Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dissenting From the Vatican

I have a great deal of respect for the Catholic church and for the ethical thinking it produces, but these statements from the Vatican on the occasion of the execution of Saddam Hussein are difficult to agree with:

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican spokesman on Saturday denounced Saddam Hussein's execution as "tragic" and expressed worry it might fuel revenge and new violence. The execution is "tragic and reason for sadness," the Rev. Federico Lombardi said, speaking in French on Vatican Radio's French-language news program.

Why is it tragic that the world is rid of a mass murderer? Why should we be sad that a man who gassed and murdered thousands of children is gone? We should take no delight in seeing a man die but neither should we be sad that he will no longer be around to terrorize innocent people. Rev. Lombardi should reserve his sympathy for the victims of terror and oppression rather than the perpetrators.

In separate comments to the station's English program, Lombardi said that capital punishment cannot be justified "even when the person put to death is one guilty of grave crimes," and he reiterated the Catholic Church's overall opposition to the death penalty.

Why, exactly, can capital punishment not be justified? Surely God commands it in the Old Testament and nothing in the New Testament rescinds the command. It may be that as Christians we should reserve execution for the most heinous criminals, but it's hard to imagine a criminal more heinous than Saddam Hussein.

In an interview published in an Italian daily earlier in the week, the Vatican's top prelate for justice issues, Cardinal Renato Martino, said executing Saddam would mean punishing "a crime with another crime."

This is as much sophistry as it is inanity. Cardinal Martino essentially places the execution of a mass murderer after a trial by a legitimate court in the same moral category as the horrific murders of hundreds of thousands of people. If taking Saddam's life is a criminal act, one wonders, why would it not also be criminal to take his freedom? Or his property?

What makes an act criminal is that it violates both the state's legal code and the natural law. Executing Saddam does neither of these.


Is ID Testable?

Intelligent Design is often criticized for being untestable. There is no experiment, the argument goes, that we can imagine that might give results that could show ID theory to be false. GilDodgen at Uncommon Descent offers a passage from Lehigh biochemist Michael Behe who states that this is the exact opposite of the truth. ID is testable, Behe insists, it's Darwinian natural selection that cannot be falsified:

The National Academy of Sciences has objected that intelligent design is not falsifiable, and I think that's just the opposite of the truth. Intelligent design is very open to falsification. I claim, for example, that the bacterial flagellum could not be produced by natural selection; it needed to be deliberately intelligently designed. Well, all a scientist has to do to prove me wrong is to take a bacterium without a flagellum, or knock out the genes for the flagellum in a bacterium, go into his lab and grow that bug for a long time and see if it produces anything resembling a flagellum.

If that happened, intelligent design, as I understand it, would be knocked out of the water. I certainly don't expect it to happen, but it's easily falsified by a series of such experiments.

Now let's turn that around and ask, How do we falsify the contention that natural selection produced the bacterial flagellum? If that same scientist went into the lab and knocked out the bacterial flagellum genes, grew the bacterium for a long time, and nothing much happened, well, he'd say maybe we didn't start with the right bacterium, maybe we didn't wait long enough, maybe we need a bigger population, and it would be very much more difficult to falsify the Darwinian hypothesis.

I think the very opposite is true. I think intelligent design is easily testable, easily falsifiable, although it has not been falsified, and Darwinism is very resistant to being falsified. They can always claim something was not right.

Eventually it's going to sink into the minds of even the most obdurate that the intelligent design advocates' claim that intelligence is a necessary cause of specified and irreducible complexity is at least as scientific as the claim of the Darwinians that intelligence was neither necessary nor involved in the creation of biological information or the fine-tuning of the universe.

It's interesting that Judge Jones decided a year ago that ID, unlike scientific theories, was not empirically testable and therefore could not be taught in Dover School District science classes, but Darwinism, which rests on the equally untestable claim that intelligent agency had no role in the appearance and development of life, could. Maybe even Judge Jones will someday be persuaded that his judgment was ill-informed.


The Kalam Cosmological Argument

Joe Carter offers a good discussion of what is called the Kalam Cosmological argument for the existence of God promoted most notably by philosopher William Lane Craig.

As Carter stresses, an argument is not necessarily a proof. It's always possible to deny one of the premises of the argument and thus evade its force. Even so, if the premises seem reasonable to believe and the argument has a valid structure, then it is reasonable to accept the conclusion. In the case of the Kalam argument the conclusion is that there exists a transcendent, logically necessary, personal, very powerful, very intelligent creator of the universe.

The only question is whether it is reasonable to accept the premises of the Kalam argument. Read Carter's summary and see what you think.


Friday, December 29, 2006

The End

News outlets are reporting that Saddam has been executed. I watched Alan Colmes and others argue tonight that executing him was unnecessary, that he was no longer a threat to the Iraqi people, that the U.S. had him in custody and that it would be best to just move on and let him languish in prison.

This, in my opinion, is naive.

Suppose the Democrats were successful in getting the United States to withdraw from Iraq by the end of this summer. What would we have done with Saddam? He would have surely been turned over to Iraqi forces and that would have increased the chances that somehow he would be freed. Those who want to see him returned to power would have been given new hope that he might yet survive and be released to regain his seat as head of the Iraqi state, and with that hope there would have been a renewed commitment to topple the government that we left behind.

Indeed, if we pull out too soon the Iraqi government will almost certainly fall, and, depending upon who got to him first, Saddam would be either sprung from prison or shot dead in his cell. If the former, this psychopathic killer would be seen by the Arab world as invincible, almost mythic in his indestructability, chosen by Allah to lead the Arab world against their enemies, both Muslim and non-Muslim. To what horrors would that lead?

Moreover, as long as Saddam was alive many Iraqis would have been reluctant to openly support the new government for fear that he would somehow be returned to power and punish those who collaborated with the government that succeeded him.

Executing Saddam was not only an act of justice, it was an act of manifest prudence. The Iraqi government did what they had to do.


Tonight's the Night

Evidently Saddam will sometime tonight be sent to stand before God to give an account for the horrors he inflicted on so many hundreds of thousands of people during his reign of terror. Sic semper tyrannus.


George Weigel's Best Five

Catholic writer George Weigel lists for the Wall Street Journal what he considers to be the five best books for understanding Christianity. They are:

1. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone (Oxford University, 1997).

2. Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan (Yale University, 1985).

3. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Dorothy L. Sayers (Penguin Classics, 1949, 1955, 1957).

4. The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright (InterVarsity, 1999).

5. The Sources of Christian Ethics by Servais Pinckaers, O.P. (Catholic University of America, 1995).

Weigel comments on each of his selections at the link.

Speaking of books, Touchstone offers a pretty good satire on Border's, oops, ... I mean Belial's. It opens with this:

The other day I poked my nose into a store run by one of the nation's two great booksellers: Belial's. As I rummaged through the aisles, I found myself growing testy and irritated, and that made me wonder -- why, when I used to love drowning an hour or two in a bookstore, do I hate going there now? What is it about Belial's (and his rival Beelzebub's) that makes the flesh creep?

Not all bookstore's fit Touchstone's description, of course. We like a cozy little shop in York Co. called Hearts and Minds. Try them.

By the way, I'll be posting my own twenty favorite reads for 2006 on Viewpoint early next week.


The War Against the West

A reader points out that we must be careful when we condemn the Muslim perpetrators of atrocities not to give the impression that we are condemning all Muslims or all of Islam. It's not fair, he argues, to criticize Muslims as a whole for the actions of a relative minority of extremists. He's right, of course. When we condemn Islamic terrorism we don't mean to imply that all Muslims are terrorists. On the other hand, it must be added that there is far more guilt borne by the Muslim community than just that incurred by the killers.

Mark Steyn in his excellent book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, describes the shared responsibility of Muslims by pointing out that surrounding the killers are a series of concentric rings that he describes this way:

...the terrorist bent on devastation and destruction prowls the streets, while around him are a significant number of people urging him on, and around them are a larger group of cocksure young male co-religionists gleefully celebrating mass musrder, and around them a much larger group of "moderates" who stand silent at the acts committed in their name, and around them a mesh of religious and community leaders openly inciting treason against the state, and around them another mesh of religious and community leaders who serve as apologists for the inciters, and around them a network of professional identity-group grievance-mongers adamant that they're the real victims, and around them a vast mass of elite opinion in the media and elsewhere too sqeamish about ethno-cultural matters to confront reality, and around them a political establishment desperate to pretend this is just a mangerial problem that can be finessed away with a few new laws and a bit of community outreach.

It's these insulating circles...the imams, lobby groups, media, bishops, politicians - that bulk up the loser death-cult and make it a potent force.

Whatever the thickness of that outermost ring of Muslims, it is as relevant, or irrelevant, to the discussion of the war against Islamism as the general run of German people were during WWII. When someone observes that we were fighting the Germans and the Japanese in the early forties everyone knows what is meant. It doesn't mean that there weren't Germans and Japanese who deplored what their governments had done, it doesn't mean that there weren't Germans and Japanese who didn't see themselves as our enemy, rather it means that those who had power, the fascists who determined the course of events, acted on behalf of all German and Japanese citizens whether those citizens wanted them to or not. It means, too, that a citizen whose allegiance was to the states with which we were at war was presumably an enemy until he demonstrated otherwise. Moreover, many of those Germans and Japanese who deplored the war their governments pushed upon them nevertheless hoped for victory over the United States. They would have been delighted had their military won and they were despondent when they lost.

Likewise, those in the umma who have the power today act on behalf of all of Islam, especially since much of Islam acquiesces in silence to their atrocities. There are, I'm sure, Muslims in that outer ring who do not see themselves as our enemy, mostly Sufis I suspect, but their innocence doesn't negate the fact that we are at war with Islam today in the same sense that we were at war with Germany in 1943.

Just as it was the Nazis who were our specific enemy in Europe even though the war was against the nation of Germany, so today it is the Islamofascists who are our specific enemy now. Yet the foe is much broader than just those who blow up trains and behead innocent Americans. It extends to everyone, American citizen or not, who supports, in word, deed, or thought, the effort to impose Islam by force on the non-Islamic world.

Not all of those who are arrayed against us will resort to violence, of course, and thus violence should not be used against them. To be sure, against some we must fight with bullets, but against others we must fight with economic measures and against others we must fight with ideas. The important thing, though, is that we see the urgency of the conflict we are in and the necessity of fighting. For we are certainly fighting for our survival.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ethiopia and Somalia

Below much of the American media's radar Ethiopia has joined non-Muslim Somali forces to defeat the Islamic Courts which had taken over Somalia. The war raged for about a week, and Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail has been providing updates all along. If you wish to catch up go here and scroll down through the last several days' posts.

An Atheist's Pilgrimage (Pt. II)

On Tuesday we alluded to the account by Gary Wolf of Wired who shares with us his quest to find kinship among the "New Atheists." We noted that his search ultimately foundered on the shoals of the stridency, extremism, and weak thinking he found among three main representative figures in this movement. One should read his essay in its entirety because it's quite fascinating, but we'll offer some commentary on the second part of it here.

Writing about his interview with Sam Harris, Wolf says:

Harris argues that, unless we renounce faith, religious violence will soon bring civilization to an end.

This is a half-truth which Harris tries to pass off as a wise insight. It's true that one religion, Islam, is inherently violent and seeks to bring Western civilization to an end, but it's simply a logical fallacy to extrapolate from that fact to the claim that religion per se poses a threat to civilization. Does he really believe that religion is somehow inherently anti-civilzation? Does anyone really feel threatened by Mennonites, Amish, or Quakers? Does anyone seriously believe that his Christian neighbors wish to bring Western civilization to an end? Can Harris name just one Christian who presents such a threat?

Is Harris actually unaware of the work of historians who credit Christianity with creating, shaping, and preserving modern Western civilization?

While we're waiting for answers to those questions, let's pause for a moment to reflect on the legacy of 20th century atheists who have indeed been demonstrable threats to civilization as we know it, or who have committed genocidal acts of one sort or another. Our list might begin with Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Nikita Kruschev, Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, The African Hutus, the Japanese leadership during the 1930s, and on it goes, seemingly without end. Yet who does Harris see as a threat? It's your grandparents and parents, the kids at school who comprise much of the honor roll, and the majority of people in this country who are the most generous givers in the history of the world.

"At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God."

Oh? And what is it, exactly, that will make it embarrassing to believe in God? The discoveries by scientists of the astonishing fine-tuning of the universe? The incredible complexity of living things? The inexplicable nature of consciousness? Is it more intellectually embarrassing that one believes that a mind is responsible for a world filled with information or that it all happened by grand accident?

Harris is a doctoral student in philosophy. Surely he's aware of the utter failure of materialism as a metaphysic to explain much of anything at all about life. If anyone should be embarrassed it is the person who argues that life can have meaning and purpose, that morality can be grounded, and that justice and hope can exist in a world where death erases everything.

We discuss what it might look like, this world without God. "There would be a religion of reason," Harris says.

Great. And what do we base our confidence in reason upon? Why do we think that reason is a trustworthy tool for finding truth? If reason emerged as a result of evolution then it evolved to promote survival during the stone age, but survival is not the same as truth. A person who reproduces with amazing fecundity because of a genetic predisposition to believe that the gods will torment him if he doesn't will certainly promote the success of those particular genes but they have nothing to do with truth. If our reason is the product of non-rational reactions occuring in our brains then ultimately it is itself non-rational.

Harris wants to place his faith in reason but reason leads to nihilism and despair. To avoid these requires an irrational desision to live as if life mattered, as if it had meaning, as if anything had value or worth. Reason doesn't lead to these conclusions. Nor does reason lead to any kind of ethic except egoism and survival of the strongest. Harris, like so many atheists, envisions a world in which people live as if the Christian God exists, but he wants to replace that God with that which leads to a barren, desolate, hopeless hell.

See here and here for more discussion of the problem materialism has in trying to justify or explain rational thought.

Here in Los Angeles, every fourth Sunday at 11 am, there is a meeting of Atheists United. More than 50 people have shown up today, which is a very good turnout for atheism. Many are approaching retirement age. The speaker this morning, a younger activist named Clark Adams, encourages them with the idea that their numbers are growing. Look at South Park, Adams urges. Look at Howard Stern. Look at Penn & Teller. These are signs of an infidel upsurge.

Good Lord. South Park and Howard Stern are offered as testaments to the virtues of atheism? That's the best that Mr. Adams can come up with as examples of what we can expect in an atheistic world? And the modest little coterie of atheists led by Mr. Adams is proud that this is who comes to mind when Mr. Adams conjures up the names of prominent atheists?

Harris is typically severe in his rejection of the idea that evolutionary history somehow justifies faith. There is, he writes, "nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors."

Harris stumbles again. Certainly some rapists believe that rape is a good, so it's not true that no one would argue on its behalf. The question Harris needs to address, but never does, is on what grounds does he demonstrate that the rapist is wrong. In other words what reason can he give for believing that rape is bad? Any answer an atheist gives to this question distills to the simple fact that rape is something he doesn't like, but that hardly makes it wrong for everyone else. If Mr. Harris is right that there is no God then there simply is no right or wrong. Or, more to the point, might makes right, in which case there's no moral sanction attaching to the rapist's act.

"Would intelligent robots be religious?" it occurs to me to ask (of Daniel Dennett).

"Perhaps they would," he answers thoughtfully. "Although, if they were intelligent enough to evaluate their own programming, they would eventually question their belief in God."

This is a very odd statement for Dennett to make, for it unwittingly brings him as close as he could come to refuting his own atheism. One thing robots could not correctly deny is that they have been programmed by a mind. They might doubt it, but they would be mistaken to do so. Thus, for them to realize that they must have been programmed by a mind which transcends their robotic world, but to question their belief in such a mind teeters on the brink of nonsense.

I think Mr. Wolf senses the inadequacy of what he has heard from these three spokespersons of the New Atheism, and, without abandoning his atheism, he nevertheless shies away from identifying with them. Perhaps he will someday realize that chance and physics can no more write the robot's program than he himself can jump over the moon. Perhaps someday he'll realize that none of the arguments for atheism are any better than what he heard from Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett. Perhaps on that day he'll realize that his search has led him, not to atheism, but to God.

Genuine Faith

I suppose this is a good thing, but I just can't help wondering how genuine one's faith is if you have to hire people to advise you on how to impress others with it:

Hillary Clinton has hired an "evangelical consultant" to help woo Christian conservatives in her likely 2008 presidential campaign.

The move comes after a similar political operative successfully aided Democratic candidates in several states in the midterm elections.

More than one-quarter of the nation's voters identify themselves as evangelical - a voter bloc that has long been courted by Republicans.

Clinton's new hire is Burns Strider, an evangelical Christian who directs religious outreach for House Democrats and is the lead staffer for the Democrats' Faith Working Group, headed by incoming Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina.

Politics is all about image, of course, and the job of these consultants is to create an image of religiosity. Perhaps there is substance behind the image, perhaps not, but it seems phony, even Machiavellian, to have to hire someone to tell you how to express your faith in ways that will seem convincing to voters.

I doubt that neither Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan nor George Bush, three of the most genuinely religious presidents of the last thirty five years, felt the need to employ someone to do the job of burnishing their faith in the public eye.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford (1913-2006)

Gary Varvel

Heading into the Past

Byron passes along an article by James Howard Kunstler, writing for Orion Magazine, who argues that because so much of our present culture is centered around the gasoline engine and because gasoline is going to become increasingly expensive to market in the years ahead, our future will be very different from the present but, perhaps, surprisingly similar to our past.

Whether Kunstler is correct or not about oil supplies being outstripped by demand, I think he's right that we need to begin now to become less dependent upon it. I also believe that he's correct when he asserts that there's not much hope that alternative fuels will be able, by themselves, to sustain our current standard of living.

I especially liked this:

If you really want to understand the U.S. public's penchant for wishful thinking, consider this: We invested most of our late twentieth-century wealth in a living arrangement with no future. American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period.

This dilemma now entails a powerful psychology of previous investment, which is prompting us to defend our misinvestments desperately, or, at least, preventing us from letting go of our assumptions about their future value. Compounding the disaster is the unfortunate fact that the manic construction of ever more futureless suburbs (a.k.a. the "housing bubble") has insidiously replaced manufacturing as the basis of our economy.

In other words, our exalted standard of living and our related way of life are unsustainable and will at some point collapse. It's hard to see how this can be avoided given the growing world demand for oil.

Our dependence upon the gasoline engine is surely going to have to change. Mass transit, electric cars, nuclear energy, less sprawl, and more urban living are all in our future, and I think that's a good thing. On the other hand, I think there will be much greater use of coal, at least for a time, and much pressure to lower emissions standards for motor vehicles and coal-burning facilities. That won't be so good.

Although he doesn't put it quite this way, Kunstler's vision implies a return to the nineteen thirties' through fifties' style of social organization, decentralized government, local control, and dependence upon family and community rather than government. This may sound shocking to some who have been reciting for decades the conventional wisdom that we can't turn back the clock, but it should warm the hearts of those conservatives who want to see us at least try.

It would warm mine if I thought the transition would be painless, but I'm afraid it won't be. In fact, I fear that it will be quite convulsive with violence from both within and without instigated by enemies who will seek to take every advantage of our instability.

The challenge will be to dampen the convulsions as much as possible and to maintain our power as we do so. This will not be an easy task, but that the challenge is looming within the next decade or so seems all but certain. Read Kunstler's article and see if you don't agree.

Ideas Have Offspring

Christianity Today has a review by Edward Oakes of Richard Weikart's new book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany the thesis of which is that Darwin's ideas led pretty much directly to the holocaust. It's a thesis guaranteed to produce howls of protest from Darwinians, but one which Oakes' review certainly confirms:

According to the myths of standard historiography, Darwin confined himself strictly to matters biological-even in The Descent of Man, when he finally came, late in life, to apply his theory to man's place in the evolutionary tree. So whatever damage came to the poor and downtrodden from Darwin's theory is due to others, above all Herbert Spencer. Here, in Spencer, can be found the villain of the piece: that second-rate thinker ruined a perfectly good biological theory by hijacking it for cutthroat capitalism, contempt for the poor, laissez-faire lassitude about social legislation, and so forth. Spencer, the claim goes, was the first to transpose ethics into evolutionary terms, defining as good whatever promoted the "progress" of evolution and as bad whatever hindered it.

Unfortunately for Darwin's own reputation, this thesis does not bear scrutiny. Spencer might well have been the first to coin the phrase "survival of the fittest." But Darwin enthusiastically adopted it in the 6th edition of his Origin of Species as a substitute term for "natural selection." Nor did he ever demur when other advocates of evolution's social application came pleading their case. Karl Marx asked if he might dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, which request Darwin declined only because he did not want to offend the religious sensibilities of his deeply Christian wife.

Nor were Darwin's own musings on the social implications of his theory limited to private correspondence. In one particularly chilling passage in Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." Even more ominously, this insouciantly expressed sentiment cannot be regarded as an illegitimate conclusion from the earlier and more reliable Origin of Species.

In a passage historians often cite to prove that at the time of the Origin Darwin was still struggling to maintain his belief in God, Darwin actually, if unwittingly, promulgated the charter for all later social Darwinists: "Let the strongest live and the weakest die.... Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows." In effect, this passage turns Christian theodicy on its head and gives St. Paul's line "Death is swallowed up in victory" a total reversal of meaning. Victory now belongs only to the fittest.

Don't miss Oakes' review. It's lengthy, but it's chock full of important information establishing the link between Darwin and the social Darwinists and through them to Nietzsche and ultimately the Nazis. Every twentieth century Western calamity seems traceable to some 18th or 19th century philosophical enthusiasm, and the Nazis' "final solution" is no exception.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Markets and the Family

The family and free markets are perhaps two important arenas of American life where conservatives have had a consistent and credible voice, and where liberal ideas have been largely found inadequate or harmful.

Yuval Levin has a fine column on the American family and the direction in which conservatism should be moving over the next decade with regard to both of these arenas at The Weekly Standard. Here are a couple of excerpts from the first half of the piece:

American conservatives have worked politically in recent decades to advance two sets of goods: the family and the market. They have advocated traditional values that sustain cultural vitality, and economic freedom that brings material prosperity. These two sets of ideals are mutually reinforcing to an extent. The market relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions; and freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.

But markets and families are also in tension with one another. The market values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life, and rewards the lowest common cultural denominator in ways that can undermine traditional morality. Traditional values, on the other hand, discourage the spirit of competition and self-interested ambition essential for free markets to work, and their adherents sometimes seek to enforce codes of conduct that constrain individual freedom. The libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.

The left at its height viewed capitalism and traditional social institutions like the family as equally unjust and oppressive, and sought to use government power to replace or to undermine both.

This allowed conservatives to serve the cause of family and market by opposing big government. That doesn't mean the conservative coalition always held together amicably, but a common enemy can go a long way toward smoothing over differences.

Because of welfare reform and conservative pro-family policies, it is no longer fair to say that government is the greatest threat to American families. In the wake of Reagan's and Bush's tax cuts, the federal government is not the drain on Americans' pocketbooks or the deadweight on economic dynamism that it was in 1981. The federal government remains too big and overbearing. But opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing the interests of families and markets--which has been and should remain the twofold aim of American conservatives.

The genuinely statist left, which opposed both the family and the market, has not exactly disappeared, but it is beleaguered and badly bruised. American "progressives"--triangulated out of bounds by Clinton and then driven out of their minds by Bush--are in sorry shape, notwithstanding their good cheer at the recent election results. They are cynical "realists" in foreign policy, badly confused in domestic policy, with no clear purpose but power, no clear adversary but Bush, no clear ideals but clinging desperately to every tattered remnant of a failed vision even they no longer take seriously. When their electoral fortunes wax, as they surely have this year, it is not because voters think highly of them but because of the country's low opinion of Republicans.

Limited government is inherent to any conservative governing vision, but if those who run the government no longer explicitly seek to undermine capitalism and traditionalism--if government is no longer the greatest danger to both--then what is that greatest danger? And what is the best way to serve the causes of family and freedom?

Read at the link how Levin answers that question and what he prescribes for conservatives over the next decade.

Carrier Landing

So you say you'd like to be a Navy pilot? Well, landing jets on moving aircraft carriers is not an easy job as this video from the British Royal Navy attests.

An Atheist's Pilgrimage (Pt. I)

Gary Wolf has a very interesting essay at Wired in which he discusses his wish to join the ranks of the militant anti-theists who have come to be called the New Atheists and why, ultimately, though he is no theist, he declines. Wolf interviews three exemplars of the New Atheism - Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett - and sympathetically elaborates on those interviews in the essay, explaining what he found agreeable and what he found to be disagreeable.

Any theist, particularly any Christian theist, who wishes to engage the culture apologetically would do well to read Wolf's account. It's a fascinating story, told with gentleness and apparent sincerity. It's a narrative that is probably common among intelligent, college-educated moderns. It's also a story which poses challenges to those who would have such people as Mr. Wolf come to believe that, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, He is there and He is not silent.

A couple of passages from his interviews struck me as noteworthy for what they revealed about the vacuousness of atheism. Consider, for example, this from the section in which Wolf meets with Richard Dawkins:

"I'm quite keen on the politics of persuading people of the virtues of atheism," Dawkins says, after we get settled in one of the high-ceilinged, ground-floor rooms. He asks me to keep an eye on his bike, which sits just behind him, on the other side of a window overlooking the street.

I don't know if Wolf intentionally juxtaposed these sentences, but if he did it was as brilliant as it was subtle.

I doubt Dawkins would have worried about his bike being stolen had he left it in an Amish neighborhood, or a Mormon town, or in the parking lot of any evangelical church which takes it's Christian faith seriously. But "the virtues of atheism" being what they are he worries because his bike is situated in the middle of a campus upon which those virtues are extolled and embraced. It is because atheism offers its votaries no grounds whatsoever for, say, the virtue of honesty that Dawkins is concerned about his bike being stolen. And yet this is what he wants the whole world to be like.

"How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?" Dawkins asks. "It's one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?"

"Manifest" falsehoods? It's philosophically absurd to say that God's nonexistence is "manifest." Moreover, if society is justified in preventing parents from teaching their children theism why would they not be justified, in a society that believes that atheism is a manifest falsehood, in preventing parents from teaching their children that there is no God. No doubt Dawkins would be outraged should an effort be made to pass such legislation.

...the weak-minded pretense that religious viruses are trivial, much less benign. Bad ideas foisted on children are moral wrongs. We should think harder about how to stop them.

Dawkins evidently wishes to make it illegal to take one's children to church. He's apparently unaware of studies such as the one discussed here which show that children raised in religious homes, on average, are far better off than those which are not.

In any case reading Dawkins reminds me of a passage from Noam Chomsky who once wrote that: "If we don't believe in the freedom of expression for people we despise then we don't believe in it at all." Dawkins is a classic totalitarian who wants to micromanage every aspect of peoples' lives including what they say in front of their children. If he lived seventy years ago he'd have doubtless been a Stalinist.

the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The sensible" - and here he pauses to indicate that sensible should be in quotes - "the 'sensible' religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism.

Here Dawkins is correct. The "war" is between naturalism and supernaturalism. It's between materialism and theism. It's a philosophical struggle, and it's a shame that having enlisted in the battle he's still allowed to trade on his standing as a writer of science books to give him standing as a philosopher. His writings on the question of God's existence have absolutely nothing to do with science and everything to do with a metaphysical preference that he wishes to persuade everybody else to accept.

Richard Dawkins is an interesting, and tragic, person to watch. Having become obsessed with eradicating Christianity he has willingly embraced the role of village atheist and is making himself, a once accomplished writer of important books on biology, a bit of a laughingstock.

We'll have more on Wolf's journey in Part II tomorrow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

True Fiction

A man named Michael, a father of a teenage daughter, Jennifer, had been a member of a top-secret anti-terrorism task force in the military and his duties caused him to be away from home much of the time Jen was growing up. He was serving his country in a very important, very dangerous capacity that required his absence and a great deal of personal sacrifice. As a result, his daughter grew up without him. Indeed, his wife Judy had left him a couple of years previous and took the girl with her.

Finally, after several years abroad, Mike was able to go home. He longed to hold his princess in his arms and to spend every possible moment with her to try to make up for lost time, but when he knocked on the door of his ex-wife's house the girl who greeted him was almost unrecognizable. Jen had grown up physically and along the way she had rejected everything Michael valued. Her appearance shocked him and her words cut him like a razor. She told him coldly and bluntly that she really didn't want to see him, that he wasn't a father as far as she was concerned, that he had not been a part of her life before and wouldn't be in the future.

Michael, a man who had faced numerous hazards and threats in the course of his work and had been secretly cited for great heroism by the government, was staggered by her words. The loathing in her voice and in her eyes crushed his heart. He started to speak but the door was slammed in his face. Heartbroken and devastated he wandered the streets of the city wondering how, or if, he could ever regain the love his little girl once had for him.

Weeks went by during which he tried to contact both his ex-wife and his daughter, but they refused to return his calls. Then one night his cell phone rang. It was Judith and from her voice Mike could tell something was very wrong. Apparently, Jennifer had run off with some unsavory characters several days before and hadn't been heard from since. Judy had called the police, but she felt Mike should know, too. She told him that she thought the guys Jen had gone out with that night were heavily into drugs and she was worried sick about her.

She had good reason to be. Jen thought when she left the house that she was just going for a joy ride, but that's not what her "friends" had in mind. Once they had Jen back at their apartment they tied her to a bed, abused her, filmed the whole thing, and when she resisted they beat her until she submitted. She overheard them debating whether they should sell her to a man they knew whom they thought sold girls into slavery in South America or whether they should just kill her now and dump her body in the bay. For three days her life was a living hell. She cried herself to sleep late every night after being forced into the most degrading conduct imaginable.

Finally her abductors sold her to a street gang in exchange for drugs. Bound and gagged, she was raped repeatedly and beaten savagely. For the first time in her life she prayed that God would help her, and for the first time in her life she missed her father. But as the days wore on she began to think she'd rather be dead than be forced to endure what she was being put through.

Mike knew some of the officers in the police force and was able to get a couple of leads from them as to who the guys who she originally left with might be. He set out not knowing Jennifer's peril, but determined to find her no matter what the cost. His search led him to another city and took days, days in which he scarcely ate or slept. Each day that passed Jennifer's condition grew worse and her danger more severe. She was by now in a cocaine-induced haze in which she hardly knew what was happening to her.

Somehow, Michael, weary and weak from his lack of sleep and food, managed to find the seedy, run down tenement building where Jennifer was imprisoned. Breaking through a flimsy door he saw his daughter laying on the filthy bed surrounded by three startled kidnappers. Enraged by the scene before his eyes he launched himself at them with a terrible, vengeful fury. Two of the thugs went down quickly but the third escaped. With tears flowing down his cheeks, Mike unfastened the bonds that held Jen's wrists to the bed posts. She was barely alert enough to comprehend what was happening, but too groggy to respond. Michael helped her to her feet and led her to the doorway.

As she passed into the hall with Michael behind her the third abductor appeared in front of her with a gun. Michael quickly stepped in front and told Jennifer to run back into the apartment and out the fire escape. The assailant tried to shoot her as she ran, but Michael shielded her from the bullet, taking the round in his side. The thug fired twice more into Michael's body, but Mike was able to seize the gun and turn it on the shooter.

Finally, it was all over, finished.

Slumped against the wall, her father lay bleeding and bruised, the life draining out of him. Jennifer saw from the fire escape landing what had happened and ran back to Michael. Cradling him in her arms she wept and told him over and over that she loved him and that she was so sorry for what she had said to him and for what she had done.

With the last bit of life left in him he gazed up at her, pursed his lips in a kiss, smiled and died. Jennifer wept hysterically. How could she ever forgive herself for how she had acted? How could she ever overcome the guilt and the loss she felt? How could she ever repay the tremendous love and sacrifice of her father?

Years passed. Jennifer eventually had a family of her own. She raised her children to revere the memory of her father even though they had never known him. She resolved to live her own life in such a way that Michael, if he knew, would be enormously proud of her. Everything she did, she did out of gratitude to him for what he had done for her, and every year on the anniversary of his birthday she went to the cemetary alone and sat for a couple of hours at his graveside, talking to him and sharing her love and her life with him. Her father had given everything for her despite the cruel way she had treated him. He had given his life to save hers. His love for her, his sacrifice changed her life.

And that's why Christians celebrate Christmas.

Producing Good Kids

I wonder what the Brits who signed that petition calling for legislation that would make it illegal for parents to instruct their children in religious belief would say about this recent study. I wonder, too, what Richard Dawkins, who claimed in his recent book The God Delusion, that religious instruction is a form of child abuse, would say about the findings contained in this report.

The study shows that teens from religiously observant families with two biological parents who are married or cohabiting ("intact families") are much less likely than other teens to engage in any of ten different undesirable behaviors.

For example, teens from intact families with frequent religious attendance were least likely to have ever gotten into a fight (27.1 percent) when compared to (a) their peers from intact families with infrequent religious attendance (32.1 percent), (b) peers from non-intact families with frequent religious attendance (34.3 percent), and (c) peers from non-intact families with infrequent religious attendance (43.5 percent).

Teens from intact, religiously observant families also had lower levels of drug use, larceny, run-aways, sexual activity, drinking, disciplinary trouble at school, and were generally the highest academic achievers.

Since the study was conducted in the U.S. the religious teens were presumably mostly Christians.

Is anyone surprised at these results? No high school teacher would be. The survey simply puts numbers to what teachers have known for years - the best kids very often come from stable, religious families. You might think this need not be said, but sadly there are some, like Dawkins and his acolytes, who see religion as a great evil which must be purged from our society. One might think that even if they're convinced Christianity is false that they would still support it on purely pragmatic grounds, but it's not just that it's false, it's that it is, in their minds, an evil so great that it must be banned.

Paul in his letter to the Romans alludes to those who, professing themselves wise, are in fact fools. For obvious reasons that seems apposite in this context.

The details of the study can be found at the link.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Why He's Special

Last Christmas we ran the following post and thought it might be good to do it again this year with a few minor edits:

Why do the words of a 1st century Jewish rabbi carry such enormous metaphysical weight with Christians today? The answer, we believe, is that for two thousand years Christians have held that Jesus was not just a rabbi, not just some specially chosen messenger from God, not just a prophet, but that he was God Himself.

Certainly this is what the Bible teaches about Him and what He said about Himself. Consider a couple of examples from Paul writing about Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation. For in Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth...all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Col.1:15-17)

...our great God and savior, Christ Jesus (Titus 2:13)

And here's John describing Christ:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (Jn 1:1-3)

And the Jews were seeking to kill Him, because He...was...making Himself equal with God. (Jn 5:18)

And Thomas:

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28)

And here is Jesus speaking of Himself:

The Jews therefore said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old and have you seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM." Therefore they picked up stones (to stone Him for blasphemy since I AM was a name God assigns to Himself in the Old Testament to indicate His timelessness) (Jn 8:57-59)

"I and the Father are one" (and the same). The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them..."for which [of my works] are you stoning me?" The Jews answered Him..."for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God." (Jn 10:30-33)

"He who has seen Me has seen the Father." (Jn.14:9)

It is the belief in the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus that separates Christians from other monotheists. It is a belief unique to Christianity among modern world religions. It is also what makes Christmas so significant and special to believers. As the world turns toward Christmas eve we've resolved to keep well in mind why it is that Christians have always thought this birth, this child, to be full of mystery, wonder, awe and love. The Creator of the world, despite our rejection and betrayal of him, is born into the world as a human, to human parents, in the meanest surroundings, so that ultimately He may one day coax us back to Himself.

Christmas reminds us all of the depth of His devotion to us. It reminds us that God chose to identify Himself with us in our humanity by sharing in our suffering and enduring an awful physical death, all of which He did as an expression of purest love. It was completely gratuitous. He needn't have done it, but for reasons we can't really understand on this side of eternity, it was apparently the only way He could win us back.

Christmas reminds us that God became man and dwelt among us, but couldn't Jesus have been mistaken about who He was? Couldn't He have been lying? Couldn't He have been deranged? Yes, He could have been any of these which is why we are not just left with a record of what He said about Himself but also a record of what happened at the end of His life. It was these events which authenticated the claims that He and others made about who He was.

For more on that topic go here and scroll to Christian Belief VI. In the meantime, we wish all of our readers a wonderful Christmas filled with the love of family and friends.

Neville Baker

It can now be revealed that there was a secret meeting between James Baker and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is believed to be behind Baker's suggestion that to bring stability to Iraq we should seek the help of the man who promises to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

David Zucker was hired to document the meeting and his video has just been released. Viewpoint readers can watch it here.

You are witnesses to history.

HT: Powerline

I Was Thirsty and You Gave Me Drink

An organization called Voice of the Martyrs sent this report through a NewsMax e-mail subscription so I can't link you to the original:

Nasir Ashraf, a Christian stone mason, was brutally attacked by radical Muslims just outside Lahore.

While working on the construction of a room at a school near Manga Mandi in Pakistan, Nasir took a break after becoming thirsty. He drew water and drank from a glass chained to a cemented public water tank next to a mosque, which was reserved for "all" poor people. Returning to the construction site, a Muslim man asked him, "Why did you drink water from this glass since you are a Christian?" The man accused Nasir of polluting the glass. The Muslim man yanked the glass off the iron chain, broke it and threw it in a garbage can. The man summoned other radical Muslims to the scene, furiously saying, "This Christian polluted our glass." Hearing this, the incensed mob began beating Nasir, yelling that a Christian dog drank water from their glass.

Nasir Ashraf

The radical Muslims encouraged bystanders to beat Nasir because it would be a "good" deed that would benefit them in heaven. The attackers pushed Nasir off a ledge onto the ground. The impact of the fall dislocated his shoulder and broke his collar bone in two places. This knocked Nasir unconscious and he did not regain his senses until he reached a clinic. A doctor told Nasir that some people had brought him there.

Nasir's father took him home and a VOM representative was alerted about the incident. VOMedical is helping with Nasir's medical treatment and is monitoring his recovery from the attack.

Nice people, those Muslims. One wonders how two monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity can be so diametrically different in the way they are enjoined to treat "the stranger" in their midst, and what they teach about good deeds and heavenly reward. One is based on loving one's neighbor and the other is based, at least judging by how it is often practiced, on hating anyone who holds different convictions. One is based on doing justice to the poor, oppressed, and weak regardless of their theology, and the other is based, from all appearances, upon breaking their bones and slitting their throats.

One also wonders what the appeal of Islam could possibly be for anyone living in the civilized world.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Booming Economy --- in <i>Iraq</i>

Iraq is in the midst of civil war, we're told. We've already lost in Iraq, we hear. All that's left is to figure out a graceful exit, the media talking heads solemnly intone. Yet every now and then a dissonant note seeps through the despair and defeatism. Newsweek, of all people, has such a story here. The title? Iraq's Economy is Booming. Given what the MSM report every day who would have thought that?

Civil war or not, Iraq has an economy, and-mother of all surprises-it's doing remarkably well. Real estate is booming. Construction, retail and wholesale trade sectors are healthy, too, according to a report by Global Insight in London. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports 34,000 registered companies in Iraq, up from 8,000 three years ago. Sales of secondhand cars, televisions and mobile phones have all risen sharply. Estimates vary, but one from Global Insight puts GDP growth at 17 percent last year and projects 13 percent for 2006. The World Bank has it lower: at 4 percent this year. But, given all the attention paid to deteriorating security, the startling fact is that Iraq is growing at all.

Things in Iraq are not all rosy, of course, but neither is the picture anywhere near as dismal, evidently, as the American public is being led to believe. We can win in Iraq. It just takes a little more steel in the spine than many of our politicians and media types have shown so far.

In his outstanding book America Alone, Mark Steyn quotes Goh Chok Tong, the prime minister of Singapore in 2004, who, while on a visit to Washington, observed that "The key issue is no longer WMD or even the role of the U.N. The central issue is America's credibility and will to prevail." Exactly so, but, unfortunately, neither of those assets is much in evidence in either the Democrat party or the establishment media.

Mind-Numbed Robots

Liberals often pride themselves on how smart they are, while ridiculing the rubes who vote for conservatives. Blue staters are intelligent, red staters are yokels. At least that's the myth that liberals have comforted themselves with for the past six years. Yet frequently news reports like this one come along that blow the myth right out of the water and cause us to question whether liberalism is not itself a symptom of cognitive debility.

What other explanation can there be for such as we read in the following report?

HAGERSTOWN - A kindergarten student was accused earlier this month of sexually harassing a classmate at Lincolnshire Elementary School, an accusation that will remain on his record until he moves to middle school.

Washington County Public Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said the definition of sexual harassment used by the school system is, "unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others." Mowen said that definition comes from the Maryland State Department of Education.

According to a school document provided by the boy's father, the 5-year-old pinched a girl's buttocks on Dec. 8 in a hallway at the school south of Hagerstown. Charles Vallance, the boy's father, said he was unable to explain to his son what he had done. "He knows nothing about sex," Vallance said. "There's no way to explain what he's been written up for. He knows it as playing around. He doesn't know it as anything sexual at all."

The incident was described as "sexual harassment" on the school form. School officials consider a student's age and the specific action when determining what administrative action to take, Mowen said.

Lincolnshire Principal Darlene Teach [Really?] and Mowen said they were unable to discuss he incident involving the Lincolnshire student. Teach said any student, regardless of grade level, can be cited for sexual harassment. "Anytime a student touches another student inappropriately, it could be sexual harassment," Teach said.

School administrators at a Texas school in November suspended a 4-year-old student for inappropriately touching a teacher's aide after the prekindergarten student hugged the woman. "It's important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state's guidelines," Mowen said. "If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn't matter if it's at work or at school, that's sexual harassment."

The incident will be included in the boy's file while he remains at Lincolnshire, but Mowen said those files do not follow students when they move on to middle school. She described the incident as a "learning opportunity."

During the 2005-06 school year, 28 kindergarten students in Maryland were suspended for sex offenses, including sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual activity, according to state data. Fifteen of those suspensions were for sexual harassment. During the 2005-06 school year, one Washington County prekindergarten student was suspended from school, and 12 of the county's kindergartners were suspended for various offenses, according to state data.

A four year old was suspended for inappropriate touching?Twenty eight kindergarten students were suspended for sexual harassment? How can a four year old inappropriately touch? How can kindergarten students sexually harass someone? What kind of people are these who are making the decisions to punish these children by labelling them some sort of sex offender, and do they have any insight at all into how four and five year-olds think? Do they really believe that children this young think in sexual terms at all?

Ms. Mowen considers writing a child up as a sexual harasser to be a "learning opportunity," but it's better described as the sort of sheer idiocy one has come to expect from people who are so brainwashed by mindless ideological dogma that they have absolutely no common sense. Liberal proprieties may demand that we punish a four, five, or six year old for pinching, as if they were sixteen or seventeen, but anyone with an IQ above the freezing point would perceive the utter foolishness of it.

Indeed, the only thing more astonishing than the punishment is the utterly vacuous rationale given to justify it. Like people straight out of a Franz Kafka novel, the sex nazis in Maryland have determined that what this child did fits the definition of sexual harassment and therefore must be treated as such, whether it really is or not.

In their stupid intransigence and bizarre eagerness to punish children just for being children, Ms. Teach and Ms. Mowen offer us, perhaps, the best possible argument for school choice.

Major Conversion

Scrapple Face has the scoop of the century. Al Qaeda's second in command (or, depending on the status of Osama's vital signs, #1) Ayman al-Zawahiri has converted to Christianity and gives his testimony in this video. It's a real shocker to hear him talk like this, but it warms the soul.

At least it does if you don't know Arabic and don't think about the fact that Scrapple Face is a master of satire.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Time's decision

Byron writes to defend Time Magazine's decision to select us all as Person of the Year. His defense can be read on our Feedback page, and, as usual, he makes a good case.

Significant Differences

Those who support open borders and unrestricted immigration like to remind us that we are a nation of immigrants and that we should not deny to others what was not denied to our ancestors. This is a specious argument for a number of reasons, and Pat Buchanan provides us with a few of them in his excellent book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. Buchanan notes that:

1. We have as many foreign-born people living in the U.S. today as came here in the first 350 years of our history. This is a tidal wave of immigration which is placing enormous stress on the cultural and social fabric of our cities and towns, especially in the southwest.

2. Most of of those who are coming are breaking in. They have no legal right to be here. Six million illegals were caught in 2006. That may only be a fraction of what actually made it past the border police. In 2006 there were as many illegals (12 to 20 million) inside our borders as all the Germans and Italians who ever came to this country.

3. Almost all immigrants, whether legal or illegal, come from cultures whose peoples have never before been assimilated into a First World nation. Most of our ancestors were from the same ethnic and cultural stock as the people who were already here. Many of today's immigrants have no particular sympathy for or loyalty to the European culture which has nurtured and sustained America. The founding documents of this country reflect European thinking and values and many of today's immigrants feel no attachment or allegiance to them.

4. There are strong pressures exerted on immigrants by their own communities and by our cultural elites not to assimilate. Unlike the social expectations which prevailed a century or more ago, today's multiculturalists are hostile to the idea of an American melting pot and disdain the idea, for example, that immigrants should be expected to learn English.

5. Among those arriving now many of them bring with them no desire to become Americans, to be one of us. Many come to work, others to exploit the welfare benefits of living in America, some come to prey upon Americans. When most of our ancestors arrived, on the other hand, they were not entitled to drink at the public trough. There was no public welfare. The immigrant communities themselves provided assistance to those of their number who needed it.

These are not insignificant differences. Immigration today is an almost completely different phenomenon than it was when our ancestors travelled to these shores. Immigration in the first 350 years of our history made us a stronger nation. Today it is threatening to undo us.

Simplistic Reportage

Reports in the media almost always depict the administration as resisting more troops in Iraq and the military leadership as wanting more but reluctant to buck former Secretary Rumsfeld's desire to keep our footprint small and lean. Well, apparently the media reports have once again proven themselves to be a little too simplistic.

It turns out that the administration is enthusiastic about putting more troops into Iraq and the Joint Chiefs are reluctant. The debate is apparently complex, but that's the point. The second guessers and military experts at the New York Times and elsewhere have till now painted the debate as a simple matter of the Bushies being unwilling to listen to their military people on the need for more troops when, in fact, things have been more complicated than that. We might even say that the media has "lacked nuance" in much of their reporting on this matter.

Read the article by Robin Wright and Peter Baker at the link.

Who Would You Pick?

Jason writes regarding the Time Magazine Person of the Year award:

What a lame excuse for a man of the year award. All that happened in 2006, and the editor's at TIME come up with that crock? They should be ashamed. And to think that CNN carried a 1-hr special on who should be picked, only to announce that it is "YOU."

I am curious. Who would the editors of Viewpoint pick for their person(s) of the year?

This is a very interesting question. The obvious answer, of course, is that it's George W. Bush. No one has had a greater influence on world events, for good or for ill, than has President Bush. But if we discount the president of the United States in our deliberation the choice gets more difficult. There are a couple of people that merit consideration, but rather than name them I'd like to survey you our readers and see what you think.

If you have a thought on this please submit your choice for person of the year through our speak up feature. Unlike Time Magazine's editors, though, who consider anyone who has exerted influence on world or national events no matter how pernicious that influence might have been, let's limit our choice to someone that we believe deserves the award because their efforts have advanced civilization and human welfare.

If we get any nominations we'll list them next week.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


How liberal or conservative are you? You can go here to take a twenty question test to find out. My results were as follows:

Political Profile:

Overall: 85% Conservative, 15% Liberal
Social Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Personal Responsibility: 75% Conservative, 25% Liberal
Fiscal Issues: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal
Ethics: 50% Conservative, 50% Liberal
Defense and Crime: 100% Conservative, 0% Liberal

I really don't know how I got the 50/50 rating in ethics since I can think of only one ethical question to which I gave the typically liberal reply. The test makes me seem more conservative than I think I really am and maybe it's slanted to do that, I don't know. Anyway, take it yourself and see what you think.

HT: Prosthesis

Good Quote

"I'm interested in reconciling this phenomenal event -- the incarnation of God -- with Santa Claus and blue-light specials at Kmart and the weird preoccupation we have with buying a lot of junk and giving it to each other." Prosthesis.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Differences Between Them

For those of our readers who may have a hard time distinguishing between the various breeds of Muslim, Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost provides us with a good summary of the main differences between Sunni and Shia.

In our opinion, the differences seem minor compared to what they share in common, i.e. a desire to convert the world by killing all infidels, if need be. Nevertheless, the distinctions between Sunni and Shia must be significant in their own eyes because when they aren't killing infidels they sure delight in killing each other.

Israel Should Have Attacked Syria

The founder of MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), Meyrav Wurmser, believes Israel let down the U.S. by not attacking Syria. She is a leading "neo-con" who has lots of interesting things to say about the situation in the Middle East in an article in YNet News.

She believes, for instance, that the reason things are moving so slowly in Iraq is not because neo-cons had too much influence in the Bush administration, as has been alleged, but because they had too little.

Read what else she has to say, especially her rationale for an Israeli attack on Syria, at the link.

An Open Door

Sal Cordova at Uncommon Descent notes that the secularists are beginning to wake up to the fact that Judge Jones' ruling against the Dover school board a year ago is not the defeat for Intelligent Design that it has been touted to be.

The judge left the door wide open for teaching ID in philosophy, sociology, and religion classes. As Lauren Sandler says in her book Righteous:

[I]ntelligent design proponents keep quiet about the idea that [Judge] Jones's decision opens new legal support to teach their views in philosophy and religion classes. "We do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed...." Jones wrote, suggesting that intelligent design is a legitimate field of study outside biology class. This is a victory to an intellignt design movement....

There are a couple of problems, of course, from the point of view of one who wants students to learn both the evidences for evolution and the difficulties with a purely materialistic view of the development of the universe and of life. First, not every high school has a quality philosophy program and not many sociology teachers would be equipped to teach a unit on the sociological aspects of the controversy. Even in those schools which do have a philosophy elective, not every student takes the course.

Nevertheless, it is often the brightest students who do sign up for it, and it is these who would benefit most from hearing both sides of this issue presented. And, if these students are turned on to the topic, discussions of it will inevitably spill over into their AP science classes.

Perhaps there will come a day when many young people going into public education will be motivated to pursue a minor in philosophy and, when circumstances allow, offer a course in it in the schools at which they teach. Perhaps, too, the questions and challenges surrounding exclusively materialistic explanations for the origin of life, the origin of higher taxa, the origin of consciousness, and the fine-tuning of the cosmos will all find their way into the curriculum.

If so, students who enroll in such a course will be immeasurably benefitted from the experience.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Spit in Your Hands

Reader JB writes with regard to our post from last week titled Fix Bayonets:

Oh, to spit in your hands and lower the pike. Hinderaker has voiced what many conservative Americans must be thinking. To leave Iraq now without finishing the mission would be tragic indeed and seen by many as a loss. To continue our presence in Iraq without increasing our operational tempo would only drag matters out more so. To fail to punish nations or groups of people who support insurgency or terrorism would be willful neglect of our leaders and a crime. I agree with Hinderaker that our President should exercise due diligence and begin taking the fight to the enemy. I further agree with his use of the expression that bayonets should be fixed.

When [Joshua] Chamberlain stood on Little Round Top [Gettysburg] he knew that the battle was at a critical point (a decisive point where one side needed to begin to win, and one sided needed to begin to lose, a point which would decide the battle's outcome). Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were the far end of the flank. Should Chamberlain and the 20th fail they would have left open the backdoor to the Union line. Chamberlain did not allow an absence of powder and ball or able bodied men to influence his decision. Chamberlain did not stand down, retreat, displace, or withdraw.

Chamberlain instead took the fight to the enemy and then some. Chamberlain gave his orders and charged down the hill and closed on the Confederates like a swinging door. We all know the outcome and we all know about the medals that were won. What we should all take from this example is a lesson in the face of adversity. Bush should look at Chamberlain's example and close that swinging door. Bush has established the door and he has given us another Little Round Top. The American forces hold the high ground. The American forces should close this door once and for all. Fix bayonets, "W", fix bayonets!

I will add that I of course see nothing tactically or politically wrong with Bush increasing our force's operational tempo. I also have no problem with tactical air strikes against Iran or anyone else (Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis example). Bush cannot be re-elected and this matter needs to be solved and finished before Obama or Hillary has a chance to take office. God knows they won't fix bayonets, they won't do anything except blame Bush.

God bless and be with the men and women who will spit in their hands and lower that pike...


Nifong Update

A couple of days ago we speculated that Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong had abused his power in the Duke rape case in such a fashion as to pretty much prosecute himself right out of a job. Now Bill sends word from North Carolina that this public servant may be investigated by the feds for his egregious conduct of the case and the blithe disregard he demonstrated for the young men whom he was determined to convict regardless of their guilt or innocence.

The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant enjoined us to never treat other people as a means to an end but always only as ends in themselves. Mr. Nifong might do well to reflect on the wisdom of that advice. With luck he'll have plenty of time for reflection.

The Totalitarian Impulse

The following petition to be presented to Prime Minister Tony Blair is being circulated in the United Kingdom and has acquired so far about 900 signatures, among them that of Ian Barbour and Richard Dawkins:

In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.

In other words, these people are not content with merely indoctrinating their own children in atheistic materialism. They want to prevent others from teaching their children about theism under penalty of law. This would be an unconscionable abridgement of personal freedom, of course, and the sort of totalitarian measure that secularists resorted to with terrifying regularity throughout the twentieth century, but there's no need to be concerned that it would ever come to pass in 21st century Europe. The politicos in that spiritually impoverished continent are well-aware that their seething Muslim populations would undergo spontaneous combustion if it were ever seriously considered. Thus, it won't be.

Now if it were only Christians who would be affected, well, then, that might be an entirely different story.

Humbling Award

I am scarcely able to summon the words to announce that Time Magazine has selected me as their person of the year for 2006. It really is an astonishing honor, and I confess to being flabbergasted that the folks at Time have even heard of me let alone chose me as the recipient of such a wonderful prize. I'm truly humbled.

Of course, I should mention, in case you haven't heard, that the honor is diluted somewhat by the fact that they chose you, too. Yes, that's right. In fact, they chose everybody. Everybody is this year's person of the year. Sort of makes you proud to be an American, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Mystery Man

The thinness of the Democratic stable is illustrated by the fact that the two most talked about candidates for their party's nomination for president in 2008 are a one term senator, Hillary Clinton, and a two year senator, Barack Obama. Neither has ever been a governor and neither has really explained why voters should pull the lever for them. Yet they have been all but canonized by the media.

Bob Gorrell depicts how peculiar this phenomenon is:

Staring at the End of a Career

This should just about do it for the Durham District Attorney who refuses to drop charges against three Duke students accused of raping an "exotic" dancer:

The head of a private DNA laboratory said under oath today that he and District Attorney Mike Nifong agreed not to report DNA results favorable to Duke lacrosse players charged with rape.

Brian Meehan, director of DNA Security of Burlington, said his lab found DNA from unidentified men in the underwear, pubic hair and rectum of the woman who said she was gang-raped at a lacrosse party in March....Meehan said the DNA did not come from Reade Seligmann, David Evans, or Collin Finnerty, who have been charged with rape and sexual assault in the case.

Meehan struggled to say why he didn't include the favorable evidence in a report dated May 12, almost a month after Seligmann and Finnerty had been indicted. He cited concerns about the privacy of the lacrosse players, his discussions at several meetings with Nifong, and the fact that he didn't know whose DNA it was.

Under questioning by Jim Cooney, a defense attorney for Seligmann, Meehan admitted that his report violated his laboratory's standards by not reporting results of all tests.

Did Nifong and his investigators know the results of all the DNA tests? Cooney asked. "I believe so," Meehan said.

"Did they know the test results excluded Reade Seligmann?" Cooney asked. "I believe so," Meehan said.

Was the failure to report these results the intentional decision of you and the district attorney? Cooney asked. "Yes," Meehan replied.

Meehan's testimony differed from a statement Nifong made at the beginning of today's hearing. "The first I had heard of this particular situation was when I was served with this particular motion" on Wednesday, Nifong told the judge. After court, Nifong clarified his remarks to say that he knew about the DNA results.

"And we were trying to, just as Dr. Meehan said, trying to avoid dragging any names through the mud but at the same time his report made it clear that all the information was available if they wanted it and they have every word of it," Nifong said.

Joseph B. Cheshire V, a lawyer for Evans, said he was troubled by today's testimony. "If any of the lacrosse players were excluded, they simply wouldn't put it in the report," he said. "It raises some troublesome questions about (Nifong), who has an obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence and turn it over to the defense."

So Mr. Nifong had strong reason to believe that the alleged victim was concocting the whole story of her sexual assault at the hands of the Duke students, but chose, against the obligations of his office, not to make exculpatory evidence public.

If the events of this prosecution are as they seem then Mr. Nifong is one despicable human being. He has made these boys' lives a living hell for the past year, he has harmed them financially, caused their and their teammates' lacrosse season to be forfeit, and allowed their reputations to be completely ruined while all along knowing that he had no case against them. We may sincerely hope that when the charges against the Duke students are eventually thrown out, as they will be by any judge with even the slightest trace of human decency, these young men will be able to sue Nifong for every penny he owns.

Beneath Tasteless

Joy Behar gives us a glimpse of what passes for humor among a certain kind of liberal by suggesting that the Republicans somehow caused senator Tim Johnson's brain hemorrhage.

It's beneath tasteless, of course, to try to squeeze a cheap laugh out of a man's misfortune, but it's evidently not so far beneath as to be too low for Behar and her audience.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Types of Critics

Mike Gene at Telic Thoughts offers a taxonomy of the various species of critics of Intelligent Design. You'll find it interesting if you follow the ID/Darwinism controversy at all.

Great Photo

My son passed along this beautiful shot reportedly taken by a hunter in Montana:

Quick Quiz: There are two birds in the picture. Can anyone identify them both?

All correct responders will receive a free subscription to Viewpoint.

In Praise of Evolution

Our friend Byron at Hearts and Minds bookstore passes along this paean written by C.S. Lewis in "praise" of evolution:

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, joy or sorrow,
In the present what are they
while there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
'Goodness = what comes next.'
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

Oh then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present,
Standards, though it may well be).

Very clever, but of course one expects cleverness from C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fix Bayonets

John Hinderaker at PowerLine offers the president some advice. Warning: It is not for the faint of heart, but it is advice that should have been acted upon long before now. Hinderaker begins with an historical analogy:

Most of our readers know the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Gettysburg. Ordered to hold Little Round Top at all costs, Chamberlain's 20th Maine fended off one attack after another. Finally, Chamberlain's men were nearly out of ammunition and it was clear they would not be able to withstand another assault. Prudence counseled retreat, but Chamberlain's orders forbade it. The Maine regiment could neither fall back nor stay where it was, so Chamberlain took the only course open to him: he told his men to fix bayonets and prepare to charge.

It strikes me that you, President Bush, are in a similar situation in Iraq.

Read the rest. It may be prophetic.

Disappearing Occupations

An AOL feature lists ten career fields which will be all but gone by 2012. They are:

  • Farmer/rancher
  • Sewing Machine Operators/ Textile Knitting and Weaving
  • Machine Tenders
  • Word Processors and Data-Entry Keyers
  • Stock Clerks and Order Fillers
  • Secretaries (Except Legal, Medical and Executive)
  • Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers
  • Computer Operators
  • Telephone Operators
  • Postal Service Mail Sorters and Processing-Machine Operators
  • Travel Agents

Read their reasons for selecting these ten for extinction at the link.

Unlock the Gas Chambers

First they came for the Jews. Then they came for the IDers. Or they will if commenter Steve B. at the anti-ID blog Panda's Thumb has his way. Read his clarification of a previous suggestion that Darwin's survival of the fittest idea be pursued to its logical conclusion:


NO it wasn't a parody - here let me try again.


1) Evolution is objectively real.

2) IDists deny the reality of evolution which makes them unfit.

3) It follows that since IDists are unfit they should not survive because they hinder evolutionary progress. (I think that We Need To Own This.)


A) How far is one willing to go to act on #3?

a) For the most part PT exists is to act on #3.


Participants on PT routinely use justifiably hateful and dehumanizing language to describe IDists or anyone who even suggests that TOE may not be correct.


With this much intensity why not advocate carrying our efforts to their fullest extent since doing so is consistent with the reality of evolution?

Now I know that anyone can write a comment to a blog, and this guy sounds like one of the Boys From Brazil, but...his argument is illustrative of a serious problem that naturalism cannot escape. If naturalism is true there's no reason why someone should not accept the implications of his argument, i.e. start killing off the IDers. If the people at Panda's Thumb, who are mostly atheistic naturalists, are correct then although they may be repelled by the Steve B.'s among them, they really have no answer to them. In a world without God surely might makes right, and in a world wherein the supreme law is the survival of the fittest, killing those who are deemed in whatever way unfit makes perfect sense. Steve B. just sees this more clearly than do his pals at PT.

HT: Uncommon Descent

This isn't the first echo of a Darwinian night of the long knives that we've had occasion to post about. See here for another.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Remains of St. Paul?

Here's a fascinating story out of the Vatican:

Vatican archaeologists have identified a sarcophagus under Rome's second-largest basilica as the tomb believed to contain the remains of the Apostle Paul. But they still don't know what's inside, experts said on Monday.

The Vatican does hope to be able to examine it more closely and maybe even to open it. But Vatican archaeologist Giorgio Filippi said the researchers' first concern now is to free it from centuries of plastering and debris, in the hope of finding other clues on the sarcophagus itself.

Then they will look for ways of getting inside. "We cannot make a hypothesis, it is useless to ask if there is the body of a woman inside, of two men, of three men or whatever. It is useless to ask because we have not seen inside. The sarcophagus has never been opened," said Filippi.

According to tradition, St Paul, also known as the apostle of the Gentiles, was beheaded in Rome in the 1st century. The sarcophagus, which dates from AD 390 and is buried under the main altar of St Paul's Outside the Walls Basilica, has been the subject of an extended excavation that began in 2002 and ended last month.

"This is not a discovery for us. We know and we have always known this sarcophagus contains St Paul's tomb." Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, head of the basilica, told reporters. The project's original purpose was to make the sarcophagus, buried under layers of plaster and further hidden by an iron grate, more visible to pilgrims and tourists visiting the basilica.

Work in the small area under the altar, to clear the debris and insert a transparent glass floor for better viewing, unearthed new evidence of the authenticity of the sarcophagus, said Filippi, who headed the project. "There are no doubts that this is St Paul's tomb. We do not know what it contains, we have never explored it, but at least pilgrims can now see it," Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo added.

I don't know how they know it's Paul's sarcophagus, but if they're correct about that it would be an astonishing find.

Big Government Or Conservation

A friend once asked why I don't like Big Government. Government does many good things, he opined, and we need more of it. Well, I don't think so. There are lots of reasons why bloated governments are undesirable in themselves and some reasons why they are undesirable as symptoms or side effects of forces which are doing harm to our nation. One example of the latter is that Big Government is a necessary enabler to forces currently degrading our natural heritage. Let me explain.

I'm deeply saddened by the loss of our fields and forests and natural places which are being gobbled up by developers at a gluttonous pace. I believe that one of our obligations as stewards of the earth is to protect our open spaces and wildlife habitat and to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

This is a futile enterprise, however, as long as our population continues to expand. People need jobs and places to live and thus more and more land will need to be paved over and dug up and open spaces will become increasingly more scarce as we continue to grow.

Conservation is incompatible in the long term with population growth and thus if our natural beauty is to be saved we have to limit the size of our national population which means reproducing at the replacement level of approximately 2.1 births per woman and limiting immigration to a few thousand people per year.

So what does this have to do with Big Government? Government grows as entitlements grow. A vast entitlement system requires a vast bureaucracy to administer it. The most obese of our entitlements are social security and medicare. As the baby boomers grow into their golden years the demands on these entitlements will expand rapidly. In order to continue funding them at present levels we must expand the size of our wage-earning population, which is one reason why both Republicans and Democrats are loath to do anything about immigration reform. They see immigrants as the solution to the social security crisis looming on the near horizon.

Native-born Americans are reproducing just about at the replacement rate which means that we must import tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of new taxpayers every year to insure that revenues will continue to meet the needs of the older generation who will demand all the benefits promised to them.

As the population expands, however, it puts enormous stress on both wildlife and the land. These are subjected to cumulative insults that gradually diminish the diversity of the former and the quality and quantity of the latter. Housing, malls, roads all consume vast quantities of acreage every year in this country, permanently wiping out habitat and scenic beauty that nourish the human soul.

A better solution from a conservationist point of view would be to limit immigration, raise the age of eligibility for entitlements, cut back on some benefits, and thus reduce the size of the bureacracy that manages the system, but these measures no politician who values his or her job has the audacity to propose. The easy way out, which is too often the preferred egress for our political leaders, is to maintain the entitlement status quo, thus keeping government big and keeping the population growing, which means opening the borders to anybody who wants in. Thus our numbers burgeon and more and more of our natural lands get turned into asphalt and endless seas of housing developments to accomodate the growth.

It all seems terribly myopic, but to those who think only in terms of political expediency and economic profit the beauty of our countryside is an expendable resource there to be exploited.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Decline of the Secular University

Stephen Carter reviews C. John Sommerville's Decline of the Secular University at Christianity Today:

A few years ago, while visiting an explicitly Christian university, I met two students who said they had been ridiculed for raising a biblical perspective in the classroom. Their travails remind us how diligently most contemporary scholars struggle to separate their pedagogy from their religious faith. American universities are famously in love with the ideology of secularism. On the flip side, they are notoriously skeptical or even hostile toward religion. In his masterful Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, John Milbank defended the primacy of theology for the Christian scholar.

Since Milbank's call, unfortunately, the situation on campuses has worsened. C. John Sommerville, in The Decline of the Secular University, warns that campus life is swiftly bypassing secularism in favor of post-secularism. That is, the appeal to reason is being replaced by the appeal to fashion. The secular university, says Sommerville, "was a flawed concept from the beginning," because it focused on the education of young people without any sense of why they were being educated.

Worse still, to the extent that the university becomes post-secular, it will hopelessly flounder at preparing students to use the knowledge they gain. The modern campus, Sommerville says, does nothing to help students ponder the most significant questions in life-that is, the categories that religions believe they can address. Religious studies departments at most major universities do nothing to improve matters. He says professors prefer not to do theology and thus study religion from the outside rather than the inside. As for scientists, Sommerville is troubled by their refusal to take up the questions he finds truly interesting-for example, the ability of some part of the universe (us) to become "aware of itself."

Although Sommerville's concerns might be exaggerated, most of his criticism hits the target. We are questioning, wondering creatures, and Sommerville wants universities to help us question and wonder better. Because the secular project demanded "destroying traditions," it kicked away the props on which might rest answers to the great questions. As the university now becomes post-secular, it replaces those props with a celebration of feeling and "fashionable moralizing."

My date book contains cartoons first published in the New Yorker. One shows a young boy in front of his class, doing arithmetic at the blackboard. He has just written "7 x 5 = 75" and says to his astonished teacher, "It may be wrong, but it's how I feel." There, in a nutshell, is the problem with the post-secular university. Faith is dead, reason is dying, but "how I feel" is going strong. Should we ignore warnings like Sommerville's, "how I feel" will be all there is.

Indeed, in a secular setting nothing students study has any real meaning or significance. All that matters, in many cases, is having the right attitude about things, holding fashionable opinions, achieving status among one's peers, projecting a proper image, having sex. The knowledge content students are tested on in their classes is so much background static in their lives. It means nothing to them in any life-enriching sense. It's just a hoop they have to jump through in order to get a degree and get a job. This is certainly not true of all students, but it's true of many, maybe even most, and the secular university offers nothing that can help fill a student's emptiness except the opportunity to participate in weekend bacchanalia with other similarly emotionally and intellectually deracinated young people. It's all quite sad.

Tom Wolfe captures, perhaps unintentionally, the hollowness of campus secularism and the spiritual impoverishment which results with especial skill in his novel I Am Charlotte Simmons. It's a book every parent should read before sending a son or daughter off to a secular college.