Wednesday, March 7, 2007

More on Boring School

More readers have weighed in on why school is boring on our Feedback page and have between them said much of what I wanted to say, so I've postponed my response to tomorrow.


Another Difference

Here's another example of the difference between liberals and conservatives, at least in the media and in the blogosphere. Ann Coulter calls John Edwards a "faggot" and conservative commentators, if not everyone in the rank and file, have been quick to condemn the insult and to all but require Coulter to do penance in sackcloth and ashes. Her mean-chick schtick has run its course and worn itself out in the minds of many conservatives. They'd rather leave that kind of rhetoric to the Maureen Dowds of the world.

Meanwhile, Bill Maher suggests that the world would be better off if the Taliban had succeeded in assassinating vice-president Cheney last week, and there has been utter silence from the libs. I have seen nothing in any liberal news media about this dreadfully cruel remark.

Name-calling and hateful speech is considered despicable by most conservatives no matter who does it, but, judging from their silence, liberals have no problem with it, at least if it comes from one of their own. Indeed, they scarcely seem to notice it unless it has a conservative provenience.

The silence on the left causes one to fear that this kind of vicious, ugly thinking and speech has simply become part of how many contemporary secular leftists see the world and part of who they are.


Sensus Divinitatis

Sunday's New York Times Magazine has an article by Robin Marantz Henig which explores current scientific thinking on the question of why people are religious. What is the best explanation, scientists are asking, for the fact that belief in God or gods is almost universal? Henig writes:

Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.

Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God - evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?

In short, are we hard-wired to believe in God? And if we are, how and why did that happen?

I think Reformed philosophers would reply that of course we're "hard-wired" to believe in God. That's almost precisely the point Paul was making in Romans 1. It's what John Calvin meant when he wrote about the sensus divinitatis, the sense of God that everybody seems to have as long as they don't squelch it.

Of course, this isn't what many scientists have in mind when they talk about belief in God being a product of our evolutionary past. Their agenda is to discredit belief in God by showing that it's nothing but an illusion foisted upon us by our genes to equip us for life in the paleolithic epoch.

This little parlor game can be played as well by theists, however. I wonder, for instance, if next these scientists are going to take up the question why many people don't believe in God. Are atheists actually genetic mutants intellectually maladapted to their environment and doomed to be eliminated by natural selection? Is atheism simply an evolutionary aberration, like Down's syndrome, such that the person who suffers from it really can't help holding the beliefs he does? If so, then the rationality that atheists enjoy claiming for themselves is an illusion. Their belief, or lack of it, is a completely non-rational, genetically determined state of mind.

Isn't this fun?


Hammering on the Lunatics

University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers has gained some reknown and much criticism from both supporters and adversaries alike for his acidulous attacks on anyone who is skeptical of the Darwinian paradigm. He advocates humiliating and firing school science teachers who want to teach both sides of the intelligent design/materialistic evolution issue and considers ad hominem abusive to be the pinnacle of intellectual discourse:

Please don't try to tell me that you object to the tone of our complaints. Our only problem is that we aren't martial enough, or vigorous enough, or loud enough, or angry enough. The only appropriate responses should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many schoolboard members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians (See here).

I say, screw the polite words and careful rhetoric. It's time for scientists to break out the steel-toed boots and brass knuckles, and get out there and hammer on the lunatics and idiots. If you don't care enough for the truth to fight for it, then get out of the way.

don't even suggest that we're being too partisan. I am on the side of reason and human rights, and my only failing is that I'm not partisan enough (See here).

When these words were read by a disputant during a debate with an ACLU lawyer the ACLU supporters in the crowd actually cheered. So much for liberal tolerance of diversity and cherishing the freedom of speech among that crowd.

Anyway, it's ironic that Paul Myers, an avowed atheist (if one didn't know it would be apparent from his total rejection of the idea that one should treat one's opponents with dignity, respect, and kindness), claims himself to be on the side of reason and human rights. Perhaps no one has told him as yet, but atheistic naturalism offers its devotees absolutely no grounds for either stance.

In other words, both his devotion to reason and to human rights are arbitrary, non-rational commitments somewhat akin to one's devotion to oreo cookie ice cream. Now one may be passionate about oreo cookie ice cream, of course, but to establish a blog and to spend one's time excoriating those who have a different view of oreo cookie seems at least a little perverse.

Perhaps professor Myers might spend a few moments reflecting upon why he believes that reason is a reliable guide to truth or why he believes that human rights are rooted in anything more than an arbitrary preference. If he gives these questions just a few moments of serious attention he might realize that he can only argue for the trustworthiness of reason by using reason, which is irrational.

Given his view that matter, or nature, is all there is, neither his trust in reason nor his devotion to human rights is grounded in anything more than his own personal taste, bias, or prejudice.