The Long View 2006-11-27: Atheists Panic; Democracy & Necessity; CO2/SCOTUS; Cannibalism Today

I’m about as disinterested in arguing with internet atheists as Ventakesh is with arguing with internet theists [that is Eve Keneinan’s beat], the reason I put this here is that the tendency John Reilly was describing is still pretty strong. Arguably, the two firmly committed poles here are just getting more entrenched.

As John says, I do think most internet atheists are unacquainted with the best arguments both against and for their position. For the most part, this turns on tribal identify and personality more than reasoned debate. However, much like null RCTs on diets, a lack of reasoned debate on God doesn’t mean conversions don’t happen.

Here is an argument that I think may have convinced me of the opposite of what John seems to mean here:

One way to restate Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis is that, at the end of the Cold War, the proponents of liberal democracy finally convinced everybody in the West, except for a few cranks, that democracy is irresistible in the long run. If democracy is not a universal imperative, however, then it is everywhere contingent. In other words, if it is not compatible with the current culture of the Middle East, then one could imagine situations arising in the West in which it would not be compatible, either. At the moment, no argues anything like this, except in the context of judicial review. Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss the prospect that "realism" will spread to domestic politics.

John was a big advocate of the Iraq war, but if you read the rest of his corpus, it is pretty clear that democracy isn’t a universal good at all times and in all places, not in Iraq now, and maybe not in the West anymore either.


Atheists Panic; Democracy & Necessity; CO2/SCOTUS; Cannibalism Today

Surely it is a splendid thing to be a " professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago," as is Richard A. Shweder. This morning, however, he rose to an even dizzier eminence with the publication of this opinion piece in The New York Times:

It has long been assumed that religion is opposed to science, reason and human progress; and the death of gods is simply taken for granted as a deeply ingrained Darwinian article of faith...Why, then, are the enlightened so conspicuously up in arms these days, reiterating every possible argument against the existence of God? ...The most obvious answer is that the armies of disbelief have been provoked....A deeper and far more unsettling answer, however, is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory than real....

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the “dark ages,” finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe. ...Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion. ...Much to everyone’s surprise, that great dance on the Berlin Wall back in 1989 turned out not to be the apotheosis of the Enlightenment....

Science has not replaced religion; group loyalties have intensified, not eroded. The collapse of the cold war’s balance of power has not resulted in the end of collective faiths or a rush to democracy and individualism. In Iraq, the “West is best” default (and its discourse about universal human rights) has provided a foundation for chaos...

There are sophisticated arguments for atheism, but the scientists who take up iconoclasm as a hobby rarely seem to be aware of them. At least in part, that may be because the sophisticated arguments involve the sort of fundamental skepticism that would also undermine the optimistic epistemology on which the scientific enterprise depends. The price of making God invisible is to turn out all the lights.

* * *

Speaking of the default mode of politics, Mark Steyn's recent comments on the excellent British site, New Culture Forum actually have graver implications than he supposes:

The fact of the matter is that the snob right in Britain, the Max Hastings crowd, who denounce American adventurism in Iraq and all this, the Michael Moore conservatives as they are sometimes known over here, basically their argument - that George W. Bush is engaged in a hopeless task in Iraq, that Islam and democracy [are] completely incompatible - that’s not a problem for Iraq, that’s a problem for Britain, and Belgium and the Netherlands and Scandinavia. And to airily make that statement about Iraq and not to see its implications for your own country is almost unbelievably crass.

One way to restate Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis is that, at the end of the Cold War, the proponents of liberal democracy finally convinced everybody in the West, except for a few cranks, that democracy is irresistible in the long run. If democracy is not a universal imperative, however, then it is everywhere contingent. In other words, if it is not compatible with the current culture of the Middle East, then one could imagine situations arising in the West in which it would not be compatible, either. At the moment, no argues anything like this, except in the context of judicial review. Nonetheless, we cannot dismiss the prospect that "realism" will spread to domestic politics.

* * *

Pigs will fly before the Supreme does what the plaintiffs are asking here:

The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming....The case is Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 05-1120...A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles.

Even though the Court would not order the EPA to control CO2 emissions, however, I would not be surprised if it found the EPA already had the power to do so. This suit illustrates why it was so important for the United States not to sign the Kyoto Treaty. It would have done for climate policy what Roe v. Wade did for population control.

* * *

Enlightened atheists are correct when they fret that ancient brutalities are reasserting themselves these days; the problem is that they are looking in the wrong places. As we have noted before, uncontrolled illegal immigration has already re-created significant pockets of indentured servitude in sweatshop industries, and then there are the poor slave-nannies who dare not complain to authorities no matter how their employers treat them. Most gruesome of all, however, is the prospect of consensual cannibalism:

The wait for a kidney can stretch for years. People die waiting for one -- more than 4,000 in the United States alone last year.

A recent editorial in The Economist magazine suggested that instead of making it illegal for people to sell their kidneys, governments should permit it: even license and encourage it.

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Daniel Franklin, executive editor of The Economist, who says that legalizing the individual sale of kidneys would help. Legalizing the process, he says, would end a black market for the organs.

The key, Franklin says, would be "a robust system of regulation."

We all know how keen The Economist is for robust regulation.

All this reminds me of an episode in the Futurama series. The characters walk into a deli in New New York in the 31st century and see the food available from all across the galaxy. One of them says: "Boy, I bet you can find any kind of meat here but human!" The clawed and semi-aquatic shopkeeper asks, "You want human?"

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