Friday, March 29, 2019

Artificial intelligence and magical thinking

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Is this true?  That depends on what you mean by “indistinguishable from.”  The phrase could be given either an epistemological reading or a metaphysical one.  On the former reading, what the thesis is saying is that if a technology is sufficiently advanced, you would not be able to know from examining it that it is not magic, even though in fact it is not.  This is no doubt what Clarke himself meant, and it is plausible enough, if only because the word “sufficiently” makes it hard to falsify.  If there was some technology that almost seemed like magic but could be shown not to be on close inspection, we could always say “Ah, but that’s only because it wasn’t sufficiently advanced.”  So the thesis really just amounts to the claim that people can be fooled into thinking that something is magic if we’re clever enough.  Well, OK.  I don’t know how interesting that is, but it seems true enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

New volume on philosophers and Catholicism

Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism, an anthology edited by Brian Besong and Jonathan Fuqua, will be out next month.  You can pre-order at Amazon.  My essay “The God of a Philosopher” appears in the volume, and recounts how I came to reject atheism for Catholicism, specifically (rather than some other religion or a purely philosophical theism).  Other contributors to the volume include Peter Kreeft, J. Budziszewski, Candace Vogler, Robert Koons, Francis Beckwith, and several other philosophers.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Five Proofs on radio

Recently, John DeRosa interviewed me for the Classical Theism Podcast.  You can listen to the interview here.  We discuss my book Five Proofs of the Existence of God and Simon Blackburn’s criticisms of it, my conversion to Catholicism, my new book Aristotle’s Revenge, and other matters.  If you listen all the way to the end of the interview, John explains how you can enter to win a free copy of Aristotle's Revenge.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Wrath darkens the mind

A straw man fallacy is committed when you attack a caricature of what your opponent has said rather than addressing his actual views.  Hypocrisy involves blithely doing something that you admit is wrong and criticize in others.  But what do you call it when you bitterly criticize someone else for doing something you approve of and praise in yourself and others?  I don’t know if there’s a label for that.  “Being an unhinged weirdo” is about the best I can come up with, and I’ve got a couple of examples.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

2019 Aquinas Lecture

In January I gave the 2019 Aquinas Lecture at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, on the theme “Classical Theism and the Nature of God.”  Before the lecture I was kindly awarded the Order of St. Thomas Medal by the Center for Thomistic Studies.  You can watch the video of the lecture at the CTS website.  (Click on the “Aquinas Lecture Series Videos” link.)  That’s the medal you’ll see me wearing.  The waiter joke at the beginning makes reference to something said in Steve Jensen’s opening remarks, which are not in the video.

Monday, March 4, 2019

ORDER NOW: Aristotle’s Revenge (Updated)

UPDATE 3/9: A reader points out that another option, for readers anywhere in the world, is to order through Book Depository.  You can now also order through Barnes and Noble.  The other options, to remind you, are and Casemate Academic (for U.S. orders) and Eurospan,, and Amazon's other European sites (for European orders).
UPDATE 3/7: At the moment, Amazon is accepting pre-orders again.  These things tend to fluctuate, so check back periodically if the pre-order option temporarily disappears again.  As noted below, you can also pre-order through the U.S. distributor.  European readers can also order through Eurospan.

UPDATE 3/5: Looks like Amazon's pre-order stock sold out right away.  If you don't want to wait for Amazon to re-stock, it looks like you can also pre-order via the U.S. distributor.

Amazon has the U.S. release of my new book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science scheduled for March 22.  You can pre-order now.  The book has already been available for a few weeks at and other European outlets.   

Some pre-publication reactions to the book:

Friday, March 1, 2019

Byrne on gender identity

What is it to have a “gender identity”?  At Arc Digital, Alex Byrne examines some proposed definitions of the concept and common assumptions about it, and finds them problematic.  In earlier posts, we looked at Byrne’s views about whether sex is binary and whether sex is socially constructed.  As his earlier articles did, Byrne’s latest piece brings the cold shower of sober philosophical analysis to a discussion that is usually overheated and muddleheaded.