Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Darwinian Creed

I've alluded to the wrong-headedness to Darwinism before, and I thought I'd write a bit more extensively. A friend and expert in the "evolution wars" brought a very good book on the subject to my attention aptly titled Is Evolution Fit to Survive?. The book is not perfect (there is one glaring error, about which I am communicating with the author), but aside from this, the book makes excellent points and it makes them brilliantly.

As I am sure you know, Darwin postulated that random changes that give survival advantages are passed along to offspring; the accumulation of these changes over time gives rise to the development of the diverse life on our planet.

One of the great features of this book is that it doesn't villify Charles Darwin. Rather it portrays him sympathetically:

Darwin is sometimes depicted as a God-hating monster, but he was not. He had trained to be an Anglican clergyman. His wife was devout, and remained so throughout her life. She wrote a famous letter to Darwin protesting agains the religious implications of his work, and the chasm which had grown between them at the level of faith—they had once shared a vibrant Christian faith, but Darwin's faith had died. He regretted it bitterly. His memoirs read, "How often I have cried over that letter." (p. 4)

Darwin was a man limited by the horizon of his age and tied to skepticism by family loyalty. He wrote in 1839:

I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all of my friends, will be everlasting punished.

Brenhoft explains

Darwin wasn't a monster, though. He was a son who loved his father, and he didn't REALLY understand what Christianity teaches. Such a lack of understanding was not, in itself, evil. But the conflict that he preceived between God and his father did color his work in creating a theory of random natural selection, without intelligent design. (p. 95)

The book takes into account the limited information available in Darwin's day. For example, it mentions that Darwin didn't have detailed knowledge about the fossil record, embryology, or genetics that today's scientists have (pp. 21, 58).

Does the evidence support Darwin's hypothesis? In further posts, I hope to explore this topic, but for now the admissions of the Darwinists, as quoted in the book, will have to suffice. Even they acknowledge the unscientific nature of their beliefs:

The reasonable view was to believe in spontaneous generation; the only alternative [was] to believe in a single primary act of supernatural creation. There is no third position. For this reason, many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a ‘philosophical necessity.’... Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing.

I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life though a hypothesis of spontaneous generation ("The Origin of Life," Scientific American, August 1954, p. 46).

The book quotes Harold Urey, who tried (unsuccessfully) to create life in the lab, wrote,

All of us who study the origin of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. We all believe, as an article of faith [emphasis added], that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It’s just that its complexity is so great, that it’s hard for us to imagine that it did (Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 1962, p. 4).

If Darwinists themselves admit the lack of supporting evidence, why the histeria (as we saw in Kansas) to defend such baseless and unscientific beliefs? What is their motivation? The book quotes (p. 96) Aldous Huxley, grandson of the "Darwin's Bulldog," T.H. Huxley, who wrote in 1966:

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom." [clipped this quotation from this interesting site]

Darwin himself was aware of the moral implications of his theory, as he himself wrote

A man who has no assured and ever present belief in the existence of a personal God or of future existence with retribution and reward, can have for his rule of life, as far as I can see, only to follow those impulses and instincts which are the strongest or which seem to him the best ones.

We have only to look around us to see the results of Darwinian ideology. As Dostoyevsky's Ivan says in The Brothers Karamazov, "If there is no God, anything is permissible."

Robin Bernhoft, MD and Peg Luksik, Is Evolution Fit to Survive? (Johnstown, Pa: National Parents Commission, 2001).

Robin Bernhoft, "Confronting Creation’s Complexities: Darwinism Isn’t Fit to Survive," This Rock 14.7 (September 2003).

Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1922-1941 (Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company, 1966).

Aldous Huxley, "Confessions of a Professed Atheist," Report: Perspective on the News 3 (June, 1966), 19.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Where the Smart Women Are

An item from the April 2005 The Atlantic Monthly:

The bad news is coming fast for brainy career women. For one thing, they're less likely to get married—perhaps because (according to a study recently published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior) men prefer to date and marry women who occupy subordinate positions in the workplace, or because (according to a survey carried out by four British universities) female intelligence itself reduces the odds of wedlock. (The latter study found that for every 15-point increase in IQ score above the average, women's likelihood of marrying fell by almost 60 percent.)

Given the dominant idea blowing through our culture that all differences originate in unequal power, the lesson we might be expected to take from these results are that women successful at finding a mate are "dumber" or less powerful. But this explanation is simplistic. Speaking from my own experience at looking for a mate, intelligence is important, but even more an elusive, uniquely feminine quality that might be termed "sweetness."

There are plenty of other interpretations for these experimental results.

  • Could it be that our culture's expectation that a smart person of either sex will exploit his intelligence in a masculine mode motivate "smart" women largely busy themselves advancing in the professional world, instead of being free for a relationship?
  • Could it be that men (whom even modern, "liberated" women expect to initiate contact) feel less threatened by women lower in the hierarchy?
  • Could it be that men (even those who do not desire children) are looking at least unconsciously for qualities that make a good mother?
  • Could it be that women have a different form of intelligence than men, one that the male-devised IQ test cannot measure?
  • Could it be that women with a higher male-IQ usually have a lower female-IQ (or less of some other feminine quality)?
  • Could it be that truly smart women appreciate the great satisfaction that both men and women derive from family? (These women, it would seem, certainly are more "fit" from a Darwinian point of view.)

All these ideas beg the question of why we are comparing men and women by the same yardsticks in the first place. As I've noted before, there is an essential difference between the sexes: women and men tend to have different primary skills sets. Even more: if, as society would have us believe, "everything is relative" and one point of view (or one person) has no more merit than another, then surely measuring itself is irrelevant. No?

Stephanie L. Brown and Brian P. Lewis, "Relational Dominance and Mate-Selection Criteria: Evidence That Males Attend to Female Dominance," Evolution and Human Behavior 25:6 (November 2004), 406-415.

Michelle D. Taylor, et al., "Childhood IQ and Marriage by Mid-life: the Scottish Mental Survey 1932 and the Midspan Studies," Personality and Individual Differences 38:7 (May 2005) 1621-1630.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Personal Exemption

Lest we find a moment's reprieve in the Easter joy, the taxman follows on our heels to demand our debt of fun forms, if not additional money.

I had a noteworthy but all too typical conversation with another physicist last week. The conversation started about policy—the gentleman is part of a very laudable effort to provide Congress with dependable scientific information—but as regular readers of this blog might have guessed, it inevitably turned to philosophy.

In retrospect, it is likely that by bringing up the need to acknowledge teleology and the reality of qualities, I was drawing my interlocutor in over his head, so it is very understandable for him to curtail the discussion by asserting (I paraphrase), "But that's philosophy."

The implication is that scientists don't need to know about philosophy, but only about science: philosophy is foreign to science and has no place in scientific discussions. Some scientists (not necessarily my interlocutor) will go so far as to say that philosophy is not valid knowledge because it's "doctrines" cannot be measured; adherents to this view use "metaphysics" as an insult.

Like an elephant casually standing in the middle of a cocktail party, there is a massive problem with these ideas. The strong version that says that philsophy is invalid knowledge is inconsistent with itself; the adherents to this view neglect to apply it to themselves: the idea that only the measurable is real is itself not measureable.

Adherents to the weaker version similarly exempt themselves from their own pronouncements. Without admitting it, they are indulging in philosophy: the idea that philosophy is not part of science is itself philosophical.

The bottom line is that philosophy is intrinsically part of even modern science. Notice that the full title of the work that brought about the birth of modern science, Newton's Principia, is well translated The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. Not only does Newton clearly recognize his work as part of a larger philosophical enterprise, he also qualifies his work as its mathematical branch.

It is impossible to do science without philosophical assumptions, and unexamined assumptions, like uncalibrated instruments, restrict our observations much more than examined ones. Ignoring the philosophical assumptions underlying one's work is like piloting a ship without knowledge of ocean currents. One way or another, the scientist does philosophy—if only implicitly. Neglecting one's philosophical assumptions does not free one from their influence.

The man who stops his ears to the taxman must still pay.

For documentation of further instances of modern thinkers' tendency to exempt themselves from their own dicta, see

Stanley L. Jaki, Means to Message (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's, 1999).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Beginning and the End

This year brings a couple of calendrical curiosities.

This year Good Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. The significance of this is that this is that the supposed coincidence of these two dates is the reason that Christmas is December 25th.

In the West, Christians (mistakenly) found Good Friday to have occurred the 25th of March A.D. 29.

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

Is there some deeper significance to this calendrical coincidence? Is this perhaps a sign of the [cue dramatic music] End Times? I doubt it, but one never knows.

The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) apparently established Easter as the Sunday after the first full moon of spring, which I had understood to coincide more or less with Passover. But this year Easter and Passover occur in different months (March 27 and April 23-May 1). I'm still trying to track down the exact reason for the disparity. Perhaps one of you out in web-land knows.

William J. Tighe, "Calculating Christmas," Touchstone (December, 2003).

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Null Solution

Perhaps you have been following the Terri Schiavo case lately, in which her husband, claiming she is a vegetable, seeks to kill her by having her feeding tube removed. The U.S. Senate recently debated the issue:

Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, the Senate is now addressing probably the most gut-wrenching decision that an American family can ever face. Without even a single hearing, without any debate whatever, the Senate is tackling an extraordinarily sensitive concern that involves morals and ethics and religious principles, and this troubles me greatly. (Congressional Record, March 17, 2005)

The life of a woman unable to speak for herself has become a "decision" instead of an inalienable right.

The idea of death as a solution has gained wide acceptance in our self-indulgent culture that finds no meaning to life outside momentary enjoyment. Michael Medved wrote a great column in USA Today last week, in which he asks "Has suicide become the pop culture flavor of the month?" and enumerates recent instances of the zeitgeist's promotion of suicide as "brave."

The idea of "solving" life's problems by refusing to live reminded me of the most underrated field of mathematics, linear algebra. (The name is boring, you say. I know: "linear" sounds soporifically straightforward and "algebra" reminds you of your nightmare high-school class.) Trust me: next to geometry, this is the most insightful field of mathematics requiring only limited mathematical abstraction.

There are a number of useful insights in linear algebra that provide a wonderful basis for better understanding how the world works. (I'll leave a neat example to the comments and get back to the point of this post.)

There is a common solution for every* set of linear equations, called The Null Solution, which consists of setting every parameter to zero. The Null Solution is also known as the trivial solution because it is uninteresting: any moron can slap it down.

Death is the Null Solution to all of life's problems. What is the one sure way to rid the world of hunger, poverty, illiteracy, anxiety, terrorism and bad manners and bad breath? Global suicide.

A professor will very rightly flunk a student who enters the null solution for every problem of an exam. As in linear algebra, life's null solution is "trivial" and no solution at all.

Choosing death is not brave. It's cynical and selfish.

*Homogeneous equations, the most common form.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Myopic Seeing-eye Dog

Adam Keiper's recent article, "Science and Congress," makes a convincing case for Congress to re-establish an office to access technological matters—something resembling the late Office of Technology Assessment (OTA).

After sweeping Congress in 1994, Republican lawmakers nullified the OTA. Keiper recounts a number of reasons the Republicans disliked this agency, but to my mind the most significant is its (perceived) liberal bias. Quasi-conservative Richard Nixon actually signed the law that brought OTA into existence in 1972, but the father of OTA was Connecticut Democrat Emilio Daddario. In the 1970's Congressmen on the OTA's governing board appointed their own staffers at the office, which compromised the agency's political independence. This problem became accute in 1977 when both Republicans and Democrats accused Senator Kennedy of making OTA into a personal sandbox. The second OTA director was liberal Republican (later Democrat) Russell Peterson. Peterson's brief but significant leadership was succeeded by former experimental physicist Jack Gibbons. In the mid to late 1980's, the OTA took fire for its negative assessments of anti-ballistic missile ("Star Wars") technology or SDI. Many Republicans came to believe, as Keiper says, "the agency used the mantle of 'scientific objectivity' and 'policy neutrality' to undermine conservative policy ideas and promote liberal ones."

Keiper points to Congress's woeful need for expert guidance in technological matters.

But there is a grave danger in this populist disparagement of expertise. When it comes to science and technology, most members of Congress, including many of those most deeply involved in the relevant policy fights, are dreadfully ignorant. They need serious and reliable advice and information, and the present structure of staff and support agencies is not sufficient to meet this need. To pretend that no such need exists is foolish; and to conclude, without trying, that a new advisory body would inevitably become an ideological nightmare is defeatist, and unworthy of a majority party that seeks to govern responsibly for years to come.

He minimizes the obvious danger of creating a liberal-leaning agency, which would undermine lawmakers' broader perspective (which includes the full range of human goods).

The Republican aversion to expert bureaucracies—the fear that a new agency will quickly fall into reflexive left-wing advocacy as so many old agencies have before it—is by no means unfounded. That has indeed been the pattern of the new departments, agencies, and bodies created by the federal government over the last several decades, perhaps including OTA.

Before I continue, let me note that my own narrow self-interest as a science-policy specialist would incline me to support his point of view. Even if I could not find employment with the new OTA, it would at least draw others out of the market and increase my "stock." That said here is that I think: creation of a new OTA is not playing with matches, but playing with cyanide.

It is undeniably important for lawmakers to receive expert advice on science and technology matters. Mr. Keiper is certainly right in warning against "populist disparagement of expertise"—this country is known for its anti-intellectualism. And this distrust encourages the elitism of intellectuals. Or rather this populist distrust and intellectual elitism are part of a vicious cycle of sociological dualism (a practical manifestation of philosophical dualism). Elites eschewing "common things" is as much responsible for distrust as any attitude on the other side (cf. Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?).

But on the putative "defeatism" of expecting the worst from an advisory body, I respectfully beg to differ with Mr. Keiper. This is a simple acknowledgement of reality and no more defeatist than admitting that "all men are mortal." A successor to the OTA will inevitably gravitate toward the left, not only because it is "on the take" from the Nanny State.

But on top of that, Keiper's argument smacks into a main topic on this blog: most scientists are at best agnostic about moral issues. Qualities and purposes are not part of science or science education. Unless there is purpose in nature, any morality is "unnaturally imposed from without" or simply wishful thinking. As surely as night follows day, a randomly selected group of scientists will tilt decisively leftward on many critical issues, including life issues, especially when they stand in the way of research. Most scientists have no philosophical training to combat the notion that the world is an arbitrary agglomeration of matter, and that there are no "things" or units, that is substances, but only collections of atoms. If substance is illusory, then it makes no reasonable sense to speak of the transcendent dignity of the human person, because the concept "human person" is a delusional fantasy; only cultural inertia prevents such atrocities as human vivisection.

The difficulty of finding morally-trained scientists is precisely the reason that President Bush has had such a difficult time with some members of the Bioethics Council. That the Council depends largely on the genius of Leon Kass, and would quickly disintegrate without him, is a strong testimony to the rarity of scientists like him.

Yes, Congress has limited vision in technological matters and needs a seeing-eye dog. But the only thing worse than going without a seeing-eye dog is having one that's untrustworthy: without a dog, one at least knows one's blindness.

Adam Keiper, "Science and Congress," The New Atlantis (Fall 2004/Winter 2005), 19-50.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Parts is parts"?

The title for this post comes from an old Wendy's advertisement poking fun at McDonald's. A man walks into fast-food restaurant and asks the kid behind the counter what is in the chicken nuggets.
Kid Parts.
Man What kind of parts?
Kid Parts is parts.
(Thanks to Orlando Sentinel)

We've been considering the modern misunderstanding of nature as the purely passive recipient of human molding. Nature in this conception is inherently chaotic and can develop only through an artificial order imposed from without.

In contrast, the older conception sees nature as possessing an inner organization. Natural things develop according to this inner organization. We as rational creatures can understand and work with this inner principle, but not entirely remake it. Moreover, this inner principle gives more complex creatures an inner unity or wholeness that the existence of the individual parts presuppose.

Touchstone featured an excellent article a while back called "Our Food from God: Factory Farms & the Culture of Death" by Christopher Killheffer. It's an excellent argument based on Scripture and Tradition against the modern industrial farm in which animals are treated as machines. More to the point of this blog is the argument from the nature of each creature.

The premise of the industrial system is that an animal is not an animal, but a “bio-machine” or a commodity, something whose needs are not defined by its created nature but by the standards of mass production efficiency. The problem with this system is not that it denies to animals the personal liberties and rights proper only to human beings. The problem with this system is that it denies to animals the necessities of proper animal existence, which of course are quite modest: some space in which to move, some earth to scratch or root around in, natural daylight, natural food, some straw or other bedding.

Chicken-bot The industrial system of raising animals is not disordered because it kills chickens; it is disordered because it first, from the very start of their lives, deprives chickens of their chicken-ness....

Rather than seeking to cooperate with the Creator in recognizing the distinctness of his creatures and stewarding them according to their specific natures, it seeks to transform their natures into a single pattern determined entirely by industrial efficiency. The warning of the Church echoes now as a condemnation: “Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator.” [CCC 339] The factory farm’s torment and distortion of animals is nothing less than contempt for the God who created them.

No creature is merely the plastic recipient of human desires, but has an integrity and inner dynamic given by its Creator. Despite our dominance of the planet, we humans have not created anything. We merely shape and reassemble what God has created. Even the animals we have domesticated express something of God, and demand respect, not in their own right, but as part of the created order.
What is the Meatrix?

Check out this animated short: The Meatrix

Many of the groups who advocate for "animal rights" are rather extreme. I can't vouch for the group that produced this short. Nevertheless I found it entertaining and informative.

Christopher Killheffer, "Our Food from God: Factory Farms & the Culture of Death" Touchstone (March, 2002).

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Summers' Furies

Surprise, surprise. Contrary to the conventional expectation expressed here two days ago, the Aardvark U faculty voted against President Lawrence Summers yesterday (thanks to Justin Torres of The Fact Is):

Voting by secret ballot in a Faculty meeting at the Loeb Drama Center, 218 faculty members affirmed a motion put on the docket by Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82, stating that “the Faculty lacks confidence in the leadership of Lawrence H. Summers.” One hundred eighty-five voted against and 18 abstained from the motion, which was tantamount to a vote of no confidence. (The Crimson, March 16, 2005)

So, 218-185-18. How these numbers compare to the unscientific poll results published in the Crimson February 22:

 Mar 15 VoteFeb 22 Poll

Yay = No confidence
Nay = Confidence
Abs = Abstain/No opinion

The no-confidence vote actually matches more closely the poll's findings of the disapproval of Summers' leadership: 52%-40%-8%.

I must apologize for the rough nature of my recent posts. Unfortunately my new workplace has blocked the site for creating and editing posts (not to mention that I have work to do now!), so I can't futz around interminably with the details as I did before.

Wholes and Parts

Why can't I construct a sentient machine? What is it that separates a human being from a mere mechanism?

Several months ago I considered this very interesting question with a philosophy professor. If you'll bear with my waning memory, I'll summarize the discussion and continue with some of my later realizations.

As usual, I took the devil's advocate role. I maintained that it was possible to construct a human; my "trump card" was the concept of the Star Trek transporter. I assumed that as on the Enterprise it should be possible to pull a person's atoms apart and reassemble them in a remote location. Likewise it should be possible to store that "image" of the person in the transporter and make duplicate people. One could even tweak the image and make "new" people. For that matter, one could make two new people, say, in the middle of a philosophical debate about the impossibility of making new people.

We ended our lunch without converging on any unique conclusion, though I thought I had the better of the discussion.

My argument depended on the possibility of a transporter-type device. But what if it weren't possible? It occurred me that the quantum mechanical Heisenburg uncertainty principle (HUP) would make such a thing impossible in principle. In a future post, I'll consider more fully the relationship between quantum mechanics and holism, but for the present purpose, it will suffice for you to know the HUP says that on a microscopic scale, it is impossible to measure the position and velocity of a particle with infinite precision at the same time. (To be more exact, the HUP says that the product of uncertainty in position and uncertainty in momentum must be more than a very small number known as Plank's constant.)

Pursing the obvious, I turned to The Physics of Star Trek. Chapter five of this book consists of very clear explanations of the myriad difficulties in building a working transporter device. Among these is the HUP that I've just mentioned (pp. 79-81).

You may know the author, Lawrence M. Krauss, from the news. He is a physicist at Case Western who testified before the Ohio State Board of Education to exclude the teaching of any theory but Darwinism in public schools. The irony is that the Darwinian worldview is precisely the sort of materialism that Krauss's discussion of the HUP helps to diffuse.


In the past few weeks, I came across Richard Hassing's very good article "Animals Versus the Laws of Inertia," in which he describes the philosophical assumption implicit in my counter-argument:

[R]eductionism, ...the presupposition that, regardless of technical details, physics has simply shown that parts are always prior to wholes.

Interestingly Hassing's paper contrasts the law of inertia as formulated by Descartes with that of Newton. He finds that Descartes's version requires reductionism, while Newton's is "causally neutral" and perfectly "compatible with irreducibly internal, or holistic causes of motion" because of Newton's addition of his third law (action-reaction).

An holistic (I prefer "integral") view puts the whole before the parts of which it is composed. The parts of, for example, a dog, are only what they are in terms of the whole they compose. Aristotle says, "[parts] cannot exist if separated from the whole; for it is a finger of an animal not in any manner whatsoever, since it is equivocally called 'a finger' if it is dead" (Metaphysics 7.10, 1035b23-25). In other words your finger is not really a finger unless it is a living part of the rest of you. For an organism, the whole is prior to the parts.

In contrast, a machine part is the same whether incorporated into a larger mechanism or not. An automotive fan belt is essentially the same inside the car as on the store shelf. For machines, the parts are prior to the whole.

But (to return to our original topic) what does this have to do with putting together a human being? Why can't one create a person by assembling parts?

All organisms, including human beings, grow from a very small origin (seed, embryo, etc.).** The whole gradually accumulates bits of matter that it incorporates into itself by forming them into its constituent parts. There is some sort of principle within the nascent organism that organizes the matter and must therefore exist (in some sense) before the organism. The perenniel philosophical term for this inner principle that makes a thing what it is is substantial form.

So the whole comes before the parts, not just in our reason but also in time. There is a wholness about humans that no machine possesses. Assembling parts into a "thinking" machine is conceivable, but it would seem that those parts would lack the intrinsic inter-relation to work together in the integrated wholeness of a person.

** The universe also grew from a very small size, though I doubt it could be called an organism, except metaphorically.

Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (New York: Basic Books, 1995).

R.F. Hassing, "Animals Versus the Laws of Inertia," Review of Metaphysics 46 (September 1992): 29-61.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Templeton to Townes

Perhaps you've already seen that Charles Townes won the Templeton Prize. I'll have to look more into his ideas. From the LA Times news article, it sounds like he has some good things to say.

The co-inventor of the laser, Townes, 89, said no greater question faced humankind than discovering the purpose and meaning of life — and why there was something rather than nothing in the cosmos.

"If you look at what religion is all about, it's trying to understand the purpose and meaning of our universe," he said in a telephone interview from New York this week. "Science tries to understand function and structures. If there is any meaning, structure will have a lot to do with any meaning. In the long run they must come together."

Townes said that it was "extremely unlikely" that the laws of physics that led to life on Earth were accidental.


In 1964, while a professor at Columbia University, Townes delivered a talk at Riverside Church in New York that became the basis for an article, "The Convergence of Science and Religion," which put him at odds with some [other] scientists.

From Beliefnet:
He said he regrets that there are still scientists who are as "rigidly fundamentalist" as some religionists. Scientists, he said, must be mindful that "no scientific results are fully provable -- they are based on reasonable assumptions, and we have to recognize that."

I'll need to read "The Convergence of Science and Religion," more carefully, but the concluding paragraph is promising:

Finally, if science and religion are so broadly similar, and not arbitrarily limited in their domains, they should at some time clearly converge. I believe this confluence is inevitable. For both represent man’s efforts to understand his universe and must ultimately be dealing with the same substance. As we understand more in each realm, the two must grow together. Perhaps by the time this convergence occurs, science will have been through a number of revolutions as striking as those which have occurred in the last century, and taken on a character not readily recognizable by scientists of today. Perhaps our religious understanding will have also seen progress and challenge. But converge they must, and through this should come new strength for both.


From science and heaven to the science of the heavens....

This story is not exactly on-topic for this blog, but it is interesting nontheless: President Bush has broken a regrettable precedent by nominating an actual science Ph.D. to be NASA Administrator. Michael D. Griffin is currently head of the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. The NY Times article included a couple of remarkable comments:

A native of Aberdeen, Md., Dr. Griffin earned a B.A. in physics from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. He also holds five [!] master's degrees.

In April 2004, Dr. Griffin took his current post as head of the space department at the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where he had worked in the early 1980's. In 1986, he joined the Pentagon's "Star Wars" program, which was aimed at developing a missile defense shield.

Dr. Griffin worked at NASA from 1991 to 1994 before moving on to posts in private industry, going to Orbital Science Corporation in Dulles, Va. He also worked for Computer Science Corporation in El Segundo, Calif.


Dr. Howard E. McCurdy, a professor in the department of public administration at American University, said that the appointment of Dr. Griffin was a shot across the bow of companies like Boeing and Lockheed that have received the lion's share of space work. "His nomination signals that it's more wide open than that, that there may be new players," Dr. McCurdy said.

Sounds like a good man. NASA suffers from grave problems, most notably its subjection to conflicting political pressures. It will be interesting to see what Griffin can do.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Essential Difference

The Crimson reports that Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers faces a no-confidence vote tomorrow. In case you haven't been following the news, Summers is alleged to have made some controversial claims on January 14:

Summers says the reason there are so few women in top positions in science and engineering is because women are less capable than their male colleagues. There's a "different availability of aptitude at the high end," he said, in now-famous remarks at a conference on "Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce" in January. (Sarah Finnie Robinson)
That's what feminists claim. When one actually reads what the man said and evaluates it objectively, it's clear that he is being taken out of context. But to my mind what's more interesting than what he said, is the reaction to it ("she said").

As a recent poll shows, though 52 percent of the Aardvark-U faculty disapprove of his leadership of the University, only 32 percent think he should resign, so Summers will likely survive this vote. The fact that there is a controversy two months later is instructive.

As for most things egoists like liberals say, the protesters' histeria actually reveals more about them than about Summers.

The outburst by feminist professors simply confirms the stereotype that not only are they too emotional to handle intellectual or scientific debate, but that they seek to forbid any research that might produce facts they don't want the public to know.

When MIT Professor Nancy Hopkins rushed from the room, claiming her "heart was pounding" and her "breath was shallow," she reminded us of Miss Pittipat Hamilton in "Gone With the Wind" calling for her smelling salts before she swooned. (Phyllis Schlafly)

Academia has made throwing trantrums a lucrative business. Steve Sailer's blog featured surprising documentation of how "Academic feminism is a financial scam that works to line the pockets of its proponents. Sailer's article in The American Conservative documented how chief protester Nancy Hopkins has benefited by playing the "gender card."

Is there in fact nothing within the horizon of meaningful human activities but "men's work"? Has it never occured to feminists that perhaps women have something better to do with their time than play games with equations and gadgets?

The lamentable fact is that for modern, Western society, the ideal human being is James Bond. His life is girls, gadgets, and guns. He has no lasting ties. His sexual conquests are conveniently neutralized by the end of the film. Feminists expect women to live "up" to this standard.

Such views would have been impossible in ages past when the very existence of a community depended on the renewal of its members. Our spoiled society has lost sight of the fact that human beings don't grow on trees and they aren't born as full-grown adults (despite what Enlightenment philosophers would have us believe). We are born as defenseless infants, needing patient nurturing for decades before we are ready to replace our aging predecessors in society.

Which would more harm civilization: a decade without mathematicians or a decade without mothers? Before you answer, consider which you'd rather be absent from the world the first five years of your life.

Could it be that women are actually doing something far more important when they follow their natural calling to raise children and maintain a home?

Scientific evidence points to the fact that men and women are inherently different. Men are much better with spatial relations and visual data. Women are much better with interpersonal relations and aural data.

But research shows that many other intriguing differences are observable from birth: Female babies are more attracted to and interested in faces; boy babies prefer the movements of a mobile hanging above their cribs; little girls, in general, tend to be shy; little boys are hard-wired to be more aggressive.

Ask a girl in kindergarten to draw a picture and she'll draw three smiling people and use several crayons to color in their hair, eyes and skin tone. A boy will use one black crayon to scribble a line that shows, he says, a rocket crashing into earth.

The differences continue as children grow. Girls hear better than boys; so, when a teen-age girl complains that her father is always yelling at her, that may be the way she genuinely perceives his loud voice. (Myna Blynth)

(I've listed a number of resources below, including articles from that ever-vigilant enforcer of political correctness, the New York Times.) Does difference always imply a division of superior/inferior? The ideology of "diversity" would tell us that differences are inherently good and reflect no higher or lower value. The respective skills sets complement each other. Can you imagine a world with only men? (Imagine a planet populated by Homer Simpson and the other denizens of Moe's Bar.)

But in the PC hierarchy of goods, "diversity" is trumped by Marxist power philosophy. (Yes, I know "hierarchy" and "goods" are patriarchal concepts, but like so many liberals, feminists manage to believe what they claim to reject...with a fury.)

Feminists refuse to look at the actual scientific data that women and men have different and complimentary skills, and they refuse to admit the tremendous value of women's traditional roles. Bigotry like this is what the modern university is actually about.

One of the major intellectual crimes of the modern academy is "essentialism," that is to say, believing that the world outside our minds has a reality independent of our desires. Perhaps it was because Immanuel Kant wrote so systematically, yet so incomprehensibly that his ideas continue to fascinate intellectuals today. According to Kant, we cannot really know the world around us. The essences of things originate in our minds. Kant, among his many errors, confuses the order we come to know things with the order in which they actually exist.

(If reality is the product of my mind, I must be a masochist.)

Thinking like Kant's is behind science education's disorder. All over the country (if not the world) the first step of the "scientific method" is taught as "hypothesis," as if our thinking about the world comes before what's actually out there in the world. If we what to be truly honest, we need to observe the world before formulating any ideas about it. The opposite is called prejudice.

We men and women need to "accept who we are before arguing about what we should be" (Anne Moir and David Jessel).

Phyllis Schlafly, "Feminists Find No Solace in Science that Disagrees with Them," Human Events (March 8, 2005).

William C. Marra, "Summers To Face No Confidence Vote," The Crimson (March 9, 2005).

Sarah Finnie Robinson, "Let's change this equation" Boston Herald (March 12, 2005).

Jon McKay, "Point: Larry Summers: Summers' Hypothesis Taken Out Of Context" The Docket (March 8, 2005).

Steve Sailer, "The Education of Larry Summers," The American Conservative, (February 28, 2005)

Myrna Blynth, "Nature Matters," New York Post (March 13, 2005).

Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex : The Real Difference Between Men and Women (Delta, 1992).

Documentation of Inherent Brain Differences Between the Sexes

I'm sure there are more up-to-date resources out there, but this is what I have on hand.

"Brain studies point to differences between the sexes." New York Times, February 28, 1995, pp. C1, C7

Shaywitz, et al. "Sex differences in the functional organization of the brain for language," Nature, February 16, 1995, pp. 607-9.

Rugg, Michael, "La difference vive," Nature, February 16, 1995, pp. 561-2.

Angier, Natalie, "Sexual Identity Not Pliable After All, Report Says", New York Times, March 14, 1997, pp. A1,A18.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Summer Conference, July 28-30

I just started an internship on the Hill, so I'm a little short of freetime. I'm still hoping to keep up something approximating daily posts, but we'll see how it works out.

Just wanted to advertise the summer conference of the Institute for Advanced Physics, July 28-30 in South Bend, Indiana. Last year's conference was small, but delightfully spirited and highly educational. Speakers include Dr. Anthony Rizzi, Fr. Benedict Ashley, and Dr. Ralph McInerny.

The Official IAP Rocket Launch

It's a members-only conference, so if you want to attend, you have to join the IAP before the month of July—and this involves a little testing. See the IAP homepage for details. Should be very worthwhile.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

How to Lose a War

The 18th century saw the rise of a new "theology," Humanism. The positive development enabling the growth of Humanism was the rise of modern science. But there was also an intellectual void that allowed Humanism to co-opt science. Christians have largely adopted three responses, all of which have left Humanism unchallenged to lay waste the surrounding culture:

  1. Mainline (liberal) Protestants and liberal Catholics welcomed it and had no scruples in overthrowing tradition and Scripture in favor of scientistic doctrines.
  2. Evangelical Protestants, for whom doctrine depends on private interpretation, clamped down on the interpretation of scripture.
  3. Faithful Catholics, for whom doctrine has always been settled and constant, separated their metaphysics from natural philosophy. Many retreated into the philosophy of Esse (Being).

In military terms, these responses divide into two categories:

  1. Switch sides and declare victory (n. 1)
  2. Retreat behind siege walls (i.e., texts; nn. 2 & 3)

Faith found "safety" by walling itself off from the "really real" world of science, but in so doing abandoned all claims to that world. The natural world is where we live; it is life. To hide behind battlements, to cut oneself off from the natural world, is to banish oneself to the irrelevance of subjectivism. (Remember Gandalf's counsel in Moria: "We must not get shut in.")

Both categories of response leave Humanism with the field. Clearly there can be no victory over Humanism if there is no challenge to it.

The only way to win the war and take back the world is to challenge Humanism on the grounds of the objective world now occupied by science. Science is already turning to our side. Scientistic ideology is giving way to scientific data, for example (off the top of my head):

  • Sociological studies show that children are gravely damaged by divorce,
  • Ultrasound shows convincingly the humanity of the unborn child,
  • Darwinism and its heirs suffer from tremendous empirical gaps.

Nevertheless the ideological root of Humanism remains untouched. Whittaker Chambers writes from his own experience with a most potent form of Humanism:

[Communism] is an intensely practical vision. The tools to turn it into reality are at hand—science and technology, whose traditional method, the rigorous exclusion of all supernatural factors in solving problems, has contributed to the intellectual climate in which the vision flourishes, just as they have contributed to the crisis in which Communism thrives. For the vision is shared by millions who are not Communists (they are part of Communism's secret strength). Its first commandment is found, not in the Communist Manifesto, but in the first sentence of the physics primer: "All of the progress of mankind to date results from the making of careful measurements."

If religious believers are to turn the tide, we need to seize the objective, natural world back from Humanism by developing an integrally realistic philosophy of nature.

If we want to lose, we need only continue hiding.

Benedict Ashley, Theologies of the Body: Humanist and Christian (Braintree, MA: The Pope John Center, 1985), 61, 213, 231-232.

Whittaker Chambers, Witness (New York: Random House, 1952), forward. (Clipped from The Augustine Club)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

All Scientists Believe in God

This quotation is from Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos. (The initial question is a little awkwardly worded, and though I include it for completeness, it is not essential to the point I'm making here.)

Question: Why does it make scientists uneasy that it appears to be the case that Homo sapiens sapiens, a conscious languaged creature, appeared suddenly and lately—when scientists profess to be interested in what is the case, that is, the evidence?

  1. Because scientists are understandably repelled by the theory of the special creation of man by God, in Biblical time, say 6004 B.C. at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday [Friday?] morning.
  2. Because scientists find it natural to deal with matter in interaction and with energy exchanges and don't know what to make of such things as consciousness, self, symbols and even sometimes deny that there are such things, even though they, the scientists, act for all the world as if they were conscious selves and spend their lives transacting with symbols.
  3. Because scientists are uneasy with discontinuities, even when there is evidence of such discontinuity in the appearance of man in all his contrarieties. Revealed religion has its dogmas, e.g., thou shalt not kill. But so does science: thou shalt not tolerate discontinuities. The question is which is the more entitled.
  4. Because scientists in the practice of the scientific method, a non-radical [radical = 'to the root'] knowledge of matter in interaction, often are not content with the non-radicalness of the scientific method and hence find themselves located in a posture of covert transcendence of their data, which is by the same motion assigned to the sphere of immanence. Hence, scientists operate in the very sphere of transcendence with is not provided for in science. Given such a posture, it is not merely an offense if a discontinuity turns up in the sphere of immanence, the data, but especially if the discontinuity seems to allow for the intervention of God. A god is already present. A scientist is god to his data. And if there is anything more offensive to him that the suggestion of the existence of God, it is the existence of two gods.

"A god is already present. A scientist is god to his data."

As we've seen, one of the conceptual foundations of modern science is Rene Descartes's erroneous idea that mind is completely separate from matter (or nature). This is the reason that the scientific observer is "unnatural" and always implicitly and absolutely excluded from scientific conceptions (though modern physics partially corrects this); this is why modern philosophies never incorporate the philosopher and can't justify the act of philosophizing.

Adopting a god-like absolute transcendence is only a small step from believing that "I am God, there is no other."

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983), 163-164. (Clipped from the Augustine Club, emphasis added)

Stanley L. Jaki's Means to Message (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's, 1999) is a great elaboration of the intrinsic inconstency of modern philosophy.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Science's Critical Missing Element

From Walker Percy's The Moviegoer:

Until recent years, I read only "fundamental'' books, that is, key books on key subjects, such as War and Peace, the novel of novels; A Study of History, the solution of the problem of time; Schroedinger's What is Life?, Einstein's The Universe as I see It, and such. During those years I stood outside the universe and sought to understand it. I lived in my room as an Anyone living Anywhere and read fundamental books and only for diversion took walks around the neighborhood and saw an occasional movie. Certainly it did not matter to me where I was when I read such a book as The Expanding Universe. The greatest success of this enterprise, which I call my vertical search, came one night when I sat in a hotel room in Birmingham and read a book called The Chemistry of Life. When I finished it, it seemed to me that the main goals of my search were reached or were in principle reachable, whereupon I went out and saw a movie called It Happened One Night which was itself very good. A memorable night. The only difficulty was that though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over. There I lay in my hotel room with my search over yet still obliged to draw one breath and then the next. (Copied from the Augustine Club)

"...though the universe had been disposed of, I myself was left over."

We find no meaning in the universe because modern science excludes all notion of purpose. Pia de Solenni's concise explanation of why modern science contains no notion of human dignity applies just as well here:

If the concept [of human dignity or purpose] is missing in the original, it can't be anticipated in the result

Should we be surprised at dancing clumsily when we refuse to follow nature's tune?

Added an addendum to post of of Feb 27 The ME Project's Contained Kenosis.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Elites and the Nanny State

According to a Jan. 7-10 [2002] Gallup survey,… support for abortion rights increases with formal education and household income.

Why is it that the well educated tend to be the most liberal?

Supple minds better able to absorb knowledge are by the same principle better able to absorb falsehood. Not only our educational system, but also our culture, are poisoned by a faulty picture of nature.

Modern science, based on Newtonian mechanics, says nothing about purpose in nature. Science's tremendous success at "mastering" nature gives it the appearance of presenting a complete conception of all reality, so that its silence on purpose is interpreted as a universal denial. This same success gives science a great credibility in the academy, so that all other disciplines aspire to pattern themselves in some way after science (physics).

But there is an additional, more radical factor at work. Natural science, even if unsuccessful, still mediates our understanding of the natural world. Notice that we humans take our knowledge primarily from our five senses. Knowing and thinking in sensible terms is most natural to us, so we understand even invisible things (like the human soul, God, and most of the universe) in analogy with visible, natural things. This means that scientific errors about the natural world will warp our conception of everything else: music, history, language, psychology, politics, etc.

Thus we see that both science's success gives it an unrivaled power in the modern world, but also its perennial place in human knowing makes it the foundation of any culture, including our own. Hence the "well educated," less "down to earth" elites tend to be more liberal because they have imbibed more of the spirit of the age, poisoned by materialistic science.

Why does the Elite use the Nanny State?

As we've seen, the purposeless (or chaotic) picture of nature removed the presumption that individuals can control and improve themselves, leaving the state to contain the necessarily ensuing chaos. We might call this the Hobbesian or negative Nanny State, after Thomas Hobbes, whose political theory called for an authoritarian Leviathan to contain the chaos of "The [Human] State of Nature."

Additionally the mistaken, purposeless view of nature takes on a positive or utopian form that encourages the Nanny State to surpress human nature in light of some arbitrary ideal. Karl Marx is the prime example. Despite our human propensity to act selfishly or stupidly, there is a basic goodness in human nature. In contrast, the liberal presumption that humans are not by nature geared toward their own happiness (in a broad, life-long sense) means the State must intervene to perfect society.

Without a clear picture of nature by which to judge the purpose of our existence, the standard of happiness shifts with the winds of fashion, or any crazy idea that enters some intellectual's head and catches on. Usually an idea's appeal comes from rebellion against some traditional stricture that feeds into an physical impulse.* At one point the "revolutionary idea" was extra-marital sex, then it became homosexuality, but recently it's been the (rather unextraordinary) pairing of older women with younger men (do you get the idea that they're running out of traditions to transgress?). Almost always these ideas presume that only the knowledge (gnosis) possessed by an elite can save mankind from languishing in its "natural" imperfection. This presumption against nature is why liberals treat the family, which no civilization in history has ever survived without, as by nature disordered and requiring the intervention of government (in particular of unelected judges). Parents are presumed incapable of raising their children without the help of "the village"—doublespeak for those who think they know better than you or your neighbors. Communities are presumed incapable of governing themselves without trampling on rights of minorities (however defined by the elite). In the minds of the Elite, the Many are unfit to direct their own lives and need Nanny to do it for them.

*Doing away with an objective (natural) notion of the good leads to subjectivism. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis masterfully describes the results of subjectivism:
But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says 'It is good' has been debunked, what says 'I want' remains. It cannot be exploded or 'seen through' because it never had any pretentions. The [elite] Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. I am not here speaking of the corrupting influence of power nor expressing the fear that under it our Conditioners will degenerate. The very words corrupt and degenerate imply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context. My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.

.... By the logic of their position they must just take their impulses as they come, from chance. And Chance here means Nature. It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas, that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by 'seeing through' all 'rational' motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour.

"Freeing" ourselves from nature actually leads to total enslavement to "nature."

Priests for Life, “Prolife Infonet News Update” (Jan 25, 2002) [accessed 2005-02-10]

Friday, March 04, 2005

Peter Pan and the Nanny State

Call me slow, but I realized just this morning the intellectual underpinnings of the modern expansion of the state and its bureaucratic organs. Of course, it has a lot to do with the vision of nature, or else it'd be rather off-topic for this blog.

We've already seen how the transition to the modern era brought a new conception of nature as lacking any inner dynamic and being a purely passive recipient of human molding. We can call this way of thinking the Philosophy of Control.

If there's any tendency characteristic of (fallen) human thinking, it is the implicit exemption of one's self from the burdens one places on others. From this fault the modern age is by no means immune. The person subscribing to the Philosophy of Control (each of us) seeks to control the external world, while exempting himself from self-control. One's original, immature state is held up as somehow sacred and "natural" (as if growing up weren't natural). Self-control is "unnatural" according to this new conception of nature. (Recall the "state of nature" in Enlightenment philosophies is definitionally chaotic.)

Individuals are absolved of any expectation to control themselves. Chaos would result, but no one likes chaos; no one wants "the other" or "everyone else" to arbitrarily restrict his unformed, "natural" impulses. So the state must intervene to control "everyone else." In a democratic society we are all equally part of "everyone else", so we all together become prisoners of our individual lack of self-control. As self-control deteriorates and individuals come to rely on state control (and litigation), state interventions can only grow more necessary and meddlesome.

The result is an inexorable tendency for the individuals and institutions that comprise society to shuffle off responsibility and transfer control to the state. In the name of public order and security, the state's authority expands ever more comprehensively into private life.

In sum, the state takes up control where the individuals fail, and individuals fail to control themselves because maturity and growing up are "unnatural." If self-discipline could be reinstituted as a natural attribute of a civilized human being—if "Peter Pan" weren't subject to such low expectations—there would be no need for the "Nanny State."

But this can only happen once the conception of nature has been restored to its dynamic reality.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Infant Formula, "Neo-Emotions," and the Incredible Melting Celebrity

When humans come to see nature as lacking any internal activity of her own, they come to view her as an obstacle to realization of their desires, one that can be reshaped without concern (let alone reverence) for any pre-existing reality.

Examples of this thinking abound. One was the infant formula craze of the last century. We were told to believe that a technological concoction was not only an adequate replacement for, but even better than mother's milk. Somehow the medical establishment, along with many of the public, saw nothing incredible about a committee of guys in lab coats outwitting—if not the Infinite wisdom of Alimighty God—then at least millions of years of Almighty Evolution. Now we have ample empirical evidence that breastfeeding is better for babies, but even without such evidence, it is difficult to understand how anyone could think himself wiser than Nature. Do we need further evidence for post-lapsarian darkening of the intellect?

Ah, but our intellects are not so dark that they can't pull themselves up by their own boot-straps! Or at least that's what the transhumanists would have us believe.


One of my hypotheses right now is that emotions often seem irrational to us simply because many of them are outdated to work with modern situations, culture, and technologically-enabled existence. The solution is to develop neo-emotions. A neo-emotional system would take whatever beneficial roles existing emotional systems provide, and extend and modify these roles to better suit the environment. [more...]

Yes, perhaps we can change our emotions to better suit our competitive environment. We'll get rid of pity and love, and replace them with ruthlessness and hatred. Sounds like "Genesis of the Daleks." Or maybe just your NOW feminist.

And we haven't even touched on the weirdest "improvement" on nature : the incredible self-mutilation of Michael Jackson. This would be funny if it weren't true.

1979 (age 21)

The Post-human Future?

2002 (age 44)

A graphic warning for those who think they can outdo nature.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Peter Singer, Hypocrite

Just got back yesterday afternoon from Chicago where I attended a mini-conference on "Science, Faith, and Law". I hope to write a little about it in a later post. Among the speakers were Cardinal George, Pia de Solenni, Nigel Cameron, and Peter Lawler. The Thing Is linked a great Godspy article by Peter J. Colosi on the gap between the ethical ideas of Peter Singer and his personal behavior. Recall that Singer is a utilitarian who believes that the vulnerable (unborn, aged, retarded) should be killed in order to minimize suffering and maximize pleasure. (Notice that these weaker members of society have less power to oppose his ideas—that's what a "brave man" Singer is.)

Peter Singer broke all of his own rules when his mother became ill with Alzheimer's disease. Michael Specter reported on this in a profile of Singer titled, "The Dangerous Philosopher" (The New Yorker, September 6, 1999). Singer's mother had reached a point in her life where she no longer recognized Singer, his sister, or her grandchildren, and she had lost the ability to reason. In this state, according to Singer's theory, she did not meet the definition of a person. According to his ethical theory, she ought to have been killed or left to die. Certainly no money should have been spent on her care, since the money could be better spent lowering the suffering of the greatest number of other people. Instead, Singer and his sister hired a team of home health-care aides to look after their mother, spending tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
The contradiction was glaring.
The many people who wrote against Singer said, in effect: "Look, you didn't follow your rules when it came to your own mother, doesn't that mean your rules are wrong?" Paraphrasing, his answer is basically this: "No, that doesn't mean my rules are wrong, it only means that I disobeyed them in the case of my mother, and acted unethically."
That seems reasonable. For example, whether or not a majority of Americans think that stealing from one's employer is wrong has no bearing on the wrongness of that principle. That's only reasonable. But Singer is trying to "have his cake and eat it too":
In making this defense, however, Singer forgot to look on page 2 of his book Practical Ethics, where he asserts, "...ethics is not an ideal system that is noble in theory but no good in practice. The reverse is closer to the truth: an ethical judgment that is no good in practice must suffer from a theoretical defect..." It seems that not only his critics think his action towards his mother negates his ethical theory, he does too!
So Singer has acted hypocritically. In acting against his principles and rejecting the possibility that his principles are merely unattainable ideals, he calls those principles into question (if not voids them). As Emerson is often quoted as saying, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." We can at least give Singer credit for avoiding a "foolish consistency" with his heartless principles and treating his mother humanely. But perhaps it is not too small minded to hope he aim for a greater consistency: humanizing his philosophy to match the natural law written on his heart.