Friday, January 31, 2014

Probability, likelihood, and the evidence for the existence of oh, god, is this going to be about Bayes' Theorem?

I've been thinking about why so many otherwise reasonable people (including my former self) might view the appearance of design in the structure of the world as a manifestation of the handiwork of some deity, when it's pretty clear that scientific theories can (at least in broad strokes) account for the origins of the universe as we know it and the development of life on earth without recourse to any kind of intelligent design. Beliefs come in various degrees of certainty, and normally our assent to belief systems is at least partially guided by looking at the way those systems account for the facts around us. 

We're normally OK at doing this as people. Not great, but OK. Good enough to get around in the world without being eaten by a tiger or falling off of a cliff or something. So, the problem becomes, how is it that people who are able to get around in the world based on a set of beliefs they form as a result of the evidence around them getting this one wrong? In other words, why do people find the idea of intentional design such a satisfying way of interpreting the world around them?

Who knows of a better way to think about this issue than probability theory? 



Friday, January 17, 2014

Big Bang: The Origin of the UniverseBig Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really good read. Gives a terrific historical account of the development of the Big Bang theory, showing how a combination of theoretical coherence and evidence led to the triumph of the Big Bang model over rival accounts. Fun stuff.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Secret Connexion: Causation, Realism, and David HumeThe Secret Connexion: Causation, Realism, and David Hume by Galen Strawson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good book. Meticulously counters the traditional view of Hume as dogmatically denying the existence of causation. Strawson shows (by close reading of Hume's texts) that Hume's arguments about 'necessary connexion' being only in the mind are epistemological rather than ontological. Hume avoids the mistakes of the 20th century positivists who call themselves Humeans. 'Hume, then, is not a "Humean"' (p. 228).