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

Monday, 27 October 2014

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (As Beautiful a Woman as Ever Drew Breath)

Watch her here: Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is very very bright – and brave. But I think she is wrong about Islam.

She contrasts Islamic thinking with ‘Western’ thinking. Islam, she says, is all about the hereafter whereas Western thinking is all about the here and now.

Well, I don’t know about Western thinking; we have produced as many crap thinkers as geniuses. I think Ms Ali is insufficiently well informed about Catholicism, which is the form of Western thinking I most admire. It is informed by Judaism and the great Greeks. From Judaism we get the concept of Creation – God saw that His Creation was good. The Greeks taught us the rules of thinking – Logic. Catholics must love the world. It is God’s Creation. At the same time, Catholics cannot believe that the world represents all of God’s intention.

The Islamic concept of the hereafter, according to Ms Ali, is totalitarian. She is right. Obey our rules (the Shari’ah) and enjoy the sort of earthly bliss (in Heaven) that the most sybaritic human could possibly imagine. Otherwise your fate will be an other-worldly Siberia or Buchenwald.

She is wrong about Islam, in my view, because she conceives of it as being spiritual and otherworldly. My quarrel with Islam is not so much that it is totalitarian; but that it is totalitarian in exactly the same sense as Nazism and Communism. Mohammed devised a perfect society (on earth) and successfully scared his followers into embracing it by threatening them with God’s wrath. This was an effective combination. Embrace Shari’ah or go to Hell; but Shari’ah is not (except incidentally) spirituality. It’s OK to enslave infidel women by defeating their menfolk in battle. Don’t eat pork and don’t drink wine – you’ll get all the wine you can drink in Paradise.

Islamofacism is a word coined by those of my persuasion. History tells us that of Hitler’s most enthusiastic non-German supporters among the keenest were Middle Eastern Muslims. They regretted that the Third Reich failed to complete The Final Solution and resolved to achieve it themselves. Some have hoped that all the Jews in the world would congregate in Israel – to make it easier to destroy them all.

Hitler did a politician’s best to incorporate religiosity into Nazism – Gott mit Uns etc. He was an amateur compared with Mohammed. Mohammed started by convincing himself that he was receiving God’s word. Then he convinced himself that God had revealed to him the plan. As a politician and warlord he set about bullying his fellow Arabs that they would be damned if they failed to embrace the plan. He and his followers then proceeded to conquer the Levant.

Too few of Islam’s detractors perceive that Islam is not so much a religion as a blueprint for the perfect human society. I think that Ms Ali falls into this trap. When she rejected Islam, she should have rejected the very idea that Islam is a religion. Hinduism is a religion; and I reject it – though I admit that it has worthwhile insights. Likewise Buddhism. Likewise the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. I can respect these guys. I can no more respect Islam than I can respect National Socialism or International Socialism.

This debate between two theists (I am a theist) and two atheists (I am not an atheist) is very instructive. I am on the atheist side here. The two Muslims (theists) are what I would wish all Muslims to be – but they are complacent; they would have us believe that most Muslims are like them. They are not.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

How Dare I Tell Kevin that I fear for His Eternal Soul?

I did it twice tonight – and it troubles me. He and I both profess Catholicism, he for much longer than I. Is it simply impertinence for me to suggest that his opinions are heretical? Perhaps.

[A Digression on Damnation (Is Hell Empty?):
Two thinkers inform me here. Fr Robert Barron, very erudite, pleases me by proposing that we may legitimately hope that all men are saved. He quotes Catholic thinkers in support of this view. I hope that I am saved. Many non-Catholics are better men than I. I hope that they are saved. I also hope that people who have committed egregiously evil sins are also saved. It’s not up to me. C S Lewis, as great a Christian thinker as we have encountered in several generations, suggests that Hell is locked on the inside, that Hell’s inmates are there because they choose to separate themselves from God. Like all Christians, I have to face the fact that Christ Himself spoke of damnation, perhaps more than elsewhere in the Scriptures. Christianity is not comfortable. And yet, we know how weak and wicked we are; but we love our families. We would not condemn any of them to eternal torture on any grounds. God is our Father, surely a better father or brother than any of us. The most painful (and inescapable) Catholic teachers tell us that one of the joys of Heaven is the view of the torments of the damned. St Thomas, a good and compassionate man while alive would surely not morph into a sadist in Heaven. I find it hard to believe that the sight of Justice triumphant would trump human affection. I am for Justice, by the way.]

On what grounds did I accuse Kevin of heresy? Well, he started it. He wanted to know what I thought about the Catholic synod on sex and families. I was ready for this. Cousin Geoff had already suggested that only the sexually active could possibly have valid opinions on sex, families, contraception, abortion, homosexuality etc. This is as absurd a proposition as I can imagine. Only criminals should be consulted on crime? Only teachers have valid views on education?

Kevin thinks, and I agree, that we need to know how an unwanted pregnancy affects (for example) a teenager or a mother with multiple children. But we have always known that there are such things as ethical dilemmas. Given situation x and options y and z, we do face a choice between y and z. It is not just a choice between x (which suits us) and y (which does not). Our normal criterion (that the effect on 3rd parties is relevant) is not something which we can simply discard. Leftists and Rightists have a preferential option for the weak. Who is weaker than an unborn child? Killing unborn babies is evil. It may suit the mother; she may tell us so if we consult her. It is evil nonetheless. Kevin is pro-life but he is relativistic in his thinking. He cannot oppose abortion as confidently as I can. Needless to say, this does not make me a better person – only a better thinker.

A rugby game involves forwards and backs. In the scrum there may be a dispute. The referee decides – he is not a participant in the game. He represents the spectators, the rugby community. He should be ‘indifferent’. He should interpret the rules. A fundamental rule is that the strong should not exploit the weak.

Sixteen Tons and What d’you Get; Another Day Older and Deeper and Debt?
Rowe vs Wade

It is wicked when workers are trapped by exploitative employers into debt-slavery. It is wicked when defenceless babies are killed.

We talked for half an hour or more. He is free to raise any of his points in response to this and I’ll quote them verbatim but he doesn’t read this blog.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Why Would You Be a Muslim?
A Long and Rambling Post on Politics & Religion

It’s a good question. An allied question is: why would you regard Islam as the single stupidest (and most vicious – and most pernicious) ideology in the world?

Socialism is a contender but we have others. There are many in the west who are proud to call themselves socialists. They are a threat. Easterners who have experienced Socialism don’t call themselves socialists. David Icke is simply stupid. He is not a big threat. He is a threat because he makes some people stupider. Well, only really stupid people listen to DI without laughing (and inwardly groaning).

Fascism is as stupid as Socialism – it is a flavour of Socialism. It failed spectacularly, as did Socialism in Eastern Europe (and China and Cuba and Cambodia). History has taught us something. Progressives don’t like History.

Back to Islam. It came (almost) from nothing; Mohammed invented it. He did so to acquire power and influence. It worked. It is easier than it should be to acquire power and influence. We have multiple 20th century examples.

Mohammed had no religious insight. Any religious content in his scheme of things was borrowed from Judaism and Christianity. Islam is Shari’ah. Shari’ah is not religion.

I have just bought Wake Up by Sam Harris. He has some insights. Although he rejects religion, he respects some religious traditions. He wants spirituality without religion but he respects Buddhism and Hinduism. He has no truck with Islam (or with Christianity). I am a Christian and I respect Buddhism and Hinduism with some reservations. In my view, Islam is not a religion. There are spiritual Muslims – how could there not be? Islam is, however, essentially a political programme.

You know that I like Sam Harris. He is sound on moral absolutes. However, he is hung up on the supernatural – can’t bring himself to accept even the possibility. So, he and I have diametrically opposing world views. I am hung up on Materialism (or Naturalism) – can’t bring myself to accept that the universe created itself or that the appearance of design in Cosmology, Physics and Biology is illusory. Naturalists believe that only Science can teach us anything about the world. This seems to me to be patently untrue. Science has nothing to say about our metaphysical assumptions. It cannot tell us that there is a real world outside our minds. It is silent on Aesthetics. It cannot adjudicate on Right and Wrong. Harris has written a book claiming that it can (The Moral Landscape). I venture to suggest that the whole argument of the book fails logically. He is for ‘Human Flourishing’; so am I. But where are the peer-reviewed papers which derive ‘human flourishing is good; we ought to promote it’ from scientific observations?

Philosophy teaches (inescapably) that you can’t get ‘ought’ from ‘is’. You might as well patent that perpetual motion machine. Incidentally, although Science teaches that there can be no such thing (I mean most physicists teach), Cold Fusion may someday make fools of them. In other words, Cold Fusion is a better bet than The Moral Landscape.

Back to my original question: Why Would You Be a Muslim? For the same reason that you might embrace Socialism: Society is not good – it needs to be remade. We humans can remake it (and ourselves). Just follow Mohammed’s prescriptions. Good luck! They are as likely to be beneficent as Marx’s.

Don’t be a Muslim. Islam’s claims are fraudulent. It claims to be the perfect plan (endorsed by God) for the perfect society. Mohammed was not a mystic. He was a warrior. He promised his followers hegemony in this world and pleasures in the afterlife which might have been invented by a fourteen year old boy. Mohammed was a lesser thinker even than Marx. Marx was wrong (about everything) but he did have some concept of cause and effect.

Preceding Mohammed by centuries was Plato, a very great thinker. The Republic was an early overarching plan for Society. I wouldn’t want to live in it any more than I would want to live in the Islamic State or in North Korea.

Burke was right. Society can never be re-made perfect. But it can be improved incrementally. Were Islam and Marxism worthwhile experiments? Had Mohammed or Marx treated their ideas as experiments, they might have concluded, “Nah, didn’t work out.” God told Mohammed that he was right. ‘Science’ told Marx he was right. No need to experiment!

Common Law, our blessed English heritage, is an example of incremental improvement. Statute Law has a tendency to screw things up. Law B is supposed to solve Problem A but it creates Problem C. In no time you have a stack of statutes a mile high, each creating new problems. What I would like to see is a bonfire of the statutes. Poor Muslims, stuck with Shari’ah, cannot even hope for improvements. The example of Mohammed informs Shari’ah. Fourteen centuries later Muslims in Iraq and Syria are justifying slavery and concubinage with reference to Shari’ah [see previous post]. Muslims cannot give credit to Christendom for abolishing slavery. They (some of them) practise it today, unashamedly.

The US Constitution, the blessed product of Anglo-Saxon political thought, is admirably brief but perhaps is missing some amendments: eg, ‘Congress shall make no law which takes the property of one citizen to benefit another citizen’; or ‘Congress shall spend no more in one fiscal year than it can legitimately raise in taxes’. Oh, James Madison, you trusted your successors too much! Benjamin Franklin famously said that the Founding Fathers had created a Republic and then added, ominously, ‘if you can keep it’. The Founders made no mention of Democracy. Some would have been appalled by the idea. Electorates are less moral than even the Founders supposed. Voters choose governments which, they think, will act to benefit their own group at the expense of others. Governments (and oppositions) try to please a majority in order to gain or retain power.

Muslims despise Democracy. I am no great fan myself of the way it works. But it beats Theocracy by a mile. Anjem Choudary (I must stop citing this man – he will get big-headed) says that Shari’ah is God’s Law and that we abide by Man’s Law. Imams, like Choudary of course, get to rule on how God’s Law is to be applied. I would not accept his rule on arse-wiping.

Friday, 17 October 2014

This is Islam
or So These Muslims Say

One should remember that enslaving the families of the kuffar -- the infidels -- and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shari’ah, or Islamic law.

This comes from an English language magazine published by ISIS.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Muslims and Crime

I posted recently that I had looked at the cases coming up in Manchester and had been surprised to note that Muslims were disproportionately represented. That is to say: There were more Ahmeds and Mustafas (compared to Michaels and Davids) than the overall population of Manchester would predict.

I make no claim to be a statistician. I freely admit that I did not even notice the number of defendants with Armenian surnames (or whether there were any). FYI, Armenian surnames characteristically end with ‘ian’.

I have returned to this topic because I watched Crimewatch this evening. The number of people with Islamic names being sought by the police was, likewise, higher than you might expect. This may, of course, be explained by the BBC’s notorious islamophobia.

I have made a cursory (by no means exhaustive) search of the internet. Eg, I looked for ‘Muslim Crime UK Statistics’. This was less revealing than I hoped. However, there was one statistic that caught my attention: 27% of the prison population (2011) is Muslim. In France the figure is 70%, in Spain 60%. This is scary! Nowhere did I see contrary stats from, say Anjem Choudary, to prove that Muslims are disproportionately law abiding.

One thing I did notice, in passing, was that one guy convicted of benefit fraud on a large scale maintained that his behaviour was not contra to Shari’ah.

We may have a bigger problem than we suppose, even those of us who are concerned about ‘radicalised’ Muslim youth and the goings on in Doncaster.

People living in Britain are not reproducing at replacement rates. Perhaps this is why successive governments have allowed/encouraged immigration by very large numbers. Somebody has to provide for the pensioners of the future. A question that arises is: do immigrants contribute more by the taxes they pay than the benefits they consume? I can’t say that I know. It’s worth asking. Are Canadian immigrants or Bangladeshi immigrants more or less likely to be net contributors? It’s worth asking.

Our National Insurance scheme is pure Ponzi! I get £144 a week from the Dept of Work and Pensions. What could I have expected if I had put my NI ‘contributions’ into my own fund? I hazard that it would be a good deal more. If I had been responsible from the age of eighteen for my own pension, the government would have had less incentive to allow/encourage immigration. Similarly, had the government not in 1945/6 decided to take responsibility for my health care, it is certain that health care costs would be dramatically lower. In the 19th and early 20th century many Brits paid subscriptions to cover potential health care costs. It was pence per week. Needless to say, if we had comparable systems today, the costs would be very substantially higher than pence per week (medical technology being so much more sophisticated). However, if competition between health care providers had been free, I submit that health care would be affordable. What is more, in Christendom and the Anglosphere charities were and could be significant. Compare Education. When Parliament passed the Education Act in 1870, nearly everybody could read. In the Third World today many poor parents choose cheap private education over free public education.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Reconciling Richards and Sheldrake

I admire both these men almost more than I can say. And yet… Hero Sheldrake has told me in person that he doesn’t like Intelligent Design. Hero Richards has made a career of defending Intelligent Design.

Both are Christians, which is to say (among other things) that God is, for both, the Ultimate Reality. Both, presumably, declare that we, and the universe we inhabit, are His creatures, that we humans are made in His image. Christianity, following Judaism, tells the story of Man’s disobedience, of his voluntary rejection of God’s Grace.

Christianity, following on from Judaism tells the sublime story of God’s response – He allows us (as individuals) to undo our racial rejection of Him. Incarnate Man, he undid our rejection. Most of those to whom I will email a link to this blog reject this assertion. But that is the essence of the Christian faith. For Baptists, Orthodox Christians and the rest of our sadly divided brethren, this is it!

Perhaps it is absurd for us to worry about anything else. But Christianity is not quite so simple, unless I am needlessly complicating things. A dozen times a day, more I hope, I utter the ‘Jesus’ prayer: ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me, a sinner’. Jay and Rupert will join me, unhesitatingly.

I don’t think that what I believe about the details of how and why we came to our current relationship with God are ultimately important; but I do think they are important.

The difference between Richards and Sheldrake is this: that Sheldrakes’s world is necessarily more complicated. He supposes consciousness at every level: God and His creation, then Universe, Galaxy, Solar System and Planet. He may be right. We will only know when we know as we are known. My lifetime admiration for CS Lewis inclines me to think that this is probably true. I don’t think that my salvation depends upon it. My favourite sentence from the Mass is: Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Sheldrake gives credit up and up to the Creator for what we are and how we are made. Richards does not concern himself with the layers between Biology and the Creator (or, indeed with the layers below). But this is not to say that he denies that they exist.

Design and purpose have got to be, for every Christian, God’s design and God’s purpose. I am hugely impressed with Sheldrake’s work. Is God’s purpose mediated through our families, our race, our species, the Animal Kingdom, the Living World, our planet, the Solar System, this Galaxy, the whole Universe? Did He create us as elements of the Universe, this Galaxy, the Solar System, our planet, the Living World, the Animal Kingdom, our species, our race and our families. If so, so what? At every Mass we eat God’s flesh and drink His blood. This is all the mediation we need.

Lord, Jesus Christ, be merciful to me a sinner.

Rupert, every word you write helps to illuminate the world, to sanctify us. I don’t deny anything you say. The Lord bless you and keep you… You too, Jay.

Wouldn’t it be Great if You Could Arrange a Meeting between Two of your Heroes?

Well, this is my current project. Here I sit in my terrace house in Stretford, Manchester, emailing two intellectual titans of our age: Rupert Sheldrake and Jay Richards. Sheldrake has replied, saying that he ‘does not like Intelligent Design’.

I am persuaded by Richards et al that Intelligent Design is real. The problem with neo-Darwinism is Random Mutation. Natural Selection is simply common sense. But the first step (RM) is preposterous. How do aquatic creatures emerge from the seas and breathe air – with randomly mutated lungs? Please!

Richards is as articulate a man as you would expect to meet in a couple of galaxies – but so is Sheldrake. They don’t agree! I want them to!

Intelligent Design says that there are features of the natural world (including Cosmology and Biology) that are best explained by purpose and design. Richards and his colleagues have persuaded me of this over the past decade. They are reviled by most of the ‘scientific’ community.

Along comes Sheldrake (as popular with the ‘orthodox’ scientific community as Richards) and proposes a theory of Morphic Resonance.

Sheldrake believes (as I understand him), among other things, which I also believe, the following:
The ‘Laws of Nature’ are not fixed but evolving.
Consciousness is not an epiphenomenon but inherent in all self-organising phenomena.
Thus, the Universe is a hierarchical system of conscious systems: Universe, Galaxies, Stars, Solar Systems etc.

Entities which belong to the same class share a common ‘consciousness’ and memory – Electrons and giraffes, for example. There is (they tell me and I have no reason to doubt it) lots of evidence for the former. The most bizarre lesson of Quantum Mechanics (maybe) is that ‘entangled’ electrons affect each other instantaneously, even when they are light-years apart.

Nobody knows why baby giraffes are the same shape as mummy and daddy giraffes. You think you know – it’s because baby giraffes get their DNA from mummy and daddy. Sorry! DNA determines the proteins in each tiny giraffe, but not its shape. Scientists lie to us – or, at least, remain silent while we assume that DNA is the complete blueprint for the next generation.

Not all scientists are complicit. Some are dupes like the rest of us.

There are lots of problems, allegedly solved by modern Science, which haven’t been. The doctrine of Original Sin is of practical value. We lie when we perceive it to be to our advantage. Scientists are not immune.

‘Religion’ as a Term of Abuse

We all do it. We say of an ideology or belief system that it amounts to a religion – and we are not being polite. This seems odd, particularly when we openly admit to religious beliefs. I am going to try to avoid doing so in the future.

A better term would, perhaps, be ‘metaphysics’. You can’t avoid metaphysics. You have to have a world view. It can be coherent or incoherent. My world view is theistic (or, more precisely, Catholic). No one has shown me that it is incoherent. Another world view would be animism, the belief that everything that happens is driven by the spirits inherent in mountains, rivers, trees etc. It has been very common, perhaps universal at earlier stages in history. To be truthful, it is not self-evidently incoherent. In fact, from my point of view, it is one up from Naturalism, the belief that there is no reality other than physical reality. It is at least two up from Solipsism, the belief that the world is simply a product of my imagination, including the apparent existence of other minds.

To support Naturalism you have to introduce stuff like the multiverse, a metaphysical assertion with absolutely no evidence to support it.

So, in rejecting Atheism I am not going to say it amounts to a religion. My accusation will henceforth be that it is, or depends on, bad metaphysics.

The metaphysical assumptions that Sheldrake rejects, for example that the Laws of Nature are fixed, bring down howls of protest that he is committing scientific heresy. John Maddox, sometime editor of Nature, is vituperative, claiming that Sheldrake’s books would be candidates for burning, if we burnt books. As it happens, I do have a strong animus against Maddox. As editor of Nature, he used his influence to prevent Peter Duesberg from making his case against the preposterous HIV theory of AIDS, thus helping to prevent alternative avenues of research.

As for Islam:
My quarrel with Islam is not that it amounts to a religion but that the religious element is swamped by the socio-political element. Islam has too little to say about God. Islam is Shari’ah and veneration for Mohammed plus a bit of theology. Allah is, according to the Koran, small-minded and vindictive; but, of course, the vindictiveness is directed at those who do not venerate Mohammed as he would like them to. Strip out the hatred from Islam; get rid of the misogynistic Shari’ah; abandon the idolatory of Mohammed and you might have a real religion, but it would be a pale imitation of Judaism and Christianity.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Genetics and Epigenetics

This is a new distinction for me. Genetics is a relatively new science. Gregor Mendel was its founding father. Watson and Crick discovered DNA in the 50s and contributed hugely to Genetics. It (DNA) consists largely of a string of genes (which code for proteins). We have learnt to call DNA the Blueprint of Life. This turns out to be an exaggerated claim. The shape of a giraffe or a blue whale is not determined by their genes. Nevertheless giraffes and whales do resemble their parents in shape. So, it is reasonable to suppose that the shape is inherited – but not via the genes.

In biology, and specifically genetics, Epigenetics is mostly the study of heritable changes that are not caused by changes in the DNA sequence; to a lesser extent, epigenetics also describes the study of stable, long-term alterations in the transcriptional potential of a cell that are not necessarily heritable. This is the Wikipedia definition of epigenetics.

A fascinating fact is that if you measure the height of a human male and a human female, you can predict the height of their offspring with an accuracy of 80%. If you examine the genomes of the parents, you can predict the height of their offspring with an accuracy of only 5%.

My newest hero (Yes, Sheldrake again) thinks that genes account for much less than W & C thought and modern biologists think.

He calls his theory ‘morphic resonance’ and he believes that this resonance accounts for many phenomena, most of which are not overtly biological. He rejects the idea that matter and consciousness are completely unrelated.

As geneticists built on the work of C & W, they discovered that DNA contained stretches which do not code for proteins. They labelled this ‘junk DNA’. Recent work has revealed that it is not all junk, perhaps that all of it has function.

RS calls for research programmes into many phenomena which are widely attested but cannot be accounted for by conventional Science. I predict that this man and his ideas will become, if not mainstream, then commonly accepted within a generation.

Most of his ideas are echoes of long established traditions in both Western and Eastern thought. His genius is to express them in scientific terms. He has, of course, been sneered at as pseudoscientific by John Maddox (sometime editor of Nature).

Intelligent Design proponents have to face the accusation that their Designer has to meddle continuously in species. This is not, of course, logically impossible. I am not going to abandon Intelligent Design, which has a lot going for it. But Sheldrake makes more plausible Theistic Evolution. His theory of resonance largely puts paid to the Random Mutation part of neo-Darwinism. Natural Selection was always much the more plausible element. I would love to hear Sheldrake and Jay Richards discussing the subject.

Rupert Sheldrake is Amazing

He has a conventional scientific background, acquired at Cambridge; but he has managed to remain uncontaminated by scientific dogma.

For example, he is not in thrall to the dogma that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited. This dogma is part of Western conventional evolutionary theory. Under Stalin, Lysenkoism thrived and Russian Science was not bound by the dogma. Apparently, some Russian work produced results which may have to be re-evaluated. Amazing to think that we could ever have anything for which to thank Stalin.

I like mavericks. Peter Duesberg is a maverick on the HIV/AIDS theory. There are many maverick scientists who oppose the conventional wisdom about carbon dioxide and climate change.

Sheldrake has created a theory of ‘morphic resonance’, which I am not yet in a position to summarise. He believes that this may account for many phenomena which seem otherwise inexplicable. He points out that the promise of genomics has not been fulfilled. He thinks that genes explain less than conventional scientists claim. Genes code for proteins, not body plans.

To whet your appetite, Sheldrake is concerned with phenomena which, to the best of my knowledge, cannot be explained by conventional science. For example new compounds are created by scientists all the time. Sometimes scientists need to ‘persuade’ new compounds to crystallise; and this can be difficult. But if one group in one laboratory succeeds, other groups in laboratories around the world find it easier to do so.

Sheldrake suggests that morphic resonance is the explanation, that self-organising systems resonate with each other across time and space, that there is a shared memory. He further suggests that what we call Laws of Nature might be more properly called habits.

This is mind-blowing stuff. I suspect that it has implications with respect to evolution. I certainly hope so. The neo-Darwinian story about Random Mutation and Natural Selection strains credulity well beyond breaking.

Below is a wide ranging interview. I hope you will agree that he is at least somewhat credible and that the questions he asks are worth asking. I freely admit that, as anti-materialist, I find his speculations congenial. I do believe that consciousness is real and that consciousness and matter are entangled. I do not believe that mind is just what the brain does.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Rupert Sheldrake

I do not know what to make of this. He speaks very well. He appears to know his stuff. He is against Philosophical Materialism (a point in his favour).

He was invited by TED to give this talk (unpaid). TED was subsequently strong-armed by some materialist attack dogs into taking it down. This also has got to count in his favour. I don’t like politicised science. Nor do I like ‘scientists’ who attempt to censor those who disagree with them.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

First Principles

In my last post I argued that History and Arithmetic are inadequate to question an ideology. You’ll just get more History and Arithmetic in return, even though some of the History may be suspect. For example, that the golden age of Islam in Cordoba was a haven of tolerance is not something of which I am entirely persuaded. If it was so brilliant and if it was brilliant because of Islam, subsequent Islamic hegemonies might have reinforced this view. But I’m doing History again.

I am not knocking History; History is great – but it is insufficiently persuasive. I can point out that Democracy and Science only ever developed in what we call the West; but Abdul may despise Democracy and regard Science as blasphemy. We will never agree on everything unless we can find something about which to agree. It is perhaps unlikely that we will; but Hope is a virtue.

I am firmly of the opinion that many Muslims are better men than I am. I am equally firmly of the opinion that many of them are better men than they would otherwise have been because of their belief in God. I hope and believe that I am a better man for my Catholicism.

Anyway, the excuse for this post is not theological or political or economic. I am sharing David Gordon with you because he is very lucid about the praxeological method, which is contrasted with Physics. In Physics you make observations and then try to come up with an explanatory hypothesis. You then test the hypothesis by further observation and (sometimes) by experiment. Mathematics, by contrast, does not experiment. We do not measure the angles in a triangle, add them together and shout, ‘Eureka; it always comes to 180 degrees.’ No observation can ever disprove that. Austrian Economics works from first principles. Its conclusions may not be as precise as you wish. The exact price of oranges may be elusive; but we can state unequivocally that, all other things being equal, if the price goes up the quantity of stuff sold will go down. As it happens, observation can be used to confirm this, billions of times per day. It’s complicated: if you have to have oranges or die, it will mean that you forego other stuff. What is more, if you have zillions of quid, the price of oranges will be less likely to affect your purchase decisions. We all have different needs and preferences.

I hope you like David Gordon.

Judging Ideologies

It is very easy to identify bad practice perpetrated by those with whom you disagree. I do it when I draw attention to the deaths caused by Socialists (national and international) in the twentieth century. I do it when I point to the millions of deaths caused by Muslims in their conquests and conversions, when I deplore the attitudes of Muslims to women and gays and when I when I ask you to observe that the politics of the Islamic world bring not prosperity but backwardness and corruption.

Anjem Choudary does it when he rails against the culture of the West; although he is disingenuous to suggest that sexual predation is pretty well exclusively a western phenomenon. It is not. It is in-built in Islam. And that is the point.

Hypocrisy is preaching one thing and doing another – being a whited sepulchre. Human beings have a predilection for hypocrisy. Baptists, Mormons and Catholics behave hypocritically; so do Socialists and Muslims. It is very easy to convict Christians of failing to obey the two great commandments: to love God and to love our neighbours.

When we judge an ideology, we should do it from First Principles. It is not enough to catalogue the crimes of Hitler or bin Laden. By doing so we simply invite the riposte, ‘What about the Crusades, the Inquisition and clerical child abuse?’ I may make a convincing claim that the Arithmetic of cruelty makes Mao and ISIL worse than Torquemada or ‘Christian’ slave traders. My real job should be to demonstrate that and why Socialism and Shari’ah lead to abuse and violence.

This is harder than accusing Socialism of creating famines or Muslims of ‘honour killings.’ Making the case that Catholicism is essentially and fundamentally better than Marxism or Islam is a tough one. Marxists and Muslims are going to be very hard to persuade. Even the uncommitted are a huge challenge. We will never win over everybody, especially by doing History and Arithmetic. We have got to go deeper. We have got to show that espousing ideology X leads to behaviour Y.

Robert Spencer and David Wood are two American thinkers and activists who do Islam the courtesy of knowing what it teaches. They quote the Koran and Hadith chapter and verse. The Austrian School of Economics dismantles Socialism axiomatically. They show that it cannot be made to work without violence and oppression, that it leads to poverty and immiseration.

Milton Friedman tells us that a society which values equality over liberty will end up with neither. Being fallen human beings, we will never create a perfect society, although we can improve society. Some societies are better than others. Migration statistics are a clue. North Korean embassies around the world are not swamped with visa applicants. Another penalty of the Fall is that we have to think a lot harder than we like.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

An Exchange with Geoff

What a guy! He has kept me amused, thinking and writing for half a day. This is how the back and forth went. Geoff is blue and I am red. Geoff’s honourable surname is Boyes. Hence a boyesillion. His grandmother, my Auntie Gert in the exchange, was a Beeby, my grandfather’s sister. She married the estimable Albert Boyes.

I tried to comment on your blog but it's not easy. So here is a comment on your blog of 17th Sept.

You say "the force of gravity is defined as: F = mg, where m is the mass of the body and g is a constant vector with an average magnitude of 9.81 m/s2. Why not a nice round 10.00 m/s2? Science has no answer to this question."

I'm afraid the answer is simple: If a Metre (a French invention) had been appropriately defined as being  slightly smaller than one ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the equator, then the acceleration due to gravity could have been exactly 10m/s2.

The same applies to many scientific parameters. However, certain constants such as Pi and e are inherently independent of any measurement system - apart from the number base in use

It's probably my fault; but you have missed the point, which is that there is nothing in the Laws of Science which determines why g is 9.81 m/s2. It could have been anything. But if it were anything other than 9.81, we wouldn't be here. Convention measures it in metres, for sure, and convention could have chosen furlongs or cubits; but in either case the furlong value or the cubit value is exactly equal to 9.81 m.

The probability of the actual value being exactly what it is is 1 in a boyesillion. Gravity is only one of many constants which are similarly fine-tuned. Any of them could have been different and Science has nothing to say about why they aren't. Science has discovered what they are. Science can tell us why other values would give you a non-star-producing universe.

Have you ever looked at the Numberphile videos (qv) on YouTube? My maths is not up to understanding them; but I love 'em all the same.

It's good to hear from you. I am creaky but otherwise well. My house has been re-decorated and substantially de-cluttered. I am having it valued next week; but I'll probably stay in it for another year or so.

I'm going to Barcelona for Christmas with Gabriel, Carrie and Clara. There I shall meet Leo, my grand-nephew for the first time. I'm going to Singapore, where I shall meet my fifth grandchild, and Melbourne in the new year.

I rather think you might disappear up your own fundament with that line of thinking! You may as well ask why Mount Everest is 27,940 feet high or why water is composed of two elements. Or why is that particular pebble on top of Scarfell Pike.

I rather suspect what you are wanting to hear is that it is all part of God's plan.

Why are you creaky? Doc Geoff's prescription is get down the gym three times a week. Then drink beer regularly. Does you the power of good and gets your bowels working properly - the key to good health.

Where are you going to move to? Why move anyway?

BTW, I discovered we have Gerty's 1942 hymn book and I have started to play some hymns on the piano. My fave is "Eternal father" and the 23rd Psalm. I can't stop singing them. Is this a sign?! Should I be worried?
Be afraid; be very afraid!

The reason for the current height of Mt Everest is something that can hypothetically be known. The actual values for the momentum of the tectonic plates, the mass and composition of said plates are things that can (in principle) be known. In fact, we can predict the height of Everest a thousand years from now. India is in a slow-motion crash into Asia. There are too many variables (including 'chaotic' stuff like wind and erosion) for us to make precise predictions. However, we can say that the collision of the plates is forcing the surface of Nepal to rise. 'Scrunching' is going on.

Hydrogen and Oxygen react to form water because their atomic structures are what they are. Science tells us so. You built that cairn on Scarfell Pike. Or it is another result of scrunching? Science can pronounce (in principle) on why the plates float about on a sea of magma. But Science is silent on why Gravity is what it is. There is no Scientific reason. My belief is that there is a reason. but that Science will forever remain silent. That cannot be known scientifically, even hypothetically.

What I want to hear is neither here nor there. I wield Occam's razor. It looks like a plan. That it is a plan is the most parsimonious explanation. 'Why, Daddy, why?' We can answer 'because, because, because' but not an infinite number of times. 'Daddy, why does g have the value it has?' 'Precious Child, no Scientist knows; Theologians have an answer. Even brainy Uncle Geoff doesn't know.'

I love this house. Have you ever seen it? But the stairs are very steep. If and when I move, it will be to a one-bedroom, one-level flat, preferably in this very convenient part of South Manchester.


PS a boyesillion is roughly 7.19 x 10^27, I think, if you assume 1 inch is 2.5 cms. Sums not my stongest suite. Actually, I'm pretty sure that I have got it wrong. It is an unimaginably big number.

PPS I have just received A Simple Koran, edited by Bill Warner. Did you know that the standard Koran is not organised thematically or chronologically but by length of sura? I smell a conspiracy.

OK, then in the same division as gravity, light travels at 180,000 miles per second. If it didn't the universe would be a lot different.  In this respect gravity is nothing special. How about the Boltzmann Constant, or Coulomb's Constant. There are a stack of them. Electricity is attenuated by a resistor according to a formula. Pressure times volume is a constant. These are all just facts of physics. And they all have massive ramifications for how the universe works.

I'm now singing "Praise him Praise him" endlessly. I think it's a sign.

It may be a sign. I hope so...

You are reinforcing my argument. Is it the influence of Gert's hymn book?

But (in passing) pressure times volume doesn't involve constants. Boyle discovered a law which relates one to the other. This is one of the things that Science does tell us.

However, the other constants you refer to, the speed of light, the Boltzmann Constant and Coulomb's Constant are, like the force of Gravity and the strong and the weak nuclear forces and all the rest of the 'stack' are factory settings. Science has discovered them but cannot have anything to say about why they are what they are. Not so with Boyle's Law which does tell us why the pressure of a given quantity of gas has increased - it's because the volume has been reduced.

‘Massive ramifications’ is an understatement. In several cases (Gravity is the one I know best) the ramifications extend to billions of galaxies and trillions of stars versus no galaxies and no stars.

The fine-tuning argument for God's existence is one of the most persuasive. Proofs belong to Mathematics. If Sam demands a proof for God's existence I will have to disappoint him. I can rehearse an argument which persuades me. This may not persuade him. Perhaps this says more about him than it does about the argument. If he introduces a rule which declares that only physical causes can be admitted in a discussion about the nature of the World, I will accuse him of being like a lawyer who bases his defence of his client on the proposition that there is no such thing as guilt.

Anthony Flew, for decades the most famous atheist in the World, changed his mind when confronted with the work of the intelligent design guys. This, I submit, could happen to any atheist who abandons the absurd metaphysical rule that only materialist/naturalistic explanations have any validity.

I think things are going my way in Philosophy and (possibly) in Physics. Logical Positivism is dead. It collapsed when it was demonstrated that its central tenet, namely that only propositions that are supported by sense data (ie Science) had any meaning, was shown to be a proposition that could not be supported by sense data.

Two books that seem to me to be very persuasive are: Nature's Destiny by Michael Denton and The Privileged Planet by Jay Richards and Guilermo Gonzalez. They are both books which make a long cumulative argument based on data from Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Another book which uses the same technique of accumulation is Darwin's The Origin of Species.

The following scarcely even amounts to an argument: Theists (Peter Kreeft, John Lennox, Jay Richards, Keith Ward, William Lane Craig, William Dembski, Michael Behe, Alvin Plantinger et al) are all so much more winsome than the opposition, who are a dyspeptic crowd.

My dear Cousin, I have enjoyed this exchange very much. So much so that I propose to make it into a blog post. I won't upload it until Monday. So you have time to forbid it.

To be honest, I doubt if many scientists would even give it any thought. To a scientist if it's 9.81 then it's 9.81 and what's the point of delving any deeper? They are simple souls.

They simply use these constants, which are all listed in the standard work "Kay and Laby", as part their work - e.g to make sure that the space shuttle lands at the right place etc etc. They are not likely to have had any thoughts about metaphysics - that is for others such as your good self.

Would a cabinet maker ponder over the origin of his chisel? Does an accountant agonise over why we traditionally count to the base 10? Of course not.

To be honest with you, and I appreciate that I am no great scientist - although I did the course, I couldn't write a sentence on metaphysics without resorting to Wiki. As for teleology ..........!

I look fwd to your blog

On a completely different topic, how on earth will a bunch of celibate old men attending the synod in Rome come up with anything meaningful about sex, abortion, families etc? Surely, your attendance and contribution would be far more valuable. The whole thing is just laughable and frankly, bad PR.

Thank you for telling me about Kay and Labey.

Honest journeymen scientists, preoccupied with landing shuttles, are not simultaneously doing metaphysics. Nevertheless, they all make metaphysical assumptions all the time. Dawkins does it. You do it. And I do it, though I make even less claim to being a scientist than you do.

Your last paragraph is a classic fallacy. To recast it (fairly, I think), it amounts to this: only sexually active men and women can possibly come up with anything meaningful about sex, abortion and families. This is a bit like saying that only embezzlers, rapists and muggers should be listened to on the subject of crime; or that only software engineers have useful opinions about what constitutes a user-friendly or cost-effective application or that only teachers’ views on education should be respected, Victims, users and parents (and children and employers) might have some insights. Perhaps a rugby spectator sees some things that are not apparent from within a scrum.

Anyway, this is going up now. Thanks for your contributions!