Monday, August 31, 2015

What Was So Offensive?

Someone will have to explain to me what it was about what Curt Schilling said that is so outrageous that it merited even a reprimand let alone a suspension from his job at ESPN:
Curt Schilling, a star pitcher who was in the Major Leagues for 20 years and a baseball analyst for ESPN, was suspended from his Little League World Series duty after sending a controversial tweet Tuesday.

The tweet re-posted a meme that reads: "It's said only 5-10% of Muslims are extremists. In 1940, only 7% of Germans were Nazis. How'd that go?" The text was superimposed of a red-tinted photo of Adolf Hitler.

Schilling added, "The math is staggering when you get to true #'s."
Which part of this tweet is so offensive that it got him suspended from his job? Is it offensive to point out that the percentage of Muslims who support terrorism is about the same as the percentage of Nazis? If the stats are correct then why is Schilling wrong to point it out? If the stats are not correct is the 10% of Muslims who support terrorism too low? Is it offensive to actually underestimate the number of extremists among Muslims?

If the percentage is too high is there any evidence that it's so unreasonably high as to trigger the extraordinarily sensitive outrage sensors in the ESPN front office? Maybe the ESPN suits are offended that Schilling thinks that only 7% of Germans were Nazis. Who knows what offended them? My guess is that the mere mention of "Muslim" and "extremist" in the same paragraph is such a gross transgression against political correctness, such an egregious refusal to go along with the fantasy that Muslim extremism comprises such a vanishingly small percentage of Muslims that Schilling must be punished for flouting accepted doctrine.

There are a billion Muslims in the world. Even if only 1% of them are extremists that's ten million extremists itching for a chance to saw off your head and that of your children. That, I should think, is a significant fact.

Anyway, as is so often the case in our society, the mindless and unprincipled who care only about their image and bottom line and not at all about truth compel their subordinates to conform to absurd standards of political correctness. Schilling was made to grovel and issue an abject apology as he kissed the ring of the ESPN higher ups:
At first Schilling didn't back off from his post, but eventually he said it was wrong to post the meme.

"I understand and accept my suspension. 100% my fault. Bad choices have bad consequences and this was a bad decision in every way on my part," he wrote.

"Curt's tweet was completely unacceptable, and in no way represents our company's perspective," ESPN said in a written statement. "We made that point very strongly to Curt and have removed him from his current Little League assignment pending further consideration."
Shameful. What Schilling should have said is, "When you can show me that there's a substantive error in what I tweeted then I'll retract it and apologize. Until then, I have nothing to apologize for and I'm not going to abase myself simply for pointing out a fact or to satisfy someone's need to publicly demonstrate their own righteousness."

No one in this society is a member of a privileged racial, ethnic, or religious group, and no one should be exempt from criticism and scrutiny, or at least that's how it should be. Unfortunately, there are some groups which, unless you're going to say something flattering about them, you risk serious censure even by mentioning. Then there are other groups which, if you say something complimentary about them, you risk suffering a barrage of name-calling.

Comedian Colin Quinn's riff on the silliness of this state of affairs is funny, but the fact that it so accurately illustrates the mindlessness that exists in our society today makes it also very sad:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Birthright Citizenship

The "birthright citizenship" contretemps has elicited a lot of hypocritical posturing among the lefties and few are as good at skewering hypocrisy as Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online. Goldberg writes:
I am inclined against the idea [amending the Constitution to delete birthright citizenship] as a matter of public policy, because the costs would outweigh the benefits. But I am far from convinced it is something to be outraged about. It’s funny: On countless public policy issues, liberals are obsessed with comparing America to European countries. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders routinely points out that Europeans have far more lavish welfare policies, including various forms of government-provided health care. President Obama loves to point to the gun-control policies of other industrialized nations. “Why can’t we just be more like (insert more left-wing European country)?” is the standard-issue rhetorical gimmick for cosmopolitan and sophisticated liberal policy wonks.

Except when it’s not. No European country grants automatic citizenship to any person born on its soil. And yet, we are told that undoing this right would be a barbaric and retrograde reversal. “It’s pretty gross, and underlying are deeply seeded [sic], basically racist intentions,” Melissa Keaney of the National Immigration Law Center told Business Insider. Are Sweden and France “gross” now, too?

But let’s get back to the Constitution. Whenever Republicans favor amending the Constitution — or overruling a Supreme Court interpretation of it — Democrats unleash a tsunami of mortified rhetoric. “We should not mess with the Constitution. We should not tamper with the Constitution,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) declared in 2000 when Republicans suggested a victims’ rights amendment. “I respect the wisdom of the Founders to uphold the Constitution, which has served this nation so well for the last 223 years,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) thundered in response to a proposed balanced-budget amendment in 2011. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D., Ariz.) shrieked in protest over the potential repeal of birthright citizenship, “I think it’s horribly dangerous to open up the Constitution, to tamper with the Constitution.”

Now bear in mind, all of these Democrats oppose justices who believe the Constitution should be read narrowly, according to the original intent or plain meaning of the text. They like justices who worship at the altar of the “living Constitution” — you know, the mythical document that magically provides rights never imagined by the Founding Fathers.

Meanwhile, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, announced that one of her four central goals is to change the First Amendment. She wants to do this on the grounds that we must do anything we can to get rid of “unaccountable money” in our political system. Never mind that this is a funny position for a woman who plans on raising a reported $2 billion to win the presidency and whose foundation — which is neatly aligned with her political ambitions — is awash in foreign money. If only she hadn’t scrubbed her illicit private email server, I’m sure she could allay any fears that she is tainted by unaccountable money. And yet, where is the outrage?
It is indeed odd that Democrats can insouciantly encourage and abet the erosion of our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, and our right to bear arms without evincing any concern for Constitutional punctilio, but as soon as someone suggests that the Fourteenth Amendment, which grants citizenship to anyone born on our soil whether the parents are here legally or not, has outlived its original usefulness suddenly the Democrats are rushing to the ramparts to wage battle with the barbarians who would assault their precious Constitution.

Liberals rejoice when the president and the Supreme Court circumvent the Constitution or find hidden in it an otherwise obscure right to abortion or a right to marry someone of the same sex, but let someone suggest that maybe the rest of the world is correct in thinking that it's not a good idea to confer all the rights of citizenship on people just because they happened to be born here to parents who are not themselves citizens and are not here permanently or legally, and the left fires up their trusty name-calling artillery. As Goldberg asks, where is the left's outrage, at say, Hillary Clinton's attempts to undermine the First Amendment?
It isn’t coming from activist groups like People for the American Way, an organization founded to uphold the First Amendment. It has denounced the Republican effort to tinker with the 14th Amendment as an affront to human decency, but it applauds Clinton’s desire to tamper with the First Amendment as proof of her commitment to democracy. Some Republicans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), which applied the 14th Amendment to immigrants born here. Some Democrats disagree with the court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which says the First Amendment applies to groups of citizens acting in concert. Both, or neither, may be right, but only Republicans are forbidden from acting on their conviction.

Whenever a Republican is asked about potential court appointments, he must swear that he will offer no “litmus tests,” specifically on abortion. But Democrats routinely vow that they will only appoint living constitutionalists who see a right to abortion-on-demand lurking between the lines of the Bill of Rights. Clinton recently added a new litmus test. She’s told donors — accountable ones, no doubt — that she would only appoint justices who would overturn the Citizens United decision. Don’t strain yourself trying to hear the outrage. Outrage is saved for Republicans.
Our sick politics will begin to heal only when people start holding themselves to the same standards to which they hold others. As long as one side insists on exempting itself from the rules, both legal and rhetorical, it wishes the other side to abide by bitterness, turmoil, and anger will continue, not just between political parties, but between racial groups and between religious and secular groups as well.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Next Phase in the Culture War

People sometimes scoff at the notion that here in America we're deeply immersed in a "culture war." Well, pace those who disagree, we are. One of the lines of battle is over gay marriage and the left's need to punish anyone who voices any reservations, much less resistance, to this particular example of progressive enlightenment.

In Denver, for example, punishment is to be meted out not only to those who refuse to service gay weddings, but a forteriori to anyone whose personal opinion is that gay marriage is something less than a wonderful thing. The next step in the Culture Wars is shutting down businesses and putting people out of work, not because the business has transgressed the law or discriminated against patrons but purely because of the moral and religious beliefs of the business' founder. Consider this piece by David Harsanyi at The Federalist about Chick-fil-A's application to open a concession at Denver International Airport:
The Denver Council’s Business Development Committee has stalled a seven-year deal with Chick-fil-A because CEO Dan Cathy spoke out against gay marriage back in 2012. Cathy, after being flogged for this misconduct, backed off , saying he regretted getting involved. But that won’t do. There are no prisoners in this culture war. So the council will meet in couple of weeks to take up the topic again. Not so the members can take time to chew over the significance of a city punishing its citizens for their thoughts and beliefs, or even to weigh the importance of tolerance in a vibrant city like Denver. They’re waiting to have a closed-door committee hearing with city attorneys, who will brief them on the legal implications and practicality of shutting down apostates.

The only thing that might stop Denver from pulling this concession from an apologetic Christian, then, is a few risk-averse bureaucrats. This, even though Chick-fil-A has not been accused of any infraction or crime; no one has even suggested it’s guilty of make-believe acts of discrimination. Chick-fil-A has given assurances, in fact, as all other concessionaires at Denver International Airport (DEN) restaurants have, it will follow nondiscrimination policies laid out by law, which include protections for sexual orientation.

So what’s the point? Well, Robin Kniech, council person, asked a concessionaire this question: “If the national corporation with which you are affiliated once again puts themselves at the center of a national debate about depriving people and their families of rights, would you as a concessionaire have any ability to influence that?”

“I don’t believe so,” he answered.

“I don’t think you would, either,” Kniech says. “And that’s my concern.”

So that’s her concern? Setting aside her absurd oversimplification of the debate surrounding marriage, since when is it the interest of a council person to monitor the political activities of citizens and wonder how she deals with vendors who displease her sensibilities? Do Americans with minority opinions function under some different set of laws? The only person with the power to deprive anyone or their families of rights, in this case, is the council. So please tell me how Kniech isn’t a petty tyrant?
There's more to this story at the link. It paints a picture of America in 2015, an America that's been "fundamentally transformed." No longer are you free to hold a view that lies outside the mainstream (or in the Chick-fil-A case, squarely in the mainstream). You must conform to the progressive vision in both thought and deed, and if you don't everything and everyone associated with you will be punished. If we're not in the midst of a culture war it's only because one side has surrendered. Next thing the Denver council will be requiring everyone in their city to wear Mao suits.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


This past summer I read Alex Rosenberg's The Atheist's Guide to Reality in which he unequivocally promotes a scientistic view of knowledge. "Scientistic" does not mean "scientific," rather it describes a view based on "scientism" which is the view that science is the only guide to truth about the world and human existence. If a claim cannot be demonstrated empirically, using the tools of science, then it's not something that we can know, and in fact is not even something we should believe. In Rosenberg's view physics "fixes all the facts" about what is and what can be reasonably believed. This is sometimes called "physicalism."

Not all scientists are scientistic or "physicalists," many of them hold that there are truths about the world that science is not equipped to discover, but Rosenberg thinks this is neither good science nor good epistemology.

Rosenberg is no dummy. He's the chairman of the philosophy department at Duke University and demonstrates in his book a considerable breadth of learning. He also strives to be rigorously consistent. Given his belief that physicalism is the correct way to understand reality it follows that there is no God, no miracles, no soul or mind, no self, no real meaning or purpose to life, no meaning to history, no human rights or value, no objective moral duties - only what he calls a "nice nihilism."

By "nice nihilism" Rosenberg means that nature has fortuitously evolved in us a tendency to treat each other well despite the fact that doing so is neither a moral duty nor in any way "right." That, for the one who embraces Rosenberg's scientism, is the only glimmer of light in an unrelentingly dark world and even this little glimmer is beset with problems. Here's one:

If our niceness is the product of impersonal undirected processes then it can not have any moral purchase on us. That is, it can be neither right nor wrong to be "nice." Some people are and some aren't, and that's the end of the matter. Evolution has also evolved behaviors that are not "nice." If we are the product of evolution then there's really no way to morally discriminate between "niceness" and rape, torture, lying, racism, etc. All of these behaviors have evolved in our species just as niceness has and we have no basis for saying that we have a moral duty to avoid some behaviors and embrace others. In other words, on scientism, there are no moral obligations and nothing which is wrong to do.

Rosenberg admits all this, but he thinks that we need to face up to the fact that these are the consequences of adopting a scientistic worldview and a scientistic worldview, in his mind, is the only intelligent option in a world in which there is no God.

I think he's right about this and argue in my novel In the Absence of God (as well as my forthcoming Bridging the Abyss) that the consequences he outlines in The Atheist's Guide to Reality do indeed follow from atheism. The atheist who lives as if none of these consequences exist is living out an irrational delusion, most likely because he can't live consistently with the logical and existential entailments of what he believes about God.

A belief that leads to conclusions one cannot live with, however, stands in serious need of reexamination.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stem Cell Triumph

There's been much debate over the past few decades about the moral propriety of stem cell research. The problem has been that researchers coveted stem cells obtained from human embryos which meant that the embryo was destroyed in order to produce the cells. This was seen by many as morally problematic and so research was begun on obtaining stem cells from other sources. There were many technical difficulties and critics were quick to point out the need to use the much more pliable embryonic cells for the research.

Nevertheless, work continued on alternatives and now comes word that an almost fully-formed human brain, albeit of the size of that of a human fetus, has been grown from stem cells harvested from skin.

Here's part of the story from The Guardian:
An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim scientists from Ohio State University. The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease.

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.

The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, claimed Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who presented the work today at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Previous attempts at growing whole brains have at best achieved mini-organs that resemble those of nine-week-old foetuses, although these “cerebral organoids” were not complete and only contained certain aspects of the brain. “We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” said Anand.

Anand and his colleagues claim to have reproduced 99% of the brain’s diverse cell types and genes. They say their brain also contains a spinal cord, signalling circuitry and even a retina.

The ethical concerns were non-existent, said Anand. “We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way.”
There are more details at the link. Wesley J. Smith at Evolution News and Views comments succinctly on this development:
May it be so. Now let's analyze what this breakthrough could portend.
First, no need for unethical human cloning to derive cells for use in research and drug testing.
Second, no need for fetal farming for experimentation and organ transplants.
Finally, no need for Planned Parenthood dismemberments of fetuses killed in a "less crunchy" way.
Remember when embryonic stem cells were OUR ONLY HOPE? And how those of us who said that particular meme wasn't true were "anti-science"?
Actually, I recall worse pejoratives than "anti-science" being hurled at opponents of embryonic stem cell research. When President George W. Bush cut off federal funding for embryonic stem cell research he was called names which were much less polite. It's nice to see this vindication of those who stood for the principle that "all lives matter," even the lives of embryonic human beings.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bad Deal

Reading about the nuclear weapons deal with Iran it's easy to think that Iran must have thought they were negotiating with the most naive people in the world, or the dumbest. Not only does the deal grant Iran $100 billion to underwrite terrorism and weapons procurement, not only does it legitimize Iran's nuclear weapons program as long as they wait ten to fifteen years before starting production, it also grants to Iran the responsibility of monitoring its own compliance. As incredible as it sounds, Iran has been granted the privilege of telling us whether or not it's cheating.

As some have said, this deal is like telling pro athletes that the league will take their word for whether or not they've been using banned substances. As details of the deal negotiated by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seep into the public domain it just looks like one of the worst pieces of American diplomacy in the nation's history.

Remember when the president and others told us that the deal gives us "anytime, anywhere inspection authority"? Well, that assurance seems to be hewn from the same timber as Mr. Obama's promise that Obamacare would allow you to keep your doctor and make insurance coverage cheaper. The mullahs must be in hysterics over how they've bamboozled the Great Satan.

The flaws should make it DOA in Congress nevertheless, many Democrats will still support it on the grounds that, as Mr. Obama avers, it's a choice between either this deal or war. That's not true, of course, there are other options, but even if it were true that war is the only alternative the choice this deal forces us into is between conventional strikes on the Iranian nuclear facilities now or a nuclear war a decade from now.

One of the alleged selling points of the deal tacitly confirms this. The administration has claimed that the access we will have in Iran through IAEA inspections will provide us with a much better picture of where Iran's facilities are so that should we have to bomb them we'll be able to do a much better job of it. Put another way, this deal offers us two alternatives: If Iran cheats (which they will) and we bomb (which is highly doubtful) we can do so more effectively. If Iran doesn't cheat they're essentially free to resume nuclear weapons production in ten years.

Wouldn't it have been better to tighten sanctions to the point where Iran had to stop nuclear weapons production permanently and on our terms than to leave ourselves with the options we now seem to have?

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Wesley Experience

Helen de Cruz has been writing an interesting series of interviews with philosophers at the Philosophy of Religion blog Prosblogion. She asks these thinkers to share with readers their own religious views and there are posts from philosophers who run the gamut from Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Mormon, Anglican, agnostic, deist, evangelical protestant, and quasi-atheist. One of the most interesting to me was an interview with David McNaughton who teaches philosophy at Florida State University. Here's part of the interview:
Can you tell me something about your current religious affiliation/self-identification?

I was brought up agnostic, but my parents sent me to Methodist Sunday School (for as long as I wished) so I might find out for myself. After considerable prayer and heart-searching I joined the Methodist Church around 1960 and stayed there for ten years, including being a very active member of the Methodist Society at my undergraduate university. I did my graduate work at Magdalen College Oxford and attended College Chapel, at the end of which I was received into the Church of England.

Shortly thereafter I drifted away from Christianity, eventually becoming both sceptical and slightly hostile until my mid-30s when I began slowly to re-evaluate my position. Strong influences here were C. S. Lewis and William James, as well as teaching philosophy of religion with Richard Swinburne. I remained a highly sympathetic agnostic until 2004, when I decided to recommit to the church.

Could you say a bit more about the factors involved in your recommitting to the church in 2004 (I’m especially interested in the influence of your teaching philosophy of religion – many people allege that personal faith has an influence on one’s philosophy of religion, but here it seems the other way around!)

The immediate cause of my returning to the church was the death of my wife in July 2004. She was diagnosed with terminal secondary cancer of the lining of the lung in 2002. I had signed up to come to FSU and she was keen to be in the USA where her parents lived. As you can imagine, the move in conjunction with her illness and the medical treatment was horrendous.

During this time I prayed regularly and received much help in return. Shortly after her death some of her relatives invited us to a vacation at Port St. Joe. Walking along the beach at dawn, it seemed to me that God was reminding me that he had come through for me and now it was my turn....

In the course of my conversation with God I distinctly remember saying that I would give up my old complaint that I had never had the ‘Wesley experience’ (I was originally a Methodist). Indeed, I recall saying that I assumed He knew best, since as a philosopher I would probably regard any emotional experience with profound suspicion. The temporary priest at my church was part of a husband and wife team at Grace Mission in the most deprived part of Tallahassee, so I started going there. On my second or third visit, I suddenly had the impression that some physical weight had been removed from my shoulders. Puzzled, I thought about this, and realized that, for the first time in my life, I did not feel guilty about the many things I have done that I regret. I realized that my sins really were forgiven, i.e. The Wesley Experience. (This merely confirmed a view that I had long held: that God has a rather Puckish sense of humor).

I learned a number of things from teaching philosophy of religion.

  • Hume’s objections were nothing like as strong as I had supposed.
  • There was more to traditional arguments for theism than I thought.
  • A combination of Pascal’s Wager and William James seemed to me to make a very strong case for commitment. One objection to Pascal is that the wager only makes sense if there is only one form of religion to choose from. James, however, points out that, for the recipe to work, the option must be a live one.
Since Christianity was the only live one for me (I had tried Buddhism) then a combination of James and Pascal’s arguments was irresistible. I say ‘irresistible’ but of course I did resist, or at least, made no move, until impelled by my wife’s death.
I was glad to see that McNaughton, like many, if not most, philosophers of religion, found Hume's arguments to be less than compelling. I realized some time ago that Hume was held in much higher esteem by the free-thought skeptics than he was by philosophers who spent much of their careers studying his arguments.

Anyway, the rest of the McNaughton interview is pretty interesting, too, so you may want to check it out.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Are We a Simulation?

Robert Kuhn host and writer of the public television program Closer to Truth has an excellent column on the theory that our universe is actually a computer simulation. He writes:
I began bemused. The notion that humanity might be living in an artificial reality — a simulated universe — seemed sophomoric, at best science fiction.

But speaking with scientists and philosophers on "Closer to Truth," I realized that the notion that everything humans see and know is a gigantic computer game of sorts, the creation of supersmart hackers existing somewhere else, is not a joke. Exploring a "whole-world simulation," I discovered, is a deep probe of reality.

Philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, describes a fake universe as a "richly detailed software simulation of people, including their historical predecessors, by a very technologically advanced civilization."

It's like the movie "The Matrix," Bostrom said, except that "instead of having brains in vats that are fed by sensory inputs from a simulator, the brains themselves would also be part of the simulation. It would be one big computer program simulating everything, including human brains down to neurons and synapses."

Bostrum is not saying that humanity is living in such a simulation. Rather, his "Simulation Argument" seeks to show that one of three possible scenarios must be true (assuming there are other intelligent civilizations):
  • All civilizations become extinct before becoming technologically mature;
  • All technologically mature civilizations lose interest in creating simulations;
  • Humanity is literally living in a computer simulation.
His point is that all cosmic civilizations either disappear (e.g., destroy themselves) before becoming technologically capable, or all decide not to generate whole-world simulations (e.g., decide such creations are not ethical, or get bored with them). The operative word is "all" — because if even one civilization anywhere in the cosmos could generate such simulations, then simulated worlds would multiply rapidly and almost certainly humanity would be in one.

As technology visionary Ray Kurzweil put it, "maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high school student in another universe." (Given how things are going, he jokes, she may not get a good grade.)

Kurzweil's worldview is based on the profound implications of what happens over time when computing power grows exponentially. To Kurzweil, a precise simulation is not meaningfully different from real reality. Corroborating the evidence that this universe runs on a computer, he says, is that "physical laws are sets of computational processes" and "information is constantly changing, being manipulated, running on some computational substrate." And that would mean, he concluded, "the universe is a computer." Kurzweil said he considers himself to be a "pattern of information."

"I'm a patternist," he said. "I think patterns, which means that information is the fundamental reality."
Information, of course, is the product of minds, thus, if information is the fundamental reality in our world there must be a mind that has generated it. Many people, of course, agree with this and argue that the information which comprises this world is produced by the mind of God, but scientists, at least naturalistic scientists, argue that God is a metaphysical concept which lies outside the purview of science. Instead they advert to the existence of computer hackers in other universes which is also a metaphysical posit, but since it's not God, it's okay to speculate about it.

Kuhn goes on:
Would the simulation argument relate to theism, the existence of God? Not necessarily.

Bostrum said, "the simulation hypothesis is not an alternative to theism or atheism. It could be a version of either — it's independent of whether God exists." While the simulation argument is "not an attempt to refute theism," he said, it would "imply a weaker form of a creation hypothesis," because the creator-simulators "would have some of the attributes we traditionally associate with God in the sense that they would have created our world."

They would be superintelligent, but they "wouldn't need unlimited or infinite minds." They could "intervene in the world, our experiential world, by manipulating the simulation. So they would have some of the capabilities of omnipotence in the sense that they could change anything they wanted about our world."

So even if this universe looks like it was created, neither scientists nor philosophers nor theologians could easily distinguish between the traditional creator God and hyper-advanced creator-simulators.

But that leads to the old regress game and the question of who created the (weaker) creator-simulators. At some point, the chain of causation must end — although even this, some would dispute.
In other words, the universe displays indications of having been intelligently designed rather than having been an enormously improbable accident. This poses vexing problems for naturalists who feel constrained to account for the design without invoking you-know-who. So they theorize about a multiverse of an infinite number of worlds or speculate about extra-cosmic computer programmers who've created a world that looks real but is in fact just a computer simulation.

These extraordinary hypotheses are taken seriously by some philosophers and scientists, but if someone were to suggest that maybe this universe really is the only universe, that maybe it's real and not an illusory simulation foisted on us by some pimply extra-terrestrial, and that maybe it's instead the product of a single intelligent transcendent mind, he would suffer the ridicule and scorn of those who'd sooner believe that the universe is a science project of a seventh grader in some other more technologically advanced universe. I wonder which is the more implausible hypothesis.

Kuhn points out that the simulation hypothesis has great difficulty with the phenomenon of human consciousness:
A prime assumption of all simulation theories is that consciousness — the inner sense of awareness, like the sound of Gershwin or the smell of garlic — can be simulated; in other words, that a replication of the complete physical states of the brain will yield, ipso facto, the complete mental states of the mind. (This direct correspondence usually assumes, unknowingly, the veracity of what's known in philosophy of mind as "identity theory," one among many competing theories seeking to solve the intractable "mind-body problem".) Such a brain-only mechanism to account for consciousness, required for whole-world simulations and promulgated by physicalists, is to me not obvious.
In other words, how could the sensation of seeing blue - as opposed to blue itself - be simulated? Until there is a plausible physical explanation of consciousness, which there is not at this point, it seems unlikely that conscious beings are nothing more than a simulation.

There's more of interest in this essay at the link including how physicist Paul Davies uses the simulation argument to refute the multiverse hypothesis. Kuhn closes with this:
I find five premises to the simulation argument: (i) Other intelligent civilizations exist; (ii) their technologies grow exponentially; (iii) they do not all go extinct; (iv) there is no universal ban or barrier for running simulations; and (v) consciousness can be simulated.

If these five premises are true, I agree, humanity is likely living in a simulation. The logic seems sound, which means that if you don't accept (or don't want to accept) the conclusion, then you must reject at least one of the premises. Which to reject?
Personally, I find (i) problematic, (ii) possible but questionable (it's just as likely that technological growth reaches a ceiling or collapses altogether), and (v) highly doubtful.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Does Science Need Philosophy?

It seems to be something of a trend lately for materialists, particularly materialist scientists, to denigrate philosophy. Cosmologists Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss are two recent examples. Hawking even went so far as to pronounce philosophy dead in his book The Grand Design.

I wonder if one of the subconscious reasons for their disdain for philosophy is that these scientists and others are writing books claiming that science pretty much makes belief in God untenable, but they're finding that philosophers who critique their arguments are showing them to be embarrassingly unsophisticated. The animus against philosophy may derive from personal chagrin suffered at the hands of philosopher-critics.

Be that as it may, Hawking and Krauss, for all their brilliance, are astonishingly unaware of the philosophical faux pas that pervades their own writing.

Krauss, for example, made the claim in his book A Universe from Nothing that the universe emerged spontaneously out of a mix of energy and the laws of physics which he calls "nothing." Thus God is not necessary to account for the universe. Of course, this is a semantic sleight-of-hand since if the cosmos was produced by energy and physical laws then there was not "nothing," there was "something," and we're confronted with the mystery of how this energy and these laws came about.

Hawking declared philosophy "dead" in the early pages of his book and then spent a good part of the rest of the book philosophizing about realist and anti-realist views of the universe and the existence of a multiverse.

It's ironic that physicists like Hawking and Krauss would be so willing to deprecate philosophy since their own discipline is infused with it. Every time physicists talk about the multiverse or the nature of time or space or their own naturalistic assumptions about reality, they're doing metaphysics. When they talk about knowledge, cause and effect, the principle of sufficient reason, the principle of uniformity, or the problem of exactly what constitutes the scientific enterprise (the demarcation problem), they're doing philosophy. Whenever they discuss the ethics required of scientists in conducting and reporting their researches they're doing philosophy.

The entire discipline of science presupposes a host of philosophical assumptions like the trustworthiness of our senses and of our reason, the orderliness of the universe, the existence of a world outside our minds, etc. Yet these thinkers seem to be oblivious to the foundational role philosophy plays in their own discipline. Indeed, science would be impossible apart from axiomatic philosophical beliefs such as those listed above.

There's a bit of a joke at Uncommon Descent about this. It goes like this:
Scientist: "Why does philosophy matter?"
Philosopher: "I don't know, why does science matter?"
Scientist: "Well, because scie...."
Philosopher: "Annnnnnnd you are doing philosophy."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What the Left Is Defending

Kirsten Powers has strong words for those of her fellow Democrats who insist on trying to defend Planned Parenthood while simultaneously trying to discredit the journalists who have exposed the butchery and inhumane callousness of the people involved in procuring body parts from aborted babies. Here's her lede:
Democrats like to talk about the importance of being on the “right side of history.” This phrase was invoked frequently during the same-sex marriage debate. Yet when faced with a series of videosdetailing grotesque human rights abuses against unborn children by Planned Parenthood Federation of America doctors, Democratic Party forces have eschewed all concern for historical or moral rightness.

Pope Francis has correctly described the unborn as “ the most defenseless and innocent among us.” But in the sordid tale of strategic crushing of the unborn to better harvest their hearts, lungs and livers, many Democrats have incredibly cast an organization with a roughly $1.3 billion annual budget in the role of the innocent and defenseless. Hillary Clinton emerged as Planned Parenthood’s highest profile protector Monday, decrying the “ assault” against her allegedly helpless campaign donors.

The Democratic Party shilling for barbarism — whether by politicians, liberal media outlets, union officials or unrestricted abortion advocates — is not likely to be viewed favorably by future generations. These Democrats will be remembered for demonizing the activists who lifted the veil on a previously sanitized process and for seeking restraining orders to silence truth tellers.

They will be remembered for publishing dehumanizing decrees — as The New Republic did — that people stop criticizing Planned Parenthood because as a medical matter, “The term baby … doesn’t apply until birth” (that thing on your sonogram is nothing more than a “product[] of conception.”) And they will be remembered for demanding investigations into citizen journalists for meticulously exposing atrocities in our midst.

I don’t use the word atrocity lightly.
Read the rest at the link. Meanwhile, another video has been released by the Center for Medical Progress and is said to be the most horrific yet. Ed Morrissey at Hot Air comments:
The Center for Medical Progress has just released a new video this morning, which continues its in-depth interview with former StemExpress procurement technician Holly O’Donnell. In this video, O’Donnell describes how she saw her supervisor tap the chest of “the most gestated fetus” O’Donnell had yet seen in her work — and the heart started beating. Nonetheless, the child was killed and dissected. In another case, O’Donnell describes being instructed to extract a brain through the face of a cadaver. “I can’t even describe what that feels like,” O’Donnell says.
Here's the video for those who doubt that human beings who seem otherwise normal can simply set aside their humanity and become completely desensitized to what they're doing. Fortunately, the young woman featured in this video hadn't lost her humanity, but the doctor she describes certainly seems to have lost hers:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ten Topics #9 & #10

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the ninth and tenth (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

9. Atheism is a conclusion, not a worldview. Atheism is not an answer to life, the universe, and everything - just the conclusion that theism isn't.

This is disingenuous. There's an entire worldview which follows from atheism as can be seen by reading Alex Rosenberg's An Atheist's Guide to Reality. Atheism is not a conclusion from an argument but rather it's the initial premise which, for the vast majority of atheists, leads them to scientism, physicalism, materialism, naturalism, and for the most logical among them, nihilism. So far from being the conclusion, it's the starting point from which an entire web of conclusions about reality follows.

As Rosenberg and many other atheist thinkers have made clear, if one starts with the assumption that there is no God then one is led almost inexorably to the conclusion that there's no genuine meaning to life, no objective moral duty, no ultimate justice, no self, no free will, no afterlife, and no hope. The assumption of atheism also leads many atheists to the belief that human beings have no real intrinsic worth, dignity, or rights, that there are no immaterial substances like souls or minds and that human beings are little more than flesh and bone machines. Those beliefs constitute a worldview that colors and frames almost everything else one believes about life and the world.

Here's Cornell University biologist Will Provine:
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and these are basically Darwin's views. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death....There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will ....
For more elaboration on the implications of atheism drawn by atheists themselves see here; and here.

The point is that many atheists don't arrive at atheism as a result of a long chain of rational thought, rather they decide at the outset that they just don't want there to be a God and then they draw out the implications of their decision. Philosopher Thomas Nagel admits; that the hope that there is no God is one he harbors himself:
In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.
For many thinkers, their atheism is a kind of wish-fulfillment upon which their worldview is based.

Ten Topics #10
10. Attack the arguments for what is said, not what isn't. Though this should apply to everyone - not just theists. Arguing against interpretations not in the text is setting up a caricature, as is arguing against uncharitable interpretations of what is said.

I might add to this that it is also unhelpful, not to mention exceedingly juvenile, to attack one's discussion partner personally with insult and invective. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. It was disappointing to listen to the dialogue between physicist Lawrence Krauss and philosopher William Lane Craig in Australia a couple of years ago, when Krauss repeatedly attacked; Craig's character over a simple misunderstanding. Such tactics do nothing but cause fair-minded listeners to think that the attacker has no good arguments to offer and so must substitute ad hominem for calm, mature, and rational discourse.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ten Topics #8

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the eighth (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

8. Atheism is not materialism. Materialism is a scientific doctrine, while atheism is a stance on the position of gods. Arguing against materialism is not going to make the case for theism.

Materialism is not a scientific doctrine. It's a metaphysical doctrine adopted by many scientists as a methodology and by many others as a metaphysics. Loosely, it's the belief that all of reality can be reduced to material particles (and their energy equivalents). On materialism there are no immaterial entities like minds, souls, or spirits.

While it's true that atheism does not strictly entail materialism, most atheists are in fact materialists. They see it as coherent with their belief that there is no God that there is also no soul (mind) and no immaterial beings nor immaterial entities of any sort.

If materialism is false or can be shown to be doubtful, it would be very upsetting to most atheists because it would call into question a major chunk of their worldview. That's one reason why there was such a backlash by other atheists against atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel's book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False . Nagel argues in the book that materialism simply cannot explain conscious experience, values, meaning, and the origin of life. His fellow atheists were very upset by this heresy since for most of them materialism stands in relation to atheism pretty much as belief in souls stands in relation to theism for the theist. You can have one without the other, but it's awkward, uncommon, and unsatisfying.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ten Topics #7

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the seventh (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

7. The link between theism and morality has been conceptually (Euthyphro dilemma), empirically (evolutionary ethics), and culturally (morality existing without theism) discredited. Thus coupling God with the notion of Good is not only misleading, but trying to own a fundamental aspect of the human condition.

Each of the above claims is false. The Euthyphro dilemma has been repeatedly shown by numerous philosophers not to have the force that its critics believe it to have. See the Viewpoint posts of 4/27/15, 4/28/15, and 4/29/15 for a fuller treatment.

Evolution, if we are to take it to be a blind, impersonal force, may have instilled in us certain moral intuitions, but blind, impersonal forces cannot impose an obligation upon us to live one way rather than another. Moreover, evolution has produced a species (us) prone to cruelty as well as kindness, violence as well as gentleness, selfishness as well as selflessness. So on what basis do we decide one of each of these pairs is right and the other wrong?

As prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." Philosopher of biology Michael Ruse has written that morality is an illusion, fobbed off on us by evolution to get us to cooperate with each other, and philosopher Richard Rorty adds that for the secular man such as himself there's no good answer to the question, "Why not be cruel?" In other words, evolution gives us no reason whatsoever to be bound to whatever moral intuitions we might have.

Unless there is a God there can be no objective moral duties or values. There can only be ways of living based on one's personal preferences and feelings. How, after all, can there be a duty to do anything unless one is somehow held accountable for what one does? Nevertheless, almost everyone feels strongly that something like raping children or abusing the elderly is objectively wrong, but only the theist can say that it actually is wrong. The atheist has to admit that her sense that these things are wrong is simply a holdover from a blind process that fit us for life in the stone age and which can impose no obligation on us to heed it.

This is not to say that atheists are ipso facto going to behave badly. Atheists can be as kind, loving, and honest as the next person, but the point is that on atheism there's nothing but their own subjective preference that tells them they should be this way. If they adopted the opposite values they wouldn't be in any sense wrong, they'd just be different. This point is a major theme in my novel In the Absence of God.

Finally, it's not that belief in God is necessary for one to be morally good. One can believe in God and still not know what's right, and one can know what's right and still not do it. On the other hand, one can disbelieve in God and still do what is good. Rather, the point is that unless God exists there just isn't any duty to live by any particular values at all.

Unless God exists moral goodness is pretty much an empty concept.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ten Topics #6

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the sixth (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

6. Faith is not an [sound] epistemology, and the retreat to faith is a concession of the failure of the belief to be defended on rational grounds.

Faith is not really an epistemology at all. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and the justification of belief. Faith is a commitment to accept as true what one has good reason to believe is most probably true. It's not, as many atheists portray it, believing something despite a lack of evidence. Rather it's a commitment to believe or trust despite the lack of certainty or proof, which is a much different matter.

There's plenty of evidence to support a belief that God exists, if evidence is to be demanded, and thus there's ample warrant for one's commitment to that belief. Anyone who has watched the debates between philosopher William Lane Craig and sundry atheistic opponents (easily accessed on youtube or here;) knows that evidence and argumentation in support of theism is not hard to come by. Viewers of these debates will also be aware that atheists are often hard-pressed to mount a serious challenge to Craig's case. The situation is so dire for atheists, in fact, that there are web sites and youtube videos out there which offer advice to atheists who choose to debate Craig, one piece of which is, don't do it.

Richard Dawkins famously took that advice, but his refusal to debate Craig made it appear that he realized he couldn't adequately defend his belief (atheism) on rational grounds and thus retreated to his faith that atheism is true and theism is false without allowing that faith to be subjected to rational scrutiny.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ten Topics #5

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the fifth (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

5. The problem of miracles is a serious challenge that must be overcome for any testimony or private revelation of the divine to be taken as veridical.

The meaning of the writer is unclear, but I take him to be saying that if miracles are to be cited as evidence that Christianity is true, the arguments against miracles must be persuasively answered. Well, they have been.

Historically, the strongest argument against miracles is David Hume's essay in his Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding where he states that 1) even if the evidence for a miracle were very strong it's cancelled by the stronger evidence of our uniform experience that the laws of nature are never violated, and 2) the evidence for a miracle can never be very strong in any case. Both of these claims have been refuted by modern philosophers, both theistic and atheistic.

To take just two responses, of the many that philosophers have adduced against Hume, consider the following:

Hume's first point fails to take into consideration the fact that the improbability of a law of nature having been violated can be easily cancelled out by the improbability of the evidence for a miraculous event existing if the event did not in fact occur (see Topic #1).

Moreover, laws of nature only apply to closed systems. Thus, Hume's argument assumes the world to be a closed system, i.e. that there is no God or that God never intervenes in the world, but this, of course, begs the question. If God does not exist then miracles are indeed highly unlikely, but why assume that God doesn't exist?

Against his second point it could be said that we can only know how strong the evidence for a given instance of alleged miracle is by examining that evidence. We can't assess the strength of the evidence apriori, much less assert apriori that no amount of evidence would warrant believing that a miracle had occurred, unless we've already concluded that miracles are impossible.

But this, of course, would also beg the question.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Ten Topics #4

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Here's the fourth (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

4. An atheist is under no obligation to take your theology seriously. It's your belief, you need to justify it in secular terms. Just as a Hindu or a Scientologist would.

It's not clear what is meant by this. If it means that theistic belief needs to be justified in non-theistic terms that's clearly a case of requiring the impossible.

If it means that the theist should build a bridge to the atheist by employing resources in the conversation that draw on current philosophical, historical, and scientific knowledge that both interlocutors accept then the claim is unexceptional.

I'd like to suggest, though, that in the dialogue between theists and atheists it's the atheist who more often fails to justify his belief. Theists have made numerous sound arguments to support their conviction that God exists, including the argument that belief in God is properly basic and does not require evidential justification, but atheists have found it very difficult to come up with any cogent argument to justify their disbelief other than to insert their fingers into their ears and pretend the theist hasn't made a cogent case.

The atheist certainly has no good argument, except superficially the argument from suffering, to support his claim that God does not exist (lest anyone object that atheists don't actually make the strong claim that God doesn't exist, I refer them to chapter 12 in Alex Rosenberg's Atheist Guide to Reality.). Thus, #4 applies a forteriori to the atheist.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ten Topics #3

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Over the course of the next few days, I'd like to comment on them. Here's the third (my response to the earlier objections can be found by scrolling down the page):

3. There is a gap between natural theology and revealed theology. Arguing for a prime mover is not the same thing as arguing for any faith tradition.

This is true, but it's a mistake to think that natural theology leads us merely to a "prime mover." Without going into the arguments, we can say that the being arrived at by natural theology at the very least is the creator of the universe. This entails that this being would be unimaginably powerful, intelligent, and knowledgeable. It also entails that the being would transcend space, time and matter and also possess necessary existence.

Since causes are either personal or impersonal, and since we find that some of the effects of this cause have personality (us), it's not a stretch to think that the cause of personality must itself be personal. In fact, since natural theology concludes that this being is the ground of moral values and duties and is thus itself in some sense a moral being, and since only personal beings can be moral, we have good grounds for thinking the creator is personal.

Given the above, natural theology certainly leads us to an approximation of the theistic God if not to God Himself.

This, however, is a minimal description of the sort of being to which natural theology leads us. Many philosophers believe it's reasonable to conclude that God is a being which instantiates maximum greatness. If so, then that being is not just very powerful but powerful enough to do whatever is logically possible to do; not just very intelligent but omniscient; not just morally good but morally perfect, and so on. In other words, God possesses all great-making properties.

Of course, demonstrating via natural theology that God exists is not the same as demonstrating that Christianity is true, but it's a crucial step along the way. The truth of Christianity depends on the testimony of Scripture, but that testimony can only be credible to one who believes that God exists.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ten Topics #2

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Over the course of the next week, I'd like to comment on each of them. Here's the second (my response to the first can be found by scrolling down the page):

2. Science has radically altered how we understand the universe, so theism must grapple with the implications of science before offering prescientific beliefs as truth.

This is largely true, but it seems to assume that the only good reasons for accepting theism are those reasons which are subject to scientific confirmation. That assumption is false. There are lots of good arguments for theism that don't have much, if anything, to do with science. The moral argument, the argument from the contingency of the universe, and the modern ontological argument, to name just three are each very compelling (see here; for more) but none of them relies on the data of science for its force.

Even if we limit ourselves to just those arguments upon which science does have something to say it's hard to see what data about the universe the skeptic thinks the theist might be ignoring. After all, it was skeptics who resisted for decades the standard Big Bang model of cosmogeny because they found the idea that the universe had a beginning unnervingly close to the Genesis account of divine creation ex nihilo.

And it's skeptics, not theists, who've been scrambling for the last three decades to develop a cosmological model that would enable them to escape the implications of cosmic fine-tuning.

The discoveries by scientists about the structure and nature of the universe fit very well with the theist's belief that the universe was designed and created ex nihilo by an intelligent agent, but comports poorly with the belief that the cosmos is the product of a chance fluctuation in a preexisting quantum vacuum, or worse, nothing at all.

Perhaps the writer of #2 has in mind the alleged conflict between evolution and creation, but, if so, this is not a conflict between science and theism. Theism is perfectly compatible with evolution. What it's not compatible with is the philosophical assumption that evolution is a purely naturalistic, unguided process, but that assumption, though it may be adopted by scientists, is metaphysical, not scientific.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Ten Topics #1.

John Loftis, at his blog Debunking Christianity, lists ten objections, concepts, or topics that seem to be raised most often by atheists in debates with theists. Over the course of the next week or so, I'd like to comment on each of them. Here's the first:

1. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Consequently, the burden of proof is on the theist rather than the atheist.

This notion (let's call it ECEE for short) is the legacy of skeptic David Hume and 19th century evidentialist William Clifford and popularized in recent times by Christopher Hitchens. It's often used as a way to minimize or disregard testimony of the occurrence of a miracle. A miracle is such an extraordinary event that it should take extraordinary evidence to persuade someone that the event really is veridical.

There are at least three problems with ECEE, however. One is that it's self-refuting. It's a claim, extraordinary or not, for which there's no evidence so why accept it? Another is that the word "extraordinary" can be a little fuzzy. For example, the claim by a friend that he won the lottery is certainly extraordinary but the evidence he adduces in support of the claim, a lottery ticket with the winning number on it, is not extraordinary, at least not in the same sense.

A third problem is that it's not at all clear what counts as extraordinary evidence. Consider reports of a miracle such as the Resurrection of Jesus. It's a very extraordinary claim, to be sure, but how much evidence would it take to satisfy the demands of the ECEE? Both Hume and Clifford make it clear that no amount of evidence would be enough, and if that's the case the ECEE is really just intellectual camouflage for the person who simply doesn't want to believe it.

Another difficulty is that skeptics are very selective in their application of ECEE. For example, they often will accept the claim that there are an infinity of other universes in a multiverse, that the world just popped into being out of nothing or, alternatively, that it's infinitely old, that life arose mechanistically from non-life, that all forms of life are the product of blind, impersonal forces, that consciousness can be explained purely in terms of material structures, that there is no immaterial substance, etc. all of which are extraordinary claims for which there's either no evidence at all or scant unambiguous evidence.

Finally, what's important about evidence is the difference between the probability that an event occurred given our background knowledge of such events and the probability that the evidence we find would exist if the event hadn't occurred. In other words, the probability that a man might rise from the dead is certainly very low given our experience in the world, but the probability that the tomb would be empty, the disciples not arrested for stealing the body, the body not being produced by the authorities, the reports by hundreds of people of having seen the risen Christ, the willingness of the disciples to die for their belief that they had personally seen him, and so on, had Jesus not risen from the dead, is also very low.

So, given that both probabilities are low and in fact are inscrutable, it's hard to see how the ECEE really bears on at least this one crucial miracle.

Finally, a closing thought about the second sentence in #1, above: The burden of proof is always on the person who makes an affirmation. If the theist claims that God exists then he has an obligation to give sound reasons for accepting his claim. If the atheist denies that God exists then he has an obligation to give sound reasons for accepting his claim. Only the agnostic is absolved of the responsibility for giving reasons.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Bastardi on Global Warming

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy admitted; that the steps the president is taking would reduce future mean temperatures by only .01 degree Celsius. Meteorologist Joe Bastardi wonders why Mr. Obama is going to essentially destroy the coal industry for .01 degree. Bastardi points out that the real hockey stick graph isn't about temperatures, it's about global progress, wealth, and life expectancy:
As the president reveals his plan to reduce greenhouse gases to save us from an apocalyptic atmosphere, I wish to remind people of three things:

1.) The true hockey stick of the fossil fuel era: Global progress in total population, personal wealth and life expectancy.

This is truly amazing. To show how fossil fuels played a roll in expanding the global pie, there are many more people alive today living longer and enjoying a higher GDP. One has to wonder if someone against fossil fuels is simply anti-progress. Ironic since many in the camp of anthropogenic global warming like to label themselves “progressive.” They’re certainly anti-statistic given something like this staring them in the face.
By reducing carbon emissions by 30% many coal plants will be effectively put out of business. Electricity production will drop and prices will skyrocket (to use Mr. Obama's own word from 2008). Contrary to what he says, energy will not be cheaper. Energy, and therefore everything we buy, will be more expensive, and the people who will be hurt most by this will be the poor.

Bastardi also puts up a graph that graphs temperature vs CO2 over geologic time and finds no correlation at all:
2.) The geological time scale of temperatures versus CO2.

As much as I struggle, I can’t see the linkage. Maybe it’s like one of those books where you have to stare at it and cross your eyes to see the picture.
What's also puzzling is why scientists, usually some of the most skeptical, difficult to convince people in the culture, are so sure that we're headed for eco-catastrophe. This is not to say that we're not - I'm hardly qualified to say that - we may be, but if so, it would be helpful to see some unambiguous evidence that increasing CO2 correlates in a straightforward fashion to global temperature increases before we go ahead and destroy an industry, put people out of work, and make life tougher for the poor and middle class than it already is.

The third item Bastardi discusses is McCarthy's admission that the steps the EPA is taking would only prevent .01 degrees of warming, but that we should do it anyway, despite the enormous costs, as an example to the world. What, though, is it an example of?

There's another piece on scientific criticism of the EPA rule here.

Friday, August 7, 2015


Several people have asked me what I thought of the GOP debate on Fox last night and some were a little surprised when I told them I didn't watch it. I'm not a fan of political debates because they rarely reveal anything important about a candidate. They don't tell us any more about which person on the stage would make a good president than a beauty contest tells us which woman would make a good wife. I dislike how the debates are hyped by the media and how the "winner" is whoever comes up with the best zinger, as if that has anything to do with being a good president.

Not only are the one-liners irrelevant to effective governing, so is much of what the candidates say about what their policies would be. They say what they need to say to get elected and then do what they want to do once they're in office. A much better measure of what kind of president a man or woman would be is to look at their total body of work throughout their career. What they've done and written when they weren't a candidate is more revealing than anything they say on stage.

Nevertheless, Breitbart has an interesting analysis of the debate here, although even Breitbart has succumbed to "zinger-philia," as you can see by reading their report.


Katha Pollit's op-ed in the New York Times in reaction to the videos which have made Planned Parenthood personnel look like Nazis at dinner dispassionately describing the horrors they'd perpetrated that day seeks to instruct PP in how they should respond to the criticism they've been receiving. In so doing, however, Pollit does nothing to mitigate the image of cold, brutal, narcissim projected by PP personnel in those videos. In fact, she reinforces it.

At one point she writes this:
There are two reasons abortion rights activists have been boxed in. One is that we’ve been reactive rather than proactive. To deflect immediate attacks, we fall in with messaging that unconsciously encodes the vision of the other side. Abortion opponents say women seek abortions in haste and confusion. Pro-choicers reply: Abortion is the most difficult, agonizing decision a woman ever makes. Opponents say: Women have abortions because they have irresponsible sex. We say: rape, incest, fatal fetal abnormalities, life-risking pregnancies.

These responses aren’t false exactly. Some women are genuinely ambivalent; some pregnancies are particularly dangerous. But they leave out a large majority of women seeking abortions, who had sex willingly, made a decision to end the pregnancy and faced no special threatening medical conditions.

We need to say that women have sex, have abortions, are at peace with the decision and move on with their lives. We need to say that is their right, and, moreover, it’s good for everyone that they have this right: The whole society benefits when motherhood is voluntary. When we gloss over these truths we unintentionally promote the very stigma we’re trying to combat.
In other words, it's irrelevant to Pollit whether what's being crushed and torn asunder in order to salvage organs is a person. So what if it is, she asks dismissively, it's a woman's right to kill it, no one should feel particularly bad about it, and certainly no one should criticize a legal regime that allows for it.

When we've come to have such callous disregard for children, even if unborn, when we can talk about killing, dissecting and plundering their bodies with such cold, clinical detachment, then we've lost much of our humanity.

Much of the outrage over these videos centers around the question whether they prove that PP has broken the law. I think that's a secondary concern. Our disgust should be directed at the inhumane atmosphere that apparently pervades this organization.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What's He Thinking?

Molly Hemmingway calls our attention to something President Obama said recently to a group of young African leaders. The president was told by a woman from Kenya that
Persons with albinism in Africa are being killed and their body parts harvested for ritual purposes. My request to you is to raise this issue with heads of state of African countries to bring these atrocities to an end.
According to Hemmingway, "Obama decried the practice and went on to encourage the young people to do everything in their power to fight on the behalf of vulnerable humans."

She quotes him as follows:
Young people, you can lead the way and set a good example. But it requires some courage because the old thinking, people will push back at you and if you don’t have convictions and courage to be able stand up for what you think is right, then cruelty will perpetuate itself. If there’s one thing I want YALI leaders to come out with, it’s the notion of you are strong by taking care of the people who are vulnerable, by looking after the minority, looking after the disabled, looking after the vulnerable. You’re not strong by putting people down you’re strong by lifting them up. That’s the measure of a leader.
Obama also tied the practice of harvesting organs from albinos with racism and discrimination against gay people, Hemmingway writes, and urged consistency in how they view the sanctity of human life if they want to complain about human rights abuses.

Good advice. He should take it. It's hardly consistent of him to utter these words to his African audience while remaining silent and tacitly supportive of Planned Parenthood and the slaughter of unborn children in this country. Does he not realize that everything he said in the quote above applies with at least equal force to the practice of abortion and the sale of fetal body parts?

Hemmingway goes on to say that:
In 2012, Planned Parenthood said, while announcing a $1.4 million ad buy on his behalf, that they had “ no greater champion” than President Obama. During his time in the Illinois Senate, Obama’s devotion to abortion was so extreme that he argued a form of infanticide should remain legal out of fear that protecting infants born alive might somehow protect young humans in the womb.
I don't wish to call the president obtuse or hypocritical, but surely he's tone deaf to the significance of his own words. During his Iran speech at American University yesterday the president accused opponents of the deal of making "common cause" with Iranian hardliners who also want the deal to fail. This is a ridiculous accusation. As David Harsanyi observes, according to the president's logic, it follows that as a U.S. Senator Mr. Obama must have been in league with Saddam Hussein because both Hussein and Obama opposed the Iraq war.

Try to imagine what the media reaction would have been had George Bush accused Barack Obama and others of making "common cause" with Saddam Hussein. Such a charge would have been stupid then and it's no less so now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Trump's Popularity Explained

A lot of political commentators seem to be surprised, and some are even shocked, that Donald Trump continues to do well in the Republican primary race. On the cable shows the talking heads stroke their chins and survey their guests for an explanation for his dominance in the polls, but it's not really hard to explain at all. Anyone who wants to know why Trump continues to enthuse average Republican voters need only compare the forthright and unambiguous way he answers questions with the vague, contentless responses given by the typical politician.

Trump isn't afraid to transgress the politically correct media censors, skewer their sacred cows, and stick his thumb in the eye of those who try to embarrass him. Most politicians are horrified by the thought of saying anything that might send anyone anywhere to the fainting couch, but not Trump, and that trait has struck a chord with people who are desperate for authenticity in our political leaders.

Many people, especially conservative folk, are disgusted by candidates who are loath to say anything that hasn't been tested in a focus group. They're weary of listening to politicians ramble on for minutes in reply to a question and wind up saying nothing. The public appearances and speeches these people inflict on the voters are a waste of everyone's time. For an example, watch this "mash-up" of Hillary Clinton's legendary evasiveness:
People are tired of this, they find it insulting, and they're telling pollsters and their friends that they're going with Trump because he doesn't weasel and mince his way out of answers. He's not a "squish."

Now, if only we could be sure that Trump actually means what he says. Hearing someone say the right things unapologetically and unambiguously is refreshing and important, but actually meaning what one says is even more so. On Trump's sincerity, given his past positions, there's plenty of room for doubt.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Critiquing Intelligent Design

J. B. Stump, who works for the BioLogos Foundation and teaches philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana, wrote a review for Christian Century of a book by Benjamin Jantzen titled An Introduction to Design Arguments. Neither the reviewer nor Jantzen is terribly sympathetic to this family of arguments for the existence of God and so we read passages like this one critical of Michael Behe's notion of irreducible complexity:
Of course, there are many things we don’t yet understand about evolutionary history. So if Behe were to produce an example of an irreducibly complex structure for which scientists had no compelling evolutionary account, would that be enough to generate the conclusion that it must have been designed? No, says Jantzen; there is another problem with the argument. When Behe claims that irreducible complexity is best explained by a designer, Jantzen reminds us that best is a comparative term and can only mean “best among the known explanations.” If history is any guide here, we should expect that we don’t yet know all the possible explanations, so Behe’s claim is considerably weakened.
This is a very odd criticism. Practitioners in every field always embrace the best theory available at the time, if only tentatively. Rarely do we find scientists holding back from working with a hypothesis because, though it's the best extant, they hope there may be better ones down the road. It's the best theories that make it into the textbooks and that popularizers of science advance in their books and articles. It's true that theories are often held with a light hand, but it's simply weird to think that we should refrain from concluding, for the time being at least, that something is designed even though that's the best explanation for what we see, because there may be a better explanation in the future.

Stump also says this which seems quite wide of the mark:
The ID camp does a disservice to the predominantly conservative Christian community to which it appeals by conditioning that community to mistrust science. Its arguments depend on accepted, settled science getting things wrong. So now an alarming number of Christians also reject the conclusions of scientific experts on climate change and vaccines. Of course experts make mistakes. The trick is to realize that they can be trustworthy as well as fallible.
This is just false. I'd challenge Stump to explain how it is that Intelligent Design theorists condition people to mistrust science. ID is not anti-science. Many of the ID people are themselves scientists or philosophers of science. Behe is a biochemist. They embrace and practice science. What they oppose are the metaphysical assumptions that naturalistic scientists smuggle into their interpretations of the empirical data. The conflict is not between ID and science, it's between ID and naturalism. It's a metaphysical, or perhaps methodological disagreement, but both IDers and non-IDers use the same scientific data and neither holds science in any higher esteem than the other.

Stump exacerbates the error by claiming that because of ID people are skeptical of climate change and vaccines, but this is ridiculous. People are skeptical of the claims of some climatologists that the globe is warming at dangerous rates because they find that a) some of the people making these claims have a personal or political stake in the issue, b) some of them have fudged data and forfeited their credibility, and c) there are other climatologists who have come to different conclusions. None of this has anything to do with ID. Likewise with those who are leery of vaccinating children. They agree with Stump's last sentence above, that experts can be both trustworthy and fallible. They just don't want the experts making their mistakes on their children.

Stump does take Jantzen to task for a very serious omission. According to Stump, Jantzen completely elides mention of Stephen Meyer's books:
It is a curious omission that there is no treatment at all of intelligent design’s currently most prominent figure, Stephen Meyer. His books Signature in the Cell (2009) and Darwin’s Doubt (2013) have become the leading edge of the movement. I suspect that Meyer’s work came along too late in the development of Jantzen’s book, which is clearly the fruit of many years of engagement with the material. It is regrettable, though, that what aims to be a comprehensive treatment of design arguments does not include the most important contemporary exemplar.
Stump's attempt to provide Jantzen with an excuse here is hard to give any credence. Meyer's first book came out in 2009, the second in 2013. Jantzen's book was released in February of 2014. He certainly had time to treat the first one, even if he had no time to add an appendix to offer some thoughts on the second. The fact that he ignored Meyer's work is indeed very unfortunate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Leftism Illustrated

Free Speech: Reserving for oneself the right to make clueless tweets while denying to others the right to participate in calm, reasonable dialogue.

Another University professor is showing us why a university education is highly over-rated and way over-priced:
A Rutgers University professor who is under fire for saying that the U.S. is “more brutal” than ISIS has used racial slurs against white men, attacked a leading advocate against female genital mutilation and even led a successful protest last year to stop former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from speaking to students.

Deepa Kumar, associate professor of journalism and media studies at New Jersey's main public university, made news recently by tweeting: “Yes ISIS is brutal, but US is more so, 1.3 million killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But that tweet, sent in March but only brought to prominent attention after it was noticed by the site, is not Kumar's first brush with digital bigotry.

“Okay, I'm sold on using the term ‘douchebag’ to describe rich, white entitled males and their misogynistic, racist behavior!” Kumar wrote in a Facebook endorsement of an online article last fall.

Kumar also attacked Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim and activist against the practice of female genital mutilation,as an “islamophobe and native informant” in a public Facebook post, and wrote glowingly of Marxism.

“Here is a great conference on Marxism and why it makes sense!” she wrote in one recent post.

Kumar did not respond to a request for comment on her posts from, but within hours of the request had deleted or locked her Facebook account. took screenshots.
Professor Kumar is a virtual stereotype of the contemporary liberal progressive. She has opinions which she feels she should be free to advocate on social media and elsewhere but denies to others opportunities to voice and hear opinions which she herself doesn't like. She's inclined to name-calling rather than argument, and the opinions she holds are in any case absurd. For example, as the article points out:
Regimes operating under the banner of Marxism killed between 85 million and 100 million of their own citizens in the last century according to the Black Book of Communism published by the Harvard University Press, both through mass starvation caused by government takeovers of farms and also mass murders of citizens thought likely to resist communist policies.
That's contemporary leftism in a nutshell. It's intellectually vacuous, ideologically totalitarian, emotionally puerile, and chronically unable to live by the Golden Rule of granting to others the same prerogatives one wants granted to oneself. It is, in fact, a kind of intellectual bigotry, as insufferable in its own way as racism, sexism, or any other form of bigoted behavior. Unfortunately, it too often sounds superficially cool to young minds eager to rebel against traditional thinking and common sense.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Baltimore Murder Rate

Violence in the city of Baltimore shows no signs of abating. Young black men continue die at the hands of other young black men at staggering rates. The mayor, despite having been thought highly enough by her peers to be named to chair the National Council of Mayors, has been able to stanch the bloodshed, and is indeed thought by many to be a big part of the problem for her refusal to support her police force in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray last spring and her decision to pretty much allow rioters to wreak whatever destruction they wanted on the city.

Here are some excerpts from a recent Fox News report about the carnage:
With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years. Police reported three deaths — two men shot Thursday and one on Friday. The men died at local hospitals. With their deaths, this year's homicides reached 189, far outpacing the 119 killings by July's end in 2014. Nonfatal shootings have soared to 366, compared to 200 by the same date last year. July's total was the worst since the city recorded 45 killings in August 1972, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The seemingly Sisyphean task of containing the city's violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to fire her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, on July 8.

"Too many continue to die on our streets," Rawlings-Blake said then. "Families are tired of dealing with this pain, and so am I. Recent events have placed an intense focus on our police leadership, distracting many from what needs to be our main focus: the fight against crime."
So, to borrow one of our sociologists' favorite questions, what are the "root causes" ?
Crime experts and residents of Baltimore's most dangerous neighborhoods cite a confluence of factors: mistrust of the police; generalized anger and hopelessness over a lack of opportunities for young black men; and competition among dealers of illegal drugs, bolstered by the looting of prescription pills from pharmacies during the riot....

Across West Baltimore, residents complain that drug addiction and crime are part of a cycle that begins with despair among children who lack educational and recreational opportunities, and extends when people can't find work.

"We need jobs! We need jobs!" a man riding around on a bicycle shouted to anyone who'd listen after four people were shot, three of them fatally, on a street corner in July.
Some 350 businesses were damaged or destroyed by thugs and vandals during the riot, and though many have reopened since, how many businesses will risk moving into these neighborhoods, and how easy will it be for them to get insurance?

In other words, one reason there are few jobs available to young men in Baltimore is that their neighborhoods are an intrinsic disincentive for employers weighing economic risks.

Moreover, one has to ask why there's so much anger and hopelessness for young black men over a lack of "educational and recreational" opportunity while millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, are flooding into the country because they see unprecedented opportunities for them here.

Whatever one thinks about illegal immigration and illegal immigrants, most of them are coming here to work, even at less than the current minimum wage, and many of them are finding jobs. There may not be many jobs in poor neighborhoods, but there are businesses outside those neighborhoods that are hiring unskilled workers. The sometimes hear the excuse that it's unrealistic to expect people to travel to jobs in the suburbs because mobility is difficult for the poor, but that excuse seems ridiculous when one considers what millions of Mexican, Cuban and Asian immigrants have gone through to get here.

The reason many young men are not working is quite simply because they won't take what jobs that are available to them.

It used to be that immigrants who came to this country worked hard at miserable jobs, not so much for themselves but for their children and grandchildren. They were willing to work themselves into an early grave, but they forced themselves to go every day to lousy, dirty, dangerous jobs, sometimes several of them, so their kids could go to college and have a good life, but that's a commitment few people in many parts of this country seem willing to make anymore. People want the good life for themselves, and thoughts of denying oneself so that one's children will have a better life are far from their minds.

They want what they want right now, and if the available jobs don't pay them enough they'd prefer not to work at all. If, in order to get a good job, they have to do well in school, they'd prefer not to have the job. If to create a better life for their kids they have to marry their kids' mother and show up for work every day they'd rather not worry about their kids' future.
More community engagement, progressive policing policies and opportunities for young people in poverty could help, community activist Munir Bahar said.

"People are focusing on enforcement, not preventing violence. Police enforce a code, a law. Our job as the community is to prevent the violence, and we've failed," said Bahar, who leads the annual 300 Men March against violence in West Baltimore. "We need anti-violence organizations, we need mentorship programs, we need a long-term solution. But we also need immediate relief," Bahar added. "When we're in something so deep, we have to stop it before you can analyze what the root is."
I agree with much of what Mr. Bahar says but nevertheless even the poor in Baltimore live better in material terms than did the wealthiest people throughout much of history, and they live better than most people in the world today. Their fundamental problem isn't a lack of programs or material deprivation, it's spiritual impoverishment, a loss of the work ethic, and the deterioration of the traditional family. Until those crucial elements are repaired nothing else is going to change in their communities no matter how many programs and taxpayer dollars we spend on "fixing" the problems.