CAT | Science & Faith
Cross-posted on the Corner:
Over at AEI Mark Perry celebrates Earth Day with quotes from Steven Landsburg’s book The Armchair Economist, including this:
[E]nvironmentalists — at least the ones I have met — have no real interest in maintaining the tree population. If they did, they would seriously inquire into the long-term effects of recycling. I suspect that they don’t want to do that because their real concern is with the ritual of recycling itself, not with its consequences. The underlying need to sacrifice, and to compel others to sacrifice, is a fundamentally religious impulse.
That took me to the chapter specifically cited by Perry, which is well worth reading in full. Here’s an extract:
As environmentalism becomes increasingly like an intrusive state religion, we dissenters become increasingly prickly about suggestions that we suffer from some kind of aberration. The naive environmentalism of my daughter’s preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism. The antidote to bad religion is good science. The antidote to astrology is the scientific method, the antidote to naive creationism is evolutionary biology, and the antidote to naive environmentalism is economics.
Economics is the science of competing preferences. Environmentalism goes beyond science when it elevates matters of preference to matters of morality…. But in the…years since the first Earth Day, a new and ugly element has emerged in the form of one side’s conviction that its preferences are Right and the other side’s are Wrong. The science of economics shuns such moral posturing; the religion of environmentalism embraces it.
Comments off · Posted by Andrew Stuttaford in Science & Faith
Via Andrew Sullivan we have this piece by William B. Hurlbut, Consulting Professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Stanford University Medical Center, a man of science, who is, it turns out, also a fan of the benevolently deranged Francis of Assisi.
There’s plenty in the article for those with an interest in Francis himself, but I was more interested in this:
The traditional role of medicine, for example, has been to cure disease and alleviate suffering, to restore and sustain the patient to a natural level of functioning and wellbeing. The medical arts were in the service of a wider reverence and respect for the order of the created world: “the physician is only nature’s assistant,” as the Roman healer Galen explained.
But now, armed with the powers of biotechnology, medicine has found a new paradigm, one of liberation: technological transformation in the quest for happiness and human perfection. Slowly but steadily the role of medicine has been extended, driven by our appetites and ambitions, to encompass dimensions of life not previously considered matters of health, with the effect of altering and revising the very frame of nature. Increasingly, we expect from medicine not just freedom from disease but freedom from all that is unattractive, imperfect, or just inconvenient. More recent proposals, of a still more ambitious scope, include projects for the conquest of aging, neurological fusion of humans and machines, and fundamental genetic revision and guided evolution — for transhumans, posthumans, and technosapiens.
The danger is immediately evident…
It is? Danger? This all sounds splendid, although count me skeptical as to how far we will get any time soon towards, uh, transhumans, posthumans, and technosapiens. I’m still waiting for flying cars and Moonbase Alpha (which was due sometime before 1999).
In the absence of any concept of cosmic order, where the material and the moral flow forth from a single creative source, all of living nature becomes mere matter and information to be reshuffled and reassigned for projects of the human will.
Well, that absence is what it is. Hurlbut may be uncomfortable with the consequences, but they are what they are—and they need to be faced. He may wish to believe in a “cosmic order” (a fantasy that takes many forms, in any event), but he ought not to be surprised that there are those that disagree that such a thing exists and are thus reluctant to comply with its supposed rules. But that is not necessarily cause for despair. Experience shows that humility and caution in matters of this type are a matter of commonsense, and commonsense has a way, quite often, of winning out. As, if less frequently, does kindness:
Genetically engineered featherless chickens for cheaper pot pies and leaner pigs with severe arthritis are a violation of basic kindness and courtesy.
There’s a great deal more from Hurlbut, and, much of it like the writings of Leon Kass, is, in its glorification or, at least, inshallah acceptance of suffering, as morbid, and, in its implications, as revolting as some of the more lurid iconography of Christian martyrdom. It’s sad to see such words flowing from the pen or keyboard of a doctor who will in his own career surely have done a great deal to alleviate the suffering of others. Such are the contradictions of religious faith.
And then there’s this:
[O]ne can sense a wisdom in the severity and self-denial that were, for Francis, inseparable from the source of his joy. He had rediscovered an ancient truth in the inversion of desire, not as a negation of being but as a positive passion. In the image of the Lord, he emptied himself and received all things back renewed, purified, and restored in their divine glory.
When I read that, I see only an expression of a millennial asceticism that in our modern era has found expression not in the kindly ramblings of an oddball hippy saint, but in revolution, gulag, and the emptied streets of Phnom Penh.
Compared with that, biotechnological advance is relatively risk-free…
The Wall Street Journal has interviewed “eminent bioethicist” (itself a contradiction in terms) Leon Kass. The trigger was the Gosnell trial, but it was this aspect of Kass’s remarks that drew my attention:
Dr. Kass sometimes finds himself at odds with [anti-abortion] advocates. The movement’s narrow focus on nascent life, he worries, blinds it to the fact that “abortion is connected to lots of other things that are threats to human dignity in its fullness.”
“Pursuing perfect babies, ageless bodies and happy souls with the aid of cloning, genetic engineering and psychopharmacology,” he thinks, are among the most significant of those threats.
Not that, again. Of course, we need never to forget the terrible lessons of early twentieth century eugenics, but re-read those comments and what you see emerging beneath those soothing words about “dignity” is a morbid and sentimental attachment to suffering, and a profound contempt for the human mind:
“Killing the creature made in God’s image is an old story,” he says. “I deplore it. But the new threat is the ability to transform that creature into images of our own choosing, without regard to whether the new creature is going to be an improvement, or whether these so-called improvements are going to sap all of the energies of the soul that make for human aspirations, art, science and care for the less fortunate. All of these things have wellsprings in the human soul, and they are at risk in efforts to redesign us and move us to the posthuman future.”
And the corollary of this paranoid, mystical nonsense about a “new threat” is that the state, aided and abetted doubtless by a self-appointed (and sometimes taxpayer-funded) coterie of wise men, will decide that they know best where scientific inquiry should go.
Galileo, phone your lawyer.
I happened to come across this 2011 piece by CSI’s Joe Nickell the other day:
…In fact, notwithstanding the claims in uncritical biographies, Pio’s stigmata devolved—from bleeding wounds that could easily have been self-inflicted (like those of many fake stigmatists before and after, as I described in my 2001 book Real-Life X-Files) to merely discolored skin that appeared to have been irritated by the application of a caustic substance. Indeed, a bottle of carbolic acid was once discovered in the friar’s cell, and Luzzatto cites letters from Padre Pio in which Pio requests that carbolic acid, and at another time a caustic alkaloid, be secretly delivered to him. Eventually Pio began wearing fingerless gloves, supposedly to cover his stigmata out of pious humility; however, to me, the practice seems instead a shrewd move to eliminate the need to continually self-inflict wounds.
Nor were the fake stigmata the friar’s only deception. Years before, Pio had written numerous letters to his spiritual directors describing his mystical experiences; however, it is now known that he copied these words verbatim from the writings of stigmatic Gemma Galgani (1878–1903) without acknowledging they were hers. And that is not all: Pio attempted to divert suspicion from his plagiarism by asking for help in procuring copies of Galgani’s books—saying he would very much like to read them!
…By the time of his death in 1968, Pio’s stigmata had disappeared, but that was effectively remedied in death. Although there was no need to cover his hands and feet—and indeed Capuchin rule forbids the wearing of socks—Pio’s “father guardian,” Father Carmelo of San Giovanni in Galdo, worried that the absence of stigmata might cause a faulty rush to judgment. Carmelo therefore had Padre Pio’s hands and feet covered, as if the covering still concealed his allegedly holy gift. And so the deception continued.
In 2002, the late friar was canonized Saint Pio of Pietrelcina—not for the stigmata he was so famous for but for his healings that were, with due illogic, assumed miraculous because they were said to be inexplicable. And when his remains were exhumed for display forty years after his death, those hoping his body would be found incorrupt… or that it would still exhibit the stigmata, were disappointed. The embalmed corpse had deteriorated sufficiently that it required a silicon mask—complete with bushy eyebrows and beard—fashioned by a London wax museum. Of the supposedly supernatural wounds there was not a trace.
That the friar was a fake is no great surprise, That the Capuchins forbid socks, on the other hand…
This is a complete red herring attack from defenders of the status quo who oppose giving parents the opportunity to make choices about their children’s education. They will probably not like the fact that the largest provider of opportunities for scholarship students has tended to be parochial schools. These schools are known to teach all sorts of scandalous things, for example concerning God raising a man from the dead and an important birthday coming up in a few weeks.
We’re competing in a global economy and that’s why we want our students to be exposed to the best science and the best critical thinking skills. We not only need to compete with students in Texas, but we need to compete with students in Japan.
In order to make sure our kids are able to compete with students around the country and the world in math and science, students in the scholarship program are taking the exact same tests as the students in public schools. Starting in 2014 with Louisiana’s move to the Common Core State Standards, those will be nationally standardized assessments. That means that a parent can choose the school with the curriculum and environment that’s right for their child, while still ensuring that they are receiving the baseline content they need to compete.
Furthermore, these results are going to be summarized and publicly available so parents and taxpayers can make comparisons. Schools whose scholarship students do not do well on the exams will not be allowed to continue participating in the program.
Parents are the ultimate accountability in education. Unlike traditional public systems where students are assigned to their school based on zip code, school choice gives parents the power to vote with their feet. That can be public school choice or it can be private school choice; we’ve done both in Louisiana. The parent knows the child better than a bureaucrat in Baton Rouge or Washington, D.C. Across the country, millions of parents don’t have this option and their child is stuck in a failing school unless they can move to another district.
If you look at the results of the students who started in the pilot program in New Orleans, they are outperforming their peers in Math and Science. For instance, the percentage of third graders in the Scholarship Program in New Orleans demonstrating proficiency in Math has increased by 23 points since 2008, compared to a 2 percentage point increase for all Louisiana third graders. Further, the percentage of third graders in the Scholarship Program demonstrating proficiency in Science has increased by 4 points since 2008, compared to a 1 percentage point increase for all Louisiana third graders. This mirrors national results, where no less than 10 gold standard research studies have found that when children choose their school–improving the child’s “match” with their school environment–they are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college.
That’s an encouraging response. It’s also good to read how well the pilot program appears to be working out. That makes it all the more important to ensure that the wider program delivers the sort of academic return the taxpayers who have been drafted into funding it have every right to expect. Success in this respect will be the program’s best defense against future political attack. Testing the schools that take part in this program (including, I note, of math and science) will obviously be a key part in this process, but so will a serious insistence on speedily removing accreditation from those schools that fail to make the grade. .
As to what is taught in these schools, that’ll be a topic to which I’ll revert (I wanted to post Mr. Plotkin’s reply as quickly as possible), I’ll leave the constitutional questions to the experts, but, as a matter of general principle it doesn’t worry me in the slightest that the education available under this program might include a religious element. The question, I suppose, is just how large that element should be, and what it might amount to. The thought that such questions might even be asked will be offensive to some, but taxpayer money never comes without strings, and rightly so. Democratic accountability matters.
Cross-posted on the Corner:
If there’s a policy that deserves to be a winner for the GOP (as well as being a thoroughly good thing in its own right), it is school choice and Bobby Jindal has done well to push it in Louisiana.
But having launched a flagship it’s important to ensure that it does not sink.
The Guardian reports:
[A] court case beginning Wednesday is set to shine light on a controversial policy in [Jindal’s] state which sees government funding given to schools that teach creationism….The case has been brought by a Louisiana teachers’ union and is aimed at a voucher scheme whereby some parents can take their children out of poor state schools and get vouchers to use at private schools.
One of the most controversial aspects of the programme is that some of the schools included on it are conservative Christian organisations that teach creationism in their science classes. When parents use the vouchers at such establishments they are effectively giving state money to teach children lessons that can include alternatives to the theory of evolution or questioning the widely accepted age of the Earth…
“This whole voucher plan was to give parents choices. But it is ignoring the quality of those choices,” said Mary-Patricia Wray, legislative and political director of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers.
Now, there’s quite a bit of humbug running through those two sentences (Louisiana’s education scores have historically not been the most impressive), but Jindal has handed his opponents a useful weapon. He needs to take it back.
Stick with the voucher program—expand it wherever possible—but be careful to make sure that the standards of the schools that benefit from it are higher on every measure than those of the traditional public schools they may be replacing. I’m not convinced that taxpayer funding of schools that teach that the Earth is six thousand years old really does the trick, even if such schools are the rare exception rather than the rule.
The governor must plug the hole in his flagship. It’s too important to be allowed to sink.
Slate’s Daniel Engber sighs over Rubio’s geology problems, but then gives us this extract from a Q&A with then Senator Obama at the Compassion Forum ( know, I know) at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. on April 13, 2008:
Q: Senator, if one of your daughters asked you—and maybe they already have—“Daddy, did god really create the world in 6 days?,” what would you say?
A: What I’ve said to them is that I believe that God created the universe and that the six days in the Bible may not be six days as we understand it … it may not be 24-hour days, and that’s what I believe. I know there’s always a debate between those who read the Bible literally and those who don’t, and I think it’s a legitimate debate within the Christian community of which I’m a part. My belief is that the story that the Bible tells about God creating this magnificent Earth on which we live—that is essentially true, that is fundamentally true. Now, whether it happened exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible: That, I don’t presume to know.
Look at that last sentence, and shake your head. Candidate Obama did not, he says, “presume to know” whether the creation of the Earth happened “exactly as we might understand it reading the text of the Bible”. Good grief.
Yet another profile in courage.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) tore into scientists as tools of the devil in a speech at the Liberty Baptist Church Sportsman’s Banquet last month.
“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”
According to Broun, the scientific plot was primarily concerned with hiding the true age of the Earth. Broun serves on the House Science Committee, which came under scrutiny recently after another one of its Republican members, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), suggested that victims of “legitimate rape” have unnamed biological defenses against pregnancy.
“You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I’ve found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth,” he said. “I don’t believe that the Earth’s but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says.”
On the other hand, the décor of the venue where he was speaking clearly was worth seeing.
Over at Patheos, Kathy Schiffer is running a series on the “Best 100 Catholic Speakers” and here she is with seminary professor Dr. Janet Smith, author of Contraception: Why Not?
Choice quote from Dr. Smith:
I think contraception is an insult to women…. [W]omen basically apologize for their fertility. “I’m sorry. When I have sex I may get pregnant. Sure, I’ll be glad to mess with my body to correct this humiliating and inconvenient feature of my sex.”
I don’t know what it worse about that, the simpering pastiche of political correctness, or the utter logical breakdown.
And then I note this:
As a seminary professor, Dr. Janet Smith is helping to shape the next generation of priests.
Tom Chivers writes in The Daily Telegraph:
The man [just] put in charge of the [UK's] health policy is on record as supporting spending public money on magic water to cure disease. Here’s the text of an Early Day Motion he signed in 2007:
That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets.
And here’s the letter Mr Hunt sent to a concerned constituent who pointed out that homeopathy doesn’t work:
Dear Mr Ellis,
Thank you very much for your letter regarding EDM 1240 in support of Homeopathic Hospitals. I appreciate that you are disappointed that I added my name to this motion, and read your comments on this issue with interest.
I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.
I am grateful to you for taking the time to write with your concerns. I realise that my answer will be a disappointing one for you, but I hope that the letter helps to clarify my view.
Jeremy Hunt Member of Parliament South West Surrey
Hat-tip to Chris Coltrane on Twitter and the Mote Prime blog.
I probably don’t need to rehearse this, but: homeopathy does not work. Homeopathy is the treatment of disease using literally non-existent amounts of ingredients which wouldn’t cure the problem even if they were actually there. It is not to be confused with herbal medicine, which often involves real active substances (eg aspirin, which is distilled from willow-bark). If homeopathy worked, we would need to explain how this non-existent substance did what it does: but it doesn’t work, so we don’t. Homeopathic hospitals are not “valuable national assets”, they’re £7-million-a-year white elephants for middle-class hypochondriac hippies.
This is not unlike putting someone who thinks the Second World War began in 1986 in charge of the Department of Education.
Or following the advice of foes of the taxpayer like Orrin Hatch, the numbskull who wanted Christian Science prayer ‘treatments’ added to Obamacare’s bounty.
Hunt should be fired.