Was this tragedy caused by anti-black racism?

I just stumbled across an article about a tragedy which recently took place in the United States.
(There is  a short video to be watched there).
Ryan_Descha

(By Shaun King)

White man runs red light, causes accident, shoots and kills black woman with her hands up

Early Saturday morning, Deborah Pearl, a 53-year-old African-American mother and employee of a Cleveland area Harley Davidson Diner in Northeast Ohio, was on her to way work.

At 7:20 a.m., as she was driving her Ford Taurus, she had no idea that she was living her very last moments on this earth. Matthew Ryan Desha, a 29-year-old white man, ran a red light at an intersection and hit Pearl’s car with his Jeep.

After his car flipped many times and hers was pushed into the intersection, what happened next was like something out of a horror movie.

As Deborah Pearl got out of her car to assess the situation, Matthew Desha did as well. Except he also grabbed his 5.56-millimeter high powered assault rifle. According to witnesses, Pearl then proceeded to put her hands in the air in attempt to save her life from the armed stranger who had narrowly avoided killing them both in the crash just seconds earlier.

It mattered not to Matthew Desha. A witness who called 911 reported hearing him fire off at least 12 shots. At first, the appeared to be random. The 911 caller heard Deborah Pearl, who was a sitting duck at that point, begin screaming. Desha then began aiming and firing at her. While it has not yet been released how many times she was hit, when police arrived the scene, Deborah Pearl was found there on pavement mortally wounded and bleeding out.

Devastated and shocked, her husband and other family members came to the scene, and, understandably so, could not even muster up the words to explain how they were feeling.

Matthew Desha was arrested near the scene. Early Monday morning he was charged with the murder of Deborah Pearl. Police have not mentioned a motive for the brutal murder, but the entire scene is riddled with awful implications.

Just this past June, “police charged 29-year-old Matthew R. Desha with one felony count of carrying a concealed weapon and one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia. A search of the North Ridgeville, Ohio, man’s car turned up a loaded 9 mm handgun and three additional loaded magazines, along with straws with suspected drug residue and other contraband.”

Clearly, that arrest wasn’t enough to have this man fully disarmed.

My mind immediately goes to Kalief Browder, who was arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack. Kalief spent three years in jail awaiting trial for that charge before simply being released when the case was dismissed.

Desha, though, was arrested on a felony gun charge and was suspected of having drugs in his car as well, but was released in plenty of time to murder Deborah Pearl in cold blood.

I don’t know Matthew Desha, but I know cold-blooded bigotry and violence. I know that what Matthew Desha did to Deborah Pearl reminds me a great deal of what Dylann Roof, another heavily armed white man who had been previously arrested multiple times for drug and other charges, did to a group of unarmed African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina.

Either way, a family just lost their wife and mother in a senseless act of American violence and we don’t have a single sign that anybody in power is close to doing a thing about it.

*************************
I cannot imagine either what her family must have felt.
 
But I have several remarks concerning the article itself.
 
1) Was this really motivated by racial hatred? Could it be that under the same circumstances, the man would have killed a white woman standing in his way?
We need to know more about his background before concluding this hideous crime was driven by anti-black racism.
 
For all we know, he might as well be a psychopath or suffer from delusions.
 
So at the moment, we cannot positively assert that he murdered her for the same reason Dylann Roof cowardly killed black Christian ministers.
 
2) What about situations where the role are reversed and it is a black man who kills a white woman?
 
Would it be right to title an article “Black man causes car crash, shoots and kills white woman”?
If a black man did that to a black woman, would it be right to write “Black man causes car crash, shoots and kills black woman”?
 
I think not, because this would unjustly stigmatise all black men.
 
But the same can be said about the stigmatisation of “white” men which is so widespread among the wealthy liberal establishment.
If it turns out his crime was truly driven by bigotry, an appropriate title would be “Racist white man causes car crash, shoots and kills black woman”.
 
3) Given the absence of evidence this act was motivated by racial hatred, all we can say is that a human being committed an atrocity against another human being.
In such a situation, we should sympathise with the afflicted family and pray for them if we are religious believers.
4) This article shows one of the main problems I have with “Black Lives Matter”, namely their failure to consider alternative explanations before concluding something was due to anti-black racism.
To his credit, Shaun King did not draw this conclusion but he strongly suggested this is the case.
If we are really interested in truth, we should only conclude something was caused by racism if we have concrete evidence pointing in that direction.
To give you an example, it is entirely true that there are disproportionately more Africo-Americans in prison than whites.
But before shouting that this huge disparity is due to racism occurring in the here and now, you must show that poverty plays no significant role.
Don’t get me wrong.
Besides, the appalling rise of Donald Trump makes it abundantly clear that there are still many Americans of Europeans descent who hate, resent or disdain Afro-Americans.
So a significant part of the problem is caused by racism.
But another significant part is caused by an unjust economical system plaguing poor blacks AND poor whites alike.
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.
Martin Luther King on the “curse of poverty”.
“Black Lives Matter” activists almost always ignore this and pretend that everything is a consequence of skin colour.
It is a divisive movement which despises the rules of rationality and evidence-based thinking.
5) I wrote what I honestly believe at the moment.
If you think that makes me a “racist”, then so be it.
My thoughts are constantly evolving and I am ready to reconsider my opinion if you can identify flaws in my reasoning.
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On Dawkins, God, ET and the nature of reality

I just listened to a talk given by Richard Dawkins.

For those who do not know him, he is the most influential “new atheist” (anti-theist) whose deepest wish would be to rid the world of all religions. Besides that, he is a very gifted evolutionary biologist and writer.

Given his track record and his habit of constantly lumping together all Christians and Muslims and his failure to appreciate the historical and religious contexts in which the Bible and the Koran were written, I expected a highly biased presentation of the facts.
I was pleasantly surprised by his (relatively) moderate tone and even ended up enjoying his show.
The same cannot be said of his followers and the person who titled the video. As we shall see, Dawkins did not “debunk” deism and the “simulation hypothesis”.
At best, he only showed that some arguments for these views are flawed.
In what follows, I want to offer my thoughts about several things he said, albeit not necessarily in a chronological order.

The origin of life and intelligent design

origin-life
Dawkins recognises that at the moment, we don’t know how life originated. There are several theories out there but they all have their problems and no consensus has been reached.
Of course, our current ignorance cannot be used to argue that no natural phenomena could have been responsible for the appearance of the first self-replicating system.
Dawkins is ready to seriously consider the possibility that life has been seeded on earth by space aliens, which shows a certain mind-openness.
But he is adamant that such creatures could only have evolved through a slow process because the probability of their being formed spontaneously is extremely low.
This begs the question against people holding a religious world view who would say that the creator(s) of life are God(s) who always existed.
This also doesn’t fit in with his beliefs about the origin of the universe, as we will see later on.

Extraterrestrial intelligences and  Fermi’s paradox

Dawkins endorses the principle of mediocrity which stipulates that we shouldn’t suppose there is anything special about us.

Thus, since we know there is (advanced) life on earth, we should assume it is widespread across the whole universe.

While being still popular among mainstream scientists, the Principle Of Mediocrity (POM= has grown more controversial over the last years.
Philosopher of science John Norton wrote an article entitled “Cosmic Confusions: Not Supporting versus Supporting Not” where he shows the problems related to the POM.
Basically, the principle of mediocrity is justified through the principle of indifference (POI), according to which if we know nothing about a situation, we should attribute the same probability to each possibility.
I explained what I consider to be fatal objections to the POI here and here.
As Norton demonstrated, the principle of indifference conflates the difference between knowledge and ignorance and very often leads to arbitrary results (depending on the prior probability distribution one uses).
There is a fundamental distinction between
Situation A) We know that life on earth wasn’t the result of a fluke but that of non-random natural processes
and
Situation B) We know (almost) nothing about this.
Dawkins went into a paradox mentioned by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi.
If advanced life is so common in the cosmos, why don’t we see any trace of it?
Several explanations (such as the near impossibility of interstellar travel, the short duration of technological civilisations or their reluctance to interact with such primitive beings as we) have been offered to solve the paradox.
To my mind, while these may be plausible reasons why ten or even hundred extraterrestrial races never approached the earth, they seem extremely far-fetched when applied to millions (let alone billions) of civilisations.
Therefore, I believe that Fermi’s paradox strongly calls in question the conviction that the universe is teeming with advanced life forms.

The fine-tuning argument and the multiverse

fine-tuning

Physicists have long since been puzzled by the fact that the constants of nature must lie in a very narrow domain in order to allow for advanced life to exist.

Many theistic philosophers reason like this

  1. All sets of parameter values must have the same probability of being true (applying the Principle Of Indifference mentioned above)
  2. Therefore, the probability of their belonging to a small region is extremely (if not infinitely) small.
  3. It is very unlikely that we are the products of purely natural processes not involving God.

While mainstream cosmologists agree with steps 1 and 2, they then go on to postulate the existence of a (nearly) infinite number of parallel universes covering all intervals of parameter values. A natural consequence of this is that the appearance of a universe such as ours is bound to happen even if no supernatural creator intervenes.

Dawkins considers this the most plausible explanation of the problem.

I have come to the realisation that the whole concept of a fine-tuning problem is misguided because of its reliance on the principle of difference.

The fallacy of doing so has been demonstrated by Norton.

Miracles in an infinite multiverse

According to Clarke’s law, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Dawkins believes there are probably creatures out there who are so superior to us that we could only regard them as gods if they were to visit us. But he insists that they would have been created through evolutionary processes and would not be supernatural beings.

But this means that in order for him to dismiss out of hand the testimonies of witnesses of paranormal events and miracles, he would have to either show that they violate the laws of physics or give us plausible reasons as to why such creatures would not visit us.

He also faces another problem stemming from his belief in an infinite number of parallel universes.

In an infinite space, any event which is physically possible is bound to happen somewhere.

This has led physicists to consider the possibility of so-called Boltzmann’s brains which would pop into existence because of random fluctuations.

Bolzmann-brain
Bolzmann’s brain

While physicists disagree about the frequency of their appearances in a vast multiverse, they all think they will at least exist somewhere.

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has been able to convincingly demonstrate they would be very rare.

Anti-theists like to mock Christians by comparing their belief in God to the belief in a flying spaghetti monster. flying-spaghetti-monster

But if we truly live in an infinite multiverse, flying spaghetti monsters too will necessarily exist somewhere.

What is more, physically very improbable events (such as the resurrection of a man from the dead) are also going to happen somewhere through random processes.

 

As a consequence, the atheist can no longer say “your belief in the miracles of the New Testament is silly because they violate the law of physics”.

The best he could say would be: “While such events really occur somewhere, their relative frequency is so low that it is unreasonable for you to believe they really took place.”

This is no doubt a weaker position which has its own problems.

 

The simulation argument

Actually, Dawkins discussed the so-called simulation argument elsewhere.

According to it, it is more likely we live in the simulation of a universe than in a real one.

Far from “debunking” this possibility, Dawkins recognises he cannot show it to be very unlikely in the same way he thinks he can reject the existence of God.

I think another interesting thesis can be formulated.

Consider the following proposition:

“We live in a simulation run by unknown beings who created everything five minutes ago and gave us false memories of the past.”

Brain in the vat: "I'm walking outside in the sun!"
Brain in a vat. My thought experiment here is far broader than that and includes the possibility of being part of a simulation of beings radically different from everything we can conceive of. Or being fooled by a deceitful demon about whose abilities and psychology we know almost nothing.

I don’t doubt that this idea sounds emotionally absurd to most of us.

But can you show it is very unlikely to be true WITHOUT smuggling in assumptions about the real world?

I have searched the philosophical literature but could not find any demonstration which does not beg the question.

I think that you can only reject it pragmatically through a leap of faith that does not rely on reason and evidence.

Consequently, I also think it is impossible to justify all our beliefs through evidence and logics.

We all walk by faith.

 

The atheist in front of God’s throne

Finally, I want to go into how Dawkins considers the possibility of being judged by a God he didn’t believe in.

Dawkins says he would react like the late British philosopher Bertrand Russel:

“Confronted with the Almighty, [Russell] would ask, ‘Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’

This assumes that God would be mostly offended by Dawkins’ and Russel’s unbelief.

I have argued elsewhere against the notion (held by fundamentalist Christians) that atheism is immoral and that people dying as atheists will be punished because of their unbelief.

I think it is incompatible with the existence of a supreme being which would necessarily be more loving, just and gracious than any human.

But what if the dialogue between God and Dawkins went like that:

Dawkins: So, you really exist after all! I did not believe in you because I couldn’t see enough evidence.

God: Fair enough. The universe I created is ambiguous and it leaves people the choice to  develop a solid moral character or not. I won’t condemn you because you did not believe in me. Yet, we do have a score to settle.

Dawkins: What do you mean then?

God:I gave you a conscience and the knowledge of good and evil. You knew in your heart that you ought to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated. But you often disregarded this principle. You and your followers have frequently bullied, mocked and ridiculed respectful opponents. You even loudly proclaimed this was the right thing to do.

Of course, this conversation is completely fictional. I don’t know the content of Dawkins’ heart and cannot rule out the possibility he will be in heaven.

Conclusion

I find that this video of Dawkins is really intellectually stimulating.

I did not feel challenged in my faith/hope there is a supreme being.

On the contrary, this strengthened my belief that atheists cannot confidently assert that “there are probably no gods and miracles.”

Of course, I must recognise there are many atheistic philosophers who are far more sophisticated than Dawkins out there.

But it is worth noting that Dawkins’ books (especially the God delusion) caused many people to lose their faith.

I think that their conversions to atheism are due to his rhetorical skills and not to the strength of his arguments.

 

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