Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Illiberal Conservatism in France: An Interview with "L'Incorrect"

I am some times asked why I identify Darwinian conservatism as a liberal conservatism, or as a fusion of classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.  My explanation is that I want to distinguish liberal conservatism from the illiberal conservatism of authoritarian conservatives like Joseph de Maistre.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when I was interviewed by a journalist with the new French magazine L'Incorrect, which began publishing last fall.  L'Incorrect is a conservative magazine designed to "develop the virtues of the multiple houses of the right" in France, according to its editor Jacques de Guillebon, in his opening editorial statement

Many of the people working with this magazine have some connection with Marion Marechal-Le Pen, who is the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founding leader of the French National Front, a far right party, and the niece of Marine Le Pen, the recent presidential contender of the National Front.  In 2007, at age 22, Marechal-Le Pen became the youngest person ever to be elected to the French Parliament. 

Although last spring she announced her retirement from politics, she continues to be influential as a leader of a new conservative movement in France that seems close to the Trump movement in the United States.  Steve Bannon identified her as a "rising star" in French politics.

Marechal-Le Pen has been arguing for a coalition joining the National Front and some or all of the Republicans.  The Republicans are a center-right or liberal conservative party that was formed in 2015 by renaming the Union for a Popular Movement party, which had been founded in 2002 under the leadership of Jacques Chirac, the former President of France.

This suggests to me that if L'Incorrect is associated with Marechal-Le Pen's position, then the magazine should be identified with a liberal conservatism.  But my interviewer--Benjamin Demeslay--identified the French conservative tradition with the "anti-liberal tropism" of Joseph de Maistre and Charles Maurras.  I responded to this by criticizing the illiberal conservatism of Maistre and suggesting that French conservatives like Marechal-Le Pen are actually far more liberal than they realize, and certainly they don't embrace the absolutist authoritarianism of Maistre that provided the intellectual seeds for fascism.

L'Incorrect has published a short version of my comments.  Here I provide the full text--seven questions (in italics) and my answers:

1. You defend a "Darwinian conservatism" against "metaphysical conservatism". These expressions are enough to surprise the French reader. The French conservative tradition remains strongly impregnated by Catholicism, a certain counter-revolutionary and anti-liberal tropism (from Joseph de Maistre to Charles Maurras), even a mistrust of "the Technique" (the essays of the Christian Jacques Elull or the last Heidegger). English conservatism, heir to Edmund Burke, is now attracting renewed interest, with the translation of the philosopher Roger Scruton. There is nothing comparable to your conservatism in France. How would you define it?

Metaphysical conservatism views human social order as grounded in a transcendent realm of cosmic design.  Evolutionary conservatism is empiricist in viewing human social order as grounded in common human experience as shaped by human nature, human custom, and human judgment.  Both forms of conservative thought can be found in Edmund Burke.  
In the United States, Russell Kirk spoke for metaphysical conservatism when he appealed to the conservative belief in “the state as a divinely ordained moral essence.”  Friedrich Hayek spoke for evolutionary conservatism when he appealed to the classical liberal idea that social order could emerge through the evolution of spontaneous orders in a free society.  My claim is that a Darwinian evolutionary science of human nature and human culture supports Hayek’s side.
          In taking Hayek’s side in this debate, I am defending a liberal conservatism that is a fusion of what Americans identify as classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.  Actually, even Kirk is a liberal conservative insofar as he rejects the illiberal conservatism of Joseph de Maistre.  (A brief statement of my reasoning here is my article on “Darwinian Conservatism Versus Metaphysical Conservatism” in the Fall 2010 issue of The Intercollegiate Review.)
          Although you identify the French conservative tradition with the Catholic “illiberal tropism” of Maistre, I doubt that French conservatives really agree with Maistre’s illiberal conservatism.  Do French conservatives agree with Maistre’s claim that all stable government requires belief in its absolute divine authority as enforced by the execution of heretics who deny religious orthodoxy?  Do French conservatives agree with Maistre’s defense of the violent persecution of heretics in the Spanish Inquisition as necessary to protect Spain from the disorder of Protestantism?  Do French conservatives agree with Maistre’s argument that all social order depends on the terror of punishment by “the executioner”?  I doubt it.
          In fact, Maistre’s theocratic authoritarianism would support radical Islam in its enforcement of Sharia.  But don’t French conservatives—like Marion Marechal-Le Pen-- reject this as contrary to French culture? If so, then they are showing their liberal conservatism in opposition to the illiberal conservatism of radical Islam and Maistre.
          You identify the French conservative tradition with Catholic Christianity, and I know that conservatives like Marechal-Le Pen have stressed the “Christian roots” of French culture.  But isn’t it true, according to some surveys, that most of the French people identify themselves as non-religious or even atheistic?  
By contrast, most Americans identify themselves as deeply religious.  Surely, this arises from the American liberal tradition of religious liberty and religious life in voluntary associations free from governmental coercion; so that a liberal idea has a conservative effect in promoting a religious cultural tradition in civil society without state enforcement.
You mention Roger Scruton as a Burkean conservative now being read in France, Scruton is an example of a metaphysical conservative who thinks a religious attitude is essential for a healthy moral order, and therefore that traditional religious experience needs to be defended against a Darwinian science that claims to explain the place of human beings in the natural world without any reference to a transcendent realm beyond nature.  And yet--like many other metaphysical conservatives--Scruton does not believe in the literal truth of Christianity or any other religion.  He wants to have a sense of the sacred that comes from religious emotions, but without the need to believe any religious doctrines.  
We know that God is dead, Scruton suggests, but we also know that human beings need to satisfy their religious longings for transcendence and redemption through religious art and ritual.  That's the truth that Scruton sees in Richard Wagner's Ring cycle.  To me, this atheistic religiosity is incoherent self-deception.

2. French conservatives are currently facing a "progressive" offensive: same-sex marriage, medically assisted procreation "for all", surrogacy, etc. Conservative resistance largely comes from Catholic circles. You are an advocate of "natural rights". How do you reconcile them with Darwin's legacy? Your project of a "biological ethics of human nature" is audacious.

My project of a “biological ethics of human nature” argues that there are at least twenty natural desires inherent in our evolved human nature, and that, if the good is the desirable, we can judge social orders by how well they allow human beings to satisfy those natural desires.  
So, for example, I think we have evolved natural desires for sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care.  For most human beings, therefore, marriage and parenting are crucial to their human flourishing.  For Thomas Aquinas’s natural law teaching, marriage is natural insofar as it satisfies the natural desires for conjugal boning and parental care.  
Is it possible that same-sex marriage could satisfy these two natural desires?  If so, then Darwinian conservatives would allow same-sex marriage as part of a free society.  There is an empirical question here.  Whether same-sex marriage satisfies or frustrates these natural desires—whether children are harmed by same-sex parenting—will have to be decided by our experience with same-sex marriage.
In any case, I assume that most conservatives today would not favor capital punishment for homosexuals, which was common not so long ago in Europe and North America.  Why the change?  Is it because we have discovered that homosexuality need not be harmful to the social order, and so it need not be punished as a capital crime?  Can we say then that illiberal Islamic conservatives are wrong in persecuting homosexuals?

3. Scientific data are generally absent from the debates in France. While ethnic statistics are "of course" banned in our country, even official immigration statistics are under dispute. The observation is often the same for economic problems. How would you describe the relationship of American intellectuals, and your own relationship, to science?

          To a large degree, the utopian Left is hostile to the science of human nature, because that science seems to put restraints on the malleability of human beings by social engineering.  So, for example, the Left rejects any scientific evidence that there are natural differences on average between men and women, because the Left dreams of achieving an androgynous society.
          Darwinian conservatives respect science as confirming our common experience that there really is a human nature, that that human nature constrains but does not determine human culture, and that human nature and human culture jointly constrain but do not determine our individual identities.
          Darwinian conservatives see this science as supporting the conservative view that the best social order is one of ordered liberty rooted in natural desires, customary traditions, and prudential judgments.
          Darwinian conservatives argue that human freedom is good, because when human beings are free from coercion, they will voluntarily cooperate in the evolution of social orders that are more successful in satisfying the twenty natural human desires than any planned order using coercive power to achieve its goals.  Consequently, social orders with more human freedom will be more adaptive in securing human well-being and happiness than are those social orders with less human freedom.
          These are empirical claims that require empirical confirmation by the scientific measurement of freedom and its consequences.  And, indeed, this can now be done using the annual Human Freedom Index published by the Fraser Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom.  This is a comprehensive index of human freedom that combines economic freedom and personal freedom using 79 distinct indicators for 159 countries for 2015.  
          Here are the top ten countries: Switzerland (1), Hong Kong (2), New Zealand (3), Ireland (4), Australia (5), Finland (6), Norway (7), Denmark (8), Netherlands (9), and United Kingdom (tied at 9th).  The United States is at 17th, and France is at 33rd.  The bottom four are Iran (154), Egypt (155), Venezuela (158), and Syria (159).  This allows for an empirical science in measuring the correlation of human freedom with human happiness and of the lack of human freedom with human misery.

4. In France, the conservatives have for several years defended an idea inherited from the communist Antonio Gramsci: the "metapolitical" or cultural action would precede the political victory. What do you think of this strategy? Do intellectual debates really affect the cultural and political life of your country? Their themes are little known to us.
          In the United States, there are many avenues for promoting the intellectual investigation of the principles of traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism.  The three most important avenues are private educational foundations, think tanks, and higher education.  Educational foundations—for example, Liberty Fund and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute—sponsor hundreds of conferences every year and publishing programs that influence cultural and political life.  Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute promote the discussion of conservative and libertarian ideas.  And despite the pressures of “political correctness,” higher education does allow for some open discussion of these ideas.
          A good illustration of how intellectual and cultural activity in America has promoted Darwinian conservatism is the remarkable success of evolutionary psychology over the past 40 years.  In 1975, the publication of Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology provoked an intense outcry from the Left—insisting that any biological explanation of human behavior was strictly prohibited.  But now evolutionary psychology—as taught by people like Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Steve Pinker, Jonathan Haidt, Matt Ridley, and others—has had immense influence in psychology, anthropology, history, and the social sciences generally.  Now, even some leftists like Peter Singer defend a “Darwinian Left” that accepts limits on leftist social engineering from evolved human nature!
          This has implications for social policy.  For example, it has now become generally accepted that the evolutionary psychologists are right in arguing that evolved natural differences between males and females make young men (on average) more inclined to violence and social disorder than are women.  This confirms the conservative insight that every society has the problem of civilizing young men through good parenting and marriage.  (This and other Darwinian ideas are evident in James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein’s Crime and Human Nature.)

5. There are many transdisciplinary studies in the United States (psychology, biology, sociology and political philosophy). I think of Charles Murray's book Coming Apart, which analyzes the ghettoisation of American society on the basis of cognitive abilities and educational level, and the new "class racism" of some progressives. In France, these themes emerge timidly, but separately. For example, with the works of the geographer Christophe Guilluy on French Fractures; or the recent work of Dr. Laurent Alexandre on The war of intelligences. What do you think of these analyzes, and do you judge them influential?

          One illustration of how interdisciplinary studies might support Darwinian conservatism is the special meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in the Galapagos Islands in June of 2013, for which the theme was “Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty.”  Participants included economists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists, philosophers, physicists, political scientists, and theologians.  I presented a paper on Darwinian conservatism.  The general theme was how evolutionary science might support classical liberal and traditionalist conservative views of liberty and social cooperation.  This shows the interdisciplinary influence of Darwinian evolutionary ideas among classical liberals and conservatives.
          Charles Murray was at this conference, and he indicated that he agreed with everything I had to say.  Smart guy!  In fact, he is, in some ways, the epitome of a Darwinian conservative.  He is a libertarian or classical liberal who is also a Burkean conservative in his respect for the importance of traditional institutions in shaping the moral and intellectual virtues that sustain social order and liberty.  He sees all of this as rooted in the evolved human nature that can be explained by evolutionary science.

6. The question of "political identities" seems to have become obsessive in the United States. We think of the alt-right, or the defenders of positive discrimination, ... Of course, our two countries are profoundly different: France is of universalist and post-colonial culture, but identity and populism becomes more important. Our societies are experiencing major demographic upheavals, which announce political upheavals. What would be the conservative answer to these problems?
          The United States is also “universalist” in being founded on the universal principles affirmed in the Declaration of Independence.  Within that universalist identity, the United States also shows the cultural pluralism of diverse voluntary associations (so admired by Alexis de Tocqueville) and regional diversity across the states in a federal political system. 
          The United States is in general a deeply religious nation, but it has never had an established church at the national level.  The Constitution of 1787 was free of any religious establishment, and it declared “no religious test” for public office.  Some of the states had established churches for a few decades, but by 1830 they were abolished.  Now there is religious diversity across the states.  According to some surveys, Utah and the Southern states show weekly church attendance at 40% to 51% of the population, while the New England states show lower rates of 17% to 20%.
          This is what a Darwinian conservative would expect to happen in a free society: the evolved natural desire for religious understanding will lead to religious belief and practice, although there will be individual variation, and some individuals will live healthy, satisfying lives without religious devotion.
          In such a free society, people find their social identity in their families, their neighborhoods, their friendships, their churches, their clubs, and in many other voluntary associations.  That’s the way our evolved nature as social animals is must fully expressed.
          The alt-right is mistaken in suggesting that American culture depends on white racial or ethnic identity.  Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution says anything about racial or ethnic identity.  Of course, the United States has suffered from racial and ethnic conflicts, but despite that, American society has become remarkably peaceful in its multiracial and multiethnic pluralism.  I say that as someone who grew up in the American South, saw the violence of racial segregation, and then saw the amazing cultural transformation as the South became racially integrated.  Human beings have evolved propensities to tribalism, but they also have evolved propensities to cooperate for mutual benefit.

7. You take a critical look at Donald Trump in your articles. In France, his presidency continues to feed some hopes in conservative circles. We talk about its good economic results, even its action against "cultural Marxism". Others see the Trump Presidency as the "swan song" of genuine conservatism. What is your point of view?

           Look, let’s agree on the obvious truth before us—Donald Trump is a vulgar man, who has no moral or intellectual virtues.  Conservatives should agree that statesmanship requires good character, and therefore Trump’s bad character makes it impossible for him to lead in the enforcement of any good policies.  He is a silly narcissist who becomes resentful when he suspects people don’t love him as much as he loves himself.  He is a childish man who cannot control his childish impulses.  Consequently, his White House is, and must always be, utterly chaotic.
          Do the French conservatives deny this?  Do they believe that a man without moral or intellectual virtues can be a statesman?

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Birthday of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on February 12th, 1809. 

I have written many posts on the similarities in their thinking.  Links to those posts can be found here.

Friday, February 09, 2018

A Universe From Nothing? Craig, Carroll, and Krauss on the Cosmology of Theism and Naturalism

In the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the entry on "Nothingness" starts by asking, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" and immediately answering, "Well, why not?"

In a previous post, I have suggested that that might well be the best response to this question, because the existence of the universe is a brute fact that cannot and need not be explained, and the idea of absolute "nothing" that comes from the Christian theological idea of creation ex nihilo is not rationally comprehensible since it is beyond our natural experience of the world.

But some people insist that the existence of the universe needs to be explained, and particularly if the universe had a beginning in the Big Bang, then there must be a transcendent cause for the universe coming into being.  And that transcendent cause must be a powerful disembodied mind--God.  In this way, the modern cosmologists who believe that the universe began in the Big Bang might seem to be supporting a crucial premise for the cosmological argument for the existence of God. 

Moreover, many modern cosmologists accept the anthropic principle--that the universe has been fine-tuned to provide the conditions for the emergence of human life--and thus they seem to be endorsing a premise for the teleological argument for the existence of God, as the intelligent designer of a universe that is purposefully designed to be habitable for human beings.

That's the claim of William Lane Craig and other Christian apologists who think modern science does indeed support some of the premises for some of the classic arguments for the existence of God.  As I have indicated in some previous posts (herehere, and here), some modern scientists--Owen Gingerich, for example--agree with Craig about this.  But most do not.  Sean Carroll and Lawrence Krauss are two cosmologists who have debated Craig and argued that modern science supports naturalism rather than theism.  Here are two videos of these debates:

A transcript of the Craig/Carroll debate along with other papers on the debate has been published in God and Cosmology: William Lane Craig and Sean Carroll in Dialogue, edited by Robert Stewart (Fortress Press, 2016).  Carroll has elaborated his arguments in his wonderful book The Big Picture: On the Origin of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself (Dutton, 2016).  Krauss has laid out his reasoning for a purely naturalistic account of origins in A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (Free Press, 2012), with an Afterword by Richard Dawkins.

Here is Craig's syllogism for the Cosmological Argument:

1. If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.

Craig claims that (1)  is "obviously true," because no one believes that things just "pop into existence" without a cause, and if the whole universe came into existence at some point in time, the cause must have been transcendent--namely, a divine First Cause.

The controversial premise, he says, is (2).  Previously, traditional proponents of the Cosmological Argument have made logical arguments for why the universe could not be eternal and so must have an absolute beginning in time.  But now, beginning in the 20th century, we have scientific empirical evidence from astrophysical cosmology supporting the theory of the Big Bang--most importantly, evidence for the expansion of the universe and evidence from the second law of thermodynamics that the universe has moved from an original state of low entropy to high entropy.

Craig says that the scientific support for premise (2) coming from Big Bang cosmology is "religiously neutral," but when the empirical truth of premise (2) is combined with the metaphysical truth of premise (1), the logical conclusion supports the existence of a transcendent cause of the universe that must be God.

There are, however, good reasons to doubt those two premises as scientific statements rather than affirmations of religious faith.

Premise (1) is not "obviously true," because while we all have experience of how natural causes work within the universe to bring things into existence, we do not have experience with how transcendent causes work outside the universe to bring the universe itself into existence. 

Carroll makes this argument, and Craig refuses to answer it.  Craig just repeats how silly it sounds to say that things "just pop into existence" without a cause.  But as Carroll observes, the language of "popping" implies a context within which cause and effect relationships make sense.  So we can sensibly ask why the chicken crossed the road, because we have a contextual understanding of what roads are, what might be on the other side of a road, what might motivate chickens to cross a road, etc.  We have a context here of things interacting within a universe governed by natural laws.

But if we try to ask why the universe exists, we have no context outside the universe that would make it possible for us to seek a causal explanation.  Indeed, to even talk about transcendent causes implies that our natural experience of causality inside the universe has no application here.  Thus, Craig is employing the sophistical technique of equivocation: if it's silly within our natural experience of the universe to say that things can just "pop into existence," then it is also silly standing outside our natural universe to say that our universe could have come into existence without a cause.  This is a fallacious inference, because our ordinary experience of causality within the context of the universe does not necessarily apply outside that context.

As Carroll says, our natural experience of causality is in the context of time, so that things happen now because of things that happened in the past.  But if the beginning of the universe in the Big Bang was the beginning of time, then there is no context of time for that beginning--there is no "before" the beginning.  So while "popping into existence" sounds silly, "there was a first moment of time" does not sound so silly.

Consequently, while the "principle of sufficient reason"--that for everything there must be a causal explanation--might hold true for our ordinary experience of how things work within the universe, this principle does not necessarily apply to what things are like outside the universe, because none of us has ever stood "outside the universe" to see if the principle of sufficient reason holds true there.  Standing "outside the universe"--experiencing the transcendent--is a matter of religious imagination that is beyond our empirical experience of the world and thus beyond empirical science.

Therefore, premise (1) of Craig's syllogism might be a statement of religious faith, but it is not a statement of scientific truth.

The same can be said about premise (2).  As with Craig's premise (1), there is an implied equivocation in his premise (2).  "The universe began to exist."  What exactly is being stated here?  There are two possibilities.  The universe began to exist out of nothing.  Or the universe began to exist out of something. 

Craig's argument requires that he equivocate between these two different statements.  The universe began to exist out of nothing is the Christian theological doctrine of creation ex nihilo.  But, then, this would deny Craig's claim that this premise is "religiously neutral."  In fact, that the universe began to exist out of nothing is not a scientific statement at all, because there is no human observational experience of absolute "nothing" that would make the study of "nothing" part of empirical science. 

By contrast, the claim that the universe began to exist out of something can be a scientific statement, because there is human observational experience of how things can originate out of something.

Both Christian apologists like Craig and atheistic cosmologists like Krauss fail to acknowledge this point.  Both sides refuse to admit that origin from something and creation from nothing are utterly different.

The title for Krauss's book A Universe From Nothing is wrong.  The proper title would be A Universe From Something.  Krauss proposes a model of how the universe could have evolved from a multiverse by the laws of relativistic quantum theories out of the empty space of quantum vacuum states into the universe as we observe it today.  Aha, there you are, he proclaims, a universe from nothing without any need to posit a divine creator!  But notice that there is no absolute "nothing" here.  He assumes at the origin of the universe the reality of the laws of quantum mechanics and of quantum vacuum states.   That's not nothing!  That's something! 

In a way, he even admits this when he writes: "to be fair, to make any scientific progress in calculating possibilities, we generally assume that certain properties, like quantum mechanics, permeate all possibilities.  I have no idea if this notion can be usefully dispensed with, or at least I don't know of any productive work in this regard" (176-77). 

So where are the laws of quantum mechanics supposed to have come from?  He has no idea.  And if our universe came out of the multiverse, where did the multiverse and the laws governing it come from?  He has no idea.  He can explain how the universe might have come from something, but not how it might have come from nothing.

In his lectures, Krauss likes to tell the story of how the first cosmologist to propose a Big Bang theory of the universe was a Jesuit priest--Georges Lemaitre--and how, when Pope Pius XIII in 1951 pointed to Lemaitre's Big Bang theory as scientific evidence for divine creation of the universe from nothing, Lemaitre criticized the Pope for failing to see how this scientific theory had nothing to do with the Christian doctrine of creation. 

But what Krauss doesn't say is that Lemaitre explained that the theory of the Big Bang is not a theory of how the universe could arise "out of nothing," but rather it is a theory of how the universe could arise from what Lemaitre called a "primeval atom," or from a hyper-dense sphere of cold matter, disintegrating through radioactivity into an expanding universe, or from what some people called "the cosmic egg."  Lemaitre thus separated the scientific theory of the universe's origin from something and the religious doctrine of the universe's creation from nothing.  Here Lemaitre was in agreement with St. Thomas Aquinas, who declared that "It is by faith alone do we hold and not by any demonstration that can be proved, that the world did not always exist. . . . that the world began to exist is an object of faith, but not of demonstration or science" (Summa Theologica, I, q. 46, a. 2).

Krauss says nothing about this, because he wants to claim that his scientific theory of origin is actually an explanation of "a universe from nothing," which Lemaitre denied as a scientific claim.  (My understanding of Lemaitre's position depends greatly on John Farrell's book The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaitre, Einstein, and the Birth of Modern Cosmology [2005].  Farrell has kindly confirmed in an email message that my interpretation is correct.)

Oddly, Craig makes exactly the same mistake as Krauss, because Craig repeats the Pope's claim that Big Bang theory confirms the scientific truth of creation from nothing, without answering Lemaitre's objections.

But, then, what about  Craig's Teleological Argument?  Here is how he frames it:

1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.

2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.

3. Therefore, it is due to design.

By "fine-tuning of the universe," Craig is referring to certain fundamental constants and quantities, such as the gravitational constant and the amount of entropy in the early universe, that apparently must be exactly as they are for a universe hospitable to life to emerge.

In his response to Craig, Carroll admits that this teleological argument from fine-tuning is "the best argument that theists have when it comes to cosmology" (47).  Nevertheless, he offers five reasons why theism is not a solution to the purported fine-tuning problem:

1. Fine-tuning for life is dubious at best.

2. God doesn't need to fine-tune anything. He's God.

3. Fine-tunings may be only apparent.

4. The multiverse is an obvious naturalistic explanation for fine-tuning.

5. Theism fails as an explanation for purported cosmological fine-tuning, because theism is so badly defined that it does not make precise falsifiable predictions about how God has fine-tuned the universe.

As I indicated in my post on Owen Gingerich (here), the evidence of cosmological fine-tuning does not clearly show a fine-tuning for human life.  If we look at the entire history of the cosmos, we see that during the first 10 billion years, there was no life, during the first 13 billion years, there was no human-like intelligent life, and in the remote future, as the Sun and the other stars burn out, the universe will become dark, cold, and dead.  So we could conclude that the universe has been fine-tuned for an eternity of mindless death, and so from the point of view of the universe, we are utterly insignificant.

It does not follow from this, however, that if the universe does not care about or for us, our lives have no meaning.  As Carroll argues, and I agree, even if our lives have no cosmic meaning, they still have human meaning for us.  The universe doesn't care.  But we care about ourselves and others.  Showing how this supports a naturalistic account of human morality and politics will be the subject of my next post.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trump's "Defiance Disorder": Howard Kurtz Confirms Michael Wolff's Story

In my previous post on Michael Wolff's book Fire and Fury, I argued that his account of the chaos in the White House shows how Trump's bad character--his lack of any moral or intellectual virtues--has made it impossible for his people in the White House to execute any coherent public policy agenda.

But Trump's defenders have denounced Wolff's book as complete falsehood.  Stephen Miller has said that the book is a "grotesque work of fiction." 

If that is true, then we might expect that Howard Kurtz's just published book--Media Madness: Donald Trump, the Press, and the War Over the Truth--would contradict the story told by Wolff, because Kurtz wants to show that Trump has been unfairly treated by mainline media journalists who want to destroy him.  Remarkably, however, Kurtz's book largely confirms Wolff's story.

According to Wolff, Trump's staff say that working for Trump is like trying to manage an impulsive, temperamental child prone to outbursts of explosive rage and erratic behavior.  That's what I mean by Trump's bad character. 

Kurtz identifies the same problem when he says that Trump's staff label him as showing "defiance disorder" (Kurtz, 42-43, 55, 81, 131, 225-26). Children with "oppositional defiance disorder" refuse to follow any rules of good behavior.  They are angry and resentful of others.  They blame others for their own mistakes.  They frequently lose their temper.  They are spiteful in seeking revenge and easily annoyed.  This supports much of what Wolff claims about Trump's character.

Many of the stories told by Wolff are repeated by Kurtz in almost the same words--for example, the stories surrounding the meeting in Trump Tower with the Russians in June 2016 (Kurtz, 200-201;Wolff, 255), Trump's interview with the New York Times (Kurtz, 208; Wolff, 277-78), and Trump's claim that the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville were "very fine people" (Kurtz, 225-27; Wolff, 294-96).  If Wolff's book were a "grotesque work of fiction," it would be surprising for Kurtz to write almost exactly the same fiction.

Wolff depicts Trump's propensity for lying, and Kurtz also identifies Trump's "falsehoods and exaggerations" (Kurtz, 4-5, 53-54, 202, 207, 218-19, 234, 253).  So even as Kurtz criticizes the mainstream press for unfairly attacking Trump for his frequent lying, Kurtz admits that Trump really is a shameless liar.

Although Kurtz does point to many cases of an unfair media bias against Trump, Kurtz admits that most of the reporting that Trump has dismissed as "fake news" was actually true, and Trump was being deceptive.

For example, Kurtz identifies Trump's accusation that President Obama had wiretapped Trump's campaign as "an explosive charge with absolutely no evidence" (81).  And when Trump said the reports about Don Jr. meeting the Russians in Trump Tower were "fraudulent reporting," Kurtz observes: "This rang a bit hollow, for it was hardly fraudulent to report information confirmed by his son" (202).

Wolff's depiction of chaos in the White House arising from factional infighting with everyone leaking to the press to subvert their opponents is also confirmed by Kurtz, who concludes: "What emerged was a portrait of a dysfunctional operation, which happened to jibe with the media's predominant view that Trump knew next to nothing about running a government" (33).

Kurtz agrees that Trump is a "reality show president" acting in "The Trump Show" (138-40).

Kurtz defends his "neutral approach" to journalism: "I don't like either party. I believe even the best politicians can be self-serving hypocrites. My brand has always been fairness. I've been a reporter and columnist for the Washington Post and Newsweek.  I've been an anchor at both CNN and Fox.  I've got plenty of opinions, but I don't take political sides" (11).

Despite his journalistic neutrality and his criticism of anti-Trump journalists for their unfair bias, Kurtz's book confirms most of what Wolff's book claims about Trump's bad character and the chaos it has created in the White House and in American politics generally.

As outraged as Trump and the White House have been by Wolff's book, they should worry much more about Kurtz's book.

This should also cause the pro-Trump Claremont Straussians to reconsider their claim that Trump's bad character does not matter.  Surely, statesmanship requires good character in the statesman.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Measuring the Evolution of Freedom: The Human Freedom Index 2017

Classical liberals argue that human freedom is good, because when human beings are free from coercion, they will voluntarily cooperate in the evolution of spontaneous orders that are more successful in satisfying human desires than any planned order using coercive power to achieve its goals.  Consequently, social orders with more human freedom will be more adaptive in securing human survival and well-being than are those social orders with less human freedom.

These are empirical claims about the evolution of human nature, human history, and human progress that require empirical confirmation by the measurement of freedom and its consequences.

Since 1995, classical liberals at the Fraser Institute (a Canadian think tank) have published an annual Economic Freedom of the World that ranks the countries of the world according to their levels of economic freedom.  Beginning in 2012, the Fraser Institute has cooperated with the Cato Institute and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom to produce an annual Human Freedom Index that ranks countries according to a comprehensive index of human freedom that combines economic freedom and personal freedom.  This week the third edition of this work has been issued--The Human Freedom Index 2017.

A few points stand out in this new report.  Global freedom has declined slightly compared to last year's report and compared to 2008.  Switzerland is ranked first for the first time since the rankings began.  Hong Kong has fallen from first place for the first time.  The U.S.'s 17th ranking is an improvement from its previous ranking of 24th.

As is characteristic of classical liberals, the authors of this report define freedom in a negative way as the absence of coercive constraint.  They use 79 distinct indicators of freedom in the following 12 categories:


(A) Legal Protection and Security
(1) Rule of Law
(2) Security and Safety

(B) Specific Personal Freedoms
(3) Movement
(4) Religion
(5) Association, Assembly, and Civil Society
(6) Expression and Information
(7) Identity and Relationships


(8) Size of Government
(9) Legal System and Property Rights
(10) Access to Sound Money
(11) Freedom to Trade Internationally
(12) Regulation of Credit, Labor, and Business

The most recent Human Freedom Index (HFI) covers 159 countries for 2015, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available.  The data are not collected by the authors but come from the most credible sources (for example, the World Justice Project, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Freedom House).

For each of the 79 indicators, countries are scored on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents the highest level of freedom.  The scores for each of the 12 categories are averaged.  For personal freedom, the two categories under "Legal Protection and Security" and the five categories under "Specific Personal Freedoms" are averaged; and then the average of these two is the score for personal freedom.  The score for economic freedom is the average of the five categories under economic freedom. The final score for freedom in general is the average of these two scores, so that personal freedom and economic freedom are weighted equally.

The top 10 countries, with two tied at 9th place, are as follows--with the Personal Freedom (PF) and Economic Freedom (EF) rankings in parentheses:

1. Switzerland (PF: 6, EF: 4)
2. Hong Kong (PF: 26, EF: 1)
3. New Zealand (PF: 9, EF: 3)
4. Ireland (PF: 13, EF: 5)
5. Australia (PF: 11, EF: 9)
6. Finland (PF: 2, EF: 17)
7. Norway (PF: 1, EF: 25)
8. Denmark (PF: 5, EF: 15)
9. Netherlands (PF: 4, EF: 19)
9. United Kingdom (PF: 16, EF: 6)

Some other countries rank as follows: Canada (11), Sweden (13), Germany (16), the United States (17), Japan (27), France (33), Russia (126), China (130).  The bottom four are Iran (154), Egypt (155), Venezuela (158), and Syria (159).

And since Trump recently pointed to Norway as the one country where he wanted increased immigration to the U.S., it should be noted that Norway is 7th on the overall freedom index and number 1 on the personal freedom index

The regions of the world with the highest levels of freedom are Western Europe, Northern Europe, North America (Canada and U.S.), and Australia/New Zealand.  The regions with the lowest levels are in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia.

The HFI can be used to study how freedom contributes to human well-being.  For example, the highest levels of human freedom are strongly correlated with wealth (higher per capita income) and democracy (except for Hong Kong).  The correlation with wealth is what we would expect from Smithian economic theory: the gains from specialization, exchange, and productive efficiency associated with economic freedom should tend to generate higher levels of income and growth rates.

In November and December of 2016, I wrote a series of posts on "The Empirical Data for Human Progress through the Liberal Enlightenment," which concluded with a post (here) on the previous edition of the Human Freedom Index

In that post, I reflected on 10 questions that came to mind as I read this report:

(1) Is it reasonable to measure only negative liberty? 

(2) In measuring freedom, should we attempt to measure restrictions on freedom designed to enhance freedom? 

(3) Does freedom include democracy? 

(4) In measuring freedom, should we identify not only official or governmental restraints on freedom, but also unofficial or social restraints? 

(5) Does measuring freedom require personal judgment?

(6) In measuring freedom, how do we weigh the various indicators? 

(7) Does the freedom of parental rights violate the freedom of children? 

(8) Does the Human Freedom Index show the success of the Nordic social democracies as capitalist welfare states? 

(9) Does the Human Freedom Index show that human freedom generally promotes human well-being or flourishing?

(10) Is human freedom and its connection to human happiness rooted in human evolution?

Ian Vasquez--the lead author of the Human Freedom Index--wrote a response to my post, which I posted.

Other than the changes in the rankings, the one new point in the latest report is the conclusion that overall levels of freedom have fallen since 2008, and this fall continued between 2014 and 2015.  This might seem to deny my argument for "human progress through the liberal enlightenment," because it might be interpreted as showing a decline in liberalism around the world and a rise of illiberal social practices, including populist authoritarianism.

My response, however, is to point out that the decline in this measurement of freedom reported here is so slight as to be hardly noticeable.

Vasquez and Porcnik report:
"On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for 159 countries in 2015 was 6.93.  Among countries included in this report, the level of freedom decreased slightly (-0.05) compared with 2014, with 61 countries increasing their ratings and 97 decreasing.  Since 2008, the level of global freedom has also decreased slightly (-0.12), with about half of the countries in the index increasing their ratings and half decreasing" (p. 5).
In the previous report (in 2016), Vasquez and Porcnik said that the average human freedom rating had remained "about the same" since 2008 (p. 5).  What they now call a "slight decrease" looks like "about the same" to me. 

Moreover, in the new report, they say that if one compares only the 141 countries for which data are available from 2008 to 2015--the HFI surveys 18 more countries in 2015 than in 2008--the average human freedom rating decreased only by 0.05, with personal freedom falling from 7.36 to 7.20 and economic freedom increasing from 6.74 to 6.81.  Also, some 68 countries increased their overall freedom ratings from 2008 to 2015, while 69 countries decreased their freedom.

Well, if freedom is increasing slightly in about half the countries while decreasing slightly in about half the countries, I don't see that as showing any discernable decline.

If there has been any slight decline in freedom scores since 2008, it seems to have arisen mostly from three regions--Eastern Europe (-0.52 change in score), Middle East & North Africa (-0.46), and Central Asia (-0.29)--as opposed to Western Europe (0.09 increase), Northern Europe (-0.06 decrease), and North America (-0.09 decrease) (p. 27).

The overall pattern is clear: the Human Freedom Index shows clear empirical evidence for the triumph of liberalism in the progress of freedom around the world, which refutes all the recent talk about the supposed decline or failure of liberalism.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Oldest Human Fossil Out of Africa? Does the Evidence Matter?

A Fossilized Human Jawbone Found in a Cave in Israel, Dated at 177,000 to 194,000 Years Old

Although we generally assume that scientific reasoning depends ultimately on empirical evidence, it is not always clear that scientific debates over human evolution can be settled by looking at the evidence.  This allows the critics of evolution--such as special creationists and intelligent design proponents--to argue that evolutionary theory is not a real science based on conclusive evidence.  Nevertheless, I have argued, even if the evidence for human evolution is not incontestably conclusive, evidence does matter; and there is enough evidence to reasonably support the Darwinian account of human evolution from ancestral species. 

By contrast, the special creationists and intelligent design proponents have never presented any evidence that would show exactly where, when, and how the Creator or the Intelligent Designer miraculously created the human species.  Indeed, as I have indicated in some previous posts (here and here), some of the special creationists (such as Ken Ham and Todd Wood) and some of the intelligent design proponents (such as Michael Behe) have been forced to accept the natural evolution of the human species from ancestral species.  The alternative strategy (as I indicated here) of the Discovery Institute people like Stephen Meyer is to employ evasive dishonesty and sophistry to hide the lack of evidence for their position.

Part of the evidence for human evolution is the fossil record.  For Charles Darwin, there was no human fossil record, except for a few Neanderthal fossils.  Since the African apes appeared to be the existing animals most similar to human beings, Darwin inferred that the first human ancestors must have evolved in Africa and then migrated out of Africa to the rest of the world.  Darwin's "out of Africa" theory is now generally accepted among evolutionary scientists.  But what's the fossil evidence for this?

Previously, I have written (here) about the discovery in 2013 of the first complete hominid skull from the early Pleistocene (about 1.8 million years ago); and I have written (here) about the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens--dated at about 300,000 years ago--at a site in Morocco.

Now, this week, we have a report in Science of the discovery of the oldest modern human fossil--a jawbone--found outside of Africa in a cave in Israel, dated at around 190,000 years old.  This is the best fossil evidence for an early human migration out of Africa.

But as you can see in the picture above, this fossil is only a fragment--a partial upper jaw, which includes some of the bone around the tooth sockets, part of the cheekbone, the roof of the mouth, the bottom of the nasal cavity, and the complete upper left dentition.  Scientists comparing this with Neanderthal fossils concluded that this really was morphologically a modern fossil and not a Neanderthal.  Other scientists used various dating techniques for dating the jawbone and the tools around it in the cave.  There was also evidence, including bedding, to indicate that people had used the cave as a base camp from which they hunted animals and then returned to eat their game.

There is a lot of uncertainty here about this evidence.  We might question the dating methods.  We might also point out that if this changes the current view of the dating of the human migration out of Africa, that shows how contingent the scientific reasoning on this is, because it all depends on the accidents of what fossils happen to turn up.  Another fossil could be found tomorrow that forces a change in the thinking.

Nevertheless, the broad pattern in the evidence--human origins from human-like primates in Africa and then migration out of Africa to the rest of the Earth--is exactly what Darwin predicted.  So the fossil evidence really does matter.

As far as I know, the Discovery Institute is not sponsoring any scientists to search for human fossils in and around Africa that might confirm or falsify Intelligent Design Theory.  Why not?  Is it because the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute is to formulate arguments in ways that they cannot be falsified by evidence?


Israel Hershkovitz et al. 2018. "The Earliest Modern Humans Outside Africa." Science 359:456-59.

Nicholas St. Fleur. 2018. "In Cave in Israel, Scientists Find Jawbone Fossil from Oldest Human Out of Africa." New York Times, January 25.  Available online.

Chris Stringer & Julia Galway-Witham. 2018. "When Did Modern Humans Leave Africa?" Science 359:389-90.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Motherhood in America: The Natural Desire for Parental Care in a Liberal Regime

"After decades of decline, motherhood and family size are ticking up."  That's the conclusion in a new report from the Pew Research Center.  As is shown in the chart above, the percentage of American women ages 40 to 44 who are mothers has risen to 86% in 2016 from a low of 80% in 2006, and thus moving close to the high of 90% reached in 1976.

For me, this is empirical evidence for the natural desire for parental care as one of the 20 natural desires, and also evidence for how the freedom of a liberal social order like the United States allows human beings to satisfy this natural desire as part of their natural pursuit of happiness.

Some of my critics have denied this by arguing that in modern liberal societies, the pursuit of high socioeconomic status has diverted people from parenthood, as indicated by the fact that people in higher social classes in liberal societies have such low levels of fertility that they cannot even replace themselves.  Some of my critics say that this "demographic transition" shows the failure of a Darwinian explanation of human behavior, because it shows that the most successful people in a liberal society are not acting for their reproductive fitness.  Some of my alt-right critics say that this shows the need for restricting immigration to the U.S. from non-white countries in order to protect the genetic interests of white America.  Foreign-born black and Hispanic women have higher birth rates than U.S.-born white women.  The alt-right critics argue that ethnic nationalism has greater genetic fitness than classical liberalism, which should be seen as the deepest intellectual argument for Trumpism.  I have answered these critics in some previous posts (here and here).

My claims about the 20 natural desires of evolved human nature are empirically falsifiable, in that my claims would be refuted by evidence that most human beings are not in fact motivated by these desires.  So if most human beings--let's say 80% or more--did not show any desire for children, that would deny my argument for parental care as a natural human desire.  On the contrary, however, what we see--as in this Pew report--is that most women (80% to 90%) will become mothers before they reach the end of their reproductive years.

We also see, however, that this natural desire for children has to be balanced off against other desires, and it is highly variable across individuals and in response to variable economic and social conditions.  Some women by their individual natural temperament have little or no desire for children.  And those women who do desire children have to decide when to produce them, how many to produce, and how much to invest in each child.

In a liberal society like the United States, women have many educational and economic opportunities outside the home; and so they have to decide how to combine their investments in education and professional careers with their investments in children.  And in a society where social success depends a lot on educational achievement, women will want to invest in the education of their children.  It is understandable, therefore, that American women with higher levels of education and professional success tend to have fewer children and to have them later in their lives.

One of the remarkable findings in the Pew report is that the biggest increases in motherhood in America since the 1990s is among women with higher education.  Among women with a Bachelor's degree, the percentage of those in their early 40s who are mothers has increased from 83% in 1994 to 89% in 2014.  Even more amazing is the increase in motherhood for that small group of women in their early 40s with a Ph.D. or a professional degree (such as a medical or law degree): 80% of them today are mothers, as compared with 65% in 1994.

Isn't this evidence for the strength of the natural desire for parental care, and for how that natural desire is satisfied in a liberal social order?