Saturday 14 January 2012

A Skeptical Look at a Skeptical Look at Atheism

Hi Folks

What did you think of Andy McIntosh's talk?

We're asking for your thoughts or observations to collate into a full blogpost. They need not be fully formed blogs in themselves as that would be too much to ask of everyone but it will be interesting to see what impressions  people came away with and whether you thought his presentation was consistent or not.

If you want to leave us your thoughts you can email us at birminghamskeptics (at) or use our contact form.
You could also comment below this, mention @Brum_Skeptics on twitter or post on Facebook but of course those comments would be immediately public.

Needless to say we will not publish people's email addresses, but please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.

Thanks in advance


Anonymous said...

I was expecting something a bit more heavyweight than this. I was mystified by one of the arguments presented (actually an ad-hominem attack) concerning Richard Dawkins' response to a question about the structure of a feather. We were only given half a sentence, without context, of what Dawkins supposed to have said, and then invited to draw the inference that his entire stance was thereby compromised. Nothing was proved or even demonstrated by it. I would be interested to hear from people who stayed for the question session.

Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Thanks for the comment @tituslivius. We've been getting similar views on other aspects of his presentation. We'll put them together soon but we'd still like to hear from others that were there whatever you thought of him.

Gurble0 said...

His comment on how, according to an atheist view on the human mind (in that atheists don't believe in a seperate 'soul' and our thoughts are just 'chemical reactions'), it would be possible to tell what someone was going to think using a large enough supercomputer was very interesting. I don't know enough about brain mapping or supercomputers to know whether this would be possible, but I can see how hypothetically it could be. However, even if it were possible I don't see what McIntosh's point was. He seemed to think that just because he found the idea disturbing that the idea was therefore flawed. He used a similar argument when talking about another aspect of the human mind, where he said that seeing humanity as 'chemical reactions' seemed 'miserable'. I'm sure some people do find the idea miserable, but that does not mean it's not true. Just because you don't like an idea does not decrease its validity.

Gurble0 said...

He spoke about 'information', the point of which (as far as I understood it) was that a 'code' (such as that carried in DNA) could not exist unless a message existed prior to it. Then the message could be put into code, and then interpreted somewhere else. Of course if this were true then DNA could not have evolved or appeared naturally, as it would need a message provided by something else. McIntosh suggested that this initial message must have been provided by God. This idea can be debunked using a simple analogy: I, or a computer, could write down 20 entirely random letters, without any 'message' written into it or any code devised. This could then be given to someone, and that person could devise a random letter substitution system in order to 'decode' my sequence of letters (e.g. a=t, b=e, k=d). This, almost certainly, would just give a sequence of letters just as random as the origional code. However, if the person did this 10 million times, devising a new decodeing system every time, then one of those time would almost certainly result in a sentance with meaning, and 'information', even though the was no 'information' in the origional code. That is how DNA could arise, with natural selection 'picking out' the meaningful sequences from the nonsense.

Gurble0 said...

He seemed to think that atheism gave no explanation for 'morality' or altruism. Of course these things are easily explained by evolution, but since he had already decided the science proved evolution impossible he must not have considered this.
He also assumed that atheists agreed with the idea that there is an absolute morality, which of course many do not, and many have very different ideas on the meaning of the term 'morality'.

I appear to be just spamming your page at this point, I apologise. I shall now shut up.

Patrick (@paddyrex) said...

Not at all @Gurbie0, it's great to hear what you have to say and we shall certainly use it. Thanks.

Mil. said...

Gurble0 – re. your mention of McIntosh saying one could “tell what someone was going to think [in fact, be able to tell *everything*, not only thoughts, in advance] using a large enough supercomputer.” What he was doing there was simply giving a microprocessor face to ‘Laplace’s Demon’. The notion can be criticized on the basis of it being, mathematically, impossible for any such ‘all knowing predictive thing’ to exist. Which, IMHO, misses the point very badly – it’s like saying that ‘infinity’ is a false concept because you can’t build infinity as there’d be nowhere to put it. The other major criticism of it is that causal determinism is mugged by quantum randomness. Now, some argue that so called quantum randomness isn’t, or has not been demonstrated (and could never be demonstrated) to be truly random - Galen Strawson, for example. That, IMHO, again, misses the point too, though less badly. What’s at issue here is freewill, and introducing randomness doesn’t save freewill – chance is not choice. So, it doesn’t matter very much that you (and I) aren’t experts on brain mapping and supercomputers. You’re gleamingly correct: the real rubbing nub of the issue is McIntosh’s focus not on whether something is correct or not, but on whether it’s preferable. He might as well say, “Reality worries me, so I’m going to believe in something else instead.” Which – I’m sure you’re ahead of me here – could explain his position on quite a few other things too.