Saturday, April 25, 2015

Testing Worldviews

One of the tests of any worldview is whether one can live consistently with it. On this test the worldview called naturalism, i.e. the view that nature is all there is, fails since many if not most naturalists find that they have to give up some things that are very difficult if not impossible to give up. Among the things for which there is no room in a naturalist ontology are the following:

1. ultimate meaning in life
2. free will
3. objective moral right or wrong
4. intrinsic value of human beings
5. mind/consciousness
6. an adequate ground for beauty, love and truth

On the other hand, not only do each of these fit comfortably in a classical Christian worldview, it could be argued that they're actually entailed by that view. The logic of naturalism, however, compels one to regard them all as illusions, but few naturalists can live consistently with that. They find themselves constantly acting as if their lives do have meaning, as if there really are objective moral rights and wrongs, as if they do have free will.

They can only deny the reality of these things at the theoretical level, but in the way they live their everyday lives they affirm their reality over and over again. They find themselves forced, in a sense, to become poachers, helping themselves to meaning, morality, free will and the rest from the storehouse of 2000 years of Christian heritage, because their own worldview has no room for them.

But when one has to poach from competing visions of reality in order to make life bearable one is tacitly sacrificing any claim to holding to a rational, coherent worldview. To be consistent a naturalist should be a nihilist and accept the emptiness that that entails, yet even though some naturalists see that, few bring themselves to accept it. For those who do, the loss of the aforementioned crucial existential human needs is more than compensated for, in their minds, by the liberation from God that naturalism requires, but this is a liberation from the only adequate ground for those needs.

For many others, though, who wish for that same liberation, either the consequences don't occur to them, or if they do, they're often simply ignored as though they don't exist. Naturalists are free to do this, of course, but they're not free to declare their worldview rational if they do.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The (Latest) Clinton Scandal

Ever since the Clintons burst onto the national stage in the 1990s the odor of scandal has hung heavily in their wake. Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm records, the Lincoln bedroom, Monica Lewinsky, Benghazi, deleted official emails, and now apparent influence-peddling during Mrs. Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. More conspiracy-minded folk might also mention the strange run of mysterious deaths associated with the Clintons (Vince Foster, Ron Brown, et al). The Clintons are either the most corrupt political couple since the Macbeths reigned in Scotland or they are the unluckiest - although how unlucky can they be when their net worth is in the hundreds of millions and no one knows how they could have (legitimately) amassed such a fortune.

Anyway, for those who catch their news on the fly The Blaze helpfully lists six important things to keep in mind about the latest putridity to surround the Clintons. Here's a summary of The Blaze's summary:

1) The Clintons Failed to Report Millions of Dollars in Contributions From a Uranium Company Linked to Russia
The New York Times reported early Thursday morning that while Clinton was secretary of state, a Russian energy company called Rosatom was working to take over a Canadian company, Uranium One, that had stakes to uranium around the world, including some in America. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations to the Clinton Foundation totaling $2.35 million, which, despite Mrs. Clinton's promise to the Obama White House to disclose any such income, she never reported. Additionally, Bill Clinton was then paid $500,000 for a speech in Moscow, which was paid by “a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.”

2) The State Department Helped Approve the Sale of Uranium One When It was Led by Clinton
According to the Wall Street Journal, the State Department plays a role on the government committee that examines whether the sale of a company to a foreign company has an impact on U.S. national security. That committee approved the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom in 2010, when Clinton was Secretary of State.

3) Clinton’s Camp Is Denying Any Wrongdoing
While the uranium deal looks like Rosatom gave money to the Clintons in exchange for allowing the sale of Uranium One, Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Clinton, said no one has produced “a shred of evidence” that this is the case.

4) The Clinton Foundation Is Redoing Its Tax Returns
Reuters reported Thursday For example, the foundation had said that from 2010 to 2012, it received no funds at all from any government. But those claims were “errors.” that based on its own review of the Clinton Foundation, several tax errors are apparent, that that news is forcing the foundation to refile “at least five annual tax returns.” “[S]everal foreign governments continued to give tens of millions of dollars toward the foundation’s work on climate change and economic development through this three-year period,” Reuters wrote. A spokesman for the foundation told Reuters that they were “prioritizing an external review” of its tax forms, and said it’s possible returns from the last 15 years might have to be corrected. The Clinton Health Access Initiative is also refiling tax returns from 2012 and 2012 after finding “typographical errors.”

5) Companies Lobbying State Department While They Donate to the Clinton Foundation
These facts are in addition to ongoing reports that dozens of companies were lobbying the State Department for various reasons while Clinton was in office, and were giving money to the Clinton Foundation at the same time. The Wall Street Journal reported that “at least 60 companies” were doing this, and gave the foundation “more than $26 million.”

6) Companies Paying Speaking Fees to the Clintons While They Donate to the Clinton Foundation
According to the Washington Post, Bill Clinton was paid $26 million in speaking fees by companies that were also donating to the Clinton Foundation. “The amount, about one-quarter of Clinton’s overall speaking income between 2001 and 2013, demonstrates how closely intertwined Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable work has become with their growing personal wealth,” it said.

We might add to this that only 15% of the Foundation's income went to charity (most legitimate charities have a "pass through" rate of over 90%), 25% went to "expenses," and 60% went to "other." To borrow another Shakespearian reference, something's rotten in Denmark, but with the Clinton's that's been the case for a long, long time.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Whale Evolution

This animated video depicts a sperm whale hunting prey, including a giant squid, by echolocation.
Until recently the consensus opinion among biologists was that whales evolved from land animals, but recent finds have made this view increasingly untenable. Not only is the window of available time for all the requisite changes to adapt a terrestrial creature to a marine environment very narrow, but the sheer number and scope of the changes strains credulity. Here are a few of the changes that would need to have occurred within the span of about 3-5 million years:
  • Counter-current heat exchanger for intra-abdominal testes
  • Ball vertebra
  • Tail flukes and musculature
  • Blubber for temperature insulation
  • Ability to drink sea water (reorganization of kidney tissues)
  • Fetus in breech position (for labor underwater)
  • Nurse young underwater (modified mammae)
  • Forelimbs transformed into flippers
  • Reduction of hindlimbs
  • Reduction/loss of pelvis and sacral vertebrae
  • Reorganization of the musculature for the reproductive organs
  • Hydrodynamic properties of the skin
  • Special lung surfactants
  • Novel muscle systems for the blowhole
  • Modification of the teeth
  • Modification of the eye for underwater vision
  • Emergence and expansion of the mandibular fat pad with complex lipid distribution
  • Reorganization of skull bones and musculature
  • Modification of the ear bones
  • Decoupling of esophagus and trachea
  • Synthesis and metabolism of isovaleric acid (toxic to terrestrial mammals)
  • Emergence of blowhole musculature and their neurological control
Here's another video, courtesy of Uncommon Descent, which highlights some of the problems with the consensus view:

Whale Evolution vs. The Actual Fossil Evidence from Philip Cunningham on Vimeo.

The problem of transitional forms remains a serious difficulty for any kind of "molecules to man" evolutionary hypothesis, as this article at Evolution News and Views illustrates. It may have happened that all forms of life on earth are descended from a single ancestral form, but it seems that the more we discover the less evidence there is for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Deadbeats

If someone complains that your taxes are too low, as do many liberals, and then tries to limit his or her own tax liability by taking every deduction to which he/she is legally entitled, as do many liberals, it's not unfair, I don't think, to conclude that this person is being hypocritical. But, if that's so, how might we describe those who insist that we all pay higher taxes while they themselves don't even pay their own taxes? That's evidently the situation at the very liberal MSNBC cable news station where four of their personalities owe a ton of money in unpaid taxes to the IRS.

According to Jillian Kay Melchior at National Review Online. Melchior tells us that TourĂ© Neblett, co-host of MSNBC’s The Cycle, tweeted in January 2014, that, “Regressive taxation & tax-avoidance & union crushing & the financial corruption of legislation has fueled inequality more than hard work.” In 2012, he also criticized Republican politicians, saying they were “all afraid to vote for a modest tax increase of people who can totally afford it.” Now it turns out that Neblett himself owes the IRS more than $59,000 in taxes.

Joy-Ann Reid, who serves as managing editor of theGrio.com and until earlier this year hosted MSNBC’s The Reid Report has called taxes on the wealthy “a basic fairness argument,” also arguing for “smart spending and smart tax increases” to create economic growth, but last month New York filed a $4,948.15 tax warrant against Reid and her husband.

Melissa Harris-Perry, who hosts an MSNBC show named after herself, has claimed that, “We actually do better as a country when we spread the wealth around.” She has also quoted President Obama, calling income inequality “the fundamental threat to the American dream.” She called for Republican lawmakers to acknowledge that “the growing income disparity in America is, in fact, you know, a real thing,” but Ms Harris-Perry is herself a whopping $70,000 in arrears to the IRS.

Then there's Al Sharpton whose tax delinquency is almost legendary. In November, the New York Times estimated that Sharpton and his various enterprises owed as much as $4.5 million in taxes, penalties, and interest to the government.

These folks all think you should be paying more than you are, but think themselves somehow exempt. There's something delightfully schadenfreudeish in reading about people who lecture us about how we should all be forking over more of our income to the government, how we should be paying our "fair share," while they get caught trying to get away with paying nothing at all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wisconsin's Shame

There's been a lot of news coverage about the abuse of force by police in the last few months. In most of these incidents I have wanted to give the police the benefit of the doubt, in some of them that was exceedingly difficult as in the case of a South Carolina officer shooting an unarmed man in the back eight times or in the case of a female officer near Hershey, Pennsylvania who shot and killed a man in the back as he lay prone on the ground. Both of these officers have been charged with murder.

But one of the worst systematic abuses of police power I have ever heard about in this country has occurred in the state of Wisconsin where a prosecutor named John Chisolm has misused his authority to have police conduct terrifying raids on the homes of families who have done absolutely nothing wrong, nor were they suspected of having done anything wrong.

David French has the story at National Review Online. Here's his lede:
Cindy Archer, one of the lead architects of Wisconsin’s Act 10 — also called the “Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill,” it limited public-employee benefits and altered collective-bargaining rules for public-employee unions — was jolted awake by yelling, loud pounding at the door, and her dogs’ frantic barking. The entire house — the windows and walls — was shaking. She looked outside to see up to a dozen police officers, yelling to open the door. They were carrying a battering ram. She wasn’t dressed, but she started to run toward the door, her body in full view of the police. Some yelled at her to grab some clothes, others yelled for her to open the door. “I was so afraid,” she says. “I did not know what to do.” She grabbed some clothes, opened the door, and dressed right in front of the police.

The dogs were still frantic. “I begged and begged, ‘Please don’t shoot my dogs, please don’t shoot my dogs, just don’t shoot my dogs.’ I couldn’t get them to stop barking, and I couldn’t get them outside quick enough. I saw a gun and barking dogs. I was scared and knew this was a bad mix.” She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee. “I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”

They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off. The neighbors started to come outside, curious at the commotion, and all the while the police searched her house, making a mess, and — according to Cindy — leaving her “dead mother’s belongings strewn across the basement floor in a most disrespectful way.” Then they left, carrying with them only a cellphone and a laptop.
Unfortunately, Archer's story was repeated dozens of times. French continues:
“It’s a matter of life or death.” That was the first thought of “Anne” (not her real name). Someone was pounding at her front door. It was early in the morning — very early — and it was the kind of heavy pounding that meant someone was either fleeing from — or bringing — trouble. “It was so hard. I’d never heard anything like it. I thought someone was dying outside.” She ran to the door, opened it, and then chaos. “People came pouring in. For a second I thought it was a home invasion. It was terrifying. They were yelling and running, into every room in the house. One of the men was in my face, yelling at me over and over and over.”

It was indeed a home invasion, but the people who were pouring in were Wisconsin law-enforcement officers. Armed, uniformed police swarmed into the house. Plainclothes investigators cornered her and her newly awakened family. Soon, state officials were seizing the family’s personal property, including each person’s computer and smartphone, filled with the most intimate family information. Why were the police at Anne’s home? She had no answers. The police were treating them the way they’d seen police treat drug dealers on television. In fact, TV or movies were their only points of reference, because they weren’t criminals. They were law-abiding. They didn’t buy or sell drugs. They weren’t violent. They weren’t a danger to anyone. Yet there were cops — surrounding their house on the outside, swarming the house on the inside. They even taunted the family as if they were mere “perps.”

As if the home invasion, the appropriation of private property, and the verbal abuse weren’t enough, next came ominous warnings. Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t tell anyone about this raid. Not even your mother, your father, or your closest friends. The entire neighborhood could see the police around their house, but they had to remain silent. This was not the “right to remain silent” as uttered by every cop on every legal drama on television — the right against self-incrimination. They couldn’t mount a public defense if they wanted — or even offer an explanation to family and friends. Yet no one in this family was a “perp.” Instead, like Cindy, they were American citizens guilty of nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights to support Act 10 and other conservative causes in Wisconsin. Sitting there shocked and terrified, this citizen — who is still too intimidated to speak on the record — kept thinking, “Is this America?”
It's the America we get when completely amoral men are in positions of power. French gives a final example:
“They followed me to my kids’ rooms.” For the family of “Rachel” (not her real name), the ordeal began before dawn — with the same loud, insistent knocking. Still in her pajamas, Rachel answered the door and saw uniformed police, poised to enter her home. When Rachel asked to wake her children herself, the officer insisted on walking into their rooms. The kids woke to an armed officer, standing near their beds. The entire family was herded into one room, and there they watched as the police carried off their personal possessions, including items that had nothing to do with the subject of the search warrant — even her daughter’s computer. And, yes, there were the warnings. Don’t call your lawyer. Don’t talk to anyone about this. Don’t tell your friends. The kids watched — alarmed — as the school bus drove by, with the students inside watching the spectacle of uniformed police surrounding the house, carrying out the family’s belongings. Yet they were told they couldn’t tell anyone at school. They, too, had to remain silent. The mom watched as her entire life was laid open before the police. Her professional files, her personal files, everything. She knew this was all politics. She knew a rogue prosecutor was targeting her for her political beliefs. And she realized, “Every aspect of my life is in their hands. And they hate me.”
The rogue prosecutor was John Chisolm, who, along with the judge who granted permission for the raids, a woman named Barbara Kluka, should be put in jail. The reason for this atrocious violation of police power is that Chisolm is a progressive leftist who was and is determined to destroy Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, and since he was unsuccessful stopping him from being elected and re-elected, he has chosen to use his power to go after Walker's supporters, people who contributed to his campaign and worked for organizations seeking to advance a conservative agenda. The terrors to which these people and their children were subjected in these raids has soured them completely on the police, as well they might. The officers who participated should be deeply ashamed of their conduct. French explains how Chisolm's vendetta got started:
It all began innocently enough. In 2009, officials from the office of the Milwaukee County executive contacted the office of the Milwaukee district attorney, headed by John Chisholm, to investigate the disappearance of $11,242.24 from the Milwaukee chapter of the Order of the Purple Heart. The matter was routine, with witnesses willing and able to testify against the principal suspect, a man named Kevin Kavanaugh. What followed, however, was anything but routine.

Chisholm failed to act promptly on the report, and when he did act, he refused to conduct a conventional criminal investigation but instead petitioned, in May 2010, to open a “John Doe” investigation, a proceeding under Wisconsin law that permits Wisconsin officials to conduct extensive investigations while keeping the target’s identity secret (hence the designation “John Doe”). John Doe investigations alter typical criminal procedure in two important ways: First, they remove grand juries from the investigative process, replacing the ordinary citizens of a grand jury with a supervising judge. Second, they can include strict secrecy requirements not just on the prosecution but also on the targets of the investigation. In practice, this means that, while the prosecution cannot make public comments about the investigation, it can take public actions indicating criminal suspicion (such as raiding businesses and homes in full view of the community) while preventing the targets of the raids from defending against or even discussing the prosecution’s claims.

Why would Chisholm seek such broad powers to investigate a year-old embezzlement claim with a known suspect? Because the Milwaukee County executive, Scott Walker, had by that time become the leading Republican candidate for governor. District Attorney Chisholm was a Democrat, a very partisan Democrat. Almost immediately after opening the John Doe investigation, Chisholm used his expansive powers to embarrass Walker, raiding his county-executive offices within a week.
When that didn't work, Chisolm expanded his phony "John Doe" investigation to include citizens who supported Walker. This is what a police state looks like, and it's a vivid picture of what the country would be like if unprincipled thugs like Chisolm ever achieved sufficient power.

Read the full article at the link, if you have the stomach for it, and then ask yourself why you're not hearing about any of this from the liberal media. You sure would if a conservative prosecutor had used the police in this fashion and for this purpose. The sheer malevolence of the left, of which we catch a glimpse in Wisconsin and in Lois Lerner's abuses at the IRS, should cause everyone inclined toward aligning themselves politically with these people to ask themselves if these are the sorts of human beings with which decent people really want to be identified.

One other thing is for sure. Reading this has certainly made it a lot more difficult to continue to respect the people who have sworn to protect us and whom we pay to do it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Molecular Machines

Among the phenomena which support the claim that life is the product of intentional, intelligent design is the sheer number of complex molecular machines that operate in each of the trillions of our body's cells to ensure that these cells carry out the functions that keep us alive.

One of these machines is the system of proteins that synthesizes adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Here's a short video animation that describes how this machine, called ATP synthase, works:
There are thousands of such machines in the cell, all of which, on the standard Darwinian account, somehow developed - through random, undirected, processes - not only their structure, not only the coordination with other systems in the cell necessary for proper function, but also the genetic regulatory mechanisms that control how and when the machine operates. If it happened, it's a near-miraculous achievement for blind, undirected processes.

David Hume, in his famous essay On Miracles, wrote that when we hear an account of a miracle we should ask ourselves whether it's more likely, given our experience, that a law of nature had been violated or that the witness was somehow mistaken. Hume argued that a mistaken witness is always more likely than that a law of nature had been violated, and we should always, he insisted, believe what's most likely. Applying the principle to the present case, when confronted with a structure like ATP synthase we should ask ourselves, what is the greater miracle, that such an astonishing thing came about by chance and luck or that it came about by intelligent engineering?

It seems to me that the only way one can assert the former is if they've already, a priori, ruled out the possibility of the existence of the intelligent engineer, but, of course, that begs the question. Whether the intelligent engineer exists is the very matter we're trying to answer by asking whether blind chance or intelligence is the best explanation for the existence in living things of such machines as ATP synthase.

If we allow the evidence to speak for itself rather than allow our prior metaphysical commitments to dictate what the evidence says then I'm pretty sure most people would say that the kind of specified complexity we see in this video points unequivocally to the existence of a designing mind.

If this video has whetted your interest here's another that pushes us toward the same conclusion. It's an animation of just a few of the structures and processes in a living cell. Note the amazing motor protein that carries the vesicle along the microtubule:
How does the motor protein "know" to carry the vesicle along the microtubule and where to take it? What regulates the process? How and why did such a complex system ever come about? Was it all just blind chance and serendipity or was it somehow a product of intelligence? Which is more probable?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Gift Idea

Graduation is right around the corner. Mothers' Day is even closer. If you're trying to think of a gift to give the family member or friend who's about to graduate, or if mom's a reader, perhaps you might consider presenting them with a copy of In the Absence of God.

If you're not familiar with it you can read about it by following the link at the upper right of this page.

Absence is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Berean, BAM, Lifeway, and my favorite bookstore, Hearts and Minds.

Books aren't a gift appreciated by everyone, of course. A lot of people, unfortunately, don't read, and if they do they sometimes shy from reading anything that might be a little demanding, but if you know someone who enjoys books and who's not averse to having a little metaphysics mixed in with their drama (or vice versa), you could do a lot worse than putting a copy of Absence in their hands.

Aside from making a good gift for a thoughtful graduate or mom, In the Absence of God would also make a fine selection for book clubs, reading groups, or youth groups. Here's what one reader said about it:
Thanks for telling me about your book, In the Absence of God. I bought it last Tuesday for my Kindle and finished it in two evenings, although the last evening lasted until 3:05 a.m.. I could not put it down. Thought provoking, good story lines and characters, entertaining reading, and very educational. Absolutely loved the book and have been talking about it to my kids, family and friends.
If you order a copy from Hearts and Minds I'll autograph it if you request it.