Has it ever occurred to you how lucky you are to be alive? More than 99 percent of all the creatures that have ever lived have died without progeny, but not a single one of your ancestors falls into that group! ... Not a single one of your ancestors, all the way back to the bacteria, succumbed to predation before reproducing, or lost out in the competition for a mate.
The task of the mind is to produce future, as the poet Paul Valery once put it. A mind is fundamentally an anticipator, an expectation-generator. It mines the present for clues, which it refines with the help of the materials it has saved from the past, turning them into anticipations of the future. And then it acts, rationally, on the basis of those hard-won anticipations.
Moreover, the eye contains a big flaw: the retina is inside out. Why would an almighty designer do such a thing? No intelligent designer, .. would put such a clumsy arrangement in a camcorder, and this is just one of the hundreds of accidents frozen in evolutionary history that confirm the mindlessness of the historical process.
People ache to believe that we human beings are vastly different from all other species - and they are right! We are different. We are the only species that has an extra medium of design preservation and design communication: culture.
Some philosophers can't bear to say simple things, like "Suppose a dog bites a man." They feel obliged instead to say, "Suppose a dog d bites a man m at time t," thereby demonstrating their unshakable commitment to logical rigor, even though they don't go on to manipulate any formulae involving d, m, and t.
To put it bluntly but fairly, anyone today who doubts that the variety of life on this planet was produced by a process of evolution is simply ignorant—inexcusably ignorant, in a world where three out of four people have learned to read and write.
Isn't it true that whatever isn't determined by our genes must be determined by our environment? What else is there? There's Nature and there's Nurture. Is there also some X, some further contributor to what we are? There's Chance. Luck. This extra ingredient is important but doesn't have to come from the quantum bowels of our atoms or from some distant star. It is all around us in the causeless coin-flipping of our noisy world, automatically filling in the gaps of specification left unfixed by our genes, and unfixed by salient causes in our environment.
Every living thing is, from the cosmic perspective, incredibly lucky simply to be alive. Most, 90 percent and more, of all the organisms that have ever lived have died without viable offspring, but not a single one of your ancestors, going back to the dawn of life on Earth, suffered that normal misfortune. You spring from an unbroken line of winners...
It's this expandable capacity to represent reasons that we have that gives us a soul. But what's it made of? It's made of neurons. It's made of lots of tiny robots. And we can actually explain the structure and operation of that kind of soul, whereas an eternal, immortal, immaterial soul is just a metaphysical rug under which you sweep your embarrassment for not having any explanation.
Whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its member to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does!
You don't get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.
When people ask me what philosophy is, I say philosophy is what you do when you don't know what the right questions are yet. Once you get the questions right, then you go answer them, and that's typically not philosophy, that's one science or another. Anywhere in life where you find that people aren't quite sure what the right questions to ask are, what they're doing, then, is philosophy.
Wherever there is a design that is highly successful in a broad range of similar environments, it is apt to emerge again and again, independently - the phenomenon known in biology as convergent evolution. I call these designs 'good tricks.'
Highly technical philosophical arguments of the sort many philosophers favor are absent here. That is because I have a prior problem to deal with. I have learned that arguments, no matter how watertight, often fall on deaf ears. I am myself the author of arguments that I consider rigorous and unanswerable but that are often not such much rebutted or even dismissed as simply ignored.
We live in a world that is subjectively open. And we are designed by evolution to be "informavores", epistemically hungry seekers of information, in an endless quest to improve our purchase on the world, the better to make decisions about our subjectively open future.
The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it!
Let me lay my cards on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of even Newton or Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. It is not just a wonderful idea. It is a dangerous idea.
I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound. It was a useful crutch, but we've outgrown it. Denmark, according to a recent study, is the sanest, healthiest, happiest, most crime-free nation in the world, and by and large the Danes simply ignore the God issue. We should certainly hope that those who believe in belief are wrong, because belief is waning fast,... Read more »
Philosophers are never quite sure what they are talking about - about what the issues really are - and so often it takes them rather a long time to recognize that someone with a somewhat different approach (or destination, or starting point) is making a contribution.
If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.
The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight - that God is, like Santa Claus, a myth of childhood, not anything [that] a sane, undeluded adult could literally believe in. That God must either be turned into a symbol for something less concrete or abandoned altogether.
Postmodernism, the school of 'thought' that proclaimed 'There are no truths, only interpretations' has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for 'conversations' in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.
In fact, if you are faced with the prospect of running across an open field in which lightning bolts are going to be a problem, you are much better off if their timing and location are determined by something, since then they may be predictable by you, and hence avoidable. Determinism is the friend, not the foe, of those who dislike inevitability.
Virtually every major technological advance in the history of the human species- back to the invention of stone tools and the domestication of fire has been ethically ambiguous. If you want to reason about faith, and offer a reasoned (and reason responsive) defense of faith as an extra category of belief worthy of special consideration, I'm eager to play. I certainly grant the existence of the phenomenon of faith; what I want to see is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth , and not, say, just as a way people comfort... Read more »
For more than a century, people have often thought that the conclusion to draw from Darwin's vision is that Homo sapiens, our species - and we're just animals too, we're just mammals - that there is nothing morally special about us. I myself don't think this follows at all from Darwin's vision, but it is certainly the received view in many quarters.
I should emphasize this, to keep well-meaning but misguided multiculturalists at bay: the theoretical entities in which these tribal people frankly believe — the gods and other spirits — don't exist. These people are mistaken, and you know it as well as I do. It is possible for highly intelligent people to have a very useful but mistaken theory, and we don't have to pretend otherwise in order to show respect for these people and their ways.
... there could be talking bunny rabbits, spiders who write English messages in their webs, and for that matter, melancholy choo-choo trains. There could be, I suppose, but there aren't-so my theory doesn't have to explain them.
Those who feel guilty contemplating "betraying" the tradition they love by acknowledging their disapproval of elements within it should reflect on the fact that the very tradition to which they are so loyal—the "eternal" tradition introduced to them in their youth—is in fact the evolved product of many adjustments firmly but delicately made by earlier lovers of the same tradition.
I think that what one can see from a Darwinian account is how the addition of culture in our species turns us into a very special sort of animal, an animal that can be a moral agent in a way that no other animal can be.
Are zombies possible? They're not just possible, they're actual. We're all zombies. Nobody is conscious — not in the systematically mysterious way that supports such doctrines as epiphenomenalism. *It would be an act of desperate intellectual dishonesty to quote this assertion out of context!