Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

Suppose your friend came to you and said that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Suppose he said that he had seen 100 doctors and using best medical practices 98 had told them that he should start treatment immediately. Further, suppose that the 98 say that it is not too late to intervene, but time is critical. Suppose that the 98 come from all over the world and represent a number of specialties and disciplines and have come to the conclusion that he has cancer from multiple tests, procedures and such. Then suppose that your friend tells you that he’s decided not to get treatment because the doctors have not reached a consensus. That 2% still believe that he doesn’t have cancer, and given its cost it would be better until we have more data before deciding on whether to treat his cancer—and the costs will be substantial. Once treatment starts he may have to give up his job, it will drain his life savings, and he will undergo significant pain and discomfort. Nothing in his life will likely be the same. The question is, is your friend acting rationally? What’s the best thing for your friend to do? Is there an argument that he is not getting treatment because he really wants to believe he can avoid the unpleasantness he must face? Or is the evidence really as insufficient as your friend argues. What would you advise? Continue reading Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

Naomi Oreskes’s talk on ‘Merchants of Doubt’ at BYU

Recently Naomi Oreskes historian of science and author of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming talked at at the Kennedy Center as part of a special series of talks sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and BYU’s Environmental Ethics Initiative (which I’m . . . → Read More: Naomi Oreskes’s talk on ‘Merchants of Doubt’ at BYU

Mormonism and Evolution, Life as Emergent Agential Systems: My Presentation at the Krakow Theology Conference Part II

My talk at the Science and Religion Conference held in Krakow Poland, “What is Life? Theology, Science, and Philosophy” continued (Part I is found here) . . .

Life’s processes are often mischaracterized as a simple reductive scheme that misses some of life’s most astonishing features. Bergson criticized this as finalism in which the whole was given. This ‘whole’ can be seen in Philosopher Daniel Dennett idea of a design space. He uses it to argue for a deterministic universe, but the idea is that there are only so many possible combinations of DNA that produce viable ‘creatures.’ From a given starting point, the unfolding of different life forms, must wander around on this space, driven by local selection regimes, but the set is finite, and the steps must be small ones. Richard Dawkins uses the same notion in his view of ‘climbing mount improbable’ in which he demonstrates how evolution can completely explain the designed complexity of life on earth. They are right that evolution completely explains complexity, but the question that deserves some consideration is can we ask where the design space comes from? Of course that is in principle unanswerable from a scientific perspective.
Continue reading Mormonism and Evolution, Life as Emergent Agential Systems: My Presentation at the Krakow Theology Conference Part II

Thought Experiment August: A ‘Hunger Games’ Style Death-match with Yourself

(Remember folks, in a thought experiment you can do anything! To say, “That’s impossible!” is not allowed!)

So I’ve been reading Hunger Games (which I highly recommend), and a devilishly conceived thought experiment presents itself.

Aliens come to Earth with highly advanced technology and a sporting air. Continue reading Thought Experiment August: A ‘Hunger Games’ Style Death-match with Yourself

Thought-experiment August: What if you are just a minor character in a computer game

BCC’s Ronan introduced me to the work of Nick Bostrom, an Oxford Philosopher. He writes and thinks on technology and ethics issues. He has a fascinating line of reasoning. He argues that quite possibly we are living in a simulation, like The Matrix. Continue reading Thought-experiment August: What if you are just a minor character in a computer game

Thought-experiment August: Pick your alien invasion

Alien beings have scanned your brain and determined you are the perfect person to conduct a little ethics experiment. They are immensely powerful trans-dimensional beings, but almost entirely void of ethical thinking. They relish doing ethics experiments, to see what all the fuss is about it in humans. Continue reading Thought-experiment August: Pick your alien invasion

Thought-experiment August: Your new Z11 robot

It is Thought Experiment August! Time to once again put on your thinking caps and ponder the dicey issues of modern thought.

I’ve explored the issues related to allowing artificial life into your religious community here and what it might mean to be an artificial life here. But let’s back off and decide when, for the first time, an artificial life might deserve rights. Continue reading Thought-experiment August: Your new Z11 robot

Ecology and Economics: Betting against science

Everything living depends on ecology. The planet’s hydrologic cycles provide the water that we use for agriculture and industry. Everything you’ve eaten today depended upon soil ecologies, the carbon cycle–driven largely by photosynthesis, insects, and countless other ecosystem processes. Consider, for example, the things made of wood around you right now. Continue reading Ecology and Economics: Betting against science

The models of climate change

I just returned from the MS4 conference. It is the fourth year that a group of philosophers of science have gathered to try to tease apart the implications of computer simulation in science. My interest in computer simulation is in its uses in ecology (see the abstract for my paper if you are interested), but for me, some of the most captivating work of this kind is being done on climate models, in which simulation is used to try to sort out the implications of our warming planet. Philosophers try to pick out what science is doing, it examines its assumptions and attempts to cut the lines of demarcation between what is good and bad science. Science studies the world, philosophers study the science. Sort of like judicial review in laws (don’t take this too far, scientists hardly ever pay attention to what philosophers are saying). Continue reading The models of climate change

Thought-experiment August: (4) Should you shoot Sally to save the girls?

Here’s a twist on a classic ethics thought-experiment.

You are high on a hill with a high-powered rifle and scope and you know you never miss (you are an ex-navy sniper say), even with a moving target. Down below on a train trestle you see a scene of horror unfolding. Three teenage girls you don’t know have climbed onto the trestle. To get there they must have climbed over a fence marked with ‘danger’ warnings. They have clearly broken several trespassing laws. A train is coming around a bend and it will kill all three teenagers. You know this. Furthermore, you can see the engineer is Sally, who you know is 65 years old because you read about her upcoming retirement in the local paper. You know nothing else about her. She is on the other side of the bend and will not see the teenagers until it is too late to brake. You also happen to know that Sally has an active switch that she must squeeze with her hand to keep the train from breaking and that if she is incapacitated the train automatically breaks. Should you shoot Sally to save the girls? And making it harder, Would you shoot Sally to save the girls? Continue reading Thought-experiment August: (4) Should you shoot Sally to save the girls?