I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Opportunity Cost - I

This seems to me to be almost the profoundest concept of economic thought. It cannot be denied. Keynesians try to do so. Austrians face up to it.

If you make a choice you forgo other choices. If you buy more cheese you can afford fewer apples. If you decide to go on a cruise you will have less cash to leave to your kids.

Every one of us makes decisions of this kind many times a day. Whoever reduces these decisions acts against our interests. Governments exist to do almost nothing else. They reduce our choices.

When the local authority taxes me and spends money on gritting pavements it may suit me. But the money they take from me leaves me less to spend on taxis. Where does their moral authority come from? Where do they get the right to make decisions on my behalf?

When the national government taxes me and spends money on the NHS I may from time to time benefit. But the same questions apply. I have less to spend on insurance or to give to medical charities.

The statist/progressive mindset would have it that their planners and experts are better placed to make these decisions for me than I am. They allege that my vote (or rather the aggregate votes of all citizens) gives them the right to do so.

Two questions:

Where’s the moral logic? Experts and planners derive their rights from where?

Where’s the practical logic. Experts derive their wisdom from where? They know more about what will suit me and my 60 million fellow Brits? Soviet experts made decisions upon what would suit millions of Russians and Ukrainians etc etc. The Russians and Ukrainians died in their millions. Some starved. Some were murdered for resisting.

Our progressive friends believe that we can identify the right people to make decisions on our behalf. How? Catholics believe that all men are sinners. My personal inclination is to distrust anyone who wants to decide stuff for me. There is a class of people who are indifferent to their own wellbeing and yearns only for universal wellbeing? And we can easily spot them? Please!

In Britain we have the Labour and LibDems who claim to be the good guys who obviously yearn for universal wellbeing. We have Tories who have learnt some lessons: good intentions don’t guarantee good outcomes. They are seduced by our system into promising that... Well, it is hard to be sure what good intentions they have in mind and what outcomes they feel confident in promising. Some can see that the easy promises of the statist/progressives are empty. Few declare that the answer is to allow individuals to make decisions for themselves.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Umba on Evolution

Umba writes (& I comment below):

Sorry for the delay.

Let's make a theoretical experiment: we take 2 strains of bacteria, A and B, from 2 very different environments: for example hot thermal waters and gut flora. While cultivating them, we start to change the environmental parameters of each group (temperature, PH, dissolved salts etc.) till they end up living in the same environment. During this process, at each environmental change, we will actually "select" a little group that can stand the change. At the end of this first phase, we will start poisoning them with chemicals; in other words, we will keep them under a selective stress. Eventually, we will end up with two groups of bacteria that look like exactly the same. However, looking at their DNA we will be still able to say "A comes from the hot waters and B comes from the gut flora". Now, if we put a mammal in the place of A and a marsupial in the place of B and then we put both of them under the same stress/opportunity conditions (the same ecological niche) for several millions of years, we will eventually get a wolf and a marsupial wolf. So, from my point of view, there is nothing too much exciting about having animals that belong to different evolutionary lines and look the same.

You say: "My point is that the resistant bacteria are not members of a new species – no new genetic information has been created. It was all there in the original population." And "Similarly in the geneticists' laboratory: they bombard fruit flies with radiation and get one of three outcomes – normal fruit flies, mutant fruit flies or dead fruit flies. What they don't get is a new species of fruit fly."

But: 1) new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity coming from everywhere, and 2) "getting a new species" it is not difficult at all!! Have a look here: under "artificial speciation".


Two groups of bacteria that look exactly the same – until we look really closely.

Human beings have selectively bred plants and animals for centuries. There is always a limit, though. No cat breeder has ever produced a chicken.

You say that new information is created on a continuous basis because we are all bombed with radioactivity. This is question begging on a huge scale, my friend. Forgive me!

Below is David Berlinski writing in the style of Jorge Luis Borges. I don't expect you to like it as much as I do.

On the Derivation of Ulysses from Don Quixote

I IMAGINE THIS story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that "the Ulysses," mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from "the Quixote."

I raise my eyebrows.

Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

"The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden," he says. "They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo."

Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

"As you know," he continues, "the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576."

I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

"Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor's Los Hombres d'Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza's remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal's The Red and the Black and Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined."

I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. "Is it your understanding, then," I ask, "that every novel in the West was created in this way?"

"Of course," replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: "Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote."

Geoff on GW

Geoff writes (& I comment below):

There are two issues here:

1. Is the world heating up?

2. If so what is causing it?

It is a fact that there is a higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere than there was 30 years ago. Currently the content is 391ppm by volume. 30 years ago it was about 338ppm. 50 years ago it was 315ppm. These facts are by observation and not from computer models and so I am sure you will have no argument with them.

CO2 is an important constituent of the atmosphere as it absorbs and emits IR radiation. This is designed (by whom we may argue about!) to stabilise the earth's temperature. However as the concentration increases, the balance of stabilization is thrown and it starts to act as a blanket, thus causing the world to heat up. i.e. the IR emitted from the earth is reflected by the C02. As in any feedback control system, which clearly this is, there are hysteresis (a delayed response by an object to changes in the forces acting on it, especially magnetic forces) gaps and this is probably why it might be possible to observe, at times, the temperature going up before the C02 concentration increases.

You can probably prove the above by a simple experiment at home if you could assemble a greenhouse, a bottle of C02 and a thermometer! 

What causes the C02 concentration to increase is not so clear cut but there is no doubt that we are pumping more C02 into the atmosphere than we did by way of vehicles, ships, aircraft and industrialization in general.


I think there are more than two issues.

Is the world heating up?

The temperature of the globe fluctuates. It has risen somewhat since the end of the Little Ice Age – and good thing too, from my perspective.

What is causing it?

There are a number of candidates. One is solar activity, over which we can never hope to have any control.

Should we be worried – so worried that we should spend trillions on dismantling the world's economy?

The warming that has occurred is not catastrophic and seems to have stopped in the last decade or so.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Umberto – Such a Good Man!

I am thinking about your comment – thanks. The problem about blogging is that to see your words of wisdom my "followers" would have to go back days or weeks. They are not so numerous or so enthusiastic.

I will devote a whole post to your very interesting comment.


GB: Well I suppose a starting point for Sam would be: believing in God. Does he? Sam?

CB: That's one for you, Sam. It's the default position. No one has shown that it is unreasonable.

Elisa (On the medicalisation of grief): Formidably successful marketing campaigns are in place to sell sickness, particularly mental sickness. It is all about condition branding, redefine an existing condition, increase its importance or create a new one for an unmet market.. and give it a spectacular name: social anxiety disorder, seasonal affective disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder... Redefine all expressions of human emotion as psychiatric problems and then you will ensure that there is always a market for your new drugs.

Geoff: You're a young cynic but right.

CB: I agree with you both. But what about when government takes a position?

GB (On Weaponology): Well the defence industry is good for the economy. Most of the advances in electronics and many other areas of technology have been driven by defence needs.

For example, it is unlikely that Watson Watt would have persevered with the development of radar had it not been funded by the Air Ministry in view of the impending threat from Hitler. Thus, landing at Heathrow would now be a dodgy experience.

The impetus to develop the jet engine was a direct result of needing faster aircraft to combat the Luftwaffe.

We wouldn't have Satnavs if it were not for the US needing accurate positioning systems for their missiles. And this GPS technology is used for civil aircraft navigation as well as in the aircraft TCAS (Traffic alert and Collision Avoidance System) which guards against mid-air collisions.

I could go on but won't!

CB: You are absolutely right that this is how things have happened! Does this make war a good thing? Given company A with faster transatlantic crossings with jet engines and company B with slower, who will prevail – war or no war? As for RADAR, it doesn't take a Nazi threat to make consumers really enthusiastic about landing on the tarmac at Heathrow – as opposed to 10 metres below.

Lovely Stephen Again!

Tonight was the second part of Stephen Fry's series on language. In my view it was very much better than the first. Improbably, I switched off before it was over – almost too much to think about.

Ollie phoned me as I was having lunch in a Korean restaurant and I told him that I had been too kind to SF. I hadn't. The man is a genius. The opening section, on accents, was brilliant. What an actor! He is a very good interviewer too.

I am certain that he and I have not more than 20% in common on PEST (Politics/Economics/Science/Theology). Live long, Stephen. I normally use "may his sins be forgiven" only for fellow Catholics, not tonight.

New Modem!

I have been having major problems with my internet connection. Wonderful Lesley suggested that I contact Virgin Media. I did, belatedly. They sent an engineer today (Sunday) – no cost to me. He gave me a modem/router combined.

So, I am posting again.

Many thanks to Geoff, Elisa and Umberto for your comments! I shall try to address them in a new post.

Next will be a follow-up to my recent Stephen Fry post.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Why Should Sam be a Catholic?

The short answer is: Catholics are happier than non-Catholics. He is my son. I want him to be happy. What choices does he have?

He could be a Baptist. Baptists are happier than Materialists. Baptists and Catholics have differences. I'm a Catholic but you are never going to find me attacking Baptists. We say the same Creed. A cigarette-paper between me and most Baptists.

Catholics are, for the most part, secure in their world view – and I don't mean complacent. Yes, there is an element of Faith; but Faith is not, as Dawkins alleges, prized for being blind, for flying in the face of Reason. This, in spite of centuries of Catholic thinkers whose commitment to Reason is rock-solid. He is impertinent to tell us what we believe. It is not unreasonable to have Faith in God, any more than it is unreasonable to believe that there are moral absolutes. We cannot see God; but nor has anyone ever seen a moral absolute.

[Gerard Casey, may his sins be forgiven, has published a short piece on the web: Faith in Search of Understanding. It's great.]

The debate goes on, with clever people on either side. But the Faith-Heads, as Dawkins contemptuously calls us, have the better arguments. He famously refuses to debate William Lane Craig – perhaps because he has seen the video of Peter Atkins' mauling by Craig.

I suppose that Marxists are secure in their world view. But they really don't have any arguments left. The predictions of Marxism have demonstrably failed. Their social/political/economic experiments have failed catastrophically. The death-toll is vast. If ever a system of belief could be called blind, Marxism is egregiously the blindest.

Marxists are Historicists. They believe that the organisation of society should be in conformity with what Marx declared was the direction of History. Catholics believe that by trying to live in conformity with God's will they glorify God and serve their fellow men. It is centuries since any Catholics have attempted to use force to impose "God's will" on other people – and, in so far as it has happened in the past – it was deplorable. But people who believe in and understand Original Sin and who are enjoined by their Faith to emulate Christ (however feebly) are bound to produce a better society than those who are baptised by History.

Muslims (sometimes) say that there should be no compulsion in religion – Amen.

Sam should be a Catholic because it makes sense; it makes you happier; it makes you a better person. And the more people who are striving to live by Catholic teaching, the better the world will be.

Why isn't everyone a Catholic? In only a tiny minority of cases are non-Catholics people who have earnestly examined the issues and found themselves intellectually compelled to reject Catholicism. Far more common are those who, because of their upbringing and education in a secular society, just kinda assume that Christianity has had its day and is unsuited to today's more "rational" world. The most resounding success of Materialism is the wide-spread, but baseless, myth that some time in the last hundred-years-or-so there was a mighty battle between Christianity and Science – and that Science won. Clever of the Dialectical Materialists to have pulled that one off during the century when so much of their energy was invested in killing millions-upon-millions of people! You might have thought that the gulags and the killing-fields and the famines and the immiseration of whole societies would have dented their credibility just a bit.

In so far as National Socialism and International Socialism have done Nazi "Science" and Marxist-Leninist "Science", they have produced 100 Scientists against Einstein and the sick joke that was Lysenko.

Dominus vobiscum.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Asset Stripping - II

Biologists sometimes point out the valuable service provided by a host of organisms, from hyenas to bacteria, which break down the bodies of dead plants and animals and return their constituent parts to the soil, whence miraculous Nature brings forth fresh plants and animals. These organisms may not be the sort we would like for our pets; but we owe them our gratitude.

When a business enterprise fails, there are almost always constituents which can be re-cycled: plant, work-in-progress, raw materials, even people. Insolvency practitioners may not be your favourite group of professionals; but they are vital to a healthy economy.

Austrian economists are aware, as Keynesians seem not to be, that busts in the business cycle are part of the process of recovery. The Keynesians frantically attempt to keep booms going by borrowing and stimulating demand. Booms are the disease; busts are the cure. We would not have busts without booms. Of course, booms feel good and busts hurt.

The Austrians understand that it is production that creates wealth, not consumption. They preach that capital is accumulated when people defer their consumption. The Austrian theory is entirely consonant with traditional virtues: thrift, hard work, honesty. The miracle of the market brings rewards for all. The idiocy of the Left lies in thinking that experts and legislation can solve all problems. Milliband thinks that we should punish asset strippers.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Asset Stripping – Yes Please!

Ed Milliband is economically illiterate.

An enterprise fails because it has insufficient customers; or because it can't keep its costs under control.

Years ago I understood that: if you don't have a customer, you don't have a business. End of story! Almost (for you). You might have premises and "means of production" but if you can't make a profit – you can't pay your mortgage (and feed your children) out of the difference between what your customers pay you and the cost of running the business, you are stuffed.

I ran a business. Our measurement was "the tripod": How much do we owe? How much is owed to us? How much do we have in the bank? Tits up? It happens all the time: not enough customers, costs too high.

As it happens, we sold our business – to really nice guys who didn't understand the above. Heartbreak! They had to make our/their employees redundant. They didn't get the fact that: if you don't turn the sales handle, your business will fail. It did.

Getting sales isn't easy. When we did it ourselves, we did OK. When we employed people to do it, it sometimes worked. When our successors took their eyes off the ball, they failed.

Good night! When I return, I shall concern myself with failed enterprises.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Lovely, lovely Stephen Fry

SF is one of my favourite broadcasters. It's almost inconceivable that Jeeves &Wooster could have been better cast – as much credit to Huw Laurie as to SF.

He is my kind of people. He loves language; I do. Information of any kind beguiles him; and me. Long live Stephen Fry.

I've been looking forward to his BBC2 programme Words for several days. I was disappointed.

Yeah, we humans create brand new sentences every time we open our mouths. Yeah, we are the only animals who do anything even remotely similar. Yeah, our offspring learn to do the same thing between the ages of two and four – I've observed it three times. Gosh, aren't they observant, those psychologists?

Probably the greatest linguist of all time, Noam Chomsky, has postulated that "grammar" is hard wired. He destroyed the behaviourists.

I have regarded the fact that I was not born a Jew as a misfortune. I love being a Catholic convert.

My disappointment with SF was that there was nothing new.

New is not necessarily good. But...

Stephen, what have you to tell us that is even Quite Interesting?

Monday, 19 September 2011

Unhappy – Depressed – Unhappy

A vale of tears; I know it is and so do you.

Are you one who wants to medicalise their grief? Do you go to your doctor for a pill when your relationship has broken down?

This is a twentieth century reaction. Our ancestors knew why they were unhappy – I love her; she doesn't love me. They wrote poems.

In Omnibus Caritas

In Faith Unity, in Doubt Liberty, in All Things Charity.

C S Lewis asserts that there are two historical characters that we "know" in the same way we know characters in fiction. We know Dr Johnson and Our Lord in the same way as we know Mr Micawber. I would like to add another – St Thomas Aquinas. I know him so much less well than I would like to. But his bulk, his humanity, his humility, his clumsiness and his brilliance make him as real to me as Hamlet.

Catholicism's permission to pray to the Saints is one of its ineffable joys. The Hail Mary is an unanticipated joy for this convert. Press me on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and I will hide behind the fact that it is not part of the Creed.

"We few, we happy few," says Henry V at Agincourt. We Catholics are few, alas. Alas that not all Catholics want everybody to be a Catholic.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


I watched an amazing programme about the development since the First World War of a range of death-dealing technologies: bombers, fighters, bouncing bombs, machine guns, missiles etc. The ingenuity of the boffins has been, and remains, extraordinary. One example was the device which allowed a fighter pilot to fire his machine gun without destroying his propeller. We are very clever creatures.

What, though, about the devices that the said boffins might have created if their ingenuity (and the astronomical costs of developing and manufacturing these systems) had been devoted to peaceful ends?

What is it about human beings that makes us waste ingenuity and resources on killing each other instead of constructing a world without hunger, in which work would be creative play because machines were doing all the drudgery? Who can doubt that we could have built such a world in the last hundred years? We are very stupid creatures.

The Catholic answer is: Original Sin.

There are observable facts about Human Nature – which as a species we choose to ignore.

One of these facts, well documented by Rudolph Rummel and others, is that democracies don't go to war with each other. They just don't do it.

Another fact is that Capitalism has proved to be the only way by which societies have ever become richer.

If from the beginning of the twentieth century the democratic capitalist West had spread the word about these facts as energetically as the scientific West spread the word about hygiene, what a world this would be.

Democracy and Capitalism are under threat. Envy has undermined Democracy in Europe and the USA. The electorate demands of the government ever more generous state provision. This has, in turn, put the economy under intolerable pressure: regulation and taxation. Marx said that Capitalism would collapse because of its inherent self-contradictions. He was wrong about this, as he was about everything. The relentless rise of Social-Democracy has hamstrung the economies of the European Union; and Obama wants to copy the EU!

The looming financial disaster will have consequences that no-one can predict. We can only hope that in the aftermath we re-discover that Democracy and Capitalism are the only hope.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sam Harris

I have remarked in passing that I don't think Sam Harris's attempt to create a moral edifice out of scientific premises succeeds. I like SH – I think he is laudable in defending moral absolutes. But I think he fails.

Here is an interview with William Lane Craig (Philosopher and Theologian). He says it better than I could.

I believe a debate between the two has been scheduled.

William Lane Craig

Monday, 12 September 2011


For Catholics, the only authoritative information we have about Heaven comes from Our Lord's parables, for example:

Matthew 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.

Mark 4:30-31 And he said, Whereunto shall we liken the kingdom of God? or with what comparison shall we compare it? [It is] like a grain of mustard seed.

Luke 13:20-21 And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.

But He is not telling us what the experience of Heaven will be like. No one has returned and published a Rough Guide to Paradise. Of course, even if this had ever been permitted, we wouldn't understand it. God's Kingdom is not of this World – it is outside Space and outside Time. We do not have the tools even to imagine it. Well, perhaps the Mystics have insider knowledge.

Speculation is the best we can do. An eternity of beholding the most beautiful of conceivable Objects, of being in an intimate relationship with the epitome of Love. Works for me!

I'm greedy, though. Mathematics has always been a book whose pages have been largely undecipherable to me. I envy those who have got beyond basic algebra. Bach ravishes me – but to understand his compositions as he did is an ambition too far. Shakespeare, patriotism and experience and the consensus lead me to suppose, was sans pareil. No human being has ever appreciated WS as he deserves to be appreciated.

What if we get not only the most beautiful of conceivable Objects and the epitome of Love but also Maths, Bach and Shakespeare as bonuses? And an understanding of Quantum Mechanics – so far vouchsafed to no-one ("To think you understand QM, is proof that you don't.")?

Imagine (and pity) me, forever distracted from Love's epitome by my awe of humanity's achievements. Relax! That is not how it's going to be. Either my consciousness will be extinguished by my death; or my greed for Maths, Bach, Shakespeare and QM will be rendered irrelevant; or, somehow, my intellectual and aesthetic longings will be satisfied by Love's epitome. Don't pity me.

Catholics are enjoined to hope for Heaven. I'm an orthodox Catholic here. Are we permitted to be excited by the prospect of Heaven? I can't see why not.

Gabriel, Dai and others will be left cold by this. If you think I am simply an idiot – on the basis of other opinions expressed on this blog, you will be left cold too.

Deus vobiscum.

The Mean-Spirited Levellers

In 2009 two epidemiologists (Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett) published a book, The Spirit Level, in which they claim that "more equal" countries are "better" in a host of different ways (infant mortality, prison population, etc etc) than "less equal" countries. "More equal" means that the difference in wealth between the richest and the poorest is less. Of course, they had to eliminate from their study all really poor countries – where everything is "worse".

The obvious conclusion we ought to draw is that wealth is good and absolute poverty is bad. These two, however, are obsessed with the idea that it is relative poverty which is bad. They think that the trauma of observing that, although I have enough to eat, keep warm and dry and can even afford holidays, Richard Branson's fortune is many thousands of times greater than mine will actually shorten my life expectancy.

Their methodology (and their conclusions) have been comprehensively destroyed in another book, The Spirit Level Delusion, by Christopher Snowdon. He shows how shoddy their statistics are. As damning, in my not-very-humble opinion, was the rapturous reception accorded to W&P's book by Polly Toynbee and Ken Livingstone.

I am not going to go into detail. It is unnecessary to destroy them again. If you are interested, both books are readily available.

I am concerned about the mean-spiritedness of W&P's whole project. It seems to me that you could sum up their attitude by saying that I will be happier if Branson is poorer, even though I am not a penny richer. To write a book to support such a pusillanimous mindset is really nasty. It insults me, for a start. To suggest that society should be organised in such a way that nobody can become (even through his own brilliance and energy) really really wealthy is to elevate Envy to a virtue. Traditional Wisdom tells us that Envy is a Deadly Sin.

I once read a dystopian short story in which the likes of W&P were in charge. The main character was a man of superior intellect. The state had mandated that he wear a head-piece which, at random intervals, subjected him to loud bursts of discordant noise. This meant that he was never able to think clearly about anything. A triumph of levelling!

Here's another idea: David Beckham's bootlaces should be tied together; Frank Sinatra's mouth should be stuffed with cotton wool. It's not another idea – it's W&P's idea.

It is a bone-headed idea. It is cultural and economic suicide dressed up to look like an idea.

Years ago my company ran some seminars on the then-new phenomenon of the internet. One of those attending one of the seminars objected to the whole phenomenon on the grounds that the well-to-do would be better placed to take advantage of it than, for example, the unemployed. Where do you begin to argue with such people? What would they have said to Henry Ford's mass-production of Model-As and Model-Ts? "These cars are unaffordable by the ordinary working man." In less than a generation ordinary working people were happily driving mass-produced cars in every neighbourhood in America.

The first hip-replacements could only be afforded by the wealthy. They were, by today's standards, primitive. The wealthy were the guinea-pigs!

A recent radio programme featured a contributor who "explained" the recent rioting and looting by saying that the perpetrators were driven to it by being told by the media that they were "worthless" because they didn't have this or that luxury. If I loot because Branson has a yacht, I am a scum-bag. If you excuse me, you are not much better.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

I Have the Best Daughters-in-Law

There is no doubt that Carrie thinks more quickly than I do. Blogging suits me better than Oxford Union debates would.

For more than a year I have been trying to deal with a quick riposte of hers. I had been going on about "improbabilities" in the Darwinian account. "What is more improbable than me?" she demanded. For what it is worth, my answer is: "Improbable though you are, you are."

Red is Carrie – Blue is me.

I have read quite a bit of your blog now, and while there are many details I'm tempted to take issue with (in a loving sort of way!), I'll restrain myself and try instead to look at the broad themes that seem to inform the way you approach your chosen topics. I trust you'll tell me if I'm wide of the mark.

A major theme throughout your posts - actually the only one I can identify that connects issues as wide-ranging as medical science, climate change, economic policy, evolution and Catholicism - is a sense that you are standing up for minority arguments that you think are under-represented in the public sphere; or at least, under-represented in the particular public discourse which is dominant among PLU in the UK. In general, I think that taking seriously those with non-conformist views is a vital intellectual and moral exercise. Everyone would do well to do more of it. However, if you are going to throw your weight behind them, I think you really have to be precise about why you are doing it. And this is where I sometimes can't follow....

There is nothing in this that I would disagree with, except to say that I'm doing it because "Good Science" destroys "Bad Science". Observation trumps computer models every time.

I see myself as standing up for points of view that are deliberately misrepresented by many high-profile opinion makers. Two examples will have to do here. One: the consistent charge of "creationism" levelled by some Darwinians against ID theorists. I have blogged about Michael Ruse. Two: the enduring myth that there is a quarrel between Christians and Scientists; that there was a great battle and the Scientists won. Most Christians in 1859 had little objection to Darwin and his theory – it was his scientific contemporaries who disagreed. My objection to Darwinism is completely independent of my Catholicism.

Two things I would like to table in this regard:

First, the importance of distinguishing moral debates from factual debates.

I'm not quite sure about this. Facts and Morals inhabit different domains; but Logic rules in both.

Second, the fascinating study of innovation in general - how new ideas surface and overpower old ones, sometimes through a process of "creative destruction" that naturally involves overcoming the resistance of the incumbent ideas (and their proponents and institutional support). This is a field you will find extremely interesting if, as I suspect, you haven't discovered it already.


So, to the first point. As a lawyer I have been sensitised to this because my job - like any good political blog - requires me to make strong statements about things I only partially understand. In building a case therefore, the first task is to determine which questions of fact have to be farmed out to experts - people who really do understand, say, the dynamics of explosive blasts in an industrial accident, if that is the subject of litigation. Once the factual arguments are established (and, for any complex issue of causation, many of these will be arguments rather than irrefutable statements of fact), then these are embedded in the legal case. For example, when x did y, there was a z per cent chance that q would result (factual - physics). Due to her expertise in the field, x should have known this (factual - professional standard). As a matter of law, x is therefore liable for outcome q (legal - liability threshold test). Furthermore, it would be morally outrageous if x could get away with causing q and the victims remain uncompensated (moral narrative).


Of course, when one is forming opinions about the world, one cannot always be so precise. But the basic point is still valid: if you make a statement that involves a factual argument that you are not qualified to make yourself, then you have to rely on someone else for that input. You have to demonstrate that you're aware you are relying on someone else, and justify why you have chosen that person - the more controversial their testimony, the more the onus is on you to explain your choice.


Once you've cited your sources, you can go on to make moral statements that build on this factual basis (i.e., z per cent chance is actually so low that for the following moral considerations, x shouldn't be liable...). But the distinction is paramount. So when you say you think the consensus view on climate change is rubbish, say who you're relying on and why you think they are a more reliable source for scientific information than the IPCC. If you don't, that's one step more that someone with a different view will have to take before they can engage in a debate with you, and that's a barrier to engagement.

See below.

I suspect, by the way, that you'll find it isn't the science you can actually take issue with, but the political consequences advocated by people with a different political outlook - their view of what constitutes a sensible level of precaution in the face of great uncertainty, their view of justice, their view perhaps on cultural guilt. All of these things are interesting angles, and they benefit a lot by not being muddled up with the many and complex factual questions that underlie them.

True, I am sure that the economic/political consequences of spending unimaginably huge amounts of money to achieve unimaginably tiny effects are already having and will continue to have disastrous effects. One example is that of paying huge subsidies to farmers to produce ethanol, thereby increasing the cost of food.

Climate Change Science.

The alarmists base their case on climate models rather than observation. In my view, this immediately makes their conclusions suspect. It is universally agreed that weather – let alone climate – is mind-bogglingly complex. We are all familiar with the chaos theory example of butterflies and hurricanes. It is that complex. When meteorologists fail reliably to predict the weather (with the help of super-computers) more than a few days in advance, then commonsense argues that extreme scepticism should be the order of the day.

Moreover, the modellers have produced graphs which eliminated the Mediaeval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. So, at least some of their conclusions are counterfactual – another reason for scepticism. They are condemned out of their own mouths. They have declared their determination to "get rid of" the MWP. They have admitted that it is a "travesty" that there is no warming at present. They promise to manipulate the peer review process to suppress research which calls their conclusions into question. They confess to using "tricks".

They allege that the consensus favours them, not a scientific argument. It may be that the majority of climate modellers are largely in agreement – people who adopt a common methodology are likely to come to similar conclusions; but they ignore the very large number of meteorologists who are doubtful. They resolutely ignore the observations which seem to demonstrate clearly that there is nothing unusual about the very modest warming which did take place in the twentieth century – mostly when carbon dioxide levels were much lower than they are now.

They draw graphs which seem to indicate that CO2 and higher temperatures go hand in hand. They disregard the conclusion that, because temperature changes go up before CO2 concentrations, it is more likely that the former causes the latter.

They intemperately smear their opponents by accusing them of being in the pay of "big-oil". The time to make that kind of accusation is after you have demolished the positions of your opponents.

There is more. But I will leave it to a later post.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Darwinism – Again!

Many thanks to Umberto Lombardo, Sicilian-born Scientist and all-round good egg. He posted a courteous and thoughtful comment to my previous post, which you can read below.

I am imposing on your patience by developing my reply to his comment.

He explains the "mechanism" of Darwinian evolution by saying that we see it on a short timescale in bacterial resistance to antibiotics or insect adaptation to agrochemicals: all examples of the same Darwinian evolutionary mechanism, which on a multi-million year timescale produces widely divergent species of plants and animals. If the mechanism can so do so much in days/weeks/months, why should we be surprised to see what it can do over aeons?

In my view the analogy breaks down, thus:

When you have a penicillin injection to counter a bacterial infection, you and the doctor hope that all the bugs will be wiped out. In many cases they all are – case closed.

But there may be some bugs which are immune to the drug; just as some humans are immune to plague – if this were not the case, Europe might well have been totally depopulated by the Black Death.

So you get your shot, killing most of the enemy; but some of the invaders survive. These lucky ones now have your body to themselves and run riot. If you live long enough to infect somebody else with them, the doctors will not be able to use penicillin. They will try other antibiotics but the same thing may happen again – and we end up with MRSA etc.

My point is that the resistant bacteria are not members of a new species – no new genetic information has been created. It was all there in the original population.

Similarly in the geneticists' laboratory: they bombard fruit flies with radiation and get one of three outcomes – normal fruit flies, mutant fruit flies or dead fruit flies. What they don't get is a new species of fruit fly. Nearly all mutations are harmful or, at best, neutral.

I think it is far-fetched to explain the development of birds from dinosaurs (or whatever) in terms of random mutations and natural selection.

I complained that the "fossil record" does not support Darwin. Umberto says that this is "because the vast majority of fossil deposits have been buried, destroyed, eroded." He is in good company – Darwin said the same. Animals with soft bodies are not as likely to be fossilised as creatures with bones or shells.

The Earth is about four-and-a-half billion years old – about a third the age of the Universe. For a very long time it was too hot to sustain life, let alone bring it forth. But the fossil evidence indicates that almost at the moment it cooled sufficiently, about three billion years ago, life forms appeared. The fossils are of soft-bodied single-celled creatures – just the sort that might be expected to have been destroyed. We have more single-celled fossils for the next two-and-half billion years.

Then just over half-a-billion years ago came the Cambrian Explosion. In a lousy 5-10 million year period, an astonishing variety of multi-celled creatures appeared, some of whose fossilised remains we have found and classified. These creatures have no apparent ancestors.

My question was: do marsupial wolves and placental wolves share a common (proto-wolf) ancestor, or do marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor?

Umberto answers: marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor. The similarity between, marsupial wolves and placental wolves is accounted for by similarity of the ecological niches occupy.

Here is me being frivolous (in serious sort of way): Lastly, and here I shamelessly appeal to the argument from personal incredulity: The marsupials stage a tragedy, Hamlet – The hero's father is murdered by his uncle... At about the same time the placentals (who occupy a similar ecological niche) coincidentally publish a play, Haammlett – The hero's father is murdered by his uncle... Well, you may have a mechanism but...

Umberto: The evidence that does not fit in the theory is the basic motor of scientific progress.

Me: Agree 100%.

Umberto: If we start to use it as a proof of the existence of God, then scientific progress stops.

Me: I regard inconvenient evidence as destructive of inadequate theories. If there are people who use it to "prove the existence of God", they are benighted. If there are those who say that the discovery of information in DNA is consistent with a designing intelligence, I have no quarrel with them. If they have an understanding of God that comes from Philosophy, Theology and the Mystics, I'm one of them.

Monday, 5 September 2011

This is not a Knock-Down Argument against Darwinian Evolution

I am genuinely curious about this.

How does the neo-Darwinian synthesis account for the startling similarities between some marsupials and some placental mammals? There are pairs of animals – in each case with one in the marsupial group and the other of the placental persuasion – which the untrained eye would assume to be closely related.

One of Darwin's principal arguments for his theory was "homology". If two organisms look similar then there is a reason for supposing that they are related. He certainly did not say that butterflies, bats and birds are related because they all have wings. He did point out that the similar structure of a human limb, of a mole's digging apparatus and of a dolphin's flippers was a good reason to put these creatures in the same broad category – mammals, especially in view of other shared characteristics (hair, lactation etc). All modern taxonomies concur, I think. A Baptist, a Muslim and an atheist will agree that that there are indeed many many diverse animals which should be classified as mammals. And they are very very different from reptiles and arthropods.

The evolutionary theory then goes on to construct the "tree-of-life". It explains homology in terms of common descent. In other words, humans, moles and dolphins share a common ancestor – a proto-mammal.

This is persuasive – to a degree. It persuades me that dolphins are my cousins many times removed and that sharks are too, though many more times removed.

As with many modern Darwin doubters, my problem is not with common descent but with the mechanism. Also with the lack of evidence from the "fossil record" – but that is another issue.

You have the placental mole and you have the marsupial mole. They are as similar to each other as the field mouse and the house mouse – in appearance. Obviously cousins, right?

But they aren't. Placental mammals and marsupials have radically different reproductive systems. Both groups employ sex; but the development of the foetus takes place according to wholly different schemes. You would have to do an awful lot of tinkering with a marsupial mole to turn it into a placental mole. David Berlinski goes into a fair amount of detail in speculating on the number of morphological changes which would enable a grass-eating mammal to evolve into a sea-going mammal. Many tens of thousands of coordinated changes in every physiological system. He admits that we have a few fossils which look like possible way stations. But not the tens of thousands that the theory requires. Darwin said, "Seek and ye shall find." We have sought; we have not found.

So, the question is: do marsupial wolves and placental wolves share a common (proto-wolf) ancestor, or do marsupial wolves and kangaroos share a common (proto-marsupial) ancestor?

I understand that the standard answer is something called "convergent evolution". My objection to this refinement to Darwin's theory is what Dawkins sneeringly dismisses as, "The argument from personal incredulity"! I find it a really good argument. Dawkins is, in my view, quite breathtakingly credulous. He does, after all, seriously consider the idea of life having been seeded on Earth from outer space as a solution to the origin-of-life problem.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Delingpole at his Best

See his Blog.

Madeleine Hartmann – Consultant Cardiologist

She is stunningly beautiful. She has long, glossy black hair. She has an IQ of 172 (there is nothing more erotic than intelligence) and earns £215,000 a year. Her legs go all the way up to her bum. She is a "mechanic in the sack" and cooks like an angel. She has read everything. She is absolutely potty about me and regards me as being exceptionally wise and creative. Without doubt, she is my all-time, number-one, favourite Cardiologist.

Alas, I made her up.

If she existed, I would have every reason to treat any pronouncement on heart disease from her luscious lips as Holy Writ – nearly.

The Natural Sciences are not like Mathematics. Truths in Physics and Physiology are not cast in stone. Fashions prevail – sometimes briefly. Last century's fashion might have been for Land Bridges to explain similar organisms on different continents. We now have a theory which explains more – Plate Tectonics. Current orthodoxy on stomach ulcers is very different from the orthodoxy of the 1980s.

Sciences progresses – it does! It progresses by fits and starts.

Where am I going?

Science progresses when scientists have the courage to stick their necks out – to question the consensus.

Indubitably, there are areas of scientific endeavour in which pretty well everybody agrees – no one is rocking the boat. I suppose that this would be true of at least 90% of the contents of undergraduate textbooks in Physics, Chemistry, Electronics and a host of other disciplines.

An aspiring PhD in most subjects would be wise to heed the advice of his supervisor: "Well, son, Professors X, Y & Z have opened up some very interesting lines of enquiry – how about one of these for your research? If your thesis makes the grade, there are likely to be funds available to take it to the next stage." A promising career and a possibly useful contribution loom large.

Bolshie you, however, counters with, "I have heard rumblings to the effect that, Professor W's theory of Q is holed below the water-line. I'd like to have a look at that."

Long silence.

"Professor W is an old friend of mine. He has been an external examiner for half a dozen of my doctoral students – all of whom are now well established in their careers. He is the Editor in Chief of Proceedings of the Royal Society of... He has been spoken of as a possible Nobel Laureate in our subject for his highly regarded work twenty years ago on Q. Oh, and he is about to be appointed Chair of the Government's Science Research Grants Committee."

Of course you would have to be some kind of insane maverick to ignore this warning. Or a hero.

Mavericks are, needless to say, often wrong and sometimes insane.

Occasionally they turn out to be right. Sometimes they win a hearing with a minority. Sometimes (nowadays) their ideas appear on the internet. A YouTube broadcast is as likely to contain idiocy as wisdom.

Below is a lecture questioning the near universal prescription of statins to counteract elevated levels of cholesterol.

A Cardiologist who Might be Worth Listening to.

He is speaking to a conference organised by Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. These guys do not check out your Political Correctness before inviting you to speak.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

An Argument against Taxation

I have bleated about taxation before on this blog. My conclusion is that, in general, at best, for-the-time-being, taxation is a necessary evil.

The other day I saw something (and I think it was being articulated by Ronald Reagan) to the effect that when you tax something, you get less of it; when you don't, you get more.

All over England there are reminders of the window tax. In 1695 Parliament legislated to tax windows – the larger the area of glass in your house, the more you paid. Overnight people bricked up some of their windows. Frequently they plastered over the bricks and painted the plaster black to give a not-very-good illusion of glass.

In the present day we use taxation (ostensibly) to discourage certain behaviours – smoking, for example. The effect is that fewer people smoke than would do absent (nice Americanism) the tax.

When you tax wealth, you immediately get less wealth. Over and over it has been shown that when punitive tax rates are lowered, the take actually increases. I saw some graffiti: MAKE THE RICH PAY! They do pay and because they do they therefore have less to invest – and there are fewer jobs for oiks like you.

All legislation costs money to implement. Perhaps some of it is worthwhile. But good and bad legislation alike make society poorer. Your Caribbean holiday might have been worthwhile but you are cash poorer for having taken it. Government employees are paid out of cash expropriated from you. Moreover hundreds of thousands of these people are in unproductive and unnecessary jobs instead of working to create wealth.

In Britain we are consumed by the politics of envy. Americans are increasingly succumbing to it. Happiness is good. We should not want to put a limit to anyone's happiness. Likewise wealth. The more billionaires the better. A billionaire who doesn't keep his fortune under the bed cannot help benefitting his fellows. Either he spends it on himself and his family, thereby giving employment to others or he invests it in ventures which create wealth. Billionaires also happen to have rather a good record of charitable giving.

Thomas Gordon Lonsdale - RIP

He died before I was born, on 6th June 1945. He was 23, I think. From what I understand, he was part of a diversionary operation and probably lived for no more than minutes after he parachuted into France. He was my uncle.

My middle name is Gordon. Until very recently I had no idea that his first name was Thomas. I hope to visit his grave before I die.

Praying for the dead is a Catholic tradition, one for which I am grateful.

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, 
and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up the light of his 
countenance upon you and give you peace.

He left no offspring. His father's survival of the trenches did not lead to generations of brave Lonsdales.

There is not much more to say.

I hope his name will live on in my grandchildren.

Where did Socialism Come from?

We, homines sapientes, have, according to Wikipedia, been here on this Earth for perhaps as long as 200,000 years. We originated in Africa and reached "full behavioural modernity" about 50,000 years ago. How we got here is mystery. Are we the descendents of earlier hominids? – Perhaps. Who were they? Where did they come from? We don't have the remotest idea.

How did the earliest life forms come to be? Darwin speculated. Miller and Urey produced some amino acids from inorganic substances. Subsequently, scientists have cast doubt on their assumption that they had the initial conditions right. Anyway, amino acids are not proteins – only the building blocks. In real life, to make proteins out of amino acids, you need DNA, a fabulously complex molecule. Only life forms have DNA. My readers will forgive me for stating the obvious – we are talking circularity!

Dean Kenyon wrote a book, Biological Predestination. It was the standard "origin-of-life" text book. He has subsequently repudiated the ideas therein. If a well-known and respected Catholic apologist were to embrace Marxism, I, for one, would have to give him the time of day – Respect (perhaps).

In all that time (ie for at least 50,000 years) the overwhelming majority have practised some kind of religion. C S Lewis says that religions can be classified (like soups) into clear and thick. Buddhism is clear; Hinduism is thick. I shall have to read that essay again.

In the twenty-first century the overwhelming majority practise some kind of religion. Most of the major religions have a long history. Sikhism is the youngest. Islam is the next youngest. Occasionally, new religions pop up. We have seen, in the twentieth century, Scientology and the Unification Church (aka "Moonies"). The adherents of nearly all these religions give credit to nearly all the others.

In the nineteenth century we saw the origin of anti-religious religion: Materialism.

I am not the first to observe that, like traditional faiths, Materialism is a metaphysical system. Fundamentalist Materialism's Creed can be summed up as: "The physical universe is all there is and Science is the only way to know anything about it." Some materialists have (heroically) attempted to create a moral system; but the physical universe does not provide the ingredients. The project is doomed from the start. All the same, this doesn't stop them from being extremely censorious of other faiths.

We Westerners then, live in an extraordinarily unusual society, metaphysically speaking. As well as living (for the time being) in extraordinarily prosperous circumstances, we share our society with people who reject the basis of all Morality and Reason – also with a majority who have never given these ideas a second's thought. This majority is infected with pre-materialistic ideas and assumptions (Thanks be to God!) but also (regrettably) with Materialism.

Any intelligent, observant child asks himself/herself: "Wouldn't it be nice if...?" Any thinking adult answers, "Yes, but..."

Aquinas said that the Natural Law can never be erased from the human heart. I hope and believe that he is right. But that innate longing for Justice does funny things when divorced from religion. Theistic belief underpins not only Morality but Reason too. So, if you are an atheist who longs for a just society, to see Heaven on Earth, you will create a system whereby Fairness is legislated. Legislation implies coercion. Voila, Socialism! Gabriel will hate this – Sorry, Son.

Now, atheistic Materialism is not the same thing as Socialism. There are Christians (misguided, I think) who are Socialists and there is Geoff, who does not believe in God but is not a Socialist; and there is Maureen, who is a Catholic and believes that trades unions are a good thing. However, there is a very substantial overlap. Aha! I have fallen into the correlation/causality trap! I don't think so. But, it seems to me that when people cease to believe in God, while retaining a desire for Justice and Fairness, something like Socialism is pretty well inevitable.

The scientific Austrian critique of Socialism seems to me to be watertight. It cannot work. Libertarians (and most Austrians are Libertarians) declare that Socialism violates the principle that coercion (except in self-defence) is morally indefensible.

What we see in the real world is that those countries which have rejected or are are in the process of rejecting Socialism (eg Taiwan, South Korea, China and India) are getting richer, whereas where Socialism increases economies decline. I am appalled by the example of the USA. As Obama-Socialism marches on, unemployment and unsustainable debt increase. The Socialist EU is another catastrophe in the making. Frantic measures to shore up the edifice are dragging it down.

I would love to be proved wrong. But my reading of History goes like this:

Just at the moment when the Christian West had come up with the only system that has ever improved the physical well-being of the masses, so other currents of thought were undermining Christianity – and leading (if my analysis is correct) to Socialism.

Socialism (National and International) was tried and seen to fail on a scale so vast that it takes your breath away.

In a few places Socialism was flushed away – those places flourish. In the once-Christian West we seem to be somnambulistically approaching the abyss. Perhaps we will wake up in time.

You might say that we are suffering Divine Retribution for our lack of Faith. I would disagree. We are suffering from wilful blindness.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Message to Geoff – A Wonderful Human Being

Geoff and I have no grandparents in common. We are not, therefore, cousins. But, we have as many great grandparents in common as we would have if we were cousins. Explain.

What follows is a very slightly modified version of my message to him.

Geoff commented: "Broadly I agree with this although not with your views on science (as a scientist how could I?)"

What are my views on Science (I try to use a capital "S" every time)?

I think that Science is among the greatest achievements of Humanity!

Let's deal with Induction and Deduction - since childhood I have found it impossible to remember which is which. So, I am not going to use these terms, especially since the internet has added to my confusion.

Mathematics is representative of one kind of Science. True (ie irrefutable) axioms lead by logical laws to Truth. Austrians say that Praxeology (their method) is representative of the same kind of Science.

Physics is representative of another kind of Science. Observation leads to speculation. Speculation leads to theorising. Theories require testing by repeated further observation and (where possible) experiment. A theory unrefuted by observation and/or experiment deserves respect - not unconditional acceptance.

There may be competing theories to account for any set of observations. As far as I understand it, theories which explain more deserve more respect than those which explain less. Every theory in the Natural Sciences is at risk of being replaced (in respectability) with a theory which explains more.

Science and its greatest practitioners (Newton is always the best example, although he had loony ideas: numerology and alchemy among them) occupy a place in my thinking alongside St Paul, Shakespeare, Bach and St Thomas Aquinas.

I have no quarrel with Science - never have had.

I have a bitter quarrel with two other schools.

The first is "Scientism", the idea that that the Natural Sciences are sufficient to explain everything. Peter Atkins states this in so many words and gets humiliated by William Lane Craig. Science has nothing to say about Ethics or Aesthetics. Sam Harris, a very decent chap, tries to show that it does - unsuccessfully, in my view.

My other quarrel is with those who take it upon themselves to define Science in such a way to exclude a priori the speculations of others about, for example, Intelligent Design.

Intelligent Design is allowed when we are confronted by the Taj Mahal or Mount Rushmore - but not when we are confronted by Information in DNA. Even though whenever we are confronted by Information in any other context, it is always the product of intelligence.

So, I have no reason, from what you have said, to differ from you about Science. Wherein do you think we differ?

Lastly, Geoff, you took issue with my assertion that government funding has corrupted all Science and you gave an important example. I am content to stand corrected. I still think that government funding has a tendency to corrupt.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Daniel Hannan (MEP) – Politicians aren’t all bad!

What a man!

DH speaks and votes against the very institution that provides him with a living – the European Union.

Apologies for repeating myself: We had a referendum on the Common Market. The Common Market turned itself into the European Economic Community. This turned into the European Community, which morphed into the European Union. They obviously know we are stupid. Well, we didn't take to the streets – though it wasn't that subtle, was it?: CM4EEC4EC4EU! Never once did the bastards consult us! The EU makes over 80% of our laws. It's as though I joined the Co-op and discovered that, in next to no time, they were telling me what to eat and how to bring up my children.

I have respect for very few politicians – less as the years go by. The coalition makes me physically ill.

There are a few others: IDS, Michael Gove, Douglas Carswell and Frank Field. Recently I have been holding my nose as I put my "X" against the Conservative candidate's name. Never again, I think. UKIP, if there is a candidate. Otherwise I'll spoil the ballot paper.

Daniel Hannan

Abiotic Oil

There are two competing theories about the origin of petroleum and natural gas: The "fossil theory", which is the conventional wisdom in the West, and the "abiotic (ie non-biological) theory", which is scientific orthodoxy in Russia and the Ukraine.

The first says that oil is the result of pressure and other factors working upon organic matter (both zoological and botanical) – prehistoric forests and the corpses of long dead animals.

The second says that geological forces way way down continually generate oil out of inorganic material. In support of this theory they point out that there are instances of dried out wells which have been replenished. What is more, astronomers have detected hydrocarbons (chemicals similar to petroleum) in comets – no rotting dinosaurs up there, I think.

I have read that oil prospectors in the West have a 20% success rate, whereas their Russian counterparts achieve 70-80%. The latter have found oil at 30,000 feet (maybe more) – far too deep for prehistoric forests and the corpses of long dead animals.

Estimates of oil reserves are constantly revised upwards. Alarmists say we have only a few years' worth left. Their opponents say there is enough down there for 500 years, or maybe for much longer.

Thomas Gold (now deceased) is a scientific hero of mine. Three times he found himself in the academic wilderness:

  • He proposed a theory of hearing which said that our ears emit a sound and that it is the interference with this sound by external sound waves which is processed by our nerves and brains. Nobody wanted to know. Now scientists have identified individuals where the noise is detectable and the theory has enjoyed a renaissance. Anyway, Gold was discouraged and went off to do Cosmology.
  • He proposed a theory to account for pulsars, astronomical objects which produce regular pulses of energy. He said that pulsars were pairs of (binary) stars which rotate about each other. Nobody wanted to know. His theory is now mainstream.
  • He and his collaborators proposed that oil did not come from fossils but from geological processes.

The Russians are totally convinced that he was right. I think there was some controversy about alleged plagiarism. Western scientists have not yet followed suit. He did not get credit in his lifetime. I hope Duesberg lives to be vindicated.

This link is to a site where the controversy is discussed in some detail, with arguments from both sides.

Peak Oil Debate

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Duesberg on AIDS – Musings about the Nature of Dissidence

Peter Duesberg at a Libertarian Conference

I have not seen this before although I am familiar with most of the contents.

Now, here's a funny thing. I am genuinely puzzled by this. Your comments will be welcome, honestly.

There are no hard and fast statistics about what follows. It could be done by conducting polls at Libertarian Conferences.

My strong impression is that upholders of free markets (1) are very likely to be sceptical about Climate Catastrophism (2). If you are doubtful about Climate Catastrophism, you are unlikely to be a hard-line Darwinian (3). If you are dissatisfied with the Darwinian consensus, you may well be similarly dissatisfied with the HIV theory of AIDS (4). If you are an AIDS dissenter then you may not be persuaded of the "peak oil" disaster scenario (5). Clearly, I am not saying that 1 leads inexorably to 2, 3, 4 and 5.

I am in all these camps and suspect that if I were to meet a kindred spirit from any of them, there would be a better than even chance that the person would be in at least one of the others.

So, assuming that there is some validity in my speculation, how shall we account for the phenomenon?

The easiest answer would be say that I am simply mad, that mad people have all sorts of mad ideas. This answer has the advantage of simplicity.

Another answer would be to say that I am incorrigibly contrarian, that I oppose pretty well everything the majority accepts. The problem with this is that I do accept thousands of mainstream opinions. I don't go around looking for conventional ideas to oppose. You have to trust me on this; I have privileged access here.

Each of these camps is very different from all the others in detailed respects. But a similarity shared by all of them is that in each case the position they oppose is supported by very powerful vested interests. Of course a position is not invalidated by the fact some people benefit if others accept the position.

It would be interesting to know if you are in any of my five camps above. If so, are you in any of the others too? If someone hints that they are, for example, "tired of all this Global Warming nonsense", ask them whether they think that government interference in markets (by manipulating interest rates, by high taxes and heavy regulation) is, on balance, good or bad.

Regrettably, although there are lots and lots of people who detest socialism and an increasing number who are unconvinced by Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change, most people are totally unaware of, for example, the Russian/Ukrainian Theory of Abiotic Petroleum. How many people know that thousands of scientists admit that the fossil record does not provide the proof of Darwinian Evolution that the Biology Establishment claims it does? Cambrian Explosion, what are you talking about? Everybody knows that HIV is "the virus that causes AIDS" – radio and TV and the press have told them so thousands of times. The vested interests do not typically address their opponents' arguments. They do their damnedest to prevent them from publishing. Phil Jones at the CRU (University of East Anglia) admits as much.

Is it because I am mad or contrarian or because I have eccentrically decided to read up on these controversies?

What about "9/11 Truthers", I hear you cry. Frankly, I believe some of these people have difficult questions. Equally frankly, I have not read up on the subject – I simply cannot bear the thought that they may be on to something. What a coward!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

My Muslim Brothers – We Need You!

By "we" I mean British/Western conservatives and traditionalists – Christians.

By "need" I mean urgently require (in the face of Western materialist/self-indulgent hedonism).

By "you" I mean theistic men and women, followers of Mohammed, whose thinking is essentially conditioned by moral concepts, who believe that God created the World for His purpose.

Am I ever going to become a Muslim? No. But I am closer to Islam than I am to what I regard as the void at the heart of modern Britain.

Do I have a problem with Islam's failure to embrace Democracy, with its apparent sexism, with the violence of Islamism, with Islam's failure to distinguish between Religion and Politics, with the racism of many Muslims with respect to the Jews, with extreme reactions to infringements to "honour"? Indeed I do.

All the same, we have so much more in common with each other than we have with the ghastly zeitgeist of contemporary Britain.

You have much to remind us about family values – the care that you take of your extended family members. You don't say, "Abdul, it's OK to be dependent on the State; Aisha, it's OK for you to have multiple children by multiple fathers." In Britain one-in-five children is born to parents who have never worked – not so in Egypt or Indonesia.

Political Secularism appeals to me not because my outlook is secular but because state interference in religious practice has always been horrible, in Christendom and in Islamic societies.

Whenever Christians and Muslims have attempted to create Heaven on Earth, the result has been appalling – though our common enemies, the Socialists, have, literally, created Hell. I would rather live in Iran than in North Korea.

Muslims have slaughtered other Muslims; Christians have burned other Christians at the stake – not a record to be proud of!

The contribution that Islamic scholarship has made to Western culture is enormous. Thank you!

We (Christians) have given the World Science and Democracy (the least bad system of government) – but pretty bad! Is there an alternative to Theocracy and to electorates that vote themselves ever more generous entitlements – which impoverish societies so catastrophically? For what it is worth, I regard this as an important question – to which I don't have a ready answer.

Incidentally, we Westerners (not Christians) have also given the World Scientism, the idea that Science is the only proper way of understanding the World – profound apologies!

Jews, Christians and Muslims should be in dialogue. We should fraternally oppose the bad guys – those who declare that morality is subjective. We have many problems to resolve. I would be dishonest to pretend that I don't think Catholicism is the best religion. As a Libertarian, however, I think that we can agree that non-aggression is a good basis for living in harmony – that we have more to gain by fighting our common enemies than by fighting each other.

Christians have recently had a pathetic record of even attempting to increase their numbers. Catholics don't seem even to want everyone to be a Catholic. I do! But I'd rather my countrymen were Muslims than Materialists.

Read this Book with me!

[Apologies. I thought the link was to the whole book. It to the first 49 pages. Well, we know the book exists.]

Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics

I have been feeling a bit nervous that someone might challenge me to define the Theory of Marginal Utility. I'm an amateur Austrian. So I went to Google – and found the above.

This book is not published by the Mises Institute but a quick glance at the list of contributors reveals a number of Misesian/Austrian names, including Walter Block, Joseph Salerno and Israel Kirzner – reassuring.

The editor is Peter J Boettke. I don't know this guy but I have a good feeling about him.

So, I am recommending a book I haven't even read! How impertinent.

Friday, 26 August 2011

How Stuff is Made

There is a TV programme with this name. It's presented by Robert Llewellyn, aka Chrichton in Red Dwarf. It's great. Tonight's episode featured railway sleepers, manufactured out of recycled bottles and tyres; and tissues – how each time you pull a tissue out of the box, the next one presents itself, ready to be pulled.

Each tissue costs you next to nothing. But the resources which make this possible cost a King's Ransom! A mind-blowing investment to enable you to blow your nose. Premises, computers, energy, steel, paper, plastic, glass and ingenuity, each one of which has many higher order production processes to make it possible. A single tissue requires the cooperation of hundreds of thousands of people. They don't know each other; they speak multiple languages; they worship at different shrines. Wow!


But respect for whom? Each of those myriad people? Some may be personally admirable; the majority are as ordinary as you or me, deserving of no more special respect than I am. I am made in the image of God – but so is everyone. We deserve no credit for that.

The ingenuity of the people involved is special. We are creative (some of us) because we are made in God's image. Tolkien says we are "sub-creators". What a privilege.

We ought to learn to respect the mechanism which makes all the above possible. It can be summarised as Human Action, the title of Ludwig von Mises' greatest book.

Von Mises was an agnostic – likewise his great disciple, Murray Rothbard. Had he been a Catholic, he might have called it, God's Grace as Revealed in Human Action.

Catholics believe that God's Grace is revealed every morning, as the sun rises. Catholics should also believe that God's Grace is revealed in the so-called "hidden hand" of individual personal choice.

When creative human beings produce, essentially for their own benefit, they can't help benefitting their fellows. Thanks be to God!

There are those out there who will wonder if I am out of my mind. Either pray for me or show me my error in a comment.

I’m Giddy with Excitement!

My blog has a new "follower": Dr Gerard Casey of the Dept of Philosophy at University College Dublin.

I have been a huge fan of this man since I first heard him (on YouTube), addressing the Austrian Scholars' Conference at the Mises Institute:

Two Roads, One Truth

I hope you enjoy this wise and witty man as much as I have.

I sent him a fan message by email and was delighted to receive a reply less than 24 hours later.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

What Makes Austrians so Effing Smug?

[Geoff, what is the "high falutin'" index here? More than 4, I'm sure.]

Well actually, they aren't – at least, not as smug as they have every right to be.

It is those on the left who claim the high moral ground, those whose thinking is socialist. Left wing trolls, who frequently lurk below the bridge to hurl abuse at "right wing" blogs (including this one) use unpleasant language to sneer and smear.

Socialists have been, by far, the greatest mass murderers in history. Why would someone like Tony Benn, a man of considerable natural gifts, be so proud to call himself a Socialist? Why was I? Why would he allow himself to be associated with killers like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Guevara and Kim Jong Il? Why did I? I will answer for him and for myself: Culpable Stupidity!

Rudolph Rummel, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii gives the figures for Communist murder. This table does not include National Socialist murders, although you can find those figures on his site too. For too long we accepted the nonsense that Communists and Nazis were at opposite ends of the political spectrum. It was a clever trick by Uncle Joe Stalin to label his sometime allies as "rightists". Jonah Goldberg, in his magnificent Liberal Fascism, opened my eyes; and it seems that more and more people now recognise that Communism and Nazism were fraternal twins.

Rummel's website is not very user-friendly but it is well worth a visit. Here is a link:

Socialist Democide

Why do Austrians have the right to be smug?

In trying to answer this question, I am going to address another one first, one about which there is no longer any controversy in developed countries: Why would you have the right to be a bit smug (or condescending) on the subject of hygiene, if confronted by a hypothetical someone who denied its relevance to health?

  • Your education included the notion that many deadly diseases were/are caused by microbes (fungi, bacteria and viruses).
  • That notion is supported by observations and by logic – remember Koch's postulates?
  • Scientists looked down microscopes and saw the little buggers. These microbes caused diseases when injected into healthy subjects. They had a theory that is absolutely convincing – watertight!
  • When they took action to kill the microbes – in food for example (pasteurisation), the incidence of disease declined.
  • When sewage systems were installed – thereby isolating people from huge concentrations of these microbes, the incidence of disease declined.
  • When water treatment plants ensured that the population had microbe-free water, the incidence of disease declined.
  • When people were educated into habits of hygiene – eg washing their hands after relieving themselves, the incidence of disease declined.
  • When and where unhygienic conditions prevailed, the incidence of disease was seen to be high. Repeated observations have confirmed the theory 100% of the time.

Your education gives you some right (not much) to be smug about hygiene. You and I are in 100% agreement on this issue. Anyone who disagreed with us would do so only because of (not necessarily culpable) ignorance.

The Austrians are in a comparable position to Semmelweis (one "s" not two, whoops), Lister and Pasteur (our hygiene heroes) – comparable but not identical. The Austrian method is "praxeology" (arguing from general principles, or axioms – as in Mathematics), whereas the natural sciences derive a theory from observations and then test it by experiment – a subtle but important difference. In Praxeology and in Mathematics, if your reasoning is correct, your conclusion is true. No amount of observation can disprove Euclid's theorems, whereas in Astronomy, for example, ever more accurate observations might force you to reconsider your theory – and come up with something closer to the truth.

Anyway, the Austrians have true theorems. Nevertheless, as it happens, repeated observations are another way of convincing doubters.

  • By pure Reason, the Austrians demonstrate, for example, that the division of labour (ie specialising) makes a society richer – argument watertight!
  • Observation and History confirm that the richest societies are those in which specialisation has gone the furthest.
  • By pure Reason, the Austrians prove that prices are subjective and they derive the Theory of Marginal Utility – argument watertight!
  • Observation and History confirm that, without this insight, planned economies have found it impossible to determine
    appropriate prices and that gluts and shortages always result – massive government induced famines, for example, in which millions died. Tractors rusted unused for lack of fuel and spare parts.
  • By pure Reason, the Austrians show that when interest rates are held down by central banks, malinvestment is inevitable – argument watertight!
  • Observation and History have confirmed repeatedly that interference of this kind by central banks always creates
    unsustainable booms. These booms are followed by busts. Hello!

This is why Austrians have a right to be smug.

Compare these countries:

Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China (recently), India (recently) and Japan (until recently)


North Korea, Cuba, China (until recently), Zimbabwe, India (until recently), Japan (recently) and all socialist countries.

Compare the so-called Iron Curtain countries with themselves before they threw off the Soviet hegemony.

Wherever economic policy accords with free-market theory (and to the extent that it does), people are better off. I assume that you want people to be better off. Me too! No brainer!

Keynes vs Hayek - BBC Debate

This debate took place at the LSE earlier this month. It was repeated yesterday on Radio 4.

It seems that I am not alone. A significant number of Brits must be getting turned on by Economics.

I cannot resist two observations:

  1. The BBC has here presented two sides of an argument. Are they ever going to do the same on Climate Change?
  2. The Hayekians won and the LSE audience acknowledged the fact. There is hope.

Keynes vs Hayek

Tom Woods – A Brief Intro to Austrianism

It gives me great pleasure to present the ever lucid Dr Thomas E Woods Jr.

There is a glitch at about 3:45; but it sorts itself out pretty quickly.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Free Market Chaos? – I Don’t Think So!

Conventional wisdom – for now – blames our economic woes on unregulated free-market capitalism. The tide of opinion may be turning, I hope so. If it is, we have the Mises Institute and Ron Paul in the USA and the Cobden Centre, the Adam Smith Institute and a handful of politicians (including Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell) in the UK to thank. In fact, there are thousands of good economists around the world whose clear-eyed analysis enabled them to predict the current mess and point out that it has been government interference which is to blame.

Governments! Obscenely high, business-crippling taxation; thousands of pages of business-crippling regulations; a business-crippling welfare state; socialised banking, whereby banks can make profits but are protected from losses; a bloated, unproductive public sector (with bloated salaries and index-linked pensions); eye-watering National Debt, which the Coalition is doing nothing to address – the poor bastards are being blamed for cuts(?) which caused the riots. The list is endless. In every sphere governments make things worse. We have experienced nothing like unregulated free-market capitalism for generations. Good intentions have produced a monster state, a cancer whose growth seems to be out of control. Only radical surgery will give us even a glimmer of hope.

I have pointed out before that taxation is, at best, a necessary evil. It costs money to levy taxes; it costs money to disburse the tax take. Think of the waste! And they make a crappy job of disbursing it. If they let you keep it, you would undoubtedly spend it more wisely. The British have been infected with idea that "for profit" enterprises are bad. "For profit" businesses create all the wealth. I'd rather have Tesco provide my healthcare and educate my grandchildren. Morrisons or Sainburys would have to compete, not to mention a million others who saw an opportunity. Imagine how much richer we would be without the cost of the gargantuan NHS and all those schools. Just as with Defence spending, Health and Education spending push costs up and quality down.

We are in for a good deal more woe – that's for sure. I shall be sixty-five in November. Pension funds are sinking as far as the eye can see. Oh woe is me!

James Delingpole – may his sins be forgiven – has a piece in The Spectator and another in today's Telegraph. Read them both, in this order:

An open letter from my old mate David Cameron to the people of Britain

Bulverism - CS Lewis

[This is prompted by a comment which suggested that I hold some of my beliefs (for example that the HIV theory of AIDS is deeply flawed) because I want to hold them. In reply, I answered yes, that has been true of some of my beliefs: I certainly wanted to believe that my wife loved me! On the other hand, why should I have wanted to reject the HIV theory of AIDS? In any case, the veracity of my belief is unaffected by my wishes.
Lewis says below, "you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong."]

It is a disastrous discovery, as Emerson says somewhere, that we exist. I mean, it is disastrous when instead of merely attending to a rose we are forced to think of ourselves looking at the rose, with a certain type of mind and a certain type of eyes. It is disastrous because, if you are not very careful, the colour of the rose gets attributed to our optic nerves and its scent to our noses, and in the end there is no rose left. The professional philosophers have been bothered about this universal black-out for over two hundred years, and the world has not much listened to them. But the same disaster is now occurring on a level we can all understand.

We have recently "discovered that we exist" in two new senses. The Freudians have discovered that we exist as bundles of complexes. The Marxians have discovered that we exist as members of some economic class. In the old days it was supposed that if a thing seemed obviously true to a hundred men, then it was probably true in fact. Nowadays the Freudian will tell you to go and analyze the hundred: you will find that they all think Elizabeth [I] a great queen because they all have a mother-complex. Their thoughts are psychologically tainted at the source. And the Marxist will tell you to go and examine the economic interests of the hundred; you will find that they all think freedom a good thing because they are all members of the bourgeoisie whose prosperity is increased by a policy of laissez-faire. Their thoughts are "ideologically tainted" at the source.

Now this is obviously great fun; but it has not always been noticed that there is a bill to pay for it. There are two questions that people who say this kind of thing ought to be asked. The first is, are all thoughts thus tainted at the source, or only some? The second is, does the taint invalidate the tainted thought - in the sense of making it untrue - or not?

If they say that all thoughts are thus tainted, then, of course, we must remind them that Freudianism and Marxism are as much systems of thought as Christian theology or philosophical idealism. The Freudian and Marxian are in the same boat with all the rest of us, and cannot criticize us from outside. They have sawn off the branch they were sitting on. If, on the other hand, they say that the taint need not invalidate their thinking, then neither need it invalidate ours. In which case they have saved their own branch, but also saved ours along with it.

The only line they can really take is to say that some thoughts are tainted and others are not - which has the advantage (if Freudians and Marxians regard it as an advantage) of being what every sane man has always believed. But if that is so, we must then ask how you find out which are tainted and which are not. It is no earthly use saying that those are tainted which agree with the secret wishes of the thinker. Some of the things I should like to believe must in fact be true; it is impossible to arrange a universe which contradicts everyone's wishes, in every respect, at every moment. Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is "wishful thinking." You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant - but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method [Note: This essay was written in 1941.] is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism." Some day I am going the write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father - who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third - "Oh, you say that because you are a man." "At that moment," E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

I find the fruits of his discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that "the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world." Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see clearly enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that "the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting." For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it give no unfair advantage to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds - a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally Communists must be bad economists because we know why they want Communism. Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning - never by being rude about your opponent's psychology.

Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy, in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate. The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend of reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more - for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.

The alternative then is either sheer self-contradicting idiocy or else some tenacious belief in our power of reasoning, held in the teeth of all the evidence that Bulverists can bring for a "taint" in this or that human reasoner. I am ready to admit, if you like, that this tenacious belief has something transcendental or mystical about it. What then? Would you rather be a lunatic than a mystic?

So we see there is justification for holding on to our belief in Reason. But can this be done without theism? Does "I know" involve that God exists? Everything I know is an inference from sensation (except the present moment). All our knowledge of the universe beyond our immediate experiences depends on inferences from these experiences. If our inferences do not give a genuine insight into reality, then we can know nothing. A theory cannot be accepted if it does not allow our thinking to be a genuine insight, nor if the fact of our knowledge is not explicable in terms of that theory.

But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called "a reason." Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the results of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.


[The remainder of this essay, which was originally read to the Socratic Club before publication in the Socratic Digest, continues in the form of notes taken down by the Secretary of the Club. This explains why it is not all in the first-person, as is the text-proper.]

One might argue, Mr. Lewis continued, that reason had developed by natural selection, only those methods of thought which had proved useful surviving. But the theory depends on an inference from usefulness to truth, of which the validity would have to be assumed. All attempts to treat thought as a natural event involve the fallacy of excluding the thought of the man making the attempt.

It is admitted that the mind is affected by physical events; a wireless set is influenced by atmospherics, but it does not originate its deliverances - we'd take no notice of it if we thought it did. Natural events we can relate one to another until we can trace them finally to the space-time continuum. But thought has no father but thought. It is conditioned, yes, not caused. My knowledge that I have nerves in inferential.

The same argument applies to our values, which are affected by social factors, but if they are caused by them we cannot know that they are right. One can reject morality as an illusion, but the man who does so often tacitly excepts his own ethical motive: for instance the duty of freeing morality from superstition and of spreading enlightenment.

Neither Will nor Reason is the product of Nature. Therefore either I am self-existent (a belief which no one can accept) or I am a colony of some Thought and Will that are self-derived from a self-existent Reason and Goodness outside ourselves, in fact, a Supernatural.

Mr. Lewis went on to say that it was often objected that the existence of the Supernatural is too important to be discernible only by abstract argument, and thus only by the leisured few. But in all other ages the plain man has accepted the findings of the mystics and the philosophers for his initial belief in the existence of the Supernatural. Today the ordinary man is forced to carry that burden himself. Either mankind has made a ghastly mistake in rejecting authority, or the power or powers ruling his destiny are making a daring experiment, and all are to become sages. A society consisting solely of plain men must end in disaster. If we are to survive we must either believe the seers or scale those heights ourselves.

Evidently, then, something beyond Nature exists. Man is on the border line between the Natural and the Supernatural. Material events cannot produce spiritual activity, but the latter can be responsible for many of our actions in Nature. Will and Reason cannot depend on anything but themselves, but Nature can depend on Will and Reason, or, in other words, God created Nature.

The relation between Nature and Supernature, which is not a relation in space and time, becomes intelligible if the Supernatural made the Natural. We even have an idea of this making, since we know the power of imagination, though we can create nothing new, but can only rearrange our material provided through sense data. It is not inconceivable that the universe was created by an Imagination strong enough to impose phenomena on other minds.

It has been suggested, Mr. Lewis concluded, that our ideas of making and causing are wholly derived from our experience of will. The conclusion usually drawn is that there is no making or causing, only "projection." But "projection" is itself a form of causing, and it is more reasonable to suppose that Will is the only cause we know, and that therefore Will is the cause of Nature.

A discussion followed. Points arising:

All reasoning assumes the hypothesis that inference is valid. Correct inference is self-evident.
"Relevant" (re evidence) is a rational term.
The universe doesn't claim to be true: it's just there.
Knowledge by revelation is more like empirical than rational knowledge.

Question: What is the criterion of truth, if you distinguish between cause and reason?
Mr Lewis: A mountainous country might have several maps made of it, only one of which was a true one; i.e., corresponding with the actual contours. The map drawn by Reason claims to be that true one. I couldn't get at the universe unless I could trust my reason. If we couldn't trust inference we could know nothing but our own existence. Physical reality is an inference from sensations.

Question: How can an axiom claim self-evidence any more than an empirical judgment on evidence?

[The essay ends here, leaving this question unrecorded.]