Thursday, March 21, 2013

Confusion from Grayling and Kurzweil

South Cathedral
Back from a fascinating though largely unbloggable week in Beijing, which did however include attending Ned Phelps' conference on "Remaking the Chinese Economy for Innovation" It was great to meet Ned's fellow Nobel Laureate Alvin Roth and find that he did his PhD under as a graduate student at Stanford he took a class from our old family friend George Dantzig. And the deferred acceptance algorithm is a thing of beauty!

April's Prospect has arrived and the ludicrous AC Graying manages to make a fool of himself in reviewing Frans de Waal's The Bonobo and the Atheist.
  • He claims that Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake "for accepting the Copernican geocentric view" (even Wikipedia knows better than this!)
  • He claims that "if religion has its way, we would still believe that the earth is flat" because in 1615 a Cardinal justified a geocentric view with a quote from the Psalms (does Grayling really not understand the difference? apparently not!)
  • "Hitler was not an atheist - "Gott mit uns" said the legend on Wehrmacht belt buckles." This would be a (very weak) argument if Hitler had dreamed up the motto, but since this was the motto of the German army since Frederick 1st and appeared on every German helmet in the First World War we can only conclude that Hitler wasn't enough of an Atheist in 1935 to upset the entire German Military establishment by trashing their motto.
  • He says that belief in God is "equally contentless" as a belief in the Tooth Fairy. Now it is conceivable that belief in God is false, but to suggest that it is "contentless" is absurd (where are the great theologians, philosophers, scientists, saints, artists inspired by Tooth-Fairy-ology??)
  • He complains that "In England where 3% of the population go regularly to services of the state-established Chuch 26 bishops...sit in the House of Lords."  Of course 3% refers to the average number of people who attend in a given month ("regularly" could mean twice a year) but let that pass. It's hard to think of a good reason why these numbers should be comparable - does Grayling think that if 100% of the population went regularly to Cof E Church all the members of the House of Lords should be Bishops?  But as it happens there are 760 peers who sit in the House of Lords so 3.4% of Peers are Bishops.  By contrast 71% of peers are formally affiliated to political parties and the proportion of people who attend party political meetings on a monthly basis must be well under 1%.
He accepts that some atheists are "evangelical" or "militant" but clams that this is "because religious claims about the universe are false" (he can't seem to decide whether they are "false" or "contentless") - ignoring the obvious explanation that they do it because it makes their books sell and rakes in fame and millions.

But then it is the April issue of Prospect so perhaps it's an April Fool?

There is however a very good article by Raymond Tallis unpicking some of the confusions of Ray Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind. Tallis makes a number of very good points, including that the Turing Test leads to "the absurd conclusion that, if you are fooled into believing a macnine is consicous, that machine is aware and indeed self-aware as people are".  Sadly that article isn't yet on the website but I'll link when it is.

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