Saturday, May 6, 2006

Contempt For One's Betters

Richard Cohen is a journalist, a newspaper opinion writer. One might think that that fact would be the source for him of a certain humility, but one would be wrong. Despite the fact that Mr. Cohen has no formal training in the sciences or in the philosophy of science (if he does, he keeps it well-hidden), he nevertheless feels confident to hold forth on topics in which he has no expertise and to make bold, dogmatic pronouncements on matters concerning which he knows nothing.

In this column, for example, he declares Intelligent Design theory to be "idiocy." How, we wonder, did he arrive at this conclusion? What research has he done on the matter? What books has he published? The sheer pomposity and fatuous arrogance of a man who collectively calls hundreds of thinkers in philosophy and the sciences who've devoted their lives to thinking about these things idiots is beyond breathtaking.

Even so, it might be a teensy bit more credible if the rest of his piece were not so flimsy, but, alas, flimsy thinking is not alien to Mr. Cohen's style.

Enthusiastically recommending a book on sociobiology, the notion that all of evolution is driven by genes striving to perpetuate themselves into the next generation, he makes claims like this as if it was common knowledge among biologists:

For instance, they [our genes] have ensured that newborns in general are not only cute but look alike -- so the charmed but possibly cuckolded male will accept them as his own.

Perhaps he has interviewed a few genes to score this scoop, but otherwise it's appropriate to ask how he knows that this is why babies tend to look alike. Why couldn't they look alike because at early stages of development there are only so many possible variations of appearance so they pretty much have to look alike. Never mind, Professor Cohen just knows that babies look all the same so that cuckolded fathers won't suspect their wives' infidelity.

Of course, Professor Cohen, Ph.D seems uncurious as to why, as children continue to develop, they look more and more different. Why don't our genes ensure that we look alike all through childhood so that the father never gets suspicious? What good does it do for the father to accept the child as an infant only to reject it a year or so on when it begins to dawn on him that he's raising another man's child? There is, we are to suppose, a satisfactory sociobiological reason why children tend to gradually take on diverse appearances, but Dr. Cohen doesn't share it with us.

Another myth concerns those cute chimps, one of whom, J. Fred Muggs, once co-hosted the "Today" show. They have 99 percent of a human being's DNA sequence, which may explain why humans and chimps are the only creatures to make war.

Or it may not explain anything. Several species of ants also make war, and presumably they have very little DNA in common with either chimps or humans. Humans, chimps, and ants all make war. What follows? Nothing that I can see.

Evolution is making us less aggressive and smarter, since, clearly, brains are better than brawn in the modern world.

And just as clearly there's not much reason to think that this is any more true than the rest of what he has said in this piece. How the eminent scholar Prof. Cohen, Ph.D can make the assertion that "Evolution is making us less aggressive and smarter" in the wake of the bloodiest century in human history escapes me, but if he really believes it's true, it would be nice of him to at least tell us why he does, but he doesn't.

Having thusly impressed us with his erudition, Dr. Cohen concludes his essay with this:

It is an odd paradox of our times that as science relentlessly validates Darwin's genius, American social conservatives push back with such idiocies as "intelligent design." They should read this book -- it even explains the evolutionary basis of religion -- to appreciate what will happen to them.

The author of an essay so liberally sprinkled with error and misconception would do well not to call further attention to his own inadequacies by claiming his intellectual betters to be idiots.

Bad News, Good News

In Pennsylvania Governor Rendell is pulling ahead and Senator Santorum is pulling even.

HARRISBURG -- Aided by a $1-million-plus TV advertising blitz, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell has opened a 14-point lead in his re-election campaign against Republican challenger Lynn Swann, according to the latest Pittsburgh Tribune-Review/WTAE-Channel 4 Keystone poll. The statewide poll of 578 registered voters released today also showed U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills, has pulled within six points of his likely Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., of Scranton.

Santorum has come from a long way back and he still has a difficult slog ahead, but the trend is encouraging. It's interesting that in a recent voter survey significant numbers of people who said that they would vote for pro-life Democrat Bob Casey over very pro-life Republican Rick Santorum changed their minds when told that the National Organization for Women, an abortion rights advocacy group, was going to endorse Casey's Democratic primary opponent. A substantial number of respondents, when told this, said essentially that, "Well, if Casey's pro-life, then I'm voting for the Republican. I don't want anymore of those pro-lifers in the Senate."

Perhaps these potential voters have been vacationing in Tora Bora, Afghanistan for the last twelve years.

Six Million!?

This is hard to believe, but it is evidently true. Each year in Africa six million Muslims convert to Christianity. Read this interview with a Muslim scholar who does not deny the figure, though he understandably sees it as a tragedy.

Economic Saber Rattling

From the link:

Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced here on Friday that within two months, his country will base its oil accounts on the EURO.

The Russian News Agency, Itar Tass, quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that Iran also intends to found a bourse at the Arabian Gulf's economic zone of Kish which will rely on the EURO currency in its accounts.