My man, Dan

August 26, 2009

Not-blind watchmaker

The latest pseudo-intellectual sally to save the “God hypothesis” published on the NYTimes OpEd page brought forth some good responses from letter writers.  Among them, was this pithy observation:

…While personal revelation is an excellent way to know whom we love, it is an abysmal way to seek knowledge about the universe. It becomes an excuse to believe what one wishes to believe.

Paul L. LaClair   Kearny, N.J., Aug. 23, 2009

My hat’s off to Dan Dennett for his great response, quoted in full here (my emphasis):

To the Editor:

Robert Wright notes that the speculations he outlines on how a moral sense could evolve are “compatible with the standard scientific theory of human creation.” Indeed, these speculations — actually rigorous abstract arguments — have been developed by evolutionary theorists who, like Mr. Wright, see our moral intuitions as real phenomena in need of an explanation.

But the point of these arguments is to demonstrate that there can be a traversable path, an evolutionary process, from, say, bacteria, to us (with our moral intuitions) that doesn’t at any point require that the evolutionary process itself have a purpose. In other words, their implication is that our moral sense would evolve even if there weren’t a creative intelligence in the background.

So the compatibility that Mr. Wright finds is trivial.

Go ahead and believe in God, if you like, but don’t imagine that you have been given any grounds for such a belief by science.

Daniel Dennett     Medford, Mass., Aug. 23, 2009

Dennett is the author of Consciousness Explained, one of the best books I have ever read on the mind-body problem.  I am tickled to see that the Wiki article cites T. Nagel’s criticisms of the book in its summary – one of my favorite parts of Dan’s book is his dissection of Nagel’s famous article, “What is it Like to Be a Bat?”

Immigration: Invasion by Stealth

October 30, 2007


The body snatchers are coming! Invading secretly, in their pods! Oh, no, it’s not that. It’s the stealth invasion by immigrants from Latin America!

Illegal immigration seems to be a topic that makes people go crazy, some people, anyway. Personally, I don’t understand what they are so upset about. They come, they work like crazy, they pay taxes, they keep our “service economy” running in all sorts of jobs that don’t appeal to native born Americans who seem to think they should be paid more and get better fringe benefits, and they send money home to their families so that they don’t also join their people in El Norte. Clearly, employers want these people – they’re so much easier to exploit; they tend to complain less because they fear being identified and deported. And the population in general wants them, but won’t admit it. But what do they say? Here are a few phrases from letters to the NYTimes today:

Many illegal immigrants are admirable in their drive…but they send vast amounts of money out of the country to their home countries and are often paid under the table.

Legal immigrants never send money to the family back home? And what is this guy complaining about…does he want to raise taxes on the lowest paid of the workers?

…illegal immigration …seriously undermines the rule of law. It is a selfish act that is terribly unfair to millions of other aspiring immigrants who patiently participate in our legal immigration [system]…It creates an underground culture that could,one day convey, shelter, and support a small number of people who wish to destroy our cities…

Okay, here it is. It undermines the law, but who does the undermining? The millions of employers who want them at low cost, or the poor immigrants? Clearly the latter are to blame because they carry with them a foreign disease that could ripen into terrorism. The enemies are among us, and growing, just like those pods. You can’t tell ’em apart. They’re all suspect! And is it really unfair to those immigrants with the time and resources to stick it out through our legal system? After all, what is being taken from them?

And yes, it could, one day, enable terrorists to find their way here and grow, like mold in a dark closet, into something horrible and dangerous.  But so could legal immigration.  Hell, so could natural population growth!  Perhaps we should just close up shop and declare, “No people allowed!”  As someone once said, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  It makes us crazy.

…the illegals we are concerned about have undertaken a weaponless invasion…[threatening] the quality of life that has made this country so attractive to foreigners.

Wow! They planned it, right? We’ll all move north, and just demographically grow into the controlling class and make ourselves all legal! The new language will be Spanish, and everyone will have to convert to Catholicism or leave, just like the old days in Spain, 1492! Just how do these immigrants threaten our way of life, I’d like to know? Don’t they make it possible? Just what does this writer fear they are turning the USA into that will, soon enough, be so repugnant to foreigners? And what will happen then; will legal and illegal immigration stop, nobody will want to come to America anymore?

All this is the advanced economy with one of the lowest population densities around, about 120 people per square mile.