AS185: Tommentary Tuesday Monday Sunday

I guess that’s slightly shorter… Alright another few topics in need of some Tommentarying this week! I had so much feedback from last week, thanks to all of you! This week I’ve got a clip from William Lane Craig’s podcast to dissect, as well as a Sam Harris clip. Then, I talk about some of the comments from last week.

Coming up Thursday, Noah Lugeons!

5 thoughts on “AS185: Tommentary Tuesday Monday Sunday”

  1. I am enjoying how you are tackling the issues of gender, even though I agree with your take on it. Identifying and breaking it down, pointing out where some (others) have or cause problems is worthwhile even if all of your listeners agree on your take of the issue, I think.

  2. Interesting episode, Thomas – as usual, I have a few things to say!

    On William Lane Craig: I think that it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that even though we might disagree with him, he’s still an impressive thinker and respected philosopher. That doesn’t mean he’s always right but if something he says sounds ‘obviously wrong’ then there’s a good chance he’s being misunderstood as he’s not really a sloppy intellectual.

    Dennett phrased this idea nicely in his review of Harris’ “Free Will” where he says: “I would hope that Harris would pause at this point to wonder—just wonder—whether maybe his philosophical colleagues had seen some points that had somehow escaped him in his canvassing of compatibilism. As I tell my undergraduate students, whenever they encounter in their required reading a claim or argument that seems just plain stupid, they should probably double check to make sure they are not misreading the “preposterous” passage in question. It is possible that they have uncovered a howling error that has somehow gone unnoticed by the profession for generations, but not very likely.”

    In this instance I think you’ve misunderstood WLC as you’ve actually ended up agreeing with him. The main problem seems to be that you were conflating “complexity” with “complicated”, when they are in fact two very different things – WLC would probably agree that his god is complicated, but disagrees that it’s complex. This should solve the disconnect you felt and why theists who hold this position seem to be contradicting themselves, because they’re just using the words differently.

    Importantly for this case you pondered whether he was doing it to solve an “Occam’s razor” type argument but I don’t think that’s true. The razor is a pretty intellectually weak argument and WLC definitely thinks he has better evidence for his god. Instead what he’s doing is showing the problem with Dawkins’ definition of complexity. So it’s not like WLC has redefined anything at all, or using some fancy philosophical definition to pull the wool over people’s eyes, and rather he’s just responding to the definition put forward by Dawkins to show how confused he is. What this means is that when you questioned if WLC’s point only made sense in respect to a specific definition of “complexity” and that maybe there’s an issue with that definition, you were in fact agreeing with WLC. And even as atheists I think we can accept that Dawkins’ attempts at arguments against God in the God Delusion were a little embarrassing..

    On the disembodied mind question: I think generally we can argue that the evidence points away from substance dualism or some hard idealist position but I just wanted to point out that you’re not quite right to say that there is “no” evidence for it. There is plenty of evidence, a quick browse through the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy will present some lines of evidence (e.g. here: We can say that it’s bad evidence or the weight of the evidence falls against it, but it’s still clearly evidence under any standard definition. I don’t think it’s possible to deny the evidence for dualism whilst saying that there is evidence for the mind and brain being the same thing, as they both rely on the same kinds of evidence (i.e. philosophical) and currently there is no definitive answer. It’s especially complicated given that the scientific evidence that might help inform us is predicted as being identical in both cases (e.g. it’s not like substance dualism doesn’t predict brain damage affecting personality).

    On Sam Harris: I really don’t agree with what you and Harris are saying here, and it seems that he’s just misrepresenting his critics in an attempt to avoid dealing with their arguments. If there is a double standard here then Harris should be able to point to where people like Aslan or Greenwald have argued that Muslims should be allowed to marry off children. If not, then he’s missing the point that the arguments are over two different things; that is, it’s entirely fair to point out the problems with Harris saying things like “Islam is bad because [Middle Eastern country does X practice]” without saying that we can’t ever criticise some aspect of Islam (and of course I doubt they’d argue for child brides among Muslims). This should be abundantly clear given that people like Aslan do criticise Muslims for bad practices and actions, and instead the problem with Harris’ arguments isn’t that he’s criticising Islam and it’s “not PC”, it’s that his arguments are simply terrible.

    On the Conley paper: I think there are two important things to take into account when you say that you’ve never considered a hook up from the perspective of whether the person is “sexually skilled”. Firstly, researchers have to operationalise terms that refer to everyday things because everyday terms can have a variety of often conflicting meanings. In this case the authors are simply saying that when we assess a potential hook up, one of the major factors that influences our decision is whether we think it’d be fun and pleasurable.

    I don’t think that’s too controversial, however, the second point to keep in mind is that our understanding of what controls our behavior is often woefully wrong. So even if it was the case that they were saying something more along the lines of what you were thinking, they’d still have the evidence supporting them and the conclusion we’d have to reach is that our understanding of our own behavior is mistaken. In psychology one of the most fundamental findings across the whole field is that introspection is a terrible tool. A good example would be to use the possibility you raised in the last podcast that women are evolutionarily predisposed to seeking out long-term mates to help them raise possible children – but obviously few women (if any) consciously assume that would be guiding their behavior.

    You raise the question about the use of celebrities and people they knew but it makes more sense when you read the whole paper (sorry, I didn’t realise it was behind a paywall when I linked you earlier). They performed multiple experiments for the one paper and initially they used celebrities simply to test the idea that familiarity of a proposer reduces how suspicious they are to somebody. An easy way for them to initially test this was to present famous faces that everyone is familiar with and run the design similar to the Clark study. They found that this eliminated gender differences in responding.

    Now you’re right to say that it isn’t a fair comparison because we’re talking about real world examples in the Clark study. So the researchers followed it up and asked participants to think of people they aren’t romantically or sexually involved with, and found the same as above (that the gender differences disappeared). So maybe then we can say that it’s a sort of real world example but it’s still a kind of fantasy, the person isn’t actually asking them so saying yes or no isn’t that big of a deal. To handle this the researchers took it a step further and used real world Craigslist ads with real people making real proposals, and they adjusted the familiarity by giving a full background and information on some but not others. Again they found no gender differences when this was done.

    It is an extremely thorough study and personally I think the evidence is definitely strong enough to think that the factors of: a) whether they think they’ll have a good time and b) whether they think they’ll be safe, are the major determinants of choices in men and women. The reason why any difference arises in the first place and these factors need to be controlled for is that they aren’t equal in everyday life. As the article you linked to was talking about, women have to start off asking whether the person approaching them could potentially be their murderer, and unsurprisingly that can make them less likely to agree to go home with you.

    On equality of the sexes: Sorry if there was some confusion there but my point wasn’t that you had said or even suggested that women aren’t (or shouldn’t be) equal in some moral or legal sense. The reason why I brought that up was because, as I was saying in the preceding paragraphs, I really didn’t think it was common to claim men and women are equal biologically or mentally. I won’t go so far as to say nobody has ever said it, I’m sure somebody who believes they’re really a vampire and loves My Little Pony on Tumblr has at one point said something like that when they were 15, but it’s not something so popular that we’d regularly run into it. That’s why I made my point because often in discussions about gender differences I’ve talked to people who use examples talking about gender equality as evidence that people believe there are no differences, so I was simply highlighting that there’s a common confusion there which can make it seem like there are a bunch of blank slatists running around.

    On co-ed sports: I just wanted to correct your description of my position there. You seemed to be saying that you thought I was arguing that the entire/most of the difference was due to training, and I think you even described me as saying that “the difference in training would mostly account for the difference between men and women in sports” but I don’t think I implied that at all. My point was that “at least some of the difference” was accounted for by the range of factors I discussed (training being one of them). Maybe it doesn’t seem like much of a distinction but your description seems to make it sound like I thought with a bit of training men and women would be perfectly equal in sport, when in fact my claim was that the gap wasn’t as large as imagined given that it lessens somewhat when we take some factors into account.

    You bring up the response that women train hard and I agree – I’ve played sport at a high competitive level my whole life and trained a number of men’s and women’s teams, so my point had nothing to do with how hard they worked. There are still important differences in barriers presented to them by society, the burdens they place on themselves, and even indeed how they’re treated by coaches and officials. You can say that you don’t believe it but personally I find it highly improbable that given how pervasive gender norms are throughout society, and particularly in areas like sport, that somehow all the coaches and officials found were able to overcome that. I’ve seen it in games where referees (especially in youth leagues) will let more infractions go, or call up more fouls as if they were dangerous with girls/women than they ever would in a boys/men’s league.

    I also think that my bigger point was more about how women view training and how they choose to fit it into their lives. I gave the example of Jessica Ennis who smashed the competition at the last Olympics in the heptathlon but it almost didn’t happen because when she was a teenager she seriously questioned giving it up because she didn’t think her developing muscly body was feminine enough. People like Rhonda Rousey have considered similar issues. Ennis is a particularly good example for me though given that women run 100m hurdles whereas men generally do 110m hurdles (in other events, not the heptathlon). So women have a career of training and competing on a track that’s 10m shorter than men’s – that has to have an effect, especially at the higher levels. With that said, Ennis would still be middle of the pack for a 110m hurdle race.

    I get that you weren’t saying that the best women shouldn’t be allowed to compete with the men but from what I see that’s usually all people are saying when they argue for co-ed sports.

    Anyway, sorry again for the long post!

  3. God – noun- an abstraction whose only property is the that its definition can be changed ad hoc as long as it supports the arguement supports the existence of said abstraction.

    That is what frustrated me about the live debate. If the definition of “god” isn’t defined you end up chasing the dragon until you run out of time or get frustrated with the moving target.

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