And thus the school year begins

With a whole bunch of posting on evolution and teaching it in the schools.  Most of them stem from this NY Times article about a teacher in Florida.  Lealaps has opened a thread on it, and Coturnix has weighed in with some good thoughts on why teaching evolution can be very tough, and Greg Laden has a special on what to do with Bible-thumping students. 

I’m not too sure how I feel about it.  I feel like much of the problem that we have in trying to teach evolution is that we look down on those who don’t believe us.  It’s often very hard not to, it seems as though they are deliberately blinding themselves to the obvious.  But then, to them, perhaps it’s the other way around, perhaps they think we are deliberately blinding ourselves to obvious evidence of God in the creation of the world.  I feel that mocking them or aggressively attacking their beliefs is only going to make them angry and defensive, and then no one learns anything and we all waste our breath. 

Thus, I really like Mr. Campbell’s take:  you don’t have to believe it, but you do have to understand it.  This means you can’t leave test questions blank because you don’t believe in them.  I happen to believe that calculus sucks (sorry math people, we just didn’t get along.  I had a bad experience in my childhood).  I really don’t like it.  But this didn’t mean I could leave test answers blank on the basis of my belief.  I can only hope that understanding is the first step toward believing. 

In other news, there is something new and awesome out there!  It’s a journal called “The Review of Symbolic Logic”.  In my younger days as an undergraduate sprout, I was a Philosophy major, and I LOVED my course in symbolic logic.  Well, ok, I never took a course in Symbolic Logic.  Rather, my advisor wanted me in the advanced course, and just handed me a couple of books on symbolic logic, and told me to master those before I came into class.  Intro to Symbolic Logic is pretty ridiculously easy, so it was no problem, and so I got to take Wittgensteinian Logic instead.   I will admit that I haven’t found any real application of my thesis on the ethical considerations implied by the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but it made for some fun times in my cerebral cortex, and I can still throw some killer arguments around. 

The article that Evolving Thoughts takes a look at concerns whether or not referring to something makes it exist.  Basically, there are two schools of thought.  One, the current school of thought, says that a particular quantifier in any given sentance is an existential quantifier.  This means that when you say “Scicurious is a genius”, you’re saying that Scicurious is an entity that exists.  This usually doesn’t produce problems, until you run into something like “Santa Claus has you on the naughty list”.   Is you take ‘santa claus’ to be an existential quantifier, you take it to mean that Santa Claus does in fact exist, and then you run into a MAJOR problem when you say “Santa Claus doesn’t exist”.  You just used an existential quantifier implying that Santa Claus does exist, and then you said he doesn’t.  Slap on the wrist for you.  Of course, then the problem becomes, how can you quantify anything unless you know whether or not it exists? 

What the author of the current paper implies is that you can quantify something without immediately saying it exists.  Meinong was the first person to come up with this compromise, and I wonder why it’s not the current school of thought.  I guess the problem lies in that, if you quantify something without implying its existence, what’s there to say that it exists?  You can add the phrase “Scicurious exists”, but shouldn’t the presence of the quanitifier make that redundant?  What then, is the purpose of quanitifiers if not to denote the existance of something? 

Also in the vein of thought inventions, Biocurious (good name!) has done a cool srticle on the way ideas strike in society.  If it wasn’t Darwin, it would have been someone else.  Same for Einstein.  This gives me hope, actually, maybe the previaliing Zeigeist will make me a genius!

Finally, check out the Cushing Photo Journal at Neurophilosophy!  Cool pictures.

2 Responses

  1. I completely agree with you about the teaching of evolution.

    “I feel that mocking them or aggressively attacking their beliefs is only going to make them angry and defensive, and then no one learns anything and we all waste our breath.”

    This is true, although to be honest it’s often hard to do. And in some cases, there are some beliefs that I would attack or agressively mock (e.g the persecution of gay blokes).

    I will take a further look at the interesting-sounding logic stuff once my brain has recovered from being screwed over by computer programming.

  2. Never studied symbolic logic, so this may be old hat to you, but…

    In most modern programming languages, you very rarely deal with an actual object, but rather a pointer which refers to an actual object. There’s a common error called a “Null Reference”, when a program tries to use a pointer which hasn’t been properly set up to point to anything, or refers to something which doesn’t exist. The pointer’s definite existence says nothing about its object’s existence.

    Words are pointers, not objects.

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