Scientific American and social autism

Scientific American reports on a study which implies that atheism may be a form of virtual Asperger’s Syndrome:

Bethany T. Heywood, a graduate student at Queens University Belfast, asked 27 people with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild type of autism that involves impaired social cognition, about significant events in their lives. Working with experimental psychologist Jesse M. Bering (author of the Bering in Mind blog and a frequent contributor to Scientific American Mind), she asked them to speculate about why these important events happened—for instance, why they had gone through an illness or why they met a significant other. As compared with 34 neurotypical people, those with Asperger’s syndrome were significantly less likely to invoke a teleological response—for example, saying the event was meant to unfold in a particular way or explaining that God had a hand in it. They were more likely to invoke a natural cause (such as blaming an illness on a virus they thought they were exposed to) or to give a descriptive response, explaining the event again in a different way.

In a second experiment, Heywood and Bering compared 27 people with Asperger’s with 34 neurotypical people who are atheists. The atheists, as expected, often invoked anti-teleological responses such as “there is no reason why; things just happen.” The people with Asperger’s were significantly less likely to offer such anti-teleological explanations than the atheists, indicating they were not engaged in teleological thinking at all. (The atheists, in contrast, revealed themselves to be reasoning teleologically, but then they rejected those thoughts.)

This sounds a more than a little sketchy in the usual social science manner; it’s actually a smaller sample size than was the case in the utterly unscientific comparison of the high AS Quotient average reported by atheist Pharyngula readers to the neurotypical range reported by regular readers here at VP, which involved more than 100 individuals. I think it would be more illuminating to learn whether those diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome or full-blown autism are more or less likely to be atheists, as the reported predilection for non-teleological thinking suggests that those suffering from this form of mental impairment would be tend to be predisposed towards atheism and materialism.

Of course, the existence of neurotypical atheists should not be a surprise since many atheists do not exhibit the impaired social cognition that is the hallmark of the militant New Atheists. This is why it is always important to distinguish between the individual who merely happens to lack belief in gods from the anti-religious socially autistic crusaders who simply cannot understand that your religious beliefs, whatever they might be, are no legitimate concern of theirs.

And while we’re on the subject of impaired social cognition, I found this comment on the article to be as amusing as it is ironic. “Socially speaking, the world is full of all kinds of people, but the atheists I choose to associate with are outspoken because of their innate consideration and compassion in light of another’s plight with respect to primitive irrational superstitions.”

Mailvox: IQ vs genius

MB inquires about my relative dearth of creative accomplishment:

Would you care to expound on the idea that simply possessing a genius IQ in no way presupposes that the owner will produce genius art work or scientific discovery? For example, I perused your novel Summa Elvetica and within the the first few pages could discern that your prose was workman-like and ordinary (as opposed to Shakespeare or my own fiction).

Whereas your discursive prose and arguments are a cut above the general punditry. I would surmise that focus has much to do with it. You have focused little on what makes for profound and beautiful in the creative, I would guess, and more on other things.

So, do you feel disappointed that your creative work is weak while your opinion work is excellent, or simply practice the art for the pleasure and not the result as so many guitarists enjoy strumming a few tunes while incapable of demonstrating the instrument’s potential and scope?

First, I reject the idea of genius-level intelligence. Intelligence is real and IQ is a reasonable measure of it, but it is not synonymous with genius. Intelligence is nothing more than raw intellectual capacity while genius is a proven form of intellectual achievement. There are geniuses who do not have an unusually high level of intelligence while the vast majority high-IQ level individuals are not geniuses. That latter category, I regretfully have to admit at this point, would appear to include me… although should my most recent technological innovation achieve a sufficient level of success, people will eventually reach an entirely different conclusion. Suddenly the dilettante vanishes and is replaced by the Renaissance Man. Such are the vagaries of reputation.

I must also take exception to MB’s description of Summa Elvetica as a weak creative work based on what appears to have been more of a perusal than an actual reading. While its prose is admittedly no more than functional, when viewed from a structural perspective, SE is arguably among the most creative works of fantasy fiction to be published in recent years. I think it would be a travesty to ignore those aspects and simply lump the novel in with all of the stagnant vampire and zombie fluff that has been published of late. Consider, for example that the Black Gate reviewer actually confused the fictional Question of Aelven anima with a real one composed by Thomas Aquinas. I may not be playing the guitar as well as the more notable soloists, but I am indubitably playing it in a different and innovative manner. In any case, I like playing it regardless of the result.

Now, as to the notion of whether my creative works have been hampered by my lack of focus, that is almost surely the case. But not to any great extent. Due to diminishing marginal returns, I don’t think that focusing more on fiction would significantly improve my prose style. Based on my extensive reading, I believe you either have it or you don’t, and I simply don’t. Compared to the writers I admire, I am wholly mediocre when it comes to writing prose and it is only my intelligence that permits me to surmount that on occasion by adding other elements that readers of a more intellectual inclination may find interesting. I don’t think my commentary is actually any better in that regard, it’s just that the bar is set so low by the professional journalists that practically anything looks good by comparison. It’s much harder to come out well in a comparison with Tanith Lee and Guy de Maupassant than with Ann Coulter and Maureen Dowd.

Also, in the case of commentary, those aforementioned other elements are much more important than the prose. No one cares how beautifully you might happen to write about bond yield spreads, but they care a great deal about knowing if you have correctly ascertained the next area of debt contagion.

WND column

The Declining Value of College

For more than 100 years, college has been considered a sound and desirable investment in one’s financial future. But unlike other forms of investment, those contemplating dropping more than $100,000 to obtain a degree from a private university, or $28,000 for one from a public university, seldom stop to consider whether what made sense for a previous generation still makes sense today.

Although most middle-class parents regard the idea of not “investing” in their children’s college degrees about as positively as necrophilia and cannibalism, examining the current value proposition of higher education should not be a controversial concept. The fact that National Lead may have been a great investment in 1910 doesn’t mean that it is in 2010. Apple was a fantastic investment in 1990, but looks significantly less promising now that its $233 billion market cap has exceeded Microsoft’s.

Whaling and the drama queens

Once victimhood is sanctified, all the attention whores desperately want to be a victim. Hence all the dramatics about near-rape and semi-rape from silly stupid, young women who desperately want to suffer without actually suffering in order to impress their peers.

Sex does not require an annotated request and positive affirmation.  If it did, then the vast majority of sex that has occurred in the history of the human race has been rape.  Men are not mindreaders, so until the human race evolves telepathic communication, “he should have known better” is a risible justification for crying rape.  Or near-rape.  Or semi-rape.

She is certainly free to consider it semi-rape, if she wants.  Just as we are free consider her a silly, stupid, drama queen.  It’s not as if men never scream NO!!!!! inside either, the difference is that men are sufficiently self-aware to realize that they have no one to blame but themselves.  What women call semi-rape is nothing more than what men call beer goggles.

Contra Nietzsche and Mises

I don’t think atheists who strive to argue in support of the existence of non-religious objective values, regardless of whether they are based on philosophy or science, have any idea how weak their case is from the atheist perspective:

“There are no such things as absolute values, independent of the subjective preferences of erring men. Judgments of values are the outcome of human arbitrariness. They reflect all the shortcomings and weaknesses of their authors.”
– Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy

It seemed strange to me why atheist arguments related to objective morality were always so crudely simple and vaguely familiar until I realized that this is because I had seen very similar arguments before in a different context. As it happens, the current atheist attempts to determine an objective basis for morality are following exactly the same path that economists of the 18th and 19th century trod in attempting to determine the objective basis of value. They are literally 200 years behind the best efforts of economists from Adam Smith and David Ricardo to Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen to find something that does not exist, and due to their general ignorance of economics – Michael Shermer excepted – they have no idea that their quest is destined for complete failure.

I can only conclude that sometime around the turn of the next century, the marginal utility of morality will become the dominant paradigm for a time prior to the whole quest being abandoned in response to a series of massive and inexplicable moral depressions.

The sucker’s game

Ironically, those who constantly preach the value of a college education clearly missed economics 101:

Like many middle-class families, Cortney Munna and her mother began the college selection process with a grim determination. They would do whatever they could to get Cortney into the best possible college, and they maintained a blind faith that the investment would be worth it.

Today, however, Ms. Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments. This is not a long-term solution, because the interest on the loans continues to pile up.

Going 100k into debt in order to obtain a job that pays $22 as a photographer’s assistant is not an intelligent action. The correct answer to the question about attending college is “it depends”. What college, what degree, and what job prospects? Remember, since the median debt for attending private, nonprofit colleges is $22,380, that means that you have to keep in mind the average cost of 5 years without wages, the cost of the degree, and the debt.

The statistics on the monetary advantages of a college degree are misleading because the number of college graduates has risen dramatically as have the number of women obtaining college degrees. The equation has changed, which is why it is necessary to sit down and crunch the numbers before you automatically assume that a college degree from the best university that will accept you makes any sense. I thought it was particularly interesting that the article mentioned the way in which a debt burden that can repel potential life partners… one assumes this is generally aimed at women with degrees.

Like most things, it comes down to supply and demand. Because full-time college enrollment has increased 44 percent since I graduated in 1990. The US population has increased 20 percent, thus rendering a generic college degree approximately 24 percent less valuable while the cost has risen 63 percent in constant dollars. Even if you assume that you graduate successfully, your education dollar is worth about 28 percent of one spent in 1990. And since only 53% of college undergraduates manage to graduate in six years – a statistic recently increased from the five-year measure in order to keep it above 50% – the chances are nearly one in two that you’re literally buying nothing, not even a piece of paper.

Basically, if you have to borrow money or if you are at all prone to not finishing what you start, you shouldn’t even think about going to college. And if you do go, get a degree in something meaningful, not outdated liberal arts degrees in English, Art History, or Business. You’ll learn more about business running a fast food franchise for a summer than you will in six years of college. Throw in a little reading of Peter Drucker, Sun Tzu, Malcolm Gladwell, Dilbert, and whoever the business author du jour happens to be and you’ll know more management-speak too.

Who said women killed science fiction?

WisCon: a report from the very large, reinforced trenches:

Thinking Ahead: Feminists thinking about possible near and middle futures and feminist responses to them

WisCon description: What challenges and opportunities will feminists face in the coming decades? Feminism has always looked to the future. But are feminists now in danger of falling behind the curve? Isn’t it time to use our SFnal skills to feminist advantage?


* Moondancer – A white woman who is Native American because she wears a cowboy hat and has wolves all over her shirt. And because she calls herself Moondancer.
* Xakara (no last name) – Saucy black woman who writes multicultural, bi-poly-transamorous science fiction.
* (Three other people…)

This panel seemed innocent enough. Future feminism. I can do this. Seems like a sane crowd.

Moondancer starts going on about how your womb space has power, and that men are threatened by your womb power. Women exude energy during their moontime.

Feminism is making progress, because Moondancer’s son is a little pussy who gets beaten up by his sister and takes it.

Then, out of nowhere, a broad-shouldered woman with an Adam’s apple shouts out, “How can we say we are moving forward when Hillary just gets consistently struck down!”

The crowd gasps. This is what I came for!

“She opened her mouth and said things she shouldn’t have said!”

“A president can’t be nice! She can only go so far because women have to be nice!”

“Systematic, intentional vilification of Hillary as a nagging woman is because of socialization of men!”

“Every strong woman is a lesbian!”

“My magi-shapeshifter race is council-governed by all women!”

After reading this, I feel inspired to run against John Scalzi for SFWA President next year. My platform is going to involve disenfranchising all of the female members and endorsing a Federal law banning women from writing any science fiction or fantasy that does not contain vampires or wereseals and comes with a warning label: WARNING: this is Vampire/Wereseal fiction, not actual science fiction or fantasy.

Yes, it shows

PZ Myers provides an illuminating example of the careful logic and deep thought that goes into so much atheist reasoning:

A couple of years ago, I sat down one morning, bemused by yet another bit of empty apologetics from god’s sycophants, and banged out a short bit of amusement called The Courtier’s Reply. It got picked up everywhere, to my surprise. I mean, seriously, I have to confess that I whipped that out in 20 minutes, no edits or rewrites, just shazam, it’s done.

That’s certainly amusing, if not exactly surprising to anyone who has read it. As I have mentioned before, The Courtier’s Reply is a blitheringly stupid attempt to justify atheist ignorance of that which they are criticizing. In his recent post, PZ tries to claim otherwise, but the fact of the matter is that whatever PZ’s original purpose may have been, that purpose is not synonymous with either its logical consequences or how it is habitually utilized by atheists who refer to it. He states “they see the Courtier’s Reply as an attempt to excuse atheists from bothering with theology at all, when it’s quite the opposite: it’s a rebuke to theologians, pointing out that going on at length about rarefied epiphenomena and delicate points of dogma is a waste of time when you haven’t even established the central point of the matter, a reasonable justification for believing in a god or gods, period.”

Of course, being cited to excuse atheists from bothering with theology at all is exactly how The Courtier’s Reply is utilized; it is the ONLY way it is utilized. PZ’s attempt to provide a belated defense is easily proven to be false by no less than Richard Dawkins himself, who publicly cited it as an excuse for his own ignorance of theology in the Times.

You can’t criticise religion without detailed study of learned books on theology.

If, as one self-consciously intellectual critic wished, I had expounded the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus, Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope (as he vainly hoped I would), my book would have been more than a surprise bestseller, it would have been a miracle. I would happily have forgone bestsellerdom had there been the slightest hope of Duns Scotus illuminating my central question: does God exist? But I need engage only those few theologians who at least acknowledge the question, rather than blithely assuming God as a premise. For the rest, I cannot better the “Courtier’s Reply” on P. Z. Myers’s splendid Pharyngula website, where he takes me to task for outing the Emperor’s nudity while ignoring learned tomes on ruffled pantaloons and silken underwear.

As if Richard Dawkins knows the first thing about the theology of Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Tertullian, or even CS Lewis. But this example of Dawkins is far from the only one and many more can be found on PZ’s own site for those with the fortitude to slog through that swamp of pseudo-scientific smuggery. The core problem with The Courtier’s Reply is that it is a category error. PZ does not understand that while the discussion of God’s Will or divine characteristics are conceptually related to discussions of God’s existence, they are not synonymous. The Courtier’s Reply is that of the innumerate individual claiming that because no one has ever shown him a “one” or a “two”, it is a waste of time for mathematicians to go on at length about rarefied imaginary numbers and delicate points of calculus. The fact that religion and the theology from which it derives makes real, material, and observable differences in the lives of its practitioners, be they for good or for ill, is sufficient to justify its study regardless of whether one can establish its ultimate source to the satisfaction of scientists or not. And only a complete ignoramus who knows nothing of history, economics, socionomics, or demographics would be foolish enough to assert that the material effects of theological differences are too unimportant to bother with the matter.

The thing that is so ridiculous about latter day atheists like PZ is that they are not only theologically ignorant, but they know next to nothing about secular philosophy either. Intelligent atheists have known for decades that science can never provide the replacement for religion that fantasists like PZ and Sam Harris believe it can for the simple reason that science does not and cannot dictate values. This is why a strong dedication to rational science, with or without the additional complication of atheism, so readily produces monstrous leaders like Hitler, Lenin, and Stalin in such short order, monsters of the sort that were so few and far between in the centuries prior to the Enlightenment.

Theology is the precise opposite of useless because it provides that which science intrinsically cannot; a basic framework upon which guidelines for human behavior can be structured in a viable manner that is coherent, self-consistent and understandable even to the non-believer. Consider how it is entirely normal for the atheist to criticize the Christian for failing to live up to the standards set by Christian theology; to what scientific standard can the non-atheist ever hope to hold the atheist?

Myers further demonstrates his astounding ignorance when he claims: “Science provides tangible evidence of its accuracy and importance. Religion makes excuses for its absence of the same. There is no “rich tradition of rigorous inquiry” in religion, as we can see from its lack of progress, and the apologists are deluding themselves when they claim there is.” And yet, ironically enough, there is no shortage of empirical evidence, scientific evidence, demonstrating both the accuracy and importance of religion. PZ’s incompetent blathering would be entirely amusing, were it not for the panoply of self-deluded idiots at Pharyngula that actually take the man’s illogical meanderings seriously. But, if nothing else, the forthcoming book he mentions should provide for a deliciously target-rich environment.

UPDATE – Buttressing my point about how mathematics, among other disciplines, demonstrates the philosophical absurdity and irrelevance of The Courtier’s Reply, wrf3 quotes from Introduction to Artificial Intelligence by Philip C. Jackson:

“[T]he mathematical theory of Euclidean geometry gives us certain axioms or postulates concerning the undefined concepts of “point,” “line,” “plane,” “between,” etc.; the “thing” described by this theory is a “geometry,” consisting of interrelationships existing among lines, points, planes, circles, spaces, etc.

The ingredients of a mathematical theory, then, are the following:

1. A set of basic words (e.g. “point,” “line,” “between,” “distance,” “x,” “y,” “not,” “implies,” “for all,”) that refer to different objects, relations between objects, variables, logical connectives, quantifiers, and so on. These are the undefined words or symbols of the theory.

2. A set of basic sentences made of these basic words. These basic sentences are the axioms or postulates of the theory.

3. A set of logical rules, also made of these basic words, that tell us how to derive new statements from the ones we are given.”

If one is so foolish as to take The Courtier’s Reply seriously, one must then throw out all mathematics since mathematicians haven’t established the central point of the matter, a reasonable justification for believing in the undefined words or symbols of the theory. As I have said on numerous occasions before, the New Atheists are logical incompetents and philosophical ignoramuses. This is precisely why I have referred to them from the very start as The Clowns of Reason.

Mailvox: libertarian success

JY asks about the prospects for an applied libertarian society:

Do you believe that the success of applied Libertarianism is at all related to a society’s “collective morality”? The question I’m dealing with is whether a form of limited government, which some Libertarian’s advocate, is sustainable apart from a moral society (in this case, by “moral society” I mean one that closely aligns with the general Judeo-Christian ethic).

Not in the slightest. Libertarianism is a secular defense mechanism against evil; a moral Christian society can tolerate and survive big government much better than a purely secular one due to the limits built into Christian morality. Those limits will be violated from time to time, Man being fallen, but the centuries-long history of hundreds of Christian near-absolute rulers who never once engaged in the sort of routine butchery of their people that secular irreligious rulers regularly do shows that it is secular and immoral societies that are the most in need of libertarian government.

The problem is not that people are not Christian enough to pursue libertarian government, it is that they are not intelligent enough. Anyone who seeks special favors from a government empowered to grant them is a self-interested, shortsighted, gambling fool, because the government that can give can also take away and will do so whenever its own interest comes into conflict with the individuals.

Non-libertarians want cheap government health care, but they don’t want the government to deny them care or euthanize them when their health care threatens to become expensive. The problem is that most people are insufficiently intelligent to recognize that the former necessarily dictates the latter.

UPDATE – TZ points out an omission: I don’t think you answered the question that was asked: “whether a form of limited government, which some Libertarian’s advocate, is sustainable apart from a moral society”

Fair enough. Okay, my answer is this: no form of limited government is sustainable in the long term because no form of government is permanently sustainable. The most that can be said is that a moral society can be sustained longer than an immoral one, regardless of whether the form of government is limited or unlimited.

What books would you recommend for a young person (teen) just forming political ideas, leaning libertarian?

A lot of Robert Heinlein. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Tunnel in the Sky are probably the two best. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the conventional work that has probably has the most influence on current libertarians. Orwell’s 1984 isn’t libertarian per se, but is well worth reading. And Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is a must. Unfortunately, I haven’t read much in the way of explicitly libertarian philosophy or ideology that I find worth recommending.