It’s American Atheists billboards time, again!

Scientia Salon

daveby Massimo Pigliucci

Christmas is fast approaching. So, naturally, American Atheists has launched its usual billboard campaign to nudge closeted atheists to come out and embrace the good news. AA President David Silverman is again spearheading what he calls the organizations’ “firebrand” approach to fighting religion. Despite being a lifetime member of American Atheists, I have criticized the group on this issue before [1], and recently, I did so again, on Twitter, which led to a back and forth with David and some of his supporters [2]. At some point, however, Silverman threw the evidence-based bomb: he claims to have data showing that his approach is working, and since quantitative data is science, and science doesn’t lie, the matter is settled.

Well, not so fast, I think. In this essay I will first explain why I object to “firebrand” atheism and on what principled (i.e., before evidence) grounds. I will…

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Compatibilism for incompatibilists: free will in five steps


FreeWill and cowboy boots a long-running theme of Jerry Coyne’s website has been Jerry’s arguments against any form of “free will”. This usually leads to long comment-thread arguments between the incompatibilists (or “hard determinists”) and the compatibilists amongst Jerry’s readers.

I get the impression that sometimes the incompatibilists don’t properly understand a compatibilist view. They often accuse compatibilists of disliking determinism, of hankering after dualism, hoping that something will turn up that will overturn current science, or of just equivocating. Here I want to explain compatibilism to those determinists who take an incompatibilist stance (“hard determinism”). It is not aimed at libertarian dualists!

First, let’s be clear on the two stances. Compatibilism asks whether, given a deterministic universe, one can arrive at sensible and coherent meanings of terms such as “choice”, “freedom” and indeed “free will”. The compatibilist says yes; the incompatibilist says no, regarding such terms as too…

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When should we consider an AI a fellow being?

Fears of AI (artificial intelligence) are still showing up the media, most recently with another quote from Stephen Hawking warning that it might be the end of us, with Elon Musk, due to his own anxious statements, now being referenced whenever the subject comes up.  I've written many times before why I think these fears … Continue reading When should we consider an AI a fellow being?

World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag

I've noted before that I think capabilities like human language didn't pop into being 50-75 thousand years ago, but developed over hundreds of thousands of years (if not millions).  Well, it looks like another piece of behavioral modernity may predate anatomically modern humans: World's Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag. A zigzag engraving on a … Continue reading World’s Oldest Art Identified in Half-Million-Year-Old Zigzag

On the (dis)unity of the sciences

Scientia Salon

universeby Massimo Pigliucci

As a practicing scientist I have always assumed that there is one thing, one type of activity, we call science. More importantly, though I am a biologist, I automatically accepted the physicists’ idea that — in principle at the least — everything boils down to physics, that it makes perfect sense to go after a “theory of everything.”

Then I read John Dupré’s The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science [1], and that got me to pause and think (which, of course, is the hallmark of a good book, regardless if one rejects that book’s conclusions).

I found John’s book compelling not just because of his refreshing, and admittedly consciously iconoclastic tone, but also because a great deal of it is devoted to subject matters, like population genetics, that I actually know a lot about, and am therefore in a good position to…

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Every Ship That Has Carried Humans Into Space, In One Chart

This is pretty cool.  A Reddit user put together a chart showing all the human occupied spacecraft that have been used so far.  Click through to see the full sized version. via Every Ship That Has Carried Humans Into Space, In One Chart. One thing that stands out for me is how huge the Saturn V was, … Continue reading Every Ship That Has Carried Humans Into Space, In One Chart