Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blind Faith

Someone at Uncommon Descent poses this puzzler for our Tuesday morning meditation:
How did the term “skeptic” come to mean “people who believe in multiverses, space aliens, and random creation of meaningful information?”

How did the term “fundamentalist” come to mean “people who believe based only on evidence”?
Good questions. It's a source of wonderment, at least for me, that "skeptics" often deride theism and theists for believing in God, for which belief there is much evidence, while themselves believing in such things as an infinite number of worlds, the inevitability of the emergence of life by random chance, the reducibility of consciousness to chemical reactions, the possibility of non-subjective morality without God, the inherent goodness of man, and a host of other naturalistic dogmas for which there's scarcely a shred of evidence for and much evidence against.

Atheists are often wont to say that religious faith is belief despite the lack of evidence. That's not true, however. Belief without evidence is the definition of "blind" faith, and it describes belief in such things as other worlds and abiogenesis perfectly. The faith that religious people cling to is not belief despite the lack of evidence, it's belief despite the lack of proof. As such it's completely rational, indeed more rational than the belief of those who will accept any explanation, no matter how meager the evidence, as long as it doesn't violate their commitment to a non-theistic metaphysics.

Theirs to Lose

According to Peggy Noonan President Obama's only hope for reelection in 2012 is that the Republicans nominate a candidate that seems either "strange, extreme, or barely qualified". Otherwise, the incumbent is toast.

You can read her argument here. Meanwhile, here's an appetizer:
Let’s start with the immediate and go to the overarching. The president is immersed in another stressed and unsuccessful spring after a series of losing seasons. Internationally, he’s involved in a confused effort that involves bombing Libyan government troops and sometimes their rebel opponents, leaving the latter scattered and scurrying. Responsibility to protect is looking like tendency to deflect.

Domestically, the president’s opponents seized the high ground on the great issue of the day, spending and debt, and held it after the president’s speech this week. In last week’s budget duel, the president was outgunned by Republicans in the House and outclassed by Paul Ryan, who offered seriousness and substance as a unique approach to solving our fiscal problems.

In this week’s polls: An Ipsos survey says 69% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, up five points since March. Zogby has only 38% of national respondents saying Mr. Obama deserves re-election, with 55% wanting someone new. Mr. Obama carried Pennsylvania in 2008 by double digits; a poll there this week shows only 42% approving his leadership, with 52% disapproving.

Gallup had the president’s support slipping among blacks and Hispanics, with the latter’s numbers dramatic: 73% supported him when he was inaugurated, 54% do now. Support among whites on Inauguration Day was 60%. Now it is 39%.
The American people elected a virtual unknown to the presidency in 2008 because a) they were disenchanted with the GOP, b) Mr. Obama was hip, eloquent, mysterious, and had a winning smile, and c) his election would be historic and a lot of people, especially the young and minorities, wanted to make history happen.

Now the electorate is suffering buyer's remorse and is asking itself what in the world they were thinking when they swooned over a guy who had a résumé that would fit on one half of a post-it note. Noonan is probably right. The White House is the Republicans' to lose in 2012. Fortunately for Mr. Obama, the GOP has shown in the past a strange predilection for opposing young, charismatic Democrats with superannuated pols with one foot in the retirement home.

They may well do something of the sort again.

Bring Back the Good Old Days

It's very hard to take Jesse Jackson Jr. seriously. The Congressman from Illinois took to the House floor recently to blame our unemployment woes on, of all things, technological innovations like the iPad:
On Friday, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) addressed the United States's current unemployment crisis and claimed the iPad was "probably responsible for eliminating thousands of American jobs."

Jackson, himself an iPad owner, expanded on his statement by pointing to the recent bankruptcy of Borders Books.

"Why do you need to go to Borders anymore? Why do you need to go to Barnes and Noble? Just buy an iPad and download your book, download your newspaper, download your magazine," the Congressman said.

He also cited Chicago State University's initiative to replace textbooks with iPads for freshman students. Jackson stated that the goal of the University was to create a "textbookless campus within four years."

"What becomes of publishing companies and publishing company jobs?" Jackson asked the House. "What becomes of bookstores and librarians and all of the jobs associated with paper? Well, in the not-too-distant future, such jobs simply won't exist."

He also took issue with the device's production overseas: "The iPad is produced in China. It's not produced here in the United States. [...] There is no protection for jobs here in America to ensure that the American people are being put to work."
Now I sympathize with everyone who loses a job for whatever reason, and I lament what appears to be a bleak future for paper and ink books, but really, does Mr. Jackson really believe technological progress is the enemy of workers? We can imagine Mr. Jackson a hundred years ago complaining that the automobile would put thousands of blacksmiths, wagon makers, and leather workers out of work because horses would now be obsolete.

We might also imagine him shaking his head dolefully at the number of candle makers and whalers who went out of business when the light bulb was invented, and there was no longer a demand for candles and whale oil.

Innovation means that some businesses will either evolve or they'll perish, and often many more jobs are created by the new businesses which supplant the old, as long as government stays out of the way.

Think of the millions of new jobs created by the automobile industry and industries which serve it: Car dealerships, the trucking industry, the oil industry, gas stations, road and bridge construction, concrete and steel manufacturers, tire, glass, and electronics industries, parts stores, building construction industries, junkyards and salvage yards, auto repair mechanics, and on and on. None of those jobs, and millions of others which automobile travel make possible, would have existed had the automobile not been invented. That's how things work when men and women are allowed the freedom to apply their genius to developing products that never existed before, but people like Mr. Jackson seem to think this is all regrettable because the blacksmith and cartwright trades were rendered obsolete.

I doubt that iPads will have the same impact as the automobile or the light bulb, but taken as a whole, the computer revolution has certainly created an enormous number of jobs that never existed before computers came on the scene. Of course, people lost jobs, too, if they did tasks that could be performed more cheaply and efficiently by a computer, but is that a bad thing overall?

Imagine that all of our food had to be produced and shipped without the aid of the internal combustion engine. No tractors, combines, trucks, etc. I'm sure we'd have full employment in this country, as almost everyone would be pressed into the task of growing their own food, but I doubt very much that life would be better.

I wonder if Rep. Jackson and Rep. Hank Johnson are good friends. They certainly think alike.