Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cool Bird Tricks

An article at Evolution News discusses some recent research into four mysterious phenomena displayed by birds and other animals for which there's no good evolutionary explanation other than the standard assurance that genetic mutation and natural selection can "wave the magic wand" and perform miraculous feats of biological creation.

The first astonishing ability of birds and other organisms is the ability to navigate vast distances east to west by using the earth's magnetic field:
Because each field line on the earth has a particular intensity and angle (inclination or declination), this provides a fixed coordinate system that animals with the right equipment can utilize, even though these values are not always at right angles.... Maybe birds learned this trick from sea turtles, which also use the magnetic field in this way....
In fact, many diverse species - from eels, to birds, to butterflies - migrate. How did this capacity evolve in so many unrelated organisms. It won't do to just wave the wand and intone, "natural selection!" That's an answer that sounds convincing only to those already convinced. To an open-minded, skeptical inquirer it's hardly a compelling explanation for how such a complex mechanism could evolve by chance numerous times in biological history.

Here's another fascinating avian fact:
Ruddy shelducks, when migrating past the Himalayas, can fly as high as 6,800 meters (22,000 feet). That’s 77 percent the height of Mt. Everest and over half the altitude of a passenger jet at cruising altitude.

At only 4,000 meters, oxygen levels drop to half of sea level values. How do the ducks survive the cold and low oxygen?
What conceivable selection pressure acted upon duck populations in their evolutionary past that caused this ability to evolve?
Crows and cockatoos seem locked in a battle for the coveted title of most intelligent bird. New Caledonian crows are known to bend pieces of wire into hooks in order to fish items out of holes. Now, cockatoos seem to have bested them by figuring out ways to bend pipe cleaners into hooks to retrieve a reward or unbend them into straight lines as the experimental setup requires.

Nothing in these parrots’ environment requires working out this kind of problem. The experiments showed variation in the way individual birds solved the challenges, suggesting that they are not relying on instincts, but actually figuring out solutions in real time.
The final amazing phenomenon displayed by birds is shown in the following video clip. Watch it and ponder how these birds all know to turn the same way at precisely the same instant and without colliding? And why do they do this anyway? What's the evolutionary advantage?
Check out the link for more on the details of the research being done on these phenomena.

In general, there are two alternative possible explanations for these remarkable behaviors: Either they're all the astonishing result of blind mechanical processes acting on random genetic mutations over eons of time or they're the product of an intelligent, purposeful design.

Since we know minds can engineer complexity of this sort (e.g. think of a computer) and since we have no experience of unthinking forces producing the kind of information necessary for complex behavior we're left with a question: Which of the two possible explanations requires the most faith to believe?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Responding to Rocket Man

An excellent suggested response to the North Korean nuclear threat comes to us from the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer in a very informative piece written for National Review Online. In his essay, Meyer denies that there are no good responses to Kim Jong-un (whom President Trump has dubbed "Rocket Man") and his regime's determination to acquire nuclear missiles and to launch them against the U.S. and its allies.

Meyer opens with a prologue:
Many analysts have assumed that the U.S. has only three basic options for addressing the North Korean threat: an offensive first strike, diplomatic initiatives involving China and sanctions, or acquiescence. But the United States has other options that do not require either starting a war, waiting for help from the unwilling, or accepting the vulnerability of U.S. and allied cities to a North Korean missile attack.

Rather than initiating a military strike or continuing to pursue ineffective diplomatic initiatives, the United States can take advantage of recent technological advances to deploy a more effective multi-layered missile defense, including one system perfectly suited to defuse the North Korean crisis.

The American ability to project power abroad through its conventional forces — carrier groups, fighter and bomber squadrons, cruise missiles, ground troops, and special forces — remains unrivaled despite sequester-driven budget cuts and the erosion of capability they have caused. Nevertheless, at home American cities stand vulnerable to attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as shorter-range missiles launched from submarines or even small ships offshore.

Though North Korea has not yet definitively demonstrated the ability to track and deliver ICBMs on target, the Defense Intelligence Agency now believes that Kim Jong-un has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear device and place it inside an ICBM. Once Kim also acquires more precise targeting capability, cities across the western United States will be vulnerable to his missiles and the president to his nuclear blackmail.

Indeed, current ground-based missile-defense systems, though necessary, are not sufficient to protect U.S. cities from the first-strike capability of several potential adversaries, including soon North Korea. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) and Aegis ship-based missile-defense systems have demonstrated an impressive accuracy in defending against short-and medium-range missiles of the kind that North Korea could fire at South Korea or Japan.

Nevertheless, these ground based systems cannot stop Chinese, Russian, or North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles from hitting U.S. cities. Russia alone has 1500 sophisticated ICBMs, more than enough to overwhelm the several dozen existing and unreliable ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California.
So, then, given this bleak prospect what should we do? Here's Meyer's proposal:
Consequently, the United States urgently needs to develop and deploy higher altitude and space-based systems for missile defense. Arthur Herman of the Hudson Institute has taken the lead on advocating one such high-altitude system with particular promise for neutralizing the North Korean threat. Known as High Altitude Long Endurance Boost Phase Intercept (or HALE BPI), this system would offer another option besides acquiescence or a high-risk first strike against North Korean missile launchers.

As conceived by Len Caveny, the former director of science and technology at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the HALE BPI system would host anti-missile missiles on existing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have the capacity for continuous flying for 18 to 40 hours or more (thus, the term “long endurance” in the HALE acronym).

Using sophisticated radar, infrared detection, and “data fusion” technology, these missile-equipped UAVs would circle the Sea of Japan outside North Korean airspace at an altitude of 45,000 feet or more. Upon detection and verification of a missile launch from North Korea, the HALE BPI UAV’s operator on the ground would have time (perhaps a minute or more) to fire a purely kinetic missile, i.e. a missile without an explosive warhead, at the missile in its “boost phase.” Using already existing guidance systems and the pure kinetic energy that can be generated by even a small object moving at an extremely rapid velocity, the missile would destroy a North Korea missile almost as soon as it leaves the launch pad.

Caveny [has] explained that most of the modular technological elements of such a system already exist and that an effective kinetic BPI system could be developed and deployed in two years, or within 12 months if the development of the system were put on an expedited war-prevention footing. Herman, in a series of compelling op-eds and position papers, has argued that such a system offers many benefits for addressing the North Korean crisis and multiple advantages over existing ground-based missile-defense systems that attempt to destroy missiles during their downward “terminal phase” of flight.
The advantages of this kinetic antimissile system are several. Meyer lists five, here are his first three:
First, rising missiles in their boost phase are easiest to detect and destroy. During boost phase, missiles are moving at their slowest velocity, making them easier to shoot down. They also burn more fuel at this point in their trajectory, giving them their hottest infrared signature and making them easier to detect at long range. In addition, missiles in boost phase cannot employ evasive maneuvers or deploy multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (or MIRVs) — unlike descending ICBMs in terminal phase.

Second, destroying missiles in the boost phase ensures that the debris from the kinetic collision and destruction of the warhead will fall safely over the Sea of Japan or even on North Korean territory, a poetically just way of enhancing deterrence and effectively boxing Kim Jong-un’s threat into a confined airspace.

Third, the BPI system currently envisioned by Herman and Caveny would represent only a near-horizon defensive weapon system — one that would not directly threaten the nuclear deterrent of the Chinese. Hosting a boost phase system on a UAV rather than in space would not, therefore, protect against ICBMs launched from countries with large land masses such as China and Russia.

Nevertheless, in the immediate context of the North Korean crisis, such a system would have the advantage of representing a defensive response to a clear provocation. As such, it should not antagonize the Chinese, precisely because it does not compromise their own nuclear deterrence (or offensive capability). Even so, its deployment, like that of the THAAD system, will clearly not please the Chinese. But given that they cannot reasonably object to such a purely defensive system, especially in the current crisis, their displeasure could incentivize them to distance themselves from North Korea or even to pressure their client state to stop further testing of nuclear weapons.
There's much more in his article for those interested in national defense issues and I urge you to read all of it. The proposal to use kinetic munitions to intercept ICBMs during the boost phase is not new. It's been talked about since at least the 1990s, but what's new is that we now have a president who may be inclined to spend the money to implement it.

As Meyer's article makes clear these weapons would only be appropriate for use against a country with a small land area, but that's what North Korea is, and right now they're the biggest threat to the United States.

Because all the R&D has already been done and most of the technology is already available the cost of building such a system would be a measly $25 million out of a $639 billion annual defense budget, and it could be operational in a year if pushed. Can we really afford not to go ahead with it?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fascism on the Left

In the last year or so, we've heard numerous claims to the effect that the alt-right is a threat to civility and free speech. Charges of "fascism" have been leveled at people from Donald Trump on down to standard political conservatives. Groups on the left, abetted by the progressive media, have given the impression that neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other odious manifestations of fascism are a contemporary threat to our society.

There's much truth to the charge that fascism is a current threat, but the locus of that threat is seriously misjudged. The alt-right is both small and relatively impotent; the most virulent fascists on today's socio-cultural scene are on the left.

It's a technique of radicals, especially radicals on the left, to deflect attention from their own behavior and goals by projecting traits that they themselves exhibit onto those they deem to be their ideological enemies, and it's a technique of fascists everywhere to shout down those who would expose them thereby denying them a public forum for their opinions.

It's also a technique of fascists to use violence to intimidate and harm those who resist and oppose them so that the opposition is cowed into silence and acquiescence.

One of the traditions, indeed, a venerated constitutional right, enjoyed by Americans for over two centuries is the right to freely express political views, but that right is under more serious assault today than at any time in our national history, and the battlefield is our colleges and universities.

Recently U.C. Berkeley spent over $600,000 to provide security for a conservative speaker named Ben Shapiro whose views are mainstream conservative and shared by a majority of Americans. It wasn't a fear that Shapiro's speech would provoke a violent reaction among conservatives that motivated Berkeley to spend the money but rather that it would provoke a violent reaction on the fascist left. Organizations like Antifa and Black Lives Matter have explicitly embraced violence to both further their ends and to suppress opposing viewpoints, and Shapiro's speech was feared to be a ripe target for their brutish tactics.

These methods have been employed at many universities across the country. Students, faculty, and speakers at Berkeley, Evergreen, Middlebury and others have all been subject to the thuggery of campus fascists. Events at the University of Minnesota this year as recounted by Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast are another example of how it works:
Madison Faupel is the president of the University of Minnesota's College Republican chapter. Her group sparked controversy last fall when it reserved space and painted a mural on the Washington Avenue Bridge to promote their student group.

Her group settled on three slogans: “College Republicans, The Best Party on Campus,” “Trump Pence 2016,” and “Build the Wall.”

Within an hour, the panels had been vandalized, and protesters had surrounded the panels. Some of the vandalism included the following statements: “STOP WHITE SUPREMACY NOW” and “Hate Speech is not Free Speech.”

The notion that Madison is a white supremacist is about as laughable as the notion that Ben Shapiro is one. In their insistence on tolerance, leftists are increasingly intolerant of anyone who may not like their choice of candidate or political ideas. The charge of "racism" is becoming an easy way to shut down robust political discussion.

Supporting a border wall might be politically incorrect, but it hardly qualifies as “white supremacy” or “hate speech.” Moreover, a border wall does not, in and of itself, denote anti-immigrant sentiment. One can be pro-immigrant—and also believe that a nation must vigorously control its borders. That’s what Madison told me when I asked her why she included the provocative mural.

But frankly, I would be defending her group’s right to post the slogan regardless. College is at least partly about encountering diverse ideas, and free speech is inherently about protecting unpopular speech—especially political speech. Regardless of how you feel about building a wall (I'm against the idea), the president ran (and won) advocating it—and the House recently voted to fund it. This is not an idea wildly outside the political mainstream. In 2006, Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported a border fence. Like it or not, it's a legitimate policy debate.

As the protests grew, so did violent threats against the College Republicans and Madison, in particular. The group's members were scared for their safety on campus. Madison and the rest of the executive board didn’t go out at night and tried to never be alone on campus. Many used campus security to walk home.
This is all troubling enough and illustrates the barbarism of at least some of those who oppose her views, but even the university's administration failed to uphold any commitment to political diversity, tolerance and free speech:
Rather than condemning vandalism and standing up for the First Amendment right of freedom of speech, many supposed adults in the administration instead lashed out at the College Republicans. Heather C. Lou, assistant director of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, said that the panel included a “xenophobic and racist” statement and that “the UMN bias incident team has been contacted.”

Catherine Squires, communications professor and director of the Race, Indigeneity, Gender and Sexuality Studies Initiative, encouraged faculty members to get involved, “especially faculty of color—many of us have been through these sorts of situations when we were students.”

University officials were essentially inciting anger toward a young, female student who pays tuition.The College of Education and Human Development sent out a college-wide e-mail stating: “The rhetoric and xenophobic messaging negatively impacts many of our Latino students, immigrants, and others who see this as an act of hate against non-whites.”
In other words, mob rule has supporters even in the higher administrative echelons of the university. But the intimidation and fear of violence directed at these students was not at an end:
The University of Minnesota did call for a “Campus Climate” conversation about the recent controversial events, but this, too, devolved into chaos. About 15 minutes into the event, more than 200 protesters came into the room chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, racism has got to go,” surrounding those students who had come to the event to engage in a civil conversation.

The protesters took over the stage as the student body president stood at the front of the room with her fist in the air, leading the chants. Students took turns lamenting how their feelings were hurt, how writing “Build the Wall” amounts to hate speech, and how they want to be included in conversations on campus. At the end of the event, one of the protesters stood on stage and asked the crowd if any College Republicans had attended. Madison stood up and raised her hand.

When the “event” ended, she was swarmed by the mob. “They were completely surrounding me; I was unable to leave the event. They were screaming in my face calling me racist, xenophobic, and other unmentionable names. They were aggressive, and I just wanted to get out safely,” said Madison. “One girl was holding another girl back saying, ‘She’s not worth it. Don’t hit her.’”
Later in the semester, Antifa got into the act. You can read about the frightening reprisals they've employed against Faupel at the link.

We normally think of university students as comprising the cream of American society, and many of them are, but the people who are attacking Madison Faupel are the dregs. They don't belong in an environment in which the free exchange of ideas is supposedly valued. They're too intellectually and culturally primitive to appreciate freedom, too eager to deny it to those who do appreciate it, and too fond of violence to be tolerated on our campuses and streets.

Their methods are similar to those of the Nazi brown-shirts of the 1930s, they're every bit as fascistic and evil as their Nazi predecessors and, like contemporary neo-Nazis and Klansmen, they need to be both condemned and ridiculed until they retreat back to the rocks from under which they've emerged.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fine-Tuning and the Multiverse

Physicist Adam Frank is impressed, as most scientists are, with the degree of fine-tuning scientists are finding in the cosmos. He writes:
As cosmologists poked around Big Bang theory on ever-finer levels of detail, it soon became clear that getting this universe, the one we happily inhabit, seemed to be more and more unlikely. In his article, Scharf gives us the famous example carbon-12 and its special resonances. If this minor detail of nuclear physics were just a wee bit different, our existence would never be possible. It’s as if nuclear physics were fine-tuned to allow life. But this issue of fine-tuning goes way beyond carbon nuclei; it infects many aspects of cosmological physics.

Change almost anything associated with the fundamental laws of physics by one part in a zillion and you end up with a sterile universe where life could never have formed. Not only that, but make tiny changes in even the initial conditions of the Big Bang and you end up with a sterile universe. Cosmologically speaking, it’s like we won every lottery every imaginable. From that vantage point we are special—crazy special.
Indeed, the figure of one part in a zillion hardly begins to capture the incomprehensible precision with which these cosmic constants and forces are set, but lest one conclude that perhaps it's all purposefully engineered, Frank quickly waves the reader away from that unthinkable heresy:
Fine-tuning sticks in the craw of most physicists, and rightfully so. It’s that old Copernican principle again. What set the laws and the initial conditions for the universe to be “just so,” just so we could be here? It smells too much like intelligent design. The whole point of science has been to find natural, rational reasons for why the world looks like it does. “Because a miracle happened,” just doesn’t cut it.
This is a bit too flippant. Intelligent design doesn't say "a miracle happened" as though that were all that's needed to account for our world. ID says simply that natural processes are inadequate by themselves to explain what we're finding in our equations and that the universe shows the hallmarks of having been intentionally engineered by an intelligent agent. Even so, it's ironic that every naturalistic theory of cosmogenesis does say that the origin of the universe was miraculous if we define a miracle as an extraordinarily improbable event that does not conform to the known laws of physics.

So, how do scientists who wish to avoid the idea of purposeful design manage to do so? Well, they conjure a near infinite number of universes, the multiverse, of which ours is just one:
In response to the dilemma of fine-tuning, some cosmologists turned to the multiverse. Various theories cosmologists and physicists were already pursuing—ideas like inflation and string theory—seemed to point to multiple universes.
Actually, these theories allowed for the existence of other universes, they don't require them, but be that as it may, the advantage of positing a multiplicity of different worlds is that the more different worlds you have the more likely even a very improbable world will become, just as the more times you deal a deck of cards the more likely it will be that you'll deal a royal flush. Frank, though, issues a caveat:
There is, however, a small problem. Well, maybe it’s not a small problem, because the problem is really a very big bet these cosmologists are taking. The multiverse is a wildly extreme extrapolation of what constitutes reality. Adding an almost infinite number of possible universes to your theory of reality is no small move.

Even more important, as of yet there is not one single, itty-bitty smackeral of evidence that even one other universe exists (emphasis mine)....

Finding evidence of a multiverse would, of course, represent one of the greatest triumphs of science in history. It is a very cool idea and is worth pursuing. In the meantime, however, we need to be mindful of the metaphysics it brings with it. For that reason, the heavy investment in the multiverse may be over-enthusiastic.

The multiverse meme seems to be everywhere these days, and one question to ask is how long can the idea be supported without data (emphasis mine). Recall that relativity was confirmed after just a few years. The first evidence for the expanding universe, as predicted by general relativity, also came just a few years after theorists proposed it. String theory [upon which the multiverse idea is based], in contrast, has been around for 30 years now, and has no physical evidence to support it.
I'm surprised Frank doesn't mention the irony in this. Scientists feel impelled to shun ID because it's not scientific to posit intelligences for which there's no physical evidence (set aside the fact that the existence of a finely-tuned universe is itself pretty compelling evidence). Yet, in its stead they embrace a theory, the multiverse, for which, as he readily admits, there's no physical evidence and they think this is somehow more reasonable.

When you're determined to escape the conclusion that the universe is intentional, you'll embrace any logic and any theory, no matter how bizarre, that allows you to maintain the pretense of having avoided the offending view.

Pretty amusing.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Science and Intelligent Design

Despite what you may have learned in high school about the "steps" of the scientific method there's really only one absolute rule in the practice of science: An explanation to qualify as science must be naturalistic.

Whatever a scientist might believe in his or her private life, in professional practice the scientist cannot resort to non-natural causes as explanations for the data they accumulate in their investigations. They thus impose upon themselves a methodological constraint called methodological naturalism (MN).

MN seems a reasonable rule of practice although it leads to at least one difficulty. An investigator never knows when he or she has reached the limits of what naturalistic causes can explain. When naturalistic explanations fizzle out the best a scientist can say is that science is at an end of its ability to explain the phenomena. Unfortunately, too often it's assumed that whatever science can't explain is somehow not worth explaining.

In any case, one of the objections to the theory of intelligent design is that, whatever its philosophical merits, it's not a scientific theory because it necessarily posits an intelligent creator who is not subject to empirical verification or testability, and which is therefore beyond the scope of the rule of methodological naturalism.

This objection is not quite right. Whatever the usefulness of MN may be in the practice of science, the rule is not violated by intelligent design as an article at Evolution News points out. Here's an excerpt:
MN states that science cannot appeal to the supernatural. But ID does not appeal to the supernatural, and thus does not require non-natural causes.

ID begins with observations of the types of information and complexity produced by intelligent agents. Intelligent agents are natural causes that we can understand by studying the world around us. This makes intelligent agency a proper subject of scientific study. When ID finds high levels of complex and specified information, or CSI, in nature, the most it can infer is that intelligence was at work. Because ID respects the limits of scientific inquiry, it does not make claims beyond the data by trying to identify the designer.

Philosopher Stephen Meyer explains:
Though the designing agent responsible for life may well have been an omnipotent deity, the theory of intelligent design does not claim to be able to determine that. Because the inference to design depends upon our uniform experience of cause and effect in this world, the theory cannot determine whether or not the designing intelligence putatively responsible for life has powers beyond those on display in our experience.

Nor can the theory of intelligent design determine whether the intelligent agent responsible for information life acted from the natural or the “supernatural” realm. Instead, the theory of intelligent design merely claims to detect the action of some intelligent cause (with power, at least, equivalent to those we know from experience) and affirms this because we know from experience that only conscious, intelligent agents produce large amounts of specified information.
Many other ID proponents have pointed out that ID only appeals to intelligent causes, not supernatural ones. Michael Behe writes:
[A]s regards the identity of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase hypothesis non fingo [“I frame no hypothesis”].
William Dembski and Jonathan Wells explain:
Supernatural explanations invoke miracles and therefore are not properly part of science. Explanations that call on intelligent causes require no miracles but cannot be reduced to materialistic explanations.
Now some might argue that ID violates MN by leaving open the possibility of a supernatural designer. It's true that ID leaves open such a possibility. But ID does not claim to scientifically detect a supernatural creator. Again, the most ID claims to detect is intelligent causation. Many (though not all) ID proponents may believe the designer is God, but they do not claim this is a scientific conclusion of ID. In this respect, ID is no different from Darwinian evolution, which claims that if there is a supernatural creator, that would be beyond science’s power to detect.
But is MN a good rule for science? A quote from atheistic cosmologist Sean Carroll in the article suggests that he, at least, is skeptical.
Science should be interested in determining the truth, whatever that truth may be – natural, supernatural, or otherwise. The stance known as methodological naturalism, while deployed with the best of intentions by supporters of science, amounts to assuming part of the answer ahead of time. If finding truth is our goal, that is just about the biggest mistake we can make.
Carroll's words remind me of one of my favorite quotes from a philosopher. The passage is from the American pragmatist William James who wrote that "a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule." Metaphysical naturalism is certainly a rule that would prevent us from seeing that there's an intelligence behind the cosmos, if, indeed, that intelligence is really there.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Walls Don't Work Fallacy

One of the objections opponents of a border wall with Mexico raise against candidate Trump's promise to erect such a wall is that a wall wouldn't work to keep illegal aliens out. A wall would be enormously expensive to build and maintain, the argument goes, and it wouldn't be effective in preventing people from coming into the country illegally in any case.

Well, I don't know if a wall along the southern border would work or not, but the general claim that walls don't work is nonsense. Perhaps the best refutation of the claim is found in Israel which has a security fence that runs for 760 kilometers (about 456 miles) along the West Bank. Most of the fence was constructed between 2002 and 2009 and during that span terror attacks inside Israel declined over 90 percent and related deaths plunged over 98 percent.

The Israeli barrier has had some very unfortunate consequences for people who found themselves walled off from their orchards and fields, but it has certainly been a success in protecting the Israeli people from the intrusions of those who wish to do them harm.

Perhaps the reason open borders proponents raise the "walls don't work" objection to a border wall with Mexico is not because they don't believe it would work, but because they believe it will.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Modernity's Malaise

Philosopher W.T. Stace writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1948 gives a concise summary of how we came to be where we are in the modern world, i.e. adrift in a sea of moral subjectivism and anomie. He asserts that:
The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called "final causes"...[belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century....They did this on the [basis that] inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the prediction and control of events.

....The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated around the world....

The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws....[But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends - money, fame, art, science - and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center.

Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless spirit of modern man....Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values....If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions.

Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.
On one point I would wish to quibble with Stace's summary. He writes in the penultimate paragraph above that, "If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions."

I think, however, that if our moral rules derive from the universe they're no more binding or authoritative than if they are our own inventions. The only thing that can impose a moral duty is a personal being, and the only being that has the authority and ability to impose an objective moral duty is one that transcends human finitude. Neither the universe nor any entity comprised of other humans qualifies.

Unless God exists there simply are no objective moral duties. Thus, if one believes we all have a duty to be kind rather than cruel, to refrain from, say, rape or child abuse or other forms of violence, then one must either accept that God exists or explain how such obligations can exist in a world where man is simply the product of blind, impersonal forces, plus chance, plus time.

Put simply, in the world of Darwinian naturalism, no grounds exist for saying that hurting people is wrong. Indeed, no grounds exist for saying anything is wrong.

It's not just that modernity and the erosion of theistic belief in the West has led to moral relativism. It's that modernity and the concomitant loss of any genuine moral authority in the world leads ineluctably to moral nihilism.

This is one of the themes I present in my novels In the Absence of God and Bridging the Abyss which you can read about by clicking on the links at the top right of this page.