28 June 2007

Response

I'd like to take a chance to respond to one of the comments to my most recent post because I think it's really sharp and brings up some important points.

First, I agree with Blair completely when she says "it takes a bit of hubris to have the attitude that someone is merely a lost follower." That is certainly one of the things I wrestle with quite frequently. If I go around preaching the benefits of atheism to theists and permit myself to act in an intolerant and condescending way toward others of different views out of a dead certainty that my views are correct, am I any better than an Evangelical? Clearly not. My interest ought to be, as it always is in my scholarship, merely to understand these beliefs, where they came from, and how they function - not to correct them.

So why do I feel justified in violating "the prime directive," as it were, when it comes to theists who are close to me, but not theists living, say, in the Australian bush?

When I'm studying aboriginal Australians, ancient Israelites, T'ang Dynasty Daoists, the Umayyad Caliphate, and so on, I don't feel compelled to hold these people accountable for having failed to develop the scientific knowledge of the universe we have today. That would clearly be an unreasonable request, given the fact that the development of science as we know its development depended on a very special combination of historical events and circumstances. But when I'm dealing with a modern, well-educated, western theist with an above-average level of intelligence and scientific literacy, I feel perfectly justified in wondering why they persist in certain baroque patterns of thinking, despite having complete access to science, and in many cases having been well educated in the scientific method. A modern, educated Westerner, in other words, should know better than to be religious because science - like it or not - is an integral part of his culture. My willingness to judge, of course, is also compounded by the fact that these people, unlike T'ang Dynasty Daoists, have the power to influence my world through their actions and their votes. They are members of my own society, and as such, we each have a vested interest in the other.

Which I suppose neatly leads into Blair's point about animism (my professors would cringe to hear me say that - all Victorian terms have been forbidden for violating the laws of Political Correctness, even though we don't yet have a better term to use instead), which I agree is one of the world's most common forms of religion. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that it is the most innate form of religiosity, from which all subsequent religions diverged, and to whose beliefs and behaviors the individual theist invariably returns in a number of circumstances. This is actually my biggest interest area in the realm of religious studies, so I'm glad she brought it up.

The ancestral concern is very important - not just because caring for the ancestors (both living and dead) tends to ensure prosperity for the living, but also because it is from the ancestors that vital cultural knowledge flows. I think this latter was the crux of Blair's point - that a culture is inherited from one generation to another, and the continued health of that culture is predicated on the acceptance of the old generation's worldview by the new.

To put this another way: we don't believe because we believe, we convince ourselves that we believe because our parents did, and we think that by believing we can win their approval. This was certainly the case for me growing up a Catholic (although I suppose I can't use myself as an example of the average believer, considering how I turned out).

But what I would like to ask is: isn't there a way to respect our ancestors non-theistically? Religions, after all, change considerably in interpretation and content (particularly in animist societies) even in the span of a single generation while nevertheless maintaining the illusion for all involved that the religious strictures are eternal and unchanging. The great Thomas Paine made just such an observation in a letter to Samuel Adams:

"If we go back to your ancestors and mine three or four hundred years ago...we shall find them praying to Saints and Virgins, and believing in Transsubstantiation; and therefore all of us are infidels according to our forefathers' belief."
More recently, Frederick Barth wrote a book on his work with the Mountain Ok of New Guinea in which he argues that because the meanings of their religious symbols are a strictly-kept secret, the interpretation of these symbols changes drastically every time a new generation undergoes initiation and is forced to make up the meaning for themselves. As countless anthropologists have told us, the most important part of a religious ritual (for animists, but the same is doubtless true of all religions) is the action itself - the meaning associated with it is only of secondary importance.

Perhaps, then, the way to honor the ancestors while still pressing forward into an era of freethought is to keep some outward forms of religion (for a generation or so, at least) but change their meanings even more drastically. This has already worked splendidly in the case of Humanistic Judaism, which if I understand it correctly preserves the rich cultural heritage of what it means to be Jewish while at the same time rejecting the notion of a deity entirely. We see the same thing in Europe among Christians - Catholics in particular - who go to see the smells and bells because, well, that's just what they do, while not giving a damn about the God they're supposedly going there to worship. They maintain the forms out of deference, love, and respect for their elders and their tradition, but have entirely rejected the theological premise on which such actions are ostensibly built.

Perhaps, then, the first step is to really push the idea of Einstein's/Spinoza's God: which is, if I understand it correctly, the use of the word "god" as a shorthand for "the dispassionate laws that govern an orderly universe." (I.e. "God doesn't play dice with the universe" = "an orderly universe does not permit the possibility of chance") I think a great many theists in our society really do believe in god on Spinoza's terms while maintaining religious behaviors out of deference to tradition. But in so doing they render themselves outwardly identical to all other committed theists, making it virtually impossible for us to tell them apart. This is especially true considering that the Spinozas of the world tend to throw down on the side of the theists in their battle against atheists, even though their thinking is closer to the atheist worldview, because they share their social actions and vocabulary with the religious sector.

Because there's more at stake in the God Hypothesis than just the literal truth of a silly proposition, there can be no atheist revolution. Society as a whole cannot be forced to be so iconoclastic. There can only be the gradual metaphorization of God from a deity to a shibboleth. Once the theological commitment has been removed from the equation, it remains to be seen whether the rest of the ritual commitments remain embedded in our society as cultural relics or are thrown out with the bathwater of the God Hypothesis.

27 June 2007

Egnor, to Myers: "Prove there's no teapot"

Michael Egnor keeps fighting the good (well, mediocre) fight in defense of dualism. In the latest installment, he pulls a classic creationist tactic, a version of the impossible expectations/moving goalposts tactic so often employed by denialists; he shifts the burden of proof to his opponent:

How, from a scientific standpoint, could we resolve our disagreement? We would have to show, empirically, whether matter alone could, under the right circumstances, give rise to a mind. This is an experimental question, and it turns on the ability to create artificial intelligence (A.I.). If we could build machines that have first-person ontogeny, which is self-awareness, we could show conclusively that matter alone is sufficient to cause the mind. A conscious computer would have a mind that emerged from matter, and Myers would be vindicated. If we can’t create A.I., my viewpoint would seem more credible.

Egnor still has offered no evidence whatsoever for the existence of some soul or spirit to accompany the brain in generating the mind. The burden of proof is on him to provide some evidence for the soul. But instead, he claims the burden is on PZ Myers to create A.I. as evidence that matter can generate the mind without spirit.

It's the same argument I heard Michael Behe use (in person) just over two years ago in his defense of Intelligent Design. Behe proposed that it was up to biologists to disprove ID by observing a bacterial flagellum evolve from scratch in a controlled laboratory setting.

This is the sort of argument that insists Russell's teapot is orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars, and that the burden of proof is on the skeptic to launch thousands of satellites to monitor that entire interplanetary track for drifting china. A claim is made without any evidence in support, and worded so as to be unfalsifiable except by increasingly more absurd evidence.

We already have evidence to contradict the claims made above. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and modern psychology has proved evidence for the mind's being a property of the brain. But Behe and Egnor, without any evidence in their favor, take refuge in the unfalsifiability of their claims and set the bar higher, saying that there isn't enough evidence against them.

And even if their impossible expectations were to be met, you can bet that the goalposts would move again. The gravitational pull of a passing comet must have pulled the teapot off course; better start searching everywhere between Mars and Uranus. The Intelligent Designer must have snuck into your lab at night; put a combination lock on those test tubes, and call us when the bacteria have evolved into bony fish. Artificial Intelligence must not be as good as real intelligence; cobble together an intelligent being out of spare corpses, Dr. Frankenstein, and then I'll concede that no spirit is necessary.

One more point about the end of Egnor's latest essay:

Imagine that teams of the best computer scientists, working day and night for decades, finally produced a computer that had an awareness of itself. A conscious computer, with a mind! So, finally, P.Z. Myers and I could agree on something. Myers would be right. If a computer had a mind, we could infer two things:

1) Matter is sufficient, as well as necessary, for the mind. The mind is an emergent property of matter.
2) The emergence of mind from matter requires intelligent design.

It’s not easy being a materialist.

My, my, how clever, sneaking in an endorsement of ID. Unfortunately, sir, regarding your second point, we could only infer that the emergence of an artificial mind from computers under the given conditions requires design. Sorry, but the human brain isn't exactly a computer, and we don't take kindly to overextended analogies here.

Propaganda email memes

My fiancée received the following forwarded email from a friend yesterday. It's not quite as bad as a certain Chick tract I've read, but it follows the same formula: an enlightened student outwits an aggressive, self-assured college professor, eventually convincing the professor of the power of faith in God.

Not one to let propaganda go unanswered, particularly from someone I like, I feel I have to respond. Here's the email in its entirety, with intermittent commentary by yours truly:

An atheist professor of philosophy speaks to his class on the problem science has with God, The Almighty.
He asks one of his new Christian students to stand.....
Professor: You are a Christian, aren't you, son?
Student : Yes, sir.

No professor I've ever known would ever put a student on the spot like that. Maybe some philosophy profs are crazy like that, but I doubt it. What this fictionalized setup does is poison the well against the professor. He isn't going to give a reasoned lecture on the conflict between science and faith, he's just going to persecute Christians and pick on the new kid!

Prof: So you believe in God?
Student : Absolutely, sir.
Prof: Is God good?
Student : Sure.
Prof: Is God all-powerful?
Student : Yes.
Prof: My brother died of cancer even though he prayed to God to heal him. Most of us would attempt to help others who are ill. But God didn't. How is this God good then? Hmm?
(Student is silent.)
Prof: You can't answer, can you? Let's start again, young fella. Is God good?
Student :Yes.
Prof: Is Satan good?
Student : No.
Prof: Where does Satan come from?
Student : From...God...
Prof: That's right. Tell me son, is there evil in this world?
Student : Yes.
Prof: Evil is everywhere, isn't it? And God did make everything. Correct?
Student : Yes.
Prof: So who created evil?
(Student does not answer.)
Prof: Is there sickness? Immorality? Hatred? Ugliness? All these terrible things exist in the world, don't they?
Student :Yes, sir.
Prof: So, who created them?
(Student has no answer.)

Here we have an actual issue in the teaching of religion, the trilemma of the three claims: "God is all-powerful," "God is all-good," and "Pain exists." Any two of those claims can be true without contradicting each other, but not all three at once (for instance, God can be all-good and pain can exist, if God isn't powerful enough to end all pain). But instead of being addressed academically, this issue is turned into an attack against the student, further indication that this is complete fiction. (Also, "young fella?" It's like they're not even trying to make this prof sound real.)

Prof: Science says you have 5 senses you use to identify and observe the world around you. Tell me, son...Have you ever seen God?
Student : No, sir.
Prof: Tell us if you have ever heard your God?
Student : No , sir.
Prof: Have you ever felt your God, tasted your God, smelt your God? Have you ever had any sensory perception of God for that matter?
Student : No, sir. I'm afraid I haven't.
Prof: Yet you still believe in Him?
Student : Yes.
Prof: According to empirical, testable, demonstrable protocol, science says your GOD doesn't exist. What do you say to that, son?
Student : Nothing. I only have my faith.
Prof: Yes. Faith. And that is the problem science has.

If this is the best characterization of the scientific method this professor can come up with, then he has no business teaching this course. There's more to science than "Sniff, sniff... nope, don't smell no God." Direct observation with the senses is important evidence to consider, but it's not the only kind of evidence out there. I can't see or smell magnetic fields, but I can observe them by their interactions with moving charged particles, for instance. Now, there's none of this other kind of evidence for God's existence either, but you wouldn't know it from this dialogue.

Student : Professor, is there such a thing as heat?
Prof: Yes.
Student : And is there such a thing as cold?
Prof: Yes.
Student : No sir. There isn't.
(The lecture theatre becomes very quiet with this turn of events.)

Presumably all the other students were talking amongst themselves until this point, completely disinterested in their prof's "lecture." Well, buckle up, folks, because we're about to get an edge-of-your-seat lesson in semantics that--*gasp*--tries to make the professor look foolish:

Student : Sir, you can have lots of heat, even more heat, superheat, mega heat, white heat, a little heat or no heat. But we don't have anything called cold. We can hit 458 degrees below zero which is no heat, but we can't go any further after that. There is no such thing as cold. Cold is only a word we use to describe the absence of heat. We cannot measure cold. Heat is energy. Cold is not the opposite of heat, sir, just the absence of it.
(There is pin-drop silence in the lecture theatre.)
Student : What about darkness, Professor? Is there such a thing as darkness?
Prof: Yes. What is night if there isn't darkness?
Student : You're wrong again, sir. Darkness is the absence of something. You can have low light, normal light, bright light, flashing light....But if you have no light constantly, you have nothing and it's called darkness, isn't it? In reality, darkness isn't. If it were you would be able to make darkness darker, wouldn't you?

Okay, granted, darkness and cold aren't measurable quantities, they aren't energy or matter. But what's the point of this exercise, apart from trying to make the professor look like an idiot?

Prof: So what is the point you are making, young man?

Precisely what I'm wondering. (Cripes, can this professor's dialogue get more stilted?!)

Student : Sir, my point is your philosophical premise is flawed.
Prof: Flawed? Can you explain how?
Student : Sir, you are working on the premise of duality. You argue there is life and then there is death, a good God and a bad God. You are viewing the concept of God as something finite, something we can measure. Sir, science can't even explain a thought. It uses electricity and magnetism, but has never seen, much less fully understood either one. To view death as the opposite of life is to be ignorant of the fact that death cannot exist as a substantive thing. Death is not the opposite of life: just the absence of it.

Um, when did the professor mention death? And no, death is not just the absence of life. There's a difference between "not alive" (i.e., a rock) and "dead" (i.e. roadkill, or Abe Lincoln). And what the heck is the rest of that gibberish supposed to mean?! Is that supposed to be some sort of rebuttal to the trilemma? "Q: Why would an all-powerful, all-good creator God allow pain to exist? A: God is infinite." Somehow, that isn't a satisfying answer.

Student (cont'd): Now tell me, Professor. Do you teach your students that they evolved from a monkey?

Oh Christ, here we go...

Prof: If you are referring to the natural evolutionary process, yes, of course, I do.

Correct response: "No, I teach evolution by natural selection, which does NOT say that humans evolved from monkeys, but rather that humans and modern primates share a common primate-like ancestor." Extra credit: "Please let me continue my lecture, you can see me after class."

Student : Have you ever observed evolution with your own eyes, sir?
(The Professor shakes his head with a smile, beginning to realize where the argument is going.)
Student : Since no one has ever observed the process of evolution at work and cannot even prove that this process is an on-going endeavour, are you not teaching your opinion, sir? Are you not a scientist but a preacher?
(The class is in uproar.)

YES, WE HAVE OBSERVED THE PROCESS OF EVOLUTION AT WORK. ASSHOLES. (And is anyone else finding it a little unbelievable that the class is uniformly rallying behind the loudmouth, instead of throwing wads of paper at him and telling him to shut up?)

Student : Is there anyone in the class who has ever seen the Professor's brain?
(The class breaks out into laughter.)
Student : Is there anyone here who has ever heard the Professor's brain, felt it, touched or smelt it?.....No one appears to have done so. So, according to the established rules of empirical, stable, demonstrable protocol, science says that you have no brain, sir. With all due respect, sir, how do we then trust your lectures, sir?

There you go, the problem with the earlier misconception of science. I have to wonder, are the authors deliberately being misleading, or do they really think that's the way science works? No, we can't see or smell the professor's brain, but that doesn't mean we have no evidence that it exists. We know from experience that people without brains can neither walk nor talk. The professor is walking and talking, so the evidence suggests he has a brain. (And is it just me, or is the student starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss character? "Look, sir. Look, sir. Mr. Knox, sir. Let's do tricks with bricks and blocks, sir.")

(The room is silent. The professor stares at the student, his face unfathomable.)
Prof: I guess you'll have to take them on faith, son.
Student : That is it sir.. The link between man & God is FAITH. That is all that keeps things moving & alive.

And so ends the Christian's wet dream. A fictional dialogue is established to make the Christian student sound smarter than the atheist professor and win everyone over to the side of faith. This is accomplished only by perpetuating complete ignorance of the scientific method. It sickens me that lies like these are propagated so easily by good, intelligent people.

*sigh*

I don't get a lot of forwarded emails, and so it's been a while since I've seen one of these. Have any of you had to put up with this sort of thing lately?

Dead Parrot Creationism

I'd seen this video before, but Hemant just posted it yesterday, and it really never gets old...



Brilliant editing job.

Dartmouth baccalaureate service: almost all-inclusive

Two weeks have passed since my graduation from Dartmouth College. Life goes on swimmingly, though I must admit it's disconcerting to no longer be classified as a "student." I think the official technical term for my current state of affairs is "unemployed."

As a bit of parting commentary on Dartmouth, I'd like to say a little bit about the baccalaureate sermon held the day before Commencement. Though Dartmouth is committed to promoting diversity in the student body, little attention seems to be paid to atheists, and never have I personally felt more alienated at Dartmouth than at the baccalaureate service.

Perhaps it seems odd that I would feel excluded by a religious service; certainly I should have expected nothing else. But paradoxically, it was the sermon's attempt at inclusiveness and diversity that put me off. The American baccalaureate sermon has historically been a Christian tradition, and coming from a Christian family, I was actually somewhat looking forward to sharing a bit of ceremony with my family. But ever eager to promote diversity, Dartmouth opens its baccalaureate service to include all religions. The program included a traditional Navajo prayer, a reading from the Bhagavad Gita, a reading from Isaiah, and a reading from a Tibetan poem.

As inclusive as the College tried to be, the atmosphere was to the express exclusion of atheism. Speakers at the event were eager to quote the oft-lionized Presidents William Jewett Tucker and John Sloan Dickey, whose comments essentially boil down to, "It doesn't matter what religion you subscribe to, just as long as you're religious."

I wouldn't have a problem if they kept baccalaureate as a traditional Christian service, endorsed solely by the campus Christian community. Nor would I have a problem if the College wanted to endorse a ceremony inclusive of every student on campus. But the College abandoned the former in a failed attempt at the latter.

It hurt, because it felt like the College was reaching out to everybody but me.

To be fair, the speakers were relatively light on theology, preferring instead to speak about the importance of morality and conscience. The keynote address by Reverend Fred Berthold Jr. actually started off with a nod to science that was on the whole positive apart from some errors of fact and characterization*. He then spoke about how all of the major religions share similar codes of morality (and invited us to pick up a handout after the service listing those codes). This is, of course, a dubious claim. The main similarities between the lists are "Don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, and don't commit adultery;" beyond that, there's quite a bit of divergence on the specifics. Furthermore, the moral codes of any specific religion are not static over the course of history (consider attitudes toward slavery, for instance). Rev. Berthold also included a (highly dissatisfying, actually) list of moral rules from a "modern philosopher," philosophy professor Bernard Gert (under whom I studied Human Nature my sophomore summer, and from whom I learned little about human nature but a lot about language). But as close as I came to appreciating Rev. Berthold for his nod to science and his comments on the importance of morality in our post-graduation lives, he lost me entirely with his closing remarks, which featured the stale old First Cause argument for God's existence**.

That piece of theology put the whole affair in context. If it were all about morality, then there's no reason an atheist shouldn't have been invited to give his or her perspective. No, the implication is that morality only comes from a supernatural authority (no matter what your specific understanding of that authority amounts to). Berthold didn't go so far as to say atheists are all immoral (presumably God is working through us without our knowing it), but the idea that morality comes from religion is the same misconception that leads many to demonize atheists.

So if baccalaureate is supposed to be about God, then let it be about God and not a grab-bag of miscellaneous supernatural belief systems. If instead you want it to be about lessons in morality, then religious affiliation or lack thereof should be irrelevant, as we're all children of our moral Zeitgeist.

There was one aspect of the service that I really enjoyed. For the Recessional, the organist played Widor's "Toccata" from his Fifth Symphony, the same song used as the Recessional every year for the Easter service back home. Of course, it's a million times better at Easter with the addition of brass and tympani, but I still love a good pipe organ, and Mom and I were at least able to mime the cymbals at the appropriate times.


* He referenced some recent news article in astronomy that supposedly proves Newton's laws of motion wrong. First of all, any new findings won't make Newton wrong; his laws are still accurate at the scale to which they apply. Any new theory of gravitation, for instance, still has to reduce to F= -GMm/r^2 for two bodies under proper approximations. Second, we've already known that Newton's laws were incomplete on astronomical scales; see Einstein's theory of general relativity. But I don't blame Rev. Berthold for his mis-characterization so much as I blame sensationalist science reporting.

** The First Cause argument is the one that goes something like, "Something had to start the Big Bang, right?" Wrong, actually. I won't get into details here, but very roughly, common conceptions of causation break down at a singularity, such as that which is thought to have originated the Big Bang.

16 June 2007

Homecoming

Going home is never easy.

Someone very close to me said earlier this week (forgive the paraphrase):

It's what I've grown up with, and it's really all I know -- and it works for me. There are some things that don't make sense, but I have to just not go there and I'll be ok.

I am reminded now, more than ever, that faith in religious modes are - with the exception of the hard-core Calvinists - tacitly held. Not held firmly and stubbornly in contradiction to fact - but by and large unchallenged in the narrow scope of practical life. We who concern ourselves daily with the ultimate truth or falsehoods of religious dogma would do well to remember that those who are caught in the crossfire - our friends and loved ones - may have neither the time nor the inclination (and, for some, the resources) to address these fundamental questions. NOMA works really well for these people because they are seldom if ever confronted with a case in which the 'magesteria' collide. They might be able to see it if they really thought about it - but between the job and the mortgage and the laundry, isn't it just easier to just spend the hour a week for some canned answers and pay attention to the parts of life that really demand attention?

I know what the answer is for me: I've opened that box and looked inside, and found that there is only one reasonable logical conclusion. But I had the good fortune of having the time, the resources, and the faculties to pry open that box in the first place. Can I necessarily blame someone for not wanting to do the same? Is it a pragmatic decision, or a timidity of will? Do I have respect for someone who knows his limits, or do I pity/scorn a person who refuses to face the contradictions of his worldview head-on?

Put another way: what is an atheist to do with faithful loved ones? Particularly ones who aren't in the prime of life? Who may have already buried parents, siblings, spouses, or children? For whom life's travails really have turned the idea of a pleasant afterlife into a sustaining force? For whom there might be nothing left, and in whom religious faith really does do no appreciable harm? What do you do? How do you agree to disagree without losing respect for your loved one or yourself? How can you love them and refuse to try to liberate their minds? How can you love them but deliberately cause them the pain of assaulting their faith? How do you respect yourself for causing them pain, and how can you respect yourself for allowing the people you care about to live a lie?

The best I've come up with so far is to put it out of my mind and try not to let it come up in conversation (I was raised French Canadian Roman Catholic - we invented taciturn) - but for a guy in the business of comparative religion (/professional Atheism), it's kind of a hard subject to avoid.

I have no answers.

If there is anyone out there reading this blog, and if any of you have had similar experiences with your families, maybe just leave a little note. I'm sure that there's a million folks out there struggling with these kinds of questions, and maybe it would be nice to just get our stories out there. Maybe we'll figure something out together.

15 June 2007

Egnor's brain radio (dualism part deux)

Michael Egnor has said something stupid again. PZ Myers has already given him a good thrashing. All that I'd like to add is this:

Egnor wants to say now that the brain is a receiver for some transmission that the mind is sending out. But previously, Egnor said that the brain can't be responsible for thoughts because thoughts aren't material, and so there's no way for thoughts and matter (the brain) to interact.

Make up your mind, Egnor. Can thoughts and the brain interact (a la the cell phone and the transmission), or can't they? If they can't, then how are thoughts supposed to receive sensory input from and control behavior of the body? If they can, then how do you justify postulating some unknown non-material mind transmitting information to the brain via an unknown channel, when all the evidence favors a behavioral program hard-wired into the brain itself?

08 June 2007

Michael Egnor needs no brain

Michael Egnor of the Disco Institute wrote:

I have argued that the mind is not completely caused by the brain. By that, I mean that there are properties of the mind, such as ideas, that are not caused by brain matter alone. Brain matter cannot be the complete cause for ideas because matter and ideas share no properties. Cause and effect can’t be ‘linked’ between substances that have no properties in common. I pointed out that the materialist view that matter alone causes ideas is substantially the same as the view that ideas alone move matter, which is the pseudoscience of ‘telekinesis’.

Wrong. Put aside for a second the idea that the mind is something tangible, but non-material (neither matter nor energy). With his telekinesis example, Egnor wants to say, "Mind cannot affect matter (rocks), so matter (brain) cannot affect mind." Notice, though, that the kind of matter changes; rocks are very different from the brain.

To make this an accurate comparison, it should read like this: "Mind cannot affect matter (rocks), so matter (rocks) cannot affect mind." That is, if mental events cannot alter the physical world without using the body as a go-between, then the physical world cannot alter mental events without using the body (i.e. the senses) as a go-between. At best, Egnor's allusion to the absence of telekinesis can be used to argue against clairvoyance. We can't move things without pushing them, and so we shouldn't expect to see things without looking at them. Surprise, surprise, the telekinesis reference doesn't get us anywhere with respect to real cognitive psychology. Egnor's argument hinges on a non sequitir.

I could spend all night tearing Egnor to bits, but I don't want to, especially since it's already been done. Go read someone more articulate instead.

Parting thought: I would just like to take this opportunity to remind our readers that Michael Egnor is supposedly a neurosurgeon.

06 June 2007

Iowa State = Auschwitz?

I'll be the first person to appreciate an apt reference to the Nazis. Fascism, despite what you may have heard from the WWII propaganda mill, is a political movement, not the sword of the Antichrist. Hitler was a human being. It could all happen again.

But there's apt consideration of events and evidence, and then there's emotion-laden hyperbole. And when you invoke the Holocaust in reference to a guy who got turned down for a job, well... it doesn't do a heck of a lot to further rational discussion.

DaveScot at Uncommon Descent has posted the poem "First they came...", inscribed at the Boston Holocaust Memorial, in dedication to Guillermo Gonzalez, an ID proponent who was recently denied tenure at Iowa State.

If nothing else, this provides an elegant example of Step Four in denialism blog's brilliant Crank HOWTO.