Friday, January 20, 2006

On Believing the Impossible

Joe Carter could never be an atheist because he finds himself incapable of believing impossible things. To see what he means go here, and be sure to check out the excellent dialogue in the comments section.

Hall of Fame

Bill has collated the series we did on Christian Belief and the Dover ID trial to make it easier to access each of them in their entirety. The links are in the left margin of this page under the somewhat pretentious heading of "Hall of Fame."

Ann Sums Up the Week

Ann Coulter summarizes the week's political news by skewering Hillary's inanity and Teddy's hypocrisy in a column carried by She also praises Samuel Alito and, perhaps surprisingly, Ray Nagin. Here's the gist:

So Hillary Clinton thinks the House of Representatives is being "run like a plantation." And, she added, "you know what I'm talking about." As Hillary explained, the House "has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."

Yes, that's what was really missing on plantations during the slavery era: the opportunity to present a contrary view. Gosh, if only the slaves had been allowed to call for cloture votes. What a difference that would have made!

Madam Hillary also said the Bush administration "will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." While Hillary is certainly qualified to comment on what the all-time worst presidential administrations were, having had firsthand experience in one of them, I think she might want to avoid the phrase "go down in history."

Ever since Bork, Republicans have been terrified of nominating candidates with something in their background that might possibly suggest the nominee did not get down on his knees (another phrase Hillary should avoid) and thank God for Roe v. Wade every night. That's how we ended up with mediocrities like David Hackett Souter and Anthony "Third Choice" Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Besides being stunningly qualified, the characteristics of the current stellar Supreme Court nominee include these:

His mother immediately told the press, "Of course he's against abortion."

He had expressed support for the Reagan administration's positions on abortion in a 1985 memo.

He refused to accede to the Democrats' endless browbeating and tell them that Roe was "settled law."

And the Democrats couldn't lay a finger on him. Sam Alito marks the final purging of the Bork experience.

In my mind, the only potentially disqualifying aspect of Alito's record was that he wasn't a more active member of CAP, a group opposed to quotas, set-asides and the lowering of academic standards at Princeton. Then this week, we found out Sen. Teddy Kennedy still belongs to an organization that doesn't admit women. Oh -- also, he killed a girl.

I'm fairly certain I've mentioned that before -- I don't recall, Mr. Chairman -- but I don't understand why everyone doesn't mention it every time Senator Drunkennedy has the audacity to talk about how "troubled" and "concerned" he is about this or that nominee. I bet Mary Jo was "troubled" and "concerned" about the senator leaving her trapped in a car under water while he went back to the hotel to create an alibi. It's not as if Democrats can say: OK, OK! The man paid a price! Let it go! He didn't pay a price. The Kopechne family paid a price. Kennedy weaved away scot-free.

But the Democrats are "troubled" about Sam Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton 30 years ago. If they're "concerned" about lifetime appointments for people with memberships in "troubling" organizations, wait until they hear about Bob Byrd! (Former Kleagle, Ku Klux Klan.)

Now that Zell Miller is out of office, the only office-holding Democrat I like anymore is Ray Nagin, mayor of New Orleans. I had never heard of him until Hurricane Katrina, but after his "gaffe" this week, he's my favorite Democrat. I like a politician who casually spouts off insanely politically incorrect remarks in front of large audiences and TV cameras.

Nagin cheerfully told a crowd gathered for a Martin Luther King Day celebration that New Orleans would soon be "Chocolate City" again. I don't know who's supposed to be offended by that. I'm not. Perhaps all the white mayors who know they couldn't have said it. True, life's unfair. Oh well.

When it comes to choice-of-word crimes, I'd prefer detente to mutually assured destruction. Lead us off the chocolate plantation, Mayor Nagin!

There are a couple of thoughts we might tack on to Coulter's column. Unlike some, I don't see that there was anything racially pernicious in what Hillary said about the House of Representatives being run like a plantation. Some commentators tried to turn this into some sort of racial gaffe. It wasn't. What was wrong with it was that it was dumb and completely untrue. Democrats have more rights as a minority party today than Republicans did under the Democrats until 1994 when they took control, and the Democrats enjoy those rights because the Republicans changed the rules when they came to power.

Secondly, Coulter is at least partly right in her tongue-in-cheek assessment of Nagin's clunkish remarks. The number of people who are afraid to say anything that has racial overtones, especially if the remarks can in any way be construed as disparaging to members of a minority, has soared in the past two decades. Consider the abject grovelling to which Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, Tom Brookshire, and Trent Lott, to name a few, were made to undergo to atone for their "insensitivity". This is as absurd as it is unwarranted. We need a racial conversation in this country, but we'll never get one as long as people are afraid of being tarred as bigots as soon as they open their mouths, and forced to do self-flagellatory penance.

Nagin's comments weren't very adroit and he can be criticized for his exclusionary vision of New Orleans, the utter blockheadedness of his vision, and his arrogation of knowledge of God's will in the matter, but his honesty and clarity are refreshing. Criticize him for being dumb, but let's not be too quick to label people racist.

Objections to ID

Libertarian economist Bob Murphy forays into the realm of scientific/philosophical controversy to put the kibosh on some of the more common objections to Intelligent Design. He does a pretty good job and says some very interesting things along the way.

For example, he observes that:

[The critics claim that] beyond being merely wrong, ID allegedly fails to qualify even as a scientific theory at all. Science invokes only natural causes to explain things in the natural world, and hence (the objection runs) ID is unscientific when it invokes an unseen "designer" to explain, say, the irreducible complexity of the human nervous system.

William Dembski has dealt this objection a decisive blow when he explains the potential for ID in bioterrorism forensics. At some point in the not too distant future, we will probably see outbreaks of genetically engineered viruses or bacteria. After a given outbreak, people will need to be able to determine whether the deaths were due to natural causes, or were instead homicides. Now whom should we ask to perform this task for us? Priests? Philosophers? Or scientists? And if you agree that it should be the scientists who figure it out, how should they proceed? Wouldn't they, oh I don't know, take samples of the viruses and see if they could've been produced by Darwinian processes, and then (if not) report to the government that we've got some terrorists out there designing killer microbes?

I think that even the atheist who carries this thought experiment out will have to concede that the counterterrorism analysts will end up doing things that Behe and Dembski talk about right now. Note that I'm not saying the government will hire Behe and Dembski to do it; maybe they're not very good scientists after all. But their work is not in principle unscientific, unless we admit that scientists would have nothing to say in the autopsies of entire towns wiped out by a mysterious virus.

Later he notes that those who argue against creationism by insisting that God would never create something just to have it go extinct must, if they're consistent, be atheists:

I want to reiterate a point I've made elsewhere: If you think that creationism (which isn't the same as ID, by the way) can be ruled out on theological grounds, then (if you believe in the standard theory of evolution) you have to be a virtual atheist. For if no benevolent God would ever (say) specially create millions of different species such that the vast majority would go extinct, then no benevolent God would set up the initial conditions of the universe such that random mutation and natural selection would lead to the evolution and extinction of 99% of all species. In other words, if you think that the history of life rules out the Genesis account, be prepared for it to rule out any account involving a God who is powerful, benevolent, and wise.

He finishes by addressing the claim, iterated and reiterated by Judge Jones in his Kitzmiller decision, that ID is just a disguised form of Christianity:

A very popular (and ad hominem) attack is that ID proponents don't really just believe in ID; they're actually Bible-thumping Christians who pretend they don't know anything about the designer in order to keep the classroom textbooks legal. I agree that the vast majority of ID proponents probably fit this description. However, one notable exception is philosopher Antony Flew. When Flew renounced his atheism because of the evidence of design, I recall prominent atheists reassuring their followers that Flew wasn't a Christian, and that all he meant was that life didn't arise purely by accident. So apparently (as even the atheists in this case point out with relief) one can be convinced by the empirical evidence that life exhibits design, without endorsing the God of the Bible.

Murphy is a layman and some might scoff that he's unqualified to pass judgment on the arguments he critiques, but then Judge Jones is a layman who spent the seven years before his appointment to the federal bench as the chairman of the state liquor control board (hardly a scientific think tank), yet the anti-ID folks seem unable to praise his Solomonic wisdom highly enough.

Detached Clergy

A couple of years ago United Methodist Bishop Sprague of Chicago called the imminent U.S. overthrow of Saddam "morally lamentable" and "theologically reprehensible." In Methodist theology, we must assume, it is morally lamentable to overthrow tyrannical murderers who are responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of their own countrymen.

Meanwhile, millions of Methodists, too morally untutored to appreciate the grievous wickedness of what Bush did, simply ignored their denominational leadership and voted in 2004 for the man who liberated 50 million Afghans and Iraqis from oppression.

Maybe one reason mainline protestant denominations are in decline is that the people who are supposed to be the sages of the church too often come across as shallow ideologues whose theological wisdom is pretty much informed by whatever the current liberal political fashion happens to be.