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« Prayer Request for Greg's Trip to Italy | Main | Three-Judge Panel Strikes Down Prop 8 »

February 07, 2012

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"As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software."

What a load of equine dung.

Our brains may not work the same as a computer, but since they both follow the laws of Physics and I do not hold my Mac Book morally responsible for errors, I should not be held morally responsible?

When my PC does stuff I really don't think is right, I turn it off, and if very wrong disasssmble and trash it. Am I now morally able to physically disassemble people and dispose of them. After all, other people follow the laws of Physics. Dawkins said so. I guess murder is just a form of aggressive hardware retirement.

Retribution is but one purpose of punishment.

The others are incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and restitution.

These others all serve the interests of past and future victims.

Retribution serves nobody.

By the way, we can include future perpetrators among the future victims.

(Just think of what punishment is.)

RonH

I found this quote by Dawkins to be most telling...

When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

...because it clearly shows that he believes in final causuality even if he would deny it! That's right, when a computer breaks, we track down the problem and fix it. But we can only do that because we know what the norm is for a computer- how it was deisgned to run! With this quote, he is admitting that, just like computers, human brains have a final cause or an end goal that they are directed towards. If the brain does not seem to be working correctly in the direction of that goal, we must fix it.

How ironic that while trying to argue for determinism, he has only given evidence of teleology and a designer...

Austin,

Dawkins is saying that the behavior of the brain, like that of the computer, can be modified. There is nothing counter to determinism here.

RonH

RonH,

My comment wasn't meant to show any counter to determinism, only that while he failed miserably to show determinism true, he also unwisely admitted to something that he wouldn't do explicitly: that the human brain, like a computer, has a purpose or final cause. If this weren't the case, he wouldn't use the word "fix" as if there is some ideal toward which the brain should be closer to.

Austin,

You said he tried to argue for determinism. The use of try implied to me that something in what he said worked against this trying. I'd say he assumed determinism.

Anyway, the 'fix' Dawkins refers to is a change to the guilty party's brain to serve the protection of the interests of his victims.

And the fix we apply to a computer (while we refrain from wailing on it) is analogous.

The problem with the OP's approach (and yours) is that you are so anxious to show up Dawkins that you haven't listened to what he said.

He doesn't argue against prison or even the death penalty but only against their use as retribution.

RonH

While being a Christian I have rational problems with the concept of God being a Judge serving death penalties. I too believe that the purpose of retribution is to help the perpetrator to change his behavior. What good comes from eternal penalty? Will anyone feel better that the justice was served?

When we bring up our children we do not punish them because we believe thez deserve the punishment. We do it in hope that it will serve them well in the long run.

Good conclusion, Amy:

If you find that not even you can live in the worldview you promote—if much of what seems to be true can only be laughably false in your world—rather than playing the illusion card, why not go back a few steps and consider where you might have gone wrong?

----


Austin, good point about Dawkins and his admission of final causes.

----
RonH,
You are making their points ....

Anyway, the 'fix' Dawkins refers to is a change to the guilty party's brain to serve the protection of the interests of his victims.

You are so eager to disagree with STR and Austin that you are not listening to them or to Dawkins.
They didn't say he argued against punishment, they said he has undermined his fawlty worldview with his argument.
Just as you do when you argue about what human justice demands and how third party restoration is unjust and when you use the word "guilty" above, just as Dawkins had said "fix".

As per Lewis, there is nothing more unjust than catching a person and throwing him in jail, killing him, or fixing him, if he has done nothing wrong.

The worldview is wrong and the defences reveal that.

Daron,

By 'guilty' I just meant they did it.

That's not undermining anything; it's a given.

I considered changing the phrasing to avoid this exact silliness.

But then I thought: If they can stand to be that silly, I can stand to watch.

RonH

Isn't the justice system societal retribution against an alternate morality statement?

If the brain is a machine, and there is an area of it that makes people believe in God, can we not fix it by shutting down that part?

Resorting to ad hominem on your first retort?
Another admission.

If "guilty" means "they did it" you have not at all answered Austin's question about "fixing" the brain.
Everybody did something so we are all equally "guilty" on this view (in other words, no one is guilty) so there is nothing to "fix".
There is only some sci-fi horror of forced or coerced neurological adjustment for convenience.

Everybody did something so we are all equally "guilty" on this view (in other words, no one is guilty) so there is nothing to "fix".

-------
Would that not mean everyone was broken and needed repair?

Daron,

I like it much better when we agree :)

RonH,

I second Daron's objections to your comments.

alex,

If the brain is a machine, and there is an area of it that makes people believe in God, can we not fix it by shutting down that part?

Well once again, we would have to show some kind of reason as to why that needed "fixing" in the first place. I suppose if we somehow learned how to "fix" God-belief then they could forcefully do it to us.

Certainly we are all 'guilty' in the sense that we have done things others have good reason to punish us for. So?

I don't know what question you refer to. Is this question based on this notion that Dawkins' use of fix is some kind of admission?

This is hardly the first time I have seen the tactic of claiming that the use of a word of phrase constitutes some admission or other.

The tactic violates the principle of charity but I prefer to call it silly.

So I apologize for the ad hom. Here is a correction: If they can stand to DO that silly, I can stand to watch.

RonH

I'm probably out of my depth... but I have to disagree with Austin on what he found most telling. I don't think focusing on a bad analogy gets you any closer to the point Dawkins was trying to make. If Dawkins was available, I would ask for a better analogy. Clearly we don't punish computers because we don't treat computers like people. Being a software engineer, I know that the computer doesn't receive punishment - the people that made the program get punished. If they don't get punished, the person suffering that the hands of the computer wishes that they would.

jw,

Dawkins is saying: know why you punish and punish for good reason.

He's is saying punish to prevent (death, prison); punish them to deter others; punish to rehabilitate (if it works); punish them to compensate victims (restitution).

But don't punish for retribution (for kicks).

RonH

RonH,

I see your point. But can't retribution be seen as a valid reason on your list - to deter? Can't people who act without fear of retribution be considered undeterred from their action?

On a different note - it seems like there are two different subjects. There's "justice" and there's "Justice". I see those as two different concepts, probably with different notions of physical laws involved. I don't think the "justice" of which Dawkins speaks (where the brain is bound by only physical laws) can "justly" be applied to the "Justice" case .

jw


"Clearly we don't punish computers because we don't treat computers like people"

Hey, speak for yourself. I beat mine like it owes me money. At least, I did until I got Windows 7. Now we've achieved a sort of detente. Too bad I'm too busy (*cough*lazy) to learn Linux

Anyway, can we all just agree that if Richard Dawkins opens his mouth, and the noise his meme-generator produces isn't related to selling books or out-of-date microbio that it's probably going to be nonsense? I'd be more interested in seeing responses to some guys like, say, Peter Singer, who make at *least* equally inflammatory points, but have the cognitive and educational capacities to give them a little more substance than the sort of talking-junk-over-a-pint fare that Richie D provides. He's almost become a straw man at this point in his media darling phase.

Deterrence happens in the one who might do the punishable thing.

Retribution/vengeance is a feeling in a third party (e.g. the one doing the punishment) or in the victim.

As victims and third parties we can be interested in seeing the guilty punished without taking pleasure in their suffering.

Think of the parent says: This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you. (I'm against hitting people including kids, but the sentiment is there: this is not vengeance.)

As far as justice goes I'll have to think about it. The word doesn't appear in Dawkins' piece.

By the way, I think I see a point of inconsistency in that piece. In the first paragraph, he seems to accept rehab and deterrence as good reasons to punish. But in the third he wants us to 'laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal' apparently without regard to reason. I doubt that he meant it that way. In any case, I think we have good reasons to punish.


RonH

It's a faulty premise from the start from Dawkins "Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component?

His analogy is false and a logical fallacy. Men are not machines period. Dawkins has given us a wonderful example of the mess they get into when Scientific athiests attempt apply their secular philosophies to ethics and morals into our "biological machines" You can't have it both ways. If we are just biological machines then how he can you say the rapist is "defective" as Dawkins can't lay claim to any higher authority to decide what is defective and what is not when it comes to the moral operation of the machine.

Andrew,

In either case, man or computer, the word 'defect' means 'feature at odds with desired behavior'.

We don't want a fire on our desk. So we call the laptop battery defective. We don't want the rape. So we call the rapist defective.

There is no 'higher authority' laid claim to and none required for us to talk this way.

RonH

>> "If you find that not even you can live in the worldview you promote—if much of what seems to be true can only be laughably false in your world—rather than playing the illusion card, why not go back a few steps and consider where you might have gone wrong?"

whoever said the true nature of reality had to jive with human experience.

in fact, we would expect the to be quite disjunctive.

relativity, quantum mechanics, optical illusions, cognitive biases...

Bennett,
You made me laugh!

Hey, speak for yourself. I beat mine like it owes me money.


---


Hi RonH,
Here you go again ...

Certainly we are all 'guilty' in the sense that we have done things others have good reason to punish us for. So?
"Punish"?
How can others have good reasons to punish us if Dawkins' worldview is correct? Punishment is retribution, of course. It is not "fixing".

As you continue:

In either case, man or computer, the word 'defect' means 'feature at odds with desired behavior'.
Exactly. This is all Dawkins has a right to say on his worldview ... that someone desires a behaviour and catches someone else thwarting hi desires and he punishes that person for it.
In Dawkins' world, where, yes, he has said let's go ahead, violate reason, and lock these people up or fix them. He admits he is doing so and that this is inconsistent with his world view. He admits the same when he says he takes credit for his book-writing as though he were actually the author and praiseworthy agent behind them.
As Amy said, the worldview claims have him admitting to living with delusions. So he ought to doubt the worldview.

We don't want a fire on our desk. So we call the laptop battery defective. We don't want the rape. So we call the rapist defective.
This is where you follow the worldview rightly. You've assigned power to a majority, or an elite group, to decide what "we" want and you act out the will to power. When there is no right and wrong this is all you have. But this is not, as per the OP, our shared sense of reality. In reality, evil really is evil, defects are actually that and we fix things to make them more closely conform to their intended purposes.

RonH,

Whoa, there.

You need to refresh yourself on what the definition of retribution is.

Why do you have a problem with retribution? Where did you get the faulty idea that it was for “kicks”?

Retribution: Punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved.

If a father wants retribution against the person that raped and murdered his 8 year old daughter, and gets it – a specific need of his may be satisfied.

He may disagree that retribution "serves nobody" as you said. And who is in the position to know? You or him?

ToNy,

Why would we expect the true nature of reality to be disjunctive?

You point out some quirks in how we measure or perceive things, but there's two problems there off the top of my head.

1) We did figure out that those things are quirks, which would suggest that, while they may have initially appeared as paradoxes, they were in fact able to be resolved.

2) If in fact reality is disjunctive, how do you manage to reason from those (or any) evidences to your (or any other) conclusion?

Being "sane men in an insane universe" is a nice turn of phrase, especially in hard boiled or speculative fiction, but it doesn't hold up well to scrutiny.

So repeat rapist should not be punished because repeat imprisonment isn't fixing them?

well her quote was

"if much of what seems to be true can only be laughably false in your world—rather than playing the illusion card, why not go back a few steps and consider where you might have gone wrong"

and indeed, much of what seems to be true, is laughably false.

and playing the "illusion card" is a big part of life.

as in the case of, say, optical illusions.

KWM,

Where'd you get "the" definition?

See any others?

I stand.

RonH

Punishment is retribution, of course. It is not "fixing".

See my first.

RonH

On sinking sand.
http://www.beyondintractability.org/node/2377


Here's Lewis saying better everything I will be repeating throughout this discussion:
http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html

I saw it all, RonH.
I'll be back in about 6 hours to see if you've conjured any evidence that Amy or Austin misread Dawkins, said he was advocating for no punishment, or otherwise misrepresented him.
Or to see if you have defended punishing people who have done no wrong.

ToNy,

I think she was referring to the presence of formal or informal fallacies in one's Big Picture, not more literal, physical illusions. I don't disagree that sometimes life can be counterintuitive, but that doesn't make it disjunctive. It may just mean we're not reasoning or perceiving clearly in that particular instance. Seeing through a glass darkly, if you will.

RonH,

1. requital according to merits or deserts, especially for evil.
2. something given or inflicted in such requital.
3. something justly deserved; recompense.
4. something given or demanded in repayment, especially punishment.

Nothing on "just for kicks". So, why does the above "serve nobody" as you said in a previous post?

And in my example, whom is better to assess who is served? You are or victim's father?

ya by default we don't perceive the behavior of the cosmos as it actually is (in many domains)

The corollary to Dawkin's analogy is that if the car isn't doing what we want how we want, we throw it out and get a new one. The car has no value except in its utility.

The basis of morality is that things - and especially people - have value apart from their utility.

Note also that utility is, and must be, subjective.

Ponder the consequences of this difference.

ToNy,

Precisely! And we're capable of noticing that. We can see behind the curtain. If we couldn't, we'd never scratch our heads and go "Huh, that's weird"; we'd just toddle on our merry way accepting it all, like pigs in slop. We kick rocks and see what's underneath them, it's a big part of the fun in being human.

KWM,

I'll withdraw 'kicks' ok? For a moment, I thought it was an interesting stand in for 'vengeance' - which I keep.

From the OED entry on retributive justice:

1916 R. W. Sellars Next Step in Democracy viii. 165 Gradually retributive justice was taken in hand by the social group in a formal manner and the right to private revenge banned.

2009 Providence (Rhode Island) Jrnl.-Bull. (Nexis) 5 July 2 Restorative justice is about relationships. Retributive justice is about revenge, which too often merely continues a cycle of harm.

Most people deny determinism and think there for that the guilty 'deserve' to be punished as if they could have done otherwise.

Many such people write stuff as you and Daron have proven. But writing doesn't make them right.

RonH

But writing doesn't make them right.
That's for sure.

For instance:


Retribution serves nobody.
...
The problem with the OP's approach (and yours) is that you are so anxious to show up Dawkins that you haven't listened to what he said.
...
The tactic violates the principle of charity but I prefer to call it silly.
He's is saying punish to prevent (death, prison); punish them to deter others; punish to rehabilitate (if it works); punish them to compensate victims (restitution).
...
But don't punish for retribution (for kicks).

And, once before....

Daron,
Outside of Christian theology restitution is not punishment.

Malebranche,
TL;DR

RonH

Posted by: RonH | April 28, 2010 at 10:59 AM

Earlier I mentioned that:

I'll be back in about 6 hours to see if you've conjured any evidence that Amy or Austin misread Dawkins, said he was advocating for no punishment, or otherwise misrepresented him.
Or to see if you have defended punishing people who have done no wrong.

Bennett,

recall the quote:

"If you find that not even you can live in the worldview you promote—if much of what seems to be true can only be laughably false in your world—rather than playing the illusion card, why not go back a few steps and consider where you might have gone wrong?"

Much of what seems to be true indeed is laughably false.

And this would be the expectation -- if all this "materialists stuff" were true

Here's a pretty good quote from geoffrey miller:

“Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.
The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. The sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses. .. .”
The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others.
Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I know these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”
Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl's truth-seeking genes—which may discover some rather ugly truths—out-compete Candide's wonderful story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.
Runaway sexual selection for ideological entertainment would not have produced accurate belief-systems, except by accident. If ideological displays were favored as fitness indicators, the only truth they had to convey was truth about fitness. They need not be accurate world-models any more than the eyes of a peacock's tail need to represent real eyes.”

(Geoffrey Miller - The Mating Mind)

And who's to say that Carl and Candide aren't both right?

Carl is insane.

He may be right, but he has absolutely no reason for his statement. Any primate who thought that his position was provably correct would be killed off because they were too stupid not to try to take up a fascination saber-tooth dentistry.

Well the blog post was on Materialism vs. Christianity

And in a materialist paradigm, this is one example of where true statements about the cosmos would not necessarily be selected for.

ToNy,

How would natural selection determine the content of our thoughts, or vice versa? The question isn't even settled whether genes determine phenotype, or phenotypes use genes as a "recorder", or they influence one another, or each individual's choices affect both, or societal values decide which go forward, or the whole thing is a complicated interplay.

I really fail to see a straight line between my genes and what I think about the metaphysical or chemical properties of the sun.

Miller would contend that a worldview in which we go to disneyland when we die, is more sexually attractive than a worldview in which we merely get eaten by maggots when we die.

which i tend to agree with as, in my experience, the WORST thing that you can tell a girl in a nightclub is you're an atheist.

You get a much better result when you tell them you're "spiritual"

whatever that means.

ToNy,

There's a social stigma attached to being an atheist, especially amongst women (who on the whole are more likely to be Christian, and also more likely to be 'spiritual'. Because chicks are better than dudes, science fact)

But your truth claim wasn't selected for, in any genetic fashion. Neither of my parents are atheists, but that doesn't stop me from being one. If I and my wife are Mormon, is my kid *genetically* Mormon? Thinking that genes = religion (and vice versa) is a thought that came out of Weimar Germany, and can stay there.

he's saying men who held the more sexually attractive world view would have had more sex.

Over time, this would result in a child whose brain was more likely to subscribe to spiritual beliefs.

ToNy,

As Carl might have said to Candide, "It's a nice story, but what's the evidence?"

Well he's pretty much the top evolutionary psychologist in the world. (second maybe to David Buss). So I dunno, i'm sure he'd have a lot to offer on that question.

As for me, i'm pretty skeptical of evolution still. But given that the multi-million dollar tarot card, astrology, and romance novel genre of products are almost exclusively female ventures, his theory ain't too hard to swallow.

But note Amys original quote:

"If you find that not even you can live in the worldview you promote—if much of what seems to be true can only be laughably false in your world—rather than playing the illusion card, why not go back a few steps and consider where you might have gone wrong?"

And "materialists" reasons as described above, may nicely answer this question i think.

"But given that the multi-million dollar tarot card, astrology, and romance novel genre of products are almost exclusively female ventures..."

Wow. Just... wow. So what're you saying about women, here? They're too fluffy-brained to tell reality from fantasy, and thus men who tell them pleasant lies will have an easier time mating? I wonder what Melinda or Amy would say to that...

And before you hop to say I'm constructing a straw man there, lemme just point out that the field of evolutionary psychology is *rife* with baseless sexism. Usually from undergrads who say things like "It's natural for me to want lots of women, it's how our cave ancestors were," while wearing glasses and listening to their iPod. It's a 'science' based largely on speculation and very little on solid observation. And I say that, honestly, as a big fan of using evolutionary biology as a tool in determining, say, health and fitness regimens. It's just not terribly useful as a form of anthropology or ethics.

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