Partisan Point Scoring Instead of Listening

I once presented a paper at an informal colloquium to a mix of faculty and students. I offered a complex argument using multiple philosophers to critique another’s position. At the end of my presentation, a PhD student eagerly asked “you use [Philosopher A] as part of your argument, are you willing to commit to the whole [Philosopher B’s] agenda?” I was so shocked by the incongruous question that all I could manage was a “no, I hadn’t considered that.” The PhD student smiled smugly as though he considered himself having won a major victory against his elder. Now, that didn’t bother me, he can feel how he wants, but months later I still think occasionally about the utter absurdity of his question and what it says about academia. Instead of addressing the topic of my paper, or any other part of it, he focused on one minor reference to launch a red herring fallacy. Never mind that my paper had nothing to do with anything [Philosopher B] and that my one reference to [Philosopher A] was from a book of hers critical of [Philosopher B] (which the student had clearly never heard of, much less read), the disturbing issue is the student’s contention that somehow referencing a philosopher requires one to commit to an entire “agenda.” That is what so bewilders and disturbs me then and now. Critical thinking is not about having an agenda, it is about crafting arguments based on their value of their premises and conclusions. I had indeed never considered the student’s question because it has never occurred to me that anyone could think that referencing one philosopher who had once worked on [Philosopher B] committed her for the rest of her career and anyone who ever referenced her to a “[Philosopher B] agenda”—whatever the heck that is. Philosophy is not about one team versus another and we do ourselves a disservice by engaging is such partisanship. Should we ask, as the student seemed to imply, “are you now or have you ever been a member of [Philosopher B]?” or should we actually listen and communicate with ideas? I fear that (actually I know that) this student is a product of academia’s attitude that partisan point scoring is more important than solving problems. Not all of us academics are like that, think goddess, but too many are and they create within themselves absurd blind leaps of hasty generalizations unconnected to the actual scholarship presented to them. This was evidenced when a month later another PhD student who had been at the colloquium asked me, with all sincerity, “so are you really trying to blend [Philosopher B] with …..”

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We Do Not Observe a Hypothesis or Not All Laws Are Reality

We do not observe a hypothesis, we observe phenomena and we try to interpret and explain the phenomena by using a hypothesis. That means that good science understands that a hypothesis could be a mistaken belief that incorrectly interprets the data. Data collected in observations of galaxies indicate that the farther away a galaxy is, the greater is the red shift of its light spectrum. Ever since the discovery of this phenomenon, the observed red shift has been understandably interpreted as indicating the velocities of the observed galaxies. This is because we know, from observations, that an object moving away from us will have the spectrum of its light emissions shifted to the red. We observe the same phenomenon in the sounds we hear from an object moving away from us. This phenomenon, called the Doppler shift, is extremely well documented by countless observations. The Doppler shift has been applied as the explanation for the observed data of galaxy red shift and used to construct the hypothesis knows as the Hubble Law, which states that the speed of a galaxy is directly proportional to its distance from us. That means that a galaxy twice the distance is moving twice as fast. This has given rise to the hypothesis that the universe is expanding, a hypothesis illustrated by the analogy of rising bread dough (Figure 1).bread expansion - Copy Hubble’s Law is now the standard used by science to measure the distance to a galaxy. Measure the red shift of a galaxy’s light spectrum then look up on the chart its equivalent distance—just like one would use a chart to convert feet to meters. Thus, science creates charts like Figure 2.

galaxies distance 2

The relationship of red shift to distance to galaxies is real but is the relationship between distance and speed real and is expanding universe hypothesis an accurate reflection of the data? Any hypothesis worth anything will not only give an explanation of observable data but will also make predictions that can be verified by more observations and critical thinking. The problem is that we cannot observe galaxies from any other spot in the universe but ours, but we can subject the data to some critical thinking. The chart in Figure 2, and indeed most thinking about the red shift data, leaves out another very important galactic constant.

 1 light-year distance = 1 year of time

 When we observe light from an object 100,000,000 light-years away. we are observing it as it was 100,000,000 years ago. Plugging in that inescapable reality into Figure 2 we get this:

Observed red shift speed Distance in light-years Years ago galaxy was traveling at that speed

1,200 km s-1



15,000 km s-1



22,000 km s-1



39,000 km s-1



61,000 km s-1



This means that we are not measuring the speed of those galaxies today, only as they were in the distant past. A galaxy that is 3 billion lights years distant is observed by us as it was and where it was 3 billion years ago, the light from it just having reached us after journeying 3 billion years. Likewise with a galaxy 1 billion lights years distant. This means the rising loaf of bread analogy is wrong because all parts of the loaf of bread are in the same time.

The expanding universe hypothesis states that the universe’s expansion is increasing in speed. In other words, all galaxies are expanding at a faster speed now than they were 1,000,000 years ago, and 1,000,000 years ago they were expanding faster than they were 2,000,000 years ago and so on. But that prediction is the exact opposite of the observed data, as shown in the table which shows the speeds slowing down not increasing. The numbers in the third column would be going in the opposite direction if the expanding universe hypothesis was true.

So what does this mean? The red shift observations are real, and the assumption that they are measurements of speed may be true, but it means that galaxies are slowing down over time rather than speeding up, which appears to defeat the expanding universe hypothesis. Additional hypotheses such as the metric expansion theory so not successfully deal with this discrepancy. Either the assumed link between red shift in galaxies’ light and galaxies’ speed is wrong, or the universe’s expansion is slowing down to a crawl. Either way, the idea that the expanding universe hypothesis is true is a false belief. Despite the obvious flaw in the hypothesis, it remains a canon law of science. Why? Part of science’s blindness on this obvious discrepancy in the hypothesis is simple groupthimk—the human weakness where even intelligent people fail to think outside the confines of their worldview and the very human mistake that one’s hypothesis is reality because one believes it is true. Data outside that belief is ignored. The other contributing factor is that Western science has inherited the Western Judeo-Christian heritage of fatalism: the universe will end. Thus, science argues whether the universe will end by heat death or cold death, but the expanding universe hypothesis is not questioned because it fits in with the Judeo-Christian heritage of linear time and birth and death. Maybe the universe will end, any hypothesis about how that will come about could be correct. I don’t know; neither do the scientists. Another hypothesis, an informal one, is that anyone who questions the laws of mainstream science is a crackpot. I suspect many who read this will label me as such. It is easier to label me a heretic than looking at the data that questions their beliefs.



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Descartes’ Cogito As Intuition

It is a classic mistake of lazy thinking to believe that Descartes’ Cogito–“I think therefore I am”–is an argument. It isn’t but it is not surprising how people are fooled by the surface appearance of the phrase. The book Descartes’ Cogito: Saved from the Great Shipwreck by Husain Sarkar is a level-headed and necessary restorative of thinking about Descartes’ Cogito. The key, as the author understands, is not to only look at Meditations in isolation, but to understand the Cogito in the context of Descartes’ overall work and his overarching method.

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Habermas Opens Up to Religion?

At least that’s what Stanley Fish says in Does Reason Know What it is Missing?. It is a good article on Jurgen Habermas (who doesn’t get much mention in the media) and on the strengths and limitations of reason. It is nice to see someone have an honest (rather than rose-colored glasses) view of these issues.

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Descartes’ Circle Debunked

Almost since Descartes published his book Meditations he has been accused of committing a fallacy of circular reasoning with his argument that God is the guarantor of the truth of our belief in an external world. Descartes’ argument has ever since been derided as the “Cartesian Circle.” The argument against the so-called “Cartesian Circle” is actually a fallacious strawman argument that misrepresents what Descartes actually argues.

The accusation against Descartes is that he asserts that the existence of God verifies that ideas that are clear and distinct must be true. So those who argue the “Cartesian Circle” position are claiming that Descartes is arguing the following:

    1. I have a clear and distinct idea of God as a perfect being.
    2. God, a perfect being, is not a deceiver and would not allow me to be mistaken about my clear and distinct ideas.
    3. Therefore, I can be certain of the truth of my clear and distinct ideas.

As the Encyclopedia Britannica states it (I think a reasonable summation of the standard interpretation of the Cartesian Circle):

But Descartes cannot know that this proof does not contain an error unless he assumes that his clear and distinct perception of the steps of his reasoning guarantees that the proof is correct. Thus the criterion of clear and distinct perception depends on the assumption that God exists, which in turn depends on the criterion of clear and distinct perception.

This is a valid assessment of the argument stated above. The question though is whether that is an accurate portrayal of Descartes’ actual argument.

Garret Thomson in Bacon to Kant argues that it is not. The key to understanding Descartes’ argument is to discern the difference between particular experiences and the whole of experience.

Descartes uses the proposition “Ideas that are clear and distinct must be true” as his foundational principle. All else follows from that. The proposition is true independent of God. Any idea that can be said to be clear and distinct then must be accepted as true. The existence of God is not a “that X” proposition, it is a clear and distinct idea, God cannot be doubted. The existence of God does not support the proposition “Ideas that are clear and distinct must be true” it guarantees that our sensory perception is trustworthy, or as Thomson puts it on p. 35, “God is introduced to meet our general systematic doubts.” We can, as Descartes points out, doubt that the external world exists; we could be deceived. God ensures that we are not deceived because God is not a deceiver.

So, Descartes’ reasoning goes like this:

    1. Ideas that are clear and distinct must be true
    2. I have a clear and distinct idea of God
    3. Therefore, God must exist.
    4. Since my idea of God includes his perfection, God is trustworthy
    5. Therefore, I cannot be deceived about the existence of the external world because God would not allow me to be deceived.

Descartes is not saying that he cannot be mistaken about particular propositions such as “that X” because he knows his will can overreach and lead him to error. But because he knows he is a mind and because he knows God would not let him be deceived, then knowledge from experience is possible. Thus, if he can reason correctly (his four rules of scientific method) then his mind is incapable of error because he can arrive at clear and distinct ideas.

Descartes’s reasoning can be questioned in several of its premises, but it is not circular reasoning. The accusation of the “Cartesian Circle” is a fallacious strawman argument.

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