(Formerly "The Gadfly's Blog")
I offer below,
random musings, reflections, correspondence, scraps of
work-in-progress, and other such miscellany, perchance worth sharing
but not ready for the prime time of formal publication.
Much of this
material has been adapted from personal e-mail correspondence. While
I am perfectly free to use, revise and expand on my side of these
exchanges, use of the "incoming" correspondence is problematic. I
have neither the right nor the inclination to include the words of
my correspondents if they can be identified either by name or
If I am confident that the correspondents can not be identified and
if their part of the exchange is essential to the exchange, then I
might quote them directly. Otherwise, their ideas will be briefly
paraphrased, only to supply context to my part of these
conversations. In no case will I identify the correspondents by
On the other hand, signed letters to The Crisis Papers and The
Online Gadfly are fair game as are other comments published in the
internet. They were submitted with the clear understanding that
they, and their signatories, might be made public.
Incoming correspondence will be identified by italics. My
contributions will be in plain text.
IS SCIENCE A FALLACY?
A climate change skeptic sends me a paper detailing "logical problems" with
anthropocentric climate change.
I am much more interested in substantial and convergent evidence than I am
with "logical problems."
In fact, I will stipulate that climate science is shot through with
(so-called) "fallacies" -- most notably, generalization, authority and
induction. But then, so to is science itself -- all of it.
Generalization? We accept Newtonís laws even though we havenít
examined all moving bodies. We accept Grayís Anatomy even though
(fortunately) we havenít dissected all human bodies.
Authority? All science rests on the say-so of earlier science --
those "giants" on whose shoulders Newton said he stood. The difference
between science and dogma, is that "authoritative" scientific claims are in
principle fallible and open to re-examination and re-confirmation and even,
on occasion, revision.
Induction? As David Hume pointed out, induction is founded upon a
circular argument -- it assumes "uniformity of nature" which, in turn, is
based on induction.
You know all this. We teach it in Philo. 101 and, if successful, maybe some
of our students remember it.
So if all science is "fallacious," why believe any of it? The pragmatists
have the final and conclusive word: because it works! If any of thousands of
(fallaciously) "proven" physical laws were off by 1%, no aircraft could get
off the ground and I couldn't be sending this e-mail to you. Our entire
industrial economy runs on the assumption that much of science is correct,
or, if not, the best means of correction is better science. Science is
simply, hands down, the best (if systematically imperfect) means of
attaining knowledge of the physical and biotic world.
Now are you telling me that the vast majority of working and peer-reviewed
publishing climate scientists just don't know how to do science? That the
AAAS and NAS and dozens of other scientific societies and publications are
just wrong to assume that they do?
Sorry, I just can't buy that.
Like John Boehner and Jeb Bush, I am not a climate scientist. And so (unlike
these worthies) I must rely on the conclusions of climate scientists. I am
not a lawyer, so I follow the advice of my lawyer on matters of law. I am
not a physician, but I dutifully take the prescriptions that my doctor
prescribes. I am not an aeronautical engineer, but I have few qualms about
booking a flight next month.
However, I am a philosopher, and as such I can spot a phony argument a mile
December 27, 2015
Reply to Jeffrey Tayler,
"We Need a Progressie Debate on Islam.."
"Islam is not a race but a religion."
No, Mr. Tayler, it is neither.
Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is a family of religions.
Most Moslems are unified by their central creed: "There is no God but Allah,
and Mohammed is His prophet." All else is diversity: Sunnis, Shi'ites,
Sufis, Wahabbis, and dozens of other sects. And even self-identified
"secular Moslems" reject that central creed. "Islam" for them, like Judaism
to many Reform Jews ("Jewnitarians" as a Jewish friend calls them), and
"secular Christians" is neither a race nor a religion -- it is a cultural
Among the Moslems there are moral monsters, as we are constantly reminded.
Also among the Moslems there are saintly individuals, as we routinely
forget. And in between, the vast majority of Moslems (like the vast majority
of Christians) are ordinary folks, preoccupied with the struggle to make a
living and to care for their families. Their holy book, the Qu'ran, like the
Bible, contains morally ambiguous messages -- both horrid and ennobling.
Most Moslems, like most Christians, are less "taught" by their scripture
than they find therein validation for their independently arrived-at
As one wit put it: "The Bible [and the Qu'ran] is like a prisoner of war:
torture it enough and you can get it to say anything."
Thus it is pointless to look for "the essence of Islam" by citing the Qu'ran.
Look instead to history, where we fill find that on balance, when it comes
to tolerance, the Moslems fare far better than the Christians.
After all, it is a fundamental tenet of Islam that "the People of the Book"
(i.e. Jews and Christians) be treated with love and respect. To the Moslems,
Jesus is regarded as a holy prophet, second only to Mohammed. Christians do
not recognize Mohammed as a prophet.
Isis and Al Qaeda are disgraces to Islam. Similarly, the KKK, clinic
bombers, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Holy Inquisition and the Crusades
are disgraces to Christianity. There is much to despise in the history of
all the Abrahamic religions.
And much more to admire and cherish. And therein is the foundation of
reconciliation and the path to world peace.
Regarding Yaweh, Allah, and Jesus/God, I am an atheist.
Ethically: a "secular Christian".