Friday, July 3, 2009

Liberal Racism

Charles Krauthammer skewers Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion in the New Haven firefighters case (Ricci vs. DeStefano):

The defenders of the old racial order, led by Ginsburg, objected sternly, declaring that the white firefighters "had no vested right to promotion." Of course they didn't, but they did have a vested right to fairness, to not being denied promotion because of their skin color.

Of course no one has a vested right to promotion. Isn't that why they gave those tests in the first place? Isn't that why for the past, oh, 125 years we have been using objective civil service exams to allocate government jobs not on the basis of right -- or patronage or favoritism or racially discriminatory advantage -- but on the basis of merit and job-related skill?

It's the Ginsburg dissent that, in effect, grants a vested right to promotion -- to African Americans, simply because of their race -- and makes the frustration of that specious right the basis for denying promotion to white (and Hispanic) firefighters who had objectively qualified for promotion.

Krauthammer then goes on to predict the twilight of affirmative action:

The major conundrum of the civil rights age remains. The 14th Amendment bans discrimination on the basis of race. But the Civil Rights Act, which bans "disparate impact" discrimination -- procedures (such as exams) that yield racially unbalanced results -- affirmatively mandates racial favoritism to undo those results. The evil day will come, writes Justice Antonin Scalia in his concurrence, when this contradiction will have to be resolved.

He is right. For decades we have been finessing the issue with a mess of compromises, euphemisms, incoherences and pretenses such as banning racial quotas but promoting racial "goals." Anyone who has ever had to make hiring or admission decisions knows that this angel-on-the-head-of-pin distinction is 95 percent a matter of appearances, gestures and lawsuit-avoiding paperwork.

As Krauthammer explains, it's hard to see why we still need affirmative action in an age when blacks hold the highest office in the land as well as the highest office in many of our major cities. Yet old ideas die hard on the left. Yesterday while on the road I was listening to a radio show out of Buffalo and heard a liberal guest named Brad Bannon opine that Ricci was poorly decided by judge Sotomayor and her colleagues, but that what New Haven should have done to ensure that blacks did well on the test is award them points at the start so that their final scores would be competitive. He was completely serious.

This is classic progressive thinking. It is at once manifestly unfair to whites and grossly insulting, and harmful, to blacks. It tells blacks that they shouldn't be expected to study hard for a promotion like everyone else. It tells them that expecting them to actually know something is an injustice. It tells them that they're too dumb, by virtue of being black (or Hispanic), to compete intellectually with whites and Asians so the city will give them a head start. I can't imagine being black and not being deeply insulted by this. It's exactly the sort of dopey racism-with-a-smile that many whites remember cringing at when they heard it from their parents and grandparents, and it still exists today among progressives like Ginsburg and Brad Bannon.


Science and God

Lawrence Krauss has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that attempts, rather lamely, to show that science and theism are incompatible. Despite the philosophical dubiety of this view it's so widespread among materialist scientists today that Krauss' piece deserves some scrutiny.

He writes:

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in several exciting panel discussions at the World Science Festival in New York City. I ended up being one of two panelists labeled "atheists." The other was philosopher Colin McGinn. On the other side of the debate were two devoutly Catholic scientists, biologist Kenneth Miller and Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno. Mr. McGinn began by commenting that it was eminently rational to suppose that Santa Claus doesn't exist even if one cannot definitively prove that he doesn't. Likewise, he argued, we can apply the same logic to the supposed existence of God.

It really is quite embarrassing that a philosopher of some note would make such a silly argument. The difference between Santa Claus and God is that there is no evidence of the existence of Santa Claus, no rational argument that can be given in support of the proposition that Santa Claus exists, and lots of reasons to think that he does not exist, including the fact that we have the historical record of his genesis in folklore. Nor is there anything like the historical universality of belief in God to be explained in the case of Santa Claus. McGinn just trivializes the debate by making such a statement and Krauss does nothing to elevate the tone by sniggering at it.

[People like] Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are simply being honest when they point out the inconsistency of belief in an activist god with modern science.

J.B.S. Haldane, an evolutionary biologist and a founder of population genetics, understood that science is by necessity an atheistic discipline. As Haldane so aptly described it, one cannot proceed with the process of scientific discovery if one assumes a "god, angel, or devil" will interfere with one's experiments. God is, of necessity, irrelevant in science.

But why would any scientist, even if he were a theist, assume that God would interfere with his experiments? Did Newton, or Galileo, or Faraday, or Boyle, or any of dozens of other Christian scientists make such an assumption? Krauss and Haldane are making the elementary mistake of confusing the possibility of divine interference with the probability of such interference. The fact that it's possible that God could intervene does not make it very likely that He would. The assumption that there will be no supernatural interference with one's experiments is based on the further assumption that what almost always has happened in the past will continue to happen and what has almost always happened, as far as we know, is that God has chosen not to interfere with scientific experiments.

Faced with the remarkable success of science to explain the workings of the physical world, many, indeed probably most, scientists understandably react as Haldane did. Namely, they extrapolate the atheism of science to a more general atheism.

Yes, but of course this is an illicit, indeed a ridiculous, assumption. From the fact that nature exhibits certain regularities which it is reasonable to assume will hold whenever Nature is put to a test it hardly follows that there is no God.

Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world's organized religions.

Krauss here pulls a little bait and switch. His argument is that science is incompatible with belief in the existence of God, but finding that a difficult case to make, he subtly changes the argument to a discussion of the incompatibility of science and religion.

As Sam Harris recently wrote a "reconciliation between science and Christianity would mean squaring physics, chemistry, biology, and a basic understanding of probabilistic reasoning with a raft of patently ridiculous, Iron Age convictions."

Well, let's play along. Which primitive convictions does Harris have in mind, those of the Christian or those of the atheist? Perhaps he's referring to the very modern conviction that the incredible fine-tuning of the universe is the product of mind rather than the Iron-Age conviction, promoted by ancient Greeks and Romans like Leucippus and Lucretius, that it is the unimaginably improbable product of chance and matter. Perhaps he has in mind the very modern conviction that the emergence of information in the first living things is most likely the product of intelligent direction rather than the Iron-Age conviction that it's just a fluke of blind, purposeless nature. Or maybe he's confusing the contemporary view that human consciousness derives ultimately from a transcendent consciousness with the conviction of the ancients that it derives from inanimate stuff. Which of the Iron-Age convictions, still held by modern atheists, do Krauss and Harris have in mind here?

When I confronted my two Catholic colleagues on the panel with the apparent miracle of the virgin birth and asked how they could reconcile this with basic biology, I was ultimately told that perhaps this biblical claim merely meant to emphasize what an important event the birth was. Neither came to the explicit defense of what is undeniably one of the central tenets of Catholic theology.

What his Catholic colleagues should have done is ask Mr. Krauss what principle of basic biology is violated by a miracle like the virgin birth? Does biology teach us that an unfertilized ovum can never develop into a zygote? Actually, it doesn't. Does biology say that it's impossible that a woman could conceive without benefit of a man? In fact, it does not and can not, and Mr. Krauss should know this elementary philosophical fact.

What biology and other sciences tell us is that nature operates in certain highly regular ways unless it's subject to some outside interference. A moving object, for example, will continue to move forever, in a straight line, unless acted upon by an outside force. The only way biologists could say that a virgin could never conceive is if they know a priori that there are no outside forces involved. In other words, miracles like the virgin birth are impossible only if we know there is no God, but if Krauss knows that there's no God, he's certainly not telling us how he knows it. Unless you count this odd piece of reasoning:

So while scientific rationality does not require atheism, it is by no means irrational to use it as the basis for arguing against the existence of God, and thus to conclude that claimed miracles like the virgin birth are incompatible with our scientific understanding of nature.

Krauss is arguing in a circle. He claims to refute the Christian's belief in God by saying that miracles are impossible, but he can only know they are impossible if he already knows there is no God: Because there is no God miracles are impossible, and because miracles are impossible there is no God. Indeed.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that these issues are not purely academic. The current crisis in Iran has laid bare the striking inconsistency between a world built on reason and a world built on religious dogma. Perhaps the most important contribution an honest assessment of the incompatibility between science and religious doctrine can provide is to make it starkly clear that in human affairs -- as well as in the rest of the physical world -- reason is the better guide.

This is interesting. Global atheistic communism claimed to be built on reason and even though religion, specifically Islam, has had a terrible history in the last century, it recedes to insignificance compared to the atheistic ideologies based on reason. More people were butchered in the twentieth century in the name of a rational atheistic communism than died in all the wars motivated by religion in modern history.

I wouldn't want to live in a world built upon the dictates of religious leaders but would want even less to live in a world built on the dictates of political leaders who seek to promote a political philosophy built upon atheism and reason. Atheism and reason have led us to the deaths of twenty million Russians, forty million Chinese, six million Jews, five million Cambodians, and thirty million miscellaneous human beings just in the twentieth century alone. I think I'll pass, Mr. Krauss.

Reason is a wonderful gift, but to paraphrase Einstein "Reason without religion is blind. Religion without reason is lame."