Wednesday, July 23, 2014

C.S. Lewis on God’s Rationality

A quote from C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain:

“meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words, ‘God can.’ It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”

Hat tip goes to Doug Wilson.

One major argument against a supra-rational (meaning beyond rationality), as opposed to a perfectly rational God, is that a supra-rational God constitutes an incomprehensible God – an unknowable God. This view isn’t false because of this, but it conflicts with all the major theistic religions all of which claim that we not only can, but have a moral responsibility to know God. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all affirm this.

I am always more impressed by C.S. Lewis as a writer than as a thinker. In the quote he elegantly communicates a difficult philosophical idea that the theologians who precede Lewis struggle to articulate. On the other hand, the idea so original it was named after him, the Lewis Trilemma (liar, lunatic, or lord), is embarrassingly weak.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mom Jailed for Leaving 9 Year Old Alone

Being a new parent, this is one of the things I worry about the most:

A North Augusta mother is in jail after witnesses say she left her nine-year-old daughter at a nearby park, for hours at a time, more than once.
The mother, Debra Harrell has been booked for unlawful conduct towards a child.

I do not worry about leaving my 9-year old child at a park, I worry about the inanity of public perception having very real consequences for parents – even leading to their children being taken away or being imprisoned.

What is important to remember in this story, is that the relevant question is, “should a parent be imprisoned for leaving their child at a park?” not, “is leaving a child at a park a good idea?”. Some of the comments mentioned in the story don’t get at the relevant question, but rather the second one. This sounds like social desirability bias to me.

"I understand the mom may have been in a difficult situation, not having someone to watch the child, but at the same time, you've got to find somebody,"

"what if a man would have came and just snatched her because you have all kinds of trucks that come up in here so you really don't know."

"you cannot just leave your child alone at a public place, especially. This day and time, you never know who's around. Good, bad, it's just not safe."

Everybody knows that in “this day and time” you can never be too safe. But the normal logic of risk says that you can. Safety is a spectrum, and we trade off safety every day, even with our children. Parks are generally safe places, and they don’t become much safer because a parent is sitting on a bench texting 25 feet away. Kidnappings are extremely rare, and when they do occur, it is almost always a separated parent unhappy with the child custody terms. It is hard to believe that this child was in any real danger. It is realistic to believe that the child would more likely die in the car on the way to the park than be kidnapped by a stranger at the park.

I don’t know if leaving a 9 year old at a park for a few hours alone is a good idea. It depends on the child, and it depends on the park, and it depends on the life situation. There are many relevant variables which news stories and judgmental parents don’t get to see the specifics of. One reason I would never leave my 9 year old at the park is not because actual safety, but because public perception is often far departed from reality. That puts every child and parent in danger, ironically, from the child protection people.

Here is Reason’s article on the same story.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The GM Tumor Study, and Monsanto’s Weird Love of Pesticides

Here is a solid criticism of a story going around that a study linked genetically modified corn to tumors in rats. It reminds me of how we are only willing to dig beneath the top layer of stories we don’t want to accept, and accept stories at face value if we like them.

The only part I have to quarrel with is the vague economics at the end,

“On the other hand, GM technology can be used, as Monsanto has done, simply to allow farmers to use more pesticides, which doesn’t seem to benefit anyone other than the pesticide producers.”

Why would Monsanto use more pesticides that they have to pay pesticide producers for if it doesn’t increase demand for their product? It is one thing to say that some big companies do bad things for profit, it is another to say that big companies just like poisoning people for no reason (and are even willing to pay to do so).

If Monsanto doesn’t pay for the pesticides, then the pesticide producers are. Why is it profitable to have Monsanto use your product for free?

No matter how you slice it, adding more to your product (like pesticides to crops) has to increase demand to be profitable. If it increases demand, might there be a reason why? Perhaps it has something to do with bugs which are filled with natural toxins eating crops, reducing supply, and making food more expensive.

But these people… you just attach Monsanto to some good/evil story and they’ll eat it up every time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lysander Spooner on Occupational Licensing

Speaking of licensing, someone once said,

"no one has yet ever dared advocate, in direct terms, so monstrous a principle as that the rich ought to be protected by law from the competition of the poor".

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Vox on Occupational Licensing

Vox, one of my favorite leftist sites (Matt Yglesias is writing again, yay), does a quality overview of occupational licensing in flip-card form. Included is one of the best alternative ideas to licensing I’ve ever heard but only economists seem to talk about, certification:

Certification also requires education, training, and examinations. But there's a big difference: certification is voluntary. You can’t work without a license; you can work without being certified.

For example, to be certified as a surgeon, a medical doctor needs to complete a surgical residency, pass oral and written exams, and maintain that certification with renewal training and exams. But a doctor who has not been certified can legally perform surgery.

Gun Rights in a Bumper Sticker

Both guns and killers can both be causes of innocent deaths. We don't have to choose between them.
Since guns are an effective way of killing people, I expect the availability and cheapness of new and better guns to correlate with people killed.

On some margin, guns discourage deaths. In general though, I don' t think the American public are a bunch of Clint Eastwoods. So I don't think that guns prevent more violence than they cause.

Safety is not the only metric we care about. If you get familiar with risk of death statistics, guns should be low on your list of fears. Since it is already low, reducing gun deaths is relatively low benefit.

Private gun owners the vast majority of which will never hurt anyone spend a lot of money on guns (in the billions $). Thus I expect they derive a lot of utility from owning guns. There's a lot to lose (utility to gun owners) and little to gain (lower risk or gun violence).

It's hard enough to aggregate it into bumper sticker version, but it ends up sounding awful anyway (even though it's true).

"Guns kill people, but not enough to warrant taking them away!"
"Don't buy fewer school shootings by at the price of our guns!"
"My gun probably won't hurt anyone!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cure for Cancer Suppressed

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I’ve never heard any reason to believe it, that’s the first tier of defense against this kind of thing. Stories are too often believes just because they fit in with someone’s worldview. The story isn’t necessary to someone’s worldview, but merely compatible. Just tell a story – “something bad because money.”

The second tier defense is this – if they make so much money selling a treatment for cancer, imagine how much they could sell a cure for? It makes me wonder why these people think any better product is ever sold. Why sell cell phones when landlines are so lucrative? Why weren’t CDs suppressed because cassette tapes are worth lots of money? But I’m sure cars that run on water are also suppressed because of oil companies.

I think that people being in love with their fantasy view of things is a critical aspect of the human condition – a fallen condition.