Friday, May 18, 2018

A Few More Thoughts On Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion


Not quite yet at 1/4 mark of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, some of which is elementary, some of which is shrill and some of which is striking.

Two thoughts (among others): 

1. Dawkins makes brief mention of Pascal’s wager.

If you believe in God and it’s true, you’re golden.

If you believe and it’s not true, what have you given up? 

Not a lot, in fact you’ll have lived a righteously moral life.

If you don’t believe in God and he exists, well good luck with that as you burn in the fires of Hell. 

Dawkins criticizes this wager on the ground that we can’t force or will ourselves to believe. We either do “organically”—my word—or we feign belief on a bet. 

Dawkins is too clever by half here. 

In his online show Coffee With Comedians In Cars, Seinfeld tells one guy, maybe Jim Carrey, I can’t remember whom, paraphrase, “Later for process. It’s not worth talking about. All that matters is the comedy at the end of it.” 

It seems to me that that applies to the origins or springs of faith, that in fact in one mode of those springs we can will ourselves to believe. What will then count, from the angle of faith, is the depth and sincerity of it once attained. After all, isn’t Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” a kind of willing himself into it? 

2. Dawkins rehearses an argument that always presented a problem to my atheism—the argument from irreducible complexity: take the eye for example; it’s mind bogglingly improbable that chance mutations could have created such an incredibly complex sense organ as the eye with its virtually infinite components and minute, delicate and multifarious processes. So irreducible complexity is the highest example of the argument against evolution from improbability.

Dawkins has two powerful answers that I’m persuaded do away with this argument. 

One, the argument is correct insofar far as it denies the operation of chance in the “creation”—“creation” used advisedly—of the eye. Natural selection is not chance process. Rather, and to oversimplify, under natural selection organisms best suited to their environments survive and pass on their genetic traits in increasing number to successive generations.

Two, irreducible complexity takes an airplane right to the peak of “Mount Improbability” and declares the eye at the peak irreducibly complex beyond chance (and beyond evolution.) But, as opposed to jetting immediately to the peak, we must make our slow way up the mountain, going round and round it in a slowly ascending *cumulative* mountain hike of small changes over hundreds and hundreds of millions of years. Seen as such a glacially slow, incremental process, evolution is quite up to the challenge of accounting for irreducible complexity and for kicking “irreducible” out of the phrase. 

P.S. a note to a friend here from my being very early into Dawkins:

....My atheism at times needs a kick in the ass to bolster it. I sometimes tend to slide away from it. So Dawkins is good for that. Mind you I do find him shrill on some points like why is slagging religion so verboten when (say) we can openly and freely and with impunity attack differing policy or political views or views on the origins of the universe. The answer is so obvious. But I’m only at the beginning and I’m finding plenty that’s new (at least to me) like the nature of Einstein’s or Hawking’s religiosity and what the American founders believed and didn’t believe and too some of the nuances among deism, theism, atheism and agnosticism. So except for a few shrill notes, I’m enjoying the book a lot and admire Dawkins’s unabashed taking religion on....

P.PS.S. Dawkins explains that for Einstein religion, a word misused by Einstein Dawkins argues, meant, “I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Three Thoughts From Having Read The First 1/4 Of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion


Three thoughts that strike me from about the first 1/4 of Dawkins’s The God Delusion, which I’m reading:

1. He repeats an argument for God that goes: insofar as we have good and evil, then we must have the ultimate standards of them both for the judgments of each; hence God and the devil must exist as the manifestations of those ultimate standards. Otherwise, we could make no judgment as to either.

Dawkins: Therefore, we can’t judge bad smells unless we have the ultimate manifestation of smelliness. And, so, God must be the greatest “stinker.” 

2. Dawkins attempts to break through Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of “two non-overlapping magisteria,” or realms, being the realm of science and the realm of faith and religious belief. Contrarily, Dawkins argues science can apply to the latter and ought to enter into matters of faith on the reasoning that if the object of faith could be shown to be absurd, then faith in that object could not sustain itself. 

So he notes Bertrand Russell’s question on where or on whom does the burden of proof of lie on the question of God’s existence? For if the claim is that the centre and great creator of the universe is a celestial teacup, would we say that since we cannot absolutely prove or disprove it, then we must suspend judgment on that claim and hold that it’s equally possible that the teacup is or isn’t centre and creator? Of course not, Russell argues, and, so, the burden of proof must fall on the claimant. If no case can be made for the claim, then it should be dismissed for the nonsense it is.

Dawkins then argues if this is so for the existence of the celestial teacup, then why isn’t it so for the existence of God? We’d likely judge someone who believed in a celestial teacup as somewhat touched. We don’t judge religious believers this way—sanity in numbers, as Sam Harris notes—but hasn’t the underpinning of religious faith been devastated by the example of the celestial teacup, asks Dawkins.

I had till reading this tended to agree with Gould as to the non overlapping two domains of science and religion but Dawkins persuades me of overlap at least to the extent that science (and logic) might reduce to absurdity the basis for faith. 

3. The ontological argument for the existence of God, in one formulation, runs: God manifests ultimate perfection; it is more perfect to exist than not to exist; therefore God exists. 

Dawkins notes (again) Bertrand Russell remarking that we intuit strongly that this argument is flawed but are bedevilled to explain why. 

And at one point when he was younger Russell had a a kind of Valhalla moment and the revelation that the logic of the ontological argument was impeccably correct. 

But then, later in his life, Russell reasoned that unless we can move from thought to things, create things by thought, we cannot move from a syllogism about God’s existence as perfection to the actuality of God’s existence. 

Either there’s a bridge from thought to existence or there’s not, says Russell. Not means the failure of the ontological argument. (I wonder whether it’s an answer to Russell here that God isn’t a thing but is rather the manifestation of immaterial transcendent intangibility, pure divine spirit, an aspect of itself recreated in human thought?) 

Dawkins quotes an American philosopher—I can’t recall his name—who asks, paraphrase, “What does it mean to say, that ‘It’s more perfect to exist than not to exist?” This philosopher goes on to reason, paraphrase, “We can say sensibly an insulated house is better—more perfect—than an uninsulated one, but that it’s nonsense to say an existing house is better—more perfect—than a house that doesn’t exist. 

He also quotes the *parody* argument of an Australian philosopher, maybe named Gaskin, that goes (if I have this right): God manifests the greatest of all creators and creations; it is greater to create with a disability than without one; the greatest disability is not to exist; therefore the greatest creation by the greatest creator is the creation of the universe by a non existent God; therefore God does not exist. 

(No wonder Dawkins quotes one philosopher who quipped that a the definition of a philosopher is someone who resists common sense.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Who On The Right Is A Racist And Celebrated The Way Ta Nehisi Coates Is Celebrated On The Left


I say Ta Nehisi Coates is a black racist. That’s reinforced by his latest on Kanye West saying he loves Trump.

I asked a friend, who said the left can name the same types on the right, to find an intellectual racist on the right who gets the same adulation Coates does.

R: .... Tough assignment since I don't read Coates or anyone else.  I guess I would head for talk radio, which of course does not get the coverage he does.  Limbaugh has 14.000.000 listeners.  Coates a few intellectuals....

Me: ... Limbaugh is a good mention but Coates, take it from me, is a black racist. He hates on whites and whiteness. He thinks most American whites are pigs, coterminous and continuous with the official pigs, the cops. Limbaugh for all his bombast and culturally incendiary rants says 0 remotely close to what Coates says.  And Limbaugh makes no appeal to the pointy headed among us, the way Coates does...

R: .... But who listens to Coates?  This goes back to Marcus Garvey.  There has always been a furious group of black men who loathe whites for the obvious reasons.  Like Palestinians loathe Israelis who render them powerless.  No matter the current reality, they live with history, like some white Southerners.

My current theory about the academic business is that one's choice is to cave before the women (and those who trail in their wake) or become the macho prick.  Take your pick, they give you no choice.  That's civilization now.  You can no on about principle all you want but the male profs caved out of fear of female moral authority, regardless of the principles.  And you would have, like me, soon realized it was a losing battle and not worth sacrificing one's time to.  A few brave souls continued on with SAFS but that's about it.  No-one said, just suck it up and you'll catch up soon enough.  It's not the army....

Me: (Coup de grace?) ..... For sure you can locate Coates’s racist screeds within a certain American tradition. But I can’t think of anyone in that tradition who has been celebrated, cheered, idealized, feted, and adopted by so many whites as has Coates. Not even Malcolm X, who was a black racist as a Black Muslim before at the end he broke with Elijah Muhammad and started to move away from Black Muslim virulence and who had his moments of cultural glory before his assassination. 

None of them were pinnacle journalists at a mainstream or really any “white” journal like the Atlantic where Coates is seen and treated as a star and huge feather in the magazine’s cap. 

When Malcom X had his moment of glory, racial disparity and tensions in the U.S. overshadowed those of of today

And while Coates right this moment is unabated in his racism, Malcom X was slowly coming off his, a big source of aggravation to Elijah Muhammad.

And this is the same Atlantic, btw, which in a matter of a few days fired Kevin Williamson after he began writing for it. The ostensible reason: he had written and said maybe 3 putatively unlovely things out of 100,000s of words written  and 100,000s of words said. Williamson doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. His sin: he’s unabashedly heterodox. And the real reason: Goldberg and the deciders at the Atlantic couldn’t take the woke heat as the outraged left unofficially organized to have Williamson dumped. And they won. The contrast between Williamson and Coates couldn’t be brighter. 

Coates has won a National Book Award,  and a McArthur “genius” grant and a PEN award for his racist rants put into high flown, purple prose. There’s not a left leaning white person or non white left leaning person who doesn’t swear by Coates except maybe one or two like Cornel West who doesn’t think Coates is radical enough and sees him, with some justification, as toadying up to the whites who pay him.

Here’s the best short take on Coates’s invidiousness:

And here’s another that the New Yorker wouldn’t publish because it cut against the narrative:

That’s who listens to/reads Coates. 

Limbaugh “can’t touch this” as MC Hammer sang.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Contrarian Possibility Of What Katie Sadler Said About John McCain


Here's an unpleasing, unlovely contrarian thought.

Gallows humour is grim and ironic humour in a desperate or hopeless situation.

Who among us especially in bleak situations has not cracked wise in this way?

Who among us has not said these grim things in the expectation of privacy and would be deeply ashamed if the remark went public?

Who among us isn't frightened of the possibility that certain things we joke about in this vein might go public and, so, have become more vigilant about what we say and to whom we say it? 

Who among us doesn't hold the gallows humour of friends against them as not reflective of who they are and knowing the context and intent of the private remarks? 

Is there anyone so pure among us such that their answer to these questions is, "Not me" but to the last one is, "l do?

So, is it possible that Sadler, who said that despicable thing about McCain, was blowing off some gallows humour steam with the expectation that it wouldn't be made public? 

Is it possible her failure lies in her foolish reckoning that "this is just among us" rather than or more than what she said as meant gallows humour? 

Understood this way, ought this change our view of what she said and does vilifying her for what she said, on this view of it, cast us as offending the injunction not to cast stones if we are with sin?

The Pitfall Of The Idea Of God Divined Natural Law

I was reading a commencement address by a Catholic thinker, George Weigel, given at a Catholic law school, Ave Maria School of Law, on law as a vocation and as something beyond billable hours. 

He contrasts notions of law as positive law—law is what courts hold or society enacts as law, with notions of natural law—positive law needing to conform to universal precepts derivable by right reason from (he would say) God, (but others say) nature or the nature of things.

Things at first were going along ok. But then he quotes MLK:

.... One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law...

and the intellectual red flags go up: you know, whose moral law, or, put another way, who gets to instruct a secular society on the content of a governing moral code. 

And then the red flags start waving furiously to signal intellectual danger, a pending collapse of the whole structure:

.....This false concept of freedom and the false concept of law that goes with it are at the root of our Supreme Court’s mistaken decisions on abortion and marriage in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, United States v. Windsor, and Obergefell v. Hodges. And beneath those false ideas of freedom and law lies another error that is putting our democracy in jeopardy: the idea that there is only your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as the truth. What happens, though, if “your truth” and “my truth” collide and there is no standard of judgment — call it “the truth” — by which we can settle our differences?....

I myself am particularly offended by Weigel telling me that Windsor and Obergefell, which together “constitutionalize” the right to gay marriage, are wrong, are wrongly decided. 

He has no persuasive authority for his proposition that is intellectually, legally or morally greater than my intellectual, legal or moral authority for my proposition that they are right, rightly decided. 

Neither God, nor nature nor the nature of things compels the conclusion that a secular society, one that separates church and state, one that disallows the establishment of religion (while protecting its free exercise) not only errs, but errs grievously, when it sanctions gay marriage.

If Weigel were to take God away as a divine source of universal first principles, then what would his proposition come to, what force would it have?

Not anything close to what he claims for it, his claim being its indubitability. 

Without God, he’d nakedly be making a series of secular arguments that are bested by the contending secular arguments that court after court over the developed world has accepted in holding that gay marriage is a fundamental right.

And with this pitfall, Weigel’s entire high flown, hortatory argument collapses into arbitrariness and maybe even incoherence.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dershowitz A Sellout? No Question About It: He’s Not!


Excellent essay on the Dersh though I don’t find it a complex issue even though the original linker, Ron Radosh, thinks it is. 

Here’s what I wrote on the thread following from Radosh’s original post:
.... It’s not really a complex issue, though this essay in Politico is really good in its roundedness and surprising balanced sympathy for Dershowitz. He most assuredly has a superior mind, legal and otherwise. And he has warts, sure: we all do. But his aren’t lack of principle, hypocrisy or lack of intellectual integrity. They’re, if anything, characterological: ego driven, hungry for attention, limelight seeking and those kinds of traits. 

My only criticism of this piece is, in microcosm, its placement of too much emphasis on his appearances on Fox. So what if he’s on Fox a lot? It gives him millions of eyes, ears and minds. 

The world revealed by that sand grain is one gone off kilter in its dismissal of all things that putatively favor Trump, let alone in reacting syndromically against Trump himself, as if just under 1/2 of voting Americans are wholly wrong about him, as if he isn’t accomplishing things, as if there’s no argument whatsoever to be made for any aspect of him or in his favor with respect to any issue. 

There is in this essay a little too much credence given to that view, a view which doesn’t bear scrutiny, as informing a valid criticism of Dershowitz. Mind you that lesser imperfection is offset by the good, strong sway given to the opposite and right position, namely:

..... In another view, the people who’ve lost their way are the liberals and civil libertarians, blinded by their rage for Trump, who have dropped their principles in a moment of political threat and are taking out their anger on a man who has been their staunchest ally....

....Maybe the question isn’t what happened to Alan Dershowitz.

Maybe it’s what happened to everyone else....

I’d like to see someone make the case, other than what’s already been cited in the essay, against that “another view.”.....

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Note On A Note By Jonathan Turley On Judge Ellis On Mueller And Manafort And Cohen


My critique of this column:

....A few thoughts on this column:

You conflate what goes on in oral argument with what a judge is really thinking or stating as law. In the colloquy between lawyer and judge, the judge is at liberty in a Socratic way to put lawyers’ feet to the fire of their positions by raising all kinds of issues, questions, surmises, and hypotheticals. It’s for counsel respectfully to stand up to a judge who has gone over the line.

Besides how far afield did Ellis go in his characterizing Mueller’s motives? The motion here asserting  no jurisdiction explicitly or patently implicitly is accusing the Special Counsel of bad faith in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Given that, how far flung is the judge’s speculative ascription of Mueller’s motivation, however thin Manafort’s argument on that score may be?  Ellis is simply doing what many engaged judges in oral argument do: putting in the baldest terms the other side’s case to arguing counsel.

Finally, don’t you at the end of your column come round to what Ellis was getting at, bad motivation—political motivation, shake down motivation, other unlovely motivation—in the disparate approaches to Manafort and Cohen? If so, I see you undercutting the criticism of Ellis’s concern with prosecutorial motivation with which you begin your column.