Saturday, February 28, 2009

God and Darwin
Tom Smith

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.

Continue reading

February 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

The Return of Newt
Mike Rappaport

The Republicans could do worse.  I am reading this New York Times's Magazine article on him.  Here is an excerpt:

On Thanksgiving Day, for instance, in an e-mail message one recipient shared with me, Gingrich fired off a riff on an idea by Louie Gohmert, a Republican congressman from Texas, who had suggested that, instead of a stimulus bill, the party propose a payroll-tax holiday. “FICA and personal income tax combined are about $160 billion a month (you might want to check my math),” Gingrich wrote to a group of Congressional allies. “So if Pelosi proposes a $700 billion stimulus spending package in January, we could propose a 4-month tax holiday as the alternative.” In a separate e-mail message to his own aides, he wrote: “Think of no personal or corporate income tax and no fica tax for a year as a stimulus package. Am I nuts in rome or is the contrast startling."

If the Republicans had proposed this tax cut, that would have been a dramatic statement that would have emphasized the big spending of the Obama Democrats.  They would probably be in a better position politically if they had done so.

February 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Darwin and Rome
Tom Smith

Praise the Lord and pass the bannanas.

February 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

When your bitch is a bitch
Tom Smith

[This is a family life update.  I implore you not to read it.]

I have gotten in a bad habit lately, which probably in fact means that is has been going on for some years, of feeding my dogs little treats from whatever I happen to be snacking on.  It's bad enough that I am snacking, without corrupting the morals, or at least the behavior, of my canine charges.  Dogs are creatures of habit, as are we all, and the more intelligent of my Labradors, the female Biscuit, has taken to following me around and staring at me intensely while I eat.  I am ashamed to say that this week, while she was alone in the kitchen, she stood up and stole a quarter of a sandwich off of the table, a disgraceful act out of which our five year old made a huge production, no doubt relieved that she could be the target of opprobrium for once rather than he.  I immediately put her outside and resolved that a new regime should be ordained.  It was back to strict doggy manners for everybody.

Last night as is often the case unfortunately I awoke in the middle of the night and decided to descend to my office/den/cave to read, these days mostly about the abject state of the economy, a bad choice since it only makes it harder to sleep.  I got a glass of milk and a piece of bread. Biscuit perked up and followed me into my lair.  She usually does in fact, keeping me company in the wee hours.  But I gave her no treat, as per the new regime.  Well, that would not do at all.  When I finished my slice and gave her none, she rose in a huff, walked out and lay herself down in the family room.  When I went out to see what was up, I was greeted with the very picture of a haughty look, a sulky, petulant attitude that I am really at a loss to describe adequately.  If she were not such a short haired dog she would have tossed her locks back and said "I'm sure I don't know what you expect me to do." Unbidden the thought arose in my head, what a complete bitch.  But then I realized, well, she was, after all, a female dog and that was rather what the word meant.  

Was it wrong to think this?  Was I engaging in some sort of sexist thought crime to regard her in this way?  Was this sort of petulant behavior something female dogs were known for and was that the source of the derogatory term when applied to humans?  Or was it just that at 3 am I was not thinking very clearly.  At any rate, Biscuit chose not to keep me company as usual, and I had too much pride to bribe her to do so.  Loyal, fat and lost in the ecstasy of sleep, Denali lay on his back, feet in the air, as if frozen in mid chase, sleeping the sleep of the just and not too bright.

I finally fell asleep and dreamt I was hiking in the hills behind my house.  I was up on the ridge when to my shock and delight a small animal the size of a dog burst of the brush.  It was a tiny elephant, a perfect miniature of the real thing, except that it looked emaciated and shrunken.  I called excitedly to my companion to come and see, but in that frustrating way that dreams have, I could not get anybody to realize how remarkable, fantastic even it was that a tiny elephant should be wandering about the hills of Jamul.  By the time my strangely anonymous companion joined me, the creature had transformed itself into something closely resembling Pumbaa, the flatulent warthog in Disney's The Lion King.  He ran away and through a hole in a cyclone fence surrounding a junk yard of some sort, which was now where in real life a nature reserve was supposed to be, about which were loitering various scary looking white people, gimmee caps on their heads, and dirty T-shirts on their backs.

February 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)

Economists who support card check
Tom Smith

I think they should also have to tell us how they vote, including at faculty meetings.

February 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 27, 2009

How a carbon tax works
Tom Smith

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.

February 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

The awesome wonderfulness of being a professor
Tom Smith

Read (or skim; skim will do) the article, then read the comment at the end.  Oh reality.

February 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Ricardian equivalence
Tom Smith

Ricardian equivalence

see here.

This is really good.

February 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

US violates first rule of holes
Tom Smith

Which is, of course, stop digging.

February 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Lessons from the past
Tom Smith

Now we just need one about the New Deal.  (hat tip JS).

February 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)