Rationalists of East Tennessee Newsletter

December 2008


Round Table
Dec. 7, 2008 10:30 am - 12:30 pm
Pellissippi State Technical
Community College, Goins Administration Building,
Cafeteria Annex

"Current Debates over Freedom of Religion and Belief"

UT professor Rosalind Hackett will lead the discussion. Rosalind Hackett spoke to RET many years ago and proved to be a very interesting and knowledgeable person.

The talk will focus on the topic of proselytizing (the subject of the speaker's latest book) and how mission thrusts introduce tensions between freedom of expression and freedom of religion. In some instances this has led to serious conflict and/or new forms of (il)legal regulation. We will inevitably also talk about the Danish cartoon controversy.

Dave will be reading the book "Stella and the Berry Thief" by Jane B. Mason. Stella never shares
her raspberry preserves or pies with anyone other than the judges at the annual county fair, where
she always wins blue ribbons. When a bear steals all of her berries and then shares his favorite secret berry patch deep in the forest with her, she decides to share her preserves and pies with her neighbors.


Skeptic Book Club
Dec. 14, 2008 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 8029 Kingston Pike

"1491, New Revelations of the America's Before Columbus," by Charles C. Mann
(Discussion Leader: Chuck Janack)

January book Age of Reason by Thomas Paine


Annual Winter Solstice Party

Dec. 20, 2008 6:30 - 10:30 p.m.

Phil and Sharron King's home - Potluck. Please let them know if you will be attending.


Third Sunday       No Meeting
Dec. 21, 2008

There will be no RET Meeting on this date.


Freewill and Determinism (continued)

As pointed out in earlier newsletters the two biggest problems encountered in discussions about freewill and determinism are the terms "freewill" and "determinism".

Does determinism mean that since the big bang or before everything was determined? Was there just a random "butterfly effect" that set the pattern for the big bang? And, of course, was it the "Big Guy" and is "he" just a cog in the deterministic machine? Basically this position leaves just two choices, a giant impersonal machine or a big guy with a plan.

Let's go with the machine idea first. If the universe is a sort of quantum machine, a sort of "vast pinball machine," no one knows how to read the essentially infinite number of interactions adequately enough to know where all of the "balls" will bounce. To fully analyze the universe or possibly multi-universes would require something more complex than the universe(s). For all practical purposes this deterministic universe is very un-deterministic, at the scale that makes the concept useful in any sense of understanding human decision making or human action/interaction. That is not to say that general trends and tendencies can't be projected or observed or behavior modified. It is just saying that they cannot be understood based on the cascade of quantum and molecular events since the "beginning" of the universe (unless the "analyzer" is greater than the universe itself).

In short, the universe is likely deterministic, but, so what? We have issues that supersede that detail. We have to function in a world that involves complex interactions with other people. That necessitates the concepts of responsibility and value (personal and material) in a social context. We have to function in a physical reality that is only understood to a very limited degree. We have to function within the limits of our current evolutionary state. That state may prove to be extensive or even greatly expandable but still not an omnipotent one. Therefore we must use conceptual tools to create a "virtual" reality of functionality. We have to devise shortcuts to compensate for our lack of infinite knowledge and understanding. This boils down to a process of discovering what works and how well we evaluate "success." This discovering and evaluating is not static but a dynamic evolving system. Environmental adaptation still rules and to complicate the matter, part of the environment is the never-static system of new discoveries and more complex and experienced evaluation.

Philosopher Michael Ruse stated when in Knoxville (and elsewhere), that freewill is a useful illusion. How does that fit in with the above?

More next month.

Carl Ledendecker


Feel free to submit news of interest. Submissions are welcomed but may be limited by space and topic relevance. The format may vary depending on the amount of information submitted. Short submissions are preferred but longer ones may be accepted if they can be published as a series over two or more issues. Text or Word format are best for submission. Text may also be included in an E-mail. Carl Ledendecker at:   (ledendecker@earthlink.net)  2123 Stonybrook Rd., Louisville, TN 3777   982-8687 evenings

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Material published in The RET Newsletter represents the views of the individual authors.  Publication does not constitute an endorsement by the Rationalists of East Tennessee or its members.