Monday, August 29, 2005

The Inquisition is in Session

Guillermo Gonzalez is an astronomer on the faculty at Iowa State University. He also has co-authored a book entitled Privileged Planet which points out the amazing fitness of our universe for the existence of higher life forms. The book is strongly teleological and for this Gonzalez is being hounded by a group of self-appointed inquisitors of the Church of Naturalism to give an account of his heresies.

The book, as far as I know, addresses only the cosmic argument for design and makes no disparaging mention of biological evolution. Yet, when the Darwinian Torquemadas are determined to commit a victim to the flames, anything remotely close to unorthodox opinions will suffice as a justification.

Even the DesMoines Register has waded blithely into the midst of the fray with an article by Rekha Basu who evidently occupies the Karl Popper chair for the philosophy of science at the Register and who suggests that ISU "issue its definition of what constitutes science, and make sure faculty uphold it."

Great idea. Perhaps Ms Basu has a definition in mind because philosophers of science sure don't. One can picture the science faculty at ISU rushing to clasp their hands metaphorically over Ms Basu's mouth to shut her up, knowing that any definition the university comes up with will either include almost everything or exclude somebody's pet discipline. Science, someone should whisper to Ms Basu, is whatever scientists do. There is no definition for science so clear-cut and universally accepted that the university could force their faculty to "uphold it".

Mike Gene at Telic Thoughts composes an amusing and condign skewering of Ms Basu and Professor Gonzalez's other adversaries at ISU. His chief antagonist, it turns out, is an atheistic Bible scholar and professor of religion named Hector Avalos. One wonders where a Bible scholar gets the expertise to criticize an astronomer. That aside, you'll have to read Gene's essay to apprehend the dogmatic intolerance fueling Professor Avalos' crusade against Gonzalez and to appreciate the full measure of his inanity.

Dispel the Myths

Jonah Cohen is not a supporter of Intelligent Design, but he does think it ought to be taught in public schools. He argues that there is so much confusion about what ID is that it should be taught just to dispel the misunderstandings, if for no other reason. In an essay in the American Thinker he sets out four "myths" about ID and proceeds to explain why those myths are, in his opinion, wrong.

The myths, he claims, are these:

1. The theory of intelligent design is a modern version of Creationism.

2. The theory of intelligent design claims that the designer is the God described in the Bible.

3. Conservatives and Christians necessarily accept the intelligent design argument.

4. The theory of evolution and monotheism are logically at odds or, at least, inimical.

You can read Cohen's response to each of these at the link.

Parenthetically, I'd like to call special attention to one of his concluding paragraphs:

The dispute between intelligent design versus a randomly ordered cosmos is age-old and fascinating and still unresolved. That smart and honest writers are now busy promulgating sheer fictions about this debate suggests that we are indeed in need of education on this topic. And that is a sufficient reason, in my opinion, for it to be taught in our schools, perhaps not in biology classes, but at least in mandatory philosophy classes, something our school systems do not demand to our national shame.

As one who taught a full year philosophy course in a public high school for almost twenty five years, the last two phrases were pleasant to read. I don't know that philosophy should be mandatory, but it should certainly be offered as an elective to secondary students. The benefits of studying philosophy are substantial, and it is indeed a shame that more high school students are denied the opportunity to share in those benefits.

How to Play Offense

On Saturday Viewpoint urged the White House go on offense in making its case for its policy in Iraq. Today we direct you to a marvelous example of precisely what they should be doing. If the White House needs advice on how to make the case for seeing the Iraqi project through to its conclusion they could hardly do better than to read this essay by Christopher Hitchens in The Weekly Standard.

Well, maybe they could do better if they hired Hitchens as a speech writer.

His column is must reading for anyone who has an opinion on the war in Iraq, whether pro or con. Indeed, anyone who opposes the war should be refused a hearing unless they first agree to read it.

Hitchens opens with this:

Let me begin with a simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad." I could undertake to defend that statement against any member of Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, and I know in advance that none of them could challenge it, let alone negate it. Before March 2003, Abu Ghraib was an abattoir, a torture chamber, and a concentration camp. Now, and not without reason, it is an international byword for Yankee imperialism and sadism. Yet the improvement is still, unarguably, the difference between night and day. How is it possible that the advocates of a post-Saddam Iraq have been placed on the defensive in this manner? And where should one begin?

After a page or two of journalistic virtuosity Hitchens concludes his article with this paragraph:

The great point about Blair's 1999 speech was that it asserted the obvious. Coexistence with aggressive regimes or expansionist, theocratic, and totalitarian ideologies is not in fact possible. One should welcome this conclusion for the additional reason that such coexistence is not desirable, either. If the great effort to remake Iraq as a demilitarized federal and secular democracy should fail or be defeated, I shall lose sleep for the rest of my life in reproaching myself for doing too little. But at least I shall have the comfort of not having offered, so far as I can recall, any word or deed that contributed to a defeat.

In between those two passages is perhaps one of the most compelling defenses of what America is trying to accomplish in Iraq that has been written in the past twelve months. Give it a read.