CO2 does us good 7

Man-made global warming?

Malcolm Roberts sizes up the lie:

 

(Hat-tip to Cogito)

Posted under Science by Jillian Becker on Friday, July 26, 2019

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Old Glory and new designs on the moon 5

 

So it’s 50 years today (July 20, 2019) since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted the flag of the United States on the moon.

Why planting a flag on the moon was so hard

With virtually no atmosphere on the moon—and, therefore, no wind—flags that fly freely on Earth would hang like limp cloth in the lunar environment. So engineers had to rethink flagpole design entirely. …

To deploy the flag, one astronaut used a sampling hammer to pound the lower vertical section into the ground. The other astronaut extended the telescoping crossbar and raised it to a 90-degree angle with the vertical section to click it into place. Then the two astronauts slid the upper part of the pole into the lower one.

Once they got the flag up, several factors made it look as though it was flying, First there were wrinkles in it because of how tightly it was packed. And these add to the illusion that the flag is waving. Also, the astronauts didn’t always get the horizontal crossbar extended all the way—they were working in pressurized spacesuits and really cumbersome gloves, after all—which caused the flag to bunch up in places. That also made it look like it’s waving.

President Trump has new designs on the moon.

Charlie Spiering reports at Breitbart:

President Donald Trump welcomed Apollo 11 astronauts at the White House on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Americans landing on the moon and planting the American flag there. …

Trump called the moon landing event “one of the greatest achievements ever” and said that the United States was committed to continuing the exploration of space.

Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, and Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 command module pilot, came to the White House for the event as well as Neil Armstrong’s two sons. Other family members of the three astronauts also attended the event. (Armstrong, the first man to land on the moon, died in 2012.) …

Trump said he was pleased that the United States no longer had to rely on Russia to get up into space, thanks to the private space industry working with NASA.

Yes, that’s what Obama had brought the US down to! (He had assigned a different, earthbound task to NASA – “to reach out to the Muslim world”!)

Now that we have a visionary – with sound business sense – in the Oval Office, NASA will go back to doing its proper job.

“NASA is back,” Trump said. “We’re having rich guys use it and pay us rent; I like that.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also attended the event, declaring that it was important for the United States to return to the moon long-term in order to launch a mission to Mars.

“We prove that out on the moon, then we go to Mars,” Bridenstine said.

But Collins appeared to disagree.

“Mars direct,” he said shortly.

Aldrin disagreed. “You’re impatient,” he interjected off camera.

Trump brought up the debate live in the Oval Office during the Oval Office meeting with the press.

Aldrin supports building a moon base and space station to help launch future trips to Mars, a proposal that Vice President Mike Pence and Bridenstine also favor.

“Who knows better than these people right?” Trump asked, pointing at the two astronauts.

But Bridenstine repeated that NASA needed to learn how to live onsite on the moon using available resources for long-term exploration. He argued that the mission to Mars should be launched from a space station to escape the earth’s gravity. …

Trump seems fascinated by the idea of going straight to Mars and only favors talk about returning to the Moon as long as it is focused on the ultimate mission to Mars.

The god of the gaffes 17

Why would baffled scientists reach for a supernatural explanation of puzzling phenomena?

David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale, reviews books that argue against Charles Darwin at the Claremont Review of Books in an article titled Giving Up Darwin.

Stephen Meyer’s thoughtful and meticulous Darwin’s Doubt (2013) convinced me that Darwin has failed. … Two other books are also essential: The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (2009), by David Berlinski, and Debating Darwin’s Doubt (2015), an anthology edited by David Klinghoffer, which collects some of the arguments Meyer’s book stirred up. These three form a fateful battle group that most people would rather ignore. Bringing to bear the work of many dozen scientists over many decades, Meyer, who after a stint as a geophysicist in Dallas earned a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge and now directs the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, disassembles the theory of evolution piece by piece. Darwin’s Doubt is one of the most important books in a generation. Few open-minded people will finish it with their faith in Darwin intact.

Gelernter explains the anti-Darwin arguments:

In the famous “Cambrian explosion” of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms—including the first-ever animals—pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years. This great outburst followed many hundreds of millions of years of slow growth and scanty fossils, mainly of single-celled organisms, dating back to the origins of life roughly three and half billion years ago.

Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life. Those brave new Cambrian creatures must therefore have had Precambrian predecessors, similar but not quite as fancy and sophisticated. They could not have all blown out suddenly [if, he is saying, Darwin was right], like a bunch of geysers. Each must have had a closely related predecessor, which must have had its own predecessors: Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. All those predecessors must have come together, further back, into a series of branches leading down to the (long ago) trunk.

But those predecessors of the Cambrian creatures are missing. Darwin himself was disturbed by their absence from the fossil record. He believed they would turn up eventually. Some of his contemporaries … held that the fossil record was clear enough already, and showed that Darwin’s theory was wrong. Perhaps only a few sites had been searched for fossils, but they had been searched straight down. The Cambrian explosion had been unearthed, and beneath those Cambrian creatures their Precambrian predecessors should have been waiting—and weren’t. In fact, the fossil record as a whole lacked the upward-branching structure Darwin predicted.

The trunk was supposed to branch into many different species, each species giving rise to many genera, and towards the top of the tree you would find so much diversity that you could distinguish separate phyla—the large divisions (sponges, mosses, mollusks, chordates, and so on) that comprise the kingdoms of animals, plants, and several others … But … the fossil record shows the opposite: “representatives of separate phyla appearing first followed by lower-level diversification on those basic themes”. In general, “most species enter the evolutionary order fully formed and then depart unchanged”. The incremental development of new species is largely not there. Those missing pre-Cambrian organisms have still not turned up. (Although fossils are subject to interpretation, and some biologists place pre-Cambrian life-forms closer than others to the new-fangled Cambrian creatures.)

Some researchers have guessed that those missing Precambrian precursors were too small or too soft-bodied to have made good fossils. Meyer notes that fossil traces of ancient bacteria and single-celled algae have been discovered: smallness per se doesn’t mean that an organism can’t leave fossil traces—although the existence of fossils depends on the surroundings in which the organism lived, and the history of the relevant rock during the ages since it died. The story is similar for soft-bodied organisms. Hard-bodied forms are more likely to be fossilized than soft-bodied ones, but many fossils of soft-bodied organisms and body parts do exist. Precambrian fossil deposits have been discovered in which tiny, soft-bodied embryo sponges are preserved—but no predecessors to the celebrity organisms of the Cambrian explosion.

This sort of negative evidence can’t ever be conclusive. But the ever-expanding fossil archives don’t look good for Darwin, who made clear and concrete predictions that have (so far) been falsified—according to many reputable paleontologists, anyway. When does the clock run out on those predictions? Never. But any thoughtful person must ask himself whether scientists today are looking for evidence that bears on Darwin, or looking to explain away evidence that contradicts him. There are some of each. Scientists are only human, and their thinking (like everyone else’s) is colored by emotion.

Darwin’s main problem, however, is molecular biology. There was no such thing in his own time. We now see from inside what he could only see from outside, as if he had developed a theory of mobile phone evolution without knowing that there were computers and software inside or what the digital revolution was all about. Under the circumstances, he did brilliantly.

Biology in his time was for naturalists, not laboratory scientists. … But the character of the field has changed, and it’s not surprising that old theories don’t necessarily still work.

Darwin’s theory is simple to grasp; its simplicity is the heart of its brilliance and power. We all know that variation occurs naturally among individuals of the same type—white or black sheep, dove-gray versus off-white or pale beige pigeons … [M]any variations have no effect on a creature’s prospects, but some do. A sheep born with extra-warm wool will presumably do better at surviving a rough Scottish winter than his normal-wooled friends. Such a sheep would be more likely than normal sheep to live long enough to mate, and pass on its superior trait to the next generation. Over millions of years, small good-for-survival variations accumulate, and eventually (says Darwin) you have a brand new species. The same mechanism naturally favors genes that are right for the local environment—warm wool in Scotland, light and comfortable wool for the tropics, other varieties for mountains and deserts. Thus one species (your standard sheep) might eventually become four specialized ones. And thus new species should develop from old in the upward-branching tree pattern Darwin described.

The advent of molecular biology made it possible to transform Darwinism into Neo-Darwinism. The new version explains (it doesn’t merely cite) natural variation, as the consequence of random change or mutation to the genetic information within cells that deal with reproduction. Those cells can pass genetic change onward to the next generation, thus changing—potentially—the future of the species and not just one individual’s career.

The engine that powers Neo-Darwinian evolution is pure chance and lots of time. By filling in the details of cellular life, molecular biology makes it possible to estimate the power of that simple mechanism. But what does generating new forms of life entail? Many biologists agree that generating a new shape of protein is the essence of it. Only if Neo-Darwinian evolution is creative enough to do that is it capable of creating new life-forms and pushing evolution forward.

Proteins are the special ops forces (or maybe the Marines) of living cells, except that they are common instead of rare; they do all the heavy lifting, all the tricky and critical assignments, in a dazzling range of roles. Proteins called enzymes catalyze all sorts of reactions and drive cellular metabolism. Other proteins (such as collagen) give cells shape and structure, like tent poles but in far more shapes. Nerve function, muscle function, and photosynthesis are all driven by proteins. And in doing these jobs and many others, the actual, 3-D shape of the protein molecule is important.

So, is the simple neo-Darwinian mechanism up to this task? Are random mutation plus natural selection sufficient to create new protein shapes?

Gelernter’s answer, in agreement with the books he is reviewing, is No. He explains why in some detail. We have no quarrel with him over this point. We are not scientists and have no idea whether the answer is solidly proved or not. We accept that the answer is No, and that, consequently, Darwin has been caught out and disproved – in part.

But the reviewed books are about giving up Darwin; negating evolution.

It can hardly be surprising that the revolution in biological knowledge over the last half-century should call for a new understanding of the origin of species.

A new understanding. Darwin was wrong. Evolution is wrong. Species do not evolve. So what does explain the existence of species?

We held our breath at this point in the article. A new theory, as exciting and revolutionary as was Darwin’s when it was sprung upon the world, but better in that it explains the phenomena which Darwin failed to explain, was about to be set before us.

You may be as disappointed as we were with the answer. What explains the “sudden explosion” of Cambrian species; how did all those new living things appear over “a mere 70-odd million years”?

Why, God put them there.

That’s it. Let your heart sink. It’s God again. Not that the word “God” emerges from the scientist’s lips or pen. No, no! In fact Professor Gelernter is careful to inform us that “religion” is not mentioned by the scientists whose work he is discussing.

What they offer us, is the uncertain semi-rationalist’s euphemism for God: “INTELLIGENT DESIGN”.

Intelligent Design, as Meyer describes it, is a simple and direct response to a specific event, the Cambrian explosion. The theory suggests that an intelligent cause intervened to create this extraordinary outburst. By “intelligent” Meyer understands “conscious”; the theory suggests nothing more about the designer.

Can  a “conscious” mind be understood to be anything but a human-type mind? So a human-type mind designed – and made – living things on this earth at least once “over a period of 70-odd million years”.

Gelernter reveals that he himself does not find Meyer’s answer satisfactory:

But where is the evidence? To Meyer and other proponents, that is like asking—after you have come across a tree that is split vertically down the center and half burnt up—“but where is the evidence of a lightning strike?” The exceptional intricacy of living things, and their elaborate mechanisms for fitting precisely into their natural surroundings, seemed to cry out for an intelligent designer long before molecular biology and biochemistry. …  An intelligent designer might seem more necessary than ever now that we understand so much cellular biology, and the impossibly long odds facing any attempt to design proteins by chance, or assemble the regulatory mechanisms that control the life cycle of a cell. …

 “Our uniform experience of cause and effect shows that intelligent design is the only known cause of the origin of large amounts of functionally specified digital information,” [Mayer]  writes. …

Known? Who knows “intelligent design” to be that cause?

If Meyer were invoking a single intervention by an intelligent designer at the invention of life, or of consciousness, or rationality, or self-aware consciousness, the idea might seem more natural. But then we still haven’t explained the Cambrian explosion. An intelligent designer who interferes repeatedly, on the other hand, poses an even harder problem of explaining why he chose to act when he did. Such a cause would necessarily have some sense of the big picture of life on earth. What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile—but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on? An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go.

To design is to purpose. The believers in the Intelligent Designer must be asked: What was his purpose? Why did the Designer design and make the life-forms?

And how intelligent was he when he made so many mistakes; made so many life-forms so badly that they could not survive?

Although Stephen Meyer’s book is a landmark in the intellectual history of Darwinism, the theory will be with us for a long time, exerting enormous cultural force. Darwin is no Newton. Newton’s physics survived Einstein and will always survive, because it explains the cases that dominate all of space-time except for the extreme ends of the spectrum, at the very smallest and largest scales. It’s just these most important cases, the ones we see all around us, that Darwin cannot explain. Yet his theory does explain cases of real significance. …

We know that evolution happens. It is happening about us all the time. We ourselves evolve. If there are important questions about the evolution of species that remain unanswered, why not say, “Just as we now see from inside what Darwin could only see from outside, as if he had developed a theory of mobile phone evolution without knowing that there were computers and software inside or what the digital revolution was all about, so in the future we might learn what made the Cambrian explosion possible without looking to the supernatural to explain it.”

An Intelligent Designer is surely the least plausible, the most absurd “explanation” for how things are and how they came about. There is always the possibility that natural explanations will be found for natural phenomena however perplexing. There is no possibility that we will find anything outside of nature.

Posted under Philosophy, Science, Theology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, May 11, 2019

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Blacking whiteness out – the redaction of history 4

White culture! Ugh!

What an abomination. It must be got rid of.

White people, white ideas, white inventions, all bad from Thales, Newton, Einstein; from Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes; from Leonardo, Velazquez, Rembrandt; from the Framers of the American Constitution; from Pythagoras, Epicurus, Aristotle; from the bringers of the Enlightenment; from the scientists and technologists of our time. Who needs their physics, astrophysics, medical cures, the internal combustion engine, aircraft, nuclear energy, computers, the internet, film, television, the cell phone? Such people, such ideas, such things are believed by Whites to be incalculably beneficial to the human race! How wrong they are!

All must GO.

Pull down the statues. Burn the buildings. Discard the things. EMPTY THE LIBRARIES. The records must be weeded out and destroyed, not a trace allowed to remain. A Great Cleansing of the Past must be effected. What Whites have thought, what Whites have done, must be eradicated from human memory. Even if the ideas and works have included ideas and works from non-white cultures, out with them. Whiteness stains and spoils whatever it touches.

Whiteness is a taint. An evolutionary malformation.  A corruption of the human strain. A character fault.

Fortunately, remedial plans are being made and authoritatively explained by Social Justice Warriors in positions of influence. The flame now lit for a great Cultural Reformation won’t flicker out. They are taking action.

For instance, a librarian named Sofia Leung at that great institution of learning MIT, writes:

If you don’t already know, “whiteness as property” is a seminal Critical Race Theory (CRT) concept first introduced by Cheryl I. Harris in her 1993 Harvard Law Review article by the same name. She writes, “slavery as a system of property facilitated the merger of white identity and property” and the formation of whiteness as property required the erasure of Native peoples. Basically, white people want to stay being white because of the privilege and protection whiteness affords under the law that they created. Harris also makes this really good point, “whiteness and property share a common premise — a conceptual nucleus — of a right to exclude”. Bam! That really hits it on the head.

As I’m collaborating on [a] book about CRT in Library and Information Studies (LIS), I’ve been having lots of discussions on these topics with some really smart folx. …

As others have written … libraries and librarians have a long history of keeping People of Color [POC] out. … Legal and societal standards revolve around whiteness and libraries are no different.

If you look at any United States library’s collection, especially those in higher education institutions, most of the collections (books, journals, archival papers, other media, etc.) are written by white dudes writing about white ideas, white things, or ideas, people, and things they stole from POC and then claimed as white property with all of the “rights to use and enjoyment of” that Harris describes in her article. When most of our collections [are] filled with this so-called “knowledge” it continues to validate only white voices and perspectives and erases the voices of people of color. Collections are representations of what librarians (or faculty) deem to be authoritative knowledge and as we know, this field and educational institutions, historically, and currently, have been sites of whiteness.

Library collections continue to promote and proliferate whiteness with their very existence and the fact that they are physically taking up space in our libraries. They are paid for using money that was usually ill-gotten and at the cost of black and brown lives via the prison industrial complex, the spoils of war, etc. Libraries filled with mostly white collections indicates that we don’t care about what POC think, we don’t care to hear from POC themselves, we don’t consider POC to be scholars, we don’t think POC are as valuable, knowledgeable, or as important as white people. … [L]ibrary collections and spaces have historically kept out Black, Indigenous, People of Color as they were meant to do and continue to do.

On this, Rod Dreher comments at the American Conservative:

The left really is trying to destroy our civilizational heritage. You think I’m a Chicken Little about this stuff, but this below is what it means to have barbarians march through our institutions.

The Teaching And Learning Program Manager at MIT libraries, Sofia Leung (“I believe that social justice work is library work and that we should all be collectively engaged in our liberation”), has detected impurity in the stacks.

This woman is not some SJW kook beavering away in the basement of  Evergreen State, or a dyspeptic grad student in Grievance Studies. She is an important librarian at MIT. What’s more, the venerable trade publication Library Journal tweeted her blog entry. The blog entry in which she calls for the purging of library collections because white people wrote them and loved them and collected them. Their existence offends her sense of justice.

Do you not see what’s happening here? Those who control a culture’s memory control its people. Sofia “Social Justice Work Is Library Work” Leung wants to throw certain books down the memory hole because they are racially impure. …

Well, yes, of course she does. Bam! I mean to say, folx …  for goodness sake … if libraries are to exist they must be filled exclusively with the books of all those Black African writers who have contributed so much to the knowledge and wisdom of mankind through the ages. Will the present libraries, once purged of White garbage, be big enough, will there be enough of them, to hold all those cultural riches?

Posted under Africa, America, Art, Culture, Europe, History, Leftism, Science, Technology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, April 20, 2019

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A monocultural thing 7

Are we all characterized chiefly and most importantly by our race?

The Left insists that we are. 

They who constitute the Left – the Marxists, socialists, feminists, anti-racists, structuralists, poststructuralists, deconstructionists, postmodernists, historicists, cultural studies professors, semioticians, postcolonial heterologists, critical theorists, multiculturalists, cultural relativists, environmental warmists, diversity evangelists, and a posse of newly elected Congressional Democrats – also insist that the white race has done more harm than any other, and the only proper and decent posture for whites is one of abject self-abasement. 

All other races or tribes or ethnic groups (except maybe the Jews) are equally redeemed from all censure by the suffering that the white race has inflicted on them. This doctrine is called “intersectionality”.  Persons of abnormal sexual proclivity are included among the categories of victims redeemed by their suffering at the hands of white patriarchs, supremacists, colonialist and imperialists. White women if they sincerely believe in intersectionality (and are not Jewish) can apply for a pass.  

“Relativists” (those who believe there are no moral principles or modes of thought shared by all human beings) hold that “cultural diversity will return to regain its place as the natural condition of humanity. It is this hope that nurtures the multicultural political movement of today”.

We quote from The Killing of History, an excellent book by the Australian historian, Keith Windschuttle.*

He goes on to demolish that romantic expectation. It will not happen, he explains, because it cannot happen, for the same reasons it never has happened.     

[T]he  historical record does not support the thesis. For the past ten thousand years at least, indigenous cultures on every continent have been subject to a process of change that has varied from merger and absorption into other cultures to complete obliteration by a conquering power. Every culture that exists today has been subject to either violent or peaceful amalgamation and absorption of earlier smaller communities … [W]hether we like it or not, we are all the inheritors  of cultures that have been forged out of  a long process of suppression and absorption of the cultures that arose before them.

And he points out that if the relativists’  and multiculturalists’ dream could be realized, it would not be a good thing according to their own valuation:

A revival of cultural exclusiveness [whether territorially or within a multicultural society] would mean a return to differentiating between human beings on the basis of genealogical blood line, in other words, on racial grounds. … It is a great irony that the cultural relativist  and multicultural movements gain most of their support from those people of European descent who want to avoid derogatory attitudes towards the people and cultures of other races. …

His contention, which he amply proves, is that all cultures are not equal, and that just one culture has provided all humankind with the only “genuinely valid style of knowledge … the Western scientific tradition”.

Western science has trumped all other cognitive styles.

[It has] proven , historically, so overwhelmingly powerful – technologically, economically, militarily and administratively – that all societies have had to make their peace with it and adopt it.

Science is not just a Western mode of thought neither more nor less valid than the modes of thought of any another cultural tradition, it alone “works, and none of the others do with remotely the same effectiveness”.

The asserting of the “absolutism and non-relativism of Western scientific method …  is quite separate from any question about the ranking of the inhabitants of Western societies. It has nothing whatever to do with a racist, or any other, glorification of one segment of humanity over another”.

Although the scientific style of knowledge “emerged in one social context” – the West – “it is clearly accessible to all humanity”.  

Far from being bound by Western culture, Western science belongs to the whole of humanity.   

And Western technology, the daughter of Western science, will belong to the whole of humanity if only the whole of humanity can manage to buy it, which it is passionately eager to do. Computers, the internet, the cell phone –  above all, the cell phone! – you can see – look about you wherever you are … these are the joys of humankind’s desiring. All humankind. Regardless of all the cultural relativism in all the ethnic studies departments of all the academies in all the world.  

.

*The Killing of History  by Keith Windschuttle, The Free Press, New York, 1996. Our quotations come from pages 278-281.

Enlightenment, atheism, reason, and the humanist Left 25

This is a kind of review. But it is more of an argument about ideas that vitally affect the real world.

I am in emphatic agreement with roughly half of what Professor Steven Pinker says in his new book Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress*, and in vehement disagreement with the rest of it. Like him, I esteem the Enlightenment most highly; profoundly value science; and certainly want progress in everything that makes us happier and better informed, our lives longer, healthier, less painful, and more enjoyable. Like him, I am an atheist. It is chiefly with his ideas on Humanism that I disagree. Which may seem strange since humanism is atheist. And, certainly, on all his criticisms of religion I am in complete accord. More than that: where small “h” humanism is concerned with humane morals – the imperative to treat our fellow human beings and other sentient beings humanely – the great professor and I could sing in harmony.

“The moral alternative to theism,” he writes, “is humanism.”

But Humanism-the-movement holds principles that I not only do not like, but strongly dislike. They are principles of the Left. And  while he is not uncritical of the Left, Professor Pinker upholds those principles. Humanism, wherever it may be found, is a Leftist ideology. And because the Humanist movement is well-established, widespread, its opinions prominently published, and taught (or preached) where scholars gather, atheism is assumed by many to belong to the Left, inseparably, part and parcel of its essential ideology.

Atheism may be indispensable to the Left, but Leftism is not necessary to atheism.

Atheism as such carries no connotations. No political or ethical ideas logically flow from it. It is simply non-belief in the existence of a divine being. Nothing more. A person’s atheism does not itself make him more humane or less humane.

Steven Pinker implies that it does. Although he states that “atheism is not a moral system … just the absence of supernatural belief”, he also declares that “secularism leads to humanism, turning people away from prayer, doctrine, and ecclesiastical authority and toward practical policies that make them and their fellows better off.”

He reasons along these lines:

“Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.”

Not from holy books. Agreed.

“Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.”

Agreed.

There being no supernatural moral authority, and as human beings have natural needs –

“Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.”

So far, no cause for quarrel. But he elaborates on this last statement to demonstrate that Humanists do this “deriving” well:

“Humanists ground values in human welfare, shaped by human circumstances, interests and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem …”

There it comes, as if it followed logically from scientific knowledge and humane secularism, one of the main obsessions of the Left: concern for the planet, for which, the Left claims, human beings bear responsibility. The words “man-made global warming” silently intrude themselves; as does the “solution” for it – global governance, by those who know what the human race must do; total communism, the highest principle of the Left; its vision of a whole-world Utopia. Though Steven Pinker himself is not a Utopian, he writes a good deal in this book about the virtues of “globalist” politics. He sees globalism as an enlightened, reasonable, science-based, progressive, humanist creed. To “maximize individual happiness”, he remarks, “progressive cultures” work to “develop global community”. He has much praise for international institutions – including, or even led by, the (actually deeply evil) United Nations. He is confident the UN and other international bodies such as the EU, formed after the end of the Second World War, can help keep the world at peace. In fact, there has not been a single year since 1945 when the world has been without a war or wars.

To the globalist view he opposes the populist view. Not wrong when stated thus. But he does not see the populist view as the one held by 63 million Americans who voted Donald Trump into the presidency of the United States because they wanted more jobs, lower taxes, and secure borders; or that of the British majority who voted to withdraw their country from the undemocratic and corrupt European Union. No. He sees populism as a cult of “romantic heroism”, a longing for “greatness embodied in an individual or a nation”.

He is adamantly against the nation-state. He thinks that those who uphold the idea of the nation-state “ludicrously” envision a “global order” that “should consist of ethnically homogeneous and mutually antagonistic nation-states”. Who has ever expressed such an idea? And he puts “multiculturalism” (the failing experiment of enforcing the co-existence of diverse tribes within a nation’s borders) on an equal footing with “multi-ethnicity” (the melting-pot idea that has worked so splendidly for the United States of America).

To him, nationalism is ineluctably authoritarian and fascist. He sees President Trump – who is in fact unswervingly for individual freedom – as a “charismatic leader” of the dictatorial Mussolini mold. The politics of the Right for Professor Pinker are irredeemably dyed in the wool with Nietzschean anti-morality, “superman” aspirations, and genocidal urgings. Libertarianism is tainted with it too. He writes: “ … Ayn Rand’s celebration of selfishness, her deification of the heroic capitalist, and her disdain for the general welfare had Nietzsche written all over them.”

Interestingly – and restoratively to my esteem for him – he also asserts that certain Marxists and certain Leftist movements are equally, or even more, colored with Nietzsche’s inhumanity: “[Nietzsche] was a key influence on … Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, and a godfather to all the intellectual movements of the 20th century that were hostile to science and objectivity, including Existentialism, Critical Theory, Post-structuralism, Deconstructionism, and Postmodernism.”

Steven Pinker’s humanism, then, is not far to the Left, just “left-of-center”. And most of the humanists I have known (and argued with) would also place themselves on that section of the political spectrum. “[T]he moral and intellectual case for humanism is, I believe, overwhelming …,” he writes.

He concludes (and here he specifically rejects Utopianism):

We will never have a perfect world. And it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing. This heroic story … belongs not to any tribe but to all humanity – to any sentient creature with the power of reason and the urge to persist in its being. For it requires only the convictions that life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want, freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, and knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.”

That is the vision of the Decent Thinking Western Man. He believes that all human beings ultimately want the same things; that the good life is defined for all in the same general terms; that all  would agree to the Golden Rule, which has been “rediscovered in hundreds of moral traditions”.

But are those beliefs true? He himself records that there are many who do not value knowledge above ignorance, reason above superstition, freedom above coercion, even life above death. Which is to say, he writes about Islam (in which there is no Golden Rule). He knows Islam has no trace of “Enlightenment humanism”. He declares it an “illiberal” creed, and observes that “[M]any Western intellectuals – who would be appalled if the repression, misogyny, homophobia, and political violence that are common in the Islamic world were found in their own societies even diluted a hundred fold – have become strange apologists when these practices are carried out in the name of Islam.”

He finds one explanation for the double-standard of these intellectuals in their “admirable desire to prevent prejudice against Muslims”. But when it comes to revulsion against ideologists of repression, misogyny, homophobia, and political violence, is it prejudice or is it judgment? He says also that some of the apologetics are “intended to discredit a destructive (and possibly self-fulfilling) narrative that the world is embroiled in a clash of civilizations”. (Or, as I see it, of civilization against barbarism.) I wonder how anyone can look at the drastically changing demographics of Europe, or at least the Western part of it which will surely be under Islamic rule before the century is out, and not notice the clash.

But he does say that “calling out the antihumanistic features of contemporary Islamic belief is in no way Islamophobic”. Being the decent thinking Western man that he is, he is firmly for critical examination of all ideas.

His optimism shines out of the book. He thinks Islam can be reformed, even that a Muslim Enlightenment is possible. He believes there was an earlier age of Islamic Enlightenment, an “Islamic Golden Age” which could serve as a precedent. Well, if one wants to see bright possibilities, Islam may come to prefer science to the assertions of its prophet. It may become humane in its law and stop oppressing women. It may contribute to human progress. But whatever changes may come to Islam in the future, at present it does not value life above death, freedom above coercion, knowledge above superstition. And there is no good reason to believe it ever will.

 

Jillian Becker    April 12, 2018

 

*Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker, Viking, New York 2018. The quotations in the article come from the last chapter, Humanism.

No, Stephen Hawking is not with God 46

Yesterday, lured by a picture of Stephen Hawking, I read an article by Randy DeSoto, recording Franklin Graham’s regret that Hawking was an atheist.

I went to the comments. Some share the regret; some insist that the late great physicist is now – despite his atheism – with God. A few are by irritated atheists.

I succumbed to the temptation of writing something in the empty slot that had my thumbnail beside it. I asked: “What did God make matter out of?”

A design engineer, Matthew Winter, answered that as matter can neither be destroyed nor created, God must have given up some of his own energy to “create” matter. Not an entirely nonsensical notion. Matter is a form of energy.

He apparently understood God to be eternal and primal energy plus will. I wondered if he saw this theology of his as deism. I asked him if that was the same god who begat himself upon a virgin and answered personal prayers. I have not yet had a reply.

Some Christians, some believers in the gods of many religions, try hard to reconcile their faith with science. They often misquote Einstein to back up their arguments – as is done in the article on Hawking.

They fail, of course. Faith is not Reason. Science does not support the idea of divine creators, or of anything outside nature.

I continue to be amazed that adult, sane, educated, intelligent people can believe in the supernatural.

 

Jillian Becker    March 16, 2018

Posted under Atheism, Christianity, Religion general, Science by Jillian Becker on Friday, March 16, 2018

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Big issues 9

What are the Big Issues of the day?

  1. Donald Trump has been elected president of the USA, which is (a) impossible and (b) intolerable. 
  2. President Trump has or has not called shithole countries “shithole countries”; and can it really be true that he weighs only 239 lbs. and is in good health?
  3. It has come to light that over the last thirty years or so, for the first time in history, women have been pursued by men for sexual gratification, which is wrong except when Bill Clinton does it.
  4. Studies show that white men run everything and must be replaced in all leadership positions by non-whites and women.
  5. The academic discipline of mathematics is racist and sexist, and must be made more comprehensible to feminists and other non-intellectuals by infusions of emotion.
  6. In a hundred years or so the planet could be a degree or two warmer than it is now.

There are other issues, good and bad, but they are comparatively trivial. Fox TV, conservative papers, some users of social media, and right-wing radio bring them up, but the mainstream media have the good sense not to excite or trouble the public over them.

  1. The United States is in the grip of economic recovery.
  2. The Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton corrupted the Intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice, by bringing them into a conspiracy to falsely accuse Donald Trump of collusion with the Russians in order to scuttle his candidacy, and later to try to nullify his election as president.
  3. Nation states are coming to an end as borders are opened and vast numbers of refugees from shithole countries are moving into the West, which will soon experience radical transformations of their laws, culture and values to turn them into shithole countries.
  4. Chief among the transformers are Muslims, whose law, culture and values will bring women – even feminist women – into subjection.
  5. Muslims are further advancing their conquest of the West by means of terrorist attacks which can and do kill anybody anywhere at any time.
  6. The aggressive states of North Korea and Iran are threatening nuclear war.

Admittedly the nuclear war threats are noticed sometimes by the mainstream media – but only because they are entirely the fault of President Trump.

Creating an intelligent god 3

… and endowing its intelligent machine creators with machine rights.

Following on from our post immediately below in which we discuss Google engineer Ray Kurzweil’s vision of a world populated by machines, we now turn to the idea of a former Google man who visualizes the machines creating a god.

They will create a god so they can worship it.

Why will the machines need a god to worship?

Tyler O’Neil writes at PJ Media:

A former executive at Google has filed paperwork with the IRS to establish an official religion of technology. This religion doesn’t just worship scientific progress, but artificial intelligence itself, with the goal of creating a godhead. 

The new church of AI will aim “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead [to] contribute to the betterment of society,” according to IRS documents.

So there’s an answer to why: the inventor of the new religion thinks that the worship of artificial intelligence will make society better.

What society? The society of machines. Cannot the machines be made perfect by their human creators?

There is an organization being formed with the purpose of helping humans to accept their successors. The electronic new world is inevitable. No point in  raising objections. We should move smoothly into it. We make our new masters and then we submit to them.

The non-profit religious organization would be called “Way of the Future” (WOTF). According to the website (wayofthefuture.church), the movement is “about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + machines”.

“Given that technology will relatively soon be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition,” the site explains. “In recent years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for ‘machines’ to get rights too.”

The writer comments:

There is an inherent contradiction in creating a deity of artificial intelligence and then worshipping it.

But to humans like us it is nothing new, since we believe that all gods have been created by humans.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” the site argues.

“It” will treat us  – its creator species – like a beloved elder, not like a god?

Yet the IRS document spoke about a “Godhead based on artificial intelligence”.

The website argued that the creation of “super intelligence” is inevitable, and that fear of this development is unhealthy. “We don’t think that there are ways to actually stop this from happening (nor should we want to) and that this feeling of we must stop this is rooted in 21st century anthropomorphism (similar to humans thinking the sun rotated around the earth in the not so distant past).”

Perhaps WOTF meant to use the word “anthropocentrism”, the idea that the universe is centered around humanity, rather than “anthropomorphism”, the attribution of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects. Indeed, it is arguable that WOTF is attributing human characteristics — or perhaps divine characteristics? — to technology

After all, the very next sentence continues, “Wouldn’t you want to raise your gifted child to exceed your wildest dreams of success and teach it right from wrong vs locking it up because it might rebel in the future and take your job.” This encouragement to consider machines as children — coupled with the notion of giving them rights — is arguably textbook anthropomorphism, but it may be the opposite of anthropocentric.

They will be both our children and our masters.

And the dawning of the age of the machine-god is beginning now.

The IRS filing … lists former Google executive Anthony Levandowski as the “Dean” of WOTF. Levandowski, the engineer behind Google’s self-driving car project known as Waymo, quit Google to found his own autonomous trucking company, Otto, in May 2016. …

According to the IRS filings, Way of the Future plans its first events — “workshops and educational programs throughout the San Francisco/Bay Area” — later this year.

The Christian god, we are told, chose to materialize as a baby in the Roman province of Judea. The AI god will arise full grown in Silicon Valley, California. It will be gradually improved by its maker-species – and perhaps by itself. It will be immortal, but changeable. It will be made better as it makes the society of humanoid machines better. Not just mechanically better but morally better. It will know what is good and what is bad for the new society – first of humanoid machines and eventually perhaps only of machines.

Which supposes that the machines will have feelings – because, if no feelings, no harm.

The vision then is of machines that feel, and have machine rights endowed to them by their human creators, and by the machine god that they themselves create.

For the machine-god of machines there will be no unanswerable questions about it: how it came into existence; out of what it makes whatever it makes; whether it knows more than its makers do. If the machines have the curiosity to ask them, those questions will be answered.

But still it will not be able to answer the question why: why it was created; why machines will go on running the business of the planet.

Can anyone think of a reason why they should?

The future non-biological earth population 9

“And death shall have no dominion.” – Dylan Thomas. (It’s a great poem. Read it here.)

This is from NBC (a source we have not had much use for). The article is chiefly about new methods of dealing with corpses, but it is also about a new vision of human “immortality” – the part we find interesting.

If you believe Ray Kurzweil, an outspoken futurist and the director of engineering at Googlecomputers will soon match the capabilities of the human brain. At that point, our consciousness will become intimately mingled with machine intelligence, leading to a kind of immortality.

We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the biological part isn’t that important anymore,” Kurzweil declared in 2013 at a conference predicting the world of 2045. “Even if the biological part went away, it wouldn’t make any difference.” …

Kurzweil thinks … the hypothetical time (around 2029, by his estimate) [is] when the great blurring between humans and computers will occur. …

“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”

A computer will replace your brain, and you’ll be given a virtual body.

The thing will be virtually you. It will have your name. It may retain much of your memory, which is to say your edited version of your experience. Your virtual face may be like your face – as it was at some, perhaps pre-death determined, stage of your life.

But will it be you?

As we see it, you will be totally unaware of it, so you will still not be alive.

As human beings are now considered harmful to the planet, and enlightened people are not having children, the human race will be allowed to become extinct and will be replaced by human-invented half-human-half-machine creatures – later entirely machine creatures. But why? What for?

Because they will keep the busy commerce of the earth going? Why? For whom?

Or because they can be programmed to experience joy? (Can they?)

And that will justify the whole of the existence of the world, from the Big Bang to Them?

To which the riposte may be: “Well, what are human beings for?”

They are only for something if they had a creator who had a purpose for them (which has never been disclosed).

As we do not think they had a creator, but evolved, we do not think the human race has a purpose it must achieve, certainly not necessarily the purpose of replacing itself with machines.

We think we are an accident of nature. We think each of us makes his own purposes.

We live, suffer, desire, enjoy, laugh, weep, fight, hate, love, procreate, speak, sing, harm, heal, work, play, imagine, invent, make, destroy, strive, succeed, fail, triumph, regret – and die.

That is the human story.

What the machines will record as theirs, we will never know. Not even if our brains are preserved for the rest of the universe’s existence.

Posted under Science, Technology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, November 18, 2017

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