Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Greatest Threat to Free Speech

A lot of Christians are very upset about what they see as an assault on their faith by The Da Vinci Code. Some are threatening legal action, at least in Europe. It is ironic that the movie houses and filmmakers, both of which stand to make a boodle on this film, would never have dreamed of making or showing a film which debunked or embarrassed Islam. Muslims have managed to frighten Hollywood into a state of craven self-censorship.

As Joseph Bottum writes at First Things the lesson will not be lost on the fringe elements among Christians who will ask themselves why violence should not be used if it works so effectively.

An entertainment culture that regularly perpetrates the most disgusting insults on the Christian faith, knowing that Christians will not slit their throats over it, recoils in terror from printing a few bland cartoons of Mohammed.

The greatest threat to free speech in this country is the willingness of those who make their living off of it to exploit it to offend only those who will not punish them for it. What good is free speech, people are going to wonder, if it can be employed to satirize one group but not another? What good is it if those who threaten violence are exempted from its barbs?

The failure of the media and the entertainment industry to stand up to Islamic intimidation will only encourage others who have been offended by those institutions, which depend upon the protections of the first amendment, to threaten violence themselves.

Robert Wright Discusses the Anthropic Principle

Robert wright interviews a number of thinkers who grapple with the telic implications of the anthropic principle. A brief video clip of a particularly interesting session with physicist turned theologian John Polkinghorne is here, and links to interviews with Freeman Dyson, Owen Gingrich, and Brian Swimme can be found there as well. Swimme, by the way, does a pretty good job of convincing the listener that the universe must have been designed while trying vigorously to avoid that conclusion himself.

It seems to many that our universe is so astonishingly fine-tuned for life that either it is the product of purposeful design or there must exist a near infinite number of other universes in addition to our own. If there are enough worlds, the thinking goes, then every possible world, no matter how improbable, would have to exist among them. Since ours is a possible world it would have to exist, and therefore we shouldn't be too surprised that it does.

A lot of thinkers, including many who don't want to accept the conclusion that our world is intentionally designed, are very uncomfortable with the many-worlds hypothesis. They don't like the fact that there is no evidence for other worlds, and it's hard to imagine how there could be or how any test for another universe could be conducted. They're also uncomfortable with the obvious flouting of the principle that the most parsimonious explanations which fit all the facts are to be preferred in both science and philosophy. There's nothing parsimonious about an explanation which posits a near infinite number of entities that no one has, or could, observe. Moreover, the source of these other worlds seems problematic. How are they being produced? Is there some sort of universe generator that manufactures universes? If so, what sorts of laws would govern it? Where did it come from?

Finally, we might ask of the advocates of the many-worlds hypothesis why it is, given that we have evidence of minds producing order, complexity and fine-tuning but no evidence of other worlds existing, that they would embrace the speculation that they do. If this embrace is merely an act of desperation to enable them to escape the inference that there is a cosmic designer then why do they feel the need to do that? Why is the existence of a cosmic designer more philosophically repugnant to them than the existence of an infinite number of worlds?

Global Warming

Worried about global warming or do you think global warming is a bunch of hooey? Either way, Mark Steyn's column on the matter, like his columns on just about any matter, is a must read:

Do you worry? You look like you do. Worrying is the way the responsible citizen of an advanced society demonstrates his virtue: He feels good by feeling bad.

But what to worry about? Iranian nukes? Nah, that's just some racket cooked up by the Christian fundamentalist Bush and his Zionist buddies to give Halliburton a pretext to take over the Persian carpet industry. Worrying about nukes is so '80s. "They make me want to throw up. . . . They make me feel sick to my stomach," wrote the British novelist Martin Amis, who couldn't stop thinking about them 20 years ago. In the intro to a collection of short stories, he worried about the Big One and outlined his own plan for coping with a nuclear winter wonderland:

"Suppose I survive," he fretted. "Suppose my eyes aren't pouring down my face, suppose I am untouched by the hurricane of secondary missiles that all mortar, metal and glass has abruptly become: Suppose all this. I shall be obliged (and it's the last thing I feel like doing) to retrace that long mile home, through the firestorm, the remains of the thousands-miles-an-hour winds, the warped atoms, the groveling dead. Then -- God willing, if I still have the strength, and, of course, if they are still alive -- I must find my wife and children and I must kill them."

But the Big One never fell. And instead of killing his wife Martin Amis had to make do with divorcing her.

Read the rest at the link. It's funny.