Thursday, June 22, 2006

Thirteen For Surrender

A total of thirteen senators, all Democrats, voted for the Kerry/Feingold amendment which would have compelled President Bush to withdraw all American troops from Iraq by July 31st, 2007 regardless of what the consequences of that withdrawal would be for the region or the Iraqi people. Listed here are the thirteen:

Akaka(D-HI), Boxer(D-CA), Durbin(D-IL), Feingold(D-WI), Harkin(D-IA), Inouye(D-HI), Jeffords(I-VT), Kennedy(D-MA), Kerry(D-MA), Lautenberg(D-NJ), Leahy(D-VT), Menendez(D-NJ), Wyden(D-OR)

Shortly after that ballot thirty nine senators voted for a meaningless resolution which would have essentially conveyed to the president the Senate's wish that we get out of Iraq as soon as conditions are right for a withdrawal. Six Democrats joined fifty four Republicans to vote against the resolution. The six Democrats were Mark Dayton, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Joe Lieberman, Bill Nelson and Ben Nelson. Lincoln Chaffee was the sole Republican to vote for the resolution.

During the debate Senator Russ Feingold made the statement that "It is time to tell the Iraqis that we have done what we can do militarily." What on earth makes the senator say this? The presence of our troops defends the Iraqis from predatory neighbors and is the best immediate protection from the ravages of insurgents and terrorists. If the senator thinks that withdrawing before Iraq is prepared to stand on its own is in our, or anyone's (besides the thugs') best interests, then, however smart he may be, he is exceptionally foolish.

Hope For Paralysis Victims

This is a hopeful development:

Scientists have used stem cells and a soup of nerve-friendly chemicals to not just bridge a damaged spinal cord but actually regrow the circuitry needed to move a muscle, helping partially paralyzed rats walk.

Years of additional research is needed before such an experiment could be attempted in people. But the work marks a tantalizing new step in stem cell research that promises to one day help repair damage from nerve-destroying illnesses such as Lou Gehrig's disease, or from spinal cord injuries.

According to the report the stem cells used were mouse embryonic stem cells. Read the whole account here.

The Darwinians constantly remind us that unless science is based on the assumption of evolution it will never progress. I wonder what role evolutionary thinking played in this research.

"Cut and Run" Dems

The Senate is voting today on a proposal by Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold which would order the president to fly the last helicopter out of Iraq by this time next year regardless of conditions on the ground.

Michelle Malkin has lots of information on the debate and an alternative proposal, none of which will be helpful to those who wish to bamboozle the public into thinking that the Democrats are responsible adults capable of leading this nation in the war on terror.

Malkin captures the essence of the Democrats' strategy for the war in this photo of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid:

The Democrats disingenuously bristle at the suggestion that they are demanding that the U.S. "cut and run." They're doing no such thing, they insist, they're only calling for a "change in direction," but the change, of course, is in the direction in which we are running.

Perplexities of Atheism

Carson Holloway has a strange piece on atheist biologist Richard Dawkins at National Review Online. I say that it's strange because part of it is a criticism of Dawkins for insisting on propagating what he believes to be the truth despite the harmful effects it has apparently had on the psychological health of some of his readers. Holloway thinks this is irresponsible:

Dawkins, however, appears to be utterly indifferent to the spiritual and emotional difficulties that his writings cause for many of his readers. He mentions one reader for whom The Selfish Gene initiated a "personal crisis." Its apparent debunking of any higher purpose in nature caused this person "a series of bouts of depression" lasting over a decade. In another case, a teacher wrote to reprimand Dawkins for his book's effect on a young student who was driven to tears after concluding that The Selfish Gene teaches that life is "empty and purposeless."

What is Dawkins's response to those for whom his popularization of evolution causes so much pain? Essentially it is this: "Keep a stiff upper lip." If "something is true," he responds, "no amount of wishful thinking can undo it." No doubt this is correct. But we might with as much propriety ask Dawkins: "If something is painful, does its truth justify inflicting it on people who find it disturbing?" Let us grant - only, to be sure, for the sake of argument - that Dawkins's Darwinian explanation of Life, the Universe, and Everything is true. Does this in itself justify his strident shoving of it into our public discourse, knowing full well the emotional distress it will cause the spiritually sensitive?

Dawkins can be faulted for many things, and Holloway is on target in his other criticisms in the essay, but this one is weird. Even if some people (e.g. students) are forced by their instructors to read Dawkins, the fault is not with Dawkins for writing his books, but rather with those who compel them to be read. Moreover, we should not avert our eyes from the truth just because it has unfortunate effects. If life is indeed utterly meaningless in a godless cosmos then students should be helped to see that. Such truths should be proclaimed throughout society. If God is dead then the human condition is absurd. Let people see clearly the consequences and implications of their metaphysical commitments.

Furthermore, Holloway is faulting Dawkins on moral grounds for being insensitive to the effect that his theories have on his readers, but why should Dawkins be moved by a moral argument? If there is no God then why is it wrong to cause people to suffer psycho-emotional distress? If people get hurt by what he says, Dawkins might well reply, what is wrong with that? Why should he care? Moral right and wrong only exist if there is a transcendent ground for them. If there is no such ground then the whole concept of morality reduces to notions of personal taste and preference.

There is an irony here, though, for people like Dawkins. In the words of Holloway, as a scientist Dawkins "is concerned above all with the truth, with simply seeing things as they are, regardless of any other interests or concerns."

But it is only the theist who has any basis for placing such a high value on truth. An evolutionary atheist like Dawkins has no grounds for it all. To see this one might ask why ought we subordinate all else to truth? Why should truth be so important to us? Why does it matter?

Darwinians might reply that knowing truth enhances survival and thus prizing the truth is a trait that nature has selected for in humans. But even if this is correct it's not clear that believing what's true has any more survival value than believing what's false. If some primitive tribe believes that the more children one has the greater their reward will be in an afterlife, that tribe may eventually come to crowd out competitors who correctly believe (the atheist would acknowledge) that there is no afterlife. If religious belief, despite being false, nevertheless enhances human life, gives us solace in our grief, hope in times of despair, and joy throughout then why should people not engage in it even so? The Dawkinsian can give no answer. Is it not better that a person be made happy in this brief life by believing a falsehood than be depressed by seeing the truth that his life is void of meaning.

Truth is a value, in a world without God, only to the extent that it's possession makes our lives better in some way and improves the probability our genes will survive, but it often doesn't do this. The truth is often depressing, discouraging, and debilitating whereas myths and superstition are often uplifting and enriching.

On the other hand, if God does exist, truth takes on a much deeper importance. A God which is the locus and source of all that is Good, all that is Beautiful, and all that is True is intrinsically valuable and to value God is to value truth. To love God is to love truth. If God exists truth matters. Indeed, our eternal destiny may well pivot upon it.

For Dawkins, however, the exaltation of truth is a value plucked out of thin air. He may have as easily plucked out personal comfort or power. His decision to live by the credo that truth matters is no more grounded in anything than if he had chosen instead to live by the credo that ignorance is bliss. Thus his belief that we should embrace the truth regardless of its consequences is obligatory only upon him. He has chosen it as an obligation for himself, but it's binding on no one else. Others may validly absolutize different values and Dawkins has no business saying that they shouldn't.

Dawkins finds himself in the odd position of treasuring truth while simultaneously deriding the only thing - belief in God - that could afford him a non-subjective, non-arbitrary, basis for his choice.