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Glen Tarr

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  1. Glen Tarr

    Science and religion

    Actually it could, at least according to general relativity. Foucault’s pendulum measures the coriolis effect – the tendency of a mass to veer in the direction of rotation when moving from the edge to the center, and in the direction opposite to rotation when moving from the center to the edge. You are effectively arguing that if you were in a closed room, and you suddenly felt a force pulling you towards the wall, you could tell whether that force resulted from rotational acceleration or from gravity by throwing a ball across the room and watching to see if it would veer. Gravity, you might argue, affects all masses in the room regardless of motion, but the coriolis effect only applies to objects moving across the frame. Unfortunately, according to general relativity, gravity includes a force called gravitomagnetism (see http://tinyurl.com/w5hhd) that exactly mimics the coriolis effect. It’s analogous to the situation in electromagnetism where a current is going around a circular area that contains a test charge. So long as the test charge doesn’t move, the magnetic field produced by the circling current doesn’t affect it, but move the test charce across the area and the magnetic field will cause it to veer just as if it were experiencing a coriolis effect.
  2. Glen Tarr

    Science and religion

    (Sorry if this is post repeats. It looked like it didn't go through when I tried the first time.) Glen Tarr, Dec 27: Setting aside for the moment the broad assumption that the Bible was devinely inspired and inerrant, don’t you think the assumption that a given tract was meant to be taken literally is a fairly broad one? Bryan, Dec 27: That's a safely non-specific question. I don't know. I primarily see it from seriously fundamentalist Christians and the least sophisticated skeptics. I'm not sure how each stacks up compared to the population in general. Alright, but this was all based on your statements in post 137 that “modern criticism provides the tools for more accurate literal [bible] interpretation”, and that “Bible criticism doesn't go for making broad assumptions”. It seems to me that if modern criticism is assuming that a literal interpretation is accurate, then it does go in for making broad assumptions. I also think that the broadness of an assumption should be judged according to the extent of evidence supporting it, not according to how it stacks up compared to the population in general. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: You asked a question (Is it science to prefer the simpler explanation) preceded by a premise (Copernicus’ idea is unfalsifiable). Neither Paul nor I agreed with your premise (though for different reasons), so we each addressed that first. Bryan, Dec 27: I failed to detect either answer to the question regarding Ockham's razor as science. You answered a different question, AFAICT. I addressed the faulty premise on which your question was based. Bryan, Dec 27: I'd still say you're fudging, since the more complex explanation [of a geocentric universe] hasn't been falsified. The principle of parsimony certainly has utility within the scientific method, but that's not the question. The question is whether is it science per se. The explanation of the objectively geocentric universe, as favored by the Catholic Church during Galileo’s time, has been falsified. (See post 147). It’s not just parsimony that causes us to reject it. I don’t think anyone would seriously claim that parsimony and science have exactly the same meaning. Is that really what you’re asking? Glen Tarr, Dec 27: As I said, demonstrating it depends on how it’s defined. I’d define it as the ability to construct and manipulate mental models for problem-solving. Since we can’t see inside another’s mental processes, we can’t conclusively demonstrate that anything in particular is intelligent, but based on behavior and known underlying mechanisms for that behavior we can often demonstrate it pretty clearly. Bryan, Dec 27: (The Turing test, in effect--Is it science?) No, the Turing test is completely different. It looks at whether a machine can simulate human conversational behavior. I’m talking about looking for evidence that something is using mental models to solve problems. If you can think one move ahead in a chess game, and act accordingly, you would be showing evidence of intelligence under my definition, but not by the Turing test. I’ll forego answering the “Is it science” question about the Turing test since it isn’t applicable. I do think it is within the purvue of science to define a phenomenon in such a way as to suggest tests that would demonstrate it, which is what I’ve done for intelligence. I don’t think what I’ve done equates exactly with the term “science”, however. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: If something is demonstrating flexible and complex strategies to achieve a goal, and if it has a brain at least superficially similar to our own, chances are it’s demonstrating intelligence. Bryan, Dec 27: There's no way to calculate those odds. The epistemic difficulty of determining self-awareness in others is a very tall order for science. It comes down to conferring the benefit of the doubt when a machine mimics human behavior, and for humans it's essentially an argument from analogy (He/she is like me in terms of X, therefore he/she is probably self-aware like me). If by “calculate” you mean figure the odds to three significant figures, I’d agree. If you meant there’s no way of telling the likely from the unlikely, I think you’re wrong. Look at an action, consider whether the best explanation for it involves a mental model, consider whether the actor possesses an organ known to support intelligence, repeat for other actions, and base your determination thereon. It’s not that tough. And there was nothing in the definition of intelligence I provided that requires self-awareness. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: I meant that religion can’t as yet explain how intelligence is produced, particularly in human brains. If you’d like to prove me wrong you have only to offer a (sufficient and falsifiable) explanation based on religion. Bryan, Dec 27: In my experience, skeptics have only naturalistic explanations in mind when they ask for explanations. Are you different? You have a non-naturalistic explanation that is sufficient and falsifiable? I’m all ears. Bryan, Dec 27: The legal system presumes personal responsibility, otherwise there's little sense in offering punishment. That brings up the issue of personal responsibility given determinism. I see the compatibilist argument as very difficult to make. Although I don’t see anything wrong with Compatibilism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism), I don’t believe I’ve made a Compatibilist argument. I’ve said that one thing that may have helped determine Paszkeiwicz’s behavior was the assumption that he could get away with it, and that some form of punishment would help prevent that assumption from forming in Paszkeiwicz’s mind, or the minds of others, in the future. Nothing in that argument requires either the existence or non-existence of free will. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: The imposition of reasonable punishments can prevent such presumptions from developing in the future. Bryan, Dec 27: Was that discovered through experimentation? How was the key variable isolated? If you listen to Dennett (as Paul recommended), wouldn't he tell you that the brain determines the thoughts in advance of the thinking? Doesn't that suggest to you the irrelevancy of conscious thought in determining action (consciousness just along for the ride!)? Is it right to punish somebody for what he cannot help doing just so that somebody else won't do the same thing in the future? Let's say that we've got a child in school with Tourette's syndrome. Every time he lets out a curse word, the teacher raps him on the knuckles with a ruler so that the other kids will see that cursing is not a rewarded behavior. Under the assumption that the punishment is reasonable (for the sake of argument), is this an acceptable paradigm? It has been discovered through experimentation that reasonable punishments can help prevent future rule violations, and that lack of such punishments can encourage them. New parents rediscover this point all the time. I’ve argued that the reason for this is that the punishments affect the presumptions held by the potential rule-breaker. I think that’s a reasonable explanation, but even if it works for some other reason, the point remains that it generally works and should therefore be applied to Paszkiewicz. There are some situations, such as with Tourette’s, in which the rule-breaker’s honest attempts to change her own actions are completely ineffective. Punishment does not seem to lessen the likelihood of subsequent rule-breaking in these individuals, and the effect punishment would have on others is likely negligible once they understand the rule-breaker is acting despite her own best efforts to stop. Accordingly, punishment (beyond whatever is necessary to minimize the impact of the outbursts) would be unreasonable (or to use your terms, an unacceptable paradigm). Are you claiming Paszkiewicz was proselytizing in class despite his own best efforts to stop? I thought you were trying to argue instead that his decision not to apply those efforts was itself pre-determined by preceeding circumstances. That’s entirely different. Some of those preceding circumstances included his presumptions regarding the likelihood of avoiding punishment, and can therefore be affected by the application of punishment. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: As for your question regarding metaphysics in science class: as far as I can tell there should be none. Bryan, Dec 27: I strongly disagree with you. You can't have science at all without its metaphysical foundation, and students should be well aware of the metaphysical model that modern science insists upon in relation to competing models. To proceed otherwise is to indoctrinate students in metaphysical naturalism by default. This shouldn't be a controversial point, by the way. Philosophy of Science is a huge field ever since Karl Popper. PoS's muddle about in the metaphysics routinely. Science should not be exempt from having its presuppositions examined. Science does not insist on a metaphysical model. Your numerous statements to the contrary remain unsupported. I agree that the philosophy of science is an important field, but there’s more to philosophy than metaphysics, and it is possible to hold any number of metaphysical presuppositions and still do good science. One need merely follow the scientific method. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: Science class is for science. Metaphysics is beyond science – by definition. Bryan, Dec 27: Metaphysics is also the foundation for science, by definition. To quickly illustrate: Science cannot confirm intelligence, but the goal of science is to increase knowledge. Science can't confirm the legitimacy of its own goals. It needs a metaphysical foundation. Metaphysics means “beyond physics”. What definition were you using according to which it is the foundation of science? Regarding your illustration, I disagree that science has goals. Science is a method of learning about the world, and a body of information obtained thereby. People may use science for any number of goals, but that’s not the same thing. Some folks might use science as a means of paying the bills, but that doesn’t make economics the foundation of science either. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: Teaching metaphysical naturalism is as out of place as teaching any other faith-based idea, and I don’t agree that it is typically done. It certainly wasn’t in my high school science classes. Bryan, Dec 27: I mean to say that it is common; not necessarily most of the time. Teaching methodological naturalism without any teaching about metaphysics in general is a de facto indoctrination in metaphysical naturalism. Do you have any examples to show that teaching metaphysical naturalism in science class is common? Do you have any support for your idea that teaching methodological naturalism without teaching about metaphysics in general is de facto indoctrination? Bryan, Dec 27: Glen, you're a decent debater, but don't put claims into my mouth for me. I'm way too experienced to fall for that garbage. I'd like to hope you did so accidentally. Here's what I said originally: "In practice the metaphysics get discussed in science class, but to the exclusion of everything that does not contribute to science (that is, metaphysical naturalism). Is that a proper education?" And you replied (bold emphasis added): "Metaphysical naturalism is the idea that everything is governed by natural laws and nothing can be beyond such laws. Methodological naturalism is the idea that science should proceed in its methods by assuming a phenomenon is produced by natural laws, unless there is evidence to the contrary. What makes you think high school science classes teach the former rather than the latter?" In short, I never made the claim you're ascribing to me. You employed the fallacy of the complex question (question containing dubious assumption that is affirmed by any direct answer). I suppose I should have called you on it from the first, but I thought I'd simply clarify (under the assumption that you weren't trying to be deliberately tricky). They teach the former by teaching the latter in an effective vacuum. You made the claim I ascribed to you in your response right above this one. I said that high school science classes don’t typically teach metaphysical naturalism, and you said it was common. If you weren’t trying to claim that science classes commonly teach metaphysical naturalism, then maybe you should retract that statement and carefully rephrase whatever it is you’re actually trying to say. Glen Tarr, Dec 27: And if metaphysical naturalism is the underlying assumption of science, why are quantum events considered by mainstream scientists to have no natural causes? Bryan, Dec 27: That's a great question. I often use (random) quantum particle formation as an example of the supernatural in my discussions with skeptics. It tends to make their eyes cross. The usual response is to claim that science simply hasn't found the answer yet. I wouldn't be at all surprise if a guest contributed such a comment to this thread. I think most likely scientists who are not directly involved in quantum physics and the like don't trouble themselves over the fly in the ointment represented by quantum particle formation. Some of the folks I've debated, IIRC, claim to be scientists, and they resist the idea that quantum particles form randomly without cause. All of which merely provides further support for the idea that there is room for numerous metaphysical assumptions in science. Bryan, Dec 27: Is there an important difference between philosophy and religion in terms of the establishment clause? Could we indoctrinate children into Stoicism in government schools? I don’t think we could Constitutionally indoctrinate children into a particular philosophical system, although the particular clause preventing it might be equal protection or due process rather than establishment of religion. I don’t know if the question’s ever been ruled on. I’m not arguing in favor of such indoctrination if that’s what you’re asking. I was merely pointing out that an ethical system based on the Golden Rule need not be considered a religious belief. Bryan, Dec 27: Those who believe that everyone should not be treated equally are obviously under pressure to conform. Take a Hindu, for example. There's this Untouchable class, and this "treating everyone equally" stuff very obviously militates against his religious beliefs. Is that credible? The Hindu in question need not treat everyone equally. He in fact has the Constitutional right of freedom of association. It is the government that is required to treat everyone equally. And even for the government we are only talking about the avoidance of special treatment based on group membership, and that only within the group of adult citizens. If, however, the Hindu wants to shoot an Untouchable for being an Untouchable, the government will attempt to prevent that, regardless of whether it’s allowed or required by the Hindu’s religious beliefs. And that’s OK. Laws passed for the general welfare are Constitutional even if they impair religious practice. See http://www.oyez.org/cases/case/?case=1980-...89/1989_88_1213. Bryan, Dec 27: Well, I was trying to drive at the notion that ethical systems are inherently religious (based on some type of faith commitment or metaphysical alignment), but you're not going there so far. Nope. Bryan, Dec 27: Thanks, Glen--I enjoy debating a good opponent. Knock off the straw man stuff and you'll be a friend with whom I disagree. Thanks yourself. I don’t think I’ve employed any strawman stuff.
  3. Glen Tarr

    Science and religion

    The problem is that we could easily envision a situation in which a stationary object sitting on a stationary planet nevertheless experienced such a force. General relativity showed that acceleration is indistinguishable from gravity. So if you're in a small room and suddenly feel a force pushing you down, you don't know if it's because you're in an elevator accelerating up, or because the effective mass below you has increased. The gist is that if you take the earth as your reference frame and consider everything else to be revolving around it, you have to introduce a general gravitic force coming from somewhere beyond our range of detection to account for the erratic motions of the stars and planets. The old geocentric model didn't do that, and it assumed an objectively correct reference frame, so it was doubly wrong. Copernicus' heliocentric model still assumed an objectively correct reference frame, so it was still wrong to that extent. We can put the earth at the center of the universe under Einstein's general relativity model, but that's not the same thing as the original geocentric model.
  4. Glen Tarr

    Science and religion

    Setting aside for the moment the broad assumption that the Bible was devinely inspired and inerrant, don’t you think the assumption that a given tract was meant to be taken literally is a fairly broad one? You asked a question (Is it science to prefer the simpler explanation) preceded by a premise (Copernicus’ idea is unfalsifiable). Neither Paul nor I agreed with your premise (though for different reasons), so we each addressed that first. That’s not being evasive, that’s just taking first things first. Since you asked again though, I do think it’s scientific to prefer the simpler of two sufficient and falsifiable explanations. I don’t consider “God did it” to be either sufficient (*How* did He do it?), or falsifiable. As I said, demonstrating it depends on how it’s defined. I’d define it as the ability to construct and manipulate mental models for problem-solving. Since we can’t see inside another’s mental processes, we can’t conclusively demonstrate that anything in particular is intelligent, but based on behavior and known underlying mechanisms for that behavior we can often demonstrate it pretty clearly. If something is demonstrating flexible and complex strategies to achieve a goal, and if it has a brain at least superficially similar to our own, chances are it’s demonstrating intelligence. I meant that religion can’t as yet explain how intelligence is produced, particularly in human brains. If you’d like to prove me wrong you have only to offer a (sufficient and falsifiable) explanation based on religion. “Should have” is a legal term meaning that a reasonable person in the same situation (same but for the differences between the reasonable person’s thought processes and Paszkeiwicz’s) would have known. The 8th and 14th amendments restrict application of the death penalty to the most serious of criminal offences. This doesn’t qualify. Was your point about causal determinism that no one can be blamed for their actions since those actions could not have been otherwise? If so, my response is that often those actions could not have been otherwise because they were based on presumptions regarding consequences. The imposition of reasonable punishments can prevent such presumptions from developing in the future. As for your question regarding metaphysics in science class: as far as I can tell there should be none. Science class is for science. Metaphysics is beyond science – by definition. Teaching metaphysical naturalism is as out of place as teaching any other faith-based idea, and I don’t agree that it is typically done. It certainly wasn’t in my high school science classes. I asked you to support your claim that high school classes teach metaphysical rather than methodological naturalism. Are you now admitting that it doesn’t, but claiming instead that methodological naturalism “indoctrinates” students in metaphysical naturalism? If so how is this indoctrination accomplished specifically? And if metaphysical naturalism is the underlying assumption of science, why are quantum events considered by mainstream scientists to have no natural causes? 1) Someone might adopt the Golden Rule for either religious or philosophical reasons. 2) I mentioned the Golden Rule because that seems to be the ethical system held (at least to some extent) by most Americans, so for those people the idea of equality under the law would have added importance. For the others, there is still the Constitution to consider. Also, I don’t think you can credibly argue that we are privileging certain people by treating everyone equally. The Golden Rule is a philosophical position that can be reached through either religious or philosophical precepts. I think it does tend to underlie and inform many Amercan’s basic sense of right and wrong, but I also think it is summarized too inconsistently, and in it’s most common forms is not comprehensive enough, to serve as the government’s sole standard of justice. Also, laws may have to apply to situations that aren’t unethical under the Rule, such as when someone is fined for running a red light when there were no other cars on the road.
  5. Glen Tarr

    Science and religion

    And what do you think that metaphysical foundation is? This doesn’t make linguistic sense to me. Are you saying the criticisms assume the Bible passages are literally true but colored by the culture in which they were written? Bellarmine thought that the earth established a stationary reference frame according to which everything revolved around the earth. Copernicus (and Gallileo and Newton) threw out the idea of the earth as the center of the universe, but kept the objectively verifiable reference frame. Einstein showed that there is no such objectively verifiable frame, so anything could be considered the center of the universe. Copernicus was more correct than Bellarmine, and Einstein was more correct than Copernicus. That’s science, and scientific progress. Intelligence can be demonstrated (depending on how it’s defined), it just can’t yet be completely explained. Neither can religion explain it. As for whether Paszkiewicz had a choice, he did to the extent that anyone does. He knew or should have known he was acting illegally and unethically, and he did so anyway. It’s likely his decision was determined, at least in part, by the assumption that he wouldn’t be caught, or that he could lie his way out of it if he were caught, or that nothing would happen to him even if he couldn’t lie his way out. If that asumption is shown to be false, then he and others like him are less likely to have their actions swayed by it in the future. True. Many people also don’t bother to distinguish between microgravity (which makes apples fall) and macrogravity (which guides the motions of planets and stars). Metaphysical naturalism is the idea that everything is governed by natural laws and nothing can be beyond such laws. Methodological naturalism is the idea that science should proceed in its methods by assuming a phenomenon is produced by natural laws, unless there is evidence to the contrary. What makes you think high school science classes teach the former rather than the latter? I can’t speak for Paul, but I’d argue that Constitutionally and ethically (under an ethical system based on the Golden Rule) it’s bad for the government to treat some citizens as privileged just because of their religious beliefs. I also think that many with “hard-line theistic modes of thought” often don’t agree with that. Hence the need for discussion. Obviously there are problems on both sides of the fence. Discussions such as this can help with that too.
  6. You're still on about this? Are you going to try claiming it was all a set-up and that the teacher was only proselytizing because Matt wanted to look like a hero and that he never would have done that kind of thing otherwise? Because if the teacher and the principal and the school board weren't play-acting, then what that teacher did was seriously wrong and what Matt did to stop it took courage. And you're still dragging your town's reputation through the mud.
  7. Lots of people are praising Matt because he deserves it. He stood up to authority and defended the Constitution and the rights of students to be treated as equals by the government. But lots of people are attacking him as well. People such as yourself who don’t seem to understand what it means to be an American. Just because the teacher wasn’t physically abusing anyone doesn’t mean what he did wasn’t a big deal. It’s all well and good to have a piece of paper guaranteeing freedom of religion and equal treatment under the law, but we have to live those ideals as well. When they’re attacked or undermined by the very government that’s supposed to uphold them, we have to speak up. Fail to do so now and next time it could be a Muslim teacher telling your own kids they’re going to hell. And just so we’re clear, any preaching being done on college campuses is done by private individuals on their own time, not by government employees on government time. Any audience those college preachers get is free to leave, and no one is dependent on such preachers for their grades.
  8. Glen Tarr

    civility and religion

    I don’t think he’s creating a conflict, I think he’s pointing one out that already exists. The idea that everyone is inherently equal – that we have no privileged classes – is a basic American ideal. It’s the first of the self-evident truths listed in the Declaration of Independence. And it directly conflicts, at least potentially, with the idea that some people are going to hell and that we know who those people are. If you know someone’s going to hell you’re going to have a strong impetus to treat that person differently while she’s on Earth. That’s why Paszkiewicz proselytized for his brand of Christianity in class. If a Muslim teacher had done the same thing he would never have stood for it, but he apparently thought Christians of his particular stripe are somehow special and ought to be allowed to do things others can’t.
  9. I'd be extremely surprised if New Jersey attorneys were required to take an oath on the Bible. I'm a member of the Oregon and California bars and neither of those states requires or expects that. I also think it's important to remember that this isn't about whether the Bible is fictitious or not. It's about whether it's Constitutional for a government-paid teacher to proselytize to his students during class.
  10. For all we know, all those numerous other unknown posters were you.
  11. You still don't get it do you? The poster you were responding to wasn’t dragging your town down. Matt wasn’t dragging your town down. YOU, and the local folks like you, are the ones dragging your town down. If the story had just been that Matt stood up for the Constitution against a misguided teacher, everyone would have thought poorly of the teacher but no one would have thought poorly of Kearny. That kind of thing, unfortunately, can happen anywhere. But then it comes out that the Kearny school board still hasn’t done anything about it. That looks pretty bad. There aren’t a lot of towns with school boards that are that backwards, though it does still happen in a lot of places. But the kicker is when it comes out that most of the local Kearny folks, such as yourself, are actually attacking Matt instead of thanking him – that he has received threats and abuse for trying to uphold the bedrock principles on which this country was founded! That’s just beyond belief. That’s what makes Kearny look like it belongs somewhere back in the 16th century. “Nothing wrong”!? You just get through attacking a child’s reputation, on an internationally-followed bulletin board, based on nothing but hearsay and innuendo, and then you have the gall to say you and your town did nothing wrong? You couldn’t find a clue if someone stuck it to your rear with a tack! And the really stupid thing about it is that your attack is completely beside the point anyway. It’s theoretically possible (though I don’t believe if for a minute) that Matt did what he did for the publicity. The fact remains he did a great thing. He found someone in a position of authority who was breaking his duty to his students and spitting on the Constitution, and he did not walk away. Despite having all the cards stacked against him, despite the teacher’s authority over him and the lack of action from the principal and the likelihood that local folks might respond as you have, Matt did exactly what he had to do to bring the issue out into the open. And he did it well. I’d like to think I might have tried to do what he did when I was his age, but I don’t know if I could have pulled it off. Matt thought on his feet, he remained calm and articulate, he did not break down when it looked like the entire power structure was against him. That takes guts and brains and heart, and whether he did it for the publicity or (as I believe) to uphold a principle, he deserves every good word anyone’s put in for him. Likewise his dad deserves a lot of credit. He backed up his son despite the fact that it would probably cut into his local business, and when his son started getting attacked and threatened he did not start pulling people out of the local bars and busting their chops, which is what I’d have wanted to do. He got on this discussion board, subjecting himself to more ridicule from folks like you, and he explained and defended what happened in a calm and reasonable manner. I don’t see the teacher or the principal doing that, because that takes a lot more guts than just laying low and hoping it all blows over. The only good impression of Kearny I’ve gotten out of this whole thing is that it has people like Matt and Paul living in it. If you’re really so all-fired worried about your town’s reputation, then stop doing things that drag it through the mud!
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