Saturday, January 24, 2015

Science and Philosophy

An interesting debate is beginning to take shape among scientists and philosophers over something called the "demarcation problem." This is the problem of defining exactly what criteria a theory has to meet in order to be considered a scientific theory.

Most people are of the opinion that scientific theories are theories that can be tested and which make predictions which can be confirmed or falsified, but a number of scientists, having grown fond of theories that don't lend themselves to these critieria, wish to exempt those favored theories from the criteria that apply to the rest of science. An article at Motherboard discusses the debate. Here's their lede:
Physics, cosmology in particular, is at an interesting and potentially dangerous crossroads, as argued in a ​recent, sharp piece in Nature by physicists Joseph Silk and George Ellis. In short, it would appear that theory, particularly neat-o ideas like string theory and the multiverse, has reached the outer limits of provability. We can't access the higher dimensions of string theory, nor can we observe (or not observe) our would-be sibling universes. Their fate is idea limbo, forever between notion and fact.

String theory and the multiverse are concepts that by definition defy experimentation, and yet a small movement within cosmology is attempting to make the case that they should be exempt. At stake, according to Ellis and Silk, is the integrity of science itself.

"This battle for the heart and soul of physics is opening up at a time when scientific results—in topics from climate change to the theory of evolution—are being questioned by some politicians and religious fundamentalists," the pair writes. "Potential damage to public confidence in science and to the nature of fundamental physics needs to be contained by deeper dialogue between scientists and philosophers."
Ellis and Silk are right about this, I think, but their examples are unfortunately ill-chosen. The reason both climate change and evolution are questioned by a lot of people - not just politicians and religious fundamentalists - is precisely because predictions of the former and the basic claims of the latter disqualify themselves from being considered scientific.

Climate change proponents predicted twenty years ago that global temperatures were going to rise steeply during the ensuing decades, but they haven't. The failure of the prediction should cause a reassessment of the theory, but so far there's been no apparent inclination on the part of proponents to undertake such a reassessment which suggests that the theory is being held more as a religious conviction than a scientific belief.

Evolutionary theory, at least of the sort which goes under the name "Neo-Darwinian," holds as its fundamental claim that natural processes and forces alone have produced all the various forms of life on earth without any input from any intelligent agent. This is not a scientific claim because there's no way to test it, nor can one imagine any empirical data which would conclusively show it to be false. It's therefore a metaphysical theory not a scientific hypothesis.

In any case, Motherboard continues:
Another voice within this movement [to broaden the criteria for scientific theories] is that of philosopher and theorist Richard Dawid. Dawid argues that we can use probability as a stand-in for experiment. That is, using Bayesian analysis, it's possible to determine the probability that a set of facts fits a theory. If the probability is good enough, we can chuck testability.
This is another unfortunate illustration because if Bayesian analysis is allowed to replace empirical testability then claims for the existence of God must be counted among scientific hypotheses, since many arguments for God's existence rely on Bayesian analysis. These arguments show, rather compellingly in my view, that God's existence is more probable than His non-existence. That being so, if being analyzable in terms of Bayes' Theorem is to provide us with an adequate crierion for determining what's scientific then much of natural theology, and certainly Intelligent Design, must be included under the rubric of science.
In essence, [Dawid is] arguing that theorized discoveries can be taken as evidence for fundamental theories. If we had the capability of conducting some experiment, it would probably have this outcome because the mathematics works out. Ellis and Silk argue simply that that's not good enough, for theoretical physics or any science.

The situation is similar for multiverse theories, which explain the fundamental constants of the universe (why everything is "just right" for human life) away as unspecial by claiming that in fact there are an infinite number of parallel universes composed of not just every alternative for those constants, but also any possibility for anything. Choices are never made in this reality, only new universes. There is an entire realm that exists in which I got two slices of pizza for lunch instead of three, and there is an entire realm that exists in which the strong force isn't strong enough to form atomic nuclei. Cool.

"Billions of universes—and of galaxies and copies of each of us—accumulate with no possibility of communication between them or of testing their reality," Ellis and Silk write. "But if a duplicate self exists in every multiverse domain and there are infinitely many, which is the real 'me' that I experience now? Is any version of oneself preferred over any other? How could 'I' ever know what the 'true' nature of reality is if one self favours the multiverse and another does not?" Stoners, beware.

"Post-empirical science is an oxymoron," the pair concludes.
Motherboard finishes their piece with a very interesting statement:
The scientific high-ground is at stake, with an ocean of pseudoscientists ready to flood the landscape, taking the public with them. The answer, according to the current paper, lies in a simple question. What observational or experimental evidence is there that would convince a theorist that their theory is wrong? If there is none, then the theory is not a scientific theory.
Precisely. Which is why so much of macroevolutionary darwinism is thought to be unscientific by such a large number of people.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Hard Problem

Why can't the most brilliant minds, The Guardian asks, solve the mystery of consciousness?

In a nutshell, the problem of consciousness is the problem of trying to explain what consciousness is and how it is produced in the brain.

When we look at a piece of red fabric, for example, all sorts of electrochemical reactions ensue causing us to perceive red, but that perception, the experience of redness, is not an electrochemical reaction, it's not physical at all. No one examining the brain of a person looking at the fabric would see red anywhere in the brain, so what exactly is going on when we see a color, or smell a fragrance, or hear a sound? No one knows.

This is called the "Hard Problem" of consciousness (as opposed to the easier problems such as mapping which parts of the brain are active when we have various experiences). The Hard Problem is explaining what those experiences are in the first place.

The Guardian piece is a little long, but it gives some interesting background on how the problem gained the attention of philosophers back in the 1990s. Here's the lede:
One spring morning in Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, an unknown philosopher named David Chalmers got up to give a talk on consciousness, by which he meant the feeling of being inside your head, looking out – or, to use the kind of language that might give a neuroscientist an aneurysm, of having a soul. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, the young Australian academic was about to ignite a war between philosophers and scientists, by drawing attention to a central mystery of human life – perhaps the central mystery of human life – and revealing how embarrassingly far they were from solving it.

The scholars gathered at the University of Arizona – for what would later go down as a landmark conference on the subject – knew they were doing something edgy: in many quarters, consciousness was still taboo, too weird and new agey to take seriously, and some of the scientists in the audience were risking their reputations by attending. Yet the first two talks that day, before Chalmers’s, hadn’t proved thrilling. “Quite honestly, they were totally unintelligible and boring – I had no idea what anyone was talking about,” recalled Stuart Hameroff, the Arizona professor responsible for the event. “As the organiser, I’m looking around, and people are falling asleep, or getting restless.”

He grew worried. “But then the third talk, right before the coffee break – that was Dave.” With his long, straggly hair and fondness for all-body denim, the 27-year-old Chalmers looked like he’d got lost en route to a Metallica concert. “He comes on stage, hair down to his butt, he’s prancing around like Mick Jagger,” Hameroff said. “But then he speaks. And that’s when everyone wakes up.”

The brain, Chalmers began by pointing out, poses all sorts of problems to keep scientists busy. How do we learn, store memories, or perceive things? How do you know to jerk your hand away from scalding water, or hear your name spoken across the room at a noisy party? But these were all “easy problems”, in the scheme of things: given enough time and money, experts would figure them out.

There was only one truly hard problem of consciousness, Chalmers said. It was a puzzle so bewildering that, in the months after his talk, people started dignifying it with capital letters – the Hard Problem of Consciousness – and it’s this: why on earth should all those complicated brain processes feel like anything from the inside? Why aren’t we just brilliant robots, capable of retaining information, of responding to noises and smells and hot saucepans, but dark inside, lacking an inner life? And how does the brain manage it? How could the 1.4kg lump of moist, pinkish-beige tissue inside your skull give rise to something as mysterious as the experience of being that pinkish-beige lump, and the body to which it is attached?
Not all philosophers are as impressed with this problem as Chalmers is, of course. Those philosophers who are materialists (who believe that everything is reducible to matter) don't think there's a problem here at all. They argue that your sensations, ideas, self-awareness, etc. are all just the product of neurons firing in certain ways. They may be right, but they have no explanation for how the physical, material phenomena of an electrical current flowing along a nerve and transmitted across a synapse by molecules results in the experience of pain. Indeed, it's hard to see how the sensation of pain can be simply a material phenomenon.

Anyway, there's a lot more on this fascinating topic at the link.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Unending War

Thomas Albert Howard at Patheos reminds us that the current conflict between Muslims and Europeans is not a new phenomenon, but actually the most recent recrudescence of a war that has been raging for about 1300 years and will continue to rage as long as Muslims have the power to wage it. Here's the heart of his piece:
Europe’s conflicts with Islam—the reminders of which present themselves to the discerning eye—are not new but stretch back centuries.

At its height, the Ottoman Empire, the last great Islamic caliphate, reached far into central Europe, into the Balkans and up to present-day Hungary. Twice “the Turks” unsuccessfully besieged Vienna, once in 1529 and again 1683. These defeats coupled with the defeat of the Ottoman navy by Europe’s so-called “Holy League” at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) heralded the onset of the Ottoman Empire’s long decline and the problems that this created—designated as the “Eastern Question” by nineteenth-century diplomats. Incidentally, the place/subway stop in Rome right before the one closest to the Vatican is called Lepanto in memory of the naval victory of 1571.

From 711 until 1492, Islam had a robust presence in Spain and Portugal and even briefly in France. The legacy of Muslim subjection of the Iberian peninsula—or “Al-Andalus” as it is known—persisted until the Reconquista during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. The legacy of Al-Andalus is still richly apparent in the architecture of southern Spanish cities such as Cordoba, Seville, and Granada, the last Muslim stronghold.

Some 80 towns in Spain still celebrate what is known as the Fiesta de Moros y Cristanos, in which locals—not unlike America’s doughty Civil War reenactors–dress up in elaborate traditional costumes of Christian soldiers and “Moorish” fighters and reenact the expulsion of Muslims from Spain. The Islamicists who blew up 191 Spanish commuters in Madrid in 2004 gave as one of their motivations … you guessed it: revenge for the Reconquista of 1492.

Between 827 and 1300 Islamic influence penetrated present-day Italy. Sicily once had far more mosques than churches, and incursions by Muslim pirates extended far up the peninsula. “Saracen” raiders even tried to attack Rome in 846. What is more, before and after the conquest of Constantinople (1453), the Ottomans later tried to make inroads into Italy. The Republic of Venice was involved in ten costly wars against Ottoman fleets between 1423 and 1718. Today, many Italian coastal towns still celebrate festivals marking the defeat of Muslim raiders many centuries ago.
It's a centuries long war, driven by hatred for anyone who is seen as infidel and the belief among Muslims that Allah commands them to convert all nations to Islam, by the sword if necessary. The only time there has been a respite in the conflict has been when Muslims were too weak to fight. Their great advantage today is that whereas Westerners no longer believe in anything firmly enough to be willing to fight for it, Muslims do. Not only do they have the will to spend their entire lives waging jihad, not only do they glorify dying for the cause of Islam, many of them feel they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing so. To such a foe a decadent and effete West, steeped in the delusions of political correctness, must look like an easy target.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Amazing Thing to Watch

President Obama certainly knows an opportunity when he sees one. For six years under his presidency the economy has been lethargically plodding along with high unemployment and weak business performance. Nothing the administration did to create jobs and get business moving had any success.

Then, largely as a result of the boom in domestic oil production, a boom that Mr. Obama didn't want, refused to assist by opening up public lands and offshore sites for drilling, and sought to strangle with his cap and trade proposals in 2009, gasoline prices have declined dramatically.

The lower cost of fuel has been the equivalent of putting hundreds of dollars in the pockets of consumers and giving businesses a huge tax cut. It has almost by itself resulted in whatever moderately favorable economic trends there have been in the last couple of months, but none of it had anything to do with Mr. Obama. Indeed, if he had his way, none of it would have happened. Mr. Obama doesn't want lower gas prices and said so when he ran for president in 2008.
The president wants gasoline prices high so that people will be forced off of carbon-based fuels and on to cleaner energy. Nevertheless, there he was before the nation last night during his State of the Union message declaring with a straight face that his policies have resulted in a "bustling" economy and that lower gas prices are creating jobs:

We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet. And today, America is number one in oil and gas. And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.

According to TownHall fact checkers,
None of these gains in domestic oil and gas production would have occurred if Obama had been able to pass the carbon cap and trade plan he pushed in 2009, the stated goal of which was to decrease oil and gas consumption by driving up the cost of producing it.

Only because Republicans stayed unified, and rejected Obama's cap and trade carbon tax, was the shale oil and natural gas boom able to produce the astounding results we are all enjoying today.
For Mr. Obama to now act as if he's delighted that gas prices are low and, worse, that he had something to do with it, is almost like watching a Stephen Colbert riff. In 2012 he ridiculed Republicans for suggesting that drilling for oil would lower the price:
And you can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their three-point plans for $2 gas. I’ll save you the suspense: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keep drilling. We heard the same thing in 2007, when I was running for president. We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years.

Well the American people aren’t stupid. You know that’s not a plan — especially since we’re already drilling....You know there are no quick fixes to this problem, and you know we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices.
Yet the reason gas prices are dropping, according to many analysts, is because the Saudis are trying to make American oil production unprofitable by flooding the market with oil to force the price lower so that the expense of American drilling is greater than the profit the oil companies are making. In other words, our production is causing the price to plummet both by adding directly to the supply and by forcing our competitors to also add to the supply.

In 2012 Sarah Palin was roundly mocked by the liberal media for urging us to "Drill, baby, drill." They laughed then, but with fracking and other techniques we've been doing just what she encouraged us to do, and now those who mocked her, including the White House, are taking the credit for the results. It's an amazing thing to watch.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Future of ISIL

Hot Air is running a report claiming that the leader of ISIL was wounded in an Iraqi air attack recently. The report may be true, but there have been similar reports in the past. In any case there's reason to believe that ISIL's morale is plummeting. Hot Air cites a Fox News report that over fifty ISIL fighters were executed by ISIL itself for losing a battle with the Kurdish Peshmerga. When soldiers are being executed for losing battles it's a sign of desperation in the leadership.

Losing battles isn't ISIL's only problem. They're also losing momentum, revenue, and a lot of disenchanted recruits are going AWOL even though this, too, is a capital offense. Of course, under ISIL almost everything is a capital offense. I heard on the radio today that they even executed a couple dozen young boys merely for watching a soccer game. ISIL's ambassadors are certainly doing very little to make Sharia law attractive to any civilized individual.

Strategy Page has an interesting account of the tribulations ISIS is suffering and also inflicting on their fellow Muslims. Here are some excerpts:
ISIL is the most ruthless of dozens of rebel coalitions (or the government forces) involved [in the Syrian civil war]. Moreover ISIL territorial gains have mainly been thinly populated desert in the west or depopulated (by years of fighting) areas in the north and central Syria. When it comes to actually controlling population ISIL is at a big disadvantage. The degree of savagery practiced by ISIL, especially against unarmed civilians who do not cooperate has made ISIL the group people are most likely to flee.

Most other rebels and the Assads offer civilians benefits (economic and personal security) if they stick around. Not so ISIL which treats civilians like farm animals to be exploited and, if they are troublesome, killed. ISIL is the classic example of why Islamic radicalism has failed in reality (but never in theory or in the sermons of hard core clerics) for over a thousand years. The only benefit of this nightmare is that ISIL’s actions have united the Islamic world like nothing else for a long time. Conservative and more secular Islamic leaders are all condemning ISIL and some are even asking that something be done within the Islamic world to kill this endemic support for extremism once and for all. That last development is long overdue.

The air strikes against ISIL have been most effective at hitting economic targets. ISIL has been trying to establish an “Islamic State” in the thinly populated areas it controls in eastern Syria and western Iraq. These areas contain working oil fields and there has long been a network of dealers in the area who will buy oil, cheap (about $25 a barrel from ISIL), for cash and no questions asked. That only works if the oil fields are undamaged and still capable to pumping oil.

The air strikes not only shut down most ISIL oil production but have driven away the technicians needed to make even an undamaged oil field work. ISIL has been advertising for replacement staff, offering high pay and security. ISIL’s reputation makes it difficult to attract competent people especially since the Arab and Western nations opposing ISIL would prosecute anyone going to work for ISIL, especially skilled oil field technicians and managers.

The economic activity in ISIL controlled territory is either wrecked by fighting or crippled by poor access to the outside world. ISIL is willing to allow food and other aid into their territory but given the ISIL reputation for kidnapping aid workers (even Moslem ones from Syria or Iraq) there is growing reluctance to even send aid. This fear is made worse by the experience with groups similar to ISIL (like al Shabaab in Somalia) who would sell a lot of aid to fund their terror operations.

In short, time is against ISIL because as the months go on the population of its Islamic State grows hungrier and more desperate to rid themselves from this nightmare. ISIL, like al Shabaab, will try some imaginative, desperate and ultimately futile ideas to remedy the situation but there really is no solution for Islamic State that is, economically, a failed state from the beginning.

The best example of the ISIL future is seen in Raqqa, the capital of the west Syrian province of Raqqa. ISIL has remained in control of Raqqa, the largest city in eastern Syria, since early 2014. Normally Raqqa has a population of 220,000 but nearly half have fled since ISIL took over. These refugees all tell the same stories of a wrecked economy and savage rule. Throughout ISIL occupied portions of Syria schools have been closed, leaving over 600,000 children without an education.

Raqqa still has some phone service and some residents risk execution by reporting, usually to family outside the city, what is happening in Raqqa. Apparently many of the inhabitants are hoping the Americans will invade and free them from ISIL control. This despite the fact that American and Arab air attacks on Raqqa have killed hundreds of civilians living near ISIL targets. Yet that is not the major cause of violent death. Since mid-2014 ISIL is believed to have executed nearly 2,000 people. Most of the victims have been civilians or captured soldiers and police. But a growing number of the executions involve ISIL members who attempted to desert or otherwise misbehave.

ISIL is facing a very costly, public and embarrassing defeat at the town of Kobane on the Turkish border. A three month effort to take the town from Kurdish defenders has turned into a slaughter of the ISIL attackers. Over a thousand ISIL men have been killed and over 3,000 wounded in Kobane since October. Worse, by mid-December the Kurds began pushing ISIL out of Kobane and other areas around the town. By early January the Kurds control over 80 percent of Kobane.

Despite ISIL counterattacks the Islamic terrorists keep losing ground. This is largely because the Kurds are better (trained, experienced and led) fighters, and have air support. A major factor in the high ISIL losses was the air support. There were over 200 air attacks since September. The Americans appear to have had air controller teams with the Kurds in or near Kobane as well as UAVs constantly watching the town from the air for targets and movements by the ISIL gunmen.

By December it appeared that ISIL was no longer sending its best fighters to Kobane but instead using mainly new recruits. These men have, at most, a few weeks training (and indoctrination) and don’t last long against the Kurds. For new ISIL recruits orders to go to Kobane came to be seen as a death sentence or, as their leaders put it, a quick ticket to paradise (after a glorious death as a Holy Warrior). ISIL made a big deal of showing no fear of the air strikes, but the reality was that those smart bombs and missiles killed you whether you were afraid or not.

It is known that ISIL has been accusing senior officials of treason and spying for the enemy and some of these ISIL officials have been executed. From what is known (via civilians inside ISIL territory talking to kin “outside”) ISIL is caring for lots of casualties and ISIL deserters (who are now being executed by ISIL if caught trying to leave) report heavy losses among new recruits. These men get a few weeks training but are still basically amateurs going into their first fire fight and most do not survive more than a few weeks. This is normal for armed groups like this, there is decades of data from research and interviews with survivors to prove it.

ISIL has released recruiting videos showing the training of young (apparently as young as 14 or less) teenagers. Refugees report that children of that age are often coerced (taken at gunpoint from their families) and compelled, on pain of death, to undergo “training” which, initially consists mainly of indoctrination. Those that seem to resist the indoctrination are killed, which encourages others to at least pretend to be enthusiastic. It has been noted that a growing proportion of foreigners among ISIL dead and those taken alive. Deserters and refugees report the same trend. Fewer Syrians and Iraqis want to work for ISIL, which is not a good sign for the Islamic state seeking to gain control over all of Syria and Iraq. You can occupy territory, but without a population you preside over a wilderness.
There's more at the link. An army of evil, savage men can do a lot of harm and create a lot of terror, but eventually it begins to eat its own and when it does it's doomed. ISIS in Iraq will require a trained Iraqi army to root it out and kill it, but that'll eventually happen, maybe as early as this spring or summer. What it's fate will be in Syria where there is no competent army to confront it is a different matter, but in any case it seems that it's no longer the juggernaut it was a few months ago and its power is waning.

Just Kidding

The other day we heard that NASA and NOAA both claimed that 2014 was the hottest year on record, the implication being that global temperatures are rising and we better get serious about stemming the production of greenhouse gases and the use of fossil fuels.

We also heard from the skeptics who pointed out that even if it's true that 2014 was hotter than the next two hot years (2005, 2010) it was by a mere few hundredths of a degree which is insignificant and that what the data really shows is that global temperatures continue their nearly two decade-long plateau.

Now comes word that, in effect, NASA was just kidding. They don't know if 2014 was a record-breaker or not. Here's the report from the Daily Mail:
The Nasa climate scientists who claimed 2014 set a new record for global warmth last night admitted they were only 38 per cent sure this was true.

In a press release on Friday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) claimed its analysis of world temperatures showed ‘2014 was the warmest year on record’.

The claim made headlines around the world, but yesterday it emerged that GISS’s analysis – based on readings from more than 3,000 measuring stations worldwide – is subject to a margin of error. Nasa admits this means it is far from certain that 2014 set a record at all.

Yet the Nasa press release failed to mention this, as well as the fact that the alleged ‘record’ amounted to an increase over 2010, the previous ‘warmest year’, of just two-hundredths of a degree – or 0.02C. The margin of error is said by scientists to be approximately 0.1C – several times as much.

As a result, GISS’s director Gavin Schmidt has now admitted Nasa thinks the likelihood that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880 is just 38 per cent. However, when asked by this newspaper whether he regretted that the news release did not mention this, he did not respond.
In other words, it's much more likely that their original claim was wrong than that it was right. Is it any wonder that so many people doubt these people when they tell us we're headed for eco-catastrophe. Until climatologists can make predictions which come to pass and until they stop trying to scare the bejabbers out of us on the basis of a 38% probability and non-existent "hockey stick" temperature increases, the reasonable course is to take their pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How Far Have We Come?

The following is a post I put up last year at this time:

When I was in high school in a suburb of Philadelphia in the early '60s there was a working class ethnic neighborhood not far from mine into which a black couple named Baker wished to move. The neighborhood, named Delmar Village, was all-white and there was a great deal of turmoil generated by residents who wanted to keep it that way. The mob smashed the windows of the Baker home and attacked police. Mounted state police were called in to quell the disturbances that lasted for at least a week and which at the time were called a race riot by the media.

The black family believed they had a constitutional right to live wherever they wished and could afford. Presumably, they wanted their children to have the same opportunities that white children of similar economic means had. The white residents, or many of them, felt that regardless of what the constitution says about equality under the law, the black family had no place in that neighborhood. They didn't belong there by virtue of their skin color.

Martin Luther King Day is a good time to reflect on that awful episode and lament the bigotry that leads one American to tell another that he has no place in a neighborhood simply because of his race. But even though this event happened fifty years ago last August and September, and even though we've come a long way in many respects since those years, that kind of bigotry is still around today, not just among the lower socio-economic classes of both whites and blacks, but at the highest levels of the liberal-progressive movement in this country.

As a case in point consider the statement last Friday by the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who said this about conservatives:
"Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are."
In other words, people who believe that we should protect the weakest among us by protecting their right to life, and people who believe that the second amendment of the Constitution allows them to defend themselves and their families are extremists and have no place among the good people of the state of New York.

It's not clear what Mr. Cuomo means by being "anti-gay," but if he's referring to people who oppose gay marriage then he's saying that those who hold a view of marriage that almost everyone held up until the day before yesterday are extremists and also have no place among tolerant New Yorkers.

This is what Jonah Goldberg calls "liberal fascism." It's the sort of bigotry that says to people "We don't want your kind here. You have no place in our neighborhood, not because you don't look like us, but because you don't think like us." It's the kind of bigotry in which one American tells other Americans that, regardless of what the Constitution says, their opinions are so odious that liberals don't want them living in even the same state as they live in.

Cuomo's statement is ironic on several levels. It's ironic because liberals like to appear in public clothed in the theoretical raiment of tolerance and diversity, but in practice, they're intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them, and their openness to diversity only applies to things like skin color, gender identity, and sexual preference. Ideological and often religious diversity are unwelcome.

It's ironic because the governor is proposing to exile from the state probably 50% or more of its citizens for the crime of embracing both traditional views of marriage and constitutional freedoms.

It's ironic because the governor refers to conservatives as holding extreme views, but which is more extreme, to protect unborn children or to kill them at a rate of a million annually? Which is more extreme, to honor a provision of a constitution which has governed this country for two centuries or to seek to abrogate it? Which is more extreme, to hold to a view of marriage that has thousands of years of tradition behind it or to revise and probably end it for the sake of a notion of equality that was unheard of just a a few decades ago?

The governor's statement is also ironic because it's symptomatic of exactly the sort of thinking that led not only to the riot in Delmar Village in 1963, but also to the Japanese internment camps during WWII, and to the expulsion of Indians from Georgia and elsewhere in the 19th century, all of which liberals rightly deplore.

The tactic of the liberal fascists is to cover their own extremism in octopus ink while hurling the allegation at anyone with whom they have a political disagreement. I suppose it works with the uninformed, the gullible, and those who wish to be gulled, but I think we'd do well to recall the words of Martin Luther King who longed for the day when his children (and ours) would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin (or on which side of the ideological divide they reside).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

War on Science

A column by Greg Satell at Forbes is remarkable for the degree of misunderstanding it reveals.

His ostensible purpose is to explain how the "war on science" hurts us all, but what does he mean by a "war on science"? He seems to be saying that there are just too many people out here in the boondocks who are unwilling to accept pronouncements from scientists if they're not supported by empirical data. In other words, there are too many people who are holding scientists to the standards that scientists claim make science different from other pursuits. Satell seems to find this skepticism among the laity unsettling. He writes this:
The work of scientists, when properly done, is reproducible and testable and that makes all the difference....

One of the great debates that politicians seek to devoid [sic] by touting their lack of scientific credentials is the one between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and intelligent design. Many people in the US, more than 40% in fact, believe in some form of creationism and want it taught in schools.

At first glance, they would seem to have a point. After all, no one actually saw humans evolve, so who’s to say that Darwin’s theory is true and creationism is false? Why, in the interest of academic inquiry, shouldn’t both be included in state curricula?

The reason is that Darwin’s theory is science — a subject taught in public schools — while intelligent design is a matter of faith, which is not. Darwin’s theory produces testable hypotheses that can be falsified through experiment. Creationism does not. It is a matter of belief, not a subject for investigation.
By "Darwin's theory" Satell presumably means the Neo-Darwinian view of molecules to man evolution driven by natural selection and random mutation. If he thinks that this theory is testable and falsifiable through experiment then he's unfamiliar with what many of its most devoted supporters have said about it. Here are a couple of examples:
Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it because the the only alternative, special creation, is unthinkable. Sir Arthur Keith, physical anthropologist and head of the Anatomy Department at London Hospital.
Geneticist Richard Lewontin, speaking about evolution, said that:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
D.M.S. Watson, chair of evolution at the University of London, said that he believed in evolution, "not because it can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible."

In other words, the conflict is not between science and something else - there's no more a "war" on science than there is a "war" on women - but there is a conflict between two metaphysical understandings of reality. Materialists, as we saw above, often accept Darwinism, not because it's "reproducible and testable," as Satell claims a scientific hypothesis must be, but because materialism demands that any explanation for life exclude any non-physical entities. Those whose metaphysics permits or includes such entities (God, for example) are skeptical of any rival metaphysical theory that's advanced under the flag of science. It's not the science they oppose, it's the metaphysics, the religious assumptions that are smuggled in under the scientific banner.

Mr. Satell would do well to understand that there's a big difference.