Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Conservatives: Fighting with their tails between their legs on same-sex marriage

A lot has been said by conservatives about the recent passage of a law legalizing same-sex "marriage" in New York. Some are mad at Gov. Andrew Cuomo for pushing it, and others are angry at Republicans for letting it through. Many more are angry at the Church, which seemed to be a no show in the battle there.

It's hard to be mad at Cuomo. He's a liberal. He believed in what he was doing--and acted on that belief. He was doing was he was supposed to do in doing what he wasn't supposed to do.

It is harder to excuse the people who are supposed to be for traditional marriage. They are simply wimps. It's that simple. The pretend conservatives should have had a backbone on this and done something other than act toward the anti-marriage forces like they were performing a scene in Brokeback Mountain.

I am still unclear on what happened with the Church. Reports are the Archbishop Timothy Dolan just left the state. I haven't gotten the full report, but it doesn't sound heartening. Dolan is supposed to be a conservative.

But all this goes back to my central thesis about political partisanship in this country: the liberals are more determined than the conservatives. We see it on every issue--big government health care, abortion, and gay rights. Liberals are willing to die in battle; conservative approach the enemy, give him a few effeminate slaps, and run for cover.

It's sad, really.

Just look at the account of what happened: a liberal governor took it upon himself to get the job done. He pulled out all the stops and used his valuable political capital. Why do conservatives seem incapable of doing this?

The irony is that conservatives, patriarchally dominant as they are, are also prone to hiding behind their women on these issues. Just compare Michelle Bachmann to the average Republican male and see what I mean.

It's the Church that's going to have to stand on this. Politicians by nature have no bedrock principles. They move with the political winds. The Church is the only place where there are rock bottom principles that don't change. We just can't leave it to the politicians. As Denny Burk has put it, "The unbelieving politico’s aren’t going to do it. The abdication of truth and of the public good is a bipartisan affair when it comes to marriage. We should not be surprised."

Politicians respond to pressure, which involves moral suasion--and sometimes the application of raw political power. The New York loss is disheartening in this regard. Let's hope the Church hierarchy wakes up on this.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Feminists. You gotta love 'em.

Just when you thought feminism had gone away, here they are in the news again. Their new iteration is something called "Slutwalks." No joke.

According to a report in the Washington Post, reprinted in Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader:
Thousands of women--and men--are demonstrating to fight the idea that what women wear, what they drink or how they behave can make them a target for rape.
"Slutwalks" have so far been planned in over 75 cities in the U. S. and Canada, the report goes on to say. They are, crows the story (very objectively, we assure you), "the most successful feminist action of the past 20 years." How this "success" is measured is unclear.

The marches feature suggestively clad women, some with "'slut' scrawled across their bodies." According to the objective writer of the story who speaks on college campuses on the issue she is writing about, "... the sad fact is, a miniskirt is no more likely to provoke a rapist than a potato sack is to deter one."

In addition to cladding themselves scantily, marchers will be chanting suggestive slogans such as "Hey Mr., looking for a good time?" and "Hey Big Boy, come on over and see me" in order to show that what women say won't attract unwanted attention either.

Organizers also will be hosting teach-ins to demonstrate how rape has absolutely nothing to do with sex at all.

They also hope their message will spread to other criminal issues, where they hope to educate law enforcement officials to understand that the desire to possess something has nothing to do with shoplifting, the desire to inflict violence has nothing to do with wife beating, and that the urge to cause someone else's death actually has little relation to murder.

Marchers will also ... Oh, no. Wait. Let me check something ... Um, sorry, that last part was not actually in the story. I don't know why I even thought there was a logical connection.

Nevermind.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Israeli official praises WWII Pope for saving Jews

The Israeli envoy to the Vatican praised Pope Pius XII for his efforts to save Jews during World War II:

Lewy, speaking at a ceremony Thursday night to honor an Italian priest who helped Jews, said that Catholic convents and monasteries had opened their doors to save Jews in the days following a Nazi sweep of Rome's Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

"There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on," he said in a speech.

It has become fashionable to denigrate Pius for not grandstanding on the issue--an act that would not only have potentially shut the Vatican down, but which would have prevented the Vatican from helping hundreds of thousands of Jews during the war. It wasn't that way at the time, when numerous Jewish leaders praised the Catholic Church for what it did.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The completely useless Kentucky Human Rights Commision

In case anyone wondered why we have a Kentucky Human Rights Commission, members of the group drove today from various parts of the state to Louisville, all expenses paid, and ... passed a resolution against Confederate license plates.

So far, no word on the religious discrimination complaint filed by Martin Gaskell against the University of Kentucky in May of 2008. Let's see, that's one, two, ... three years ago.

Must be conducting an extensive investigation.

Not.

Tolerance Police breaking some heads, this time on single sex dorms

The Tolerance Police have donned their riot gear and grabbed their truncheons to deal with the most recent outbreak of wholesomeness and decency. This time at a college campus, where wholesomeness and decency are least to be tolerated. We go now to our man on the ground, Robert George:
A George Washington University law professor who is well-known for bringing law suits to advance liberal causes has given notice to the Catholic University of America that he will be suing the university under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. And what is alleged to be Catholic University's mortal sin against human rights? Are you ready? It is the decision of CUA president John Garvey (himself an eminent legal scholar in the field of religious liberty and human rights, as MoJers know) to shift the university from co-ed dormitories to single-sex dorms. President Garvey's objective (of which this particular change of policy is only a small piece) is to promote moral integrity as the Catholic Church understands that virtue and to combat the culture of promiscuity and alcohol abuse on campus. And what could possibly be wrong with that? Well, for "comprehensive liberals," it seems, having separate dorms for young men and young women is "discrimination" based on "sexual stereotypes." It simply can't be tolerated. Institutions that would separate the sexes in living quarters are practicing the equivalent of racism by imposing on their students the equivalent of the Jim Crow system in the segregated South. Oy vey.
Don't you just love this Tolerance and Diversity thing?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Homosexuality does not exist

Many people do not understand that homosexuality does not exist. We know it does not exist because it can't exist. And we know it can't exist because Natural Selection precludes it.

According to Wikipedia, which commenters on this blog such as Singring frequently quote as authoritative, "Natural selection is the process by which biologic traits become more or less common in a population due to consistent effects upon the survival or reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution."

The general idea is that a trait that facilitates reproduction gets passed on and survives while traits that do not facilitate reproduction go away. This is what I was taught in school.

Now you'd think this would be fairly clear cut. In homosexuality, you have a clear cut case of a trait that does not facilitate reproduction. In fact, it's a paradigm case of a tendency that does not get passed along. In light of this very clear cut case, we (and by "we" I mean all of us people who mindlessly rely upon scientists to tell us what to think without actually knowing the actual, like, science ourselves) could conclude very simply that there is no such thing as a homosexual.
[A]s an evolutionary biologist," says Jeremy Yoder, "I have to admit that my sexual orientation is a puzzle ... Gene variants, or alleles, associated with an 80 percent decrease in reproductive fitness should be naturally selected out of the population pretty quickly. So why aren't all humans heterosexual?
What is this? What have scientists done? How do they stand up for their theory in the face of this problem? What have they concluded in light of this all powerful theory they have relied upon for 150 years? They have faced this problem squarely and concluded ... "Natural Selection isn't all powerful," says P. Z. Myers, commenting on the article.

Oh c'mon folks: stand your ground. Don't give up. Acquit yourselves like men. Acquit your ground. Stand on your men. You get the idea. In short, make up your mind. Are you going to be intellectually consistent, or continue to believe in something your theory clearly precludes?

Up until now, people like atheist science blogger Myers have fought the good fight and rejected things like creationism because they obviously conflict with Darwinian belief. But now they are wavering. They reject creationism and Intelligent Design because they conflict with Darwinism, but they accept homosexuality despite the same problem.

How does Myers justify this apparent inconsistency? "I haven't seen any good data," says the now weak-kneed Myers, "to show that homosexuals actually have a reduced reproductive success."

...

Um, yo, P. Z., can we talk?

We can't get into the details here, since this is a family blog. But we suggest you get out a standard biology textbook, look in the section on reproduction, and take careful note of the process by which humans are fruitful and multiply.

The article in Scientific American takes all those things we've been told about Natural Selection and how it works, turns them upside down, shakes them around, stretches them beyond recognition, ... and then reminds us how undeniable they are. The contortions Yoder has to employ to account for homosexuality would try a gymnast.

Look guys, we're going to have to keep this simple. The explanation of Natural Selection we've been using for years has always had the benefit of simplicity and rationality. We can't start fudging now and messing up what before was a straightforward process. It's just bad PR.

If we're not careful it's going to start looking like we're rationalizing. People are going to accuse us of justifying our pet political beliefs in the face of the evidence. They're going to charge that we're just making it up as we're going along, only admitting evidence that confirms our theory and ignoring evidence that would falsify it.

They'll point to our own rhetoric about science always being subject to falsification and say that, in fact, we just ignore obviously disconfirming cases. Like homosexuality.

We've got to be firm on this evolution thing. Either that or question the claims that homosexuality has a scientific basis.

And we can't do that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Being kicked out of a public pool for wearing too much: the next big thing from Europe?

In the comments section of the previous post about the City Manager in Hazard, Kentucky who, in the name of "federal and state law," unilaterally placed "sexual orientation" language in a policy governing admittance to the city pool despite the fact that a) federal and state law doesn't include this language or require anyone to implement it in their own communities; b) it would have had no effect on what actually happened in the case in which two men who were making out in the pool and ejected because of it; and c) local officials have no business unilaterally making such policies in without the involvement of some locally elected government entity, our own Singring gave his customary opinion on the subject.

He commented:
Martin, a word of friendly advice: Never visit Europe, especially Southern Europe in the summertime. Your head might explode from all the fornicating in the street.
I received his advice with an open mind, and responded that I appreciated his reminder concerning the laxity of European moral standards, and that I would take this into account in making my vacation plans. But I was also reminded of the recent incident in Port Leucate in Southern France in which two women were ejected from a resort pool for wearing "burkinis," swimsuits worn by Muslim women that cover their body and their face.

In other words, while in Eastern Kentucky they eject people from pools for making out in front of the rest of the swimmers, in Singring's Europe they eject them for not showing enough skin.

But we better be careful of giving any ideas to the Kentucky "Equality" Federation.

The City of Hazard stands belly to belly with gay rights group

All it takes is a charge of anti-gay discrimination to strike the fear of God (or possibly some other lesser deity) in the hearts of local officials.

According to recent news reports two city workers in Hazard, Kentucky were reprimanded for asking two men who were kissing in a public pool to leave. One of the workers, Charlotte Pearlman, the manager of the Pavilion facility from which the men were ejected, was reprimanded specifically for "conduct unbecoming a city worker" and for using "inappropriate language" over the phone with a staff member of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 who was trying to conduct an interview with her.

I don't know what exact language Mrs. Pearlman used (we're guessing it was something along the lines of , "@!#?@!."), nor the exact nature of the hand signals she used while saying it, but under normal circumstances, telling off CNN should get you some kind of medal. I have fantasized about doing the very same thing many times. In fact, we just got rid of our old TV set which sported numerous dents incurred by airborne remote controls over the course of a number of years while watching CBS News with Dan Rather.

According to the report in the Louisville Courier-Journal:
City employee Kim Haynes, who was given a week’s suspension without pay for his role in the incident, told investigators that the two men were engaged in an excessive display of affection, and that he would have told any other couple to leave had he seen similar behavior.
The two men had "development disabilities" and were clients of the Mending Hearts, Inc., a local social services agency whose services apparently do not include teaching its clients about socially acceptable public behavior and common courtesy to those around them. Anyone who wants to contact the organization might want to consult their local public bathroom wall: "For a good time, call Mending Hearts, Inc."

What exactly is wrong with telling two people making out in a public pool--no matter who they are--to leave in order to spare other swimmers from having to watch?
At least one witness saw the two men “standing ‘man to man’ or ‘belly to belly’ in the pool … splashing each other with water and pushing each other under the water,” Collins reported. The witness “also said he observed them hug each other on at least one occasion” and give each other a kiss.
Not a spectacle likely to attract swimmers to the local swimming hole.

But Mending Hearts Director Shirlyn Perkins called the Kentucky Equality Federation, which swung (pun--which we just noticed as we were typing this, but are now very pleased with--intended) into action, charging the city pool with discrimination against the two bellied smoochers.

The Kentucky "Equality" Federation is the same group that last year charged that two Eastern Kentucky girls had committed a hate crime when they conducted a mock kidnapping of a gay friend--despite the fact that the girl giggled during the entire episode and gleefully filmed the whole thing on her cellphone. Local law enforcement officials finally just dismissed the case because it was obviously a good-natured prank. But to the Kentucky "Equality" Federation it was a federal crime.

The Hazard City Manager issued an apology to CNN and the staff of Anderson Cooper 360 for Mrs. Pearlman's charge that their staff was a bunch of "@!#?@!" "@!#?@!s" who "@!#?@!ed" their "@!#?@!" "@!#?@!s," although these charges were never actually denied by the network.

In addition, the City Manager ordered that a new pronouncement would be posted at the pool:
As soon as practicable, a new sign will be installed within the Pavilion complex to reinforce the commitment of the City of Hazard that the Pavilion will be open for the benefit of the public and that the services, benefits, and facilities of the complex are available for use without regard to race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or physical/mental disability as required by federal and state law.
Um, can we point out that "sexual orientation" is not currently included in any of the relevant federal or state laws? And that putting them there will require the workings of something called the "democratic process"? You know, that thing we have to use in order to pass laws?

And that just because the Kentucky "Equality" Federation (which lays awake at night worrying that somebody, somewhere might disagree with it on the issue of homosexuality) threatens to sue you does not mean that you have to lay over and play dead--and pass gay rights ordinances that no elected body has ever approved?

And what exactly does this new sign have to do with what happened at the pool with the two men who were smooching "belly to belly"? Does this mean that, if you're gay, you can make out at the pool, but that if you're heterosexual you can't? After all, prohibiting the former is "discrimination," while the other isn't.

That's what the Kentucky "Equality" Federation calls "equality."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Views on the rationality of God, man, and nature

Just thinking out loud here, but, as I was reading Michael Allen Gillespie's The Theological Origins of Modernity on a trip out of town last week, it occurred to me that one could break down worldviews on the basis of their view of reason as it applies to God, man and nature:
  • The Medieval Scholastics (e. g., Thomas Aquinas) emphasized belief in a rational God
  • The Nominalists (e. g., William of Ockham) and some Protestant Reformers (e. g. Luther) emphasized belief in an irrational God
  • The Renaissance Humanists (e. g., Erasmus) emphasized belief in a rational man
  • The Existentialists (e. g. Nietszche) emphasized belief in an irrational man
  • The Mechanistic Scientists (e. g. Newton) emphasized belief in a rational nature
  • The Quantum Theorists (e. g. Neils Bohr) emphasized belief in an irrational nature.
It's not an exhaustive list, but it clarified a couple of things for me.

Go ahead, Maniacs, take it apart.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What George Washington would have tweeted on the eve of the Battle of Trenton

Check out Tom Hoopes' Top Ten Great American Tweets. Here are 9. and 10.:

10. George Washington, Dec. 24, 1776 … Yikes. Valley Forge=brrrr! FMAO! lol. Serious, though #YikesItIsCooold. Tomorrow-MerryChristmas @Hessians

9. Meriwether Lewis, Sept. 13, 1803 … Bleh. “R we there yet?” has been SO not funny since Missouri.

Check out the other ones here.

Uncle Tom's Cab ..., er, Interest Group: Who is the NAACP trying to protect?

Well, it appears that the Simon Legrees at the teachers unions are having some trouble keeping 'em down on the liberal plantation. Seems there are many blacks don't understand what's expected of them from places like the United Federation of Teachers--one of the nation's largest teachers unions.

In New York, a battle has broken out between many black parents, who want better schools for the children, and the NAACP, which is supposed to, like, be working for their interests. After the NAACP joined the teachers unions in a lawsuit opposing charter schools, many black parents parents protested. Literally.

But black children have been major constituents of charter schools since their creation two decades ago. So when thousands of charter-school parents, students and advocates staged a rally on May 26 in Harlem, it was not so much to denounce the litigation as it was to criticize the involvement of the N.A.A.C.P.

Since then, a war has broken out within the civil rights community in New York and across the country over the lawsuit against the city and the larger questions of how school choice helps or hurts minority students.

... For the N.A.A.C.P. ... the dispute has turned into a public referendum on its mission. After joining the teachers’ union in the lawsuit, which seeks to keep 20 charter schools from opening or expanding in buildings shared with traditional public schools, the national organization has found itself on the defensive, forced to explain whose rights, exactly, it is trying to protect.
Read the rest here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Barefoot and Progressive--but not too Bright

Uh oh. The Tolerance Police over at "Barefoot and Progressive" have spotted our press release pointing out new gay rights language in the Kentucky Department of Education's Model Curriculum Framework. In the fearful sounding post, they accused me of being "terrified of gay people."

Okay. I admit it. They're right. That is why I wrote a press release stating publicly that writing the political agenda of gay rights groups into the state's education policies was a stupid idea, knowing that it would make every member of the Brown Shorts angry at me. Because I'm scared of them. That's why I did it.

I mean, that's what you do when you're scared of people, right? Publicly criticize them to their face?

Just one more piece of keen insight from the folks at Barefoot and Progressive.

Congressman Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about Sin and Love Psychology

There are apparently a bunch of people out there who are still under the impression that people can be blamed when they do something wrong.

When it was found out that New York Congressman Anthony Weiner had sent sexually explicit text messages to several girls, one of whom whom was only 17 years-old, you would have thought the Moral Majority had been brought back to life or something. For just a moment, it seemed as if we turned into a nation of school marms.

Never has so many people wagged so many fingers in one direction at one time--all because of what one congressman wagged and then broadcast from his cellphone camera.

Did these people not get the memo? We don't need sin anymore. We're not living in the Middle Ages. We don't need some absolute moral code that everyone has to abide by. We've got science. We've got psychology. We have explanations now that render these Bronze Age concepts of right and wrong relics of the past:
“Congressman Weiner departed this morning to seek professional treatment to focus on becoming a better husband and healthier person,” said his spokeswoman, Risa Heller. “In light of that, he will request a short leave of absence from the House of Representatives so that he can get evaluated and map out a course of treatment to make himself well.”
There you go. He's sick. You don't hold sick people responsible for their behavior. You let them take leaves of absence so they can go find "professionals," pay them lots of money and then they put labels with scientific sounding acronyms on their actions. And then we let them "map out courses of treatment" for themselves. You've been to the doctor before, you know the routine: you get him to tell you what's wrong with you and then you make the decision on how to cure yourself.

Duh.

“It’s clear he needs professional help and I am glad he is seeking it," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer. Democratic former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi too concluded that "his behavior required medical intervention," according to the New York Times.

But despite the fact that there has been widespread acceptance that Weiner is a sick man, it didn't stop some of these same people from calling for his resignation. This makes no sense at all. Are you going to be kicked out of Congress for contracting cancer? Are you going to be booted from the Beltway for getting bacterial pneumonia? Are you going to be forced to flee from Washington when they find out you've got fibromyalgia?

Since when did we blame people for having a disease?

Has everyone forgotten Tiger Woods? Yes, he said he was sorry for sleeping with a different girl every night. Yes, he asked for forgiveness for cheating on his wife. But in the end, he acknowledged that he wasn't really to blame for what he did. He announced he was going into "rehab." Like Wiener, he too had somehow contracted "Sex Addiction."

The cynics will say that Weiner is only trying to escape responsibility for what he did by feigning a psychological illness. They will say that the Dr. Drews and the Dr. Lauras of the world are quacks, feeding the desire of television viewers and radio listeners for a neat scientific explanation for problems that are not really scientific. These are people who really think that we live in some kind of moral universe with fixed standards of behavior; they really believe in the existence of right and wrong.

But these people are clearly delusional and in need of psychological treatment.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Family group questions “sexual orientation” in state’s new Model Curriculum Framework

LEXINGTON, KY—A family advocacy group today criticized the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) for including gay rights language in a new document designed to guide local school curricula. "The last thing we need in our schools is a shift in focus away from academics toward special interest politics," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for The Family Foundation, who criticized the language which was included in an April 11 draft of the state's new Model Curriculum Framework. "We need less politics in schools and more academics," Cothran said.

This is the first time "sexual orientation" language has been included in a state document governing elementary and secondary education according to Cothran. "What we don't need in order to academically improve our schools is a larger dose of political correctness."

Cothran made the statement as part of a larger critique of the document, which he described as "vague, devoid of practical helps for educators, and riddled with the kind of amateur pop psychology popular in college education departments."

"The document betrays a serious misunderstanding of what is needed to improve education in this state," he said. "The authors repeat the mantra of '21st century learning' as if it will automatically drive away the problems schools have been suffering since the middle of the 20th century; it misdiagnoses instructional problems as the prevalence, rather than the lack of traditional teaching methodologies; and it seems to see technology as some kind of panacea for our education ills."

He also criticized the Model Curriculum for being heavy on "feel-good rhetoric" and light on actual substance. Cothran pointed in particular to repeated use of the term "critical thinking skills." "Our educational policy makers in this state seem to think that if you merely repeat the term 'critical thinking skills' often enough you can actually bring it about. They offer no definition of the term, much less any practical help on how to inculcate it in students."

The Family Foundation was a leading voice in the mid-1990s debate over education reform in Kentucky.

###

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Reductionism Bias: Is the tendency to say that everything we think is hardwired by evolution hardwired by evolution?

A growing body of journalistic evidence points to the conclusion that the tendency to reduce all human thoughts and feelings to material or chemical states may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain. The most recent example is Time Magazine's new cover story, "The Optimism Bias":
[A] growing body of scientific evidence points to the conclusion that optimism may be hardwired by evolution into the human brain.
"The science of optimism, once scorned as an intellectually suspect province of pep rallies and smiley faces, is opening a new window on the workings of human consciousness," says Tali Sharot, in a the peppy, smiley-sounding article. "Is the human tendency for optimism a consequence of the architecture of our brains?" she asks. It is an interesting question, one which we would need to somehow get outside of the architecture of our brains to answer objectively, an achievement, unfortunately, which Sharot does not seem to have accomplished.

But that fact doesn't seem to have slowed her brain processes down any in leaping from her premises about the physical conditions that happen to accompany conscious states to conclusions about the meaning or implications of these states.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, in his critique of B. F. Skinner's Behaviorism, once unflatteringly described this procedure as the "zoological" or "rattomorphic" fallacy: "the expressed or implicit contention that there is no essential difference between rat and man." It is a process by which, as Hans Jonas puts it:
man-the-knower apprehends man-qua-lower-than-himself and in doing so achieves knowledge of man-qua-lower-than-man, since all scientific theory is of things lower than man-the-knower. It is on that condition that they can be subject to theory, hence to control, hence to use.
There is a whole literature on the issue of the cultural danger of the kinds of assumptions like those employed by Sharot in the Time article, and one of its best known commentators is Wendell Berry:
A little harder to compass is the danger that we can give up on life also by presuming to "understand" it—that is by reducing it to the terms of our understanding and by treating it as predictable or mechanical. The most radical influence of reductive science has been the virtually universal adoption of the idea that the world, its creatures, and all the parts of its creatures are machines—that is, that there is no difference between creature and artifice, birth and manufacture, thought and computation. Our language, wherever it is used, is now almost invariably conditioned by the assumption that fleshly bodies are machines full of mechanisms, fully compatible with the mechanisms of medicine, industry, and commerce; and that minds are computers fully compatible with electronic technology.
This may have begun as a metaphor, but in the language as it is used (and as it affects industrial practice) it has evolved from metaphor through equation to identification. And this usage institutionalizes the human wish, or the sin of wishing, that life might be, or might be made to be, predictable.
Michael Aeschliman too, in his book, The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism, points out the cultural implications of this kind of scientific reductionism:
The distinction between means and ends, between things and objects on the one hand and persons and essences on the other is at the root of moral culture and civilization; it is a distinction that the characteristic procedures and terms of the natural sciences can neither discern nor make without violence, contradiction, and confusion, and for which they must depend upon philosophy and religion.
In other words, it is not just the cultural consequences of the view that we can simply reduce uniquely human characteristics to material mechanisms that is problematic. It is not just a threat to the culture, but a threat to reason itself. "It is not only an inhumane procedure," says Aeschliman, "it is simply false according to ordinary standards of human reason."

As Chesterton's pointed out in Orthodoxy, the whole idea that you can turn the gaze of a scientific instrument back on the viewer is one which undermines the entire operation itself. It is the "thought that stops thought." I once heard of a doctor who, marooned on a desert island, removed his own appendix. But it would have been an entirely different kind of thing to have done brain surgery on himself. He would, of course, need his brain to perform the surgery, but the procedure itself would prevent him from using it.
Only the Grey Sisters of ancient myth could take the eye out of its very socket and gaze upon themselves. But when we mortals attempt it, it leads only to delusion.
The humorist Peter Benchley once famously described his experience in a college science class where he spent the whole term drawing an image of his own eyelash as he viewed it in a microscope, all the while thinking it was the object in the slide. Putting the brain under the microscope has the inherent disadvantage of objectifying the very thing that is doing the objectifying, calling the whole process into question.

This is, of course, one of the main points of Sam Harris' book The Moral Landscape, which we reviewed here.

But in addition to being impossible, what people like Sharot and Harris think they can do--understand conscious states by ferreting out the material conditions accompanying them--is based on a faulty premise. All such discussions are premised on the Identity Theory of Mind, which holds that "states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain." It has the disadvantage of having been pretty soundly refuted. You can say of a brain, for example, how much it weighs, but you cannot say that of a mind. Just because one state is simultaneous with another, does not mean the two states are the same. Having a heart is always accompanied by having a kidney. But having a heart and having a kidney are not the same thing.

I propose that those who examine their heads in this way should have their heads examined--by someone other than themselves. People who believe these claims should have their own brains examined to see if their beliefs about the chemical and evolutionary origin of beliefs has a chemical and evolutionary origin. And if they do, then we need to consider what the scientific and philosophical implications of this are.

If a belief--such as the one that holds that beliefs are the result of a purely causal physical process--is the result of a purely causal physical process, can it at the same time be considered the result of a rational process, the only process according to which such beliefs can be considered true?

The Sharot piece includes a detailed diagram of a brain, with pointers to the areas of the brain associated with optimistic thoughts. What we need is a diagram of Sharot's brain that tells us where she gets the idea that conscious states such as optimism can be explained by pointing to the areas of the brain associated with these conscious states.

What would happen if, instead of optimism, Sharot had trained her reductionist science on the tools by which she conducts her analysis in the first place? What happens when the scientist tries to reduce rationality itself to chemical or material processes? Does anything remain? If that is all her theory is--some chance concatenation of chemical events, then would there be any reason to believe them to be true?

We're on Real Life Radio today. Tune in.

I will be on the Mike Allen Show on 1380 AM, Real Life Radio in Lexington, Kentucky, this afternoon from 5:15-6:00 to discuss my conversion to Catholicism.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Lactose Intolerance: Big Brother is watching ... your milk

The Louisville Food Police, tipped off that unauthorized milk-drinking was going on, tried to break up an illicit milk operation, only to be foiled at the last minute by, well, the law.

Turns out members of a food cooperative, the Whole Life Buying Club, were drinking raw milk. That's right. Milk straight from the cow, a practice equivalent to eating eggs straight from chickens, and vegetables freshly picked from garden plants (grown in dirt).

Don't these people realize that there is no need to risk your health eating natural foods any more? Do they not know that there are plenty of processed foods out there with enough preservatives in them to eliminate the need for embalming when you die?

The Club has apparently been growing the cows on a farm outside of Louisville, having them milked, and then transporting the illicit product back to their own homes. In their own cars. Driven by themselves. Outside the supervision of government bureaucrats.

When the crack Milk Team 6 of the Department of Health and Wellness stormed the group's compound, they acted quickly to quarantine the dangerous substance. The operation was almost foiled when one of the three helicopters used in the raid crashed inside the grounds, tipping off the farmers. But the fast thinking members of the unit completed the rest of the operation without a hitch and in addition gained a treasure trove of intelligence on the group's activities when it confiscated stacks of back issues of Acres, U.S.A., Small Farmers Journal, and Mother Earth News.

"It was the lactic equivalent of a crack house," said an unidentified source within the Department. "It was a lac house."

Now hang on a second ... Um, there's a chance we could be mixing this story up with another one. I'll check on it. But in any case, the Department had to back off because, as it turned out, the members of the milk ring actually owned the cows that were producing the milk they were drinking, creating a constitutional question concerning the right of government bureaucrats to take away the milk someone got from his own cow.

But don't count out the Food Police yet. These are serious, dedicated people who are concerned about the milk you drink. It is not clear how they feel about your cookies.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Arguing in the Void: What's wrong with Coyne and Carroll's arguments against the immortality of the soul

... Meanwhile biologist Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True has been voicing his Amens and Halleluiahs over Sean Carroll's scientistic attempt to dissect the issue of the immortality of the soul:
Those who specify the existence of souls and afterlives in this scientific era must do more than issue fuzzy-minded gobbledygook. They must specify more precisely what they’re talking about, and how it’s supposed to work. If we’re supposed to survive after death, what part of us survives, and how? And what is this soul, exactly? We’re no longer in the Middle Ages, so theologians who make empirical claims must be empirically specific.
Well, I'm not sure what counts as bona fide "fuzzy-minded gobbledygook," but Coyne's definition apparently does not include treating non-scientific questions as if they were scientific ones.

But, as I pointed out in my post on Carroll's original article, the major problem is simply that the scientific materialists who leave their discipline and start prognosticating on philosophical and theological topics are simply unfamiliar with the history of the discussions on the subjects on which they are opining. This causes them not only to make a hash of the whole thing, but to think that the questions they are asking have never been adequately answers.

In the present case, the discussion goes back to the pre-Socratic philosophers, through Plato and Aristotle, continuing on to St. Thomas Aquinas and into modern times--a fact about which Carroll and Coyne seem completely unaware. It's as if a philosopher had attempted to speak on the issue, say, of DNA, but had never heard of Watson and Crick.

In fact, we can go back almost 700 years and find St. Thomas Aquinas dealing with essentially the same issues, which he attributes to philosophers living over a thousand years before his own time:
The philosophers of old, not being able to rise above their imagination, supposed that the principle of these actions [knowledge and movement] was something corporeal: for they asserted that only bodies were real things; and that what is not corporeal is nothing: hence they maintained that the soul is something corporeal. (Summa Theologica, Question 75, Article I)
The materialism of Coyne and Carroll is not, as you can see, a new thing.

In fact, the questions Coyne asks were answered by Aquinas and others. But he acts as if he knows nothing about them. Has he gone back and read Question 75 of the Summa Theologica? Has he bothered to consult Book II of the Summa Contra Gentiles? Maybe he wouldn't agree with Aquinas. Maybe he would think the arguments invalid. Maybe he would even think Aquinas' entire way of addressing the questions is outdated. But the problem is Coyne and Carroll are clearly not even aware of them.

They also seem unaware of the discussions in Plato's Phaedo, in Moses Mendelssohn's Ph├Ądon, in Descartes, Locke, Kant, and Pascal--or in Hegel and Spinoza. At least the philosophers who dissented from the view that the soul is immortal (and immaterial), like Lucretius, Hobbes, and Hume, knew what they were criticizing.

But what does Coyne do instead of actually looking to see how Christian thinkers and other philosophers have answered these questions? He makes things up:
Of course theologians will respond to all of the above like this, “We don’t have to tell you what souls are, or in what form you survive after death. We just know it’s true because we just know that there’s a God and that he allows these things.”
This is not what Christian thinkers have argued and it is not what philosophers have argued. This is just silliness--coming, ironically, from someone who presumes to lecture other people on intellectual integrity.

This is a consistent problem with the New Atheists: they just simply ignore the best arguments against their positions and instead either cherry pick the worst arguments or simply make stuff up.

Can proof be proved?


Someone recently asked me in the comments section of one of my posts about an article on logic on the Answers in Genesis website on the question of circular reasoning. The article was a response to a question by a reader concerning presuppositional Christian apologetics, which holds that, in contending for the truth of Christianity, one should rationally assume the truth of the Bible rather than argue for it. The folks at Answers in Genesis are clearly advocates of this position. The questioner asked how to respond to someone who accused him of circular reasoning.

Here was the response (in part):
Contrary to what your non-Christian friend said, circular reasoning is surprisingly a valid argument. The conclusion does follow from the premises. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy only when it is arbitrary, proving nothing beyond what it assumes.

However, not all circular reasoning is fallacious. Certain standards must be assumed. Dr. Jason Lisle gave this example of a non-arbitrary use of circular reasoning:

1. Without laws of logic, we could not make an argument.
2. We can make an argument.
3. Therefore, there must be laws of logic.

While this argument is circular, it is a non-fallacious use of circular reasoning. Since we couldn’t prove anything apart from the laws of logic, we must presuppose the laws of logic even to prove they exist. In fact, if someone were trying to disprove that laws of logic exist, he’d have to use the laws of logic in his attempt, thereby refuting himself. Your non-Christian friend must agree there are certain standards that can be proven with circular reasoning."
Well, no, sorry. It's just circular reasoning. The chief problem is in the last sentence:

"Your non-Christian friend must agree there are certain standards that can be proven with circular reasoning."

The assumption here is that we need a syllogism to prove that there must be laws of logic. But the laws of logic are not proven at all--they are assumed. But they are not assumed arbitrarily. Aristotle would say they are known, but not proven--through what he would call nous, which is close to what we would call "intuition." The laws of logic are not demonstrated; they are intuited--they are not the result of logic, but of dialectic. They are nota per se: self-evident.

Every discipline (including science) has metaphysical assumptions that are not inferred from other knowledge within the discipline (and sometimes, as in the present case, even from knowledge outside the discipline). These assumptions are not themselves proven, and the idea that you can prove them is a misunderstanding of the nature of first principles--which are the analog in logic of axioms or postulates in mathematics.

The error made here was refuted about 2400 years ago. It is discussed in Book I, Part 3 of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. He points out that some people make the error of thinking that all knowledge must be demonstrated, but in order to say this they must allow that reasoning can be circular.

Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premisses is independent of demonstration. (The necessity of this is obvious; for since we must know the prior premisses from which the demonstration is drawn, and since the regress must end in immediate truths, those truths must be indemonstrable.) Such, then, is our doctrine, and in addition we maintain that besides scientific knowledge there is its originative source which enables us to recognize the definitions.

The belief that circular reasoning is valid is a foundational belief of presupposition apologetics. Cornelius Van Til makes the claim that "all reasoning is circular." This is important to that position because Van Til wants to be able to engage in circular reasoning by assuming the truth of the Bible. And he thinks that he can avoid the criticism that this belief is circular by arguing that what he is doing is no different from what everyone else does anyway.

But, alas, this is not true. First principles, being the conditions of proof, can't be proved--and don't need to be.