Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Updated ARN Author's Page and musings sparked by 'I, Robot' and A.J. Ayer!

Eddie at arn has kindly updated my featured author's page. It now features my article on the recent coverage of ID in Focus Magazine @

It also now features an updated book list of my publications with links to on-line book stores. New to this list is Back in Time: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Doctor Who (Damaris, 2005) and Truth Wars (Damaris, 2005), which is a multi author book in Damaris' new 'Talking About' series of books to which I contributed a chapter on philosopher David Hume. Also available is Sex and the Cynics: Talking about Love (Damaris, 2005), to which I contributed a chapter on philosopher Arthur Shopenheur.

I was recently comissioned to write chapters on 'Logical Positivism & A.J. Ayer' and on the film I, Robot for the next two 'Talking About' books, due out this year.

The latter has got me reading Issac Asimov's robot stories again, and noticing how his famous 'Three Laws' of robotics (a term he coined) are a good plot device because they are suficiently ambiguous to be interpreted any number of ways. For example, it's no good telling a robot that it can't 'harm' a human being if you don't define what actions would 'harm' a human. Hence, in the 2004 film starring Will Smith, the mastermind of a robot coup (I won't tell you which character that is, in case you want to watch it) thinks it is acting in humanity's best interest by imposing a totalitarian dictatorship in order to prevent people harming themselves by creating polution etc.; but in doing so it simply replaces one form of 'harm' with another that it fails to recognize! So the whole plot depends crucially upon the failure of a programmer to carefully define the meaning of 'harm' to include more than physical damage! This is a nice theoretical example of how the bredth of meaning of a term really can matter in a very pragmatic way! A recent real life example occured in Britain when the House of Lords sent back a government anti-terrorism bill because it contained the phrase 'the glorification of terrorism' (which the government wants to ban). The Lords suggested replacing 'glorification' with something about not being allowed to 'encourage' terrorism. Another example is when people criticise ID as not being 'scientific' when the term has so many competing definitions! ID is not scientific in the sense of the term used by its critics, because they define science in such as way as to exclude ID - but that doesn't mean ID isn't scientific in another, equally, or even more legitimate sense! If you define 'science' so that it excludes explaining anything with reference to intelligent design, then of course ID isn't 'science' in that sense of the term. But then neither is forensic science, or archaeology, or psychology, or cryptography or SETI! Just as the logical positivist's failed to define their now notorious verification priciple in such a way as to exclude religious claims whilst including scientific claims, so the definitional critics of ID fail to define 'science' in such a way as to exclude ID while including claims that even they admit are scientific.

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