Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Jousting at Windmills:Intelligent Design

Liberals and scientists who object to intelligent design in the school curriculum are jousting at windmills. The incorporation of a theory of intelligent design into a science curriculum will not influence or harm the education of any budding scientist. This is because the theory of intelligent design cannot be a scientific theory.

Scientific theories are mnemonic devices for both remembering procedures for experiments and for suggesting new experimental procedures and predicting the results. Experiments are repeatable procedures that produce predictable results, though they lose the name of experiment (except in classrooms) once we know what the result will be. When a theory suggests an experiment, predicting a result that turns out to be true, we call the theory true. Later, when its predictions fail, we supersede it with a new theory but retain it for use in recalling the procedures it earlier revealed. We discard it as theory without a qualm and yet continue to use it to produce the old results though it may contradict the new theory. It lasts as long as it is useful as a mnemonic device.

The solidity, and only real content, of science, is these repeatable predictable procedures found through experiment. These endure the demise of the theories that spawned them. The rest is, at best, reminders and suggestions for more experiments, and at worst, dangerous overreaching hubris like the scientific assurances of nuclear reactor safety where no science could guarantee any such thing. The whole of real science is identical in form to a cookbook. Theories are ways for remembering and generating recipes. They are equivalent to a line at the end of a cookbook that reads : Now use your imagination and the recipes you have learned to make up new recipes of your own! The cookbook can tell us how to do many things, but has no predictive power with regard to unforeseen events, like tsunamis, that violate the experimental procedures. Science is a compendium of ways of doing things, not a collection of knowledge about nature, except to the extent that nature mimics repetition.

The theory of intelligent design does not suggest an experiment whose result we can predict. It offers us no recipes. It's complete lack of connection to any procedure rules it out as a “scientific” theory. Scientifically, it is empty. Whether some intelligent designer did or did not make the world is scientifically irrelevant. What experimental procedure does it suggest, what result predict? If someone wanted to introduce it into a, say, biology course, he could only mention it and thereafter ignore it. For science is not in the business of producing airy unfounded explanations, it is in the business of cataloging experiments whose results we can predict ahead of time. Such experiments can be of use. Not so airy explanations. Newton offers no explanation of why gravity works as it does. His theory predicts the location of bodies at given times. That's it. Why they are there is not a scientific question. To understand the nature of an experiment is to dismiss the theory of intelligent design as beside the point. The budding scientist, once he grasps the nature of experiment, will find no use for intelligent design regardless of how often his unscientific teachers have drummed it into his head.

The theory of intelligent design does not fail because it is nonsense. After all, it's not nonsense, it is just not scientifically relevant. Logically, many scientific theories are nonsense. Scientists are poor at logic. For example, let us consider theories about light. Light is thought to behave sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle. These are incompatible theories. That light sometimes behaves like a wave rules out the theoretical particle, and vice versa. Logically, the experimental evidence rules out both theories. Instead a physicist accepts both, using each where it is convenient. And he is quite right to do so, once we realize that the purpose of theory is only to indicate the procedures for experiments, theories need not be logically coherent. Kuhn's work on scientific revolutions shows just how reluctant scientists are to yield to logic and give up fruitful theories. The physicist solves his logical problem with a smug smile that he substitutes for logical thought. For such thought is really not part of his business.

I mention one more silliness, though there are many – space-time. Both “space” and “time” are, scientifically, measurements. Measurements too suggest procedures, but do not predict results except in one important way: With the exception of measurements of time, a measurement predicts the result of a remeasurement. We all know procedures for measuring distance— laying out yardsticks and such. Measurement of time is quite different. It is simply a rhythmic counting, best done mechanically, or, even better, electronically. A period of time, once counted can never be recounted. Remeasurements of time are impossible. We can remeasure the same space because we ignore the ways in which it is different, just as we cannot remeasure a period of time because we ignore the way periods of time are the same.

The procedures for measuring time are quite different from those with which we measure space. Taken together these procedures do not form some kind of invisible four dimensional cube that fills up the nothing of space for all time. They are what they are, human activities, counting on the one hand and laying out rulers on the other. Space and time do have a link because we can do both procedures at the same time. We we can find out just how long it takes us to go from here to there, or how far we can go in an hour, both by counting while we walk. But there is no “something” called space-time, no matter how intricately they can be tied together mathematically.

Through theory, science has puffed itself up far beyond its true size. It's pretensions to tell us of the past all rest on assumptions we may or may not think plausible, but which have no ground. All scientific theories, without exception are, and can only be, interpretations of experiments we do in the here and now. For everything we do, we do here and now. Scientific theories about the past gain scientific validity, like any other scientific theory, if they successfully predict the result of some experiment we can do. Such a theory is like a connect the dots picture. We know some dots, our theory accords with them and predicts the location of other dots. If we find dots where we expect to, we believe the theory until some dots turn up missing. So the form of a scientific theory about the past is this: Procedures this picture “implies” produce accurately the results of certain experiments and this picture also suggests another experiment predicting a result that was correct, therefore the implications this picture makes about the past are true. The problem with this is that the last part of this argument is an unscientific statement unless it means that we might find some experiment that would disprove it. If so, the real meaning falls back again into the here and now.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Shi'ites and Jews

Iran is not making an atomic weapon and if it had one would not use it against Israel. Anyone with any doubt on this score should read Gordon Prather's articles. Iran is a threat to Israel, but not a military threat. The real danger to Israel is quite elsewhere.

Within the states of the Middle East are people with other, far-older loyalties, religious and ethnic, that reassert themselves when states collapse. Iraq, as we have seen, was a marriage of three entirely different communities held together with a tyrannical state structure. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, though that did not make him Hitler. All history acknowledges that Peisistratus, tyrant of Athens, benefited the city. Saddam, though he repressed dissent harshly, did much to improve life in Iraq, which was, until the United States destroyed it, the most advanced and secular state in the region. But, abetted by the US, he launched the Iran/Iraq war that, when he lost, sealed his fate.

In any case Saddam, if he was to hold Iraq together, had no choice but to be a tyrant. Democracy is not automatically a good thing, in spite of American opinion to the contrary. His party, the Ba'ath, was a secular, socialist party. Iraq could not afford sectarian political religious affiliation, and Saddam repressed it. Under him Sunnis and Shi'ites, both then more secular than religious, mixed freely. Saddam did favor Sunnis over Shi'ites, and homeboys from Tikrit over other Sunnis. All politicians favor their loyal retainers. Only in that way can they maintain power. He repressed opposition, especially religious and ethnic based opposition, brutally. Michael Aflaq, the Ba'ath founder, was western educated and formed a party whose purpose was secular Arab unity. Given underlying religious hostility this was only possible under a tyranny. With its persuasive secular success, the Ba'ath sapped religious affiliation of Sunnis and Shi'ites alike. They intermarried and thought little of their religious differences, just as ethnic non-religious Jews think little of marrying outside Judaism in the United States. The war and the demonization of the Ba'ath Party, discredited secularism and sectarian religious affiliation returned with a vengeance. The Ba'ath Party, or something very like it, was necessary to hold Iraq together in a secular unity bridging and weakening religious affiliation. Iraqi unity depended upon Ba'ath success. The American destruction of the Ba'ath party made the disintegration of Iraq into constituent communities almost inevitable. For the baby of secularism was thrown out with the Ba'ath. The brutality of the secular Shah had similarly discredited secularism in Iran.

Iran, of course, is the modern heir to the ancient Persian Empire, but Shi'ism, in particular “Twelver” Shi'ism, of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the other Arab kingdoms of the Gulf, rules Iran after the revolution. Shi'ism is a branch of Islam seen as a spiritual journey guided by an Imam (now in seclusion), who, as a spiritual leader, is on a par with Mohammad himself. In his place is a council of Ayatollahs who dwell throughout the Persian Gulf. The supreme leader of Iran is chosen by these Ayatollahs, that is not only the Iranian, but the entire Shia faithful. As we have seen in Iraq, al-Sistani, one of these Ayatollahs, had authority over Al-Sadr is spite of al-Sadr's military force. The US cannot end the Ayatollahs' authority through military means, and still less through sanctions. Since Shi'ism does not promise secular success, deprivation of it does not discredit it. The only power that might be ranged against it is increased secular success, and the US bungle in Iraq ended any belief that the US could provide that.

With the destruction of the Ba'ath party and the end of secular pan-Arabism, the Arab Shi'ites in Iraq are more Shi'ites than secular Iraqis. A similar transformation would probably happen in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia if secularism failed for them. Their ultimate loyalty will be to the da'wa, not the nation states whose boundaries they would scarcely recognize. Kuwaiti Shi'ites have in the past proven themselves loyal to the regime, revealing that they too are secularized. But, this is now strained. With the Arab spring the same pressures that inspired religious revival in Iraq are working in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. For when people are deprived of the material benefits of secularism they abandon it.

Prior to the Iraq War, its Shi'ite communities were never able to organize politically, and they all remained either secularized Arabs, Shi'ite in name only, or suppressed religious Shi'ite minorities in taqiyya, a Shi'ite term that means “concealing their true allegiance from the worldly authorities lest persecution wipe out the faith.”i But with Iran's independence and now Iraq's disintegration, these Shi'ite communities have become religious. The hostility between Sunni and Shi'ite, dating back many hundreds of years, is flowering again. Given the hierarchical nature of Shi'ism, religious Shi'ites must be loyal to that hierarchy. Practicing Shi'ism is an education the hierarchy leads. It, like Orthodox Judaism, involves all of life. The expanding Shi'ite religious/political structure will probably look to us like an expanding Iran, but will really be an Shi'ism, retaking its ancient form. Since all the Ayatollahs chose the Iranian Supreme leader it is clear tht Iran is a province of a larger entity, the da'wa. And it will control most of the oil producing regions.

The US can do very little about this. Given its loss in Iraq it is obviously not able to war conventionally against Iran. Changes in US war fighting doctrine acknowledge this. Iran's grip on the Straits of Hormuz traps the whole fifth fleet in case of war. If the strait were closed it would be locked into the Persian Gulf, making its resupply onerous. To extricate itself from this vise, the US would have to use atomic weapons, ending oil shipments from the gulf and throwing every advanced country into political chaos. Political chaos throws fanatics and crackpots into power. We see what kind of crackpots even the present depression throws up. And once the taboo against atomic weapons was gone, none of these crackpots would hesitate to use them in any war. Candidates for president have even said so. By far the most rational policy for the US is recognition of the impossibility of maintaining hegemony over the Persian Gulf and rapprochement with Iran.

Israel's survival depends upon, above all else, its relationship to the United States. It is under no serious military threat. A tiny country like Israel would never have been able to develop to its present level, however ingenious its people, without this close economic interaction with the US. Direct US aid is only a small part of the story. Israel's high tech firms do a lot of business with US security departments. American Jewish political strength, and the close connection between American and Israeli Jews is essential for Israeli existence. Israelis can move easily into positions of power in American High Tech and Financial Corporations, and even into government which includes many Israelis with duel citizenship.

The economic and political connection is important, but the connection between American and Israeli Jews is more important than mere economic or even political advantage. For the economic and political connection between Israel and the US depends upon the close connection between the American Jewish community and Israel. Most American Jews pay little attention to Israel, as opposed to the organized Jewish community that gives Israel enormous support. They give this support because they believe Israel is important to them.

Israel, for all its Judaism, is part of western civilization. Were there to be a break between America and Israel, ending the ease of Israeli penetration of American life, it would be a break between Israel and western civilization itself. Orthodox Jews, who do nothing but study the Talmud, are not that different from religious Shi'ites who do nothing but study the Koran. Judaism and western civilization intersect in the United States now that European Judaism no longer really exists culturally. A breach in this connection, inspiring the flight of westernized Jews, would turn Israel, in all likelihood, into a Middle Eastern state. Were Israel really to sink into rigid medieval Jewish Orthodoxy, westernized Jews would abandon it, and it would be overcome by the medieval logic its laws, rabbinical commentaries on laws, and Rabbinical commentaries on commentaries on laws so completely illustrate.

American Jews tend to assimilate unless tightly held within this Jewish community. They then do not pay attention to Israel and do not really believe they themselves are in immanent danger from antisemitism. An American Jew, with the almost complete end of American antisemitism in the fifties, is an American, like any other. Essential to continued American Jewish community support is the belief in Israel's importance to Jewish life, something these assimilated Jews obviously do not feel. Indeed it is this belief that holds these communities together. Since the belief in Israel's importance to American Jews is identical with the belief in eternal implacable antisemitism, and since most American Jews have never experienced serious antisemitism, their belief reflects Jewish historical fears now focused entirely on the image of the holocaust. That Jews are always embattled, always threatened with extinction, must be beyond question or its absence in experience would undermine belief. Israel is the Jewish refuge, and its existence, as a doomsday machine, protects Jews everywhere from this ever present menace. The holocaust justifies the fears and, with them, Israel's existence. Israelis often assert that assimilation endangers them more than warfare, and it is true.

Such assimilation is a real danger. For Israel is having a hard time persuading western Jews of Israel's high purpose. Aliyah (immigration) from North America is up from 3720 to 4070 last year, but this is piddling given the American Jewish population of over 6,000,000. Until 2008 Aliyah had shown yearly declines so Jews make aliyah more for economic reasons than for loyalty to Israel. Many of those who make Aliyah from other countries, especially Russia (the source of a large number of immigrants), soon seek to leave Israel for the West and better opportunities. Israelis of European, especially German, descent often seek duel citizenship, revealing that Jews do not really fear returning to Germany and do not feel safe in Israel. They do not fear another holocaust. Almost all American Jews in Israel retain their American citizenship and often do not make Aliyah when moving to Israel in spite of the tax advantages, fearing to risk loss of American citizenship. More Israelis emigrate than immigrate. The point is not so much demographic as it is an indication that Israel, for most Western Jews, is not a holy place, but simply an opportunity to be taken when it seems advantageous and abandoned when it doesn't.

Iran's conference in 2006 examined the holocaust. Not denial of the holocaust, but simply exposing it to scholarly study, challenges Israeli existence. Horror vanishes under scientific scrutiny. It begins to take its place alongside other comparable horrors, of which there are many. Such study must be “beyond the pale,” and any regime that would allow it, illegitimate.

Hostility between Israel and Iran is not new. Israel has had hostile relations with Iran since the revolution. Prior to the revolution, Israel, Peacock-throned Iran, and the US formed a close alliance to control the Middle East and undermine efforts at Arab unity. Naturally, when the Islamic Revolution came in 1979, Israel supported the Shah against the revolutionaries, and, with the United States, supported counterrevolution thereafter. So there is no surprise at the Iranian regime's hostility to Israel from the start. Iran called Israel the “little Satan” and later supported the Lebanese Shi'ite resistance organization, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Hamas. Khomeini also challenged the holocaust, but since he was a “nut case” anyway, his criticism did not invite scholarly examination. A scholarly conference is quite another matter. It has to be put “beyond the pale.”

Israel supported Iran during the Iran/Iraq war, and took part in Iran/ Contra scheme where the US funneled arms to the Nicaraguan Contras through Israel and then Iran. Israeli hostility to Iran, though there, was certainly not implacable, as it is now. It is not because Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas that Israel now threatens it. If Hezbollah and Hamas did not exist Israel would have had to invent them (and in a very real way, did). They are props justifyingand illustrating Israel's embattled state. Israel began warning of the Iranian bomb, without any evidence, back in the nineties, but made no threats of war. The holocaust conference is what Israel can't bear.

What would be a crisis for Israel is rapprochement between the US and Iran. Were US-Iranian relations to be normalized the Iranian regime would be legitimized along with holocaust scrutiny. The demystification of the holocaust would follow. Hostility towards Jews would fall into context. It would cease to be universal, implacable, and eternal. Together the US and Iran might impose an Israeli settlement with Hamas and Hezbollah. Ubiquitous antisemitism would lose its objective correlative. Nothing could end American Jewish support for Israel faster than a peaceful Middle East. For where then would be the threat? Such rapprochement is, I believe, somewhat more likely than it seems, though it would require a sane, courageous, and intelligent American leader, certainly a long shot.

Again, The US has lost its hold on the Middle East Gulf Principalities. It has also lost in Afghanistan. It's current foreign policy is a refusal to admit it, that is, active self-deception. The US controlled the Persian Gulf states with threats and unholy alliances with parasitic regimes. But after the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes the United States will not send another army into the Persian Gulf. The American fifth fleet, trapped, presents sitting ducks to an Iranian missile and torpedo attack. Gunboat diplomacy is over. And Iran can close the Straits of Hormuz, if necessary by sinking tankers within its only five-mile-wide channel. These tankers are over 300 meters long and are unarmed. Two children in a canoe could sink one. That would strand any American ground forces in the area, cutting off their supply lines. The US could send drones, but could gain nothing thereby. With all this Shi'ites would only become more religious and less secular. Were the United States to overthrow one of the Gulf princes the outcome would almost certainly be, as it was in Iraq, a reorganization around religious affiliation. And the Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, certain, because of the nature of Shi'ism, to join with Iran and the da'wa, are in the oil producing regions. So American influence on the Gulf Princedoms through threats is waning fast. For these threats are no longer credible. That influence rests now only on habit.

American financial influence in the Middle East is also rapidly disappearing as the Gulf states realize they have nothing to gain and little to fear from the United States. But their own people now threaten to end these regimes. The west would like to string pipelines to avoid the Strait of Hormus and Iran's stranglehold on it. But pipelines that skirt the strait will not be able to transport food to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait without large quantities of which they can expect starvation and massive popular uprisings. To calm popular anger, they need to reduce food prices and build infrastructure, not buy American arms. The US has nothing more to offer. China is the country that can build. The bungling of reconstruction in Iraq discredited any US claim to be able to build infrastructure. In short the United States has no real hold over the Gulf Arab states and they are turning to Russia and China, abandoning the dollar, and doing business in yuan and gold.

European countries will come to their senses and realize their interest lies with the oil producing Middle East and not with bankrupt and impotent US. Rapprochement between them and the Shi'ite da'wa will soon follow. They too now follow US lead only out of habit. If the US does not launch nuclear war, it will have to eventually make peace too, but it will gain little influence thereby, for the brutality, corruption, and incompetence of the American war in Iraq would taint anyone with American connections. That, in the long run will be good for the US, which will soon have to rely upon its own resources in any case, and the sooner the better.

So if things just bump along the rutted road our leaders are now dragging us down, rapprochement, first with breakaway portions of the Gulf States, then with Europe, and finally with the US itself, is inevitable. The only alternative is nuclear war or some other means of human extinction. Rapprochement with Iran, inevitable if the world continues, would be a rational American policy even though it would be painful to the US. It would require the US to relinquish dollar hegemony and give up its arms sales to the Middle East, which would in turn impoverish most Americans. But since a conventional war with Iran is not possible and growing Shia political strength will eventually dominate the oil producing regions, the only alternative to rapprochement is nuclear war.

World nuclear war or rapprochement — which is the rational policy? Only a realistic and brave leader, knowing that the United States cannot maintain control, would dare to relinquish this control rather than try futilely to maintain it with first, impoverishing self-delusion and, finally, nuclear war, extinguishing human civilization. But, since tearing away illusion would reveal bad news, no American run-of-the-mill, shit-faced, political hack will do it. It would risk his career. He would extinguish civilization instead.

Were the US to normalize its relations with Iran, Israel, or at least its present elite, would be in crisis. Peace would probably break out. Implacable antisemitism would have no objective correlative. American Jews would lose interest in Israel. Israel would lose its connection to the west.

However, not all Jews, and not even all religious Jews, thrive on a spiritual diet of eternal, implacable, ubiquitous antisemitism. Neturei Karta is an organization of Orthodox Jews actively against Zionism or any Jewish state. They do not fear living among the goyim, and indeed they see this as true Judaism. They insist that the Torah forbids a Jewish state. Jews are a race of prophets, meant to go into foreign lands, not warriors to protect one. Members of Neturei Karta insist that real Judaism is diaspora Judaism. All westernized Jews believe this true, whether they know it or not. It is only because Israel is westernized, really an outpost of Europe, that they can think it an extension of who they are. American Jews, in the community and outside, would not want to return to shtetls cut off from the Western world. They want to live here, as Americans. The educated Israeli population feels the same connection to the West, to the US or Europe. Were American Jews to lose interest in Israel, and Israel thereby lose its intimate connection to the United States and its image as the protector of the Jews, Israeli educated Jews would likely emigrate in large numbers. But what would happen in Israel after rapprochement only history would tell. Naturally, the best hope would be that it would become a state of all its people.

iMarshall G. S. Hodgson “The Secret Order of Assassins” University of Pennsylvania Press 2005 p 12