Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Forgetting nothing, learning nothing

Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe from Nothing managed something few thought possible -- to outdo Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in sheer intellectual frivolousness.  Nor was my First Things review of the book by any means the only one to call attention to its painfully evident foibles.  Many commentators with no theological ax to grind -- such as David Albert, Massimo Pigliucci, Brian Leiter, and even New Atheist featherweight Jerry Coyne -- slammed Krauss’s amateurish foray into philosophy.  Here’s some take-to-the-bank advice to would-be atheist provocateurs: When even Jerry Coyne thinks your attempt at atheist apologetics “mediocre,” it’s time to throw in the towel.  Causa finita est.  Game over.  Shut the hell up already

But Krauss likes nothing so much as the sound of his own voice, even when he’s got nothing of interest to say.  A friend calls my attention to a recent Australian television appearance in which Krauss, his arrogance as undiminished as his cluelessness, commits the same puerile fallacies friends and enemies alike have been calling him out on for over a year now.  Is there any point in flogging a horse by now so far past dead that even the Brits wouldn’t make a lasagna out of him?  There is, so long as there’s still even one hapless reader who somehow mistakes this wan ghost for Bucephalus.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Noë on the origin of life etc.

UC Berkeley philosopher (and atheist) Alva Noë is, as we saw not too long ago, among the more perceptive and interesting critics of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos.  In a recent brief follow-up post, Noë revisits the controversy over Nagel’s book, focusing on the question of the origin of life.  Endorsing some remarks made by philosopher of biology Peter Godfrey-Smith, Noë holds that while we have a good idea of how species originate, there is no plausible existing scientific explanation of how life arose in the first place:

This is probably not, I would say, due to the fact that the relevant events happened a long time ago.  Our problem isn't merely historical in nature, that is.  If that were all that was at stake, then we might expect that, now at least, we would be able to make life in a test tube.  But we can't do that.  We don't know how.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Back from Blackfriars

Back from Oxford, and exhausted.  I thank Bill Carroll and the Dominicans at Blackfriars for their warm hospitality.  (And thanks to Brother James of Blackfriars for taking the photo, elsewhere in Oxford.)  Regular blogging will resume ASAP.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The limits of eliminativism

Eliminativist positions in philosophy are a variety of anti-realism, which is in turn typically contrasted with realist and reductionist positions.  A realist account of some phenomenon takes it to be both real and essentially what it appears to be.  A reductionist account of some phenomenon takes it to be real but not what it appears to be.  An eliminativist view of some phenomenon would take it to be in no way real, and something we ought to eliminate from our account of the world altogether.  Instrumentalism is a milder version of anti-realism, where an instrumentalist view of some phenomenon holds that it is not real but nevertheless a useful or even indispensible fiction.

New ACPQ article

My article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought” appears in the latest issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly.  Here is the abstract:

James Ross developed a simple and powerful argument for the immateriality of the intellect, an argument rooted in the Aristotelian-Scholastic tradition while drawing on ideas from analytic philosophers Saul Kripke, W. V. Quine, and Nelson Goodman.  This paper provides a detailed exposition and defense of the argument, filling out aspects that Ross left sketchy.  In particular, it elucidates the argument’s relationship to its Aristotelian-Scholastic and analytic antecedents, and to Kripke’s work especially; and it responds to objections or potential objections to be found in the work of contemporary writers like Peter Dillard, Robert Pasnau, Brian Leftow, and Paul Churchland.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Around the net

I’m a bit “Nagel-ed out” at the moment, but before long I’ll be writing up at least one or two more installments in my series of posts on Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos and its critics.  In the meantime, The New York Times has covered the controversy over the book, H. Allen Orr has reviewed the book in The New York Review of Books, and Mohan Matthen has reviewed it in The Philosopher’s Magazine.  In the blogosphere, we have commentary from Keith Burgess-Jackson and from Wes Alwan at The Partially Examined Life.  I’ll comment on some of this myself soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Stan Lee meets F. A. Hayek

Recently I’ve been reading Sean Howe’s terrific Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.  The broad outlines of the history of the company -- its origins in 1939 as part of Martin Goodman’s pulp magazine empire, its rise to dominance of the field beginning in the 1960s under writer and editor Stan Lee and his co-creation (with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other artists) of now famous characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men, the company’s declaration of bankruptcy in the 1990s, its rebound and recent incorporation into the Disney empire -- have been recounted before.  But Howe’s book gives us a wealth of fascinating details (fascinating not only from a comic book geek point of view, but from a business point of view) that you won’t easily find elsewhere.

Upcoming lectures

As I announced last month, next week I’ll be in Oxford speaking on the theme “Aquinas and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” as part of the Blackfriars Aquinas Seminar.

On Saturday, March 2 I’ll be speaking in Lafayette, Louisiana at Our Lady of Wisdom Church and Catholic Student Center, near the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  The title of the talk is “An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God.”  More information is available here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Craig versus Rosenberg

Theist philosopher William Lane Craig debated atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg at Purdue University on February 1.  You can watch the debate here.  I put forward my own detailed critique of Rosenberg’s book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality in a ten-part series of posts, of which you can find a roundup here.  As I’ve said before, one of Rosenberg’s strengths is that he is willing consistently to follow out the implications of scientism (however absurd and self-defeating, as we saw in the series of posts just referred to) in a way many other atheists do not.  Another is that, as this event indicates, he has (as a certain other prominent atheist famously appears not to have) the courage and intellectual honesty to debate the most formidable defenders of theism.