Friday, December 30, 2005

Stark Raving Sanity

I'm reading the latest book by Rodney Stark, this one entitled The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. It pursues some of the same themes as his last book, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery.

The purpose of both books is to demonstrate how Christianity, far from being antithetical or hostile to science, was instrumental in there being science at all. From the earliest days, church fathers "taught that reason was the supreme gift from God and the means to progressively increase their understanding of scripture and revelation... The success of the West, including the rise of science, rested entirely on religious foundations, and the people who brought it about were devout Christians."

Real science arose in only one place and at one time in human history--in the Christian West--and for very clear and understandable reasons. Stark marshals the most recent scholarship disproving the cliché that Christianity was at odds with science, and shows instead that it was essential for the rise of science. Put it this way: the scientific revolution occurred just once, in only one civilization--something like 99.98 percent of all scientific inventions and discoveries have occurred in Western Christendom. Everywhere else, science either never appeared, or it died out after some initial advances--for example, in China and the Islamic world. And the reasons why science could not be sustained in these civilizations have specifically to do with religious metaphysics.

Judeo-Christian metaphysics facilitated science in several unique ways. Remember, the practice of science is based on a number of a priori assumptions about the world that cannot be proven by science. Rather, they must be taken on faith--indeed, it would not be going too far to say that science is based on a foundation of revelation. In short, Christianity depicts God as the absolute epitome of reason, who created the universe in a rational, predictable, and lawful way that is subject to human comprehension. In other words, science is based on the faith that the world is intelligible, that human beings may unlock its secrets, and that doing so actually brings one closer to God.

Secondly, "with the exception of Judaism, the other great faiths have conceived of history as either an endlessly repeated cycle or inevitable decline.... In contrast, Judaism and Christianity have sustained a directional conception of history.... That we think of progress at all shows the extent of the influence of Christianity upon us." Christians developed science "because they believed it could be done, and should be done." Stark quotes one of my own favorite philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead, who wrote that "faith in the possibility of science" was "derivative from medieval theology," specifically, "the inexpugnable belief that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled," derived from the "insistence on the rationality of God."

Images of God in non Judeo-Christian religions are either too irrational or impersonal to sustain a scientific world view. Rather, they posit either an eternal universe without ultimate purpose or meaning, or an endlessly recurring one that either goes nowhere or is subject to decay. Although there is profound wisdom in Hindu and Buddhist metaphysics, neither could sustain science, because both regarded the world as unreal--as maya--and taught that the best way to deal with this was liberation or escape into samadhi or nirvana. This dismissive attitude toward the world delayed material progress for hundreds of years.

Stark clearly demonstrates that the ancient Greeks were not only not responsible for the rise of science, but shows how most of their ideas actually interfered with its development and had to be abandoned or ignored. While the Greeks had a lot of speculative theories, they never developed any way to empirically test them. In fact, Plato thought that it would be foolish to try, as the material world was subject to constant change, and truth could only be found by ascending to a timeless realm where the eternal forms abided.

And where the Greeks had empirical understanding--technology, crafts, even some engineering--their empiricism was quite atheoretical. Real science must involve both theory and research: "scientific theories are abstract statements about why and how some portion of nature fits together and works... Abstract statements are scientific only if it is possible to deduce from them some definite predictions and prohibitions about what will be observed."

Likewise, Islam cannot really be regarded as part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although science began to develop at the outskirts of Islam, it was eventually stymied because the attempt to formulate natural law and general principles denied Allah's absolute freedom to act in an arbitrary manner on a moment by moment basis. This has led to the stultifying fatalism that pervades the Islamic world, since Allah does what he pleases, and it is blasphemous to try to comprehend his weird ways.

And if science flourished in an atheistic paradigm, one would think that China would have developed it much earlier than the Christian West. But Stark shows that there were many philosophical obstacles that short-circuited Chinese science. For example, they never developed "the conception of a celestial lawgiver imposing ordinances on non-human Nature.'' Taoists "would have scorned such an idea as being too naive for the subtlety and complexity of the universe as they intuited it."

Stark's book also gets into of of my own personal passions, that is, the historical discovery of the individual self (which I wrote about in my own book). Here again, it is a mistake to think that this occurred on a widespread scale in any other time or place than the Christian West. For 99% of human history we were primarily a group animal, with our primary identity coming from merger with the collective. Christianity emphasized free will, personal responsibility, and individual sin, which helped launch the evolution of the inward horizon that has only been going on for a few hundred years, but which we in the West take for granted.

In point of fact, the interior self is a quite modern innovation, which, I believe, is one of the reasons it is subject to so many "bugs"--defense mechanisms, fixations, complexes, and other "mind parasites." We're still trying to work out the inevitable problems attendant to being a self-conscious being. And this is also why there are no "neurotics" in primitive groups. Instead, they're all crazy (such as the modern far-left). In these groups, the price of sanity is fervent belief in all of the insanites of your group. (One more reason why I loathe multi-culturalism--it's literally a psychological atavism, a devolution to an earlier mode of human existence and an abandonment of the hard work of individuation.)

The book also got me to thinking about the intelligent design debate. Personally, although I am quite certain that the universe manifests intelligent design, I do not believe it should be taught in science class, but in philosophy (or philosophy of science) class. Then again, it doesn't really matter if it were to be taught in science class, since most of the greatest scientists throughout history simply took it for granted (as I do). Secular fundamentalists are desperately worried that if we were to breathe a word of this to children, we would immediately fall behind other nations in science and technology.

Nonsense. Here's a little experiment for liberals. Let us have vouchers. I'll send my kid to a religious school, you keep yours in a secular public one. Let's see who ends up with the better science education.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Petey's Big Night

Petey's supposedly got a gig New Year's Eve at some kind of comedy club "on the other side," and he wants to test-run some of the material on you. He rarely asks for favors, and I can't think of anything to write about anyway, so here it is. Frankly, some of the material makes me a little squeamish, because Petey sometimes hits below the suicide belt. But that's his problem. Don't hold me accountable.


Everyone thinks the Left is just being cynical in their relentless attacks on the war effort, but there's a greater principle involved. That is, if they change their normal behavior and stop trying to weaken the nation, it's like the terrorists have won. Making us less safe is their way of sticking it to the terrorists.

And why should the the Left stop attacking the Boy Scouts? After all, the ACLU just wants to make sure that the Boy Scouts will always be a safe place to scout for boys.

I guess what really disgusts the Left about the Boy Scouts is their policy of racial profiling. You know, helping little old ladies cross the street but not Muslim men in their twenties.

Then again, I have an idea for how the Boy Scouts could get around the the ACLU's attempts to bar them from using public property. Just have the boys run around naked in the woods and smear each other with chocolate syrup, and then give them an NEA grant.

Or, maybe the Boy Scouts could strike a compromise with homosexual activists and allow a merit badge for fabulous makeovers.

Personally, I think it would be a good idea for the Scouts to begin awarding a merit badge for keying an ACLU attorney's BMW.

I guess I just don't get it. Why do these leftists need to change the Boy Scouts so that they'll fit in? If they want to be part of a group of atheistic, morally relativistic, America-hating adolescents, they can always join the Democratic party.

I don't know how you feel about Bush spying on the terrorists, but I'm all for it. They need to monitor these mosques and do some basic ignorance gathering. But these Muslim groups like CAIR are always complaining, deflecting responsibility. It's like they're raising an entire not-me! generation.

I read a study that says that in some Muslim countries, sixty percent of the girls are forced to undergo clitoridectomies. I like to look on the bright side. This means that forty percent of the girls can run faster than their brothers.

What about this new President of Iran? I'd say he's a few goats short of a harem. Either that or a few nails short of a suicide bomb.

And the Democrats are still calling for us to surrender in Iraq. Then again, they do support the troops. In fact, if their support gets any stronger, the troops will have to obtain a restraining order.

Of course, if only Kerry had been elected, none of this would have happened. Unlike Bush, he promised to bend over forwards to rebuild our alliances. In fact, if Kerry had been elected, France would never have left Americans' behind. Nor, with John Edwards by his side, would we be living in "two Americas," one that can afford the finest hair care products, the other living in constant fear of a bad hair day.

But at the moment they're stuck with Howard Dean at the helm of the DNC. He works so closely with the a-holes at dailykos and, that after his chairmanship is over he'll be able to switch his specialty to proctology.

Speaking of France, everyone thinks they're anti-Semitic, but they're actually quite evenhanded toward Jews and Palestinians. True, they want the Palestinians to have a homeland, but they also clamored for the return of Jews to their homeland in Germany during W.W.II.

I still hate the MSM. Could they be any more clueless? Their motto ought to be, "Always the last to know, so you won't have to be." They're always looking for "the roots of terror." What do you need to know about the roots of terror except that the average Palestinian roots for terror?

At least now that Israel is out of Gaza, the Palestinians are fighting with each other. It's even worse than when they escalated the truce with Israel. In fact, they're fighting like the Jihatfields & McMartyrs.

I read a story the other day about China selling arms to the Sudan, which, last time I checked, was committing genocide against Christians. That reminded me of some of the lost sayings of Confucius:

--Confucius say man who feed allahgator get eaten last.

--Confucius say man who do business with Muslim must beware of evil in tent.

--Confucius say Christians pay arm and leg for arms sold to Sudan.

--Confucius say Chinese government like peeping Tom--enjoy watching Christians get screwed.

--Confucius say Bill Clintons' secretary not permanent unless screwed on desk.

How did that one get in there? That was 1998.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Political Entomology, Part II: Liberal Ants and Their Circular Mill

I'm reading an interesting book entitled The Wisdom of Crowds, which is full of counter-intuitive insights until you think about them for a moment and realize that they're not really so counter-intuitive at all.

Surowiecki's main point is that groups are often smarter than the smartest individuals. Anyone who knows anything about economics knows that this certainly applies to the allocation of scarce resources, which decentralized free markets accomplish much more efficiently and effectively than any individual ever could, no matter how brilliant.

But it turns out that the collective wisdom of crowds generally surpasses experts in most realms, so long as the crowd satisfies four conditions: diversity of opinion (note: the very opposite of the leftist definition of diversity), independence of thought (opinions are not determined by the opinions of those those around them), decentralization (in particular, the ability to draw on local knowledge), and aggregation (a mechanism for converting private judgments into a collective decision).

It turns out that if you assemble a group of just the brightest people to solve a problem, it will actually be less effective at solving the problem than a more diverse group with fewer brilliant people. (One immediately thinks of how our liberal looniversity bins have become such cognitively sealed asylums of foolishness.) For one thing, smart people tend to resemble each other in what they can do and how they think: "Adding in a few people who know less, but have different skills, actually improves the group's performance..... The development of knowledge may depend on maintaining an influx of the naive and the ignorant.... Groups that are too much alike find it harder to keep learning, because each member is bringing less and less new information to the table."

To cite just one example, between 1984 and 1999, almost 90 percent of all mutual find managers underperformed the Wilshire 5000 Index, "a relatively low bar." In short there was no correlation at all beween expertise and accuracy in predicting the stock market. Nevertheless, the more educated one is, the more one is likely to overestimate one's abilities and judgment, not just in the field of finance, but among "physicians, nurses, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs," who all believe they know much more than they actually do. Here, Paul Krugman comes to mind, an expert economist who is merely wrong about everything, every time.

Obviously there are unwise crowds, but for very specific reasons. Surowiecki cites the example of what entomologists call a "circular mill." In the early 20th century a naturalist came upon a group of army ants in the Guyana jungle. They were moving in a huge circle some 1,200 feet in circumference, one ant following the next, in a closed loop that took each ant two and a half hours to complete. The circle went on for a couple of days, as one ant after another eventually dropped dead from exhaustion and starvation.

Surowiecki explains: "The [circular] mill is created when army ants find themselves separated from their colony. Once they're lost, they obey a simple rule: follow the ant in front of you. The result is the mill, which usually only breaks up when a few ants straggle off by chance and the others follow them away..... The simple tools that make ants so successful are also responsible for the demise of the ants who get trapped in the circular mill."

This is an example of an unwise group. Why? Because its members are not independent decision makers. They just follow each other blindly. As Surowiecki explains, independence prevents people's mistakes from becoming correlated, from everyone making the same mistake. Secondly, "independent individuals are more likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with. The smartest groups are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other."

Exactly like the internet. And exactly unlike the MSM and its political action wing, the Democratic party. (And, I might add, the liberal R & D facility known as the university system.)

Let's hearken back to last week's post on Political Entomology and Blue-Bellied Liberals. There I noted that the liberal world is full of "media ants, Hollywood ants, academic ants, singing ants, judicial ants, educational establishment ants, and lastly, political ants who all run around randomly bumping their heads together, so that they're constantly regurgitating little half-digested bits of information and feeding them to one another. Pretty soon, just like the ants, they're all the same color."

In fact, it's even worse than I thought--our hopelessly lost and disoriented liberal elites are caught in a circular mill! They've lost touch with reality, but each is simply obeying the simple rule that he should blindly follow the liberal ant in front of him, even if it means going around in circles or taking the country over the cliff.

Remember the words of Thomas Lifson, writing on The Liberal Bubble: our liberal elites inhabit a "comfortable, supportive, and self esteem-enhancing environment. The most prestigious and widest-reaching media outlets reinforce their views, rock stars and film makers provide lyrics and stories making their points, college professors tell them they are right, and the biggest foundations like Ford fund studies to prove them correct." Liberals "are able to live their lives untroubled by what they regard as serious contrary opinion. The capture of the media, academic, and institutional high ground enables them to dismiss their conservative opponents as ill-informed, crude, bigoted, and evil." Liberalism has been reduced to an "in-group code, perfectly understandable and comforting among the elect, but increasingly disconnected from everyone else, and off-putting to those not included in the ranks of the in-group."

Not only have liberals become detached from the greater colony--as reflected in plunging ratings, fleeing readership, and diminished influence--but they have become increasingly detached from reality itself. Plodding along in a grim circle, the New York Times following behind Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean, Time and Newsweek trudging along behind the New York Times, CNN trundling behind Time and Newsweek, academics apeing other unoriginal academics, Air America slinking behind Howard Dean, dailykos goose-stepping after George Soros, George Soros shuffling behind Ted Turner... it's endless and yet finite, because it's a circle. The circle is certainly internally consistent--in fact, there's no diversity at all. Nor is there much contact with what you or I would call reality.

It couldn't be more different than the mighty internet, more on which tomorrow.