Thursday, June 30, 2005
I regret my failure to post on this news sooner, but thought an item this important worthwhile even a delayed. I discovered via Slashdot Science that Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that scientists at UCLA have achieved cold fusion...really. The result was published in Nature, the top-ranking scientific research journal. (If you need some background, LBL has a basic explanation of fusion in general)
The Nature's popular summary describes the experiment:
Now Putterman, a physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has turned a tiny crystal into a particle accelerator. When its electric field is focused by a tungsten needle, it fires deuterium ions into a target so fast that the colliding nuclei fuse to create a stream of neutrons.
Putterman is not claiming to have created a source of virtually unlimited energy, because the reaction isn't self-sustaining. But until now, achieving any kind of fusion in the lab has required bulky accelerators with large electricity supplies. Replacing that with a small crystal is revolutionary. "The amazing thing is that the crystal can be used as an accelerator without plugging it in to a power station," says Putterman.
The scientific article's abstract downplays the power genering possibilities:
Although the reported fusion is not useful in the power-producing sense, we anticipate that the system will find application as a simple palm-sized neutron generator.
(I know you were pining for a portable neutron source just the other day...)
I wonder if the pessimism about power generation is technically warranted. A quick look over the scientific article doesn't explain why the authors conclude so. Certainly it would be surprising if the reacion itself were self-sustaining, since each trigger particle is injected separately, but I wonder if energy drawn from ejected particles could be channeled back into trigger-particle acceleration to make it effectively self-sustaining. (There are political reasons to cool expectations of energy generation.)
UpdateThe New York Times article explains why the new process is unlikely to generate energy:
...because only one in a million of the collisions actually produce fusion, the device is an inefficient generator of energy.
Michelle Thaller, "Coming in out of the cold: Cold fusion, for real," Christian Science Monitor (June 06, 2005).
Brian Naranjo, James K. Gimzewski and Seth Putterman, "Observation of nuclear fusion driven by a pyroelectric crystal," Nature 434:7037 (28 April 2005), 1115-1118. [Abstract]
Mark Peplow, "Physicists look to crystal device for future of fusion: Desktop apparatus yields stream of neutrons," Nature 434:7037 (28 April 2005), 1057.
Kenneth Chang, "Itty-Bitty and Shrinking, Fusion Device Has Big Ideas," New York Times (April 28, 2005), A18.
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
In my review of the controversally controversial1 film The Privileged Planet, I mentioned the problem about speaking of the "difficulty" of getting universal constants into the small range needed to allow for intelligent life.
I recalled the next day that this line of argumentation is one that I originally opened with Steve Meyer when the Discovery Institute (DI) he, Dembski, and Behe spoke at Cooper Union while I was in grad school in New York, in 1998 (I believe). I had difficulty explaining my reasoning then, but seven years have matured my thinking.
So this discussion re-sparked by the film (and book) is the resumption of a long-standing concern.
The initial problem—the one I discussed in the full review—is that we don't know what it actually means to set the value of a universal constant, even a single one. (The film and the book skirts around this difficulty by imagining a cosmic-tuning machine.)
The second problem, which illuminates the first, came to mind from reading the book:
So for instance the strong nuclear force must be set to certain narrow limits for stars to produce carbon and oxygen in comparable amounts.... The range for these parameters each of these parameters is narrow. The range within which all of them are satisfied simultaneously is much smaller, like the bull's-eye in the middle of an already tiny target. Add the required range for the weak force strength and the bull's-eye becomes smaller still, and so on for the other forces. Add the specific requirements for simple life (water and carbon chemistries) and it becomes even smaller, and more so for advanced and then technological life. (206)
In other words, when you combine all the small probabilities for achieving a viable value for each cosmic parameter, the resulting probability is infinitesimally smaller still.
The difficulty with this argument is that since we don't know where these parameters come from (who or what sets them) we have no idea how they may be correlated with one another. For example, it is possible that the respective strengths of the strong and weak nuclear forces have a common origin in a deeper physics; such a fact would increase the combined probability of achieving a viable, habitable universe.
It's not difficult to extrapolate this argument to encompass all of the universal constants.
Some scientists, such as Cambridge cosmologist Stephen Hawking, hope the problem will be resolved by collapsing the fundamental forces, and everthing they entail, into a single Grand Unified Theory. Given such a theory, the various forces that now seem fined tuned relative to one another will be, he supposes, the inevitable outcome of some single overarching law. While this might resolve the appearance of fine-tuning between independent variables, it would inherit the same problem it was supposed to fix, for any such unified theory would posit some particular value, or number, or formula. While all the actual laws of physics might follow necessarily from it, the higher-level formula would not be necessary. The fine-tuning, it seems, would simply get moved up one level. In fact, it seems that the situation would get worse. Instead of multiple variables, there would be a single, grand one, from which the array of sublaws would produce our habitable universe. It would be like a billiard play on a table with a countless number of balls that sinks every ball in one shot. (263-264; boldface added)
The books assumes the absence of any intrinsic relationship between parameters. But what if hitting one ball made hitting the next ball unavoidable? The Privileged Planet ignores the possibility that the parameters are linked organically.
To understand what I mean better, imagine the small probabiliy of picking the number 10 out of all the positive real numbers from zero to 1000: 1/1000. Now imagine the much smaller chance of picking in addition these numbers: 60, 80, 99, 120, 200. The chance of each individually is 1/1000, so the chance of all combined is 1 in 103(6) = 1018—incredibly small indeed.
But notice that this probability is based on our utter ignorance of what these number represent and how they arise. Achieving these numbers doesn't look quite so improbable once I tell you these numbers represent human vital signs (viz. 10-Hz brain waves, 60 heart-beats per minute, blood pressure 120/80 (mmHg/mmHg), body temperature 98.6 deg F, cholesterol 200 mg/dL). Cholesterol and blood pressure, for example, are correlated. (Please pardon my medical ignorance: you'll have to use your imagination as far as further correlations are concerned.)
The point is that once you have a healthy human being, these numbers aren't improbable at all. Similarly, the ID argument treats the universal constants as complete abstractions of irrelevant provenance. Our present ignorance of their deeper interconnections may merely mask their relative likelihood once the universe exists.
Wolfgang Smith's metaphor may better explain the integrity of creation:
If you break a clay pot, you will find that the resultant shards fit together perfectly so as to consitute the pot in question; and obviously this 'fine tuning'—which seems quite miraculous so long as one does not know the true provenance of the shards—is the result neither of chance nor of design. In short, the physical universe is fine tuned because the corporeal world demands as much. (222)
(I hope to have more to say on the wholeness of the universe in future posts.)
Materialists Still on the Hook
While my reasoning uncovers a flaw in the universal ID argument, it doesn't by any means vindicate materialism. These numbers aren't improbable once you have a universe: that's the big question materialism begs.
I've boldfaced the truest phrase in the last quotation from The Privileged Planet: "the higher-level formula would not be necessary." When it comes down to it, no formula can explain itself: that's inescapable difficulty of the idolatrous goals of some Grand Unified Theory scientists. (Somehow all these bright physicists are able to don blinders opaque enough to ignore Goedel's incompleteness proof.)
Materialism is completely inadequate to facing up to the fundamental question of
Why is there anything at all?
(The simple sound of the question is misleading. Ponder that one for a while....) The issue is one of being: modern science only assumes the existence of things: it can't explain being. Explanation of being is properly philosophical or metaphysical.
The universal ID argument applies modern science with all its limitations to a properly metaphysical question—like using a screwdriver as a hammer. This misapplication sadly results in the same fundamental philosophical errors that sterilize modern science's ability to ground a truly human culture.2
But the argument is not without value. The universal ID argument can for the sake of argument grant the assumptions of modern science to manifest materialism's self-defeating nature.
But ID-advocates need be aware that implicit pre-suppositions have a way of (de)forming their adherents' beliefs. And there's also the embarrassment factor: the argument may sway some opinions in the short term, but in time its lack of integrity will become evident. Sooner or later, the materialists will find the flaw and (mixed with their own mistakes) exploit it.
For ID-advocates to hold as truth the universal ID argument based on modern science's premises is to forfeit the battlefield to the enemy.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
"Can you bind the chains of the Plei'ades, or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Maz'zaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?3
1. Whether it should be a cause for controversy is controversial.
2. Like too many modern physicists, Gonzalez and Richards assume implicitly that being is just another characteristic of a thing, like redness or legibility or being upside-down or being an uncle, that is to say, that whether the thing has it or not, it's basically the same thing. Wrong. Without being, a thing is not a real thing—it is nothing: it has no standing in reality, but is just as well pure imagination. One delusion of modernity is to give mental things the same status as objective realities. Sure an equation may describe how everything works, but who put the fire in that equation? (Hawking's phrasing).
3. Job 38
Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2004).
Wolfgang Smith, The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology: Contemporary Science in Light of Tradition, (Oakton, VA: Foundation for Traditional Studies, 2002). [reviewed here]
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
I know: I said that my next post would continue my criticism of the privileged universe notion, but this is a story that just couldn't be kept down:
Thanks to Slash Dot Science.
The Fox News story (reprinted from NY Post) says:
Pittsburgh's Safar Centre for Resuscitation Research has developed a technique in which subject's veins are drained of blood and filled with an ice-cold salt solution.
The animals are considered scientifically dead, as they stop breathing and have no heartbeat or brain activity.
But three hours later, their blood is replaced and the zombie dogs are brought back to life with an electric shock.
Plans to test the technique on humans should be realised within a year, according to the Safar Centre.
[Dr. Kochanek] said his goal is to be able to put humans, such as critically wounded soldiers or stabbing or shooting victims, in a state of suspended animation for a few hours until they can receive proper medical help.
Yes, "zombie" might be journalistic hype, but the research, no matter how beneficial, is still macabre.
1. BOFFIN: chiefly British : a scientific expert; especially : one involved in technological research (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)
Bill Hoffmann, "Blood Swapping Reanimates Dead Dogs," Fox News (June 28, 2005).
Bill Hoffmann, "Zombie Dogs," New York Post (June 28, 2005). [free reg. required]
My last posts have been somewhat critical of Intelligent Design (ID), and it occured to me that the value of this approach may not be readily apparent to everyone. So before I continue my criticism, I will explain.
The reasons for criticism fall into two categories: internal and external.
Believers need to be sure what they might believe is actually true.
We aren't Christians because we claim to know everything, but because we know we are limited and that we cannot overcome our limitations unaided. If we are truly friends of Truth, then we should have no fear of any truth; as Milton wisely wrote "Who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?" (Aereopagitica, 1664). But we should we careful what we believe. As the saying goes, "The devil cedes nine truths to feed us a single lie."1 Critical examination can save us from unknowingly imbibing the falsehoods of the age along with its truths.
Moreover, what does our credulousity say to others? St. Augustine wrote in The Literal Meaning of Genesis:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.
If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion." 2
More important than the things we say is the spirit in which we say them. Our attitudes bespeak our beliefs more loudly than our words. As St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said: "Always preach the gospel, if necessary use words." Those who are truly open to Truth will recognize us. We leave it to our antagonists to rely on falsehood.
I resume my critique of universal ID next.
Socrates reportedly said after being convicted of "corrupting the young" by showing them their own limitations:
Still I have a favor to ask of [my accusers]. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing,—then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.3
1. Cf. "Even a liar tells a hundred truths to one lie; he has to to make the lie good for anything." (H.W. Beecher, Proverbs from a Plymouth Pulpit, 1870).
2. Aurelius Augustinus, De Genesi ad litteram v.12 in Ancient Christian Writers v.41, trans. J. H. Taylor, (Newman Press, 1982). This excerpt from here. Cf. 1 Timothy 1.7.
3. Plato, Apology
Monday, June 27, 2005
I mentioned in my review of The Privileged Planet (section: "Questions") the question I'd asked about the alleged necessity of the coincidence of habitability with "measurability." I was unable to capture the response other than to summarize it by saying that it "boils down to (in my words) this link's showing we live in a 'privileged universe.'"
The correlation between habitability and measurability is the specification. It’s the pattern. To discover that habitable environments (i.e., environments compatible with observers like ourselves) are also the most measurable is an intrinsically interesting pattern. It’s fishy. “Habitability” and “measurability” are distinct concepts. There’s no logical requirement that these two properties must align in every possible universe. So, to discover that they are yoked in our universe is interesting. It’s what you would expect if the universe were designed for discovery.
So any habitable planet in our universe will also be highly "measurable." Again, it isn't that our habitable planet is additionally favored by measurability but that we live in a "privileged universe" in which the two distinct concepts are coupled.
As I elaborated in the review (section: "Stuff about Numbers"), universal privilege is a problematic concept, of which this line is indicative:
"There’s no logical requirement that these two properties must align in every possible universe."
Is it only logic that constrains the properties of universes? On what basis can one rule out other constraints?
In my next post I hope to amplify my thoughts along this line.
Guillermo Gonzalez, Jay Richards, "A Response of Some Objections of Kyler Kuehn to The Privileged Planet," (Discovery Institute, April 29, 2004). [for whatever reason the document doesn't link to Kuehn's critique or even to his homepage]
Friday, June 24, 2005
My unfortunate habit is to zero in explicitly on the negatives of anything I examine, while leaving the positives implicit. In order to avoid this vice, I'll say here at the start that I enjoyed the film and got a lot out of it. Most of the people I talked to enjoyed it too. One notable exception being the friend I sat next to; she thought it boring (she thrives on conflict, so perhaps she didn't find enough of it to hold her attention).
Please note that this review is not intended to be comprehensive, but simply to touch on the elements of the film that most struck me. If you're looking for a more comprehensive review, Denyse O'Leary at Post-Darwinist has written an entertaining and very thorough one:
I've only seen the film once, and alas don't have Denyse's gift for remembering detail.
The event flowed smoothly with the exception of a small glitch in valet parking that recommended a half-hour delay. The Baird Auditorium, I would estimate, was not quite half full, not more than 300 in the audience. Bruce Chapman, President of the Discovery Institute, introduced those around the room involved in the film's production before introducing the film itself. Following the film, the authors of the book on which the film was based, Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, took the stage to answer questions. Afterward there was a top-flight reception in the Museum's splendid Hall of Gems.
The film begins with a discussion of the "Copernican Principle" and the "Principle of Mediocrity" into which it has hypertrophied and metastasized. Recall that Copernicus demoted the Earth from its traditional placement at the center of the universe in favor of the Sun. Many people take the historical essence of this "revolution" to be the increasing realization of the unexceptionalness or "mediocrity" of us and our planet. This "Principle of Mediocrity" became a fundamental principle in many minds when Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe expands unimaginable distances beyond our galaxy; and our galaxy turns out to be an unextraordinary example of the billions and billions of galaxies scattered across the cosmos. With the discovery of this second data point ("and gee whiz! two points define a line and look where it goes!"), the idea that scientific "progress" inevitably increases the Earth's marginalization became cemented in the progressive mindset.
The next section enumerated the many unusual circumstances that make a habitable planet like our own such a rarity. To introduce the "measurability"1 of our planet, a brief, semi-biographical look at the northern Indian solar eclipse that gave Gonzalez the idea. "Measurability" is his term for the suitability of a planet for its inhabitants to observe and discover the universe near and far.
The film highlights the necessary link between a planet's habitability and measurability. For example, a habitable planet can't form in a nebula2 because of the high incidence of dangerous supernovae; likewise a nebula would also obscure our view of all but the very nearest stars. A large moon stabilises a planet's moderate axial tilt to allow the seasons that are necessary for life and in Earth's case the fact that the Moon's apparent size is so incredibly coincident with the Sun's allows perfect eclipses.3 These eclipses have been key to so many scientific experiments essential to understanding the laws of the universe.
The film next turns to more universal rarities, such as the fine-tuning of physical constants that make possible astronomical bodies, chemical bonds, etc. that are prerequisite to a universe that permits life.
The film ends by summarizing its results and dispelling the false generatization of the "Copernican Principle" to the mythical "Principle of Mediocrity" that dominates modern thinking. Copernicus only showed the Earth isn't the center of the universe; Hubble only showed the universe is much larger than we had dreamed. The Earth is special for combining those rare characteristics that make it not only highly hospitable to life, but also highly conducive to discovering the universe and the fact that it is not an accident.
Far from being "unscientific," this discovery continues the quest of scientists of yore, such as Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton, who turned to science seeking the purpose and design placed in the universe by its Creator. (Scandalous, isn't it?)
My view is that the production was very professional. The computer graphics were crisp and colorful. Visually the film fares well in the obvious comparison with Carl Sagan's Cosmos (though the soundtrack wasn't as memorable). I particularly appreciated the clever transitions between shots, which often played off visual similarities. One such transition (ripples from a water-drop) was belabored to the point of cloying.
For the most part, the reasoning and explanation of the argument was superb and well-paced.
The narrator was well chosen: a skilled speaker with a wonderful voice. Initially, his grand English accent struck me as lurking just this side of comically grandiose, but I gradually grew accustomed to its timbre.
The "talking heads" were well integrated into the narrative. Robin Collins, philosopher from Messiah College who appeared in the latter half, was well spoken but has a look in his eyes that could plausibly come from a diet of locusts and wild honey.
I got to ask the first question6, which was definitely the most critical asked. The issue was the necessity of the coincidence between habitability and "measurability." It seems to me that (as many of the ID arguments with respect to evolution observe) a factor can express a message to the extent that it is not deterministically caused. So, for example, the fact that the physical forces between ink and paper don't completely determine the placement of ink on a page allows written communication. For this reason it seems to me that the Earth would better express a message from its "Designer"—it would be a more privileged or special planet—if the correlation between habitability and "measurability" were unnecessary, gratuitous. (The question that was the excuse for my comments died on my lips. I wanted to know whether the authors had come across any measurability characteristics that weren't necessary for habitability.)
I am unable to capture the explosion of words and ideas that flew back at me, but the response (here and talking to Jay Richards at the reception) boils down to (in my words) this link's showing we live in a "privileged universe."
Stuff about Numbers
The idea of universal priviledge brings us to my other difficulty with the film's argument. As even scientists inimical to the Discovery Institute admit7, the physical constants that govern the forces of the universe seem to be "fine tuned" for life, by which they rather inexplicably fall into the narrow range of values that allows the wonderful habitability of the world we live in.
My argument against the "narrow" conclusion is rather abstract and probably poorly formulated. For this reason, unless you're a geek compulsively fixated on these questions like me, you may want to skip down to the conclusion.
Basically it comes down to the question: what is the basis of comparison for saying the range of values is "narrow"?
Notice that saying something is near or far (that the distance is small or large) requires an at-least implicit comparison to another length, such as one's stride. Without a basis for comparison, using "narrow" or "wide" as a descriptor is completely arbitrary. In the abstract, any given parameter can vary from infinity down to zero: what range of values isn't narrow compared to infinity?
Conceivably, one could use the magnitude of the parameter itself as the basis of comparison. But this procedure also seems rather arbitrary: why should a five-percent variation, say, in a small-valued parameter mean a smaller absolute variation (e.g., variation of 5 for a value of 100) than in a large-valued parameter (e.g., variation of 50 for a value of 1000).
Behind these difficulties in mathematical scaling, there lurks a more fundamental problem: what does it mean to vary universal constants physically? We can talk all day about fiddling with abstract values, but mathematical and physical difficulties are not necessarily connected. For example, the difficulty of removing ten pounds from a living one-ton elephant is much greater than removing 100 pounds from a one-ton pile of sand.
Honestly I don't have a clue of even how to address the meaning of varying universal constants, but I suspect the route runs through fields more fundamental than physics.
Privileged Planet is well thought-out, well written, and well produced. My abstruse difficulties do not damage the film's overall thesis, and certainly not its intellectual and historical importance. The controversy around it alone merits its inclusion on your must-see list, but apart from sensational interest, the ideas it presents deserve serious consideration.
1. I think the term misleading: a planet's "measurability" sounds like the planet itself is being measured. May I humbly suggest some less awkward alternatives? "Vision," "sightedness," "discernment," "unobstructedness" all seem more expressive of the concept.
2. Cf. Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything.
3. The historical contingency of scientific discovery keeps the measurability part of this argument from being quite as strong as the habitability part.
4. Cf. Kevin Smith, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001).
5. General "Buck" Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
6. Of course, here more clearly formulated.
7. Indeed these naturalistic scientists have devised various "anthropic principles" to account for it without recourse to that frumpy "God hypothesis."
While we're waiting for the Smithsonian's next act of comic genius, here are a couple of parodies to tide us over:
- Seth's Free Help for Critics
- "Keeping in mind that the most vocal critics to this point have neither read the book [Priviledged Planet] nor seen the movie, Discovery's Seth Cooper decided to help out by drafting a few form letters critics can send to newspaper editors"
- The Burning Panda's Best Arguments Against ID
- "The Burning Panda is a new [and very short lived] blog, which, although assuring us that 'no actual panda’s were harmed for any of the content on this site', seems intent on tweaking the noses of certain ID critics. They’re launching with a humorous compilation of the best arguments against intelligent design." The link is to a copy of the document from the now defunct site.
I just got back from town where I had the priviledge of attending the premier of Priviledged Planet the controversial Discovery Institute film at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. I'll post a review of the film and the entire event some time after sunrise, probably after noon.
For now, I just want to pass on an interesting tidbit (and scoop Post-Darwinist) about the Smithsonian's claim that it would return the $16,000 the Discovery Institute (DI) donated to show the film at the Museum.
Recall that Darwinian fundamentalists went hysterical on discovering that the Smithsonian Institution (SI) was permitting a DI event in the building (oh my!). The fundamentalists accused SI of compromising itself for a bribe. Smithsonian had to honor the contract to host the event, yet still wanted to salvage its politically correct reputation. The only reasonable course? Return the $16,000...
(Absurd? Yes. More here: Thank God for the Darwinian Inquisition!)
...or so they claimed. Now it turns out (according to Jay Richards) that Smithsonian is only returning $11,000 of the $16,000. In other words, Smithsonian has
- lied about returning the money, and
- compromised itself—not for $16,000 but for a mere $5,000.
We've already established what you are, ma'am. Now we're just haggling over the price.1
I'm waiting to see what Smithsonian does next to make itself look ridiculous. I get a feeling that the show is just beginning!
1. Popularly attributed to George Bernard Shaw.
UPDATE: More details on the transaction at Post-Darwinist.
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Tuesday my friend Marie (Ph.D., Oxford, 2002) gave an excellent talk on Simone Weil's dissection of the foundations of ideologies like Communism and Nazism.
For being such a brilliant early-twentieth-century intellectual, Simone Weil is remarkably little known. A description of her from the flier for the talk:
An iconoclast among French intelligensia of her day, SIMONE WEIL (1909-1943) remains a great paradox today. Though possessed of an incisive philosophical mind, she was likewise graced with mystical visions of Jesus Christ. Though a Jew convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith, she refused to become part of a Church that was, in her analysis, too “Jewish.”
I thought it would be helpful to recap some of the points that struck me. Please note that my notes are pretty sparse, and what I include here is by no means meant to be a complete exposition, let alone a cohesive line of argument. All shortcomings are my own and should not be attributed to Marie or Simone.
Simone's critique of ideologies is that, instead of receiving the truth from reality, they try to impose themselves on reality.1 Further they claim to explain everything. She calls them idolatrous because, in the name of a false absolute, they claim to render good and evil meaningless. All ideologies are therefore religious in nature, even if (and even more when) they ostensibly reject religion.
Idols satisfy the fear of death to self. They try to plug up the "holes" by which God reaches us.
Simone reverse's Marx's dictum that "religion is the opiate of the people" by observing that Marxism is an opiate2; Marxism flees the demands of Truth by projecting an illusory utopia.
For Simone, the folly of love is necessary for justice (she was very much of an idealistic temperament) and she observes that if society dismisses the supernatural, it risks becoming ideological (the natural world is not sufficient). "Everything that is true is Christian," she says. At the same time she avoids self-righteousness by observing that barbarism (cruelty to the weak) is not the exclusive property of some other time, some other place, some other people but is a permanent universal characteristic of man, against which he must constantly struggle to maintain civilization. We can all become barbarians; and indeed for all our "civilization" we have enough barbarism to spare (abortion, euthanasia, etc.).
Coincidentally (there are no coincidences), the sermon at the next day's Mass reiterated some of the points of Marie's talk. It was the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher. As you might recall, both of these men gave their lives in witness to the Christian Faith, particularly to the superiority of the Church over the state, of God over Caesar. More, who had been Lord Chancellor of England, summarized his position by calling himself "the King's good servant, but God's first."
The sermon pointed out the falsehood of the smug condescension of non-believers who denigrade religion as a comfort for the weak. We believe in Faith, the priest said, not because it makes us comfortable (martyrdom is notably not), but because it is true. The demand of Christianity is to conform our lives to this Truth, not to conform the truth to ourselves.
More and Fisher faced the choice that Simon Weil set out: either adore the idol or die to self. We honor them for choosing the latter.
1. Truth is not an ideology.
2. This one seems pretty obvious: Marx rejects the notion of truth—absolute truth—and says that all communication is manipulation for power; he actually says more about himself than anyone else: he's essentially saying that his words are manipulation for power.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Personal note: I've been meaning to put together a post, but got caught up in an email exchange over natural philosophy.
Interesting result reported by Reuters: Married men earn more if wives do the chores-study (Thanks to Compuserve)
He said analysis suggests there could be two explanations for the results:
A marriage might allow a husband and wife to focus their activities on tasks to which they are most suited. Traditionally, this would result in the man concentrating on paid work enabling him to increase productivity and in consequence his wages.
Taylor said another explanation could be that marriage may increase the amount of time a man has to hone work-related skills which could trigger higher wages.
So perhaps this study vidicates the traditional husband-wife division of labor as most natural to the skills of men and women.
An interesting follow-up would study whether the wife would earn more if the husband remained at home to do chores. I would doubt it: husbands have a reputation for being inept at household tasks, so that it's not so much that men are better in the work-world, but that women are better in the home. (Chortle!)
(The deeper explanation is that men's brains are not as interconnected as women's brains and not as tightly integrated with memory and the senses. This fact makes men good at doing specialized tasks that require concentration and abstraction, but poor at more generalized tasks, such as integrating verbal and non-verbal signals to better communicate.)
Also of interest: Where the Smart Women Are
On brain differences between the sexes, there are a number of books out there. This one I've read and it's good enough to recommend:
Anne Moir and David Jessel, Brain Sex: The Real Difference Between Men and Women (Delta, 1992).
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
I hope that I didn't jab her too sharply with my elbows. She's fundamentally a good woman facing a difficult issue. It's been said that living in NYC for nine years rubbed off on me, and I hope that it hasn't lost me an e-friend.
Monday, June 20, 2005
This being the hundredth anniversary of Einstein's miraculous year, there's a lot of focus on this singular genius, and many questions about why he remains so unique. Lee Smolin writes an interesting opinion piece in the June Physics Today on why no new Einsteins have emerged.
Many of Einstein's contemporaries testified that he was not unusually talented mathematically. Instead, what enabled him to make such tremendous advances was a driving need to understand the logic of nature, tied to a breathtaking creativity and a fierce intellectual independence. But Einstein does not stand alone. One can cite many examples showing that big advances in physics come when unusually creative and intellectually independent individuals ask new questions and forge new directions.
Isn't it ironic that science needs maverick thinkers, but meanwhile the insiders are doing everything they can to stifle any questioning of Darwinism? This materialist orthdoxy is not restricted to biology: physicists like Lawrence Kraus have been vocal defenders of fortress Darwin, as has Physics Today.
The question that Smolin engages is how our society can better promote Einstein-caliber creativity. I am rather doubtful that physics as it now stands can accomodate such a change. As Smolin himself notes:
It is easy to write many papers when you continue to apply well-understood techniques. People who develop their own ideas have to work harder for each result, because they are simultaneously developing new ideas and the techniques to explore them. Hence they often publish fewer papers, and their papers are cited less frequently than those that contribute to something hundreds of people are doing.
To give the advantage to people who are unusually creative and independent, we should change the measures we use to judge quality and promise.
Despite the fact that physics shuns qualities to concentrate exclusively on quantity, its practitioners may well retain enough humanity to evaluate papers qualitatively. On the other hand, to admit that qualities are not simply subjective but have a real existence in the world cuts across the grain not only of physics, but also the culture it has left us. In a society as litigious as our own, it is difficult to see how such a practice could fail to inspire lawsuits for "unfairness." Qualities have no numbers to hide behind.
Smolin mentions institutional paths of other countries:
Some other countries seem to be better at making room for the independent thinkers. The UK, through the Royal Society Fellowships, is able to pick very bright mavericks who would not be hired in the US, and give their careers good starts. France picks a small number of very talented young scientists and gives them permanent positions; that security immunizes them to some extent from sociological pressures. Canada has opened the Perimeter Institute, whose specific mandate is to be a home for independent foundational thinkers, and other such projects are in planning stages around the world.
Shifts in funding such as Smolin proposes might be helpful, but I think it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for an Einstein to be government funded.1 Government funding is a great thing, but—let's admit it—compromises academic freedom. Government funding has to be justified to keep free-loaders from sponging off public funds. The liberality of pure research has a difficult time justifying itself, especially without a consensus. A government program can't crank out scientific geniuses any more than a computer can create great literature.2
But government funds can through their symbolic significance at least indirectly influence the intellectual climate. I think Smolin's more cultural suggestions are more directly helpful.
When a group of researchers aggressively pursues a research program but has little interaction with either experiment or outsiders, the group tends to overinterpret results, undervalue risks, and complacently postpone facing up to hard questions and negative results. This is groupthink—a well-documented phenomenon in government, intelligence agencies, and business. When it happens in an academic specialty, the fault is not with a scientist who aggressively promotes his or her program. The whole scientific community makes the rules that allow consensus to be established without sufficient evidence.
Most of his suggestions seek to rectify groupthink3 by opening communities of consensus to rival points of view.
Additionally we have a tougher time here in America, since our society is no great promoter of intellectual independence. Smolin notes,
It is ironic that the US, which rightly encourages racial and gender diversity, worries less about ensuring the creative and intellectual diversity on which the health of science depends.
Actually, it's only ironic if you've never read Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Our egalitarianism society ("democracy") shuns intellectual diversity.
But suppose American society weren't so intellectually uniform and suppose physicists were able to institute Smolin's recommendations. I wonder how effective any change would be in producing geniuses. Could Einstein have so effectively questioned the status quo if he hadn't suffered as an outsider? Notice that his later years at the cush Institute for Advanced Science (in Princeton) were his least productive. (The IAS has a reputation as an elephant graveyard.) Even in principle, an inside outsider is a paradox, if not a contradiction in terms. Perhaps the solution is better conceptualized as an expansion of the realm of the "reasonable": some rival ideas, no matter how meritorious, will always be excluded.
1. There are limits (most of them reasonable) to how truly revolutionary one can be. For example, what kind of response would most scientists give to an investigation of qualities?
2. Cf. the Lucas-Penrose argument that the human mind cannot be a computer program (see Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith).
3. See post on groupthink: Smart People Don't Know Everything
Thanks to the SciScoop article: Why No "New Einstein"?
Stephen M. Barr, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 213-215.
Friday, June 17, 2005
In Faith of the Fatherless, Dr. Paul Vitz turns Freud's explanation of theism on its head. Recall that Freud postulated belief in God to be a projection of one's father onto the universe. Vitz psychoanalyzes Freud and other prominent atheists to conclude with his "defective father hypothesis" that “the atheist’s disappointment in and resentment of his own earthly father unconsciously justifies his rejection of God” (16).
As Dr. Vitz says, being a loving father is the worst thing an atheist can do to raise non-believing children.
A father's importance in his child's life is eternal. Thank your father if you believe in God.
Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism (Dallas: Spence Publishing Co., 1999).
Thanks to IRR for the quotation.
Polling form Euro RSG surveyed American fathers. Many of the results were interesting, and the commentary of the press release was also noteworthy.
Someone forgot to tell dads that they were the ones who wanted to keep women out of the workforce in the first place. Now more women want to return to the home, and men won´t let them! A great majority of moms surveyed (83%) think it´s fine for a woman to be a homemaker and not do paid work. In contrast, only 66% of dads (and 60% of non-dads) agree with the wife-as-homemaker idea.
It is unnoted but very interesting that so many mothers would prefer to work at home. Feminist ideology has blinded us to the truth that women have historically realized: making a home is difficult work, but very satifying.
Two additional points:
- About seventeen percent of mothers disagree with their husbands in desiring to stay home. Is the money these father make that poor? Not being a father, I can't speak authoritatively. Nevertheless I can't help wondering if a father's inability to provide for his family is connected to two unfortunate realities of modern American life:
- The proliferation of double-income homes creates social and economic pressure to work outside the home for wives who'd prefer to stay at home.
- Everyone expects to be able to buy the gadgets and other things that strictly speaking we don't need and might even be better without (e.g., cable TV).
- "Only" a supermajority of fathers would like their wives to stay home. It's odd that an overwhelming number of fathers have a traditional notion of parental roles and the pollsters attach the word "only." I suppose that one has to spin a result one dislikes to the extent one can....
Note: I don't know the make-up of you, the readers, but in case there are children reading, please skip down to the conclusion.
And speaking of sex…they want it. An overwhelming 81% of dads believe men and women are entitled to expect regular sex from their partners. Tough luck for a lot of them, since only 65% of moms (and 56% of non-moms) feel the same way. Interestingly, only 68% of non-dads think regular sex should be expected, suggesting they may be less frustrated by the conjugal killers known as “children.”
Sixteen percent more fathers than mothers expect "regular" relations with their spouses, while 12 only percent more childless husbands than childless wives have the same expectation. What does this mean? Of course it's near impossible to determine the significance of any result without a margin of error (the margin of error is what separates scientific measurement from mere observation). Typically it's around two or three percent, which means the difference of four percent is not very significant at all. The word "regular" is famously ambiguous ("He goes to church regularly: once a year"), so it's not clear that the dads' expectations are necessarily frustrated, but it is notable that the pollsters insist on blaming this assumed frustration on the natural fruit of love, children. Could it be that fathers expect more nookie because they love their wives more?
One might wonder about the greater marital expectations of men than women. The pollsters' press release gives no explanation. A little knowledge about the respective reacions of men and women yields valuable insight [CANDID DISCUSSION FOLLOWS]:
Sexologists state that the curve of arousal in woman is different from that in man—it rises more slowly and falls more slowly.... The man must take this difference between male and female reactions into account, not for hedonistic, but for altruistic reasons. There exists a rhythm dictated by nature itself which both spouses must discover so that climax may be reached both by the man and the woman, and as far as possible occur both simultaneously. The subjective happiness which they then share has the clear characteristic of enjoyment... which flows from harmony between one's own actions and the objective order of nature. Egoism on the other hand—and in this context it is obviously more likely to be egoism on the part of the man—is [when] one party seeks only his own pleasure at the expense of the other. Evidently, the elementary teachings of sexology cannot be applied without reference to ethics.
.... In the woman [egoism on the part of the man] produces an aversion to intercourse....1
So the moral of the story is that a husband's love must be completely self-giving and motivate him to sacrifice his own immediate gratification for that of his wife's.2
The polling firm's conclusion:
“The modern-American dad stands out from the rest of the population on so many important issues,” says Salzman. “What we find most interesting from a trends perspective is this postfeminist role reversal in which men are vying to keep women in the workforce while women are trying to move back to the home. Today´s dad is eager to keep some things as they were in the mid-20th century, but he´s unwilling—and perhaps unable—to shoulder his household´s financial burden without help from his spouse. This has important implications for marketers, certainly, but it also is having a tremendous impact on American life. As men and women increasingly seek a better life-work balance, we can expect to see even more of a clash within households in which both partners are looking to pull back on the work front. We may well see a stronger trend toward downsizing and simplification among couples who are willing to have less in order to be able to do less.” [emphasis added]
(By "do less" they mean "do less professional work." But isn't life more than your job? Actually, simplifying allows you the freedom to live more.)
Father's experience many conflicting pressures in today's world. Being a father has always been a big responsibility, so be sure to express your gratitude:
Happy Father's Day!
1. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981), 272-273.
2. cf. Eph 5:25
Euro RSCG Worldwide, "The Modern-Day American Dad: Conservative, Fat, and Unwilling to Let His Woman Stay Home" [notice how they managed to string two pejoratives after "conservative"]
Thursday, June 16, 2005
I ran across this chilling Charles Darwin quotation on William Demski's blog:
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world…. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.” [Just so there is no doubt, the author in particular is claiming that whites will exterminate blacks.]
Perhaps it is the pervsersity of human beings that explains the suprising turns of our history. Who would believe a scenario with the educated elites (the self-annointed "brights") vaunting their relation to apes? It seems silly enough for a Monty Python skit ("No, I'MMM related to a tur-tle!"; "Well, my cousin is a beagle!").
Charles Darwin and Alleged Ancestor
Creative Commons License
One has to wonder with whom true wisdom lies: with the "civilized" who denigrade themselves as the trousered-ape detritus of necessity or with the "savages" who believe themselves the beloved offspring of the Almighty?
Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope, the young are our hope.
Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871, chapter 6.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, chapter 1.
John Paul II, Homily at World Youth Day Mass, Toronto, July 28, 2002.
As I've said before I don't know much about Intelligent Design (ID). But one doesn't have to know much about it to see that its opponents expose themselves to a telling criticism. As Richard Dawkins writes in the first chapter of The Blind Watchmaker:
All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.
For Dawkins the universe only looks designed. Since the laws of physics are blind (lacking intelligence), perhaps he would say not only that the universe is not intelligently designed, but also that the design evident in the universe is unintelligent.
This all means that Dawkins and his ilk are proponents of Unintelligent Design (UD).
Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (W.W. Norton & Company, 1986).
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
If nature is the product of chance, it has no intrinsic order, so order can only be imposed from outside. On the human level, we've abandoned belief that the individual can exercise self-control. The demands of public order remain, so we can only pass laws and file suits to enforce our ideas of justice.1
During my recent internship, I ran across a couple interesting examples of how our extrinsic notion of justice hurts health care.
First it discourages the frank recognition and discussion of errors that require correction.
Two thirds of the Harris Poll respondents, including nurses and doctors, reported that frank discussion of adverse events or errors sometimes help them avoid making a similar error, yet only only one fourth reported that their colleagues are comfortable discussing uncertainty, and only 5% think their colleagues are very comfortable discussing errors among themselves.
Fear of liability is cited by physicians and hospital administrators as the leading factor that discourages medical professionals from openly discussing and thinking of ways to reduce medical errors.
Second, the reflex to avoid potential litigation actually exacerbates litigation. It discourages apologizing and feeds into further conflict:
In over 25 years of representing both physicians and patients, it became apparent that a large percentage of patient dissatisfaction was generated by physician attitude and denial, rather than the negligence itself. In fact, my experience has been that close to half of malpractice cases could have been avoided through disclosure or apology but instead were relegated to litigation. What the majority of patients really wanted was simply an honest explanation of what happened, and if appropriate, an apology. Unfortunately, then there were only offered neither but were rejeted as well, they felt doubly wronged and then sought legal counsel.
The litigious mindset is not limited to health care. The reflex to control appearances and limit liability, instead of taking responsibility and remedying the problem is how the U.S. Catholic hierarchy got itself into the sex-abuse pickle in the first place. But occasionally, someone has the courage to risk honesty:
One parish priest says he will never forget the day he realized his former boss, an East Coast bishop (now retired), was a true man of God. "We had to meet with a family whose child had been abused by one of our priests. When we sat down face to face with them and the lawyers, we told them that the bishop had said his first priority was to do the right thing. We told them our investigation had found that the priest was guilty, but that he had never been in this kind of situation before. We had removed him from any further parish involvement. We told them that we didn't believe we had been neglectful, but we wanted to help the family in any way we could, because we recognized lives had been damaged, and we were profoundly sorry. And that was the bishop's position.
"I looked across the table, and the family was crying," the priest recalled. "The father said, 'Thank you. We never wanted to persecute anybody. That was all we wanted to hear.'"
When a society becomes so concerned with appearance that it neglects truth, its health is an illusion that rapidly rots from inside. But if we can rediscover nature's intrinsic ordering, we can recover an integral justice in which each person assumes responsibility and admits his faults to the community. Then human society can fully flourish.
Without the right view of nature, human society will only deepen in its brutality and loneliness.
1. With these assumptions our ideas of justice can only be completely arbitrary or animalistic. If nature in itself is disordered, we can draw no notion of justice from nature: justice has no objective reference, so we must arbitrarily choose a reference. We suffer from the illusion that when we decide with no particular goal in mind that we decide "freely," but without acknowledging our base desires we leave them a free hand to control us.
Harris Interactive, Fear of Litigation Study, The Impact of Medicine, (prepared for Common Good), April 11, 2002, p. 9.
Albert W. Wu, "Handling Hospital Errors: Is Disclosure the Best Defense?" Annals of Internal Medicine 131:12 (December 21, 1999), 970.
Rod Dreher, "Sins of the Fathers: Pedophile priests and the challenge to the American Church," National Review (February 11, 2002).
Friday, June 10, 2005
For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
Let ruin come upon them unawares!
And let the net which they hid ensnare them;
let them fall therein to ruin!1
There's an interesting article in the July-August Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows in the form of a letter to a Presidential candidate in 2016. It's sort of a retrospective of the economic blunders that Fallows believes our country to have been making.
I'm a physicist, not an economist, so I can't comment on the economic future he describes (other than to say that sources I trust say we do have serious problems that neither major party is addressing), but I would like to comment on one conceit of his piece: that the President elected in 2008 will be a Democrat.2
[I]n 2008 [the Democrats] were unexpectedly saved by the death of Fidel Castro. This drained some of the pro-Republican passion of South Florida's Cuban immigrants, and the disastrous governmental bungling of the "Cuba Libre" influx that followed gave the Democrats their first win in Florida since 1996—along with the election. But that Democratic administration could turn out to have been America's last. The Electoral College map drawn up after the 2010 census removed votes from all the familiar blue states except California, giving the Republicans a bigger head start from the Sunbelt states and the South.
It's worth commenting on this possibility in light of the recent controversy over Darwinism and Intelligent Design.
I'll pass over the loyalty of Cuban-Americans to the Republican Party (especially after the Elian Gonzales debacle), as a voting block's ardor can easily effect its turnout, if not swing the proportions of its vote.
What I want to focus on is the trend in the electoral college distribution. Notice that Bush could have won in 2004 exactly the same states he won in 2000, and carried the election away handily instead of just squeaking by. The growth of red only increases with time, as The National Ledger quotes Robert Novak:
A projection by Polidata, a Republican-oriented political mapping and redistricting firm, shows population trends will make Republican-dominated "Red" states more influential in winning presidential elections and determining control of Congress after the 2010 census.
The new study forecasts that "Red" states will pick up a net six electoral votes, with Florida and Texas gaining three each. The "Blue" states carried by John Kerry, according to Polidata, will lose a net six electoral votes, led by New York's loss of two.
Under this distribution of electoral votes, George W. Bush could have been elected last November without carrying Ohio.
The reason is that the "red states" grew in population and thus electoral votes, while the "blue states" lost electoral votes. Steve Sailer explains this trend by saying that people with large families move to places that have more space and cheaper real estate. But he misses a deeper question: why do people who have large families vote conservative in the first place?
A principle I call Super-Natural Selection explains the correlation. People who love life and see it has a value beyond itself (and oneself) want to pass it on and so tend to have larger families. People who are see little beyond their own individual lives (like most Boomers) tend to have fewer children. Proliferation of artificial contraception greatly strengthens this trend, and establishes Super-Natural Selection's dominance over other factors like wealth.
It is very sad that the Democrats have become so obsessed with abortion and "sexual liberation." Such policies hurt society as a whole by degrading the (traditional) family, which is the only institution that produces fully formed, mature adults ready to take their parents' places in society.
But beyond the societal harm, the Democrats are promoting the demographic suicide of their own base.
Well deserving of a Darwin Award, don't you think?
But the meek shall possess the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.3
1. Psalm 35:7-8.
2. Presumably, Fallows has chosen this detail to better engage the Atlantic's audience of educated and relatively moderate liberals, so one can't take it too seriously as what he truly believes will happen.
3. Psalm 37:11; cf. Mt 5:4.
James Fallows, "Countdown to a Meltdown," The Atlantic Monthly (July/August 2005), 51-64.
C.K. Rairden, "Electoral College Analysis: America Gets Redder," The National Ledger (February 26, 2005).
Steve Sailer, "Baby Gap: How birthrates explain the national red/blue elecoral divide," The American Conservative (December 20, 2004), 7-10.
Personal note: This coming week I'll be celebrating a friend's graduation and helping him move, so my posts will be limited. I have a couple weighty ones waiting in the wings and hopefully I'll get a chance to finish them off and make them available.
Superb discussion and analysis of why embryonic stem cells are so much more in the news than the vastly more medically successful adult stem cells:
Why the Media Miss the Stem-Cell Story by Michael Fumento
Thanks to Secondhand Smoke
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
A hundred years ago this month, Albert Einstein submitted his famous paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" to Annalen der Physik, the leading German physics journal. It was the third paper he had submitted in his miraculous year of 1905 that was worthy of a Nobel Prize. (In March he had submitted a paper that postulated that light energy was carried in discrete packets, i.e., photons, and in May a paper that explained the Brownian or random motions of microscopic particles as evidence of atoms' existence. It was the March paper on the "photoelectric effect" that actually garnered him the 1921 Prize in Physics.)
The subject of Einstein's paper is the special theory of what he called "relativity," but would be better called the theory of absolutes. The core of the theory is the invariance of all laws of physics: no matter how fast or slow one moves or in what direction, the laws of physics are the same. More specifically, time expands and space contracts in such a way that the speed of light is the same for all observers. The speed of light is the absolute.
Light, that symbol of wisdom and of God.
Einstein himself was a disciple of the pantheist Spinoza, and many of his moral pronouncements are most charitably labeled naïve. Though a public humanitarian, privately he had difficulties with people; his pacifism could not stop his science from enabling a new, cataclysmic class of weaponry. These moral ambiguities—the technical brilliance and high moral aspirations, along with the inattention to the concrete person—make him a perfect representative of the twentieth century, an era in which man's technical achievements and humanitarian aspirations far outpaced his moral growth.
Despite these shortcomings and the diversionary word "relativity," Einstein could not escape his vocation to peer through the changing forms of the world to grasp the unchanging physical absolute. It is strangely appropriate that he was a blood-descendant of Abraham. The Jews have a genius for finding the Absolute.
American Institute of Physics, Exhibit on Einstein's Great Works.
Delo E. Mook and Thomas Vargish, Inside Relativity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987). [A clear, commonsensical, conceptual explanation with little math; the best of the many I've encountered. Thanks to Professor Richard Wolfson, Middlebury College.]
Roy Schoeman, Salvation Is from the Jews (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003). [an outstanding book; the chapter on the origins of Nazism alone is worth the weight of the book in gold]
Older posts (before June) on Darwinism and neighboring issues:
- The Darinian Creed, March 31, 2005
- Social Darwinists All?, April 24, 2005
- The Real Thomas Malthus, April 26, 2005
Also of interest:
How to Lose the Culture War, March 10, 2005
Monday, June 06, 2005
I can't say I know enough about intelligent design (ID) to say whether or not it's true. But at this point, one doesn't have to be an expert in Darwinism to tell that his theory is trouble: one only has to know a little street sociology.
The Darwinians and the major media have taken great pains to convey to any and all their histeria that ID might even be discussed (should we call it "the theory that has no name"?). Actually, let me take that back: their histeria is actually that Darwinism just might possibly be questioned. As I wrote in the past couple posts, despite their claims that this is "science," their belief is a matter of faith and an inflexible fundamentalist faith at that; their blind rage is the proverbial blood in the water...and even the dumbest piranha can smell it.
In researching for the evolution posts, I ran across some interesting material on Carl Sagan. Dr. Sagan opens his book Cosmos with this:
The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.
The religious tone of this paragraph screams out.
As an analytic exercise, let's examine just the first sentence. Is there scientific evidence to back up the claim that the universe is all? A better question would be: is it possible for science to address this claim even in principle? The basis of everything we call "science" is empirical verifiability. We can't measure the past1 and we can't measure the future. By its nature, science deals with the here and now: anything else is extrapolation, supposition. Even more importantly, science can't say anything about anything outside the universe.
It's not a scientific claim, but a religious claim. Sagan tells us "we are approaching the greatest of mysteries"—the materialist Sancto Sanctorum, it would seem. Sagan is the high-priest of smug atheism (pantheism?).
There is only the Cosmos and Sagan is its prophet.
I ran across a summary of Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit on one of his disciple's pages (also here: www.carlsagan.com). The Kit is drawn from Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (oh yes, scientists like Joseph Mengele "illuminating" our path to paradise on earth...).
It is more than ironic that many of the Darwinian arguments rely on these logical-rhetorical fallacies from Sagan's "detector":
Slippery slope - a subset of excluded middle - unwarranted extrapolation of the effects (give an inch and they will take a mile). [Cf., the secularists' blind terror at the idea that Darwinian "science" might undergo rigorous scientific examination] Straw man - caricaturing (or stereotyping) a position to make it easier to attack. [E.g., calling a non-religious film "religious"]
Further, they ignore Sagan's tools for detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments:
Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view. [E.g., firing anyone even sympathetic to dissenters to Darwinism, like Rick Sternberg.] Ask whether the hypothesis can, at least in principle, be falsified (shown to be false by some unambiguous test). In other words, it is testable? Can others duplicate the experiment and get the same result? [in the minds of its proponents, Darwinism it seems is beyond question]
I had thought that non-hypocrisy was to the modern mind a virtue, but perhaps hypocrisy is a modern virtue... and the howls against it simply mask a more cynical hypopcrisy.
1. We can argue about the past based on the explanatory power of theories about it, but this form of argument is much less convincing.
In looking up Sagan, I ran across this provocatively titled piece by Terry Mattingly: "Carl Sagan: TV Evangelist."
Phillip E. Johnson, "Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark," National Review (April 22, 1996):
Plainly, one thing that is missing from Carl Sagan's baloney-detector kit is a device capable of distinguishing science as a method of investigation from scientific atheism, a philosophy uncritically accepted by many scientists. Have scientific experiments demonstrated that non-living chemicals can arrange themselves spontaneously into living organisms? Does the claim that natural selection can turn a bacterium into a butterfly rest mainly upon an unsupported extrapolation from instances of variation within a species? Perhaps we should consider the alternative hypothesis that it is the dogmatic Darwinists who are less than assiduous in exposing themselves to the evidence, and that the reason so many Americans are skeptical of the more expansive claims of Darwinism is that they have their own baloney detectors working.
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Ballantine Books, 1997).
Carl Sagan, Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 1985).
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Thursday The Washington Post published an editorial called "Dissing Darwin" on the Smithonian Museum of Natural History allowing the screening of an intelligent-design film.
The editorial states all but explicitly that the film has nothing whatsoever to do with Darwin. One might write off the title as just journalistic sloppiness, but actually it is very revealing.
The editorial's central paragraph is paradoxical if taken at face value:
[Aside from Discovery's involvement] the film itself also should have given them pause. The museum's policy, according to its spokesman, is to allow private groups to use its auditorium for a fee -- in this case, $16,000 -- so long as the material shown is not religious or political in content. While "The Privileged Planet" is an extremely sophisticated religious film, it is a religious film nevertheless. It uses scientific information -- the apparently "perfect" position of Earth in its orbit and in its galaxy, the uniqueness of its atmosphere -- to answer, affirmatively, the philosophical question of whether life on Earth was part of a grand design, and not just the result of chance and chemistry. Neither God nor evolution is mentioned. Nevertheless, the film is consistent with the Discovery Institute's general aim, which is to drive a wedge into the scientific consensus about the origins of life and the universe and to give a patina of scientific credibility to the idea of an intelligent creator.
The paragraph itself notes that the film says nothing about either God or evolution, and yet charges the film is religious. If God isn't mentioned, then how can the film be religious? Apparently "It uses scientific information... to answer, affirmatively, the philosophical question of whether life on Earth was part of a grand design, and not just the result of chance and chemistry." So it sounds like exploring a philosophical question is "religious." But why is openness to religion a problem? Isn't one of the main modern virtues supposed to be "open mindedness"? It sounds very much to me that the Post is being rather close-minded.
The tenuous connection to religion aside, what about Darwin? How can the Post maintain the film "disses Darwin" while acknowledging it has nothing to do with Darwin or Darwinism? I believe the answer must be that in the editors' minds "Darwin" implies much more than Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. The film is questioning one strand of a whole knot of connected beliefs conceptualized collectively as "DARWIN."
According to secularists, "religion" is tantamount "philosophy," and both are exclusively private matters unsuited to public discourse because they are "unscientific." But wait... isn't the delineation of science from non-science a philosophical question? Isn't the secularist engaged in philosophy by excluding some subjects as "unscientific"?
Furthermore science can speak only about the measureable; nothing beyond the universe can be measured. To jump from "science can't speak about God" to "science denies God exists" can't be based on science, or even simply logic: it takes faith.
So who is disguising religion as science?
No doubt secularists will call on DARWIN to save them from self-examination.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
The free-thinkers at the Smithsonian Institution have decided to further restrict the range of ideas that can be considered under their roof. First they fired a scientist for allowing a peer-reviewed intelligent design (ID) article be published in their journal. (Oh, the shame!) Now after having given permission for screening of an ID-type film at the National Museum of Natural History, they're twisting themselves into rhetorical contortions to salvage their politically correct reputation.
The first item I mentioned is the firing of Rick Sternberg, who committed the sin of allowing an article by Steve Meyer to be published Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. More about the case here.
The second item is the screening on June 23rd of Priviledged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe. The story was first broken by the Post-Darwinist blog. Once the major media (New York Times, Washington Times, Washington Post 1) got wind of it, "enlightened people" everywhere were outraged ("questioning Darwinism is unthinkable!" Living in a thought-free fantasy world is a great way to set yourself up for disappointment, isn't it?).
The PC thoughtpolice accused the Smithsonian Institution (SI) of "selling out", which is to say, only allowing the film screening because they were receiving $16,000 fee from the Discovery Institute (DI). SI's reaction was curious. SI wrote Mark Ryland, the director of DI's DC office, to distance itself from the film:
Upon further review, the Museum has determined that the content of the film is not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution’s scientific research. Due to this fact, we will, of course, honor the commitment made to provide space for the event to the Discovery Institute, but the museum will not participate or accept a donation for the event. (posted along with the Discovery Institute's take on the controversy: "Wonders of the Smithsonian")
"not consistent with the mission of the Smithsonian Institution’s scientific research" (despite having been vetted).
Credit SI for honoring its agreement with DI to show the film. But it is ironic that in order to avert a stain on its PC reputation, SI will be hosting the film screening free of charge! (Of course this "freebie" is courtesy of you and me, the American taxpayers. How easy it is to spend somebody else's money!)
From the Post article:
When asked if the Smithsonian had made a mistake in initially agreeing to host the event, spokesman Randall Kremer says: "We don't look at it in terms of whether we made a mistake or not. Our statement speaks for itself."
Could Bill Clinton have simulataneously wiggled and stonewalled better?
Denyse O'Leary at Post-Darwinist points out another irony: the aversion of old-guard biologists to even discussing ID is actually stimulating students to look into it (founding IDEA clubs—Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness, etc.). Nothing so attractive as forbidden fruit!2
I think we're rapidly approaching that "tipping point" in any intellectual development, in which opposing the obvious becomes as futile as stopping an avalanche. Remember CBS's Rathergate and Newsweek's Korangate? Like the major media, scientists are merely destroying their credibility by vainly insisting there is no "man behind the curtain."
The linebacker is down. Before you know it everyone will be piling on.
1. Interesting that the New York Times ran with the story before the more local Washington Post did. Perhaps this reflects the authority the Times still carries in the American journalistic hierarchy, as if the Gray Lady were the Church of Rome.
2. Another irony: this is the same sociological force that powered the success of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
Steve Meyer, "The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories," Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117:2 (2004), 213-239.
John Schwartz, "Smithsonian to Screen a Movie That Makes a Case Against Evolution," New York Times (May 28, 2005).
UPI, "Smithsonian to screen anti-evolution film," Washington Post (May 29, 2005).
Tommy Nguyen, "Smithsonian Distances Itself From Controversial Film," Washington Post (June 2, 2005), C01.
David Klinghoffer, "The Branding of a Heretic: Are religious scientists unwelcome at the Smithsonian?" Opinion Journal (January 28, 2005).
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I meant to write on this news item some time ago about an embryonic stem cell researcher upset that the government won't fund his research. Unfortunately I can't access the original article now and all that remains is the blog post Stem cell research leader warns of moral backlash at Stem Cell Debate that led me to it:
A Nobel laureate who campaigned for California's $3 billion stem cell initiative is warning that ideologically driven laws to prohibit research could abridge the constitutional rights of researchers and would face legal challenges. Paul Berg, a biotech pioneer and a professor emeritus at the Stanford University School of Medicine, made the comments during a luncheon speech April 28 at BayBio 2005, a conference of the Bay Area biotechnology association."Given the federal government's threat to prohibit certain lines of research, it seems relevant to ask if the freedom to conduct scientific investigation and to report its results is legitimately different from the rights afforded to the press for their freedom of inquiry and publication," Berg said. "In short, lacking clear evidence of certain danger or harm, I believe the case can be made that the freedom to conduct scientific inquiry is inherent in the right to free speech granted in the Constitution's Bill of Rights."
(Oh, the outrage!)
For anyone who knows the real situation (that no one is prohibiting this research , and that President Bush actually liberalized funding for embryonic stem cell research), the claim is really too silly to require a response. Nevermind that "lacking clear evidence" is never adequate when human life is possibly at stake ("is that movement behind that tree a dear or another hunter?"). Nevermind about the cliche free-speech claim. The funding claim is the most outrageous: as if a "right" to do x means that the government has an obligation to fund x! Let's try x = "right to bear arms" and see how the PC thoughtpolice like that! (That last argument originally found in Harvard's Penninsula.)
I can't resist saying that it is perennially amusing to me that "progressives" are so delusional as to brand "regressive" and inhumane any short-fall from their expectations of an inevitable, utopian "future."
What stimulated me to dredge this item up from last month was this great post I ran across last night:
Shazaam! An Even-Handed Article on the Cloning Debate in WIRED by Wesley J. Smith.
I think Smith is being rather charitable calling the Wired article (How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul) even-handed, when it deploys some of the usual deceptive rhetoric (e.g., that Bush cut funding). But it is even-handed enough to convey the point that Smith highlights:
But the most revealing part of the Wired article for me was the predictable lack of enthusiasm of the mainstream biotechnologists for the ANT proposal [to generate embryonic stem cells putatively without killing an embryo]. This isn't surprising. They are not interested in consensus or compromise. Biotech scientists want to do what they want to do, e.g., human cloning, and they want tax payers to foot the bill in the billions of dollars. Thus, even as Hurlbut strives to bridge the growing gap between science and morality, the scientists really don't care. Believing that only scientists can decide what is moral in science, they insist that the rest of us mind our own business and let them get on with it.
Hurlbut's compromise calls the bluff of the scientists who continue to claim what little moral high-ground remains to them. It shows that they don't believe in morality—outside their own Olympian decrees, that is.
This reaction is part of the egocentric arrogance that is dragging our civilization down to decadence. After all, what's so special about a scientist? If a scientist can decide what is right and what is wrong, why can't anyone else?
Clive Thompson, "How to Farm Stem Cells Without Losing Your Soul: A solution to the stem cell dilemma that even the Vatican can love" Wired, June 2005.