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Old 19th April 2012, 11:21 AM
notinavat notinavat is offline
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Default Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

Philosopher of science and physicist David Albert recently gave quite a scathing review of Lawrence Krauss' 'A Universe From Nothing':

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/bo...auss.html?_r=1

Atheist biologist Jerry Coyne (broadly) backed Albert's substantive criticisms.

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress....usss-new-book/

To whish Krauss made some 'thread comment' response:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress....comment-202126



Now Victor Stenger has written his own response to Albert's review and the question of why there is something rather than nothing:

http://blog.talkingphilosophy.com/?p=4754
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Old 19th April 2012, 01:18 PM
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Ohhhh, physics wars! I'm all atingle & am off to read your links. Cheers!
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Old 19th April 2012, 01:42 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

Interesting, thanks.

I have to confess I am among those who have not read the book, it being in the great big huge pile of books I have bought over the last couple of weeks either at GAC or broadly related events (trying not to dscribe the Krauss v Badar discussion as a 'fringe events'). (Also in my defence I'm reading Cox and Forshaw). I have, however, heard Krauss' presentation at GAC and heard him say in two other events in the last week what the intent of the book is.

And so it strikes me that Albert, and others philosopher critics, rather miss the point. I have to say, from my own experience of having studied the subject, generally whenever a philosopher says that a question has to be addressed in a particular way, or that a logical problem means that something can't be done, they are almost always wrong. Philosophy is rather by way of the business of saying "this is impossible" or "it can only be done this way" while everyone else just gets on with doing it, usually in some other manner. Stenger, and indeed Frank Lovell is in the Coyne comments, seem to have grasped what the book is about.

In the foreword to the 2nd edition of the Selfish Gene, Dawkins suggests that philosophers seem to base their criticisms of books on the books' titles. It is interesting to note that Krauss says that Albert seems not to have read beyond the foreword of AUFN.

I haven't read Coyne, though I know he is respected. So I don't have a view on him generally. I have to admit that I wouldn't write an article which says "I didn't understand the book, but I agree with what this other person says". I am also slightly perplexed, given Coyne is best known in our circles for defending evolution against creationism, at Coyne's endorsement of Albert's view that it doesn't matter whether religion is fact, only whether it has social utility.

Actually if I were either a PhD in physics but who then took up a career in philosophy, or a biologist, even an esteemed one, I would be a bit cautious about laying down the law to one of the world's top cosmologists as to why they are wrong. Which is not to say that one ought not question authority, but I would approach it less didactically and more conversationally and with questions about matters on which I perhaps did not agree.
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Old 19th April 2012, 09:12 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

I am also slightly perplexed, given Coyne is best known in our circles for defending evolution against creationism, at Coyne's endorsement of Albert's view that it doesn't matter whether religion is fact, only whether it has social utility.

Hi Wearedust,

I didn't read Coyne as at all endorsing this - it's wildly opposed to everything he seems to stand for. This was the only area he seemed keen to distance himself from Albert on (even if he was unusually forgiving in this case). I think, like Dawkins, he values the truth for its own sake but he thinks the harms caused by religion make proving it wrong - or at least without any evidence in its favour - all the more pressing. I think he's of the party that views religion as bad because its false but especially bad because its harmful falsehood.

I'm not convinced
Albert's view is that it doesn't matter whether religion is fact only whether it has social utility either to be honest. I'm sure he values the truth for its own sake even if he's less of a "new" atheist. I rather get the impression he takes Krauss to be walking right past the philosophical questions he alludes to and the theistic arguments Dawkins thinks he defeats and to instead be engaged in something more like rhetorical point-scoring on what Albert takes to be an issue deserving of more gravity (and conceptual precision).

Not the most charitble review though and - though I hold philosophy in higher esteem than you or Krauss (or Coyne) does - the rest of what you say I either agree with or can at least sympathise with. A lot of philosophy is utter twaddle. And the questions Krauss is actually pursuing are more productive than the classical philosophical questions he alludes to or the awful theistic arguments - all that can be usefully said about 'why there is something rather than nothing' and cosmological arguments was said a long time ago by atheist philosophers like Hume and Russell.
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Old 19th April 2012, 09:24 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

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Hi Wearedust,

[FONT=&quot]I didn't read Coyne as at all endorsing this
You are correct, I misread that bit rather badly.
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Old 19th April 2012, 10:11 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

And on to the other issues (I just made a quick post before because if one has stuffed up I think it important to say so promptly).

I feel a bit constrained as, as I said, I haven't read the book, I've only heard Krauss talk about what he wanted to talk about it, and Krauss giving a presentation which summarises the book.

My understanding from the presentation(s) is that the broad structure of the argument is like this:

1. Theists pose the question 'how can something come from nothing?' - with the implication that science can't answer this question.

2. Well, actually, if the universe were a certain way, then it may be that the universe could come from nothing.

3. As it happens, it looks like the universe may well be like that.

So as I understand it, the point is that not only is the argument "we can't explain it, therefore goddidit" a fallacy, the science is pointing in the direction such that it can't be said quite so unequivocally that origins of the universe remain beyond science. Which, really, to me nicely points up that the "science can't and never will be able to explain origins" has always seemed to me to be a faith statement (edit: even if science can't ever explain origins, it is not clear to me that this isn't just a contingent matter rather than a problem of the in-principle limits of science).

Anyway: I don't read very much in Albert that goes to the issues that Krauss actually talked about. I get that Albert thinks Krauss has walked past the important questions. But, again, keep in mind I've listened but not read, and so I can't judge whether Albert's questions are important or not.
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Old 19th April 2012, 10:17 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

I fucked up and accidentally read the comments to the Stenger article (I love Stenger).

This is my favourite.

"I was glad to find another inanity by Richard Dawkins. The first inanity I found was his statement in The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution that evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics because of the sun. Here, Dawkins attributes the question, “Why there is something, rather than nothing” to theologians. The question, in fact, comes from Martin Heidegger, who was an atheists and Nazi collaborator.
The question Catholic theologians ask is, “Why do finite beings exists?” It is this question that leads to the existence of an infinite being, which is called God in the west. The discovery of the Big Bang is not evidence that God exists. Rather, it is evidence that God has communicated Himself to mankind through the Bible. The Bible says, especially John 1:1, that God created the universe from nothing.
I was amazed to discover that there is an article in the American Journal of Physics titled “Evolution and entropy” (November 2008) saying exactly the same thing about evolution that Dawkins said and justifying it with a fake equation. I am demanding that the AJP retract the article because it has no value at all. I told Victor Stenger about this article in an email. Professor Stenger has not yet responded."
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Old 19th April 2012, 10:23 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

And another post because now turning to some more trivial matters.

First, Albert not much of a new atheist? That would seem to be a reasonable appreciation. But of course, to dismiss Albert simply because he is allowing himself to be a Templeton shill for religion would be to commit the ad hominem fallacy; one ought judge him on what he does and says.

And on that matter, I have to admit that I am inclined not to expect much from someone who takes seriously the idea that theology has anything to inform what is.

My take on Albert and what he thinks is important in religion is based on the last para where it seems to me that he's deriding the mere preoccupation with whether religion is true, rather than whether it is naughty or nice - what he characterises as the meaningful critiques of religion of his youth. I have seen this view - that utility (cashed out in a range of possible ways), rather than factuality, is what is important - from both atheists and theists; Karen Armstrong and Alain de Botton for example. I think this view is profoundly wrong. If religion is factually true, then it doesn't matter whether it is useful or not. In that case, we need to make the calculation as to whether, for example, we ought be joining in the hating, vilification and violence, not to mention being very careful what we do with our private parts, lest we burn in hell. Conversely, if religion is false, then why the hell do we put up with the hating, vilification and violence (edit - and the restrictions on use of private parts)? It seems to me, on this last point (warning: unsupported hypothesis approaching) that one of the key reasons why the perspective of 'it doesn't matter if it is true, whether it is nice is more important' gets traction is that this springs from a view that religion is all pretty nice and innocuous, really.


I'm not sure in what sense I don't "respect" philosophy.
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Old 19th April 2012, 10:38 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

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I was amazed to discover that there is an article in the American Journal of Physics titled “Evolution and entropy” (November 2008) saying exactly the same thing about evolution that Dawkins said and justifying it with a fake equation. I am demanding that the AJP retract the article because it has no value at all. I told Victor Stenger about this article in an email. Professor Stenger has not yet responded."
Got a citation for that article? It's not a Styer paper is it?
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Old 19th April 2012, 10:38 PM
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Default Re: Krauss-Albert - and a post by Victor Stenger

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I told Victor Stenger about this article in an email. Professor Stenger has not yet responded."
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How very dare he!
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