Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rough Justice

The big kid in this video is a boy named Casey. According to schoolmates he's picked on every day. In this case the aggressor apparently had a friend videotape his bullying so that he could show it to his buddies and gloat over what a tough guy he is. Unfortunately for him Casey finally got tired of it:
There's been much tut-tutting about "all violence being bad" and how Casey "should have told a teacher" that he was being picked on. Nonsense. Not all violence is bad and telling a teacher often doesn't do any good. Sometimes the best response is to humiliate the little punk who was trying to look big at Casey's expense. Maybe next time he'll be a little more hesitant to pick a fight with someone.

No doubt Casey is a hero to every kid who's ever been picked on in school, but incredibly, the school officials suspended Casey. Having been punched in the face he's now serving a suspension for protecting himself. Pretty pathetic.

What Caused God?

Science writer John Horgan acknowledges that scientists haven't a clue as to how living things could have developed out of non-living chemical precursors but, he cautions, those who think that perhaps there was some intelligent agent involved, a God, shouldn't gloat over the enormous implausibility of every naturalistic hypothesis thus far proposed:
Creationists are no doubt thrilled that origin-of-life research has reached such an impasse, but they shouldn't be. Their explanations suffer from the same flaw: What created the divine Creator? And at least scientists are making an honest effort to solve life's mystery instead of blaming it all on God.
Mr. Horgan surely knows better than to offer up such a jejunne objection. If the existence of life seems inexplicable apart from an Intelligent Causal Agent (ICA) then it is no argument against the existence of an ICA that we don't know what caused it.

After all, as Mr. Horgan reminds us, scientists don't know what caused life to exist either, but no one regards ignorance of the cause of life to be a reason not to believe that it does in fact exist.

An ICA is either contingent (i.e. dependent upon something else for its existence) or necessary (not dependent upon anything else; self-existent). Suppose it's contingent. If a contingent ICA exists then the fact that it's contingent matters little for the purposes of the naturalist such as Mr. Horgan. The naturalist wants to deny any non-physical causes operating upon the cosmos. They want to deny that any intelligence was involved in the origin of life. But if such an intelligence was involved it'd be small comfort to the naturalist that that intelligence is itself the product of an even greater cause. Whether there's just one ICA or a series of increasingly greater ICAs doesn't matter. As long as there is at least one ICA the naturalist has lost the argument to the Creationist.

Moreover, if there is a contingent ICA there must be something else which caused it, but as Aquinas points out in the Summa Theologica there cannot be an infinite series of contingent causes. The series must end somewhere, and it can only end with a cause that is itself necessary, self-existent, an uncaused cause of all else that exists.

Furthermore, it's a principle in philosophical and scientific explanation that causes should never be multiplied beyond what's needed to account for a particular effect. The simplest explanation is that there is not an indefinite series of ICAs but rather a single ICA that is the cause of life.

No matter how one looks at it, the question "What caused God?" is either philosophically naive or a rhetorical paper tiger. Mr. Horgan is just whistling past the graveyard by invoking it. He'd be better off just not calling the possibility to his readers' attention.

Don't Give Up on Nuclear Power

I have in the past urged that the U.S. be much more committed to developing nuclear power for domestic energy needs than we have been over the last several decades. Nothing that has happened in Japan in the last few days persuades me that I should change my mind.

So far as I know as I'm writing this no one has died from radiation exposure or has even been exposed to dosages that would be lethal or life-threatening. That may change, of course, but even if it does why should that inhibit us from developing nuclear power? More people die in coal-mining accidents in one year than have died as a result of nuclear contamination, but we don't stop mining coal. Coal causes more long-term health problems in the general population than did the Chernobyl nuclear accident, but we don't stop burning it. Even if the death toll in Japan turns out to be in the hundreds from radiation exposure that many people could die in an airplane crash, but we don't stop flying airplanes. Tens of thousands of people are killed and maimed in auto accidents every year, but we don't stop driving cars. Nor did we stop the space shuttle program after the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Nor should we declare a moratorium on nuclear power.

There are currently three nuke plants under construction in the U.S. and two dozen more in the pipeline. The plants currently under construction are designed to be safer than the Japanese plants, which are forty years old, and much less likely to suffer the perfect storm of circumstances that led to the reactor failures at Fukushima.

We're going to need all the electricity we can generate in the 21st century and windmills aren't going to help much. Let's not make the same mistake we're making with our refusal to drill for offshore oil. Let's continue to develop a power source that, compared to any plausible alternative, is clean and safe.