Wednesday, May 4, 2005


"What are we to believe in, then? Nothing. That is the beginning of Wisdom. It is time to rid ourselves of 'Principles' and to espouse Science, objective inquiry."

Gustave Flaubert

The problem with so much of skepticism is that it is self-refuting. Flaubert's aphorism is an example. If he really means that we should believe in nothing then he has to admit that he doesn't believe that we should believe in nothing. This, of course, is incoherent.

Flaubert wants to make an exception to his skepticism for Science, but in order to believe in Science he has to believe in a host of other things as well. He has to believe, for example, that Reason leads to truth, he has to believe in the trustworthiness of his senses, he has to believe in the orderliness and uniformity of nature, the reality of an external world, and so on. In order to place his faith in science he must set his skepticism aside, otherwise it's sure to get in the way.

Despite his silly assertion about throwing out all one's beliefs, Flaubert didn't really mean that we should literally believe in nothing. I don't think he was a complete nihilist. But it would be interesting to know what sorts of things he thought unworthy of belief and what his reasons were for not believing in them. Maybe a reader can enlighten us on the matter.

Basic Genetics

Professional scientists have for a long time been critical of much of what passes for science education in some American public schools. After reading this story in our local paper we're inclined to think they may have a point:

Artis Hicks 28, of Clarion, demanded a paternity test when a woman identified him as the father of her newborn son and asked for child support, prosecutors said. Then Hicks allegedly sent his brother, Walter Hicks, 35, of York, to take the test, York County Senior Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey McInroy said Wednesday. When the brother's signature didn't match that on file for Artis Hicks, further DNA testing uncovered the switch, and showed a 99.99 percent probability that Artis Hicks was the child's father, investigators said.

The brothers face charges including forgery, criminal solicitation and tampering with evidence and public documents. Both waived preliminary hearings before District Judge Paula Correal and she ruled that they will face trial in Cumberland County Court.

Dave Rudy, a domestic relations enforcement officer, said a support order was secured against Artis Hicks and he is paying child support.

Let's see. Artis tried to avoid paying child support by demanding a DNA test and then sending his brother to submit the sample. How different Artis thought his brother's DNA would be from his own, the article doesn't say. Let's put a charitable interpretation on Mr. Hicks' scheme and allow that perhaps Artis and Walter are adoptive brothers.

Iranian Youth

A recent poll of Iranian students (Scroll to May 1st: Life and Liberty in Iran) at Regime Change Iran gives reason to think that if we can avert a military showdown with Iran long enough the fundamentalist regime might fall like a rotted tree in the winds of popular contempt.

In early 2003 a large Internet poll of students of the Amir Kabir University (the second most prestigious university in Iran) was conducted. Here are some of the results:

For example, a government conducted survey revealed that 86 percent of the youth say that they do not perform the obligatory daily Islamic prayer.

Only 6 percent of the students said that they support the hardliners, while another 4 percent said they support the reformists within the regime.

In other words, only ten percent of respondents supported the regime at all.

Most significantly, 85 percent of the students said that they would support the establishment of a secular and democratic republic.

The balance of the post discusses why the mullahs still retain their power despite their immense unpopularity. The analysis includes with this:

While apathy may be the outward appearance, there is a cumulation of repressed anger, which may explode by a trigger. A potential trigger may be an outrageous act by regime elements as occurred in Lebanon by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Another trigger may be American military attacks on fundamentalist coercive apparatuses such as Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Basij corps, Ansar-e Hezbollah vigilantes, Ministry of Intelligence headquarters, and the like.

We do not believe that any military strikes on the nuclear facilities would serve as a trigger for mass uprising as some have argued in Washington. The reasons being that with coercive apparatuses being intact, they have not only the power to crush any uprising, but also the added motivation and anger to do so. Iranians are angry at the coercive apparatuses for having oppressed and repressed them for so long but not at any inanimate nuclear facility.

Perhaps we shouldn't place too much confidence in the poll results, since it was conducted over the net and there's no explanation of the measures taken to insure a representative cross-section of respondents nor of the measures taken to prevent fraud. Nevertheless, it is suggestive.

The discussion of what might trigger a revolution in Iran makes a very interesting and important point about the sources of Iranian resentments. It could be that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will produce only a shrug from the people themselves. This could be disappointing, but it could also be good news if such an attack becomes necessary. If the popular reaction tends toward indifference it makes such an attack somewhat less perilous.