The Book!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Conservatives Are Anti-Science?



The progressive world view.

 In recent times, it has been fashionable for liberals in the US and Canada to accuse conservatives of being “anti-science,” mostly for opposing initiatives to prevent the dread global warming. Also cited are their opposition to contraception (?), and, of course, the dispute over Darwinian evolution versus creationism and intelligent design.

However, this recent survey seems to belie the claim. Which seems weird to begin with to any of us familiar with postmodernism, feminism, and post-colonialism, important elements of the left who promote the belief that science varies with sex, race, and personal preference. Not to mention the left's seemingly instinctive opposition to all material progress. Now it turns out that liberals are far more likely than conservatives to believe that astrology is scientific, and far less likely to know that the earth goes around the sun. Pretty basic stuff.

Here’s the distinction: liberals are more respectful of scientific authorities. This is because, to them, science is something magical and mysterious. Conservatives are more informed about science. For this very reason, they are less inclined to rely upon scientific authorities.

Authority and science are competing sources of knowledge; the concept of "scientific authority" is a bit of an oxymoron.

Human Zoos




Indigenous performers at the Paris Exposition, 1931--a notorious "human zoo."

I don’t get the outrage about “human zoos.” It seems to me the problem is entirely a semantic one. Just call it an “ethnographic museum,” and the same displays are perfectly unobjectionable. 

Is Upper Canada Village a “human zoo”? Is Saint-Marie-among-the-Hurons? Old Fort Henry? Fort York? Black Creek Pioneer Village?

Isn't the racist thing calling it a "human zoo" if and only if the exhibitors are non-white, as if their culture could be of no legitimate interest?


Monday, February 17, 2014

Reparations for Slavery

Does someone deserve reparations for living here?

A coalition of 14 Caribbean states, including Jamaica, is now asking for reparations for slavery from Britain, France, and Holland.

I suppose I should support the campaign. For, after all, if these folks deserve money from modern Britons now for a policy that ended in 1833, I should surely score something nice for the longstanding occupation and mass starvation of my ancestors in Ireland, right up to the 1920s. And then there is the matter of the Irish slave trade.

If only it weren’t for the obvious injustice of the claims.

After all, not a single Briton living today has owned a slave, and not a single Jamaican can claim to have been enslaved. So why should either accuse the other of guilt or responsibility? If this is just, should modern Jews then bear responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ?

The advocates of reparations say, ““You can’t have it both ways,” … “Your [British] society was developed. You are enjoying a lifestyle because of the blood, sweat and tears of people in the past.”

Yet this was a past that ended almost two hundred years ago. If it is really responsible for Britain’s current relative wealth, and Jamaica’s poverty, then how to explain the current wealth of Germany, for example, who was never involved in the slave trade, and has risen from utter desolation as recently as 1945? The same could be said for most of Europe, and Japan; or for any number of immigrant families who arrived destitute on America’s or Canada’s shores, and in two or three generations were quite well-off.

The demand overlooks the fact that, in world terms, Britain, France and Holland were actually among the first countries to abolish slavery. It persisted much longer in Africa: in Niger and Mauretania, into the 21st century. Had their ancestors not been transported to the new world, it would probably have taken several generations longer for African-Caribbeaners to have achieved freedom from the practice.

The demand for reparations also overlooks the fact that Britain left the ex-slaves and their modern descendants in possession of several new democratic nations. And that the citizens of these countries, on the whole, are better off financially as well as in terms of personal freedom than African-Caribbeaners would be if they were now living in Africa. Jamaica’s GDP per capita is higher than almost all black African countries, and a full ten times greater than the ethnically comparable nation of Liberia. And Jamaica is one of the poorest of the former British possessions in the Caribbean. The GDP per capita of the Bahamas, for example, is three to four times larger again.

Obviously, such variations in the economic welfare of otherwise similar states have nothing to do with slavery two or three hundred years ago. They have to do with good and bad governments today.

Unfortunately, it is entirely in the interests of bad governments and corrupt elites to demand reparations for slavery. Not just for the free cash, but to distract attention from the real problem, and their own culpability.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ceremonial Music

This ancient Irish tune is the finest wedding march ever composed. I wanted it at my own wedding, but it is no easy thing to find someone who can play it.


And this is the ideal music for a funeral:


More Evidence of the Bulgarian-Celtic Connection

Here is more evidence for my belief that Bulgarians are primarily Celtic ethnically. It shows in the music. They play the bagpipes, and they have a natural affinity for Irish music.

These guys are Bulgarian.


Saturday, February 08, 2014

Questions from Creationists


A friend who represents herself as an atheist sent me this link on the premise that it had something to do with the question of existence of God. It does not, of course; creationism versus evolution is a very different issue.

But since she asked, it is interesting to look at some of the questions as someone who, as a Catholic, has no dog in this hunt. The questions from creationists are almost uniformly silly, but also look as if they are selected by the evolutionist for being easy to answer. Pop flies. Yet there are real issues here.

1. Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?

Truth is true regardless of one's personal preferences. To believe otherwise is to be a liar.

2. Are you scared of a divine creator?

Ad hominem. Imputing motive.

3. Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? I.e., trees created with rings ... Adam created as an adult ...?

Yes, it is illogical, but the author does not address the issue. He says only that it is not plausible. He gives no basis for this claim. It is implausible because, as Descartes pointed out, such an assumption would make God a deceiver, and this is inconsistent with the nature of God.

Unfortunately, as the author is apparently not prepared to point out, non-theists are stuck on this point. For them, there is no justification to assume the one thing or the other.

4. Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?

No; as the author states. Yawn. This would only be true if evolution were a closed system.

5. How do you explain a sunset if there is no God?

This is a valid point, which the author avoids. The question is, I presume, how can the theory of evolution explain the experience of beauty, and of beauty in nature? How does this have any survival value, and how can its survival value, if discovered, justify an experience that seems so self-validating, so meaningful in itself? It makes the theory of evolution seem trivial by comparison.

The author simply avoids the question by saying “we have evolved to appreciate colors, shapes, and metaphors.” Why? And why so profoundly? 

Then he throws in a blatant red herring/ fallacy of the false alternative by saying “understanding the science behind events adds to their beauty.” Then he covers the trail with another red herring/ad hominem by saying “incidentally, some creationists are geocentrists.”

Given all the misdirection, one can only assume he has no answer.

6. If the Big Bang Theory is true and taught as science along with evolution, why do the laws of thermodynamics debunk said theories?

Eh? Why is this question here? Besides being incoherent, it is, as the author points out, essentially a repetition of question four. The only purpose of including this question seems to be to obscure the point that the Big Bang theory supports the theistic hypothesis; by claiming or pretending that creationists themselves dispute it.

But then, perhaps I too am imputing motive.

7. What about noetics?

This question seems deliberately phrased so that it can be dismissed without being properly addressed. What “noetics” is is irrelevant, but the author is able to hide behind the obscurity of this term.

The underlying issue is presumably how Darwinian evolution can explain the existence of consciousness. After all, a robot ought to be able to handle stimulus-response in such a way as to maximize survival without ever being conscious or self-conscious.

The author also slips in an unjustified assertion here: “we know the mind is an effect of the brain—as many say, the mind is what the brain does.” We know no such thing. On the face of it, this assertion makes no more sense than saying “the meal is an effect of the menu; the meal is what the menu does.” Obviously the two are related in some way, but it is clearly not simple cause and effect.

Scientifically, we can in principle never know how the mind works, because science presupposes the presence of an objective observer. The observer necessarily cannot objectively observe himself. There is a necessary and unbridgeable distinction between subject and object.

This was understood as early as Heraclitus in the West, and Gautama in the East.

8. Where do you derive objective meaning in life?

This is irrelevant. Again, a thing is not true just because we find it convenient for it to be true.

9. If God did not create anything, how did the first single-celled organism originate? By chance?

The author surprises me by agreeing that this was not by chance. This issue of how the first single-celled organisms emerged is not a part of the Darwinian Theory of Evolution per se, but the big problem that many religious people have with the latter is its claim that mutations are random, i.e., “by chance.” If you admit that they are not, you are no longer a Darwinian. You have accepted the essential premise of Intelligent Design. The question then simply becomes whodunit.

I wonder if the author realizes this.

His final question, “who created God,” is puerile. It is part of the definition of God that he is self-existent, immortal. If he were not, he would not be God, so the question “who created God” is an immediate self-contradiction.

Why not say the same about the universe? Because the universe is simply the sum of things. If every single apple must come into existence, it is contradictory to suppose that two apples are immortal.
10. I believe in the Big Bang theory ... God said it and BANG it happened.

The author says, that's fine by science, and fine by theism. Perhaps he really is an adherent of Intelligent Design without realizing it.

11. Why do evolutionists ... reject the idea of there being a Creator God but embrace the concept of intelligent design from aliens or other extra-terrestrial sources?

As phrased, the question seems silly. The point, I presume, is that at least two well-known public evolutionists and atheists, Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, have been quite ready to entertain the thesis that life on earth is indeed an intelligent design, but by aliens rather than by God.

The author says “we don't”; but then, the author himself hints at finding the alien hypothesis at least possible.
And so again, the author seems to accept the thesis of Intelligent Design, which is supposed to be incompatible with Darwinism. He may have an argument still with Creationism, but he has ceded the argument to Intelligent Design. But then, why not take the next step? Why aliens when Occam's Razor would seem to make God the more scientifically acceptable answer as designer?

So something like this question apparently stands, and has not been answered here.

12. There is no in-between ... the only one found has been Lucy and there are only a few pieces of the hundreds necessary for an 'official proof.'

This is the oldest argument in the book. Ask the experts. Is there really a “missing link”?

13. Does metamorphosis help support evolution?

Again, this is confusing as phrased. The point is presumably that metamorphosis is a plausible alternative explanation for the data the Theory of Evolution seeks to explain. And the author seems to simply admit this.

Yet later he says evolution is fact, not just theory.

14. If Evolution is a theory ... why then is Evolution taught as a fact?

The author responds in part with a red herring: “If this question is an argument to allow creationism to be taught in schools, that's a violation of the First Amendment.” Let's suppose that statement is true (although it is really highly debatable):  it still does not answer the question.

He also asserts that evolution is “a fact and a theory.” Yes, but the fact is not the same as the theory. Evolution is a fact if by “evolution” we mean “change over time.” But that is certainly not what the creationists mean by the term. So the question remains.

Bottom line: it is thoroughly unscientific to teach the Theory of Evolution as a fact, and that is indeed what it happening now in schools (the same is true of most other school science). Moreover, teaching evolution as a fact, given that it goes against at least some parents' religious views, is itself a clear violation of the First Amendment.

15. Because [evolution] is 'theory'--not testable, observable, nor repeatable, why do you object to creationism or intelligent design being taught in schools?

The author gives a link here to an experiment any creationist would find irrelevant, because it shows nothing more than breeding, which is uncontroversial, not interspecies development. He mostly simply asserts that evolution “fits the criteria” for science. But whether it does or not is a very live debate. 

Richard Dawkins, challenged on the point that Evolution was not properly falsifiable, as a scientific hypothesis must be, claimed that it would be falsified if, say, a modern rabbit fossil appeared in an ancient rock formation.

But it turns out that this kind of fossil anomaly turns up fairly often. It is explained away in a variety of ways, all of which are superficially plausible. But that means the point stands, so far as I can tell: is Darwinian evolution really scientific? And, if not, what is the justification for not teaching other unscientific theories along with it?

16. What mechanism has science discovered that evidences an increase of genetic information seen in any genetic mutation or evolutionary process?

No idea what this is about.

17. What purpose do you think you are here for if you don't believe in salvation?

This is the same non sequitor we have seen earlier: because we want meaning in the universe does not mean there has to be meaning in the universe. 

But the author is wrong to imply, as he apparently does, that a devout Jew would have an answer very different from that of a devout Christian. All major religions believe in salvation.

18. Why have we found only one 'Lucy,' when we have found more than one of everything else?

Non sequitor. If we had found only one Lucy, it would make no material difference to the theory.

19. Can you believe in the big bang without faith?

I think the author misses the point of this question by answering “yes, we have tons of evidence for it.” I think the point is that the big bang implies the existence of God, per Aristotle, not that there is no evidence for the big bang. Again, the author seems to misrepresent or misunderstand theism as being hostile to the concept of the big bang.

20. How can you look at the world and not believe someone created/thought of it?

The author does not really address this simple statement of the argument from design. He says “it does not take very complex rules to create huge diversity.” Exactly. The fact that the physical universe can be discovered to follow a rather small set of consistent rules is another way of saying that it shows strong evidence of design. 

So--he leaves the challange unanswered.

21. Relating to the big bang theory ... where did the exploding star come from?

There was, of course, no exploding star. This badly stated question seems again to serve as a convenient red herring for the author. I presume the real question is “what caused the big bang?” That is a very good question, apparently requiring the Aristotelian thesis of a “First Mover,” and the author's answer is simply “we don't know.” He rejects a “supernatural” explanation, but what does “supernatural” mean here? If this is meant to dismiss God, it seems to me tautological: if God is involved, he is not “supernatural” in the relevant sense.

22. If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

This question makes no sense on its face. Sly to end with it, so it is the one that may stay in the reader's mind as the final statement by the opposition.






Sunday, February 02, 2014

A Naked Woman on the Altar




A friend sent me the following paragraph:

On Christmas Eve, while Cardinal Joachim Meisner was celebrating Mass in Cologne Cathedral in Germany, a young woman sitting in the front row tossed aside her leather coat and leaped onto the altar, naked from the waist up, arms outstretched as if crucified, with “I AM GOD” written across her bare torso.

News to me. My friend says his first reaction was shock and outrage, but reading this description, I automatically assumed the woman was insane, and felt concern and pity instead. I read the paragraph, without comment, to my wife, and her reaction was the same as mine.

In fact, a little later, the Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen took responsibility, and said this was all about drawing attention to the Vatican’s stance against abortion.

I still suspect my initial assumption was right. The fact that Femen took credit may not mean—probably does not mean—that the real objective was political. In both individuals and groups, political demonstrations are commonly used as a cover for other issues. I’ve spent a lot of time around the “mentally ill,” count a few as close friends, and not a few use “radical” politics as a cover for their delusions. Louis Riel is perhaps the most famous example to Canadians. This woman, perhaps Femen as a whole, may be doing the same. The woman’s claim and action still looks like a classic delusion. And, as someone once said, madness, while rare in individuals, is common in groups. Each member can give sanction and validation to the others’ delusions.

To be fair, the woman’s claim that she is God might also be a reasonable affirmation of the experience of mystical union in some traditions (e.g., Hinduism, Sufism). But on reading the paragraph, I dismissed that out of hand, because a true mystic would not do this as a public display. It is part of being a mystic that one does not shout out one’s experiences from the rooftops. And, of course, this would not be compatible with Femen’s claim of a political motive.

But the claim of a political motive also does not make sense.

There is no objective need to publicize the fact that the Catholic Church opposes abortion. Everyone who reads the papers—anyone who is going to hear of this protest—already knows that. Nor does the protest illustrate any reasonable argument against this stance. The assertion of an individual woman that she is God seems instead perfectly calculated to lose that argument. It is just about the wildest possible assertion she could make. At the same time, this disruption of a mass is likely to inspire sympathy for the believers, among those who might previously have been neutral.

So it was counterproductive unless the true motive was really

1) The desire on the part of Femen and this woman for personal attention, regardless of any cause,

2) the desire of this woman to advertise herself for sex, or

3) delusional. But all three of these possible motives seem, prima facie, unbalanced, not healthy, insane.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis



I have been reading a lot of reviews of the latest Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, which I recently saw myself. And I think everyone has it wrong.

Here are the interpretations I've seen:

1. The Coens are positing that nihilism may be the true nature of the world: everything is chaos.

2. Davis is a failed artist facing the tough decision to change his career.

3. Davis is feckless, irresponsible, and self-destructive.

First, let's clear the field:

1. One element of the film is definitely non-chaotic, and it is the one most crucial element: the music. Perhaps everything other than art is chaos.

2. Davis is based on Dave Van Ronk. The discouragements he faces are largely discouragements faced by Van Ronk himself in his autobiography. And Dave Van Ronk was a successful, not a failed, artist. The discouragements he faced are no worse than the discouragements most artists go through, even the very best. Moreover, we hear Davis for ourselves in the movie: he is quite good.

3. Feckless? Davis shows unusual concern throughout the movie over the welfare of a cat, even when the cat he has charge of is an anonymous stray. Although it turns out she has had sex with a variety of men, any one of whom might be the father, it is the impoverished Davis who takes responsibility and arranges and pays for his girl friend's abortion. He loses his temper a few times; but in a way that seems, in the circumstances as presented, natural and forgivable.

The original.

Interpretations two and three, I fear, are generated by the sadly common human tendency to blame anyone who is obviously suffering for their own predicament. Inside Llewyn Davis is certainly, as everyone agrees, a depressing movie.

But here's what it is really all about: the movie presents the world as it really is experienced by the typical artist, or anyone of an artistic temperament. Hence the title, “Inside Llewyn Davis”: you are seeing the world as the generic artist of the title sees it, from inside his head. And, as Keats once warned, there is no romance there: “the poet is the most unpoetical thing in existence.”

This is not just about how hard it is, objectively, to make a living in the arts. It is about the same for “successful” artists, like Van Ronk or the Coens. To resort to a common idiom, to the artist, life in the streets is like herding cats. Nothing outside of art ever works as it is supposed to. Nobody else ever seems to get the art. Notably, every time Davis performs a song, it is followed by some obvious letdown. Bud Grossman sees no money in it; his father, seemingly unaware, just soils himself; Davis gets called out after his encore and beaten up in the alley. Nobody hears the music he hears.

If that is depressing—well, there is a reason why almost all good artists are depressives.

And these reviews confirm the general truth: nobody seems to get Llewyn Davis.