April 2012


At about 33:45 into his dialogue with Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins made a remarkable statement regarding consciousness:

The thing that really baffles me about consciousness is that I can kind of see that one could program a computer to behave exactly as though it were conscious, to pass the Turing Test, and actually fool people into thinking that it was conscious, but I still have trouble believing it actually would be.  And yet I think I have to be committed to the view that it would be.

He recognizes that his worldview requires him to believe that such a computer would be conscious, and yet deep down he knows that can’t be right.  He recognizes that the computer’s experience would not be the same as our experience.  And what would that difference be?  We have a first-person awareness of ourselves while a computer would not, even if both could perform identical functions.  Dawkins realizes that consciousness cannot be reduced to function and physics, and yet his worldview requires him to maintain the otherwise ridiculous claim that a super computer should be thought to have consciousness just like us.

I like the way the agnostic moderator, Anthony Kenny, responded to Dawkins’ admission: “I think it’s rather sad that you are committed to that view.  Computers are human tools.  They can’t even add two and two together.”  Exactly.  It is rather sad that someone would confess such intellectual absurdities because they are so committed to naturalism.

During his recent dialogue with Archbishop Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins invoked the anthropic principle to say that even if the origin of life is improbable, it “had to” happen at least once on this planet since we are here.[1]  At that point the moderator, Anthony Kenny, an agnostic philosopher, asked Dawkins what kind of necessity he had in mind when he said life “had to” originate here.  Kenny noted that there are two kinds of necessity: metaphysical necessity and epistemic necessity.  Metaphysical necessity means it is impossible that some X not exist, whereas epistemic necessity means it is impossible not to know that some X is true.  He went on to explain that epistemic necessity does not entail metaphysical necessity, so while it may be epistemically necessary that we exist (we cannot not know that we exist), it does not mean we had to exist.  Our existence may be contingent, even if knowledge of our existence is not.  As expected, Dawkins clarified that he was not saying our existence was necessary, but only that it there can be no doubt that life did arise at least on this planet since we are alive.  

What struck me about Dawkins’ response was not his answer to the question, but what he said immediately before his answer: “I don’t know the words ‘epistemic’ and so on, so I’m not going to use that.”  Really?  That is a term so basic to the study of philosophy that no student could pass an intro-to-philosophy course without knowing it.  It leads me to believe that Dawkins does not know the first thing about philosophy (which should not be surprising to anyone who is familiar with Dawkins’ arguments).  

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If you are like me, you thought reading books was becoming passe.  Reading books is what people did in the old days before television and all of the various forms of entertainment we have today ruined people’s desire to read.  Apparently that’s not the case.  Book-reading is more popular than ever, perhaps due to increased education and the internet. It would be interesting to see how these figures break down based on age.  I would still venture to say that teenagers read less today than they did in days past, but hey, I could be wrong about that too.

 

HT: Scot McKnight

Posting has been quite infrequent, especially of late. My explanation is the same as before. Things are finally letting up a bit at work now, and perhaps I’ll finally be able to get back to blogging on a regular basis and respond to the massive number emails that have been piling up in my inbox over the last few months (sorry Facebook and Twitter, but I’ll never get caught up on you). Thank you, everyone, for your patience.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss’ new book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing, purports to answer the age-old philosophical question of why there is something rather than nothing from a scientific, rather than philosophical or religious perspective.  In the book’s afterword Richard Dawkins announces that Krauss has triumphed in his quest:

Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, “Why is there something rather than nothing?,” shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If On the Origin of Species was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see A Universe From Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.

Columbia professor of philosophy, David Albert, couldn’t disagree more.  In his scathing review for the New York Times, Albert points out that Krauss has not answered the question at all.

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