Friday, February 28, 2014

Natural Camouflage

Nature constantly amazes with incredible design. Here's an example via Uncommon Descent. You might have to watch the video twice:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Obamacare Tragedy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delivered himself of some strange and offensive statements over the years, but what he said yesterday takes the gold medal either for clumsiness or for unkindness, or both. In an attempt to discredit the Koch brothers, two wealthy magnates who fund Republican causes and candidates, he insisted that all of the many accounts of people losing their insurance under Obamacare are lies, and by inference, that the ordinary people who are suffering under the new law are themselves liars.

Here he is on the floor of the Senate:
Senator Reid could have alleged that some of the stories may not be completely accurate, although the one's he cites have received pretty strong confirmation. In fact, though, the senator claims that all these people are liars. He's willing to besmirch and libel innocent people in order to get in a few shots at his political opponents. This is not the behavior of a good and noble man.

I can't vouch for the veracity of every single one of the stories that have been publicized over the last couple of months, but for the Majority Leader to call these Americans, people who are in some cases in deep despair because of the effects of the legislation he and his party passed, is itself, it seems to me, a sign of desperation.

In any case, here's an account that's typical of those that are emerging almost daily of a genuine tragedy wrought by the Affordable Care Act which Senator Reid has been instrumental in foisting upon the nation. I wonder if he thinks this story, too, is a lie. It's written by a man who is the president of Ralston College in Georgia:
When my mother was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 2005, when she was 49, it came as a lightning shock. Her mother, at 76, had yet to go gray, and her mother's mother, at 95, was still playing bingo in her nursing home. My mother had always been, despite her diminutive frame, a titanic and irrepressible force of vitality and love. She had given birth to me and my nine younger siblings, and juggled kids, home and my father's medical practice with humor and grace for three decades. She swam three times a week in the early mornings, ate healthily and never smoked.

And now, cancer? Anyone who's been there knows that a cancer diagnosis is terrifying. A lot goes through your mind and heart: the deep pang of possible loss (what would my father and all of us do without her?), and the anguish and anger at what feels like injustice (after decades of mothering and managing dad's practice, she was just then going back to school).

We, as a family, were scared and angry, but from the beginning we knew we would do all we could to fight this disease. We became involved with fundraising for research, through the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation in Boston; we blogged; we did triathlons (my mother's idea) and cherished our time together as never before.

Carcinoid, a form of neuroendocrine cancer, is a terminal disease but generally responds well to treatment by Sandostatin, a drug that slows tumor growth and reduces (but does not eliminate) the symptoms of fatigue, nausea and gastrointestinal dysfunction. My mother received a painful shot twice a month and often couldn't sit comfortably for days afterward.

As with most cancers, one thing led to another. There have been several more surgeries, metastases, bone deterioration, a terrible bout of thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland), and much more. But my mother has kept fighting, determined to make the most of life, no matter what it brings. She has an indomitable will and is by far the toughest person I've ever met. But she wouldn't still be here without that semimonthly Sandostatin shot that slows the onslaught of her disease. And then in November, along with millions of other Americans, she lost her health insurance. She'd had a Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for nearly 20 years. It was expensive, but given that it covered her very expensive treatment, it was a terrific plan. It gave her access to any specialist or surgeon, and to the Sandostatin and other medications that were keeping her alive.

And then, because our lawmakers and president thought they could do better, she had nothing. Her old plan, now considered illegal under the new health law, had been canceled.

Because the exchange website in her state (Virginia) was not working, she went directly to insurers' websites and telephoned them, one by one, over dozens of hours. As a medical-office manager, she had decades of experience navigating the enormous problems of even our pre-ObamaCare system. But nothing could have prepared her for the bureaucratic morass she now had to traverse.

The repeated and prolonged phone waits were Sisyphean, the competence and customer service abysmal. When finally she found a plan that looked like it would cover her Sandostatin and other cancer treatments, she called the insurer, Humana, to confirm that it would do so. The enrollment agent said that after she met her deductible, all treatments and medications—including those for her cancer—would be covered at 100%.

Because, however, the enrollment agents did not — unbelievable though this may seem — have access to the "coverage formularies" for the plans they were selling, they said the only way to find out in detail what was in the plan was to buy the plan. (Does that remind you of anyone?)

With no other options, she bought the plan and was approved on Nov. 22. Because by January the plan was still not showing up on her online Humana account, however, she repeatedly called to confirm that it was active. The agents told her not to worry, she was definitely covered.

Then on Feb. 12, just before going into (yet another) surgery, she was informed by Humana that it would not, in fact, cover her Sandostatin, or other cancer-related medications. The cost of the Sandostatin alone, since Jan. 1, was $14,000, and the company was refusing to pay.

The news was dumbfounding. This is a woman who had an affordable health plan that covered her condition. Our lawmakers weren't happy with that because . . . they wanted plans that were affordable and covered her condition. So they gave her a new one. It doesn't cover her condition and it's completely unaffordable.
You can read the rest at the link. There are doubtless some people who are benefiting from Obamacare, to be sure, but is it justice to help those who are benefiting by taking away from others, like this woman, the insurance she had and causing her to suffer? Is it justice to promise people repeatedly, as the President did, that if they liked their insurance plan they'd be able to keep it while at the same time making many of the plans that people had and liked illegal under the new law so that people couldn't keep them? That's not justice. It's cruelty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rubio Puts Tyranny in Perspective

The progressive left in America has always had a soft spot in its heart for left-wing tyrannies. This may seem like an exaggeration, it may seem hard to believe, but it's demonstrably true. It was true in the days of Stalin when the New York Times ran fawning reports of the Soviet worker's paradise written by Walter Duranty and others who turned a blind eye to the horrors of life under the communists, and it's still true today.

Progressives have always supported Marxist socialist governments in the western hemisphere whether in Central America, Cuba, or South America because Marxist socialist government is their ambition for the United States as well. It's their ideal.

Recently Iowa's liberal Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, returned from a trip to Cuba and gave a glowing report on the floor of the U.S. Senate on what he found in this Caribbean paradise. His speech was too much for Senator Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban refugees, to let pass. Rubio took the floor and gave a devastating rebuttal to Harkin with just a few slides and almost no notes.

Everyone who believes that places like Cuba and Venezuela are the future, or is sympathetic to the left-wing socialist governments that are oppressing their people in these countries - as is not only a significant chunk of the academic left but also a large segment of the Democrat party including much of the current administration - should watch all 14 minutes of Rubio's speech:
If you'd rather read the text than watch the video it follows below courtesy of Senator Rubio's office via Hot Air. It really is worth reading unless one already knows all of this or else doesn't care to know it. Here's the text of senator Rubio's speech:

A few moments ago, the body was treated to a report from the senator from Iowa about his recent trip to Cuba. Sounded like he had a wonderful trip visiting, what he described as, a real paradise. He bragged about a number of things that he learned on his trip to Cuba that I’d like to address briefly. He bragged about their health care system, medical school is free, doctors are free, clinics are free, their infant mortality rate may be even lower than ours.

I wonder if the senator, however, was informed, number one, that the infant mortality rate of Cuba is completely calculated on figures provided by the Cuban government. And, by the way, totalitarian communist regimes don’t have the best history of accurately reporting things. I wonder if he was informed that before Castro, Cuba, by the way, was 13th in the whole world in infant mortality. I wonder if the government officials who hosted him, informed him that in Cuba there are instances reported, including by defectors, that if a child only lives a few hours after birth, they’re not counted as a person who ever lived and therefore don’t count against the mortality rate.

I wonder if our visitors to Cuba were informed that in Cuba, any time there is any sort of problem with the child in utero they are strongly encouraged to undergo abortions, and that’s why they have an abortion rate that skyrockets, and some say, is perhaps the highest the world. I heard him also talk about these great doctors that they have in Cuba. I have no doubt they’re very talented. I’ve met a bunch of them. You know where I met them? In the United States because they defected. Because in Cuba, doctors would rather drive a taxi cab or work in a hotel than be a doctor. I wonder if they spoke to him about the outbreak of cholera that they’ve been unable to control, or about the three-tiered system of health care that exists where foreigners and government officials get health care much better than that that’s available to the general population.

I also heard him speak about baseball and I know that Cubans love baseball, since my parents were from there and I grew up in a community surrounded by it. He talked about these great baseball players that are coming from Cuba — and they are. But I wonder if they informed him — in fact, I bet you they didn’t talk about those players to him because every single one of those guys playing in the Major Leagues defected. They left Cuba to play here.

He also talked about how people would come up to him in the streets and not a single person said anything negative about America. Nobody came up to him wagging their fingers saying, ‘You Americans and your embargo is hurting us.’ I’m glad to hear that. Because everyone who wants to lift the embargo is constantly telling us that the Castros use that to turn the people against us. So obviously, that’s not true. So I’m glad to hear confirmation of what I already knew to be true.

I heard about their wonderful literacy rate, how everyone in Cuba knows how to read. That’s fantastic. Here’s the problem: they can only read censored stuff. They’re not allowed access to the Internet. The only newspapers they’re allowed to read are Granma or the ones produced by the government.

I wish that someone on that trip would have asked the average Cuban, ‘With your wonderful literacy skills, are you allowed to read The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or any blog, for that matter?’ Because the answer’s, ‘No.’ So it’s great to have literacy, but if you don’t have access to the information, what’s the point of it? So I wish somebody would have asked about that on that trip.

We heard about Mr. Gross, who is not in jail. He’s not a prisoner. He is a hostage. He is a hostage. And in the speech I heard a moment ago, I heard allusions to the idea that maybe we should — he didn’t say it, but I know the language, I know the code in this — that maybe there should be a spy swap. Here’s the problem: Mr. Gross was not a spy. You know what his crime was, if that’s what you can call it? He went to Cuba to hand out satellite radios to the Jewish community. But, we’re glad to hear that the Cubans are so nice to him that they let him walk 10,000 steps a day and do pull-ups and they let him build a necklace out of bottle cap tops. Very nice of them to allow him to do those things. How generous.

I wonder if anybody asked about terrorism, because Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. I wonder if anybody asked about the fact that, just a few months ago, a North Korean ship going from Cuba to North Korea was stopped in the Panama Canal and it contained items in violation of international sanctions against a government in North Korea that, a report just came out confirming what we already knew, has death camps and prison camps. And the Cubans are allowing them to evade these sanctions. Did that come up in any of the wonderful conversations in this socialist paradise in the Caribbean? I bet you it didn’t.

Let me tell you what the Cubans are really good at, because they don’t know how to run their economy, they don’t know how to build, they don’t know how to govern a people. What they are really good at is repression. What they are really good at is shutting off information to the Internet and to radio and television and social media. That’s what they’re really good at. And they’re not just good at it domestically, they’re good exporters of these things. And you want to see exhibit A, B, C and D? I’m going to show them to you right now. They have exported repression in real-time, in our hemisphere, right now.

Let me show you the first slide here. This gentleman here is the former mayor of a municipality in Caracas. His name is Leopoldo Lopez. And this is the National Guard of Venezuela pulling him into an armored truck last week. You know why? Because he’s protesting against the government. He’s protesting against the government of Venezuela, which are puppets of Havana, completely infiltrated by Cubans and agents from Havana. Not agents, openly, foreign military affairs officials involved in Venezuela. You know why? Because the Venezuela government is giving them cheap oil and free oil, in exchange for help during these sorts of repressions. So here he is, he’s sitting in jail right now because he’s protesting against the government. He’s sitting in jail right now.

So here’s the next slide. This is Genesis Carmona. She’s a beauty queen and a student in a city called Valencia. She’s on that motorcycle because the government in Venezuela and the thug, these so-called civilian groups that they’ve armed — another export from Cuba, a model the Cubans follow — they shot her in the head. She died last week. This is the government that the Cubans support. Not just verbally, not just emotionally, but with training and tactics. This is who they export — this is what they do. And she’s dead. And this is her being taken on a motorcycle to the hospital where they were unable to save her life because she was shot in the head by Venezuelan security forces.

Here’s another slide. Remember I showed you Mr. Lopez? These are his supporters being hit with water cannons — by water cannons in the street because they’re protesting against the government. This has been going on now for two weeks. This is the allies of Cuba, Venezuela, the puppets of Cuba. And this is what they do to their own people. Water cannons knocking people to the ground. Why? Because they’re protesting the government.

Let me show you the next slide. Here’s a demonstrator detained by police. Look how they drag him through the streets. This is in Caracas, Venezuela. Let me show you another demonstrator. This is a student — by the way, these are all students in the street. You see this young man here? He was also shot in the head by security forces and pro-government groups in Caracas. This happened on February 11. This is what they do in Venezuela. This is what the allies of the Castro regime does, this is what they export. This is what they teach. This is what they support. And it doesn’t stop here.

Who are Cuba’s allies in the world? North Korea. Before he fell, the dictator in Libya, the dictator in Syria, the tyrant in Moscow. This is who they line up with. This is this wonderful paradise? By the way, this in and of itself deserves attention, what’s happening in Venezuela, in our own hemisphere. It is shameful that only three heads of state in this hemisphere have spoken out forcefully against what’s happening. It is shameful that many members of Congress who traveled to Venezuela and were friendly with Chavez, some even went to his funeral, sit by saying nothing while this is happening in our own hemisphere. And this wonderful Cuban paradise government that we heard about? This is what they support. Just this morning, the dictator that calls himself a president — never been elected to anything, Raul Castro — announced he is there for whatever they need to help them do this.

I listen to this stuff about Cuba and I listen to what’s happening in Venezuela, they’re very similar. Not just in the repression part, but the economics part. You know Venezuela’s an oil-rich country with hardworking people? They have a shortage — we don’t have an embargo against Venezuela. They have a shortage of toilet paper and tooth paste. Why? Because they are incompetent. Because communism doesn’t work. They look more and more like Cuba economically and politically every single day.

What’s the first thing the Venezuelan government did when these broke out? They cut off access to Twitter and Facebook and the Internet. They ran CNN out of there. They closed down the only Colombian station. Years before, they had closed down all the independent media outlets that criticized the government. Where did they learn that from? From Cuba. And yet we have to listen to what a paradise Cuba is. Well, I wonder how come I never read about boatloads of American refugees going to Cuba? Why have close to one and a half million people left Cuba to come here? But the only people that leave here to move there, are fugitives from the law and people that steal money from Medicare that go there to hide? Why? How come no American baseball players defect to Cuba? Why don’t any American doctors defect to Cuba if it’s such a paradise?

He cited a poll, ‘More Americans want normal relations with Cuba.’ So do I — a democratic and free Cuba. But you want us to reach out and develop friendly relationships with a serial violator of human rights, who supports what’s going on in Venezuela and every other atrocity on the planet? On issue after issue, they are always on the side of the tyrants. Look it up. And this is who we should be opening up to? Why don’t they change? Why doesn’t the Cuban government change? Why doesn’t the Venezuelan government change?

Throughout this week, I will be outlining proposals and ideas about what we need to do, the sanctions we should be pursuing against the individuals responsible for these atrocities. So with North Korea, we have sanctions. Why? Because they’re a terrorist government and an illegitimate one. Against Iran we have sanctions. Why? Because they support terrorism and they’re an illegitimate government. And against the Cubans we have sanctions. Why? Well, you just saw why. Sanctions are a tool in our foreign policy toolbox, and we, as the freest nation on Earth, are looked to by people in this country, and all around the world, to stand by them in their moment of need when they clamor for freedom and liberty and human rights. They look for America to be on their side, not for America to be cutting geopolitical deals or making it easier to sell tractors to the government there. We should be clear about these things.

But here’s the great news. I don’t know if they get C-SPAN in Cuba. I bet you the government people do. I hope you see that in America, we’re a free society. You’re allowed to come on the floor and you’re allowed to say and spread whatever you want. You think Cuba’s a paradise? You think it’s an example and a model that we should be following? You’re free to say that, here, in the press and anywhere you want. But we’re also free to come here and tell the truth. We’re also free to come here and denounce the violations of human rights and brutality. And I would suggest to my colleagues, the next time they go to Cuba, ask to meet with the Ladies in White. Ask to meet with Yoani Sanchez. Ask to meet with the dissidents and the human rights activists that are jailed and repressed and exiled. Ask to meet with them. I bet you’re going to hear something very different than what you got from your hosts on your last trip to the wonderful Cuba, this extraordinary socialist paradise. Because it’s a joke. It’s a farce.

And I don’t think we should stand by here with our arms crossed, watching these things happen in our hemisphere and say nothing about them. I can close by saying this: Over the last week, I have tweeted about these issues. I get thousands of retweets from students and young people, until they shut them out, in Venezuela who are encouraged by the fact that we are on their side. What they want is what we have, the freedom and the liberty. That’s what all people want. And if America and its policy-makers are not going to be firmly on the side of freedom and liberty, who in the world is? Who on this planet will? If this nation is not firmly on the side of human rights and freedom and the dignity of all people, what nation on the Earth will? And if we’re prepared to walk away from that, then I submit to you that this century is going to be a dangerous and dark one. But I don’t believe that’s what the American people want from us. Nor the majority of my colleagues.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

W.T. Stace on the Loss of Moral Duty

Philosopher W.T. Stace writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1948 gives a concise summary of how we came to be where we are in the modern world, i.e. adrift in a sea of moral subjectivism and anomie. He asserts that:
The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called "final causes"...[belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century....They did this on the [basis that] inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the prediction and control of events.

....The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated around the world....

The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws....[But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends - money, fame, art, science - and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center.

Hence, the dissatisfied, disillusioned, restless spirit of modern man....Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values....If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions.

Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people, or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.
On one point I would wish to quibble with Stace's summary. He writes in the penultimate paragraph above that, "If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe - whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself - then they must be our own inventions."

I think, however, that if our moral rules derive from the universe they're no more binding or authoritative than if they are our own inventions. The only thing that can impose a moral duty is a personal being, and the only being that has the authority and ability to impose an objective moral duty is one that transcends human finitude. Neither the universe nor any entity comprised of other humans qualifies.

Unless God exists there simply are no objective moral duties. Thus, if one believes we all have a duty to be kind rather than cruel, to refrain from, say, rape or child abuse or other forms of violence, then one must either accept that God exists or explain how such obligations can exist in a world where man is simply the product of blind, impersonal forces, plus chance, plus time.

Put simply, in the world of Darwinian naturalism, no grounds exist for saying that hurting people is wrong. Indeed, no grounds exist for saying anything is wrong.

It's not just that modernity and the erosion of theistic belief in the West has led to moral relativism. It's that modernity and the concomitant loss of any genuine moral authority in the world leads ineluctably to moral nihilism.

This is one of the themes I present in my novel In the Absence of God which you can read about by clicking on the link at the top right of this page.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ted Nugent and Selective Outrage

Let's get the necessary formalities out of the way. Rocker Ted Nugent's recent description of the President (He called him "a subhuman mongrel") was inexcusably vulgar, cruel, degrading, stupid, and despicable. It has disqualified him, in my mind, from ever being listened to again (not that I ever listened to him before). Such talk should have no place in our public life, and Nugent would do well to retreat to one of his favorite hunting cabins and meditate on why he would say something like that about another human being, much less the President of the United States. Mr. Obama may be doing an awful job as president, in the minds of some, but whether he is or isn't, he still deserves respect both as a man and as our nation's elected leader. His policies and behavior are fair targets. His humanity is not.

Having said that I have to agree with Derek Hunter at Townhall about the justifiable but selective outrage that has accompanied Nugent's ugly outburst. It seems that the left is disgusted by such talk only when it comes from people associated with the right. They're like the three monkeys covering their eyes, ears, and mouths when such talk emanates, as it does with disturbing frequency, from the "progressive" precincts of the media.

It was common during the Bush years, for example, to hear George Bush referred to as "a chimp," an insult that perhaps lacks the punch of Nugent's odious description, but which says essentially the same thing. For sheer ugliness, though, it's hard to exceed former MSNBC host Martin Bashir's suggestion on national television that someone should defecate in Sarah Palin's mouth. Or Bill Maher's predilection for reducing conservative women to their female parts. Yet Maher is feted regularly by the progressive media which has no objection to his use of anatomical vulgarities to describe conservative women and which was as quiet as mice after Bashir's repulsive dehumanization of Palin.

Here's part of Hunter's column on this. Speaking of the reaction to Nugent's words Hunter writes:
The offended class in the media sprang into action, drooling like heroin junkies when they hear that flame hit the bottom of the spoon. It was deemed one of the worst things ever said, by people who make their living declaring things said by others awful – one of the few growth industries in Obama’s economy.

CNN dedicated hour upon hour of coverage to the words of a man whose actions for charity they’ve ignored for decades. Current Texas Gov. Rick Perry went on with Wolf Blitzer and was badgered for 2 1/2 minutes to denounce these words, then denounce them in stronger terms, and again, as if Perry has said them himself. Republicans were nearly trampled by “journalists” demanding they react to and answer for something said in an entirely different time zone.

Meanwhile, taking a break from calling Republicans all manner of potty-mouth names, Bill Maher has made the rounds of cable television as if he knows anything about this beyond what he read on Daily Kos. Imagine the feigned outrage if Maher talked about progressives – any progressives – the way he has talked about Sarah Palin and her children.

This misogynistic bigot gives $1 million to President Obama’s reelection PAC, yet he is greeted as an insightful and unbiased commentator by Blitzer and others. And no progressives – not him nor any of the others – ever is demanded to denounce his attacks. When it comes to progressive racism, misogyny, hatred and violent rhetoric, the referees swallow their whistles, as they say in basketball.

Greg Abbott and Rick Perry are no more responsible for the words of Ted Nugent than progressives are for the words of Bill Maher. But although Abbott and Perry were forced to answer for Nugent, President Obama cashes Maher’s check and his cabinet secretaries, advisors and elected Democrats from Nancy Pelosi on down beat a path to the stage of the man who calls conservative women “c--ts” without question or repercussion.
When people like Maher, Bashir, and Nugent say the things they do their words should be condemned by both liberals and conservatives. The offenders should be shunned by both sides until they prove themselves capable of engaging in civil discourse. This would accomplish several things: It would certainly inhibit such fetid talk in our politics and elevate our national discourse, thereby. It would also increase the credibility of those in the commentariat when they show themselves to be impartially concerned with public decency and less concerned with protecting their ideological allies.

It's unfortunate that a large segment of our population seems unable to critique ideas without lacing their critique with invective designed to demean the person who holds the ideas. I don't know why that is, but it's as common, especially on the internet, as it is repulsive and childish.

There's nothing wrong with criticizing the policies, ideas, or behavior of a president, or anyone for that matter (note to the left: criticism of President Obama's policies, ideas, or behavior, despite what is often alleged, is not prima facie evidence that one is a racist). But criticism and insults that dehumanize the person, as Nugent's, Maher's, and Bashir's do, should be treated with contempt, especially by those who otherwise share the same ideological assumptions as the offender. That would go a long way to stopping this sort of thing and making us a kinder, better people.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Theological Aversion to the Big Bang

It may sound strange, especially to those who've grown up believing that science is solely concerned with following the evidence wherever it leads and that the scientific enterprise has nothing to do with religion or philosophy, but in fact for many scientists their science is driven and guided by their theology.

I'm not talking about creationists who make no secret of their desire to harmonize the empirical evidence for origins with the scriptural narrative. I'm talking rather about those scientists who consider themselves naturalists and who insist that science rules out God.

It seems fair to say that for many of these men and women what they accept as sound science must conform to their atheistic worldview or else they'll dismiss it as implausible. The reception some scientists gave to the idea that the universe began in a cosmic explosion is an example. Facetiously dubbed the Big Bang theory by Fred Hoyle in the 1940s it received its most astonishing evidential support fifty years ago this year so perhaps it's fitting to use it as an illustration of how scientists are directed by their theological beliefs.

Denyse O'Leary, writing at Evolution News and Views last October reminds us of a number of revealing statements by prominent scientists which demonstrate the extent to which they and/or their colleagues are influenced by their theology, or in this case, their atheology:

Physicist Arthur Eddington exclaimed in 1933, "I feel almost an indignation that anyone should believe in it [i.e. a cosmic beginning] -- except myself." Why? Because "The beginning seems to present insuperable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural."

"These men and women have built their entire worldview on atheism," says cosmologist Frank Tipler referring to his colleagues: "When I was a student at MIT in the late 1960s, I audited a course in cosmology from the physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg. He told his class that of the theories of cosmology, he preferred the Steady State Theory because 'it least resembled the account in Genesis.'"

In 1989, Nature's physics editor John Maddox predicted, "Apart from being philosophically [i.e. theologically] unacceptable, the Big Bang is an over-simple view of how the Universe began, and it is unlikely to survive the decade ahead."

Stephen Hawking opined in 1996, "Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention. ... There were therefore a number of attempts to avoid the conclusion that there had been a big bang."

Quantum cosmologist Christopher Isham recalls: "Perhaps the best argument in favor of the thesis that the Big Bang supports theism is the obvious unease with which it is greeted by some atheist physicists. At times this has led to scientific ideas, such as continuous creation or an oscillating universe, being advanced with a tenacity which so exceeds their intrinsic worth that one can only suspect the operation of psychological forces lying very much deeper than the usual academic desire of a theorist to support his/her theory."

For many scientists their science is shaped by their metaphysical worldview, not vice versa. This would not be particularly troubling if it weren't for the fact that so many of them insist that the only thing that shapes their science is the evidence. The popular notion is that scientists have no philosophical axes to grind and that they only deal in cold, hard facts, but this is simply not the case.

It'd be well to keep this in mind when we hear people like Al Gore pronounce that the science on, say, climate change or Darwinism, is "settled." Science is never settled, and it's foolish to claim that it is. One's likely motive for doing so is to try to protect a philosophical position that the claimant doesn't wish to have exposed to scrutiny.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Leaving the Left

British journalist Melanie Phillips was a committed member of the ideological left in England, a writer for the Progressive British paper The Guardian, but she eventually realized that the left was not at all what it portrays itself as being. She left the left, so to speak, and has written a book about her experience titled Guardian Angel.

The book is essentially an unmasking of the left, its true nature and intentions. Ten excerpts from the book, in a piece by Brad Weinstein at The Blaze, give a good idea of Phillips' case against her former comrades.

Here are a few excerpts, but the reader interested in understanding the nature of the ideological struggle being waged in our culture today would do well to go to the original and read the whole thing. It'll be an eye-opener.

On Political Tactics:
”I always believed in the duty of a journalist to uphold truth over lies, follow the evidence where it led and fight abuses of power wherever they were to be found. I gradually realised, however, that the left was not on the side of truth, reason, and justice, but instead promoted ideology, malice, and oppression. Rather than fighting the abuse of power, it embodied it.Through demonising its enemies in this way, the left has undermined the possibility of finding common ground and all but destroyed rational discourse. This is because, as shown by its reaction to Lady Thatcher’s death, it substitutes insult and abuse for argument and reasoned disagreement.”

”More devastatingly still, by twisting the meaning of words such as liberal, compassion, justice and many others into their opposites, it has hijacked the centre-ground of politics. Left-wing ideology is now falsely said to constitute the moderate centre-ground, while the true centre-ground is now vilified as ‘the right’. This is as mind-bending as it is destructive, for it has introduced a fatal confusion into political debate on both sides of the Atlantic. Redefining the true middle ground of politics as ‘right-wing’ has served to besmirch and toxify the commitment to truth, reason, decency, and reality which characterises where most people happen to situate their thinking.
On Anti-Israeli Bias:
”In a leader conference one day, I asked why the Guardian appeared to be pursuing a double standard in its coverage of the Middle East. Why did it afford next-to-no coverage of Arab atrocities against other Arabs while devoting acres of space to attacking Israel for defending itself against terrorism? The answer I received from my colleagues that day stunned me. Of course there was a double standard, they said. How could there not be? The Third World did not subscribe to the same ethical beliefs as the West about the value of human life. The West therefore was not entitled to judge any mass killings in the Third World by its own standards. That would be racist.

I was most deeply shocked. The views they had just expressed amounted to pure racism. They were in effect saying that citizens of a Third World country were not entitled to the same assumptions of human rights, life, and liberty as those in the developed world. But how could this be? This was the Guardian, shrine of anti-racism, custodian of social conscience, embodiment of virtue. How then could they be guilty of racism – and moreover, dress it up as anti-racism? Of course, this is the core of what we now know today as ‘political correctness’ – where concepts are turned into their polar opposite in order to give miscreants a free pass if they belong to certain groups designated by the left as ‘victims’. They are thus deemed to be incapable of doing anything wrong, while groups designated as ‘oppressors’ can do no right.

According to this double-think it was simply impossible for the Guardian folk to be guilty of racism, since they championed the victims of the Third World against their Western capitalist oppressors. But when those Third World unfortunates became the victims of the Third World tyrants ruling over them, the left remained silent – since to criticise any Third World person was said to be ‘racism’. This twisted thinking is what now passes for ‘progressive’ thinking in Britain and America.
On Education:
”By now I had been looking for schools for my own children and I could see for myself that teaching had been hijacked by left-wing ideology. Instead of being taught to read and write, children were being left to play in various states of anarchy on the grounds that any exercise of adult authority was oppressive and would destroy the innate creativity of the child. Galvanised by the reaction which suggested that things were far worse than I had realised, I wrote more about education. I wrote about the refusal to teach Standard English on the grounds that this was ‘elitist’. How could this be? I had seen firsthand in my own under-educated family that an inability to control the language meant an inability to control their own lives. My Polish grandmother had not been able to fill in an official form without help; my father just didn’t have the words to express complicated thoughts, and would always lose out against those who looked down at him from their educated pedestal.

I also observed that those putting such pressure on these teachers from the education establishment were the supercilious upper middle classes, who had no personal experience whatsoever of what it was actually like to be poor and uneducated or an immigrant but were nevertheless imposing their own ideological fantasies onto the vulnerable – and harming them as a result. Teachers wrote to me in despair at the pressure not to impose Standard English on children on the grounds that this was discriminatory. They knew that, on the contrary, this was to abandon those children to permanent servitude and ignorance…Most teachers, I wrote, were unaware that they were the unwitting troops of a cultural revolution, being now taught to teach according to doctrines whose core aim was to subvert the fundamental tenets of Western society. A generation of activists had captured academia, and, in accordance with the strategy of cultural subversion advocated by Antonin Gramsci, had successfully suborned education to a far-left agenda.”
On The Family:
Rising numbers of people were abandoning their spouses and children, or breaking up other people’s families, or bringing children into the world without a father around at all. The left claimed that these activities made the women and children happy and were a refreshing change from the bad old days when simply everyone was miserable because marriage chained women to men who – as everyone with the correct view knew – were basically feckless wife-beaters and child abusers as well as being irrationally prejudiced against the opposite sex. Since marriage, by and large, was a protection for both children and adults, I thought the state should promote it as a social good. For this I was told I was reactionary, authoritarian and, of course, right-wing. Yet how could it be progressive to encourage deceit, betrayal of trust, breaking of promises and harm to children?

On issues such as education and family, I believed I was doing no more than stating the obvious. To my amazement, however, I found that I was now branded an extremist for doing so. Astoundingly, truth, evidence, and reason had become right-wing concepts. I was now deemed to have become ‘the right’ and even ‘the extreme right’. And when I started writing about family breakdown, I was also called an ‘Old Testament fundamentalist’. At the time, I shrugged this aside as merely a gratuitous bit of bigotry. Much later, however, I came to realise that it was actually a rather precise insult. My assailants had immediately understood something I did not myself at the time understand – that the destruction of the traditional family had as its real target the destruction of Biblical morality. I thought I was merely standing up for evidence, duty and the protection of the vulnerable. But they understood that the banner behind which I was actually marching was the Biblical moral law which put chains on people’s appetites.

I saw this as nothing less than outright nihilism which threatened to destroy the West. If all common bonds of tradition, custom, culture, morality, and so forth were destroyed, there would no social glue to keep society together. It would gradually fracture into a set of disparate tribes with competing agendas, and thus eventually would destroy itself. And as I was coming to realise, just about every issue on which I was so embattled – family, education, nation, and many more – were all salients on the great battleground of the culture wars, on which the defenders of the West were losing hands down.”
On The Islamic Challenge:
”Like most others, I had not seen 9/11 coming. Yet two days earlier, in a column about the decline of Christianity in Britain, I wrote, ‘Liberal values will be protected only if Christianity holds the line as our dominant culture. A society which professes neutrality between cultures would create a void which Islam, with its militant political creed, would attempt to fill’

[I]mmediately after the Twin Towers collapsed, I realised that what the West was facing was different from ordinary terrorism; and different again from war by one state on another. This was something more akin to a cancer in the global bloodstream which had to be fought with all the weapons, both military and cultural, at our disposal. And yet in that moment I also realised that the West would flinch from this fight, because it no longer recognised the difference between good and evil or the validity of preferring some cultures to others, but had decided instead that all such concepts were relative. And so it would most likely take the path of appeasement rather than the measures needed to defend itself from the attempt to destroy it. And so it has proved."
On Hope:
“All, however, is not lost. A culture can pull back from the brink if it tears off its suicidal blinders in time. This can still be achieved — but it requires a recognition above all of the paradox that so many fail to understand, that freedom only exists within clear boundaries, and that preserving the values of Western civilisation requires a robust reassertion of the Judeo-Christian principles on which its foundations rest. And that requires moral, political, and religious leadership of the highest order — and buckets of courage.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ok Go and Arguments for the Existence of God

Watch this video of This Too Shall Pass by Ok Go and ask yourself what would have happened if there had been no first cause to initiate the sequence of events it depicts.

If there were no first cause in the sequence of cause and effect then there simply would be no subsequent effects. This is essentially a version of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God called the Kalam Cosmological Argument:
For a simple explanation of the Kalam argument you might want to watch this video (although the video doesn't use the word "Kalam" it's the Kalam version of the Cosmological Argument that it's describing.)
The people shown cheering at the end of the Ok Go video are the students who designed and constructed the apparatus which leads to another question worth pondering. Could such an apparatus have resulted from the random action of blind chance and natural law or did it require intelligent engineers to put it all together. This question highlights a version of another argument for the existence of God based on the design inherent in the cosmos as well as in living things.

Once life appeared on earth then perhaps it could have proliferated and diversified via mutation and natural selection, but how did the first living things, cells far more intricate and complex than the Rube Goldberg apparatus in the video, ever come to be in the first place? Are blind, purposeless processes a sufficient explanation or do those first life forms, like the Rube Goldberg device, require the input of an intelligent agent?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Doubting Thomas

Microbiologist Kas Thomas is no creationist. Indeed, he's a Darwinian evolutionist, but he's one of an increasing number of such scientists who's growing disenchanted with Darwinism's inability to satisfactorily respond to the scientific challenges posed by intelligent design advocates.

He talks about his concerns at Big Think and, because he has given voice to doubts about the theoretical efficacy of Darwinism, he's greeted with a tidal wave of scorn and derision in the comments section. Here's the crux of his piece:
I find it horrifying that there are college-educated people in the U.S. (and around the world) who believe the earth is 6,000 years old; and yet at the same time, I have a certain amount of discomfort, myself, with evolutionary theory—not because it demeans the nobility of man or denies the Bible, or anything of that sort, but because it's such an incomplete and unsatisfying theory on purely scientific grounds. (Many physicists feel much the same way about quantum theory.)

Almost everything in evolutionary theory is based on "survival of the fittest," a tautology that explains nothing. ("Fittest" means most able to survive. Survival of the fittest means survival of those who survive.) The means by which new survival skills emerge is, at best, murky.... the fact is, even today we have a hard time figuring out how things like a bacterial flagellum first appeared.

When I was in school, we were taught that mutations in DNA are the driving force behind evolution, an idea that is now thoroughly discredited. The overwhelming majority of non-neutral mutations are deleterious (reducing, not increasing, survival). This is easily demonstrated in the lab. Most mutations lead to loss of function, not gain of function. Evolutionary theory, it turns out, is great at explaining things like the loss of eyesight, over time, by cave-dwelling creatures. It's terrible at explaining gain of function.

It's also terrible at explaining the speed at which speciation occurs. (Of course, The Origin of Species is entirely silent on the subject of how life arose from abiotic conditions in the first place.) It doesn't explain the Cambrian Explosion, for example, or the sudden appearance of intelligence in hominids, or the rapid recovery (and net expansion) of the biosphere in the wake of at least five super-massive extinction events in the most recent 15% of Earth's existence.
Despite these shortcomings, Thomas isn't willing to give up on the theory because there's no other naturalistic explanation for the problems he highlights:
Of course, the fact that classical evolutionary theory doesn't explain these sorts of things doesn't mean we should abandon the entire theory. There's a difference between a theory being wrong and being incomplete. In science, we cling to incomplete theories all the time. Especially when the alternative is complete ignorance.
Perhaps the theory is incomplete because it excludes intelligent agency as a creative factor, but be that as it may one of the ironies of this post by Thomas is the hostility it has provoked in the comments section. What is it about doubts of Darwinism that cause such emotional reactions in people who would never dream of reacting so vehemently to a post expressing doubts about, say, quantum theory, relativity, or Big Bang cosmology? It's almost as if Thomas' doubts call into question his critics' most deeply held religious convictions. Come to think of it, perhaps they do.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

That Survey

Yesterday I did a post on a survey that revealed a regrettable failure of the American people to grasp some basic scientific facts. Recall that about 26% of respondents thought that the sun revolved around the earth and that 42% thought astrology was a science or at least somewhat scientific.

Well, Allahpundit at Hot Air has delved even further into the results and has some interesting information to share about them. I point this out not because I'm trying to discredit any age group or political party, but rather because if one listens to networks like MSNBC, which I do as a penance for my sins, one is frequently told explicitly and implicitly that young folks are better educated than old people and that Republicans (or conservatives) are generally ignorant, redneck rubes who are almost criminally anti-intellectual and anti-science. This seems to be such a well-established meme in liberal mythology that when evidence arises that explodes the myth, as it regularly does when it comes to this particular dogma, the temptation to publicize it is just too great for my feeble powers of resistance to withstand.

So, it turns out, interestingly enough, that the notion that the sun revolves around the earth is more likely to be held by people who classify themselves as Democrat or liberal than it is by people who classify themselves as Republican or conservative. Here's the data:

It also happens that younger people are more likely to believe that astrology is scientific than are their elders:

Moreover, Democrats and liberals are more likely to believe that astrology is a science than are conservatives or Republicans:

Again, I don't know that any of this really means much (although I'm sure it'd be all over MSNBC were the data reversed), but it's useful as an antidote to the drumbeat of propaganda on the left, from the President on down, which insists that the Democrats are the party of science and that their opponents, particularly Tea-Party-type conservatives, are mired in superstition and nonsense. This refrain is sung over and over despite the fact that it's been shown that TPers are actually wealthier and better educated than the average American.

Whether the topic is global warming, evolution, stem cell research, or whatever we're repeatedly reminded that the liberal view is the intelligent position and that those who may be skeptical are simply benighted. You wouldn't know that from this survey, however.

While we're on the topic, a similar misrepresentation of conservatives occurs regularly on television shows like the popular House of Cards which portrays Tea-Party-like folks as rabid protestors, viciously demonstrating against some politician who's having an abortion or an affair. The fact of the matter is that vicious protests are almost exclusively a tactic of the left. Conservatives seldom protest at all because they're too busy working and raising their families, and when they do it's usually silent, courteous, and non-confrontational. When conservatives rally they clean up their mess and the police don't even need to show up except to protect them against lefty thugs.

Contrast the peaceful rallies held by people on the right, often involving hundreds of thousands of people, with the ugliness on display in Madison, Wisconsin two years ago or at the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Maybe the writers of House of Cards get their ideas on how to portray the right by projecting what they've actually seen on the left.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Scientific Illiteracy

Barney Henderson at the UK Telegraph reports on a survey which is depressing for what it tells us about scientific literacy among Americans and depressing, too, for what it tells us about philosophical literacy among, well, among Barney Henderson.

It turns out that in a survey of 2200 people who were asked nine questions about basic science the average number of correct answers was only 5.8, but the really depressing news was that a surprising 26% of respondents got wrong their answer to the question, "Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth."

It really is lamentable that so many Americans are ignorant of a fact they should have mastered by fourth grade, but Mr. Henderson went on to demonstrate a shortcoming of his own when he noted that:
Fewer than half of the respondents - 48% - are aware that humans evolved from earlier species of animals and just 39% answered correctly that "the universe began with a huge explosion".
Mr. Henderson doesn't seem to realize that whereas the evidence that the earth revolves around the sun is beyond dispute, the evidence for human descent from "earlier species of animals" and the evidence that "the universe began with a huge explosion" are much less so. Neither of these are the sorts of things one, especially a layman, is in a position to know, and indeed there's controversy among scientists about both, especially the latter. Both of them, unlike claims about the earth's path, are historical claims for which all evidence is circumstantial and indirect. It's true that the consensus of scientists favors both claims, but that hardly means that they're true much less that laymen should be criticized for not knowing whether they're true.

In fact, the sampled population showed a lot more sophistication on these questions than does Mr. Henderson. A trip to the survey itself reveals this on page 21:
Half of the survey respondents were randomly assigned to receive questions focused on information about the natural world (“human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” and “the universe began with a big explosion”). The other half were asked the questions with a preface that focused on conclusions that the scientific community has drawn about the natural world (“according to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” and “according to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion”).

In 2012, respondents were much more likely to answer both questions correctly if the questions were framed as being about scientific theories or ideas rather than about natural world facts. For evolution, 48% of Americans answered “true” when presented with the statement that human beings evolved from earlier species with no preface, whereas 72% of those who received the preface said “true,” a 24 percentage point difference.
In other words when the question is framed properly so as to include the preface that many scientists believe that humans descended from other species and that the universe began in a cosmic explosion, the percentage of respondents giving the correct answer was 24 points higher reflecting a much better understanding of the actual state of affairs than Henderson's rendering would lead one to suspect.

To allege that it was incorrect to answer false to the question about humans evolving from other species or the question about the universe beginning in a Big Bang is to claim access to knowledge that no one has. It reflects a kind of intellectual arrogance and presumption that careful thinkers usually try to avoid.

Unfortunately, having said all that, it also turned out that a total of 42% of Americans also agreed that astrology is either "very scientific" or "sort of scientific." Perhaps the 42% were confusing astrology with astronomy, an easy mistake for those who spend their days watching Honey Boo Boo and devouring the latest news about Kanye and Kim, but if they actually did know what astrology is and still gave this answer then heaven help us.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Casual observers are often confused by the distinctions between the ideological parties known as conservatives and liberals. What makes a conservative a conservative and a liberal a liberal, they wonder.

There are numerous differences which tend to manifest themselves, roughly, in three policy domains: foreign, social, and fiscal. Conservatives tend to gravitate toward the Republican Party, although not all Republicans are conservatives, and liberals tend to populate the Democrat Party though there are some Democrats, not many, to be sure, who are not liberal.

Put simply - it's more complicated than can be explicated in a short post - the differences include the following:

On foreign policy liberals tend to be interventionists and conservatives tend to be isolationists. Liberals believe we have a moral duty to intervene in foreign disputes to help those who are being unjustly harmed. Thus, liberals like Hillary Clinton (and some more liberal Republicans like John McCain) argued for an American intervention in Syria on behalf of the rebels against the brutal Assad regime, whereas most conservatives opposed it, arguing that interfering in the affairs of others is only justified if there's a clear national interest at stake.

Fiscally, conservatives tend to believe that government should not spend more than it takes in, should not spend taxpayers' money frivolously or wastefully, and should keep the tax burden on its citizens low. They also believe that freedom is inversely proportional to the size of government. The bigger, more obtrusive government is the less free its citizens will be. Liberals are much less concerned about deficit spending (i.e. spending more than revenues can pay for), debt, or big government. Indeed, they see government as a force for good in society and the more of it there is the better off we are.

This is one reason why liberals are supportive of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and conservatives oppose it. The ACA hands control of almost 20% of the economy to the federal government and takes many health care decisions out of the individual's control and hands them to bureaucrats. It also explains why liberals are much less concerned about NSA surveillance of citizens' communications than are conservatives who see this as a dangerous intrusion by government upon personal privacy.

On social matters, liberals are much less bound by traditional values like marriage, family, work, religion, etc. than are conservatives who believe that deviations from the traditional ways of ordering society should be undertaken only with the utmost caution and circumspection and only for very compelling reasons. Thus conservatives take a dim view of progressive experiments with marriage, abortion, easy divorce, profligate welfare programs, and secularization, whereas liberals tend to embrace all of these.

All of this may seem a bit abstract so perhaps the difference between liberals and conservatives, particularly as regards social welfare, can best be summed up in a story a student recently shared with me. I've amended the tale somewhat to make it fit the theme of the post:

A high school-aged son of liberal parents was speaking with a neighbor, who happened to be a conservative, about a friend from his class at school whose family was very poor and couldn't buy decent clothes or school supplies for their kids. He told the neighbor how much his heart went out to this family and how much he wanted to help them, but he didn't have much money. The conservative neighbor commended the boy for his compassion and told him that if he wished to help the disadvantaged family he could do some yard work and painting for him and use what he earned to help his needy classmate.

The boy thought about this for a moment and then said "That'd be great, but why couldn't my friend come here, do the work, and earn the pay himself?" The man smiled and said, "Don't tell your parents you asked that. They'll think you're becoming a conservative."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Is Atheism Rational?

A friend called my attention to an interview with philosopher Alvin Plantinga at The New York Times' Opinionator. The topic was whether atheism is a rational philosophical position and Plantinga who, though retired, is still among the foremost philosophers of epistemology and religion in the world today, makes a compelling case that it's not.

The interview was conducted by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting, and I encourage you to read the whole thing before making any definitive assessment of Plantinga's arguments because I can't do them justice here.

In response to a question from Gutting about whether many philosophers are atheists is because there's not enough evidence for belief, Plantinga replies that the lack of evidence, if such there be, only warrants agnosticism it doesn't justify atheism:
A.P.: In the British newspaper The Independent, the scientist Richard Dawkins was recently asked the following question: “If you died and arrived at the gates of heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism?” His response: “I’d quote Bertrand Russell: ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!’” But lack of evidence, if indeed evidence is lacking, is no grounds for atheism. No one thinks there is good evidence for the proposition that there are an even number of stars; but also, no one thinks the right conclusion to draw is that there are an uneven number of stars. The right conclusion would instead be agnosticism.

In the same way, the failure of the theistic arguments, if indeed they do fail, might conceivably be good grounds for agnosticism, but not for atheism. Atheism, like even-star-ism, would presumably be the sort of belief you can hold rationally only if you have strong arguments or evidence.
Gutting observes that atheists often deny that they need evidence, insisting that all they need do to justify their lack of belief in God is point out the lack of any good evidence for theism:
G.G.: ...Atheists say (using an example from Bertrand Russell) that you should rather compare atheism to the denial that there’s a teapot in orbit around the sun. Why prefer your comparison to Russell’s?

A.P.: Russell’s idea, I take it, is we don’t really have any evidence against teapotism, but we don’t need any; the absence of evidence is evidence of absence, and is enough to support a-teapotism. We don’t need any positive evidence against it to be justified in a-teapotism; and perhaps the same is true of theism.

I disagree: Clearly we have a great deal of evidence against teapotism. For example, as far as we know, the only way a teapot could have gotten into orbit around the sun would be if some country with sufficiently developed space-shot capabilities had shot this pot into orbit. No country with such capabilities is sufficiently frivolous to waste its resources by trying to send a teapot into orbit.

Furthermore, if some country had done so, it would have been all over the news; we would certainly have heard about it. But we haven’t. And so on. There is plenty of evidence against teapotism. So if, à la Russell, theism is like teapotism, the atheist, to be justified, would (like the a-teapotist) have to have powerful evidence against theism.
But what about the arguments that show that God doesn't, or probably doesn't, exist? Actually there are very few such arguments that amount to much. Only the "problem of evil" poses a significant defeater for belief in God. Plantinga addresses the argument:
A.P.: The so-called “problem of evil” would presumably be the strongest (and maybe the only) evidence against theism. It does indeed have some strength; it makes sense to think that the probability of theism, given the existence of all the suffering and evil our world contains, is fairly low. But of course there are also arguments for theism. Indeed, there are at least a couple of dozen good theistic arguments. So the atheist would have to try to synthesize and balance the probabilities. This isn’t at all easy to do, but it’s pretty obvious that the result wouldn’t anywhere nearly support straight-out atheism as opposed to agnosticism.
Plantinga goes on to point out that he doesn't think that good arguments are necessary to justify belief in God, but that he believes that there are a couple of dozen good arguments for theism nonetheless.
A.P.: I should make clear first that I don’t think arguments are needed for rational belief in God. In this regard belief in God is like belief in other minds, or belief in the past. Belief in God is grounded in experience, or in the sensus divinitatis, John Calvin’s term for an inborn inclination to form beliefs about God in a wide variety of circumstances.

Nevertheless, I think there are a large number — maybe a couple of dozen — of pretty good theistic arguments. None is conclusive, but each, or at any rate the whole bunch taken together, is about as strong as philosophical arguments ordinarily get.
One objection frequently introduced by skeptics is that in this modern age one can no longer believe in supernatural causes, but, as Plantinga shows, this is a rather flimsy objection to theism:
A.P.: Some atheists seem to think that a sufficient reason for atheism is the fact (as they say) that we no longer need God to explain natural phenomena — lightning and thunder for example. We now have science.

As a justification of atheism, this is pretty lame. We no longer need the moon to explain or account for lunacy; it hardly follows that belief in the nonexistence of the moon (a-moonism?) is justified. A-moonism on this ground would be sensible only if the sole ground for belief in the existence of the moon was its explanatory power with respect to lunacy. (And even so, the justified attitude would be agnosticism with respect to the moon, not a-moonism.) The same thing goes with belief in God: Atheism on this sort of basis would be justified only if the explanatory power of theism were the only reason for belief in God. And even then, agnosticism would be the justified attitude, not atheism.
One reason many philosophers are atheists is that they have an apriori commitment to materialism that precludes the existence of any non-physical entities in their ontology. The problem with this - and this is the gravamen of Plantinga's most recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies - is that one cannot logically hold to both materialism and Darwinian evolution. Yet almost every materialist is a Darwinian:
AP: Well, if there are only material entities, then atheism certainly follows. But there is a really serious problem for materialism: It can’t be sensibly believed, at least if, like most materialists, you also believe that humans are the product of evolution.

[R]oughly, here’s why. First, if materialism is true, human beings, naturally enough, are material objects. Now what, from this point of view, would a belief be? My belief that Marcel Proust is more subtle that Louis L’Amour, for example? Presumably this belief would have to be a material structure in my brain, say a collection of neurons that sends electrical impulses to other such structures as well as to nerves and muscles, and receives electrical impulses from other structures.

But in addition to such neurophysiological properties, this structure, if it is a belief, would also have to have a content: It would have, say, to be the belief that Proust is more subtle than L’Amour.

But here’s the important point: It’s by virtue of its material, neurophysiological properties that a belief causes the action. It’s in virtue of those electrical signals sent via efferent nerves to the relevant muscles, that the belief about the beer in the fridge causes me to go to the fridge. It is not by virtue of the content (there is a beer in the fridge) the belief has.

[I]f this belief — this structure — had a totally different content (even, say, if it was a belief that there is no beer in the fridge) but had the same neurophysiological properties, it would still have caused that same action of going to the fridge. This means that the content of the belief isn’t a cause of the behavior. As far as causing the behavior goes, the content of the belief doesn’t matter.
But doesn't evolution select for accurate beliefs? Don't accurate beliefs enhance survival? Here's Plantinga:
Evolution will have resulted in our having beliefs that are adaptive; that is, beliefs that cause adaptive actions. But as we’ve seen, if materialism is true, the belief does not cause the adaptive action by way of its content: It causes that action by way of its neurophysiological properties. Hence it doesn’t matter what the content of the belief is, and it doesn’t matter whether that content is true or false. All that’s required is that the belief have the right neurophysiological properties. If it’s also true, that’s fine; but if false, that’s equally fine.

Evolution will select for belief-producing processes that produce beliefs with adaptive neurophysiological properties, but not for belief-producing processes that produce true beliefs. Given materialism and evolution, any particular belief is as likely to be false as true.

GG: So your claim is that if materialism is true, evolution doesn’t lead to most of our beliefs being true.

AP: Right. In fact, given materialism and evolution, it follows that our belief-producing faculties are not reliable.....

So if you’re an atheist simply because you accept materialism, maintaining your atheism means you have to give up your belief that evolution is true. Another way to put it: The belief that both materialism and evolution are true is self-refuting. It shoots itself in the foot. Therefore it can’t rationally be held.
I've only provided an adumbration of the interview here. Plantinga fleshes out his arguments more fully at the link.

A closing thought: It appears that many of the commenters either didn't read the interview carefully or didn't understand Plantinga's arguments. They're much more sophisticated and formidable than some of the superficial dismissals of the commenters might lead one to believe.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Modest Proposal

John Podhoretz at The New York Post summarizes why he thinks the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) report on the effects of the ACA on future employment are the death blow to the ACA. He writes: The Congressional Budget Office released a major study of the government’s budget and its effect on the overall economy over the next 10 years. In dull bureaucratic language, it delivers a devastating analysis of the inefficiencies, ineffectualities and problematic social costs of ObamaCare.
The one-two punch: Virtually as many Americans will lack health coverage in 10 years as before the law was passed — but 2 million fewer will be working than if the law hadn’t passed.

One killer detail comes on Page 111, where the report projects: “As a result of the ACA, between 6 million and 7 million fewer people will have employment-based insurance coverage each year from 2016 through 2024 than would be the case in the absence of the ACA.”
This is astonishing. The "reform" was sold to the American people as a means of doing the compassionate thing which was to cover the approximately 30 million people who were not quite poor enough to be covered by medicaid but too poor to afford health insurance. Now the CBO, a non-partisan appendage to Congress which studies the economic effects of proposed legislation, tells us that a decade from now there'll be fewer people covered by insurance than there would have been had the ACA never been enacted. Podhoretz elaborates on this:
Even more damaging is this projection: “About 31 million non-elderly residents of the United States are likely to be without health insurance in 2024, roughly one out of every nine such residents.”

Why? Because, in selling the bill to the American people in a nationally televised September 2009 address, President Obama said the need for ObamaCare was urgent precisely because “there are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”

Now the CBO is saying that in 10 years about the same number of people will lack insurance as before. This, after new expenditures of as much as $2 trillion and a colossal disruption of the US medical system.
Last week I commented on the fact that the ACA will cause another 2.5 million to drop out of the work force because subsidies will enable them to afford insurance they'd otherwise have to work to pay for. Democrats have hailed this state of affairs as liberating, but I was baffled as to how it could be a good thing that people would be subsidized by the taxpayers so that they could work less if the wished. Podhoretz comments on this as well:
If that’s not startling enough, there’s also the telling projection about ObamaCare’s affect on employment — “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.”

Indeed, overall, between 2017 and 2024, the actual amount of work done in this country will decline by as much as 2 percent.

How come? Because of perverse incentives ObamaCare provides in the form of subsidies to some and higher taxes to others.
Nancy Pelosi, who can always be counted upon to say the darnedest things, claimed that this would be good because it frees people to write poetry, but what Ms Pelosi fails to tell us is that these aspiring poets will be dropping out of the work force to pursue their passion only because the rest of us will be paying for their health insurance.

I'd like to make a modest proposal. Since we are now to believe it's a good thing to liberate people from the burden of work by paying their insurance for them, why not take this to its logical conclusion? Why not you and I also pay the mortgage, homeowner's insurance, utility bills, car payments and insurance, food bills and any other expenses someone might incur who would prefer to quit their job so they can do whatever their heart inclines them to do, including doing nothing at all?

Why shouldn't we live in a country in which no one is oppressed by having to work, no one works unless they want to, and everyone who doesn't want to is completely subsidized by the rest of us whether we want to pay they're way or not? Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that be what a compassionate people would do?

But where, a grouchy doubter might ask, will the government get the money to pay for this nirvana in which among a population of 300 million hardly anyone is working? That's easy: Just print it. What could be simpler? And in no time at all we'll "fundamentally transform" the wealthiest nation in the world into Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Sizes of Things

Here's a fun interactive site that you won't be able to stop playing with. By moving the scroll bar you can zoom in or out to see how big the universe is compared to our planet and how big we are compared to the smallest parts of an atom.

Give it a try and spend a little time just being amazed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Gravy Train Has Left the Station

Kyle Smith reviews a book by Harry S. Dent, Jr. titled The Demographic Cliff: How to Survive and Prosper During the Great Deflation of 2014-2019. Dent argues in the book that the beginning of American decline arrived in 1961. That was the year that Americans decided to start cutting back on the number of children they were having and now the demographic chickens are coming home to roost. Here's part of Smith's review:
People tend, for instance, to buy houses at about the same age — age 31 or so. Around age 53 is when people tend to buy their luxury cars — after the kids have finished college, before old age sets in. Demographics can even tell us when your household spending on potato chips is likely to peak — when the head of it is about 42. Ultimately the size of the US economy is simply the total of what we’re all spending. Overall household spending hits a high when we’re about 46. So the peak of the Baby Boom (1961) plus 46 suggests that a high point in the US economy should be about 2007, with a long, slow decline to follow for years to come.

Anyone find that convincing?

Artificial, forced spending like government stimulus is not going to spark real voluntary spending because that isn’t what old people do. They’ve already paid for their houses, cars and their children’s schooling. Merchants try to goose lackluster sales by cutting prices, which increases the incentive for people to save their money, expecting things will be cheaper in the future than they are today.

That’s a deflationary spiral, and Dent sees it coming here..., and soon.

Post-crash, the US economy has been limping along for nearly five years despite a series of massive fiscal and monetary stimuli. A principal reason for what growth we have had is the spending pattern of rich people, who tend to put off their big purchases years later in life than the average. Their peak spending year should be, according to Dent, 2014.

And, no, immigration isn’t going to save us; even adjusted for immigration, the overall US population is aging. (Moreover, an anemic economy attracts fewer foreigners: Net new immigration from Mexico dropped to zero between 2005 and 2010).
There is a glimmer of hope for those soon entering the economy. There was a baby boomlet in the 1980s that'll start being felt around 2019 when these consumers start buying houses.

Even so, according to Dent, the prosperity enjoyed by the post-WWII generation will not be realized again, at least not any time soon. As Smith says, though:
Implicitly, Dent is saying: Don’t blame politicians, the decline of manufacturing, education or cheap foreign imports for the economic stagnation that has already begun and will continue for many years. Blame your parents and grandparents for losing interest in having children back in the Sixties.
If this is all true what does it portend for the entitlement state in which we live and wherein a relatively few people at the top of the socio-economic pyramid support the masses of people further down. As the number of older, wealthy taxpayers decreases there'll be less wealth to transfer to the poor, infirm, and just plain lazy. What will society look like then when the masses have less than they have now and the few who have managed to hold onto some wealth are loath to give it up?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Libet's Discovery and Free Will

Students of psychology, philosophy and other disciplines which touch upon the operations of the mind and the question of free will have probably heard mention of the experiments of Benjamin Libet, a University of California at San Francisco neurobiologist who conducted some remarkable research into the brain and human consciousness in the last decades of the 20th century.

One of Libet's most famous discoveries was that the brain "decides" on a particular choice milliseconds before we ourselves are conscious of deciding. The brain creates an electrochemical "Readiness Potential" (RP) that precedes by milliseconds the conscious decision to do something. This has been seized upon by materialists who use it as proof that our decisions are not really chosen by us but are rather the unconscious product of our brain's neurochemistry. The decision is made before we're even aware of what's going on, they claim, and this fact undermines the notion that we have free will as this video explains:
Michael Egnor, writing at ENV, points out, however, that so far from supporting determinism, Libet himself believed in free will, his research supported that belief, and, what's more, his research also reinforced, in Libet's own words, classical religious views of sin.

Libet discovered that the decision to do X is indeed pre-conscious, but he also found that the decision to do X can be consciously vetoed by us and that no RP precedes that veto. In other words, the decision of the brain to act in a particular way is determined by unconscious factors, but we retain the ability to consciously choose not to follow through with that decision. Our freedom lies in our ability to refuse any or all of the choices our brain presents to us.

Egnor's article is a fascinating piece if you're interested in the question of free will and Libet's contribution to our understanding of it.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Trying to Get My Mind Right

Maybe if I were smarter I wouldn't be so mystified by how liberals think, but, given my limitations, I really am often puzzled by the things they say. Earlier this week the CBO announced what I thought at first was terrible news: Obamacare would result in over 2.5 million full-time workers leaving the work force over the next decade.

My first thought was that it's surely a bad thing to have fewer people working. Work ennobles the people who do it, gives them a sense of dignity and accomplishment, and generates greater wealth and more tax revenue. Unemployment, on the other hand, is a bad thing. It results in people becoming dependent on government, it causes them to lose necessary job skills required for reentering the workforce, it tends to diminish their self-esteem, and it reduces the revenues coming into local, state, and federal coffers.

Evidently, though, I only think this way because I'm not liberal enough. It seems that everyone on the left from MSNBC to Harry Reid to Nancy Pelosi to the New York Times to the White House is trumpeting this CBO report as positively wonderful news. It means, if I understand them aright, that lots of people will no longer have to work just to be able to afford health insurance. Under Obamacare, people who don't want to work can now quit their jobs and have their insurance paid for by ... us. What a deal.

I wonder how these liberal folks would have responded to the news that 2.5 million people would be dropping out of the labor force if the CBO had announced it under a Republican administration. I guess I shouldn't wonder about such things, though. I'm sure they would still have declared two and a half million fewer full-time workers to be a genuine blessing.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thoughts on Ham/Nye

The other evening a young earth creationist named Ken Ham debated the well-known science popularizer Bill Nye on the question whether Creation is a viable model of origins in the modern scientific world.

I watched the first hour and a half of the debate and thought it went about as I expected it would. Ham's argument was largely theological and Nye's argument was more scientific so the two pretty much talked past each other. Ham's case rested on his interpretation of the Genesis account in the Bible, which he believes requires an earth not more than 6000 to 10,000 yrs. old - far too young for evolution to have occurred - and Nye's argument was based on empirical evidence that the world is on the order of billions of years old and that Ham's model is therefore scientifically untenable.

Given the topic of the debate, Ham's inability to respond convincingly to Nye's critique of the young earth hypothesis swung things decidedly in Nye's favor. I couldn't help thinking, though, that had Nye been debating an intelligent design proponent he'd have fared far worse. In such a debate the age of the earth and, in fact, the process of evolution itself are irrelevant. The relevant question is whether the evidence that scientists are everyday discovering in their labs, under their microscopes and through their telescopes, is better explained by blind, purposeless processes or by some kind of intelligent, intentional agency.

Issues like what process was used, how long ago it acted, and who the agent was may all be important in themselves, the last certainly is, but in a debate between a materialist like Nye and an ID proponent they're distractions. The chief question is whether we have good reason to believe that the universe is the product of an intelligent agent or not. Only after that question is answered in the affirmative does it become relevant to ask who or what that intelligent agent might be.

Such debates are taking place, but they don't receive the media attention that Ham/Nye did. For those who might be interested here's a link to a recent radio event featuring philosopher Stephen Meyer, the author of Darwin's Doubt, and chemist Charles Marshall.

More commentary on the debate can be found here and here, including links to other commenters of varying positions on the topic.

In the Dock

Bill Whittle at Afterburner asks us to imagine that we stand before a jury of millions of Americans who struggled, bled, and died for our freedom. The question we're presented with is, what did we do with their gift?
Part of what makes the boiling frog metaphor apposite is that so many of us do nothing because we don't know what's going on in the world or in our government and we tend to think that there are others who do know who are looking out for our freedoms.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way, or, maybe it's better to say it doesn't work out well that way. Every citizen has a responsibility to be at least moderately informed. Thomas Jefferson put the reason for this obligation pithily when he advised us that "whoever expects to remain ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be." Edmund Burke likewise cautioned us that all that's necessary for evil to prevail (in the world or in society) "is for good men to do nothing."

Watching the Whittle video raised several questions: Do we still value the freedoms from which we've traditionally benefited? How precious to us are they? Have we become so dependent upon the government in the last few decades that we would today gladly lay our freedom and privacy at the feet of bureaucrats in exchange for the promise of security? Has the gradually warming water in the pot made us so flaccid and apathetic that we'd much prefer to repose in the bosom of a government that pays us not to work, that keeps us addicted to the opium of government benefits, than exert ourselves to provide for ourselves and our family?

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Stupid Party Tries to Live Up to its Name

The Republican Party is sometimes referred to by despairing friends and gleeful foes as the "Stupid Party," a pejorative that goes back to the 19th century British philosopher John Stuart Mill who used it as a description of the conservatives of his day. I was reminded of the unfortunate appellation when reading news reports that the Republican leadership, in their apparent lemming-like eagerness to commit political suicide, are inexplicably pushing for an immigration bill this year. It has political observers shaking their heads. As Quin Hillyer writes at NRO:
Drudge led this morning with multitudinous reports about the House Republican leadership’s determination to push forward this year with major immigration reform, apparently mostly at the behest of big-business executives. And now Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is weighing in, saying there is a “general consensus that something big has to happen.”

What sort of bubble is Priebus living in? The only general consensus to that effect is among the more leftist groups of the Latino lobby, the corporate chieftains, and the academic Left. Nobody would accuse Priebus, or John Boehner or Paul Ryan, of consorting with the first and third of those groups, but their coziness with the second group lends credence to the Left’s generations-long charge that the GOP is the party of corporate whoredom.

Now, that may not be a fair charge across the board, but this bizarre push for immigration reform, at a time when the Democrats are on the run on Obamacare and desperately want to change the subject, certainly lends itself to that interpretation.
There are a number of reasons, of course, why both Republicans and Democrats want amnesty and de facto open borders. The Democrats want them because they see the potential hordes of poor immigrants as natural Democrats once they gain citizenship, which won't take long, and Republicans, or at least the "fat cat" wing of the party, want them because they see immigrants as a sea of cheap labor.

Inconveniently for the Republican leadership, Speaker Boehner and Majority Whip Cantor, the vast bulk of the rank and file do not want it. Hillyer again:
The Buchananite Right is against doing immigration reform this year. National Review’s editors are against it. William Kristol is against it. Unions have historically opposed the idea — and most union and non-union laborers other than the illegals themselves still do. The Heritage Foundation is against it. Most conservative grassroots activists groups are against it. The always-wise Peter Kirsanow of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is against it. The talk radio hosts are against it. Leading conservative (and centrist) bloggers — Michelle Malkin, and the folks at RedState, and Mickey Kaus — are against it. The libertarian Jack Kemp disciple Deroy Murdock is against it. Polls consistently show the public as a whole ranks immigration reform way down the list of priorities. Polls consistently show that most Republican voters oppose any immigration reform that doesn’t require [that we] absolutely secure our borders before any other reforms are considered. And the experience of President George W. Bush’s attempt at reform, which split the Republican party so badly that it played a big role in causing the loss of Congress in 2006, argues heavily against it.

If the House leadership wants its members to have their phone lines jammed with angry callers, their e-mail inboxes full of furious messages, their town meetings featuring absolutely toxic atmospheres, and (if anything actually is signed into law) their voters stay home in droves in November, then the leadership will continue to pursue this idea.

Or they could back off from immigration reform, focus on Obamacare, offer free-market fixes for the health-care system, and sail to victory in the fall. Seems like an easy choice to me.
The biggest problem with an immigration bill, or any legislation, for that matter, is that enforcement depends upon the willingness of the chief executive to apply the law. Barack Obama has demonstrated that he'll enforce only those laws that are to his liking, and few Republicans trust him to enforce any law that requires strong border security. Thus, any bill that does not place border security first and predicate everything else upon it, is bound to stir up a revolt in the party and trigger mass defections from it.

The ability of Congress to get things done requires trust between the parties. Sadly, nothing can get done in the current Washington climate largely because the President's repeated dissimulations and scandals have eroded all confidence among his political opponents that he can be counted on to keep his word.

Anyway, for those interested in a common sense approach to the issue of immigration reform Mark Krikorian has a fine piece at National Review.

By the way, an amusing story was once told of a congressional staffer who was trying to explain the American political system to a Russian counterpart. He explained to his colleague that there were two political parties in Washington — the stupid party and the evil party. Every once in a while the stupid party and the evil party get together and do something that is both stupid and evil. In Washington, that's called bipartisanship.