The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Friday, February 24, 2006

Science and Religion and Science as Religon

*Scathing* review of Daniel Dennett's _Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon_ by NYT's Leon Wieseltier. Well worth taking a look at, since Dennett is one of the foremost proponents of scientism.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Studies in Words

My very favoritest book on language is C.S. Lewis's _Studies in Words_. I am fortunate to have access via the University to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

For a limited time, I'd like to receive requests for etymological commentaries on words. Feel free to submit up to three requests. I'll post commentaries in the comments section.

Friday, February 17, 2006


In connection with that last post: While in line to get re-routed (three (3) hours total) I struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me and it turned out he was a home schooler of four kids including a seven-year-old girl like me (see what bad sentence structure can do?). He was very nice: I watched his stuff so he could go get some food and he brought me back a sandwich. Anywho, while talking about home schooling I had occasion to use this treasure which Frank sent me awhile back:

"When my wife and I mention we homeschool our children, we are without fail asked, 'But what about socialization?' Fortunately, we found a way our kids can receive the same socialization that government schools provide. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will personally corner my son in the bathroom, give him a wedgie and take his lunch money. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my wife will make sure to tease our children for not being in the 'in' crowd, taking special care to poke fun at any physical abnormalities. Fridays will be 'Fad and Peer Pressure Day.' We will all compete to see who has the coolest toys, the most expensive clothes, and the loudest, fastest, and most dangerous car. Every day, my wife and I will adhere to a routine of cursing and swearing in the hall and mentioning our weekend exploits with alcohol and immorality.... And we have asked them to report us to the authorities in the event we mention faith, religion, or try to bring up morals and values."


I'm writing from O'Hare airport...

I was headed to the Society of Christian Philosophers meeting in San Diego to comment on a paper and got stuck in O'Hare. All told I spend 3 hours in line and a total of 15 hours in airports. They couldn't get me to San Diego until Monday after the conference, so I'm just going back to Rochester tonight.

It was interesting how people's true selves come out under pressure: everyone was pretty much irate and making everyone's life Hell or acting like Angels helping one another out. The obvious examples of the former were travelers yelling at staff who were not at fault and staff snubbing and totally screwing travelers who were in a bad spot (like flat out *lying* to them on a few occasions as well as the usual "it's not my problem, I'm off in five minutes (when it would take her 10 to re-route a family back home rather than leave them stranded for a weekend).

Examples of the latter included a bagel ferry, people buying food for others, sharing food, letting people get in line ahead of them, and letting people use their phones. It's hard to express in print what utter chaos it was in the airport: thousands and thousands of stranded travelers packed in and *no* visible security or non-desk staff, with most gates completely unmanned: thousands of people completely in the dark about their status for hours. It was in general a credit to humanity that things went as smoothly as they did.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Winter Poem

As I watch the snow softly fall
frozen vagabonds wandering
their destiny secure but their path uncertain
I think that I too am adrift
but aimed at a big enough target.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On the Intelligent Design Movement

There's been a lot of talk lately about the Intelligent Design movement. I think it is the most irrational public discussion in, well, in the history of the world. The words "Intelligent Design" seem to work like a magic spell transforming its speaker into a raving lunatic or an ignoramus (I've taken a special potion to counteract its effects, in case you're wondering). That is, otherwise calm and rational people become extremely aggressive and dogmatic when discussing "Intelligent Design" and people who usually wouldn't make statements using terms they don't understand seem to make statements of the utmost firmness and import when it comes to "Intelligent Design" even though they don't even have a basic understanding of the term (thus the scare quotes around the term here). This is so on both the pro and con side but, in my experience, considerably more so on the con side.

The term Intelligent Design movement is best understood as that movement centered around the work of William Dembski and advocating two theses: 1. Dembski's Argument is valid and reasonable; 2. As a result of 1, some kind of statement contextualizing evolution can rightfully be added to public school discussions of the theory of evolution.

Dembski's argument is an ingenious extension of classical statistical inference. That is beyond all doubt. However, I think his argument is invalid: I think classical statistical inference is of very limited use. Eliminating chance through small probabilities works in some contexts, but not in others. Consider a lottery of any size you want, suppose the odds are one in a trillion trillion and I win. It's no good suggesting it was rigged in my favor *just* on the basis of how unlikely that it was that I would win. I could have said the same thing had you won. The *context* of the low-probability event makes all the difference to whether or not we infer non-chance explanations.

I do think there is a valid design inference to be made, I just don't think Dembski makes it and so I think the Intelligent Design movement is misguided at its core. However, this judgement depends on quite rarified debates in the theory of probability, so I don't think it has any implications for public policy. Fortunately, few things philosophers say do have any influence on public policy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Is the Mind More Than the Brain?

Busy with school. Interesting discussion with some students on the mind/body problem over at Logic and Inquiry.