Friday, September 3, 2004

August Job Numbers

Good news on the economic front. The Labor Department reported today that employers added 144,000 payroll positions in August, and revised job totals for June and July upward by 59,000. Unemployment dropped from 5.5% to 5.4%. Viewpoint joins with Democrats all across the country in welcoming this news.

Media Bullies

Andrew C. McCarthy has a good piece at National Review Online on the Chris Matthews/Zell Miller contretemps the other night. McCarthy unmasks Matthews' motives pretty well.

In the Hardball shows we've seen, Matthews' guests serve the same function as the accused prisoners in the old communist show trials. They're trotted meekly onto the set and prevented by Matthews from saying anything in their defense while he berates them for things they don't believe and never said.

The seventy-two year old Miller, however, didn't sit docilely in the dock absorbing his punishment like he was expected to. He startled Matthews by actually refusing to suffer the harangue, and if the two had been in the same studio Miller probably would have turned the bully's lights out for him.

On the conservative side, Sean Hannity often behaves toward his guests the same way. The two of them ought to be put into a sound-proof room and left to shout over each other until they both pass out from exhaustion.

If you saw the dust-up with Zell you'll enjoy the article.

Reasons of the Heart

Joe Carter over at Evangelical Outpost has an interesting discussion of atheism triggered by the claim made by several of his correspondents that atheism is an epistemological default position, i.e. unless the theist can provide proof that God exists, or at least provide good reasons for believing that He does, the atheist is justified in believing that He does not. In other words, the burden of proof is on the one who affirms an existential proposition, it's on the person who affirms the existence of something.

Since we cannot prove that God exists, and since we cannot offer compelling evidence that He exists, the atheist is justified, he claims, in believing that there is no God and in holding that belief until such time as the theist can offer evidence to the contrary. The problem, as Carter points out, is in deciding what will count as reasonable or satisfactory evidence:

One difference we may have ... is in establishing what reasonable evidence of this entity's existence actually is. I may agree that Rob is a reasonable person and he may extend the same compliment to me. Yet we may still disagree on what is considered to be reasonable evidence in establishing the likely existence of God. Obviously, then, the problem is not with the evidence but with the openness to accepting the proof that is presented.

In the case of entities such as God, whether evidence is reasonable or compelling will often depend on the inner state of the observer's "heart". The individual who wants there to be a God will find certain arguments and evidence more persuasive than will the person who does not want God to exist. That is, the mind will embrace what the heart desires and will reject what the heart disdains. This is what Blaise Pascal had in mind when he said that "the heart has reasons that reasons cannot know."

For example, someone hopeful, but perhaps doubtful, of God's existence might find the plethora of biological information and irreducible complexity in the biological realm much more persuasive of the existence of a transcendent mind than someone who is hostile to the notion that such a being exists. One who would welcome the reality of a Creator might be more inclined to see Aquinas' cosmological argument as plausible even if it's not a proof in the strict sense, whereas one who would not be at all happy with news of God's existence would argue that since it's possible to quibble with one of the premises of the argument he's therefore justified in rejecting the whole thing.

Evidence and arguments are person-relative. We see this in our responses to recent arguments justifying the invasion of Iraq. Many people who are inclined to support the Bush administration found their arguments persuasive. Those who were disinclined to support the current leadership were unconvinced. How one reacts to the facts depends in large measure upon how one feels about what they entail.

The fact that two people can view the same facts and come to different conclusions illustrates that there is a non-logical component to our reasonings, and it is this non-rational aspect of our noetic structure that people are referring to when they talk about Faith. Belief in God is primarily a matter of the heart and secondarily a matter of reason. The person who does not want God to exist will never be persuaded that He does, even "should they see someone return from the dead," as Jesus put it. On the other hand, a person who is open and receptive to God's existence will find ample warrant for believing that He does.

Again, Pascal put it well. He said, "There is enough evidence to convince anyone who is not dead set against it." The corollary to that is that no amount of evidence would convince one who is dead set against it.