Thursday, November 3, 2005

Winning Through Weakness

Among the long list of faults the critics of the President find in him are two that seem especially odd. On the one hand, Bush is periodically rebuked for never acknowledging that he's made a mistake, and, on the other, he has been castigated for having dumped Harriet Miers and capitulated to his conservative base in the appointment of Sam Alito.

That he doesn't explicitly admit to having made a mistake is nothing other than prudent. The Democrats who urge him to such confessions do not do so because they wish to offer him consolation and forgiveness. They obviously want to hang the admission around his neck like a millstone and they resent the fact that Bush denies them this little pleasure.

They are wrong, however, to think he doesn't recognize a mistake when he's made one, and the Miers' withdrawal is an example. If it's true that the administration orchestrated her gracious exit, then it is proof that they do indeed recognize their errors and hasten to correct them. Why this should earn them criticism from opponents who demand that the Bushies admit their missteps is unclear.

In any event, they also attack Mr. Bush for recovering from his initial lapse of judgment by doing exactly what he promised his voters he would do during the campaign - pick Supreme Court Justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas. After stumbling with Miers, Bush recovered his stride, kept his promise, and was quickly blasted for caving to the radical right, as if the Alito nomination were an unexpected surprise, hastily contrived to appease The Weekly Standard and National Review Online, and not at all what the President has been promising to do all along.

We're told by David Broder and others that this nomination arises from the president's weakness rather than his strength. What nonsense.

Sam Alito is precisely the sort of justice President Bush promised us he'd appoint. If he hadn't wanted to reward Harriet Miers for her faithfulness, Alito would probably have been nominated in her stead. To aver that the President was grudgingly forced to go with Alito in order to placate the right-wingers is to once again misunderestimate the man in the Oval Office.

The Democrats, it may be concluded, view any politician who keeps his word as one operating from a position of manifest weakness.

Singing Out of Harmony

Mike Gene at Telic Thoughts posts the following set of quotes:

"Evolutionary theory says nothing about the existence or the non-existence of god." - Hunter R. Rawlings III, Interim President of Cornell University.

"In other words, religion is compatible with modern evolutionary biology (and indeed all of modern science) if the religion is effectively indistinguishable from atheism." - William Provine, Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University.

"Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist" - William Provine, Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University.

The Darwinians all need to turn to the same page in their hymnals. Evolution is not necessarily incompatible with theistic belief, but not many Darwinians seem interested in stressing the point.

Some, like Provine, Dennett, and Dawkins, adamantly insist that a true Darwinian must be an atheist. We wonder how long it will be before the ACLU begins suing schools for teaching Darwinian versions of evolution in science classes. It is, after all, a "Trojan Horse" for smuggling atheism into schools, and it certainly seems obvious from quotes like the above that there's a religious, or anti-religious, motivation for teaching it.

Blowin' in the Wind

Hadley Arkes does a masterful job in the Claremont Review of Books of taking apart Alan Dershowitz's argument in his Rights From Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origin of Rights. Dershowitz sets out in this book to affirm human rights while denying any objective moral truths and any role for God in the establishment of those rights. He has set for himself an extraordinarily difficult task and Arkes skillfully skewers the attempt. He writes:

Professor Dershowitz has taken it, as the thesis threading through this work, that there are in fact no such moral principles that form the ground of our judgments. He claims to find the standards of practical judgment in a mix of considerations he calls "utilitarian," but he emphatically denies that there are "moral truths" that stand behind these judgments. He professes himself to be "(God forgive me) a moral relativist," and a "skeptic" in moral matters. A moral skeptic denies that there are knowable truths. The relativist denies those truths from another angle by insisting that there are no objective truths, only standards that are "relative" to persons and places. "Nevertheless," says Dershowitz, "I believe strongly in the concept of rights." A concept of "rights"-but with no supporting truths that can explain why they are rightful, and why the rest of us should respect them. Hence the puzzle of this book, and the spectacle of a writer jousting with himself.

Dershowitz flatly asserts that "there are no divine laws of morality, merely human laws claiming the authority of God."

From these inauspicious premises Dershowitz attempts to construct his view of rights, but, in Arkes' telling, it is a dismal failure, as it must be. If there is no God then we are solely the product of blind nature shaping us for the survival of our species. It's not possible to derive a right from an impersonal provenience.

The man who protests that "You have no right" is talking nonsense. In a world without God or objective moral strictures, each of us has whatever rights we wish to have. If we have the power to do what we want, if we can do what we will and get away with it, there is nothing to say that we should not. There can be no moral inhibition against doing what we want if there are, as Dershowitz says, no moral truths. Thus, though Dershowitz blanches at the thought, neither the holocaust nor slavery can be judged to be intrinsically wrong.

In the secular stew pot in which he cooks his vision of human rights, the unfortunate truth is that might makes right. Men have the right to do whatever they have the power to do, and that's the end of the matter.

The only way to avoid this conclusion is to agree with John Locke who wrote in his Second Treatise on Government that human rights derive from our status as children of God. No man has a right to harm that which belongs to the Creator. Take God away, however, as Dershowitz does, and the whole notion of human rights is no more than a pile of dust in a wind storm. It simply blows away. Arkes' essay provides the wind.

Thanks to for the tip.