Krauss Hypocrisy

One of the criticisms mounted by atheists against religion is the hypocrisy of religious authorities.

This is not a new attack: the Donatists were an early Christian sect that claimed that sacraments offered by fallen priests were void, implicitly undermining the authority of the Roman Catholic Church that was filled with such men. Prior to his entry into the priesthood, St. Augustine himself wrote “Lord, cure me of my desire for women – but just not yet.” It was from his pen that the Donatists were rebuked: the Church is an instrument of mercy, commissioned by Christ to bring grace to the fallen through the fallen. The grace of the sacraments rests not with the priest, but with Christ.

Many atheists arise from the hard sciences – physics, chemistry and mathematics – people whose world view conceives of reality as a machine. They answer to no one but each other, and historically they have been as much a men’s club as the priesthood. Just scan the faces of Nobel prize winners – it’s all the evidence you need.

So how well do they do at policing each other?

When I attended a conference run by atheists, I was disturbed by the answer. The event was dominated by white male faces, but a significant sub-population were what you might call “intellectual groupies” – beautiful thirty-something women. I won’t delve deeply into pop psychology – obviously they had some motivation to seek the company of older men.

Lawrence Krauss was among the most aggressive of their pursuers. I went looking for him after his presentation on the future of particle physics, and found him in a dark back corner of the auditorium where he had cornered a beautiful young lady, her eyes darting furtively for escape. I pointed out to Krauss that I was disturbed by the tendency of presentations such as his to characterize speculative theories as proven fact, and asked him where he thought that led. As the young lady slipped past me, his eyes followed regretfully as he admitted “Well, eventually you lose your funding.”

The hollowing out of scientific imagination and integrity is not what brought Krauss down, but rather the testimony of the women that he pursued. The sudden righteousness of his peers is astonishing – they associated with Krauss because of his eagerness to carry their propaganda to the public. They tolerated his aggressiveness because the opportunity to have sex with beautiful women was part of his motivation. Their lack of sympathy for his victims is a telling statement that should cause one to question their professional integrity.

Just to be clear: it was Christian sympathy that motivated me to frustrate Krauss in his pursuit. I am still waiting for the atheists to bring forward an authority of stature equal to Jesus of Nazareth. Until they do, there will be no brake on the moral decline of those such as Krauss who claim the authority of truth as they have their way with those whose minds are weaker than theirs.

A Mueller’s Dozen

Trump invites Putin to come to Washington?

I can see the wheels turning now in the President’s brilliant mind. First build up the meeting with promises of reconciliation on Ukraine and Syria. Maybe even a chance to interview McFaul. Then ask Putin to bring twelve friends. Then not just any twelve friends, but those twelve friends.

Can you see the scene at the airport when Mueller sweeps in to arrest all thirteen of them?

White-Washing

Paula White, one of Trump’s “spiritual advisors,” claims that refugees that break the law are not entitled to the same empathy given to the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt with the infant Jesus. White goes so far as to claim:

If he had broken the law, then he would have been sinful and he would not have been our Messiah.

The entire Old Testament is the history of how the seminal grace of Abraham’s covenant was subjugated by temporal authority. Jesus came to liberate the covenant, responding to “Are you king of the Jews?” with the simple plea:

You: say I am.

This is to remind us that true authority does not come from man-made laws and institutional arrangements. It comes from loving unconditionally. It comes from being willing to surrender your entire being to bring grace to those you cherish. Only the beloved can grant that authority.

Dear Mrs. White: run, don’t walk. You have taken up company with the anti-Christ.

 

Are We Alone?

Universe Today summarizes a study that concludes that we are probably the only “advanced” civilization in our galaxy.

The result is reached under assumptions of materialism: intelligence is an emergent quality of large brains. Large brains arise from biological evolution, which requires certain chemical conditions on the host planet (water, minerals and carbon in narrow proportions) and stability of the star about which it revolves.

Of course, what I propose here is that intelligence is the play of ideas between souls, and the brain is only an interface. On vastly larger scales, galaxies are civilizations. They just evolve new forms more slowly than we do – which makes us incredibly dangerous.

But galaxies “think”, and store experience. I trust that we’ll know whether we’re alone when we’re mature enough to receive the answer.

Tyranny Vanquished by Love

Listening to “Once and For All” this morning, I was moved to reconsider this post. It seems particularly meaningful at this time, as Donald Trump collapses under the pressures of the justice marshaled by Robert Mueller and others.

everdeepening

As an advocate of the healing manifested in the world through divine love – that is to say, as an apologist – the most painful apology is that offered by those that justify violence in the defense of received truth.

In modern America, those justifications are flavored with desperation. For many years, Christian culture was synonymous with the dominant Caucasian culture. The twenty-first century promises an end to that dominance, but that eventuality was clearly forecast in the last century. The misguided hope that change and accommodation can be avoided breeds irrationality, manifested in the religious extremism that spawned death-threats against doctors that prescribe chemical abortions or that drives parents to resist education in evolutionary biology. Fundamentalism bred in the military, where “Warriors for Christ” sometimes coerce religious conduct in their subordinates, and issue death threats against leaders in organizations (such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation) that oppose that…

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There is No ‘Learn’

Zayd Enam at Stanford University has posted an accessible discussion of why developers struggle to perfect artificial intelligence systems. The key point is that patrons of AI development aren’t willing to build an algorithm and turn it loose on the world. They expect the algorithm to be trained against a set of representative inputs, and the responses evaluated to assure that the frequency and severity of improper responses poses tolerable risk.

This is not a new principle. Auto manufacturers model collisions to identify “worst case” scenarios where structural elements will interact to kill passengers that would normally have survived the initial collision. They balance the likelihood of these scenarios to produce the “safest car possible.” In most cases, auto safety systems (air bags, crumple zones) will save lives, but in some cases they will kill.

It’s not evil, it’s unavoidable.

The problem with AI is that it assumes control of decision making. In an auto accident, human beings make the decisions that result in the accident. The decisions are made with a rapidity that is perceptible to other drivers, who presumable can take action to protect themselves. This happens every day.

Of course, we’ve all seen a texting teenager drive through an intersection on the red when cars start moving with the green left-turn arrow. Situations like these – accidents generated by inattention or stupidity – are easily preventable by tireless digital components whose only job is to monitor for specific errors. If traffic signals had been installed as part of the internet of things, that could be done without artificial intelligence: the timing system could broadcast the signal state through the vehicle sensors, which would prevent the front car from moving. But since that system is not in place, engineers use AI to interpret camera pictures to determine the state of the lights. Obviously the AI algorithms must be at least equal to the judgment of a attentive human driver, which means that the correctness standard must be high.

But the motivation for the development of the AI systems is the inattentive teenager.

The more dangerous class of AI applications are those running in environments that humans cannot perceive at all. Obvious cases are industrial control (dangerous conditions) and electronic stock trading (high speed). The motivation here is profit, pure and simple. When an opportunity presents itself, the speed and precision of the response is paramount. Conversely, however, when the algorithm acts in error, that error is compounded more rapidly than humans can intervene.

Again, this is not new: in the 1700s, the British crown commissioned governors to manage its far-flung empire, and could control abuse of that authority only through the exchange of letters delivered by ships. In that situation, power was distributed and compartmentalized: the thirteen American colonies had governors and parliamentary bodies to resist executive misdeeds.

This is also the approach taken with training of natural learning systems: children. We don’t give children absolute authority over their lives. In fact, wise parents extend such authority only gradually as competency is demonstrated.

This is an approach to the problem of developing and deploying AI systems. No single system should be deployed on its own. Instead, they should be deployed in communities, with a managerial algorithm that polls the proposed actions and allows implementation only when consensus exists. The results are fed back into the training system, and the polling weighted towards the most effective algorithms. When a Newton or Einstein arises from the community – an AI system that always produces the best result – only then is absolute authority conferred.

Until the system changes. For example, a robot housekeeper may operate on high power until a baby is brought home, and then be forced back into low-power mode until it has adapted to the presence of the unpredictable element brought into its demesne.