Monday, October 31, 2016

Materialism and Consciousness

This is the fourth and last of the posts on the philosophy of mind that have been featured on Viewpoint since last week:

Raymond Tallis at The New Atlantis discusses the devastating assault on philosophical materialism that began in the 1970s when American philosopher Thomas Nagel explored the question, "What is it like to be a bat?"

Nagel argued that there is something it is like to be a bat whereas it does not make sense to say that it is like something to be a stone. Bats, and people, have conscious experience that purely material objects do not have, and it is this conscious experience that is the defining feature of minds.

This experience, Tallis observes, is not a fact about the physical realm:
This difference between a person’s experience and a pebble’s non-experience cannot be captured by the sum total of the objective knowledge we can have about the physical makeup of human beings and pebbles. Conscious experience, subjective as it is to the individual organism, lies beyond the reach of such knowledge. I could know everything there is to know about a bat and still not know what it is like to be a bat — to have a bat’s experiences and live a bat’s life in a bat’s world.

This claim has been argued over at great length by myriad philosophers, who have mobilized a series of thought experiments to investigate Nagel’s claim. Among the most famous involves a fictional super-scientist named Mary, who studies the world from a room containing only the colors black and white, but has complete knowledge of the mechanics of optics, electromagnetic radiation, and the functioning of the human visual system.

When Mary is finally released from the room she begins to see colors for the first time. She now knows not only how different wavelengths of light affect the visual system, but also the direct experience of what it is like to see colors. Therefore, felt experiences and sensations are more than the physical processes that underlie them.
Nagel goes on to make the claim, a claim that has put him in the bad graces of his fellow naturalists, that naturalism simply lacks the resources to account for conscious experience. Tallis writes:
But none of the main features of minds — which Nagel identifies as consciousness, cognition, and [moral] value — can be accommodated by this worldview’s [naturalism's] identification of the mind with physical events in the brain, or by its assumption that human beings are no more than animal organisms whose behavior is fully explicable by evolutionary processes.
One might wonder why naturalistic materialists are so reluctant to acknowledge that there's more to us than just physical matter. What difference does it make if an essential aspect of our being is mental? What does it matter if we're not just matter but also a mind? Indeed, what does it matter if we are fundamentally mind?

Perhaps the answer is that given by philosopher J.P.Moreland. Moreland makes an argument in his book Consciousness and the Existence of God that naturalism entails the view that everything that exists is reducible to matter and energy, that is, there are no immaterial substances. Thus, the existence of human consciousness must be explicable in terms of material substance or naturalism is likely to be false. Moreland also argues that there is no good naturalistic explanation for consciousness and that, indeed, the existence of consciousness is strong evidence for the existence of God.

Nagel, an atheist, doesn't go as far as Moreland in believing that the phenomena of conscious experience point to the existence of God, but he comes close, arguing that there must be some mental, telic principle in the universe that somehow imbues the world with consciousness. There is nothing about matter, even the matter which constitutes the brain, that can account for conscious experiences like the sensations of color or a toothache. There's nothing about a chemical reaction or the firing of nerve fibers that can conceivably account for what we experience when we see red, hear middle C, taste sweetness, or feel pain. Nor is there anything about matter that can account for the existence of moral value.

If it turns out that naturalism remains unable to rise to the challenge presented by consciousness then naturalism, and materialism, will forfeit their dominant position among philosophers, a position that has already been seriously eroded.

Read the rest of Tallis' article at the link. It's very good.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Interaction Problem

I've run a few posts on the topic of mind and matter the past few days, largely because we've been discussing it in my classes and because I find the topic fascinating.

In today's post I'd like to highlight one of the common objections materialists make to the belief that we are at least partly comprised of an immaterial mental substance.

This is the objection based on what's called the interaction problem. The problem is that it's inconceivable or unthinkable that two completely different substances, mind and matter (or brains), could in any way interact with each other. Given that we can't describe how brains interact with immaterial minds and vice versa, belief that somehow they do is unwarranted, or so it is claimed.

The problem with the interaction objection is that it seems to be based on the assumption that something can only be affected by other things which are like them. That is, material entities - the brain or bodies - can only be affected by other things which are material, but this principle - that like can only affect like - is surely not true. We see counter examples all around us:
  • The idea of food, an immaterial phenomenon, causes the physical reaction of salivary glands secreting saliva.
  • The excitation of cone cells in the retina, a physical reaction, produces the sensation of red which is non-physical.
  • Swirling fluid in your inner ear, a physical condition, causes the sensation of dizziness which is non-physical.
  • Getting your fingers caught in a closing car door, a material situation, causes pain which is an immaterial phenomenon.
And so on. The only way that the principle that "like causes like" can be known to be true is if we assume a priori that materialism is true, but the truth of materialism is the very point that's in question in this discussion. To assume that materialism is true at the outset and then conclude that indeed it must be true is to commit the logical fallacy known as begging the question.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Evolution of Consciousness (Pt. II)

Sal Cordova at Uncommon Descent talks about how reflecting on the phenomenon of human consciousness as a high school student led him to doubt the Darwinian story:
I remember sitting in class and the biology teacher gave the standard talking points. But for some reason, the fact I was conscious did not seem reducible to evolutionary explanations. Strange that I would even be perplexed about it as a high school student, but I was. That was the beginning of my doubts about Darwin…

Years later, when I related the story to Walter ReMine, he explained to me consciousness poses a serious problem for evolution.

He said something to the effect, “Say an animal has to flee a predator — all it has to do is run away. Why does it have to evolve consciousness in order to flee predators?” Mechanically speaking the animal can be programmed to flee or even hunt without having to be self-aware. Why does it have to evolve consciousness to do anything for survival?

Why would selection favor the evolution of consciousness? How does selection select for the pre-cursors of consciousness? I don’t think it can. Ergo, consciousness didn’t evolve, or it’s just a maladaptation, or an illusion — or maybe it is created by God. Materialists can say consciousness is an illusion all they want, but once upon a time, when my arm was broken in a hang gliding crash, I felt real pain. It would have been nice if consciousness were an illusion back then, but it wasn’t.
Somehow, at some point in our embryonic development consciousness arises, but how does a particular configuration of material stuff generate it? Dead people have the same configuration of matter in their brains (unless they suffered a head injury) that they had before dying and yet before death they were conscious and after death they are not. Why? What's missing after death?

How do physical processes like electrochemical reactions in the brain produce a belief, or a doubt, or understanding? How do atoms whirling about in our neuronal matrix give rise to our sense that the distant past is different from the recent past? How do chemical reactions translate a pattern of ink on paper into a meaning or a firing of synapses translate electrical pulses into the sensation of red?

Consciousness is an incredibly intriguing phenomenon and not only is there no explanation of it in a materialist ontology, there's also no explanation for how it could ever have evolved through purely random material processes.

Cordova has more at the link.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Evolution of Consciousness (Pt. I)

My classes are currently discussing what's often referred to as the mind/body problem. This is the question whether there is about us any non-physical, immaterial substance like mind, or whether we humans are ultimately completely reducible to material stuff. I thought it'd be relevant, therefore, to run a couple of posts on the topic, slightly modified, which first appeared on Viewpoint a couple of years ago. Here's the first:

One of the many problems consciousness poses for naturalism (the view that only the natural world exists. There is no supernature) is the difficulty of explaining how consciousness could have evolved. Natural selection acts on physical bodies, but consciousness seems to be something altogether different from physical, material body.

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent highlights the problem when he writes:
Consciousness could not have evolved from “simpler” states of matter, because it is not a state of matter. To say that consciousness evolved from matter is like saying Newton’s theory of gravity evolved from apples.

Even if for the sake of argument one concedes that natural selection might account for the development of a material body, consciousness remains a mystery. There is still a vast uncrossable gulf between the physical body and mind. In other words, the difference between body and mind is qualitative, not quantitative. You can’t get an immaterial mind no matter how many slight successive modifications of the body there may have been.
This is a serious problem for naturalism because most naturalists hold that naturalism entails physicalism - i.e. the view that physics fixes all the facts about the world - and materialism - the view that all of reality is reducible to matter. Consciousness, however, does not seem to be something explicable in terms either of physics or matter which means that it is a prima facie defeater for naturalism.

Naturalists can avoid utter defeat by conceding that both physicalism and materialism are false and trying somehow to enfold consciousness into a naturalistic ontology, but this would be an accommodation most naturalists would find devastating. Indeed, this is what philosopher Thomas Nagel tries to do in his much discussed book Mind and Cosmos, and he's been roundly thrashed by his fellow naturalists for his heresy.

Naturalism dominated philosophy for the two centuries from about 1750 to 1950, but it appears that work being done in the last couple of decades in the philosophy of mind is bringing an end to the hegemony it once enjoyed and making it increasingly difficult to be an "intellectually fulfilled atheist," as Richard Dawkins once put it.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Middle Way

In class discussions of free will and determinism, a number of students have asked if there isn't a middle way. One student even dug a post out of the archives that I did on such a via media back in 2008 (12/24/08). The post starts out by addressing the notion of a kind of compromise position between libertarian free will and determinism, usually referred to as "compatibilism," and ends up summarizing some of the discussions we've had in class on these different philosophical positions. Here it is:

Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent offers a succinct rebuttal of compatibilism, i.e. the view that our choices are fully determined and yet at the same time free. As Arrington points out, this certainly sounds like a contradiction.

The compatibilist defines freedom, however, as the lack of coercion, so as long as nothing or no one is compelling your behavior it's completely free even though at the moment you make your decision there's in fact only one possible choice you could make. Your choice is determined by the influence of your past experiences, your environment and your genetic make-up. The feeling you have that you could have chosen something other than what you did choose is simply an illusion, a trick played on us by our brains.

Compatibilism, however, doesn't solve the controversy between determinism and libertarianism (the belief we have free-will). It simply uses a philosophical sleight-of-hand to define it away. As long as it is the case that at any given moment there's just one possible future then our choices are determined by factors beyond our control, and if they're determined it's very difficult to see how we could be responsible for them. Whether we are being compelled by external forces to make a particular choice or not, we are still being compelled by internal factors that make our choice inevitable.

The temptation for the materialist (i.e. one who allows no non-material entities in his ontology) is to simply accept determinism, but not only does this view strip us of any moral responsibility, it seems to be based on a circularity: The determinist says that our choices are the inevitable products of our strongest motives, but if questioned about how we can know what our strongest motives are he would invite us to examine the choices we make. Our actions reveal our strongest motives and our strongest motives are whichever ones we act upon. But, if so, the claim that we always act upon our strongest motives reduces to the tautology that we always act upon the motives we act upon. This is certainly true, but it's not very edifying.

On the other hand, it's also difficult to pin down exactly what a free choice is. It can't be a choice that's completely uncaused because then it wouldn't be a consequence of our character and in what sense would we be responsible for it? But if the choice is a product of our character, and our character is the result of our past experiences, environment, and our genetic make-up, then ultimately our choice is determined by factors over which we have no control and we're back to determinism.

It seems to me that if materialism is true and all we are is a material, physical being, and all of our choices are simply the product of chemical reactions occurring in the brain, then determinism must be true as well, and moral responsibility and human dignity are illusions, and no punishment or reward could ever be justified on grounds of desert.

This all seems completely counter-intuitive so most people cling to libertarianism even if they can't explain what a genuine free choice would actually be. However, they can only maintain a belief in free will if they give up their belief in materialism. Only if we have a non-physical, immaterial mind that somehow functions in human volition can there be free will and thus moral responsibility and human dignity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Double Digits

The so-called Affordable Care Act was sold to the American people by the president and congressional Democrats (not a single Republican voted for it) on the pretense that it would make insurance cheaper and medical care better. Critics at the time cautioned us that what we were being told wasn't true, that Obamacare, as it came to be called, would end up in a death spiral because young, healthy people would opt out thus depriving insurance companies of the revenue to pay for the medical costs of the sick people who would flock to the system.

Despite the warnings that this would happen, a lot of people thought a nice man like Mr. Obama and a nice lady like Nancy Pelosi would never lie to us. Well, they did, and now the bills are coming due, and millions of Americans are experiencing the insurance equivalent of sticker shock.

The Obama administration has admitted that insurance premiums will rise by double-digit percentages in 2017, an admission that will likely bring the debate surrounding Obamacare to the forefront in the final days of the 2016 election:
Premiums will increase at an average of 25 percent across the 39 states serviced by the online marketplace healthcare.gov, according to the Obama administration. Even worse, around 20 percent of consumers, or one in five, will only have one insurer to choose from in the marketplace.
This is because insurance companies will go bankrupt if they stay in the system so they're getting out as fast as they can:
This is not great news for the already struggling healthcare legislation. Obamacare is in the midst of a death spiral: 17 co-ops have failed, the Tennessee Health Commissioner says the healthcare exchanges in the state are “very near collapse,” insurance companies in North Carolina have become a “financial sinkhole,” and few health experts have positive things to say about the future of the legislation.

The total number of insurers participating on the Obamacare exchanges is likely to drop from 232 this year to 167 in 2017. That is a loss of 28 percent in just 12 months.

This year’s expected increase is triple the size of 2016, and will have a direct effect on 16 percent of consumers who are not protected by subsidies, the Hill reports. Some 5 to 7 million consumers are either not eligible for subsidy assistance, or they purchase healthcare packages outside of the exchanges, where subsidies are not available.
The lesson here is that one should never trust politicians, no matter how charming they may be, to tell the truth nor the government to do anything well (other than run the military) or efficiently or better than free people shopping in a free market can do.

This is a lesson that a lot of millenials who supported Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton refused to accept, but now, unfortunately, millions of them are going to learn it the hard way.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Short Memories

One of the more amusing reactions to the last debate between Trump and Clinton was the faux outrage expressed in the media over Trump's insistence that the election is rigged and that he wasn't going to commit himself to accepting the results prematurely. His opponents in the Democratic party have reacted as if such rhetoric is the most shocking thing they've ever heard, cutting to the very heart of our democracy and threatening us all with anarchy in the streets.

The overwrought reaction seems a bit insincere, given that, as MSNBC's Morning Joe (of all places) reports, such allegations have been common among our Democrat brethren for the last decade and a half, and no one has heretofore suffered a fainting spell over it:
After you watch the above video you might also enjoy the next segment of the show in which the host, Joe Scarborough, lampoons those who have succumbed to a case of the vapors over Trump's allegations and his refusal to be put in a box:
In fact, Hillary Clinton herself in a video of a campaign rally in Florida where Al Gore is speaking on her behalf, tacitly agrees that George Bush was not the real winner of the 2000 election. She evidently doesn't accept the results of that election. Watch her nod her head in agreement as the crowd chants, "You won!" to Al Gore:
Trump has certainly said some outrageous things in this campaign season, but his refusal to commit himself to accepting the outcome on November 8th isn't one of them, and those who think such demurrals are unprecedented and a threat to our democracy are simply showing that they have terribly short memories. Either that or they have an underdeveloped aversion to personal hypocrisy.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Immigration and Emigration in Germany

The website Zero Hedge has a dispiriting piece about what's happening in Germany as a result of Chancellor Angela Merkel's immigration and refugee policies that have resulted in an influx of over a million Muslims in the last two years. Here's a summary of the Zero Hedge report:
  • More than 1.5 million Germans, many of them highly educated, left Germany during the past decade according to the newspaper Die Welt.
  • Germany is facing a spike in migrant crime, including an epidemic of rapes and sexual assaults. Mass migration is also accelerating the Islamization of Germany. Many Germans appear to be losing hope about the future direction of their country.
  • "We refugees... do not want to live in the same country with you. You can, and I think you should, leave Germany. And please take Saxony and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) with you.... Why do you not go to another country? We are sick of you!" — Aras Bacho an 18-year-old Syrian migrant, in Der Freitag, October 2016.
  • A real estate agent in a town near Lake Balaton, a popular tourist destination in western Hungary, said that 80% of the Germans relocating there cite the migration crisis as the main reason for their desire to leave Germany.
  • "I believe that Islam does not belong to Germany. I regard it as a foreign entity which has brought the West more problems than benefits. In my opinion, many followers of this religion are rude, demanding and despise Germany." — A German citizen who emigrated from Germany, in an "Open Letter to the German Government."
  • "I believe that immigration is producing major and irreversible changes in German society. I am angry that this is happening without the direct approval of German citizens. ... I believe that it is a shame that in Germany Jews must again be afraid to be Jews." — A German citizen who emigrated from Germany, in an "Open Letter to the German Government."
  • "My husband sometimes says he has the feeling that we are now the largest minority with no lobby. For each group there is an institution, a location, a public interest, but for us, a heterosexual married couple with two children, not unemployed, neither handicapped nor Islamic, for people like us there is no longer any interest." — "Anna," in a letter to the Mayor of Munich about her decision to move her family out of the city because migrants were making her life there impossible.
According to the article, a growing number of Germans are abandoning neighborhoods in which they have lived all their lives, and others are leaving Germany for good, as mass immigration transforms parts of the country beyond recognition.

Given that Hillary Clinton has announced that she wants to increase our own refugee numbers by 500% we can anticipate that what Germans, Swedes, and other Europeans are experiencing today, we may very likely be experiencing tomorrow.

Yet it seems as unnecessary as it is foolish. Just as there are ways to help the homeless without inviting them to live in our own homes there are surely ways to help those fleeing war without deeply disrupting and forever altering our own culture by bringing them into our country (See here, for example). Perhaps when the results of Europe's experiment with immigration become more widely known our politicians will reconsider the course they've set us upon. If they don't, then maybe we'll all have to learn to speak Arabic.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Stanley Kurtz at National Review tells us a bit about Robert Creamer, a convicted felon and Democratic operative who works behind the scenes to orchestrate violence at GOP rallies so that Republicans will be blamed and discredited.

Kurtz writes:
In 2007, Robert Creamer published Stand Up Straight! How Progressives Can Win, a tactical handbook for the left that he wrote while serving a prison term for tax evasion and bank fraud. Creamer’s advice on how to handle conservatives (pp. 74-6) makes for interesting reading about now:
In general our strategic goal with people who have become conservative activists is not to convert them—that isn’t going to happen. It is to demoralize them—to ‘deactivate’ them. We need to deflate their enthusiasm, to make them lose their ardor and above all their self-confidence…[A] way to demoralize conservative activists is to surround them with the echo chamber of our positions and assumptions. We need to make them feel that they are not mainstream, to make them feel isolated… We must isolate them ideologically…[and] use the progressive echo chamber…By defeating them and isolating them ideologically, we demoralize conservative activists directly. Then they begin to quarrel among themselves or blame each other for defeat in isolation, and that demoralizes them further.
Despite, or maybe because of, his sleazy tactics Creamer has been welcomed at the Obama White House almost 342 times since 2009 and met with President Obama almost 50 times. He unknowingly admits to his gutter tactics in the video below.

Please don't watch the video if you're likely to be offended by vulgar language. I issued this same caution concerning another video that featured the same cast of characters on Wednesday, but that video exposed the attempts to fraudulently get ineligible people to vote. This video exposes the attempts to foment violence and make it appear that it's Republicans who are guilty. I'm very reluctant to post material that features people who insist on repeatedly dunking us into a septic tank, but this is so important that I felt it should be posted:
The Daily Caller has more on Creamer and his dubious dealings and history.

It should be astonishing but isn't that the mainstream media hasn't been showing these videos on a continuous loop for the past week. They certainly would be if Creamer and his henchmen were Republicans, but because they're working for Hillary - with her knowledge, Creamer avers - the media simply looks the other way. Much of the major media have turned themselves into a North American version of the old Soviet news agency Pravda, serving as little more than propaganda organs for the statist party.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cicero's Warning

Here are words of a man who lived over two thousand years ago in circumstances not too dissimilar from those we find ourselves in today. His words might cause us to pause and reflect. The man is Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of the chief citizens of Rome in the first century B.C. and one of the most famous of all Romans. He writes:
A nation can survive its fools and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.

For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.
I hope Cicero was right that a nation can survive fools and the ambitious. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure he's right that a nation cannot survive corruption that starts and spreads from within. When the pillars of society, the institutions that bind us together and strengthen us as a people, are undermined we become like a massive tree that's hollowed out by years of internal decay and which crashes to the ground in the next strong wind.

When people are conditioned by those who want to see us fall to lose trust in their government, their courts, the news organizations and the free market, when our citizens are encouraged to no longer value family, church, school and the Constitution, when everyone is propagandized to believe that all that matters is their own personal happiness and that the way to achieve that is through accumulating consumer goods, entertainment and pleasure, then we, like that tree, like ancient Rome, will be too corrupt to withstand stresses imposed from outside.

One way to avoid that fate is to recognize that there are many voices out there whose rhetoric is designed to erode our confidence and faith in the institutions that made America great (I apologize if that sounds Trumpian. I don't mean it to.). The second thing is to stand up to those voices or stop listening to them altogether. The third thing is to get about the business of repairing the damage that has been done to those "pillars of the city."

If enough people commit themselves to this project then perhaps we can avoid the fate that Rome suffered. If not, if we lose the will to resist, as Cicero puts it, then how will we keep the human wolves at bay?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Four Small Steps for Saving Friendships

Mary Tillotson at The Federalist discusses four things we should all keep in mind as the election gets closer and our political conversations get more intense and perhaps more heated.

She opens by noting that,
1 in 14 Americans has apparently lost a friend over this election. While this year seems especially awful, 7 percent seems to be a fairly stable number of friendships fracturing during election years.

Somehow, only 70 percent of respondents say this year’s election has brought out the worst in people. Maybe that’s because fully 30 percent “feel that the harsh language used in politics today” is justified.

It’s unfortunate, because if there’s one thing we ought to be able to agree on, it’s that we could use a little more civility in our civic conversations. So here’s a guide I hope people on both sides of the aisle—and anywhere in between—can use to keep their conversations civil, their friendships intact, and, therefore, their country strong.
I list her four recommendations here with a brief note about each. She goes into more detail at the link:

1. Believe in the other person's good intentions: This, Tillotson states, is the first important principle of civility: believe in good intentions. Even when people are objectively wrong they probably have good intentions underlying their opinions. That doesn’t make them right, but it does make them worth respecting and listening to.

2. Keep an open mind and reject polarization: If you never honestly consider others’ opinions, Tillotson believes, your mind will shrink and become its own little echo chamber. Listen to your interlocutor. Plan to learn something. Put yourself in his or her shoes and consider a perspective you hadn’t thought about before. Maybe there is a valid concern that you weren’t aware of and is bringing you to different conclusions. That may be true vice versa, as well. Political issues are complicated, and different policies affect different people in different ways.

3. Remember your priorities: Consider whether your friendship or your political opinions are more important. Is your friend’s one vote going to change the course of American history? For that matter, is your friend likely to vote the way you vote after you’ve fallen out over politics? If anything, your friend is probably less likely to agree with you after a fight.

4. Keep it off Facebook: Social media probably isn't a good venue for having a productive political debate. In fact, because it's so public, it may be the worst venue if we're interested in persuading our friends and keeping them as friends.

Tillotson gives good advice. Check out the whole article at the link.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Is the Fix In?

Donald Trump has had a rough couple of weeks, some of it deserved, some of it completely unfair.

An example of the latter was the blowback from his threat to prosecute Hillary for her manifest crimes. Ordinarily such a threat in the midst of a political campaign would at best be unseemly, but given the fact that Democrats have so often shown no reluctance themselves to use the law to intimidate or punish their political opponents the unseemly aspect of this is, in fact, the hypocrisy of the left's faux indignity over Trump's threat.

Trump has also taken a lot of flak from the media for his assertion that the coming election is rigged. Well, whether it is or not, it's certain that there's plenty of potential for electoral fraud as these stories from Indiana, Texas, and the nation as a whole illustrate.

And here's some icing on the fraud cake from The Federalist.

In any case, even if there really is no significant fraud in November it's not because the Democrats aren't trying. Undercover journalism by James O'Keefe's operatives reveal in the following video some of the egregious attempts by Democrats to manipulate and cheat the system to get illegal residents to the polls to vote.

I have to warn you, though, the language used by these people is as vulgar as their ethics. Please don't watch the video if you'll be offended by obscenity and sleaziness:
Meanwhile, the left continues to resort to violence against the Trump campaign with hardly a peep of outrage voiced by our media. Not only are Trump supporters attacked at rallies, but, in good brown-shirt fashion, Trump campaign offices are being vandalized and firebombed.

And these are the people who tell us that Trump lacks the temperament and character to be president. Well, I don't argue with that, but look at the people who are offering themselves as the alternative.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Nature of Time

The class discussion recently turned to questions concerning the nature of time and a student dug out this post from 3/7/2014. Since it addresses some of what we talked about in class I thought it might be worthwhile to run it again:

Anthony Aguirre at Big Questions Online discusses the two theories of time. His discussion is difficult to follow unless one is familiar with quantum mechanics and relativity theory, but he does give a clear explanation of the two basic theories on offer. What he calls below the "Unitary Block" theory is sometimes referred to as the B-Theory of time. What he calls the "Experienced World" is the A-Theory.
When we step back, we thus seem to have two rather different and contrary views of time’s nature. In one, the ‘Unitary Block’, spacetime and quantum states are laid out ‘all at once’, specified once and for all by some set of boundary conditions. Everything at any time is uniquely determined by — and thus implicitly contained in — any other time, and the world exhibits no distinction between past and future.

At the same time, the ‘Experienced World’ we actually inhabit and observe has a very clear distinction between past, present, and future, produces entropy, and allows branching between a single present reality and several possible future realities.

Among knowledgeable and thoughtful people, there seem to be three basic views of this paradox:

1.The Unitary Block is the fundamental, and by implication more true description; things such as the arrow of time, definite experimental outcomes, etc., are emergent phenomena that, if we only could make precise enough computations, could be reduced to ‘nothing but’ the fundamental description.

2.The Unitary Block is wrong in some essential way. A more correct view would be much more like — and much more readily reconciled with — the Experienced World.

3.The Experienced World is more fundamental than the Unitary Block, which is just the correct description of regularities in the Experienced World in very particular regimes.

View 1 is by far the most common amongst my theoretical physicist colleagues, but I’ll make three arguments as to why we should think carefully before embracing it.
His arguments for considering the Experienced World (A-Theory) to be fundamental can be read at the link. One might wonder why scientists even think there is a Unitary Block. The answer has to do with Einstein's discoveries about relativity:
Right now, this second, an old man is exhaling his last breath. Elsewhere, two young lovers exchange their first kiss. Farther afield, two asteroids silently collide. Sunrise comes to a planet orbiting a neighboring star. This very second, a supernova detonates in a faraway galaxy.

And yet ‘this very second’ across the universe apparently does not really exist! Our best fundamental theory of space-time, Einstein’s Relativity, expressly precludes a single, objective definition of simultaneity. Events occurring ‘now’ by one observer’s estimation can — with equal validity — be said to occur at different times according to another observer who is far away and/or in motion relative to the first.

We don’t notice this issue much here on Earth, but it becomes very obvious for example in cosmology, where how one defines ‘now’ can determine whether the universe looks uniform or not, and even if it is finite or infinite!
It's all very fascinating stuff with fascinating implications. For example, if the Unitary Block theory is correct I'm not sure what sense it makes to talk about the age of the universe. Every moment of time would have come into being at the instant that the universe was created. If that's so, then what does it mean to say that the universe is 14 billion years old?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Fortunate Universe

Two Australian cosmologists, Luke Barnes and Geraint Lewis, have published a book on the fine-tuning of the universe. The book is titled A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos and it explores the implications of cosmic fine-tuning.

By fine-tuning is meant that there are numerous parameters, forces, and values that comprise our universe which, if they were even minutely different than what they are, the universe would either not exist at all or not be the sort of place where life could exist. In some cases the fine-tuning is calibrated to a precision which boggles the mind.

If, for example, the initial expansion rate of the universe at the time of its origin had varied by just one part in 10^120 the universe never would have formed. To give an idea of how enormous this number is, and thus how precisely set the expansion rate must have been, there are about 10^80 atoms in the entire universe.

No one questions that the universe is fine-tuned, but since a finely-tuned universe has profound implications for one's metaphysics, particularly the question of whether the universe is intentionally designed or not, and since the notion that it's designed is repugnant to naturalistic materialists, three alternative possibilities have been advanced to account for the universe's breath-takingly precise constants.

Lewis and Barnes have put together a short video to introduce their book and give a brief summary of each of these alternatives. Take a look:
For a list of some of the parameters and constants that are agreed by most scientists to be fine-tuned, and a lucid explanation of each, see the article by philosopher of science Jay Richards here.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why He Was Wrong

Historian Tom Holland, who, it's relevant to note, is not himself a Christian, writes a "Boy, Was I Wrong" column in The New Statesman about how as a younger man he had misjudged the influence of ancient Christianity on our culture and how he came to realize his mistake.

After describing his childhood experiences with certain hard-to-accept religious beliefs he writes:
By the time I came to read Edward Gibbon and the other great writers of the Enlightenment, I was more than ready to accept their interpretation of history: that the triumph of Christianity had ushered in an “age of superstition and credulity”, and that modernity was founded on the dusting down of long-forgotten classical values.

My childhood instinct to think of the biblical God as the po-faced enemy of liberty and fun was rationalised. The defeat of paganism had ushered in the reign of Nobodaddy, and of all the crusaders, inquisitors and black-hatted puritans who had served as his acolytes. Colour and excitement had been drained from the world. “Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean,” Swinburne wrote, echoing the apocryphal lament of Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome. “The world has grown grey from thy breath.” Instinctively, I agreed.

[Yet] the longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.

“Every sensible man,” Voltaire wrote, “every honourable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.” Rather than acknowledge that his ethical principles might owe anything to Christianity, he preferred to derive them from a range of other sources – not just classical literature, but Chinese philosophy and his own powers of reason. Yet Voltaire, in his concern for the weak and ­oppressed, was marked more enduringly by the stamp of biblical ethics than he cared to admit. His defiance of the Christian God, in a paradox that was certainly not unique to him, drew on motivations that were, in part at least, recognisably Christian.
This paradox is evident almost everywhere one looks. Many moderns flatter themselves that they're morally enlightened and that they have no need of God to live a moral life. I'm currently reading Stephen Greenblatt's bestseller The Swerve which is a paean to the first century B.C. Roman writer Lucretius and the naturalism he praises in his great poem, De Rerum Naturam(On the Nature of Things). In a list of Lucretius' principles, which Greenblatt himself evidently embraces, he makes it clear that there is no personal God and goes on to add that there's also no ethical purpose higher than pursuing pleasure (happiness) for oneself and one's fellow creatures. But if there is no God what could possibly obligate us to care about the happiness of others? Why should we, especially if it means self-sacrifice? It sounds good to say, but if Lucretius is right about God it's simply empty rhetoric to talk about having some sort of responsibility to promote the happiness of others. Where does such a responsibility come from? Why would it be wrong to just live for oneself? Greenblatt doesn't even attempt to answer the question.

Holland concludes:
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.
Nowhere in the ancient world, much less in our evolutionary history, do we find any concept of human equality. Nowhere do we find any concept of compassion for the poor or the orphan. Nowhere among the ancient pagans (non-Christians) do we find qualms about slavery, the chattel view of women, infanticide. Nowhere ... until the rise of Christianity.

Christians are often vilified for the crimes of the Roman papacy and other ecclesiastical miscreants, but it's important to remember that despite the failings of some, even many, of those who have called themselves Christians, it was nevertheless the Christian worldview which provided the fertile soil out of which grew people motivated to build hospitals and universities, to end slavery, to create institutions to care for the poor, to minimize cruelty in war and criminal punishment. Other cultures produced music and art, but it was the Christian West that produced Bach and Michaelangelo, Handel and Raphael. Other cultures made technological advances, but science only thrived in the West where it was rooted in the assumption that the world was created by a rational mind, that the world wasn't "enchanted" and could be studied without giving offense to the deities of paganism.

Naturalism doesn't offer its adherents the metaphysical resources to sustain any of these blessings. Naturalism is grounded in a Darwinian view of humanity which knows nothing of equality, compassion for the weak and the stranger, the dignity of each person, moral duty, human justice, or human rights. It only knows that those who are stronger win the contest for survival by imposing their will on the weak, or eliminating them altogether. No matter how loudly naturalists may object to this representation, they can't escape it.

The notion of human equality, compassion for the weak and the stranger, the dignity of each person, moral duty, human justice, and the concept of human rights are the gifts to culture of a Christian worldview and are inexplicable under any other. As the atheist philosopher Jürgen Habermas admits: "Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Preemptive Love

Is it possible to think it's a bad idea to bring Muslim refugees here to the United States, but nevertheless want to help them in their hour of need? Is it possible to help them where they are? I've written before about an organization called Preemptive Love that's doing precisely that. These folks are doing amazing work among refugees in Iraq, and if you're looking for a way to help desperate people caught in the hell that ISIS has created you'll want to check them out.

They've recently sent out a summary of what they've accomplished in just the last two months, and it really is remarkable. Actually, considering the conditions under which they work, it's astonishing:
OCTOBER 8: We reached 1,000 families in newly liberated villages outside Mosul, providing hygiene supplies and educational information. A team of 10 local doctors and medical students offered vital health education to displaced families.

OCTOBER 6: Our team distributed food to 800 families in newly liberated villages on the outskirts of Mosul. ISIS launched mortar attacks in the vicinity, but thankfully our food distribution was not impacted.

SEPTEMBER 23: Preemptive Love was the first group to reach the town of Al-Shirqat after it was liberated from ISIS on September 22. We provided 100,000 pounds of food for 12,000 people, along with 1,000 family hygiene kits.

SEPTEMBER 12: We set up a medical tent at a security checkpoint south of Mosul. Many of the refugees who reach this checkpoint are suffering dehydration and hunger. Some have been tortured by ISIS and require urgent medical care. Our team is providing medicine and supplies, treating 12-80 people every day.

SEPTEMBER 8: Today our team traveled along the front lines to deliver food to 200 newly liberated families from the town of Qayyarah, about 40 miles south of Mosul.

AUGUST 31: Preemptive Love set up tents and bathrooms for fleeing families at a busy checkpoint in the Mosul corridor. Previously, families had no place to escape the desert heat while waiting—often hours or days—to be cleared by security. They had nowhere to go the bathroom in privacy and dignity. These tents and bathrooms will serve 30,000 people in the coming weeks.

AUGUST 25: We delivered wheelchairs and crutches to disabled children and elderly refugees fleeing the Mosul corridor.

AUGUST 19: Our team rushed medical aid to a refugee center near Tikrit, halfway between Mosul and Baghdad, hours after it was hit by an ISIS mortar attack, killing 13 and injuring dozens.

AUGUST 14-18: We employed local welders to install 10 water tanks in three communities along the Mosul corridor where displaced families have settled. The tanks were connected to municipal water supplies, ensuring a constant, sustainable source of water for those who fled.
It's expected that the Iraqi forces will within the next couple of weeks be launching a massive assault on Mosul, ISIS' last stronghold in Iraq. When they do the humanitarian need will no doubt be enormous. If you'd like to help you can learn how at the link.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Peeking into the Basket of Deplorables

In this election cycle it's very hard to imagine any person or institution looking as bad as do our two major candidates, but in my opinion the left-wing media is giving them both a run for their money.

Our liberal media have been condemning Trump, whom they viscerally oppose, for saying things that Bill Clinton, whom they ardently supported, actually did. Their partisanship - acting as spokespersons for, and defenders of, the Clinton campaign - is causing further erosion of public trust in the fourth estate. They excoriate Trump for using vulgar language while giving Hillary, whose language is at least as bad as Trump's, a pass. They condemn Trump for making sexual references to women, but every one of his liberal critics supported and voted for Bill Clinton who sexually assaulted and even raped women. Indeed, I doubt that the media talking heads at MSNBC, CNN, and elsewhere are sincerely appalled at what Trump said, rather, I suspect they feign to be scandalized, as though they were 18th century Puritans, because it's someone who's a political threat to Hillary who said it.

But there's even more to the media's hypocrisy. The left, of which the liberal media is a crucial element, is largely responsible for having created the sleazy culture in which we all must wade, but having created a cultural cesspool, they then pillory Trump for being part of it. They heap moral opprobrium on the man even though they insisted during the scandalous Bill Clinton presidency that personal morality didn't matter, that all that mattered was public competency. The liberal media has for two generations championed a secular worldview (secular in the sense of thinking that God is not relevant to public affairs) which strips away any basis for making moral judgments and then proceeds to portray Trump as a moral monster, blithely oblivious to the absurd contradiction in which they ensnare themselves.

Readers of Viewpoint know that I'm no fan of Donald Trump, and if a theist declares Trump's behavior to be execrable I'll be quick to agree with him or her, but if someone who advocates the strict separation of church and state, a "naked public square" void of religious influence, castigates Trump's behavior I want to know why that critic thinks it's wrong for Trump to say what he said. I want to know what grounds the critic has for thinking that what Trump has said about women is actually morally offensive. Why is it wrong, given the assumptions of a secular worldview, to advocate sexual assault or even rape, or to actually do such things?

Is it wrong to do them because no one has the right to harm another person? Why think that? In a secular world might makes right. If we're all just the products of an amoral evolutionary process then rich, powerful men like Trump can do whatever they have the power to do. For the secular man, to paraphrase philosopher Richard Rorty, there's no answer to the question why not be a sexual predator.

The left-wing progressive media is piggybacking on an understanding of moral rightness predicated on Christian theism, all the while whispering behind the back of their hand that Christian theism is a fraud. That seems to me to qualify as unadulterated hypocrisy. This election has given us insight into a number of very unattractive people and institutions in this country. Trump, Clinton, and the liberal media are three of them. Perhaps all three belong in Hillary's basket of deplorables.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Presto!

An article at Evolution News and Views (ENV) reflects on the news that three European chemists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for having engineered simple molecular machines. According to the article:
  • Jean-Pierre Sauvage (University of Strasbourg, France) in 1983 linked two molecular rings together.
  • Sir J. Fraser Stoddart (Northwestern University, Illinois) in 1991 threaded a molecular ring onto a thin molecular axle and demonstrated that the ring was able to move along the axle.
  • Bernard L. Feringa (University of Groningen, the Netherlands) in 1999 got a molecular rotor blade to spin continually in the same direction.
These are amazing achievements, to be sure, and required incredible skill and genius to accomplish, but compared to the thousands of complex molecular machines that operate in every one of the cells of our bodies to keep us alive the machines these men built are quite simple.

So here's a question: If the highest human genius is required to design and develop relatively simple molecular machines, how did the far more complex machines in living things develop by unguided random chance with no input from an intelligent agent? Is such a development independent of intelligent guidance even possible?

One of the Nobel recipients, Bernard Feringa, was asked by the Prize Committee in a phone interview what inspired him to work on molecular machines. Interviewer Adam Smith asked him:
AS: So you describe your work as being inspired by nature? BF: Yes, of course. If you look at the cells in our body or the functioning of the organism, it is flabbergasting. It is fantastic to see how this intricate machinery works. And when I'm talking about motors, as we focus on motors, if you look at the essential functions in the cell, like cell division, like transport, like making your muscles move, bacteria that go to food .... it's all controlled by molecular motors, and so the biological motors, and the biological machinery, is so crucial to all these functions. And of course we get great inspiration from that, while we as chemists are extremely good in building all kinds of materials, and that is what intrigued me.
What sort of molecular motors is Feringa talking about here? Below are animations of three examples. You don't have to be a biologist to appreciate how marvelous these are and why Feringa seems to be grasping for superlatives to describe them.

Kinesin:
ATP Synthase:
Protein synthesizers:
These wondrous nanoscale machines leave one speechless. Language seems totally inadequate to the task of supplying adjectives to express one's amazement. How did such complex machines ever come about, especially on this scale of size? Maybe the Darwinians are right and they are just the products of natural processes acting solely by chance, but assuming one's mind is not already philosophically closed to the idea, it seems far more plausible to think that they were designed by an intelligent engineer of some sort.

Remember that on the Darwinian view most of these machines had to be present in the very first living cells which means they didn't have eons of time to evolve nor could they have been the product of genetic mutation and natural selection since they had to exist before the cells that housed them could survive to reproduce.

Yet students are often taught in school that unthinking nature, unguided by any purpose or intention, somehow produced these astonishing structures. It's as if Nature waved a magic wand, sprinkled some pixie dust, and, presto!, there they were.

And the same folks who tell us this also insist that the belief that these machines must have been engineered by an intelligent agent is unscientific and "superstitious." Why?

Monday, October 10, 2016

What's a Voter to Do?

So, on the one hand we have a candidate for president of the United States who is, from all appearances, an incarnation of Madame Defarge, Lady Macbeth, and Marie Antoinette all rolled into one, and on the other, a candidate who, in terms of sheer sordidness and vulgarity, rivals the first candidate's husband, and, indeed, rivals the first candidate herself.

Given the choice between repulsive and repugnant what's an American voter to do? There are several possible options, none of them good.

We could hope that both major candidates drop out of the race and that the mantle falls on the vice-presidential candidates to finish the election. The chances of this happening, however, are about the same as being struck by lightning on a clear day.

A more realistic hope, perhaps, is that Trump will drop out and Mike Pence will succeed him. Pence is, in my opinion, the classiest, most attractive - in several senses of that word - candidate in the race, and it'd be a relief to have him at the top of the ticket. Nevertheless, I doubt that anything short of a coronary thrombosis will get Trump to drop out of the race, and I certainly don't wish that upon him.

Meanwhile, there are arguments being put forth for not voting for either of them. To vote for the lesser of two evils, it's argued, is still to vote for evil, and no one should do that.

I understand the argument but think that in the end it doesn't succeed. In this election, unprecedented in the history of the nation for its loathsomeness, it could perhaps be said that one is not voting for the less unsavory of two amoral candidates. Rather one is voting against the more unsavory of two amoral candidates.

If that's a legitimate distinction (and maybe it's not) then it's incumbent upon us to decide which of the candidates is the most odious and vote to keep that person out of office. The problem, though, is that deciding which is worse presents real challenges to our objectivity, and our judgment is bound to be influenced, or even skewed, by the political ideology to which we adhere.

Alas, one of them will be our next president. May heaven help us.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Evolution and Ethics

Today's post is a follow-up to Thursday's post on the inconsistency of naturalistic ethics.

VJ Torley at Uncommon Descent reminds us of a passage from Thomas Huxley's essay Evolution and Ethics (1893) in which Huxley, otherwise known as "Darwin's bulldog," puts his finger on one of the chief difficulties with trying to establish a naturalistic basis for ethics. One popular candidate for such a ground is the evolution of our species, but Huxley, despite his arrant fealty to Darwinian evolution, illuminates the hopelessness of this strategy:
The propounders of what are called the “ethics of evolution,” when the ‘evolution of ethics’ would usually better express the object of their speculations, adduce a number of more or less interesting facts and more or less sound arguments in favour of the origin of the moral sentiments, in the same way as other natural phenomena, by a process of evolution.

I have little doubt, for my own part, that they are on the right track; but as the immoral sentiments have no less been evolved, there is, so far, as much natural sanction for the one as the other. The thief and the murderer follow nature just as much as the philanthropist.

Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of man may have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before.
Huxley's right, of course. If the inclination to be kind and tolerant has evolved in the human species then so has the inclination to be selfish, violent, and cruel. So if evolution is to serve as our "moral dictionary" what grounds do we have for privileging kindness over cruelty? Both are equally sanctioned by our evolutionary history and thus we can't say that either is better or more right than the other.

Huxley goes on to dispense with the notion that the evolutionary development of our ethical sensibility can provide us with some sort of guide to our behavior.
There is another fallacy which appears to me to pervade the so-called “ethics of evolution.” It is the notion that because, on the whole, animals and plants have advanced in perfection of organization by means of the struggle for existence and the consequent ‘survival of the fittest’; therefore men in society, men as ethical beings, must look to the same process to help them towards perfection.
The problem is that, for naturalists, the processes of nature are the only thing they can look to for moral guidance. Having rejected the notion that there exists a transcendent, personal, moral authority, the naturalist, if he's to avoid nihilism, is left trying to derive ethics from what he sees in nature, which leads to what I regard as the most serious problem with any naturalistic ethics: There's simply no warrant for thinking that a blind, impersonal process like evolution or a blind, impersonal substance like matter, can impose a moral duty on conscious beings.

Moral obligations, if they exist, can only be imposed by conscious, intelligent, moral authorities. Evolution can no more impose such an obligation than can gravity. Thus, naturalists (atheists) are confronted with a stark choice: Either give up their atheism or embrace moral nihilism. Unwilling to do what is for them unthinkable and accept the first alternative, many of them are reluctantly embracing the second.

Consider these three passages from three twentieth century philosophers:
I had been laboring under an unexamined assumption, namely that there is such a thing as right and wrong. I now believe there isn’t…The long and short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality….

I experienced a shocking epiphany that religious believers are correct; without God there is no morality. But they are incorrect, I still believe, about there being a God. Hence, I believe, there is no morality….

Even though words like “sinful” and “evil” come naturally to the tongue as, say, a description of child molesting, they do not describe any actual properties of anything. There are no literal sins in the world because there is no literal God…nothing is literally right or wrong because there is no Morality. Joel Marks, An Amoral Manifesto

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The world, according to this new picture [i.e. the picture produced by a scientific outlook], 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. W.T. Stace, The Atlantic Monthly, 1948

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We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or amoralists….Reason doesn't decide here….The picture I have painted is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me….Pure reason will not take you to morality. Kai Nielson (1984)
What these thinkers and dozens like them are saying is that the project of trying to find some solid, naturalistic foundation upon which to build an ethics is like trying to find a mermaid. The object of the search simply doesn't exist, nor could it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

With Friends Like These

President Obama's signature accomplishment, the achievement for which he wishes most to be remembered, is passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Unfortunately for the President's legacy Obamacare is widely seen as a colossal failure.

It's one thing, however, for the centerpiece of Mr. Obama's presidential tenure to be criticized by his political foes, but it's something else altogether to have it criticized and mocked by his putative allies. When the ally is also a previous president in Mr. Obama's own party and the husband of the current candidate to be his successor, a woman he has thrown his support behind, the sense of betrayal must be especially galling.

Here's former president Bill Clinton calling Obamacare the "craziest thing in the world":
Much has been written of the intense dislike the Obamas and the Clintons have for each other, so it's not surprising that Mr. Clinton, who once declared that Obama should be serving him coffee, would publicly embarrass Mr. Obama, but to do it when he knows that Obama's support for his wife is crucial to her election is a bit surprising.

In any case, Mr. Clinton's analysis of the effects of Obamacare on the middle class is something that one hopes our legislature heeds. The Democrats have foisted a system on us that, despite President Obama's many promises to the contrary, forces many people to pay much more for much less coverage.
It is indeed a crazy system.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

C.S. Lewis on the Inconsistency in Naturalistic Ethics

A student linked me to a post by historian Alan Snyder who highlights some of C.S. Lewis' thoughts on metaphysical naturalism in his famous book On Miracles. Snyder writes:
In his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis takes aim at “naturalists” who say that there is no “outside” reference [i.e., God] for calling anything good or evil.

When men use the words, “I ought,” Lewis notes, they are saying something about the essence of right and wrong that is built into the universe. In fact, naturalists should never use such terminology: “But if Naturalism is true,” he writes, “‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick.'”
On naturalism there are no moral obligations and thus the word "ought" has no moral significance. If there are no moral duties then there's nothing anyone "ought" to do, at least not in the moral sense of the word "ought."

Lewis explains,
The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say . . . “all ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.” Indeed many Naturalists are delighted to say this.
There’s a slight problem, though, for those who attempt to explain good and evil in this way:
But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race. . . . They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter.
Of course, if good and evil are illusions then there's certainly no reason why we should be concerned with either the illusion of good or the illusion of evil.

To use such terms when the user knows they don't refer to anything is a form of social coercion. Naturalists who employ the rhetoric of good and evil are simply attempting to compel, or trick, others into behaving in ways the naturalists prefer by calling their actions good or evil when in fact they're neither good nor evil - no more than are the actions of a wolf or falcon or any other predator. When one gull steals a morsel of food from another we don't call the gull or its behavior evil. Likewise, if we're just animals, if there's no transcendent moral order, why do we call evil acts like robbing an elderly lady?

Lewis adds:
Do they remember while they [naturalists] are writing thus that when they tell us we “ought to make a better world” the words “ought” and “better” must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?
Yet, as Snyder points out, the naturalist, unless he's also a nihilist, doesn't live consistently with his own professed ideology. Snyder concludes with another quote from Lewis:
My idea is that sometimes they do forget. That is their glory. Holding a philosophy which excludes humanity, they yet remain human. At the sight of injustice they throw all their Naturalism to the winds and speak like men.
Yes, they do, but when they do they admit the failure of their naturalism. A worldview that people can't live with consistently is seriously flawed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How Presuppositions Shape Politics

Students at one of the schools at which I teach are engaged this week in a campus-wide symposium on politics. My classes had some gratifyingly energetic discussions today around the topic of political ideologies using as a springboard for conversation a Viewpoint post from last summer. That post highlighted some of the differences between the political left and right and limned those distinctions with broad, general strokes.

There are, of course, other ways to understand liberalism and conservatism, at least as the terms apply to American politics, and one of those is to focus on their respective anthropologies. That is, to examine their respective views on what it is to be human - what it is, in the metaphysical sense, to be man.

What follows is not true of all conservatives nor of all liberals, but I think it's fair to say that it is true of a great many, maybe even the majority, of both.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between the anthropology of conservatives and that of liberals is that many conservatives tend to see man as bearing the image of God, possessing immortal souls, and as loved by God. This is significant because from this starting point those conservatives then:

  • See human rights as divinely ordained and based in the will of God, and thus objective and inalienable.
  • See man as fallen from his original estate and prone to sin. Thus follows the conservative skepticism of governmental power and the need for institutional checks and balances.
  • See history as both meaningful, because it is the outworking of a Divine plan, and replete with lessons for the present because human nature doesn't change much.
  • See science as a fruitful means of making sense of the world because the world was created by a rational being and yields its secrets to rational inquiry.
  • See morality as rooted in a personal, transcendent moral authority who promulgates an unchanging moral law to which each of us is held accountable.
On the other hand, many liberals tend to see man as the product of the blind, impersonal, random process of evolution. For many liberals, particularly secular liberals, which perhaps comprise the majority, God plays little or no role in either the creation of the world or in human affairs. From this starting point, then, these liberals often:

  • See human rights as the product of a consensus of enlightened thinkers.
  • See man as basically good and malleable, and evolving toward ever greater capacities and perfections.
  • See history as an indecipherable, meaningless flux of events about which we can know little and learn less, since humanity is constantly evolving and changing.
  • See science as the only trustworthy source of knowledge and the pronouncements of scientists as authoritative, if not infallible.
  • See morality as an arbitrary, relativistic set of arbitrary norms which have evolved to help us get along with each other. There are no objective moral absolutes and probably no accountability for how we live in this life.
These disparate worldviews have profound consequences. One's starting point largely determines where one winds up.

If, for instance, human rights are simply a human invention then they're grounded in little more than the will and whims of those in power. They're just words on paper. They have no objective existence and can be discarded or changed whenever someone has the power and desire to do so. Indeed, to accuse a government of violating the human rights of its citizens makes no sense if those rights are simply whatever the government decides they are.

Likewise, if human nature can be altered and molded then the temptation to use government to compel people to conform to the image decided upon by the elites becomes irresistable. Since there is no objective right to liberty the government can and should do whatever's necessary to create the utopian society. That, of course, leads to Orwellian dystopias.

Ideas have consequences and the bigger the idea the more far-reaching the consequences.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What's Really Real?

This is a post I've run before but am reposting since it's relevant to some topics my students and I have been discussing in class:

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries it was the consensus view among scientists and philosophers that reality, the universe, was fundamentally material. The belief was that everything was reducible to matter and energy and that if there was any immaterial substance, it was a property of matter. Thus, in this materialist view, there was no such thing as mind or soul that existed independently of matter. Mind, if it existed, emerged from matter.

All this began to change in the 20th century with the development of quantum physics, and as that century came to a close and the new century began a number of experiments were done which led physicists to believe that, in fact, mind is fundamental and that the material world is an emergent property of mind.

Rather than seeing the universe as a machine, as thinkers had done ever since Isaac Newton in the 17th century, the universe was now being viewed, in the words of Sir James Jeans, more like "a grand idea."

The following video gives a fairly good description of two experiments in physics which have led many (not all) scientists to agree with Jeans. The video moves quickly so you might wish to replay parts of it.

There's resistance to accepting the notion that the universe as a product of mind because such a view both refutes the materialism upon which atheism rests and fits nicely into a theistic view of the world (see the quote from physicist Alain Aspect below).

Nevertheless, this is the view accepted by a growing number of quantum physicists. Here are a few quotes to illustrate:

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” Max Planck (1944)

“Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else.” Erwin Schroedinger.

“It will remain remarkable, in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the scientific conclusion that the content of the consciousness is the ultimate universal reality” Eugene Wigner 1961, Nobel Prize winner in 1963

"If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history." Philosopher Thomas Nagel

"What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving 'entanglement' (the phenomenon Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance'), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices...To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time." Antoine Suarez, 2013

"Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the “illusion” of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case, since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism (solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist)." Alain Aspect, 2007

So far from mind being a product of a more fundamental material reality, these thinkers have concluded that matter actually is a phenomenon created by mind. Thus, in their view, the fundamental reality in the universe, and perhaps beyond, is mind.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Lie Ratchet

Sadly, it seems impossible to believe anything either of the candidates running for the office of President of the United States tells us. Neither of them seems to have any moral reservations or feel any guilt in lying to the American people, but whereas Mr. Trump's prevarications are brazen and crude, as befits his temperament, Ms. Clinton has developed mendacity into a sophisticated artform - an artistry refined, no doubt, by long years of practice.

Bill Whittle at Firewall analyzes the technique Ms Clinton employs to beguile the proletariat and the willingly credulous:
Watching this video, one can't help thinking that if lying were an Olympic event Hillary would have more gold medals than Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt put together.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Is Hillary Any Better?

The Clinton campaign and its media facilitators are making hay out Trump's juvenile insults of a Venezuelan beauty queen whom he twenty years ago called "Miss Piggy." The insight into Trump's character, or lack thereof, that we glean from this regrettable episode may well dissuade some people from voting for him. After all, anyone who treats women with the sort of vulgar disdain that Trump apparently has is not the sort of person one would feel comfortable voting for.

Unless the alternative is just as bad, or even worse. And, if what has been claimed about Hillary for decades is credible, it's hard even for a Donald Trump to match the maltreatment of women she has visited upon some of them.

Not only are women in her employ paid less than men, but she has throughout her career sought to destroy women she perceived to be threats to the political careers of either her or her husband.

When, for example, woman after woman came forward in the 1990s to accuse her husband of being a sexual predator - of exposing himself, of groping, even of raping them - Hillary Clinton led a behind the scenes effort to smear these victims of her husband's sybaritic impulses and to destroy their credibility in the public eye.

This is not hearsay. It's the testimony not only of the women themselves but also of loyal staffers in her employ. A piece in the Clintonophilic Washington Post, which actually strives to make Hillary look sympathetic, is nevertheless revealing insofar as it hints at how she treated her husband's paramours. Here are some excerpts:
Hillary Clinton has wrestled with allegations surrounding her husband’s infidelities for much of their 40-year marriage, including a sexual harassment lawsuit, a grand jury investigation and an impeachment vote centered on his untruthfulness about a relationship with a White House intern.

The Trump campaign has argued that the issue facing Hillary Clinton as a candidate is not the behavior of her husband but the role she played in shaping responses to accusers. She discredited claims later revealed to be true and worked behind the scenes to help manage the allegations, according to former aides.

In November, the issue surfaced again after the Democratic candidate sent out a tweet saying that assault victims deserve to be believed. At a public forum in December, a questioner confronted Clinton and asked whether her comment also applied to her husband’s accusers. “I would say that everybody should be believed at first,” she said, “until they are disbelieved based on evidence.”

When Bill Clinton launched a presidential run in 1991, his wife and senior staff considered how to deal with what came to be known as “bimbo eruptions.”

Hillary Clinton dismissed an accusation made by Gennifer Flowers, the singer who sold her story to a supermarket tabloid after having previously denied an affair. In an ABC News interview, she called Flowers “some failed cabaret singer who doesn’t even have much of a résumé to fall back on.” She told Esquire magazine in 1992 that if she had the chance to cross-examine Flowers, “I mean, I would crucify her.”

Six years later, Bill Clinton acknowledged a sexual encounter with Flowers.

As other women emerged, Hillary Clinton helped forge aggressive de­fenses.

Former White House press secretary George Stephanopoulos recalled in his memoir discussing [with Ms Clinton] a woman’s allegation published in Penthouse Magazine. He said that after her husband dismissed it as untrue during a meeting, Hillary Clinton said, “We have to destroy her story.” By July 1992, the campaign hired private detective Jack Palladino to investigate the accusers involved in two dozen allegations.

“She had to do what she had always done before: swallow her doubts, stand by her man and savage his enemies,” Stephanopoulos wrote, describing Hillary Clinton’s reaction.(emphasis mine)
While practicing law in 1975 Hillary Clinton defended a 41 year-old drifter accused of raping a 12 year-old girl named Kathy Shelton. Clinton knew the guy was guilty but got the charges reduced to illicit fondling and laughed about how she did it. In fact, she blamed the twelve year-old Shelton at trial for having encouraged the man even though there was no evidence Shelton had done any such thing.
Shelton, now 54, says Clinton is 'lying' when she claims to be a lifelong defender of women and girls.

Shelton said Clinton accused her during the case of 'seeking out older men', and demanded that the 12-year-old undergo a grueling court-ordered psychiatric examination to determine whether she was 'mentally unstable'.

'I don't think [Clinton's] for women or girls. I think she's lying, I think she said anything she can to get in the campaign and win,' Shelton said. 'If she was [an advocate for women and children], she wouldn't have done that to me at 12 years old.'

While Shelton gave an anonymous interview to the Daily Beast in 2014, she said wants to start speaking out publicly, in part because 'I think a lot of people would look at [Clinton] in a different way' after hearing her story directly.

'I want to speak to the world. Out there at the White House, so everyone can hear me,' said Shelton. 'That's always been my thing since the anger's built up. I want to speak out like [Clinton] does, and let the whole world hear it.' During the case, Clinton accused the 12-year-old of 'seek[ing] out older men' and 'engag[ing] in fantasizing' in court affidavits, and later laughed while discussing aspects of the case in a recently-unearthed audiotape from the 1980s.

On the audiotape, Clinton indicated that she believed Taylor, her client, was guilty, saying that his ability to pass a lie detector test 'forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs'.
Nor is it just women who've been slimed and demeaned by Mrs. Clinton. According to a Daily Mail story Hillary was overheard calling mentally challenged children 'f*****g ree-tards' and caught on record blurting out the terms 'stupid k**e and 'f***ing Jew b*****d', while Bill called the Reverend Jesse Jackson a 'G**damned n****r':
Dolly Kyle - who was just 11 when she first crossed paths with Bill, dated him through high school and began sleeping with him once they graduated - published the claims about the Clinton couple's racial epithets and politics in her new book, Hillary: The Other Woman.

She writes of one occasion, when developmentally challenged children were having difficulty picking up the eggs at a traditional Easter egg hunt on the grounds of the governor's mansion during Bill's tenure in the Arkansas state house.

Reluctant hostess Hillary had enough.

'The frustrated Me-First Lady demanded, "When are they going to get those f*****g ree-tards out of here?"' Dolly writes.

Behind the Reverend Jesse Jackson's back, the Clinton duo called him, 'That G**damned n****r'.
It could be, of course, that Dolly Kyle is lying about all this in her book, although no one has denied the allegations or even claimed that it doesn't sound like the sort of language Ms. Clinton would employ. Nevertheless, the point is that if a close friend or former lover of Donald Trump had published allegations like this, if someone had alleged that Trump denigrated prominent blacks and degraded mentally handicapped children, every liberal news organization in the country would be devoting every resource they could muster to digging up more on the story. Ms. Clinton, however, gets a pass while the media clears the decks to cover Miss Piggy.