Category Archives: Philosophy of Science

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Biology Textbooks and the “God-Talk” Problem

“Another school year is around the corner. Undergraduate biology students will once again take up their textbooks on a quest to explore the intricacies of life. Of course, these students are rarely exposed to a balanced assessment of evolutionary theory, including its empirical challenges.

But that’s not all: biology students will likely use a textbook that incoherently presents the case for evolution. Surprisingly, this muddle emerges from textbooks’ unprincipled use of theology, of all things. In a recent journal article, “Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don’t: The Problem of God-talk in Biology Textbooks,” Stephen Dilley and Nicholas Tafacory argue that textbooks falls prey to an intractable dilemma. 

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(6) Types of Social Darwinists

The Social Darwinist is someone who believes that the Darwinian theory of evolution — i.e. “survival of the fittest” — should be actively applied to people, societies, or nations. To the Social Darwinist, ALL of life is a struggle for survival in which the strongest naturally prosper at the expense of the weak — and it is right and natural that they should do so because that’s just the way things are, and/or natural law is Above Good and Evil.

Such people rarely concede that their chances for survival may have started higher than others due to reasons such as inherited wealth, social prestige, or even dumb luck. They typically state that we, collectively, have become complacent and stupid; they want to remove any trace of “weakness” and “stupidity” from society. It may seem to some that because humans aren’t currently enduring wars or other catastrophic extinction events, evolution in humans has ceased altogether (or at least paused — either one of which is highly problematic). If Social Darwinists do talk about evolution, they are very likely to talk about evolutionary levels and teleological evolution rather than Darwin’s actual theory (which was more of a pass-fail concept). Regardless, it is worth taking a look at the typology of Social Darwinists.

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Excerpt: The Alleged Fallacies of Evolutionary Theory – PhilosophyNow

Originally published on: https://philosophynow.org/issues/46/The_Alleged_Fallacies_of_Evolutionary_Theory

Though I am, by no means or any stretch of the imagination, a fan of Richard Dawkins, I do think that he is often over-vilified. Certainly, his opinions are inflammatory and his antagonism of theists is controversial. But overall, I am sympathetic to his views (even if I think he misses far too many of the finer nuances of his perspective to ever be a capable philosopher). His intelligence and experience as an evolutionary biologist cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand. That is definitively his area of expertise.

But we must also be quite clear: his expertise is NOT philosophy (not even Philosophy of Science by way of proxy). So, while Peter Williams’ commentary may be useful for learning purposes (via negativa), it is ultimately misguided and one cannot help but wonder if he should have devoted his time and efforts to something more substantial…regardless, below is most of the original article from PhilosophyNow where Massimo Pigliucci and several of his graduate students take Williams to task for overstepping his own subject matter expertise and creating more confusion than clarity about several important philosophical topics related to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The only difference is that I’ve italicized the excerpts that I personally found to be most relevant and poignant. Hope you gain something from it too! 😎

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Brute Facts: A Primer

There are, generally, two ways to explain a phenomenon: you can either describe what or who “brought it about” or you can describe it at a deeper, more fundamental level. These two approaches have sometimes been referred to as the ‘personal cause’ and the ‘non-personal cause,’ respectively. This bifurcation traces its origins back to Aristotle who originally described four distinct types of causes. But we won’t go into that here (instead, check out my post on Aristotle and the Four Causes). For our purposes, we just need to know that there are different ways of explaining a phenomenon and they are not synonymous.

Relevant video:

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Summary: Einstein vs. Logical Positivism by Rossen Vassilev Jr.

The original article can be found at: https://philosophynow.org/issues/133/Einstein_vs_Logical_Positivism

Vassilev begins his article by pointing out that Logical Positivism was a philosophical movement that originated in the 1920s. Arguably its most critical mission was to establish the same methodology of science and mathematics for other fields, particularly philosophy. The logical positivists dismissed any and all ‘non-scientific’ speculation from genuine analysis or explanation. They insisted that such statements were literally meaningless; only statements that could be logically verified or corroborated through experiment/observation have meaning. This was known as the Principle of Verification (or Verification Principle) and was the driving philosophical and epistemological force behind the Vienna Circle (a particularly influential group of logical positivists).

According to the Principle of Verification, the meaning of any statement lies in its method of verification. Moreover, statements about, say, God or art or ethics would all suddenly be technically meaningless according to the logical positivists. Logical positivists were excited at this prospect because they were very much committed Naturalists. But not all philosophers were on-board with their philosophical approach or its underlying intentions.

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Classical Views on Free Will

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Hard Determinism

In his work “The Delusion of Free Will”, Robert Blatchford argues that human free will is a delusion; all of our desires come from within (heredity/temperament) or from without (environment/training). Blatchford claims that even though we think we choose freely, we do not. When we are faced with different choices, our choice is selected by either our heredity, such as our personal preference of sweet over sour, or our environment, such as why it is acceptable to be individualistic as opposed to collective in terms of attitude. The heredity factor is influenced by our genetic makeup; the environment factor is influenced by the culture and society in which we live. Blatchford states that whichever one of these two forces is stronger, in a given situation, it will make our decisions for us.

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Contra Haidt: A Short Critique of Schwitzgebel and Rust’s Empirical Studies

From Haidt’s impassioned rejection of the “rationalist delusion,” it is difficult to discern why Schwitzgebel and Rust would place such significance on the aforementioned behaviors as they pertain to ethicists versus non-ethicists. There are more morally egregious behaviors that ethicists could engage in would serve to overwhelmingly confirm the fact that they do not act more morally than others despite their professional status as moral philosophers. Yet, in the various articles published by Schwitzgebel and Rust, very little explanation is provided as to why these are truly relevant to determining whether moral philosophers behave better than those who may not have as extensive training or education in moral reasoning. In an article about the library habits of ethicists versus their non-ethicist counterparts, there is only one sentence provided as to why failure to return library books is bad (Schwitzgebel 714). Rather than justifying their choice of moral behaviors to research, Schwitzgebel and Rust spend most of their published articles explaining the methods they use.

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A Summary of “The Righteous Mind” by J. Haidt

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In his work “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt coins the term “the rationalist delusion” to explain a tendency of a majority of scholars to overemphasize the importance of rationality in human behavior throughout history (103). Haidt claims that the “worship of reason,” particularly within the realm of morality, is essentially inappropriate and he utilizes the rest of his book to advocate for a different version of moral reasoning and decision making processes based more on emotive intuitions that are dominant (103).

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