Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Divine Induction

Note: My blog post is sandwiched between the i53 Network’s original video and You Tube Member Websnarf’s (not connected to me) response video. Websnarf’s response was included because I realized it touched on some ideas I presented in this post and is a more easy to follow response then my pedantic blog post.

Kelly Tripplehorn, through the i53 Network (which he founded), is offering a $1000 challenge to anyone who can justify inductive inference without god. Tripplehorn describes induction in the simplified, classical fashion of moving from specific cases to general rules. He proceeds to say that non-theists cannot justify induction, citing the Problem of Induction which, despite centuries of debate, lacks an uncontroversial and universally accepted solution.

Induction assumes the uniformity of nature, and saying induction is justified because it “worked in the past” (in classic pragmatic style) is begging the question.

So, to solve the problem Tripplehorn cites the bible, where god says he made the world with order (uniformity). He then offers $1000 to anyone who can solve this challenge without invoking god and goes on to make the (outlandish) suggestion that atheists should be kicked out of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences because they can’t justify induction.

To be precise, Tripplehorn says that anyone who gets their solution added into the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy will get the $1000. This challenge is absurd, not the least bit because the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy doesn’t accept ideas simply because they’re “true”. Your solution to the problem of induction could be the best, end all debate, solution there is, but until it’s discussed in academic circles and philosophy journals, it won’t be added to the Encyclopedia.

Tripplehorn should also know that the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy article on induction doesn’t reference his divine solution to the problem, never mind accepting it as the end all solution to the problem or the only possible way to make sense of induction. Aside from the section on Creationism, religion isn’t referenced at all in the article.

Its absence is for good reason, too. The divine solution to the problem of induction is really just an extension of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God, an outgrowth of Presuppositional Apologetics. Claiming god designed the universe uniformly, to explain induction, explains little and confuses the matter more.

Tripplehorn’s divine explanation adds an extra entity, a no-no for anyone who cares for the principle of parsimony. This is why academic philosophers have avoided using god; it doesn’t clarify or add to our understanding of induction and is a typical sky-hook.

A sky-hook is any explanation which confuses matters, by trying to explain something with a mysterious unobservable entity.

To give you an example (hat tip to PZ Myers), let us imagine a particle called “Regulon”. It’s an infinitesimally small, sub-quantum particle. It ensures all higher-level particles and forces behave uniformly. Any unprejudiced thinker would realize that I’ve pulled a fast one on you and added a mysterious entity to our ontology. This is similar to what Tripplehorn is doing, shifting the mystery from induction to god.

If Tripplehorn’s dystopian dream of excluding atheists from the National Academy of Sciences was actualized, the academy would lose some of its best members and scientific progress would be inhibited.

Tripplehorn, if anything, has done a real disservice. As websnarf pointed out, Tripplehorn’s challenge is contrary to the Encylopedia’s educational mission and it’s practically impossible to get a new idea into the Encylopedia. Nevertheless, I’ll try, as an ontological naturalist, to add some insight into this problem: if the universe wasn’t uniform, it wouldn’t contain beings capable of wondering why it was uniform (and hence, why induction works).

The Value of Brand Upon the Brain!

Film Experimentalists deserve our thanks whether or not their experiments turned out well. If their experiments proved successful, they’ve showed us how arbitrary the conventions of film-making are. If their experiments are unsuccessful, they have given us reason not to try a similar unorthodox experiment in the future. It is for the latter reason that Guy Maddin deserves thanks, for his “Brand Upon the Brain!” experiment.

Maddin’s film justifies the convention of films having a plot, because the alternative (one absurd non-sequitur after another) is just plain annoying. Maddin gives us reason to stay clear of flashing visual imagery at film audience, because if it doesn’t send them into sensory overload it’ll annoy the hell out of them.

But I stop short of the film critics in my congratulations. The film itself shouldn’t be praised, for the final product was terrible. I suppose the almost unanimous praise of the film by critics really demonstrates that critics are suckers for an experimental film, no matter how bad it is.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NDP Membership

Thanks to the New Democratic Youth of Canada, I’ll soon be a member of the NDP. I support the NDP for reasons already specified and becoming a member will better help me promote NDP policies and campaigns.

Secularist Public Speech

Lori Lipman Brown is the nontheistic lobbyist for the Secular Coalition for America. In 2006, she delivered this speech.

She strikes me as an effective, reasonable, and modest public speaker and made some good points. It’s a worthwhile speech to watch.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Teaching the Bible in School

Times Columnist David Van Bieman presents his case for teaching the (Judeo-Christian) Bible in Schools. While I differ from Bieman on some points (like his “faith in our country” pun, which confuses trust with presupposed belief), I would agree with Bible studies being offered as an elective in high schools or as part of a social studies course (depending on the schedule or course structure of a given school), given that the instructors are cautious not to voice their religious views in the class.

The course should be secular, describing textual examination of the bible, and its role in literary history. I’d also suggest some comparative study be done, particularly with the Qu’ran and the Mystery Religions of the Roman Empire.

Uncontroversial facts would about what the Bible (i.e. its contents) would be taught, instead of controversial beliefs (i.e. whether its contents are true). This course would be analogous to how they teach Greek Mythology. Instructors describe and assign questions about the myths, but don’t indicate that they’re true.

If you are a US Citizen, you ought to be concerned about the First Amendment and how Bible Study in school relates to this. If you are a decent citizen anywhere, you should be concerned whether Bible study in school is consistent with political secularism. As long as it is taught in the manner I described, it is.

Strict monitoring of Bible Study and comparative religion is needed to make sure proselytizing doesn’t occur. The potential for such courses to be abused have been made evident, especially in Texas where even clergy are used to teach such courses. I say keep the clergy out, they present a conflict of interest when dealing with religiously neutral courses on the Bible. Also, train the teachers on how to instruct a Bible course neutrally.

Despite the potential for abuse, Bible courses would serve well to give students some background and insight in literary and cultural matters, since the bible has influenced Western Culture. After reading the Bible they may even begin to think more critically about their religion.

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