Friday, August 14, 2009

Interesting Disparity

The Pew Research Center recently conducted a study of scientists and their religious beliefs. Some of the results were expected and some were a bit surprising.

Whereas most Americans (83%) profess a belief in God, just a third (33%) of scientists say they hold such a belief. There's nothing unexpected there since those figures have been around for a while. What was a surprise, though, was the finding that younger scientists are substantially more likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God. Forty two percent of scientists (or students studying to be scientists) between the ages of 18 and 34 claim to be theists, but only 28% of those over 65 make that claim.

I don't know what this portends for the future of theistic belief among the nation's scholars, but I would like to see if these numbers are similar across other disciplines. Assuming these survey results accurately reflect the state of theistic belief among contemporary scientists, I'd also like to know what's happening in the culture that's responsible for the disparity between the younger generation of scientists and their elders. Any ideas?


Does She Or Doesn't She?

Does Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appreciate disrupters or does she not? I guess it all depends on who's doing the disrupting (via Hot Air):

Since Speaker Pelosi also seemed shocked that someone was sporting a swastika at one recent town meeting, although this was never confirmed, I'll bet she was apoplectic at the demonstrations against President Bush that took place throughout his presidency in her very own district. I seem to remember, in fact, her fiery speeches denouncing the protestors whose photos appear here. I think I recall her outrage that people in her district would resort to such despicable tactics and ugly rhetoric. Or maybe I'm just hallucinating from being up too late and awake too long.


Why No Supermarkets?

An article at CNN raises disturbing questions. The piece addresses the predicament those who live in Detroit face as unemployment in the state continues to rise and fewer families have the money to buy food. It goes on to talk about how social agencies and volunteers from churches and parachurch organizations are working to meet the need (I didn't see any mention of the help being offered by the local secular humanist society, but, I hasten to add, that doesn't mean they're not doing anything.).

Anyway, the disturbing part was this paragraph:

"In this recession-racked town, the lack of food is a serious problem. It's a theme that comes up again and again in conversations in Detroit. There isn't a single major chain supermarket in the city, forcing residents to buy food from corner stores. Often less healthy and more expensive food."

Now why is that? Why would supermarket chains not exploit a market niche that they exploit in every other city and suburb in the nation? I'm sure someone will say that it must be racism, but of course that's absurd. Why Detroit and not Chicago? Or is the lack of supermarkets in cities more widespread than the article indicates?

Whatever the case, the urban poor are caught in a vicious cycle. They are poor, sometimes, because they can't find jobs. Because they're impoverished their communities are subject to all the dysfunctions often associated with poverty, including lousy education, crime, and feral fatherhood. Because their communities are ridden with crime and populated by uneducated, unskilled workers, businesses don't want to operate there. Because businesses don't locate in poor neighborhoods, the residents can't find employment and thus are poor.

What's the solution? The strongest predictor that a person will have weak education, turn to crime, and be economically poor is not having a father. When urban communities realize that fatherlessness is a blight on their neighborhoods and a curse upon their children perhaps pressure will mount on women to hold off having children until they're married and men will realize that if they want what women can give they have to be committed to a monogamous relationship. Until that day comes we'll not solve the problem of poverty in America no matter how much the government redistributes the nation's wealth.


New National Park

Some people think I never say anything nice about liberalism, but that's not true. I might not be able to remember when the last time was that I said anything nice about it, but I'm sure I did. One area, for instance, in which I think liberalism has it all over conservatism (although it really shouldn't be this way), is, ironically enough, the matter of conservation. I applaud President Clinton for preserving vast tracts of the southwest, President Bush for preserving vast tracts of ocean habitat, and now Senator Carper and Vice-President Biden for working to preserve Delaware's historical and natural heritage in a new National Park:

It's been a long time since tiny Delaware distinguished itself as it did way back in 1787 when state fathers huddling at Dover's Golden Fleece Tavern became the first to ratify the Constitution. Now, more than two centuries later, Delaware is back as the state of firsts. And not just because Joe Biden is the first vice president from Delaware. The mid-Atlantic coastal state could finally get its first national park, a goal championed by Biden in the 1990s. And he's now in a position to make sure it happens.

Delaware doesn't have what most national parks do-vast acreage. But at the suggestion of First State citizens, Interior is looking at a unique model that would connect historical and cultural landmarks in a collection of spoke and hub patterns, like a bike. "A hub with spokes leading to maybe the Golden Fleece Tavern where the Constitution was first debated and ratified in 1787," suggests Senator Tom Carper. "Or the spokes could lead to stops on the Underground Railroad."

Legislation is required, but with the support of Biden and [Secretary of the Interior] Salazar, says Carper, "I like our chances."

Details of the Park's unique design can be read here. Kudos to both Joe Biden and Tom Carper for their contribution to this effort. Why is it that more conservatives aren't interested in conserving our natural and historical treasures?


Materialism Isn't Science

There's a piece, in the LA Times, written by atheists, taking their fellow atheists to task for trying so strenuously to persuade people that science and religious belief are not only incompatible, but that science has shown religious belief to be empty:

This fall, evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins -- most recently famous for his public exhortation to atheism, "The God Delusion" -- returns to writing about science. Dawkins' new book, "The Greatest Show on Earth," will inform and regale us with the stunning "evidence for evolution," as the subtitle says. It will surely be an impressive display, as Dawkins excels at making the case for evolution. But it's also fair to ask: Who in the United States will read Dawkins' new book (or ones like it) and have any sort of epiphany, or change his or her mind?

Surely not those who need it most: America's anti-evolutionists. These religious adherents often view science itself as an assault on their faith and doggedly refuse to accept evolution because they fear it so utterly denies God that it will lead them, and their children, straight into a world of moral depravity and meaninglessness. An in-your-face atheist touting evolution, like Dawkins, is probably the last messenger they'll heed.

Dawkins will, however, be championed by many scientists, especially the most secular -- those who were galvanized by "The God Delusion" and inspired by it to take a newly confrontational approach toward America's religious majority. They will help ensure Dawkins another literary success. It's certainly valuable to have the case for evolution articulated prominently and often, but what this unending polarization around evolution and religion does for the standing of science in the U.S. is a very different matter.

It often appears as though Dawkins and his followers -- often dubbed the New Atheists, though some object to the term -- want to change the country's science community in a lasting way. They'd have scientists and defenders of reason be far more confrontational and blunt: No more coddling the faithful, no tolerating nonscientific beliefs. Scientific institutions, in their view, ought to stop putting out politic PR about science and religion being compatible.

What people like Dawkins are doing is actually intellectually dishonest for at least two reasons. First, in The God Delusion Dawkins argues that the proposition God exists is a scientifically testable claim. If so, how can he now argue that propositions about ultimate reality are not scientific? Secondly, some of the "New Atheists" confuse people about what science is by conflating the practice of science with a metaphysical position held by many atheistic scientists called materialism.

Science is a search for truth that relies on testing theories about the physical world by observing how well those hypothetical explanations conform to the empirical evidence. As such, science, ironically perhaps, can provide us reasons for thinking that the universe is in fact the product of a transcendent mind, but no matter how much we learn about the cosmos, science will never be able to conclude that God does not, or even probably does not, exist. Once a scientist starts making claims like that he's no longer doing science, he's doing metaphysics.

Scientists, qua scientists, simply cannot say that there is no Creator or that miracles are impossible. On questions like these scientists must follow Wittgenstein's dictum that "whereof we cannot speak, thereof we should be silent." Scientists assume in their day to day work that physical phenomena will have physical, natural, proximal causes just as everyone assumes that the events that occur in their everyday lives have causes that could, in principle, at least, be observed. This is called methodological or procedural materialism. It's simply the assumption that, in general, things in our experience can be expected to follow physical laws. This procedural assumption has nothing to do with whether God exists or whether metaphysical materialism is true.

Atheists, however, are metaphysical materialists. That is, they believe that matter is the fundamental reality and that nature is all there is (also called naturalism). There is no room in their worldview for a supernatural reality. Now both materialism and naturalism are incompatible with theism, so what people like Dawkins do, is conflate metaphysical materialism with methodological materialism so that the unwary reader doesn't realize that a bait and switch has occurred. In other words, they piggyback their metaphysical materialism onto science and argue that because science has shown that many phenomena have material proximal explanations that therefore there are no immaterial ultimate explanations. At this point he's no longer speaking as a scientist but as a philosopher, even though he's using his standing as a scientist to authorize his metaphysics.

It's a kind of shell game that they play, they know they're playing it, and it's fundamentally disingenuous.


Ugly Protests

This is just insane. Ed Schultz says on national television that he thinks conservative talk show hosts want to see Barack Obama shot. Why does he say such a horrible thing? Is it because conservatives believe he's destroying the country's economic foundations? For liberals like Schultz it is apparently nothing short of a hate crime to disagree with the President on policy. Schultz is far from alone. Nancy Pelosi calls dissenters Nazis and UnAmerican. Others have called them "mobs" and racists.

What short memories these people have. As Bill Sammon at Fox News reminds us nothing that any opponent of the Democrats' health care plans has said or done is anywhere near what the left did during the Bush years. Sammon refreshes our memories about some of what went on during the Bush presidency that neither the Democrats nor the media at the time deemed deserving of even a mention, let alone censure:

News outlets that are focusing on the incendiary rhetoric of conservatives outside President Obama's town hall meeting Tuesday ignored the incendiary rhetoric -- and even violence -- of liberals outside an appearance by former President George W. Bush in 2002.

When Bush visited Portland, Ore., for a fundraiser, protesters stalked his motorcade, assailed his limousine and stoned a car containing his advisers. Chanting "Bush is a terrorist!", the demonstrators bullied passers-by, including gay softball players and a wheelchair-bound grandfather with multiple sclerosis.

One protester even brandished a sign that seemed to advocate Bush's assassination. The man held a large photo of Bush that had been doctored to show a gun barrel pressed against his temple.

"BUSH: WANTED, DEAD OR ALIVE," read the placard, which had an X over the word "ALIVE."

Another poster showed Bush's face with the words: "F--- YOU, MOTHERF---ER!"

A third sign urged motorists to "HONK IF YOU HATE BUSH." A fourth declared: "CHRISTIAN FASCISM," with a swastika in place of the letter S in each word.

Although reporters from numerous national news organizations were traveling with Bush and witnessed the protest, none reported that protesters were shrieking at Republican donors epithets like "Slut!" "Whore!" and "Fascists!"

Frank Dulcich, president and CEO of Pacific Seafood Group, had a cup of liquid thrown into his face, and then was surrounded by a group of menacing protesters, including several who wore masks. Donald Tykeson, 75, who had multiple sclerosis and was confined to a wheelchair, was blocked by a thug who threatened him.

Protesters slashed the tires of several state patrol cruisers and leapt onto an occupied police car, slamming the hood and blocking the windshield with placards. A female police officer was knocked to the street by advancing protesters, badly injuring her wrist.

The angry protest grew so violent that the Secret Service was forced to take the highly unusual step of using a backup route for Bush's motorcade because the primary route had been compromised by protesters, one of whom pounded his fist on the president's moving limousine.

All the while, angry demonstrators brandished signs with incendiary rhetoric, such as "9/11 - YOU LET IT HAPPEN, SHRUB," and "BUSH: BASTARD CHILD OF THE SUPREME COURT." One sign read: "IMPEACH THE COURT-APPOINTED JUNTA AND THE FASCIST, EGOMANIACAL, BLOOD-SWILLING BEAST!"

Yet none of these signs were cited in the national media's coverage of the event. By contrast, the press focused extensively on over-the-top signs held by Obama critics at the president's town hall event held Tuesday in New Hampshire.

There's more at the link. It's very difficult to respect people, whether politicians or journalists, who are so self-serving that they loudly condemn behavior that is orders of magnitude less offensive than behavior they were totally silent about just a few years ago.