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1
Choose Your Own Topic / podcast - The Empty Tomb (7/13/2020)
« on: July 14, 2020, 12:49:57 am »
I discuss the historicity of the empty tomb narratives, in the context of Christian apologetics.

Link: podcast - The Empty Tomb (7/13/2020)

2
Choose Your Own Topic / edit
« on: June 13, 2020, 12:04:58 am »
edit

3
Political Threads / the left-wing media gets it wrong again
« on: June 12, 2020, 07:34:41 pm »
Today we saw a bunch of articles, for instance on Vox and CNBC, and even arguably the New York Times, where the President was criticized for calling choke-holds "innocent" and "perfect" in a FoxNews interview with Harris Faulkner.  There's only one problem  He didn't!  Rather, he was trying to make the point that the concept of banning choke-holds sounds innocent and perfect at first blush, but upon closer inspection (according to him) it turns out to be not so cut-and-dry.

This is just another example of why I can't stand the news anymore.  It's not just that the media is biased.  I could handle that, I think.  It's that the media is flat-out wrong.  Not only did they completely misinterpret the President, they even got the transcript wrong.  These journalists are spreading misinformation, and they don't seem to care.

The irony here is that the FoxNews interview is indeed newsworthy, and damaging to President Trump, for an entirely different reason:  It showcases his utter inarticulateness and inability to follow a coherent line of thought.  Consider the following excerpt from the interview, which I carefully transcribed myself.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  So the choke-hold thing is good because, to talk about, because off the cuff it would sound like, absolutely, but if you're thinking about it, then you realize maybe there is a bad fight, and the officer gets somebody in a position that's a very tough position.

FAULKNER (INTERRUPTING):  So you say it's a sliding scale depending on what the circumstances are.

PRESIDENT TRUMP (INTERRUPTING):  I think you have to probably [inaudible].

FAULKNER:  Do you want to be in that conversation?  Are you in that conversation?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I really am, and I think the concept of choke-hold sounds so innocent, so perfect, and then you realize, if it's a one-on-one, now if it’s two-on-one, that's a little bit of a different story, depending, depending on the toughness and strength, you know we're talking about toughness and strength.  We are talking.  There's a physical thing here also.

Forget about the content of what he's saying, and just look at the way he says it.  That is surely newsworthy indeed.

4
Choose Your Own Topic / A nice skeptical article on fine-tuning
« on: June 10, 2020, 10:38:26 am »
http://www.colyvan.com/papers/finetuning.pdf

I don't agree with everything in it, especially the stuff from §4. But their overarching point is a good one: The machinery of probability theory seems ill-equipped to handle the fine-tuning intuition.

The argument, in a nutshell, is this: According to the motivating intuition behind the fine-tuning argument, larger intervals for the life-permitting ranges of the physical constants are supposed to generate larger probabilities. In order to use probability theory to formalize that intuition in a non-arbitrary way, we have to use known non-arbitrary ranges and distributions. The only known non-arbitrary ranges of possibilities for the constants are intervals of infinite measure---typically the whole real number line---and the only known non-arbitrary probability distribution is the uniform one. But that would mean the probability of a given constant falling into any finite interval is always zero, contradicting the intuition in question.

So, provided the fine-tuning intuition isn't wrong in the first place, we can't use probability theory to help formalize it. This means, among other things, that any probability values you see bandied about when discussing fine tuning are either meaningless, wrong, or otherwise highly dubious. Even rough estimates like "very close to zero" are going to be ill-conceived.

It would be interesting to see how friends of the fine-tuning argument respond to this criticism. Robin Collins does mention the Colyvan paper, but seems to misconstrue it as an independent restatement of the McGrew criticisms about countable additivity, and so he never addresses the actual objection as outlined above. If anyone knows of a direct response, I'd be very interested in a reference.

5
Choose Your Own Topic / Youtube recommendations
« on: June 01, 2020, 04:48:50 am »
So, I guess youtube tracks your views and uses the data to make category recommendations.  The top category recommendations for me, when I visit the site, are comedy, computers, and basketball.  That all makes perfect sense.  The next recommendation is retail, which sounds a little weird at first, but it might be bleed over from the computer category, as I'm interested not just in computers but in the computer industry itself.   Other recommended categories include rock music and acoustic guitar, which, again, make perfect sense.

But then there's the fifth recommended category:  Dave Grohl.  Yes, that's right, Dave Grohl has his own category on youtube!



And I couldn't agree more with that decision : )

6
https://archive.org/download/benwallis_podcast_2020-05-27_LIB/benwallis_podcast_2020-05-27_LIB.mp3

I tried to talk more slowly in this one, per some previous advice from Lucian.  Hopefully y'all like it : )

7
Choose Your Own Topic / my first little podcast on the Kalam
« on: May 21, 2020, 03:03:34 pm »
https://archive.org/download/podcast2020-05-20-LIB/podcast2020-05-20-LIB.mp3

I think I'm getting a little better at this. I still have a long way to go---practice makes perfect---but in the mean time, this should be at least somewhat listenable. Hope y'all enjoy it : )

8
Choose Your Own Topic / Frank Turek
« on: May 03, 2020, 02:41:23 pm »
I heard an interview with this guy a few days ago, and it's been bothering me.  He's clearly a kook, and we shouldn't take him seriously.  However, what struck me in the interview was an impression of honesty and thoughtfulness that I didn't anticipate.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but there's a moment in the interview I was hearing, where he starts a sentence:

"When people are trying to say that we could've evolved through natural selection, first of all, most---"

And then he catches himself!  Here's what he says next:

"I can't say most, but, there's a movement among even atheistic Darwinists, as you know, to find a new theory of macroevolution...."

And he then continues on with his kookery.  But what struck me was that moment of honesty where he catches himself.  He genuinely wants to present the correct information, and not misrepresent anything.  He's trying, in his own way, to be careful.

That is perhaps the only instance where I've personally seen a creationist do such a thing.  I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few days.

9
Choose Your Own Topic / An invalid contingency argument on SEP
« on: May 02, 2020, 01:42:12 pm »
Bruce Reichenbach wrote the SEP article on cosmological arguments.  SEP articles are, I believe, peer-reviewed, and so we shouldn't expect them to contain invalid arguments.  This one does, however.  Here it is:

(1) A contingent being (a being such that if it exists, it could have not-existed or could cease to exist) exists.

(2) This contingent being has a cause of or explanation for its existence.

(3) The cause of or explanation for its existence is something other than the contingent being itself.

(4) What causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must either be solely other contingent beings or include a non-contingent (necessary) being.

(5) Contingent beings alone cannot provide a completely adequate causal account or explanation for the existence of a contingent being.

(6) Therefore, what causes or explains the existence of this contingent being must include a non-contingent (necessary) being.

(7) Therefore, a necessary being (a being such that if it exists, it cannot not-exist) exists.

(8) The universe is contingent.

(9) Therefore, the necessary being is something other than the universe.

What makes this argument invalid is pretty easy to see:  In step (5), there is talk of a "completely adequate" account or explanation, but never in previous steps.  So it can't be used to infer (6) as intended.  This can be easily fixed by changing step (2), but I'm still alarmed by the fact that a peer-reviewed article on SEP is invalid.

There are a couple of other anomalies which also trouble me.  For instance, step (3) is actually superfluous to the argument.  And step (4) is pretty close to being superfluous too, not required so long as (5) is suitably adjusted.  Finally, steps (1) and (8) could be combined for brevity.

The resulting argument would go something like this:

(10)  The universe exists and is a contingent being.  [Replaces (1) and (8).]

(11)  Its existence has a completely adequate explanation or causal account.  [Replaces (2).]

(12)  An explanation or causal account of the existence of a contingent being, such that all the existing beings involved are themselves contingent, isn't completely adequate.  [Replaces (5).]

(13)  Therefore, a necessary being, which is not itself the universe, exists, and is involved in a completely adequate explanation or causal account of the universe's existence.  [Replaces (6), (7), and (9).]

The above argument has the virtues of being shorter, clearer, and---most importantly---valid.

EDIT:  I have a choice to leave or fix the emoticons.  Heck, I'm gonna leave 'em!

10
Choose Your Own Topic / podcast - Hume, Craig, and Miracles
« on: April 26, 2020, 02:21:56 pm »
I'm trying my hand at podcasting. This is only my second attempt, so I still have a long way to go in terms of improvement. Also, I need a proper audio interface so the quality isn't so rough.

Nevertheless, I hope some folks find it enjoyable : )

https://archive.org/download/podcast2020-04-26/podcast2020-04-26.mp3

12
Choose Your Own Topic / a modal operator shift fallacy?
« on: April 08, 2020, 10:02:44 am »
Alex Malpass and Wes Morriston have a challenge for Craig's view:  Suppose an angel begins sings a praise to God every day, and that this continues for eternity.  Is the collection of the praises that the angel *will* say an actual infinite?

In set-theoretic terms, here's the claim Malpass and Morriston make (the reason for the stilted language will become clear momentarily):

(1)  Possibly, there exists an infinite set of praises such that for each x belonging to the set, the angel will sing x

Craig has accused Malpass (and by extension Morriston) of a "modal operator shift fallacy" (paraphrasing from memory).  Apparently, he has something like this in mind:

(2)  There exists an infinite set of praises such that for each x belonging to the set, possibly, the angel will sing x.
Therefore, (1).

Note how the modal operator "possibly" has shifted position.  This is indeed an invalid inference, and a formal fallacy.

But it's a straw man.  Neither Malpass nor Morriston ever made such an inference from (2) to (1).  Instead, their argument runs more like this:

(3)  Possibly, there are infinitely many future days and the angel will sing exactly one praise each future day.
(4)  If (3), then (1).
Therefore, (1).

Now, maybe Craig could reply that in order to justify (4), one must invoke a similar modal operator shift fallacy, but that's not at all clear.  Consider the possible world w described in (3).  Now consider the set S defined as follows:

{ x : x is a praise, and the angel will sing x }

In w, the set S is evidently well-defined and hence exists (in the set-theoretic sense). Moreover, in w, the set S has infinite cardinality.  It follows plainly that, in w, there exists an infinite set of praises such that for each x belonging to the set, the angel will sing x.  Whence in turn follows (1).

So, where in this line of reasoning did we illicitly shift a modal operator?  I can't find any such shift, and I'm inclined to think that Craig's charge really is a straw man.

A better objection is that, even from the perspective of w, the set S doesn't consist of actually-existing objects.  And indeed that's what Craig seems to think---he explicitly said in the Malpass podcast that the number of praises is precisely zero, because they all lie in the future, and future events don't exist (present tense).  One wonders whether he also denies that past events exist (present tense), but when directly asked this by Cameron, his answer was incomprehensible to me, and apparently to Malpass as well.  In any case, this has nothing to do with modal shifts, which appears, as I have said, to be just a straw man charge.

13
Choose Your Own Topic / more gripes about Craig's writing
« on: April 07, 2020, 03:40:16 pm »
Does anyone else feel like Craig is being almost purposefully ambiguous in his scholarly works?  I was reading over his entry in Blackwell again, and some of the language he uses is just really opaque.  I used to think it was my fault for not knowing the jargon of philosophers in academia, but I'm beginning (yes beginning!) to think it's him, not me.

Consider some excerpts:

Quote from: William Lane Craig
Hilbert's Hotel is absurd. But if an actual infinite were metaphysically possible, then such a hotel would be metaphysically possible. It follows that the real existence of an actual infinite is not metaphysically possible.

Okay, so this argument is just plainly invalid on its face, unless the word "absurd" has a definition in philosophy that somehow entails metaphysical impossibility.  That's what I thought for many years.  But I've read a lot more now, and I've never seen philosophers use the word consistently in such a way as to entail anything of the sort.  As far as I can tell, it's just a plain English with no extra baggage from philosophy.

It's tempting to start trying to interpret Craig via the principle of charity.  In this case, my guess is that "X is absurd," for Craig, means something like this:  "X is metaphysically impossible, and furthermore its metaphysical impossibility is evident upon reflection."

Even then, the argument above is hard to understand.  What, exactly, is an "actual infinite"?  Ironically, Craig tells us that we "need to have a clear understanding" of the term, and then proceeds to leave us without any definition or other characterization, instead embarking on an overview of the history of the mathematics of infinity (pp103--104).   Again, the temptation here is to use the principle of charity to interpret Craig as best we can:  My best guess is that by an actual infinite Craig means any infinite multitude of (actually-)existing entities.

But now we have a red flag, because in the quote above, Craig's conclusion is that the real existence of an actual infinite is not metaphysically possible (emphasis mine).  But isn't that redundant?  By the definition I've proposed---which certainly seems like what Craig has in mind, based on his other writings and presentations---an actual infinite really exists by definition.  So why the redundancy?  Usually, redundancy is aimed at providing clarity, or emphasis (which is really just a species of clarity anyway).  But there's absolutely nothing clear about Craig's quote above.

Or what about this:

Quote from: William Lane Craig
It is, of course, true that every time one subtracts all the even numbers from all the natural numbers, one gets all the odd numbers, which are infinite in quantity. But that is not where the contradiction is alleged to lie. Rather the contradiction lies in the fact that one can subtract equal quantities from equal quantities and arrive at different answers. ... For this reason, subtraction and division of infinite quantities are simply prohibited in transfinite arithmetic---a mere stipulation which has no force in the nonmathematical realm.

I don't even know where to start.  And then there's this little gem:

Quote from: William Lane Craig
In order for us to have “arrived” at today, temporal existence has, so to speak, traversed an infinite number of prior events.  But before the present event could occur, the event immediately prior to it would have to occur; and before that event could occur, the event immediately prior to it would have to occur; and so on ad infinitum. One gets driven back and back into the infinite past, making it impossible for any event to occur. Thus, if the series of past events were beginningless, the present event could not have occurred, which is absurd.

What?  Where is the argument here?

It's gotten to the point that I'm just exhausted trying to make sense of Craig.  If it were my fault for not knowing the jargon, that would be one thing.  But it's clear from the literature that other philosophers are just as stymied by his opaque and ambiguous exposition.  For instance I was recently reading a paper by Wes Morriston, who is a fellow theist and friend to Craig---a person who thinks there are very real merits to the Kalam argument.  But even Morriston regularly expresses his frustration, lamenting that Craig's exposition is "badly confused," "puzzling," and "difficult to interpret."  In a recent podcast with Alex Malpass, it turned out that Malpass was unaccustomed to Craig's idiosyncratic use of terms like actual infinite and absurd.  These are just a few examples.

Should we keep being charitable to Craig indefinitely?  Surely there has to be a point at which it becomes appropriate to conclude that he simply doesn't know what he's talking about---or, if he does, then he's not competent to communicate it.

14
Choose Your Own Topic / A dry run for a podcast on the Kalam
« on: March 30, 2020, 03:49:21 pm »
This is actually just a dry run.  I talked to my old GoG cohost Michael Long and we are thinking about doing a "real" podcast along these lines.  But you guys know me, so maybe you feel like listening.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUhVKvXvQUQ

15
link for the full version

And here's an excerpt of the most to-the-point parts:

With all of this in mind, let's return to Stratton's argument. How does he defend (2) and (3)?

Well, his defense of (2) is almost self-consciously nonexistent. He even admits outright, "This premise actually does not need much defending as far as I am concerned". And he feels comfortable leaving (2) undefended because he thinks certain atheists---namely, Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking---have already made the case for him. Harris and Hawking are both incompatibilists and determinists who therefore believe free will is an illusion; and maybe Dawkins believes the same. Stratton gives quotations from all three to this effect. But finding three naturalists who deny the existence of LFW doesn't constitute a defense of (2).

For example, note that Thorp's position, and indeterministic agent causation in general, are completely consistent with naturalism and the nonexistence of a supernatural soul. Instead, all it requires is that mental events can sometimes cause physical events rather than just vice versa. And while there seems to be a great deal of empirical evidence against Thorp's view, that has nothing to do with whether or not a supernatural soul exists. So, while I'm inclined to believe that (2) is true, it's not for the reasons Stratton gives. And it's only an inclination anyway, not something I'm especially committed to right now.

Stratton's defense of (3) is summed up in the following quotation:

"The process of rationality leading to warranted or justified true belief (knowledge) entails the properties of being able to think of and about competing hypotheses, deliberate between them, and the ability to infer and affirm the best explanation via the laws of logic. Therefore, a rational entity must also possess at least two other attributes: intentionality and libertarian free will."

But we have already seen from the examples of nonhuman animals that this is not the case. Cats may not be very smart, but they're still quite capable of knowledge, deliberation, and rational choice. Crows and chimpanzees are even more obviously rational, as evidenced by their strikingly creative problem-solving abilities.

So on one hand we have LFW looking very implausible, while on the other hand, knowledge and rationality apart from free will (whether libertarian or not) looks to be not only possible but actually realized in nonhuman animals. We had previously decided that, on a plain reading of Stratton's argument, either (2) or (3) must be false; and these latest considerations make (3) the most likely culprit.

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