Saturday, September 30, 2006


There are a couple of good replies on our Feedback Page to the posts this week on the Open Letter to the Religious Right and Mr. Cell Phone Guy.

Give them a look.

John Calvin's Theological Legacy

Christianity Today has an article which discusses the appeal Reformed (Calvinist) theology has lately been exerting, especially on young people. For those of our readers with a theological inclination we've duplicated the sidebar to the main article. It lays out in basic form the doctrinal heart of Reformed theology.

Calvinism as an identifiable theological school began with John Calvin (1509-1564). Also referred to as Reformed theology, Calvinism draws on pre-Reformation theologians like Augustine. It has taken a variety of forms over the centuries, but the acronym TULIP is still a handy summary of its distinguishing marks.

Total depravity: We cannot respond to God's offer of salvation, since our will-indeed, our whole being-has been rendered incapable by sin (Rom. 3:9-10; Rom. 8:7-8; 2 Cor. 4:4). Regeneration by the Holy Spirit must precede our response of faith. This contrasts with Christian traditions that say we have sufficient free will to respond to God's offer of salvation or that we can "cooperate" with grace.

Unconditional election: God chooses to save some people, not because of anything they have done, but according to his sovereign will (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9; Eph. 1:3-6). Some Calvinists have also taught that God elects certain people to damnation, but few advance this view aggressively. This contrasts with other Christian traditions that teach that God desires to save everyone, but only elects those whom he foreknows will respond to his grace.

Limited atonement: Christ died for the sins of the church, not for the whole world (John 10:15; Mark 10:45; Rev. 5:9). This contrasts with traditions that teach that Christ died for all, even though all may not appropriate the benefits of his sacrifice.

Irresistible grace: Those God elects cannot resist the Holy Spirit's draw to salvation (John 6:44; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; Acts 16:14). Again, this contrasts with Christian traditions that teach that we are able to reject God's forgiveness-thus, while God may choose to save everyone, not everyone chooses to believe.

Perseverance of the saints: By God's power, believers will endure in faith to the end (John 10:28; Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6). Other Christian traditions teach that people can forsake faith and lose salvation.

Each of these five petals of the TULIP raises interesting questions. Are we indeed "totally depraved"? Does God predestine some people to be saved for eternity and others to be lost? Was Christ's death an atonement only for those who had been predestined to be saved? Is God's calling irresistable or can someone reject God even though God is calling him/her to Himself? Can someone whom God has "saved" lose that salvation? Any comments from the theologians among you?

Quotes From the Darwinism/ID Debate

Following are a series of quotes that bear on the Darwinian/Intelligent Design controversy.

First is University of Delaware physicist Stephen Barr's literary allusion which illustrates why Divine creation and evolution are not necessarily incompatible:

Did this insect evolve or is it created by God? To ask that is as silly as to ask whether Polonious died because Hamlet stabbed him or because Shakespeare wrote the play that way.

Barr, who is a theistic evolutionist, believes that just as Shakespeare used the character of Hamlet to bring about Polonious' death, so to God could have used physical laws and an evolutionary process to bring about those forms of life He wished to create.


Jonathan Wells is officially an IDer and personally a creationist. He's writing on the topic Why Darwinism is Doomed, and makes an important distinction which writers on this subject seem almost perversely unable to grasp:

The issue here is not "evolution" - a broad term that can mean simply change within existing species (which no one doubts). The issue is Darwinism - which claims that all living things are descended from a common ancestor, modified by natural selection acting on random genetic mutations.

The truth is Darwinism is not a scientific theory, but a materialistic creation myth masquerading as science. It is first and foremost a weapon against religion - especially traditional Christianity. Evidence is brought in afterwards, as window dressing.

This is becoming increasingly obvious to the American people, who are not the ignorant backwoods religious dogmatists that Darwinists make them out to be. Darwinists insult the intelligence of American taxpayers and at the same time depend on them for support. This is an inherently unstable situation, and it cannot last.

If I were a Darwinist, I would be afraid. Very afraid.

I would add to what Wells says about Darwinism that the trait which makes it anathema to many theists is not that it is a form of evolution but that it insists that only physical forces were involved in the emergence of life and all of life's diversity. In other words Darwinists hold that intelligence is irrelevant to the existence of the cosmos and the biosphere. This strikes many people as implausible to the point of incredulity.


Jonathan Wells also notes that it is a myth, and a false one at that, that biologists have actually witnessed one species evolving into another:

So except for polyploidy in plants, which is not what Darwin's theory needs, there are no observed instances of the origin of species. As evolutionary biologists Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan wrote in 2002: "Speciation, whether in the remote Galapagos, in the laboratory cages of the drosophilosophers, or in the crowded sediments of the paleontologists, still has never been directly traced." Evolution's smoking gun is still missing.

From: Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design , p. 55, quoting Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origin of Species (New York: Basic Books, p. 32).


Richard Dawkins is a militantly atheistic Darwinian who makes a startling admission in an essay which first appeared here, but which subsequently disappeared. Speculation has it that Dawkins was pressured to take it down by fellow Darwinians because his admission makes it very difficult for them to maintain the twin fictions that Intelligent Design is religion and that it can't be science because it can't be tested:

You then realize that the presence of a creative deity in the universe is clearly a scientific hypothesis. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more momentous hypothesis in all of science. A universe with a god would be a completely different kind of universe from one without, and it would be a scientific difference. God could clinch the matter in his favour at any moment by staging a spectacular demonstration of his powers, one that would satisfy the exacting standards of science.

I wonder if the Big Bang is spectacular enough to qualify.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Here In America

This song by Diamond Rio deserves a wider audience than what I'm told it's getting on most radio stations. Maybe if Brittany Spears sang it....

Thanks to Dick Francis for the link.


Strategy Page has a fascinating piece on the development and impact of the JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), a bomb guided by GPS satellites. This weapon has revolutionized modern warfare in ways that should please advocates of just war theory.

The essay begins with these words:

Military commanders the world over are struggling to figure out how to deal with the massive changes created by the arrival of GPS guided bombs (like JDAM). The United States has them, most of them, and the ability to stop others from using them (because America control the GPS satellites). The impact of JDAM has been enormous. It has made air power much more effective, reduced casualties for the force using them, and speeded up combat operations. Few non-professionals have noticed this, but generals and admirals of the major military powers have. These changes are enormous, but the mass media has not really noticed what is going on here. So few people are aware of how much JDAM has changed the way wars are fought.

The rest of the column explains how the JDAM has come about, why we have a monopoly on their use, and why just war theorists should hail their development.

Only if We See it as a Gift

Stephen Barr writes a review of E.O. Wilson's new book (The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion) which pleads for a concerted effort to save the rich and vanishing diversity of living things in our world. The review appears in the current issue of First Things (subscription required).

Wilson, as Barr points out, is a naturalist in both the biological and philosophical senses of the term. That is, he's someone deeply in love with plants and animals, and he is also a man who believes that nature is all there is.

Wilson's hope, according to Barr, is that man will eventually adopt philosophical naturalism as his religion and come to revere the natural world so much that he will do whatever he must to save it.

This, I suggest, is a forlorn hope. Naturalism as a metaphysic can offer us no reason why we should save the world. It can give us no reason why we should care whether beautiful species of birds and flowers survive after each of us has died. Once we're dead what does it matter whether every beautiful bird and butterfly goes extinct? There's no naturalistic reason why we shouldn't exploit the earth to make our lives as comfortable as we can while we're alive. If this means that our descendents will not we enjoy the wonders and richness we have experienced, so be it. Naturalism affords no reason why we should care about that. Once we're dead nothing matters.

Ironically, it is only the theist, indeed, the Christian theist, who has a non-subjective, non-arbitrary reason for valuing the natural world. The Christian has at least three such reasons. First, the world and its ecosystems were created by God and are ours to use and enjoy, but they're not ours to destroy. We are merely renters, not owners. Second, the wonders of the natural world are a gift to us from God, a token of His love, and as such they're to be prized, cherished, and cared for just as we would any precious gift given to us by one we love. Third, we're commanded by God to be responsible caretakers or stewards of the world we inhabit.

The Christian, then, has a solid basis for an environmental ethic that prominently features preservation, conservation and responsible management. The philosophical naturalist who adopts these same values does so only as a result of an arbitrary subjective preference. Neither the decision to preserve nor the decision to exploit and destroy are right or wrong in a moral sense in a Godless universe any more than there is a moral right or wrong involved in one's decision to paint his house blue or to paint it green.

I share Wilson's hope that we can preserve most of our planet's natural beauty and biological diversity, but contrary to Wilson, I see naturalistic philosophical assumptions as doing nothing to aid that cause. Preservation and conservation, if they're to be more than just an aesthetic preference that some people have for nature rather than housing developments and shopping malls, have be founded on the belief that we are not mere consumers but rather grateful stewards of God's marvelous gift to us.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Some Things Never Change

Bill passes along a link to an exchange of letters that evidently took place c. 635 A.D. between an Arab Muslim Caliph named Omar Ibn-Kat'tab and an Iranian (Persian) ruler named Yazdgerd III. The first letter is an ultimatum from the Caliph demanding the surrender of the Iranians to Islam. The second is Yazdgerd's wonderful and heroic reply. Here's the ultimatum:

Bism-ellah Ar'rahman Ar'rhim
To the Shah of the Fars

I do not foresee a good future for you and your nation save your acceptance of my terms and your submission to me. There was a time when your country ruled half the world, but see how now your sun has set.

On all fronts your armies have been defeated and your nation is condemned to extinction. I point out to you the path whereby you might escape this fate. Namely, that you begin worshipping the one god, the unique deity, the only god who created all that is.

I bring you his message. Order your nation to cease the false worship of fire and to join us, that they may join the truth.

Worship Allah the creator of the world. Worship Allah and accept Islam as the path of salvation. End now your polytheistic ways and become Muslims that you may accept Allah-u-Akbar as your savior.

This is the only way of securing your own survival and the peace of your Persians. You will do this if you know what is good for you and for your Persians.

Submission is your only option
Allah u Akbar
The Calif of Muslims Omar Ibn-Khat'tab

Read Yazdgerd's response at the link. May the Yazdgerds of the world increase, and may all the Omars follow Yazdgerd's excellent advice.

Open Letter to the Religious Right

Joe Carter pens an Open Letter to the Religious Right. It's mostly good stuff and coming from a political and theological conservative, much of it would be surprising to both liberals and conservatives alike. I don't think he's correct in everything he says, but where I think he's wrong he's not off by much.

He begins his letter with these words:

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was purportedly asked if God was on his side.

"Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side," said the President, "my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."

Ironically, though Lincoln is often praised for this remark, it contains three of the most controversial ideas in American politics: that God should be invoked in the political sphere; that God's existence matters, much less that he is always right; and that since He takes sides on certain issues, some people will be divinely justified while others will be in opposition not only to their political opponents but to the very Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

If you find these ideas absurd and repugnant, you are most likely a secularist. If you find them to be embarrassing truths, then you may be on the religious left. If you find them so obvious that they hardly need stating, then you are probably a member of the so-called "religious right."

I embrace them whole-heartedly, which makes me a certified member of the religious right. Although I've often been uncomfortable with that term, I find it fits me more and more, as if I'm growing into it. So be it.

Read the rest of the letter at the link. It's worth it.

Al Qaeda's Estimate of the Iraq War

Al Jazeera has published a leaked copy of a classified al Qaeda Intelligence Estimate similar to the excerpts from the National Intelligence Estimate printed by the New York Times (Okay, not really. Al Jazeera understands something about loyalty).

The American Thinker has obtained part of the "document" here.

Here's part of it:

Our judgment that the war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster rests on another logic entirely - one that, praise be to Allah, our allies on the American left fail utterly to grasp. By dragging on for so long, and thus generating so much political controversy, this war has created the opportunity for those among the infidels who truly understand us to find their voice. Today in the American media once-obscure scholars such as Bernard Lewis, James Arlandson, and Andrew Bostom are reaching large and growing audiences with their accurate and deeply insightful analyses of Islam.

And while it is one thing when the moron Bush stumbles onto the truth and calls us "Islamofascists"-it is quite another when the infidel leader Benedict visits a minor university in Germany, and there gives a scholarly speech about the nature of Islam that echoes across the globe and focuses worldwide attention on the central role of violence in our faith.

History teaches that when attacked, the infidel responds slowly - and at first, clumsily. (Consider how many centuries went by before Christianity responded to our conquests in the seventh and eighth centuries with what they are pleased to call the Crusades.) And of all the infidels, none responds more clumsily than the Americans. They are too corrupt - too distracted by their pornography and their shopping - to see clearly or even to think clearly about the threats they face.

But history also teaches that, given enough time, the Americans always come to understand the true nature of their enemy. And history teaches that once they do, they win.

We judge that a great shift is now under way within the Great Satan. While the "elites" in Washington continue to fight each other rather than us, the masses are becoming more resolute in their opposition to our jihad. Our agents report that throughout the Great Satan, in places like Birmingham, Alabama, and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Naperville, Illinois, and Fargo, North Dakota - and even in the outlying districts of New York itself - ordinary, working Americans are starting to wake up to who we truly are and what we mean to do. The people are moving ahead of their corrupt politicians.

For all the mistakes the Americans and their lackeys have made in Iraq - may Allah continue to mislead them - this war has been a disaster because it has triggered the one thing we were most determined to prevent: It has enabled the infidel to understand our true objective - which is, of course, the destruction of Western civilization.

Read the rest at the link.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Powder Scare

Paula Froelich at the New York Post wrote this piece on MSNBC's talk host and commentator Keith Olbermann:

September 27, 2006 -- MSNBC loudmouth Keith Olbermann flipped out when he opened his home mail yesterday. The acerbic host of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" was terrified when he opened a suspicious-looking letter with a California postmark and a batch of white powder poured out. A note inside warned Olbermann, who's a frequent critic of President Bush's policies, that it was payback for some of his on-air shtick. The caustic commentator panicked and frantically called 911 at about 12:30 a.m., sources told The Post's Philip Messing. An NYPD HazMat unit rushed to Olbermann's pad on Central Park South, but preliminary tests indicated the substance was harmless soap powder. However, that wasn't enough to satisfy Olbermann, who insisted on a checkup. He asked to be taken to St. Luke's Hospital, where doctors looked him over and sent him home. Whether they gave him a lollipop on the way out isn't known. Olbermann had no comment.

Now I defer to no one in the matter of finding Mr. Olbermann hard to take. He is snide, pompous, arrogant, mean-spirited, and petty, but none of that, as bad as it is, justifies the prank that Froelich reports. In fact, I think Froelich is being unfair to Olberman in portraying him as something of a sissy in the way he reacted to the powder in the envelope. If I were a celebrity in the public eye, given the anthrax scares of a couple of years ago, I'd probably react the same way, and I suspect Froelich would too.

Worse, though, is the fact that someone ostensibly from the conservative side of Olbermann's meager viewing audience would engage in such a tactic, which is really a form of terrorism. It disgraces anyone to do something like this, and whoever did it should be ashamed.

No doubt Olbermann suspects the sender was Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly certainly has motive, given Olbermann's relentless public assaults on him, but I prefer to think that O'Reilly, who is every bit as pompous and obnoxious as Olbermann, is nevertheless above this sort of hooliganism.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Coming on the heels of a reporter's stunningly maladroit question concerning Republican Senator George Allen's (VA) Jewish ancestry are allegations now by which accuse him of past racist remarks. Salon's piece tries hard to make Allen look like a racist and a bigot, but, as usual, there's more to the story.

Ed Morrissey has a good summary of events here and here for those interested in seeing how political dirty tricks are played by those with no moral principle guiding them except "win at all costs".

Egg On Their Faces, Again

The New York Times made much of the secret NIE report which proved, the Times assured us, that Iraq and Bush were making the terrorism problem worse. As you probably guessed even without having seen the report (which Bush has now declassified), the Times' take on the NIE report was somewhat skewed. The relevant section can be read here (It's not very long).

The Times and others in the media quoted this sentence and concluded that we need to get out of there and stop the bleeding:

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

What they didn't tell us was the very next sentence:

Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

In other words, success in Iraq is predicted to have a moderating influence on terrorist activity. The Times and its allies chose not to tell us that what the NIE report says is that what would really inspire the terrorists to redouble their barbarous efforts would be to do precisely what the Times and many Democrats have advised: Cut and Run.

Now that the relevant portions of the document have been released and reveal the Democrats' dissimulations they're calling for the entire document to be made available. They're implying that if only we saw everything in the NIE report we'd see that "Bush's War" is actually making us less safe.

This really is amusing. When the original exposè ran in the Times they only printed the single sentence above. Yet no Democrat complained that we weren't seeing the whole report. No Democrat complained that we couldn't judge the context. No Democrat demanded that the relevant portions be released so that the whole thing could be assessed. Now that they have been, and the Democrats have egg on their faces, they're insisting that we haven't seen the whole thing and that if we did we'd be convinced that they're right. Sure.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mr. Cell Phone Guy

For all of you who have ever sat in a restaurant and been forced to listen to every word spoken by someone on the other side of the room who thought it necessary to shout into his/her cell phone - someone who was oblivious to the fact that a phone can carry normal amplitudes perfectly well and who obviously believed that other people enjoy having their own conversations drowned out by his/her phone conversation - this one's for you.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this post should be construed as an endorsement of the product advertised at the link!

Blessing and Curse

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has a column on Counterterrorism Blog in which he argues that Pakistan's deal with the the tribes and Taliban in Waziristan to withdraw from that province as long as they don't cause mischief in the rest of Pakistan effectively grants terrorists a safe haven in Waziristan.

I wonder, though, if there's not a silver lining here. I know that Pakistan has said that just because they are essentially ceding sovereignty over this region that that doesn't mean that they will permit foreigners to move in with impunity. Even so, as Waziristan becomes more independent of Islamabad, Musharef will find it increasingly convenient to do nothing if coalition forces in Afghanistan strike Taliban bases in western Pakistan.

In other words, an autonomous Waziristan could be both a blessing and a curse to the Taliban who use that area as a safe-haven. They no longer have to contend with the Pakistani military but they may soon have to contend with coalition smart bombs.

Counterterrorism Blog thinks that Pakistan's withdrawal is a serious blow to the effort to nurture Afghanistan's nascent democracy. It may, on the contrary, be a stroke of strategic genius that actually winds up making Waziristan less of a safe-haven that it was before. We'll see in due course.

Creeping Theocracy

Joe Carter recycles a fine 2004 piece that's still relevant to the latest bit of liberal paranoia over religion. He notes that the fear of many lefties, and even some conservatives, of what they see as creeping theocracy is really quite risible. He writes:

After all, more than half of American evangelicals are either Baptists or non-denominational. We don't even want a centralized church government much less a central government controlled by the church. So where does this silly canard come from?

He goes on to quote Eugene Volokh:

I keep hearing evangelical Christian leaders criticized for "trying to impose their religious dogma on the legal system," for instance by trying to change the law to ban abortion, or by trying to keep the law from allowing gay marriage.

I like to ask these critics: What do you think about the abolitionist movement of the 1800s? As I understand it, many -- perhaps most or nearly all -- of its members were deeply religious people, who were trying to impose their religious dogma of liberty on the legal system that at the time legally protected slavery.

Or what do you think about the civil rights movement? The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., after all, was one of its main leaders, and he supported and defended civil rights legislation as a matter of God's will, often in overtly religious terms. He too tried to impose his religious dogma on the legal system, which at the time allowed private discrimination, and in practice allowed governmental discrimination as well.

Or how about religious opponents of the draft, opponents of the death penalty, supporters of labor unions, supporters of welfare programs, who were motivated by their religious beliefs -- because deeply religious people's moral beliefs are generally motivated by their religious beliefs -- in trying to repeal the draft, abolish the death penalty, protect labor, or better the lot of the poor? Perhaps their actions were wrong on the merits....But would you condemn these people on the grounds that it was simply wrong for them to try to impose their religious beliefs on the legal system?

Volokh does a nice job of pointing out the absurdity of the complaint about people using religion as a motivation for public policy, and the rest of his piece is worth reading, but beyond his sensible reply there are other reasons why the idea that Christians have no right to impose their values on the rest of society is inane. For one thing, the person voicing the objection is trying to impose his value on others by intimidating the rest of us into accepting it. His value is that people who don't believe like him must not be allowed to legally burden the rest of society with their values. But by prohibiting Christians from having recourse to legislative action his value becomes a legal proscription on Christians and everyone else. So he's doing exactly what he condemns the Christian for doing.

Moreover, coming from anyone who does not believe in a personal God the claim that imposing one's values is wrong is simply incomprehensible. If there is no God then nothing is wrong, including imposing one's values on others. I have the right to do whatever I have the power and the desire to do in a godless universe, and it's simply empty rhetoric to insist that I don't.

An example, though, of someone who wants to say just this is in the comment section of Volokh's blog. The commenter writes:

Personally I hold the position that it's illegitimate (from an ethical, not a constitutional standpoint) to justify one's decisions about how society should be run based on assumptions one cannot defend reasonably. As I have yet to see any compelling defense made on evidence that ...1) there is a god and 2) that god does not want me to be a homosexual, I find it unethical to try to legislate my choice to be or not be homosexual based on those propositions.

My understanding is that a significant segment of the religious right makes their case exclusively on these grounds. I take this position not because of moral relativism, but because of the lack of a reasoned argument that can be presented for the case. To the extent that one desires to restrict another based on propositions one cannot defend reasonably, I believe that one is behaving unethically. I think that legislating me based on assumptions based on faith rather than reason disrespects me as a human being capable of thought.

Note that the writer is not saying that it should be illegal to impose one's values on others legislatively but rather that it's unethical. But an appeal to ethics works no better for him than an appeal to the law. The writer is evidently skeptical of the existence of God, but if there is no God then what he asserts in his last two sentences makes no sense. What does it mean to say "one is behaving unethically"? It can only mean that one is behaving in ways that the writer doesn't like, but, if so, so what? Why is that bad or wrong?

He suggests that it's unethical to treat him this way because it's a form of disrespect, but he gives us no reason why we should think that treating him with disrespect is wrong. What makes him think that he must be respected? Does he have a right to be respected? Certainly he does not if there's no transcendent moral authority that confers that right upon him. On the assumption that there is no such being he has no such right.

So, the irony of all this is that the only people who can say that nobody has the right to impose their values on others is a person who believes that there is a God who insists that we respect each other. Failing that all the talk of morality, ethics, and rights is just so much rhetorical blather signifying nothing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Anger Management

For those who have been hearing about the infamous Clinton interview with Chris Wallace which was aired on FOX yesterday and wondering what all the talk is about, here's the video. Former President Clinton certainly does seem pretty angry at the suggestion that he didn't do all he could have to thwart terrorists during his presidency. I almost expected him to grab Wallace by the throat.

The MSM has been fairly silent today about Clinton's barely controlled rage, but I wonder how they'd be covering this were it, say, Dick Cheney or George Bush who reacted this way in an interview.

Dawkins' Bad Book, Brown's Bad Review

Andrew Brown, writing a review of Richard Dawkins' latest screed against religious belief titled The God Delusion, opines that Dawkins has written a terrible book:

It has been obvious for years that Richard Dawkins had a fat book on religion in him, but who would have thought him capable of writing one this bad? Incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory, it has none of the style or verve of his earlier works.

Brown goes on to explain why the book written by the world's most famous atheistic Darwinian is so egregious, but before he does he feels the need to present his own atheistic credentials lest someone think he's just one of those religious yahoos out to blaspheme atheism's patron saint. He burnishes his skeptical bona fides by observing that there are some things about which Dawkins is correct:

In his broad thesis, Dawkins is right. Religions are potentially dangerous, and in their popular forms profoundly irrational. The agnostics must be right and the atheists very well may be. There is no purpose to the universe. Nothing inconsistent with the laws of physics has been reliably reported. To demand a designer to explain the complexity of the world begs the question, "Who designed the designer?" It has been clear since Darwin that we have no need to hypothesise a designer to explain the complexity of living things. The results of intercessory prayer are indistinguishable from those of chance.

Brown may think that Dawkins is right about these things, but I think Brown is wrong. Let's unpack the above paragraph and consider each of its sentences in turn:

Religions are potentially dangerous, and, in their popular forms, profoundly irrational. This is an observation, unfortunately, that tells us nothing. Every belief system, indeed every thing, is "potentially dangerous". The assertion that popular forms of religion are "profoundly irrational" is probably true of some and not true of others. What makes religious belief irrational? Is it irrational to believe in a personal God? If so, why? Brown does not give us any criteria for judging whether a belief is irrational or not. He simply asserts that religious belief is irrational and evidently expects his reader to nod in agreement without thinking about the matter. Perhaps Mr. Brown might spend an evening or two with Alvin Plantinga's Warranted Christian Belief. If he would he'd discover how and why the irrationality claim has been so thoroughly debunked that not even most atheistic philosophers accept it any more.

The agnostics must be right and the atheists very well may be. Why must agnostics be right? An agnostic is someone who refuses to commit himself to theism or atheism because he thinks the evidence in either case is insufficient. However evidence, both in terms of what constitutes it and how strong it must be, is person-relative. What is sufficient to support or warrant belief for one person may not be for another. When Brown says that agnosticism must be right he seems to be saying that everyone should be an agnostic regardless of whether they find the evidence sufficient to warrant belief or not. In other words, he's imposing his standard of warrant on others and this he has no business doing. Agnosticism may be the proper position for him, but he cannot say that it is the proper position for everyone. There's nothing wrong, certainly, with someone believing God exists if they are convinced that He does.

There is no purpose to the universe. This is partly true. On Brown's assumption that there is no creator then of course there's no purpose to anything, including your life, my life and Mr. Brown's life. Our existence is utterly meaningless and pointless. If, however, the cosmos is the product of an intelligent agent then we are justified in assuming that that agent had some purpose in creating it. We may not know what it is, but there may well be one and we may well have some purpose for being here as well. In order for Mr. Brown's claim to stand he has to show at the very least that it's likely that there is no creator. It would be interesting to see him attempt that.

Nothing inconsistent with the laws of physics has been reliably reported. This is a little disingenuous. What constitutes "reliably reported"? And what constitutes a physical inconsistency? Take the account of Jesus' resurrection. Why aren't the reports of this event reliable? When we cut away all the rhetorical brush we find that they are unreliable because they report a miracle. Why does that make them unreliable? Because genuine miracles never happen. How do we know they never happen? Because a miracle is inconsistent with the laws of physics and nothing inconsistent with the laws of physics has ever been reliably reported. Makes you dizzy, doesn't it?

As for inconsistency with the laws of physics, it's hard to say what such a thing would look like. The laws of physics merely codify probabilities. They don't say that something is impossible. The law of entropy, for example, simply tells us that it is highly unlikely that a system will go from a state of disorder to a state of order unless there is an input of energy from an outside source. The resurrection of Christ was an example of the reversal of entropy, but, if it occured because of an energy input from an outside source, i.e. God, there would have been no nomological inconsistency involved.

To demand a designer to explain the complexity of the world begs the question, "Who designed the designer?" Aside from the fact that this is a misuse of the term "begs the question" (the implied reasoning in the first paragraph of the previous section is a better example of begging the question) we might ask why Brown's question is at all important. It may be interesting as a matter of curious speculation to wonder about the cause, if any, of the designer, but it's really not relevant or important. Once we find an example of something in the natural world whose probability of being produced solely by physical forces is so low as to be practically implausible, then intelligence becomes a legitimate causal option whether we can assign a cause to that intelligence or not. If an astronaut found a perfectly cubical and highly polished piece of metal ten feet high on Mars he would be perfectly justified in concluding an intelligent cause to the cube even though he might have no idea who or what the cause was or what it was that made whatever crafted the cube.

Suppose, to take a different example, that we have good reason to believe that there is a "universe generator" somehow churning out universes as some voteries of the multiverse hypothesis believe. Must we be able to find the cause of the generator before we can posit its existence? Surely not. We only need to see that the existence of such a generator is the best explanation for the phenomena for which we are trying to account. The same is true for an intelligent cause of living things in particular and the cosmos in general.

It has been clear since Darwin that we have no need to hypothesise a designer to explain the complexity of living things. Here's another good example of question begging. Brown assumes as true the very matter that is in dispute. In point of fact there's widespread agreement that if irreducible complexity (IC) exists in the natural world then it must have arisen through some process, either in addition to or instead of, RMNS (random mutation and natural selection). The question that is at the center of the controversy, then, is whether there really are any genuine examples of IC out there. The answer to this question is by no means "clear" and many labs are busily at work, as you read this, trying to show that the examples of IC that have so far been adduced are really not examples of the phenomenon at all. This actually is pretty interesting because it shows that ID is a legitimate scientific theory since it presumably can be tested and, despite the cavils of the critics to the contrary, it does lead to research programs.

The results of intercessory prayer are indistinguishable from those of chance. What does this have to do with whether or not belief in God, or religion in general, is rational? Presumably Brown means to say that we can't point to answered prayer as a proof that God exists because a putative answer to prayer might just be a coincidence. True enough, but it doesn't follow from any of that that God doesn't exist, or that prayer is not answered, or that religion is irrational.

All in all, Brown would have done better to have stuck to just criticizing Dawkins' book.

From Lenin to Lennon

Joseph Pearce at First Things draws the inference from an article by Niall Ferguson that England is on the brink of a civil war between its Muslim and non-Muslim populations. The tensions between the two groups herald the failure of multiculturalism and are exacerbated by the Left's ennui:

The trouble, of course, is that the comrades, long since disillusioned with Lenin, have adopted Lennon instead. Whereas the old Marxists believed in something, albeit something absurd and dangerous, New Labour believes in nothing; "nothing" as defined by John Lennon in his sentimentally pernicious imagination: "No heaven ... no hell ... no countries ... nothing to kill or die for and no religion too." This is the new hedonism with which the secularists want to unite British society; the new uniculturalism to replace the old multiculturalism. It is perhaps not surprising that many Muslims are unconvinced by this self-centered hedonism in which, to return to Lennon, "all the people" are "living for today." If this is all we have to offer, to hell with it.

In other words, Muslims, disgusted by Western decadence, regard the West with contempt because they see that it on the verge of having nothing left to fight for. A culture this far gone in the direction of spiritual suicide, they believe, is like ripe fruit ready to fall into their hands. Thus we see Muslims emboldened to hasten the destruction of the social and political structures of the European countries in which they live. They're likely to be convinced, listening to the Left, that it would be an easy matter.

Read Pearce's whole piece at First Things.

The Pope's Speech

A friend passes along the link to this column by George Weigel on what Pope Benedict was saying in his now famous Regensburg speech. Weigel writes that:

In a brilliant lecture at the University of Regensburg last week, Pope Benedict XVI made three crucial points that are now in danger of being lost in the polemics about his supposedly offensive comments about Islam.

The three points, according to Weigel, were these:

1) All the great questions of life, including social and political questions, are ultimately theological.

2) Irrational violence aimed at innocent men, women and children "is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the [human] soul."

3) If the West's high culture keeps playing in the sandbox of postmodern irrationalism -- in which there is "your truth" and "my truth" but nothing such as "the truth" -- the West will be unable to defend itself. Why? Because the West won't be able to give reasons why its commitments to civility, tolerance, human rights and the rule of law are worth defending.

Benedict is right, of course, on all three counts. Read the full column at the link.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rumors About Bin Laden's Death

Rumors coming out of the Saudi Intelligence services via French Intelligence claim that Osama bin Laden has died of typhoid. There's no confirmation of this, but apparently the story is being widely circulated since the French have had to say that they cannot confirm the story.

Go here for more on the rumor.

Don't Shoot Unless You're Sure

Mike Metzger who writes for the Clapham Institute does consistently outstanding columns. I can't find the link to his latest which was e-mailed to me by a friend, but it offers a simple common sense insight into one of the most important moral issues of our time:

A few of my friends are avid hunters and become quite animated this time of year. I don't share their zeal since I've never been a hunter, nor do I come from a family of hunters. My father - a brilliant engineer and academic - took me hunting once as a wee lad. I recall watching Dad firing his shotgun twice at fleeing pheasants. He missed both times. Our guide brought down a bird with a single blast. Dad never went hunting again.

All was not lost however. That brief experience introduced me to one of hunting's unbending rules: If something stirs in the woods - and we're not sure what it is - don't shoot. Taking human life is markedly different than shooting deer. This imperative might be a way to reframe our country's divisive debate over abortion.

The most significant abortion rulings by the Supreme Court have admitted to uncertainty. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court said: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Fair enough. But it sounds like they're admitting we're not sure if there's human life in the womb.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Stevens admitted to more than uncertainty - they wafted into mystery: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." I am not a lawyer, but it seems the court is saying we're not sure when life begins. Since it's hazy, go ahead and shoot. You make the call.

But making that call is getting murkier - whether we're talking about the beginning or the end of life. In the September 8 issue of the journal Science, British neurologist Adrian M. Owen reports on a 23-year-old woman who suffered head trauma in a July 2005 traffic accident that left her in a coma.� She had no ability to communicate and repeated tests over more than five months found no signs of awareness or consciousness. Doctors diagnosed her as being in a vegetative state.

But through a series of tests using functional magnetic resonance imaging (which can detect different types of mental activity by measuring blood flow to various parts of the brain), Owen and his colleagues witnessed the woman's brain lighting up in ways that were "indistinguishable" from those in 12 healthy people. When asked to envision playing tennis and exploring her house, the regions of the brain used in language, movement and navigation came alive in the woman. "It was an absolutely stunning result," Owen exclaimed. "We had no idea whether she would understand our instructions. But this showed that she is aware."

That sounds like we're not so sure anymore when the lights go out. To be fair, the research does not indicate that many patients in vegetative states are necessarily aware or likely to recover. Nor does it necessarily apply to the case of Terry Schiavo, who suffered much more massive brain damage for far longer than the patient in Britain. But it is part of a pattern indicating gnawing uncertainty regarding life's bookends. In the case of the British woman, researchers are less certain than before about the end of human life. And in the Casey ruling, the justices admitted to uncertainty about life's beginnings when they wrote: "post- Roe neonatal care developments have advanced viability to a point somewhat earlier."

Maybe I'm missing something here. If we admit that we're not sure about what's moving in the womb... shouldn't we hold our fire until we know for certain?

In every area of our lives prudence invariably dictates that we should err, if we err at all, on the side of caution. We should always assume that it's a hunter in the bushes until we know for certain that it's not. Yet on the matters of abortion and euthanasia we reverse this eminently sensible rule and reason that unless we can prove that a human person's life is at stake, we're justified in assuming that it's not. Metzger's point is that this is as bizarre as arguing that if we don't know whether the rustle in the bushes is game or another hunter we're justified in assuming that it's game.

It's astonishing that otherwise intelligent people really think this way.

World's Most Reprehensible Man

This week the president of Iran was invited to speak at the U.N., an opportunity he used to insult and attack the President of the United States. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presides over a nation in which women are regularly and horribly stoned to death for commiting acts of sexual impurity. That the U.N. would allow such a man in the door, much less let him speak, is an utter disgrace to that body. That this Neanderthal would insult any leader of a Western country, much less the President of the United States, should outrage every decent human being.

Here's part of a letter from an organization set up to save the lives of women sentenced to stoning. The letter describes a recent case:

Once again, another Iranian woman has been sentenced to death by the barbaric practice of public stoning. On June 28, 2006, a court in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia sentenced Malak Ghorbany to death for committing "adultery." Under Iran's Penal Code, the term "adultery" is used to describe any intimate or sexual act between a man and a girl/woman who are not married. The crime of adultery is also used in cases where a girl is deemed to have committed "acts incompatible with chastity," which includes instances of rape. The punishment for "adultery" is death.

On the day of her punishment, the woman's hands are tied behind her back as she becomes covered from head to toe in winding sheets and is placed seated in a pit. The pit is then filled up to her chest with dirt and the dirt is tamped down. At that point, members of the community are invited to murder her by hurling rocks at her. However, to ensure that the condemned woman/girl receives the absolute maximum amount of pain and torture, the Iranian government has even mandated the size of the stones that are to be used in this barbaric act of public execution. By law, the stones must not be too small as to prevent ultimate death, nor must they be too large that they could cause the girl's death "too soon."

At the page linked to above is another link to a video which documents the case of Atefeh Sahaaleh, a 16 year-old girl, who was stoned to death for having sexual contact with a 22 year old man.

What I'd like to know is where the outraged voices are who were so quick a few decades ago to condemn South Africa, Chile, and Israel for real and imagined human rights abuses. Where are Left-wing feminists who vigorously protest the slightest violations of the dignity, honor, and equality of American women? Where are the writers for Sojourners and other organs of the religious Left who wrote copiously on human rights abuses in Central America during the 70s and 80s. Why are they not marching in the streets demanding sanctions against Iran as they did against South Africa? Why were they not outside the U.N. in the thousands protesting the appearance of the odious man who presides over such inhumanity and who could stop it if he wished? Why are the Left-wing blogs completely silent about this?

Might it be that just as they were largely silent about what Hussein did to the Iraqi people as long as Iraq was antagonistic to Washington, perhaps these champions of human rights are really not alarmed about what Iran does to it's people as long as Iran is hostile to America? Could it be that the Left only cares about human rights when those protections are under assault by allies of this country and that they are loath to protest when there is a possibility that their protest might encourage the use of military force against the offending nation? I'd like to hope not, but it would be good to have some evidence to support that hope.

Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy Israel in a nuclear holocaust, yet he gets a hearty ovation from the assembled thugs in the U.N. General Assembly, and the American Left, by and large, merely yawns. That really is inexcusable.

Thanks to Michelle for the tip.

The Heartlessness of Withdrawal

Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic, interestingly enough, delivers a few body shots and a couple of solid upper cuts to the chins of the Last Helicopter crowd. His column is so good and so important, especially given that TNR is a reliably liberal journal, that I've taken the liberty of reproducing most of it here:

..."If you think it's bad now," Bush said at a recent press conference, "imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself." To which a headline in The Washington Post offered this typical response: "Bush's new argument: it could be worse."

Whatever its political uses, Bush's new argument happens to be true. Yet the moral cost of abandoning a country we have turned inside-out seems not to have made the slightest impression on opinion-makers. To the extent that ethical considerations factor into the debate at all, it's usually in favor of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. Mostly, though, the debate over leaving has been conducted in the sterile language of geopolitics, credibility, and "misallocated" resources.

This heartlessness of the withdrawal argument responds to multiple needs that are largely unrelated to Iraq. It comforts the sensibilities of opinion-makers who have a distaste for this administration's foreign policy and so don't seem to feel much stake in its human consequences. It testifies to the consistency of those who, having opposed sending U.S. forces to Iraq in the first place, see nothing problematic about pulling them out today. And it offers assurance that, but for the bungled U.S. occupation, Iraq can only be better off. No one has espoused this last view more vigorously than Democratic Representative John Murtha. His summary of the situation in Iraq amounts to this: We are the problem.

Facts on the ground suggest Murtha has things exactly backward....The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

With militiamen loose in their streets, even the Sunni residents of insurgent strongholds now look to the Americans as their protectors. During a recent U.S. operation in Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, terrified Iraqis emerged into alleys to beg for the Americans to stay. As one put it, "If you leave, every people here will kill each other." Fully 88 percent of its residents claim to feel safest in the presence of the Americans, and for good reason: Far from the reactionary enterprise imagined by so many Americans, the U.S. military is the most progressive force in Iraq.

None of this jibes with the clich� that "redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq," as Senator John Kerry has put it. But, for the likes of Kerry, what happens after the United leaves Iraq is beside the point; by then, the troops will be safely home. Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct--namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.

Why is it, then, that so many of those who demanded action in the Balkans, and now demand it in Darfur, cannot accept that our role in having created Iraq's humanitarian crisis imposes a special obligation to do right there? If anything, advocates of an immediate withdrawal seem to believe the reverse is true. They speak of the Iraqi people as though the entire population has been tainted--marred by its involvement in what Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid mocks as "George Bush's war." Thus has it become permissible for political operatives to tar one Iraqi prime minister as an American "puppet" and for politicians to boycott the congressional address of another and--responding in kind to the juvenile arguments of Republican operatives--write off the whole enterprise as a partisan joke.

Where all this leads is clear. Having gone into Iraq under the banner of idealism, we will abandon it in the name of cold-blooded realism. Never mind the thousands of Iraqis who assisted the Americans and could well be doomed. Never mind that, in the enemy's imagination, entire peoples--Iraq's Christian population, among others--belong to this category. Iraq's liberals, too--like Mithal Al Allusi, a decent man who heeded our summons to build a new Iraq and saw his two sons murdered for his sins--will be erased. The secular, the nonsectarian, the pro-Western voices--these will be quieted as well. Nor should they look to the United States for refuge. Having enshrined in official policy the fiction that persecution went away with Saddam, the United States has all but sealed its borders to Iraqis in search of asylum.

If the whole rotten business seems familiar, that's because it is. At the height of the debate over withdrawing from Vietnam, the Post editorialized: "The threatened bloodbath is less ominous than a continuation of the current bloodletting." About the impending departure of the Americans from Southeast Asia, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis had this to say: "Some will find the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now?" Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence.

[A]sk any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent U.S. forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold. The United States owes Iraq many things. Being an engine of murder isn't one of them.

Surely the Nancy Pelosis, John Murthas, Carl Levins and Harry Reids of the world are aware of the calamity that a withdrawal could unleash on the people of Iraq. Their insistence that we nonetheless get out suggests that they simply don't care.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Forgotten War

Strategy Page gives us a quick update on the war in Afghanistan:

So far this month, NATO forces in the south have killed over a thousand Taliban gunmen, wounded more than that, overrun several Taliban camps, captured over a hundred Taliban and seized large quantities of documents and equipment. The Taliban have used large units in this area to scare off the police and enable terror teams to work on the civilians. In one case, a force of 400 Taliban crossed the Pakistan border and tried to take control of a district. But the swift appearance of NATO troops forced the Taliban to disperse and flee.

After two weeks of getting hammered like this, the Taliban have announced that they are dispersing their forces in the south, in the face of the NATO offensive.

Afghanistan has almost become a forgotten front in the war on terror, but the fighting rages there more ferociously, perhaps, than in Iraq. The brunt of the violence is being borne by NATO troops, particularly Canadians.

Petty Tyrant

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, comes to the U.N. and, having been listening to Howard Dean, Al Gore and the Democratic congressional congress, calls George Bush the devil. This judgment was presumably based on the fact that Bush refuses to let Islamic terrorists kill Americans with impunity. It's hard to imagine what other complaint the Venezuelan petty tyrant could have against President Bush.

Chavez is a droll little man who stifles all dissent and opposition in a nation which, despite being flush with oil, has an 85% poverty rate. Evidently indifferent to this misery among his own people, he has offered to give free oil to people in the United States who are relatively rich beyond the dreams of most Venezuelan peasants. Yet if any of these poor wretches complain they'll wind up missing their taste buds.

Chavez got a standing ovation in the United Nations. It makes one wonder what on earth any decent nation is doing there.

Cutting Taxes Raises Revenue

Some people have a hard time getting their minds around the idea that a tax cut actually generates more revenue than had the cut not been enacted. This seems counterintuitive to many folks, and they fear that if congress cuts taxes government will have less money to do the things it needs to do and will have to go deeper into debt to pay its bills.

This is why some people are upset with President Bush's tax cuts. They see it as reducing the government's revenue and ability to meet the needs of people in want.

The principle behind tax cuts, however, is that the more money you can keep in your pocket the more you'll spend or invest. Either way you're pumping money into the economy which means businesses prosper and can hire more workers. The more people working the more taxpayers there are and therefore the more revenue that comes into the federal coffers.

Does it work? It always has and it is now, as this article suggests:

The U.S. government recorded record-high overall and corporate tax receipts on Sept. 15, which was a quarterly deadline for tax payments, the Treasury said Monday. Total tax receipts were $85.8 billion on Friday, compared with the previous one-day record of $71 billion on Sept. 15 of last year, the Treasury said.

When people complain about tax cuts they should be asked what it is they want taxes to do. Do they wish to keep taxes high simply to punish people who have wealth or do they want to increase the revenue flowing into the treasury. If it's the latter, and that's the only moral justification for high taxes based upon income, then it's getting pretty clear that they should favor reducing the tax burden on people so that they can generate more wealth and more revenue.

Agreeing With an Atheist

Sam Harris is a prominent antitheist with whom I find myself in fundamental disagreement most of the time (see here, for instance), but in this column he's right on his main point that in the age of jihad liberalism is no longer a viable political option.

He writes:

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bona fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years - especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world - specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

Read the rest of it and then check out the Euston Manifesto. The Left is finally waking up to the fact that it has lost touch with reality and some of them are demanding that their comrades get their feet back on the ground. I think it's too late to put Humpty Dumpty back together, though.

The Democratic party, the center of political liberalism in this country, has sold its soul to the extremists at and Hollywood. It'll take either a long sojourn in the political wilderness for them to recover their senses or it will take the national calamity that would ensue from allowing them to regain control of the levers of power in Washington for them to realize that the nostrums of the far Left, of which they're currently so fond, are prescriptions for national disaster.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dionne's Dhimmitude

E.J. Dionne thinks the Pope was wrong to slap the Muslims in the face. Of course. For those with a dhimmi mind-set it's always wrong to criticize, even truthfully, one's Islamic masters:

But then why did Benedict take his shot at Islam? And why didn't he pause to acknowledge that at various moments in history, Christians, including Catholics, have themselves been guilty of inappropriate uses of violence?

"Inappropriate uses of violence" by Christians? What the adherents of a religion do was hardly the point of this part of the Pope's message. The words he quoted claimed that the teachings of Mohammed, wherever they offered something not present in the sacred texts of the Jews and Christians, were evil and inhumane. This may be a bit of an exaggeration to be sure, but the Pope's eye was on the means by which Muhammed taught that Islam was to be spread. There can be little disagreement in the West that a religious teacher who countenances violence and murder in order to convert people is indeed countenancing evil. If Mr. Dionne can find in the teaching of Jesus anything that endorses anything remotely similar then I'll grant his point, but failing that, his question as to why the Pope didn't mention that Christians sometimes behave "inappropriately" is absurd.

Dionne then serves up this masterful understatement:

Benedict's defenders have a point when they question whether his comments fully justify the explosion against him in the Muslim world. A significant number of Muslim religious leaders have said some harsh things about Christians, Jews and Western secularists in recent years. Would that all of Benedict's Muslim critics were as critical of anti-Christian or anti-Jewish statements from their own side.

If "harsh" is an adequate synonym for "vile and despicable" then Dionne is correct. Otherwise, his description of the invective to which Jews and Christians are subjected in the mosques and madrassas falls short of conveying the violence of their speech by several orders of magnitude. It is beyond parody that people who can say the sort of things these people say and believe about Christians and Jews can be so incensed by the simple claim that the prophet Mohammed taught some things that were evil and inhumane.

The proper response to the Pope's words, the civilized response, is to try to show that he is incorrect. Instead many Muslims have chosen a response that shows clearly that he is not.

Dionne thinks that rapprochment between the West and moderate Muslims requires more delicate diplomacy on the part of the West's spokespersons. Not at all. What it requires is blunt truth-telling. The best way to persuade Islamic moderates, a group whose size is difficult to assess due to their silence, is to make them see how much of a black eye the extremists are giving their faith and their God. If Christians were prosyletizing at the point of a dagger Mr. Dionne would have no trouble summoning the indignation necessary to call the evil by its name. Nor should he. Why then shrink from identifying that which is similarly evil in contemporary Islam, and why criticize someone, like the Pope, who does have the courage to speak the truth even if Mr. Dionne doesn't like hearing it?

Good Casting

Here's a funny news story:

Actor Sean Penn may wind up portraying legendary physicist Albert Einstein for a joint U.S.-Italian TV film production.

The selection of Penn must've been made by the same casting director who wanted Paris Hilton to portray Mother Teresa.

The Demise of "Never Works"

One of the chief arguments in favor of absolutely prohibiting torture (whatever constitutes torture) is that it doesn't ever work. Since it doesn't produce reliable intelligence, the argument goes, it is always wrong to employ it on a terror suspect.

The argument fails to be persuasive because the premise that it never works is so obviously dubious and that in cases where there is no other way to get the information to prevent an atrocity, security officials should be allowed to at least take the chance. The absolutists remain steadfast, however, that harsh interrogations never produce accurate, actionable intel.

That fervent conviction took a pretty severe jolt when it was reported last month that it was intelligence gleaned from Pakistan's harsh interrogation of Rashid Rauf, one of the plotters in the plan to blow up ten airliners departing from Britain, that led to the short-circuit of that horrific plot.

The "never works" dogma takes another hit in a report by ABC news chief Brian Ross who appeared last night on Bill O'Reilly's show. The video of Ross and O'Reilly is here. Ross claims that the "never works" argument is simply factually wrong. Scroll to the video screen and click on it to view the video. The most significant material comes toward the end.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dos Amigos

The following pics explain everything you need to know about why Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez feels the way he does about George Bush and the United States:

People judge you by the friends you keep and the books you read. On both counts Hugo shows bad judgment:

A Skeptical Mathematician

Mathematician and computer engineer Granville Sewell explains why he's skeptical of the Darwinian explanation for life's origin and complexity. He introduces his paper with this:

When Dr. Behe [author of Darwin's Black Box] was at the University of Texas El Paso in May of 1997 to give an invited talk, I told him that I thought he would find more support for his ideas in mathematics, physics and computer science departments than in his own field. I know a good many mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists who, like me, are appalled that Darwin's explanation for the development of life is so widely accepted in the life sciences. Few of them ever speak out or write on this issue, however--perhaps because they feel the question is simply out of their domain. However, I believe there are two central arguments against Darwinism, and both seem to be most readily appreciated by those in the more mathematical sciences.

He then proceeds to offer his two arguments. Here's one:

Although we may not be familiar with the complex biochemical systems discussed in this book, I believe mathematicians are well qualified to appreciate the general ideas involved. And although an analogy is only an analogy, perhaps the best way to understand Behe's argument is by comparing the development of the genetic code of life with the development of a computer program. Suppose an engineer attempts to design a structural analysis computer program, writing it in a machine language that is totally unknown to him. He simply types out random characters at his keyboard, and periodically runs tests on the program to recognize and select out chance improvements when they occur. The improvements are permanently incorporated into the program while the other changes are discarded.

If our engineer continues this process of random changes and testing for a long enough time, could he eventually develop a sophisticated structural analysis program? (Of course, when intelligent humans decide what constitutes an "improvement", this is really artificial selection, so the analogy is far too generous.)

If a billion engineers were to type at the rate of one random character per second, there is virtually no chance that any one of them would, given the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth to work on it, accidentally duplicate a given 20-character improvement. Thus our engineer cannot count on making any major improvements through chance alone. But could he not perhaps make progress through the accumulation of very small improvements? The Darwinist would presumably say, yes, but to anyone who has had minimal programming experience this idea is equally implausible.

Major improvements to a computer program often require the addition or modification of hundreds of interdependent lines, no one of which makes any sense, or results in any improvement, when added by itself. Even the smallest improvements usually require adding several new lines. It is conceivable that a programmer unable to look ahead more than 5 or 6 characters at a time might be able to make some very slight improvements to a computer program, but it is inconceivable that he could design anything sophisticated without the ability to plan far ahead and to guide his changes toward that plan.

If archeologists of some future society were to unearth the many versions of my PDE solver, PDE2D , which I have produced over the last 20 years, they would certainly note a steady increase in complexity over time, and they would see many obvious similarities between each new version and the previous one. In the beginning it was only able to solve a single linear, steady-state, 2D equation in a polygonal region. Since then, PDE2D has developed many new abilities: it now solves nonlinear problems, time-dependent and eigenvalue problems, systems of simultaneous equations, and it now handles general curved 2D regions.

Over the years, many new types of graphical output capabilities have evolved, and in 1991 it developed an interactive preprocessor, and more recently PDE2D has adapted to 3D and 1D problems. An archeologist attempting to explain the evolution of this computer program in terms of many tiny improvements might be puzzled to find that each of these major advances (new classes or phyla??) appeared suddenly in new versions; for example, the ability to solve 3D problems first appeared in version 4.0.

Less major improvements (new families or orders??) appeared suddenly in new subversions, for example, the ability to solve 3D problems with periodic boundary conditions first appeared in version 5.6. In fact, the record of PDE2D's development would be similar to the fossil record, with large gaps where major new features appeared, and smaller gaps where minor ones appeared. That is because the multitude of intermediate programs between versions or subversions which the archeologist might expect to find never existed, because-- for example--none of the changes I made for edition 4.0 made any sense, or provided PDE2D any advantage whatever in solving 3D problems (or anything else) until hundreds of lines had been added.

Read the rest of his argument at the link.

There are some folks on the religious fringes of our culture who hold to peculiar and unsupportable doctrines but who meet regularly and reinforce each other in their implausible beliefs. They thus each leave the meeting encouraged but no more correct than when they went in, and outsiders are often bemused that these folks could really believe the things they do.

The Darwinians are something like these people. They keep insisting to each other that blind, unthinking natural forces are all that's necessary to explain how the computer program of life got written. They recite to each other their catechism which states that given enough time, enough mutations, and the magic wand of natural selection, anything, no matter how incredible, is possible. They succeed in reinforcing each other in their faith that it happened all by chance and physics, but thinking people on the outside marvel at how anyone could actually believe it.

Thanks for the tip to Uncommon Descent.

Climbing GOP Approval Rating

The President's approval rating continues its upward trend which is good news for Republicans running for office this November and bad news for the Democrats who were popping champagne corks as recently as a month ago over the prospect of sweeping both the House and the Senate under their control:

Amid falling gas prices and a two-week drive to highlight his administration's efforts to fight terrorism, President Bush's approval rating has risen to 44% in a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll. That's his highest rating in a year. The poll also showed likely voters evenly divided between Democratic and Republican candidates for Congress, 48%-48%. Among registered voters, Democrats had a 51%-42% advantage.

Much of the increase in the President's numbers are Republicans getting serious as elections get closer. There's a lot of disappointment with Bush among the GOP faithful over spending and especially illegal immigration, but many are recognizing that as bad as Bush has been on these two issues, a Democratic congress would be far worse:

Bush's approval rating has edged up largely on the strength of Republicans coming back to the fold - 86% with him now compared with 70% in May.

So, as elections approach the Republicans are closing ranks which means that Bush's approval may hit about 48% this Fall, provided gas prices continue to drop and nothing else on the world scene changes much. If the House bill to build the wall along the border passes the Senate and the President signs it, his numbers might edge toward 50%.

Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said GOP fortunes have turned since Labor Day: "This has been the best two weeks Republicans have had since Bush was re-elected."

The new poll found likely voters more prone to vote for candidates who support Bush on terrorism, 45%-28%, and evenly divided on those who support and oppose Bush on Iraq. More than a quarter said Iraq is their top concern this fall. For the first time since December 2005, a majority of people did not say the war there was a mistake; the split was 49%-49%.

Bush's terror-fighting techniques drew mixed reviews. A 55%-42% majority supported his policy of wiretapping phone conversations between U.S. citizens here and suspected terrorists in other countries without getting a court order.

There's more at the link.

Red States Rising

George Will reflects on a book written by Thomas Edsall of The New Republic who offers what is, from his point of view, a dispiriting assessment of the rise of the Republican party and the demise of the Democrats. Will points out how lefties like Edsall consistently attribute GOP success to all the wrong reasons and are utterly purblind to the fact that their own message has very little resonance with the majority of Americans.

Will's entire column is good, but his last two paragraphs put a sharp point on his argument:

Edsall notes that one-third of American children -- and almost 70 percent of African American children -- are born to unmarried mothers. Then, in an astonishing passage about this phenomenon, which is the cause of most social pathologies, from crime to schools that cannot teach, he explains how Americans differ concerning what he calls "freedom from the need to maintain the marital or procreative bond."

"To social conservatives," he writes, "these developments have signaled an irretrievable and tragic loss. Their reaction has fueled, on the right, a powerful traditionalist movement and a groundswell of support for the Republican Party. To modernists, these developments constitute, at worst, the unfortunate costs of progress, and, at best -- and this is very much the view on the political left as well as of Democratic Party loyalists -- they constitute a triumph over unconscionable obstacles to the liberation and self-realization of much of the human race."

Looking for the real reason for the rise of "Red America"? Read that paragraph again.

Red America is a reference, of course, to the "red" states which voted for George Bush in the last election as opposed to the "blue" states which went for John Kerry.

The major problem the Democrats have is that too many of their movers and shakers hold it as a religious dogma that the social dysfunctionalities of the last four decades are actually a good thing. Until they realize that "red staters" regard these dysfunctionalities as extremely harmful to our culture and associate them with liberal social attitudes, the Democrats will have a very difficult time turning red states blue.

Re: What Makes it Torture?

JB brings his military and police experience to bear on the question I addressed in What Makes it Torture? His insightful response is featured on our Feedback page and is worth reading.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Speechalist

Even those who admire President Bush for his strength and resolve have to admit that his admirable virtues do not extend to public speaking. It can be painful for the President's supporters, of which I am one, to listen to him speak ex tempore.

He and his staff recognize this shortcoming, of course, and what most people don't know and what you may well be hearing for the first time here at Viewpoint, they have employed a "Speechalist" to turn Mr. Bush's weakness into a strength.

You heard correctly - a Speechalist - but don't take my word for it. Go here and see for yourself.

No matter how much you may love the President, you'll still have to laugh at "The Speechalist".

Thanks to Isaac for the link.

Into the Pit of Hell

One irony of enlightenment modernity is that in the move to exalt human kind and to liberate man from the shackles of guilt and repression imposed by medieval religious institutions, man was actually dehumanized. When God was dispensed with as the basis for human dignity and worth, dignity and worth washed away like bare topsoil in a thunderstorm. There was nothing left to hold it. The attempt to deify man wound up paradoxically reducing him to the status of a herd animal - something to be manipulated, exploited, and slaughtered to suit the convenience and the needs of whoever controlled the levers of power in society.

Thus the twentieth century, the zenith of modernity, the age of state atheism, the age of the ascendency of reason, was the most savage, murderous century in human history.

Our dignity, worth and thus our right not to be harmed, our fundamental right to life, is rooted, John Locke reminds us, solely in the fact that we are created by God for His purpose and in His image. He loves us and we are His property. No one can with impunity harm that which is cherished by God. But modernity has sought to render God irrelevant to the human enterprise and to replace rights rooted in God with rights rooted in reason. Reason, however, cannot bear the weight that modernity wishes to place upon it.

The following story about Peter Singer is a good illustration of the erosive effect that modernity's rejection of God has had on our belief in the value of human life. Perhaps no contemporary thinker is as clear, consistent, and forthright about the implications of modern atheism as is Singer:

An internationally known Princeton "bioethicist" and animal-rights activist says he'd kill disabled babies if it were in the "best interests" of the family, because he sees no distinction in the child's life whether it is born or not, and the world already allows abortion.

The comments come from Peter Singer, a controversial bioethics professor, who responded to a series of questions in the UK Independent this week.

...Singer believes the next few decades will see a massive upheaval in the concept of life and rights, with only "a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists" still protecting life as sacrosanct.

To the rest, it will be a commodity to be re-evaluated regularly for its worth.

Singer's response came to Dublin reader Karen Meade's question: "Would you kill a disabled baby?"

"Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman's right to have an abortion," he said.

He added that one point on which he agrees with the pro-life movement is that, "from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby."

The statement furthers the argument that Singer's position is just an extension of the culture of death that has developed in the world, with euthanasia legal in some locations, abortion legal in many and even charges that in some repressive societies there's an active business in harvesting healthy organs from victims in order to provide transplants for the wealthy.

Singer holds that man is no different from other forms a life, and therefore man's life is not worth more than, for example, the life of a cow.

The only moral absolute, he noted, "is that we should do what will have the best consequences for all those affected by our actions."

Here in this last sentence Singer slips into inconsistency. If there is no God then there are no moral "shoulds", there are no moral absolutes at all. As Dostoyevsky writes in the Brothers Karamazov "If God is dead then everything is permitted". In the Godless world that modernity wishes to build there is no reason, moral or otherwise, why I shouldn't just do what will have the best consequences for me and not care at all about how my actions affect anyone else.

Nor can atheism offer us any consistent, non-arbitrary reason why the killing should be limited to fetuses and newborns. After all, as Singer points out, there's no qualitative difference between the born and the unborn child, but neither is there a sharp qualitative difference between the newborn and the toddler, or the toddler and the child, or the child and the adolescent. The boundaries are blurry at best and completely arbitrary at worst. The logic of Singer's argument leads us, once we accept killing defective newborns, to killing less defective newborns and eventually normal newborns, and from thence to killing defective children and eventually normal but inconvenient children. From there the horror will eventually extend to adult undesirables and eventually to any adult who is politically inexpedient.

In other words, Singer's atheism leads us right back to the mass exterminations of the Nazi holocaust.

Peter Singer's ideas, as affable and congenial as he might be in person, would, if followed consistently, lead us straight into the pit of hell.

What Makes it Torture?

The controversy over interrogation techniques has once again emerged in our public discourse. Unfortunately, politicians and media types, so far from clarifying the issue for the rest of us, seem to be confusing the questions involved. There really are two issues which need to be separated in this debate, but they're often conflated by the media. One question is definitional or ontological, the other is ethical. They are: What constitutes torture, and whatever torture is, is it ever justified?

We've discussed the second question at some length on Viewpoint (See here, here, here, here, and here for recent examples) but haven't considered the first one as much.

So let's agree that torture is at least almost always wrong. If we're going to prohibit it, however, we have to have a pretty good idea what it is, especially if we risk abolishing is a useful tool in preventing terror attacks that isn't really torture.

President Bush is trying to get Congress to define torture so that we know what can be done and what can't, but he's meeting resistence from the usual suspects, including Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Warner, and Susan Collins. Their argument seems to boil down to this: Don't worry about what torture is. Just don't do it. Their position is quite unhelpful and more than a little ludicrous, but then they are U.S. senators.

The dictionary defines torture as the infliction of severe pain or mental anguish in order to coerce or punish. Let's apply that definition to one of the most notorious, and effective, means of coercing cooperation among people the CIA is interrogating - waterboarding. The CIA is believed to have used waterboarding in a very few special cases,a nd it's an example of the sort of thing that Senator McCain wants stopped. In waterboarding a detainee is strapped to a table, his face is wrapped in saran wrap, and water is poured over it. This somehow produces the sensation of drowning and induces panic in the person to whom it is done. It's said to be very effective in eliciting accurate intelligence, intelligence which has saved lives.

Let's set aside, though, the question of its justification and ask why we should think that this particular technique constitutes torture. What are some possible answers to that question?

Perhaps it's torture because it's painful.

But apparently there's not much pain involved, and if there were it would only be brief since people only hold out for a few seconds when subjected to it.

Perhaps it's torture because it does lasting harm to the detainee.

Evidently not. The individual is no doubt shaken but none the worse for the experience. In fact, interrogators have had it done to them just so they know what it feels like.

Perhaps it's torture because it's done to punish.

No. It's done to elicit information. Once the subject cooperates the treatment ceases.

Perhaps it's torture because it's unpleasant.

Surely an unpleasant experience, however, is not ipso facto torture. If it were, then putting someone in restraints or feeding them institutional food would be torture.

Perhaps it's torture because it frightens the terrorist.

Indeed, it does frighten the terrorist, but so does the prospect of being executed for their crimes or being put in prison for the rest of their life. Should they not be threatened with these possibilities? Why must we be so squeamish that we are reluctant even to scare people who are trying to murder our children?

Perhaps it's torture because it elicits information against the detainee's will.

It certainly does motivate the terrorist to divulge information, but the fact that they don't do so willingly is hardly reason to think that the method is somehow tainted. If it were then phone taps, etc would be torture since they are means by which we obtain information from people who would not otherwise willingly give it.

Perhaps, it's torture because some men are exerting power over another.

Yes, but so is a cop who stops you for a traffic violation, and we don't consider that torture.

The fact is that the suspect has complete control over how long the process lasts or whether it will even begin. This is an important point. The terrorist is essentially in complete control of what, if anything, happens to him. He's no more damaged when it's over than when it started. He experiences no sensation other than panic and though he's frightened, he knows that he really is not drowning. So why would waterboarding be considered torture but, say, lengthy imprisonment, which may do some, or even all, of the things mentioned above, is not?

I really have no answer to the question. It simply makes no sense to me to ban this technique, but if someone can point out something that I'm overlooking I'm certainly willing to reconsider.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Euston Manifesto

A large group of British leftists have put together what they call the Euston Manifesto in which they criticize the direction that much of the left in Britain and in the United States has taken over the last six years and set forth principles and ideals which they hope will govern the direction that liberalism will follow in the future.

There's lots in the document to like and much of it could have been crafted by the staff of the conservative National Review. For example:

The founding supporters of this statement took different views on the military intervention in Iraq, both for and against. We recognize that it was possible reasonably to disagree about the justification for the intervention, the manner in which it was carried through, the planning (or lack of it) for the aftermath, and the prospects for the successful implementation of democratic change.

We are, however, united in our view about the reactionary, semi-fascist and murderous character of the Baathist regime in Iraq, and we recognize its overthrow as a liberation of the Iraqi people. We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted - rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

This opposes us not only to those on the Left who have actively spoken in support of the gangs of jihadist and Baathist thugs of the Iraqi so-called resistance, but also to others who manage to find a way of situating themselves between such forces and those trying to bring a new democratic life to the country. We have no truck, either, with the tendency to pay lip service to these ends, while devoting most of one's energy to criticism of political opponents at home (supposedly responsible for every difficulty in Iraq), and observing a tactful silence or near silence about the ugly forces of the Iraqi "insurgency".

The many Left opponents of regime change in Iraq who have been unable to understand the considerations that led others on the Left to support it, dishing out anathema and excommunication, more lately demanding apology or repentance, betray the democratic values they profess.

Go to the link and read the whole thing. Even if you're a conservative you'll almost be tempted to lend your signature to the effort.