Turn to Your Left at the End of the Sky

Rationalism in Politics

What has been wanting on the right at the start of this century is a true “conservative disposition” — the disposition to enjoy what is rather than pining for what might be (to paraphrase Himmelfarb), to enjoy the givens and the goods of life without subjecting them to social or political validation.

Rationalism in Politics, despite being clouded by the “fumes of tradition”, is a breath of fresh air.

His [the Rationalist’s] mental attitude is at once sceptical and optimistic: sceptical, because there is no opinion, no habit, no belief, nothing so firmly rooted or so widely held that he hesitates to question it and to judge it by what he calls his ‘reason’; optimistic, because the Rationalist never doubts the power of his ‘reason (when properly applied) to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a reason’ common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration, which is the ground and inspiration of argument: set up on his door is the precept of Parmenides–judge by rational argument. But besides this, which gives the Rationalist a touch of intellectual equalitarianism, he is something also of an individualist, finding it difficult to believe that anyone who can think honestly and clearly will think differently from himself.

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November 23, 2008 Posted by | Books, Economics, Government, Philosophy, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

No one seems to talk about the Iraq war any more. I suppose positions harden over time and discussion becomes increasingly futile. I’ve always thought, though, that most debate in the aftermath draws a comparison between the Iraq of today and the Iraq of 2002. Maybe because it’s difficult to imagine an alternative course of history. 

I read a book this weekend called ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier’ . I highly recommend it although it is a harrowing read and I felt drained by the end. It’s the story of a 12-year old boy who gets swept up in the brutal bush war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.

In one sense, it’s about the debate we never have: the cost of inaction and the other path that history could take.

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Books, International Affairs, Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

Retelling the Story of Science

First Things has a great article on the intersection of science and faith. Definitely a great read.

If you’re interested in the topic, I highly recommend the book: “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle“.

July 16, 2007 Posted by | Books, Christianity, Mathematics, Philosophy, Science, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Genetic Entropy and the Devolution of Humanity

It is rare to read a book that has the potential to change one’s entire worldview. This weekend I read Genetic Entropy & the Mystery of the Genome. The author is John Sanford, a professor of genetics at Cornell University, inventor of the gene gun, and holder of 25 patents. His essential thesis is that a blind evolutionary process could not have produced humans from single cell organisms. He gives a multitude of cogent arguments why this is so.

Moreover, he makes a very compelling case that, in fact, mutation and natural selection are actually degrading the genome to such an extent that humans will eventually go extinct. The simple reason is that each generation introduces at least 100 mutations which are both deleterious (degrade the genome) and near-neutral (unlikely to be removed by natural selection). The cost of natural selection would have to be extraordinarily high to remove such a large number of mutations from the gene pool. In addition, the rare beneficial mutations are also near-neutral and consequently impossible to select for.

A lot of this resonates with my experience with genetic algorithms where the vast majority of the population has to be wiped out at each generation to prevent non-useful mutations from multiplying.

What I find fascinating, though, is that everyone I have spoken to about this book immediately dismisses it because it “sounds like Creationism”. Perhaps secularism really has risen to the level of a religion: steeped in dogma and unwilling to confront facts.

June 12, 2007 Posted by | Books, Christianity, Philosophy, Science, Spirituality | 4 Comments

My God is a Set of Equations

I have long held the theory that every conversation, if pursued long enough, naturally and necessarily ends with a discussion about the existence of God and our purpose on earth. A few years ago a long lunch conversation reached this point, and an engineer concluded with the statement: “My God is a set of equations.” To which I replied, “What do those equations describe?”

These days it is fashionable among the intelligentsia to declare with newly-discovered transcendence that religion is a good enough thing (if done in moderation) and science is self-evidently worthwhile but we should never, ever confuse the two. The intersection of science and faith, rationalism and mystery, is best left to the final pages of an epilogue in a serious book on science, or to footnotes in a book on faith.

And yet equations are merely an abstraction of the physical world and the Christian faith claims to worship a Jesus who walked in history and a God who created the physical. Why then, have the last few decades produced an intellectual movement so devoted to a separation of faith and science?

In 1931 Godel published a paper which challenged the basic assumptions underlying mathematics and became a milestone in the history of logic and mathematics. I believe that the world is still coming to terms with the philosophical implications of Godel’s Theorem of Incompleteness. Others have better summarized his theorem but it proscribes the limits of axiomatic logic and shows that provability is a weaker notion than truth; in short, there is Truth that we can’t logically prove.

Nagel and Newman, in their classic book on the subject, Godel’s Proof, conclude with the comment:

Godel’s proof should not be construed as an invitation to despair or as an excuse for mystery-mongering.

That might be. But it does, I believe, suggest that if God is a set of equations, those equations lie in a realm of mathematics about which we haven’t even begun to dream.

November 18, 2006 Posted by | Books, Christianity, Mathematics, Philosophy, Science, Spirituality | 1 Comment

Unity through the Apostle’s Creed

I stumbled across a post by James over at Rattazzimedia. While I disagree that perfect unity on all issues is possible this side of eternity, the idea of unity in the church is near and dear to me which is why I have long lamented the demise of the Apostle’s Creed as a succint statement that we can all agree on. I am halfway through a profound book by Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline which is essentially an extended rumination on the meaning of the Apostle’s Creed by one of the great theologians of the 20th century.

October 21, 2006 Posted by | Books, Christianity, Spirituality | 3 Comments

Telephone Telepathy

A scientist, Rupert Sheldrake, is claiming that he has proof of telephone telepathy. Maybe I’ve read too many fantasy books lately but the idea of telepathy has always resonated with me.

September 5, 2006 Posted by | Books, Science, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Some Things Never Change

Have almost finished reading The Guns of August. It’s an account of the first month of World War I and ranks as one of the finest works of historical nonfiction. The book opens with the following paragraph:

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the gun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

It’s astonishing to read of the parallels between 1914 and today. The course of history is influenced by frail human intellect as much as ever.

March 6, 2006 Posted by | Books, Politics | Leave a comment