It’s World Philosophy Day

20 11 2008

And at ABC News Online there is call for more philosophy and critical thinking in Australian schools. I share this view, though I find much to disagree with in Kellie Tranter’s article—especially her uncrtical citing of the think-tank Future Directions’ yearning for “a recognisable spiritual set of values and hierarchy.” But I have long felt that explicit instruction in critical thinking is at least as important as functional English.

Anyway, in the spirit of World Philosophy Day . . . .

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, do (as Ninglun would say) train your podcast feeds on The Philosopher’s Zone and Philosophy Bites.

And I might take the opportunity to bleg: if anyone is aware of decent philosophy/critical thinking in ESL resources, please let me know.

Thinking Out Loud

6 10 2008

I wanted to pop in from my work-induced blogging hiatus to plug a podcast upon which I have just binged . . . only to find that it, too, is on work-induced hiatus.

Thinking Out Loud is the podcast of Citizen Philosopher, a philosophy discussion group based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Over the past three years or so (and yes, I’ve now listened to all three years’ worth), discussions have canvassed a broad range of topics, from free will to responsibility to the ethics of friendship. Moderator Steve Donaldson does his best to maintain a cordial panel discussion format with a minimum of cross-examination and formal debate—an approach I personally prefer though some may find the end result a little dull. Touches of woo and the occasional numerologist aside, participants generally make thoughtful contributions.

Unfortunately, the podcast has been into cryo-freeze at least until next year. But there are still about 30-odd shows available on iTunes if you’re interested.

Have I spotted a flaw in Christopher Hitchens’ challenge?

20 08 2008

(In which I blatantly steal content from OzAtheist’s Weblog, in lieu of having anything original to write about.)

If you’ve ever listened to Christopher Hitchens in debate or discussion on matters religious in the time since he published God Is Not Great, you’ll be familiar with the challenge he invariably poses to his theist antagonists:

Name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.
The second challenge. Can anyone think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith?

The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first awaits a convincing reply.

It strikes me that there are two problems with Hitchens’ challenge, and they are kind of interrelated. Read the rest of this entry »

In the armchair with Gerry Rzeppa

19 08 2008

If you’ve been following the book-spammer thread, you’ll have noticed my conversation with one Gerry Rzeppa, whom I’ve blogged about previously. Given my policy on off-topic discussions, and given that my exchange with Rzeppa is beginning to stray from the topic of book-spammers and authoritarianism, and towards the topic of Rzeppa’s opinions on life, the universe and everything else, I thought I’d continue it here. And of course, you’re welcome to participate, too.

Here is Rzeppa’s most recent contribution, with my own responses:

You say, “…at least [I] haven’t sunk to lying.” Is lying a bad thing? How do you know? Exactly what do you mean by “bad?” Apparently you think lying is worse than other things. What do you mean by “worse”?

Gerry, why do you put words in my mouth? I don’t recall using the words “bad” or “worse.” I do find it ironic, however, that those who seek to promote a biblical worldview do so by means of violating what we are told is one of its central tenets (the 8th Commandment if you’re Roman Catholic, the 9th Commandment if you’re Protestant).

I don’t know if would go so far as claiming that lying is in all circumstances something to be avoided. What I am prepared to tentatively propose, and I am willing to stand corrected upon the production of evidence to the contrary, is that given that humans are social animals, a society in which lying is deemed acceptable in all circumstances, and whose members would therefore exist in a state of mutual distrust, would be untenable, and would not survive for long against competitor societies in which it is held that lying, as a rule of thumb, is something to be avoided. I don’t see why anyone would need a “commandment” to figure this out; all you need to do is conduct a simple thought experiment: what would it be like to live in a society whose members exist in a state of mutual distrust, how stable would that society be, and how long is a society like that likely to survive? I also find intriguing what cognitive psychologists such as Marc Hauser are discovering about this issue: the possibility that certain of our moral ideas are hardwired, that we evolved with the belief, for example, that lying is (as a general rule) wrong, and that being animals in possession of such a belief gave us a reproductive advantage. Of course, simply having the belief that lying is wrong is not proof that lying is wrong, and if the possession of such a belief is endemic to our species this would not explain why lying might be wrong. Read the rest of this entry »

Bring out the gimp . . .

17 08 2008
Read this book. Discuss it with your friends.

"Read this book. Discuss it with your friends."

I’ve been wondering what to make of book-spammers. These individuals travel from blog to blog, comments thread to comments thread, with no intention of actually participating in the discussion. Their sole intention is to dump (as a seabird would a heap of guano) a cut-and-pasted blurb about some paradigm-shifting tome promising to change your thinking about x, where x equals evolution, or the existence of deities, or education policy, and so on, and so on.

The following, whom I’ve encountered, may ring a bell, especially if you frequent blogs in the Atheosphere: the Young Earth Creationist cdavidparsons (Google “c david parsons The Quest for Right, a series of 7 textbooks created for the public schools”), Christian apologist Gerry Rzeppa (Google “My name is Gerry Rzeppa and I’ve written a short children’s book in answer to the works of Richard Dawkins”), and Edbooked, whose agenda (beyond getting you to read and purchase a certain book that purports to solve whatever ill-defined problems he sees in the US public education system) is unknown (Google “Twilights Last Gleaming On Public Education a portion of which may be viewed online”). Read the rest of this entry »

Can you hear it pumping on your iPod continues . . .

13 08 2008

More additions to my list of iTunes subscriptions. The tough part is that ever since my iPod Shuffle started to malfunction, becoming reduced in the process to a glorified thumb-drive, I have to trawl through Windows Explorer and add each episode of the podcasts I listen to individually to my girlfriend’s non iPod mp3 player. Baby Jesus gets his revenge!

Apologia: Hosted by Zach Moore, this is a very intelligent and very listenable roundtable discussion between theists and atheists, covering a range of philosophical, political, atheist and apologetics-related topics. As an English teacher, I’ve always found the panel discussion, as opposed to the formal debate, to be the best means of grappling with an idea or argument in a substantive way; one of the keys of Apologia’s success is, I think you will find, its adoption of this format. (Indeed, one of its worst episodes featured a debate between a regular panellist and a presuppositionalist; the show took a nose-dive when it became clear that the presuppostionalist was participating in the debate with his fingers firmly planted in his ears, waiting for his turn to repeat the same argument ad nauseam.) One of the panellists also co-hosts a podcast with William Lane Craig; in spite of this, he comes across as quite reasonable on Apologia.

The Bible Geek: I can’t get enough of Biblical scholar and skeptic Robert M. Price, when his audio is freely available, of course. Unfortunately, he’s one of these podcasters who, like the Infidel Guy, charges for much of his content. So those of you who, like me, baulk at the thought of paying for internet audio will simply have to make do with the 5-minute free samples he doles out here, usually in the form of responses to listener’s questions.

Atheist Talk: No, not that “Atheist Talk”! This is the cable TV show, also produced by Minnesota Atheists, featuring interviews, lectures and debates, minus the cheesy promotions, buffet-restaurant commercials and amateurism of the radio show. (Is there anything more frustrating, or awkward, than hearing a well-crafted line of thought cut off in its prime because the presenters have to cut to “Hey Bjorn! Hey Jeanette!”) I can’t see a feed on the webpage, but you can subscribe to the audio component of Atheist Talk (the TV show) through iTunes.

The Philosopher’s Zone: I can’t believe I haven’t added this one to my sidebar already, but I did mention it in an earlier post. The format of The Philosopher’s Zone is almost identical to that of Philosophy Bites, though each episode is almost twice as long. The fact that a radio programme like this would in all probability otherwise not be available is part of the raison-d’etre for having a publicly-funded national broadcaster.

Now I’ve seen everything

8 06 2007

Received this in my inbox this morning:


Call for Papers: pdf version here
Location: Delft University of Technology (TUDelft), The Netherlands
Date: October 29-31, 2007 (Monday-Wednesday)

Theme: Engineering Meets Philosophy, and Philosophy Meets Engineering
On October 19, 2006 a working group on Philosophy and Engineering was convened at MIT to discuss the need for greater interaction between philosophers and engineers. The result was an agreement to move forward with a workshop to encourage reflection on engineering, engineers, and technology by philosophers and engineers.

The first Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering (WPE-2007) will be held in the Department of Philosophy, TUDelft, 29-31 October 2007 (Monday-Wednesday). Sessions will include talks by invited and selected speakers as well as a number of special sessions.

Extended abstracts (1-2 pages) are invited for submission in one of three tracks or demes:

* Philosophy (Deme chair: Carl Mitcham)
* Philosophical Reflections of Practitioners (Deme chair: Billy V. Koen)
* Ethics (Deme co-chairs: Michael Davis & P. Aarne Vesilind)

I can just picture the keynote address: “So . . . um . . . how about those Eagles on the weekend?”

Completely meat

5 06 2007
“So what does the meat have in mind.”

Found this via a discussion about minds and brains at Pharyngula (note–the post is truncated. Click “Read More!” to, well, read more):

A dialogue by Terry Bisson. From a series of stories entitled “Alien/Nation”
in the April [1991?] issue of Omni.

“They’re made out of meat.”


“Meat. They’re made out of meat.”


“There’s no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way through. They’re completely meat.”

“That’s impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars.”

“They use the raido waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”

“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”

“They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”

“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”

“I’m not asking you, I ‘m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in the sector and they’re made out of meat.”

“Maybe they’re like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage.”

“Nope. They’re born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn’t take too long. Do you have any idea the life span of meat?”

“Spare me. Okay, maybe they’re only part meat. You know, like the Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plamsa brain inside.”

“Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei. But I told you, we probed them. They’re meat all the way through.”

“No brain?”

“Oh, there is a brain all right. It’s just that the brain is made out of meat!”

“So… what does the thinking?”

“You’re not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat.”

“Thinking meat! You’re asking me to believe in thinking meat!”

“Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?”

“Omigod. You’re serious then. They’re made out of meat.”

“Finally, Yes. They are indeed made out meat. And they’ve been trying to get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years.”

“So what does the meat have in mind.”

“First it wants to talk to us. Then I imagine it wants to explore the universe, contact other sentients, swap ideas and information. The usual.”

“We’re supposed to talk to meat?”

“That’s the idea. That’s the message they’re sending out by radio. ‘Hello. Anyone out there? Anyone home?’ That sort of thing.”

“They actually do talk, then. They use words, ideas, concepts?”

“Oh, yes. Except they do it with meat.”

“I thought you just told me they used radio.”

“They do, but what do you think is on the radio? Meat sounds. You know how when you slap or flap meat it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat.”

“Omigod. Singing meat. This is altogether too much. So what do you advise?”

“Officially or unofficially?”


“Officially, we are required to contact, welcome, and log in any and all sentient races or multibeings in the quadrant, without prejudice, fear, or favor. Unofficially, I advise that we erase the reconds and forget the whole thing.”

“I was hoping you would say that.”

“It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?”

“I agree one hundred percent. What’s there to say?” `Hello, meat. How’s it going?’ But will this work? How many planets are we dealing with here?”

“Just one. They can travel to other planets in special meat containers, but they can’t live on them. And being meat, they only travel theough C space. which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim. Infinitesimal, in fact.”

“So we just pretend there’s no one home in the universe.”

“That’s it.”

“Cruel. But you sid it yourself, who want to meet meat? And the ones who have been aboard our vessels, the ones you have probed? You’re sure they won’t remember?”

“They’ll be considered crackpots if they do. We went into their heads and smoothed out their meat so that we’re just a dream to them.”

“A dream to meat! How strangely appropiate, that we should be meat’s dream.”

“And we can marked this sector unoccupied.”

“Good. Agreed, officially and unofficially. Case closed. Any others? Anyone interesting on that side of the galaxy?”

“Yes, a rather shy but sweet hydrogen core cluster intelligence in a class nine star in G445 zone. Was in contact two galactic rotation ago, wants to be friendly again.”

“They always come around.”

“And why not? Imagine how unbearably, how unutterably cold the universe would be if one were all alone.

Kelly Tripplehorn versus atheism

22 04 2007

Kelly Tripplehorn, president of the i53 Network (which describes itself as an evangelical (though not Christian) network whose mission is “to produce quality media content, all to the glory of God’s Word”), has thrown down the gauntlet to us heathens. His organisation will pay $1000 to anyone who can offer a non-theistic justification for their belief that the Sun will rise tomorrow.

All you need to do in order to collect your $1,000 is get your non-theistic answer published (concerning your epistemological warrant for your inductive inference) in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, under its heading The Problem of Induction.

The point I am interested in is to show that all the knowledge non-Christians have, whether as simple folk by common sense, or as scientists exploring the hidden depths of the created universe- they have because Christianity is true. It is because the world is not what the non-Christians assume that it is, a world of Chance, and is what the Christian says that it is, a world run by the council of God, that even non-Christians have knowledge… Now the question is not whether the non-Christian can weigh, measure, or do a thousand other things. No one denies that he can. But the question is whether on his principle the non-Christian can account for his own or any knowledge.

Tripplehorn elaborates in the video below:

Tripplehorn maintains that the problem of induction is not a problem for Christians like him, because “the first two passages of Genesis inform me that God created the world with order and uniformity, and I as a Christian can assume that the past laws of nature will be the same as the future laws of nature, because God has implicitly told me so, in his Word.” This, my friends, is your standard Argument from Biblical Authority, with a twist of Argument from Design.

Bottom line: insofar as the problem of induction is a problem for non-theists, it is a problem for theists like Tripplehorn also. The only difference is that Tripplehorn has given his non-solution to the problem of induction a label: “God.” As PZ Myers points out, in the process of tearing Tripplehorn a new one:

It’s a cheat. He has absolutely no logical, philosophical justification for this divine precondition he has pulled out of his butt, but then he turns around and thinks that he’s got atheists over a barrel and demands that they justify the use of induction without Jesus. What? Why can’t I just invent an accidentally linear seam in the fabric of the 18th dimension that imposes regularity in our dimension by subspace resonance? It’s total nonsense, but it’s a justification that’s on a par with waving your hands over an ancient Hebrew sky-god. How about if I pretend there is a subatomic particle (or maybe a sub-quantum force; does it matter?) called the Regulon that compels lawful behavior in other particles/forces. Again, it’s pseudoscientific magical BS, but it’s as good as Snottypunk’s excuse.

Another YouTuber, responding to Snottypunk’s–erm–I mean Tripplehorn’s video, suggests that miracles pose a whole other set of problems for his supposedly neat Christian solution to the problem of induction.

As the gang at Fundies Say the Darndest Things would say:

As an aside, PZ Myers links to some more interesting info on Mr Tripplehorn. More info at Babygorilla.

Post-postmodernity: the age of the bogan

16 03 2007
Hotdogs: pseudo-modernist

Alan Kirby, in the latest issue of Philosophy Now magazine, muses on the death of postmodernism, and what comes after . . .

The cultural products of pseudo-modernism are also exceptionally banal, as I’ve hinted. The content of pseudo-modern films tends to be solely the acts which beget and which end life. This puerile primitivism of the script stands in stark contrast to the sophistication of contemporary cinema’s technical effects. Much text messaging and emailing is vapid in comparison with what people of all educational levels used to put into letters. A triteness, a shallowness dominates all. The pseudo-modern era, at least so far, is a cultural desert. Although we may grow so used to the new terms that we can adapt them for meaningful artistic expression (and then the pejorative label I have given pseudo-modernism may no longer be appropriate), for now we are confronted by a storm of human activity producing almost nothing of any lasting or even reproducible cultural value – anything which human beings might look at again and appreciate in fifty or two hundred years time.

Bogans. He’s talking about bogans.

(See also: John Surname)