Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Racial Preferences

I leave you this fine evening with a blog post by Michael Barone, who has a law degree from Yale University.


This column by Nick Gillespie explains why no Libertarian candidate for president has received more than 1.1% of the vote. These nuts think there is a moral right (and should be a legal right) to have anonymous sex in public places. Keep it up, libertarians, and you’ll get no votes at all, which will make you feel really pure.


This column by Tony Blankley isn’t likely to change any votes, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Two Conceptions of Science

One often hears scientists say that they don’t “need” to postulate the existence of God to explain anything. The “God hypothesis,” they say, is useless. This, I think, is the key to understanding the animosity of atheistic scientists (such as Richard Dawkins) toward religion, which they view as a threat to science. They fail to appreciate that there are two conceptions of science, not just one.

In the broad sense, science (from the Latin scientia, knowledge) is the attempt to understand the world. It makes no assumptions about which methods will or will not prove useful in doing so. Let us call this activity “broad science,” which is short for “science broadly construed.” In the narrow sense, science is the attempt to understand the world in purely naturalistic terms. Any reference to the supernatural is therefore excluded by fiat. Let us call this activity “narrow science,” which is short for “science narrowly construed.” Narrow science is a specialized game. It’s as if a group of people got together and said, “Let’s see how much of the world we can explain without postulating any supernatural entities; perhaps many of the things that were long thought to require supernatural explanations do not in fact require them.” It would be like saying, “Let’s see whether we can build a functioning automobile without using any metal.” It’s a challenge—an attempt to accomplish something with only certain methods, assumptions, or materials.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with narrow science. Indeed, it has been surprisingly successful in expanding human knowledge. The problem is that many narrow scientists have forgotten that their conception of science is not the only one. It is simply the one they have chosen. When they confront individuals (such as Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga) who conceive of science broadly, or engage in broad science, they accuse them of not doing science at all, or of misunderstanding science, or of trying to corrupt science. In fact, these other individuals are doing science, just not the narrow science that excludes reference to certain entities.

Science, like baseball, presidential politics, and chess, is a rule-governed, goal-directed activity. The rules of narrow science are not the same as the rules of broad science, even if they overlap to a considerable extent and even if the goal (understanding, knowledge) is the same. If we fail to keep the two conceptions of science distinct, we will never progress beyond where we are, which is the stage of name-calling, acrimony, and misunderstanding. What Richard Dawkins should be saying (and would be saying, if he had philosophical training and aptitude) is that he’s not interested in doing broad science, i.e., playing the game of broad science. He likes the challenge of trying to explain everything in purely naturalistic terms. In other words, he likes to play the game of narrow science. This is fine. Some people like baseball; some like cricket. The games are similar but not identical. Wouldn’t it be silly for baseball fans to attack cricket fans for not being “true” baseball fans, or for misunderstanding baseball, or for trying to corrupt baseball?

A. P. Martinich on Hobbes and Descartes

Hobbes was one of the first people to receive a copy of the Meditations on First Philosophy.  Mersenne had sent prepublication copies to various distinguished philosophers and theologians with the purpose of receiving comments to which Descartes would reply. In August 1641, Meditations was published, along with six sets of objections and Descartes’s replies to them. Hobbes’s objections and Descartes’s replies constitute one of the great episodes of talking-past-one-another in the history of philosophy. Descartes was a mentalistic dualist; Hobbes was a materialistic monist. Descartes was obsessed with skepticism and thought it could be overcome only if certainty about the foundations of knowledge could be well grounded. Hobbes was sanguine about skepticism and thought that stipulative definitions either defeated or sidestepped the problem.

(A. P. Martinich, Hobbes: A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999], 164-5)

Best of the Web Today


Baseball Notes

1. Big game tonight on ESPN2: the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees, in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won the first game of the three-game series. They have to sweep the series, so the pressure is on. (When the pressure is on, A-Rod crumbles.) Tonight’s starters are Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens, two fireballing Texans. (Clemens wasn’t born in Texas, but he’s lived here since he was in high school.) I’m hurrying to get my work done so I can enjoy the show. Did I mention that I’ll be watching the game on a Dell 42-inch high-definition plasma television? Read it and weep.

2. Phil Garner is out as the manager of the Houston Astros, just as I predicted three days earlier. The man is a loser. He has run three teams into the ground. Check it out. Please don’t say that he led the Astros to the World Series. The team was rolling when he came aboard. They went downhill as soon as he took the job. I’d be very surprised if someone hired Garner, given his record, but you never know. Next manager to go: Ozzie Guillen. He’s a clown, not a serious baseball man. He, too, has run a good team into the ground.

3. I’m not convinced that my beloved Detroit Tigers can win the World Series, so I hope they tumble in the standings. The very worst thing that can happen, from my point of view, is what happened in 2006, namely, losing a World Series. If you get to the World Series, you have to win it. I wish the Tigers had finished in last place a year ago, with the worst record in baseball. Instead, they broke my heart.

4. There was an interesting column in yesterday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The columnist asked Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels whether the club is rebuilding. He said no; the club is “building.” The word “rebuilding” connotes giving up for a few years while players mature and improve. The fear is that fans will give up on the team and wait for the rebuilding process to be completed. Someone might say that this is “just semantics,” but it’s not, if that means playing around with words. If “rebuilding” has a connotation that “building” does not, then the words are not interchangeable. Daniels is trying to communicate something to fans. Why should he use a word that communicates giving up, when he doesn’t think he’s giving up?

Hall of Fame?

Billy Wagner. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman wonders why the Bush administration has not “Swift boated” Osama bin Laden. He cites as a missed opportunity the Aug. 14 bombing of Kurds by jihadists that resulted in more than 500 deaths.

If the administration followed Mr. Friedman’s advice, it would only call more attention to the following facts:

¶Members of the administration lied to get us into this war.

¶Their prewar intelligence was also fabricated.

¶Every life lost in Iraq is because of the administration’s war.

¶Our Constitution is being destroyed.

¶Every battle lost is because of the administration’s mismanagement.

¶The administration fouled up our original mission in Afghanistan.

So the most important thing the Bush gang can do is to keep quiet about their blunders without taking on Osama bin Laden by Swift-boating him. They know he has the upper hand.

Milton Fink
Lenox, Mass., Aug. 26, 2007

Note from KBJ: Which member of the administration lied? Can we agree that lying is a bad thing and that, before one charges another with lying, one should have evidence to back it up? Here is my challenge. First, name the person who lied. Administrations don’t lie; people do. Second, quote the person (with documentation). Third, show that, at the time the sentence was uttered, the person who uttered it believed that it was false. Fourth, show that the sentence was uttered with the intention to deceive. If you can’t do these things, then you have no business claiming that someone lied.

A Year Ago