Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ad Man Fired

The creator of the Big Brother Hillary ad has been found out and fired for his efforts.

Don't feel bad for the guy, though. This kind of talent will find a home somewhere in politics. I wouldn't be surprised if Hillary doesn't hire him herself.


Unspeakable Depravity

These are the people Michael Moore once referred to as Iraq's version of the American Minutemen:

Insurgents in Iraq detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle with two children in the back seat after US soldiers let it through a Baghdad checkpoint over the weekend, a senior US military official said Tuesday.

The vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint but was allowed through when soldiers saw the children in the back, said Major General Michael Barbero of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

"Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back," Barbero said.

After going through the checkpoint, the vehicle parked next to a market across the street from a school, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"And the two adults were seen to get out of the vehicle, and run from the vehicle, and then followed by the detonation of the vehicle," the official said.

"It killed the two children inside as well as three other civilians in the vicinity. So, a total of five killed, seven injured," the official said.

Officials here said they did not know who the children were or their relationship to the two adults who fled the scene. They had no information about their ages or genders.

Here are Moore's exact words: "The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?"

One thing we all "get" is that, given the facts about the sort of people we're dealing with in Iraq and elsewhere, Michael Moore is either a very uninformed man or he is morally comatose. Yet this is a man whom the left lionizes. It says, I suppose, something important about their standards.


Five for One?

Philosopher Peter Singer has an essay in The Guardian in which he poses a pair of ethical dilemmas, the responses to which are being studied by some Harvard post-docs: are standing by a railroad track when you notice that a trolley, with no one aboard, is heading for a group of five people. They will all be killed if it continues on its current track. The only thing you can do to prevent these five deaths is to throw a switch that will divert the trolley on to a side track, where it will kill only one person. When asked what you should do in these circumstances, most people say you should divert the trolley on to the side track, thus saving a net four lives.

In another dilemma, the trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are standing on a footbridge above the track. You cannot divert the trolley. You consider jumping off the bridge, in front of the trolley, thus sacrificing yourself to save the people in danger, but you realise you are too light to stop the trolley. Standing next to you is a very large stranger. The only way you can prevent the trolley from killing five people is by pushing this stranger off the bridge into the path of the trolley. He will be killed, but you will save the other five. When asked what you should do in these circumstances, most people say that it would be wrong to push the stranger.

Why do most people think it right to divert the trolley but not to push the stranger in front of the trolley? It's an interesting question and Singer speculates on some possible evolutionary explanations which unfortunately don't sound very persuasive.

More interesting to me is the question of whether we ever have the right to kill an innocent person who is no threat to ourselves, even if it saves more lives. This is a no-brainer for a utilitarian, perhaps, who would doubtless answer that the right act is always the act that produces the greatest net good (i.e. happiness). In these cases the greatest good would be saving the most lives, but for one whose ethics are grounded in the Gospels it's much more complicated and perplexing.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.


Crawley and Dawkins (Pt. II)

In his interview with William Crawley, Richard Dawkins offers three counter-arguments to the claim that the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe points to a cosmic designer.

Dawkins asks first where such a designer comes from. If a designer (let's say God) designed the universe, in other words, then what designed God? Dawkins holds elsewhere that if the extraordinary complexity of the universe makes the universe's existence highly improbable then the designer of the universe, which must be even more complex, must be even more improbable, in fact vanishingly so. So improbable must the desiger be that one is not rationally justified in believing it exists.

We have addressed this argument in a previous post and found it to be very unpersuasive.

His second counter-argument, which he conflates with the third in the interview but which is really a distinct argument, is what is called the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). It says that we should not think it so very special that the universe is as it is for were it not we would not be around to notice it. The fact that we exist means that the universe must be tuned precisely as it is.

Well, yes, but this misses the point. The question is whether the fine-tuning is a dumbfounding coincidence or whether it is intentional. Using the WAP as a counter-argument to the cosmic fine-tuning problem has been compared to the scenario where a man finds himself kidnapped and imprisoned by a psychopathic killer. The kidnapper has placed in the prison cell one hundred machines which are designed to simultaneously dispense a single playing card when a button is pushed. The kidnapper then tells his victim that when he pushes the button each of the one hundred machines wil produce a card at random from a deck that has been shuffled inside the machine. If any machine produces any card other than an ace of spades the prisoner will be automatically gassed and instantly killed.

The kidnap victim despairs of his chances of survival. They seem infinitely slim. The button is pushed. The victim tenses. And nothing happens. No gas. He looks at the machines and every one of them has produced an ace of spades. The man is astonished at his good fortune. How could it be that he is alive? Professor Dawkins would tell him that he shouldn't be astonished that each machine produced the correct card because had it not he wouldn't be alive to to take note of the fact.

This seems like a dodge, and it is. The prisoner has every right to wonder how such an improbable course of events could have unfolded to allow him to survive. He has every reason to suspect that the machines weren't selecting cards at random at all, but that the outcome was intentionally foreordained.

Sensing, perhaps, the absurdity of a resort to the WAP, Dawkins quickly imports a completely unscientific, non-empirical speculative hypothesis called the Multiverse theory. According to this, our universe is just one of an innumerable array of universes each having different parameters, values and laws. Given the existence of so many worlds, the chances are greatly increased that at least one world would be structured the way ours is. Think of it this way: The chances that somebody is going to be holding the winning lottery ticket increase as the number of tickets sold increases. Thus we shouldn't be astonished that our universe is tuned as precisely as it is because, given the number of worlds, at least one has to be suitable for life, and ours is it.

This might be an effective response to cosmic fine-tuning were there any shred of evidence that any other worlds exist, much more a vast number of them, but there is none. The theory is pure speculation invoked for no good reason other than to enable one to avoid the conclusion that our universe is intentionally designed.

Moreover, since the idea of multiple worlds is untestable, it's not a scientific theory. It also violates the principle of Occam's Razor which tells us that the simplest explanation that accounts for the facts is the best (a plenitude of worlds is far more complicated an explanation than the hypothesis that there's just one world plus a designer of that world), nor does it explain where the universes all come from and what creates them.

We have proof, of course, that information, beauty, harmony, etc. can be produced by a mind, but we have no proof that they can be produced by random chance. Yet, in order to evade the force of the evidence posed by the exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmos, we are asked to accept that chance has produced zillions of worlds, one of which has beauty, elegance, and law-like order.

To be sure, Dawkins could be correct. It's possible that the world is one of an immeasurable number of universes, but why believe that unless one is so dead set against the idea that there's a mind superintending it all that one will believe almost anything to escape having to believe that such a mind exists.

Part I of our discussion of this interview can be found here.