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RE: [cfi-bam] Video - The Limits of Science

From: Phil
Sent on: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:53 PM
Kurt, Barrett, and all,

By any chance, did either of you watch the video link?

I plan on repling to your emails this weekend when I have time to write a thoughtful (hopefully) response.

So don't think I've forgotten about you :)

In the meantime, I did want to reply to a couple of specific things.

I responds to my comments about Harris advocating a nuclear first strike, you wrote (or implied) that my comments were:

1. Too vague to have meaning. You apparently took my email to mean that Harris advocates "some kind of nuclear first strike on some country at some time".

2. Ad Hominem

In reply to number 1:
I probably was too vague. So here's the full quote from Harris' first book "The End of Faith"
"What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere
mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? If history
is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or
what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on
targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the
only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of
our own. Needless to day, this would be an unthinkable crime - as it would
kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day - but it may
be the only course of action..."

So specifically Harris believe we may need to nuke Islamist regimes who get the bomb... because they are likely to nuke us. One wonders if his moral logic should also work from a non-USA point of view. What if a Christianist regimes gets elected here (let's say Sara Palin and here crew of evangelical who hope and pray for end of world Armageddon). By Harris' logic, does the rest of the world have a morally justified reason to launch a nuclear first strike on us?

In reply to number 2:
According to the wikipedia article on Ad Hominem

"An ad hominem (Latin: "to the man"), also known as argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to link the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.[1] The ad hominem is a classic logical fallacy "

however, it goes on to say:

"The ad hominem is not always fallacious, for in some instances questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue."

I think whether ad hominem is fallacious or not depends on how related the two arguments are. For example:

Bob says:
I don't think we will ever be able to collinize Mars.

Jim's reply to Bob:
Bob is unreliable because he flunked calculus class.

Tom's reply to Bob:
Bob is unreliable because he believes that that moon landing was a hoax.

In this case, Jim's reply is not related to Bob's opinion on Mars and is therefore fallacious.
However, Tom's reply goes directly to the heart of whether Bob is able to form rational opinions on the subject of space travel in general.
So I think Tom's reply, while ad hominem, is not (in my opinion) a fallacious counter argument.

In the case of Harris' opinion on the first use of nuclear weapons, I believe it is a clear indication of his inability to think rationally on issues of morality.
Therefore, I think it is directly relevant to his opinions on whether science will eventually show us an objective way to determine what is moral.

Anyway, it's a bit of a judgment call. I'm sure people will disagree as to whether it's relevant or not.


From: Barrett
Sent on: Tuesday, September 14,[masked]:49 AM

How about "hasn't yet been able to"?�� Science hasn't given us the tools to date, so we must do what we can in the mean time, for sure.�� But time has proven which is the better default position in face of mystery. And besides, reason suggests and supports my values every day.�� Some values, with regard to certain questions of morality, etc. are harder, and certainly each person mines from different depths of instinct, making it harder to imagine doing so, but why the discomfort with simply saying that the scientific method hasn't yet done so, but may in the future?


As for Phil's comments on Harris.�� Ad hominem. Sam guesses (admittedly guesses) that science can eventually deal with questions of morality.�� He advocates some kind of nuclear first strike on some country at some time.�� Please. I'll consider his moralistic views one at a time.�� Wielding, here, the cherished cudgel of the opponents of reason, ��the ��"...made science his new god" canard, is irresponsible on multiple levels.



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