Saturday, April 11, 2015

Do They Think We're Stupid, Part 3

You've probably received letters and emails and Web hectorings from businesses (credit cards, utilities, banks, investment companies) offering to stop sending you printed paper statements and send you email statements instead. The real reason is that this saves a lot of money for the business. But it has to be sold to the consumer, who feels much more security in printed paper trails than in ephemeral emails.

This from an electric utility:
"As we strive to provide you with the best customer service, we wanted you to know that you have the option to receive your bill online. Paperless Billing is a great alternative way to get your bill, providing convenience and peace of mind." Et cetera.

But the kicker is in the "Two Easy Ways to Sign Up" box. The letter says, "Online, Visit xxx.xxx.com/paperlessbill." That's okay, but then there is a highlighted, yellow box with "Promo Code: QKN3X" in it.

Wait a minute. Aren't promo codes used to get a discount or extra benefit? How can you have a promo code  for signing up for paperless billing? If you don't have the code, will they refuse to sign you up? My guess is that the "promo code" is probably your encrypted account number, but why cast it in terms of a promotional benefit?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Do They Think We're Stupid, Part Two

Have you noticed that marketers and other manipulators claim that negative qualities are actually benefits designed to help you, the consume?

Examples abound.

No, the Nightmare of Perpetual Automatic Charges Is Really a Benefit
"And for your convenience, when you request your free bottle of VitaHysteria, we'll enroll you in our automatic renewal program so that you'll be guaranteed to receive all the vitamins you need."

Irrational? No, We Are Doing This for You
"In order for us to serve you better, you must fill out a new form with every request, even if you are making several requests at the same time."

You Just Don't Understand
Notice: For your protection
No running
No fishing
No campfires
No dogs
No eating
No bicycles
No beach balls
No Frisbees
No loud music
Enjoy Your Beach

You can see that those phrases aimed at you are tipoffs to requirements you won't like:
For your  convenience
To serve you better
For your protection

Do They Think We're Stupid?

It used to be said that "the big print giveth and the fine print taketh away." But now marketers don't hide anything. Take these examples:

TuboTax:
"We'll take your TurboTax fees out of your federal refund for free. You'll need to buy TurboTax Premium Service for $39.95 to get this payment method."

Please define "free." As a window ad on the radio says, "What is the true cost of free?"

(Ironically enough, I had no federal refund.  Instead, I owed money. Talk about PedestrianTax.)

Dutch Glow (and a Hundred Other As-Seen-On-TV come-ons):
"Buy 1 Bottle of Dutch Glow for $10 plus $7.95 S&P and get a Bonus bottle of Dutch Glow, just pay separate $7.95 S&P. As a special Bonus, you will also get a FREE Jumbo Micro Fiber Polishing Cloth. Tax will apply to all NY orders. A $2.00 web surcharge fee will be applied to all orders."

Let's see, for the claimed price of $10 you get--nothing. But for $27.90 you can get two bottles and a microfiber cloth.

Harbor Freight 10-inch Miter Saw
With a super coupon, I got a great deal on a miter saw. The "Regular Price" is listed at $199, but the saw is never for sale at that price, Instead, the regular sale price was listed at $119.99, which is closer to being the true "Regular Price." But the saw shows up on sale brochures for less, and if you can find the right "super coupon," you can own one of these for $82,82.

But wait. There is one little problem. The 10-inch Miter Saw does not include a blade. That's a minimum of $11 to $20 more before the saw will actually work. The box does not mention that the blade is extra.

Quiz Time
What's exploitative about this claim?
"We'll send you a bottle of Miracle Liquid Product absolutely free. Just pay shipping and processing."
"Now you can get a 30-day supply of Vitamin Vital Vim and Vigor FREE of charge. Have your credit card ready."


Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Presumption of Theism

Atheists are sometimes fond of saying that we should face the natural world with the presumption of atheism. That is, until convincing evidence for the existence of God can be adduced, we should assume that God does not exist. This claim gets it exactly backwards.

If you look at nature with your eyes open, everything has the appearance of having been designed. Flowers, trees, crystals, chambered nautilus shells, the human body. And the complexity of the natural world argues further for a designer or creator. Metamorphosis, the blood-clotting cascade, an entire set of baby teeth being replaced by permanent teeth. It is the most logical to conclude that all these things came about because of the creation or guidance of God. That's what people naturally believe.

To attribute these things to chance, random mutation, natural selection, and so forth, in the absence of God, requires an (unnatural) set of arguments and explanations. Atheism must be trained into people in the process of explaining away the appearance of design. And to be an atheist in the face of the elegance and complexity of the processes in a single cell--the molecular machines, DNA, hormonal controls, the process of cell division--this, it would seem, requires more faith than that possessed by many theists.

If you can argue persuasively for the presumption of atheism, then Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory can maintain a modicum of plausibility, which, if God is anywhere even remotely present, the theory has lost completely. This explains why science has been redefined from "the search for truth and explanations of nature and its processes"  into "the search for natural explanations of nature and its processes."

Losing the argument? Redefine the terms.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thomas Nagel, Evolution, and Common Sense

Thomas Nagel, New York University philosophy professor, recently (Oxford, 2012) published Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. A basic point he makes there is that ongoing scientific discoveries are steamrolling Neo-Darwinism: "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes (5). The "governing assumptions" of the "current orthodoxy" are "unsupported," and fly "in the face of common sense" (5). The reason, Nagel says, that so many people subscribe to such a "highly implausible" account (6) is that "almost everyone has been browbeaten into regarding" it as "sacrosanct" (7).

Nagel notes a common predicament created by Neo-Darwinism: "Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself" (27). In other words, how can we trust a brain constructed by random mutations selected only for their reproductive and survival advantage? Says Nagel, "Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn't take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends" (28).

So why is it gospel in the scientific arena? "The priority given to evolutionary naturalism," Nagel explains, "in the face of its implausible conclusions" derives from "the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism . . ." (29).

Nagel covers many implausibilities relating to evolutionary theory, such as that "natural selection should have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances. . ." (74). That is, why and how did our brains develop such a phenomenal capacity when we needed them only to hunt and to find mates? Nagel finds consciousness itself, together with reason, "symbolic representations, and logical consistency" (78) in need of a more credible explanation than the one offered by evolutionary theory.

Nagel concludes, "It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment . . . could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps. . ." (127).

A final note. Professor Nagel is an atheist, who says, "I do not find theism any more credible than materialism as a comprehensive world view" (22). He is not writing as a defender of any theistic alternative to evolution.

Defining Science Down

Science used to be defined as "knowledge and the search for understanding of the natural world." In other words, the search for nature's truth, wherever it might lead. Today, however, science is defined in a much more constricted form: "the search for naturalistic explanations of the physical world." The change, of course, was made in order to define the supernatural out of science. How clever those redefiners were. By definition, science excludes creationist theories and intelligent design theories because "they are not science."

That reminds me of the scientist who indulged a similar-pattern question-begging definition when he said something to the effect that "mental states are those thoughts of which we are aware. Therefore, there are no unconscious mental states." Don't like an idea? Just define it out of existence.

And the new definition of science has another benefit. As Philip Johnson has said (in an online lecture), by insisting on natural explanations for everything, an origins model very much like New-Darwinian evolution must be true, since there are no alternatives with any superior probability that involve only naturalistic explanations.

And again, as Philip Johnson points out, that's why examples of mere reversible  gene frequencies are touted as evolution, when in fact they show only the flexibility of the genome for horizontal variation. The Galapagos finches, fruit flies, DDT resistant flies, antibiotic-resistant fruit flies, and Kettlewell's Peppered Moths are all examples of reversible variation, not evolution in the sludge to the judge, slime to the sublime sense.

And while I'm haranguing this, let me say I'm very disappointed in the lack of integrity of the whole evolutionary enterprise. Examples: (1) Ernst Haeckel's faked embryos, (2) Kettlewell's faked Peppered Moth photos, (3) the claim that variation is evolution (and the equivocation fallacy involved in trying to confuse the definition of evolution), (4) going to court to prevent criticism of Neo-Darwinism in the public schools, (5) repeating exploded stories like the Stanley Miller "chemicals of life" experiment, and so on, (6) labeling anything not in harmony with the standard model as "pseudoscience," or  labeling Intelligent Design as "Intelligent Design Creationism,"

The bottom line is that naturalism is a religion--or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology--and, again as has been pointed out numerous times, Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory is naturalism's creation myth. By defining science down to naturalist philosophy, we have not only a shrunken view of reality, but a Procrustean bed upon which all discoveries in the living (and fossil) world must be forced to fit. Truth? Oh, well, never mind that.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Atheism and the Problem of Evil and Suffering

Atheists are fond of arguing that because there is evil in the world, God doesn't exist. And it has just as often been replied that the conclusion doesn't follow for several reasons (for example, a good God might have loving reasons for permitting suffering). And it has also been pointed out that if God doesn't exist, there is no "problem of evil," since there is no evil, only experiences and phenomena that we personally dislike. Evil implies a cosmic standard, and without a transcendent God, we can have no cosmic, universal, or even global, standards of value, and hence no way of arguing against the existence of God because of the presence of evil.

It has also been pointed out that if we got here by some purely naturalistic process (like evolution), how could we trust our brains to know that? If evolution chooses mutations on the basis of the reproductive advantage they offer the organism, then our brains developed not to understand truth or the reality either the natural or moral world, but merely in order to outreproduce every other human. So our perceptions of the external world, our use of reason, our analysis of our experiences--all are suspect and unreliable.

Further, and this has also been remarked, if we are merely evolved animals, where all that exists is a brain with various electrochemical events (no mind, no soul, no spirit), then there is not really a you or me to experience evil, only a deterministic brain, And if we our brains determine randomly or determine deterministically what we believe and do, then perhaps atheists are randomly required to disbelieve in God, while we theists are equally randomly required to believe. Why (and how) argue with beliefs that are predetermined by the purposeless activity of our brains? Why try to  change someone's beliefs when those beliefs are an accidental product of a random cosmos?

Why not adopt the eastern idea that suffering is maya, an illusion, and not real at all? What happens to the atheist argument then? What problem of pain?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Persistence of Neo-Darwinism After Losing Its Explanatory Power

Among those who have witnessed the increasing weakness of the Neo-Darwinian model of origins and development to explain biological life, the question has arisen about why anyone still adheres to this theory, and why, in fact, its supporters use ever shriller voices and even lawsuits to prevent the presentation of opposing ideas. There are actually several answers

1. Neo-Darwinism is an exercise in Procrustean science, where observations and conclusions are forced to fit the theory. In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn observes that "normal science" is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education." He says that theory directs the construction of experiments and the observations that reinforce and refine the theory. Physicist Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend opines that "the idea to fit something into what is already there drives the great majority of scientists today" (quoted in Paul Feyerabend, The Tyranny of Science).

2. Relatedly, Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, refers to a phenomenon he calls "theory-induced blindness." He says that "once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws." The good news is that, once you overcome your blindness and reject the theory, it might well seem "not only false but absurd." So I think a second reason that Neo-Darwinism hangs on is that its supporters, under the spell of theory-induced blindness, simply can't see how poorly the evidence matches the claims.

3. Peer pressure. Or, the emperor's new clothes. Prestige, promotions, tenure, grants, and success in the scientific world require conformity of thought about the theory of evolution. If you want a job in any area of science, you'd better give lip service to Darwin. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel himself is fed up with the demand for conformity. In his book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, he writes, "Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect." To Nagel, even though he proposes no alternative explanation for life on earth, "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes." The problem is that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science."

4. Neo-Darwinism is a religion, or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology. As such, a fundamental article of faith in Neo-Darwinism is that the biological world--and in fact, the entire cosmos--is to be explained by mechanisms and phenomena that decidedly exclude anything or Anyone supernatural. This fact explains the hostility of the Neo-Darwinists to the Intelligent Design theoreticians--they suspect that intelligent design theory has implications of the supernatural. And recall that science has been redefined from "the search for truth and knowledge" to "the search for naturalistic explanations." As geneticist Richard Lewontin says, many scientists are committed to naturalistic explanations of the existence of life because "we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism." And, he concludes, "that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (New York Review of Books).

5. Following from the previous reason is the problem of what Neo-Darwinist theory can be replaced with if the scientific establishment abandons that sinking ship. Returning to Thomas Kuhn, he notes that "once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place." And right now, there is no naturalistic, materialistic alternative explanation for the existence of the biological world. All of the "alternative" theories are just flavors of basically Neo-Darwinist evolution--panspermia, hopeful monster, punctuated equilibria.

Ultimately, then, it's a worldview problem. Neo-Darwinism is the creation myth of those who want to keep God away. No amount of evidence, argument, or common sense is likely to displace the theory because the theory is a fundamental, unfalsifiable assumption impervious to evidence against it. It's an article of faith. For these reasons, Neo-Darwinism is likely to continue to be propped up for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

There are thousands of books aimed at saving, repairing, or improving marriage. Thousands of research articles investigate what makes marriages last or break apart. Countless hours and millions of dollars have gone into studying marriage with the idea of determining how they grow and strengthen or how they weaken and fall apart. You can watch videos, read books, listen to audio presentations, go to seminars and weekend retreats. You can visit counselors, pastors, and therapists.

But the answer to What Makes a Happy Marriage? is really simple. Save time and pay attention. What all the research has shown--all the studies and interviews and observations--boils down to a single, simple truth:

Happily married couples are nice to each other.

Yes, it's that simple. Now, it may not be easy, but don't fall for the "simple is easy" myth. The fact is, couples who report being happy--and happily married--are gentle, respectful, loving, kind, affectionate, happy, supportive, and fun with each other. In other words, nice.

If that seems like a Duh! truth, consider then why so many married people are always using verbal daggers and emotional clubs on each other, criticizing, contradicting, condescending, shaming, belittling, showing contempt, rejection, hostility, superiority, and even hatefulness.

Just quit that. Treat  your spouse the way you treat your friends, and then see how much happier you both can be.