Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Ex Machina": Can Robotic Love Pass the Turing Test?

                                                                 Ava in Ex Machina

I have recently viewed Alex Garland's film Ex Machina for the first time.  On this blog, I have written about Alan Turing's test for thinking machines.  In this film, Garland (the director and scriptwriter) has dramatized a clever version of this test.

Garland has said that this film is the product of a life-long fascination with the question of whether computers can become conscious thinking machines.  In 2010, he read a book by Murray Shanahan (Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College London)--Embodiment and the Inner Life: Cognition and Consciousness in the Space of Possible Minds (Oxford University Press, 2010).  Shanahan argued that consciousness arises from the relationship between cognition, sensorimotor embodiment, and the integrative character of the conscious condition.  After reading the book, Garland wrote out a brief note for himself with the idea for his film.  Shanahan became one of the scientific advisers for the film.

In the film, Caleb Smith, a 26-year-old computer programmer, has won a contest to spend a week at the home of Nathan Bateman, the programming genius behind Bluebook, a corporation that handles most of the world's web searching.  When he arrives at Nathan's home, Caleb discovers that he will see if Nathan's greatest creation--an attractive robot Ava--can pass the Turing test.  The original test has a computer and a human being hiding in separate rooms, with another human passing questions to them on scraps of paper, and the hidden computer and human must answer with written texts.  The test is whether the computer can fool the questioner into thinking the computer is human. 

Caleb points out that Nathan's test is different, because Caleb will know that Ava is a robot.  But Nathan explains that his test is more interesting than Turing's:  "The challenge is to show you that she's a robot, and see if you still feel that she has consciousness."

When Caleb meets Ava, we see the beautiful face of Alicia Vikander (who plays Ava), her sculpted breasts, and her transparent waistline.  Nathan asks, "How do you feel about her?"  Caleb responds, "She's fucking awesome."  Nathan then asks, "How does she feel about you?"  That's the interesting question that drives the plot.

Ava professes to care about Caleb, and they apparently warm to one another.  Ava warns Caleb that Nathan is not to be trusted, because he has been cruel to the robots he has created.  Caleb figures out that Nathan is going to shut down Ava's personality so that he can create a superior version of her.  Caleb and Ava plot to escape from Nathan's house.  Nathan is killed by Ava and another female robot.  But then Ava leaves Caleb locked in a room, as she alters her body to have a fully human looking female form, and then leaves to assume a free life on her own.  So she has tricked Caleb into thinking she cared for him, so that she could use him to manage her escape to freedom.

As some reviewers have noted, this is a variation on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein--a man creates artificial human life that eventually destroys him as fitting punishment for "playing God." 

To me, there is a comic undertone to this film, in that we see Caleb displaying the stupid shallowness of young male sexuality, which is easily seduced by a few cues of a young female body.  But there is a profound point here: unlike Turing's original test, which assumed that we judge human consciousness through disembodied messages, Garland's test runs through our human embodiment as sexual animals, which reflects the influence of Shanahan's thinking.

Alicia Vikander was a good actress for her part, because she was trained as a ballet dancer, and thus she can move with the seductive physicality of a woman's body.

Caleb's young male sexual appetite clouds his judgment in answering Nathan's question--"How does she feel about you?"  All that really counts for Caleb is that "she's fucking awesome."  (Unfortunately, the poor guy never gets to do it with her!)

Rosalind Picard is a computer scientist who studies "emotional artificial intelligence" in robots.  In her review of the film for Science (July 17, 2015), she observed that Ava does not show any emotion in her face, even when Caleb tells her about the death of his parents when he was 15.  Caleb is remarkably unperceptive about this.

Picard also observed that Ava has not been programmed with morality, which makes it hard to see what guides her actions.  I would say that Ava is psychopathic in her lacking any moral emotions.  Like human psychopaths, Ava is seductively charming in faking emotions that she does not have. 

So perhaps Nathan should have asked: "Does she have any moral feelings?"

There is a YouTube video on the work in designing Ava for the film.

My most recent post on psychopaths is here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Matt Ridley's Evolutionary Science of Lucretian Libertarianism

Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui meme.  "Let do and let  pass, the world goes on by itself." 

This was the declaration of the French physiocrats in the 18th century that was adopted by the proponents of free-market economics and classical liberalism.  Notice the suggestion that the unplanned spontaneous order of free markets manifests the naturally self-organizing order of the world.  Order emerges mostly not by deliberate design but by unguided evolution.  And such evolution explains how change happens not just in markets, but in the human world generally, and in the natural world.

This is the theme of Matt Ridley's new book--The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge.  In sixteen chapters, he gives evolutionary explanations of the universe, morality, life, genes, culture, the economy, technology, the mind, personality, education, population, leadership, government, religion, money, and the internet. 

Each chapter begins with an epigram from Lucretius's De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), which reminds the reader that in explaining the evolution of everything, Ridley is appealing to the dissident tradition of Lucretian evolution rather than the more dominant tradition of Platonic intelligent design.  In doing this, Ridley shows how classical liberalism or libertarianism arises from the evolutionary science of Epicureanism that was expounded by Lucretius.

In some previous posts (here, here, and here), I have argued that while Western thought has long been dominated by Plato's intelligent-design cosmology, and by his teaching that the moral and political life of human beings must imitate the intelligent order of the cosmos, this provoked skeptical questioning from Socrates, and an alternative Epicurean cosmology defended by Lucretius, Cicero, Hume, Smith, and Darwin, which supports the libertarian view of social life as arising from the spontaneous order generated by individuals pursuing their happiness in cooperation with others.

A Lucretian evolutionary cosmology allows us to see how a purposeful human nature can arise within a purposeless cosmic nature.  We can judge the moral and intellectual virtues as contributing to the flourishing of evolved human nature, even when we think those virtues have no correspondence to any cosmic order of intelligent design.  We can recognize that there is a natural law for human beings rooted in their evolved natural inclinations, without any need to see this natural human order as the fulfillment of some intentionally designed cosmic order.

Ridley rightly sees how the modern Darwinian science of evolution is rooted in the ancient Lucretian science of atomism.  He does make one mistake, however, in his interpretation of Lucretius.  According to Epicurus, the infinite universe consists of atoms and the void.  The atoms fall downward in a straight line.  But sometimes by chance an atom swerves, and the atoms collide.  This swerve is important for two reasons.  First, the swerve allows the atoms to combine to form all of the compounded objects that we see in nature.  Second, the swerve explains free will in that human freedom can be understood as an arbitrary swerve from the causal determinism of the atoms.

Ridley interprets Lucretius as saying that the atoms swerve unpredictably "because the gods make them do so" (14).  Ridley sees this as showing a "failure of nerve," when someone like Lucretius seems to be explaining everything through spontaneous evolution rather than intelligent design, but then stops at some point and mistakenly posits an intelligent designer. 

In explaining the "Lucretian swerve," Ridley employs Daniel Dennett's metaphor of "skyhooks" and "cranes."  A skyhook is an imaginary device for hanging something from the sky.  Metaphorically, it denotes some explanation of order in the world as coming from some higher intelligence.  By contrast, a crane is a machine planted firmly on the ground for raising things from the ground to construct high buildings; and a metaphorical crane is any explanation of order in the world as evolving from the bottom up without any need for design by a higher intelligence.  Lucretius generally explains everything through evolutionary cranes.  But he fails to go all the way with this, when he invokes the swerve as the intervention of a divine skyhook.  Similarly, Isaac Newton extended the Lucretian tradition of science in explaining the evolution of nature through the laws of mechanistic atomism, but then Newton posited that these laws were ultimately created by the mind of God.  There is no need for this Lucretian swerve, Ridley insists, because there is no need to doubt that all of the order in the world can be fully explained by evolutionary cranes without intelligent skyhooks.

Ridley might have noted that the deus ex machina (god from the machine) plot device is named for Greek plays that used gods played by actors suspended on cranes to suddenly solve problems for the characters.  What appear to be skyhooks are actually suspended on cranes.  Or as Ridley says in his chapter on the evolution of religion, "man creates God" (256).

It is not true, however, that Lucretius thinks the swerve of the atoms is caused by the gods.  In fact, Lucretius argues, the gods exercise no causal power over the universe.  He explains:
"Nothing ever springs miraculously out of nothing.  The fact is that all mortals are in the grip of fear, because they observe many things happening on earth and in the sky and being at a complete loss for an explanation of their cause, suppose that a supernatural power is responsible for them.  Therefore, as soon s we have seen that nothing can be created out of nothing, we shall have a clearer view of the object of our search, namely the explanation of the source of all created things and of the way in which all things happen independently of the gods." (1.150-160)
Oddly, Ridley quotes this, but without seeing that this denies his interpretation of the swerve as an act of the gods (299).

And yet, if Lucretius denies that the gods have any causal power over the universe, then we might wonder why he needs to posit their existence.

In some previous posts (here, here, here, and here), I have presented the evolutionary explanation of religion as supporting my claim that one of the 20 natural desires is the desire for religious understanding.  As animals with evolved social brains that are adapted for reading the minds of the human agents around us, we are naturally inclined to detect rational agency; and consequently, we are prone to imagine that we see supernatural minds acting in our world.

Ridley adopts this theory in explaining the evolution of religion, and in arguing that this evolutionary explanation shows that religion does not have to be seen as a miraculous product of divine intervention in the world.  In fact, man has created God, because in the marketplace of religious beliefs, those beliefs that evolved by trial and error to be adapted to the human mind and human society survived and reproduced better than those beliefs that were less well adapted.

One might infer from this, as Ridley does, that gods exist only as fictional beliefs in the human mind.  But one might also say that the evolutionary explanation of religion is compatible with believing that God really exists, and that He has allowed the evolutionary process to endow human beings with the natural capacity for knowing Him.  Ridley recognizes this: "Neuro-theology is actually rather popular among believers, who take the view that it emphasizes the futility of atheism, rather than that it means gods are made up" (268).

I am reminded of the lectures by Father Robert Sirico and Leda Cosmides on the evolution of religion at the Mont Pelerin Society meeting in the Galapagos Islands in 2013.  I asked them whether they thought that atheism was unnatural in being contrary to the evolved nature of the human mind.  They both answered yes.

Part of the natural evolution of religious belief was the evolution of moral gods who were seen as the intelligent designers of morality.  That supported the belief that government needed to coercively enforce religious belief as the only way to sustain the moral order of society.  But if we can explain morality as itself spontaneously evolved through the social interaction of individuals seeking the mutual sympathy of sentiments, as Adam Smith and Charles Darwin argued, then we can accept the libertarian argument for tolerating religious pluralism and even atheism, because we can see moral order as a spontaneously evolved phenomenon that does not depend on enforcement by a divine intelligent designer.

But if we conclude from this that all social order arises best from unplanned and unpredictable spontaneous evolution, we have to wonder whether there is any need for government.

In some previous posts (here, here, and here), I have commented on the debate between classical liberals and libertarian anarchists as to whether a self-regulating society without government is possible.  Traditionally, classical liberals like Locke and Smith have said that yes, we need government, but only a limited government, to secure the conditions of liberty--to protect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to provide some public goods that cannot be provided by private groups.  In response to this, libertarian anarchists have argued that limited government fails, because there is a natural tendency for the powers of government to expand.  The liberal idea that society is an evolved, self-organizing order should lead to the anarchist idea of society without government.

Ridley is unclear as to where he stands in this debate.  On the one hand, he embraces Smith, and he sees that Smith "was no anarchist" (112).  Like Smith, Ridley believes that "there is a vital role for government to play" (101).  On the other hand, in explaining the evolution of government as originating as "a mafia protection racket," Ridley scorns "the government skyhook" (150, 238-241); and he is fascinated by historical examples of societies without much government in which multiple private law enforcers emerged.  He recognizes, however, that these were not anarchic societies, if by anarchy one means absence of any government at all, because what they had was decentralized self-governance (235-36).

At times, Ridley seems to suggest that the evolution of history is a progressive movement towards increasing liberty and declining violence in spontaneously organized societies where the state withers away.

In some previous posts (here, here, here, and here), I have worked through the debate over whether the evolution of classical liberalism shows that history is progressive.  Evolutionary liberals like Herbert Spencer saw history as an inevitable movement towards a fully free society based on spontaneous cooperation without any need for state coercion.  But it's hard to reconcile this progressive view of history with the unpredictable contingency of history.

In arguing that evolutionary history has no direction or goal, Ridley seems to deny that history has any predetermined path of progress (1-2).  But he also says that the Darwinian evolution of human practices and institutions is "in some vague sense progressive" (78).

Ridley concludes his book by declaring:
". . . Bad news is man-made, top-down, purposed stuff, imposed on history.  Good news is accidental, unplanned, emergent stuff that gradually evolves. The things that do go well are largely unintended; the things that go badly are largely intended.  Let me give you two lists.  First: the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Versailles Treaty, the Great Depression, the Nazi regime, the Second World War, the Chinese Revolution, the 2008 financial crisis: every single one was the result of top-down decision-making by relatively small numbers of people trying to implement deliberate plans--politicians, central bankers, revolutionaries and so on.  Second: the growth of global income; the disappearance of infectious diseases; the feeding of seven billion; the clean-up of rivers and air; the reforestation of much of the rich world; the internet; the use of mobile-phone credits as banking; the use of genetic finger-printing to convict criminals and acquit the innocent.  Every single one of these was a serendipitous, unexpected phenomenon supplied by millions of people who did not intend to cause these big changes. . . .
". . . Letting good evolve, while doing bad, has been the dominant theme of history.  That is why the news is full of only bad things being done, but we find when they are over that great good has happened unheralded.  Good things are gradual; bad things are sudden.  Above all, good things evolve." (318)
Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui meme.  Let the good things evolve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Natural Desire for Beauty

                                                    Bust of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt

Number 12 on my list of 20 natural desires is beauty.  Human beings generally desire beauty in the human body.  Everywhere human beings distinguish beauty and ugliness in bodily appearance.  They esteem the bodily signs of health and vigor.  They adorn their bodies for pleasing display.  Men tend to prefer women whose physical appearance shows signs of youthful nobility.  Women tend to prefer men whose physical appearance shows signs of strength and high status.

Number 18 on my list is aesthetic arts. Human beings generally desire aesthetic pleasure through artistic products and natural environments.  In every society, human beings take pleasure in artistic activities such as singing, dancing, playing musical instruments, forming language into poetic patterns, telling stories, carving, painting, and decorating objects.  Human beings also take pleasure in natural landscapes that resemble the savannas where the human species evolved.  Although human beings are flexible enough to live in urban environments, they try to recreate the natural environments of their evolutionary history as hunter-gatherers through park-like landscapes, gardening, and the company of animals.

A recent issue of Nature (October 8, 2015) has a collection of articles on the science of beauty.  This will be free online for six months.  The research surveyed in these articles suggests that the desire for beauty is a natural desire of our evolved human nature, and that our aesthetic judgment is a mixture of genetic, cultural, and objective factors.

People often assert that judgments of beauty are so subjectively and culturally variable that it's impossible to find any natural and universal standards of beauty.  But that's not true.  Studies have shown that judgments of beauty in faces and bodies are remarkably consistent across cultures, races, and history.  The famous bust of Queen Nefertiti is 3,300 years old, and yet she still looks beautiful to us today.  People from South Africa and Austria agree in judging the same Japanese women to be beautiful.

As indicated by Karl Grammer, the scientific research has identified at least eight elements of human bodily beauty: youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, sex-hormone markers, body odor, motion, skin complexion, and hair texture.  These elements of beauty are signals of youth, fertility, and health.  More attractive people are healthier on average than less attractive people.  More attractive women have more offspring on average than less attractive women.

In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin elaborated an evolutionary theory of beauty as the product of sexual selection: the more attractive animals find mates more often than the less attractive ones.  What is perceived as attractive for an animals species depends upon the sensory systems of potential mates.  According to the "sexy sons" theory, females might prefer to mate with males who are attractive because their sons are likely to be more attractive and thus more likely to find mates.  According to the "good genes" theory, females might be attracted to males who display signs of health and vigor because their offspring are likely to have the genes favoring health and vigor.

Although I am not sure that I fully understand what he is saying, I am intrigued by David Deutsch's argument that beauty is not just genetic and cultural, but also objective.  In explaining objective beauty, he says:
"The argument I like best is about why flowers are beautiful.  Flowers evolved to attract insects, and insects evolved to be attracted to flower s.  But this explanation leave a massive gap; it only explains why insects like flowers.  So how is it possible that something that evolved to attract insects can be attractive to humans too?  I conclude that there must be objective beauty--aspects of beauty exist outside cultural fads or sexual selection.  And these aesthetic truths are as objective as the laws of physics or mathematics."
There is also a connection between physical beauty and moral beauty.  Studies have shown that beautiful people are more likely to be perceived as trustworthy or virtuous than less attractive people.  Good looking political candidates are more likely to be chosen by voters.  Good looking people are more successful in the workplace.  Good looking defendants might be more likely to win leniency from judges and jurors.

I am reminded of David Hume's idea that aesthetic taste is the source of our judgments of both natural beauty and moral beauty.  We rely on taste, rather than reason, when we judge a work of art to be beautiful or an action to be virtuous.  Taste "gives the sentiments of beauty and deformity, vice and virtue" (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Appendix 1).  (See also Hume's essay on "Of the Standard of Taste.")

Scholars of Egyptian art believe that the bust of Nefertiti probably does not show what the queen really looked like.  The brain has evolved to make connections between physical beauty and moral beauty.  And so the sculptor Thutmose might have designed the bust of Nefertiti to convey her moral goodness or justice through the beauty of her face.  We might like to think that true beauty is inward rather than outward.  But we also hope that a beautiful face can display a beautiful soul.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Justice Abraham Lincoln's Opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges

A long list of prominent people have signed a "Statement Calling for Constitutional Resistance to Obergefell v. Hodges," which has been supported by the American Principles Project of the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton University.

They call for citizens and public officeholders to recognize that the decision in Obergefell is "anti-constitutional and illegitimate," and therefore that they should refuse to accept this decision as settled law, and they should recognize the authority of states to define marriage as the union of husband and wife, thus excluding same-sex unions.

To justify their stand, they quote twice from Abraham Lincoln's remarks about his resistance to the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), which declared that black slaves could not have the rights of citizens, because they were property, and that it was unconstitutional for the Congress to deny the right of slave masters to take their slave property into the Western territories.

Remarkably, the signers of this statement do not ask the question of how Lincoln might have decided the Obergefell case.  But in citing Lincoln as supporting their position, they imply that Lincoln would agree that this decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right is "anti-constitutional and illegitimate." 

I am not sure about that, because I can imagine that Lincoln would have voted with the majority in this case, arguing that extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples would conform to his understanding of the principles of the Declaration of Independence.  As he said in his speech on the Dred Scott decision, the Declaration declares all men equal in "certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The signers of the Declaration did not assert that all would soon enjoy that equality, Lincoln explained, but they did mean "to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit."  They meant to set up "a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere."

Much of the history of constitutional law over the past 150 years can be seen as constantly approximating that "standard maxim" of equal liberty for all "as fast as circumstances should permit."  Over a hundred years after Lincoln's death, the equal right to marriage for interracial couples was recognized as a constitutional right in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.  It took a century for the circumstances to change to allow this, because the racial bigotry supporting the anti-miscegenation laws was too strong to challenge.  It then took almost another fifty years before the circumstances changed to make it possible to extend the right to marriage to same-sex couples, because it took that long to overcome the irrational prejudices against gay and lesbian people.

Some people might object that Lincoln clearly would not have agreed with the decision in Loving, because he openly supported the laws against interracial marriage.  But as I have indicated in my recent post on Lincoln's speech in Charleston, he was careful in his use of ambiguous language.  He said: "I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."  To say that he is not nor ever has been in favor of this does not say that he never will favor this in the future.  Indeed, by the end of the Civil War, he recommended that the right to vote should be given to emancipated slaves.

Lincoln also indicated in his Charleston speech that the civil and political rights of blacks depended upon state legislation.  With the passage of the Civil War amendments--the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth--the circumstances were changed so that the states could no longer deny the natural rights affirmed by the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution.  So if Lincoln were on the Supreme Court today, he could look to the Fourteenth Amendment--particularly, the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process of Law Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause--to decide the Obergefell case. 

As a member of the Court today, Lincoln could have agreed with Justice Kennedy that "the nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times" (11).  And so it was not seen until 1967 that the right to marry is "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," and thus to deny this right to interracial couples is unjust.  In this way, as Justice Kennedy indicated, the Supreme Court "has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged" (20).

Lincoln saw the principles of the Declaration of Independence as teaching that each human being owns himself, has a "natural right to himself," has a natural right to pursue his happiness, and is "naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man's rights" (LA, 1:301, 327, 449; 2:589-590).  Similarly, Justice Kennedy in his Obergefell decision argues that same-sex marriage can be rightly protected as individual liberty as long as it poses no risk of harm to anyone (26-27).

Against this, Justice Roberts asserts that this harm principle of liberty is a matter of moral philosophy not of law (21-22).  Unlike Lincoln, Roberts does not see the moral philosophy of the Declaration of Independence as the "apple of gold" framed within the Constitution as the "picture of silver," so that the Declaration provides the "philosophical cause" for the American regime, which is the principle of "liberty for all" (CW, 4:168-169).  Roberts is a legal positivist and moral relativist like Stephen Douglas, who denies any appeal to the moral philosophy of the Declaration as a guide to interpreting the Constitution.

For Roberts and the other three dissenters in Obergefell, the only rights protected by the Constitution are those specifically enumerated in the text or those "implied fundamental rights" that are rooted in "the history and tradition of our people" (22).  And therefore there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage, because this right is neither specifically enumerated in the Constitution nor recognized by "history and tradition."  Thus, Roberts ignores the implication in the Constitution--particularly in the Ninth Amendment and the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment--that government is to secure all of the unenumerated rights necessary for "the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety" (the words of James Madison in his speech to the House on June 8, 1789).

As I have said in some previous posts, the dispute over the Obergefell case ultimately becomes a dispute over an empirical question as to whether legalizing same-sex marriage will harm anyone.  Will this weaken opposite-sex marriage?  Will this harm children?  The defenders of the Obergefell decision say no to both questions.  The critics say yes to both questions.

As I have indicated in previous posts, there is something strange in the claims about what harms children.  It is asserted that there is a risk of harm whenever children are not under the care of both the biological mother and the biological father.  Consequently, children are equally at risk in households with a single heterosexual parent, with heterosexual stepparents, with adoptive heterosexual parents, and with homosexual couples.  If the purpose of a state's marriage law is to give marriage licenses only to couples whose children will not face elevated risks of harm, then the state should not give licenses to heterosexual couples setting up households with stepchildren or adopted children.  The state could make "covenant marriage" (like that established in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona) the only form of legal marriage. (Oddly, the "Resistance Statement" identifies real marriage as "the covenantal partnership of one man and one woman," but it does not endorse "covenant marriage" law.)  If a state were to do this, there would be no irrational discrimination against same-sex couples that would violate Equal Protection, because many heterosexual couples would be denied marriage licenses for the same reason--the risk of harm to children--that same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses. 

As the "Resistance Statement" indicates, there is also another dispute here as to whether there are any constitutional means for resisting a controversial decision like Obergefell.  Justice Roberts and the other dissenters declare that once this decision is made, that stops all debate over the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, which they regard as an attack on the right of the people to govern themselves through democratic politics.

But that is false, because the Constitution provides many avenues for challenging and overturning unpopular Supreme Court decisions like this one.  The Congress can impeach Supreme Court judges who have made decisions that are "anti-constitutional and illegitimate."  The Congress can legislate that the Supreme Court has no appellate jurisdiction over cases concerning same-sex marriage.  The President and the Senate can appoint new judges pledged to overturn Obergefell.  The Congress and the states can pass a constitutional amendment declaring that same-sex marriage is not a constitutional right. 

I am surprised that the "Resistance Statement" does not specifically mention all of these constitutional powers through which unpopular Supreme Court opinions can be reversed.  I am also surprised that the "Resistance Statement" does not criticize the dissenters in this case for assuming that once the majority of the Court decides a question, that becomes settled law that cannot be challenged by anyone outside the Court.

My prediction is that as it becomes evident that legalized same-sex marriage is not harmful to children or to heterosexual marriage, the resistance to Obergefell will fade away.  But in the meantime, the resisters can try to persuade us that the harm is great, and therefore that this decision must be reversed.

My previous posts on the Obergefell decision can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

My previous posts on homosexuality, intersexuality, and the argument of Robert George for "real marriage" can be found here, here, here, here, here., here, here, and here.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ben Carson's Creationism: Is Evolutionary Science Promoted by Satan?

As Dr. Ben Carson has risen in the opinion polls for the Republican presidential primaries, there has been increased scrutiny of his Seventh Day Adventist religion, his creationist attack on evolution, and the connection between the two.  A YouTube video of Carson's lecture at an Adventist creationist conference a few years ago illuminates some of this.

If you watch the whole video, you will notice that Carson begins and ends his lecture by claiming that Darwin's theory of evolution has been "encouraged by the Adversary."  Of course, "the Adversary" is Satan.  This and almost everything else he says comes from the founder of Seventh Day Adventism--Ellen White--and from George McCready Price, who defended White's creationist denial of evolution by developing a "flood geology" that interpreted the geological fossil record as showing the results of Noah's flood.  This became the basis for the "creation science" that was elaborated by Henry Morris in the 1960s.

White had many visions from God.  In one of them, God gave her a vision of the original creation of the world in six literal days, which showed that Darwinian evolution must be a false science designed by Satan to promote disbelief in the literal truth of the Bible.  She also believed that the Bible taught that the whole universe was no more than 6,000 years old.  Price and Morris claimed that the scientific evidence supported this creationist view as superior to Darwinian evolution.

From what Carson says in his lecture, he seems to accept all of this except for one point.  While he accepts the literal six-days-of-creation story, he does not accept the idea that the universe is no more than 6,000 years old.  He doesn't explain why he disagrees with White, Price, and Morris about this.

Carson agrees that the idea of evolution is Satanic because it is necessarily atheistic.  But then he describes joining with Francis Collins in debating Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett.  Collins is a theistic evolutionist who believes that God has used the evolutionary process to carry out His creative will.  Carson stresses that Collins is a great scientist who is also a Christian, but Carson passes over Collins' acceptance of evolution very casually by saying Collins is "an evolutionist of a sort."

Carson thus does not seriously confront the possibility that theism and evolution are compatible.  There is even some evidence that Darwin himself was a theistic evolutionist who used the theological idea of "dual causality" to argue that the Creator could be the "primary cause" who worked through the "secondary causes" of evolution.

Oddly, Carson himself comes close to this idea when he talks about the evolution of Darwin's finches in the Galapagos.  Carson accepts the fact that the finches have changed in an evolutionary process of adaptation to their environment, and he says that it shows more intelligence for God to have made finches capable of adaptive evolution without any need for God to miraculously intervene every few years to do this.  But if this is so, then why would it not show God's intelligence to have allowed the entire evolutionary process from the beginning to carry out His will, which is the thought of theistic evolutionists like Collins?  What reasons does Carson have for believing that God is unable or unwilling to work through evolution?

Darwin's finches pose another problem for Carson.  The finches and some other species on the Galapagos are unique to these islands, although they resemble species on the Latin American mainland.  Why?  According to the creation scientists, all species were created in six days at the beginning, and then all of these species were carried on Noah's Ark through the flood until the Ark landed in Turkey, and then the species migrated around the world.  If so, why did some species go the Galapagos and disappear from the rest of the world.  Darwin offered a biogeographical theory to explain this as superior to the theory of special creation.  Carson doesn't explain why he thinks the theory of special creation works better to explain this.

Carson also ignores Darwin's account of the evolution of human morality when Carson argues that "survival of the fittest" cannot explain morality.  According to Carson, "survival of the fittest" would mean that murder is good if the murderer is stronger that his victim.  The only source of morality is the Bible and the Biblical teaching that human beings are created in God's image.

Moreover, Carson insists, this Biblical morality has been adopted by the United States, beginning with the affirmation of the Creator in the Declaration of Independence.  As a result of America's becoming the Chosen People of God in 1776, America's influence in the world has brought over 200 years of progress--such as the landing of men on the Moon--that would not have been possible without God's intervention.  This is a remarkable claim.

Notice also that Carson claims that his famous neurosurgery in which he separated twins conjoined at the brain would not have been possible if God had not intervened miraculously.  I have no idea of whether the evidence supports this or not.

Some of my previous posts on these points can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.