Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Political Terrorists

Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi is resigning from the Senate and some lefty bloggers are gleefully insinuating that it's because he's been caught in a business relationship with a male escort. They offer not a shred of evidence, however, and the alleged escort has categorically denied it, but these people drag Lott's name through the slime anyway. See Right Wing Nut House for details.

For such people politics is total war. Whatever it takes to win is justified. They're the ideological equivalent of General Sherman burning everything in sight on his march to the sea. In total war there's no such thing as a banned weapon or a war crime. No tactic is too low for them to employ. They would be delighted, it seems, to assist in the utter ruination of every member of the Republican party if they could.

It's ironic that when conservatives talk about a culture war over values raging in this country it's people on the left who look shocked that such a thing would ever be suggested. Meanwhile, like political terrorists, some of them continue to assassinate their opponents every chance they get while denying that there's any ideological conflict going on at all.


Pat's New Book

The conservative movement in the United States is split between what are called neo-conservatives and paleo-conservatives, and there's not much love among the latter for the former. Neo-cons tend to be prone to use force abroad in the name of justice and to use government at home to meliorate social ills. Paleos find both of these tendencies abhorrent.

Pat Buchanan is perhaps the most prominent of the paleo-cons, a segment of the conservative population which tends to be isolationist, nationalist, nativist, and fiscally libertarian (low taxes, small government). His new book, Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart looks to be a very controversial and very provocative read. I haven't read it yet so I don't know whether it's aimed at neo-cons or at liberals. Probably both.

You can read a summary of it here.


The Irrationality of Science

Paul Davies points out the flaw in any science which claims to be based upon reason rather than faith in an essay in the New York Times. Here are a few highlights:

Science, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith....In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.

The last sentence is an irritatingly common misrepresentation of faith. Faith is not believing despite the lack of evidence, faith is believing despite the fact that the evidence falls short of proof. Anyway, Davies is going to argue that science, like religion, is ultimately based on faith:

You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.

The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs....But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?

Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from "that's not a scientific question" to "nobody knows." The favorite reply is, "There is no reason they are what they are - they just are." The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality - the laws of physics - only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.

Can the mighty edifice of physical order we perceive in the world about us ultimately be rooted in reasonless absurdity? If so, then nature is a fiendishly clever bit of trickery: meaninglessness and absurdity somehow masquerading as ingenious order and rationality.

A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God's-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this "multiverse," life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe - one that is just right for life.

The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn't so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.

Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith - namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.

This is correct if ultimate reality is physical but not if the ultimate reality is God. If beyond our universe lies something else that is physical then it's true that we lack an exhaustive explanation of physical reality because we have not explained that part of it which transcends our world, but if underlying all physical being is a non-physical Being then that Being provides an exhaustive explanation, at least in theory, of the physical reality.

Davies concludes:

But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

Beyond the fact that this essay is guaranteed to send materialists into a tizzy it's also notable that Davies is saying what many philosophers - most prominently, perhaps, Alvin Plantinga - have been saying for decades: If the physical is all there is then ultimately the universe is non-rational. The rationality that scientists impute to the universe and which forms the epistemic foundation for their investigations of it can only be justified if the ultimate explanation for the universe is an intelligent, rational mind.