Category Archives: Philosophy
Thursday 22 August, 5:30pm
Lecture theatre HSB2, the University of Auckland city campus
This event is hosted by the Evangelical Union.
Two of our RSS members, a Rationalist and a Christian, will debate whether we should believe in God.
Peter Harrison is a council member of the NZ Association of Rationalists & Humanists, member of the Reason and Science Society and Coordinator of the Secular Education Network, appearing on Radio Rhema promoting the idea that we should not prescribe religion to children. Peter will argue against the proposition that the Christian God has any more reality than the imaginings of human minds.
Zachary Ardern is a masters student in biology. He has a BA/BSc & PGDipSci, is currently the secretary of the Reason and Science Society, and former president of the Evangelical Union. Zachary will argue that there are good reasons to believe in the Christian God.
Friday 29th March (Good Friday), 5:30pm
Biology Building BLT100
An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design.
Talks to RSS.
About the book: The doctrine of intelligent design is often the subject of acrimonious debate. Seeking God in Science cuts through the rhetoric that distorts the debates between religious and secular camps. Bradley Monton, a philosopher of science and an atheist, carefully considers the arguments for intelligent design and argues that intelligent design deserves serious consideration as a scientific theory. Monton also gives a lucid account of the debate surrounding the inclusion of intelligent design in public schools and presents reason why students’ science education could benefit from a careful consideration of the arguments for and against it.
UPDATE: Here is the audio and handouts from the seminar Dr Monton gave:
Tuesday 21st May, 5:30pm, Arts 1 room 315
We watch a Lawrence Krauss talk/documentary
Physicist Lawrence Krauss considers that the information recoverable by any civilization over the entire history of our universe is finite in an ever-expanding universe.
Sunday 5th May
Shadows Tavern (on campus)
Hosted by Auckland Evangelical Church http://aucklandev.co.nz
Doesn’t science disprove Christianity?
Either way, are you sure? Sure enough to bet your life on it?
At least give one of NZ’s top Physicists a chance to explain how he sees the two as inseparable.
Professor Jeff Tallon is one of New Zealand’s most distinguished physicists, internationally known for research which revolutionised the field of high temperature superconductors.
Current research interests extend to nanotechnology, high pressure physics, and materials science.
Jeff has received numerous awards for his work, including the inaugural Prime Minister’s science prize, the Rutherford medal and the Dan Walls medal for physics. He currently a visiting professor at the Cavendish laboratory, Cambridge University.
He has been a prominent advocate of science education and research in New Zealand and for the compatibility of science and Christian faith.
Here’s a video to watch:
Here’s some reading: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=10616394
One of our members presented on the difference between deductive, inductive and abductive reasoning and logic; On some of the logical, reasoning, and argument fallacies we often make; A little bit on how philosophy ties in with science, Inference to the best explanation, Philosophy of Science, and the logical forms of scientific methodology; As well as some general critical thinking skills that we should apply not only to evaluating other’s arguments, but also our own.
We hope to have an video of this (and other) talks processed and up here soon. In the mean time:
EDIT: Here it is!
On Tuesday 26th March we had a presentation by Paul Rishworth on Same-Sex marriage and Religious Exemptions: how New Zealand law and international human rights law interact.
This talk gave an overview of how international human rights law has developed since its origins in the aftermath of World War II, and how that body of law now interacts with New Zealand’s own law. Against that background, the current debate about same sex marriage, and the case for religion-based exemptions from solemnising same-sex marriages, will be explored.
Paul Rishworth joined The University of Auckland Faculty of Law in 1987. His research interests are in the field of human rights and comparative constitutional law, and South Pacific legal studies. His work on the New Zealand Bill of Rights has been widely cited by peers, practitioners and judges. He has worked over the years as a consultant and advisor for government agencies and groups, including the Human Rights Commission, in New Zealand and overseas, on issues ranging from restrictions on hate speech to the autonomy of religious organisations to hire and ordain leaders.
Paul was the Faculty Dean and the Head of the Department of Law 2005-2010. He remains involved in the litigation of civil rights issues in the higher courts and in community organisations. Most recently he presented in person the NZ Law Societies submission to the same same-sex Marriage Bill.
Details of this submission and the NZ Law Societies position can be found here:
A law allowing same-sex couples to marry was passed on Wednesday 17th April
UPDATE: Here is the video from this talk.
On the 18th Sept we hosted a debate on legalizing same-sex marriage.
Here is one RSS member’s considerations FOR.
“Marriage has been a traditional social institution in multiple forms predating reliable recorded history and our current limited definition by a considerable period of time. Some of these traditions included marriages of same sex couples which were overwritten by a limited Judaeo-Christian derived definition conceived in a period of extreme homophobia. That tradition should now be overwritten by an egalitarian one that recognises a relationship on its own merits. The truth is that marriage was a legal contract used for commercial gain and/or power consolidation between the upper classes. It progressed into an expression of love that provides legal rights for those in it; it is simply time that it progresses further.
“Gay marriage equality parallels that of the struggle of interracial couples in USA in the 1960’s. Many of the arguments against selectively extending this right to include interracial couples are the same, including it being unnatural and children are worse off in interracial families. All are based on a combination of irrational fear, logical fallacies, appeals to tradition and empty claims about the public good. The data does not back any of these arguments, if it did the opponents to gay marriage would be able to produce independent studies supporting their point but just the opposite is true. The legal option obtained by opponents to the current bill has been thoroughly debunked. There is no risk that ANY individual or Church will be forced to recognise or hold same sex unions, just as they are not forced to hold or recognise interfaith or racial unions now.
“The average gay relationship is identical in every way to the average straight relationship with the sole exception that the couple cannot have heterosexual sex, so cannot produce children. If we are going to legislate policy on the bases of what type of sexual acts a couple preforms in the privacy of their own bedroom we are on very shaky ground. Additionally many straight relationships do not produce offspring, either by choice or by infertility problems; if this was to be the reasoning then these relationships should be excluded from marriage as well. Furthermore, gay couples have the same desire to be parents and do so via the same means as many couples with an infertility barrier. There has been no evidence that they are unfit parents. If marriage between loving couples provides the best environment for children then we should not be punishing those with gay parents.
“Same sex couples share their lives as completely with each other as straight couples do and with that comes the need for legal protection. Civil unions were a step forward but they are not a copy/paste of all the rights and privileges of marriage nor are they recognised globally. Even if they were, “separate but equal” is not a message we want to send. Due to all of this it is in the public good to be egalitarian unless we can find an objective reason why we should not. Harm is caused by discrimination while there has been no evidence presented of actual harm in extending marriage to be inclusive of gay couples.”
Robert Nola on Philosophy, Free will, and Neuroscience.
Review and Questions for reflection.
Nola began by first asking “What is free to be predicated of?” Do we want out actions to be free, or our decisions, or both? We can have free actions by being able to act as we chose (Nola calls this “first level freedom”), but there is a further question as to whether we can want and desire as we choose. We may want a beer because we are an alcoholic, but we might not want to want a beer. Nola suggested that a second level of freedom – freedom of choices and desires (or what some might call “the will”) – could perhaps be attained by critical reflection on ones beliefs and desires. Of course, the obvious objection to this thought is that perhaps our beliefs and desires that lead us to question our beliefs and desires are not free either!
Nola then asks us to consider an experiment by Libet and Feinstein (1983). A subject is told to move their finger when they feel the urge to do so. They are also asked to take note of when they felt the urge. A 200 millisecond delay was found between the awareness of the urge and the movement itself, but, more interestingly, the EEG electrodes attached to the scalp of the subject registered a signal in the brain up to (approx) 500 milliseconds before the action! This signal is called the readiness potential, or “RP”. Our folk intuition is that we decide to act before our brain begins to prepare for the action, but this experiment seems to suggest that it is the other way around!
More recently, in BBC Horizon’s “The Secret You” (2009), Haynes (BCAN) took a scan of du Sautoy’s brain while he was asked to push one of two buttons as soon as he felt the urge. The neuro-imaging showed that certain regions in the brain become more active when du Sautoy will chose left, and others when he will chose right. Amazingly, this happens up to 8 seconds before du Sautoy consciously feels the urge and pushes the button!
So, if Haynes can predict the likelihood of du Sautoy pushing one button or the other, up to 8 seconds before he pushes it, is du Sautoy still performing a free action? Nola points out that he correctly predicted we’d all sit down when we came to his lecture, but we still seem to think that we freely chose to sat down. Du Sautoy asks if he is a hostage to his own brain, given that his brain decides before “he” does what action to perform (think Karl Pilkington, the onion, and the shopping list). Such a question however only makes sense if one takes a dualist position in which “you” are not the same thing as your brain.
In a similar experiment, Trevena and Miller (Otago 2009) played a tone to a subject who was to then decide to either push a button or not. They wanted to remove the “urge” feature of Libet’s experiment, and instead replace it with a command to decide. It is important to note that there is a distinction here between not deciding (as is the case before the tone is played), and deciding to not push the button. T&M found that the RP was present regardless of the subject’s decision to push or not push the button! This suggests that the rising RP does not correlate with an action. Does it perhaps instead correlate with a conscious decision? Or something as simple as the brain paying attention? It is not clear.
So does Trevena and Miller’s experiment undermine Libet’s? Are they testing the same thing but in a different way, or are they really testing something else? What is the causal relationship between the RP, the urge/decision to act, and the action itself? Does the RP cause the awareness of the decision or urge to act? Does the urge cause the action, or is it the RP that causes that action (except when it is vetoed)?
This brings us on to vetoing. In another experiment, subjects were asked to record when they felt the urge to move their finger, but to not act on that urge. It was found that there was an RP build up before the urge, but that the subject was successfully able to veto that brain command. This might suggest that while the unconscious mind “decides”, as it were, to perform the action, the conscious mind can freely(?) decide to veto the action. It has been suggested therefore that perhaps we are not free to chose to do something (our brain decides for us), but we are free to not do something once our unconscious has decided to do it – we have “free won’t”. But why should it matter that the action to be initiated by the conscious rather than the unconscious brain?
How should we define free will – do we want it to be the ability to do otherwise, that a causal chain is initiated in the conscious brain, or simply that we make a decision and can act on it? If my brain decides my actions, is that “me” deciding, or am I different from my brain? Should I mind if Nola, God, or anyone else for that matter, can predict (or even know) my future actions? Do I really want free will, or will “free won’t” suffice, and is there a difference?
For further reading/viewing:
Trevena and Miller (2002) Cortical movement preparation before and after a conscious decision to move. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12191935?dopt=Abstract
Trevena and Miller (2009) Brain preparation before a voluntary action: Evidence against unconscious movement initiation. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810009001135
Psychology Today: Free Won’t: It May Be All That We Have (or Need). http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay/201106/free-wont-it-may-be-all-we-have-or-need
Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Free Will. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/
Wikipedia. Neuroscience and Free Will. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will
Karl Pilkington, the Onion, and the problem of Free Will.
Exert from BBC Horizon’s “The Secret You” (2009).
Mike Walker will be giving a talk on the Tuakana program at the university. The program has helped to improve equity and equality at the university and yet is often accused of representing ‘reverse racism’.
In this talk, Mike Walker will explain why such claims are inaccurate and will talk about the success the program has had in creating a fairer university for students involved.
This event will take place at 7:00 in room 206-209 of the Arts 1 building on Tuesday 25th September and, as always, all are welcome.
UPDATE: This talk can be viewed here:
A DISCUSSION OF THE PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES AROUND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION.
Justice with Michael Sandel. Arguing Affirmative Action.