Saturday, February 28, 2009
Professor Coyne of the University of Chicago has a long review here of two recent books by theistic scientists that try to reconcile religion and science. I admit I found it a pretty annoying read and long too. These pieces by practicing scientists about why religion is irrational (or rational, for that matter) remind me of videos you can find on YouTube of real life fights between (or among) various amateur combatants: they're not pretty, people make moves they should not and get hurt, and you don't learn much from watching them beyond that watching professionals is more edifying.
I assume Coyne is a good scientist or he would not be at the University of Chicago. But I would not say he displays any natural aptitude for philosophy. And for better or worse, the questions, and there are a lot of them, associated with the relations of science and religion are philosophical questions, and tough ones at that. Watching philosophy done by amateurs is not pretty. For example, early in his essay, he makes something like the claim that it is no good seeing whether some pantheistic, Spinozistic religiosity could be reconciled with Science, nor some form of Deism; nope, the question must be whether some not very clearly defined version of Christianity that most Americans (I suppose he has in mind) believe in, can be reconciled with Science. But why on earth should that be the project? Science is allowed to send its best men to the fight, but Religion is not? This is just a version of a straw man argument and not a very well disguised one at that. Religion comes in a lot of forms from very dumb to very sophisticated. Presumably the question should be whether there is something that counts as religion, that we would recognize as legitimate religious belief if you will, that is -- and here a I speak roughly -- compatible with (what we can call for now) Science.
And that's just the beginning. The justice gets only rougher as one reads on. It doesn't help that the questions are malformed from the beginning. A good place to start to clear things up would be to define what one is talking about when one refers to religion and to science. In these arguments, Science usually means some contemporary version of Darwin's theory of evolution, and religion means any number of things, but including at least (i) versions of fundamentalist Christianity that are committed to young earth creationism, that is, that the earth is only 10 or 100 thousand, or a 100 million years old for that matter, or less; (ii) intelligent design theory, which comes in various forms and (iii) everything else. One rhetorical strategy that anti-religious (and that seems a fair term) scientists use is to lump all apologists for religion together, thus tarring with the same brush serious philosophers of religion with anyone who claims both to be a scientist and to think that the earth is only 6000 years old. But that's no argument. The fair way to proceed is to take on the best the philosophers of religion have on offer, and that is something you almost never see, not from scientists anyway.
[This is a family life update. I implore you not to read it.]
Friday, February 27, 2009
1. The federal government requires firms that produce greenhouse gases, for example, such as electric utilities, to have a regulatory license for doing so. The licenses can be bought on a secondary market. The government makes significant revenue as the primary issuer of these licenses, perhaps in the range of $700 billion in the proposed 2009 budget.
2. Licensing costs will be passed along to consumers, increasing the prices of various goods that produce globe-warming carbon in their production.
3. Because of these increased prices, consumers will buy less of the goods, leading to a decrease in their production.
4. In order to offset the increase in living costs caused by the increase in prices of virtually all goods (because energy is used in making everything), the revenues from the licenses will be redistributed to households on the lower end of the income scale.
5. Because, as we know from Keynesian economics, people with lower income have a higher marginal propensity to consume, they will buy more of the goods that used energy in being produced, than would be the case if the income stayed in the hands of richer people with a lower MPC.
6. Therefore the consumption of goods that used energy to be produced will actually go up, and so will the production of greenhouse gases.
7. But don't worry too much, global warming may not even be happening, and if it is, there's bugger all a carbon tax would do about it anyway.
8. Have a nice day.