Category Archives: philosophy

Being an Effective Devil’s Advocate

Education, philosophy Leave a reply

Scene: a coffee shop where two people are in a heated discussion over a complex topic.

Galina: “So you can see that, generally speaking, this is predominantly the case!”
Bob: “No! What about this one time, that thing happened! That shows that you’re completely wrong!”
Galina, confused: “I don’t understand what that has to do with this?”
Bob: “Hey, this isn’t my area of expertise. I’m just being a Devil’s Advocate….”

This scene is all too common, and it’s immensely frustrating for people who have spent time and energy learning about a topic to be “refuted” by someone who knows very little. “Refuted”, though, is not the same as refuted, because Bob hasn’t actually offered a useful counterargument. No, Bob is just being a contrarian jerk. And contrarian jerks love to claim that they’re “just being a Devil’s Advocate”.

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Physician Assisted Dying and the BC Catholic

civil rights, culture, ethics, philosophy 1 Reply

Physician assisted Dying (PAD from here on, aka active euthanasia) is currently being legislated in Canada, so it’s being discussed by a number of outlets, with a variety of opinions being put forward. This is a topic that has a storied history within philosophy, and I think it’s important that we have informed conversations on this topic as much as possible, rather than just repeating the “common sense” nonsense that we’ve grown up with all our lives.

Unfortunately, having a degree in philosophy apparently can also mean learning how to really cement the foundations for that nonsense, and can add an air of authority to what should be obviously ridiculous babble. Kreeft’s nonsense has been written up in that bastion of fact-checking, the BC Catholic, and the amount of errors (or intentional falsehoods?) in that article are staggering…..

I feel that doing a general overview/correction would make it seem that I’ve missed some key line here or there, so I’m going to do a point-by-point rebuttal. Which means that this is going to be a long article. Strap in.

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Studies in Mediumship

philosophy, skepticism Leave a reply

As someone who spends a fair amount of time reading philosophy, I find that I have pretty strong commitments to physicalism/materialism (i.e. the physical world is all that there is, and all non-physical things can be reduced to physical objects). I’m also extremely confident that any forces that can affect objects over long distances have already been discovered (i.e. gravity, and electromagnetism), and as such whether psychic powers (of any kind) exist is an answered question: psychic powers are not a thing. Neither is speaking with the dead. Given my stance on physicalism, the concept of a consciousness surviving the death of the brain is just not at all viable.

That said, I’m open to being proven wrong. Not hugely open: anyone attempting to demonstrate the existence of psychic powers, or mediumship, are effectively claiming that all studies to date that have found only four physical forces are in error, and that there is an additional force/energy/whatever that the lump of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen known as the human brain can access (but only some of them), but other lumps of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen cannot. In terms of proportioning the evidence to the claim, this particular claim is going to require quite the mountain of evidence.

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Philosophy of science. Again.

culture, Education, philosophy, science Leave a reply

I wrote about philosophy of science back in 2012, and a recent spat in biology has brought this up again. The Wired article “Twitter Nerd-Fight Reveals a Long, Bizarre Scientific Feud” explains the details of that fight pretty well, and I just want to dig into a particular comment that seems to represent the core of the disagreement here.

“They said if you want to use another method, you have to show that it’s philosophically better, not scientifically better,” Eisen says. “That’s why I said it seems like they’re dropping science for dogma.”


“I’ve never in my life, in any area of science,” says Eisen, “seen something presented where people said, ‘We’re not going to judge something on the science, we’re going to judge it on the philosophy.’”

Eisen, frankly, couldn’t be more wrong (in principle).

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Fashion Bloggers in Cambodia

civil rights, crapitalism, philosophy Leave a reply

I ran across this short online reality show ‘Sweatshop’ on Ecouterre “Fashion Bloggers in a Cambodian Sweat Shop“, and it’s worth taking a look at. It’s mostly a expression of ignorance and privilege, but it’s also helpful to put clothing production into the proper context.

There’s a line in particular that stands out, in the second episode, by Ludvig Hambro: “Those who make the garments should also be able to afford them”. This seems like a good jumping off point to discuss Marxism.

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Dr. Emoto, Water, Intention and Magic

philosophy, science 1 Reply

I’ve been recently discussing with someone the possibility that, basically, magic is a real thing that really happens in the real world. Really. In fairness, those are not the terms that they use, but nevertheless that’s the argument being presented.

The idea is that since our intentions can affect water, and humans are “70% to 90% water, depending on age”, then we can totally affect the health of other people with our thoughts. As evidence for this claim, when pushed (and it was like pulling teeth) they refer to Dr. Emoto’s work on water and intention. Ironically, Dr. Emoto appears to have done very little science on this topic, insofar as he has a total of one (1) paper published, and even then it’s in the fringe science Journal of Scientific Exploration. The paper is titled (this link goes to a PDF) “Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal Formation: A Triple-Blind Replication“. The rest of this post will be a breakdown of that paper.

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God’s Not Dead

philosophy, religion, theology 5 Replies

I decided to witness the car-crash that I’ve been assured that God’s Not Dead is, first-hand, so in order to maintain some semblance of sanity, I posted tweets fairly frequently during the movie. And stopped it a lot to go do something else, lest the overload of ignorance do long-term damage.

It took probably about 2 1/2 hours to watch the whole 2-hour movie. God’s Not Dead is a Christian Movie, which means that the primary purpose is to extol the virtues of ‘being Christian’, and that things like ‘a good script’, ‘an interesting narrative’, or just ‘represents things fairly’ are, at best, a distant second. However, like the vast majority of Christian propaganda, it ends up saying some truly awful things about Christians. Continue reading

The Dishonesty of Intelligent Design

philosophy, politics, religion Leave a reply

I’ve written a number of posts on the problems of Intelligent Design, and how it’s merely a cover for Creationism, but the problems go deeper than that. Functionally, its proponents pretend that they have ‘nothing in particular’ in mind when they argue for a designer, and under that cover, they attempt to shoe-horn Creationism into the class-rooms of North America.

Intelligent Design masquerades as a ‘scientific theory’ about how human life originated and evolved over time, and its proponents claim that it’s entirely distinct from Creationism, an obvious lie when you review the origin of Intelligent Design. There are, however, other ways to demonstrate this lie.

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Failed Replications and “Emptiness”

philosophy, science 1 Reply

Recently, a Jason Mitchell of no less than Harvard University published a piece of writing entitled “On the emptiness of failed replications“, within which Mitchell decries the focus on replications within Social Psychology, and (to, I hope, a lesser degree) within science as a whole. I found it an interesting read, and an excellent example of how references/citations can serve the purpose of signalling (i.e. name-dropping) rather than adding anything substantive to a paper. Invoking Quine and Kuhn certainly signals that one has a passing familiarity with Philosophy of Science, but the rest of the essay quickly highlights how mistaken that impression is.

While I think it’s important for popular science sites to highlight this kind of thing, as Annalee Newitz at io9 did, the article just abuses Mitchell: there’s no explanation of how he’s wrong. This is, I think, a common problem within skeptic/atheist/science-enthusiast circles whereby “let’s point and laugh” is often substituted for understanding the problems. Here’s my breakdown of Mitchell’s article.

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Langara College and the Bullshit it Peddles

culture, Education, ethics, philosophy, science, skepticism 2 Replies

When I first came to Vancouver from Ireland, I found out about the student loan program that was available in Canada and discovered that I could actually afford to go to University. I’d just missed the enrollment deadline for the University of British Columbia, but a helpful advisor there suggested a number of avenues I could take. One of which was Langara College.

My two-ish years there were well-spent, studying a variety of topics, learning how much I sucked at mathematics, how much I hated chemistry, and how interesting I found philosophy. Twas a good period, and I believe that the academic faculty there, in most all disciplines, are great teachers.

But then there’s the “Health and Human Services” bullshit that it peddles…

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