Sunday, February 22, 2009

Creationism and the Illuminati

For creationists the following maxim is usually true - the universe screams of design and intent, and the designer is God and we are the intent. Liberal Christians would say evolution intended for our existence and traditional Christians would say we were made fully formed some few thousand years ago. There are a few causes of this belief
a) The bible says and implies this - which therefore makes it a required belief.
b) Humans have evolved the ability to seek patterns, even if there isn't any.
c) Some sense of order exists in the world - and for some this requires explanation.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe.
Without being able to find patterns in nature we would never have survived in the wild. Patterns in nature include the seasons, the moon, the stars, tracks in the sand, etc. Knowledge of these helped early crop growers, find water sources and develop primitive science such as tool making. The downside is finding patterns where none exist and giving wacky explanations to accompany them - whether we look into the clouds or stars and see images or hear things that go bump in the night. Some might say they are just harmless and are a healthy part of peoples imaginations, until they are taken seriously and we are required to consult the skies to know what kind of day we are to have or worship the sun.

Only since the advent of modern science have people been able to explain order, this time in terms of mathematics based on simple models. Seasons are easily explainable when one considers the Earth is tilted on its axis and orbits the Sun. There is no need to invoke imagery of death (winter) and re-birth (spring) which formed the basis of what today is known as Christmas, which was hijacked by the Christians.

God botherers like to evoke the supernatural as an explanation to order. For example they say that life cannot come from non-life - this implies God made life as there is no naturalistic explanation. Apart from being a logical fallacy, a false dichotomy, the truth of the matter is that there is no barrier to a naturalistic explanation for life coming from non-life.

When I was young and self taught myself chemistry in high school, I used to believe there was a difference between life-stuff and non-life-stuff. For example, the stuff wood (life) is made of is different to the stuff graphite (non-life) is made of. Learning that they are actually composed the same stuff - atoms, molecules, etc changed my perspective on things. Of course I never had an explanation for what this non-life stuff was...In some sense what I believed would have been little different to what the ancients might have believed about the nature of "stuff".

Arguments from design break down when one considers natural order which can be produced from chaos. This includes cyclones/hurricanes and crystals. We don't need to suppose a supernatural or even natural cyclone maker or crystal designer - we have nature and it's laws which are able to do it with no effort - just time. Emergence from chaos is a fascinating modern study in mathematics which has applications in ecology, quantum physics and artificial intelligence studies. These ideas in combination with the existing pieces of the puzzle (ie the creation of amino acids from basic elements) leads me to believe abiogenesis (life from non-life) is not simply plausible but has likely happened numerous times over the universe.

So what does this have to do with the Illuminati?

Well I'm not actually talking about the group of people known as the Illuminati, but those who believe there exists groups of people who are in control of this world. (ie Conspiracy Theorists) To me they are suffering the same kind of delusion the creationists are - they are perceiving order in the world when in actual fact there are just blind natural forces at play or just patterns in the noise.

What makes people who believe in the Illuminati different is that they are seeing order and intent in groups of humans and across groups of humans and claiming there are people "behind the scenes" pulling the strings and conspiring (perhaps to take over the world). This is similar to what Adam Smith's claimed drove the efficiency of capitalism, the "invisible hand" which controls free markets. Interestingly these patters are suppose to have come from independent humans with different wills but still results in patterns people want to make a story to.

There is a fine line between seeing patterns in a scientific, objective sense - and combining it with another powerful mind trick the confirmation bias...

Personally I see no evidence of agency or intent in the universe or within groups of people. The burden of proof has not been met. This is not a positive claim, but a dismissal of those who claim otherwise. Those who make the case of agency in the universe, and this agency is Jesus have the burden of proof - one which I believe has not been sufficiently met. Similarly those who make the case that the Illuminati are trying to set up a New World Order also have the burden of proof - one which I reject. It's perhaps no coincidence that many who believe in the Illuminati also evoke Christian apocolyptic themes.

What would the world look like without Jesus or the Illuminati? Well - exactly the same!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rick Santelli - Will Atlas Shrug?

Rick Santelli is a self-professed Ayn Randian libertarian who believes the free market should be left to work things out and the more the government fiddles, the worse things may become. He is the bond reporter for CNBC and is well known for his opposition for all the bailouts and in this video he is speaking against President Obama's plan to bail out home owners who got themselves in too deep who shouldn't have. This video has unleashed a tremendous reaction from Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and average Joe's who feel their voice has been silenced.

As much as I hate the Republican's for taking on the loony social Christian right (perhaps as a convenience rather than for ideological reasons) I do favour the traditional Republican economic values. In the enlightenment they fought for the separation of Church and State. I believe in the separation of Economics and State. Given states will always have budgets and will always collect taxes, the most optimal scenario is to have low taxes with small governments who provide necessities the free market cannot reasonably be asked to own (ie health care, education, defence, etc).

Ayn Randian "objectivist" philosophy states that its a good thing for man to be selfish - but not selfish in the traditional sense of the word. Traditionally selfish would mean someone who stole or leeched off someone. In objectivism, a leech cannot be selfish because they are not helping themselves. By relying on others all it takes is for the other person to leave the picture and the leech is screwed! This philosophy has been the backbone of modern capitalism despite its obvious antagonistic view with traditional Christian values. (An irony I find amusing considering the links between the Republican Party and their Christian affiliation)

When Rick talks about people "carrying the water" he is talking about all the Ayn Randian selfish people who are generating the GDP, creating jobs and working hard - the people who are "Real Americans". On the other hand those who "drink the water" are those members of society who do not help themselves (I'm only talking about those who can, not those who cannot) and rely on the hard work of others to get by. The classic example of a water drinker is the single woman who recently had eight more IVF children despite having no job and six more at home.

I remember an anecdote from someone who explains why hippy communes did not succeed. It was simple - there were too many people doing too little, too few people doing too much, and those resented those who did little. It works against the human spirit of "fairness", but does not go against the will of humans to help others who are truly at need.

The question Ayn Rand posed in Atlas Shrugged was that, what if those who carried the world on their shoulders (mirroring the Greek God Atlas) were to give up (shrug). Well clearly society would cease to function and the basis on to which capitalism has been so successful (the drive to better oneself) is removed. The unintended consequence or "moral hazard" of communism is the reduction in desire to work hard.

So what are these important "moral hazards"? They are an interesting pair of words which explains what happens when one party loses its incentive to proceed as it would if something wasn't done. Would you still lock your car if you had car insurance? Well perhaps, but there is less incentive to. A moral hazard would exist when one takings out insurance, doesn't lock their car and relies on the insurance company to give them a new car. Their behaviour has changed, to the detriment of the insurer. Would you act with less risk if the government will bail you out if you are "too big to fall"?

Moral hazard is perhaps the best explanation as to the current failure of the markets. There was no risk with writing or taking peoples mortgages because they were passed on like a game of "pass the parcel" until the music stopped and people were left with rubbish. The mortgage brokers had the benefits of the commissions with no risk - giving them carte-blanch to falsify information. The banks didn't care because they would pass the mortgage on (taking a commission with them) and so on and so forth.

All these hyper-inflated house prices were artificial. Those who bought high should shoulder the burden of their mistake. The government is taking pity on them and giving them money to reduce the principle so they can refinance away from their stupid decision to get a loan which starts off low in repayments and resets to normal after a few years. (An ARM loan) Let me put this in another way. Should the government compensate those who lost money in the tech bubble which burst because it was unseen and dramatic for those involved?

There are plenty of people (myself included) who did not jump in the red hot market - or missed the opportunity to get in. Now that the markets are bound to reduce to their pre-hyper-inflated values, why can't people like myself jump into the market and pick up a bargain thanks to the bad decisions made by people who shouldn't have gotten a loan in the first place? This is the way the free market works and this is what Rick Santelli and most people want! The more the prices are kept artificially high, the less affordable they are.

Larry Kudlow (who I do not agree with on his Keynesian policies) noted that in California where prices have fallen, sales are rising! This is exactly the free market working. The same free market others are claiming is not working. Rick at another time noticed correctly "the market isn't working the way the government wants it to work".

The average Joe's are highly supportive of Santelli - why? Because they have had enough of those people in society who "drink the water" - and they all know who they are. Too many irresponsible people were treating their houses like a bank, getting second mortgages, a second car, spending their money on crap (thanks to Bush's spend your way out of a recession) and many of those who didn't do that - who were responsible are not having to foot the bill. Let's not forget the moral hazard!!

Those "water drinkers" include all the CEO's and bankers who got money for nothing or money for risk and high leverage. They aren't the Ayn Randian selfish people - they are just simply morons! Rick was there from day one saying no to the bank bailouts, no to reckless government spending on his (and others - including his kid's kid's) dime.

Many nay-sayers think its a bit rich for Santelli and his trading buddy's to be rallying against this cause. They believe those traders are either highly paid or speculators, the people who got us into this mess. Are they right? No! Those traders (in the pits in Chicago trading treasuries, eurodollars, etc) are simply the cogs in the wheel of capitalism. The role of speculators is highly controversial. Those traders certainly weren't the ones who were buying up houses on the premise that "house prices would never go down". No one complains about speculators in oil when the prices are driven down (if one can even say the role of speculators is anything other than marginal price movements - supply and demand is far more of a factor).

The democrats who have gone in to bat for Obama have said that this plan helps those whose equity is negative or low to refinance! The problems with this is
a) If their equity is negative - too bad - you bought too high.
b) If they cannot repay now - why did they get the bad contract to start with? (ARM's etc...)
c) Many of those people will not be able to repay regardless - these are the liars and fools who should never had gotten a loan to start with.

Obama's supporters say we need this to get the markets going again. The only problem is - the stock market has spoken and today we broke below a twelve year low! (If you invested twelve years ago you might have lost money today) Things are getting worse and the market is not confident with these plans. Some say we need to do something - but its worse to do something quick without thinking and make things worse. Santelli and co can see this is a bad idea. I won't pretend I have the answers, but there are thousands of intelligent people out there - doesn't one of them have an idea and a voice?

So I ask the question - Will Atlas shrug? Will we get to July and Santelli's Tea (or T-bill) Party comes where millions of American's speak their voice and say "NO" - we will not support the slackers in society - this is America where we value hard work over handouts - investing over speculation. The good news is...Obama IS listening Santelli. I have hope Obama will converge on the "right" idea - even if we go through ten or more bad ones. If you do not have hope - what else do you have?

On behalf of all hard working, penny saving libertarians - I raise a cup of tea to Santelli and his courage.

PS - As an Australian I find this fascinating. It's a completely different culture and ethic, one which I am not sure would work worldwide. Heartless capitalism, in my opinion, yields far more heart in the long run than heartful socialism.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fosters and 10 Quid Notes

This time tomorrow I will be making my way to Heathrow Airport back to Australia. If there are two things that have surprised me about England are the copious amounts of empty Fosters cans I have seen on the streets and in bushes and the face of Charles Darwin on the 10 Pound Note.

Before I came there was an ad campaign run by the British Humanists on the side of buses saying "There is probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life". Well the Christians could not let that go unchallenged so naturally they came out with ads of their own. First were some ads which I saw which said "The fool said in their heart there is no God", a biblical reference (from Psalms if my memory serves me well) and there is a new ad campaign which was mentioned on TV. It mirrors the style and message of the atheist campaign and will say something like "There is definitely a God and you should join the Christian Party".

I believe the ad campaign by the British Humanists has done more than they could ever have anticipated and follow-up ads like these which hit the news headlines are bound to get people talking again about these things. I do not mind that the Christian Party is using their political funds for this purpose, they have the right to free speech after all, what bothers me is what happened behind the scenes.

The humanists were not allowed to say "There is definitley no God" nor "There is no God", they had to compromise with the word probably. On what basis? I believe its to do with standards of advertising and not allowing false claims. Compare this to the Christians who are allowed to get away with "definitely a God". No doubt there was no objection to making such strong statments of fact despite the ability to produce a smigin of evidence. This to me is the nature of the game, for thousands of years we have been told by assertion that a God exists, and atheists have the burden of proof to prove a negative - an impossibility.

Still, I wont be losing any sleep over it or protesting in the streets or refusing to ride (or drive, as the case may be) a bus which said God exists. But this debate is one which will favour the atheists - mainly because we aren't staying quiet or in our place but coming to the table, something which in the past would have gotten us run out of town or burned at the stake. The Christians are free to run counter-ads but all they will do is highlight what they are countering against - more free advertising for the original ads - at no extra cost!