Thursday, January 22, 2009

Episode 30 FWvD2: Judgement Day with guest Tom Clark

Having argued for determinism, the doubtcasters now turn to its implications. Is moral responsibility possible in a deterministic universe? Could justice and self-knowledge still be achieved if free will is just an illusion? Tom Clark, Director of the Center For Naturalism joins us on the show to explain how adopting a consistently naturalistic worldview would transform our view of society and ourselves.

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JohnFrost said...

I really enjoyed your two part series on determinism and free will. I think it's an extremely important subject and, like you all, I think that an acceptance of determinism would actually make the world a kinder, more compassionate place.

I also really appreciate your mentioning of Buddhism. In the East, the philosophy of Buddhism is pretty tightly bound to centuries of dogma, but as it's becomming more mainstream in the West, I think the core philosophy of Buddhism is being preserved without so much of the spiritual mumbo jumbo. I don't think you should be embarassed to associate with what appears to be just a lot of good, common sense... but it's the type of common sense we don't often pay attention to.
I think that us atheists could learn a lot from Buddhism, and that it meshes in perfectly with the things the Center for Naturalism is trying to do (creating a "naturalistic spirituality").

I also really enjoyed Tom Clark; you should have more people from the Center for Naturalism on as guests.

Jeremy said...

Thank you John, and I entirely agree. While I haven't mentioned it much on the podcast, I've argued publicly before that it is time for a serious and sustained dialogue between secular humanists and Buddhists. I am not embarrassed to share the affinity I have for Buddhism in general (though I admit it certainly sounded that way on this weeks show) or that I meditate regularly and sometimes attend Buddhist services. I am cautious, however, not to be misunderstood about what I do find of value in this religion. Many American Buddhists are too quick (in my opinion) to seize upon findings in science that seem to agree with their doctrines. And this problem is made worse by some scientists, who are also Buddhist practitioners, that are not careful enough to distinguish between their research and their own personal religious convictions. But while the picture of the human mind that is presented to us by science is strikingly similar to some Buddhist concepts, it is also very different as well. Furthermore, I've spent enough time attending different Buddhist sangas to know that even this gentle faith has a real dark side to it. Nevertheless, You are certainly right when you say "we atheists could learn a lot from Buddhism." And I plan on sharing more of my thoughts on the subject in future episodes.

Chris said...

What are the odds that Point of Inquiry's latest podcast is about neuroscience and touches on freewill? And how strange is it that that the New York Times Magazine published the Steven Pinked article around the same time? And that the issue also contains a piece about the rise of Calvinism? If this isn't proof that God has predetermined everything, I don't know what is.

JohnFrost said...

Well, all the discussions on neuroscience and naturalism and ethics on the pod-o-sphere, combined with my own study of Buddhism, has spurred me to finally do something I've been thinking about for a long time--start my own blog.
I'd be honored, Jeremy, if you took a look and offered your (much more experienced) feedback. (the link's in my profile)

Anonymous said...

Hi folks, I love your podcast. Lots of great stuff.

I'm inspired to post based on the direction the determinism conversation went with regard to criminal justice. The thrust of the guest's argument seemed to be that the system fails because it doesn't recognize that the criminal, as a product of all the inputs leading up to the crime, could not have done anything other than commit the crime.

This may be so, but for me it raises two questions regarding policies that could ensue from an acceptance of determinism:

1. Is he advocating abandonment of any retributive component of criminal justice? "What about the victims?" is pretty cliche, but seriously, what about the victims? If we know, with 100% certainty, that the criminal will never commit a crime again, should he be freed immediately, regardless of the crime committed?

2. If someone is predetermined to crime or violence, should they be incarcerated or otherwise restrained from carrying out their criminal or violent acts? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If a society were to recognize that free will doesn't exist, does it owe it to itself to separate the element predisposed to do harm from rest?

I'd be interested in your, or your guest's, thoughts. Keep up the great podcast!

Anonymous said...

Nah, please don't share anything more on the Buddhist/atheist need for communion and love and interstellar communication.
As a proofist, I think the whole neo-Buddhist Sam Harris LSD-consciousness trip hopeless and dismal. Unless you can plausibly identify what you are talking about, leave the stuff alone. this "Spirituality" and "chi" and whatnot- where's the proof?

Jeremy said...

That was a very arrogant and unfair statement by someone who clearly gets their kicks from fighting straw men.
While we were cautiously trying to make clear and careful statements that did not rely on metaphysics or overstep the data we presented, you are satisfied to completely misrepresent what we said and lump us in with any “eastern” sounding strangeness you can think of.
We did not discuss, advocate or even allude to any “interstellar communication…LSD consciousness…Chi”
And we DID only talk about those things we could “plausibly identify” (as you would say). We discussed mindfulness-based cognitive therapies which have measurable results, are entirely naturalistic and make no “spiritual” claims.
Now as far as the “communion and love” mention in your list of criticisms: if no state of the world or finding of science can move you emotionally then that is your problem. The rest of us, for whom the aesthetic dimension of life is important, won’t mind if you tune out of the conversation at that point.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, Jeremy, I was just reacting off the cuff to a few Buddhist mentions. No straw-men attacking, here, but real "beliefs." Of course, I used some flowery language, but then that's the territory we are in when engaging in Buddhist-flavored talk.
1. The LSD-consciousness line refers to Sam Harris, who is a neo-Buddhist, able to scold other religions about their theisms, but content to wade into his LSD use and Buddhist insights as if they are completely rational.
2. Obviously, "interstellar communciation" was a joke, but on a "doubting" podcast, you make even a loyal listener wonder where your line for "rationality" lies.
As I said, I am a proofist, but to go looking for "mindfulness congitive-based therapies," you have to want to find that pseudo-scientific "proof." The best defense on these angles I have is to direct you to Simon Singh and Edvard Ernst's masterful "Trick or Treatment" for debunkings of alternative medicine, to DAvid Eller for this forthright discussions of "spirituality" and the like, and as for the aesthetics of life and science, where did I say I didn't like me some of that? I can't reference what you actually said about Buddhism on your podcast, because I didn't download it - I downloaded the others around it, enjoyed them without being able to quote them verbatim and I am happy I got the fur flying about Buddhist "mindfulness" claptrap on a "doubtcast." Call me arrogant, but hey, what's a mind for? My blog name: mjosef, if you choose to continue with the dander-smacking.

Jeremy said...

"I can't reference what you actually said about Buddhism on your podcast, because I didn't download it"

That line says it all.

Until you do Ill just be arguing with your knee-jerk reactions towards what you think I'm talking about.

Anonymous said...

No, that line does not "say it all." That line says precisely that I did not download that specific podcast, but was making specific comments about a general topic. You have chosen to ignore the comments, except to call them "knee-jerk," which they are not. So you are left with your "mindfulness-based cognitive therapies," which are not above question, let's put it that way, without knowing how your co-hosts think.

Jeremy said...

Come on man,
Is it possible just to have just a moment of intellectual integrity here.
Face it. You saw me and another commenter on this blog mention Buddhism while discussing this episode. Without taking the time to figure out what we were really talking about, you immediately jumped to Sam Harris and a smattering of woo woo bullshit you associate with Buddhism.
Trying to be cute you flapped your mouth out of place and got called out on it. Now to save a little face you’re trying to re-frame things as if you were just proposing a general topic for discussion, topics that I have chosen to ignore.

Incidentally, here is why I’m ignoring your topics

Sam Harris’s “neo-buddhism” : Since I don’t know Harris thoughts on the subject I must refrain from commenting on them (an attitude you might try modeling sometime)

LSD consciousness: I haven’t a clue what this even means, apparently some other issue you have with Sam Harris.

Cosmic Communication: Again I don’t know what this even means and really don’t care.

Chi energy: Don’t believe in it, Not interested, others could provide much better refutations than I.

If you just really need to talk about these, you’ll find any number of blogs and threads dealing with them elsewhere (hey, why not try bugging Sam Harris!.

Now on to Mindfulness based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
While you are baseless in assuming that I am just seeking “pseudo-scientific proof” for my beliefs (really do you know anything about me, what my opinions are or how I arrived at them?), you are correct in having some skeptical red flags raised at the therapy. And there are some excellent critiques of the therapy and unanswered concerns I have about it (I alluded to some of them on this very same thread, which you seem to not have taken notice of). But the point that seems to have escaped you is that rather than being just “Buddhist claptrap” the claims of MBCT are falsifiable. We’re not talking past lives, chakras or Transcendental Meditation here. MBCT (whether valid or just a fad) is rooted in the CBT tradition and its success as an approach to depression treatment will rise or fall on the tangible evidence for it not metaphysics.

In other words, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.

You might take a page from Simon Singh (who you mentioned earlier). He wouldn’t dismiss a claim just because it had associations with “alternative health.” That’s because Singh is a true skeptic in the noblest sense of the word. He keeps his mind open to new possibilities, he carefully considers claims making sure he has worked hard to understand them, and then he assess the evidence for or against the claim before arriving at a conclusion.
You on the other hand exhibit the traits of a pseudo-skeptic. Without considering the claims of what you’re opposing you engage in name calling and guilt-by-association. When challenged you save yourself the mental effort of crafting an argument by appealing to some list of approved skeptical authorities. You pat yourself on the back for being a “proofist” but in reality you’re a crank, a contrarian, and for me…a tremendous waste of time.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your podcasts on determinism and thought that they were extremely insightful. As a result I've listened to both episodes several times. I realized that the naturalistic worldview is something that I've had for a long time, but never knew that it had a name.

However, I do have one big question that I recently became aware of: does determinism mean that we can, in theory, predict the future? I understand that there are practical limitations to this, but it would still seem plausible in theory.

However, upon further investigations of quantum physics in which there is a certain degree of uncertainty and chance in some interactions (the decay of a neutron, for example), it seems impossible that the future could be predicted. If this is true, then how can determinism be true? Is it possible that we are the product of our environment even if some things happen by chance? Can determinism explain how things happen but not predict them? Am I completely missing the boat here? I'd be interested in knowing your guys' thoughts are on this. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Great interview with Tom Clark. I am myself a Naturalist. Another great talk on free will that should go with the philosophical is the neuroscience.
Episode 62 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Warren Brown, PhD, co-author (with Nancey Murphy) of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will. This book was discussed in detail back in Episode 53,this discuss some of the book’s key ideas with Dr. Brown. They focus on why a non-reductive approach is needed in order to formulate ideas about moral responsibility that are consistent with our current neurobiological understanding of the mind.

again thank you!!! said...

I totally match with everything you've written.