Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thinking Clearly About Freedom

Sam Harris has (another) great post on the muddled notion of "freewill" that obscures so much of our thinking about religion and morality here: Morality Without "Freewill". Much of this is agreeable although I find something elusively off the mark about the way he's framing the discussion.

Two brief ideas. First, the native conception of freedom that many non-philosophers seem to be operating with is of some inexplicable force, originating with us, that defies the ordinary physical, naturally lawful order of events. Free acts are little miracles, as it were; violations of the causal closure of the physical world. This view is completely at odds with what we know about the physical world and how brains operate.

Second, people's motivations are frequently backwards on the topic. If some argument or piece of evidence suggests that we don't have freedom in this wrongheaded sense, then that is typically taken as an irrevocable reductio of that argument. If the implication of argument x is that we don't have freewill, then x is immediately objected because we have an incorrigible intuition of our own freewill, or, at least, we dislike that implication intensely enough to be motivated to reject the argument.

Part of what Harris is struggling with in the book (The Moral Landscape) is providing a clear conceptual scaffolding that can serve as an alternative to the old one. People's inability to extricate their thinking from the hopeless mess of religious moral notions is also the source of a lot of the resistance he's getting, even from people who aren't overtly religious.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Contemporary Philosophy of Religion and Atheism

The guys at The Think Atheist Show interviewed me a couple of weeks ago.  We talked about the case for atheism in philosophy of religion, my book, and proving the negative.  The podcast is here.

Dead as a Doornail: Problems with Evidence for Life After Death

I'll be talking to the Sacramento Freethinkers Atheists and Nonbelievers (SACFan) group on Tuesday, May 17 at 6:30 at 191 Lathrop Way, Sacramento.

The vast majority of Americans believe in some sort of life after death. Many of them cite out of body experiences, near death experiences, and other unusual phenomena as evidence.  There are even fundamentalist Christians and apologists like J.P.  Moreland here who are citing these occurrences as evidence for an afterlife.  Let's take a take a close look at what sort of evidence would be needed, what we have, what being dead is, and what really being dead is. The case we have from OBEs, NDEs, and other phenomena is really poor for life after death.  OBEs and NDEs face a timing problem, an error checking problem, and several other challenges before we can take them seriously.  

A version of the slides I'll be using is here:  Dead as a Doornail.  

I've also got several relevant earlier posts such as

When Do We Die?  

What Would Be Evidence for Life After Death?

I hope to see you there.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I presented in a panel at CSUS in the Nammour Symposium recently.  I presented a summary of anti-introspectionist research, or research that shows we don't know our own minds nearly as well as common sense suggests.  Video is here, I'm the second speaker:


Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Domain Name: provingthenegative.com

The domain name, provingthenegative.com is now mine.  If you enter it, you'll be routed here.  It's a bit catchier than the blogspot one (which still works as well.)


Friday, May 6, 2011

Proving the Negative

I'll be giving a talk to the Atheist Advocates of San Francisco on Sunday.  It's widely alleged that one can't prove the negative concerning God.  Not surprisingly, I maintain you can.  The group has put up this notice about the talk:  http://atheistadvocatesofsanfrancisco.com/meetings.html

I'll be using a version of these slides in my talk:  Proving the Negative

The talk will be Sunday, May 8, from 4:30-6:30 in the Audre Lorde Room, Women's Building, 3543 18th (at Valencia) San Francisco.  Hope to see you there.  

And if you haven't seen this, it's time.  Tim Minchin is brilliant: