Sunday, November 27, 2011

Please pray

for James Joyner and his two little girls. His wife passed away in her sleep at the age of 41 from unknown causes. Their daughters are 23 and 5 months old -- I'm sure the younger was still breastfeeding. Joyner suddenly finds himself a single father and has to deal with overwhelming grief. I can barely keep from tearing up just writing this.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Phoenix Landing

This is three years old and I can't believe I didn't mention it when it happened, but one of the utterly fascinating things involved with the Phoenix spacecraft is that another spacecraft, the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars, took pictures of Phoenix as it descended through the Martian atmosphere and after it landed. It just blows me away to think of two separate spacecraft coming into contact with each other like that.

The only thing that I find more mind-boggling than this is when Apollo 12 landed a stone's throw away from Surveyor 3 and the astronauts wondered on over to it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration.

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

I need to get back to the States before they ban the actual drinking of water to prevent dehydration.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quote of the Day

I dreamed that a number of us bought a ship and hired a crew and captain and went to sea. We called her the State. And a great storm arose and she began to make heavy weather of it, till at last there came a cry "All hands to the pumps -- owners and all!" We had too much sense to disobey the call and in less time than it takes to write the words we had all turned out, and allowed ourselves to be formed into squads at the pumps. Several emergency petty officers were appointed to teach us our work and keep us at it. In my dream I did not, even at the outset, greatly care for the look of some of these gentry; but at such a moment -- the ship being nearly under -- who could attend to a trifle like that? And we worked day and night at the pumps and very hard work we found it. And by the mercy of God we kept her afloat and kept her head on to it, till presently the weather improved.

I don't think that any of us expected the pumping squads to be dismissed there and then. We knew that the storm might not be really over and it was as well to be prepared for anything. We didn't even grumble (or not much) when we found that parades were to be no fewer. What did break our hearts were the things the petty officers now began to do to us when they had us on parade. They taught us nothing about pumping or handling a rope or indeed anything that might help to save their lives or ours. Either there was nothing more to learn or the petty officers did not know it. They began to teach us all sorts of things -- the history of shipbuilding, the habits of mermaids, how to dance the hornpipe and play the penny whistle and chew tobacco. For by this time the emergency petty officers (though the real crew laughed at them) had become so very, very nautical that they couldn't open their mouths without saying "Shiver my timbers" or "Avast" or "Belay".

And then one day, in my dream, one of them let the cat out of the bag. We heard him say, "Of course we shall keep all these compulsory squads in being for the next voyage: but they won't necessarily have anything to do with working the pumps. For, of course, shiver my timbers, we know there'll never be another storm, d'you see? But having once got hold of these lubbers we're not going to let them slip back again. Now's our chance to make this the sort of ship we want."

But the emergency petty officers were doomed to disappointment. For the owners (that was "us" in the dream, you understand) replied "What? Lose our freedom and not get security in return? Why, it was only for security we surrendered our freedom at all." And then someone cried, "Land in sight". And the owners with one accord took every one of the emergency petty officers by the scruff of his neck and the seat of his trousers and heaved the lot of them over the side. I protest that in my waking hours I would never have approved such an action. But the dreaming mind is regrettably immoral, and in the dream, when I saw all those meddling busybodies going plop-plop into the deep blue sea, I could do nothing but laugh.

My punishment was that the laughter woke me up.

C. S. Lewis
"A Dream"
Present Concerns

Monday, November 14, 2011

Archaeology of the EAAN

Alvin Plantinga has spent much of the last two decades arguing that naturalism is self-defeating. He calls his argument the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism or EAAN, and the reason it's evolutionary is because Plantinga applies it specifically to evolution. If naturalism is true, our belief-forming capacities are not aimed at the production of mostly true beliefs; rather, they are aimed at survival since that is what evolution would select for. But then any particular belief is not produced by cognitive faculties aimed at producing true beliefs -- including belief in evolution itself. Therefore, either evolution is true or naturalism is true; not both. Since naturalists generally consider evolution to be their primary argument (mistakenly, I would argue for further reasons), the EAAN takes their strongest weapon and uses it against them.

Plantinga's first widely-read presentation of this argument is chapter 12 (pp. 216-37) of Warrant and Proper Function (henceforth WPF), published in 1993, entitled "Is Naturalism Irrational?" (chapter 11 is relevant too). But I came across a handful of references to an earlier essay published in 1991 in Logos simply titled "An Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism." I suspected this article was probably just an earlier version of the final chapter of WPF but I'm one of those people who likes to track these obscure references down. Unfortunately, there are a few journals named Logos and none of those I had access to were the right one. So I finally resorted to drastic measures: I requested the article via inter-library loan.

The journal, it turns out, is the now-defunct Logos: Philosophic Issues in Christian Perspective, volume 12 (1991), with Plantinga's article taking up pages 27-49. As I suspected it's very similar to chapter 12 of WPF, although not identical; the chapter is an updated version of the essay. Regardless, now I had both.

Yet then I encountered another reference. William Alston begins his essay "Plantinga, Naturalism, and Defeat" (page 176 in James Beilby, ed., Naturalism Defeated? Essays on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism [Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2002]) by saying that Plantinga published the EAAN in two places at the same time, one of those places being WPF. The second reference was not to Logos, however: it was to Faith in Theory and Practice: Essays on Justifying Religious Belief, edited by Elizabeth S. Radcliffe and Carol J. White (Chicago: Open Court, 1993). My suspicion, however, was that the latter article was not the updated chapter but merely a republication of the original Logos essay. Fortunately, I did have access to this book in one of the faculty libraries, so I went and copied the article -- pp. 35-65 and titled "An Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism" -- and compared it to the earlier article. Sure enough, the Radcliffe-White article is identical to the Logos article (although it has an abstract not present in the latter) and thus is similar but not identical to the final chapter of WPF.

So if you're a pedantic researcher like me and want to track down these earlier references even though there are no significant differences between them and the version presented in WPF (which is available online here), you can just get the Radcliffe-White book, since it's much more accessible. You're welcome.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spinozan SF

I've never read Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, I've only read about it -- partially because C. S. Lewis wrote his Space Trilogy to provide a sort of Christian counter-example to it. Now I learn that Star Maker can be seen as a science-fiction expression of Spinoza's philosophy. That moves it to the top of my list.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Three more books

A friend for whom I recently did a minor favor very graciously bought me a $50 gift certificate for This is probably the best kind of gift to give to someone like me. The shipping costs to send them to Belgium were fairly high, but I managed to finagle three books out of it. I really wanted to get Jaegwon Kim's Physicalism, or Something Near Enough, but couldn't figure out a way of doing it and still getting two more books. I received my order a few days ago and realized that as the books are completely incommensurate with each other, they illustrate the diversity of my psychoses. Here they are, for what it's worth:

Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. I use this book in my dissertation, and it finally reached the point where it was much more convenient to own it than to continue getting it from a library. In fact, I really need to familiarize myself with all of Dennett's books as his philosophical foci overlap mine in several places. Also, the more I read him the more I like him.

Ronald L. Numbers, ed., Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. I've been wanting this one ever since it came out, especially to read Dennis Danielson's chapter, but never had the spare change to buy it. Now all I need is the spare time to read it.

Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. I've mentioned before how this book sounds like it's written to address my particular spiritual condition. I read somewhere that you shouldn't constantly read new books on spirituality, but instead find a handful of books that speak to your condition and just feed off them. Dallas Willard's books fill that role for me. I also note that his website has brought back the page on his current projects which I mentioned here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Nigel Tufnel Day

Or corduroy day or whatever.

(Yes, I know it's Veterans Day -- Armistice Day in Europe -- but it kind of ticks me off because, as a Marine Corps veteran I've never had Veterans Day off. No it's other people who get to take it off to honor veterans but the actual veterans have to work. Seriously, how messed up is that? Why not make Veterans Day a day when you honor veterans by giving veterans the day off? Having a day to honor veterans where most veterans get treated the same as any other day makes you look kind of like a jerk. OK, sorry, rant off.)