Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thought of the Day

Brussels bustles with buses.
Say that five times fast.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


1. Christmas in Baghdad.

2. Outrage of the year.

3. The year in space.

4. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Myth Bites the Dust

Humphrey, my co-blogger over at Quodlibeta has a devastating post refuting one more "example" of religion getting in the way of science and progress. In this case, it has been argued that Christians were against the use of chloroform during childbirth, because it thwarts God's will that such pain was increased after the fall of humankind as punishment. Humphrey absolutely eviscerates this claim.

Also, kudos to Humphrey for taking up the slack at Quodlibeta this month while the rest of us are too busy to devote enough time to it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arguments and Authority

One of my pet peeves is when people confuse the fallacy of authority with the argument from authority. The former is better called the fallacy of irrelevant authority, since it's when you use the views of someone who is an authority in a particular subject to justify positions outside of that subject. It's the irrelevant part that makes it a fallacy, not the authority part. For example, I often see letters to the editor, editorials, and essays where the writer uses his status as an academic to promote his political views, even though his academic standing is in a field completely unrelated to political science. Such a person's political views carry no more weight than yours or mine or anyone else's.

By contrast the argument from authority is a perfectly valid form of argumentation in informal logic. It takes as its premise that an authority on a subject is more likely correct about that subject than not. In my opinion the most it can do is shift the burden of proof to one who is denying or arguing against the authority's position. Also, in order to have any strength, I think it has to be an argument from the consensus of authorities on a subject, since you can always find some authority in some discipline willing to make outrageous claims.

In formal logic, however, arguments from authority are invalid. This is because the validity of a syllogism is completely distinct from the person presenting it. However, again, some people think this means that any appeal to authority is invalid, regardless of whether it falls into formal or informal logic. For example, I've actually had discussions with people who think Jesus never existed, and when I mention that their view contradicts those of virtually all historians who have written on the subject, they yell, "Appeal to authority! Invalid!" Of course it's not invalid at all. It's perfectly appropriate to look to those who have devoted their lives to the study of the subject under debate to see how they have assessed the evidence. Again, I think it only goes so far -- it's a weak argument -- but it's still a valid argument, as long as you're working outside of formal logic.

(cross posted at Quodlibeta)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Irish Breakfast

There's an Irish Pub in the town where I live, and some friends of ours sometime take us there for lunch after church. I always get the full Irish breakfast. There is just something glorious about a meal containing four different types of meat.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

God's Philosophers

James Hannam, my co-blogger and blog administrator over at Quodlibeta, has announced that his book God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science is going to be published by Icon Books next August. It has been a long hard road, so I congratulate him on this great news. You can still read the first chapter of God's Philosophers here. I'm very much looking forward to the rest of it.

Abortion and Gay Rights

1. Last week, a poster at the Jury Talks Back asked a good question: "Suppose the technology existed to safely remove a fetus from a womb at any gestational stage for incubation elsewhere until birth. If such “no-death abortion” was available to any woman who wanted it, would most abortion rights supporters stand down?" Patterico followed it up with a post on his own blog, saying that a pro-choice person he posed the question to was adamantly against it. JTB had a follow-up to the original post as well. I found it an interesting question, partially because I had the same idea when I was a teenager (again!) and toyed with the idea of becoming a doctor in order to pursue it -- of course I would have had to be a medical technologist instead, but I didn't think about it hard enough to realize that. The objections to this scenario on the blogs linked to above strike me as contrived: the baby might come to the mother 40 years later looking for a kidney transplant; it would allow rapists to propagate themselves; etc. The primary argument in favor of abortion has been that women shouldn't have to go through pregnancies when they don't want to. The above scenario would allow women to end their pregnancies. If a pro-choice advocate is still against it, then their real goal is not to allow women to end unwanted pregnancies. Their real goal is to kill unwanted fetuses.

2. The Volokh Conspiracy reports (from the Religious Clause blog) on an interesting case: a black woman, an administrator at the University of Toledo, took umbrage at an op-ed in her local newspaper arguing that gay rights are a type of civil rights and that homosexuals are equivalent to black people. She wrote a very respectful but dissenting op-ed of her own, a large part of which expressed the traditional Christian belief that homosexual behavior is a type of rebellion against God. Here is her op-ed. She was promptly fired. The university defended their action by saying her views on homosexual behavior make it impossible for her to fulfill her role as an administrator. She has pointed out that it has never prevented her from hiring gay people before during her 25-year career. Instapundit calls it a political firing, but it seems to be a religious firing to me.