Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ending the Search for the Real Killer

O. J. Simpson has been sentenced to nine to thirty three years in jail for armed robbery. It couldn't happen to a more deserving guy, but we wonder now how anyone will find the real killers of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown now that O.J. won't be able to continue his tireless search of the nation's golf courses for the murderer.

Ron Goldman's father and sister talk about the sentence here:

For those too young to remember why Mr. Goldman is so gratified by the verdict and why the verdict is so significant you can catch up on the history here.


Fading Away

Materialists appear to be genuinely worried that confidence in their model of mind and brain - i.e. that mind is simply a word we use to describe what the brain does - is being eroded by contemporary challenges to that model.

Amanda Gefter is herself a philosophical materialist and a writer for New Scientist. She attended a September conference of neuroscientists who are skeptical that materialism can explain the problems posed by human consciousness and reports on the proceedings here. Her article includes this summary of remarks by Jeffrey Schwartz:

"YOU cannot overestimate," thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, "how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You're gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about... how Darwin's explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it... I'm asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality."

Gefter interviews materialist neuroscientists for their reaction, which is unsurprisingly hostile, to the speakers at the conference. Nevertheless, despite their disdain for the views expressed by those speakers, everyone of the researchers she interviews admits there's no evidence for their conviction that mind is fundamentally reducible to the operations of the material brain. Their conviction is obviously an assertion of faith, a product of their a priori commitment to materialism.

Gefter's article raises two essential questions: First, is materialism false, and, second, does substance dualism, if true, refute evolutionary Darwinism? David Chalmers, who's considered one of the top thinkers in the field, answers yes to the first and no to the second. Michael Egnor disagrees and answers yes to both of them. Egnor's article is heavy surf but it's worth the effort it takes to row through it.

The fact that so many people in the field of neuroscience are having doubts about the materialist paradigm is an intriguing development. A generation ago hardly anyone doubted it, but today dualism is experiencing a resurgence. This is significant because metaphysical materialism and naturalistic evolution comprise the two intellectual pillars holding up contemporary atheism, and both are teetering from serious challenges to which it has proven difficult for them to muster adequate responses.

It may well be that we're living in what Alister McGrath calls the twilight of atheism.


Why Johnny Doesn't Know Politics

A couple of weeks ago a man named John Ziegler commissioned a Zogby poll of Obama voters which revealed that many of them didn't have a clue about who Barack Obama was or what the political facts of life in this country are. Ziegler took some heat for this poll because it focused only on Democrats, but the criticism was somewhat unfair because it misconstrued his intent. He wasn't trying to show that Obama voters were particularly dumb, as some of his critics alleged, but rather that much of the American media, particularly the liberal outlets, have failed their audience. People who relied on the liberal media, which most Obama voters did, were obviously and grossly underinformed or misinformed.

Having been criticized for focusing on Obama voters in the original poll, Ziegler recently commissioned Wilson Research Strategies to conduct a poll of McCain voters who were asked the same twelve questions as Zogby had put to his sample, and the difference in the results is stark. The GOP voters scored much higher than did the Democrats. Zeigler is adamant that the disparity has nothing to do with one group being smarter than the other but has everything to do with where the respective groups get their information.

Voters who watch Fox news and listen to talk radio scored much better than those who watch CNN and/or network news. McCain voters largely belonged to the former group and Obama voters largely belonged to the latter. Ziegler talks about his results here and the complete results can be found at his web site (you may have to scroll down to find the most recent poll results). Here's a quick sample:

35 % of McCain voters got 10 or more of 13 questions correct.

18% of Obama voters got 10 or more of 13 questions correct.

McCain voters knew which party controls congress by a 63-27 margin.

Obama voters got the "congressional control" question wrong by 43-41.

The most amazing result Ziegler's study turned up was that those who get their news from liberal outlets were stunningly uninformed about most of the questions asked about Obama and American politics, but they scored very high on questions about Sarah Palin.

Only 13.7% failed to identify Sarah Palin as the person upon whom their party spent $150,000 in clothes. Only 6.2% failed to identify Palin as the candidate with a pregnant teenage daughter, and 86.9 % thought Palin said that she could see Russia from her "house," even though it was Tina Fey who said that on Saturday Night Live.

Check out the results. It'll make you wonder how well democracy in America is being served by a large segment of our media, particularly television networks.