Does original intentionality exist?

“Intentionality” is a philosophical term for “aboutness”. A movie review is about a movie, and the sentence “Trump is a narcissist” is about Trump. Your thoughts concerning today’s breakfast are about today’s breakfast. Each of these is about something else, so each exhibits intentionality.

How do these things acquire their aboutness? “Trump is a narcissist” isn’t inherently about the man who bears the name “Donald Trump”.  Had Trump’s family retained their Germanic surname, Drumpf, then “Trump is a narcissist” would no longer be about the man we call “the Donald”. The intentionality of the sentence is derivative; that is, it derives from the pre-existing convention of referring to a particular man as “Donald Trump”.

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Money and happiness

Can money buy happiness?  These people, waiting for hours to buy lottery tickets, seem to think so, or at least are willing to test the hypothesis (turn off your sound — the commentary is annoying):

What does science say?  The short answer is that money can buy happiness, at least up to a point.  The long answer is quite complicated.

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A selection-vs-drift version of Weasel

In his endless pursuit of that wascally Weasel, Mung made the following silly claim:

GAs are often used to demonstrate “the power of cumulative selection.” Given small population sizes drift ought to dominate yet in GAs drift does not dominate.

That is clearly false, but for the benefit of Mung (and his cousin Elmer) I have modified my Weasel program to incorporate both drift and selection.  They can now see for themselves that small population sizes are insufficient to guarantee that drift dominates selection.

The code is here. Compile it under Linux using “gcc -std=gnu99 -lm weasel.c -o weasel”.

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Questions for Christians and other theists, part 7: Original Sin and the Fall

Among Christianity’s many odd doctrines is the notion of original sin. The details vary from denomination to denomination, but a common view is that all humans are born into a state of sin because Adam succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden, and that this state of sin makes us worthy of God’s eternal condemnation.  Only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us.

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KF tackles the transfinite

Veteran TSZers may recall an entertaining thread in which a bunch of us tried to explain the cardinality of infinite sets to Joe G:

A lesson in cardinality for Joe G

At UD, commenters daveS and kairosfocus are now engaged in a long discussion of the transfinite, spanning three threads:

An infinite past can’t save Darwin?
An infinite past?
Durston and Craig on an infinite temporal past…

The sticking point, which keeps arising in different forms, is that KF cannot wrap his head around this simple fact: There are infinitely many integers, but each of them is finite.

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George Ellis on top-down causation

In a recent OP at Uncommon Descent, Vincent Torley (vjtorley) defends a version of libertarian free will based on the notion of top-down causation. The dominant view among physicists (which I share) is that top-down causation does not exist, so Torley cites an essay by cosmologist George Ellis in defense of the concept.

Vincent is commenting here at TSZ, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to engage him in a discussion of top-down causation, with Ellis’s essay as a starting point. Here’s a key quote from Ellis’s essay to stimulate discussion:

However hardware is only causally effective because of the software which animates it: by itself hardware can do nothing. Both hardware and software are hierarchically structured, with the higher level logic driving the lower level events.

I think that’s wrong, but I’ll save my argument for the comment thread.

What is Islamophobia, and are the New Atheists guilty of it?

On the ‘Problem of Evil revisited’ thread, Kantian Naturalist says:

And I’ve become increasingly disgusted by the Islamophobia of “the New Atheists” — especially the odious Bill Maher, who has become their spokesperson in the US media. I think that people who rightly reject the fascist tendencies of contemporary Abrahamic religiosity (whether in the guise of Marco Rubio, Benjamin Netanyahu, or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) are rarely aware of how fascistic their own atheism sounds.

Patrick responds:

I don’t watch Maher regularly, but I often enjoy him when I do. What has he said that demonstrates Islamophobia? (And what does Islamophobia mean? Being phobic of the jihadists seems sensible to me.)


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Moderation at TSZ, part 2

The first post in this series can be found here:

Moderation at TSZ, part 1

In part 2, I had planned to discuss why I think the rules aren’t having the desired effects. I still plan to do that. However, in gathering my thoughts, it occurred to me that no one (to my knowledge) has ever made explicit the rationale behind the Guanoing of comments. I think the topic is worthy of an OP of its own.

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Doubt comes for the Archbishop

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, raised eyebrows several days ago by admitting that the Paris attacks had caused him to doubt God’s presence:


Do you ever doubt?


Oh, gosh, yes. Yes!


Does something like this happening ever put a chink in your armour?


Saturday morning I was out, and as I was walking I was praying and saying “God, why is this happening? Where are you in all this?” and then engaging and talking to God. Yes, I doubt.

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The Varieties of Religious Language

Kantian Naturalist and I have been hopscotching from thread to thread, discussing the nature of religious language. The main point of contention is the assertoric/disclosive distinction:  When is religious language assertoric — that is, when does it make claims about reality — and when is it merely disclosive, revealing attitude and affect without making actual claims?

I’ve created this thread as a permanent home for this otherwise nomadic discussion.

It may also be a good place for an ongoing discussion of another form of religious language — scripture.  For believers who take scripture to be divinely inspired, the question is when it should be taken literally, when it should be taken figuratively or metaphorically, and whether there are consistent and justifiable criteria for drawing that distinction.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 6: Hell

A question for those of you who believe in an omnibenevolent God but also in hell: How do you reconcile the two?

Some believers invoke the “free will defense”, but this makes no sense to me. It seems that God could easily save everyone, sending no one to hell, without violating anyone’s free will. Here’s how I described it recently:

It’s similar to a technique I’ve described in the past whereby God could have created a perfect world sans evil without violating anyone’s free will.

Here’s how it works:

1. Before creating each soul, God employs his omniscience to look forward in time and see whether that soul, if created, would freely accept him and go to heaven or freely reject him and go to hell.

2. If the former, God goes ahead and creates that soul. If the latter, then he doesn’t, choosing instead to create a different soul that will freely accept him and go to heaven.

Simple, isn’t it? Any omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God could easily come up with something like this or better, rather than sending billions of souls to hell with no chance of a reprieve.

Theists, how do you respond?

Innate dualism and intimations of eternal life

Excerpts from a new article at Aeon by Natalie Emmons:

We see faces in the clouds and we might just see Jesus in our toast: the fact that we see anyone at all tells us that the human mind is actively searching for agents, even in the most ambiguous of situations.

…Bering and his colleagues set their sights on what psychologists call ‘intuitive mind-body dualism’ as an alternative…The study deliberately included a cluster of children too young to have been exposed to much religious testimony at all, to see whether even they had an inkling that a part of an individual survives death.

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Jonathan Bartlett’s “open-ended loop” argument

In the “Evolving complex features” thread, TristanM asks:

I’m curious what the group’s thoughts are on Jonathan Bartlett’s (AKA “JohnnyB”) argument about open-loops in the AVIDA program?

I haven’t studied Jon’s argument yet, but I think some of you have. What did you think?

Why I Love AVIDA – Detecting Design in Digital Organisms

Thoughts on Parameterized vs. Open-Ended Evolution and the Production of Variability

Irreducible Complexity and Relative Irreducible Complexity: Foundations and Applications

Moderation at TSZ, part 1

Gathering my thoughts on moderation at TSZ, I found that I really have two OPs to write: one discussing the effects of rules and moderation at TSZ, and another exploring why the moderation — particularly the Guano-related stuff — has those effects. The second topic is by far the more interesting, but it’s the first topic that has the most practical import, so I’ll address it now.

In a nutshell: We’ve already experimented with different levels of moderation at TSZ, and the results are in. Less moderation works better.

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More questions for Barry Arrington

At UD, Barry has written another hypocritical OP criticizing former NBC anchor Brian Williams. I have some questions for him:


Given your own deception and dishonesty, why are you so concerned with the deception and dishonesty of Brian Williams? Are you angry that he’s encroaching on your territory?

When will you explain what happened to Aurelio Smith’s comments, and why it happened?

Will you ever explain why you deleted this entire thread?

How do you reconcile your abysmal behavior with your claim of “having a standard of integrity far beyond what the world requires”?

The false equivalence between Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner

In the wake of the Rachel Dolezal scandal, some voices on the right are trying (predictably) to draw a false equivalence between Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner.  Why criticize Dolezal for assuming a black identity, they ask, if we praise Caitlyn Jenner for assuming a female one?

My answer: I criticize Dolezal for lying.  Dolezal lied repeatedly and Jenner didn’t. It’s that simple.

The New Atheists–bash, defend, or both

Lots of folks on both sides of the ID divide have strong feelings about prominent New Atheists, particularly the “Four Horsemen” – Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens – and Jerry Coyne.

Here’s a thread in which to air your criticisms of them, or defend them, or a bit of both, as the spirit moves you.

Jackson Knepp’s questions about the continuity of selfhood

From the Thinking about Free Will thread:

If self is the [physical decision-making] system…and the system is all the component parts that collect sensory input etc…does that mean if I lose component parts of myself that I am no longer myself? If I lose my arms, eyesight, hearing, etc…am I somehow less of a self?

Which parts of the system are self and which parts aren’t? And why?

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Barry’s immaterial mind muddle

Barry ‘Banny’ Arrington has a new, rather confused post at UD:

On Invoking Non-Physical Mental States to “Solve the Problem” of Consciousness

Many of us are banned at UD, and those who aren’t banned are in danger of having their comments purged at any moment. Let’s avoid that cesspit and respond here at TSZ, where open discussion is encouraged and Arringtonian censorship is anathema.