Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Defining Our Terms

Telic Thoughts has a discussion of the nature of "metaphysical naturalism" here to which I've submitted the following comment:

One of the fundamental problems in the debate over design is the vagueness of the terms "natural" and "supernatural." What exactly are natural or supernatural entities? Is a natural entity simply something which is part of the space-time universe and a supernatural entity something which transcends this universe?

If so, then those cosmologists wrestling with theories about "other worlds" are really doing theology, not science. If, however, we wish to consider the theorizing of cosmologists to be legitimate science then we have to say that excluding theorizing about an extra-cosmic designer from science is an arbitrary and unwarranted step.

For all we know, the designer could be a denizen of one of those universes or it could be the "generator" which manufactures those universes.

In other words, the concept of other worlds effectively erases the natural/supernatural distinction and greatly expands the purview of science.

The question then becomes not whether talk of a designer is scientific or not but whether there is reason to think that our universe and the living things in it show evidence of intention and intelligent engineering.

The next time someone tells you that Intelligent Design is not science because it invokes the supernatural and science only deals with what is natural ask them what they mean by those terms. Chances are they won't be able to give a coherent, non-arbitrary reply.

Steadfast Ally

Australian Prime Minister John Howard recently gave a marvelous speech in which he offered much praise of the United States. I'm trying to imagine this speech coming from, say, Harry Reid, but I can't:

No global challenge could be secured without American power and purpose, Prime Minister John Howard has declared in a vigorous defence of the role played by the US since the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Without American leadership, the trials and tragedies of recent years could be but a prelude of darker days to come," Mr Howard said in an address yesterday to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "With American leadership, we can build a better world - not just for us, but for all."

Sharpening his call for the US to play a greater role in global affairs, Mr Howard told the council: "To the voices of anti-Americanism around the world, to those who shout 'Yankee go home', let me offer some quiet advice: be careful what you wish for."

Mr Howard said the imperative of American global leadership was one of three defining truths "in this age of global opportunity and uncertainty". The other truths were that, "we live as never before in a world of blurred boundaries" and that liberal democracies had to respond with "a synthesis of interests and values; a marriage of national strategy with national character".

1. Addressing specific global challenges, Mr Howard:

2. Reaffirmed the commitment to match the resolve of the US in Iraq. "Australia is with you. We will stay the course. We will finish the job," he said.

3. Described Iran's refusal to back down on its pursuit of uranium enrichment as a challenge for the United Nations.

4. Predicted that the emergence of a global middle class, particularly in China and India, would be one of the most momentous trends of the 21st century.

5. Defined China's rise as the defining phenomenon of the age.

6. Praised Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, saying he was tackling the enormous challenges facing Indonesia robustly and admirably.

Mr Howard also said none of the problems in the Asia-Pacific region - including in the Taiwan Strait and on the Korean Peninsula - could be resolved, or even managed, without US leadership and engagement. He said the key to relations with China was "building on shared interests and widening the circle of co-operation, while dealing openly and honestly on issues where we might disagree".

Acknowledging a greater wariness towards China's growth in the US, Mr Howard cautioned that not only China needed to adjust to changing realities. "The international community must also acknowledge that China is determined to succeed and to reclaim its place in the global order." Before the speech, Mr Howard played down the personal significance of the glowing reception and lavish praise he received in Washington from President George Bush and others.

"I see everything that has happened over the past few days as a compliment to my country, not to me," he said. "This is a wonderful endorsement of the importance of Australia to the United States, of the respect America has for Australia no matter who the prime minister is."

That respect is due to the fact that unlike most other Western countries, Australia sees clearly the threat we are all facing and is resolved to resist it. Western civilization is surrounded by those who want nothing more than to destroy it, including China and Russia. Most of the West has buried their heads in the sand and refuse to face up to what's happening. The U.S., Britain, Australia, Israel and a very few others, alone among the world's civilized nations, refuse to capitulate to the forces which plot it's destruction.

Fighting in Afghanistan

Bill Roggio summarizes the latest news from the fighting in Afghanistan in two posts at Counterterrorism blog:

Coalition forces continue to maintain the offensive against the Taliban in Southeast Afghanistan. A joint task force of Afghan and Coalition security forces encountered "organized armed opposition" from the Taliban during a joint operation near the town of Azizi in Uruzgan province. Twenty Taliban were confirmed killed, with up to 80 suspected killed after a combined ground and air assault on Taliban positions. This would put the number of Taliban killed in action over the past week between 220 to 280. In a separate raid, Mullah Mohibullah, the Taliban commander for Helmand province, was captured in a bazaar in Uruzgan province.

The engagement in Azizi follows a week of combat in the southeastern provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand and Ghazni. The majority of the fighting has been initiated by joint Afghan-Coalition operations designed to root out Taliban strongholds and safe havens in the region....Afghan and Coalition forces are pushing into relatively uncharted territory and are now encountering resistance from the Taliban and their allies.

The lopsided results of operations in Azizi, Panjwai and Zangi Abad are indicative of what happens when Taliban forces mass to wage open battles against Coalition and Afghan security forces. Even when the Taliban has initiated the combat, such as the ambushes in Musa Qala, Afghan security forces have been able to fend off the attacks and call for reinforcements of ground and air assets. Well-trained Western forces (and the Afghan Army in many instances) combined with Coalition air power has had a devastating effect on Taliban units attempting to fight in company-sized units or greater, and result in high Taliban casualties. Lately, the Taliban have begun to focus on the Afghan police, which are easier targets as they are not as well trained or equipped as the Afghan Army and Coalition forces.

Every spring since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 the Taliban has initiated a new spring offensive. By the end of the summer, their energy is spent after suffering high casualties and lopsided defeats on the battlefield. But there is no shortage of Taliban fighters just as long as the Taliban can freely recruit, train, arm and stage forces from Pakistan's tribal areas.

Earlier in the week Roggio reported this:

The latest estimate of Taliban casualties during the fighting over the past few days is approaching 200, with 25 Coalition, Afghan security forces and civilians killed. The Daily Times of Pakistan reports the fighting around Kandahar City, which was initiated by two separate Coalition operations, resulted in an estimated 100 Taliban killed. The U.S. military reported up to 60 Taliban were killed in the fighting at Musa Qala, where the Afghan security forces thwarted a major Taliban assault. Agence France-Presse reports two French commandos were killed and one wounded in an "engagement against the Taliban in the region of Kandahar" - during offensive operations. A U.S. soldier was also killed in Uruzgan. Fighting continued in Helmand through Saturday, as the Taliban ambushed an Afghan convoy. At least 15 Taliban and 4 Afghan soldiers were killed, and 13 Afghan soldiers are missing. the Afghan Army called for reinforcements and air support, and beat back the attack. The reporting continues to conflate Coalition and Taliban operations.

Assadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar reiterated the claim that three Taliban commanders were captured, and described them as "high-ranking Taliban, members of their leadership council." The arrest of Mullah Dadullah has not been confirmed, however a one legged man fitting Dadullah description is said to be in custody. A man claiming to be Dadullah phoned a Pakistani newspaper and refuted the claims.

In addition to the capture of three top Taliban leaders, and all the intelligencve they will divulge, the good news here is that the Afghan army appears to be able to handle much of the fighting on their own (along with a little help from coalition air support). The competence of the Afghans will continue to expand with time, just like that of the Iraqi forces.

The Taliban in Afghanistan are like the cartoon character Elmer Fudd. Each day he goes out to shoot Bugs Bunny and each day he winds up getting himself severely scorched. The Taliban just keep throwing themselves unthinkingly at the coalition with pretty much the same result each time.

Case Closed

The case for building a high-tech fence between the United States and Mexico has just been clinched. The only half-serious argument against building such a fence is that it wouldn't work. Now we know that that argument is just so much hot air. Here is Vicente Fox, president of Mexico on the subject:

Kicking off a four-day, three-state tour, Mexican President Vicente Fox said Tuesday that his nation wants to be part of the solution in the immigration debate, not the problem. "We don't set up walls, and that's not the way you're going to fix this situation," Fox said in Spanish to representatives of groups active in Utah's Mexican community. "It's not with fences that we are going to solve this problem."

It's a reliable rule of thumb that if Fox is saying that something is not a solution to illegal immigration then it is very likely to be exactly that.

See here for a good brief discussion of the issue.