are ‘marginalizing’ women, by constantly making them out to be these emotionally fragile flowers who can scarcely muster the strength to not give a rodent’s posterior about someone’s choice of textile. If you feel you aren’t able to do what you love because there are people within close proximity who choose to wear something you find offensive, then you are simply not as enthusiastic about what you do like you happily claim you are. But I suppose that’s par for the course since feminists and their band of orbiting white knights love encouraging each other to blame the ‘patriarchy’ for their failures.

It is truly remarkable, is it not, how feminists can turn any situation around and make it about their feelings. And this is why, even as a non-gamer, I stand with gamergate.

A Fine Day For Science.

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Science, the science fetishists often argue, is self-correcting, so the truth always prevails, and in contrast with religion and it’s dogmas, it becomes clear, so they also often argue, why science and not religion is the avenue through which knowledge — the kind that matters, at least — should be had. But that science is always self-correcting and is therefore always reliable is itself a dogma that needs to be corrected:

Throughout its 169-year history, Scientific American has been an august and sober chronicler of the advance of human knowledge, from chemistry to physics to anthropology.

Lately, however, things have become kind of a mess.

A series of blog posts on the magazine’s Web site over the past few months has unleashed waves of criticism and claims that the publication was promoting racism, sexism and “genetic determinism.”

[..]

The trouble started in April when a guest blogger, a doctoral student named Chris Martin, wrote about Lawrence H. Summers’ assertions when he was president of Harvard University about the paucity of women in some scientific fields. While acknowledging that discrimination played a role in holding back women, Martin also concluded, “the latest research suggests that discrimination has a weaker impact than people might think, and that innate sex differences explain quite a lot.”

[..]

The second land mine was a post in May by Ashutosh Jogalekar, which favorably reviewed a controversial book by Nicholas Wade, “A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.” Jogalekar praised the book, saying it confirms the need to “recognize a strong genetic component to [social and cognitive] differences” among racial groups.

 

What the post makes abundantly clear is that when the results of science seem to marshal ideas deemed too politically incorrect (particularly racial and anti-feminist ideas), science loses and butt-hurt people win, and, for good or for ill — although obviously mostly for ill — science often gets corrected not by other, more accurate science, but by people with hurt feelings.

Of course science is generally reliable. But the people who don’t feel the least bit embarrassed about bandying-about the word science to give their pet ideologies a whiff of credibility can also be relied upon, perhaps even moreso, to do the idiotic.

Thoughts On Sam Harris’s Response To Ryan Born.

Moral Landscape

 

 

So, Sam invited people, offered a significant amount of cash even, to refute his thesis that science can determine moral values — a thesis which, as I’ve said before, had already been refuted since 1739. But when it’s again been seemingly refuted (by a one Ryan Born), Sam responds by cupping both ears with his hands while shouting “LALALALALA!”

I won’t bother going through each of Sam’s points as I feel it would suffice to point out where I think he makes his most fundamental error.

Responding to Ryan, Sam writes:

“Ryan wrote that my “proposed science of morality cannot offer scientific answers to questions of morality and value, because it cannot derive moral judgments solely from scientific descriptions of the world.” But no branch of science can derive its judgments solely from scientific descriptions of the world. We have intuitions of truth and falsity, logical consistency, and causality that are foundational to our thinking about anything. Certain of these intuitions can be used to trump others: We may think, for instance, that our expectations of cause and effect could be routinely violated by reality at large, and that apes like ourselves may simply be unequipped to understand what is really going on in the universe. That is a perfectly cogent idea, even though it seems to make a mockery of most of our other ideas. But the fact is that all forms of scientific inquiry pull themselves up by some intuitive bootstraps.[..] Some intuitions are truly basic to our thinking. I claim that the conviction that the worst possible misery for everyone is bad and should be avoided is among them.”

Here Sam argues that the intuition that “the worst possible misery for everyone.. should be avoided at all costs” should be assumed — indeed, he seems to say that we are justified in assuming it — in the same manner that we assume the laws of logic, the principle of causality, and other such foundational beliefs with which other outlying beliefs are bootstrapped.

The problem here is: on what basis is he even able to say this?

Why should anyone think that ‘maximizing well-being’, say, is an assumption as valid as the assumption that P cannot be equal to not-P? Or, why is the proposition that ‘we ought to avoid misery for the maximum amount of people’ no different from the proposition that ‘If p then q; p; therefore q’? Or, going with the principle of causality, why should we believe we ought to maximize well-being just as we should believe that throwing a brick through a glass window would result in the window shattering?

Can someone really tell Dahmer that something like modal logic dictates that he ought not eat and sodomize corpses, all while successfully avoiding sounding like some vacuous imbecile?

I seriously doubt that whatever Sam’s answer to the above will — can ever plausibly — amount to more than something like ‘because it just looks reasonable!‘ or ‘it feels right!‘ (Maybe that’s not what he argues, but he has not really clarified this — plus there doesn’t really seem to be any alternative to alluding to what one feels is right on this matter.)

But we don’t assume, say, the laws of logic because it’s reasonable or it feels right to do so. Rather we assume it because it is something without which reason itself cannot even begin to exist. The same with the principle of causality. We can either assume these to be true, or we can assume anything and everything to be true. The latter would make reasoning itself impossible, hence we must assume them (laws of logic, causality) to even begin to reason. But why should we immediately assume that we ‘ought to maximize well-being’ wholly on account of our feeling that it sounds reasonable?

In other words: yes, we really must assume the laws of logic and the principle of causality to even begin to reason. While, no, it’s only Sam’s opinion that, given (or despite of) naturalism, we must assume that  ‘we ought to maximize well-being’.  Lumping together both those assumptions as though they were equally valid is, yet again, another display of inimitable incoherence on Sam’s part.

The fact of the matter is that Sam, as a naturalist, believes morality to be simply a biological spin-off of evolutionary pressures. So how therefore can he possibly believe that there exists determinate facts of the matter regarding what people ought to do? If the things we feel we ought to do are merely what a blind evolutionary history had built into us to make our species flourish on the aggregate, then they cannot be anything but illusory. We may think ‘maximizing well-being’ is reasonable, but that’s only because we’ve fallen for the illusion fashioned for us by evolution. Killing for fun, say, cannot really be wrong on this view — we merely think it to be because if we didn’t then we wouldn’t have survived this long as a species. In the same manner, if descendants of the Tiktaalik roseae, a genus of early land-walking fish, did not evolve lungs to use oxygen to survive, then in the ocean as a fish species we would have remained.

If are we to believe that we ‘ought to maximize well-being’ on account of the fact that that’s what we’ve evolved to believe (for how else can we acquire foundational beliefs of this kind on naturalism), then we are likewise compelled to believe that as far as our early fish ancestors were concerned, they ought to have done whatever it is that precipitated their eventual anatomical evolution towards being land vertebrae, which is, needless to say, absurd.

 

Steven Pinker Argues Science Makes Belief In God Obsolete.

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I must respond to this batshit.

Steven Pinker says science makes belief in God ‘obsolete’ because… well, let’s hear it from him:

“Traditionally, a belief in God was attractive because it promised to explain the deepest puzzles about origins. Where did the world come from? What is the basis of life? How can the mind arise from the body? Why should anyone be moral? Yet over the millennia, there has been an inexorable trend: the deeper we probe these questions, and the more we learn about the world in which we live, the less reason there is to believe in God.”

O.K., then, Mr. Pinker, let’s get back to those questions you imply science has now answered, or is at least, by your lights, close to answering, thusly making belief in God obsolete:

1. Where did the world [universe] come from?

In Pinker’s view there are 3 possibilties: 1, from nothing, 2, it’s a brute fact, and finally, 3, “beats me!”.

We couldn’t have possibly come from nothing because if we did, then anything can come from nothing, which is absurd. There isn’t anything in ‘nothing’ that would make it produce any specific thing, because prior to producing it, there wasn’t anything! So Scrap that.

Saying the universe is simply a brute fact is no different from saying ‘it’s just magic!’ The guy pulling a rabbit out of a hat will make just as much sense explaining the trick away by saying “it’s just a brute fact that I can pull rabbits out of hats!”

Saying you don’t bloody know where the universe came from is at least a respectable answer — but then we’re left with zero answers to the question you imply science has already answered!

2. How can mind arise from body?

Pinker doesn’t know, but he’ll happily issue a promissory note that science will one day be able to tell us, despite that his buddies Alex Rosenberg, the Churchlands, and Dennett are quite explicit about the answer. And it is that mind does not, in fact, exist — it’s an illusion. Seriously, that’s what they think — it’s what they’re left to think, actually, for how else do you get ‘mind’ from the inanimate except by explaining it away, which seems to be their wont whenever the target explanandum seems, in principle, to be beyond science’s reach. Of course, the problem here is that an illusion presupposes a (wait for it…) MIND to perceive it. So, essentially, to them (Pinker’s buddies, and perhaps to Pinker himself), we have a mind that perceives the illusion of a mind, and maybe another mind that perceives the illusion of a mind perceiving the illusion of a mind, and another mind.. ad infinitum. Or, in a nutshell, the answer they give amounts to illogical, self-referential drivel.

3. Why should anyone be moral?

Pinker is a naturalist, so to him morality is merely the sentimental predispositions humans have acquired that are the residue of evolutionary processes. In other words, we feel this way because feeling this way on the aggregate helps our species flourish. Or, in more other words, eating babies only seems morally reprehensible because if we kept eating babies — by golly — we wouldn’t have been able to be around for this long as a species! In more, more other words, nothing is really right or wrong, all that matters is what will make us survive! Or, in more, more, more other words, morality is just another illusion.

So, to recap:

Where did the universe come from? It either came from nothing, or it’s just magic — or we’ll never know.

How can mind arise from body? Mind is just an illusion, really.

Why should anyone be moral? Nothing, at bottom, really, as morality is just another illusion.

Profound Mr. Pinker. How very profound.

If there’s anything to take from all this, from the patently ridiculous answers Pinker, or the rest of gnu atheists, give to these questions about which people have pondered for millennia, it’s that, well, 1, Pinker is a real clever-silly, and, 2, there are a great many things that seem to be way beyond science’s scope.

Sam Harris Awarding Money To Anyone Who Refutes His Thesis That’s Already Been Refuted Since 1739.

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Money, and, perhaps, fame, to the one who refutes, to Sam’s satisfaction, his contention that Science can determine moral values.

Really; Sam’s giving 2 thousand dollars to the winning essay — and, interestingly, 20 thousand dollars (inclusive of the matching pledge of one of his generous readers) to the essay that succeeds in changing his mind. Needless to say, changing his mind, or at least getting him to admit his mind had been changed, would be considerably more difficult then actually refuting his thesis — something which had been, as it were, refuted since 1739.

A few months ago, I entertained the thought of submitting one. The effort to do so, however, eventually seemed of scant worth, considering what would presumably be a large number of submissions unequivocally harping on the very argument I intended to make — indeed, the same argument, I think, everyone’s been making — against Sam’s thouroughly absurd thesis.

Sam is wrong; science does not — cannot ever — have the ability to determine moral values for precisely the reasons laid out by David Hume more than 200 years ago in A Treatise Of Human Nature.:

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.”

Or, in short, Mr. Hume, in a rather overly verbose manner (as chaps of his time were wont to conduct themselves) is simply saying that one cannot derive an ought from an is; you cannot infer what ought to be from what is; or, if you like: since science merely describes what is, then it can hardly be able to tell us what ought to be.

Of course, that, above, should have been the whole story. Sadly, it isn’t for Harris.

Surprisingly competently, Sam realizes that moral goodness is a concept so amorphous as to be indeterminable (after all, people can’t always agree on what is good) so he substitutes (human) ‘well-being’ for ‘good’ because — or so we are told by him — ‘well-being’ as a metric succeeds in doing two things that can seemingly bridge Hume’s famous (or perhaps infamous) is-ought chasm: 1, it is something for which there can in principle be an objective unit of measurement, and 2, it proffers to actions a goal or purpose.

The obvious problem here is that well-being is, contrary to Sam’s claims, rather like moral goodness in that it is also objectively indeterminable. I mean, what is it? Sam simply puts the problem another step back, actually. How can we all even agree on what ‘well-being’ is?
Dahmer’s well-being, for instance, was predicated on the sodomization of young boys’ corpses. What would Sam’s answer be to this, one wonders. Dahmer was wrong because sodomizing corpses can hardly be said to add to someone’s well-being? But yes it can — people like Dahmer exist. Sure, we can cheerily rejoice in the fact that more people are of the opinion that sodomizing corpses reduces rather than increases ones well-being. But, on naturalism, that’s just an opinion, really — one that is, luckily, ascendant in society, but one that is an opinion no less.

Of course, Sam will argue that humans have evolved in such and such a way that makes us repelled by the sight of corpses, and therefore moreso with the prospect of having sex with them, making our collective anti corpse-sodomizing sentiments not merely an opinion but one for which a socio-biological component exists. Of course he’ll think this socio-biological underpinning furnishes us with a standard against which the morality of actions can be measured. But he’ll be wrong; for one can simply say that Dahmer was being unfashionable, or that Dahmer simply chose not to go with the flow, so to speak.

Swrong with that?

What, on naturalism, makes Sam able to say: “No, sodomizing corpses, bad!”, “Yes, well-being, good!”

Nothing, it seems.

Of course, this all poses zero problems for the theist who holds God to be good’s ontological base. After all, if the Christian God exists, then the universe was imbued with ‘oughts’ upon its very creation. Therefore theism furnishes us with a solid foundation for moral values and duties, while atheism, not so much.

 

Sorry, ‘Brights’.

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Stephen Barr, with respect to Thomas Nagel’s much despised anti-materialism
book Mind and Cosmos, gets it exactly right:

The big question, of course, is whether minds can be understood completely in this way. Thomas Nagel contends that they cannot be and that materialism must therefore be false. His main argument is that materialism cannot account for three aspects of mind: consciousness, cognition (specifically, certain features of human rationality), and the human capacity to apprehend objective values. He argues, moreover, that even if materialism could explain how minds can exist in a purely physical world, it has no plausible account of how and why they did in fact come to exist. Darwinian evolution, being a purely physical theory, is not enough.

For mind (or consciousness) to be fully explained in purely physical terms, or,
more importantly, for a materialist account of consciousness to be true, mental states and brain states have to be one and the same. It’s not enough that both be correlated or causative, they have to be exactly the same.

To see how absurd this is, here’s an example: Pope Benedict is Cardinal Ratzinger. There’s not one Pope Benedict and one Cardinal Ratzinger, there’s just this guy who is both Pope Benedict and Cardinal Ratzinger. By the same token, a mental state (like the experience of the color red, say) and a brain state (like a bunch of neurons firing, say) must be, at least for the materialist, one and the same  —  and in the manner, I should add, that Benedict is Ratzinger.

But how can this be?

Certainly there’s no strain in seeing how they’re correlated, or even how one causes the other, but that they’re one and the same thing seems to be more than just intuitively false.

This is a point of which some (actually, a lot of) materialists I’ve encountered aren’t fully aware. They’ll often — and, often risibly — point to the fact that we can see, through neural-imaging technology, brain states evoking specific mental states, which is, to them, apparently evidence that both brain and mental states are one and the same.

But that one produces the other and therefore both are one and the same seems to me to be obviously false. If anything, much like how flipping a switch opens a light bulb, it simply means that a brain state can evoke a mental state, full stop. In much the same way that the flipping of the switch is not the  illumination of the bulb (and not in the way that Cardinal Ratzinger is Pope Benedict), the brain state is not the mental state. Indeed, it simply does not follow they are one and the same, and that, owing to their obvious qualitative differences, they cannot even in principle be said to be one and the same, in which case purely materialistic accounts of the mind are untenable.

Of course, non-theists like Chalmers and Nagel, who can be said to have given up on materialism, and have thusly earned the ire of a lot of the militant materialists, have proposed other, let’s say, friendly-to-theism solutions to the mind-body rut. Chalmers, for instance, defends a form of dualism that’s much unlike the more parochial Cartesian ‘ghost in the machine’, while Nagel is a neutral monist, which to me seems to be a view that is eerily similar to panpsychism. To make the long story short, however, the fantasy of the science fetishists the world over  (particularly of those ‘brights’ of the new atheist cabal) that science will in time give us a complete picture of reality, is slowly seeming to be unrealizable.