Ticking Moral Bankruptcy

January 31, 2006 § 4 Comments

Hypothetically speaking, isn’t it possible that pursuing certain kinds of hypotheticals – say ticking bombs justifying torture, or terrorism justifying counter hostage-taking – is itself an evil thing to do, objectively? That is to say, isn’t it possible that not only are the acts themselves objectively wrong, but that the mere postulation of the acts, with the intention of considering them as serious options, is also objectively wrong?

The philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe famously denounced “consequentialist” moral theories for what she saw as their damaging effect on real-world moral understanding and practice. In her view, to consider even for the sake of argument whether it might be justifiable deliberately to kill an innocent man for the sake of a greater good is already to manifest “a corrupt mind.” And when a vulgarized form of this consequentialist attitude becomes widespread, the result can only be a morally bankrupt society.

Is it just me, or does the fact that it has to be debated whether …

There is, on this account, nothing intrinsically evil about killing innocent people, stealing from them, lying to them, raping, torturing, or mutilating them, or doing anything else to them you feel like doing. But since a rationally self-interested person does not want these things done to him, he will, as it were, abide by a “contract” with all other rationally self-interested persons to refrain from doing these things to them as long as they extend to him the same courtesy.

…show that it isn’t just bankruptcy that we are facing, but debtor’s prison?

Dominican Poetry

January 30, 2006 § Leave a comment

If I have to explain the joke, that will spoil it.

Torturous Definitions

January 28, 2006 § 10 Comments

The torture-licensing project which insists that we do not have a satisfactory enough definition of what torture means in order to avoid doing it is objectively a wicked project. We do understand what torture means well enough to avoid doing it.

The corollary torture-licensing project, which insists that we don’t know whether or not the Church categorically condemns torture so it might be OK under limited circumstances, is also, objectively, a wicked project.

We do know what torture is well enough to avoid doing it. We do know that the Church categorically condemns torture. Anyone who has doubts about the details, wants additional references, feels an abiding uncertainty, etc. has a moral duty to err on the side of prudence.

No torture. No excuses.

UPDATE: Same goes for hostage taking.

Faustian Epistemic Randomness

January 11, 2006 § 10 Comments

We are often told that the randomness in neo-darwinian theory just means that the mutations in the genome are unpredictable, and nothing more. So I propose a compromise between neo-darwinians and darwinian sceptics over what can be taught in high school. Instead of calling the mechanism evolution by random mutation and natural selection, we can call it evolution by mutations of unknown origin plus natural selection. That ought to make everyone happy, don’t you think?

Or perhaps more accurately still, evolution by mutations of unknown origin plus natural selection, operating on a genome of unknown origin.

Can’t we all just get along?

Can You ID The Scientist?

January 9, 2006 § 34 Comments

At Catholic and Enjoying It various usual suspects (including yours truly) are haggling about Darwinism again, prompted by Cardinal Shonborn’s recent article. One of the main threads of conversation revolves around what can be legitimately called science and what should be called philosophy, presumably because for some people the latter is equivalent to “inconclusive nonsense that can be ignored” or at least “stuff you bloody well better keep out of science class, you theocratic religious nutcase”. Another revolves around the meaning of chance, which I have posted on before.

It is going to be very interesting to see what happens in biology as it changes from being an inductive, mostly nonmathematical, storytelling science into a deductive mathematical science, with the rise of computational biology and bioinformatics. I don’t think the computer and math geeks who will be running the biochemistry show in a few decades necessarily live in the same metaphysical cul-de-sac as today’s Darwinists. Maybe that explains some of the religious vehemence with which the present crop of Darwinists insist on ruthlessly and comprehensively controlling the education of the young.

My friend and future drinking buddy John Farrell posts the following quote in the comment thread there:

ActionBioscience.org: How do scientists interpret “chance,” and does it play a role in natural selection?

Futuyma: Philosophers and scientists use “chance” only in the sense of unpredictability. Chance means essentially that you cannot predict the outcome of a particular event.

Now John’s reason for posting the full quote (or at least the one I got from it), which I only partially reproduce here, is to point out that the neo-Darwinian theory is not a “chance-only” theory. Yes, random chance provides an input to the process, but the overall process is far from random. It is a point worth making, and I’ve made it myself many times (I’ve even designed systems that use randomness as an input to the system: randomness is not the intrinsically unproductive thing that many take it to be).

But Futuyma’s initial contention is not really accurate. The big dispute between Einstein and Bohr was over what exactly the chance element of quantum mechanics means. Bohr thought the chance was ontological, that is, it was a real randomness in the nature of reality. Einstein thought it was epistemological, that is, that it just reflected our lack of comprehensive knowledge about what was going on under the hood: “God does not play dice!”, he insisted. Many people thought that this was a “philosophical” (see definition in the first paragraph of this post) distinction. But then good old Bell came along, and he proved that quantum mechanics would give different results based on the two different possibilities – that is, he proved that no (local) “hidden variables” theory of quantum mechanics could account for the actual experimental results that we see from quantum mechanics.

So it seems to me that the folks who are pooh-poohing a discussion of the meaning of chance in science, or who think that its meaning has no testable real-world consequences, or who think that philosophy has no bearing on the actual observable results in science, are getting more than a little ahead of themselves.

The challenge for Darwin sceptics (which I think consists of more than just the Discovery Institute and the ID folks) is to find the equivalent of Bell’s Theorem in the domain of biology in order to settle – or perhaps unsettle – the matter. That seems to be what Dembski and Meyer are working on, and though they have quite a long way to go** the notion that what they are working on is intellectually dishonest, or is not science, or is not at least ultimately pertinent to what ought to be taught in science classes, etc. is quite wrong.

If the equivalent of a Bell’s Theorem in biology were to be found, and it were definitively proven that (even given some very complex primer DNA, replication forks, mRNA, an entire cell substrate in which to replicate the phenotype, etc. as a starting place) random mutation and natural selection is incapable of producing the sort of phenotypes we see today, I wonder how many of today’s Darwinists would be prepared to accept the result.

Not many, is my guess.

** Part of why they have such a long way to go is that biology, again, is more of an inductive/storytelling science at present than a deductive/mathematical science like physics. But that is starting to change.

Judge Declares it Illegal to Teach String Theory

January 6, 2006 § 7 Comments

Just Death Penalty

January 6, 2006 § 7 Comments

John Doe is convicted of murder. He is executed for that murder. He was also found guilty of other crimes, but that specific murder conviction is what led to his execution. He would not have been executed if it wasn’t for that murder conviction. It may have been theoretically just for him to be executed for his other crimes, but we are morally certain that the competent authority (let’s say the people, the Congress/jury, and the President/prosecutor) would not have executed him for those other crimes (and in fact did not execute him for those other crimes).

It is later found out that he was not guilty of that murder. The prosecutor argues that his execution was not a mistake. It was still morally just because the perp theoretically (and lets say actually) deserved to die for those other crimes.

Is the prosecutor right? Of the three possible moral categories (just, unjust, honest mistake), which one does this actual execution which actually took place belong in, objectively?

Clearly it was a mistake, at best, as a moral matter.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for January, 2006 at Zippy Catholic.