Monthly Archives: April 2016

A Skeptic’s Guide to Astrology

Victorian Skeptics

This is an edited repost of an article which first appeared here in August 2010. You can also download a similar classroom discussion pamphlet (and a lot more) from our USEFUL INFO page.

The basic proposition of Western Astrology is that your personality and fate are influenced by the apparent positions and motions of heavenly bodies.

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The Naturalistic Turn — I

Footnotes to Plato

naked Newton[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

“To be is to be the value of a variable.”

(Willard Van Orman Quine)

We have seen so far that philosophy broadly construed has a significant public relation problem, and I’ve argued that one of the root causes of this problem is its sometimes antagonistic relationship with science, mostly, but not only, fueled by some high prominent scientists who locked horns with equally prominent anti-scientistic philosophers. In this chapter we will examine the other side of the same coin: the embracing by a number of philosophers of a more positive relationship with science, to the point of either grounding philosophical work exclusively in a science-based naturalistic view of the world, or even of attempting to erase any significant differences between philosophy and science. This complex discourse is sometimes referred to as…

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The Naturalistic Turn — III

Footnotes to Plato

Scholasticism[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

What is naturalism, anyway?

As we have seen, one cannot talk about naturalism in 20th century philosophy (and beyond) without paying dues to Quine’s fundamental, one would almost want to say game changing, influence. And the reason to talk about naturalism at all in the context of the current project is that the “naturalistic turn” in (analytic) philosophy represents a crucial piece of the puzzle of how modern philosophy sees itself and its relationship with science. This, finally, is pertinent to my attempt at understanding how the two fields can be said to make progress, albeit in different senses of the term.

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Canadian parents convicted for killing son by giving him maple syrup and other nostrums for meningitis

Why Evolution Is True

On March 10 I told the story of David and Collet Stephan, a couple from Alberta who killed their son Ezekiel, afflicted with meningitis, by withholding medical treatment in favor of bogus “alternative” medicine. Here’s what the CBC said when reporting on their prosecution for criminal neglect. (Ezekiel died in 2012):

In a bid to boost his immune system, the couple gave the boy — who was lethargic and becoming stiff — various home remedies, such as water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root as his condition deteriorated.

Court heard the couple on tape explaining to the police officer that they prefer naturopathic remedies because of their family’s negative experiences with the medical system.

The Stephan family runs family runs Truehope Nutritional Support, a dubious food-supplement company.

Ezekiel had bacterial meningitis, which is highly…

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John Searle on philosophers

‘I don’t think philosophers should worry too much about what people think about them, just get on with the work. As far as I’m concerned philosophy is the most important subject of all because other subjects get their importance by how they relate to the larger issues. And that’s what philosophy is about – the larger issues.’

See more here.


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David Attenborough says the Great Barrier Reef is in ‘grave danger’ – it’s time to step up

The Conversation

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, The University of Queensland and Tyrone Ridgway, The University of Queensland

Over three weeks, Australians have been taken on an incredible journey through the biology, beauty and wonder of the Great Barrier Reef, guided by Sir David Attenborough.

As individuals who have had the privilege of working on the Reef for much of our lives, the wonderful storytelling, exquisite photography and stunning production of the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough has been inspiring. It’s a great reminder of how lucky we are to have this wonder of nature right on our doorstep.

Particularly special has been the wonderful black-and-white footage of Sir David’s first visit to the Reef in 1957, a trip down memory lane. His attachment and fascination with the Reef are hard to dismiss.

However, as the curtain closes on this wonderful series, Sir David concludes that the Reef that he visited nearly 60 years ago is very different from today.

Research backs up this personal experience. The Australian Institute of Marine Science has shown that the Great Barrier Reef has lost around 50% of its coral cover between 1985 and 2012.

A reef in peril

The Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger. The twin perils brought by climate change – an increase in the temperature of the ocean and in its acidity – threaten its very existence. – Sir David Attenborough

As this television series has aired in Australia, an underwater heatwave has caused coral bleaching on 93% of the reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef. Up to 50% of corals in the worst-affected regions may die as a result of this bleaching.

We should not be too surprised. Reef scientists have been warning about this for decades. In 1998, the warmest year on record at the time, the world lost around 16% of its coral reefs in the first global-scale mass coral bleaching event.

Before the current bleaching, the reef bleached severely in 1998 and 2002, with a substantial bleaching event in 2006 around the Keppel Islands. Outside these events, there has been moderate mass bleaching on the reef since the early 1980s (particularly 1983 and 1987), although never to the extent and intensity that we are witnessing today.

Rising sea temperatures

The current bleaching event has drawn widespread media coverage. One of the arguments we have seen raised is that coral bleaching is natural – and that the reef will bounce back as it always has, or even adapt to warming seas.

It is true that certain coral species, and even certain individual colonies within the same species, do perform better than others when stressed by warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. However, the extent of these differences is only 1-2℃. Given that even moderate climate change projections involve temperatures 2-3℃ higher than today, these differences offer little comfort for reefs like the Great Barrier Reef in a warmer world.

The observation that corals grow in warm areas of the globe is a demonstration that corals can and do adapt to local temperatures. However, the time frames involved are hundreds of years, not a single decade. Current rates of warming are much faster than anything for tens of millions of years, which makes the prospect of evolution keeping pace with a changing ocean even more improbable.

Mass bleaching is a new phenomenon that was first reported in the early 1980s. Before this, there are no reports of corals bleaching en masse across any coral reef or ocean region.

Experts are in agreement that mass coral bleaching and death on the Great Barrier Reef is driven by climate change resulting from human activities (mainly burning fossil fuels). This is the conclusion at the heart of the latest consensus of the United Nations scientific report.

Rising sea temperatures coupled with strong El Niños are unfortunately pushing corals to their thermal tolerance limits and beyond. It only takes a temperature increase of 1-2℃ to disrupt the special relationship between corals and tiny marine algae that live inside their tissue, resulting in bleached corals.

In fact, as CO₂ concentrations rise, sea temperatures will continue to climb – increasing the likelihood that mass coral bleaching events will become more frequent and more destructive. Recent research has shown that near-future increases in local temperature of as little as 0.5℃ may lead to significant degradation of the Great Barrier Reef.

Rising temperatures are not the only climate threat. Cyclones are predicted to become stronger (if less frequent) in a warmer world. Since 2005 there have been eight cyclones on the reef of category 3 or above – more than previous decades. We would argue this is evidence that these predictions are already coming true and form part of our current reality.

Heat stress is not just affecting corals on the Great Barrier Reef either. We are seeing reports of bleaching across all of Australia’s coral real estate (Coral Sea, Torres Strait, Kimberley, North West Shelf), the South Pacific and the central and western Indian Ocean.

It is likely only a matter of time before we start to see reports of bleaching from other coral reefs around the world. We are indeed dealing with changing times and a global issue.

It’s not too late to act

It’s not too late to act – but we will need very deep and significant action to occur within three to five years or face a collapse of ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate change is just one of the threats facing the Great Barrier Reef. Fortunately, it is not too late to give the reef a fighting chance.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg on the future of the reef

However, it does require strong, immediate and decisive action from our political leaders.

In the lead-up to the federal election, we believe that four major steps are required by our leaders to ensure a future for the Reef:

  1. Mitigate: we need to – as per the Paris Agreement – keep average global surface temperature increases to below 2.0°C, and hopefully 1.5°C in the long term. This means we must adopt a pathway that will bring our greenhouse gas emissions to zero over the next few decades. Our leaders must live up to the global agreement that they committed to in Paris at COP21.
  2. Invest: we need to ultimately close our coal mines and stop searching for more fossil fuels. The experts tell us that we must leave 80% of known fossil fuels in the ground. Let’s invest in coral, renewables and the planet, and not in coal, emissions and ecosystem collapse.
  3. Strengthen: we need an urgent and concerted effort to reduce other non-climate change threats to build the resilience of the reef so it can better withstand the impacts of climate change over the coming years.
  4. Integrate: Australian and Queensland governments have begun a process to address declining reef health through the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan. This plan has a strong focus on coastal water quality. The 2050 Reef Plan and its resourcing will need to consider climate change – especially given that it is likely to make achieving the objectives of the plan even more challenging and impossible (if no action). Otherwise we run the risk of ending up with a great plan for improving water quality by 2050 but no Great Barrier Reef.

We hope that Sir David Attenborough will help inspire Australians to demand action from their political leaders to ensure that this natural wonder of the world continues to inspire, employ, educate and generate income for generations to come.

It seems fitting to end with Sir David’s closing words with a call to our political leaders and fellow Australians:

Do we really care so little about the earth upon which we live that we don’t wish to protect one of its greatest wonders from the consequences of our behaviours?

After all, it is our Great Barrier Reef – let’s keep it great.

Or at least let’s fight to keep it.

The ConversationOve Hoegh-Guldberg, Director, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland and Tyrone Ridgway, Healthy Oceans Program Manager, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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Introduction: Read This First — II

Footnotes to Plato

work in progress[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

Before concluding this overview and inviting you to plunge into the main part of the book, let me briefly discuss some of the surprisingly few papers written by philosophers over the years that explicitly take up the question of progress in their field, as part of scholarship in so-called “metaphilosophy.” I have chosen three of these papers as representative of the (scant) available literature: Moody (1986), Dietrich (2011) and Chalmers (2015). [2] The first one claims that there is indeed progress in philosophy, though with important qualifications, the second one denies it (also with crucial caveats), and the third one takes an intermediate position.

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The Nature of Philosophy — Preamble

Footnotes to Plato

philosophyDear Readers,

I’m about to start an unusual project here at Plato’s Footnote, one that will take several weeks to complete, and which I hope will turn out to be of general enough interest. Beginning next week, I will publish a number of posts comprising the entirety of my new book, The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters. The book, on which I worked since 2012, is finally ready for prime time, and I decided to give it an unusual platform: blog serialization.

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Introduction: Read This First — I

Footnotes to Plato

progress[for a brief explanation of this ongoing series, as well as a full table of contents, go here]

The Nature of Philosophy
How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters

by Massimo Pigliucci
K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy
the City College of New York

Introduction: Read This First — I

“We are responsible for some things,
while there are others for which we cannot be held responsible.”

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Galileo gambit

The Galileo gambit (also Galileo fallacy; users of the fallacy are Galileo wannabes) is a logical fallacy and/or a rhetorical tactic that asserts that if your ideas provoke ‘the establishment’ to ridicule or vilify you, then you must be right.

It refers to Galileo Galilei‘s famous persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for his defence of heliocentrism in the face of the orthodox Biblical literalism of the day.  The fallacy is an appeal to the minority and a conditional fallacy.

The structure of the argument is:

Premise 1: A is X and Y
Premise 2: B is X.
Conclusion 1: B is Y.

For example, ‘They made fun of Galileo, and he was right. They make fun of me, therefore I am right’. A common rebuttal is ‘They also made fun of the Three Stooges’. An additional irony arises when we consider that if the maverick idea does manage to amass enough evidence to win over the majority, it will become the new consensus — at which point, by the fallacy’s own invalid reasoning, the idea must become wrong!


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