Barrel Strength

Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

Barrel Strength - Over-Proof Opinion, Smoothly Aged Insight

You have the right to utter ‘stupidities’: Quebec premier

It was in relation to complaints of an Imam that Premier Couillard of Quebec was speaking. And I like this guy more and more, Phillippe Couillard, that is.

ST-GEORGES-DE-BEAUCE — Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Friday he doesn’t share the Muslim Council of Montreal’s view that laughing at religions should be punished.

Last week, Imam Salam Elmenyawi told committee hearings on Quebec’s proposed hate-speech legislation that mocking Islam was unacceptable.

“When you laugh at my religion, you’re laughing at me, you’re laughing at my wife, you’re laughing at the Prophet,” Elmenyawi told members of the National Assembly on Aug. 20. “If your intention is to protect people, you have to understand that for a Muslim, when you mock his religion, you attack his very person.”

Yes you do. There is no gap between a Muslim and his religious beliefs.They are not a part of him; they are him.  It took several centuries of religious warfare in the west to to put some distance between a person’s right to assault you and your disparagement of his religious beliefs. We have by and large achieved this tolerance, and we no longer are justified by law and society for killing people for offending our conceptions of salvation and the revelations we have received from our Gods. In some ways, this is too bad, but for the most part it has brought down the murder rate, and encouraged civil discourse, and allowed progress.

Couillard told reporters at his party’s pre-session caucus in St-Georges-de-Beauce he disagreed with Elmenyawi.

“We’re still listening to people coming to the hearings, but we want to say very, very loud and clear that we don’t want to obstruct freedom of expression in Quebec. Freedom of expression means saying stupid things or even ridiculous things, and then it’s up to you, it’s up to us to say why it’s ridiculous and why it shouldn’t be said, but not to bar somebody from saying this.”

“The line has to be traced in the sand, though, and for us the line is calling for violence. This is what we want to do, this is what we want to achieve and, hopefully, with the hearings we’ll find a good balance,” Couillard said.

Premier Couillard is a former neurosurgeon, who had worked for four years in Saudi Arabia, after being head of neurosurgery in important Quebec hospitals. He quit medicine and ran for office in 2003.

It is my constant complaint that Quebecois do not travel enough; they have not yet appreciated the vast diversity of the world. Many still think the English Canadians are foreigners, as in, really different people. Protestant and all that. Historical enemies, and heretics.

Thus it is significant that Quebec’s current premier has spent time in the midst of Islam, and has come back to run the province. He knows. He quit the medical profession in 2003, was elected and became Minister of Health under Premier Charest, and became Premier in 2013.

I have often maintained that we do not need political leaders to rant about Islam; we need leaders who will firmly rebuff its cultural assumptions, and in Couillard we have found one.

Incidentally, have you heard anything out of Quebec in the past two years? The silence is of Couillard getting the place in order.

He is 58 years old. I can imagine him as the next Conservative leader, or the next Liberal one. It will make no difference.

 

 

Peer review for epicycles

This is how it is done, people. How you fight the propaganda war for anthropogenic global warming: publish before peer review is in, obtain slavish peer reviews, and line up your acolytes in the media.

You may recall the big fact that has to be “explained” is why Antarctic sea ice is expanding rather than contracting.

James Hansen is the noted climate doomist, formerly of NASA. His latest paper was released before peer review was completed, says Peter Sinclair of Climate Denial Crock of the Week.. The reason, says Mr. Sinclair, is as he describes:

The study, as yet unpublished in a peer reviewed journal, was deliberately released early, so as to become part of the public discussion prior to the important climate talks scheduled in Paris for the end of the year.

In short, in time for maximum propaganda effect.

Now this is one of the peer reviews, also published before the main article was completely reviewed:

This is another Hansen masterwork of scholarly synthesis, modeling virtuosity, and insight, with profound implications. The main thrust of the paper, the part getting all the press, arises from the confluence of several recent developments in glaciology. First is the identification of a runaway condition in outflow glaciers of the West Antarctic ice sheet that makes the IPCC prediction for year-2100 sea level rise clearly obsolete.

Naturally the global warming catastrophist press was ready with its own blow-job in the Washington Post by fan-boy Chris Mooney on the same as yet ‘unpublished’ published Hansen article:

According to Hansen’s thinking, expanding Antarctic sea ice is precisely what you would expect to see if the Antarctic continent itself is losing a lot of ice mass from its vast ice sheet, adding to sea level rise.

The thinking goes like this: As ice shelves melt, and more inland ice slides towards the sea, a gigantic volume of cold, fresh water enters the ocean. This freshwater pulse, the researchers continue, promotes ocean “stratification,” in which a cold surface layer lies atop a subsurface warmer layer. The cold surface layer promotes more sea ice growth atop open water, while the warm lower layer sneaks beneath that ice and continues to melt submerged ice shelves, which plunge deep into the water at the fringes of the continent.

The fundamental physical reason for the expansion of sea ice in this scenario is that cold, fresh water is less dense than warmer, salty water. Or as the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains:

As deep ocean temperatures around Antarctic rise, they increase ice shelf melt, according to a study led by Richard Bintanja. This meltwater is creating a cool layer near the surface of the ocean that promotes sea ice production. In addition, the meltwater is fresh, or much less salty and dense than surrounding saline ocean layers. So fresher meltwater floats upward, mixing with the cold surface layer, lowering its density. As this fresh layer expands, it forms a stable puddle on top of the ocean that makes it easier to produce and retain sea ice.

In this sense, expanding Antarctic sea ice might be anything but good news.

So, nothing refutes man-caused global warming, and everything confirms it. This is not science, this is religion.

It is quite possible that Hansen is correct, and that fresh water is having the effects he describes. The reason I doubt it has to do with the enormous politicization of science that Matt Ridley has written about here.

Ridley cites Ian Plimer:

Today’s climate science, as Ian Plimer points out in his chapter in The Facts, is based on a “pre-ordained conclusion, huge bodies of evidence are ignored and analytical procedures are treated as evidence”. Funds are not available to investigate alternative theories. Those who express even the mildest doubts about dangerous climate change are ostracised, accused of being in the pay of fossil-fuel interests or starved of funds; those who take money from green pressure groups and make wildly exaggerated statements are showered with rewards and treated by the media as neutral.

“Analytical procedures are treated as evidence” – I hope you caught that.

 

These explanations of Hansen are like the epicycles that had to be invented to explain the anomalous movements  of planets in the geo-centric model of the world. Planets rotating about the earth did not keep an even pace with the stars, as anyone can observe who watches the night sky over months. Epi-cycles (smaller loop-backs) were used to explain why Jupiter would appear to slow against the cosmic background stars, as it did a loop-back before looping forward to resume its normal course around the earth. The system of epicycles made quite accurate predictions, so in that sense was scientific, but collapsed when astronomers began to use telescopes and were able to see the moons of Jupiter rotating about the gas giant. Goodbye Ptolemaic system; goodbye supremacy of Aristotle.

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Aristotle’s simple universe collapses into complication when the movements of the planets are observed, and looks more like this. [Aristotle and the Greeks in general were not into actual observation very much, relative to the superiority of theorizing].

 

 

 

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Epicycles, phlogiston, cholesterol: bad science never stops.

PS:

And may I say a word for Aristotle. He did so much in so many fields of human thought: biology, ethics, physics, metaphysics, logic, theories of art, politics, and epistemology, that his one large error (cosmology) has overshadowed his stunning achievements. But he too suffered from the same thing that will doom Hansen, Trenberth, Michael Mann and the other catastrophists: he came to represent an orthodoxy – albeit 2000 years after his death. We all remember Galileo and  his fight with the Papacy. The Roman church made the mistake of making Aristotle their official scientist. The modern liberal commentariat has made the doomists their official scientists. The same collapse of moral authority awaits them as awaited the scientific reputation of the Catholic church after Galileo.

Perhaps the laziest blog posting ever, and the most complete

Day by day pontificating on the Greek crisis, the black American underclass crisis, the non existent global warming crisis, Islam, Putin, Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Grits, the Tories, IQ differences among races, automation, modernity and every sort of ephemeral dispute: let me summarize.

Check how many propositions you agree with below. Send me your scores and how you counted.

1. Global warming

a) not happening, as it appears from evidence

b) solar radiation and the amount received by the planet earth drives most of the climate,most of the time.

2. Anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

a) could be happening but is not, see 1 above

b) could be happening but it is too expensive to address it directly, compared to other highly soluble environmental and social problems.

3. Anthropogenic global warming craze

a) a delusional belief system, akin to the cholesterol panic, with a roughly sixty year cycle from invention through inflation to evanescence.

4. The Pope and his recent support for AGW

a) traditional catholic anti-capitalism dressed up in new clothes

5. Taking down the confederate flag in South Carolina

a) about time. The US Civil War was about the enslavement of blacks. I do not approve of slavery, slave owners, or blaming personal or collective failures on the heritage of slavery.

6. American blacks

a) according to US Department of Justice statistics, a white person is 67 times more likely to be attacked by a black person than a black person is likely to be attacked by a white person. Handle with caution.

7. Racial differences in  IQ

a) quite real and possibly genetic in origin,  and susceptible to improvement by the imposition of academic standards.

b) the imposition of academic standards is highly difficult in times of raging desire for equality of outcomes.

8. Islam

a) a totalitarian political ideology dressed up as a religion

b) in the main, a complete waste of time, Civilizations that succumb to it have succumbed to a complete failure to advance socially, materially, or spiritually.

9. Materialism

a) a gigantic limiting assumption on whatever could be real.

b) the predominant intellectual fashion of our age.

c) To my mind, completely refuted by split screen experiments and the confirmation of the mind’s influence on the outcome of split screen experiments.

10. God

a) some kind of superintending and creative intelligence is, in this view, highly likely.

b) by definition, not subject to scientific refutation or support (if it is in the domain of material reality, it is not God)

11. Mind

a) likely to exist apart from its material substrates, such as brains.

b) intimately related in normal conditions to awareness, intention, emotion, and other states of mind.

12. Inequality

a) there is too much emphasis in contemporary on the evil consequences of inequality and too little emphasis on the degree to which inequalities are natural.

b) All men are equal, and all men are unequal, and any society that tries to suppress the truth of either proposition will end in violence.

13. The sexual revolution

a) we are heading rapidly back into a pagan attitude to sexuality. Pauline Christian ideas about with whom to have sex, in what legal constraints, and in what orifice are going out the window.

b) I am ambivalent about it, but I enjoy the changes so far as they have affected me.

c) The state has successfully substituted itself for the ancient ties of family and community, and this with immense popular support in all democracies. Most people in advanced cultures trust the state more than they trust their cousins.

14. Change

a) It is likely that 50% of the ideas expressed here will be repudiated in the next century.

b) which 50% – or larger – is impossible to determine

15. Fossil fuels

a) the advances of wealth, and with wealth, tolerance and the ability for self-expression, that have been made since 1800 are primarily the outcome of increased amounts of energy available to each person on the planet.

b) that increase of wealth is largely the result of burning fossil fuels.

c) Wind and solar energy sources should be pursued up to the limits imposed by physics and the costs of production, and no further. Large scale substitution of wind and solar for fossil fuel energy is demonstrably uneconomic and anti-ecological.

16. On male and female

a) while the Scientific Revolution of the last two centuries derives from other sources than male/female intelligence differences, it is males whose minds, procedures, and cooperation  have generated nearly the totality of scientific and technical progress in that time.

17. On science

a) science as we understand the term has proceeded from a confidence in the intelligibility of the universe as the creation of a rational God, and not otherwise.

b) Chinese, Indian and Arabic civilizations did not develop science for reasons particular to each of those civilizations and cultures. They discovered knowledge in various ways, but not in the rigorous exploration of the boundaries of what is known, and in the organized procedures of intellectual challenge, free from physical violence and the suppression of inquiry by religious authorities, that characterize most other civilizations and cultures, and which threaten ours.

 18.Obama

a) A half-black Woodrow Wilson, an academic, brought up by white Lefties, an ungifted politician, not half as smart as he thinks he is, who rode the wave of being “black”, which he is not, into power. Never bought into him, never was disappointed, never was impressed.

b) His appointment of the racist anti-white Eric Holder as Attorney General, has legitimized, and augmented, a general anti-whitism in the public discourse. White people have not yet shown signs they are collectively fed up with it.

19. The Left

a) is premised on the notion that society is wrongly constituted, that they know what is wrong, that their analysis is perfect, and that what is wrong can be cured by social, political, or economic measures, which act as external constraints on behaviour, not inward changes in man.

b) At their worst, a Godless bunch of destroyers who have been unleashed on our churches, schools and universities, and have destroyed them. By Godless I mean not merely atheistical, but narrowly and stupidly materialistic.

c) They are totally in denial about their destructive impulses and effects, and firmly believe they are morally superior to any opposition, though they deny the basis of morality in any supernatural, metaphysical basis.

d) lacking a metaphysical basis of agreement among themselves, or confidence in the constitution of material reality to cause things to turn out right, they turn politics into a series of tests of agreement on increasingly ridiculous propositions, disagreement with which is cause for expulsion, derision, calumny, and, in the extreme, death.

e) the belief in the rationality of their analysis of  the world ends in irrational politics, and the celebration of that irrationality.

20. Conservatism

a) A strong distrust of the perfectibility of man.

b) The deep suspicion that one could be wrong about many large, important things.

c) the confidence to argue for what you believe, despite a and b above.

d) A deep distaste for persecuting hypocrites, and for persecutions in general.

e) a confidence in the saving power of Jesus Christ – whatever that may mean.

f) The confidence that somehow, against many odds, and multiple sources of error, sin, passion, ignorance, and ideology, that  the human species, and not just its its living conditions, is getting better.

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Materialists, feminists, lefties, Muslims, progressives, slave holders, Confederates, and Obamanauts can vie to see who among them is the most offended.

The rest of us can get on with life, knowing that someone sane is out there.

 

 

 

 

Books: The Sword of the Lord

All books are in competition with one another to be read. Go to a remainders book store if you want to dissuade someone from a writing career; see the piles of unread books about to reduced to wood-pulp. Somehow we select some books and not others, and sometimes for no better reason than the cover or the title.

On my reading list are great books in the Oxford series of the history of the American republic, such as Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty, Lincoln Paine’s The Sea and Civilization,  a history of the world from a maritime perspective, Yuval Harari’s Sapiens, a brilliant and concise history  of humanity from 500,000 years ago through now, which is a fast and efficient romp through the Large Facts,  Doris Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit, about the relationship of Theodore Roosevelt to William Taft, which is too long for the importance of the story related  and Jesus: A Pilgrimage, by James Martin SJ, which is beckoning, and several others.

One in particular has won the race against all these “better” books of history, “The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in the American Family”, by Andrew Himes. The author is descended from a line of Baptist preachers, brother to Baptist preachers, and from a line of what are called Scots-Irish, really border people in Scotland, Wales and England who took off for America in the 1800s.

Himes relates the evolution of fundamentalism to the large events that shaped his forbears: dirt poor in Tennessee, to millionaire farmers and slave holders in Missouri, wiped out in the Civil War, the flight to Texas, and the slow climb out of poverty once again.

I am fascinated by people whose interpretation of Christianity is so alien to me. Fundamentalism, in my way of thinking, de-emphasizes the role of the human mind in interpreting the Scriptures, and downplays the role of error, of interpretation, and locks itself into needless battles with modernity, such as anti-Darwinism and resistance to the civil rights of American blacks. In short, they tend to get themselves into Islamic levels of intolerance of anything not themselves.

Once upon a time, a man who had been brought up in the Plymouth Brethren explained to me his  interpretation of what fundamentalism entails.

We were at the dining table. He pointed to the position of the salt and pepper. “Imagine”, he said, “if the salt and pepper being on this side of the drinking glass meant you were going to heaven, and on the other, you were on your way to Hell. Imagine the daily anxiety. Everything, but everything, leads to heaven or hell. That is the point of life: salvation or damnation. So you would be pretty anxious about the smaller details of life, because you never knew for sure what would start you on the path to perdition.

“The anxiety is intolerable. So you project outward onto other people this anxiety, and start to find fault in others because the fault in yourself cannot be tolerated, so consciousness of it is repressed. Fault-finding becomes a deeply rooted reflex.”

Everything I am reading in Andrew Himes’ book makes sense from this perspective. The author was, as a child, a Baptist bigot, travelled through loss of faith and Marxism, (bigotry of a different kind) and arrived back at a post-fundamentalist Christianity.

What would such a Christianity look like? It would, in part, be belief in things that one does not know for a fact to exist. God is not a scientific question, that is, susceptible of proof by inference from the arrangement of physical forces. [On this issue Dawkins is not even wrong]. Moreover it would be a degree of comfort, and not anxiety, that belief would be different from perception of facts, and inferences from nature.

Himes’ story is the emergence of a more relaxed and at the same time stronger faith out of his conflicts with his preaching family, their doctrines, and the quarrelsome tribe from which he sprang. It conveys important lessons in how the United States came to be how it is, and how one man can evolve into something better than he was.

 

RIP: The great cholesterol scam (1955 – 2015)

Your doctor still probably believes that cholesterol in the diet translates into cholesterol in the bloodstream, that there is “good” and “bad” cholesterol, and that “bad” cholesterol bears a statistically significant relationship to heart disease. Every one of these propositions is false.

I refer you to an excellent article by Matt Ridley “cholesterol is not bad for you”, who  writes:

 

Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol found in your blood from scratch, and adjusts for what you ingest, which is why diet does not determine blood cholesterol levels. Lowering blood cholesterol by changing diet is all but impossible.

Nor is there any good evidence that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease or shorter life. It is not even a risk factor in people who have already had heart attacks. In elderly people — ie, those who have the most heart attacks — the lower your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of death. Likewise in children.

From the very first, the studies that linked the ingestion of cholesterol and saturated animal fats to cardiovascular disease were not just flawed, but tinged with scandal.

It is well worth reading the rest. What I have to say here  reflects upon the course of this great fallacy. The cholesterol scam bears a strong relationship to the anthropogenic global warming scam.

1) it is propagated by scientists on a non-scientific mission.

2) it is believed because it plausibly explains an observation (increasing global temperature [for a time], increasing heart attacks from smoking in the 1950s and 60s). It taps into large anxieties about too much wealth, too much happiness, in western societies. There must be sin somewhere, and the public is ready to flog itself in the cause of a secularized idea of God, uh, I mean Good.

3) the causal relationship is weaker than first supposed; the research is found to be sloppy, the facts have been fudged, subsequent studies do not fully support the original claims, nevertheless the orthodoxy is promulgated all the more harshly for being doubted.

4) by now, powerful economic and ideological interests have taken hold. They supply an ongoing source of funds and opinion to ensure the perpetuation of the alarm: in the case of cholesterol, the margarine industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the medical establishment, and in the case of AGW, the tribe of bureaucrats and leftists who seek to control markets, whose god of Marxism had failed, and who needed a new god (Gaia) to justify their rule.

5) The skeptics who have patiently argued on the basis of facts that the science of each phenomenon was weak, are ostracized by the opinion establishments of medicine and global warming. Cranks, but the cranks are right and the orthodox priests and Levites are wrong.

6) Eventually, after fifty or sixty years, the subject of discussion just changes. In the case of cholesterol, the evidence gets weaker and weaker, and the problems caused by too much sugar consumption (obesity, diabetes), caused in part by people not eating enough fats and meats, reaches a stage where it can no longer be ignored.

7) the retreat of the orthodoxy is covered by a smokescreen of fresh concerns for some other catastrophe. No admissions of error or apologies for wrecked careers and following bad science are ever issued. Time flows on, bringing neither knowledge nor greater understanding of the role of folly in human affairs.

8) stages 6 and 7 have been reached in the cholesterol cycle; they are beginning in the anthropogenic global warming scam. Fifty years from now, there will still be clanking windmills in the North Sea, but whether they will be still linked to a power grid is less likely, and whether anyone will pay attention is doubtful. The lobbies that keep them there, however, will still exist.

 

These long term fashions in intolerant error should cause all people to question the intelligence and wisdom of the human species. I call these schools of thought and action “phologiston”,  after a disproven but thousand-year-old Greek theory of what fire was.

There are two major sources of metaphorical phlogiston in modern society: the climate people and the medical profession.

Phlogiston is the ancient term for a substance that was imputed to exist in all things  that prevented combustion. Phlogiston was necessary in a Greek idea of a universe. Without phlogiston, everything would burn, because it was in the nature of all things to seek to rise from the four sub-lunary elements below (earth, air, fire , water) to the empyrean , the zone beyond fire, outside the orbits of the five planets around the earth. This was the hidden metaphysical postulate, which they never questioned. (All summaries of obsolete world views make them look ridiculous; they were not, they were merely in error).

If all things naturally wanted to burn up, then something must prevent combustion, and this substance was called “phlogiston”. From premise to assumed force. No one questioned the premise for more than a thousand years.

So when Priestly and Lavoisier said that combustion was a process of  oxygenation, and proved it by showing that certain things gained weight when burned, phlogiston lost credibility to a newer, chemical idea of burning.

Note that phlogiston is an idea predicated on a larger world view, and is  introduced to explain the operations of that world view. That things do not normally burn is something that needs explanation in the Greek world view.

Correspondingly, in the modern world view in North America and Europe, the fact that needs explaining – I propose for your consideration –  is “why are we so rich?” and the answer we get out of post-Christian secularized guilt is: “We must have done something wrong.”

The assumption of a secularized guilt is the underlying assumption. Heart attacks are  punishment for overindulgence in highly nutritious food; global warming is punishment for our thoughtless depredations upon Gaia. A future perspective may laugh at the modern human propensity to consider prosperity and health as occasions for guilt, just as we denigrate the Greeks for assuming all things want to burn their way to the empyrean sphere of a geocentric universe.

I tell you folks, the longer I live, the more truth I see in Chesterton’s remark – attributed to him – that when people cease to believe in God, the more likely they are to believe any nonsense that comes their way. Save your beliefs for absurdities like the Christian religion, and keep your mind clear to detect the bullshit constantly propagated in the material world.  It will not lack for targets, I assure you.

 

 

 

Al-Ghazali and the Closing of the Muslim Mind

I have been telling you people about this malign influence over the Muslim mind, the philosopher Al-Ghazali, for some time. Robert Reilly wrote a book about him in “The Closing of the Muslim Mind“, which you should read if you wish to understand why, for many muslims, everything in the world is “in’shallah” – as God wills- when the subject under discussion is as trivial as why the car tire has a flat.

In a world without natural causes, everything that happens happens directly from God’s will. Imagine a world without natural causes. Everything must be a human conspiracy, and act of a djinn, or an act of God. Imagine what happens to science and philosophy when there are no natural causes. They crash. They become quasi-heretical activities, when they are not fully heretical.

In this week’s New Yorker, there is a short story by Salman Rushdie about the f=great Islamic follower of Aristotle, Ibn-Rushd, and this is what he has to say about al-Ghazali:

There was a deep, sad wound in him, because he was a defeated man, had lost the great battle of his life to a dead Persian, Ghazali of Tus, an adversary who had been dead for eighty-five years. A hundred years earlier, Ghazali had written a book called “The Incoherence of the Philosophers,” in which he attacked Greeks like Aristotle, the Neoplatonists, and their allies, Ibn Rushd’s great precursors Ibn Sina and al-Farabi. Ghazali had suffered a crisis of belief at one point, but had recovered with such conviction that he became the greatest scourge of philosophy in the history of the world. Philosophy, he jeered, was incapable of proving the existence of God, or even of proving the impossibility of there being two gods. Philosophy believed in the inevitability of causes and effects, which was an insult to the power of God, who could easily intervene to make causes ineffectual and alter effects if He so chose.

The crude popular level of interpretation of al-Ghazali that has reached the islamic street is that God renders all causes not originating in Himself utterly null. Everything proceeds from God’s will. Hence why bother with science?

 

“What happens,” Ibn Rushd asked Dunia when the night wrapped them in silence and they could speak of forbidden things, “if a lighted stick is brought into contact with a ball of cotton?”

“The cotton catches fire, of course,” she answered.

“And why does it catch fire?”

“Because that is the way of it,” she said. “The fire licks the cotton and the cotton becomes part of the fire. It’s how things are.”

“The law of nature,” he said. “Causes have their effects.” And her head nodded beneath his caressing hand.

“He disagreed,” Ibn Rushd said, and she knew that he meant the enemy, Ghazali. “He said that the cotton caught fire because God made it do so, because in God’s universe the only law is what God wills.”

“So if God had wanted the cotton to put out the fire, if He had wanted the fire to become part of the cotton, He could have done that?”

“Yes,” Ibn Rushd said. “According to Ghazali’s book, God could do that.”

She thought for a moment. “That’s stupid,” she said, finally. Even in the dark she could sense the resigned smile, the smile with cynicism in it as well as pain, spreading crookedly across his bearded face.

“He would say that this was the true faith,” he answered her, “and that to disagree with it would be . . . incoherent.”

“So anything can happen if God decides it’s O.K.,” she said. “A man’s feet might no longer touch the ground, for example. He could start walking on air.”

“A miracle,” Ibn Rushd said, “is just God changing the rules by which He chooses to play, and if we don’t comprehend it, it is because God is ultimately ineffable, which is to say, beyond our comprehension.”

The point is, the differences between Islam, on the one hand, and Christianity on the other, including secular societies proceeding from Christian belief, is that the universe is intelligible. It can be figured out. This is why science as we understand the term emerged in Christian lands and not anywhere else (despite what they tell you in university). Neither India nor China, for different reasons, developed science in the sense in which the practice originated in the christian west. But in Islam, the development of philosophy and science was cut short by the fanatics and by the baneful influence of the philosopher who renounced philosophy, Al-Ghazali.

 

Amsterdam

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Amsterdam is one of those places that challenge every libertarian’s ideas about how things should run. It is intensely left-wing in many respects: its citizens evince a strong social cohesion predicated on non-market values, the city enforces minute regulation of architecture, zoning and social behaviour, while a high level of government spending maintains social and municipal services. Yet Amsterdam also manages to show how capitalist it is in every store-front. In some ways, I thought, this place is a Potemkin village, and then thought “No” it is a Disney-like theme park maintained by millions of tourists and the willing cooperation of its citizens.

It seems to gather every hipster in Holland into one place: there are tiny stores selling electrical fixtures of the 1950s, micro-art galleries, baroque music concerts, weird antique stores of every description, ecological butcheries, and apartments which, when revealed by walking by, are contemporary art-galleries with dining room tables. Indeed, I was informed that the police check out every potential inner-city resident of Amsterdam; that to live there requires a permit. And the permit is issued if you are Dutch enough, which is to say,  willing to abide by the rules of the place, as the police may explain to you.

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Make no mistake. This place has rules, visible and invisible. Once, more than a decade ago, I was with a bunch of guys at a restaurant on one of the outer ring of canals. It was October, dark and cold. We headed out the door for a doobie, because it was a non-smoking bar. Eventually the young lady of the place came out and politely informed us that we could not smoke a joint in front of the place, because that might imply the restaurant tolerated dope smoking , but that we could smoke dope at the end of the block, at a construction site a few yards away. A Dutch compromise of behavioural zoning worked out precisely to the meter.

A place as well run as Amsterdam must run on behavioural zoning. Stuff allowed in the red-light district cannot be tolerated a block away from it. By the way, if you do not wish to find the red-light district, you can avoid it for your first seven trips  to the place, as I did. Nothing to see: move on.

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Indeed the charms and delights of Amsterdam are found in the walking around, in the architecture so carefully maintained, in the thousands of great bars and restaurants, in the amiable way the Dutch manage to live in the crowded spaces, in their friendly inhabitation of the place, in their tolerance of the tourists in their midst.

The annoyances of Amsterdam for the North American conservative are the arrogant sit-up cyclists in their damned cycling lanes whizzing by, who have rights of way against pedestrians and motor-cars;but more importantly,  in the idea that minute planning and regulation, formal and informal, could actually work, that a great capital of 17th century capitalism could actually be preserved more or less intact for centuries without  redevelopment, high rises, and modern architecture, but at the price of this regulation, that a highly capitalist people – including the hipster artists – might choose to live in a highly regulated way.

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Does this not send Ayn Rand spinning in her grave? I hope so. Amsterdam epitomizes every thing that Jane Jacobs had to say about cities, communities, and markets: that highly creative and capitalist places are one and the same, and that markets are embedded in, and contained by, societies, and that the rules of markets co-exist within non-market institutions and rules. Do yourself a favour. Read Jane Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival”, which is scarcely a hundred pages long, and see if your views of markets and society are not deepened.

Or join me for another ramble through Amsterdam, as we discourse about markets, societies, religious freedom, and how to hold them all together in some harmony. The walk will do us good.

 

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David Warren flogs me for being a simpleton

I published a post the other day on Michael Coren’s retreat from Catholic orthodoxy, which he said was instigated by the Roman Church’s attitudes towards homosexuality. I concluded that we are in the presence of a vast shift of opinion on the subject,comparable to the changes in opinion that led tot he abolition of slavery and the reduction of cruelty towards animals.

As I wandered through David Warren’s always enlightening blog, I came across this:

Perhaps the most irritating argument for “gay” is “changing public attitudes.” It is the chief argument used from liberal pulpits, in both church and media. It comes down to this: Once upon a time, people took slavery for granted, or cruelty to animals, or many other wicked things. We would justify them by the Bible, in the old days. But today we know better!

This is pure charlatanry, though to be fair, the people who make this argument sometimes believe it. And when they do, they may be extenuated insofar as they are invincibly ignorant — of history.

Opposition to, and voluntary rejection of, the ancient pagan institution of slavery, came in with Christianity itself.

To the latter I say, “Perfectly true”. The elaboration of Christian ideas has led to the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, the change in attitude towards cruelty to children, cruelty to animals, and, I would argue to increasing sensitivity to the infliction or occurrence of suffering everywhere.

My point is quite limited. It is my belief that the massive change in attitudes towards sexuality, hetero, homo and every point in between,is the result of increasing sensitivity to the infliction of social pain and ostracism on outliers. While the birth control pill had a dramatic and immediate effect on social mores, and should not be discounted, the change in attitude toward homosexuality is driven by some portion of Christian-influenced sentiment to realize more fully the command of universal love that Jesus taught.

David Warren may disagree,  with his usual erudition. His blog is admirable, informed, and even if wrong at some points, the man ain’t for turning. My favourite reactionary.

Catholic apologist goes Anglican

Running a blog provides much pleasure, and not a little duty to feed the beast. Amidst the insanity of the world in general one does not lack for topics. I have been busy of late earning a living, for which I apologize. Islam, climate, Obama: these dirigibles of folly grow tiresome. So with some trepidation I chose last night that it was time to say a word about the conversion of a polemical Catholic to Anglicanism.

I am speaking of the noted Canadian Roman Catholic apologist Michael Coren, who has left for the sunnier shores of the Anglican Church.

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Both churches are liturgical. Both place the eucharist – the communal eating of the bread as flesh and wine as blood of Christ – at the centre of their services. One says the bread and wine are the real presence of Christ, the other says that they are “the memorial which He hath commanded”. The doctrinal niceties of difference may be more important than I weigh them. Yet for me the principal difference is that the Anglican clergy are not a caste of people set aside by magical powers from the laity.

By “magical powers” I mean just that.

As a Catholic friend of mine once observed, “80% of Catholic theology seems to concern the priestly role. What about the saintliness of Joe Average?” I digress.

I am not holding out Michael Coren as a deep thinker. He does not hold himself out as the avatar of Thomas Aquinas. But he was a committed and well-reasoned Catholic, and proudly wore the team jacket. So it was interesting that the main reason he cites, as a heterosexual and happily married man (it seems), was that Catholic teaching about homosexual relations was wrong.

No thinking Christian can be easy with the tide of relentless attitudinal change we are required to undergo in modern society. Some few of the Catholic right oppose all change on sexual matters, and are satisfied with what they hold to be eternal truths. As David Warren wrote on the subject of Michael Coren:

To some, this stasis — this insistence on a moral and spiritual order that cannot be altered by men, nor by a God who is self-consistent — makes the Catholic Church a dead end. To others, it is actually liberating, to stand for the right, regardless of the numbers; regardless, finally, even of the cost.

 

I think I am being fair when I assert that all sexual thinking, which is considered lust, is especially problematic to Christian doctrine. Hetero, homo, adultero, thinking of your wife in lewd ways: it is all suspect, some especially so.

Yet for all that the Christian Church seems to hold sexuality suspect – as a drive that more often than not takes us away from God – society is undergoing one of those huge transformations of sentiment, whereby feelings of disgust and guilt for sexuality are being abandoned. It is akin to what happened to attitudes towards slavery or cruelty to animals. It is as if the sentiment was discovered, and held up to inspection, and found wanting. Why do we hold these lusts to be disgusting? Why do we shame people for practicing them?

I do not think most people thought much about slavery, or cruelty to animals, until there was a slow trickle downward of changed attitudes at the top. Blame it on Quakers, who led the fight against both. I also think that the late 19th century saw an intensification of anti-sexual feelings that had not existed in Christian society before that time, and it lasted at least as the generation that fought in World War 2.

Society has softened its sentiments towards sexuality of all kinds in the last sixty years. In my days in university women students were still housed and chaperoned in special dormitories, which practice ended in my time. Women’s sexual activity was legitimated as a reasonable and shameless course of action within a very short time after the Pill.

Indeed, the birth control pill could be living proof of a science-fictional universe, in which sexual mores worked out over thousands of years are abandoned in the space of a few years as the human drive to fuck is made safe from reproduction. I am not saying this is good – I am enough of a conservative to worry abstractly about such things – but I am asserting that it has happened, and cannot be reversed by anything short of a titanic change of sentiment and belief, of which I see no sign.

We are still working out the sexual rules between men and women in consequence of sharing work-spaces all day long. Why should the adaptation to homosexual sex be faster, smoother, or better understood?
In the end we might still agree that sexual relations outside marriage are “objectively disordered”, as the Roman Church likes to say, but our attitudes will not carry with them much condemnation. That seems to have happened already.

Bob Hope, the famous comedian, stated once in the sixties: “They have just legalized homosexuality in California. I am leaving for Nevada before they make it compulsory”.

I am as confused as anyone about this gay thing: I do not want Christian bakers to be compelled to bake cakes for lesbian weddings, so call me a reactionary; I do not want gay people to undergo any more legal disabilities, so call me liberal. But I do not want my sentiments – particularly my sexual tastes or lack thereof – to be made the object of state persecution for being insufficiently enlightened, progressive, or, for that matter, Christian.

So welcome to the club, Mr.Coren. We are just going to have to muddle through.

What I have always felt Gaianism was, it is: degenerate Calvinism

Jonathan Franzen on the subject of the ecology and global warming confirms my view that the religion of Gaianism is a degenerate Christianity. Calvinist Christianity, to be more precise.

 

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Franzen writes:

Maybe it’s because I was raised as a Protestant and became an environmentalist, but I’ve long been struck by the spiritual kinship of environmentalism and New England Puritanism. Both belief systems are haunted by the feeling that simply to be human is to be guilty. In the case of environmentalism, the feeling is grounded in scientific fact. Whether it’s prehistoric North Americans hunting the mastodon to extinction, Maori wiping out the megafauna of New Zealand, or modern civilization deforesting the planet and emptying the oceans, human beings are universal killers of the natural world. And now climate change has given us an eschatology for reckoning with our guilt: coming soon, some hellishly overheated tomorrow, is Judgment Day. Unless we repent and mend our ways, we’ll all be sinners in the hands of an angry Earth.

I’m still susceptible to this sort of puritanism. Rarely do I board an airplane or drive to the grocery store without considering my carbon footprint and feeling guilty about it. But when I started watching birds, and worrying about their welfare, I became attracted to a countervailing strain of Christianity, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s example of loving what’s concrete and vulnerable and right in front of us. I gave my support to the focussed work of the American Bird Conservancy and local Audubon societies. Even the most ominously degraded landscape could make me happy if it had birds in it.

And so I came to feel miserably conflicted about climate change. I accepted its supremacy as the environmental issue of our time, but I felt bullied by its dominance. Not only did it make every grocery-store run a guilt trip; it made me feel selfish for caring more about birds in the present than about people in the future. What were the eagles and the condors killed by wind turbines compared with the impact of rising sea levels on poor nations? What were the endemic cloud-forest birds of the Andes compared with the atmospheric benefits of Andean hydroelectric projects?….

But climate change is seductive to organizations that want to be taken seriously. Besides being a ready-made meme, it’s usefully imponderable: while peer-reviewed scientific estimates put the annual American death toll of birds from collisions and from outdoor cats at more than three billion, no individual bird death can be definitively attributed to climate change (since local and short-term weather patterns have nonlinear causes). Although you could demonstrably save the lives of the birds now colliding with your windows or being killed by your cats, reducing your carbon footprint even to zero saves nothing. Declaring climate change bad for birds is therefore the opposite of controversial. To demand a ban on lead ammunition (lead poisoning is the foremost cause of California condor deaths) would alienate hunters. To take an aggressive stand against the overharvesting of horseshoe crabs (the real reason that the red knot, a shorebird, had to be put on the list of threatened U.S. species this winter) might embarrass the Obama Administration, whose director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, in announcing the listing, laid the blame for the red knot’s decline primarily on “climate change,” a politically more palatable culprit. Climate change is everyone’s fault—in other words, no one’s. We can all feel good about deploring it.

A little tragicomedy of climate activism is its shifting of goalposts. Ten years ago, we were told that we had ten years to take the kind of drastic actions needed to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius in this century. Today we hear, from some of the very same activists, that we still have ten years. In reality, our actions now would need to be even more drastic than they would have ten years ago, because further gigatons of carbon have accumulated in the atmosphere. At the rate we’re going, we’ll use up our entire emissions allowance for the century before we’re even halfway through it. Meanwhile, the actions that many governments now propose are less drastic than what they proposed ten years ago.

The article is important. It is the completest explanation and description of the mentality behind global warming catastrophism. We are ineluctably doomed. All else is window-dressing.

To answer the question, it’s important to acknowledge that drastic planetary overheating is a done deal. Even in the nations most threatened by flooding or drought, even in the countries most virtuously committed to alternative energy sources, no head of state has ever made a commitment to leaving any carbon in the ground. Without such a commitment, “alternative” merely means “additional”—postponement of human catastrophe, not prevention. The Earth as we now know it resembles a patient whose terminal cancer we can choose to treat either with disfiguring aggression or with palliation and sympathy. We can dam every river and blight every landscape with biofuel agriculture, solar farms, and wind turbines, to buy some extra years of moderated warming. Or we can settle for a shorter life of higher quality, protecting the areas where wild animals and plants are hanging on, at the cost of slightly hastening the human catastrophe. One advantage of the latter approach is that, if a miracle cure like fusion energy should come along, there might still be some intact ecosystems for it to save….

Climate change shares many attributes of the economic system that’s accelerating it. Like capitalism, it is transnational, unpredictably disruptive, self-compounding, and inescapable. It defies individual resistance, creates big winners and big losers, and tends toward global monoculture—the extinction of difference at the species level, a monoculture of agenda at the institutional level. It also meshes nicely with the tech industry, by fostering the idea that only tech, whether through the efficiencies of Uber or some masterstroke of geoengineering, can solve the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions. As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as “Markets are efficient.” The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re fucked.

I am reminded of John Calvin’s doctrines in all of this eco-bleating.

They are as follows:

(1) Total Depravity, more honestly called Total Inability: We are utterly unable to save ourselves. Neither turning to God nor to Gaia is sufficient. We burn fossil fuels despite ourselves.

(2) Unconditional Election.

Unconditional election is a doctrine within the reformed theology framework that in eternity past, before God created the world, he predestinated some people for salvation, the elect, and the others he left to continue in their sins and receive the just punishment, eternal damnation, for their transgressions of God’s law as outlined in the old and new Testaments of the Bible. God made these choices according to his own purposes apart from any conditions or qualities related to those persons.[1]

God has selected the ecologically aware, and though they may consider themselves unworthy, yet they are of the elect, and the fossil fuel consumers and the climate change deniers are of the damned.

(3) Limited Atonement.

Limited atonement,” also called “particular redemption” or “definite atonement”, asserts that Jesus’s substitutionary atonement was definite and certain in its purpose and in what it accomplished. This implies that only the sins of the elect were atoned for by Jesus’s death. Calvinists do not believe, however, that the atonement is limited in its value or power, but rather that the atonement is limited in the sense that it is intended for some and not all.

 

In Gaian terms, only the elect are saved, but they are unclear on the exact nature of the atonement which is called for, and there is no Christ who has made this atonement on anyone’s behalf. Plastic bags or paper ones, the fate of the earth depends on it, but we cannot be sure which one it is this week.

 

(4) “Irresistible grace,” also called “efficacious grace”, asserts that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (that is, the elect) and overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith. This means that when God sovereignly purposes to save someone, that individual certainly will be saved.

As the elect of the ecological faith in the redemptive power of Gaia, they may yet err, even as they are mistaken about some particular of Gaia’s divine plan, but no error, however large, will prevent them from being among the Elect. So they could be wholly and massively wrong, even wrong about something as large as climate change, yet they will be saved.

 

(5)”Perseverance of the saints” (or perseverance of God with the saints) (the word “saints” is used to refer to all who are set apart by God, and not of those who are exceptionally holy, canonized, or in heaven) asserts that since God is sovereign and his will cannot be frustrated by humans or anything else, those whom God has called into communion with himself will continue in faith until the end. Those who apparently fall away either never had true faith to begin with (1 John 2:19), or, if they are saved but not presently walking in the Spirit, they will be divinely chastened (Hebrews 12:5–11) and will repent (1 John 3:6–9).[83]

 

More of the same. The elect of Gaia can do nothing to prevent their salvation, and if they are not part of the Elect, nothing can save them anyway.

Gaianism is not a new heresy, it is an old one. But inasmuch as it borrows the Calvinist ideology of the Elect, it is a heresy.

A more thoroughly Christian and biblical attack on Calvinism is found here, but as Calvinism is really a background factor in my attack on Gaianism, it is beside my point.