Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Peas in a Pod

Harvey Weinstein's fall from power and prominence has been fascinating to behold. Once a highly feted movie producer and mega-donor to liberal political campaigns, Weinstein has suddenly become a social and political leper. The well-substantiated allegations of his brutish behavior that have finally managed to percolate to the surface of our national consciousness are truly loathsome. And they raise questions, among which are these:

How many of those in the media, those in Hollywood and those in academia who are now condemning Weinstein for his repeated harassment, and worse, of women who drifted into his orbit have known of his conduct for years and said nothing?

How many of those who knew and said nothing kept silent because Weinstein was on the "right side" of the issues and was a major contributor to Democrat campaigns?

How many of those who are now distancing themselves from Weinstein, who cannot think of adjectives strong enough with which to vilify him, nevertheless not only voted for Bill Clinton, even after his own sexual predations had become well-known, but actively supported and defended him?

I think it's a safe assumption that everyone on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and NBC and everyone at The New York Times, Washington Post, and LA Times, and almost everyone in Hollywood who is currently voicing their disgust and censure of Weinstein nevertheless supported and even admired Mr. Clinton despite the fact that he was credibly accused by numerous women of acts no less despicable and not much different from those Weinstein has been accused of committing.

One thing these questions about this sordid episode illustrates, besides the moral decadence among our cultural elites, is that many of those who posture as advocates for women actually care more about achieving and holding political power than they do about women. They care more about their social standing than they do about their principles.

I don't know which is harder, to read descriptions of Weinstein's behavior or to listen to people who donated to Clinton and threw their considerable influence behind him expressing their repugnance and loathing of Weinstein's behavior. One wonders how they manage to keep a straight face. One also wonders why anyone bothers to listen to what they have to say.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Shoddy Journalism

A brief article at the Daily Mail on how President Trump is undoing what his predecessor tried to accomplish over his eight year tenure illustrates why one must approach what one reads in the media with a critical eye. The writer begins with this lede:
Brick by brick, the demolition job has begun: since taking office less than a year ago, Donald Trump has launched an all-out assault on the legacy of Barack Obama. Climate, free trade, health care, immigration, foreign policy -- the 45th US president has set about undoing just about everything done by the 44th.

All new presidents, of course, break with their predecessor once in the Oval Office, especially if they come from a rival political party. But what is striking is how systematic the hammer blows to Obama's legacy have been.

And rather than throw his weight behind new policies or projects, Trump has shown a willful desire to unpick, shred and erase everything his predecessor accomplished.
Well, why should President Trump be enacting new policies and projects when the old policies are stifling both our economic, political and religious freedom and diminishing the security of our nation? The assumption here seems to be that a president should allow whatever policies his predecessor enacted to remain in place, no matter how toxic those policies may be to the economic and social well-being of our people. Trump is wise to rid us of impediments to our national safety and flourishing imposed by the Obama administration before he moves on to advocate for other programs.
It's worth noting that each time he buries one of the reforms of the man who sat before him at the "Resolute desk," Trump sounds more like a candidate than a president.
"Reforms" is a word intended to persuade the reader that President Obama's executive orders were wise and needful and that President Trump's EOs are spiteful and reckless. In fact, a number of Mr. Obama's "reforms" were either unwise, illegal or usurpations by the executive branch of authority granted by the Constitution to the legislature. Undoing them simply returns us to the rule of law rather than the arbitrary rule of one man.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership? Within days of taking office, Trump signed an order pulling America out of the free trade accord, the fruit of eight years of negotiations between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, from Chile to Canada and Japan.

"We're going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that have taken everybody out of our country and taken companies out of our country, and it's going to be reversed," Trump said.
If Trump can rescind this deal it's only because it was never codified into law by Congress. The Obama administration signed off on it on its own, but the question that the article never raises is not whether Trump is undoing Obama's agreement but rather whether this agreement and others should be undone. If they should then what Trump is doing is good, if they shouldn't then what he's doing is unwise.
The Paris climate accord? Obama played a leading role in attaining that milestone in the effort to combat global warming.

Trump pulled out of the agreement signed by 195 countries, claiming that it "punishes the United States" and declaring: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
Again, Trump could not pull us out of this agreement if Congress had approved it. Is it a good deal for the country or isn't it? Why didn't Congress get to act on it? Those are the questions to which the reader deserves an answer, but the article simply passes them by.
What about Obamacare, the signature legislative achievement of Obama's first term? After trying in vain to get Congress to repeal it, Trump is now working to bring about its collapse through the regulatory process.
What Trump has done here is rescind subsidies to big insurance companies that were not provided for in the Affordable Care Act, which Obama unilaterally granted and which a federal judge had declared to be illegal. You wouldn't know that, though, from reading this article.
And the Iranian nuclear accord? The bid to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon in return for a lifting of sanctions more than any other came to represent Obama's approach to world affairs.

"This deal will have my name on it," the Democratic president said shortly before it was concluded. "Nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise."

While Trump has stopped short of tearing up the Iran deal, as he threatened on the campaign trail, on Friday he warned he could do so "at any time," raising doubts about the fate of an accord born of years of painstaking diplomacy.
Even so, Iran has been cheating on the deal from the day they signed it, a deal that once again, Congress never explicitly approved. Iran is on the road to possessing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Having already threatened to use them once they have the power to do so, a deal that allows for their acquisition is exceedingly foolish, but there's no discussion in the article of the wisdom of the agreement, no explanation of why it should not be abrogated, just the assumption that if it's an agreement, and if it was arrived at painstakingly and signed onto with other countries, then it must be good.
Historian Jeffrey Engel ... sees no equivalent in recent decades to Trump's systematic application of the simple principle that "if the other guy liked it, it must be bad." To Engel, the explanation is that Trump's electoral base "never accepted fully Barack Obama as their president."

"There was a move among Obama's opponents to delegitimize him and to say that this man is not really president and consequently anything that he did, Trump's base is ready to get rid of," said Engel, who heads Southern Methodist University's center for presidential history in Dallas, Texas.
The possibility that President Obama's lurch toward the socialist left and that his embrace of policies which would diminish America's freedom, influence and power are sincerely rejected by a plurality of Americans as unwise is not even considered by either Professor Engel or the writer of the Daily Mail piece. The dismantling of Obama's executive orders is portrayed as mere spite and vengefulness, while the possibility that it is in fact an honest attempt to pull us out of a national "death spiral" after eight years of national vertigo is blithely ignored.

The Daily Mail has given us in this article a shoddy, careless piece of journalism.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Theories 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 14, 2017

Life Does Not Begin at Conception

An article at The Federalist on the recently released U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 2018-2022 Plan contains and perpetuates a confusion. Under the heading of Organizational Structure HHS states that:
HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.
The author of the Federalist article, Heather Prude, interprets this to mean that HHS affirms that life begins at conception, but whether that's the intent of the drafters of the document or not, that's not what the above passage says. The construction of the sentence is such that it clearly affirms that protection of life will begin at conception.

This is an important distinction because too often the debate over abortion has been muddied over fruitless disagreements about "when life begins," and the concept of a person is confused with the concept of a living entity. The fact is, life is a continuum. It doesn't begin with conception, much less birth.

The gametes produced in the bodies of one's parents are living cells. One's parents are themselves living organisms when they produce those cells. The gametes fuse at conception to produce a living conceptus, which develops into a living embryo, fetus, and ultimately a newborn. There is no stage along the way at which life "begins."

The phrase itself makes no sense biologically since, whether one takes the view of a naturalist or of a theist, life had a single, unique beginning in some event in the remote past and has been unbroken and continuous in leading to each one of us ever since.

The real question is not when life begins, but at what point does a living entity become a legal person subject to all the rights and protections of the law, including the right to life? The HHS document establishes that it will be government policy to assume that the onset of personhood occurs at conception. Prude writes:
The debate over the personhood of unborn children has been a central issue of the abortion debate. Ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973, pro-life advocates have been trying to establish constitutionally protected rights for the unborn. In the ruling’s majority opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that Roe v. Wade would collapse if “the fetus is a person.”
Modern abortion jurisprudence has unfortunately declared personhood to be a de facto consequence of birth. An individual becomes a person when he or she is born and lacks the right to life prior to that. At least half the country thinks that's a philosophically and biologically indefensible position, and now the HHS for the first time in many decades seems to agree with them.

The document is still a draft and is open to public comment for two more weeks. If it's approved, it will supplant the Obama administration’s previous five-year plan.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Crossing a Line

I'm not one who takes every word that falls from the president's lips seriously. Much of what he says is bluster, much else is a way of sticking his thumb in the eye of his critics, and much else is a way of intimidating those critics.

His recent tweet about reexamining NBC's FCC license is probably all three, but in any case it's not something I think he's serious about.

Even so, it's something he should not have said and needs to reconsider. He often comes close to crossing a line, if not a line demarcating legal from illegal, at least a line separating wise from unwise. This time he crossed the line as David Harsanyi explains:
[I]t’s never appropriate for a person sworn to defend the Constitution to threaten to shut down speech. Not even if that speech irritates him, or undermines his political priorities, or happens to be genuinely fake news.

Trump might have framed his contention in the form of a question, but he’s clearly comfortable with regulatory restrictions on speech. This puts in him league with those who support “fairness doctrines,” those who want to overturn the Citizens United decision, and so on....

[W]hen presidents play around with authoritarian ideas for political gain, a faction of Americans — always a different faction, depending on who is doing the speaking — are either comfortable hearing it or offer rationalizations for it. All the while we continue to abandon neutral principles for political gain. This is especially true on the issue of speech.
Here's what Trump tweeted:
With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!
If President Obama had said something like this about, say, Fox News, conservatives would be apoplectic and justly so. We should therefore certainly call out President Trump when he talks like this. Harsanyi goes on to cite polls which show how respect for free speech rights are eroding on both left and right in this country:
A forthcoming Cato Institute poll not only found that 50 percent of Democrats believe “government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech against certain groups in public” but that 53 percent believe defending someone else’s right “to say racist things” is tantamount to “holding racist views yourself.”

It’s a position similar to the one that alleges anyone who supports due process for those accused of rape on college campuses is merely defending rape. Or, for that matter, it’s reminiscent of the position of Democratic senators who argue that Republicans’ demands for due process for gun owners make them no better than terrorists.

Recently, 200 staff members of the American Civil Liberties Union — an organization that bills itself a defender of constitutional rights — complained that the group’s “rigid stance” on the First Amendment was undermining its attempts to institute racial justice. Is this really the choice — liberty or “justice”? For progressives, many of whom are abandoning liberalism, it seems the answer is yes.

But they’re not alone. The Cato poll finds that 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal to burn or desecrate the American flag. More than 50 percent of them believe, as Trump once suggested, that those who do should be stripped of their U.S. citizenship. Fifty percent of Republicans believe the press has too much freedom in America. Other polling has found similarly disturbing results.

....what the polls illustrate is that our hierarchy of ideals has changed in destructive ways. Americans find free speech a secondary principle.

.... it doesn’t matter if most journalists now lecturing you about the First Amendment are a bunch of enormous hypocrites. Nor does it matter that their biased coverage has eroded your trust. There is a bigger marketplace for news than ever. Don’t read NBC.

But even if you’re not idealistic about free expression, it might be worth remembering that any laws or regulations you embrace to inhibit the speech of others, even fake-news anchors, can one day be turned on you. This is the lesson big-government Democrats and Republicans never learn.
When Americans invoke their principles only when it's convenient for them and mute their principles when it's their side that's flouting them then others are justified in thinking that our putative principles aren't principles at all. One lesson we should have gleaned from the massive decades-long cover-up by liberals of Democrat mega-donor Harvey Weinstein's predatory sexual behavior is that if we put party before principle we'll inevitably end up looking like phonies and hypocrites.

If we say we treasure the protection of freedom of speech from government intrusion, then we have to protect that right even when we believe the speech is mendacious and outrageous, as it often is on NBC and CNN.

The best antidote is not for the government to shut it down but for ordinary citizens to turn it off.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Basic Epistemology

Professor Laurence A. Moran, a biochemist at the University of Toronto and evangelistic atheist, recently found himself in conversation with a theologian named Denis Alexander. He subsequently posted a critique of their conversation on his blog Sandwalk. Whatever the merits of Moran's overall criticism of Alexander may be he certainly takes a misstep at the start when he says this:
If you believe in such a being [as God] then that conflicts with science as a way of knowing because you are believing in something without reliable evidence to support your belief. Scientists shouldn't do that and neither should any others who practice the scientific way of knowing. Denis Alexander thinks there are other, equally valid, ways of knowing but he wasn't able to offer any evidence that those other ways produce true knowledge.
There are several problems with what Prof. Moran says in this paragraph.

1. He conflates knowing and believing. He oscillates between talking about beliefs and talking about knowledge, but knowledge and belief are not the same thing. One must believe something in order to claim to know it, but merely believing something isn't the same as knowing it. You can believe something and not know it, but you can't know it and not believe it. To be knowledge the belief must be warranted somehow, and it must have a high probability of being true.

2. He assumes evidence is required to justify a belief. That is something he himself apparently believes, but what evidence could he offer to justify believing it? He simply believes this claim without any evidence at all. Presumably, he means that our beliefs must be supported by sensory evidence, but this is surely false. Scientists as well as laymen hold all sorts of beliefs for which there's no sensory evidence whatsoever.

Many believe, for instance, that life originated purely naturalistically although there's not a shred of evidence that it did or that such an origin is even physically possible. They often seek to avoid the implications of cosmic fine-tuning by promoting the existence of a multiverse for which there's no empirical evidence. They believe that life exists elsewhere in the universe, and spend their careers searching for it, despite the utter lack of any evidence for such life. They believe that it's wrong to falsify data on a scientific paper, but cannot explain scientifically why anything at all is wrong.

Put another way, I can know that I'm experiencing pain even if I have no way to prove it to you; I can know that, despite much evidence against me, I'm innocent of a crime of which I've been accused; I can know that as a young boy I found a dollar bill, though I'd be helpless if asked to present evidence of the fact. These are all things that I can know despite my inability to produce evidence that I could offer to anyone else, especially to someone predisposed to doubt me.

If Prof. Moran were to reply that I have the evidence of my own internal states, the subjective experience of pain, the assurance of my innocence, the memory of finding the money, and that these states count as evidence, he'd be putting himself in an awkward position. He'd have to explain why these states warrant the relevant beliefs, but the internal assurance one might have of experiencing God does not warrant believing that God exists.

3. He's simply mistaken to assert that there's no reliable evidence to support theism. It's been argued on this site for the past twelve years that as Pascal said, there's enough evidence to convince anyone who's not dead set against it. Alvin Plantinga gives a couple dozen arguments for theism among which, in my opinion, the best are certain forms of the cosmological, moral, and cosmic fine-tuning arguments as well as the argument from the contingency of the universe.

I'm sure Professor Moran is a fine biochemist, but perhaps he'd do well to stick to his field and avoid dogmatic philosophical pronouncements.

For a more extended critique of Prof. Moran's argument against Alexander see philosopher V.J.Torley's piece here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics

Physicist Sir James Jeans, contemplating the fact that the universe seems so astonishingly conformable to mathematics, once remarked that God must be a mathematician. He was prompted to make this remark because it would be a breathtaking coincidence had the mathematical architecture of the cosmos just happened to be the way it is by sheer serendipity.

Here's a lovely video that illustrates just one example of how mathematics seems to lie at the fundament of the universe. The video describes how the geometry of nature so often exhibits what's called the Fibonacci sequence:
In 1959, the physicist and mathematician Eugene Wigner described the fact that mathematical equations describe every aspect of the universe as "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics."

Mathphobic students may wince at a statement like this, but it gets even worse.

Physicist Max Tegmark has more recently claimed that the universe is not only described by mathematics, but is, in fact, mathematics itself.

To suggest that everything ultimately reduces to a mathematical expression is another way of saying that the universe is information. But if so, information doesn't just hang in mid-air, as it were. Behind the information there must be a mind in which the information resides or from which it arises.

In either case, so far from the materialist belief that matter gives rise to everything else, it seems more likely that matter is itself a physical expression of information and that the information expressed by the cosmos is itself the product of mind.

In other words, it just keeps getting harder and harder to agree with the materialists that matter is the fundamental substance that makes up all reality. Materialism just seems so 19th century.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Columbus Day

Yesterday was Columbus Day here in the U.S. and the protests and disdain expressed by some for the holiday made me think of a book I read several years ago. The book is titled The Destruction of the Indies, and reading it was a stomach-churning experience. It was written by a Spanish priest named Bartholomo de Las Casas' and is an eyewitness account of the horrors inflicted upon the native American people in the West Indies by the Spaniards in the 16th century.

I thought of that book when I read of the Columbus Day protests by people who see Columbus as the initiator of the terrible oppression inflicted upon native Americans. I think the record regarding Columbus himself is a bit ambiguous, and I don't have too much sympathy for those who wish to efface his memory. Indeed, it's easy to suspect some of them of ulterior motives, but, be that as it may, neither have I sympathy for those who wish to replace Columbus Day with what they're calling "Indigenous Peoples' Day."

In the first place, there are no indigenous people, or if there were, they're lost to history. The Indians who the Spaniard explorers encountered and often massacred had themselves driven out, slaughtered or assimilated other groups who preceded them hundreds or even thousands of years before.

But more importantly, if the Spanish Conquistadors were unimaginably savage and cruel, and they were, many of the Indians they conquered (though not all) were their equals in barbarity. Mel Gibson's movie Apocalypto illustrates this disturbingly well. So does an essay by Michael Graham at The Federalist.

About the Indians the Spanish encountered in the New World Graham writes:
[I]f we really want to commemorate horrifying, unspeakable violence and oppression in the Americas, I’ve got the perfect holiday: “Indigenous People’s Day.” “Long before the white European knew a North American continent existed, Indians of the Northern Plains were massacring entire villages,” says George Franklin Feldman in the book Cannibalism, Headhunting and Human Sacrifice in North America: A History Forgotten. “And not just killed, but mutilated. Hands and feet were cut off, each body’s head was scalped, the remains were left scattered around the village, which was burned.”

When thinking of pre-Columbian America, forget what you’ve seen in the Disney movies. Think “slavery, cannibalism and mass human sacrifice.” From the Aztecs to the Iroquois, that was life among the indigenous peoples before Columbus arrived.

For all the talk from the angry and indigenous about European slavery, it turns out that pre-Columbian America was virtually one huge slave camp. According to Slavery and Native Americans in British North America and the United States: 1600 to 1865, by Tony Seybert, “Most Native American tribal groups practiced some form of slavery before the European introduction of African slavery into North America.”

“Enslaved warriors sometimes endured mutilation or torture that could end in death as part of a grief ritual for relatives slain in battle. Some Indians cut off one foot of their captives to keep them from running away.”

Things changed when the Europeans arrived, however: “Indians found that British settlers… eagerly purchased or captured Indians to use as forced labor. More and more, Indians began selling war captives to whites.”

That’s right: Pocahontas and her pals were slave traders. If you were an Indian lucky enough to be sold to a European slave master, that turned out to be a good thing, relatively speaking. At least you didn’t end up in a scene from “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom.”

Ritual human sacrifice was widespread in the Americas. The Incas, for example, practiced ritual human sacrifice to appease their gods, either executing captive warriors or “their own specially raised, perfectly formed children,” according to Kim MacQuarrie, author of The Last Days of the Incas.

The Aztecs, on the other hand, were more into the “volume, volume, VOLUME” approach to ritual human slaughter. At the re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlan in 1487, the Aztecs performed a mass human sacrifice of an estimated 80,000 enslaved captives in four days.
Nor was the bloodlust and oppression limited to Central and South America:
According to an eyewitness account of “indigenous peoples” at work—in this case, the Iroquois in 1642, as observed by the Rev. Father Barthelemy Vimont’s The Jesuit Relations—captives had their fingers cut off, were forced to set each other on fire, had their skin stripped off and, in one captured warrior’s case, “the torture continued throughout the night, building to a fervor, finally ending at sunrise by cutting his scalp open, forcing sand into the wound, and dragging his mutilated body around the camp. When they had finished, the Iroquois carved up and ate parts of his body.”

Shocked? Don’t be. Cannibalism was also fairly common in the New World before (and after) Columbus arrived. According to numerous sources, the name “Mohawk” comes from the Algonquin for “flesh eaters.” Anthropologist Marvin Harris, author of “Cannibals and Kings,” reports that the Aztecs viewed their prisoners as “marching meat.”

The native peoples also had an odd obsession with heads. Scalping was a common practice among many tribes, while some like the Jivaro in the Andes were feared for their head-hunting, shrinking their victims’ heads to the size of an orange. Even sports involved severed heads. If you were lucky enough to survive a game of the wildly popular Meso-American ball (losers were often dispatched to paradise), your trophy could include an actual human head.
The lesson in all this is that there is no race of people who is exempt from the human inclination toward savagery. White, black, brown and yellow, no race is free from the stain of a deeply corrupted human nature. As Graham points out, racism, violence and conquest are part of the human condition, not just the European one.

If Europeans have managed to dominate and oppress others at some points in their history it's not because they're more evil but because for the last thousand years or more they've been more technologically advanced. Every other group has behaved in exactly the same cruel fashion whenever they've been more powerful than their neighbors.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously observed that,
[T]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -- but right through every human heart -- and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains ... an un-uprooted small corner of evil.
He could have added "races and ethnicities" to that first clause.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Running the Film Backwards

A student recently dug this old post out of the archive and I thought I'd re-post it:

There is a universally accepted principle of thought which says that given a choice between multiple explanations for a phenomenon the preferred explanation is the one which is simplest and fits all the facts.

Mathematician Granville Sewell at Evolution News and Views invites us to imagine a scenario which illustrates this principle:
A high school science teacher rents a video showing a tornado sweeping through a town, turning houses and cars into rubble. When she attempts to show it to her students, she accidentally runs the video backward .... [T]he students laugh and say, the video is going backwards! The teacher doesn’t want to admit her mistake, so she says: “No, the video is not really going backward. It only looks like it is .... and she proceeds to give some long, detailed, hastily improvised scientific theories on how tornadoes, under the right conditions, really can construct houses and cars.

At the end of the explanation, one student says, “I don’t want to argue with scientists, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier to explain if you ran the video the other way?”
That's the simplest explanation for the phenomena in the video, certainly simpler than the teacher's contrived explanation, and thus it should be preferred.

Sewell wants to relate this to the problem of undirected Darwinian evolution.
Imagine, he writes, a professor describing the final project for students in his evolutionary biology class. “Here are two pictures,” he says. “One is a drawing of what the Earth must have looked like soon after it formed. The other is a picture of New York City today, with tall buildings full of intelligent humans, computers, TV sets and telephones, with libraries full of science texts and novels, and jet airplanes flying overhead.

Your assignment is to explain how we got from picture one to picture two .... You should explain that 3 or 4 billion years ago a collection of atoms was formed by pure chance with the ability to duplicate itself, and these complex collections of atoms were also able to pass their complex structures on to their descendants generation after generation, even correcting errors that crept in.

Explain how, over a very long time, the accumulation of genetic accidents resulted in greater and greater information content in the DNA of these more and more complicated collections of atoms, and how eventually something called “intelligence” allowed some of these collections of atoms to design buildings and computers and TV sets, and write encyclopedias and science texts....

When one student turns in his essay some days later, he has written, “A few years after picture one was taken, the sun exploded into a supernova, all humans and other animals died, their bodies decayed, and their cells decomposed into simple organic and inorganic compounds. Most of the buildings collapsed immediately into rubble, those that didn’t, crumbled eventually. Most of the computers and TV sets inside were smashed into scrap metal, even those that weren’t, gradually turned into piles of rust, most of the books in the libraries burned up, the rest rotted over time, and you can see see the result in picture two.”

The professor says, “You have reversed the pictures! You did it backwards” “I know,” says the student, “but it was so much easier to explain that way.”
That's the problem with Darwinian evolution. The idea that blind chance and the laws of chemistry alone could have conspired to create a living cell, or produce a process as extraordinary as butterfly metamorphosis, or create a structure as unimaginably complex as a human brain requires so many assumptions and ad hoc explanations, so much suspension of incredulity, that it's far simpler, and much more in keeping with our everyday experience, to posit that these things were the intentional product of an intelligent mind.

Otherwise, Sewell concludes, the process is like a movie running backward. The whole of biological history is as improbable as assuming that purposeless, undirected forces like tornadoes could actually cause scattered debris to assemble into complex, well-integrated structures.

Of course, people will often believe what they want most fervently to be true. If that means believing the equivalent that a computer, complete with operating system, can be constructed out of mindless chaos well, then, they'll believe it.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Strange How Things Sometimes Work Out

Sometimes things in life work out in ways completely unforeseen and unforeseeable. Just when it seems nothing good can come of one's life, when we've all but given up hope that anything we do will amount to anything worthwhile, sometimes something wonderful happens.

The following is taken from a book by Robert Petterson titled The Book of Amazing Stories. The excerpt is titled The Chambermaid’s Choice and it truly is an amazing story:

Maria had hoped that her second marriage would make for a better future. Though born the daughter of a cook, she had dreams of being in high society. But at sixteen, she fell madly in love with a nobleman’s valet. When they married, she consigned herself to be dismissed as one of the serving class. After Maria gave birth to a son, her valet husband died. At age eighteen she was a grieving widow and a single mother. Not long after, her little boy died too.

Then she got a second chance at love [with a musician]. But when her young musician took her home to meet his prominent family, they looked down their haughty noses at this girl from the serving class. His father would ever after refer to her as “the chambermaid.” Her husband’s family would always view her as an inferior interloper. It was no wonder that Maria’s second marriage soon soured.

She later referred to her life as “a chain of sorrows.” The couple’s first child died six days after he was born. The “chambermaid” would bury five of her eight children. But her worst heartache was watching the decline of a husband who enjoyed the tavern more than practicing his music. If he wasn’t in a drunken stupor, he was with other women.

Then the beatings began. After he took advantage of her in one of his brutal rages, Maria discovered she was pregnant.

She determined that she wasn’t about to bring a child conceived by rape into her miserable world. She found her way to a woman who traded in concoctions that induced miscarriage.

Three drops of that deadly liquid would kill her baby. Any more might end her life too. She dumped it all into a cup of tea. But before she was able to drink it, the cup was accidentally knocked off the table. At first she was hysterical. Then she resigned herself to the fact that God must have a purpose for her unwanted child.

He turned out to be a strange little boy, often reclusive and unresponsive. But he did have his family’s love for music. When a local teacher took him on as a piano student, no one imagined that she was gaining a prodigy.

Maria was forty years old when Wolfgang Mozart allegedly declared that her son was destined for greatness. Two months later, the teenage prodigy rushed home to be at her deathbed. She told her son that giving birth to him was the best thing she ever did in her unhappy life.

We should all be grateful that Maria van Beethoven did not abort little Ludwig, a child of rape who would grow up to write the world’s greatest symphonies.
Maria's life, like that of so many others in her day and in ours, was tragic, yet out of her tragedy she gave the world a wonderful gift. Her son's symphonies, especially the fifth and the ninth, as well as many of his concertos, are marvelous, but his life, too, was tragic. He went deaf while he was still at the height of his powers, allegedly from beatings he received from his father as a child. Yet out of his sufferings he produced works of astonishing beauty.

Reading this I was reminded of a few lines from Kierkegaard who asked, "What is a poet? A poet," he replied to his question, "is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and cries escape them they sound like beautiful music."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Gun Deaths

It's easy to think that in the wake of Las Vegas and other episodes like it that the country is rife with firearm-facilitated murders. It's also easy to draw the conclusion, listening to some precincts of the nation's media, that the bulk of these homicides are committed by white men. The statistics, however, don't bear out either of these assumptions.

The website FiveThirtyEight has an article which explains what the state of affairs concerning gun deaths actually is in the United States. I encourage you to read the article which is accompanied by an interesting interactive graphic.

Here's a summary:

The media tend to focus on terrorism, mass shootings, police officers killed in the line of duty, and police shootings of civilians, but these are a relatively small fraction of the 33,000 deaths.

Mass shootings are rare. The majority of gun deaths in America aren’t even homicides, let alone caused by mass shootings. Two-thirds of the more than 33,000 gun deaths that take place in the U.S. every year are suicides, 85% of whom are male and, of these, half are men over 45.

Homicides account for about a third of all gun deaths (about 12,000) per year. Half of homicide victims are young men and two thirds of them (roughly 4000) are black, most of whom are murdered by other young black men with guns that they possess illegally.

Accidents and domestic violence, though another relatively small fraction of total gun deaths, make up the balance.

It would seem from numbers like these that if we're serious about addressing gun deaths we need to focus primarily on the epidemic of hopelessness that causes people to take their own lives and on the epidemic of gang violence that plagues our urban centers.

Everything else, as important as it is, simply leaves the heart of the problem untouched.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Stephen Paddock and Richard Dawkins

I know that few thoughtful people take Lena Dunham seriously, but still.... Dunham tweeted yesterday that the Las Vegas massacre Monday night was about gender, race, and capitalism. She didn't explain exactly how it was about these things, although I suppose that since the perpetrator of this awful atrocity was a well-to-do white male perhaps in her mind that's proof enough that his sickening rampage was somehow about capitalism, race and gender, I don't know.

I do know, though, that Stephen Paddock's crime was clearly about nihilistic evil, and I do believe that evil incubates most comfortably in a society which denies its existence. Sad to say, there are a lot of very smart people in the West who are in denial about the existence of evil. Richard Dawkins, for example, has written that "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

Why do Dawkins and so many other thinkers who share his worldview believe that there's ultimately "no evil and no good"? They believe it because it's the logical consequence of the naturalism and materialism which they embrace. If matter is all that exists then human beings are nothing more than a collocation of atoms and molecules - we're just material stuff, and material stuff, by itself, is neither good nor evil. It just is.

But, someone may reply, this particular arrangement of atoms named Stephen Paddock has caused a great deal of pain to other arrangements of atoms, doesn't that make it evil? Well, why should it? If a virus or a tiger cause pain to a human being is the virus evil? Is the tiger?

The answer, of course, is no. There can only be evil if there is an objective set of moral principles which apply uniquely to humans and to which humans will be held accountable. On naturalism, though, moral principles are not objective, they don't exist as anything other than convenient fictions which we invent to help us to get along together in society, nor is there really any way to hold someone truly accountable, except in the most transient sense, who commits an act that we are viscerally repelled by.

In other words, on naturalism not only is there no objective moral right and wrong, neither is there any real justice. People like Paddock who cause untold suffering end their lives in a painless instant while the suffering they caused endures in the hearts and minds of the families he has harmed for the rest of their lives. There's no justice in that.

Human beings, however, have a basic conviction that there really is an objective moral standard, and we harbor in our hearts a deep yearning for justice. Yet, if naturalism is true the former is false and the latter is absurd. Only if naturalism is false can our intuition that Paddock did something grossly evil Monday night be correct, and only if naturalism is false can we cling to any plausible expectation that justice will ultimately prevail for people like him and his victims.

Like Dawkins' quote suggests, one can believe that naturalism is true or one can believe that the Las Vegas slaughter was evil, but one can't believe both.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Free Speech Is on the Ropes

A recent study by YouGov polled adults across the nation on their views of free speech. The results are both instructive and troubling.

For example, respondents were asked whether it's ever appropriate to use violence to shut down a speaker. Twenty two percent support at least shouting the speaker down with Democrats much more likely to support the tactic than Republicans (35% to 14%). This is very disappointing inasmuch as it's tantamount to an utter rejection of civility in our politics.

A second question asked which would they prefer between a “positive” learning environment on campus that prohibits speech that’s considered “offensive or biased against certain groups of people” and an “open” learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech. Forty five percent of Democrats preferred restricting what they considered offensive speech to 37% of Republicans who would prefer that option.

The Democrat percentage was heavily influenced by the fact that many black and Latino voters support it — strongly in the case of blacks (50/20), more marginally in the case of Latinos (44/32).

Gone are the days, apparently, when liberals would freely quote the alleged words of Voltaire who supposedly declared that though he might despise what you say, he would fight to the death for your right to say it. Liberals today, or many of them, are declaring instead that if they despise what you say they'll fight to the death to prevent you from saying it.

Those who believe in liberty and the freedoms guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights, who believe that the best way to combat a bad idea is with a good argument, have a lot of work to do, especially among those who once upon a time were the staunchest defenders of free speech.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Naturalism and Evil

The horror in Las Vegas late Monday night was yet another reminder of how deep lies the depravity in the human psyche. That a man could for no apparent reason whatsoever wantonly wreak such profound pain on so many families is a manifestation of the ugliness and evil which hold so many human hearts in their grip.

Kenneth Francis, in a fine piece at the New English Review, offers some insight into the depravity we're witnessing with alarming frequency in our culture.

Francis writes:
The German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) spoke of the ramifications of ‘murdering’ God. In his Parable of the Madman, he wrote:
. . . All of us are his [God] murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
Nietzsche would have been aware that without God, humans are prone to the worst cruelty imaginable, even to our animal ‘friends’. It is alleged that after seeing a horse being whipped in the streets of Turin, Italy, he had a mental breakdown that put him in an asylum for the rest of his life. Nietzsche is reported to have run over to the horse and held it in his arm to protect it before he collapsed to the ground. Such cruelty, devoid of morality and human compassion, knows no bounds.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment highlights the barbarity humans are capable of. The protagonist in the novel, Raskolnikov, has a glass of vodka, but he’s not used to drinking alcohol. He then staggers to a park and immediately goes to sleep. He dreams that he is back in his childhood, aged seven, and as he is walking with his father, he sees a drunk trying to make his old horse pull a wagon full of people.

When the crowd laugh at him struggling, the drunk peasant becomes furious and begins beating the horse so brutally that the others begin to do likewise by using crowbars and iron shafts. The old horse at first tries to resist, but soon it falls down dead. The boy in the dream, devastated and in great sorrow, throws his arms around the horse and kisses it. All through the dream the owner of the horse is shouting that he can do what he wants with the mare because he owns her.

One would have to have a heart of freezing steel to not be deeply saddened by this poignant passage of human savagery, despite it being fiction. Anyone who hurts a human or animal for fun or pleasure is a degenerate psychopath. But wait a minute: there is no psychopathy or degeneracy if the universe is made entirely of determined matter. All we are left with are chunks of atoms bumping into one another. And, on Naturalism, some of these chunks end up shattering other molecules in motion in the chaotic maelstrom of the material universe spinning ultimately into oblivion: the final heat death of the cosmos.

In such a hellhole, there is no creator to save us—and no objective morals or values!

Nietzsche’s death of God also leaves us with no absolute truth, meaning, ... right or wrong. We are left rudderless trying to keep afloat in a sea of moral relativism with all its dire ramifications. Can any sane person really act as if atheism were true?

The late atheist scholar at Yale University, Arthur Leff, realising the ramifications of atheism and trying to justify morality, said:
. . . As things stand now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved . . . There is in the world such a thing as evil.
Indeed there is, but only if there are objective moral values, and those can only exist if there is a transcendent moral authority which establishes them and holds human beings accountable to them. The naturalist has a choice. He can hold onto his naturalism or he can hold onto his belief that evil exists. He can't do both.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Islamism

The biggest threat to the safety and freedom of those living in the West today is an extreme form of Islam called Islamism. The ambition of its votaries is to impose strict Islamic law, sharia, on the entire world, including Europe and the United States.

These fanatics realize that they can't persuade Westerners to adopt Islam and sharia through the free exchange of ideas and rational argument because their religion, based as it is on a strict fundamentalist totalitarianism, has very little appeal to people who are accustomed to the freedoms enjoyed in the West for the last two and a half centuries.

Their hope, therefore, is that by overwhelming democratic states with refugees and other immigrants who will eventually be given the right to vote they can gradually acquire sufficient political power to enact the strictures of sharia legislatively.

If and when they succeed the very freedom they exploited to gain their ends will be abolished and people will one day awaken to find themselves under the thumb of an alien theocracy with the power to dictate every aspect of their lives and to compel everyone to conform to the teachings of the Koran on pain of death.

Meanwhile, the Islamists know that in the postmodern West the highest values of millions of people are mere peace and security. Believing in little else, these people would rather submit to the dominance of the Islamists than live in constant fear. Thus, the will to resist the capitulation of the West to the Islamo-fascists is being steadily eroded, especially in Europe, by acts of terror committed by Islamists willing to die in order to sap whatever confidence remains among Westerners in their values and institutions.

We're often told that terrorists are a small number of those who adhere to Islam, and in relative terms that's probably true, but in absolute terms they number in the millions.

Prager U. has a helpful primer on Islamism which packs a lot of facts into a five minute video. Give it a look:

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

Perhaps no single individual has done more in his lifetime to destroy the moral fabric of a nation, certainly not this nation, than has Hugh Hefner who died this week at the age of 91.

Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine in the early 1950s, was a major influence in the sexual revolution of the 1960s exploiting the confluence of the rebelliousness of youth in the sixties, the development of easy birth control, the unprecedented sociological phenomenon of perhaps hundreds of thousands of young men and women being mixed together and isolated from any significant oversight of their lives and conduct for four years in colleges and universities, and the erosion of religious influences on people's personal lives.

At a time when even theologians were proclaiming and celebrating the death of God Hefner exploited the moral vacuum His "death" left through the promotion of his Playboy "philosophy." That philosophy was in fact just a repackaging of the hedonism which has been around ever since the ancient Greeks and doubtless for long before, but it was enthusiastically received by generations of young men and women eager to believe its promise of fulfillment through the liberation of their appetites from the repressive strictures of the old morality, and eager to make physical pleasure and sexual gratification their new gods.

The destructive effect this "liberation" has had on the American family is incalculable. The promises of fulfilled lives and happiness turned to dust in the mouths of countless families destroyed by infidelity, pornography addiction, incest, sexual abuse and divorce.

Millions of girls have grown up believing the absurdity that the way to make boys love them is to make themselves sexually available. Millions of boys have grown up believing that sexual access to girls is a right, that girls are objects for male gratification, and a vehicle for affirming their masculinity through sexual conquest.

Countless families have been devastated by the unrealistic sexual expectations of the husband for his wife and mother of his children because she could not measure up to the sexual standard established for her, directly or indirectly, by Hefner and his acolytes. Millions of children have grown up disadvantaged by the lack of a father in their lives because the men who sired them had no intention of committing to their mothers and their mothers did not insist upon commitment before giving them sex.

It's hard to imagine anything which has been more corrosive to social well-being and cohesion than the assumptions about sex promoted by Hefner and his successors over the last sixty years.

David French, writing in National Review Online, says this:
Hugh Hefner didn’t invent pornography, and it would no doubt be thriving today even if he hadn’t founded Playboy magazine those many years ago. After all, man is fallen, and somebody would have filled that depraved niche in American life. Hefner, however, played his part, and the part he played was immensely destructive to our nation’s cultural, moral, and spiritual fabric. Hefner mainstreamed porn, he put it in millions of homes, and he even glamorized it — recasting one of America’s most pathetic industries as the playground of the sophisticated rich.

He then grew to a ripe old age, consorting with women young enough to be his granddaughters. He was America’s most famous dirty old man....

So many A-list celebrities spent time at the Playboy Mansion, especially at its peak, that there was a time when one could wonder who hadn’t embraced Hef or the magazine he made. Our president has. The evidence is on his office wall. These were the people setting the tone for American culture. These were the people mocking the values that kept families strong. These were the people who were teaching a nation that fulfillment could be found in sex, and that the joy of sex was worth more than marriage itself.

They were wrong, and the cultural harm done outweighs the cost of botched presidential elections, bad congressmen, or a judiciary riddled with knaves and fools. The cultural harm done is even now ripping kids from parents and husbands from wives. When I think of Hugh Hefner, yes I mourn, but I mourn because the bitter fruit of his life’s work has helped poison the families of people I know and love. He is gone, but his legacy lives on. And his is a legacy of despair.
Hefner is gone, but rather than grieve for him as some in the media have done it's more appropriate, perhaps, to grieve for the millions of people whose lives were diminished or destroyed because either they or someone in their life believed the delusions about human nature that Hefner made a fortune promoting.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Threat from the Left

John Sexton at HotAir has a story on Antifa which is alarming for a couple of reasons. First, is the level of violence Antifa is prepared to use against anyone they call a "Nazi" which could be anyone they don't like. Second is that they seem determined to sow chaos in our cities, and third is the fact that the national media seem completely uninterested in investigating this group of left-wing extremists.

Steven Crowder, a late night talk host and political humorist, infiltrated the group and managed to get this video. Since the video may be hard to follow Sexton's summary may be helpful. He writes:
As you’ll see in this clip, Crowder’s producer, Jared, put on a disguise and met with members of Antifa who installed an app on his phone to allow them to communicate. The protest plan, according to the organizer, was “plain clothes and hard tactics.” That meant not dressing in black or wearing masks, which had been banned by police, but preparing for violence.

At a subsequent meeting, one member of the group discusses the guns he has in his trunk. Another member hands Jared an ice pick. Jared immediately makes an excuse and takes the footage [to] local police who have already been monitoring the situation. Crowder ends the clip by focusing on the media's [disinterested response].
The media's response, at least the response of the national media, is pretty pathetic. You can bet that were this a bunch of white nationalists they'd pay a fortune to get their hands on Crowder's video, but the media progressives simply aren't interested in anything that makes anyone on the left look evil.

According to a piece on Crowder and his video at Infowars - a site with a dubious reputation, to be sure, but they link to Antifa sites from which they quote in their article - Antifa is planning to “gather [on November 4] in the streets and public squares of cities and towns across this country” in the hope of building momentum for civil unrest that leads to nothing less than domestic regime change.
“Our protest must grow day after day and night after night—thousands becoming hundreds of thousands, and then millions—determined to act to put a stop to the grave danger that the Trump/Pence Regime poses to the world by demanding that this whole regime be removed from power,” states a call to action on the RefuseFascism website.

A longer screed posted on the Revolutionary Communist website makes it clear that Antifa is not prepared to wait for electoral change from Democrats, and will engage in a “ferocious struggle,” based on plans outlined in a book written by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is called The Coming Civil War.
At some point perhaps liberals will wake up to the extremist wolves in their midst who've attempted up until now to present themselves to the public as innocent sheep just trying to prevent a fascist take-over of America. Perhaps if liberals start to condemn it instead of defending it it'll wither away. Let's hope no lives are lost before that happens.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

An Intractable Problem

Over at Evolution News Denyse O'Leary has an interesting piece on attempts by scientists and philosophers to crack the intractable problem of determining exactly what consciousness is and how it arose.

According to O'Leary we haven't made much progress and part of the reason is that those who are working on the problem are doing so within the philosophical straitjacket of metaphysical naturalism according to which any explanation that doesn't conform to materialist or physicalist assumptions is rejected a priori.

It could be, of course, that consciousness cannot be explained naturalistically, that it's something completely other than the physical brain matter with which it seems to be integrated in the human species.

Whether it is or isn't, some of the questions related to consciousness that philosophers and neuroscientists are addressing include the following: Does everything in the universe possess at least a spark of consciousness or is it limited only to living things, or only to animals, or only to humans? Is consciousness physical, i.e. reducible to brain chemistry? Is it "real" or is it an illusion generated by the brain? Is consciousness more like information than like matter, energy, or force?

O'Leary asserts:
We know almost nothing about human consciousness but naturalism must treat it as evolved from unconscious elements (material stuff). Much confusion is avoided by recognizing that that is a core assumption, not a discovery. Naturalist theories of consciousness currently proliferate with abandon because there is no basis for deciding among them. They are tossed, like hats, into a ring.
She goes on to consider a sampling of these naturalistic theories, skewering their inadequacies, before turning to a fundamental problem of all naturalistic explanations, one that I wrote about a few days ago:
As double helix discoverer Francis Crick (1916–2004) famously announced in The Astonishing Hypothesis, “Our highly developed brains, after all, were not evolved under the pressure of discovering scientific truths but only to enable us to be clever enough to survive.”
If that's true, how can we trust that our brains are reliable guides to truth? Indeed, isn't Crick's statement self-refuting? If our brains didn't evolve to recognize scientific truth, why should we believe Crick's assertion to be true?
Similarly, literary critic Leon Wieseltier writes, “If reason is a product of natural selection, then how much confidence can we have in a rational argument for natural selection? … Evolutionary biology cannot invoke the power of reason even as it destroys it.”
Wieseltier is right. There's something profoundly self-defeating in assurances that natural selection has evolved reason for survival and not for truth. In other words, if that's true there's no good reason to think that it is true because by its own testimony reason could just as easily deceive us as enlighten us.

This is why Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry said that, "[T]his debate [over the origin and nature of consciousness] is immensely frustrating. In fact, much of the ongoing conversation about consciousness is self-evidently absurd."

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins suggests that "Maybe an explanation of consciousness is forever beyond us, just as calculus is forever beyond the mentality of a chimpanzee."

Even so, the longer the explanation of consciousness as a product of our material brain continues to elude us the more it looks like there's something else involved in producing the phenomena of conscious experience - an immaterial mind or soul, perhaps.

This, though, is a possibility that those researchers wedded to a naturalistic worldview will never consider, but if the possibility is, in fact, true, their obstinate refusal to abandon what's turning out to be a heuristically sterile metaphysics will trap them in a frustrating and futile effort to espy a satisfactory explanation in one theory after another - an effort to find an explanation that doesn't exist.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Cost of Doing Nothing

A recent study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) puts a price tag on illegal immigration.

It turns out that according to the study illegal immigrants and their children cost American taxpayers, you and I, $135 billion every year.

We often hear the argument that illegal immigrants pay enough in taxes to more than offset their costs to the state and federal government, but according to the study, that's simply not the case. Illegal immigrants pay almost $19 billion a year in taxes, but their cost to both state and federal governments is just under $135 billion per annum. The net burden to the nation for allowing people to immigrate illegally into the country is thus about $115 billion every year, and it's rising.

Of this cost, almost $89 billion is borne by the states with the remaining $46 billion paid out by the federal government.

The Federation's 68 page report documents that the average state, local and federal spending comes to $8,075 for each of the of 12.5 million illegal immigrants and their 4.2 million citizen children.

This includes $29 billion in medical care, $23 billion for law enforcement, $9 billion in welfare, $46 billion for education.

Much of the education cost is a consequence of having to teach children who don't speak English. FAIR's study estimates that that educational effort costs on average over $12,000 per student per year, and as much as $25,000 per student in New York. Add to that amount the expense of welfare, health care, school lunches, and the per student price soars.

California leads all states in spending on illegal immigrants at $23 billion per year, followed by Texas at $11 billion, and New York at $7.4 billion.

Whatever the good arguments may be for amnesty, the argument that illegal immigrants pay for themselves is surely not among them. Indeed, they are placing a crushing economic burden on states and communities in particular and taxpayers in general.

The cost of border enforcement may be high, the cost of a wall may be high, but the cost of doing neither is simply unsustainable.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What's it All About, Anyway?

As is often the case, Robert Tracinski has some interesting things to say about a current issue - in the present case the spectacle of wealthy, pampered pro athletes protesting it's not clear what by refusing to stand for the national anthem.

The NFL has made hundreds of black athletes very rich over the past several decades, but because none of the league's teams wanted to sign a single, mediocre, malcontent black quarterback named Colin Kaepernick, dozens of other black athletes have chosen to show their contempt, not for the league, but for the fans and the country that have made their lives a dream come true.

The protest began as an act of solidarity with Kaepernick, but evidently the protesters soon realized that it was ludicrous to think that a league which is about 85% African-American was racist, so the effort morphed into a general protest against police shootings of innocent black men. Very well, but it's not clear how disrespecting the flag, the fans, the military and everything else the flag stands for really advanced the message that there are rogue cops who need to be removed from the police force or put in jail.

Nor is it clear what measures the NFL, or anyone else, could take to convince the protesters that their grievance had been addressed and to end their protest. It seemed that the demonstrations either had to continue indefinitely or else fizzle out in an embarrassing loss of interest and relevance.

Then, just as the few players who participated in refusing to stand for the anthem began to look less newsworthy, even to a media always eager to promote anything which divides people, Donald Trump helped them out by interjecting himself into the matter. In a speech Friday in Alabama Trump chose to express displeasure with the protesters, and that was all it took. Now the protests were infused with new purpose - they were a sign of "resistance" against Trump. The numbers of players joining the demonstrations swelled even as the rationale for them became even more unclear.

Anyway, to avoid giving the appearance of spurning the flag and the country that has made them rich and famous, players and owners at last night's Monday night game linked arms and knelt prior to the anthem in a show of solidarity, but it wasn't clear what they were solidified about. Perhaps they were in solidarity against Donald Trump, in which case the entire protest theme has wandered as far from its original significance as if they were kneeling to express their objections to the minimum wage or global warming.

Tracinski makes a couple of points about the co-option of the players' protest by the "resistance left."

He says, rightly, I think, that if anybody thinks Trump is going to be hurt by his comments in Alabama with the people who voted him into office, then they're facing a long eight years. He also comments on the fact that,
[S]everal prominent left-leaning figures are now suggesting that “The kneel will now become a sign of opposition to Trump.” But kneeling, of course, is an ancient sign of submission, not resistance.
He cites one person who tweeted: "Wouldn't it be great if taking a knee became the symbol of resistance to Trump, and wherever he went, wherever people gathered, they did it?" To which he replies:
That’s what happens when blind, unthinking opposition become more important to you than actual principles and good sense. You end up resisting Trump so much that people kneel before him wherever he goes.

The tragedy is that these protests actually undermine the possibility of anything being done about the very issue they are supposedly drawing our attention to. The problem of police shootings and excessive use of force has been overhyped, but it is real. (Think Philando Castile, not Michael Brown.) But it’s a problem where people on both sides have been sold simplistic solutions.

A real, detailed debate on how to maintain law and order and keep crime low while also reducing the risk of wrongful police shootings would be dull but profitable. Letting the issue be dominated by a partisan protest culture virtually ensures that nothing of value will be done.

So congratulations, Resistance fighters. You’re going to get Trump re-elected, while preventing progress on the big issue you claim to care about.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Conflict Between Naturalism and Reason

One of the interesting epistemological developments of the 20th century was the increasingly widespread recognition among philosophers and other thinkers that metaphysical naturalism actually saws off the epistemological branch upon which it had been perched comfortably for the previous three centuries.

Ever since the Enlightenment philosophers inclined toward a naturalistic worldview had touted their devotion to reason and derided those whose beliefs seemed to them to be irrational. They were convinced that they were occupying the intellectual high ground, but in the latter part of the 20th century many thinkers, both naturalists and theists, noting that a naturalistic view of the world entailed a Darwinian account of the origin of human reason, recognized that on Darwinism there's no good basis for trusting our reason to lead us to truth.

According to naturalism, evolution, unguided by any intelligent agent, has selected for cognitive faculties in human beings that lead to survival, but survival doesn't necessarily require truth. Indeed, survival could just as easily be enhanced by falsehoods as by truths.

Consider, for instance, a prehistoric society in which a gene mutation causes some people to believe that the more children they produce the greater will be their reward in the afterlife. Those who carry the mutation would tend, on average, to generate more children than those who don't, and since the mutant gene would be passed on to offspring the belief would spread through the population. It would have very high survival value despite its being completely false.

As Barry Arrington at Uncommon Descent notes, this is an awkward state of epistemic affairs for naturalists to find themselves in, but, even so, there are lots of examples of naturalists admitting that natural selection, at least naturalistic natural selection, entails precisely the conclusion that reason has evolved to aid our survival not to discover truth, and especially not metaphysical truth.

Arrington offers a sampling of such quotes:
“[Our] brains were shaped for fitness, not for truth. Sometimes truth is adaptive, but sometimes it is not.” Steven Pinker

“Sometimes you are more likely to survive and propagate if you believe a falsehood than if you believe the truth.” Eric Baum

“According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never.” Donald Hoffman

"We are anything but a mechanism set up to perceive the truth for its own sake. Rather, we have evolved a nervous system that acts in the interest of our gonads, and one attuned to the demands of reproductive competition. If fools are more prolific than wise men, then to that degree folly will be favored by selection. And if ignorance aids in obtaining a mate, then men and women will tend to be ignorant." Michael Ghiselin

“[N]atural selection does not care about truth; it cares only about reproductive success” Stephen Stich

“Improvements in sensorimotor control confer an evolutionary advantage: a fancier style of representing is advantageous so long as it is geared to the organism’s way of life and enhances the organism’s chances of survival. Truth, whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.” Patricia Churchland

“We are jumped-up apes, and our brains were only designed to understand the mundane details of how to survive in the stone-age African savannah.” Richard Dawkins
Of course, a further irony in all this is that if the naturalist cannot trust her reason to lead her to truths about her deepest metaphysical beliefs then she has no good grounds for believing that naturalism is true in the first place.

Anyone interested in reading more about the problem of reconciling naturalism with a belief in the trustworthiness of human reason might check out a book by Alvin Plantinga, one of the foremost philosophers of the 20th century. The book is titled Knowledge and Christian Belief, and it's a more accessible version of his earlier, more technical treatment of the same subject titled Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

What Are We Made of?

A BBC article from a year ago raises the possibility that we are living in a computer simulation something like the Matrix and in the course of discussing the pros and cons of the hypothesis gives an interesting insight into why philosophers, scientists, and other intellectuals, like Elon Musk, are entertaining this speculation:
The idea that we live in a simulation has some high-profile advocates.

In June 2016, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk assertedthat the odds are "a billion to one" against us living in "base reality".

Similarly, Google's machine-intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil has suggested that "maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high-school student in another universe".
Two basic scenarios have been advanced. In the first, our material universe is "real" but was made by an intelligent agent in some other universe:
Cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has suggested that our entire Universe might be real yet still a kind of lab experiment. The idea is that our Universe was created by some super-intelligence, much as biologists breed colonies of micro-organisms.

There is nothing in principle that rules out the possibility of manufacturing a universe in an artificial Big Bang, filled with real matter and energy, says Guth... Our Universe might have been born in some super-beings' equivalent of a test tube, but it is just as physically "real" as if it had been born "naturally".
However, there is a second, more popular, scenario that seems to undermine our very concept of what everything is made of:
Musk and other like-minded folk are suggesting that we are entirely simulated beings. We could be nothing more than strings of information manipulated in some gigantic computer, like the characters in a video game.

Even our brains are simulated, and are responding to simulated sensory inputs.
The interesting aspect of all this to me is the reason why these scenarios are being advanced. They're an attempt to account for the fact that our universe looks to those who study it like it was engineered by a super-intelligent mathematical genius:
Some scientists argue that there are already good reasons to think we are inside a simulation. One is the fact that our Universe looks designed.

The constants of nature, such as the strengths of the fundamental forces, have values that look fine-tuned to make life possible. Even small alterations would mean that atoms were no longer stable, or that stars could not form. Why this is so is one of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.
This fine-tuning makes the existence of a universe like ours incomprehensibly unlikely so how can the existence of such a finely-tuned universe as ours be explained? There are two (naturalistic) options. The first is to posit the existence of a multiverse of a near infinite number of different universes.

Given such a vast number of worlds the existence of one like ours goes from astronomically improbable to almost certain. Just as the probability of being dealt a royal flush is very low but is nevertheless certain to occur if one is dealt an infinite number of hands, so, too, given enough different universes in the multiverse one as incomprehensibly improbable as ours is bound to occur.

However, the writer of the article, like most scientists, is not impressed with the multiverse hypothesis:
However, parallel universes are a pretty speculative idea. So it is at least conceivable that our Universe is instead a simulation whose parameters have been fine-tuned to give interesting results, like stars, galaxies and people.

While this is possible, the reasoning does not get us anywhere. After all, presumably the "real" Universe of our creators must also be fine-tuned for them to exist. In that case, positing that we are in a simulation does not explain the fine-tuning mystery.
Right. The simulation hypothesis only pushes the need for an explanation for the fine-tuning phenomenon back a step.
A second argument is that the Universe appears to run on mathematical lines, just as you would expect from a computer program. Ultimately, say some physicists, reality might be nothing but mathematics.

Perhaps the universe is at bottom all math, but where did the math come from?

Some physicists feel that, at its most fundamental level, nature might not be pure mathematics but pure information: bits, like the ones and zeros of computers. If reality is just information, then we are no more or less "real" if we are in a simulation or not. In either case, information is all we can be.
This seems reasonable, but it leaves unanswered a very important question. Since information is the product of minds what is the mind that produced the ones and zeros from which matter is constructed?

The article concludes with this thought:
Does it make a difference if that information were programmed by nature or by super-intelligent creators? It is not obvious why it should – except that, in the latter case, presumably our creators could in principle intervene in the simulation, or even switch it off.
Well, it certainly does make a difference, depending on who or what the super-intelligent creator actually is, but, that aside, it's a fascinating development that after centuries of trying to expunge any notion of "super-intelligent" minds from our creation narratives, scientists and philosophers have come right back to where things stood thousands of years ago. I'm reminded of the closing lines of Robert Jastrow's book God and the Astronomers in which Jastrow talks about how the attempt to rid science of all non-material causes and to employ only reason in the search for knowledge has ended:
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Next on the Agenda: Polyamory

Several years ago, before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in the Oberkfell decision, I commented on VP (see here and here) that I thought the strongest argument against legalizing gay marriage was that if society decides that the gender of those entering into marriage no longer matters there'll be no logical barrier to concluding that neither should the number of people forming a marriage matter.

At that point marriage will be defined as a union of any combination of people who wish to legally unify their lives, and if marriage were to mean pretty much anything it'll no longer have much meaning at all.

There were doubters. Respondents, many of whom supported gay marriage, were nevertheless incredulous that I'd think that anyone would want to be in a group marriage (polyamorous relationship). That would be sick, some said. The courts would never allow it, said others. I, for my part, thought the skeptics were being naive about what people would do if the legal barriers to doing it were dismantled.

I cited in that original post a couple of articles which advocated the legalization of polyamorous marriages, and claimed that pressure would begin to mount in the social mainstream for the recognition of such unions.

Then came yet another article, at CNN this time, to further bolster my prediction.

Janet Hardy argued from the existence of a number of polyamorous relationships among her acquaintances to the conclusion that polyamorous marriage should be legal. Her argument is that traditional families are becoming increasingly scarce and that they're in any case often problematic for the people in them. Thus, we should allow people to form whatever arrangements they feel comfortable with.

I'm not sure how that conclusion follows from those premises, however. She seems to be concluding that because there are these alternative arrangements therefore there ought to be these arrangements, but this commits the fallacy of deriving an ought from an is. She also seems to argue that because traditional marriage has difficulties that we should therefore allow other arrangements, but, of course, these would have difficulties as well.

But set aside these criticisms of Ms Hardy's logic. You may agree with her in thinking this would be a fine development. I'm not arguing the merits of either polyamory or gay marriage in this post. Nor do I want anyone to think or say that to oppose gay marriage is somehow "gay-bashing" or reflects hatred toward gays. That'd be both simple-minded and false.

I'm merely pointing out that once we have changed the laws governing marriage - which has traditionally been seen as a union of one man and one woman - so that the gender of the participants is no longer relevant we have no good reason to resist changing the laws so that the number of participants is no longer relevant as well. At that point marriage, family, and society will have a much different aspect than what it has been throughout most of our history. I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not that will be progress.

After describing some of the arrangements of her friends and a brief mention of some hazards of polyamory Hardy closes with this:
I am sure that many marriage equality opponents reading this are shouting "I told you so!" as their predictions that plural marriage would follow same-sex marriage come nightmarishly true.

Many grew up as I did, in a time and place where the single-wage-earner nuclear family was the unquestioned norm and would like to see their country conform to that unrealistic standard for the rest of history.

But even then, the nuclear family was an uncomfortable fit for many, and an impossible dream for others. The America in which I want my children and grandchildren to live will make room for all kinds of families, and it will offer the same support and benefits -- legally, financially and socially -- to any family that is based on a core of love, consent and mutual responsibility.

That's what "family values" should really be about.
Well, I did tell you so, but I'm not "shouting."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cool Bird Tricks

An article at Evolution News discusses some recent research into four mysterious phenomena displayed by birds and other animals for which there's no good evolutionary explanation other than the standard assurance that genetic mutation and natural selection can "wave the magic wand" and perform miraculous feats of biological creation.

The first astonishing ability of birds and other organisms is the ability to navigate vast distances east to west by using the earth's magnetic field:
Because each field line on the earth has a particular intensity and angle (inclination or declination), this provides a fixed coordinate system that animals with the right equipment can utilize, even though these values are not always at right angles.... Maybe birds learned this trick from sea turtles, which also use the magnetic field in this way....
In fact, many diverse species - from eels, to birds, to butterflies - migrate. How did this capacity evolve in so many unrelated organisms. It won't do to just wave the wand and intone, "natural selection!" That's an answer that sounds convincing only to those already convinced. To an open-minded, skeptical inquirer it's hardly a compelling explanation for how such a complex mechanism could evolve by chance numerous times in biological history.

Here's another fascinating avian fact:
Ruddy shelducks, when migrating past the Himalayas, can fly as high as 6,800 meters (22,000 feet). That’s 77 percent the height of Mt. Everest and over half the altitude of a passenger jet at cruising altitude.

At only 4,000 meters, oxygen levels drop to half of sea level values. How do the ducks survive the cold and low oxygen?
What conceivable selection pressure acted upon duck populations in their evolutionary past that caused this ability to evolve?
Crows and cockatoos seem locked in a battle for the coveted title of most intelligent bird. New Caledonian crows are known to bend pieces of wire into hooks in order to fish items out of holes. Now, cockatoos seem to have bested them by figuring out ways to bend pipe cleaners into hooks to retrieve a reward or unbend them into straight lines as the experimental setup requires.

Nothing in these parrots’ environment requires working out this kind of problem. The experiments showed variation in the way individual birds solved the challenges, suggesting that they are not relying on instincts, but actually figuring out solutions in real time.
The final amazing phenomenon displayed by birds is shown in the following video clip. Watch it and ponder how these birds all know to turn the same way at precisely the same instant and without colliding? And why do they do this anyway? What's the evolutionary advantage?
Check out the link for more on the details of the research being done on these phenomena.

In general, there are two alternative possible explanations for these remarkable behaviors: Either they're all the astonishing result of blind mechanical processes acting on random genetic mutations over eons of time or they're the product of an intelligent, purposeful design.

Since we know minds can engineer complexity of this sort (e.g. think of a computer) and since we have no experience of unthinking forces producing the kind of information necessary for complex behavior we're left with a question: Which of the two possible explanations requires the most faith to believe?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Responding to Rocket Man

An excellent suggested response to the North Korean nuclear threat comes to us from the Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer in a very informative piece written for National Review Online. In his essay, Meyer denies that there are no good responses to Kim Jong-un (whom President Trump has dubbed "Rocket Man") and his regime's determination to acquire nuclear missiles and to launch them against the U.S. and its allies.

Meyer opens with a prologue:
Many analysts have assumed that the U.S. has only three basic options for addressing the North Korean threat: an offensive first strike, diplomatic initiatives involving China and sanctions, or acquiescence. But the United States has other options that do not require either starting a war, waiting for help from the unwilling, or accepting the vulnerability of U.S. and allied cities to a North Korean missile attack.

Rather than initiating a military strike or continuing to pursue ineffective diplomatic initiatives, the United States can take advantage of recent technological advances to deploy a more effective multi-layered missile defense, including one system perfectly suited to defuse the North Korean crisis.

The American ability to project power abroad through its conventional forces — carrier groups, fighter and bomber squadrons, cruise missiles, ground troops, and special forces — remains unrivaled despite sequester-driven budget cuts and the erosion of capability they have caused. Nevertheless, at home American cities stand vulnerable to attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as well as shorter-range missiles launched from submarines or even small ships offshore.

Though North Korea has not yet definitively demonstrated the ability to track and deliver ICBMs on target, the Defense Intelligence Agency now believes that Kim Jong-un has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear device and place it inside an ICBM. Once Kim also acquires more precise targeting capability, cities across the western United States will be vulnerable to his missiles and the president to his nuclear blackmail.

Indeed, current ground-based missile-defense systems, though necessary, are not sufficient to protect U.S. cities from the first-strike capability of several potential adversaries, including soon North Korea. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) and Aegis ship-based missile-defense systems have demonstrated an impressive accuracy in defending against short-and medium-range missiles of the kind that North Korea could fire at South Korea or Japan.

Nevertheless, these ground based systems cannot stop Chinese, Russian, or North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles from hitting U.S. cities. Russia alone has 1500 sophisticated ICBMs, more than enough to overwhelm the several dozen existing and unreliable ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California.
So, then, given this bleak prospect what should we do? Here's Meyer's proposal:
Consequently, the United States urgently needs to develop and deploy higher altitude and space-based systems for missile defense. Arthur Herman of the Hudson Institute has taken the lead on advocating one such high-altitude system with particular promise for neutralizing the North Korean threat. Known as High Altitude Long Endurance Boost Phase Intercept (or HALE BPI), this system would offer another option besides acquiescence or a high-risk first strike against North Korean missile launchers.

As conceived by Len Caveny, the former director of science and technology at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the HALE BPI system would host anti-missile missiles on existing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have the capacity for continuous flying for 18 to 40 hours or more (thus, the term “long endurance” in the HALE acronym).

Using sophisticated radar, infrared detection, and “data fusion” technology, these missile-equipped UAVs would circle the Sea of Japan outside North Korean airspace at an altitude of 45,000 feet or more. Upon detection and verification of a missile launch from North Korea, the HALE BPI UAV’s operator on the ground would have time (perhaps a minute or more) to fire a purely kinetic missile, i.e. a missile without an explosive warhead, at the missile in its “boost phase.” Using already existing guidance systems and the pure kinetic energy that can be generated by even a small object moving at an extremely rapid velocity, the missile would destroy a North Korea missile almost as soon as it leaves the launch pad.

Caveny [has] explained that most of the modular technological elements of such a system already exist and that an effective kinetic BPI system could be developed and deployed in two years, or within 12 months if the development of the system were put on an expedited war-prevention footing. Herman, in a series of compelling op-eds and position papers, has argued that such a system offers many benefits for addressing the North Korean crisis and multiple advantages over existing ground-based missile-defense systems that attempt to destroy missiles during their downward “terminal phase” of flight.
The advantages of this kinetic antimissile system are several. Meyer lists five, here are his first three:
First, rising missiles in their boost phase are easiest to detect and destroy. During boost phase, missiles are moving at their slowest velocity, making them easier to shoot down. They also burn more fuel at this point in their trajectory, giving them their hottest infrared signature and making them easier to detect at long range. In addition, missiles in boost phase cannot employ evasive maneuvers or deploy multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (or MIRVs) — unlike descending ICBMs in terminal phase.

Second, destroying missiles in the boost phase ensures that the debris from the kinetic collision and destruction of the warhead will fall safely over the Sea of Japan or even on North Korean territory, a poetically just way of enhancing deterrence and effectively boxing Kim Jong-un’s threat into a confined airspace.

Third, the BPI system currently envisioned by Herman and Caveny would represent only a near-horizon defensive weapon system — one that would not directly threaten the nuclear deterrent of the Chinese. Hosting a boost phase system on a UAV rather than in space would not, therefore, protect against ICBMs launched from countries with large land masses such as China and Russia.

Nevertheless, in the immediate context of the North Korean crisis, such a system would have the advantage of representing a defensive response to a clear provocation. As such, it should not antagonize the Chinese, precisely because it does not compromise their own nuclear deterrence (or offensive capability). Even so, its deployment, like that of the THAAD system, will clearly not please the Chinese. But given that they cannot reasonably object to such a purely defensive system, especially in the current crisis, their displeasure could incentivize them to distance themselves from North Korea or even to pressure their client state to stop further testing of nuclear weapons.
There's much more in his article for those interested in national defense issues and I urge you to read all of it. The proposal to use kinetic munitions to intercept ICBMs during the boost phase is not new. It's been talked about since at least the 1990s, but what's new is that we now have a president who may be inclined to spend the money to implement it.

As Meyer's article makes clear these weapons would only be appropriate for use against a country with a small land area, but that's what North Korea is, and right now they're the biggest threat to the United States.

Because all the R&D has already been done and most of the technology is already available the cost of building such a system would be a measly $25 million out of a $639 billion annual defense budget, and it could be operational in a year if pushed. Can we really afford not to go ahead with it?