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Links With Your Coffee - Tuesday

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For what it's worth there appears to be a fairly high correlation between the best presidents and those that play chess. In recent history Obama and Clinton do while the Bush duo and Ronald Reagan don't. Ford and Nixon, no, while Carter is in the yes column. It breaks down at Eisenhower yes, Johnson no, but then Eisenhower was probably one of the better Republican presidents we've had. He was president during a time when the batshit crazy wing of the republican party wasn't such a large factor, he is the president that warned us about the Military Industrial Complex. Considering the early presidents count Washington yes, Adams no, Jefferson and Madison yes, and Lincoln yes. Interesting don't you think?

One of the eternal questions for skeptics is – how can some people be so gullible? We have a standard answer which captures many of the factors: poor understanding of science, lack of an innate sense of probability, all the various mechanisms of self-deception, and the strong desire to believe in certain things. Further, some cons are just slick, and anyone can be fooled by a clever-enough deception.

But still, there are some claims that are so astoundingly gullible it’s difficult not to face-palm when confronted by them. One category of such claims is what I think of as the equivalent of magic amulets, or the magic beans from Jack and the Beanstalk. To believe in these magic amulets you either have to flat-out believe in magic, or you have to be so befuddled by science that it all seems like magic to you. The latter, I think, is what many marketers of magic amulets are counting on. They are deliberately marketing to the scientifically illiterate, in a very cynical way.

An alert reader brought to my attention a 13-minute video that Baptist theologian and debater William Lane Craig—known for his approval of Biblically-based genocide—made in response to my piece in USA Today arguing that science and faith aren’t compatible. Craig has two main responses: first, that I don’t understand religion, and second, that science, like religion, is based on faith. He also faults me for tone, saying that my piece is imbued with a “bitterness and anger” toward religion that he finds puzzling. I contend that my piece is neither bitter nor angry, and that I have plenty of reasons to oppose religion so my behavior is hardly puzzling.

Long ago, back in the mists of time before many of our current readers were even born and far back in the memory of even our wizened elders of medicine, “quackery” was the preferred term used to refer to ineffective and potentially harmful medical practices not supported by evidence. Physicians, having a grounding in science and prior plausibility, for the most part understood that modalities such as homeopathy, reflexology, and various “energy healing” (i.e., faith healing) methodologies were based either on prescientific vitalism, magical thinking, and/or science that was at best incorrect or at the very least grossly distorted. More importantly, physicians weren’t afraid to call quackery quackery, quacks quacks, and charlatans charlatans.



how can some people be so gullible?

In terms of God, I think you have to really lack an effective skill for empathy and understanding other's perspective.

If you just imagine what it would be like to create the entire universe in all its vastness, and exist for all the billions of years we now know have existed... When someone tells you that that same being is telling the amish not to use zippers, or Jews how to slaughter a goat, or tell christians how to manage their slaves, or mormons not to dink caffiene, you have to laugh.

If you read the bible, you see the perspective of god is very much concerned with the maintainance of a relatively small, fiercely loyal set of believers.

And if you can understand the perspective of other believers you quickly see that your sense of knowing of the supernatural, is completely replicable for an almost infinite set of often contradicting beliefs.

Feynman put it most eloquently, as he often did, regarding this god watching humans struggle in a dot, in the vastness of the universe: "The stage is too big for the drama".

i read that ex-moralist article earlier and didn't care for it.

it seems like some impressive intellectual gymnastics must be required to reach the conclusions that the author does. as if they lost a mental battle with shadows.


The views the so-called 'ex-moralist' is espousing (that's a misnomer by the way. An ex-moralist would presumably be an amoralist, and the writer is apparently not an amoralist. It bothers me when 'emeritus' faculties cannot use basic terminology correctly) is really just the abandonment of moral rationalism, which is close enough to being common sense in some philosophical quarters. Anyone to known the metaethical labels 'non-cognitivist' or 'sentimentalist' or 'expressivist' or 'fictionalist' could be justly attached has accepted the move the writer is making here. Hence you'll find better arguments for what he's saying in Mackie's Inventing Right and Wrong, Blackburn's Ruling Passions, Prinz' The Emotional Construction of Morals, Nichols' Sentimental Rules and Joyce' The Evolution of Morality. And in the third part of Hume's Treatise and Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, for that matter.

To accept that morality is in whole or in part the product of desire-based mental states (attitudes, emotions) is to grant that without the appropriate desires moral prescriptions will not be adopted, so the kind of rational proselytising he used to engage in for his views ('rational' has to be used loosely when it's describing Singerian Act Utilitarianism) is non-efficacious and perhaps if you really care about it you'd have to engage in more emotion-laden persuasion techniques. Conrariwise the Kantian (for example) is committed to the belief that by giving the right sort of rational argument he could convince the psychopath to be moral, despite the neuropsychological barrier to this occuring.

Moral rationalism might be a fine thing to believe in (like God), but empirically speaking it's absurd.

Perhaps I am out of my philosophical league, here, but...

To accept that morality is in whole or in part the product of desire-based mental states (attitudes, emotions)...

On the surface, that is hard to argue against. Is that as far as it goes, though?

Biologically speaking, humans are social, cooperative animals. That is intrinsic to our "operation", and it is those aspects of our function that we base the concept of morality on. While this does not mean a "psychopath" is not human (as a whole), it can easily be asserted that the neuropsychological part of the psychopath that is preventing them from operating socially and cooperatively - morally - is not.

Is morality categorized the same as "objective" science? Well, "light in a vacuum travels at c" and "mass-murder is wrong" may not appear to be in the same ballpark, but if you look at science in terms of what caused it to exist, as a concept, to humans... eventually you come to the fact that science, too, is "in whole or in part the product of desire-based mental states". For example: humans want to grow food, therefore they discover the science of agriculture, and eventually engineering and biology and physics...

"Objectively", leaving aside all reference to the human brain, morality of course does not exist, and yet those photons will continue to move at c. But human-subjective is really the only "objective" that has any physical effect on a human-containing Universe.

I point to the Game of Chess and I point to Player Presidents. That's all.

On the other hand,

I point to the rare Earthquake in Virginia today, and I point to fracking!!! That's all!

I am afraid I'm in a 'pedant' state of mind tonight. "But still, there are some claims that are so astoundingly gullible.." No! People can be gullible (easily persuaded to believe anything) but claims are not people and cannot be so persuaded. Claims may be incredible, unbelievable or even downright ridiculous, but they cannot be gullible.


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