Saturday, May 26, 2018

This Happens Much Too Often

It seems that all one has to do nowadays is make an allegation against a law enforcement officer, and if the accuser is a minority and the officer is white his life is thrown into turmoil. The most recent example occurred in Texas where a Texas State Trooper named Daniel Hubbard arrested a woman named Sherita Dixon-Cole.

Dixon-Cole accused the trooper of a number of sordid acts while she was in his custody and the accusations went viral, promoted by reprehensible racial activists like Shaun King and Dixon-Cole's lawyer, S. Lee Merritt. As a result of the incitements of these people on social media thousands of mindless dunderheads have posted death threats against Hubbard and another Texas trooper with the same last name, as well as his family.

Unfortunately for the reputations of both King and Dixon-Cole trooper Hubbard was wearing a body cam and the whole episode was recorded. Every word of the allegations against him turned out to be a lie.

So, a good man doing his job has his life turned upside down by a vicious woman and thousands of unthinking cretins whose first reaction is not to say "Let's wait and see what the evidence is", but rather "Let's kill the guy and his family."

This is the America that has resulted from fifty years of progressivist identity politics, hatred, and Nietzschean ressentiment. Progressivist racial politics have spawned a lynch mob mentality that cares not a bit for facts but which feeds instead on pure emotion and irrational prejudice.

Nor is this the first time that we've seen this scenario play out. The present episode is reminiscent of the 2006 Duke Lacrosse Team case in which a black stripper accused members of the Duke University lacrosse team of assaulting and raping her at a frat party. The District Attorney, a man named Michael Nifong, took her word for it and almost ruined these young men's lives. It turned out that her story was a complete fabrication but until that was demonstrated, the young men suffered grievously.

In any case, besides the fact that there are lots of people with the rational capacities of five year-olds inhabiting the social media world, what other lesson can be gained from this current episode?

One lesson, perhaps, is that the best policy when hearing about these sorts of reports is to approach them with an attitude of open-minded skepticism until the evidence is dispositive that a crime has actually been committed. A steadfast refusal to jump to conclusions would be difficult for many people to implement in their personal lives, of course, requiring as it does a self-discipline beyond the capacities of many who were eager to shout threats, denunciations, and imprecations upon the troopers and their families, but it would save a lot of people a lot of genuine grief and a lot of others a lot of embarrassment.

It'd also be a salutary lesson, as well as condign justice, if the two Hubbard troopers were to sue Dixon-Cole and Shaun King for everything they own for defamation of character or whatever else their lawyers can come up with. Dixon-Cole richly deserves to pay for her mendacity, and King deserves to pay for stupidly endangering the lives of completely innocent people by promoting Dixon-Cole's lies.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Atheism's Coherency Problem

At Uncommon Descent William J. Murray lists ten reasons why atheists are "delusional." I'd prefer the word "inconsistent, or perhaps "irrational," but nevertheless, his ten points make for a compelling case that whichever descriptor one chooses, atheism is intellectually untenable and very difficult, if not impossible, to live out in consistent fashion.

Here are the first four of Murray's ten reasons in italics with my comments added:

1. They [atheistic materialists or naturalists] dismiss morality as nothing more than strongly felt subjective preference, but admit they act as if morality is objective in nature. They tacitly act as if morality is objective, for instance, every time they make a moral judgment of someone else's behavior.

2. They speak, act and hold others responsible for their behaviors as if we all have some metaphysical capacity to transcend and override the deterministic effects of our body’s physical state and causative processing (free will), yet they deny any such metaphysical capacity exists. In other words, if materialism is true there's scant grounds for believing in something like free will, yet every time someone uses the words "ought" or "should" in a moral sense they're implying that a person is free to have done other than what they did.

3. They deny truth can be determined subjectively while necessarily implying that their arguments and evidences are true and expecting others to subjectively determine that their arguments are true. If truth really is nothing more than a subjective preference then there's no point in an argument nor in stating any proposition with the expectation that anyone else should believe it.

4. They deny that what is intelligently designed can be reliably identified when virtually every moment of their waking existence requires precisely that capacity. Put differently, the extremely complex structures and information that must have existed in even the earliest cells they impute to chance but would never attribute to chance the ability to create the even more complex information contained in the operating systems on the computers they use every day.

Follow the link for the last six of Murray's reasons.

I said above that I prefer the word "irrational" because, as Murray points out with his ten reasons, naturalists can't live, or don't live, consistently with their fundamental assumption of atheism. To ignore the logic of one's fundamental assumption and to live as if its contrary were true, i.e. to live as if God exists while denying that he does, is a tacit admission that one's basic metaphysical assumptions are unlivable, if not incoherent. We might call this atheism's coherency problem.

Parenthetically, atheists of both a modern and postmodern predilection have an interesting relationship with reason. Modern man argues that reason is our most trustworthy guide to truth while the postmodern argues that reason is a failure as a guide to truth. Yet both must employ reason in order to make their respective cases. So, 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 argue 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 assume that God does not exist then we must conclude that our rational faculties are the product of processes which have produced those faculties to suit us for survival, not for the attainment of true beliefs, in which case there's no basis for thinking that they're trustworthy guides to truth. C.S. Lewis was one of the first to point this out as a trio of philosophers discuss 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:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Know-Nothings

In a much-cited 2016 essay Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen laments the failure of the older generations to transmit to today's young people the rich cultural heritage to which they are heirs.

His lede sounds like an insulting indictment of today's students, but it's not. It's actually an indictment of today's elders who have failed to demonstrate sufficient appreciation of, and gratitude for, the cultural inheritance that was bequeathed to them (us) to strive to instill it in our successors.

Deneen writes:
My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.

It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject); they build superb résumés. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though easy-going if crude with their peers. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publicly).

They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.
But, Deneen alleges, unless they're majoring in one of these disciplines they're disturbingly ignorant of history, literature, politics, science, religion and philosophy. They lack the background knowledge necessary to place current controversies into context.

Whether they've never been taught much in high school or whether they've just never been compelled to learn it, I don't know, but his experience tracks my own albeit I teach at less prestigious schools. The students I work with are, in the main, wonderful kids and I love them, but few of them arrive at college knowing much beyond the limits of their major and pop culture.

Perhaps it has always been this way, but I don't think so. Deneen goes on to identify the root of the problem as he sees it. In his view, the failure to teach the young is intentional:
Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings.

The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. ... Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.
Read the article at the link for more of Deneen's critique of the damage wrought on contemporary students by an educational system that no longer sees it as its task to transmit the best that has been thought and written but rather is more interested in building self-esteem, teaching respect for others, achieving social justice and having fun.

He closes with this:
I love my students – like any human being, each has enormous potential and great gifts to bestow upon the world. But I weep for them, for what is rightfully theirs but hasn’t been given. On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself.

But even on those better days, I can’t help but hold the hopeful thought that the world they have inherited – a world without inheritance, without past, future, or deepest cares – is about to come tumbling down, and that this collapse would be the true beginning of a real education.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

It's What Conservatives Do

A recent column in the New York Times took Republicans to task for political inaction:
[If] the economy and foreign policy have boosted the president’s fortunes, the most important boost may be coming from inside his own party, in the form of the totally nonexistent agenda that congressional Republicans have put forward since the tax bill passed.

That nonexistence is, of course, an indictment of the G.O.P., but politically it’s vastly preferable to the deeply unpopular legislation that the Republicans might otherwise be pursuing, if they were to reattempt Obamacare repeal or pursue some other item from the zombie-Reaganite playbook.

A core fact of our era is that the national Republican Party is politically effective only as a vehicle for anti-liberalism, a rallying point for all the disparate groups who feel threatened by having our cultural elite in full control of government. Which means the G.O.P. is often more popular the less it attempts to legislate at all.
The Times intends this as a criticism but a lot of conservatives are apt to read it and say that this is precisely what conservatives do. Conservatives conserve, they don't enact reams of new legislation which only make government bigger and more overbearing. This is not to say that scaling back Obamacare wouldn't be a good thing, but legislative efforts such as that would make government smaller, less intrusive and less ponderous.

To the extent that the GOP is the home of modern conservatives, it should be a bastion against liberal pie-in-the-sky innovations.

There is today, I think, a lot of misunderstanding as to what conservatism and liberalism are in the contemporary political landscape. Both terms have evolved over the centuries and mean different things today than they did two hundred years ago.

Doubtless this is part of the reason for the misunderstanding, but there are other reasons as well. For instance, the popular misunderstanding is due in no small measure to the distortions of the media which seems to have the unfortunate ability to get almost everything that involves subtle distinctions wrong. It's also due, in part, to the fact that conservatism and liberalism are culturally relative. For example, as Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online, observes:
A conservative in America wants to conserve radically different things than a conservative in Saudi Arabia, Russia, or France does. Even British conservatives — our closest ideological cousins — want to preserve the monarchy, an institution we fought a revolution to get rid of. In the Soviet Union, the “conservatives” were the ones who wanted to preserve and defend the Bolshevik Revolution.
In Saudi Arabia the conservatives want to preserve a strict form of Islam. Indeed, ISIS is a conservative movement. In the antebellum South conservatives wanted to preserve slavery, and in modern Russia it's the conservatives who wish to return to the days of the Soviet Union. In the modern American context, however, conservatism is essentially the desire, as paradoxical as it may sound, to preserve classical liberalism. It's the desire to hold fast to what has been proven through the ages to work, religiously, politically, economically, morally, and socially. It's a reluctance to change just for the sake of change. It recognizes that if something ain't broke it's foolish to try to fix it, and if it is broke the fix is often worse than the original brokenness.

Goldberg elaborates on the relationship between conservatism and classical liberalism:
America’s founding doctrine is properly understood as classical liberalism — or until the progressives stole the label, simply “liberalism.” Until socialism burst on the scene in Europe, liberalism was universally understood as the opposite of conservatism. That’s because European conservatism sought to defend and maintain monarchy, aristocracy, and even feudalism.

The American Founding, warts and all, was the apotheosis of classical liberalism, and conservatism here has always been about preserving it. That’s why Friedrich Hayek, in his fantastic — and fantastically misunderstood — essay “Why I am Not a Conservative” could say that America was the one polity where one could be a conservative and a defender of the liberal tradition.
Classical liberals, unlike their modern progressive counterparts, stood for freedom - freedom of the individual to believe what he wished and to speak his mind without suffering persecution from an intolerant government or social institutions. They also believed in the ability of free markets to maximize economic well-being, in the deadening effect of taxation, and in the dangers of big government. They believed in the inherent tendency of men toward evil and, for the most part, in the salutary effect of Christian belief on man's most destructive impulses.

So, I join with Goldberg when he says at the end of his piece that "It’s also why I have no problem with people who say that American conservatism is simply classical liberalism. As a shorthand, that’s fine by me."

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Would Discovering Extra-Terrestrial Life Refute Theism?

Although it's hard to see exactly why, many people are of the mind that if scientists ever discovered life on other planets it would be a devastating blow to theistic belief. It's apparently thought that theism, particularly Christian theism, entails the belief that life was created only on earth and nowhere else and that the discovery of life in some distant locale would thus refute theism.

Protein chemist Kirk Durston has a different take on the matter, though. He argues that if life were ever to be discovered elsewhere in the universe it would be a devastating blow, not to theism but to atheism.

Here is the gravamen of his essay:
When it comes to the idea that life spontaneously self-assembled itself in the past, thousands of our brightest minds have worked on the problem for over half a century with no prospect of success in the foreseeable future. In fact, the more we learn, the more we realize how difficult the problem is. The challenge is three-fold. First, we have to figure out how intelligent scientists can create a simple life form from scratch in the lab.

Second, having done it ourselves, we have to see if realistic natural processes can do the same thing. The third problem is vastly more difficult: figure out how the information to build life forms gets encoded in these self-replicating molecules without an intelligent programmer. We are still working on the first problem, with no hint of success on the horizon. That might be significant, right there.

A 2011 article in Scientific American, “Pssst! Don’t tell the creationists, but scientists don’t have a clue how life began,” summarized our lack of progress in the lab. Of course, there are plenty of scenarios, but creative story-telling should not be confused with doing science, or making scientific discoveries. With regard to “thousands of papers” published each year in the field of evolution, as Austin Hughes wrote, “This vast outpouring of pseudo-Darwinian hype has been genuinely harmful to the credibility of evolutionary biology as a science.”

Evolutionary biologist Eugene Koonin, meanwhile, calculates the probability of a simple replication-translation system, just one key component, to be less than 1 chance in 10^1,018 making it unlikely that life will ever spontaneously self-assemble anywhere in the universe. His proposed solution is a near-infinite number of universes, something we might call a “multiverse of the gaps.” ....Indeed, we would need a vast number of universes all working on the problem to get lucky enough to see life spontaneously assemble itself in just one of them.

The probability of life spontaneously self-assembling anywhere in this universe is mind-staggeringly unlikely; essentially zero. If you are so unquestioningly naïve as to believe we just got incredibly lucky, then bless your soul.

If we were to discover extraterrestrial life, however, then we would have had to get mind-staggeringly lucky two times! Like the forensic detectives at the lotteries commission, a thinking person would have to start operating on the well-founded suspicion that “something is going on.”

The discovery of extraterrestrial life would be the death knell for atheism, at least for the thinking atheist. On the other hand, such a discovery should not be in the least surprising, if there is a supernatural Creator who has designed the universe to support life, and has brought about life and beauty throughout the universe, even if no human ever gets to see it.
Durston's last two paragraphs bear emphasizing: Life elsewhere in the cosmos would not be especially surprising given the truth of theism, but on the assumption that atheism is true the discovery of extraterrestrial life would be breathtakingly astounding.

It's truly ironic that so many of those who fervently hope to find evidence of extraterrestrial organisms are themselves metaphysical naturalists, i.e. atheists. These folks are apparently eager to find evidence that their most important metaphysical commitments are wrong. That just seems odd.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Losing Their Minds

Liberal media and politicians seem to be doing all they can to demonstrate that Trump's contempt for them is amply warranted. Let's let Andrew Klavan describe the latest example of media mendacity:
At a sit-down with California officials worried about sanctuary laws, Trump was questioned by Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. The sheriff complained that the laws kept her from holding the vicious, brutal, murderous members of the MS-13 gang for deportation. "There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it," the sheriff said.

And the president, sympathizing and obviously referring to the gangsters, answered, "You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals."

CNN, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, the New York Times and even C-SPAN rushed to tweet this comment in such a way as to make it sound as if Trump were referring to illegal immigrants in general. "Trump lashed out at undocumented immigrants during a White House meeting, calling those trying to breach the country’s borders 'animals.'" Well, yes, except they left out the descriptor: "But only those immigrants who beat children to death with baseball bats and cut their enemies' hearts out and are animals."
This was such an obvious distortion of the President's words that even they realized that their comments made them look either dishonest or stupid so they rushed to change the narrative to something like the following: Well, okay, Trump wasn't talking about all immigrants but still it's simply awful to dehumanize these gang members who rape, murder, and terrorize - who commit acts of unspeakable savagery. Even though their behavior is bestial, it's simply deplorable that Trump would call them animals.

It's obvious to anyone with a scintilla of common sense that Mr. Trump was speaking metaphorically not literally, but metaphor is apparently too subtle for some to grasp.

According to the Daily Caller (See here for additional examples):
CNBC’s John Harwood claimed, “however repugnant their actions, MS-13 gang members are human beings,” and Vox’s Dylan Matthews argued, “What if MS-13 members are still human and it’s bad to call them animals.”
Well, of course they're still human. It's obvious to anyone not consumed by a visceral hatred of the President that he was employing a metaphor. It's obvious to anyone not blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome that he meant that the vicious and inhumane behavior that characterizes MS-13, their view of both life and other human beings, is accurately and fairly described as that of predatory, conscienceless, amoral beasts.

For the left to make an issue of this seems symptomatic of a loss of all perspective, a loss of their collective mind.

Even so,
BBC reporter Anthony Zurcher insisted, “Referring to any humans as ‘animals’ edges toward the language of genocide.”
This is nonsense. In fact, refusing to condemn savage behavior in the strongest possible terms is to edge toward moral paralysis.
CNN personality Ana Navarro ...said the president was dehumanizing these poor MS-13 members, which put him in the same category as Nazis and slave owners.
The President did no such thing. Those MS-13 members have dehumanized themselves. Trump is simply pointing out that these are people who've chosen to diminish and set aside their own humanity.

In a textbook illustration of hypocrisy, Navarro wanted her viewers to know how reprehensible it was for Trump to allegedly dehumanize someone by calling them an animal and yet in a tweet a couple of years ago she herself used the same language to disparage Mr. Trump:
Regular CNN commentator Ana Navarro joined the crowd attacking President Donald Trump for referring to MS-13 gang members as “animals,” apparently forgetting that she had used the same terminology to attack Trump during the 2016 campaign. Just after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, Navarro tweeted her disgust with then candidate Trump.

“Should Donald Trump drop out of the race? Yes,” she tweeted Oct. 10, 2016. “He should drop out of the human race. He is an animal. Apologies to animals.”
Here's another example of a journalist condemning Mr. Trump for doing pretty much the same thing she did not too long ago:
Jennifer Rubin, the self-described “conservative blogger” at the Washington Post, called President Trump’s comments “disgusting,” but in August of 2017, Rubin also compared the president to an “animal” in an opinion piece that appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

“Only 24 hours after he read a serious speech off a teleprompter committing to send more young men and women to fight in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump reverted to form, delivering a rambling, rage-filled, 77-minute harangue that was alternately defensive, angry, accusatory and just plain weird. Like a trapped animal, he lashed out in every direction, trying unsuccessfully to draw blood.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also criticized the President for not recognizing that each of those MS-13 killers, as she put it, holds within himself the "spark of divinity."

These are odd words from a Roman Catholic who is nevertheless staunch in her support of the right to use abortion as birth control. Don't those babies also have the spark of divinity in them? Which is worse, calling someone who has done everything he could to snuff out that spark of divinity within himself an animal or actually snuffing out the spark of divinity in a baby by treating it as just a blob of tissue?

All humans are created in the image of God, but that doesn't mean that they can't become so degraded and cruel as to transmogrify themselves into moral monsters. It's a symptom of how perverse the left has become in their hatred of Trump that they're now reduced to coming to the defense of the humanity of extremely evil men, denying the obvious inhumanity of their behavior, and castigating Trump for clearly articulating it.

Why does MS-13 warrant President Trump's opprobrium? Breitbart offers a list of eleven of their more heinous crimes. It's worth reading and mulling over whether "animals" is really an inappropriate description of these people.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting interview with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on the criticism of President Trump and his "animals" remark:
An amusing aspect of all this is to consider that had Navarro, Pelosi and the rest ever discovered that MS-13 was a branch of the alt-right they themselves would be happy to declare them savages and animals.

Their indignation is not really that Mr. Trump has called the nation's attention to the depravity of this gang by labeling them what they in fact are. Their indignation is with Mr. Trump himself who has had the temerity to not only win an election they thought they had sewn up but also to keep all the promises he made during the campaign, undoing much of Mr. Obama's legacy in the process.

That's what's causing them to act as if they're losing their minds.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Leaving the Left

Yesterday's post on socialism and the four socialist candidates selected by Democratic voters to run for Congress in Pennsylvania this November highlighted the growing infatuation among progressives for far left ideological solutions to the nation's problems.

To be sure, the growing support for far-left ideology and politicians such as Bernie Sanders, especially among millenials, isn't limited just to economics.

In his new book Suicide of the West Jonah Goldberg cites some disappointing statistics. Support for liberty, Goldberg writes, is dying out:
Among those born in the 1930s, 75% of Americans and 53% of Europeans say living under democratic government is "essential." Among those born in the 1980s, the number drops to the low 40s in Europe and the low 30s in America. Only 32% of millennials consider it "absolutely essential" that "civil rights protect people's liberty."

The younger you are the less likely you are to support free speech rights. Forty percent of 18 to 34 year-olds ... thought that speech offensive to minorities should be banned.

A survey of college students in 2015 found that a majority of students favor speech codes for both students and faculty. More than six in ten want professors to provide students with "trigger warnings" before discussing or presenting material some might find offensive.
This is especially silly, of course. It would mean that we'd end up banning all speech since everyone is a member of some minority group or other - racial, religious, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, political ideology, body morphology, age, socio-economic class, pet owners, whatever - and everyone is offended by something.

Finally, there's this disconcerting stat:
Thirty percent of self-identified liberal students said they believe the First Amendment is outdated.
The silver lining is that the progressive abrogation of liberty is beginning to disillusion a lot of liberals. An example is journalist Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report who formerly identified as a progressive, but who has since realized that progressivism is leading us to totalitarian fascism. Here's his story: