Saturday, February 17, 2018

How We Can Save Our Kids

In the wake of the terrible tragedy in Florida on Wednesday there's been another round of talk about why these shootings happen and what can be done to stop them. I've talked in the past about what I think is wrong with our culture that these things happen, most recently here, so I want to focus in this post on one thing that can be done to stop them.

Among the steps that have been proposed by commenters, three focus on guns:

  1. We can make it illegal to manufacture, sell or own guns, and try to eliminate guns from society.
  2. We can pass more laws restricting gun ownership.
  3. We can loosen gun regulations so that school officials and some staff can have access to firearms.

Number one would be the ideal, of course, but it's virtually impossible. If gun manufacture was banned in the U.S. manufacturers would simply move off-shore, and guns, like drugs, would still be available to those who wanted them, which would be primarily thugs and other criminals.

Number two is pointless as long as criminals still have guns. Although I would certainly support laws that make it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a large magazine semi-automatic rifle, it's foolish to prevent responsible adult gun owners from protecting themselves as long as criminals still have the means to terrorize the innocent. People have a right to defend themselves and their families, and any government that takes that right away and leaves people defenseless against armed criminals makes itself ipso facto an illegitimate government.

Number three may not be ideal, but in my mind it's certainly the most practical of the three options. I once noted on Viewpoint that:

[Researchers have found] that greater efforts to restrict guns leads, counter, perhaps, to conventional opinion, to more gun crime. [These researchers] make a good case that the "gun-free zones" set up around schools are a farce. Such feel-good nostrums accomplish nothing more than to assure the psychopaths who roam the halls of every large public school in the nation that if they decide to go on a killing rampage there'll be no one able to hinder them.

The allure of exerting total, unstoppable power over others is irresistable to certain twisted minds, and "gun-free zones" don't do anything to keep them from bringing weapons into schools to carry out their horrific fantasies. They only prevent school staff from being in a position to stop them once the carnage begins.

Anyone who smuggles a gun into a school can massacre students for a long time before police arrive, and despite all the precautions that schools take to prevent such tragedies there's really no practical way an unarmed staff can prevent a student who wishes to murder his fellow students from actually doing it.

As a parent of a high school student I know I would feel better if I knew that at least some appropriate school personnel had been thoroughly trained in the use of firearms, particularly in a school environment, and were allowed to keep weapons, under lock but easily accessible, in the building. If they were, the chances that someone would attempt, or succeed in an attempt, to perpetrate mass murder in the halls and lobbies of a school would be greatly diminished.

Some people will understandably blanche at the idea of having guns in school, but the fact is they're already there. Some schools have armed guards roaming their hallways and some have armed kids roaming the hallways. A lot of schools probably have both. The question is not whether we will have guns in our schools - we already do. The question is who in the school do we want to have access to them.

Public school administrators, provided they are trained and licensed, should be allowed to keep firearms under lock and key in their office and properly trained classroom teachers should be allowed to do likewise. Had anyone in any of the schools that have been targeted by the deranged nihilists among us been armed many young lives could have been saved. In almost every school shooting the shooter was confronted by unarmed teachers or administrators who died trying to protect their students. Had they been trained and armed the outcome may have been much different.

Guns are probably here to stay in our culture, and as long as they are criminals and psychopaths will be able to get them. The answer is not to declare schools off-limits to guns, but to let those who would commit mayhem in a school know that they would probably not get far before they were challenged by someone who could shoot back.

Not only would armed faculty be more likely to stop the carnage once it starts, the knowledge that faculty, or at least some of them, are armed would have a substantial deterrent effect on at least some who may be inclined to carry out their odious crimes. It's only because most school killers know that they'll be able to have their way for at least fifteen minutes before the police arrive to stop them that they even try it. If they knew that they'd have only a minute or two they might not think those few seconds worth the cost.

It's very sad that we've sunk as a society to the point where we need armed and trained adults in our schools (and churches) but that's where we are. If someone had been allowed to confront Nikolas Cruz with a weapon in the halls of that Florida school building on Wednesday it may have saved many young lives and prevented untold grief. That, it seems to me, is the direction in which we should move until the day comes when we need no longer fear to send our children to school.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Panpsychism (Pt. II)

As we discussed in yesterday's post philosopher Philip Goff argues that the exquisite fine-tuning of cosmic parameters, constants and forces demands an explanation.

He states that there are three live options, theism, the multiverse, and panpsychism. Goff dismisses the first two because, he claims, they make false predictions.

He writes:
Both of these theories are able to explain the fine-tuning. The problem is that, on the face of it, they also make false predictions. For the theist, the false prediction arises from the problem of evil. If one were told that a given universe was created by an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful being, one would not expect that universe to contain enormous amounts of gratuitous suffering.

One might not be surprised to find it contained intelligent life, but one would be surprised to learn that life had come about through the gruesome process of natural selection. Why would a loving God who could do absolutely anything choose to create life that way? Prima facie theism predicts a universe that is much better than our own and, because of this, the flaws of our Universe count strongly against the existence of God.
Goff's reason for rejecting the theistic explanation for cosmic fine-tuning is that were God the creator of the universe we would expect Him to have created a different universe than what we find. But there are several things wrong with this. Here are three:

First, no philosopher that I've read maintains that God, assuming He exists, can do "absolutely anything." He can't, for example, violate His own nature. He can't cause it to happen that He never existed, and so on. But I'm willing to grant for the sake of discussion that it'd be within God's power to create a world with less suffering than this one possesses (although some philosophers dispute this). Second, Goff's argument can be stated in the following syllogism:
1. If a perfectly loving God created the universe there'd be no suffering.
2. There is suffering.
3. Therefore, a perfectly loving God didn't create the universe.
This may seem sound, but it's not because there's no reason to accept the first premise. Goff's syllogism might better be modified to read:
1'. If a perfectly loving God created the universe there'd be no suffering unless God had a good reason for allowing it.
2'. God had no good reason for allowing suffering.
3'. Suffering exists.
4'. Therefore, a perfectly loving God did not create the universe.
The problem with this, of course, is premise 2'. Why should anyone believe it to be true? We're hardly in a position to know all the reasons a God might have for doing whatever He does, thus this argument fails to establish its conclusion.

Goff acknowledges that his brief against the theistic explanation is not a "knockdown" argument, he concedes that the theist could always come up with reasons why God might permit evil, but he avers that this need to come up with reasons is not predicted by theism and makes the theist argument a bit ad hoc. This is all true, but it's somewhat beside the point. The problem with his original argument against the theistic hypothesis is that it contains an unwarranted premise which causes his argument to unravel.

The third problem with Goff's argument is that the claim that God created the universe entails that the universe was created by an extremely powerful, extremely intelligent, purposeful (i.e. personal), and transcendent being. Any being which creates a universe must have at least those properties.

Since Goff's argument from suffering fails to offer compelling reasons to reject this claim, it remains reasonable to maintain that, in lieu of a better explanation, the universe is the product of such a being while holding in abeyance the matter of whether and to what extent the Creator is good since, unlike the aforementioned attributes, goodness is not a trait of the Creator that's deducible from the facts of nature.

In other words, the fine-tuning of the universe may not permit us to draw conclusions about the Creator's goodness, but it still points to an intelligent engineer whose attributes certainly describe a being very much like the God of theism.

The most we can infer from the suffering we find in the world is that the Creator may have reasons of which we are ignorant and/or that His goodness is not something we can deduce from the creation but must be derived from other resources (e.g. scripture, theology or philosophy).

There's no compelling ground, however, for the conclusion that the universe was not created by a very powerful, very intelligent, transcendent, and personal being, and given Goff's two alternatives, it seems - in my opinion at least - that theism is much the best of the options.

I'll explain why I think the others fall short on Monday. Tomorrow I want to post on what I think is the best way to diminish the number and slaughter of school shootings.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Panpsychism (Pt. I)

Philosopher Philip Goff has an interesting article at Aeon in which he considers three possible explanations for the remarkable fine-tuning of cosmic parameters and constants. The three he discusses are that the universe was designed by God (Theism), that the universe is one of an infinity of different worlds (multiverse), and that the universe is itself conscious and designed itself (panpsychism).

He rejects the first two and embraces the third for reasons he discusses in his article, but more about that later. First, let's review his description of the problem:
In the past 40 or so years, a strange fact about our Universe gradually made itself known to scientists: the laws of physics, and the initial conditions of our Universe, are fine-tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that, for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity, or the mass of the electron – must have values falling in a certain range. And that range is an incredibly narrow slice of all the possible values those numbers can have. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have the kind of numbers compatible with the existence of life. But, against all the odds, our Universe does.

Here are a few of examples of this fine-tuning for life:
  • The strong nuclear force (the force that binds together the elements in the nucleus of an atom) has a value of 0.007. If that value had been 0.006 or less, the Universe would have contained nothing but hydrogen. If it had been 0.008 or higher, the hydrogen would have fused to make heavier elements. In either case, any kind of chemical complexity would have been physically impossible. And without chemical complexity there can be no life.
  • The physical possibility of chemical complexity is also dependent on the masses of the basic components of matter: electrons and quarks. If the mass of a down quark had been greater by a factor of 3, the Universe would have contained only hydrogen. If the mass of an electron had been greater by a factor of 2.5, the Universe would have contained only neutrons: no atoms at all, and certainly no chemical reactions.
  • Gravity seems a momentous force but it is actually much weaker than the other forces that affect atoms, by about 1036. If gravity had been only slightly stronger, stars would have formed from smaller amounts of material, and consequently would have been smaller, with much shorter lives. A typical sun would have lasted around 10,000 years rather than 10 billion years, not allowing enough time for the evolutionary processes that produce complex life. Conversely, if gravity had been only slightly weaker, stars would have been much colder and hence would not have exploded into supernovae. This also would have rendered life impossible, as supernovae are the main source of many of the heavy elements that form the ingredients of life.
Some take the fine-tuning to be simply a basic fact about our Universe: fortunate perhaps, but not something requiring explanation. But like many scientists and philosophers, I find this implausible. In The Life of the Cosmos (1999), the physicist Lee Smolin has estimated that, taking into account all of the fine-tuning examples considered, the chance of life existing in the Universe is 1 in 10229, from which he concludes:
In my opinion, a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly not do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case.
So far, I think Goff is correct. To just write the fine-tuning off as a brute fact, a given that requires no further inquiry is a science-stopper. It's an attempt to minimize the significance of facts that may lead some to draw very uncomfortable conclusions.

Goff then writes this:
The two standard explanations of the fine-tuning are theism and the multiverse hypothesis. Theists postulate an all-powerful and perfectly good supernatural creator of the Universe, and then explain the fine-tuning in terms of the good intentions of this creator. Life is something of great objective value; God in Her goodness wanted to bring about this great value, and hence created laws with constants compatible with its physical possibility.

The multiverse hypothesis postulates an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of physical universes other than our own, in which many different values of the constants are realised. Given a sufficient number of universes realising a sufficient range of the constants, it is not so improbable that there will be at least one universe with fine-tuned laws.
He proceeds to offer his critique of these two explanations before explaining why he opts for panpsychism (the view that the universe itself possesses consciousness). His argument against the multiverse is compelling, but his reasons for rejecting theism are not, and his alternative that the universe somehow designed itself in the first 10^-43 second of its existence is very difficult to credit.

We'll look at some of his arguments against theism and the multiverse and for panpsychism over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

For Valentine's Day

A number of years ago I wrote a post on C.S. Lewis' book titled Four Loves because I enjoyed especially his treatment of friendship. He said so many interesting things on the topic that I thought it might be appropriate to once again share some of them with Viewpoint readers on this Valentine's Day. Here are some of his thoughts:

  • "Nothing is less like a friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to each other about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best."
  • "Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden)."
  • "The companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions; but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends.

    In this kind of love, as Emerson said, Do you love me? means Do you see the same truth? - Or at least, 'Do you care about the same truth?' The man who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer."
  • "That is why those pathetic people who simply "want friends" can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question Do you see the same truth? would be 'I see nothing and I don't care about the truth; I only want a Friend,' no Friendship can arise - though Affection, of course, may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about; and friendship must be about something."
  • "A Friend will, to be sure, prove himself to be also an ally when alliance becomes necessary; will lend or give when we are in need, nurse us in sickness, stand up for us among our enemies, do what he can for our widows and orphans. But such good offices are not the stuff of Friendship. The occasions for them are almost interruptions. They are in one way relevant to it, in another not. Relevant, because you would be a false friend if you would not do them when the need arose; irrelevant, because the role of benefactor always remains accidental, even a little alien to that of Friend.

    It is almost embarrassing. For Friendship is utterly free from Affection's need to be needed. We are sorry that any gift or loan or night-watching should have been necessary - and now, for heaven's sake, let us forget all about it and go back to the things we really want to do or talk of together. Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love. The stereotyped 'Don't mention it' here expresses what we really feel.

    The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together. Perhaps we had only a couple of hours in which to talk and, God bless us, twenty minutes of it had to be devoted to affairs!"
  • "In most societies at most periods Friendships will be between men and men and women and women. The sexes will have met one another in Affection and in Eros but not in this love. For they will seldom have had with each other the companionship in common activities which is the matrix of Friendship. Where men are educated and women are not, where one sex works and the other is idle, or where they do totally different work, they will usually have nothing to be Friends about."
  • "When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass - may pass in the first half hour - into erotic love. Indeed, unless they are physically repulsive to each other, or unless one or both already loves elsewhere, it is almost certain to do so sooner or later."
This last is particularly interesting. If Lewis is correct then the common notion that men and women can be "just friends" is something of a delusion. If a man and a woman really are friends, in the sense of the word that Lewis explicates, then it's almost inevitable that they'll wind up being more than friends.

Lewis is famous for his trenchant insights into human nature. His insights into friendship do nothing to diminish that reputation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Naturalism and Reason

Human reason poses an interesting problem for metaphysical naturalists of both a modern and a postmodern inclination. Metaphysical naturalists hold that only nature exists and that human beings are simply the product of impersonal forces. Naturalists who embrace a modern or Enlightenment worldview argue that reason is our most trustworthy guide to truth while postmoderns assert that reason is an inadequate guide to truth.

Yet both must employ reason in order to make their respective cases. The modern has to assume reason is trustworthy in order to argue that it's trustworthy, which is surely question-begging, and the postmodern has to assume reason is trustworthy in order to conclude that it's not trustworthy at all, which is surely self-refuting.

In neither case can it be said that the modern or the postmodern is thinking rationally. We can have confidence that our reason generally leads us to truth, especially metaphysical truth, only on the assumption that God exists, is Himself rational, and has created us in his image.

If we join the naturalist in assuming God does not exist then we must conclude that our rational faculties are the product of processes which have evolved those faculties to suit us for survival, not for the attainment of true beliefs. As Harvard's Steven Pinker puts it, "Our brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes truth is adaptive sometimes not."

Here's philosopher Patricia Churchland on the same subject: "Evolution selects for survival and “Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”

And philosopher John Gray: "Modern [naturalism] is the faith that through science humankind can know the truth and so be free. But if Darwin's theory of natural selection is true this is impossible. The human mind serves evolutionary success, not truth."

Each of these thinkers embraces metaphysical naturalism, but on that view there's no basis for thinking that their reason is a trustworthy guide to truth which makes their claim that reason isn't a trustworthy guide to truth itself untrustworthy. What a muddle.

Anyway, a trio of philosophers discuss the conundrum in which naturalists finds themselves in this video:
The same argument is an integral part of philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism which he discusses in this video:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Plato's Cave for Modern Man

Imagine that the year is 2030 and computer technology has advanced to the point where a sufficiently clever programmer (you, for example) can write software that would project beings onto the monitor's screen that can potentially evolve from very simple forms to highly complex structures capable, mirabile dictu, of rational thought.

One evening you download the software that confers upon these creatures this marvelous potential and sit back to watch what they'll do with it. Eventually, after much morphing and mutating, the creatures attain a level of mental ability at which they are capable of reflection, cognition, and language.

They begin to communicate among themselves, asking questions about their world and their existence. To them their world (we'll call it "screen world") is a three dimensional space since, although they are confined to a flat screen, they think themselves, like characters on a movie screen, to move in all directions. You're very pleased with your creation. You're thrilled with the diversity of personalities that emerges among the creatures which you dub "screenies." You even find yourself growing fond of and attached to them.

As the night lengthens, you watch in rapt fascination as one of your screenies begins to think deeply about what exactly it (let's assume it's a "he") is. At first he explains himself in terms of shifting phosphor dots, but this, he realizes, is only a superficial level of explanation, and the screenie isn't satisfied with it. There must be a deeper understanding, a deeper level of reality, a reality that lies beyond the abilities you've programmed into the screenies to apprehend.

He and his fellows do some mathematical calculations and come to a breathtaking conclusion. The "ultimate" explanation for the population of creatures in screen world is a level of reality that they can never observe or visit, but which must exist. The equations demand it. They realize that there must be a whole set of complicated phenomena working to produce emanations from a multi-dimensional realm that somehow generates the relatively "flat" world they inhabit.

They do more calculations and come to an even more astonishing discovery. The mechanism that produces their world must be controlled by an even deeper level of phenomena: electrons, circuits, and microchips and who knows what all else. Finally, awed by their findings, they realize that this whole theoretical edifice they've constructed must be run by an information source, a set of algorithms and codes, that exists somewhere but which is inaccessible to them.

Your creatures are very excited. They have plumbed the basic laws, parameters, forces and material constituents of their world. They don't know where these ultimate elements come from or how they came to be organized in the fashion they are, and indeed they're convinced that they can never know any of this for certain. They've taken their investigation as deep as it's possible for them to go, they believe.

Then these marvelous beings, which have really sprung from your creative genius, draw a disappointing philosophical conclusion. Having explained their existence in terms of the ultimate physical constituents and laws they've deduced from the phenomena of their experience, they conclude that that is all there is to be explained. Those circuits, microchips, electrical energy and even the software are all that's involved in generating them and their world. It's an amazing thing, they agree, it's highly improbable they acknowledge, but there you have it. There's no need to explain it any further, nor any way to explain it even if there were a need. Unable to account for the world of microchips, codes and algorithms they simply accept it all as a brute fact. A given.

Screen world, to the extent that it's explicable, is explicable, they believe, solely in terms of the machinery in front of which you sit shaking your incredulous head. You're delighted that your creatures were able to reason their way so far toward the truth but dismayed that they lacked the wit to see that anything as fantastically complex as the laws and processes that generate their world cries out for even deeper explanation. Why, you wonder, don't the screenies realize that something as amazing as they and their world doesn't just happen through blind mechanistic forces and luck? Why don't they recognize that screen world demands an intelligent cause as its truly ultimate explanation?

You decide to tweak the program. You write the code for another being, one that is, perhaps, somewhat of a cyber-replica of yourself. He's your heart and soul, so to speak. You will in a sense visit screen world yourself through this "agent." He contains much of your knowledge about the reality beyond screen world, and when you download him into the computer up he pops on the screen. You've programmed this agent to tell the rest of the screenies that their world, the world of the monitor and even the deeper world of the computer, is an infinitesimal fraction of the really real. By comparison it's next to nothing, a shadow of the world beyond the screen.

Your agent proceeds to explain to them as best he can that they, contrary to their belief, actually inhabit only two dimensions and that all around them lies a third dimension that they could never perceive or comprehend but which nevertheless exists, and that even now you, their creator, are observing them from outside the screen in another world that they cannot begin to conceptualize, much less observe, from their "prison" within the screen.

Your agent reveals to them, moreover, that you inhabit a reality infinitely richer than screen world, an idea they unfortunately find wholly preposterous. He tells them that as wonderful and impressive as their discoveries about their world are they've really just scratched the surface of understanding the really real and that, indeed, they aren't actually "real" themselves at all. They're simply epiphenomenal electronic manifestations of ideas in your mind, a congeries of shifting dots of color on a flat screen. They're in fact nothing more than virtual beings.

They scoff at all this. They grow angry. They tell your agent to get lost, his message is confusing and misleading to the young and impeding progress toward the goal of making screen world a better place. They wish to hear no more of his insane, superstitious babblings. They are the "brights" in screen world, the intellectually gifted, and they will stick to science and leave his untestable metaphysical speculations to the priests and shamans among them.

When the agent persists in trying to persuade them that mere mechanical processes could never by themselves produce such complex creatures as screenies, that the algorithms and coordinated flows of energy and pattern in their world, as well as the material organization of the computer, must have been intelligently engineered, they sneer and refuse to allow him to speak such nonsense any further.

They reason among themselves that their existence may be improbable, but what of it? Had their world not been the way it is they would not be there to observe it, so it's not so extraordinary after all. Others say that there are probably a near infinite number of worlds like theirs, and that among so many it's not so astonishing that there'd be one possessing the properties that screen world has and boasting creatures like themselves.

You're surprised, and a little hurt, that the screenies react this way. You can't believe that having come so far they'd refuse to entertain the idea that there must be more to the origin of the information that infuses their world than just blind matter, brute force and random chance. But they're obstinate. They have all the explanation for their existence they care to have.

To be dependent upon unthinking processes is one thing - they're still superior, after all, to the processes and forces upon which they are contingent because they can think and those processes can't - but to be dependent upon a being who is so thoroughly superior to them in every way is, they think, degrading. So that they might be more appreciative of what you've created, you entertain briefly the idea of adjusting their software in such fashion as to make the conclusion that an intelligent programmer has created them ineluctable. You decide against it, however, when you realize that compelled appreciation is no appreciation at all.

And so, with a sad sigh of disappointment and resignation, you shut down the computer and go to bed.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dr. Nassar and Objective Moral Wrong

The recent publicity surrounding Dr. Larry Nassar, the man who has been recently convicted of sexually abusing dozens of young female gymnasts, brought to mind a couple of posts I wrote in December on the explosion of accusations against prominent men who have evidently been abusing women for years.

The two posts can be found here and here. I thought I'd rerun the second one today because I think the message is important: From the initial revelations on October 5th of Harvey Weinstein's predations, up until December 11th the New York Times has tallied 42 men in the media, entertainment, politics, or the corporate world who've been fired or resigned due to sexual misconduct and another 24 whose conduct is under review.

As of the 17th (of December) The Daily Beast claims 97 men and one woman who've fallen afoul of the #MeToo movement. And the toll continues to mount almost daily. Indeed, The Daily Caller reports today that MSNBC made a separation payment of $40,000 to an unwilling recipient of boorish behavior by Chris Matthews in 1999.

It's really quite a remarkable development and we might wonder why so many men in positions of influence and power are behaving so badly toward women.

Perhaps one reason is that many of the men guilty of these assaults don't think that what they did was in any objective sense morally wrong, and, sadly enough, the culture in which they've all their lives been steeped has facilitated the very behavior that it now condemns.

Men today have been marinated in pornography from the time they were first able to access the internet, and, concomitantly, they've been inculcated with the Playboy philosophy that sex is really just a form of recreation, like dining out. They've been taught, moreover, that human beings are just animals, the product of blind, impersonal, amoral forces, with animal appetites that yearn to be sated.

They learned during the Clinton years that power has its prerogatives and that as long as you're on the right side of the political spectrum (or actually the left side) you're insulated and protected by your allies from any serious consequences to your behavior. They've also been told, in so many words, that there's really no objective right and wrong because there is no God and morality is just a creation of one's own conscience.

Then men who have absorbed all these lessons throughout their lives, who have been cosseted and feted by society, who have had pretty much whatever they want in life handed to them, who have accepted the notion that Christian morality is an anachronism, find themselves in environments with provocatively attired young women whom, we're told by feminists, have the same drives and desires as men and shouldn't be considered to be different in any significant way.

Indeed, men have had it drilled into them that it's demeaning to put women on a pedestal or to otherwise treat them deferentially.

Then they're told that, even so, they should refrain from acting consistently with all of that.

It's a little bit like putting a plate of fresh-baked cookies in front of a hungry child, telling the child that the cookies are delicious but that he must not touch them, and then being dismayed when the child has crumbs on his chin.

Temptations are hard enough to resist when the tempted individual believes with all his or her heart that it'd be wrong to give in, but they're all but impossible to resist for the person who believes all the cultural, moral, and anthropological claptrap that contemporary men and women have been exposed to and have absorbed over the course of their lifetimes.

After all, if it's true that men and women are just soulless, sexual animals, if there are no objective moral wrongs, if there is no ultimate accountability to a God, if the woman "really wants it" as badly as the man and just needs to have her resistance worn down, what sort of behavior can we realistically expect from men, especially those who have a great deal of power over their subordinates?

If we sincerely want to change how men behave toward women then we have to change the hyper-sexualized environment in which they grow up, we have to change their belief that they're just material beings, we have to change their belief that something is only wrong if one gets caught, and we have to change the belief that men and women differ only in their anatomy.

Simply punishing men for being found out is only a palliative, a temporary remedy. All it does is send others the message that they themselves need to be more careful, that those who've been shamed have merely transgressed a transient politically correct norm of our very confused and fickle culture, and that with time things will probably revert back to the "good old days," especially if another Bill Clinton is elected to high office.

What punishment alone doesn't accomplish, despite all the insincere mea culpas that the outed villains have dutifully delivered, is to convince either them or others that they've actually done anything objectively wrong.

Indeed, unless there really is a transcendent, personal, moral authority, it's hard to imagine how what these men have done can truly be objectively wrong and not merely a violation of our culture's collective subjective preferences or conventions.

If, however, we agree that to sexually assault someone is objectively despicable in a moral sense, that it's wrong whatever the perpetrator, or anyone else, may think or believe about it, then logic demands that we acknowledge, too, that there exists a transcendent, personal, moral authority.