About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Massimo’s Picks

by Massimo Pigliucci
* The NorthEast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) is coming up, get your tickets now!
* The latest Rationally Speaking podcast: Cordelia Fine on Delusions of Gender.
* The Philosophical Breakfast Club. Wish I were invited, maybe I should start one of my own...
* Is the New Atheism like the Tea Party, only incapable of political action?
* "We can't send a search and rescue team into Plato's cave."
* So much for the stereotype that aggression is male and conciliation is female...
* Experimental philosophers investigate free will. Interesting stuff, though it ain't philosophy.
* Animals' morality not quite as developed as some suggest.
* Carl Zimmer in the NYT on evolvability, with quotes from yours truly.
* The future of nuclear energy after the Japanese disaster. What do you think?
* Two thirds of Britons declare themselves non religious.
* Did the Bible's god have a wife?
* What you learn when human beings fail the Turing test.


  1. The Tea Party is a diverse group... so are atheists. Same out-group dynamics in play, not much else.

    As to animal morality.... not much morality in human prisons either. Morality develops in tandem with emotional well-being.

    Nukes are here to stay. Horrible nuke accidents and global warming. We sh!t where we eat for short term gains. Human all too human.

  2. As long as people think of radioactivity as some sort of magical cloud of death made out of pure evil no serious discussion can ever be had. I cant believe the things i keep hearing on tv. The funny thing is that they are technically correct but they are reporting only the sensational numbers that people could never put into perspective without the help of experts. The whole thing is just ridiculous

  3. A magic wand is just what the anti-nuke people would love to wave and have all the radionuclides vanish in one swell foop. And people everywhere would all sing kumbaya in harmony just like in the Coke commercials. Sadly this is not to be. For the anti-nukes the games is essentially over and the only remaining decision is - How much real estate are you willing to devote to high level waste?

    Not only is the high level nuclear waste game lost. The anti-nukes never had a chance since it was lost at the onset of the Manhattan Project and subsequent cold war. It continues to be lost each day. The U.S. isn't about to give up its nuclear navy nor it's nuclear weapons. Both of which require making additional high level waste which will need to go somewhere.

    Personally I favor reprocessing to the maximal extent to get as much energy as possible from the fuel and I also favor the building of the newer designed reactors which are immune to LOCAs (loss of coolant accidents).

    Even though I work in the biz I must confess to a bit of ambivalence on the subject of commercial nuclear power. The industry is creating materials that will be deadly for a period of time longer than human agriculture and civilization has existed and for what? So that an increasingly obese population can sit on their lardy butts and watch American Idol? There is something amiss there.

    Anyway you may be sure that the Nuclear Renaissance has been postponed although only in America. The Chinese and others are proceeding apace with new reactors and nuclear technologies. Hopefully they will take the earthquakes into better consideration since they seem to have a few.

  4. Stephen Budiansky's review of the animal morality book - well in line with his version of domestication: animals asked for it, so they deserve everything they get from humans - leaves one wondering just what is so special about human morality when we behave so very badly to everyone else on the planet simply because we can get away with it.

  5. So Asherah was edited out out the Holy Book along with every other competitor Yahweh had. Her complaints about him leaving the toilet seat up all the time probably did not help her cause. But El is still around. An West Bank settlement named Bet El (House of El) is going into Palestinian hands when statehood is declared (latest date is September 2011) so maybe an El-Yahweh smackdown is in the works.

  6. About Asherah. It is good for a couple of laughs, but who really cares? For non-believers it is nothing important, believers keep believing despite much bigger nonsense.

  7. This criticism of so called "New atheism" is nothing more actually than personal attacks on a few people for some reason labeled so. Even those attacks lack serious arguments, in the article at least.

    While Christopher Hitchens's personality how it appears from his books is not very appealing, I found nothing arrogant or uncivilized in works of Dawkins, Dennet, or Harris as well as from my short conversation with Richard Dawkins during last year TAM.

    They are anti-religious that is not actually bad, but there is nothing militant in their position. They all support freedom of religion as long as it includes freedom from religion as an option.

    The most "outrageous" in Dawkins's position was idea that childhood religious indoctrination borderlines with child abuse that sounds reasonable all things consider. However, he did not proposed anything drastic to change it as far as I know.

  8. If you really did think that religious indoctrination of children was the equivalent of child abuse then wouldn't you be morally bound to try and put a stop to it as you would with other sorts of abuses?

  9. @Thameron:

    First he said "borderlines" and second we have to be realists. However, it may be one of the reason that drives atheists and freethinkers to do what they are trying to do.

  10. @Thameron, yes, but Dawkins and other atheists take the path of social criticism instead of going the legal route, which would be both difficult and potentially unconstitutional.

  11. Well considering that believers make up a vast majority of those who make and enforce laws the legal avenue is probably undoable. I also don't think that social criticism is terribly efficacious at persuading people to the secular path. Sure there are are few converts (or deconverts) now and again, but a few successes does not a trend make. I guess what it does is allow him to feel like he is doing something even if the effect of what he is doing is minimal. More interesting than lab work I suppose.

    I have to wonder though - if the nuts and bolts of scientific work was so gripping and fulfilling then why would there be all these high profile people be eschewing it? The list of these ex-scientists dovetails nicely with the celebrities of the skeptic/atheist movement.

  12. @Thameron:

    You probably think that point of your second paragraph is completely clear for readers, but you are mistaken.

  13. @gralm

    Sorry ol son I was not being deliberately obtuse. It just seems a little incongruous that many of the promoters of science/the scientific method/critical thinking are not doing science any more. If one thought science was important and/or absorbing then why would one leave it to become essentially an entertainer? Are money and public acclaim more important than science? Did they leave science because of some greater calling or did they leave it because it can be extremely tedious, niggling work with uncertain impact? Or perhaps they feel like they did their part and are now done, like Isaac Newton.

    Kirsten Sanford is a fine example. She breathlessly extols the wonders and virtues of science on her podcasts all but spelling it out and saying 'rah' at the end. All well and good but if it is so wonderful then why would she leave it? It is kind of like being a tour promoter for a country you never want to go back to. Just struck me as odd. Nothing more complicated than that.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.