Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A right-wing atheist explains it all to you

Todays's column by Ross Douthat, passed on to me by the invaluable @AdamKissel, is a useful vehicle for this atheist libertarian to 'splain some things to Christian libertarians and conservatives and other simpatico individuals. In fact, one sentence of Douthat's encapsulates most of his misunderstandings.
In essence, it proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory.

Problem number 1 is that the 'purpose' of the universe, according to theists, is singularly unconvincing. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, citing Aquinas, God created the universe

in order to manifest his own goodness, power and wisdom.
To this mortal this looks very much like the reason a liberal buys a Prius. But everyone needs a hobby, I guess.
God's pleasure is the one supremely perfect model for action
The technical term for this is 'hedonism'. I'm not knocking hedonism; it's not the most destructive force in the world, by any means, but few people find it a morally uplifting philosophy.
This is accordingly the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, and even for the suffering which moral evil has introduced into it.
Hmmm. "The important thing is I have a Prius. If it runs over your kid, that's unimportant." Purposeless is looking better and better all the time.

Problem number 2 is far more annoying; it's a complete misrepresentation. Evolution is not an accident. It's a very powerful and directed algorithm. Species evolve because they mutate, but then the more favorable mutations survive. The reason evolution so often looks like design is because it is a process of design; it designs things that better propagate themselves. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and if you look around the world at all the magnificence evolution has created, 'accident' is not a word that comes to mind. Philosopher Dan Dennett has written a beautiful and highly readable book on the subject; I highly recommend it for your holiday reading.

Problem number 3: why is a sense of self illusory? Obviously, it exists. Moving right along...

And the rope bridges flung across this chasm — the scientific-sounding logic of utilitarianism, the Darwinian justifications for altruism — tend to waft, gently, into a logical abyss.
Problem number 4. The above is so muddle-headed. Not all secularists or atheists are utilitarians. I'm not. I think utilitarianism is essentially useless as an ethical system. And altruism is not 'justified' by Darwinism. There are Darwinian explanations for altruism, but Darwinism is not a moral philosophy. More importantly, there is good scientific evidence for an innate moral sense, shared by Christians and non-Christians alike. It is not unreasonable to try to construct an ethical system so as not to conflict with humans' innate moral sense, but it would be the fallacy of naturalism to base an ethical system solely on it, any more than we should base the laws of physics on humans' innate mechanism for computing the trajectories of flying objects.

The only thing wafting into a logical abyss here is Douthat's argument.

Summarizing. This atheist agrees the universe is purposeless. He finds the purposelessness less offensive than the theists' purpose. Evolution is not an accident; it's a directed process that has created incredible natural complexity and beauty. Atheists are not necessarily utilitarians. And whether humans are innately moral or altruistic is a scientific question, and moralizing about it has no evidentiary value whatsoever.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Melissa McEwen on grade-school rape culture

Yes, this is about the 6 year old who was suspended for kissing a female classmate. And yes, Melissa McEwen, who worked for sleazeball John Edwards but apparently hasn't had the good sense to retire to a nunnery in shame, actually wrote a blog-post about it called "Rape Culture Entrainment Starts Early":
It's amazing (not remotely amazing) that this defense looks precisely like the rape apologia we see after every other case in which a male student breaches the consent of a female classmate. It was mutual. It was no big deal. There's nothing wrong with it. It's normal. It's natural. It's just a boy being a boy.
When I was six, a pupil at a Catholic grade school in Manchester, England, there was for a while a boys' gang and a girls' gang. We participated in a game called 'pulling down pants'. The boys would chase the girls, catch one, and pull down her underpants. Then the girls would chase, catch and debag a boy. It was all very gender neutral, though the girls did have to pull off two garments rather than one. If a kissing 6 year old is a rapist, heaven knows what we were? I'm sure I was scarred for life.

It was only a passing phase. Pretty soon we moved on to gender-mixed gangs called "The Beatles Gang" and "The Rolling Stones Gang", but the really cool kids told breathless tales about mods and rockers and liked a band no one had ever heard of called "The Who". I was, I'm ashamed to admit, a member of the Beatles Gang. Conventional as always. We used to link arms and run around the playground singing "She loves you yeah yeah yeah". Sheesh.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever: the horror continues

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco declares
[UNL] is ... a place where issues related to diversity can be discussed in open and frank ways.
LOL! As I've commented already, Nebraska is desperately short of a sense of irony. Please send emergency supplies immediately. Remember, at UNL you can be as frank as you like, as long as you don't mind stirring up a shitstorm of abuse on your head.

In other news, someone apparently posted something racially abusive on a toilet stall wall in the music building. Offensive grafitti on toilet walls; clearly we are only few weeks from Armageddon!

Some activities that are already being planned include: • Educational workshops; • Enhanced incident reporting process; • Enhancement of the NSE multicultural education for new students; and • Meetings with small groups to further refine campaign goals and to begin the process of implementing new programs.
And no doubt lots of new jobs in the 'diversity' racket.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some final thoughts on n-word gate

Three parting shots, and then, for the sake of Mo-hammered, Jeebus and all the prophets I haven't bothered to blaspheme, let's put this one to bed.

Mr Murphy and another student named Spenser Garrett stated their case at length in Tuesday's Daily Nebraskan. While he is less sophisticated than some of his critics, it is clear Mr. Murphy has a much more accurate understanding of the First Amendment than they. What he said at the ASUN debate was clearly protected speech, no if, ands or buts. The students made a couple of other points; first, that it is unfair that there is a double-, no let's make that a multiple-standard when it comes to speech. Some groups can use words others are forbidden to use, and more importantly, perhaps, some groups have to be far less circumspect in general about their speech than others.

And that leads to the second point, made by Mr. Garrett. White students feel they have to be far more careful what they say among members of other groups than they do in the company of other white people. Part of this is just life and human nature -- for example, few of us feel comfortable cussing in the company of our grandparents -- but part of it is a genuine perception that a significant fraction of some groups are hypersensitive, and take offense far too easily.

Now you can respond to these points in several ways. You can belittle them, make fun of them, roll your eyes, sneer, and call the students racists. Do that, but don't then turn around and claim what is needed is a dialog about race. If you do I will snark at you by name on Twitter. Those gentlemen told you their point of view. You don't have to agree with it. If you think it's easily refutable, then refute it. Convince them. Convince us. But it took some courage, in these politically correct times, for them to speak their minds, and I don't think either point can be casually dismissed.

The second parting shot is, please make a careful distinction between the social consequences of offensive speech, and the legal consequences. You are perfectly at liberty to show your displeasure at their words. Some of you already have. You can shun the speakers, denigrate them (as long as you don't defame them), label what they say an outrage. But what you cannot do is silence them, or use the power of the State to punish them. In this specific instance, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska is a state constituted body (believe it or not), and so is bound by the 1st and 14th amendments. ASUN, in declining to impeach Mr. Murphy, probably saved itself from a lawsuit -- that is, if Mr. Murphy was inclined to pursue such.

And one final parting shot. The metaphor about fire in a crowded theater was made by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and it's relevant to a very narrow set of circumstances; circumstances where speech is false and likely to be dangerous, and cannot feasibly be countered by contrary speech. In the sense that, if you shout 'fire' in a crowded auditorium during a debate, causing a panic, it is relevant to political debates. In no other sense is it relevant. The holding in Schenk covers only cases where there is "a clear and present danger that [the words] will bring about ... substantive evils". it was later altered, in Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969, to a determination that the speech must "be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action (e.g. a riot)". Neither is pertinent here. Citing 'fire in a crowded theater', without knowing what it refers to, only marks you as a moron.