Archive for the 'Logic/Philosophy' Category

Feb 17 2014

New Science and Religion Survey

A new Rice University survey of 10,000 people explores issues of science and religion. Surveys are always fascinating, giving us a “lay of the land” of what people around us believe. However, they are also very tricky. Results can vary wildly based upon how a question is asked, and what questions surround them. This study was presented at the AAAS meeting, and is not published, so I don’t have access to the actual questions.

With those caveats in mind, here are the main results:

50 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work together, compared to 38 percent of Americans.
18 percent of scientists attended weekly religious services, compared with 20 percent of the general U.S. population;
15 percent of scientists consider themselves very religious (versus 19 percent of the general U.S. population);
13.5 percent of scientists read religious texts weekly (compared with 17 percent of the U.S. population)
19 percent of scientists pray several times a day (versus 26 percent of the U.S. population).
Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”
27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict. Of those who feel science and religion are in conflict, 52 percent sided with religion.
48 percent of evangelicals believe that science and religion can work in collaboration.
22 percent of scientists think most religious people are hostile to science.
Nearly 20 percent of the general population think religious people are hostile to science.
Nearly 22 percent of the general population think scientists are hostile to religion.
Nearly 36 percent of scientists have no doubt about God’s existence.

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Jan 28 2014

Occam’s Razor vs Hickam’s Dictum

Every year since 1998 Edge magazine asks a large group of public intellectuals a provocative question and then publishes their answers. This year the question is: What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?

Gerald Smallberg (Practicing Neurologist, New York City; Playwright, Off-Off Broadway Productions, Charter Members; The Gold Ring) gave as his answer, “The clinician’s law of parsimony.” He writes:

“As an absolute, the Law of Parsimony is floundering. Not because it is aging poorly, but rather because it is being challenged more and more by the complexity of the real world and its need for a valid counterweight. From my vantage point as a physician in the practice of clinical neurology, its usefulness, which has always been a guiding principle for me, can easily lead to blind spots and errors in judgment when rigidly followed.”

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Jan 24 2014

Debating Faith Healing

Published by under Logic/Philosophy

In Idaho since 2009 four children were allowed to die of treatable illnesses because their parents relied upon faith healing alone. Their families were members of the Followers of Christ.

These cases have sparked a renewed debate in Idaho about allowing parents to deny their children basic medical care based upon their religious beliefs. Idaho law currently contains this exemption:

 ”Treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.”

Lawmakers are discussing changing the law so that parents would be required to provide medical care, even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. State Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa had this to say:

“This is about religious beliefs, the belief God is in charge of whether they live, and God is in charge of whether they die. This is about where they go for eternity.”

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Jan 13 2014

The GMO Narrative and Abstinence Only Farming

Nathaniel Johnson over at Grist has written a series of articles on genetically modified organisms (GMO). As an investigative journalist he decided to do what I call a “deep dive” on this one issue to try to sort out fact from fiction, and which side (anti or pro) has the better arguments. He acknowledges that this was a journey of discovery and he was learning as he went along.

His most recent article, I think, is the most interesting: What I learned from six months of GMO research: None of it matters. In this latest installment he discusses the meta-lessons he learned in his journey through GMO – which seem to me like core skeptical principles. His article is an eloquent discussion of these principles, worth a read in its entirety, but I will further discuss here.

The main thing that Johnson learned is that people generally do not arrive at and defend positions based upon a careful analysis of the facts. Rather they have a narrative that fits their world view, and they defend that narrative despite the facts. This, of course, is familiar territory for skeptics.

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Dec 16 2013

The Logic of God

Published by under Logic/Philosophy

Fox News recently ran an opinion piece called: A Christmas gift for atheists — five reasons why God exists, by William Lane Craig. I usually don’t spend time here addressing issues of faith, but I will address any argument that purports to be based on logic and/or evidence.

Faith is often defined as believing without evidence. Hebrews 11:1 is often quoted:

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

I prefer Christopher Hitchens’ take:

“Faith is the surrender of the mind, it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other animals. It’s our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. … Out of all the virtues, all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated”

Sometimes those who have faith also seek evidence and logic to back up their belief. This is a win-win for them because if the logic and evidence are found wanting, they can always then fall back on their faith. In any case – let’s take a look at alleged five reasons why God exists:

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Nov 12 2013

Chopra Skepticism Fail Part 2

As promised, Deepak Chopra has written a follow up article about what he calls The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism. As we saw in part 1, Chopra remains consistent with his reputation for being intellectually superficial and careless, more interested in propping up his particular brand of mysticism than genuinely engaging with his critics.

In part 2 Chopra also continues his practice of erecting massive strawmen, consistent with the narrative standard in his corner of the wooniverse. He begins by once again conflating atheism with skepticism. Clearly he did not read or comprehend any of the skeptical responses to his first post. Now he trots out the tired claim that skeptics are negative and want to kill curiosity – it’s all just so tedious.

He also uses a strategy that I see increasingly within the subculture of many pseudosciences, specifically trying to adopt the language of skeptics but turning that language back against skeptics, as if they thought of in the first place.

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Oct 10 2013

Extreme Dogmatism

It is the standard skeptical narrative that people are biased in numerous ways. The “default mode” of human behavior is to drift along with the currents of our cognitive biases, unless we have critical thinking skills as a rudder or paddle (choose your nautical metaphor). Metacognition – thinking about thinking – is the only way for our higher cognitive function (evidence, analysis, logic) to take control of our beliefs from our baser instincts.

Political ideology is one form of such bias. Psychologists have demonstrated that people generally will identify with a stated belief, and then will defend their existing belief by default simply because it’s theirs. This phenomenon seems to be exacerbated by ideology – identifying with a suite of beliefs that come as a package deal, with a convenient label.

One type of ideology is political. In the US this is usually thought of as a dichotomy between conservative and liberal, represented by the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. In reality the political landscape is more complex. Libertarians, for example, are economically conservative but socially liberal, because in reality they care about something else entirely, something tangential to the typical conservative-liberal axis, and that is personal freedom over government control.

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Oct 08 2013

Kansas Citizens Sue to Reject Science

There’s some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 7 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including Kansas. These science standards were developed by The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, and are a comprehensive and coordinated k-12 science curriculum.

This is an excellent attempt to provide a consistent high standard across the 50 states. The states each adopt their own science standards, with most not doing a great job. This is one area where it is probably not necessary to reinvent the wheel 50 times – science is generally a consensus-building exercise, and at the k-12 level students should be learning basic science that is all well-established. I think it is a great idea to have a consortium of scientific organizations create standards that states can then adopt, without having to duplicate the work themselves.

It is also heartening that Kansas is one of the first seven states to adopt the standards. Frankly, they can use it.

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Jan 22 2013

Cloning the Neanderthal

Cloning technology has advanced to the point that we can reliably clone large mammals, like Dolly the sheep. Today you can have your pet cloned. So far no one has cloned a human as we are still sorting out the complex ethical issues. In some countries, like the UK, human reproductive cloning is illegal.

There are many wrinkles to this new technology – one is using it to bring back extinct species. There are efforts underway, for example, to clone the wooly mammoth. Recently extinct species, like the thylacine (Tasmanian tiger), dodo, and passenger pigeon, also might be resurrected by cloning technology. Although, don’t expect Jurassic Park anytime soon as current evidence strongly suggests that DNA cannot survive for millions of years.

But it can survive for thousands, and even tens of thousands in the right conditions. We have mostly reconstructed, for example, the DNA of our closest evolutionary cousins, Homo neanderthalensis. Now a Harvard scientist, George Church, is proposing that it may be possible to clone a Neanderthal.

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Jan 11 2013

Objective vs Subjective Morality

I am fascinated by the philosophy of ethics, ever since I took a course in it in undergraduate school. This is partly because I enjoy thinking about complex systems (which partly explains why I ended up in Neurology as my specialty). I also greatly enjoy logic, and particularly deconstructing arguments (my own and others) to identify their logical essence and see if or where they go wrong.

In a previous post I wrote about the philosophy of morality. This spawned over 400 comments (so far), so it seems we could use another post to reset the conversation.

The discussion is between objective vs subjective morality, mostly focusing around a proponent of objective morality (commenter nym of Zach). Here I will lay out my position for a philosophical basis of morality and explain why I think objective morality is not only unworkable, it’s a fiction.

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