Foundational Myths and the Cult of Science

Every society has its Foundational Myths. I’m not talking about myths in the sense of mythology – gods and monsters and superhuman heroes and such things. I’m talking about the quasi-historical myths that define a society’s sense of itself.
For the Greeks it was the Trojan War. For the Romans it was Romulus and Remus and the founding of the city but the Romans elaborated their Foundational Myth by extending Roman history back to the exploits of the Trojan prince Aeneas after the fall of Troy. For French republicans it’s the Revolution. For Americans it’s the Founding Fathers and the Revolutionary War.
For modern secularists the Foundational Myth is the Rise of Science. Until around the 17th century there was an age of ignorance and superstition then along came Science! and everything was light. Science! ushered in a blessed age of reason and enlightenment.
Foundational Myths can be entirely mythical, or they can be semi-mythical or even mostly historical. The Trojan War might well have happened although the actual events were probably much more small-scale and much more tawdry than the version promoted by the Greek poets.
The Rise of Science is at least partly historical. There has been a great deal of scientific progress in the past 500 years. The benefits are more questionable.
A Foundational Myth should be inspiring. It should give people a sense of cultural identity but more than that it should give a society some sense of purpose or destiny.
Has the Rise of Science done that? In some ways, perhaps. Although it’s worth pointing out that a great deal of human progress in modern times has owed more to practical engineers than to scientists. The engineers who were responsible for providing Europeans cities with sewerage and clean water contributed more to human happiness and prosperity than any scientists.
The problem with Science! is that it has given us a worldview that is bleak and nihilistic. The followers of the Cult of Science! have rarely taken this into account. Did the acceptance of the heliocentric view of the solar system actually make the world a better place? Did the acceptance of the Darwin-Wallace theory of evolution by natural selection make us happier? Was there great popular rejoicing when the Big Bang Theory displaced the Steady State Theory of the universe? These things made liberal secularists happier because they provided them with ammunition with which to pursue their war on Christianity. Did it make society as a whole better? Are we better off now that we generally believe that the universe is entirely without purpose and meaning and that our ancestors were ape-like creatures?
Of course Science! may well be right much of the time. Nobody today disputes the heliocentric view of the solar system. The question is not whether the scientific view is often correct, it is whether that view of the world has actually represented genuine progress. Progress is after all always a good thing, or so we’re told. But what if the scientific worldview has actually left us without any purpose or meaning in our own lives?
There’s also another very great danger to the cult of Science! Even the craziest ideas can gain credence if they can be labeled as scientific. Marx claimed that his wacky and misguided theories had to be correct because they were scientific. Freud’s even nuttier ideas were sold as science. In the 20th century we were even told there was such a thing as social science, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Straight-out political propaganda can be promoted as science – the global warming hysteria being a fine example.
Rather than eliminating superstition the Cult of Science! has provided us with a whole grab-bag of new superstitions. Rather than ushering in an age of reason what we actually ended up with was a mixture of emptiness, despair and superstition. Some Foundational Myths seem to work better than others.

War Before Civilisation

Lawrence  H. Keeley’s War Before Civilisation comprehensively demolishes the myth that warfare is a relatively recent phenomenon and that early human societies were peaceful.
Keeley was inspired to write the book after being twice refused funding to investigate fortifications around a number of early Neolithic villages. His third attempt to receive funding was successful when he removed the word fortification from his research proposal and replaced it with the neutral word enclosure. When he and his colleagues thereupon excavated the sites they discovered irrefutable evidence that the fortifications were indeed fortifications. Life in Belgium in 5000 BC was apparently anything but peaceful.
Keeley realised that the prevailing view in archaeological circles that prehistoric humans were peaceful and knew nothing of the horrors of war might be entirely wrong. His subsequent researches, documented in this book, showed conclusively that war was not only ubiquitous in prehistoric societies – it was far more destructive than any modern wars.
Keeley bases his arguments not just on archaeology but also on studies of those primitive societies that have survived into modern times.
The evidence is overwhelming. Your chances of becoming a casualty of war in modern civilised societies are much much less than your chances would have been of being killed in war in prehistoric times, or as a member of surviving primitive cultures.
Pre-modern cultures did not fight large-scale pitched battles but war was more or less continuous, taking the form of ambushes, raids and small-scale skirmishes. The overall death rates in this kind of small-scale war are staggering and horrifying.
One of the really interesting points he makes is that in pre-modern societies intermarriage and trade actually increase the risk of wars between neighbouring tribes.
Keeley argues persuasively that since the Second World War archaeologists and anthropologists have deliberately shut their eyes to the evidence of war in pre-modern societies. This deliberate and willful blindness is of course politically motivated. Scholars in these fields do not want to accept the unpalatable truth that civilised societies might be in general far more peaceful than primitive cultures. That might force them to face the even more unpleasant truth that civilisation really is a good thing.
What makes Keeley’s arguments more compelling is that he had no political axe to grind. He admits that he himself had swallowed the myth of peaceful pre-modern cultures until he found that the evidence simply could not be ignored.
A fascinating book that demonstrates the stranglehold that political correctness exerts on just about every area of science. Highly recommended.

the future of marriage equality

Roxxxy demands marriage equality now!
There’s an interesting minor kerfuffle happening in the UK on the subject of sex robots. Interesting, because it says a very great deal about the society we have become. It also says quite a bit about the liberal mindset.
A company has recently announced a new and highly advanced sex robot, Roxxxy. And a feminist academic, Dr Kathleen Richardson, wants the government to ban the robot. Now whether or not you find the whole idea of sex robots to be disturbing or even disgusting isn’t really the point. I’m not saying there might not be an argument that such robots are a bad idea, but that’s a separate issue. The issue I’m addressing is this – on what basis can liberals argue for banning them?
They can’t argue for banning them on the grounds that they’re physically dangerous. They’re not dangerous at all. They can’t argue they should be banned on the grounds that sex with robots is unnatural. Homosexuality is unnatural but liberals think we should celebrate homosexuality. They can’t argue that the robots are being exploited – you can’t exploit a machine. They could argue that such robots encourage the “objectification” of women but in that case they’d have to argue for banning pornography and prostitution, subjects on which liberals and feminists tend to hold contradictory views. They’d also have to argue for banning sex toys for women, which surely objectify men to an even more serious degree – reducing men to nothing more than a sex organ. I don’t see much likelihood of any liberal or feminist doing that.
The feminist academic has chosen to oppose the sexbots because they “reinforce traditional and damaging stereotypes of women.” But do they? And what does that even mean? She is also concerned that the sex robot “perpetuates the view that a relationship does not need to be more than simply physical.” On that basis I assume that Dr Richardson also believes the government should outlaw vibrators and casual sex?

The really big problem here is that liberals always tell us they believe in choice and autonomy. Apparently they only believe in choice and autonomy when it suits them. What could possibly be more autonomous than choosing to buy a sex robot? It’s the absolute ultimate in autonomy. 

There are other issues to consider. This sex robot is not in fact intended to be merely a sex toy. The company hopes that she “will eventually be able to learn on her own, and begin to pick-up on her owner’s likes and dislikes.” In other words she’s intended to be a companion. A combination of pet and sex toy. The ultimate aim (as outlined in David Levy’s intriguing book Love and Sex with Robots) is to create a robot with whom one can have an emotional relationship. Which of course raises the issue – will we see a campaign to legalise marriage with robots? I mean, do we believe in marriage equality or don’t we? It will be fascinating to see how liberals react to that idea. Surely only a bigot could oppose the right to marry robots. We should be free to love whomever we choose!
Please understand that I am not suggesting that any of these things are good ideas. They will however provide us with an amusing opportunity to see liberal hypocrisy in action as liberals confront the logical end point of their ideology.

God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science

James Hannam’s 2009 book God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science effectively explodes most of the irritating and wrong-headed prejudices that unfortunately still survive in relation to the Middle Ages.
The view that is still widely accepted is that intellectual progress, which had flourished in the ancient world, came to a grinding halt when the Roman Empire in the West collapsed and did not restart until the wise enlightened humanists of the Renaissance rediscovered the glories of ancient knowledge and swept away centuries of ignorance and superstition. The ignorance and superstition are almost always blamed on the Catholic Church which supposedly rabidly hostile to scientific enquiry.
Hannam demonstrates that this is all nonsense. Firstly, while the intellectual achievement of the Greeks and Romans was certainly impressive it is surprising just how often and how spectacularly the ancients were wrong. When it came to explaining how the world works they were wrong on just about every count. It is also remarkable just how technologically backward the ancient world was. The Greeks were fascinated by the process of constructing elaborate theories but they were extraordinarily uninterested in checking to see if their theories corresponded with reality. They were also surprisingly uninterested in finding practical applications for knowledge.
The Middle Ages, by contrast, were characterised by steady progress in technology. Medieval agriculture was infinitely more sophisticated than anything the ancients came up with. Part of the problem is that the ancients were unable to use the power of animals effectively. It was not until the so-called Dark Ages that proper harnesses were developed to allow oxen and horses to pull significant loads. The ancients had no stirrups, making horses of little use even for riding. Watermills and windmills, unknown in the ancient world, increased medieval agricultural productivity. The medievals also invented the mechanical clock, and the magnetic compass. They learnt how to make paper. They invented eye-glasses.
Medieval natural philosophers like Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, the famous Merton Calculators of Oxford University (Thomas Bradwardine, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead), Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa laid the foundations on which sixteenth century scientists like Kepler and Galileo built.
Hannam also debunks the myth of the Renaissance. The rediscovery of the intellectual legacy of the ancient world occurred in the twelfth century, right slap bang in the middle of the medieval period. The twelfth century also brought the work of the great Islamic scientific pioneers to the attention of western Europe. Most importantly, the European natural philosophers of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries took the achievements of the ancient and Islamic thinkers and developed them much further. There was no Scientific Revolution as such – scientific progress was steady but sure throughout the later medieval period.
The hostility of the Catholic Church to science is also mostly myth. The Church did not burn people for doing science. More often than not it encouraged them. Scientists in fact ran into much bigger problems after the end of the medieval period. Galileo was not persecuted by the medieval Church. Insofar as he was persecuted at all he was persecuted during the supposedly more enlightened seventeenth century (which really was an age of superstition and magic). And despite having ignored repeated warnings Galileo’s fate was not especially severe – he was not even imprisoned, merely sentenced to house arrest.
Critics of the Church and the Middle Ages like to bring up the burning of Giordano Bruno, but Bruno’s execution took place in 1600 long after the end of the medieval period, and he was no scientist – his doctrines were bizarre amalgams of mysticism and the occult.
Hannam’s book is both stimulating and vastly entertaining. He gives us enough biographical details to bring the great medieval natural philosophers to life while providing enough scholarly detail to make his case convincingly. This book is a model of what history should be. Very highly recommended.

cultural marxist science

No sane person doubts that cultural marxism is now the ruling ideology of our society. The cultural marxist agenda was firstly to take control of education and the mass media. That objective was achieved decades ago. What was more unexpected was that science would be the next target. What was even more unexpected is that that objective has now been largely achieved. 
The “social sciences” were of course the first targets. These “sciences” being basically unscientific to start with it was not difficult to take them over. In the 1970s the cultural marxists saw another opportunity. Environmentalism, being largely emotional and irrational, provided an ideal chance to extend their conquests into more respectable scientific domains. They captured the environmental movement quickly and completely but it was obvious that it was not enough merely to push the new leftist environmentalism through the schools and the media. If environmentalism could be made to look scientific it would be an even more useful tool.
What was needed was something that sounded scientific to begin with. Panics about environmental catastrophes would be absolutely ideal. The first attempt was the “population bomb” panic but that started to run out of steam rather quickly. The “hole in the ozone layer” looked promising but it proved to be too easy to demonstrate its silliness. Climate panics were much more suitable. Almost nothing was known about long-term variations in climate. In the 70s a few scientists had suggested that we were heading for a new Ice Age. That had possibilities but it was difficult to argue that it was our fault, since Ice Ages occur regularly and naturally. Something was needed that would allow the Left to blame capitalism and to exploit the feelings of guilt to which Europeans were particularly prone. If global warming had not existed it would have had to be invented. In fact it was invented. It was never based on more than the vague speculations of a few scientists on the lunatic fringe. 
What was so wonderful about this invented and entirely imaginary threat was that climate science was an obscure corner of the scientific world. That afforded the opportunity for cultural marxists not just to exploit their imaginary threat but to use it to take control of an entire field of science. Since climate science was so obscure and so unimportant it would be easy to hijack it since climate scientists could be won over by the promise of funding on a scale they had never dared to dream about. Pretty soon climate science was a large and very rich corner of science with countless climate scientists all of whose careers depended on stoking the fires of hysteria. If a climate scientist came to the conclusion that global warming was nonsense then politicians would be inclined to ask why they were wasting so much money funding his research. But if he argued that it was a horrific and deadly and imminent threat he could look forward to getting even more funding. Scientists are just as human as anyone else, and just as prone to feathering their own nests as any other group of people.
Once climate science was well and truly established as political science with rich rewards for those who followed the party line it would be easy to eliminate any backsliders who dared to express doubts. They could be dealt with by the time-honoured leftist methods of bullying and intimidation.
This success inspired the Left to expand their colonisation of science. Scientists proved to be ridiculously easy to intimidate. Other areas of science were clearly ripe for the picking. The behavioural sciences and evolutionary biology have been brought firmly under leftist control. Try being an evolutionary biologist who dares to suggest that maybe human evolution did not stop 50,000 years ago and that maybe genetics have some influence on intelligence and see how long it is before you lose your academic position and find yourself driving cabs for a living.
If you’re a scientist today and you’d like to go on working as a scientist you learn to be very very careful before opening your mouth. Anything that could possibly be interpreted as sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, islamophobic, ableist, or any other category of Thought Crime could end your career. What matters is not whether your science is valid; what matters is that you hold the correct political beliefs. Science is now so thoroughly politicised that any statement by a scientist on any subject has to be regarded with suspicion.

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

Nicholas Wade’s long-awaited (and for liberals much-dreaded) new book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History proves to be as stimulating as one would expect from this author.
The book, as the author states right from the beginning, falls neatly into two halves. The first half presents the fairly overwhelming evidence that human evolution did not suddenly and magically stop at some date in the distant past. The second half, as Wade freely admits, is more speculative as Wade explores the possible ramifications of on-going human evolution.
The scientific consensus since the 1970s has been that race has no scientific basis and that for some obscure reason human evolution suddenly ground to a stop. There’s little doubt that Wade is right in arguing that this consensus (rather like the climate change consensus) is based on a mixture of ideology, wishful thinking and fear. Any scientist who pursues research into the subject of race knows that he is quite likely committing professional suicide and will stand a good chance of being hounded out of academia. The idea that every species on the planet is subject to natural selection with the single exception of our own is clearly patently absurd. 
Wade presents the argument, based on recent scientific work, that human evolution is not only still happening but that evolution works far more quickly than we used to assume. Significant changes can occur within a fairly small number of generations meaning that the   effects on humans can be seen within a few centuries. Wade explored this subject in much greater depth in his excellent 2006 book Before the Dawn.
This first half of the book is dangerous enough but the second half is pure dynamite. If humans are in fact subject to natural laws and if evolution does work over comparatively  brief time-spans then there are likely to be very real differences between races. The most important aspect of his argument is that cultural changes can be driven by genetic changes and those genetic changes can then in turn drive (or accelerate) cultural change.
The change from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies that started to occur around 15,000 years ago are likely to have been made possible in part by genetic changes and once the societal change had occurred then evolution, very naturally and inevitably, would lead to further genetic changes. The kinds of social behaviours that are advantageous to hunter-gatherer societies are very different from those that are advantageous to agriculturalists. One telling example is that hunter-gatherer societies that have survived into modern times are extraordinarily violent with truly horrendous murder rates and a positively terrifying death toll from incessant warfare. This is no problem for such societies. If anything it is useful in keeping population numbers low enough to avoid the danger of starvation. Such violent behaviour is not merely disadvantageous to agricultural societies; it would make such societies entirely untenable.
The same argument applies to the change from small-scale agricultural communities in which a tribal organisation is extremely useful to urban communities and the development of modern states, in which tribal organisation is entirely unworkable. Some genetic changes may well have played a role in this transformation of human society and once the transformation was underway those genetic changes, such as a considerably lower propensity to violence, would accelerate.
Wade extends the argument further, drawing on the work of British historian Gregory Clark, arguing that the Industrial Revolution may have been partly fueled by small but significant genetic changes and that these changes occurred in some parts of the world such as Europe but did not occur elsewhere. This provides a convincing explanation for the extraordinary and dramatic dominance of the West over the past few centuries. It would also explain the otherwise mysterious fact that attempts to impose western-style economic and political systems in places like Iraq and Haiti have failed so dismally, and for the equally mysterious but undeniable fact that massive amounts of foreign aid have failed to produce any benefits in the majority of African countries.
Wade is clearly aware that he is walking into a minefield and at times, not surprisingly, he treads very carefully. On occasions, especially when dealing with intelligence, he refrains from connecting up the dots although the dots are certainly there to be connected. I don’t think Wade can be blamed for this. He goes as far as it’s possible to go in the current repressive political climate and to have connected up some of those dots would have meant giving up any hope of having the book published.
As it stands A Troublesome Inheritance is an audacious, provocative and immensely stimulating book. Both the author and the publisher (The Penguin Press) are to be commended for having the courage to publish it. Very highly recommended.

Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn

Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, published in 2007, is a book that describes the way our new knowledge of the human genome has amplified our understanding of the history of our species and added some important and surprising new dimensions to it.
Wade is a science journalist with the New York Times. The idea of the book is to present these advances in our understanding in a way that is accessible to the general reader without dumbing things down.
The most important point the book makes is that evolution does not stop, and that human evolution has not stopped. The usual view had been that once our evolution reached a certain point, around 50,000 years ago, with the appearance of behavourially modern humans, it suddenly stopped and culture took over. Wade believes that recent research blows this idea out of the water.
Modern genetic science can not only track changes in the human genome, it can date them. And some of these changes, such as the development of lactose tolerance, are (in evolutionary terms) very recent indeed.
Anatomically modern humans appeared around 100,000 years ago. At that time there were three human species – our ancestors living in Africa, Homo erectus living in a wide range in eastern Eurasia, and the Neanderthals living in western Eurasia. At first our species had no particular advantage over the other two. All three species remained on more or less the same cultural level for around 50,000 years. 
And then something changed, and changed dramatically. Our species shot ahead. Archaeological remains tell the story of rapid cultural advances. Not long after this a small group of our ancestors left Africa. They spread throughout Eurasia and as far as Australia (which was then part of a larger continent). All humans outside of Africa are descended from the small group, possible as few as 150 individuals, that left Africa 50,000 years ago.
At that time the most recent Ice Age was far from over and the glaciers would advance and retreat several more times. Apart from these major advances and retreats of the ice sheets climate change was continuous and warm periods and cool periods alternated, the changes often occurring quite rapidly. The other two human species disappeared, possibly from a combination of climate change and pressure from our ancestors.
Until fairly recently (around 12,500 years ago) our ancestors were all hunter-gatherers. The next major change has always been assumed to have been the development of agriculture, resulting in the abandonment of the nomadic way of life. In fact, curiously enough, the beginnings of settled existence considerably predated the development of agriculture. The adoption of a sedentary existence may well have been the result of genetic change. Hunter-gatherer societies, both then and in more recent times, are much too violent to adapt to a settled existence in larger groups. Hunter-gatherer societies are in fact the most violent of all human societies, with a death toll from murder and incessant warfare that makes the most violent neighbourhoods in the most violent modern cities seem like oases of peace.
The contention, amply supported by genetic evidence, that human evolution has been continuous right up to the present day, is the part of the book that has upset a lot of people. It implies that human populations that have remained relatively isolated from each other have not only continued to evolve, they have evolved separately. In other words, racial differences are real. Many of the major human groups, including Caucasians and east Asians, made their appearance quite recently.
Wade is, understandably, very cautious in dealing with the dreaded subject of race. He avoids the subject of intelligence as much as possible although he does point out that Ashkenazi Jews have significantly higher IQ scores than any other existing human population and that this seems to be a very recent development, probably occurring some time between 800 and 1700 AD.
Wade also points out that the story is not yet over. Just as modern humans are genetically distinct from our ancestors, our descendants are likely to be distinct from us.
This is a fascinating and provocative book which I cannot recommend too highly. His upcoming book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History, is likely to be even more fascinating and even more provocative.