Friday, July 23, 2004

Nuclear Iran

Charles Krauthammer gives us a glimpse into what will almost certainly be one of the first matters the Bush administration will have to address if it is reelected in November: What to do about Iran.

A question Viewpoint wishes someone would ask John Kerry is what, exactly, he proposes be done about a state which supports terrorism, is exceptionally hostile to the United States and Israel, and which is, by its own admission, soon to be in possession of nuclear weapons. Kerry can't fall back on some vague mumblings about a multilateral approach and involving the U.N. since that's what the Bush administration is trying now with notable lack of success.

Kerry's realistic choices seem limited to attempting to ignite a revolution, military preemption against Iran's nuclear facilities, or doing nothing. The first doesn't seem as likely to succeed as we had hoped last spring, the second is pretty much what Kerry has been criticizing Bush for over the past two years, and the third puts the world at a risk that we simply can't accept.

Krauthammer's analysis of the problem is very good. Some excerpts:

The fact is that the war critics have nothing to offer on the single most urgent issue of our time - rogue states in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Iran instead of Iraq? The Iraq critics would have done nothing about either country. There would today be two major Islamic countries sitting on an ocean of oil, supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction - instead of one.

Two years ago there were five countries supporting terror and pursuing WMDs -- two junior-leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis-of-evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush administration has just eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation.

There may be no deus ex machina. If nothing is done, a fanatical terrorist regime openly dedicated to the destruction of the ``Great Satan'' will have both nuclear weapons and the terrorists and missiles to deliver them. All that stands between us and that is either revolution or pre-emptive strike. Both of which, by the way, are far more likely to succeed with 146,000 American troops and highly sophisticated aircraft standing by just a few miles away - in Iraq.

Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. If people like John Kerry had had their way in the spring of 2003 we would be in a far weaker position today to do whatever it is that needs to be done to prevent it, and if John Kerry has his way in November what needs to be done probably won't be.

God and Time

One of the questions that arises among people who enjoy talking about the philosophy of religion concerns the relationship between God and time. Does God exist in our time? If not, is He outside time altogether or does He exist in his own, supernatural, temporality? I thought of this as I read an excerpt from a book by Kitty Ferguson entitled The Fire In The Equations: Science, Religion and the Search For God. at Belief Net.

Since our time is part of the creation and coterminous with it, and since God transcends the creation, it seems likely that although God may enter our time, He is not restricted to it or constrained by it. We may deduce that our time, cosmic time, is part of creation, i.e. the cosmos, by asking this: If there were no motion and no matter to move, if there were no thing at all, could cosmic time exist? If so, what, exactly, would it be that is existing? How would its existence be discerned? Since it's difficult to imagine time apart from matter in motion, or some sort of change, it seems reasonable to suppose, although it can't be proven, that our time came into being when space, matter, and energy did. Thus scientists talk about the "space-time" universe.

If we assume, then, that God is outside our time then we might ask further whether God is cognizant of our past, present, and most intriguingly, our future. Many theists hold that the concept of omniscience imputed to God entails that God must know the future, but if so, can humans have free will if God knows what they will choose?

We can frame the question in the form of an argument:

1.God knows today that I will do X tomorrow.
2.God is omniscient and therefore cannot be mistaken.
3.Therefore, I must do X tomorrow. I am not free to do Y.

When put this way it certainly seems as if God's knowledge of the future determines my choice, since I cannot be free to do Y if God knows I am going to do X. But there is something odd about this. Certainly, if God knows I will do X then I will do X , but it doesn't follow that God's knowledge determines my choice. Might it not be that my choice determines God's knowledge?

Consider the following propositions:

1. I am free to choose X or Y tomorrow.
2. God knows today which choice I will make tomorrow.

Let's stipulate that I freely choose X tomorrow.

This set of propositions is logically coherent, that is none of them is logically incompatible with any of the others, as far as I can tell. The conclusion which follows from them is simply that:

3. God knew today that I would freely choose X tomorrow.

Put this way there's no contradiction between my free choice and God's foreknowledge. In fact, God's foreknowledge may be seen as a consequence of my choice rather than my choice being an inevitable consequence of God's foreknowledge. Since it's possible to frame the argument this way it's at least possible that there is no contradiction between God's omniscience and human free will.

This does not satisfy some who can't shake the notion that if God knows X will happen, then X has to happen. It is certainly true that if God knows X will happen then, of course, X will happen, but confusion settles in because we tend to think of God as existing within our temporal frame of reference, but because God is outside our time it could be, as I've said above, that the event X causes God's knowledge, not the other way around.

If this is difficult to grasp think about it this way: Each of us knows what other people did yesterday, but we don't think our knowledge determined their behavior. Their behavior was chosen by them yesterday and the choice was unaffected by the fact that we know about it today. So knowledge of a choice doesn't necessarily determine the choice. The problem is that knowledge of a choice prior to its occurrence is different in kind than knowledge of a choice after it has occurred. This is true of us, embedded as we are in cosmic time, but if God is outside of cosmic time, it may not be true of Him.

If God is outside of our time, past and future are all in His present. Our past and future may well be temporally the same to God. Whether He is looking "back" at the past or "forward" into the future, it's all "present" to Him. Thus, if looking "back" doesn't determine what people chose in the past, looking "forward" may not determine choices either. In other words, It's possible that the choices God sees us make determine the content of His knowledge, His knowledge doesn't determine our choices.

For some theologians, however, the whole question of God's foreknowledge is moot. They argue that to say that God is omnipotent is to say that God can do everything that it is logically possible to do, but one thing that may not be logically possible is to know with certainty today what a free agent will do tomorrow.

This view is not very popular among orthodox theists, especially evangelical Christians, among which group I count myself, because it seems to diminish to too great an extent the sovereignty of God, and it is also difficult to reconcile with Scriptural passages which manifestly foretell choices which people will make centuries later. Few Christian thinkers, particularly evangelical thinkers, wish to sacrifice their belief in the Divine inspiration of the Bible on the altar of a philosophical speculation.

Advocates of the "Open Future" hypothesis reply to these concerns by asking how God can possibly know what someone will choose to do in the future unless their behavior is somehow determined? How can God know an indeterminate future that has yet to occur? If God knows the future doesn't that imply that the future somehow exists? If so, where, exactly, does it exist?

I confess I have read no fully satisfying answer to these questions. I also confess that, although I tend to hope that God does know the future, I find a certain allure in the notion that He does not. The reason for the attractiveness of this view for me is that it offers a possible answer to one of the most vexing of apologetic questions. The troubling question arises out of attempts to reconcile God's goodness and power with the existence of evil in the world, but a discussion of that topic will have to wait a couple of days.

Kofi Fiddles, Sudanese Burn

How many have to die before the U.N. acts? The Sudan is Rwanda all over again and, as then, Kofi Annan dithers. Meanwhile the U.S. is trying to do something to stop the killing of African Christians by a Muslim militia called Janjaweed, but the usual suspects are thwarting our efforts once more. From the article:

One problem is strong lobbying by the Arab League and others against any kind of sanctions or military intervention. The United States has had difficulty getting a resolution adopted that would threaten a travel and arms ban within a month if Sudan did not comply.

Of course, the United States could act "unilaterally", but the domestic secular left, which cares little about the suffering of black Christians in Africa but cares enormously about rendering America militarily impotent in the world, would doubtless make this very difficult politically. Add to the political difficulties the U.N.'s hurt feelings over Iraq which evidently trump the moral imperative to do something to bring relief to the suffering in the Sudan, and you have a recipe for inaction.

"We are still dealing with Iraq. We are not out of Iraq yet," Annan said.

So there the delegates sit, arms folded, a scowl on their faces, adamantly refusing to protect tens of thousands, even millions, of starving, disease-ridden women and children because the United States grew weary of their failure to do something about the horrors occurring in Iraq (and Bosnia and Kosovo and Rwanda) and finally did it ourselves.

"Any discussion of intervention in Sudan would be looked at very carefully by governments and I am not sure how quickly and how enthusiastically one would get support for that initiative. We have to be very clear on that," Annan said.

In other words, not enough Christians have died yet for the secularists and Muslims in the General Assembly to regard this as worth getting serious about. In a response to a question about the possibility of military intervention to stop the butchery of thousands of African Christians by a Muslim militia called Janjaweed, Annan displays in a single sentence the complete irrelevance of the United Nations, the absurdity of the Democrat criticism that George Bush failed to get U.N. permission to depose Saddam Hussein, and his own nincompoopery:

Annan said Sudan had been warned not to [use Janjaweed members as policemen]. "It is a 'no-no' for them to induct Janjaweed into the police force,"

A "no-no"?! I guess that will make the thugs in Khartoum think twice about helping the militias commit their genocide. Next Kofi will make them sit in a corner for a time-out. No wonder Saddam was so contemptuous of U.N. resolutions. And this is the body to which the Democrats want the United States to subordinate its national sovereignty and interests?