Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rational Consensus

Gil Dodgen at Uncommon Descent offers a nice summary of the debate between Intelligent Design advocates and naturalistic evolutionists:

Some people have concluded that the hideously complex, functionally integrated information-processing machinery of the cell - with its error-detection-and-repair algorithms and much more - is best explained by an intelligent cause. But this idea is only held by superstitious religious fanatics who want to destroy science and establish a theocracy.

That's the consensus of "scientists" in the academy.

The other consensus of "scientists" in the academy is that random errors screwing up computer code can account for everything in biology.

Who is thinking logically here?

Naturalists would reply to Dodgen's question, though, that science doesn't admit of non-material, non-physical causes therefore the first alternative is unscientific and ergo irrational. The second alternative, on the other hand, is materialistic and therefore scientific and therefore rational. Thus, it's more "rational" to believe the equivalent of random errors and blind physical forces over time being capable of generating Windows XP than to think that the genetic hardware and software in living things was designed by an intelligent agent.

A big "atta boy" to whomever can point out the logical blunder(s) in this chain of reasoning.


Immigration Reform

With all the talk of illegal immigration and what to do about it, perhaps it's time once again to recycle what I think is perhaps the most just, most compassionate proposal for dealing with the problem. None of its elements are new but I haven't seen them all combined into a single plan by anyone.

The Left wants amnesty for illegals, presumably because they believe that once granted citizenship they'd vote Democratic. It's hard to believe, after all, that they'd be favoring amnesty if they thought that millions of new voters would register with the Republicans.

The Right wants to send all, or most, illegal aliens back from whence they came, but this seems neither practical nor compassionate, at least not in the case of those illegals who've been here for years.

I think there's a workable compromise between blanket amnesty and mass deportation. It's a plan that offers something for everyone, and I've been surprised that, despite the obviousness of the solution, no one in Washington is promoting something like it.

The proposal involves two stages:

The first stage would be a federal guarantee that a border fence be built and the border secured. This is the sine qua non of any serious immigration reform. There's no point in painting the house while the ceiling is still leaking. Once our borders are impervious to all but the most dauntless and determined, and once this has been duly certified by a trustworthy commission, then the situation of those already here could be addressed, but not until.

After certification, the fate of those already in the country illegally could be addressed in such a way as to avoid the worst elements of amnesty and yet demonstrate compassion for people desperate to make a decent living. To that end, once the border is secure, I believe Congress would find public support for legislation that allows illegals to stay in the country indefinitely as "guest workers" with no penalty if the following provisos were also adopted and enforced:

1) Illegal aliens would be required to apply for a government identification card like the current green card. After a reasonable grace period anyone without proper ID would be subject to deportation. This would be a one-time opportunity so that aliens entering the country surreptitiously in the future would be unable to legally acquire a card. Anyone in possession of a green card would be free to remain in the country indefinitely contingent upon continued good behavior.

2) However, no one who had entered the country illegally would at any time be eligible for citizenship (unless they leave the country and reapply through proper channels). Nor would they be entitled to the benefits of citizens. They would not be eligible to vote, nor to receive food stamps, unemployment compensation, subsidized housing, AFDC, earned income tax credits, social security, Medicare, etc. They would have limited access to taxpayer largesse, although churches and other charitable organizations would be free to render whatever assistance they wish. Whatever taxes the workers pay would be part of the price of living and working here.

3) Their children, born on our soil, would no longer be granted automatic citizenship (This would, unfortunately, require a constitutional amendment), though they could attend public schools. Moreover, these children would become eligible for citizenship at age eighteen provided they graduate from high school, or earn a GED, or serve in the military.

4) There would be no "chain" immigration. Those who entered illegally would not be permitted to bring their families here. If they wish to see their loved ones they should return home.

5) Any criminal activity, past or future, would be sufficient cause for immediate deportation, as would any serious infraction of the motor vehicle code.

6) There would be no penalty for businesses which employ guest workers, and these workers would be free to seek employment anywhere they can find it. Neither the workers nor their employers would have to live in fear of immigration authorities.

This is just an outline, of course, and there are details to be worked out, but it's both simpler and fairer than other proposals that have been bandied about. Those who have followed the rules for citizenship wouldn't be leap-frogged by those who didn't, and illegals who have proper ID would benefit by being able to work without fear. The long-term cost to taxpayers of illegal immigration would be considerably reduced, immigration officials could concentrate on keeping the border secure rather than harassing employers, trouble-makers among the immigrant population would be deported, and American businesses would not be responsible for background investigations of job applicants. It would also provide incentive for American youngsters to get an education and acquire skills so they don't have to compete for jobs with unskilled immigrants willing to work for lower wages. The one group that would "lose" would be the politicians who wish to pad their party's voter rolls. They'd be out of luck.

Of course, this proposal won't satisfy those who insist that we send all illegals packing, nor will it please those who think the requirements for letting them stay are too stringent, but it seems a more simple, practical, just, and humane solution to the problem than either amnesty or mass deportation.

To be sure, it entails a kind of amnesty, but it doesn't reward illegals with the benefits of citizenship as previous attempts at immigration "reform" would have. The "amnesty" is contingent upon first stopping the flow of illegals across the border and also upon immigrants keeping themselves out of trouble while they're here.

If, however, these conditions for being allowed to work in this country sound too onerous, if illegal immigrants conclude they could do better elsewhere, they would, of course, be free to leave.


Liberal Fascism

Rachel Duke at the Washington Times relates the story of a young grad student named Jennifer Keeton, a story the main lineaments of which have become increasingly common over the last decade or so:

Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have sued Augusta State University in Georgia on behalf of a counseling student who claims the university told her to deny her Christian beliefs in order to graduate.

Jennifer Keeton, 24, who is pursuing a master's degree in counseling, said she was ordered to undergo a re-education plan that requires her to attend "diversity sensitivity training," complete additional remedial reading and write papers to describe their effects on her beliefs, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The ultimatum: Complete this re-education plan or be expelled from ASU's Counselor Education Program.

ASU said Miss Keeton's conduct violates the code of ethics to which counselors and counselors in training are required to adhere, including those of the American Counseling Association and the American School Counselor Association.

"It's hard to conceive of a more blatant violation of her right to freedom of speech and her freedom of conscience," said David French, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative-leaning group that defends religious freedom. "This type of leftist zero-tolerance policy is in place at far too many universities, and it must stop."

Ms Duke goes on to remind us in her article of a similar case:

Miss Keeton's case is one of several nationwide in which counseling students have been dismissed from programs or threatened with expulsion because of their Christian beliefs.

One case involves counseling student Julea Ward, who was dismissed from Eastern Michigan University's School of Counseling after she refused to change her beliefs. After a client asked Miss Ward for advice on a same-sex relationship, she asked her adviser on how to help her client because, she said, she couldn't morally affirm such relationships. Miss Ward ultimately referred her client to another counselor. The university dismissed Miss Ward from the program in March 2009. The case is now being litigated in federal court.

In Miss Keeton's case, ASU has threatened expulsion because of the Christian ethical convictions she shares in and out of the classroom, given the proper context, on human sexuality and gender identity.

The good progressive folks who run these universities talk endlessly about tolerance, diversity, and the freedom to believe what one chooses, but they don't mean a word of it. They themselves are narrow-minded bigots who wish to impose a strict uniformity and conformity of thought on their students. So far from aspiring to cultivate a student body comprised of individuals who can think for themselves, their real objective is to compel their students to think the way they tell them to think.

As a friend of mine put it, to modern academics diversity is people who look different and all think the same.


Dumb Rule

Jason links us to an essay by R.R. Reno who writes at First Things about the epistemological view called evidentialism:

For a long time as a young teacher, I believed the danger of prostituting their minds by believing falsehoods was the preeminent, or even singular, intellectual danger my students faced. So I challenged them and tried to teach them always to be self-critical, questioning, skeptical. What are your assumptions? How can you defend your position? Where's your evidence? Why do you believe that?

I thought I was helping my students by training them to think critically. And no doubt I was. However, reading John Henry Newman has helped me see another danger, perhaps a graver one: to be so afraid of being wrong that we fail to believe as true that which is true. He worried about the modern tendency to make a god of critical reason, as if avoiding error, rather than finding truth, were the great goal of life.

If we fear error too much, and thus overvalue critical reason, we will develop a mind active and able in doubt but untrained to move toward belief, a mentality too quick to find reasons not to nurture convictions.

In my experience, although the modern university is full of trite, politically correct pieties, for the most part its educational culture is cautious to a fault. Students are trained-I was trained-to believe as little as possible so that the mind can be spared the ignominy of error. The consequences: an impoverished intellectual life. The contemporary mind very often lives on a starvation diet of small, inconsequential truths, because those are the only points on which we can be sure we're avoiding error.

We can worry about getting on the wrong train in the foreign train station whose signs we can't read. But we should also worry about dithering in the station too long and thus failing to get on the right train. We could starve to death in that station if we never leave.

If we see this danger - the danger of truths lost, insights missed, convictions never formed - then the complexion of intellectual inquiry changes, and the burdens of proof shift. We begin to cherish books and teachers and friends who push us and romance us with the possibilities of truth.

The life of the mind turns into an adventure. Errors risked seem worthy gambles for the sake of the rich reward of engrossing, life-commanding truths that are only accessible to a mind passionate with the intimacy of conviction rather than coldly can critically distant.

It's hard to believe, but it's doubtless the case that a century after American philosopher William James' devastating rebuttal to the evidentialism of William Clifford university academics still cling to Clifford's timid approach to belief.

Clifford was famous, it may be recalled, for his maxim that "it is wrong always and everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence." Clifford had in mind religious belief, particularly belief in God. In practice evidentialism requires a perpetual suspension of belief even on matters, as James pointed out, when one is confronted with a forced and momentous decision.

James wrote that "this command that we should put a stopper on our hearts, instincts, and courage, and wait - acting of course meanwhile more or less as if religion were not true - till doomsday, or till such time as our intellect and senses working together may have raked in evidence enough - this command, I say, seems to me the queerest idol ever manufactured in the philosophic cave."

In the same essay James delivers one of my very favorite philosophical quotes. It's a quote that applies not only to religious skeptics like Clifford, but also to contemporary materialists who wish to keep science free of any taint of any hypothesis that may point beyond matter as the ultimate existent. James says:

"Any rule of thinking that would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if these kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule."

A science, for example, whose methodological rules prevent us a priori from acknowledging the existence of a transcendent intelligence, should such an intelligence really exist and should much of the empirical evidence point to it's existence, is exactly the sort of irrational rule James had in mind.

The goal of any intellectual pursuit should be to discover truth, not to discover the most probable hypothesis consistent with a naturalistic or materialistic worldview.