The Practicing StoicThe title of this post, as you’ve probably noticed, is a variation on Jordan Peterson’s recently released book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. I think a better title for Peterson’s book would actually have been 12 Judeo-Christian Rules for Life, due to the overemphasis on biblical scripture and religious themes.

Nonetheless, despite the major issues with Peterson’s book, there is clearly a demand for a set of guiding principles on how to live the good life. The question is, if Peterson’s work falls short, what’s the alternative?

The answer, I believe, is found in Stoicism, an ancient philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in early 3rd century BC Athens. Stoicism teaches a kind of self-mastery where “virtue is the only good” and externals—such as health, wealth, and fame—are neither good nor bad independent from how we judge them.

Continue reading “12 (Stoic) Rules For Life: An Antidote to Delusion”

Fatal Discord by Michael MassingI’ll start by saying that if you’re a fan of intellectual history you will almost certainly enjoy Fatal Discord. Michael Massing is a fantastic writer and this work, despite being over 800 pages, is always interesting and never dull.

The Amazon description presents the book as a dual biography of Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, but it also contains several biographical sketches of prominent figures like St. Augustine, St. Paul, Thomas More, St. Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, Lorenzo Valla, William Tyndale, and more.

In chronicling the lives of Luther, Erasmus, and others, Massing provides a complete intellectual history of the Reformation and immerses the reader in the life and culture of 15th and early 16th century Europe.

Continue reading “Review of Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind”

The Order of Time Carlo RovelliIn The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli sticks to the theme that reality is not what it seems, in this case focusing entirely on the concept of time.

In a sense, the history of science can be described as an uncompromising assault on intuition and common sense. The Earth appears flat and stationary, but in reality spins and soars through space at 67,000 miles per hour. Humans appear to be a species of their own special creation, but in reality are simply naturally evolved primates.

These ideas are familiar by now, but they were revolutionary at the time of their discovery. What Rovelli is pointing out is that science may not be done with us yet—the next assault on our common sense might be the revelation of a world without time.

Continue reading “Why Time is a Psychological Construct and Not a Fundamental Part of the Universe”

The Beginning of InfinityExpanding on the work of Karl Popper, The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch represents what may be considered the definitive work of the philosophy of science for the twenty-first century. What follows is a brief outline of that philosophy.

In general, Deutsch is making the claim that knowledge and biological adaptation share a similar history of development (although they are much different in other important ways). In terms of biological adaptation, variation in genes results in different biological forms which are then selected via the process of natural selection. The information needed to assemble biological forms is contained within the genes.

Continue reading “The Beginning of Infinity: How David Deutsch is Carrying on the Work of Karl Popper”

The Clockwork UniverseAn entertaining and fast-moving historical narrative of the scientific revolution, including fascinating insights into the lives of Isaac Newton, Leibniz, Galileo, Johannes Kepler, and more.

There are many ways to make a science book tedious and dull. You could include too many equations, too much biographical detail, or otherwise get caught up in dry, lifeless writing. This is definitely not the case with The Clockwork Universe.

Edward Dolnick gets the proportion of biography, science, and history exactly right, giving the reader the full picture of the people and culture of the times and also the revolutionary nature of the science itself. The writing is vibrant, succinct, and conveys just the right amount of scientific detail.

Continue reading “Review of The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World”

The Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsI should start by stating the obvious, that The Selfish Gene is a terrible choice for the title. It sends entirely the wrong message and gives people an excuse not to read the book. This, of course, was not lost on Richard Dawkins, as he would later admit that three better alternative titles would have been The Cooperative Gene, The Immortal Gene, or The Altruistic Vehicle.

In the title The Selfish Gene, the emphasis should be on “gene,” not on “selfish,” as there is no gene that codes for selfishness. But Dawkins should have anticipated the confusion and the tendency for critics to use this against him (without reading, as Dawkins said, the footnote to the title, which is the book). Nothing screams social darwinism more than the The Selfish Gene, even though the book is clearly anti-social darwinism in content.

Continue reading “The Immortal Gene: How Our Bodies Act as Temporary Vehicles for DNA”

The God Argument by A.C. GraylingIn The God Argument, A.C. Grayling, a British philosopher, examined all of the arguments for religious belief and the belief in god, showing how they all fail on both theoretical and empirical grounds. Grayling also provided a compelling humanistic alternative to the religious worldview, a way of living based on intellectual integrity, the respect for reason and evidence, and the desire to do good and be good. The question is, does Grayling succeed in what he set out to accomplish? Can the God argument be refuted?

In regard to the arguments for god’s existence, there are many easy targets (the ontological argument), and, to my mind, one strong one (the cosmological argument). If the case for god’s existence is to be refuted, we need to address the strongest argument, which I’ll try to present and respond to here.

Continue reading “A.C. Grayling on the Case Against Religion and for Humanism”

Why I Am Not a ChristianIn Why I Am Not a Christian, Bertrand Russell set out to explain why he does not believe in god or immortality and why he does not believe Jesus was the best and wisest of men. He demonstrates why the belief in god is circular and how religious “morality” is mostly based on fear.

But Russell could have also wrote an essay titled Why I am Not an Agnostic, as he presented a problem known as Russell’s teapot that is hard to reconcile with agnosticism, and is partly the reason I have changed my mind on the topic (and now consider “atheist” to be the more appropriate label for expressing nonbelief). Here’s how Russell described it:

Continue reading “Why I Am Not an Agnostic: Russell’s Teapot and the Problem with Agnosticism”

The Presocratic PhilosophersThales of Miletus, a presocratic philosopher born in 626 BCE, proposed that the underlying, fundamental substance of all matter was water, while his student Anaximander thought the substance was an indefinite material called Apeiron. Anaximenes, Anaximander’s student, disagreed with both and thought the fundamental substance was air, while Heraclitus disagreed with everyone and thought the substance was fire.

This is not, on the surface, a particularly impressive list of accomplishments for a group of philosophers. But, as has been pointed out many times, what is impressive is that each philosopher had their own elaborate naturalistic arguments in favor of their preferred explanation, in an age where beliefs were dominated by supernatural interpretations.

Continue reading “How the Presocratic Philosophers Invented Critical Rationalism (and How to Overcome Tribalism)”