Thursday, September 10, 2015

Is atheist jerk Krauss worse than religious fanatics?

I don't believe that prayers work; that Jesus' mother was a virgin during His birth; He was walking on water; the world was created in 7 days 6,000 years ago, and so on.

It seems clear to me that science has made many insights that would have been considered wrong or immoral or blasphemous by our Christian ancestors – but science is right on these points, anyway. As an undergrad, I was squarely on the atheist side of many heated discussions and I still think that many of the religious prejudices are as silly as the paranormal ones. Yes, I have noticed that religion is a significantly holier cow in the U.S. than it is in Czechia. :-)

But when I see a militant atheist such as Lawrence Krauss, it is strikingly obvious to me that he is not speaking on my behalf. Two days ago, he wrote an essay for the Newyorker under the title
All scientists should be militant atheists.
He asks why such a number of people including his colleagues spit on him on the street, ask him why he has to attack important values without good reasons, and why he is such an obnoxious aßhole in general. When his appearance makes people want to vomit, couldn't he at least behave more nicely towards others, everyone asks? Krauss' answer is unequivocal. Not only it's right for him to be an aggressive left-wing aßhole. All scientists are obliged to be just like himself.

People often ask whether the right scientific attitude towards religion is atheism or agnosticism. I have mixed feelings about this question. Science is surely not agnostic about all questions that used to be considered a domain of religion; science just doesn't care about some other human activities' domains. On the other hand, it's very clear to me that Krauss' atheism is not a legitimate scientific attitude to these matters.

My main problem with this individual is that while he correctly says that the religious freedom means to treat holders of all beliefs and disbeliefs on equal footing, his actual acts and policy recommendation make it very clear that he wants to treat the infidels like himself – and what he actually means are not infidels but simply annoying leftists – as superior beings. This implication is self-evident in every single example he offers and he sometimes makes this point explicitly, too.

So let's look at his story and examples in detail. At the beginning, he doesn't like that he's being criticized for ridiculing religious dogmas. Well, there exists an alternative attitude favored by most of his colleagues. Just ignore the people with such dogmas. Now, I actually favor Krauss' attitude in general. Influential dogmas should be confronted, not ignored.

A big problem is in Krauss' skewed selection of the dogmas he mocks. He primarily mocks the Christian values. But he rarely mocks the beliefs of other religions and he never mocks wrong beliefs associated with atheism or institutionalized forms of irreligion.

A key point is that science is independent of metaphysical belief systems. It may sometimes vindicate each of them but it may refute each of them, too. This holds both for metaphysical belief systems that consider themselves religious; as well as those that consider themselves irreligious. And an agreement between science and a metaphysical belief system in the past doesn't guarantee that this agreement will hold for the future discoveries, too.

One month ago, I argued that Christians may be better in quantum mechanics than the atheists. This observation is just one example of a general fact – namely that staunch materialists, whatever it exactly means, may find and often do find some scientific results inconvenient.

Quantum mechanics ended classical physics – i.e. the picture of the Universe as an entity described by objective numbers that can in principle be measured arbitrarily accurately while the measurements themselves don't necessarily change anything about the reality out there. Instead, in quantum mechanics, the observables only have well-defined values to the extent to which they were measured and the outcome could have been perceived by an observer. Such a measurement always changes the reality. Mutually non-commuting observables can't ever be assumed to have well-defined values simultaneously, and so on. There's some sense in which quantum mechanics proved that the world was more "idealist" and less "materialist" than what was believed by scientists up to the 19th century. To say the least, it has debunked a very particular belief of the scientists that the ultimate philosophical framework for all of science – the framework we know as classical physics – was here with us to stay. Well, the transition towards "idealism" is often exaggerated and misinterpreted in the opposite direction, too.

There are other examples like that. Numerous Marxists have hated the idea of the Big Bang because the Big Bang resembles the act of creation by the Creator and that makes the Marxists feel as inconvenient as the fact that the most important person who has contributed to the rise of the Big Bang paradigm was Georges Edouard Lemaître, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest.

But the ideologically caused stupidities of the left-wing atheists that we encounter most frequently are related to politics in one way or another. These people love to deny some elementary and most obvious points such as the point that the percentage of very good mathematicians or physicists in various groups of people depends on the sex or nationality of the group, and so on. These facts are so self-evident that they're perfectly understood by little kids as long as the kids aren't far left ideologues. But for some reasons, the left-wing ideologues "can't see them" (the group differences).

I want to focus on Krauss' own examples, however. His first example is Kim Davis, a clerk who refused to do some paperwork for a gay couple that claimed to have married according to some weird new U.S. law. She was arrested for contempt of court. Rand Paul defended her, mentioning her religious freedom. And Krauss says that religious freedom can't be a justification to break the law.

Or can it? It depends on what one means by "justification". If a law is really bad, this fact is a pretty good justification for breaking it. For example, the laws designed in Germany of the 1930s to harass the German Jews were bad laws and there existed pretty good justifications for violating the law.

As you could have noticed, there are often many controversial laws that are considered OK by a group of people and unacceptable by another group of people, often a comparably large group. What happens in such situations? It's simple. If the law is taken seriously and the law enforcement officials have the power and desire to enforce the law, they will. So the clerk was arrested for a while, after all. I think that she must have known that she was running that kind of risk.

However, if that risk is an acceptable one for her or if she's ready to check a prison for some days, she may want to express this courage, anyway. Her religious freedom wasn't enough to stop the cops from arresting her. However, it was perfectly enough for her to win the endorsement of a U.S. presidential candidate – as well as your humble correspondent. By endorsing her, I am also taking some risk. But I am willing to do so because her case is morally justified from my viewpoint.

Krauss says that no belief should be "sacred" – it's the main basis of science, he argues – but when it comes to an utterly ludicrous belief that two gays can enter marriage that is as perfect as the marriage of a heterosexual couple, he clearly thinks that such a belief should be sacred. The reason is simple. He agrees with this ludicrous homosexualist agenda – just like he agrees with every other perverse movement in the contemporary world as long as its political flavor is left-wing.

Lawrence Krauss correctly states that the modern society wants to allow the people to believe or disbelieve all ideas, but regardless of the ideas, it wants to punish harmful actions, and protect harmless actions. And he says that this boundary between ideas and actions recently became murky.

However, the truth is that the boundary has always been and will always be fuzzy. After all, speech is an action, too. The words may sometimes genuinely hurt. And judges may guarantee execution of the suspects by saying or writing a few words or by a signature. Kim Davis has only said that two gays can't marry – and she refused to write a document that would claim something else. Because the gay couple's marriage document is only an opinion that (or whose non-existence) doesn't cause any new harm to them, one may conclude that Kim Davis has been punished for nothing else than the expression of her opinion.

When I look at it from a Czech viewpoint, I must emphasize that this whole linking of the gay marriage issue with religion is largely spurious. Almost no one is a believer in Czechia but the institutionalized full-fledged gay marriage would still be very controversial – for reasons that are not religious. Whether one is religious or not, the family has been generally recognized as a basic unit guaranteeing the continuation of life and that's what the gay couples simply don't offer.

Whether we call these controversies "religious" or not, they are primarily political ones and democratic societies have well-defined mechanisms to decide about similar controversial issues. People vote in elections (whether a voter is a cosmologist pretending to be a good one doesn't matter), lawmakers decide about laws, and the law enforcement authorities (sometimes) enforce those laws. In many cases, it may mean to pay a small fine or spend a few days in a prison and it's the end of the story. In such situations, it's still totally possible for others to publicly sympathize with the person who was arrested.

What matters is that in a free society, a controversial question simply won't cease to be controversial. And the idea that gay couples are capable of creating full-fledged marriage is surely one of these controversial ideas. Kim Davis' decision not to issue the paperwork for the gay couple was found bad enough to place her in the prison for a short period of time. But Rand Paul's support for Kim Davis is obviously "so diluted" – and so clearly an expression of his beliefs and nothing else – that he won't be punished for that. And this is the fact that leftists like Krauss are actually uncomfortable about.

But even though they don't like it, to claim that gay marriage is ludicrous and that Kim Davis is a courageous, principled woman surely is a part of the freedom of speech. No anti-religious tirade by Krauss can change anything about the basic issue here: the controversy simply won't go away anytime soon because gay marriage isn't "sacred" to hundreds of millions of Americans, including tons of scientists. What Krauss wants is exactly what he claims to universally avoid: he demands that certain principles of the left-wing ideology become "sacred".

In a paragraph, he complains that scientists don't frequently criticize certain religious claims even though they're not afraid of mocking anti-vaccination activists and astrology. "It's a strange inconsistency," he writes. But he doesn't want to see the inconsistency when scientists criticize anti-vaccination activists but they don't mock feminists and similar anti-science groups who believe that one's sex has no influence on his or her thinking and mathematics, among other things such as anti-GMO activists, anti-nuclear-energy activists, global warming alarmists, and all other environmentalist crackpots.

He mentions Planned Parenthood, especially because it should provide "tissues" from abortions to the medical researchers. Krauss says that those who don't want to allow this usage of the issues are transforming their religious sensitivities to an actual harm.

However, whether it's right or wrong to use the fetus in this way is a purely moral question (a very controversial one: TV Nova Cinema aired Extreme Measures last night again, and be sure that Gene Hackman is the villain even though his thinking is analogous to Krauss') and one simply cannot deduce the answer to this question from science by a scientifically and logically sound methodology. Krauss clearly defends one answer to a political question and he abuses his (spurious) authority in cosmology to inluence a question that has nothing to do with cosmology. To promote his political views, he uses a tendentious jargon – e.g. the word "tissue" for the aborted baby.

We don't automatically recycle the tissues from the normal (adult and children) deceased people, either, perhaps for some irrational or quasi-religious reasons. These reasons exist and may be a part of what makes us human, or feeling OK about ourselves (and the meaning of our existence), and these reasons shouldn't be pretended to be non-existent. A decent treatment of the aborted fetuses should be an option, too.

This very idea that science supports the pro-abortion camp in the debate is fraudulent. If science actually makes some point about the "value of the baby" obvious, it's the point that nothing dramatic changes at the moment of the birth – just like nothing tangible scientifically changes if and when the baby is baptized. The birth is just a journey of the baby from one environment to another environment that is one foot away from the old one. Structurally, nothing changes about the character of the child.

Once the baby is born, to kill it is generally recognized as a murder. But just a month earlier, when the baby is "almost the same object", do you think it's acceptable to argue that science says that "everything is fine when the baby is killed"? Don't you agree that the importance of the birth is an unscientific superstition? When you're strict enough, you may also argue that science suggests that "no murder is a big deal", either, but is it really true? Do we want to deduce this lesson? Don't we want to admit that the correct conclusion is that "science remains silent", instead of producing straight immoral recommendations?

Also, let me offer you an analogous situation involving "tissues". He dehumanizes the not-yet-born babies by talking about them as "tissues". Fine, it's a possible perspective. But there are many other tissues around, too. For example, one may propose a law to cut the penises of all gays because they can't use this tissue in any meaningful way and the tissue may be found useful for transplants for recipients who may use the issue meaningfully.

Will Lawrence Krauss agree with this sensible law? One may justify it completely analogously as he justified the arbitrary usage of the fetal tissues. It's just some tissue, all additional human labels for it are unscientific, and the tissue may be more useful elsewhere. OK, why does he support all the pro-abortion ideas but none of the cut-the-gay-penis ideas? It's pure politics. There is clearly nothing defensible by science – with no references to moral traditions or politics – and all his claims that one may link the attitudes to the scientific and political questions are completely and fundamentally wrong.
I see a direct link, in short, between the ethics that guide science and those that guide civic life. Cosmology, my specialty, may appear to be far removed from Kim Davis’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, but in fact the same values apply in both realms.
This is just a complete absurdity. There exists no argument based on cosmology that would allow one to settle the controversy surrounding Kim Davis in one way or another. Everyone who claims otherwise is a complete crackpot incapable of distinguishing controllable and rational scientific thinking on one side from the defense of arbitrary ideological prejudices on the other side. Lawrence Krauss is no exception; he is a crackpot, too.

Why is someone like Lawrence Krauss willing to write something so utterly insane, such as the claim that there exists a link between the insights of cosmology and the right attitude to Kim Davis' actions? Is it because he can't see that there exists no scientific derivation of the "right attitude to Kim Davis"? I doubt so. The actual reason is that Lawrence Krauss' attitude to cosmology is based on lots of arbitrary unjustified prejudices, too. He lacks the integrity not only as a human being but as a scientist, too.

In the context of recent controversies, this is most clearly seen on Krauss' support of the concept of the multiverse. We don't know whether this concept is relevant for a proper scientific understanding of anything, and if it is, we don't know in what form it is relevant. But folks like Krauss indeed promote this idea for the same reasons why they are against Kim Davis – because they love to promote left-wing political views. There is no valid evidence behind either of their approaches.

What I am primarily concerned about is that just like in the case of the Aryan Physics, Lysenkoism, and other examples of politicized science, a politically organized group – in this case, represented by Krauss – wants to impose the "only possibly allowed political opinions", and perhaps even the "only ideologically allowed scientific opinions" on the whole scientific community. It's very clear that Krauss – and, unfortunately, lots of other bullies all over the Academia – want to make the life hard for those scientists who oppose gay marriage, feminism, and lots of other fashionable perversities whose would-be justifications have nothing to do with the results of the scientific research that researchers should actually be paid for. He wants to impose a totalitarian control over the scientific community – I see no other conceivable interpretation of his claim that "everyone should be like himself" on these political issues.

Krauss ends up with some sentences I could agree with:
Five hundred years of science have liberated humanity from the shackles of enforced ignorance. We should celebrate this openly and enthusiastically, regardless of whom it may offend.

If that is what causes someone to be called a militant atheist, then no scientist should be ashamed of the label.
Right. I am thankful to live outside the shackles of enforced ignorance and celebrate this fact, regardless of whom it may offend. I am grateful for the freedom to point out that aggressive left-wing aßholes such as Lawrence Krauss are piles of dishonest, hypocritical, and overrated tissues that should better be used for something useful, e.g. to save the lives of some children or fetuses.

Update: on 9/11 or so, National Review published A Portrait of a Fanatic where someone who is clearly more educated and intelligent in humanities, law, and social matters responds to Krauss' sophomoric arguments.

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