the new ussr illustrated

assorted reflections from the urbane society for sceptical romantics

matters of interest

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Still have a hankering for philosophy though I don’t read it much these days, so I enjoyed Jason Rosenhouse’s take on the ontological argument here. For those who don’t know, it’s a weird a priori argument for the existence of a supernatural being, an argument that refuses to go away, apparently. But I don’t need to go into detail, as Jason already does that, and I’m pretty well in agreement with him about it. The commentary’s interesting too, though occasionally providing reminders of why I lost much interest in philosophy years ago. Sometimes it seems that the more abstruse the subject matter becomes, the nastier philosophers get.

Jen McCreight, of Blag Hag, first raiser of the Atheism Plus banner, is taking a hopefully temporary break from blogging, due to blogosphere, and largely blokosphere, nastiness. Her farewell remarks are worth reading – and note the scary, but also encouraging, number of comments.

It seems to me there’s something about this medium in general that encourages thoughtless commentary – look at youtube comments for example. It’s the anonymity of it all, presumably. You might’ve expected more ‘intellectual’ or ideas-based sites to generate a better class of commentary, but that ain’t necessarily so, though of course you’re likely to get good stuff, at the top of the barrel, so to speak.

Returning to philosophy, of sorts, Jerry Coyne has been writing some stimulating stuff, first here, on attempts to suggest that the theory of natural selection is in crisis [no, not from lightweight intelligent design proponents, but from philosophical interpreters of new directions in genetic and related research], second here, on that hoary old issue of whether or not philosophy generally gives way to science in answering the Big Questions, and third here, on what could be described as a favourite theme, or target, of Coyne’s, evolutionists with a Christian bent – that’s to say, with a way of bending the evidence to support the idea of human inevitability. All very much worth keeping up with. Since I don’t have the time or energy to go into detail on these subjects, I’ll confine myself to brief comments.

Recent work on epigenetics [inter alia] has been breathlessly touted by some journalists and commentators as forcing a major rethink of traditional evolutionary theory, and it’s not always easy for a lay person to evaluate these claims. Coyne, as an evolutionary biologist with his finger on the pulse, is able to put these claims into perspective, while contributing further to our education. Conclusion: Lamarckian-type non-genetic inheritance is rare and unstable. There’s far more detail in Coyne’s analysis of course, so take a look.

The ‘philosophy inevitably gives way to science’ line was run by Sam Harris in The Moral Landscape, in which he also contested the Humean claim [often misrepresented, so I’m told] that a value judgement cannot be derived from a factual proposition [no ‘ought’ from ‘is’]. Coyne examines a discussion between the physicist Lawrence Krauss and the philosopher Julian Baggini, on what is probably the most interesting topic in philosophy today – the topic of whether ethics, for so long a prized possession of philosophical discourse, will not only be informed by but more or less fully understood through scientific analysis.

Coyne’s quotes from Simon Conway Morris are devastating, leaving me amazed yet again at how such obviously talented scientists can think such guff [well, think Newton, Boyle, Faraday, Agassiz, etc etc]. It just makes me all the more wary of theistic thinking and the way it blocks and distorts our undertanding of how things actually are.

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Written by stewart henderson

September 11, 2012 at 11:14 pm

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