Monday, December 26, 2005

Sounds Like a Plan

Hugh Hewitt posts some letters that appeared recently in the New York Post concerning the secret spying kerfuffle. Our favorite was this one from Richard Slawsky of Milford, Conn.:

I offer a proposal: The U.S. military will withdraw from Iraq, the Patriot Act will not be renewed and the United States will stop monitoring phone calls by potential terrorists.

In return, if there is another terrorist attack on the United States, the Democratic Party will disband and contribute all of its assets to the families of victims, all Democratic senators and congressmen will resign and The New York Times will contribute $1 trillion to the fund for the families.

Fair deal?

Makes sense to us. We wonder whether the Democrats are interested.


Anyone planning on seeing Steven Spielberg's Munich might be interested in reading this review by Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters. Here are Morrissey's opening paragraphs:

After giving the matter quite a bit of thought, I finally decided to see Munich at the theaters in order to make up my own mind about the film and the controversy that surrounds it. The film, which informs the audience that it was "Inspired By True Events", takes the bare bones of the Munich massacre and the Israeli intelligence operation which followed against the Black September organization which plotted it and turns it into ... well, an interesting if ultimately bankrupt morality play.

On its most facile level, Munich is a gripping film. Had it been based on complete fiction -- if Spielberg had had the sense to manufacture a hypothetical instead of hijacking history and twisting it -- then it might have even had a valid point to make. Spielberg has lost nothing as a film director in a technical sense, and apart from Schindler's List, this is his grittiest film ever. Eric Bana gives a wonderful performance as Avner, the leader of the team tasked with taking the battle against Black September to the streets. Ciaran Hinds and Geoffrey Rush are just as good -- Hinds just finished getting significant American exposure as Julius Caesar in the wonderful HBO series Rome, and he will whet appetites here for more.

The cinematography, music, mood, and all of the technical efforts put into the film are first rate, without a doubt. And every last bit of it gets wasted by a silly sense of moral equivalency that comes from a fundamental misrepresentation of the threat Israel faces, and in the strongly suggested allegorical sense, the threat that faces the US and the West now.

A number of pundits have already linked to the reports of historical and factual errors in the Spielberg/Kushner script, but I'm less interested in the details of these deviations than the reason Spielberg employs them. He has the assassination squad argue incessantly about the morality of their actions, the futility of violence, and so on, even while killing off the Black September terrorists one by one.

Most allegorically, they all wonder why they should bother when the PLO replaces the targets they kill with worse people than before. And while the movie gives a couple of references to the scores of terrorist attacks the PLO conducted through the 1970s, they never show any of them outside of the Munich massacre, and only then at the end of the movie after beating us over the head with the faux internalized guilt that springs entirely out of Spielberg's imagination.

You can find the rest of his review at the link.

The Dover Decision I: Endorsing Religion?

Viewpoint intends to run a short series of posts on Judge John Jones' decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover which was handed down last week. It is our opinion that the judge was correct in finding that the defendents were motivated by their religious beliefs and that he was correct to find fault with the consistency of their testimony. He was therefore constrained by Supreme Court precedent to find in favor of the plaintiffs. Nevertheless, much of his reasoning seems to us to be flawed and his decision is much broader than is warranted by his written opinion.

Throughout the first forty pages or so of the judge's opinion on the Dover case he is at pains to show that the disclaimer the school board wanted to have read to biology students in their high school biology classes violated the endorsement test that resulted from Santa Fe Independent Sch. Dist. v. Doe (2000). In that case the Supreme Court ruled that:

School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherents "that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community."

The judge then mounts a sustained argument to the effect that the Dover disclaimer was indeed a religious message and that it indeed violates Sante Fe. His argument, however, gets things exactly backward.

He tries to show that ID is creationism by showing that it grew out of earlier creationist thinking and that since creationism is religious so, too, must ID be. He also argues at length that most of the proponents of ID are Christians and that they have a religiously inspired agenda and that therefore ID is a violation of the establishment clause of the First amendment to the constitution.

Let's unpack this. The first claim, that ID must be religious, even though it doesn't appear to be, because it evolved from (forgive me) creationism, is silly. Because one theory emerges from the embers of another doesn't entail that it necessarily bears all or even many of the traits of the other. Modern theories of the atom are all descendents of Democritus' belief that such entities exist, but the belief that there are atoms pretty much exhausts the similarities between the modern and the ancient views. Modern chemistry is directly descended from alchemy but chemistry is not alchemy. It is logically illicit to infer that because ID is a descendent of creationism it is therefore creationism in disguise.

The only thing that ID and creationism share in common is a belief that the universe is not the product solely of blind, unintelligent processes. Indeed, it could be argued that ID shares more in common with Darwinian evolution than it does with creationism since it is compatible with almost everything contained within the Darwinian paradigm except its materialist exclusivism.

The second claim, that many ID proponents are theists in their personal lives and have a religious agenda may be true, but it bears not at all upon whether ID is a religious theory. It is, after all, the case that many, perhaps most, ardent evolutionists are atheistic materialists and desire to promote materialism in the public schools. Should we conclude from this, therefore, that evolution is an atheistic theory? Should we refrain from teaching evolution because it advances the atheists' agenda? Of course not. The theory should stand on its own merits and not on the beliefs or agendas of its advocates. Likewise with ID.

Suppose, for example, that some new theory of geology had tremendous explanatory power but also had as one of its entailments that the earth could not possibly be more than a few million years old. This theory would be seized upon by creationists as vindicating their position and would be rejected by materialists as unsound because it doesn't allow enough time for evolution. Should the theory be banned from schools because it has religious implications and is embraced by religious people? If not, then why ban ID from schools simply because it has religious implications?

When Darwinism, i.e. the view that natural forces are the sole factors in producing the universe and liife, is taught in class many students see it, correctly or not, as an assault on their most deeply cherished religious convictions. Indeed, this is how many Darwinists themselves see it. The number of atheistic biologists and others who point to their study of evolution as having put the kibosh on the religious beliefs of their youth is legion. Since our courts have privileged Darwinism and permited this perceived assault on students' religious beliefs in the name of science, it seems incumbent upon those in authority who would wish that their schools not give the appearance of favoring religiously corrosive views over the views held by many students to take some action to demonstrate their neutrality on these matters. The school authorities must not, in allowing only Darwinism to be given an official hearing,

"send the...message to [students] who [reject Darwinism for religious reasons] 'that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community' "

The authorities have a moral and legal responsibility to inform students that even though the view that the universe and life are the product solely of natural forces is going to be taught in the classroom, students who do not accept that view should not feel that they are isolated outsiders. There seems nothing at all wrong with informing students that there are dissenting voices in the scientific community on this matter, that a growing number of scientists believe that natural forces by themselves are inadequate to explain the fine-tuning of the cosmos and the specified compexity of living things, even though the dissenters may still be only a small minority. It seems more than strange that it should be illegal to encourage students to explore those dissenting points of view so that they don't feel their convictions threatened.

Judge Jones' reasoning seems especially contorted in the light of a statement from Edwards v. Aguillard which he actually cites in his opinion:

Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family. Students in such institutions are impressionable and their attendance is involuntary.

Apparently, the judge feels that this caution only applies to students whose families object to the religious implications of creationism. If the family or the student objects to the religious implications of Darwinism well, then, Judge Jones tells them, that's just tough.

We'll have more on the flaws of the Judge's justification for his decision in a day or two.