Thursday, November 30, 2006

Not a Saint, Just a Parent

Here's a beautiful love story, the kind of love story our culture has an increasingly difficult time comprehending. I hope everyone reads it.

Setting the Record Straight

Why the recent outpouring of anti-theistic zeal and hostility? Richard Shweder suggests an answer in the New York Times:

A deeper and far more unsettling answer ... is that the popularity of the current counterattack on religion cloaks a renewed and intense anxiety within secular society that it is not the story of religion but rather the story of the Enlightenment that may be more illusory than real.

The Enlightenment story has its own version of Genesis, and the themes are well known: The world woke up from the slumber of the "dark ages," finally got in touch with the truth and became good about 300 years ago in Northern and Western Europe.

As people opened their eyes, religion (equated with ignorance and superstition) gave way to science (equated with fact and reason). Parochialism and tribal allegiances gave way to ecumenism, cosmopolitanism and individualism. Top-down command systems gave way to the separation of church from state, of politics from science. The story provides a blueprint for how to remake and better the world in the image and interests of the West's secular elites.

Unfortunately, as a theory of history, that story has had a predictive utility of approximately zero. At the turn of the millennium it was pretty hard not to notice that the 20th century was probably the worst one yet, and that the big causes of all the death and destruction had rather little to do with religion. Much to everyone's surprise, that great dance on the Berlin Wall back in 1989 turned out not to be the apotheosis of the Enlightenment.

Indeed, critics are fond of pointing to the Catholic Church's Inquisition as the paradigm of religious evil. Throughout the 500 years of the Inquisition, however, something like 6000 people were murdered. That comes to about twelve people per year. By contrast 110,000,000 people were murdered by officially atheistic communist governments in the 87 years from 1900 to 1987. This does not count those killed in wars instigated by communists nor does it count those murdered by other state atheisms like Naziism. In other words, there's no comparison between the crimes of atheism and the crimes of Christians.

Why has atheism amassed such a horrific record? The English political philosopher John Locke, whose influence on the founding fathers was such that Jefferson incorporated whole sentences from his writings into the Declaration of Independence, offers an answer that has been stressed frequently on Viewpoint:

John Locke, who was almost everyone's favorite political philosopher at the time of the founding of our nation, was a very tolerant man. In his 1689 "Letter Concerning Toleration," he advocated a policy of live and let live for believers in many faiths, even heretics. But he drew the line at atheists. He wrote: "Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God. Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all."

Atheists bristle at the suggestion that they cannot be trusted to keep promises, etc. but they shouldn't take umbrage. It's merely the logical consequence of their denial of a transcendent moral authority. There is no reason, given the truth of atheism, why anyone should keep a promise that becomes inconvenient and which can be discarded with impunity. Locke was correct. For the atheist integrity is nothing more than a subjective preference, if it is a preference at all, and as such it can be dispensed with whenever it suits one's self-interest.

As with promises, so with human lives. If it suits the state to murder its people then, unless there is a divine constraint, there is no constraint at all on those who have the power to realize their wish.

What They Can and Can't Do

Dick Morris explains at NewsMax (e-mailed report) why the Democrats' newly won majority in the House and the Senate will avail them nothing if they seek to pass left-wing legislation. Along the way he gives a quick lesson in how our national legislature works:

For all of the dire warnings and pre-election commotion about the impact of a Democratic majority in Congress, the fact is that - now that it is upon us - it can do little or nothing but harass the administration.

There is no real danger of any legislative action emerging from this Congress. Yes, the president has a veto the Democrats cannot override, but nothing will ever make it as far as the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are just spinning their wheels.

In the Senate, there is no such thing as a majority. Ever since the elder Bush's administration, the filibuster has become routine. No longer reserved for civil-rights issues or for egregious legislation, it now is used to counter even motions for recess and adjournment. Members of the Senate are no longer subjected to the indignity of standing on their feet and reading a telephone book. Rather, the gentlemen's filibuster applies.

The majority leader phones the minority leader and asks if a filibuster is in effect. With his feet up on his desk, the Republican replies that it is and the Democrat, despite his majority, does not even think about bringing up his bill for consideration unless he has a good shot at the 60 votes required to shut off debate. In the Senate, 51 votes determine who gets the corner office, but to pass legislation, one needs 60.

In the House of Representatives, with its 435 members, the Republican Party needed a simple majority - 218 - to rule. The Democrats need considerably more. The normal rules of a mathematical majority do not take into account the fractious nature of the Democratic Party.

Where the Republican majority best resembled the Prussian Army - disciplined, unified and determined - the Democratic majority in the upcoming Congress is disunited, dispersed and divided into myriad caucuses and special interest groups. One could purchase the Republican majority wholesale by making a deal with the speaker and the majority leader. But to get the Democratic majority in line, one has to buy it retail - caucus by caucus.

First, one has to go to check with the Black Caucus - hat in hand - to see if one's bill has enough liberal giveaways to round up its forty or so votes. Thence to the Hispanic Caucus for a similar screening. Then, with one's legislation weighted down with liberal provisions added by these two groups, one has to sell it to the Democratic Leadership Council moderates and, even worse, to the Blue Dog Democrats - the out and out conservatives.

If you are fortunate enough to pass these contradictory litmus tests, you then have to go to the environmentalists, the labor people, and even the gays to see that your bill passes muster. Only then can you begin to hope for House passage.

The result of this labyrinth is that the relatively moderate bill you first sought to pass ends up like a Christmas tree, laden with ornaments added to appease each of the caucuses. Unrecognizable in its final form, it heads to House passage.

This road map will be familiar to all veterans of the Clinton White House of 1993 and 1994. The most recent administration that had to deal with a Democratic House, the shopping from caucus to caucus and the festooning of moderate legislation with all manner of amendments will seem dej� vu to all of the early Clintonites. When Clinton proposed an anti-crime bill with a federal death penalty, he needed to add pork projects in the inner city like midnight basketball to get it past the Democrats in the House.

Nancy Pelosi will face the same obstacle. By the time her legislation emerges from the lower chamber, it will bear little resemblance to what she had in mind, liberal as that might have been. As Clinton said, after he watched the mangling of his legislative program by the various caucuses in the House, "I didn't even recognize myself."

Once the highly amended liberal legislation emerges from the House, it will make easy fodder for a Senate filibuster. So left leaning that it stands no chance of attracting 60 votes, it will be dead-on-arrival.

So forget the nightmares about an amended Patriot Act or restrictions on wiretapping for homeland security. Don't worry about House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel's, D-N.Y., ravings about the draft or the rumors of a tax increase. It's not going to happen.

What is the Democratic majority good for? One thing and one thing only - to give their party control of the committees and the subpoena power that goes with it. The two House Democratic majority can only make noise and make trouble. It can't pass legislation.

What Morris doesn't mention, however, is the power the Senate Democrats have to block judicial nominees. The now unlikely prospect that we will get another Supreme Court jurist of the caliber of Roberts, Alito, Scalia, or Thomas may well be the most unfortunate consequence of the recent elections.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Angier's God Problem

Natalie Angier, science writer for the New York Times, discusses her God Problem at The Edge. She's mystified, evidently, as to why so few people believe that evolution occurred. Maybe we at Viewpoint can be of service in explaining the mystery. Perhaps it has something to do with the Darwinian insistence that the amazing complexity of living things is a matter of pure accident. This just seems to many people to be too literally incredible for anyone who's not already committed to atheism to accept.

She also seems puzzled as to why many astronomers are open to the possibility of that an intelligent Creator is responsible for the cosmos, but not so much open to the possibility that astrology is true. Perhaps, again, it's because the fine-tuning of the features of the universe astronomers study is so breathtakingly improbable, so unexpectedly exquisite, that the heavens fairly scream that they were intentionally designed. Whereas astrology is obviously just pure guesswork.

She wonders, too, why scientists don't speak out more against belief in God. Perhaps it's because they realize that as scientists their opinions on whether God exists are no more authoritative than anyone else's. Scientists trading on their authority as scientists in order to make metaphysical pronouncements are like, say, Judge John Jones of the famous Dover Intelligent Design trial, speaking authoritatively on matters pertaining to the philosophy of science. In brief, many scientists recognize that to speak publicly and dogmatically on the existence of God would be hubristic, pompous, and absurd, but Ms Angier would apparently like to see them do it anyway.

Nevertheless, at least these were interesting ponderings, even if they were philosophically maladroit. Most of the rest of her essay leaves the reader scratching his head trying to figure out how what she writes has anything to do with the problem of the existence of God.

Limitless Self-Delusion

Syria has been implicated in two recent political assasinations in Lebanon, and Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for the utter destruction of Israel. Yet there are those who believe these two criminal nations can be counted on to help bring stability to Iraq. The ability of some people to delude themselves about the nature of our foes seems utterly boundless.

Ramirez has a more realistic appraisal of the aims of Iran in offering to be a broker for peace in Iraq:

Clean Out Baghdad

Mohammed at Iraq the Model gives us a depressing but riveting glimpse of what life is like for an ordinary citizen in Baghdad these days.

It is Iraqis like Mohammed who are the reason it is morally imperative that we crush the insurgency in Baghdad. They've placed their hopes, trust, and the lives of their families in our hands. If we leave, as John "I don't want a bribe now but maybe later" Murtha is demanding, then we abandon people like Mohammed and his family to the cutthroat thugs who burn innocent worshippers to death in the streets.

Upon our withdrawal, anyone who cooperated with the coalition will be hunted down, tortured and killed by these savages. Maybe the Murthas and Pelosis of the world can live with that likelihood, but no one with any decency should be willing to take the risk. If anything, we should be sending in more troops to clean the vermin out of the city so that the people there can live normal lives free from fear and grief.

Read Mohammed's post at the link.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Kauffman's Emergentism (Pt. I)

Stuart Kauffman is a very bright man who, despite being an atheistic materialist, rejects the reductionism that most materialists embrace and advocates instead a philosophical notion called emergentism.

Simply put, emergentism is the view that when matter reaches a certain critical mass it gives rise to phenomena which cannot be explained in terms of matter alone. Think, for instance, of the picture produced by thousands of color dots on the tv screen. To try to explain the meaning of the picture as nothing but excited dots of color misses something significant about the picture, namely the information and importance it conveys. The emergentist believes that life, consciousness, meaning, and value all emerge out of the universe in somewhat analogous fashion.

Kauffman writes:

In the West, those who hold to a view of a theistic God, including the Christian fundamentalists of such power in the United States, find themselves in a cultural war with those who do not believe in a transcendent God, whether agnostic or atheistic. This war is evidenced by the fierce battle over Intelligent Design being waged politically and in the court systems of the United States. While the battleground is Darwinism, the deeply emotional issues are more fundamental. These include the belief of many religious people that without God's authority, morality has no basis. Literally, for those in the West who hold to these views, part of the passion underlying religious conviction is the fear that the very foundations of Western society will tumble if faith in a transcendent God is not upheld.

Indeed, it's interesting that Dr. Kauffman doesn't assay to refute this belief. He doesn't, of course, because there is no refutation available to him. In order for someone to have a right, say, not to be harmed, others must have an obligation not to harm him, but whence comes this obligation if we are all alone in the cosmos? In order for us to be "obligated" something or someone must lay that obligation upon us and in the naturalistic metaphysics of Dr. Kauffman there's nothing that is up to that task. Even if he's correct that moral value is an emergent property of the universe, which we will see is highly dubious, it is a long and treacherous logical road from the appearance of a value to an obligation to somehow promote that value.

Beyond that, reductionism, wrought by the successes of Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Planck, and Schrodinger, and all that has followed, preeminently in physics, has, as I will expand upon in a moment, left us in world of fact - cold fact with no scientific place for value. "The more we know of the cosmos, the more meaningless it appears", said Stephen Weinberg in Dreams of a Final Theory.

Precisely so. If everything that exists can ultimately be explained completely in terms of quarks and energy, if there's no intelligence out there, nothing beyond death but annihiliation, then life is just a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This is where the materialist's reductionism takes us. Unfortunately what Kauffman seeks to put in its stead offers no more satisfaction than does reductionism.

In this scientific world view, we can ask: Is it more astonishing that a God created all that exists in six days, or that the natural processes of the creative universe have yielded galaxies, chemistry, life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness, culture without a Creator. In my mind and heart, the overwhelming answer is that the truth as best we know it, that all arose with no Creator agent, all on its wondrous own, is so awesome and stunning that it is God enough for me and I hope much of humankind.

First, Kauffman sets up a choice as ridiculous as it is false - he tells us we must either believe in a six day creation or accept atheism - and then concludes that it is more reasonable to believe that consciousness, agency, meaning, and value have somehow emerged out of the aforementioned energy and quarks than to believe that these phenomena, as well as the material world itself, are the product of an intelligent Being.

Thus, beyond the new science that glimmers a new world view, we have a new view of God, not as transcendent, not as an agent, but as the very creativity of the universe itself.

The universe is God and God just is the universe. But the universe is intellectually inert. Kauffman still hasn't explained how physical matter can give rise to meaning and value. He just holds out the hope that it has.

In short, in wondrous ways, these our universe, biosphere, econosphere, and culture are ceaselessly creative and emergent. The two cultures, science and humanities, stand united in this world view. Meaning and value have a scientific base.

Actually, nothing he has said in this essay supports this claim. He offers not a single testable assertion in support of his belief. Kauffman is a scientist doing speculative metaphysics and the speculations are based on nothing more than his hope that such things as meaning and value really exist.

And ethics? At a recent meeting on science and religion on Star Island, we heard more than one lecture on animal emotions and the sense of fairness in chimpanzees. Group selection, we were told, is now making its way into evolutionary biology. With it, natural selection can get its grip on behaviors that are advantageous to the group, like fairness, so it emerges. Far from evolution being anathema to ethics, evolution is the first source of human morality. But not the last, for we can argue whether we should want what we want.

This takes us back to what we said above. Even if a sense of fairness has emerged through natural selection, we still are given no reason why we should actually be fair to others. The fact that evolution produces some behavior is not an argument for that behavior being morally right or obligatory. Natural selection produces a lot of behaviors that we do not regard as particularly moral - war being one example - so why pick out fairness as an example of a behavior we should cultivate rather than war. The only way Kauffman can do this is by holding war and fairness up to some other standard and seeing which one conforms to the standard and which doesn't. But where does this higher standard come from? Neither Kauffman, nor any atheist, has an answer to that question.

I'll have more on Kauffman's emergentism later.

Listing Toward Fascism

Ralph Peters rejects the pessimistic prognosis of those who predict that Europe will be Islamified by the the middle of the present century. He believes that the increasing Arabification of Europe will give rise to a nascent fascism which will stem the Islamic tide through forced deportations or, since Europe is so good at it, genocide. Herewith some excerpts:

The notion that continental Europeans, who are world-champion haters, will let the impoverished Muslim immigrants they confine to ghettos take over their societies and extend the caliphate from the Amalfi Coast to Amsterdam has it exactly wrong.

The endangered species isn't the "peace loving" European lolling in his or her welfare state, but the continent's Muslims immigrants - and their multi-generation descendents - who were foolish enough to imagine that Europeans would share their toys.

In fact, Muslims are hardly welcome to pick up the trash on Europe's playgrounds.

Don't let Europe's current round of playing pacifist dress-up fool you: This is the continent that perfected genocide and ethnic cleansing, the happy-go-lucky slice of humanity that brought us such recent hits as the Holocaust and Srebrenica.

The historical patterns are clear: When Europeans feel sufficiently threatened - even when the threat's concocted nonsense - they don't just react, they over-react with stunning ferocity. One of their more-humane (and frequently employed) techniques has been ethnic cleansing.

And Europe's Muslims don't even have roots, by historical standards. For the Europeans, they're just the detritus of colonial history. When Europeans feel sufficiently provoked and threatened - a few serious terrorist attacks could do it - Europe's Muslims will be lucky just to be deported.

Sound impossible? Have the Europeans become too soft for that sort of thing? Has narcotic socialism destroyed their ability to hate? Is their atheism a prelude to total surrender to faith-intoxicated Muslim jihadis?

The answer to all of the above questions is a booming "No!" The Europeans have enjoyed a comfy ride for the last 60 years - but the very fact that they don't want it to stop increases their rage and sense of being besieged by Muslim minorities they've long refused to assimilate (and which no longer want to assimilate).

We don't need to gloss over the many Muslim acts of barbarism down the centuries to recognize that the Europeans are just better at the extermination process.

Mark Steyn, author of the highly acclaimed America Alone, disagrees. He sees the emergence of an Islamic caliphate covering almost all of Europe as inevitable, and although he doesn't say this, exactly, Christian dhimmitude would be an ineluctable concommitant along with death to any infidels who refuse to submit.

Good grief! Are these our choices? Have we allowed things to come to the place where someone who augurs the reappearance of fascism actually sounds like an optimist?

Change Toward What?

A friend sends along this meditation on the voters' decision to heed the Democrats' call for a change in Washington:

By now, he writes, you've all seen the Democrats' latest slogan: "A New Direction For America!" Let's analyze this promise:

The stock market is at a new all-time high and America's 401K's are back. A new direction from there means what?

Unemployment is at 25 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Oil prices are plummeting. A new direction from there means what?

Taxes are at 20 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Federal tax revenues are at all-time highs. A new direction from there means what?

The Federal deficit is down almost 50%, just as predicted over last year. A new direction from there means what?

Home valuations are up 200% over the past 3.5 years. A new direction from there means what?

Inflation is in check, hovering at 20 year lows. A new direction from there means what?

Not a single terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11/01. A new direction from there means what?

Osama bin Laden is living under a rock in a dark cave, having not surfaced in years, if he's alive at all, while 95% of Al Queda's top dogs are either dead or in custody, cooperating with US Intel. A new direction from there means what?

Several major terrorist attacks already thwarted by US and British Intel, including the recent planned attack involving 10 Jumbo Jets being exploded in mid-air over major US cities in order to celebrate the anniversary of the 9/11/01 attacks A new direction from there means what?

Just as Bush had planned and foretold us of on a number of occasions, Iraq was to be made "ground zero" for the war on terrorism -- and just as Bush said they would, terrorist cells from all over the region are alighting the shadows of their hiding places and flooding into Iraq in order to get their faces blown off by US Marines rather than boarding planes and heading to the United States to wage war on us here. A new direction from there means what?

Moreover, bear in mind that all of the above occurred in the face of the 1999 tech crash, the epidemic of corporate scandals throughout the 90's, and the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks on NYC years in the planning which collectively sucked 24 trillions dollars and 7.8 million jobs out of the US economy even before G. W. Bush had time to unpack his suitcases in the White House.

It's easy for the Democrats to attempt to discredit, disgrace and defame our commander in chief, George W. Bush -- that's what they do. What's not so easy for them to do is to refute irrefutable facts no matter how they might try.

I suppose the voters who wanted "a change" knew what they were doing three weeks ago. I just wish they'd explain it to the rest of us.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Purpose Driven Prevarications?

Joseph Farah seems to have it in for Rick Warren, author of Purpose Driven Life, and Warren seems to be making it easy for him. See here and here. Maybe Pastor Rick should stick to evangelism and stay away from political pronouncements. Evangelism makes fewer demands on a man's integrity.

Land of Few Friends

One leftist Brit decides that the left-wing anti-Israel drumbeat is unwarranted, and her former allies vigorously protest. Read Lorna Fitzsimons' succinct explanation of her support for Israel and then scroll down to the comments her essay elicits. Many on the left seem to believe that if only Israel would stop defending itself against the Palestinians peace would be at hand.

It would, of course, but only because Israel as a nation, and Jews as inhabitants of the Middle East, would cease to exist. This would certainly make Arab Muslims, and perhaps much of the European left, happy as clams, but it's hardly an acceptable way to resolve the problem.

Until the Arab world reconciles itself to the fact that Israel is in the Middle East to stay, and that they have a right to exist, there will be no peace in that region. Every time the Arabs feel strong enough they will provoke new wars and conflicts with Israel and every time Israelis defend themselves they will incur condemnation from those parts of the globe that wish to see them gone.

Cheap Labor

A friend shares this bit of insight with us:

Isn't "cheap labor" what so much of the immigration issue is about? Business doesn't want to pay a decent wage. Consumers don't want expensive produce. Government will tell you Americans don't want the drudge jobs. But the bottom line is cheap labor.

The phrase "cheap labor" is a myth, a farce, a oxymoron. There is no such thing as "cheap labor." Take, for example, an illegal alien with a wife and five children.

He takes a job for $5.00 or $6.00/hour. At that wage, with six dependents, he pays no income tax, yet at the end of the year, if he files an Income Tax Return, he gets an "earned income credit" of up to $3,200 free.

He qualifies for Section 8 housing and subsidized rent. He qualifies for food stamps. He qualifies for free (no deductible, no co-pay) health care. His children get free breakfasts and lunches at school.

He requires bilingual teachers and books. He qualifies for relief from high energy bills. If they are or become, aged, blind or disabled, they qualify for SSI. Once qualified for SSI they can qualify for Medicare.

All of this is at the taxpayer's expense. He doesn't worry about car insurance, life insurance, or homeowners insurance.

Taxpayers provide Spanish language signs, bulletins and printed material. He and his family receive the equivalent of $20.00 to $30.00/hour in benefits. Working Americans are lucky to have $5.00 or $6.00/hour left after paying their bills and his.

The American taxpayers also pay for increased crime, graffiti and trash clean up.

Is this what people mean by "cheap labor"?

Good question. In his book State of Emergency Pat Buchanan notes that each immigrant who comes to the U.S. without a high school education costs the American taxpayers a net $90,000 over the course of his lifetime. He cites economist Donald Huddle of Rice University who estimated that by the end of this year the net annual cost of immigration, both legal and illegal, will be $108 billion.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Crazy Old Aunts

Now isn't this about the silliest thing you've ever heard:

According to reports, Carolyn Porco, a senior research scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, CO said this at a recent conference for atheist scientists:

"We should let the success of the religious formula guide us. Let's teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome - and even comforting - than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know."

She said this while displaying a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft of Saturn and its glowing rings eclipsing the Sun, revealing in the shadow a barely noticeable speck - our Earth.

This specimen of materialistic fatuity was delivered at a conference at La Jolla, CA the theme of which was "Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival." The proceedings rapidly escalated into an "intellectual free-for-all" as reported by George Johnson at The New York Times.

It seems that it was the usual suspects at this donnybrook who were throwing most of the low blows:

A presentation by Joan Roughgarden, a Stanford University biologist, on using biblical metaphor to ease her fellow Christians into accepting evolution (a mutation is "a mustard seed of DNA") was dismissed by Dr. [Richard] Dawkins as "bad poetry," while his own take-no-prisoners approach (religious education is "brainwashing" and "child abuse") was condemned by the anthropologist Melvin J. Konner, [who assured the atheistic faithful that he himself had "not a flicker" of religious faith], as simplistic and uninformed.

After enduring two days of talks in which the Templeton Foundation came under the gun as smudging the line between science and faith, Charles L. Harper Jr., its senior vice president, lashed back, denouncing what he called "pop conflict books" like Dr. Dawkins's "God Delusion," as "commercialized ideological scientism" - promoting for profit the philosophy that science has a monopoly on truth.

That brought an angry rejoinder from Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, who said his own book, "Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine," was written to counter "garbage research" financed by Templeton on, for example, the healing effects of prayer.

With atheists and agnostics outnumbering the faithful ... one speaker after another called on their colleagues to be less timid in challenging teachings about nature based only on scripture and belief. "The core of science is not a mathematical model; it is intellectual honesty," said Sam Harris, a doctoral student in neuroscience and the author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason and Letter to a Christian Nation.

"Every religion is making claims about the way the world is," he said. "These are claims about the divine origin of certain books, about the virgin birth of certain people, about the survival of the human personality after death. These claims purport to be about reality."

By shying away from questioning people's deeply felt beliefs, even the skeptics, Mr. Harris said, are providing safe harbor for ideas that are at best mistaken and at worst dangerous. "I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to fly planes into our buildings before we realize that this is not merely a matter of lack of education or economic despair," he said.

What?! In order to flay religion he has to travel all the way to the madrassas of Saudi Arabia where the 9/11 terrorists were weaned to obtain his illustrations. This is a marvelous example of a straw man argument - find the most dastardly examples of religious people you can and then present them as if they were typical of all religious people. Is this what Mr. Harris has in mind when he refers above to "intellectual honesty"?

Then Francisco Ayala inadvertantly let the cat out of the bag. He tacitly acknowledged that people need to believe their lives are meaningful and although scientific naturalists bravely insist that an unimaginably vast ocean of nothingness is nevertheless a wondrous and meaning-laden place, the fact is that there's no meaning in Prof. Porco's universe. There's no meaning, value, hope, or purpose if we're all alone on a tiny speck adrift in a near infinite sea of matter and energy:

"There are six billion people in the world," said Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Irvine, and a former Roman Catholic priest. "If we think that we are going to persuade them to live a rational life based on scientific knowledge, we are not only dreaming - it is like believing in the fairy godmother."

"People need to find meaning and purpose in life," he said. "I don't think we want to take that away from them."

In other words, if people really understood the metaphysical implications of Darwinism they'd be in despair, but Dr. Krauss wants to leave them an "out". It's still possible to believe in God, he helpfully assures the audience:

"Science does not make it impossible to believe in God," Dr. Krauss insisted. "We should recognize that fact and live with it and stop being so pompous about it."

But Captain Ahab Dawkins will have none of it:

That was just the kind of accommodating attitude that drove Dr. Dawkins up the wall. "I am utterly fed up with the respect that we - all of us, including the secular among us - are brainwashed into bestowing on religion," he said. "Children are systematically taught that there is a higher kind of knowledge which comes from faith, which comes from revelation, which comes from scripture, which comes from tradition, and that it is the equal if not the superior of knowledge that comes from real evidence."

It would be interesting to learn what real evidence there is for God's non-existence. I hope he wasn't referring to the "evidence" he alludes to in his book The God Delusion which is about as insubstantial an argument against God's existence as has ever been put to print.

By the third day, the arguments had become so heated that Dr. Konner was reminded of "a den of vipers."

"With a few notable exceptions," he said, "the viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?"

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, said. "Something fundamental is going on in people's minds when they confront things they don't understand." "Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance,"

And this is an admission of ignorance by Dr. Tyson. He's evidently unaware that intelligent design is not a claim about what we don't know, it's a claim about what we do know. What we know is that complex specified information is the product always of an intelligent agent. To the extent we find CSI in the biological or physical universe it is more reasonable to infer, IDers maintain, that it is the result of intelligence than that it is the result of blind, mechanical processes.

Before he left to fly back home to Austin, Dr. Weinberg seemed to soften for a moment, describing religion a bit fondly as a crazy old aunt.

"She tells lies, and she stirs up all sorts of mischief and she's getting on, and she may not have that much life left in her, but she was beautiful once," he lamented. "When she's gone, we may miss her."

Dr. Dawkins wasn't buying it. "I won't miss her at all," he said. "Not a scrap. Not a smidgen."

Talk about a crazy old aunt.

Big Trees and Satellite Photos

If you enjoy the beauty of old, massive trees, as I do, then this site, passed along by our friend Byron at Hearts and Minds Bookstore is for you. In the left margin you'll find links to state registers for the largest trees of each species in each state. There's also information on "tree hunting", an activity in which people search out record trees in their states. It's pretty neat.

Another amazing site recommended to me by my student Hannah is Google Earth. The site allows you to navigate the globe from the perspective of a satellite and zoom in on any part of the planet you wish. The resolution of the satellite photos is best in urban areas, but it's impressive wherever you choose to zoom down. Unfortunately, the software has to be downloaded, which takes a while, but maybe the computer literate readers will be able to figure out how to just download Google Earth without having to download all the other stuff that comes with it.


Another Myth About Religion

Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns links to this piece by Dinesh D'Souza writing on the myth that religion has been responsible for more wars and death than any other force in history. D'Souza explains that the myth is not supported by the historical facts which, indeed, point in quite the opposite direction.

Ponzi then goes on to relate this amusing story:

This reminds me of a time sitting in one of the required (but not so interesting or rigorous) courses I took in graduate school. The professor, who was a nice man but not the most engaging teacher, made the point in passing that more people had died in the name of religion than anything else in the history of the world. It sort of woke up the room for one brief shining moment. The lefties in the class became engaged as they finally heard a claim being staked--something that was not milquetoast from their point of view. I looked around the room at some of my like-minded friends and we prepared to go to battle. But we overlooked one of our more quiet friends who usually sat in the back of the room and rarely made comments in class. To our amazement, he slowly raised his hand. When called upon he asked the following question, "What religion, exactly, were Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot working to advance?" And then he put his hand down, put his head down, and went back to reading whatever it was that he brought with him to pass the time. There was stunned silence in the room.

Read D'Souza's piece. It really is quite good, and the lesson it contains needs to be learned by believers and unbelievers alike.

It needs to be borne in mind that unless there is a transcendent moral authority to impose moral obligation upon us there is no compelling reason, absolutely none, why anyone should not simply adopt a might-makes-right ethic. It is almost inevitable that in states which are officially and formally atheistic might-makes-right will be the unofficial policy of the government, and any government which adopts this standard will almost inevitably devolve into tyranny, war, and mass killings. This is the lesson of the twentieth century and the lesson which historian Paul Johnson hammers home repeatedly and insistantly in his wonderful history, titled Modern Times, of the century in which materialistic atheism reached its high water mark.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Defending "Science" Against the Yahoos

The secular humanists are made as hornets and they're not going to take it any more. They've decided to set up a think tank in Washington D.C. from whence they will sally forth when necessary to defend Truth, Justice, and Scientific Naturalism from the Christian fundamentalists who have the impertinence to seek to undermine the latter by insisting on a wall of separation between genuine science and speculative metaphysics.

What the humanists are trying to protect, of course, is not science, because science is not under assault. What is under assault is the philosophical assumption of many scientists that, to paraphrase Carl Sagan, physical, material nature is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be. This assumption is an article of faith among secularists, and they are mobilizing to launch a crusade against the infidels who have emerged from the intellectual backwaters of American society to challenge it.

Meanwhile, Back in Iraq

Here's more on the war in Iraq that you'll never hear on the evening news. Whenever the insurgents try to take on our troops they just get walloped. Bill Roggio gives some details.

The Times Online also has a good feature on how the people of Ramadi are taking up the fight against al Qaeda and the insurgents. Michael Fumento has been to Ramadi recently and files an excellent report on his experiences in that city here.

The impression the average person in the U.S. gets of Iraq from the evening news is of a land torn by a hopeless civil war raging throughout the country, with American troops hunkered down to avoid the bullets. The facts are a lot different. The real picture isn't rosy, certainly, but it's a lot brighter than most of us have been led to believe.

Carter v. Campolo

Joe Carter takes Bart Campolo, son of Tony Campolo, to the woodshed for what he perceives to be a wimpish, even heretical view of God. Carter once or twice comes across as uncharacteristically nasty, but the post is pretty interesting. So are the comments.

Here's what Campolo said that elicited Carter's chastisement:

Some might say I would be wise to swallow my misgivings about such stuff [like God's sovereignty, wrath, hell, etc.], remain orthodox, and thereby secure my place with God in eternity. But that is precisely my point: If those things are true, then God might as well send me to Hell. For better or worse, I simply am not interested in any God but a completely good, entirely loving, and perfectly forgiving One who is powerful enough to utterly triumph over evil. Such a God may not exist, but I will die seeking such a God, and I will pledge my allegiance to no other possibility because, quite frankly, anything less is not worthy of my worship.

Please, don't get me wrong. I am well aware that I don't get to decide who God is. What I do get to decide, however, is to whom I pledge my allegiance. I am a free agent, after all, and I have standards for my God, the first of which is this: I will not worship any God who is not at least as compassionate as I am.

Read Carter's response to Campolo at the link.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of my brother and co-laborer here at Viewpoint I'd like to wish all our readers a very meaningful Thanksgiving. We ran the following last year, but it's certainly just as relevant this year. So, in case you missed it last November here is the:


Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor - and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be - That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks - for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation - for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war -for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed - for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions - to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually - to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed - to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord - To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us - and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789. GO. WASHINGTON.

All Presidential Thanksgiving proclamations can be found here. No doubt those who say that this country was not founded by religious men nor upon Judeo-Christian presuppositions would rather you not read these, but here they are.

We hope that each of us takes time this day to reflect upon all that we have to be grateful for and to reflect, too, upon our relationship to the God from whom all of our blessings flow. Have a great Thanksgiving Day.

Dick and Bill Cleary

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Proof at Last

In the spirit of the recent spate of scientists and philosophers publishing books which ridicule belief in God, Mike Gene at Telic Thoughts conducts a fool-proof experiment to prove that God does not exist.

The experiment strikes me as every bit as convincing as the antitheistic arguments of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, and I'm sure these fellows will be grateful for the additional ammunition which Gene's research provides them.

Too Sexy For His Body

Reading this blurb taken from Richard Dawkins' website is a real chuckle. Atheism, I suppose, is quite an aphrodisiac for some women.

Perhaps Prof. Dawkins will wear tight leather pants on his next speaking tour and have all the religiously-liberated ladies swooning when he punctuates his pronouncements that "God is dead" with Elvis-style hip rolls.

Why No Demands to Raise the Driving Age?

This reference page points out that 14% of all traffic fatalities are teenagers. Since there were 42,840 traffic fatalities last year that means that in 2005 alone some 6000 American young people died in automobile accidents. This is, in one year, more than twice the number of Americans killed in Iraq in three years, yet there are no calls from politicians demanding that we raise the legal driving age or impose strict nation-wide curfews on young motorists.

Why are there not? Are politicians so concerned about saving American lives in Iraq that they urge a pull-out that would leave that nation soaking in a bath of blood, but they're not willing to make the unpopular decision to raise the driving age to save the lives of our kids here at home?

It couldn't be, could it, that for many of those demanding that we cut and run in Iraq, it's not really about saving lives but rather about gaining political advantage?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Check out the Feedback page for comments on some of last week's posts.

Dyed-in-the-Wool Materialism

Here's Daniel Engber at in an article on neuroscience and the brain:

Let me be clear: I'm a dyed-in-the-wool materialist. I believe that each and every aspect of our minds derives from the firing patterns of neurons in our brains.

Here's a question for Mr. Engber. How do chemical reactions, such as constitute a firing neuron, produce things like self-awareness, memories, intentions, desires, regrets, disappointments, guilt, thankfulness, appreciation of beauty, forgiveness, desire for peace, enjoying a good book, deciding, doubting, worrying, or believing?

Even more, how do chemical reactions generate the content of our decisions or our beliefs? How is what I believe about who should be ranked in college football's top five teams produced by a series of molecules shuffling about among the cells of my brain?

Perhaps there's a purely dyed-in-the-wool material explanation for such things, but, if so, I hope Mr. Engber shares it with the rest of us. A lot of people would love to have an answer to these questions. Or perhaps there is no purely physicalist answer, and Mr. Engber's Kierkegaardian committment to materialism is just a blind leap of religious faith in inanimate matter.


There's a radio show coming out of England called Unbelievable whose host, a man named Justin Brierly, invites guests on to debate matters of interest to Christians and atheists. Go here and scroll down for a menu of the topics they've discussed on their show. Some of them look like they'd be very much worth listening to.

Banning the Burqa

This is an odd story:

The Dutch cabinet has backed a proposal by the country's immigration minister to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places.

The burqa, a full body covering that also obscures the face, would be banned by law in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and the law courts. The cabinet said burqas disturb public order, citizens and safety.

The decision comes days ahead of elections which the ruling centre-right coalition is expected to win. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, who is known for her tough policies, said it was important that all people in the Netherlands were able to see and identify each other clearly to promote integration and tolerance.

Last year a majority of MPs in the Dutch parliament said they were in favour of a ban. An estimated 6% of 16 million people living in the Netherlands are Muslims. But there are thought to be fewer than 100 women who choose to wear the burqa, a traditional Islamic form of dress.

Unless they have good security reasons for this ban it really does seem to be a gratuitous gesture. The Netherlands is a sexually freewheeling country in which all manner of sexual expression is permitted. No doubt a woman could walk down the street in a string bikini, exposing just about every square inch of her body, and few would object, but actually covering one's body is going to be made illegal. Why?

Apparently, a number of other countries in Europe are taking similar measures:

The issue of the type of clothing worn by Muslim women has become a hotly-debated subject in a range of European countries. France has passed a law banning religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, from schools. Some German states ban teachers in public schools from wearing headscarves, but there is no blanket rule against burqas.

Italy has banned face-coverings, resurrecting old laws passed to combat domestic terrorism, while citing new security fears. The issue of Muslim women's dress also surfaced in the UK, where former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said women should not wear the veil.

I'd like to know whether there has been an example of criminals exploiting the burqa to commit crimes or acts of terrorism. If not, then why prohibit it?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Uncle Charlie Wants You

Hey, want to return to the good old days of a draftee army? Vote Democratic.

Wasn't the story going around in 2004 that young men needed to vote for Kerry because the Republicans were going to reinstate the draft, and the Democrats would make sure that didn't happen? Now it's a Democrat, Charlie Rangel, who's introducing legislation to restart the military draft.

Actually, though, I don't think Rangel really wants a draft. In fact, he introduced a similar bill a couple of years ago, but, when the Republicans called his bluff and put it up for a vote, he voted against it.

So what's he up to? My guess is that he believes most people won't have any idea where the impetus for this bill comes from, but they will hear all the draft talk which will cause them to think the administration is behind it. That'll get people much more energized, maybe Rangel hopes, to oppose "Bush's war".

That would be a pretty cynical ploy, and maybe that's not Rangel's real objective, but what else could it be? He explains that if we have a draft the government will be less likely to engage in foreign adventures because they won't be using volunteers, but if he really thinks this why did he vote against his own bill two years ago?

The only explanation that makes sense is that Rangel actually wants draft talk in the air in order to arouse people's passions against the war.

Generous Conservative Orthodoxy

The left is fond of portraying conservatives as mean-spirited Scrooges eager to cut back on benefits to the needy. Because conservatives argue that throwing money at problems rarely solves them they're often accused by liberals of being niggardly and selfish. Now comes a book by Syracuse professor Arthur C. Brooks who documents in Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism that precisely the opposite is the case.

BeliefNet has the story, excerpts from which are here:

Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is about to become the darling of the religious right in America -- and it's making him nervous.

The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities, irrespective of income.

In the book, he cites extensive data analysis to demonstrate that values advocated by conservatives -- from church attendance and two-parent families to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for government-funded social services -- make conservatives more generous than liberals.

When it comes to helping the needy, Brooks writes: "For too long, liberals have been claiming they are the most virtuous members of American society. Although they usually give less to charity, they have nevertheless lambasted conservatives for their callousness in the face of social injustice."

For the record, Brooks, 42, has been registered in the past as a Democrat, then a Republican, but now lists himself as independent, explaining, "I have no comfortable political home."

The book's basic findings are that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans, by any measure.

Conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. They want everyone's tax dollars to support charitable causes and are reluctant to write checks to those causes, even when governments don't provide them with enough money.

Such an attitude, he writes, not only shortchanges the nonprofits but also diminishes the positive fallout of giving, including personal health, wealth and happiness for the donor and overall economic growth.

"These are not the sort of conclusions I ever thought I would reach when I started looking at charitable giving in graduate school, 10 years ago," he writes in the introduction. "I have to admit I probably would have hated what I have to say in this book."

Still, he says it forcefully, pointing out that liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

In an interview, Brooks said he recognizes the need for government entitlement programs, such as welfare. But in the book he finds fault with all sorts of government social spending, including entitlements.

Repeatedly he cites and disputes a line from a Ralph Nader speech to the NAACP in 2000: "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity."

Harvey Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard University and 2004 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, does not know Brooks personally but has read the book.

"His main finding is quite startling, that the people who talk the most about caring actually fork over the least," he said. "But beyond this finding I thought his analysis was extremely good, especially for an economist. He thinks very well about the reason for this and reflects about politics and morals in a way most economists do their best to avoid."

I hope Brooks isn't too hard on liberals in his book. After all, they are indeed very generous people, especially with other folks' money.

Dump Pelosi

Timothy Noah, a liberal Democrat, no less, who writes for Slate is calling on Democrats to dump Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, or at least get ready to:

I'll admit my timing could be better, since the incoming House Democrats, on a unanimous voice vote, just made Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaker of the House. But I think her party should give serious thought to dumping her.

The proximate reason, of course, is that she tried (and, thankfully, failed) to install as House majority leader Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa. It's bad enough that Pelosi promoted Murtha (over the perfectly acceptable Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who won the caucus vote) in spite of Murtha's having once been named an unindicted co-conspirator in Abscam, a 1980 FBI sting operation in which G-men posing as representatives of an Arab sheikh offered $50,000 bribes to members of Congress. Even worse is that Pelosi persisted even after a videotape of Murtha's Abscam performance ("I'm not interested ... at this point") turned up on the Web, and Democrats began fretting that they were about to erase all distinctions between themselves and the Abramoff-tainted Republicans from whom they'd only just wrenched a House majority. Almost before it began, Pelosi's honeymoon is over.

Murtha was the first strike, Alcee Hastings, the impeached corrupt judge who is Pelosi's pick to head the intelligence committee, will be the second. Read the rest of Noah's thoughts on it at the link.

Bush Go Home, But Send Money

How much money did private charities in this country send to Indonesia in the wake of the killer tsunami that devasted their coastlines? Over a billion dollars, wasn't it? What did George Bush do to relieve the suffering of those most profoundly affected by the disaster? Almost another billion, I think it was, but it doesn't matter. Gratitude is evidently not very high on the list of Muslim virtues.

See here for a glimpse of how America is thanked for its largesse by at least some Indonesians.

The next time there's a calamity like a tsunami in the Muslim world maybe we should just let the oil-soaked Saudis pick up the tab. They are, after all, noted around the globe for their magnanimity.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Vine and Branches - Conclusion

Following up on last Sunday's Another Piece From Murray is this piece that concludes Murray's message on the parable of the Vine and the Branches.

Abide In Christ - by Andrew Murray
Day 20 - That You May Bear Much Fruit

"He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." - John 15:5,8

We all know what fruit is. The produce of the branch, by which men are refreshed and nourished. The fruit is not for the branch, but for those who come to carry it away. As soon as the fruit is ripe, the branch gives it off, to commence afresh its work of beneficence, and anew prepare its fruit for another season. A fruit-bearing tree lives not for itself, but wholly for those to whom its fruit brings refreshment and life. And so the branch exists only and entirely for the sake of the fruit. To make glad the heart of the husbandman is its object, its safety, and its glory.

Beautiful image of the believer, abiding in Christ! He not only grows in strength, the union with the Vine becoming ever surer and firmer, he also bears fruit, yea, much fruit. He has the power to offer that to others of which they can eat and live. Amid all who surround him he becomes like a tree of life, of which they can taste and be refreshed. He is in his circle a centre of life and of blessing, and that simply because he abides in Christ, and receives from Him the Spirit and the life of which he can impart to others. Learn thus, if you would bless others, to abide in Christ, and that if you do abide, you shall surely bless. As surely as the branch abiding in a fruitful vine bears fruit, so surely, yea, much more surely, will a soul abiding in Christ with His fulness of blessing be made a blessing.

The reason of this is easily understood. If Christ, the heavenly Vine, has taken the believer as a branch, then He has pledged Himself, in the very nature of things, to supply the sap and spirit and nourishment to make it bring forth fruit. "From ME is thy fruit found": these words derive new meaning from our parable. The soul need but have one care - to abide closely, fully, wholly. He will give the fruit. He works all that is needed to make the believer a blessing.

Abiding in Him, you receive of Him His Spirit of love and compassion towards sinners, making you desirous to seek their good. By nature the heart is full of selfishness. Even in the believer, his own salvation and happiness are often too much his only object. But abiding in Jesus, you come into contact with His infinite love; its fire begins to burn within your heart; you see the beauty of love; you learn to look upon loving and serving and saving your fellow-men as the highest privilege a disciple of Jesus can have. Abiding in Christ, your heart learns to feel the wretchedness of the sinner still in darkness, and the fearfulness of the dishonour done to your God. With Christ you begin to bear the burden of souls, the burden of sins not your own. As you are more closely united to Him, somewhat of that passion for souls which urged Him to Calvary begins to breathe within you, and you are ready to follow His footsteps, to forsake the heaven of your own happiness, and devote your life to win the souls Christ has taught you to love. The very spirit of the Vine is love; the spirit of love streams into the branch that abides in Him.

The desire to be a blessing is but the beginning. As you undertake to work, you speedily become conscious of your own weakness and the difficulties in your way. Souls are not saved at your bidding. You are ready to be discouraged, and to relax your effort. But abiding in Christ, you receive new courage and strength for the work. Believing what Christ teaches, that it is HE who through you will give His blessing to the world, you understand that you are but the feeble instrument through which the hidden power of Christ does its work, that His strength may be perfected and made glorious in your weakness. It is a great step when the believer fully consents to his own weakness, and the abiding consciousness of it, and so works faithfully on, fully assured that his Lord is working through him. He rejoices that the excellence of the power is of God, and not of us. Realizing his oneness with his Lord, he considers no longer his own weakness, but counts on the power of Him of whose hidden working within he is assured. It is this secret assurance that gives a brightness to his look, and a gentle firmness to his tone, and a perseverance to all his efforts, which of themselves are great means of influencing those he is seeking to win. He goes forth in the spirit of one to whom victory is assured; for this is the victory that overcometh, even our faith. He no longer counts it humility to say that God cannot bless his unworthy efforts. He claims and expects a blessing, because it is not he, but Christ in him, that worketh. The great secret of abiding in Christ is the deep conviction that we are nothing, and He is everything. As this is learnt, it no longer seems strange to believe that our weakness need be no hindrance to His saving power. The believer who yields himself wholly up to Christ for service in the spirit of a simple, childlike trust, will assuredly bring forth much fruit. He will not fear even to claim his share in the wonderful promise: "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to the Father." He no longer thinks that He cannot have a blessing, and must be kept unfruitful, that he may be kept humble. He sees that the most heavily laden branches bow the lowest down. Abiding in Christ, he has yielded assent to the blessed agreement between the Vine and the branches, that of the fruit all the glory shall be to the Husbandman, the blessed Father.

Let us learn two lessons. If we are abiding in Jesus, let us begin to work. Let us first seek to influence those around us in daily life. Let us accept distinctly and joyfully our holy calling, that we are even now to live as the servants of the love of Jesus to our fellowmen. Our daily life must have for its object the making of an impression favourable to Jesus. When you look at the branch, you see at once the likeness to the Vine. We must live so that somewhat of the holiness and the gentleness of Jesus may shine out in us. We must live to represent Him. As was the case with Him when on earth, the life must prepare the way for the teaching. What the Church and the world both need is this: men and women full of the Holy Ghost and of love, who, as the living embodiments of the grace and power of Christ, witness for Him, and for His power on behalf of those who believe in Him. Living so, with our hearts longing to have Jesus glorified in the souls He is seeking after, let us offer ourselves to Him for direct work. There is work in our own home. There is work among the sick, the poor, and the outcast. There is work in a hundred different paths which the Spirit of Christ opens up through those who allow themselves to be led by Him. There is work perhaps for us in ways that have not yet been opened up by others. Abiding in Christ, let us work. Let us work, not like those who are content if they now follow the fashion, and take some share in religious work. No; let us work as those who are growing more like Christ, because they are abiding in Him, and who, like Him, count the work of winning souls to the Father the very joy and glory of heaven begun on earth.

And the second lesson is: If you work, abide in Christ. This is one of the blessings of work if done in the right spirit - it will deepen your union with your blessed Lord. It will discover your weakness, and throw you back on His strength. It will stir you to much prayer; and in prayer for others is the time when the soul, forgetful of itself, unconsciously grows deeper into Christ. It will make clearer to you the true nature of branch-life; its absolute dependence, and at the same time its glorious sufficiency - independent of all else, because dependent on Jesus. If you work, abide in Christ. There are temptations and dangers. Work for Christ has sometimes drawn away from Christ, and taken the place of fellowship with Him. Work can sometimes give a form of godliness without the power. As you work, abide in Christ. Let a living faith in Christ working in you be the secret spring of all your work; this will inspire at once humility and courage. Let the Holy Spirit of Jesus dwell in you as the Spirit of His tender compassion and His divine power. Abide in Christ, and offer every faculty of your nature freely and unreservedly to Him, to sanctify it for Himself. If Jesus Christ is really to work through us, it needs an entire consecration of ourselves to Him, daily renewed. But we understand now, just this is abiding in Christ; just this it is that constitutes our highest privilege and happiness. To be a branch bearing much fruit - nothing less, nothing more - be this our only joy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Passing of a Great Economist

Mike Shelton offers this eulogy to Milton Friedman:

How Illegal Immigration Harms Us

Several readers have written to inform me, with varying degrees of gentleness, that they thought I really didn't explain myself very well in the post titled Build The Fence!! They remarked that as tragic as the murder of this young woman was, murders happen all the time, and it's a bit of an over-reaction to demand a border fence just because one illegal alien has committed a terrible crime.

I confess that there's more I probably should have included in the post for the benefit of those who may not have been following the issue of illegal immigration very closely. So, herewith some facts to illustrate the gravity of the problem and why I think a border fence is necessary:

  • In Los Angeles 95% of all outstanding warrants for homicide (between 1200 and 1500) target illegal aliens.
  • Two thirds of the fugitive felony warrants (17,000) in L.A. are for illegal aliens.
  • 12,000 members of the 20,000 members of the violent 18th St. Gang in southern California are illegals.
  • Between 10% and 20% of all Mexican, Central American, and Caribbean peoples have moved to the U.S.
  • One in twelve illegals caught by the border patrol have a criminal record. That comes to 70,000 apprehended trying to cross the border every year. It is estimated that 300,000 felons have slipped across the border into the U.S. in the last five years.
  • In 2005 there were 687 assaults on border patrol officers.
  • Mara Salvatrucha, a gang responsible for numerous rapes, murders, mutilations, and other crimes, has 8,000 to 10,000 members in 33 states. The illegal aliens in this gang, called MS-13, are all but immune to police arrest and deportation because they operate in cities which have "sanctuary" policies that prevent illegals from being arrested unless they commit another crime. The gang is comprised primarily of El Salvadoran illegals.
  • Illegals are bringing in diseases that had been all but eradicated in the U.S. Malaria, polio, hepatitis, tuberculosis, leprosy, syphillis and other diseases are all skyrocketing in the southwest. From 1960 to 2000 there were only 900 cases of leprosy reported in the U.S. In the first three years of the 21st century there were 7000.
  • Since few illegals have health insurance and since hospitals are obligated to care for them, 84 California hospitals closed their doors between 1994 and 2003 because they could no longer afford to provide free medical care for the numerous illegals who needed it.
  • Immigrants in general and illegals in particular are depressing the wages of low-skilled Americans by almost 8% according to Paul Krugman of the NYT.
  • It is a myth that immigrants help the economy by paying taxes. The cost of schooling, health care, welfare, social security and prisons, plus the costs of pressure on resources like water, land, and power far exceed the revenue that immigrants, legal and illegal, contribute. The net cost to the economy, imposed by immigrants, has been estimated at around $108 billion for 2006.
  • One in every ten babies born in the U.S. is to an illegal alien and these babies are automatic citizens, entitled to all of the benefits of an American citizen, even though many of their mothers came into the U.S. solely for the purpose of having their baby here so that it would be a citizen.

This is but a fraction of the information that Pat Buchanan has laid out in his book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. I don't know how much of what he says in the book might be questioned by those more expert than I, but if only half of what he writes is accurate, we have an extremely serious problem on our hands. And unless our leadership in Washington is made to understand this problem and commits itself to doing something to rectify it, our children and grandchildren are going to grow up in a very different country than their parents did.

I, for one, don't wish to see that happen which is why I feel strongly that we need to stop the flow of illegals, and a high tech border fence appears to be the best way to do that. The fact that both Vicente Fox and his successor in Mexico City oppose it counts as evidence for me that the fence would probably be effective.

Killer Bees

Reuters has this story out of Jerusalem:

Israel is using nanotechnology to try to create a robot no bigger than a hornet that would be able to chase, photograph and kill its targets, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The flying robot, nicknamed the "bionic hornet", would be able to navigate its way down narrow alleyways to target otherwise unreachable enemies such as rocket launchers, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said.

It is one of several weapons being developed by scientists to combat militants. Others include super gloves that would give the user the strength of a "bionic man" and miniature sensors to detect suicide bombers.

Imagine what a future battle like the one in Fallujah would look like with weapons like these robot "hornets". The military could unleash thousands of these things into the city without having to set foot in it themselves and completely eliminate the enemy by "stinging" them to death before the enemy even realized they were under attack. Amazing.

He Is What He Is

Julie Ponzi at No Left Turns notes fears that conservatives have that Bush will betray them on immigration and offers this gem:

People usually actually are what they say they are in their most honest moments. I don't think Bush has many dishonest moments. About who he is, as in other things, Bush has not lied. It has been conservatives who have lied to themselves about what Bush is all about. Conservatives are bitterly disappointed but have no right to be so. He is what he is--a good man and a decent man, no doubt. He's a man with an enormously difficult task and I think, generally speaking, he has done what he could. I find it difficult to assault him because I do not feel betrayed by him. He never promised us a conservative rose garden. Think back to the primaries of 2000 and recall the main reasons why conservatives supported him. Was he considered a pillar of Reagan conservatism then? No, we just thought he was better than most and, more important, that he could win. And, there was always a sense of his strong character and even a stubbornness that we have alternately admired and found irritating.

She's absolutely right about this, I think. Not only is Bush not an ideological conservative, he never professed to be one. He has not misled people as to what they should expect from him. What he said he would do in his campaigns he has tried to do, and what he has done that conservatives don't like, he never gave any indication that he wouldn't do. He has been perhaps the most transparent president in my memory.

All of which makes it all the more remarkable that so few people in this country are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he says he didn't lie to us about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Bush, like Clinton before him, really believed that Saddam had them or was working to get them, and everything that Saddam did simply reinforced that belief. Yet Bush is still reviled by the obtuse left which can't seem to comprehend the simple fact that a man can be wrong without being a liar.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Meet the New Atheists, Same as the Old Atheists

U.S. News and World Report (11/5) recently ran an article titled The New Unbelievers in which the unbelievers in question said some pretty unbelievable things. Here are a few examples:

[Richard Dawkins] and the other new atheists are more interesting when they challenge the unexamined confidence some believers have in the adequacy, if not the necessity, of religion as a guide to the good and moral life. At the very least, the new atheists make a compelling case that moral and socially productive behavior is in no way dependent on religious belief.

Indeed, Dawkins, [Daniel]Dennett, and [Sam]Harris argue that religious beliefs, particularly those derived literally and selectively from religious texts, can lead to behavior that is dubiously moral according to universal principles of right and wrong. The killing of innocents in the name of holy war is only the most obvious instance. Discouraging the distribution of condoms in societies plagued by AIDS on religious principles is another. "Religious people are able to talk about morality without thinking about suffering," says Harris.

Dennett, by contrast, extends a conciliatory hand to believers so long as they are willing to subject any purported God-given moral edict to "the full light of reason, using all the evidence at our command."

Well let's subject the above to the full light of reason. These skeptics maintain that there are universal moral principles that exist independently of God which we can use to evaluate what Christians believe about right and wrong, but they don't say what these principles are. What exactly are they and are they really independent of God?

Presumably, one such principle is that cruelty is morally wrong, but, if so, why is it? What is it about cruelty that makes it wrong? Is it that it hurts people? Why is hurting people wrong? Is hurting people wrong because I wouldn't want someone to hurt me? Of course I wouldn't want to be hurt, but that's no reason why I should not hurt someone else if I can.

Perhaps our skeptic friends would reply that we shouldn't hurt others because if we get caught we'd be punished. Quite so, but then this is a prudential, not a moral, reason why I shouldn't be cruel. If I could be cruel and get away with it there would be nothing immoral about doing so.

The problem for the atheist is that there can be no moral obligation apart from something or someone who has the authority and power to impose that obligation, but the atheistic materialist denies the existence of any such entity, and instead, like a magician finding a coin behind a child's ear, seems to simply pull moral obligation out of thin air.

They may deny this and point out that the consensus among humans is that cruelty is wrong, and therefore it must be, but even if they could know what the consensus is, since when is right and wrong established by whatever the majority believes? What if the majority of people held that atheism is wrong (which it does)? Would Dennett and Dawkins abandon their atheism and bow to that consensus?

Perhaps they would insist that cruelty is wrong because it stifles human fluorishing, but why is that a reason for it to be wrong? Where in the vast reaches of the cosmos do they find the principle that we are obligated to enhance the well-being of others? What reason can they give me why I should not instead adopt the principle that I should enhance my own well-being at the expense of that of others? What makes that principle less moral than the alternative? Is it just that people don't like it as much?

The fact of the matter is that when an atheist starts talking about universal moral principles to which we should all adhere it's about as meaningful as a politician making a campaign speech. Such principles can only exist if there is a universal mind which weaves them into the fabric of creation. If no such mind exists then neither does moral obligation. Morality becomes a matter purely of one's own tastes, preferences, and biases. Moral disputes are like disputes about whether anchovies on a pizza are better than sausage.

When Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris declaim about the moral horror of killing innocents in a holy war they are saying nothing more than that they don't like killing innocents, just like they don't care for anchovies on their pizza. That's nice, but it's a far distance from telling us why killing anyone is actually wrong. This they don't do, because, quite simply, on the assumption of atheism, they can't.

Finally, there was this reliable old irrelevancy often trotted out by religious skeptics to achieve rhetorical ambush of unsuspecting Christians:

Dawkins and other atheists charge that the religiously intense "red" states have higher rates of violent crime and social breakdown than do the liberal "blue" states.

No kidding. This is surely a surpassingly dumb observation. Dawkins apparently believes that those states in which Bush carried a slight majority of the 50% of the people who troubled themselves to vote are filled with more "sinners" than those states in which Kerry won the votes of a slight majority of the 50% of those who went to the polls. What, though, does the political orientation of a state have to do with the crime statistics from that state? It is not, after all, as if everyone in a "red" state were a Christian. Nor is it as if the people who voted for Bush (about 25% to 30% of the eligible voters) are both Christian and criminal.

The question we should ask Prof. Dawkins is not which candidate won the state's electoral votes, but rather who, exactly, in the state is committing crime. When we look at the loci of criminal activity in the U.S. we find them to be invariably concentrated in urban areas and these, even in red states, are overwhelmingly "blue". And, I suspect, overwhelmingly atheist.

Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris flatter themselves that they are among the "brights" in our society. They are the intellectual luminaries, they would have us believe, by whose light the rest of us can, and should, seek to make our way in the world. Unfortunately, the arguments they shine on our path are pretty low-wattage.

Jinxing Pres. Bush

I had two thoughts while reading this report: First, why bother? The president seems to be jinxed enough as it is. Second, this guy sounds like he's right out of the fever swamps of The Daily Kos or Democratic Underground:

A renowned black magic practitioner performed a voodoo ritual Thursday to jinx President George W. Bush and his entourage while he was on a brief visit to Indonesia. Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, stirred their blood with spice and broccoli before drank the "potion" and smeared some on his face.

"I don't hate Americans, but I don't like Bush," said Pamungkas, who believed the ritual would succeed as, "the devil is with me today."

He said the jinx would sent spirits to posses Secret Service personnel guarding Bush and left them in a trance, leading them into falsely thinking the President was under attack, thus eventually causing chaos in Bogor Presidential Palace, where the American leader was scheduled to meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Monday.

Imagine. Hoping the devil will help you jinx the evil George Bush. Sounds like something John Kerry would say.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Thoughtful Comments

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Milton Friedman (1912 - 2006)

One of the most influential and consequential economic thinkers since Adam Smith has passed away. Milton Friedman has died at the age of 94. Vivien Lou Chen writes this about Friedman at

Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate economist who shaped the philosophies of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and successive Federal Reserve chairmen, has died, his daughter Janet said.

Friedman's theory that inflation results from too much money chasing too few goods inspired a generation of central bankers, beginning with Paul Volcker, who was Fed chairman from 1979 until 1987. Alan Greenspan and Ben S. Bernanke also credit Friedman's work as a blueprint for policy making.

"Friedman's monetary framework has been so influential that, in its broad outlines at least, it has nearly become identical with modern monetary theory and practice," Bernanke said at a conference in October 2003 when he was a Fed governor. He became chairman in February 2006.

Friedman wrote, co-wrote or edited 32 books, including "A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960" with Anna Schwarz in 1963, and argued that the goal of monetary policy should be long-term, stable growth in the supply of money. He championed individual initiative and deregulation and influenced decisions from severing the dollar's peg to gold in the early 1970s to ending the military draft.

"It's hard to think of anyone who's had more of a direct influence on social and economic policy in this generation," said Carnegie Mellon University Professor Allan H. Meltzer, who is preparing a two-volume history of the Fed and has been an adviser to the Bank of Japan. "He, along with others, promoted the idea of low inflation and a more disciplined central bank."

In his later years, Friedman advocated that the Fed adopt an inflation target, a numeric price goal which the central bank should pledge to hit over a specified period of time. He supported George W. Bush's failed effort to overhaul Social Security, counseled California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and predicted the demise of the euro.

With his trademark pronouncement that inflation was "always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon" Friedman was among the Fed's most vocal critics as inflation accelerated through the 1960s and 1970s. He said the central bank failed to control the supply of money, should be stripped of its autonomy and forced to focus on keeping money supply growth steady at about 3 percent.

The Fed kept its independence. Friedman's arguments were acknowledged, though, when Volcker launched an attack on inflation in 1979 by targeting money supply and pushing up interest rates to crush inflation.

The Brooklyn-born Friedman traveled the world promoting balanced budgets and limited state spending. He joined Reagan's Economic Policy Advisory Board in the early 1980s, helping guide and reinforce the president's views on government largess and tax reduction.

He served as an adviser to Thatcher, U.K. Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, who pushed for a free-market economy, low taxation, and the sale of state-owned industries. Bush credited Friedman's ideas with bringing inflation under control in Chile, the adoption of a flat tax in Russia, and the creation of personal retirement accounts in Sweden.

Friedman's teachings at the University of Chicago helped foster the "Chicago School" of economics, known for theories associated with free-market libertarianism.

Those ideas were put to use in Chile during the 1970s and 1980s, when a group of economists trained at the University took key government positions under General Augusto Pinochet. The so- called "Chicago Boys" advocated widespread deregulation and privatization, helping Pinochet's military junta bring inflation down from as high as between 700 percent and 1,000 percent.

"He has used a brilliant mind to advance a moral vision: the vision of a society where men and women are free, free to choose, but where government is not as free to override their decisions," Bush said in a May 2002 speech at the White House to honor Friedman on his 90th birthday. "All of us owe a tremendous debt to this man's towering intellect and his devotion to liberty."

There's more at the link and also here.

Submit or Fight

Mark Steyn's new book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It has received a lot of praise, and it's one of the books I hope to get to soon. In the meanwhile, this review by Steven Warshawsky in The American Thinker is an eye-opener.

Warshawsky admires Steyn's book as an excellent guide to the nature of the crisis presented to us by Islamic jihad, but he criticizes Steyn for not following his thesis to its logical conclusion. Warshawsky argues that if Steyn is right we are headed ineluctably toward a global war and that as a matter of national security we, and Europe, must immediately stop Muslim immigration.

Warshawsky writes:

Steyn reports that Western women in Europe have an average of 1.4 children, whereas Muslim women [in Europe] have an average of 3.5 children. The result is a "baby boom" among Muslims that, within our lifetimes, will completely change the European countries in which they live. Steyn's analysis strikes me as right on the mark.

Yet after spending page after page highlighting the demographic disaster that awaits Europe (and to a much lesser extent the United States), Steyn fails to state the logical conclusion, which is that Muslim immigration must be stopped. Period.

If one believes, as Steyn clearly does (with strong support from the evidence), that Muslims as a group not only are not assimilating into Western culture but are actively hostile toward the very principles upon which our societies are built, then it is "suicidal" (a term frequently used by Steyn) to permit millions of Muslims to take up residence within our countries.

Warshawsky recognizes all the problems such a drastic measure entails, but, he argues, unless we prefer to live in a state of denial about the threat posed by radical Islamism, such a step is imperative for the security of our nation.

He notes that:

It should not be surprising, then, as Steyn emphasized in a recent column, that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide feel primary loyalty to their religion ("Pan-Islamism"), instead of to the particular nations in which they live. For example, according to a recent poll (cited by Steyn), only 8 percent of Muslims living in Great Britain consider themselves British first, whereas 81 percent consider themselves Muslim first. Given the stark differences between what it means to be British and what it means to be Muslim, these poll results portend a disastrous future for the British nation. Indeed, given the gulf that exists between Western culture and Islamic culture, the growing size and influence of the Muslim world portends a disastrous future for us all.

It might be argued that Christians would also claim to be Christians first and Americans second, but the difference is that Christianity is largely compatible with the fundamental principles upon which this country was founded and until we stray further from those principles than we have so far Christians will be content to live as Americans. This is not the case with many Muslims who find the ideas of the American experiment theologically repugnant. The concept of human equality, freedom of religion, free press, and separation of Church and state are irreconcilable with their interpretation of Islamic law and tradition.

Whether we like it or not, large parts of the Islamic world have declared war on the West. Because Muslim countries, to date, have lacked the military and economic capability to wage conventional warfare against us, they have engaged in vicious acts of terrorism designed to intimidate and undermine Western society. They may soon be in position, through developments in Iran and, perhaps, Pakistan, to commit acts of nuclear blackmail or actual nuclear warfare. (And just imagine if, a few decades from now, a Muslim majority took control of France or England's nuclear arsenal, with the capability to destroy large parts of the United States.) The West can either submit to this violence and intimidation, or we can fight back. But what does "fighting back" mean?

Steyn offers ten measures we can take to "fight back" but Warshawsky notes that at least four of them amount to a tacit declaration of war against the Muslim world. In other words, we seem to have only two options: submit or fight. The only question for those not inclined to submit is what form, exactly, should fighting back take.

The debate over this question will be, I think, the most important political and cultural undertaking of the next ten years.

Conversion of the Purse

Joe Carter, in a post titled Conversion of the Purse, criticizes a friend for being too concerned about the economic peril of the middle class. I think I understand what his friend was trying to say, but Carter is surely right that much of that peril his friend is concerned about the middle class in America has brought upon itself by its excessive committment to a materialistic, consumerist, hedonistic lifestyle that is a poor fit with the basic adjurations of the Gospel of Christ.

I'm not sure that Carter is quite saying this, but I think it bears saying: Our greatest fault, in my opinion, is not so much that we don't do enough for the poor, but that we over-indulge ourselves. We lavish upon ourselves all manner of trinkets and baubles, eliminating every discomfort from our lives, indulging in a narcissism that makes us at once soft, selfish, and egotistical.

The temptation to yield to this decadence is unrelenting, it goes on every waking moment of our day, and the battle against surrendering to it is not fought just once and for all but must be re-fought constantly throughout our lifetimes. The cultural forces of consumerism and narcisssism arrayed against us exert overwhelming pressure, and it's so easy to just give up and give in. Yet we're called by Christ to shun the blandishments and seductions of the advertisers and keep our focus not on ourselves and our wants, but on the "higher things", what Paul called the things of the Spirit and what Plato identifies with the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. Too easily, however, we're mesmerized by the allure of things we don't need and of comforts from which we don't benefit.

I know whereof I speak, I'm embarrassed to admit, because the above criticism is uncomfortably autobiographical. I write this not so much for those who are going to read it on Viewpoint but for myself because I need to remind myself of what I've said in the previous two paragraphs far more than I need to be chiding others about it.