Category Archives: science

Worst possible misery for everyone

Sam Harris, in his book “The Moral Landscape”, defines good as that which moves away from “the worst possible misery”.

Once we conceive of “the worst possible misery for everyone” then we can talk about taking incremental steps towards this abyss. -Sam Harris, Moral Landscape, pg 39

While listening to Sam’s opening speech in his recent debate with William Lane Craig (audio, video), it occurred to me that by “misery”, Sam means, “physical misery”. That made me wonder, what about nonphysical misery? It seems that Sam’s dedication to physical materialism could prove to be a great hinderance here.

The best example of non-physical pain in my estimation is phantom pain experienced by amputees. In this case its the memory of a limb is the source of pain. I’m sure physicalists would argue that the neurons in the brain which supposedly constitute memories are the physical source of pain in this instance, but it seems like a stretch to think that memories themselves could be the source of pain since, in our memories, our limbs are still in tact. Phantom pain is not only the recollection of a limb that no longer exists, but an extrapolation from there that the body must be in pain since the limb is no longer providing feedback to the nervous system.

Next to phantom pain for non-existent limbs would be psycogenic pain, ie mental disorders. Mental anguish is one of the most common forms of pain we experience all the time. From mild discomfort (ie small insults or slights) to insurmountable pain (ie the loss of a loved one).

In conclusion I believe there is sufficient evidence for the claim that metaphysical pain trumps physical pain in

  • Duration – it is not possible to remove metaphysical pain through medication or amputation.
  • Intensity – while both metaphysical pain can be mitigated somewhat through medication, its intensity is not limited by natural constraints.
  • Capacity – physical pain does end at some point. Nerves get overloaded and either shut down (become numb) or the body builds a tolerance or the body itself shuts down (ie the person passes out). Metaphysical pain is bound by none of these physical constraints.

So if the greatest possible pain is not confined to physical states of affairs, it follows that any solution to the problem of pain would need to entail a metaphysical component to it if it is to be a complete and coherent. Sam’s solution is simply incomplete. It fails to adequately address metaphysical pain which would still exist even under the most ideal physical circumstances. And since it is possible for the metaphysical to effect the physical, and not vice versa, it also follows that any solution to the problem of pain should come primarialy from a metaphysical source, not a physical one.

So while I agree with Sam that morality would entail the transition from a state of pain to a state of pleasure, I find Sam’s solution to be shallow and incomplete. The greatest possible pain is not physical, its metaphysical. So the solution we ought to be looking for, if we are serious about looking for an exhaustive solution, should be metaphysical, not physical.

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Abortion debate: Scott Klusendorf vs Nadine Strossen

[HT Randy Alcorn]

Abortion Debate at Westmont College from Randy Alcorn on Vimeo.

Pining for a perfect world

Everyone wants to live in a perfect world.

That’s not a really surprising statement. What separates us, however, is whether we think a perfect world is attainable given the current state of affairs and whether we think it is possible  to bring about a perfect world.

How we answer these crucial questions is what defines our political outlook.

Big government advocates, for instance, think a perfect world is obtainable through the right policies. In the past these policies were based purely on theory (a la Karl Marx) but in more recent times these policies are being based on statistical averages. Modern proponents of big government are fond of making the case based on scientific research and strong appeals to game theory as a solution to the tragedy of the commons. In short, a perfect world is possible if we limit the non-optimal decisions of others.

This view sells. Its a sound theory. It is possible to bring about the most optimal set of circumstances through the application of something like the Nash equilibrium. However it fails to account for one crucial fact. The fact that complete and flawless knowledge of all the relevant facts is required in order to make the calculations accurate. Big government proponents either fail to factor in the uniqueness of individuals or else they boldly assert that individuals are obligated to conform to the community’s desires. The recipe for a perfect plan calls for perfection.

This inconvenient truth is where big government advocates often find their lofty ideals being dashed on the shores of reality.

There are no individual humans or group of humans who have acquired the omniscience required in order to concoct such a perfect plan in order to bring about a perfect world.

And its this reality that leads people to advocate for a realistic system designed not to bring about a perfect world, but a just one.

Small government supporters rightly recognize the problem inherent in designing a perfect society. So rather than try they prefer to uphold the individuals right to chart their own course through the ocean of life. Small government advocates believe in the principle that more people come up with better solutions to problems than a small group of people do. Small government supporters also believe that it is wrong for others to try and force their view of what constitutes a perfect world on others.

On the Origin of Life

[HT Wintery Knight]

Defending Your Beliefs with Scott Klusendorf

[HT Crossway]

SFLA 2011 Scott Klusendorf from Alliance Defense Fund on Vimeo.

Free Market Environmentalism Is Not An Oxymoron

Same sex marriage and incest, why neither should be legitimized

A friend of a friend posted the following picture on Facebook recently and it elicited a rather rich and lively discussion.

Graphic: States That Allow Same-Sex Marriage Vs. States That Allow Marriage Between First Cousins

The graphic and related articles attempt to convey the absurdity and hypocrisy of states which allow marriage between close cousins (like gypsies) which poses a host of health risks, but disallow same sex marriage which they assume is sterile and safe.

Well here’s my take.

The definition of marriage is predicated on a biological reality. It predates government and as such any law designed to arbitrarily redefine it based on subjective premises (ie. what is being referred to as “love”) are about like passing a measure to redefine words we simply don’t like.

There is a reason blood tests were required for obtaining a marriage certificate and why first cousins are barred from marrying in certain states. That is the biological possibility of children, the only public reason for marriage existing as a separate institution and not simply another contract between private parties.

Same sex “marriage” should be opposed for the same reason that we should oppose marriage between close relatives and multiple partners (bigamy). It is self-destructive for the consenting adults involved and it is harmful to any offspring that may result or be obtained (in the case of SSM).

The essential public purpose of marriage is to bind parents to children and through that to preemptively protect their rights. Specifically, their right to enjoy the company of both of their biological parents.

At this point many same sex marriage proponents like to argue that the institution of marriage is in a dismal state of repair as it is. That most marriages today don’t last.

Yes, it is true that the state of marriage today isn’t very strong, but this should be a reason to seek to strengthen marriage, not weaken it further.

Laws serve to both punish undesirable behavior as well as promote desirable behavior. Yes, we were sold no-fault divorce for the same reason you mentioned with the additional guarantee that it would have no further ill effects on marriage in general. It didn’t. What it did do is lead to an unprecedented rise in divorce rates overall and a further expansion of government into private lives through the family court system .

Same sex marriage has been shown in countries where it is legal to also expand government intrusion into private lives. The main goal of legalization of SSM is to make the public affirm homosexuality. We have good evidence for this from two primary sources. From countries where it is legal and only ~2% of the homosexual population (which, itself, is only about 3-4% of any given population) decide to get married. And from the writings of GLBT leaders themselves.

Same sex marriage has also been shown to make an already unhealthy lifestyle even more unhealthy. Statistics show that the majority of homosexuals who do decide to get married don’t use protection since they figure they are in the clear with regard to diseases like AIDS, but they end up putting themselves at greater risk for the more “common” health problems. Additionally, since promiscuity is a prominent part of the homosexual lifestyle (again, taken from their leaders’ words), it would be wrong for us to think that same sex marriage resembles natural marriage in anything other than a superficial and fleeting feeling of love.

We should also point out that homosexuals are not prevented from forming unions and calling them marriages today. They can have civil ceremonies, draw up contracts, live together, etc. What they cannot do right now, without redefining marriage, is force others to affirm their union as normative or prevent people like myself from speaking out against it.

Redefining marriage would be a violation of the public trust.

The benefits of marriage are granted by the public in order to encourage stable marriage relationships. When we treat marriage as if it were merely a registry of friends with benefits it both weakens marriage and encourages abuse of it at the same time. It’s weakened by people not taking it seriously and it is abused by people enjoying the benefits afforded to marriage relationships with no intention of providing the taxpayers (society in general) any return on their investment. Sure, there are free riders in any system but it is generally a bad economic policy to encourage and expand free riders.

So among other things I would say that SSM should be opposed simply because it is a poor public investment. It offers no returns and costs the money and freedom of other 97% of the country.

Many proponents of redefining marriage seem to assume this is merely a religious argument. I’m not sure why that is since the data available to us holds no religious convictions of its own.

Both the data of what most marriages enjoy (higher levels of self-reported happiness and satisfaction, not to mention financial stability, etc.), as well as what the ideal public purpose of marriage is (afterall, laws shape what society values and doesn’t value). Not to mention the plethora of studies that are coming out about the benefits children have by enjoying the company of both their biological parents.

In the end, there is simply no good reason, and a host of bad ones, to redefine marriage just to make a small group of people feel better about their chosen lifestyles.

EDIT:
What I find disheartening is that liberals almost unilaterally fail to deal with any of the available evidence on this subject and, instead, stick to faulty arguments and rhetoric. It seems the only strategy a liberal has is to characterize their opponent as bigoted, hateful, etc. as if someone couldn’t possibly have a principled objection to a demonstrably unhealthy lifestyle like homosexuality. In order to make any progress on this issue we, as a nation, need to seriously consider stopping the hate, on both sides, and start the debate.

Making the Case for Life: Pro-Life Apologetics

Making the Case for Life: Pro-Life Apologetics from Darius Hardwick on Vimeo.

What’s wrong with teaching “gay history”?

California bill SB48 is touted as another step in combatting discriminatory practices by teaching students about the contributions to humanity made by gays, lesbians, and transgendered persons.

“Most textbooks don’t include any information about (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) historical figures or their civil rights movement, which has great significance to both California and U.S. history,” the bill’s author, state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said during a news conference Thursday.

“This selective censorship sends the wrong message to all young people, and especially to those who do not identify as straight,” said Leno, who is openly gay.

Leno, however, begs the question when it comes to teaching GLBT issues in an age appropriate manner. As child psychologist Miriam Grossman testifies:

Personally, I think this whole situation underscores the need for robust voucher programs to empower parents to opt their children out of things like this.

Thomas Sowell: Global Warming Manufactured by Intellectuals?