William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Author: Briggs (page 3 of 413)

Latest Threat To Global Warming? In Vitro Fertilization

Certified carbon-free footprint.

Certified carbon-free footprint.

Stop me if you’re heard this one before. An academic, educated well beyond her capabilities, having a lot of free time on her hands, and frightened past the point of rational thinking by the terrifying promises of the horrors which await us once global warming strikes (soon, soon), figures out a way to solve the “crisis”. Her solution is—wait for it—to put the government in charge of making babies!

Ha ha ha! What a good joke!

(Where have we seen this before?)

The commedienne is Cristina Richie from the Theology Department (yes) at Boston College. Her peer-reviewed leg-pulling is entitled “What would an environmentally sustainable reproductive technology industry look like?” in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Richie’s line is that “all of medicine and healthcare should be evaluated in terms of ecological sustainability”, especially the “assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) industry”. What’s an ART? An in vitro fertilisation factory.

ARTs deserve “special ethical attention” not because they are wasteful of human life (many embryos don’t make the cut and are never heard from again), but because they not “only absorb the ‘typical’ medical resources like buildings, medical instruments and intellectual capital, they are unique in that they alone create carbon legacies in addition to having a carbon footprint.” She doesn’t mind the killing, it’s done using electricity that bothers her.

“People who use ARTs are deliberately seeking a carbon legacy (emphasis mine).”

Carbon legacy? She means junior-sized human beings. Babies aren’t people, but carbon-generation machines. Utilitarianism pushed to its logical extreme is always funny, no?

Richie only cares about the factory-made babies, not the kind ordinary moms and dads make (are we still allowed to say “moms and dads” or is that something-or-other-phobic?). Though she does scold that “naturally made children” have an “undeniable impact” on the “environment.”

Babies made through ARTs are “a burden on the already over-taxed ecosystem to support new beings who might not have existed without medical intervention.” Yet how “over-taxed” can it be if Boston College can give Richie a cushy living, free of normal responsibility?

Ever wonder how to sound like an academic? How about this sentence? “Since the 1980s, the field of environmental bio-ethics has made the connection among pollution, carbon emissions and human health.”

Ever wonder how academics can lecture people outside their competencies? How about this sentence? “The impact of climate change on world citizens has continued to receive interest in the medical industry, urging consumption reduction to better the lives of those who currently suffer under conditions of food scarcity, respiratory disease and drought as a result of CO2 emissions.”

Has no one told her that CO2 has not caused any of these things? That, even if the IPCC is right, the apocalypse is still in the future and not yet? And, judging by how strongly her ego is tied to her theory, should we tell her? Breaking the bad news that all is not lost might not go well.

Skip it. Let’s get to Richie’s “solutions.” First, “[t]here is nothing that a potential parent could do, short of moving to another country, to offset the carbon of a biological child.” (She thinks Americans are especially egregious climate sinners.)

Second, banning. “While a moratorium on all fertility clinics would be the most ecologically sound decision in this purview, it is unlikely that established fertility procedures or treatments would be effectively ‘banned’ until global CO2 emissions stabilise.”

Third, “carbon capping.” Richie isn’t an economist, and writes like one who has no familiarity with the subject, which is why she suggests something like the “Kyoto Protocol and make an entire country accountable for carbon emissions, thus forcing each and every sector to examine their consumptive practices.”

Lest you think Richie has nothing solid to offer, she says this, which is true. “ARTs use scarce communal resources such as intellectual research, government funding for development and medical buildings. Natural procreation qua procreation does not. That is, a woman wishing to become pregnant through ARTs has to go to a clinic, visit a doctor and use the carbon-intensive resources of the medical industry.” She forgot to mention IVF can be highly wasteful of human life.

She’s also right when she says, “many fertile people who could become pregnant without any extra resources use ARTs”.

So while the enemy of my enemy might be my friend, and since I’m not fond of IVF you think I might support Richie, it can’t be done for the reasons she offers. For as the man said, the “greatest treason” is “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

Government To Issue Baby Licenses

Not the kind of baby license he has in mind.

Not the kind of baby license he has in mind. (Image source.)

Regular readers will recall that I am a (self-appointed) bioethicist, a post I take on not because I need the work, but because the professionals are making such a hash of it.

Take professional “futurist” Zoltan Istvan’s recent article in Wired, “It’s time to consider restricting human breeding” who poses the question nobody was asking, “In this transhumanist future, should everyone still be allowed to have unlimited children whenever they want?”

He meant it rhetorically, naturally, where all bien pensant would know to answer No. (But then even the best of us cannot have children whenever we want.)

His question has a proviso, relying on “transhumanism”, sometimes abbreviated “H+”. The easy answer is that this is the state of human beings envisioned by those who have watched too much bad science fiction on television. Think Six Million Dollar Man grafted onto an iPad—or maybe its the other way around.

The longer and more tedious definition is exactly the same, except the parts that make up Steve Austin’s limbs have been successfully miniaturized and mass produced and genetically engineered. “Defectives” would not be allowed out of the wome to mix with their betters.

The fallacy underlying transhumanism is not that our body parts won’t be replaced by Apple Corp (or whomever, and for a large fee), which smart money practically guarantees, but that once this happens we become something other than human, something superior, once we reach a “singularity” or pass some “tipping point” or whatever. In other words, transhumanism is yet one more in a long and ever-increasing list of Utopian schemes, and yet more proof that abandoning a classic education leads to a fundamental ignorance of the reality of man’s unchangeable nature.

Transhumanists are far from the first to think of that happy State which awaits us once we work out the technology. In Brave New World, transhumans were born in a factory via “Bokanovsky’s Process”, bred like mushrooms. Istvan thinks this a swell idea—and that the State should be in charge of it.

Enter fallacy number two, appropriately called the Transformation Fallacy. It’s when a common person possessing all the faults, weaknesses, and sins of a common mortal is transformed into a purely altruistic loving caring faultless man of superior-intellect merely by being appointed to a government post. It’s become rare not to see this fallacy. Istvan is a slave to it.

“I cautiously,” Istvan says, inventing a new and opposite meaning for cautiously, “endorse the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s licence.” State issued, of course. To support this he says,

The philosophical conundrum of controlling human procreation rests mostly on whether all human beings are actually responsible enough to be good parents and can provide properly for their offspring. Clearly, untold numbers of children — for example, those millions that are slaves in the illegal human trafficking industry — are born to unfit parents.

Untold? Millions? Parents who won’t sell their children into slavery stand a higher chance of being licensed. Also, parents “who pass a series of basic tests qualify and get the green light to get pregnant and raise children.” Who will write, score, administrate, and enforce the outcome of these tests? Those who have been changed via the transformation fallacy.

Istvan isn’t alone. He quotes other transhumanists, like Hank Pellissier “founder of the Brighter Brains Institute” (!), Paul “Prognostication Bombed” Ehrlich, an “advocate for government intervention to control human population”, and “bioethics pioneer” (!) Joseph Fletcher whom he quotes as saying “many births are accidental”. Accidental? Accidental? As in, “Honey, I didn’t realize that when we had sex you might have got pregnant“?

Skip it. If you haven’t been convinced that parenting licences are required, Istvan has this up his sleeve: “After all, we don’t allow people to drive cars on crack cocaine.” Devastating, no? Licensing parents would drive down crime rates, too. He says.

How to keep unlicensed people from the unaccidental consequences of doin’ what come naturally? Implanted birth control microchips which “can deliver hormones into the body via an on-off switch on your mobile phone”. We can call it the Lack of Responsibility App.

He closes his article with these words: “As a liberty-loving person, I have always eschewed giving up any freedoms.” Does he, though. For the next words are “However…”

This is the same speech you get from all progressives and statists. “I hate to do it, but it’s for your own good.”

Update See also this.

What Should Artists Do About Global Warming Contest

This is art.

This is art.

Picture shows artist Sarah Cameron Sunde, who stood in San Francisco Bay on Friday Aug. 15, 2014, “for a full cycle of tides, a more-than 13-hour process.

A more than 13-hour process!

Why did artist Sarah Cameron Sunde stand in San Francisco Bay “for a full cycle of tides”, which is “more-than 13-hour process”? You already know the answer. To turn the tide against global warming!

Come, wasn’t it brave of artist Sarah Cameron Sunde to stand in San Francisco Bay “for a full cycle of tides”, which is “more-than 13-hour process”? She called her art “36.5: A Durational Performance with the Sea.”

Artist Sarah Cameron Sunde stood in San Francisco Bay “for a full cycle of tides”, a “more-than 13-hour process”, to raise awareness about rising sea levels. Consider my awareness raised! For instance, I’m now aware that if the Pacific ocean keeps rising at the same alarming rate as now, then in three or four short centuries, residents might have to move their beach chairs an inch or two back from the shore, lest they get wet feet.

SF Gate reports artist Sarah Cameron Sunde’s final words: “I’m walking out – I hope I survive”.

She did. Survive, that is. But there was little doubt. Artist Sarah Cameron Sunde also stood around in the water for a day in Bass Harbor, Maine and Akumal, Mexico. She survived those, too. SF Bay is pretty cold, though. Her warming trick? “I pee in the wetsuit,” she said. Charming.

Now I don’t know about you, but this is what I call art. Don’t take my word for it. Writer Jennifer Herman, the paper reports, happened to walk by and noticed Sunde not doing anything, so she, Herman, “was inspired to sit down and write some prose.” Prose!

Great art should be inspirational, and while it’s true little could top artist Sarah Cameron Sunde’s “durational performance”, we still ought to try. We only have one planet! (Not counting the few billion which are slightly too far away to get to using today’s technology.)

Dear readers, what kind of art best conveys the true message of Global Warming?

Contest

Readers must describe, in 300 words or so, art which raises awareness of the true message of Global Warming. You have one week from today to do so.

Entries with vivid pictures will, of course, receive higher weight. As will those that are written in professional art talk. Look to any major museum or art installation for examples, or take your cue from artist Sarah Cameron Sunde, who managed to make standing around in the water for a few hours into a heroic sounding deed.

Yours Truly is the sole judge and jury. There will be no appeals. I may engage in favoritism.

The Booty

The winner will receive a Kindle copy of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein (due to be released November 13, 2014).

The winner must supply me his or her email one week after I announce his or her name. Look to this webpage for the announcement.

Pass It On

Readers will be doing the entire planet a service by passing this contest around to the widest extent possible. Use the buttons below to push the post to Facebook, Twitter, and other services. Or simply email it.

Come on, gang! We have a planet to save!

Bonus activity

In popular accounts, of course. Do try it. “The science is settled!” becomes “The politics are settled!” Have fun!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Not Made Of Matter

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

A relatively simple argument today. God is not made of stuff. Who would disagree? Pagans, perhaps. For example, the god of the atheists is a demiurge, a sort of superior created or “evolved” being, and therefore made of matter. But not God. What’s nifty about today’s discussion is the role of “chance”. For that, we turn back (again) to Aristotle.

Chapter 17: That in God there is no matter

1 FROM this it follows that God is not matter.i

2 For matter, such as it is, is in potentiality.ii

3 Again. Matter is not a principle of activity: wherefore, as the Philosopher puts it,[1] efficient and material causes do not coincide. Now, as stated above,[2] it belongs to God to be the first efficient cause of things. Therefore He is not matter.iii

4 Moreover. For those who referred all things to matter as their first cause, it followed that natural things exist by chance: and against these it is argued in 2 Phys.[3] Therefore if God, Who is the first cause, is the material cause of things, it follows that all things exist by chance.iv

5 Further. Matter does not become the cause of an actual thing, except by being altered and changed. Therefore if God is immovable, as proved above,[4] He can nowise be a cause of things as their matter.v

6 The Catholic faith professes this truth, asserting that God created all things not out of His substance, but out of nothing.vi

7 The ravings of David of Dinant are hereby confounded,vii who dared to assert that God is the same as primary matter, because if they were not the same, they would needs differ by certain differences, and thus they would not be simple: since in that which differs from another thing by a difference, the very difference argues composition.

Now this proceeded from his ignorance of the distinction between difference and diversity. For as laid down in 10 Metaph.[5] a thing is said to be different in relation to something, because whatever is different, differs by something, whereas things are said to be diverse absolutely from the fact that they are not the same thing.[6]

Accordingly we must seek for a difference in things which have something in common, for we have to point to something in them whereby they differ: thus two species have a common genus, wherefore they must needs be distinguished by differences. But in those things which have nothing in common, we have not to seek in what they differ, for they are diverse by themselves. For thus are opposite differences distinguished from one another, because they do not participate in a genus as a part of their essence: and consequently we must not ask in what they differ, for they are diversified by their very selves. Thus too, God and primary matter are distinguished, since, the one being pure act and the other pure potentiality, they have nothing in common.

—————————————————————-

iFrom last time, of course.

iiMatter can change, thus it is in potentiality, and we have seen from last time that God is not in potentiality.

iiiThis doesn’t appear controversial, but we have scarcely outlined the nature of cause. There are four kinds of cause: the formal (the form of the thing), material (what the thing is made of), efficient (what brings about the change), and final (the end or direction of the change). The material of the statue, say, is not its efficient cause. Much more on this later.

ivWe are now at Yours Truly’s favorite material. Aristotle (from 2 Phys iv):

Some people even question whether [chance and spontaneity] are real or not. They say that nothing happens by chance, but that everything which we ascribe to chance or spontaneity has some definite cause, e.g. coming ‘by chance’ into the market and finding there a man whom one wanted but did not expect to meet is due to one’s wish to go and buy in the market.

Similarly in other cases of chance it is always possible, they maintain, to find something which is the cause; but not chance, for if chance were real, it would seem strange indeed, and the question might be raised, why on earth none of the wise men of old in speaking of the causes of generation and decay took account of chance; whence it would seem that they too did not believe that anything is by chance…

There are some too who ascribe this heavenly sphere and all the worlds to spontaneity. They say that the vortex arose spontaneously, i.e. the motion that separated and arranged in its present order all that exists. This statement might well cause surprise.

For they are asserting that chance is not responsible for the existence or generation of animals and plants, nature or mind or something of the kind being the cause of them (for it is not any chance thing that comes from a given seed but an olive from one kind and a man from another); and yet at the same time they assert that the heavenly sphere and the divinest of visible things arose spontaneously, having no such cause as is assigned to animals and plants.

Yet if this is so, it is a fact which deserves to be dwelt upon, and something might well have been said about it. For besides the other absurdities of the statement, it is the more absurd that people should make it when they see nothing coming to be spontaneously in the heavens, but much happening by chance among the things which as they say are not due to chance; whereas we should have expected exactly the opposite.

Others there are who, indeed, believe that chance is a cause, but that it is inscrutable to human intelligence, as being a divine thing and full of mystery.

Aristotle says things which are for the sake of something can be caused by chance, and he gives this example (2 Phys v):

A man is engaged in collecting subscriptions for a feast. He would have gone to such and such a place for the purpose of getting the money, if he had known. [But he] actually went there for another purpose and it was only incidentally that he got his money by going there; and this was not due to the fact that he went there as a rule or necessarily, nor is the end effected (getting the money) a cause present in himself — it belongs to the class of things that are intentional and the result of intelligent deliberation. It is when these conditions are satisfied that the man is said to have gone ‘by chance’. If he had gone of deliberate purpose and for the sake of this — if he always or normally went there when he was collecting payments — he would not be said to have gone ‘by chance’.

Notice that chance here is not an ontological (material) thing or force, but a description or a statement of our understanding (of a cause). Aristotle concludes, “It is clear then that chance is an incidental cause in the sphere of those actions for the sake of something which involve purpose. Intelligent reflection, then, and chance are in the same sphere, for purpose implies intelligent reflection.”

And “Things do, in a way, occur by chance, for they occur incidentally and chance is an incidental cause. But strictly it is not the cause — without qualification — of anything; for instance, a housebuilder is the cause of a house; incidentally, a fluteplayer may be so.”

Chance used this way is like the way we use coincidence. But there is also spontaneity, which is similar: “The stone that struck the man did not fall for the purpose of striking him; therefore it fell spontaneously, because it might have fallen by the action of an agent and for the purpose of striking.”

Lastly, “Now since nothing which is incidental is prior to what is per se, it is clear that no incidental cause can be prior to a cause per se. Spontaneity and chance, therefore, are posterior to intelligence and nature. Hence, however true it may be that the heavens are due to spontaneity, it will still be true that intelligence and nature will be prior causes of this All and of many things in it besides.”

vIn short, since God is not movable, he can’t be made of matter, which is always movable.

viSuch a misunderstood word, nothing! It means just what it says. No thing. No fields, no forces, no fields, no equations, no quantum thises or thats, the absence of all entities. Now just you imagine what kind of Being could create something about of this real nothing. Only one: Being itself, I Am That I Am; which is to say, God.

viiZing! More proof that even saints can be contemptuous when the need arises. Notice very carefully that St Thomas does not ask for dialogue with David of Dinant, but is satisfied to destroy his argument.

Next installment.

[1] 2 Phys. vii. 3.
[2] Ch. xiii.
[3] Chs. viii., ix.
[4] Ch. xiii.
[5] D. 9, iii. 6.
[6] Sum. Th. P. I., Q. iii., A. 8, ad 3.

Ask A Scientific Ethicist: Baby Making, Auto Mishap, ISIS Attacks

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

This was supposed to run this morning. No idea why it didn’t.

This week, three letters from concerned readers.

Too many babies

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

Hopefully this subject matter isn’t too technical for your audience.

In a recent discussion with my boss, I claimed that it was impossible for nine women to make a baby in one month. My boss claimed that with proper planning, nine women could indeed have a baby a month for nine months.

Which one of us is correct? No pressure intended, but I think my job might be dependent on your answer.

Thanks,

Milton

Dear Milton,

Your boss is right. Nine (biological) women could, with appropriate planning, have one baby each, one per month spaced equally over nine months.

And you’re wrong. Nine women could indeed make one baby in one month. As long as they had access to an egg from any one of them, certain male genetic material, which Science shows can be had any old place, and some rather sophisticated medical equipment (made by Science!). The baby could be made—and in well under one month, at that—and implanted in any of the women. This isn’t the best, safest, surest, or recommended method—it’s too easy to kill the baby because creation and implantation—but the thing can be done.

Of course, Science tells us that baby would take approximately nine months to emerge from its mother. But that’s birth, and not the making of it.

Unfortunately, Science disagrees with you. But if it’s any consolation, Science disagrees with a lot of people!

The Scientific Ethicist

Automotive mishap

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I was driving down the road and saw a car crash into a parked car, then drive away without leaving a note. There was just a little damage on the parked car. I took down the the licence plate number of the car that drove off, but it was being driven by a young ethnic woman, and I don’t want to be a racist. What should I do in this situation?

[Name Withheld], Atlanta, GA

Dear [Name Withheld],

The force between an average car going at typical speeds (in the neighborhood of 30 MPH) hitting a stationary average car is easily calculated. We call this momentum, the mass of the car multiplied by its velocity. In many cases, we can speak of the momentum as a single variable instead of trying to keep track of multiple measures.

If both cars were moving, then depending on the directions both cars were traveling, there could have been at the time of contact anything from very little momentum, to something quite high. But since one car was not moving, the momentum probably wasn’t large.

Low momentum impacts produce notably less damage than high momentum impacts. That you say “just a little damage” indicates that this was probably a low momentum impact.

Once again, Science gives the answer!

The Scientific Ethicist

Take that man

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I live in Al Bukamal, Syria. The Islamic State is practically out the back door. They’re beheading non-Muslims, burying children alive for not being Muslims, and many other terrible things. And they’re boasting of it! Oosting pictures of it on the web. The terror endless. I’m starting to panic. What should I do to stay calm?

Billy, San Francisco

Dear Billy,

Only the consolations of Science can have any effect. I usually recommend reading Introduction to Topology by Bert Mendelson, or Inorganic Chemistry by Gary Wulfsberg. Though in your case, nothing is better suited than Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.

In that book, Greene highlights the Science of the multiverse. The gist is that there are an infinite number of other universes where you also exist and where the Islamic State is benign. Why, there’s even a universe in which each member of ISIS is a Good Humor man handing out free ice cream to children over-heated by the desert! In none of these other happy universes would you feel terror.

Science can calm the most troubled soul!

The Scientific Ethicist

Send in your questions to the Scientific Ethicist today! Or read his previous columns.

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