Friday, April 22, 2005

Stifling Intellectual Inquiry

Richard Neuhaus has an excellent little essay on the Intelligent Design/ Darwinism debate in the April issue of First Things. Here are a couple of paragraphs of an article that should be read in its entirety:

That evolution is a theory is a fact, unless somebody has changed the definition of theory without notifying the makers of dictionaries. The "search for knowledge" and "the pursuit of science," one might suggest, will suffer grievously if we no longer respect the distinction between theory and fact.

To argue that skepticism about the theory of evolution is inadmissible if it is motivated by religion is simply a form of antireligious bigotry. It is a fact that many devout Christians, many of whom are engaged in the relevant sciences, subscribe to the theory of evolution. It is also a fact that some scientists who reject religion also reject evolution, or think the theory highly dubious. That is the way it is with theories.

To simply equate evolutionary theory with science is a form of dogmatism that has no place in the pursuit of truth. The problems with that approach are multiplied by the fact that there are such starkly conflicting versions of what is meant by evolution. The resistance to the theory is almost inevitable when it is propounded, as it often is, in an atheistic and materialistic form.

Atheism and materialism are not science but ideologies that most people of all times and places, not just "red state" Americans, deem to be false. Proponents of "intelligent design" and other approaches, who are frequently well-certified scientists, contend that their theories possess greater explanatory power.

Some school boards have very modestly suggested that students should know that evolution is not the only theory about the origin and development of life. What they want students to know is an indisputable fact. There are other theories supported by very reputable scientists, including theories of evolution other than the established version to which students are now bullied into giving their assent.

On any question, the rational and scientific course is to take into account all pertinent evidence and explanatory proposals. We can know that the quasi-religious establishment of a narrow evolutionary theory as dogma is in deep trouble when its defenders demand that alternative ideas must not be discussed or even mentioned in the classroom. Students, school boards, and thoughtful citizens are in fully justified rebellion against this attempted stifling of intellectual inquiry.

On the matter of taking into account all pertinent evidence and explanatory proposals one often hears the objection that if we are going to be fair in introducing alternative explanations into the classroom we will have to give time to a menagerie of ideas from pantheistic to animistic creation stories and everything in between. This is, of course, a transparently disingenuous attempt to justify continuing the monopoly enjoyed by the materialistic explanation.

The fact is there are not an indefinite number of alternative explanations which would have to be accommodated. There are precisely two genuine options in this debate. Life either arose by purely mindless, mechanistic processes, or it's appearance involved some degree of intelligent input. These two disjuncts exhaust all the possibilities. Nothing else need be discussed.

Nor is it correct to assert that one of these alternatives is a scientific hypothesis and the other is religious. They are both metaphysical explanations. Neither of them is ultimately provable or disprovable by any empirical test. If one is to be excluded they should both be excluded, if one is to be presented in public school classrooms they should both be presented in public school classrooms. There is no reason why the materialist theory should be privileged over it's competitor.

This is all that most people who are trying to get Intelligent Design acknowledged in high school biology classes are asking. They wish to see students genuinely challenged to think through the two contrasting theories and be allowed to decide for themselves which one best accounts for the evidence. Do living things show indications of having been intentionally designed or do they instead appear to have resulted from mindless, purposeless physical laws plus serendipity?

The guardians of the entrenched materialist orthodoxy know very well which possibility will have the greatest intellectual and philosophical allure for students, and that's precisely why they are so determined to prevent the comparison.

Recognizing Stroke

A friend passed this along and I thought it was worth sharing with our readers:

Susie is recuperating at an incredible pace for someone with a massive stroke all because Sherry saw Susie stumble which prompted her to ask Susie to perform the critical three tasks listed below.

This literally saved Susie's life. Suzie was unable to do any of the three so Sherry called 911. Even though Suzie had normal blood pressure readings and did not appear outwardly to be having a stroke, as she could converse to some extent with the Paramedics, they took her to the hospital right away.

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking the person to perform three simple tasks:

1. Ask the individual to SMILE.

2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.

3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE.

If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three tasks.

They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent brain damage.

The chances are good that someone we know, or we ourselves, will someday suffer a stroke. Recognizing the symptoms could make all the difference in the extent to which the victim recovers.

Yet Another Travesty

The consumer price index for last month was .6%. The CPI is a measure of inflation of the U.S. dollar. In other words, it means that on an annualized basis, we are losing 7.2% purchasing power of every dollar we earn.

I could rant with megabytes of tirade about this but in order to save bandwidth I have opted for a quote from one who articulated this travesty more succinctly than I ever could...

Whenever destroyers appear among men, they start by destroying money, for money is men's protection and the base of a moral existence. Destroyers seize gold and leave to its owners a counterfeit pile of paper. This kills all objective standards and delivers men into the arbitrary power of an arbitrary setter of values. Gold was an objective value, an equivalent of wealth produced. Paper is a mortgage on wealth that does no exist, backed by a gun aimed at those who are expected to produce it. Paper is a check drawn by legal looters upon an account which is not theirs: upon the virtue of the victims. Watch for the day when it bounces, marked: 'Account Overdrawn.'

Ayn Rand

And who will declare our account overdrawn? The rest of the world who has been accepting U.S. dollars that we print at our leisure in exchange for their goods and services.

Ok, so at this rate a dollar next year is going to buy 7.2% less goods and services than it would today or, to look at it another way, it will cost $1.08 to purchase the same goods and services next year as a dollar would buy today. And that's if the rate of inflation doesn't rise further! What is one to do? As Ayn Rand said above, the destroyers seize gold...and so should you. I've posted this link before to Dr. Alan Greenspan's now infamous dissertation and it seems more relevant today than ever.

Govern yourselves accordingly.

The Relativization of Truth

David Klinghoffer, writing at NRO, laments that no Jewish leader is articulating the pernicious evils of relativism like Joseph Ratzinger did in his homily the other day prior to being elected pope:

On Monday, as the cardinals were about to enter upon the awesome task of choosing a new pope, Ratzinger delivered a sermon that sounded a striking call to resist relativism and secularism....Ratzinger powerfully insists that there is...truth and that his church is in possession of it.

His words, which will become famous, are worth contemplating: "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and 'swept along by every wind of teaching,' looks like the only attitude acceptable to today's standards. We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires."

It's one of the melancholy facts about Jewish life in modern America that the closest thing we have to a leading moral authority, representing us as Jews to the world, is not a rabbi or any spiritual exemplar. Rather, ... it is most likely to be someone from one of the anti-defamation organizations, most likely Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.

As Foxman himself has said, "It is pure arrogance for any one religion to assume that they hold 'the truth.'" Presumably this would apply to Judaism too.

Alas, the ADL's viewpoint is all too commonly encountered in our community, as I have been reminded from the very recent personal experience of publishing a book that argues for the truth of Judaism. Although my book, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus, a history of the Jewish-Christian debate about Jesus, can be seen as a critique of Christianity, I've found that in speaking to mixed groups of Jews and Christians, it is often the Jews who take umbrage at being told their religion is true while the Christians genially accept that is entirely appropriate for a Jew to argue in this way.

What's going on? Only that Christians, including traditional Catholics like Joseph Ratzinger, perhaps more than many Jews today, appreciate the deepest assumption that our two religions share: the assumption that there is a truth out there, a singular truth, to be found and embraced.

The belief that there "is a truth out there" is a decidedly un-postmodern notion. In the po-mo world truth has been relativized to one's cultural and social circumstances so that what is true for people in one cultural setting is not necessarily true for people in another. Perhaps the greatest danger of this is that if it applies to cultures it also applies to individuals. In other words, once we abandon the idea of "truth out there", i.e. objective truth, truth becomes intimately personal. It becomes a matter of whatever is true for me, whatever has purchase on my commitments.

When truth, particularly moral truth, has been subjectivized no one's truth is any better than anyone else's because there is no longer a standard to which we can compare them. When no one's moral truth is better than any one else's everyone's morality is equally "valid". At that point we have moral paralysis. All moral disputes reduce to matters of personal taste or preference. Nobody's wrong if everybody's right. If that is so, however, then none of us can say that the holocaust was evil, or that rape, or child molestation, or chattel slavery are evil. The most we can say about those horrors is that we don't like them.

When morality is subjectivized there is no reason why we should care about society, or virtue, or the well-being of others. There is no reason why we shouldn't adopt a thoroughgoing egoism, an ethic of putting our own interests first all the time. And if egoism is a legitimate way to live one's life then so too is the philosophy of might makes right. If I can impose my will on another to achieve my interests there is no moral reason why I should not do so even if my doing so brings harm to the other person.

In other words, the relativization of truth leads to a moral hell, a war of every man against every man, a world where we can trust others only to do what's in their own interests. That's the world we'll create if secularism ever prevails completely in this country. Indeed, it's the world we find today in much of our social experience. Pope Benedict XVI obviously sees this. It's a shame that more religious leaders in more Christian and Jewish churches and synagogues don't.

We Didn't Start the Fire

The Washington Post has an article in which senator Ted Kennedy and his Democratic colleagues explain why judge Janice Rogers Brown is unsuited for the federal judiciary:

Kennedy and others recited the most controversial of Brown's and Owen's statements and rulings. For instance, Brown said in an April 2000 speech, "where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies. . . . The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining, and virtue contemptible."

You might think that judge Brown, an African American woman, shares a lot of common philosophical ground with Alexis de Tocqueville and other luminaries in the pantheon of great thinkers in political theory, and that such an individual would be an asset on the federal bench. Such a presumption, however, would put you at odds with Senator Kennedy and his cronies who have probably never heard of Tocqueville, much less read him, and who fervently wish to deny her the opportunity to serve precisely because she says things like this.

This is small-mindedness of the first magnitude. Because this judge believes that big government saps local initiative, a belief which one would think is empirically obvious to all but the most obtuse observers, the liberals are outraged. In their indignation that anyone would have the temerity to challenge the benefits of governmental micro-management they plan to filibuster her nomination, which will force the Republicans to change the rules in the senate to stop the filibuster and allow for a vote on her nomination on the senate floor. This in turn will provoke the Democrats, they've assured us, to shut down the nation's business.

Democrats are so obsessed with defeating George Bush's agenda that they're willing to sacrifice the welfare of the nation to accomplish it. This may turn out, however, to be an act of political self-immolation. If the Republicans do the right thing, stick to their principles, and stand resolutely behind the President's nominees, the Democrats' irrationality may ignite a blazing auto de fe which will reduce them to minority status for a generation. If so, it'll be fun to watch. No doubt they'll fuel the pyre themselves with never-opened volumes of Democracy In America.

Addressing Blasphemy

Little Green Footballs directs us to this story out of Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Koran was shot dead Wednesday after being chased by an angry crowd.

Ashiq Nabi, in his thirties, was accused of being disrespectful to Islam's holy book and had been in hiding since Monday, a senior police official said.

"Today, a mob spotted him and shot him dead," said Mazahar ul Haq, police chief of Nowshera town, about 100 km (62 miles) west of the capital, Islamabad.

Blasphemy, including desecrating the Koran, is a capital offence in deeply Islamic Pakistan and carries the death sentence, but convictions have always been turned down by high courts because of a lack of evidence.

Witnesses said the man was chased through fields and climbed a tree to get away from an angry crowd of up to 500 men. When he refused to come down, someone shot him dead, they said.

Human rights activists want the blasphemy law to be struck off the books saying it is often abused by people to settle personal disputes or religious rivalry.

Indeed. While we all pause a moment to celebrate multicultural diversity perhaps someone can explain to us again the moral equivalence of all cultures.