SciBlogs

Archive November 2012

Regarding women as animals Ken Perrott Nov 29

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Credit: http://www.elle.fr/

This little shocker comes from the French magazine Elle   – Arabie Saoudite : les femmes pistées lorsqu’elles quittent le pays. Yes, the original is in French but here’s some extracts from the article translated by Google.

Saudi women are denied even a bit more freedom last week as the “Europe 1″ radio reported that the Saudi authorities have implemented an electronic system that can alert families when these women leave the kingdom. Their “guardian” – in most cases their father, brother or uncle – are now notified by SMS when they go abroad.

This initiative reduces women to the status of slave was criticized on Twitter by Manal al-Sharif, an activist who fights for his country women can drive, they do not currently have the ability do. She was informed by a couple who went on a journey. The husband, who was with his wife received a text message from the immigration informing him that his wife was about to leave the international airport of Riyadh (capital of Saudi Arabia). ” backwardness “” Authorities use the technology to monitor women “, denounced the AFP novelist and columnist Badriya al-Bishr. He added: “This is the technology for a mentality backward. They want to keep prisoners. Government had better take care of those subject to domestic violence,” she concluded.

How does this system work? Are all women implanted with an electronic chip? Or does their passport information automatically initiate the warning?

Whatever the system it just shows how religious extremism (and often the not so extreme) ends up treating women like non-human animals.

Christmas present for nerds – what about science books? Ken Perrott Nov 28

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Every family has members who enjoy reading non-fiction. And often they particularly enjoy science books. So there’s an idea for Christmas presents.

Fortunately, this weeks announcement of the Royal Society’s Winton Prize for Science Books presents some excellent choices for anyone considering such a Christmas Present.

The overall winner just announced is James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell DBE FRS, Chair of the judges, said:

“The Information is an ambitious and insightful book that takes us, with verve and fizz, on a journey from African drums to computers, throwing in generous helpings of evidence and examples along the way. It is one of those very rare books that provide a completely new framework for understanding the world around us. It was a privilege to read.”

Here’s a video of an interview and short reading with the author James Gleick.

James Gleick Interview and Reading

Of course, any book on the short list will be good to. So I have listed those books below for your consideration. I have also put links to short interviews and readings for each author.


Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

The judges said:

Moonwalking with Einstein is a real page turner that tells a wonderful story – you are compelled to get to the end to find out what happens and the story bounces along with a jaunty air. Foer has a very down to earth style and in the true spirit of the scientist conducts his experiment with himself as the ‘test particle’.”

Joshua Foer Interview and Reading



My Beautiful Genome: Exposing Our Genetic Future, One Quirk at a Time by Lone Frank

A personal perspective on human genetics

The judges said:

“My Beautiful Genome puts a personal story at the heart of the science. To some extent we are all narcissists and we want to learn more about ourselves, Frank provides us with an insight into how our genes help to define us. She keeps you wanting to read more.”

Lone Frank Interview and Reading



The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene.

An examination of parallel universes and the laws of the cosmos The judges said:

“Multiverses and quantum measurement are not easy subjects but Greene sets about giving insight through metaphor in a very enjoyable way. The Hidden Reality is a beautiful manifesto for exploring the outer reaches of scientific enquiry. You will not understand everything but you will enjoy trying.”

Brian Greene Interview and Reading



The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

An assessment of the decline of violence in history and its causes.

The judges said:

The Better Angels of our Nature pushes the boundaries of the science book in a refreshing way. Pinker takes an intriguing idea and attempts to scrutinise it in a scientific manner – it is a bold intellectual endeavour and at the same time a great read.”

Steven Pinker Interview and Reading



The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age by Nathan Wolfe

An exploration of the world of the virus.

The judges said:

The Viral Storm is a fascinating look at our relationship with viruses. It will terrify some readers and reassure others. Wolfe’s passion for exploring and explaining draw you into the world of the virus and may make you reassess our relationship with that world.”

Nathan Wolfe Interview and Reading

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Time for philosophical honesty about Darwin Ken Perrott Nov 27

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Credit: The Teaching Company

John S. Wilkins, at the Evolving Thoughts blog, has a nice short article, Why is Darwin’s theory so controversial?, on the so-called “controversies” around Darwin’s theories. I think he nails it. He shows that the usual tired old objections to Darwin’s ideas are just excuses.

The excuses

“Darwin thought species are mutable.” But:

“This was a widely held view by preachers, moralists, Aristotelians, naturalists, breeders, formalists, folk biology, and even biblical translators.”

“Darwin had racist ideas about humans.”

“He never did and the racism that is sometimes associated with his ideas preceded him by centuries (and were good Christian virtues) and were mediated by those who disagreed with him.”

“Darwin thought the age of the earth was large:”

“This preceded him also, and was settled in the late eighteenth century, although the present value wasn’t finalised until the 1960s.”

“Darwin’s claim humans are animals contradicted the Bible.” But:

“Linnaeus knew humans were animals a century earlier, and indeed the only issue was whether humans were animals with souls (or if all animals had souls), which Darwin never implied anything to the contrary.

Moreover, it was Christians who rejected the literal interpretation of the Bible, long before Darwin (beginning with the Alexandrian school in the second century), and those who realised that the global Flood was a myth (or an allegory) were Christian geologists a half century at least in advance of Darwin.”

The real controversy

John explains:

“No, the reason why Darwin was controversial is very, very simple. Darwin argued that complex designs could arise without a mind to guide it. In short, his controversial idea was natural selection (and sexual selection, but even that preceded Darwin). Almost from the day it was published, critics attacked the implication that the living world was not all that special, and that it lacked a Plan or Meaning. Theologians, moralists and even scientists objected to this, and while even most of the Catholic Church accepted common descent and modification of species, it was natural selection they hated.”

But instead of honestly confronting and debating the real issue they lie and slander:

“All the supposed “controversies” of Darwinism (or that phantom, “neo-Darwinism”) are post hoc attacks based on the prior objection to the lack of a guiding hand in biology. Don’t like natural selection? Attack Darwin by calling him a racist or blaming him for the Holocaust. Say he is antiessentialist. Say he is anti-religion. No matter how much evidence one puts forward that these are deliberate lies manufactured by those who hate Darwin for natural selection, it won’t stop the prevarication industry.”

A basic philosophical conflict

Wilkins says:

“Sensible philosophical critics of Darwin focus on selection for that reason. It undercuts our prior belief that We Are Special. Human mentation, cognition, language, morality, religion or economics is somehow privileged in the universe. Bullshit. We are an animal and we arose without the universe seeking us.”

But some philosophers will devote their energies to attacking this position while refusing to justify their alternative:

“The human exceptionalism which critics like Fodor, Fuller, Plantinga and the rest presume but do not argue for unfairly places the onus on Darwinians. It is time to stop taking them seriously.”

Amen to that.

But I want to add something to John’s analysis – and I do hope he doesn’t feel I misrepresent him.

Time for philosophical honesty

Darwin’s approach of looking to nature, and not to scripture, for the explanation of nature was simply being scientific. It extended the progress made by modern science in physics, astronomy, etc., into the understanding of life – including human life. Galileo in the early 17th Century argued our understanding of the world should be based on evidence from the world – not on fallible interpretation of scripture. Scientific knowledge, or natural philosophy in those day, should be based on evidence from reality and resulting ideas and theories tested and validated against that reality.

Today, sensible philosophers (even sensible philosophers of religion) accept this approach in the physical sciences. We no longer hear them talking about, or justifying, divine guidance in the movement of stars and planets, or the reaction of chemicals. Why should Fodor, Fuller and Plantinga so adamantly wish to sneak divine guidance into the biological world?

As they are so keen on divine guidance why not try to find and deliver some evidence for it instead of relying on logical possibility alone? That would be the scientific approach. And if they were really consistent they would also be arguing for, and producing evidence for, divine guidance in the physical world.

Now, that would put them in context.

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Religion in schools – a sensible approach Ken Perrott Nov 25

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Here’s a short Aussie video on the problem of religious instruction in secular schools. It’s well presented, and the situation in Australia is quite like that in New Zealand. In particular, the legal structure which allows access by religious groups to secular schools and the influence of evangelical groups within the bible in schools movement. The Access Ministries referred to in the video supplies material to New Zealand groups. So New Zealand readers can learn something from it.

The video is presented by the group FIRIS Fairness in religion in Schools (YouTube page

Mission Field: Education not Expected

See also:
Capturing kid’s minds with emotions
What really happens in religious instruction classes?
Cynical evangelisation of children.

Similar articles

 

Climate change deniers don’t understand expertise Ken Perrott Nov 22

Many of you will have picked up that the World Bank has released a very important report on climate change. Its titled Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided,” and can be downloaded as a pdf.

The report mentions as highlights:

  • The world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise.
  • Adverse effects of global warming are “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions” and likely to undermine development efforts and goals.
  • Increased support is needed for adaptation, mitigation, inclusive green growth and climate-smart development.

You can get an overview at the World Bank’s press release (Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Century), at Science daily (Four-Degrees Briefing for the World Bank: The Risks of a Future Without Climate Policy) or at New Zealand’s own Hot Topic (Turn down the heat: even bankers know a bad thing when they see it (sometimes)).

Or you could even download and read the report – its only 106 pages all in.

I won’t go into its content here – just comment on a typical climate change denial reaction to the report. But first – let’s get this straight. The world Bank does not describe this as its own report – they describe it as a World Bank-commissioned report.” An important point – but one that is obvious to anyone used to dealing with such reports. Organisations like the World Bank commission experts to produce up-to-date summaries of, and reports on, such matters when they need them.

It’s a no-brainer – want a reliable report – employ experts.

The “left liberal slime” conspiracy

So how do the local climate change denial cabal over at Climate Conversations Group dismiss this report (and dismiss it they must – that’s how they pass their time. Dismissing science and slandering scientists).

Andy (familiar to many readers here for his sock-puppet behaviour) starts mildly with:

“based on current climate models -is all I need to take away from this “report” from the World Bank”

He obviously has no idea of the important role models can play in bringing understanding to complex situations. These guys just rely on anything they can use to discredit the science.

Then he continues:

“The last time I heard, banks were in the business of lending money. I didn’t think they had any expertise in determining the sensitivity of the atmosphere to carbon dioxide. Unless, of course, they have a financial interest in, say, carbon trading.”

No – he doesn’t understand the report commissioning process does he. He seems to think that bankers in pin-striped suits did the research and wrote the report.

But no – it’s more basic than that. Doesn’t matter if they were wearing pin-striped suits or white lab coats. They are all part of a world-wide conspiracy and he hates them:

“Yes I understand that the World Bank is yet another part of the left liberal slime that uses Climate Change to further its agenda. Do you think I have any respect fir these organisations at all?”

Poor Andy! How does he manage to get by in this complex world?

Who are the experts

I don’t think Andy really wants to know – but here’s some information on the people who actually produced the report.

The world bank commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and climate Analytics to prepare the report. The team of authors included:*

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber: has been Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) since he founded the institute in 1992. He is Professor for Theoretical Physics at the University of Potsdam and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, USA. Furthermore, he is Chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU).

Olivia Serdeczny: was born in 1982, has earned her MA Philosophy at the Freie Universität Berlin and currently works as a research analyst for Professors Schellnhuber and Rahmstorf at the German Advisory Council on Global Change to the Federal Government (WBGU). In summer 2011 Olivia spent two months with the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research on board the research vessel Polarstern. She documented the cruise in several blog articles (all German)

Dr Dim Coumou: is a geophysicist by training, worked for a while as marine geophysicist in the offshore industry, before starting PhD research at ETH in Zurich. In Zurich, he worked on the development of efficient multiphase fluid flow transport schemes to study hydrothermal systems. More on hisPhD work can be found here and here.

In 2008, he joined PIK and is currently working on development of the atmospheric component of the next-generation Earth System model CLIMBER-3 (as part of PIK´s flagship project NEXT). This novel atmosphere model, Aeolus 1.0, treats the dynamical equations in a statistical way, which makes the model computationally very efficient compared to the more common general circulation type models. We can therefore study the sensitivity of atmospheric circulation to global mean temperature and other key parameters. Next, this newly developed model (a so-called Earth System Model of Intermediate Complexity – EMIC) should pave the way to efficiently study tipping elements in the Earth climate system, of which some could potentially cross a tipping point in the coming century due to anthopogenic forcings.

His recent work focused on the link between extreme weather events and global warming, which got some popular-media attention in e.g.  WIRED and FOCUS (in german). And his scientific interests include climate dynamics, extreme events, global warming, complex earth system, hydrothermal and geothermal systems. Technical interests include parallel programming, C++, object-oriented design, etc, etc, etc…

Dr Katja Frieler: Her current research focus includesdevelopment of impact functions that allow for probabilistic projections of regional climate changes and changes in the occurrence of extreme events in terms of global mean temperature change (see PRIMAP).

Dr Maria Martin: Maria Martin’s research focuses on the Antarctic sheet-shelf system.With others she developed the Potsdam Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM-PIK), a derived class of PISM (UAF, Alaska). She took part in a scientific expedition to Antarctica Nov. 2010 – Feb. 2011. Maria Martin also is Research Analyst in the Director’s Office at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research from April to December 2012.

Dr Ilona M. Otto: specializes in institutional and political economy. She investigates coordination mechanisms for provision of public and common goods such as biodiversity and water. Currently she is working in the Project on Sustainable Water and Agricultural Land Use in the Guanting Watershed under Limited Water Resources (www.Guanting.de). Her research in the Project focuses on governance of water resources, socio-economic impacts of water scarcity, and evaluation of possible adaptation options that could lead to a more sustainable water use in the Guanting Watershed.

Mahé Perrette: Is a PhD student working on probabilistic sea-level projections, both a the global (with Stefan Rahmstorf) and regional (with Malte Meinshausen) scales. His current project consists in developing a model for the outlet glaciers / fjord system of the Greenland ice-sheet, for a better representation of ice/ocean interactions (with Reinhard Calov and Andrey Ganopolski). He is also generally interested in combining climate models with past and present-day observations to reduce uncertainty in future sea-level projections and works in the PRIMAP group, with Stefan Rahmstorf as main supervisor.

Dr Alexander Robinson: His main interest lies with studying the interactions between the Greenland Ice Sheet and the climate. He is now employed as a post-doctoral researcher in the Paleo Modeling and Analysis (PalMA) group at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in the Department of Astrophysics and Atmospheric Science. Alexander is a guest scientist at PIK, collaborating with Andrey Ganopolski, Reinhard Calov, Stefan Rahmstorf, Dim Coumou and Anders Levermann, among others. In his Ph. D. work he, working with Andrey Ganopolski and Reinhard Calov, developed a simple regional energy-moisture balance model (REMBO) to produce realistic climate forcing and feedbacks over Greenland, given that warming in the future could drastically change the regional distribution of temperature and precipitation. The work was funded by the Marie Curie 6th Framework Programme and was a part of the Network for Ice sheet and Climate Interactions (NICE).

Jacob Schewe: researches in the areas of stability of monsoon circulations, global oceanic overturning (with Prof. Dr. Anders Levermann), and climate impacts (within the ISI-MIP project).

Dr Lila Warszawski: works on climate impacts and vulnerabilities.

*Want to find out more about these scientists – click on the links to get CVs, publication lists, etc.

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The arrogance of supernatural privilege Ken Perrott Nov 21

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I’ve often criticised the arrogance of some of those with a supernatural ideology. Their claims of special access to the “Truth,” to morality, etc. But I get especially angry when this arrogance rides roughshod over the most innocent and vulnerable people in society. Our children.

 Recently the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a Royal Commission to uncover the truth about sexual abuse of children in Australia. This is a response to the public outrage against revelations and accusations of paedophilia and its cover up by a number of institutions with responsibility for care of children  – including Churches. The commission has generally been welcomed across the political spectrum with the strongest concern being that it should get to work and produce results quickly. That it shouldn’t dawdle on for decades and itself contribute to the cover up.

 So I was shocked to see a local blogger, Kereopa at beingfrank, interpret this commission as “persecution” of the Catholic church (see Persecution begins against the Catholic Church in Australia)! Talk about (guilty) paranoia. Gillard made clear that the Catholic Church was not the only institution targeted. That its scope would cover:

 ”all institutions, including religious institutions, state-based organisations, schools and not-for-profit groups such as scouts and sporting clubs. It will also look at the response of child services agencies and the police to accusations of abuse.”

 So what does Kereopa want? Exclusion of the Catholic Church from such an inquiry? And how can she/he justify that? Because of its supernatural privilege? That it must be protected from such accusations and investigations because it is “sacred?”

 How else can Kereopa interpret an objective investigation of all bodies as persecution of his/her own organisation?

 Plain supernatural arrogance. Arrogance which is medieval and in this day and age deserves only a laugh. Why should the Catholic Church be exempt from such investigations, immune to even accusations or concerns? Especially as we now know its functionaries have often sexually abused the children in their care. And the organisation has often denied these crimes, protected the criminals and gone to great efforts to cover up the crimes. To the extent of allowing the crimes to continue and usually slandering the victims in the process.

As if to rub the salt into the psychological wounds of the victims of this child abuse, apologists for the Catholic Church have been frantically attempting to defend the supernatural privilege of confessions, the seal of the confessional. To protect this from investigations by the Royal Commission. They think their obligation to protect children in their care can be superseded by mythical supernatural claptrap.  Here’s how blogger Lucia Maria at New Zealand Conservative argues for a privilege of exempting Catholic confessions from the law:

“Confession is where a person is forgiven of their sins so that they are able to enter eternal life (ie not go to Hell). The priest represents our Lord Jesus Christ, and has been given the power to forgive sins.”

So, put a guy in a dress and give him a cross and he can represent a god! And you then claim that such a claim supersedes the rights of the victim? Innocent and defenceless children? Or the rights of society to get justice?

Who do these people think they are fooling – or even talking to? Most of us just don’t share their particular brand of supernaturalism. We are not convinced they have special privileges putting them above the law. Their talk of angels, hell and heaven don’t convince us that they should not have to obey the same laws we do. Especially when it comes to protecting our children.

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Morality and non-human animals Ken Perrott Nov 19

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Book review: Can Animals Be Moral? by Mark Rowlands

Price: US$29.95; NZ42.99
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0199842000
ISBN-13: 978-0199842001

Interested readers need to know – this is a book about philosophy, not science. I guess this makes the book more interesting to philosophers than scientists. And some familiarity with the philosophers whose arguments the author quotes and criticises will add to that interest.

However, Rowlands does not ignore the science. He refers to the scientific evidence for moral considerations by non-human animals (see video below for an example). A plus in my view as some philosophers seem to happily debate these sorts of issues without relying on any empirical evidence at all. But, as a philosopher, Rowlands assumes “only that the evidence makes a prima facie case for the claim that animals can be motivated to act by emotions—all   species of concern—that have an identifiable moral content. This assumption is the point of departure for the arguments to be developed in this book.”

Rowlands is also very clear from the beginning that his answer to the book title’s question is definitely “Yes.” He describes the purpose of his book this way:

“I try to show that the blanket dismissal of the possibility of moral action in animals cannot be sustained because it rests on certain assumptions that are controversial and would be rejected by many, often the majority, of philosophers. Essentially, the blanket dismissal requires that one be willing to pitch one’s tent in certain philosophical camps—camps in which many, perhaps most, philosophers would not be seen dead. Second, and equally important, I shall try to show that there are indeed good reasons to eschew these camps.”

Apparently, among philosophers, Rowlands’s view is a minority one:

“The history of philosophy has reached a near unanimous decision on the central question of this book. No, animals cannot be moral. They cannot act for moral reasons, or on the basis of moral considerations.”

And

“The positive goal of this book  is to show that animals can be motivated by moral concerns, and these concerns take the form of emotions that have identifiable moral content. The corresponding negative goals of this book are to show that the respectable reasons against this claim fall far short of   compelling, to unmask confusions, and to banish the fruits of magical thinking.”

I won’t go into the philosophical details but Rowlands argues for animals being moral because they can act on the basics of moral emotions. They have feelings and emotional reactions to situations and acting on these is enough for acting morally. But he acknowledges that emotions and sentiments are not the only sorts of moral reasons there are, saying, “I certainly would not object to the claim that there are moral reasons available to humans that do not reduce to emotions or sentiments.”

Moral agents and moral subjects

This leads him into definitional issues. We consider moral agents, moral subjects, etc. Moral subjects can act on the basis of motivations such as emotions and feelings. But a moral agent has the ability to reflect on these motivations and actions, can explicitly formulate or understand the principles behind the action and may be able to adopt an impartial perspective of the sort required for a sense of justice.

“All moral agents are moral subjects, but not all moral subjects are moral agents.”

Rowlands sees many, particularly social, non-human species as being moral subjects. But only humans have the ability to reflect, deliberate and consider abstractly, to be moral agents.

Many of the philosophers Rowlands argues against will demand that morality requires more self-awareness and abstract consideration than we normally consider possible by non-human animals. Thereby restricting morality to humans. However, research into human morality show that rational consideration and abstract thought occurs very rarely in moral situations. In fact our reactions have to be almost automatic and unconscious, as there just isn’t time to apply abstract thought or consult holy books and learned papers in ethical journals. If human animals relied only on rational consideration and abstract thought for their morality the species just would not have survived.

Using this book’s terms in many ways and many situations humans, although capable of moral agency, will behave as moral subjects. Rowlands discusses this in his philosophical arguments and provides explanatory examples. But this could have been helped by the scientific evidence showing that a lot of human moral actions are unconscious.

The continuity inherent in an evolutionary understanding of animals blurs customary distinctions between human and non-human animals. It’s therefore not surprising that moral concerns, emotions and feelings as a major reason for action are shared by human and non-human animals.

Moral autonomy – a degree of agency

Even among humans the degree of moral agency can vary. Some individuals may be more morally autonomous than others. They may often indulge in abstract moral reasoning, discussion and reading. They may possibly consciously reject some contemporary moral ideas and values. Other individuals may not be so reflective. Their rational consideration may be restricted to rationalising the automatic behaviour they exhibit. And they may be more unquestioning of the contemporary social mores and customs. They may even be willing to rely on social and religious authorities as the source of their moral values. Moral agency for many humans may be more potential than actual.

“A stronger view might claim that one possesses moral autonomy only when one is actually engaged in these processes. That is, moral autonomy turns on the exercise of the ability and not simply possession of the ability. This view entails that humans are morally autonomous individuals only on relatively infrequent occasions— and that some humans are, perhaps, never morally autonomous.”

Moral learning, or training

The book does not really discuss the way humans learn their morality during their development, or manage to adjust their moral codes to accommodate changing social values. Not surprising as it is about non-human animals. But it does discuss briefly the somewhat equivalent role of training that can influence those non-human animals who live closely with us. Some of this training can involve moral concerns – such as where pets are taught to be careful with young children.

Given the continuity of life inherent in a scientific evolutionary view  a continuity among different animal species in their moral instincts and concerns is not surprising. This supports modern changes in the way we consider non-human animals. Rowlands reflects this with the last sentence in the book:

“If animals can, and sometimes do, act for moral reasons, then they are worthy objects of moral respect. That is why it matters.”

Conclusions

I give more credence to scientific findings than philosophical deliberations. However, these are interesting in this case – even if more for characterisation of different philosophical schools. But while such deliberations may well appeal to the philosophically inclined by their very nature they usually cannot settle the argument. At times I felt the book had a tendency to philosophical argument at length where reference to empirical evidence may have sufficed.

Another criticism I have is the occasional use of Latin terms without definition. And use of philosophical shorthand not usually familiar to the lay person.

However, I felt the author’s presentation is careful. He gives reminders of his own position from time to time so one is not trapped into thinking he is advocating another position when he is merely outlining opposing arguments. This is helpful to the reader.

On balance I think the thorough philosophical consideration in this book does complement other, scientific, texts. For example, consideration of differences between moral subjects and moral agents provides a clearer picture than use of terms like “pre-moral” which authors like Frans de Waal and Michael Shermer have resorted to when describing the moral behaviour of non-human animals. Rowlands provides a philosophical clarity to the scientific findings.

Capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay

See also:
Scientist argues that animals are moral creatures
Can Animals Be Moral?

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An aside – philosophers who naively use science

Rowlands does not distort the science on this issue – he uses it honestly. Some philosophers are not honest when discussing issues related to non-human animals. They can resort to subtle differences in definition – even to motivated reasoning, usually to support their own bias. W. L. Craig’s recent attempts to claim that non-human animals might feel pain but don’t suffer is a rather blatant example. He misrepresents the science in his justification – claiming humans are the only animals with a pre-frontal cortex necessary for the self awareness required to experience suffering. (Misrepresenting science so as to use it as “evidence” for his religious and supernatural beliefs is a common trick of Craig’s as anyone familiar with his treatment if cosmology knows). Craig also relies on selective definitions if awareness, self-awareness and suffering to bolster his argument. (See this video for details).

Can animals suffer? Debunking the philosophers who say no, from Descartes to William Lane Craig

This cartoon seems relevant.

(Thanks to Jerry Coyne – William Lane Craig argues that animals can’t feel pain)

More damage from megastorm Sandy Ken Perrott Nov 18

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Here’s an appropriate cartoon from ThinkProgress (see Open Thread And Climate Cartoon Of The Week).

Denying Climate Change Is Putting Us in Danger

By Lee Judge of the Cartoonist Group

 

Capturing kid’s minds with emotions Ken Perrott Nov 15

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I have commented on the problem of religious indoctrination at secular New Zealand schools before (see What really happens in religious instruction classes? and Cynical evangelisation of children.) That’s bad enough but a friend recently described such indoctrination occurring at a day care centre! This was a secular centre, but influenced by a church. So the obvious happened – infants came home asking about gods, devils and hell.

It’s bad enough when they go after children of school age – but it seems they also consider children of preschool age, other people’s children, “fair game” as well.

Unfortunately, the concentration on children is common among evangelical Christians. Consider the document is Evangelisation of Children.” This was prepared several years ago and sees indoctrination of children as part of a general plan of world evangelisation (see my post .

Jerry Coyne has a video showing an even worse side to the evangelisaiton of children – the use of emotional methods (see A Christian brainwashes two-year-olds). These people recognise that bible stories just aren’t enough. Kids go through the intellectual learning procedure and come out the other end without a strong commitment. But emotional experiences can be a lot more powerful than intellectual exercises in getting commitment.

Again, it’s one thing to know that consenting adults take part in happy clapping speaking in tongues to get their kick. But imposing it on children? Even babies? That is what this video shows.

Babies and God

Perhaps parents are a bit naive to think the religious instruction classes in our secular schools are harmless. After all, they might think, it helps kids understand how others think and won’t education in science and reason supersede these myths in the long run. That’s the message of the recent Jesus and Mo cartoon below.


But what if the evangelicals who tend to teach these instruction classes are messing with the kid’s emotions instead?

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That particle again Ken Perrott Nov 11

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This week sees the launch of another book on the Higgs Boson. This one is by the cosmologist Sean CarrollThe Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World.

I found Carroll’s last book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time excellent so am looking forward to this one. he has a real gift for explaining the complex science of cosmology and particle physics clearly for the lay person.

In this short promotion video he describes the aim of the book

Sean Carroll: The Particle at the End of the Universe

See also: The Excitement Grows!

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