Monday, April 27, 2015

Is crime dropping?

I'm going to repost some comments at left at Victor Reppert's blog:

steve said...

I think critics, both here and at the Secular Outpost, are missing the point of Reppert's argument.

As I construe it, his argument involves a contrast between something and nothing. Some religions have a deterrent to evil. They have a distinctively religious deterrent to evil.

In the nature of the case, that religious deterrent is entirely absent in atheism.

Whether or not some (or even most) religionists are actually deterred by that prospect is not a counter to his argument. For atheism doesn't have the same principle *at all*. It simply doesn't exist in atheism. Atheism removes that deterrent in toto. It differs in kind, not degree.

Moreover, atheism has no secular equivalent. Nothing that takes the place of that religious deterrent.

At best, an atheist can try to offset that principle by saying that just as religion can offer a distinctive disincentive to evil, it can also offer a distinctive incentive to evil, if, say, certain kinds of evil reap eternal rewards. Say the suicide bomber who commits mass murder to get his 72 virgins.

Keep in mind that that's not a direct rebuttal to Reppert's argument.

Now, Reppert's argument is too coarse-grained to address that objection. It would require a more fined-grained argument that distinguishes and evaluates different religious eschatologies.

steve said...

Dan Gillson:
"You're providing quite the gloss on Dr Reppert's short argument. Unfortunately, what Dr Reppert implies in the first sentence is that the doctrine of eternal accountability works, but atheists don't appreciate that fact. The people who have pointed out that the doctrine of eternal accountability doesn't work refute are still playing on the same field as Dr Reppert."

I don't see him suggesting that it must have a 100% success rate to "work." So pointing out exceptions does nothing to obviate the principle. Even if it had a deterrent effect just 10% of the time, that doesn't "work" for atheists. So his argument stands.

steve said...

"That's absolutely wrong. There is a natural deterrent to bad or anti-social behavior. We call it guilt. Guilt is a naturally evolved emotion that we experience when we do things that are not conducive to group cooperation and cohesiveness. Guilt is the very thing that forms the basis of superstitious beliefs about theistic morality. And it obviously isn't perfect, but it has functioned well enough to enhance survivability for groups of humans that have passed it along to their descendants."

A predictably clueless objection:

i) To begin with, that would only have a deterent effect if you're unaware of the fact that your sense of guilt is like an irrational phobia. But once you become conscious of your evolutionary conditioning, you can override the program. At that point you realize that you have no reason to feel guilty. That's just the mindless, amoral process of naturalistic evolution guilt-tripping you.

ii) Likewise, once a human has achieved that degree of objectivity, there's no reason why he should opt for altruism at the expense of self-interest.

steve said...

im-skeptical said:
"Steve, On what basis do you make this claim? The fact is that guilt is a powerful deterrent regardless of our intellectual understanding of how it arises. Do you have evidence that people can easily ignore their emotional responses?"

Since you need to have the obvious explained to you, let's take a comparison: supposed I've been brainwashed by a mad scientist to feel guilty about eating cheeseburgers.

However, I discover that I was brainwashed. I realize that there's no rational basis for my guilt-feelings.

Even if I can't stop feeling guilty, I can still override my conditioning in the sense that it doesn't prevent me from eating cheeseburgers. My feelings don't control me to that extent.

steve said...

I'd like to venture a few observations about whether crime is declining. I'm not a sociologist or criminologist, so I don't claim to be an expert, but that could be said for other commenters:

i) To my knowledge, crime stats are kept by law enforcement agencies. But the same agencies have a vested interest in touting their success in combating crime. It would be gullible to assume a police chief or FBI director will advertise official failures.

ii) Crime is a technicality. Depends on what is illegal. If, say, pot is legalized, then you will see crime go down in relation to pot possession or pot sales. That, however, doesn't mean the activity has declined. Indeed, it might spike.

iii) Ironically, I daresay that crime can be underreported in some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods. If police avoid certain neighborhoods because it's too dangerous, those crimes won't be reported. If police let crime slide in some neighborhoods because they wish to avoid the bad publicity of a police shooting, riots, national TV coverage, &c., those crimes won't be reported.

iv) Likewise, if people in crime-ridden neighborhoods stop calling the police, either due to slow response time or fear of reprisal for being "snitches," those crimes won't be reported.

v) When prosecutors offer defendants a chance to plead to a lesser offense, the crime stats will go down for more serious crimes, even though, in reality, those actual crimes have not declined.

vi) I think it's possible that certain violent crimes were more prevalent when babyboomers came of age. When you had a larger percentage of young men, crime spiked. It naturally went down when the percentage of young men declined.

That, however, doesn't mean crime is lower within that demographic. Rather, the overall demographic profile may have changed.

vii) The more offenders you incarcerate, that may lower crime. But that doesn't reduce the number of criminals. It merely reduces the number of criminals on the streets. What you've done is to quarantine criminals. 

DJC said...
"Prokop and Steve, There is no doubt that violence and crime is declining on the whole. But rather than go into the full scope of the evidence, I have a suggestion: please continue making the claim that violence and crime are increasing but do it in Christian forums and among Christian company. I believe you'll learn more about it that way."

i) If it makes you feel better to misrepresent what I actually said, that evinces the weakness of your own position. I didn't claim that crime and violence is increasing. I didn't take a position on that.

ii) As far as the evidence goes, there's different kinds of evidence. There's reading crime stats. But there's also living long enough to observe social changes.

I attended suburban junior high and high school in the 70s. We didn't have student ID badges, metal detectors, or security guards. 

I don't recall news coverage of schoolyard snipers and lockdowns (although I may have missed it).

My junior high had an open campus. In principle, anyone could walk right off the street and into the school buildings. Security was nonexistent. 

It was torn down a few years ago. The new facility is built like a youth detention center, with a single entrance. 

My old high school now has lots of fenced in areas it never had when I was a student there. And it has uniformed policemen as security guards.

If crime has been dropping like a rock, when are public schools increasingly built and staffed like prisons? 


  1. In Baltimore, crime is way up these days:

  2. The love of many has grown cold.