Thursday, 3 January 2008

An Inconvenient Truth

I leave you this fine evening with a story about “global warming.”

Science and Religion

Here is a New York Times story about a new book by the National Academy of Sciences. You can read the book online. In fact, you can download the entire book in PDF format, as I just did. Here is the definition of “science,” from the book:

The use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.

This definition does not exclude Design Theory, which is an attempt to use the methods of science to establish the existence of God. According to Richard Swinburne, “theism [the view that there is a God] provides by far the simplest explanation of all phenomena” (Is There a God? [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 41). Here is Swinburne’s summary of his book:

The basic structure of my argument is this. Scientists, historians, and detectives observe data and proceed thence to some theory about what best explains the occurrence of these data. We can analyse the criteria which they use in reaching a conclusion that a certain theory is better supported by the data than a different theory—that is, is more likely, on the basis of those data, to be true. Using those same criteria, we find that the view that there is a God explains everything we observe, not just some narrow range of data. It explains the fact that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate within it, that it contains conscious animals and humans with very complex intricately organized bodies, that we have abundant opportunities for developing ourselves and the world, as well as the more particular data that humans report miracles and have religious experiences. In so far as scientific causes and laws explain some of these things (and in part they do), these very causes and laws need explaining, and God’s action explains them. The very same criteria which scientists use to reach their own theories lead us to move beyond those theories to a creator God who sustains everything in existence. (Page 2; italics in original)

Swinburne’s claim is that science, properly understood and conducted, leads to theism. If the authors of the NAS book meant to exclude Design Theory from their definition of “science,” they needed to stipulate that scientific explanations must make no reference to supernatural entities such as God. But this appears ad hoc. Why should science limit itself to naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena?


Here are the Democrat results.

Addendum: If the nominees for president of this great country are Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama, neither of whom is competent to be dog catcher, I’m moving to Canada.

Addendum 2: The New York Times has the results for both parties.

Jonathan Wolff on Suppression of False Views

Mill must be making the assumption that, in general at least, believing the truth is a way of achieving happiness.

If that is so, what harm can be done by suppressing a false view? In fact, there are very strong reasons against doing so, Mill argues, even if we could know it to be false. If we do not consider challenges to our opinion, then ‘however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth’ (On Liberty, 161). As Mill says, we ‘go to sleep at [the] post as soon as there is no enemy in the field’ (On Liberty, 170). One danger here is that the real meaning of the view might be lost or enfeebled if it is not constantly challenged and defended, and so becomes ‘deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct, the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good’ (On Liberty, 181). But perhaps the great danger is that when challenged by a sparkling presentation of the opposite, false, view, the champions of the received truth will be unable to defend themselves. Not only will they look foolish, but the false view may gain a popularity it does not merit, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

This, according to some accounts, is what has happened to evolutionary theory in the United States. Believers in Darwinism, while realizing the theory has some apparent flaws, nevertheless did not take seriously the thought that any intelligent, scientifically trained person could fail to accept the broad truth of evolutionary theory in some form or other. Consequently, when well-organized and skilful religious fundamentalists started packaging and deliberately mixing up sophisticated and plausible objections to Darwinism with their own advocacy of ‘creation science’—the literal belief in the Old Testament—the Darwinian establishment was not ready to meet the challenge. And so the creationists developed a following way out of proportion to the scientific merits (nil) of their theory. Many Americans—in certain southern states a majority—still believe that evolutionary theory should not be taught in schools.

(Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, rev. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2006], 110-1 [brackets in original])

Note from KBJ: Wolff, an Englishman, misrepresents the American debate. Nobody wants evolutionary theory banished from the schools. What many people want is inclusion of other theories, such as Design Theory, or at least a discussion of criticism (some of it by reputable scientists) of evolutionary theory. The dogmatists in this debate are the Darwinians. They should take Mill’s argument to heart: If they think alternative theories are false or inferior, they should argue as much. If they think the criticisms of evolutionary theory are confused or weak, they should argue as much. If truth is on their side, and if they’re half as smart as they think they are, they should have no trouble establishing the superiority of their theory. As for what should be taught in public schools, that’s not a scientific or a philosophical question; it’s a question of public policy, concerning which scientists and philosophers, as such, have no expertise.


The Chicago White Sox just got better. My beloved Detroit Tigers will have to earn the American League Central Division title this year. The Cleveland Indians will be trying to repeat, and you can never count the Minnesota Twins out. Even the Kansas City Royals should be improved. Is there a better division in baseball?

Addendum: Boston’s magic number to clinch a tie for the American League East Division title is 162.

Changing One’s Mind

Two of my readers (James Drake and Mark Spahn) drew my attention to this. So far, this is my favorite answer.

Best of the Web Today


A Year Ago


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Times Adds an Op-Ed Columnist” (news article, Dec. 30):

It was with disappointment that I learned that The New York Times has hired William Kristol as an Op-Ed page columnist.

I subscribe to The Times and look forward to a balanced and diverse opinion page. But Mr. Kristol, who with other neocons argued for the military strikes that led this country into the debacle of Iraq, has suggested that we do the same to Iran.

I think Mr. Kristol’s opinions on our foreign policy in the Middle East are misguided and dangerous. I urge you to not give a platform to the radical fringe on either side of the political spectrum, be it liberal or conservative.

Nancy Whitmore
Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 31, 2007

To the Editor:

I am disappointed by the vociferous objections I’ve heard and read from New York Times subscribers to the hiring of the conservative columnist William Kristol.

When did we come to so fear the words and ideas of those on the “dark side” that we are unwilling to match wits with them?

The Op-Ed page should be a forum for a variety of perspectives and public debate, not a clone of the editorial page. If the 2008 election is to usher in meaningful change, liberals must understand the appeal of the conservative far-right agenda and use this to our advantage.

We would do well to heed the maxim “Hold your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Sheryl Jedlinski
Palatine, Ill., Dec. 31, 2007

To the Editor:

I have been a daily Times reader for nearly 40 years, beginning with my first subscription at my New England preparatory school in the 1960s.

The opinion section has always drawn me into thoughtful discussion, with distinguished columnists from William Safire to Maureen Dowd, and from Paul Krugman to David Brooks (about whom I still have doubts).

But surely something has gone wrong when The Times embraces William Kristol, one of the neocon architects of the Bush administration’s failed first-strike Iraq strategy, and an unapologetic hawk on similar aggression against Iran.

Are you serious? Or has the great tradition of The Times gone the way of most independent journalism in today’s oligarchic, self-serving society?

Denver Collins
Eugene, Ore., Dec. 30, 2007

Note from KBJ: What are progressives afraid of? If Kristol says something false, they can correct it. If he reasons invalidly, they can correct it. For the life of me, I do not understand the progressive urge (which is manifest even on college campuses) to stifle discussion. It betrays a lack of confidence in one’s critical, analytical, and argumentative abilities.

YouTube Again

I appreciate the many tips I received about how to embed a YouTube video in this blog. I figured it out—I think. The first thing I do when I want to embed a video is copy the code from the YouTube site. Instead of pasting it directly into my blog, however, I must first open a text document and paste it there. Then I copy that and paste it into my blog. Voila! Here is the video I was trying to embed:

Here’s what’s weird. Once I publish the post, I can’t edit it. If I do, some of the code is lost and only a box shows up. I guess I’ll have to get the text just right before publishing, so I don’t have to edit it.


Work is what you’d rather not be doing. All else is play.


I have a 10-CD set called Masters of Classical Music. The composers are Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Chopin, Schubert, and Verdi. I listen to the CDs in order, one per day, usually in the morning while reading at my desk. Today I have Tchaikovsky playing. It’s my favorite. If you asked why, I couldn’t tell you. I just like it.