Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Maverick Philospher's quest for objective morality

Many theists believe there is an objective morality to be discovered. However, since you can't uncover such a morality in the same way you can lift a stone and find a pill bug, empirical systems are not use for this process. Instead, many rely on various works that they give implicit trust to, except when the advice of such books goes against their innate beliefs. Hence, we see homosexuals barred from military service, but don't see single women non-virgins barred in such a fashion, much less executed for being a single non-virgin.

Some attempt a seemingly more sophisticated approach of creating a morality based upon a few accepted notions and creating a formal system to reflect it. That's when you see people like the Maverick Philosopher examining the details on what their basic positions entail when examined in detail. Below the fold, I'll go into why I think this helps to pinpoint the inherent lack of objectivity in this construction of a moral system.

I'm not really concerned with the particular argument that Dr. Vallicella is making in his post, rather, I want to highlight what happens when he finds his argument is inadequate. In particular, he doesn't like the breadth of the conclusion of the argument, so he proposes a new starting point. That is, in creating this supposedly objective moral position, he changed his starting point to get the conclusion that he felt was the right one.

Now, I have no objections to this activity per se. In fact, this is one of the better advantages of operating strictly within a formal system. If the starting positions lead you to a situation you can't use, changing the starting positions is to be expected. If you are tracking the movements of ships on the surface of the earth, you don't pretend that the surface of the earth matches Euclid's parallel postulate; instead you assume that no lines (aka great circles) are parallel and use a Riemannian geometry. It will have the tools you need to look at ship movements around a globe.

However, the process of choosing these starting positions is strictly based on the conclusions you want to derive. That makes the starting positions arbitrary, and those positions will be carefully chosen so the results conform to the desired outcome. So, far from getting some objective morality that can be applied to all, you get a tailored morality designed to support a specific set of positions. Some of these systems, like natural law, were debated for hundreds of years before they were codified, and even then still generate disagreements around the edges.

When people come up with another method of knowing things that can exhibit certainty, reality, and demonstrability, that method of know may indeed lead to an objective morality. Until that time, there will be no such creature. All the construction within formal systems will not be able alter the shaky foundation upon which they rest.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Strangers on a Train

Recently I was riding the Metro from downtown back across the river. Three ladies tried to get off at the East Riverfront station. but one of them had been sitting down, and couldn't get her walker organized and herself out of the seat in time to get through the door. They were at the back end of the train, so the driver was unaware of their situation. The door closed before they could leave the train, and naturally the ladies were very worried about getting back to their station. That's when the other passengers helped out -- sort of.

The ladies were not from the local area, and not used to riding the train. So, while the other passengers reassured them they could change directions at the 5th & Missouri station (the boarding area is conveniently in between the two directions there), they weren't sure how easily this could be done. I volunteered to escort the the ladies, and saw them safely back to East Riverfront. It was not a big deal, I had free time that day.

The reason I bring this up is to point out that I, and my fellow atheists, perform actions like this every day. We do it out of empathy, a desire to make the community a better place to live, a vision that the best world is run by people who help each other. People have always felt this way, since long before humans separated from the other apes.

One of the regular complaints I read is that atheists don't have some source for absolute morality to fall back on. While I usually engage that discussion by pointing out that there is no true, non-arbitrary source for morality (and there will be more on that in my next post), it's also worthwhile pointing out the opposite: humans don't need to taught morality by learning a set of rules or some arbitrarily imposed principles like natural law, they are taught morality by learning to see other humans as worthwhile and deserving of compassion, respect, and fair treatment. People who have an abundance of those qualities will behave morally, with or without an arbitrary set or rules/principles. People who lack those qualities will abuse and re-interpret any given rules/principles to behave immorally. Religious beliefs offer no advantage for moral behavior.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is "necessary" more than just a word?

The Maverick Philosopher blogged some thoughts designed to offer evidence that there are necessary beings. Overall, the argument relies on the common co-mingling of the formal and the real, between the description and an actual existence. We've looked at such arguments before, (for example, in this post) and in my series reviewing The Last Superstition. Proponents of the supernatural go to a great deal of trouble to convince us in the existence of archetypes for the descriptions we use for things, because they wish to use those archetypes to cast some being as the thinker of the archetypes. Here, the archetype is "necessary".

Dr. Vallicella breaks his argument down in 6 parts, which I will address in six paragraphs below the fold.

The first part gives the general idea of the descriptions of "contingent" and "necessary". It provides no reason to think of these descriptions as having any sort of independent existence, just as labels we might apply to various phenomena.

The second part introduces a new description, concrete (defined as objects which are or can be involved in causal chains/lattices) and abstract (things that by their nature make them not causally relevant. Non-physical items, such as emotional states, can still be concrete as long as it is possible for them to influence things. However, the items offered for abstracta seem curious. The claim is that ideas like "7 is a prime number" or the set containing Socrates (i.e., not Socrates himself, but the set containing him) are abstracta. Yet, if "7 is a prime number" is abstract, by definition that idea could not have resulted in Dr. Vallicella, nor me, typing that clause into the keyboard. Under these definitions, there are no abstracta that can be discussed, because to discuss them is to have them participate in causing the discussion.

The third part makes the case that there are necessary truths, offering the example that "7 is a prime number" is a necessary truth. As I have mentioned before, this is like claiming that "the Fool's Mate is the shortest chess game" is a necessary truth. People set up the rules of chess, just like people create the number system. There is nothing necessary about the rules we used to create the number system; we can change them at our convenience. So, I am actually unconvinced that necessary truths exist. Nonetheless, I will grant that for the sake of the rest of the argument.

The fourth part has a discussion of what a truth is (a true truth-bearer), and how such a thing can exist, by pointing out that neither marks on a paper nor a brain inscription can be true in and of themselves. Rather, it is the interpretation that we give to those marks, or that inscription, that is true or false. I think the phrase "true thought-bearer" or even "true proposition-bearer" would have been closer to what Dr. Vallicella is trying to convey. After all, if a bearer could only carry truths, it would not need the redundant description "true truth-bearer". Another point of disagreement is the need for there to be a proposition bearer at all. Propositions don’t need to be born to be true, they merely need to be born to be seen as true by the bearer. Especially if the truth is necessary, it will be true regardless of the existence of a bearer. This is another attempt to take a description, in this case "true", and impose some sort of underpinning or instantiation to it.

The fifth paragraph notes that since the marks/inscriptions are themselves contingent, the truths themselves might not be necessary. Applying modus tollens and the existence of necessary truths, Dr. Vallicella arrives at the conclusion there must be non-contingent proposition-bearers. This is where the underpinning attempted in the prior part bears fruit within Dr. Vallicella’s argument, and why the argument fails to be convincing to people who distinguish between descriptions and instantiations of descriptions.

The sixth arguments attempts a reducito ad absurbum on the possibility that all truth bearers are contingent, by using the notion that all descriptions are instantiated to show that, since a proposition can be conceived in any possible world, there must be something to conceive it within that world. It fails to be convincing for the same reason, namely, that there is no reason to think all descriptions are instantiated, so there does not need to be something to think a proposition in any particular possible world.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

The good and the bad, side-by-side

Within the past six weeks, I've been pleasantly surprised by three different websites that I usually disagree with. I have never shied away from vocally disagreeing with people, so the least I can do is extend a little credit from time to time.

Of course, each site has also said something jaw-droppingly stupid since then within the scope of my usual interests, so I'll take note of that, as well. I discuss the details below the fold.

At the beginning of the month, the Illinois Family Institute put together a surprisingly well-balanced take on the misnamed Ground Zero Mosque to kick the month off. Not only do they give, unequivocal support to the right of the Muslims to build the structure, they make a direct comparison to churches all over the country that are facing restrictions on building based on zoning codes. Sure, they forget to mention that some 60+ Muslims (not including the terrorists, of course) were killed on 9/11, but for the IFI, it's better than I ever expected to see. Of course, they have since followed it with the traditional confusion of being anti-bullying with pro-homosexual and some willful blindness to the funding priorities of Republicans in the midst of a rant where they somehow think there are no warnings in the media concerning promiscuous sex. Still, 1 out of 500 is better than 0 out of 500.

Just a couple of days prior to that, Martin Cothran of Vital Remnants showed unusually good judgment in his dismissal of Glenn Beck as a leader for the conservative movement, and more importantly to me, his confirmation of the fundamental personal credibility of Dr. King. There are rare occasions I think Cothran could be promoted from pure blog fodder to the "a little of both" category, that he might one day actually produce information that would be worth reading. Then, he drops a couple of truly stupid posts that arbitrarly criticize public pensions without examining overall total compensation at all and a little gem about Jerry Coyne pulling the last sentence out of context and portraying it as being about something else. With such poor investigative and reading skills, I see little chance of anything valuable coming from his site.

The earliest came from the keyboard of Dr. Feser, with a smack-down of the attempted rebranding of "suicide bomber" to "homicide bomber" by conservatives. While I disagree with his take on Dr. Vallicella (if not paranoid, Dr. Vallicella certainly seems pathologically fearful of Muslims, and his attempts to rationalize his fear bring me regular amusement), otherwise his post was clear and well-thought-out. Of course, that's not going to change his devotion to an outdated metaphysical system, such as exemplified in his incorrect generalizations on same-sex marriage or the grandiose claims regarding classical theism and it's importance today.

Even stopped clocks are right twice a day. Still, three such posts in less than month created quite a surprise for me.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010


When I was first married, I was very poor at my chosen profession (teaching). So, I would often support myself (and help support my wife) with a variety of jobs, one of which working full-time at a Burger King franchisee for three years. I started as a management trainee, but my personality is ill-suited to be management, so I spent most of that time as a typical employee. One of the people I worked with was Richard. It never occurred to me at the time, at least not that I recall, that I might be looking into the future of my own children, in particular Son#1. Below the fold I'll talk about the man I met and worked with, what I knew about him, and what happened to him.

I don't know whether Richard was actually in the autism spectrum or not. I had barely heard of the disease at the time, and certainly didn't know what any of the most common characteristics were. I do remember that Richard was reliable and followed a routine very precisely, and that it was important to take a calm tone with him, all traits that Son#1 possesses. He was already at BK#1 (that is, the busiest store in the franchise) when I transferred in (as a regular employee, having trained at #2, and managed at #8 over the previous six months). He worked M-F, starting at 7am through the lunch rush. He took out the overnight trash, cleaned the outside lot, took a break, and then worked the fry bin. I got along fairly well with him, as he never goofed off nor tried to shirk his duties.

Richard had a twin brother Robert, who also worked at BK for a short period of time. Richard was very protective of Robert, who seemed less able to assimilate that Richard was, and so did not last long at BK#1. I was told they lived with their grandfather, in a house that was fully owned, so they were actually able to get by on minimum wage.

However, there finally came a day when, in the heat of the lunchtime rush, the manager yelled at Richard, and he couldn't handle it. He screamed at the top of his lungs and left the restaurant. The manager was quite shaken, and refused to rehire him. I did see him later, working in another restaurant, doing much the same thing.

Naturally, I wonder if this will be Son#1's life. Bosses who hire him out of pity and then fire him out of fear, moving from job to job without ever really progressing. Son#1 has made so much progress, and been through so many changes, that I think he will continue to do things that surprise me. Still, I worry.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Productive dialog without honest dialog

The Maverick Philosopher is at it again, this time pondering whether "whether any productive dialog with atheists is possible" in his quest for all that is true (meaning Conservative and Christian, naturally). Oddly, my first thought was that a productive dialog would be much easier if he didn't delete every comment he didn't like on from his blog, despite their being direct and polite, but we can't expect too much from Dr. Vallicella, I suppose.

The Maverick Philosopher reintroduces many of the same misunderstandings as in his Teapot post, to which I posted a reply. As he is a reasonably intelligent man, it is hard to attribute his misunderstandings to something other than a self-induced blindness. Another great example is his post on the liberals playing the race card, where both he and the article of Thomas Sowell's to which he links manage to over look that the two biggest race cards played recently were by Mark Williams and Andrew Brietbart. I guess the race card only offends Dr. Vallicella when liberals play it. So, I'll address the usual misunderstandings of Dawkins point below the fold.

"Some of Us Just Go One God Further"

I've seen this quotation attributed to Richard Dawkins. From what I have read of him, it seems like something he would say. The idea, I take it, is that all gods are on a par, and so, given that everyone is an atheist with respect to some gods, one may as well make a clean sweep and be an atheist with respect to all gods. You don't believe in Zeus or in a celestial teapot. Then why do you believe in the God of Isaac, Abraham, and Jacob?

There is one way in which all gods are on a par: there is no reliable evidence for any of them. However, the quote here is not a statement of some necessary ontological status regarding gods. It is a challenge to apply consistent standards of evidence. Given that you reject personal testimonies for Zeus and Anansi, that you find their histories insufficient to believe in them, why do you accept evidence for Yahoweh that is not better in any non-subjective fashion?

What Dawkins and the gang seem to be assuming is that the following questions are either senseless or not to be taken seriously: 'Is the Judeo-Christian god the true God?' 'Is any particular god the true God' 'Is any particular conception of deity adequate to the divine reality?'

I can see no reason to say these questions are senseless or trivial to Dawkins. If they were, he would not have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to writing a book on them. Dawkins was already a popular author of books on evolution, and his aggressive stance in favor of atheism has cost him some of that popularity. From all indications, Dawkins sees this cost as well-invested, because the issue is both capable of being intelligently discussed and important to address.

The idea, then, is that all candidates for deity are in the same logical boat. Nothing could be divine. Since all theistic religions are false, there is no live question as to which such religion is true. It is not as if there is a divine reality and that some religions are more adequate to it than others. One could not say, for example, that Judaism is somewhat adequate to the divine reality, Christianity more adequate, and Buddhism not at all adequate. There just is no divine reality. There is nothing of a spiritual nature beyond the human horizon. There is no Mind beyond finite mind. Man is the measure.

Well, it does seem trivial that if there is no divine reality, you can't be closer to it with one model of it than another model. However, I have not read anything by Dawkins that says "Nothing could be divine", rather, 'Nothing is divine' seems to be a much better summary of his position. There is no ruling out of any possible type of supernatural, only noting that there is no reliable evidence in favor of any sort of supernatural entity. I have never read a claim he can disprove the existence of an infinite mind, merely that there is no reliable evidence for such a mind.

Of course, this does not rule out the ability to disprove the existence of a particular model of the supernatural, many of which fall apart simply because they are bronze-age creations of people who did not possess what we would recognize as a consistent philosophy, which are then shoe-horned into our modern thoughts. For example, the notion of an omnibenevolent being who engages in eternal conscious torture for temporally limited offenses is inherently self-contradictory. You don't need to rule out the existence of all possible gods to rule out the existence of that particular god.

That is the atheist's deepest conviction. It seems so obvious to him that he cannot begin to genuinely doubt it, nor can he understand how anyone could genuinely believe the opposite. But why assume that there is nothing beyond the human horizon?

In my case, I assume there is plenty beyond the human horizon. There are galaxies we have not even seen yet, ideas about the beginning and possible end of time itself, infinities of space, and whole manners of natural phenomena that exceed our horizon. I accept them because we have evidence that they do or at least can exist.

My return question: why assume there is something out there that intends to be found but fails to leave any reliable evidence pointing towards it?

The issue dividing theists and atheists can perhaps be put in terms of Jamesian 'live options':

EITHER: Some form of theism (hitherto undeveloped perhaps or only partially developed) is not only logically and epistemically possible, but also an 'existential' possibility, a live option;

OR: No form of theism is an existential possibility, a live option.

That's easy: theism is absolutely a live option for the majority of atheists. Many of us find it the preferred option. However, the universe does not run itself based upon our preferences. Theism is a live option, but it is not an evidenced option. You can't just wish gods into existence.

Theist-atheist dialog is made difficult by a certain asymmetry: whereas a sophisticated living faith involves a certain amount of purifying doubt, together with a groping beyond images and pat conceptualizations toward a transcendent reality, one misses any corresponding doubt or tentativeness on the part of sophisticated atheists. Dawkins and Co. seem so cocksure of their position. For them, theism is not a live option or existential possibility. This is obvious from their mocking comparisons of God to a celestial teapot, flying spaghetti monster, and the like.

So, are we to equate the careful considerations of The Maverick Philosopher with the bold declarations of Dawkins as playing the same role in the social movements dedicated to their respective views of the supernatural? No, I don't think so. Dawkins is not The Maverick Philosopher for atheists. To the degree that we would have leaders at all, he is the James Dobson, the Malcolm X, or the Deepak Chopra: a public persona pushing an agenda. I'm sure Dr. Vallicella knows better than I who the serious atheistic philosophers are.

For sophisticated theists, however, atheism is a live option. The existence of this asymmetry makes one wonder whether any productive dialog with atheists is possible.

Well, I don't recall there being a lot of productive dialog with the James Dobson's of the world, either. Perhaps if you seek dialog, it should be with someone seeking to dialog. Dawkins is an advocate.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Putting the Grim Philosopher argument to sleep

Now that we understand just what sort of thing a maximal collection of consistent truths must be, we can get around to discussing the attempt to form a contradiction based upon its possible existence, which argument The Maverick Philosopher (Dr. Vallicella) seems determined to support.

In fact, The Maverick Philosopher is so intent on preserving this argument that my comments pointing out a summarized version of my last post are no longer present. That is, I posted the first comment on 7/14, it was gone by 7/15, I posted another comment on 7/18 in the morning, I checked back on 7/18 in the afternoon to see it there, it was gone on 7/19, I sent an email on 7/19 asking why my comment was removed, and so far I have received no response to that email. I should not be surprised The Maverick Philosopher prefers to deal the disproof of his argument by covering up the evidence. After all, this is a man who, despite the presence of a dictionary definition that specifies "A strong fear, dislike, or aversion" as the definition of 'phobia', insists that "A phobia is an irrational fear. If you use the word in any other way you are misusing it. " Apparently avoiding the inconvenient is one of his preferred methods of dealing with reality. So, I'll have to produce the reality regarding his proof on my blog below the fold, where he can avoid it by not coming here at all. For someone who shakes in his boots at the idea of Muslims and thinks it rational, discretion is undoubtedly the better part of valor.

Addressing the 4 points in order:
1. Cantor's Theorem states that for any set S, the cardinality of the power set P(S) of S > the cardinality of S. ... But the proof needn't concern us. It is available in any standard book on set theory.

Quite accurate, assuming the power set can be formed. That's part of the issue with this proof. When you get to a certain size, a collection goes from being a set to a proper class. Depending on the particular set theory, this means either that, for some proper class V, either P(V) cannot be constructed (NBG and ZFC) or it cannot be larger than V (MK). Either way, Cantor's Theorem does not apply.

2. Suppose there is a set T of all truths, ... But according to Cantor's Theorem, the power set of T is strictly larger than T. So there will be more of those truths than there are truths in T. It follows that T cannot be the set of all truths.

As I demonstrated in the last post, the size of T is the size of the ordinal numbers, which is a proper class. So, there cannot be a greater cardinality in the class of all subclasses of T, even if such a subclass were to exist.

3. Given that there cannot be a set of all truths, the actual world cannot be the set of all truths. This implies that possible worlds cannot be maximally consistent sets of propositions. I learned the Cantorian argument that there is no set of all truths from Patrick Grim. I don't know whether he applies it to the question whether worlds are sets.

Since we have no disproof of the notion that there can be a class of all truths (such a class would exist under any typical rendition of set theory), it turns out that worlds can indeed be maximal collections of consistent truths.

4. As far as I can see, the fact that possible worlds cannot be maximally consistent sets does not prevent them from being maximally consistent conjunctive propositions.

This position requires at least some reason to differentiate between the category of consistent sets and the categroy of consistent conjunctive proposition, in that there are member of one which are not naturally a part of the other. However, there is an obvious and natural one-to-one relationship between the category of consistent sets and the category of consistent conjunctions. Namely, {pi}i ε I <---> &i ε I(pi). In fact, if you define a partial order on the category of consistent conjuction by sayin that &i ε I(pi) <= &j ε J(pj) whenever, for each i ε I, pi ε {pj}j ε J, this relationship even preserves the partial order of the set category. This means any maximal consisent conjunction would map to a maximal collection of consistent propositions. So, if you say the maximal collections of sets does not exist, perforce the maximal consistent conjuction does not exist, either.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

A primer on transfinitie recursion

I am going to discuss a transfinite recursion in this post, as a prelude to filling in the argument from last July pointing out that the attempted argument by Dr. Vallicella against the possible existence of a maximal collection of truths, to which I wrote a response last July. Today, that response seems inadequate, so I intend to do the proof more comprehensively. That way, in the future I can just link to the new post whenever Dr. Vallicella decides to raise this argument again, as he did last week.

A good background in ordinal numbers generally will be very helpful for understanding this post. I will not attempt to improve on the three-part series penned by Mark Chu-Carroll over at Good Math, Bad Math. For better or worse, I'll assume the reader understands that material and go from there below the fold.

Transfinite recursion is the process of defining a function over all of the ordinals. Recursive definitions are fairly common at the level of the finite. For example, the factorial function (identified by a bang, for example, 3!) comes up in pretty much any college level math class that mentions probability. Factorials can be defined recursively. You start off saying 0! = 1. Then, for any integer n > 0, n! = n * (n-1)!. Thus,
1! = 1 * 0! = 1 * 1 = 1.
2! = 2 * 1! = 2 * 1 = 2.
3! = 3 * 2! = 3 * 2 = 6.
4! = 4 * 3! = 4 * 6 = 24.
5! = 5 * 4! = 5 * 24 = 120.
This is not the only way to define n!, but it is a useful way. This definition consisted of two steps: the definition for 0, and the definition for any number given the value for the immediately previous number.

With transfinite recursion, the same basic idea applies: for any particular ordinal ω, you use the definitions of some or all the ordinals β where β < ω to define the function on ω. If you can do that as a single definition, so much the better, but often these definitions consist of three steps: define the function for the first ordinal (0), define the function for each ordinal that has a direct predecessor (the are called successor ordinals), and define the function for ordinals that have predecessors, but no direct predecessor (these are called limit ordinals). As you might have noticed, the first two steps are the same as we saw for the definition of factorial. I will be using transfinite recursion to start with a single truth t, and generate from that a maximal collection of consistent truths T that derive from t. "Maximal" means: given any collection Tx of truths derived from t, Tx is a subset of T.

The first step of the transfinite recursion is simple: T0 = {t}. T0 is very obviously derived from t.

Edit: In my discussion in the next paragraph, I glected to account for the fact that Tβ+1 will contain every truth in Tβ even without being unioned. This is corrected.

The next step will be to define Tβ+1 given some Tβ derived from t. Of course, I will use the definition offered by Dr. Vallicella in his proof, otherwise there would be no point to this. Tβ will consist of truths, {tβ,1, . . . , tβ,i, tβ,i+1, . . ., tβ,ω} that derive from t. Consider the power set P(Tβ) of Tβ. The truth tβ,1 in Tβ will be a member of some of Tβ's subsets but not of others. Thus, tβ,1 ε {tβ,1, tβ,2}, and tβ,1 ~ε { } are both truths. In general, for each subset s in the power set P(Tβ) there will be a truth of the form tβ,1 ε s or tβ,1 ~ε s. You can denote whichever of these statements is true by q(tβ,1,s). We then define Tβ+1 = {q(tβ,i,s) | tβ,i ε Tβ and s ε P(Tβ)} union {t}, and say that Tβ+1 is also derived from t. This is the process Dr. Vallicella uses to generate a larger set. Note that since every statement of Tβ is repeated in Tβ+1, Tβ is a subset of Tβ+1.

Before we move on, lets look at T1 and T2. T0 has two subsets, {} and {t}, and one element, {t}. t ε {t} (we can call this truth t1,1) and t ~ε {} (we can call this truth t1,2). Then, T1 = {t, t1,1, t1,2}. T1 has eight subsets: {}, {t}, {t1,1}, {t1,2}, {t, t1,1}, {t, t1,2}, {t1,1, t1,2}, and {t, t1,1, t1,2}. With three elements of T1 and eight subsets of T1, we can generate 24 true statements of the form t2,j, 1<= j <= 24, two of which were in T1 (left as an exercise for the interested reader). T2 will consist of these 24 statements, and t, for twenty-five truths. In case you are curious, there are 25*2^25+25 (i.e. 838,860,825) statements in T3.

The third step is simple. For any limit ordinal ω, Tω is the union of all the Tβ where β < ω. Since all the statements of each Tβ are derived from t by the process in the previous paragraph, every element of Tω is derived from t.

The (proper) class of all of all ordinals is commonly called Ω. So, for each ω ε Ω, we have defined Tω. T is the union of all the Tω over all the ω ε Ω. T is now the maximal collection of truths derived from t. Since for any ordinal ω, #(Tω) >= #(ω) (that is, Tω at least as many elements as ω), T has more elements than any ordinal. Therefore, T must be a proper class. I'll discuss what this means in my next post.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

At the old ball game

Recently, Son#1 went to see the Cardinals, by himself. His school's (marching?) band was scheduled to play there, and while he is not in that particular band, he wanted to be there to support them. Unfortunately we couldn't buy tickets through the band teacher due to pressing financial issues at that time. So, Son#1 went downtown to get his own tickets ahead of time. Needless to say, this opened up a flood of conflicting emotions in CharityBrow and me.

First was pride. Son#1 had never been further than a couple of miles from home on his own (he takes a bus to his job at a local department store). This time he took a bus to the MetroLink and then took the MetroLink to the stadium, some 15 or miles away. He never hesitated, showed no fear, and took everything in stride. He called regularly so CharityBrow and I would not worry. In fact, when it turned out the box office was closed on his first visit (a couple of days before the game, the Cardinals were out of town), he didn't get upset. He just turned around and came home. When he got home, he asked me what time he should leave on game day, and we went over the schedule together. On game day, he left on time, bought his ticket, found his seat, watched the game, and came home by a different route than the one he used to get to the game (due to the late-night buses running slightly differently). Ten years ago I had no idea he would ever be able to do these things. Heck, eleven years ago he was still in diapers at age seven.

Of course, there was a lot of fear on my part, as well. CharityBrow and I have always seen Son#1 as an easy target for predators. He trusts pretty much everyone he meets and thinks of them as his friend, at least until they do something mean. He'll hug girls he's never met, always with a big smile. He once left a bicycle unlocked across a park at night, because he never thought it might get stolen. So, we worried about someone offering him a ride and us never seeing him again.

For Son#1, I'm not sure it was even a big deal. Going to the game was a big deal, but the fact he did it on his own, not so much. In that way he's a lot like me. I started taking BiState (now MetroBus) to school in the fifth grade, and never though much of it. Wandering was always part of the fun. I would worry my parents greatly from time to time because of that. In that aspect, I suppose the parent's curse holds true: he is doing to me what I did to them. Should I feel good about that?

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Exploring the urban prairie

I work in East St. Louis, and on occasion move around the city from time to time either as a part of my job, or just to get a bite to eat. So, I get to see a fair share of urban prairie. As an urbanite, I find it rather depressing. I'll say a little more about it below the fold.

There is an interesting variety to the prairie. Sometimes the grass is so thick and high you'd never know anything had been built there at all. For example, along 13th between Exchange and Lynch there are multi-lot sized sections of meadow, which currently feature some wild, pretty, blue flowers (as of yesterday, anyhow). Other times, you can still see large patches of asphalt or concrete that have not yet successfully been buried, such as along State street between 81st and 85th. Presumably, much of this land belongs to the city. So, not only does the city need to pay for whatever upkeep there is on the property (the grass does need to be cut every month or so, at least along State Street), but it brings in no revenue. As more and more land becomes deserted, it becomes harder to support basic services for the remaining residents.

I wonder how long this can continue. Unlike East Coast cities, we still don't have land shortages here in the Midwest. So, O'Fallon, Shiloh, Troy, etc. are all growing, talking about getting new interstate exits, etc., while land much closer to St. Louis languishes. Eventually, the USA will have enough population pressure that this land will be used again. I wonder how long that will take.

Some of the land is apparently going to community gardens. In the next 50 years, we'll see full-scale farms? Can the latest 10 million help reverse the trend? I wonder if I will se a turnaround in my life time (based on family history, another 40 years or so).

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Reluctant Atheist meets The Fly

I am a reluctant atheist. Every time I read about some new proof of the existence of God/gods, I get a little bit of hope that I will be able to return to belief. So, when I reviewed Dr. Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition (you can read the series by clicking on the label link in the labels list), it was with the hope that there was some substance behind the show, that the tone of contempt shown toward atheists had a basis in real proof. Instead, a careful examination made it clear to me why Aristotlean-Thomasian metaphysics (abbreviated A-T hereafter) had been abandoned, or at least (since I don’t know the actual history of the field) why it will never again dominate metaphysical thinking. Below the fold, I use Dr. Feser’s speculations concerning the metaphysical implications of the movie The Fly to show where I think A-T is giving a poor description, and where Dr. Feser himself doesn’t seem to be using A-T very well. I will assume my readers have read Dr. Feser’s post first.

I will start out agreeing with Dr. Feser’s caveats that with very few actual facts to work with, all of this is speculation. However, I believe that Dr. Feser and I agree on all of the relevant facts, so that should not be an issue.

When addressing the question of whether BrundleFly is human, I think there is another categorization that could have been used to separate distinct concepts and clear up aspects of this classification: person. If we slightly change the traditional A-T definition to "a person is a rational animal", and perhaps "a human is a member of homo sapiens sapiens", with the acknowledge that in A-T, every human has the form that is a person, and therefore is a person, that will clear up much of the confusion. BrundleFly is certainly a person, as Dr. Feser’s descriptions the reasoning behind BrundleFly’s actions makes clear. However, BrundleFly is not a human. He has no evolutionary history when he steps out of the teleportation chamber, he is a type of Swampman or at the very least a hybrid. You are a member of a species based on your line of descent. I could be mistaken, but I believe Dr. Feser would not say that a mule is a horse.

Both of Dr. Feser’s arguments that try to support saying 'BrundleFly is human' actually go against the grain of A-T philosophy. While Dr. Feser assert the retention of reason as a means of asserting humanity, you first have to ask: does BrundleFly still have the form of a human? If you persist in saying that, for living thing, the form is what the living thing attempts to reach, then BrundleFly’s transformation does not deform him, it brings him closer to his true form. The second argument, that "human" should cover any sort of rational animal, serves merely to conflate different concepts. What makes Dr. Feser’s insistence even more self-contradictory is that, for him, there is a regularly occurring event where two living things with distinct DNA strands merge, which event Dr. Feser insists without equivocation produces a new living thing with a new form, different from either of the prior living things.

As for his discussion of what might have happened if BrundleFly has successfully merged with Veronica and her unborn child, the notion that two independent souls might survive in BrundleFly makes for some interesting interpretations for real-world human chimeras and monozygotic twins. Do chimeras really posses two souls, according to Dr. Feser? Do identical twins share a single soul between them? Those are the natural implications of his thoughts.

The reason Dr. Feser and I can start from the same facts, and come to completely opposite conclusions about Brundlefly within A-T, is that the A-T uses the non-factual determination of form to reach its conclusions. While I made what I felt was a reasonable argument that Brundlefly’s form was not human, that does not constitute proof, and in fact form cannot be proved. It can’t be measured, verified objectively, or pulled out by a process. The determination of a form is basically arbitrary, the most people can achieve is to agree to the same arbitrary designations to achieve consistency. That’s why A-T will never supplant the metaphysics of science today. It brings subjectivism to what is intended to be an objective process.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My son's job

I said earlier that I would discuss what Son#1, who has an autism-spectrum disorder, does to make money. Since I don’t make many posts that are only one sentence long, I will also take the time to discuss what I have seen of him at work, what his teachers have passed back as the feedback they receive, what doing this means for Son#1 (and us), and what I think this means for his future, below the fold.

His job is at TJ Maxx. It is his first job, and he was hired through a special program at the school. He works 1 or 2 afternoons a week, just under four hours at a time. He is responsible for putting merchandise back on the shelves, making sure that it is properly folded, sorted, or matched as needed. These tasks play very well into his strengths. These tasks deal with concrete objects, as opposed to abstract objects or people, require physical manipulation, and result in a nicely structured and patterned display. I have observed him at work once or twice when he did not know I was there. He moves quickly from place to place, and pays close attention to what he is doing and the final result.

According to his teachers, the store is very pleased with Son#1. While he is now an adult, so it’s not really my place to ask for personnel records (in fact, CharityBrow and I are now merely advisers at his school progress meetings, Son#1 is now in charge of his school plan), his teachers have informed me that he was nominated for Employee of the Quarter. They have continued to schedule him even though the school year is over, and have apparently indicated that they want to keep him after graduation. While I have always known that I have a determined, hard-working son, it’s quite a relief to see other people appreciate those same qualities. We’ve had some bad experiences in that regard, in particular at the church Son#1 attends, where they told him he could no longer volunteer at their Vacation Bible School (Maybe I’ll rant on that another day). While I want all my kids to succeed, there is a certain anxiety with regard to Son#1, and it’s nice to have that partially alleviated. You can make a living stocking shelves.

Then there is the money. Son#1’s first priority is a trip to Disney World with the band, and he is contributing half the amount needed every month (we contribute the other half). In addition, he makes regular trips on his bicycle by himself to buy himself little things: a soda here, a bag of chips there, perhaps some ice cream instead. He is primarily a saver, though. When he is out of money, it’s because he has lent it to us (don’t worry, he gets a very good rate of interest).

Son#1’s ultimate goal is still to be a band teacher. I think he has a chance to do, but it will take him longer than it might take other people. In the meantime, he’ll be able to pay for school, buy himself clothes, and generally enjoy his life while trying to make it better. There’s not much more I could ask for.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Thoughts on the last Jazz season

I just wanted to take a little time to talk about my reaction to the 2009-2010 season for the Utah Jazz. Overall, I was very pleased with the results. I think the Jazz took a couple of important steps forward. The series against the Lakers was disappointing, but that was more than balanced by other events, in my mind.

Before the season started, I had predicted the Jazz would win 54 games. They actually had 53 wins, so I was satisfied with that. More importantly was that a few of the wins showed they made real progress as a team. They beat San Antonio in San Antonio, for the first time in about a decade, and then did it a second time, sweeping the season series. They tied Denver for the division lead. They took a couple of close games on national TV, and came back from 25 points down in one game. All of this points to a team that is maturing, especially the three best players of Williams, Kirilenko, and Boozer (I think pretty much in that order).

The Jazz front office made some good moves as well. Keeping Millsap helped insure they had one of the better benches in the league. Okur was signed for another couple of years. I think ideally Okur would be a great sixth man, able to come off the bench and play inside or out to give the bench different look. However, he has certainly played better than any other center on the team, and I’d rather know he will be here than relay on Koufos, Fesenko, or undrafted Rookie X to start games. They turned a couple in mid-level draft picks of marginal value (Maynor and Brewer) into significant tax relief. They found and signed the best undrafted player (Matthews). While neither of the D-league signees showed great talent, they were integrated into the Jazz system and made minor contributions. Since I usually put the draft and free-agent signings as the beginning of the season, who they draft in 2010 and whether they can keep Boozer doesn’t factor into this analysis.

In the playoffs, the Jazz beat a full-strength Denver in Denver for the first time in a few years, and without two of their best four players. Not only was that another important milestone, but it also highlighted just how good Sloan is. Probably over the past four of five years, the importance I gave to NBA coaches was gradually diminishing. While I still think that talent tends to win out in the end, the Denver series showed that a well-coached squad can override superior talent on a poorly-coached squad.

Then came the Lakers, and it was disheartening. The Lakers are considerably more talented than the Jazz, especially with the Lakers at full strength and with the Jazz still missing two of their best four, and Jackson will never be outcoached to the degree Dantley was. Still, not only were the jazz swept, but in three games it seemed like the Lakers were doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I will get real pleasure out of beating the Lakers in some future playoff series, but I don’t see that happening for a couple of years.

So, overall I thought the Jazz were a great team to root for this past year, and I’m looking forward to the 2010-2011 season.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Prom night

Son#1 is a high-school junior this year. At his school, both juniors and seniors can attend the prom, so he took his own hard-earned money and bought a prom ticket (I'll save the discussion for what he did to make his money "hard-earned" for another post). He was at the dance for four hours, and then I drove him to the after-prom at a local bowling alley, where he stayed for another five hours. I finally picked him up just before 5 am.

Charity (short for CharityBrow, which my wife has as an online time from time to time) was worried about him for weeks leading up to the prom. What if kids pick on him? What if he gets confused and forgets how to call home? What if some less-than-honorable kids offer him a ride (a recurring demon we both suffer from)? I had a little more confidence, in that I at least persuaded her we needed to let him attend, but I won't pretend I didn't worry about the same things. However, none of that happened. He danced, and a couple of times even danced with a girl. He kissed a girl on the cheek. He bowled. He called when he was done dancing, and again when he was done bowling. Each time, he had a huge smile on his face because he had so much fun.

Because he's the oldest, I still wonder how my worries for him will compare with the other four. I think my mother worried as much about my youngest sibling (#4) as about me (oldest), at least in the out-late-at-night situations. Will I worry as much about Sons#2-3 and Daughters#1-2? If I don't, how much of that is because of experience, and how much is because their problems are much more manageable than pdd-nos (although the ADHD of Daughter#1 isn't that far off)?

Son#1 wants to take driver's education next year. I don't know how I feel about that, either. It's been hard enough trying to sit in the passenger seat when Son#2 (who is 16) is driving. Still, I plan to let him go to college and try to become a band teacher. If he can do that, I should probably at least give him the chance to learn to drive. Maybe.

If I thought that the questions would ever end, this would be easier to deal with. But I don't think they ever do.
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Back to posting

Sorry about my recent hiatus. My day job got a little busier, and it can be hard to get time on the computer at home. In times of vanity, I think I may be disappointing as many as a dozen people.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Maybe the answer was no, after all

Martin Cothran did me the favor of correcting my usage of English as a part of his response to an earlier post. I somehow mixed 'disparagements' and 'aspersions' into the accidental portmanteau 'dispersion', even though there is a homonym with no relation at all to the meaning of 'aspersion' or 'disparagement'. Frankly, it would not surprise me at all if Cothran can "speak it [English] more competently than I". Certainly, one of his duties for the Kentucky version of Focus on the Family is to make speeches, and I have no such experience. Although, since I don't believe he has ever heard me speak, he probably meant write, and I would not be surprised if he did that better, as well. Since my original comment was quoted as "It turns out his English is not nearly sufficient to warrant [Cothran's] casting of dispersion on other posters, or maybe it's his grade-school-level-science that is lacking", I have no problem accepting it's a matter of grade-school-level-science.

So, that's probably a couple of tally marks on his side of the ledger. Of course, based on his post, on my side of the ledger there would be the ability to apply logic to a daily situation, the ability to separate experts from non-experts, an ability to better read English, and a grasp of the differences between short-term and long-term phenomena. I'll address those points below the fold. Of course, I probably shouldn't be keeping score, that's just the gamer in me coming out.

The first point, Cothran's apparent inability to apply logic to a daily situation, is pointed out by Cothran's continued confusion of temperature with precipitation (not to mention apparently missing the implication of the "or" in the quote above). While Cothran is busy blogging about snow levels, 2009 was the second warmest year in the modern era. That means that every year of 2000-2009 is in the top twelve years, IIRC. It seems a simple concept: you measure warmth by looking at temperatures. Even in grade school we learned the difference between a rain gauge and a thermometer. Of course, Cothran teaches as a Christian school, so science is probably low in their curriculum priorities. At any rate, given his continuing difficulties distinguishing between precipitation and temperature, maybe he would refuse to wear a coat in a freezer.

For the second point, who does Cothran point to as authorities making predictions concerning global warming? Politicians. When I want advice on how a law is made/executed/adjudicated, I'll go to a politician. When I want direction on a scientific prediction, I'll go to scientists. I'm just crazy that way.

Of course, some people are probably thinking to themselves that Cothran did also link to an IPCC report. This is indeed a good authority, and if Cothran was not lacking in his basic ability to read English, he might have even interpreted this authority correctly. However, contrary to the assertion "But it's the IPCC saying that Global Warming is inconsistent with increased snowfall", there is not one part of that article which predicts decreased overall snowfall. In fact, the article specifically predicts increased precipitation, and lists snow as one type of precipitation that will increase. For example,
Because precipitation comes mainly from weather systems that feed on the water vapour stored in the atmosphere, this has generally increased precipitation intensity and the risk of heavy rain and snow events.
The only place where reduced snow is mentioned is
As temperatures rise, the likelihood of precipitation falling as rain rather than snow increases, especially in autumn and spring at the beginning and end of the snow season, and in areas where temperatures are near freezing. Such changes are observed in many places, especially over land in middle and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, leading to increased rains but reduced snowpacks, and consequently diminished water resources in summer, when they are most needed. Nevertheless, the often spotty and intermittent nature of precipitation means observed patterns of change are complex.
So, the prediction is for more precipitation overall, including heavy snow, but in the spring and autumn and in a couple of geographic locations some of the snow will be replaced by rain. This was a very readable and accessible document that Cothran completely inverted the meaning of.

Finally, we get to the difference between long-term and short-term phenomena. One extra-hot year one continent is not proof of global warming. So far, the overall temperature increase since the 1960s is less than two degree Celsius, well with typical temperature variation on a single continent from year to year. By the same token, even if 2010 was a cold winter, one cold year on one continent is not proof against global warming. However, we don't even have a cold month here: February 2010 was one of the hottest Februarys ever (again, the difference between temperature and precipitation). So, here is my response to the challenge
Now maybe One Brow could explain how more snow at lower latitudes is consistent with Global Warming.
It's really quite simple: we had more snowfall at lower latitudes and one of the warmest Februarys ever. That occurred at the same time, therefore they are consistent. QED

Maybe, when he has time, Cothran will use his superior English writing skills to tell me how it can be disadvantageous to have a scientific theory? I am much more interested in that question than in climate, frankly.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

On the disadvantages of a scientific theory

Of course, the first question to ask is: how is a scientific theory supposed to be disadvantageous? Does having a working, tested, reliable explanation for a phenomenon somehow put a person at a disadvantage over someone who shrugs his shoulders and says "Dunno"?

The reader might find this a strange topic, and frankly, so do I. However, it has been brought to my attention, via this post on Vital Remnants, that a least one legislator in Kentucky thinks there can be a disadvantage inherent to having a scientific theory, as stated in Kentucky House Bill 397. Text of the bill and commentary are below the fold.

Here is the entire bill:
AN ACT relating to science education and intellectual freedom.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:

(1) Teachers, principals, and other school administrators are encouraged to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories being studied.
(2) After a teacher has taught the content related to scientific theories contained in textbooks and instructional materials included on the approved lists required under KRS 156.433 and 156.435, a teacher may use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, including but not limited to the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
(3) This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
(4) This section may be cited as the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act.

Thank goodness there is not one, but two separate religious disclaimers located in the text. Otherwise, given the specific mention of evolution, abiogenesis, global climate change, and cloning, people might think that the inclusion of the specific scientific topics that have mountains of religiously-motivated denialist materials published might stem from a religious motivation. Actually, I think I have come to that conclusion despite the disclaimer. Maybe the next time some legislator with more faith than brain offers a bill that's designed to undercut science, they could refer to the so-called controversies in physical science (Is the earth really flat?), physics (Can something move faster than light?), or geology (Is the earth 6000 years old?). That should fool everyone, right?

Still, it's pretty amusing to see how desperate the IDers have become. After packing their beliefs as 'equal time' and critical analysis' and watching them both get smacked down in court, after 'strengths and weaknesses' has become a non-starter, they keep trying to peddle the same book in a new cover, and today's cover is 'advantages and disadvantages'.

On another note, I have never heard an elementary/secondary teacher complain that they ran out of material to teach in science class, and need to introduce entirely new conversations regarding the material. Much more common is to hear that there is so much to teach and so little time. So, who does this legislator talk think has all this time in class anyhow? Perhaps those who are personally opposed to teaching the scientific consensus?

Also, it shows a very basic misunderstanding of science to talk about promoting critical thinking skills and logical analysis applied to scientific theories. Scientific theories are the results of applying critical thinking skills and logical analysis to evidence. This is like saying how buttered toast would be tastier if you put some butter on it, of that you could improve the game of basketball if you used a ball. Of course, there would be a lot to be gained from showing how critical thinking skills and logical analysis of the evidence has led to the theories, but that's not in the text of the bill, nor is that the purpose of the bill.

So, going back to the original question: what are the disadvantages of scientific theories? In some ways, I think that was answered in the previous paragraph: they come from using critical thinking and logical analysis of the evidence. If there is one thing the religious groups do not want to see, it is critical thinking skills and logical analysis applied to their beliefs and the evidence they present for those beliefs.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The 131st Skeptics' Circle

You can now find the 131st Skeptcs' Circle at Providentia. I found the list of areas of knowledge needed for skeptics, and the dowsing for bombs articles to be particularly interesting.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Overpopulation and the Illinois Family Institute

The Illinois Family Institute only occasionally talks about issues that intersect with the things I like to talk about on this blog. Their primary purpose is political, not social, by their own admission, and I don't really want to discuss politics that much in my blog posts. There are better sites for that. However, when they do discuss issues of science, you can rely on them to be wrong. So, when I saw a couple of videos that were filled to the brim with misleading information on overpopulation, I thought it was worth mentioning. I will discuss some of the facts on these videos, and how meaningful they are, below the fold.

Each video has its own justification page, so I’ll start there for The Making of a Myth.

  • Claim: Did Malthus really say to kill off the poor? Yep. Reality: There is a the usual quote mine that does not directly support the contention. Malthus did favor enacting conditions that would increase mortality, but nothing in the quote mine nor the link suggests killing off the poor.
    Claim: Malthus thought doctors shouldn't cure diseases? Reality: Malthus says that if we stop curing diseases, we can marry at puberty and not starve. There was no recommendation offered.
    Did Paul Ehrlich really say that famines would devastate humanity in the 1970s? Reality: while not hundreds of millions, in facts millions did die from famines in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in undeveloped countries. Ehrlich seemed to underestimate the impact of the Green Revolution.
    Claim: The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) was founded in 1969, the year after Ehrlich published The Population Bomb. Reality: Being founded the year after a specific book is published is not evidence the book is a cause. In fact, it’s much more likely the UNFPA’s originators were working independently from the same data.
    Claim: Their complicit work with the infamous "one-child policy" ... led the United States to pull its funding. Reality: The UNPF (name changed in 1987) was funded by Congress in every year of its existence. In some years, Reagan and the Bushes chose to not send the funding of the US to the UNPF.
    Claim: The wealthy of the West, in their terror of poverty, have given copiously to the UNFPA and its population control programs. Reality: There are over 180 nations that fund the UNPF.
    Claim: Every family on this planet could have a house, and a yard, and live together on a land mass the size of Texas Reality: By their own calculations, this living space is slightly less than 33 ft by 33 ft per person. This does not allow for farming, schools, hospitals, work places, streets, sidewalks, places of business, utilities, sewers, parks, etc. The claim is plainly false, we could not live together in such a fashion.
    Claim: The population of the earth will peak in 30 years. Reality: Only under the low-fertility variant option.
    Claim: While they provide Low, Medium, and High Variants, the Low Variant is the one that keeps coming true, so the Low variant numbers are the ones used in this video. Reality: The database being used to assemble the data is from 2008. The Low, Medium, High, and Constant-fertility estimates (which are higher than High) have an identical historical record.

  • Then we can move on to 2.1 Kids: A Stable Population.
    Claim: But even that is assuming that every woman has children, and that there are no effects from famine, war, or disease Reality: No, a rate of 2.1 children per woman who go on to reproduce already incorporates the effects of famine, war, disease, and the choice of some women not to have children.
    Claim: If society does not replace itself every generation, human numbers begin to fall exponentially. Reality: The children of the fecund women will also tend to be fecund, and their numbers will increase while the offspring of other women will decrease, slowing the overall effect of the population decrease. This also leads to cultural change where discouragement of large families is no longer a feature of society.
    Claim: Elderly people retiring begin to outnumber people entering the workplace. Reality: As fewer young people enter the workplace, elderly people tend to keep working for longer periods in their life. While anecdotes are not evidence, my father is 72 and plans to retire in 15 years or so, health permitting. I won’t be retiring before the age of 75, and will probably keep working after that.
    Claim: many societies are facing a danger of extinction. Reality: None of them are.
    Claim: When a population decreases in size, the number of potential mothers also decreases. We say that countries with very low birthrates--like Japan's 1.21 children per woman--are in demographic collapse because each new generation is little more than half the size of the one that preceded it. At this rate, it would take only four generations to reduce the size of population to 10 percent of its initial size. Reality: Based on having one hundred women born from every two hundred and seven live births (a number they use earlier), a replacement rate of 1.21 children per woman give a population of 11.67% of the original, not 10%.
    To offset this decline and restore the population to its initial numbers, each woman would need to have 20 children! Hardly a tenable solution.
    Reality: Offsetting a decline of four generations within one generation would be daunting (although 18 children will be enough to do the trick). However, having 4.25 children per woman replaces the population in only three generations, and 3.55 children will replace it in four.

    While these so-called family groups are harping on the supposed myth of overpopulation, we are seeing fresh water shortages over many parts of the earth, caused by farming in the attempts to feed the burgeoning population. This will not be changed by a couple of cute videos.

    However, some might wonder why these family groups worry so much about what will boil down to the choice of the individuals involved anyhow. Fortunately, you can always count on these groups to explain their motivations. In this case, it’s Muslims. I’m not kidding, they are worried about Muslims taking over Europe. For all their claims that population control advocacy has a racist history, their own real motivation is bigotry. This is not surprising.

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    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Would Cothran wear a coat inside a freezer?

    Over at Vital Remnants, Martin Cothran has some fun (because, he is so very seldom serious) sneering at Josh Rosenau's comprehension of English, with gems like
    Rosenau is not familiar with Latin, of course, but that is not really his problem. His problem is that he doesn't seem to understand English too well.
    I've mentioned before that, for an instructor in logic, Mr. Cothran is rather incompetent at it. It turns out his English is not nearly sufficient to warrant his casting of dispersion on other posters, or maybe it's his grade-school-level-science that is lacking. I would hate to prejudge on that score, as Mr. Cothran is ignorant in so many areas that I would not presume to pick just one. More below the fold.

    Later on in the same post, he presents

    I had pointed out the record level of snowfalls (something Global Warming advocates said there would be less of because of Global Warming--when they're not saying the complete opposite) and I pointed it out as a subtle way of mocking their own process only using opposite evidence. And when the Warmers began lecturing me about weather not being the same thing as climate, I simply pointed out that if it wasn't for me, then it shouldn't be for them.
    So let me put the implicit argument of my post in the form of a logical syllogism (And I should probably issue a warning, in doing so, about the possibility that Rosenau might once again try to imitate this exercise himself on his own blog with the usual amusing results):

  • If individual warm weather events are confirming evidence for Global Warming, then individual cool weather events are disconfirming evidence for Global Warming

  • But cool weather events are not disconfirming evidence for Global Warming

  • Therefore, individual warm weather events are not confirming evidence for Global Warming.

  • Now this is not tu quoque argumentation, it is the logical process called modus tollens. But then we are speaking Latin again, aren't we? To someone who doesn't know Latin--or logic.

    Notice the slide from "the record level of snowfalls" to "individual cool weather events"? However, it snows regularly during individual warm-weather events in places like Nome (where even a warm winter day can be well below freezing), while I certainly experienced a few cold-weather events this year with no snow at all falling from the sky. The phenomena are distinct, and treating record snowfalls as indicative of cold weather is a non sequitur. Of course, that's a Latin phrase, so Cothran can obviously translate it. Unfortunately, he apparently does not understand its importance to logical thinking.

    So, here's an example to help him out. I'd suggest he get a job at any local fast-food or convenience store (I believe he can stretch his intellectual capabilities that far) and stand in the freezer in the back (say, unloading the weekly shipment). It will not snow inside the freezer, I positively guarantee it. So, according to Cothran-logic, it can't be cold. How long will he be willing to stay in there without a coat?

    Of course, this type of confusion is typical of the denialists, pretending that one sort of event is really another.

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    The 130th Skeptics' Circle

    I've been feeling a little overwhelmed lately, so I have not posted much. Meanwhile, a very nice compilation was made at The Lay Scientist for the 130th edition of the Skeptics' Circle. Featured is reported on the massive homeopathic overdoses seen in England in late January, the results of which were predictable (at least to skeptics).
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    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    The 129th Skeptics' Circle

    You can now find the 129th Skeptics' Circle over at the blog maintained by The SkepVet. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, and probably won't for a while, but I am eagerly looking forward to it.
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    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Would Data be immune to woo?

    Recently, there was a post over at Respectful Insolence on the possible anti-vaccination leanings of Brent Spiner, who played Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In particular, Orac wrote:
    I realize Data is a fictional character, but, even so, I wish that the spirit of Data would infuse the actor who played him and drive out the Malibu-inspired woo that has apparently lodged itself into his brain.

    Naturally, thus leads me to the question of why we assume Data would be woo-free. Given that he is free of emotional responses and uses logic alone to formulate his world, will that suffice to keep woo out of Data's understanding of the world? What role does logic play in the separation of superstition from fact? I will give my impressions and understandings below the fold.

    First, I want to briefly reiterate what logic is: a formal system of combining definitions, and operations in a well-defined manner to derive results based on those axioms, definitions, and operations. In classical Western logic we accept certain fundamental notions and classification as the starting points. For example, that propositions can be meaningfully discussed, that every proposition must be assigned a value of True or False, that you can invert the truth value of a proposition by negating it, what it means for one proposition to imply another, etc. All of these assumptions are needed just to form the calculus of logic, the well-defined manner we use to derive true propositions from other true propositions. Then, we need to throw into the mix our undefined objects and axioms. We need undefined objects because you have to have a starting point. The alternative is that if you try to define everything, at some point you will be using term A to define term B, when A has already been defined in a manner that B is important to the definition of A. So, we avoid this circularity by allowing some term to be undefined. Axioms now have a key role to play: they describe the behavior of the undefined objects. We can then define other objects based on the undefined objects. As an example, in a typical geometry class, I note that there are four undefined notions: a point, a line, a plane, and space. We describe what we intend these things to represent, but you can formally define them with using circular terminology. Then, we introduce axioms like Line Creation (there will be one line connecting any two points) to describe one of the relationships between lines and points. We introduce definitions based on these concepts (rays, line segments, angles, etc.). We generate theorems to show what other statements our axioms and definitions imply under the accepted logical calculus. So, logic can be used to show what you accept has additional consequences you may not have realized.

    However, one thing (among many) that logic is not is a validation system in any but the barest sense. Sure, logic can occasionally be used to produce contradictions that derive from a given set of axioms. That's really not saying very much. First, to be effective at all as a means of persuasion to change the axioms involved, there has to be a prior commitment to make a change when a contradiction is reached. However, real life is full of situations that seem contradictory and yet persist, saying that are both accepted as true when saying the opposite. For example, the advice offered by "haste makes waste" is seemingly opposed to "a stitch in time saves nine". We have ways of resolving those pieces of advice, of course. However, this skill gets carried into other types of contradictions as well. So, producing contradictions, the only form of validation logic is capable of, is not protection against accepting all sorts of outright nonsense. Indeed, many people who accept axioms like "Properly understood, every word of the Bible is completely true" are skilled at using logic to defend their positions, because logic can be used in cause of woo just as easily as in the cause of skepticism.

    This means I don't see Data necessarily having a special protection from woo by virtue of his thought proceeding from a logical calculus only. Whatever skeptical traits Data would possess would be a matter of programming. The more his programming was set to look for, find, and act upon patterns, the more likely Data would have wooish beliefs. One example is the show where the Enterprise-D is stuck in a time loop where it keeps blowing up at the end. Data uses the occurrences of a highly unlikely aggregation of 3s appearing to decide to follow the suggestions of Riker, who has three buttons on his collar, as opposed to 2.5 for Data. Data was eager to find a sign or symbol, and made A rapid, spur-of-the-moment pattern connection with no evidence that the connection is causal in any way. What could be wooier?

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    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    The 128th Skeptics' Circle

    At Ionian Enchantment you can find the 128th edition of the Skeptics' Circle. Greg Laden's post is particularly interesting to me.
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    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    He doesn't tease me

    Daughter#2 just told me that last night about Son#1. I don't know how it is in other families, but just everybody in out seven-member clan is on the receiving end of an enormous amount of teasing. That includes Son#1. He takes all of the with a reasonable amount of good will, most of the time. However, he never teases anyone. He'll smile, laugh, and even engage in mock rage. But he has no desire to tease anyone else.

    I don't know if that is typical of people with PDD-NOS or other autism-spectrum disorders. It's a curious thing.
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    Saturday, January 9, 2010

    The Aristotelian Teapot

    A little over a year ago, I created a post on Russell's teapot(Long may we drink!), and how the objections being offered to the analogy did not seem well-founded to me. However, I will fully admit that I did not understand a couple of beliefs regarding the Aristotelian version of God. For example, as occasional commentator Thomas pointed out, any concept of a God that moves or changes, like the Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) will be vastly different from the Aristotelian concept.

    However, Russell's Teapot doesn't actually move or change very much. Below the fold, I discuss whether it can be turned into a comparable God to the Aristotelian god. I'll do this by looking at the four arguments of Dr. Feser's that I discussed in part five of my review of his book and seeing if they can be applied to a suitable version of the Teapot (lmwd).

    For the Teapot to be the Unmoved Mover, it needs to be something that is immune to change. The normal idea is that this means it is pure form, since in traditional Aristotelian metaphysics material changes, and form does not. However, I think these ideas are outdated. We now know that biological forms do change. For example, the form of a horse has changed from Hyracotherium some 52 million years ago to the modern horse. Since forms can change, the unchangability of the Unmoved Mover can not be a product of being pure form. Thus, the Unmoved Mover does not need to be pure form; it can be an unchanging combination of form and material. The Teapot, sitting as it does in the center of the universe, unchanging, never moving, uses its vast power to activate the chains of potential from all actualities. In addition, you can put water and tea leaves into it, heat the water, and pump the tea out, all without making any change to the Teapot (lmwd) itself. Truly the Teapot (lmwd) is the very embodiment of the Unmoved Mover, realizing every potential, plus making a great cup of tea.

    Being the Teapot (lmwd) in no way interferes with taking on the role of the First Cause (who joins forms to material things), the Supreme Intelligence (who maintains final causes for substances so they can be approached), nor the Form Keeper (who keeps real the forms of things that don't exist, like unicorns). After all, whatever means are available to the pure-form God of classical Aristotelianism are also available to the Teapot (lmwd). So, the Teapot (lmwd) is not refuted by the adoption of Aristotelian metaphysics. I'm sure this will come as a surprise to everyone who thought that a metaphysical system rejected by religious people hundreds of years ago would hold the key to disproving a modern philosophical analogy.

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