Friday, June 30, 2006

Perky Economy

The Bush economy continues to chug along like the little engine that could despite the woeful prognostications of those who, perhaps for political purposes, seem to prefer to see it bogged down in the mire of recession:

The economy sprang out of a year-end rut and zipped ahead in the opening quarter of this year at a 5.6 percent pace, the fastest in 2 1/2 years and even stronger than previously thought.

The new snapshot of gross domestic product for the January-to-March period exceeded the 5.3 percent growth rate estimated a month ago, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The upgraded reading - based on more complete information - matched economists' forecasts.

No doubt Paul Krugman at the New York Times will manage to find the bad news in this somehow.

Putin's Answer

A couple of days ago we wondered how the Russians would react to the murders of four of their diplomats at the hands of Iraqi insurgents. It looks like the answer is in:

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia's special services to hunt down and "destroy" the killers of four Russian diplomats in Iraq, the Kremlin said.

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of the Federal Security Service - the main successor to the Soviet KGB - later said that everything would be done to ensure that the killers "do not escape from responsibility," the Interfax news agency reported.

"The president has ordered the special forces to take all necessary measures to find and destroy the criminals who killed Russian diplomats in Iraq," the Kremlin press service said in a brief statement.

Putin also said Russia "will be grateful to all its friends for any information on the criminals," the Kremlin said.

That the murderers will be found is probable. What remains to be seen is what their fate will be. Right now they're probably hoping that if they're caught it'll be by the Americans.

Insurgents Want Us to Stay

Sunni insurgent groups negotiating for a cessation of hostilities are predicating their cooperation with the Iraqi government on an agreement that coalition troops withdraw within two years:

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks - including those on American troops - if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala.

The Democrat left has repeatedly demanded that we withdraw immediately or within one year, but it seems that the insurgents think a longer stay is necessary to ensure the stability of Iraq and the security of the Sunnis. Indeed, it looks like the insurgents actually want us to stay in Iraq longer than the Democrats do.

This puts the Dems in the awkward position of insisting that our troops are more destabilizing than the insurgents think they are, but then awkward positions are not foreign to the Reid, Kerry, Kennedy bunch.

Numbers Stirs Up the Hornets

One of the most prominent historians of science, Ronald Numbers, had some interesting things to say in an interview by PBS. For example, he deconstructs one of the favorite dogmas of those hostile to religion:

QUESTION: I'd like to move on, to talk about the Galileo case. Many people have a mythology that during his trial there was somebody down in the basement stoking the pyre and oiling the rack - that he was in imminent danger of losing his life. Is this a true representation of the case?

MR. NUMBERS: Contrary to common myth, Galileo suffered very little abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. He was never tortured, he never faced death. In fact, he was never imprisoned. His penalty was house arrest at a pleasant villa on the outskirts of Florence, Italy.

Galileo's problems with the church stemmed far less from his astronomical and physical views than from his lack of diplomacy, and from his impertinence in trying to instruct the church on how to interpret Scriptures, as some Protestants had attempted to do in the previous century. Furthermore, in writing his controversial book, Galileo had the impertinence to attribute the Pope's views to a simple-minded character named Simplicius. This Pope [Urban VIII] had once been a patron of Galileo's and had supported his scientific efforts, so such a lack of diplomacy turned even the Pope against his one-time friend.

...there seems no reason to believe that Galileo at any point faced the threat of death. There was never any indication in the court records of death being a possible penalty, and no other scientists were put to death for their scientific views....I can think of no scientist who ever lost his life for his scientific views.

Having roundly kicked this much-beloved prop out from under the religion-haters he went on to infuriate them with this remark:

To me, the struggle in the late 20th Century between creationists and evolutionists does not represent another battle between science and religion because rarely do creationists display hostility towards science. If you read their literature, you'll rarely come across an anti-scientific notion. They love science. They love what science can do. They hate the fact that science has been hijacked by agnostics and atheists to offer such speculative theories as organic evolution. So, they don't see themselves as being antagonistic to science any more than many of the advocates of evolution - those who see evolution as God's method of creation - view themselves as hostile to Christianity.

The public often gets the impression that most scientists are non-believers. But, that's not true. Just within the past year the journal Nature published a study that revealed even today roughly the same proportion of scientists believe in God as did 75 years ago. [The figure is almost 40%]

Now the reader might wonder why this should infuriate the anti-religion crowd. Well, I invite the curious to visit The Panda's Thumb and read their version of an intelligent discussion that was triggered by this interview with Prof. Numbers.

At Panda's Thumb, run by a choleric college biologist named P.Z. Myers, the visitor will be astonished by calls for lining up Christians and shooting them and will witness other marvelous examples of the love some Darwinian atheists have both for Christians (See, for example, comments #107907, 107913, 107982 by a mentally ill person named Kevin of NYC), and for other Darwinian atheists who have the temerity to disagree with them on some minor point (See #108356 and a reply here).

The "dialogue" really is amusing, sad and a bit scary all at once.

Noah's Ark

Wouldn't this throw the whole debate over evolution topsy-turvy:

A team of Texas archaeologists believe they may have located the remains of Noah's Ark in Iran's Elburz mountain range.

"I can't imagine what it could be if it is not the Ark," said Arch Bonnema of the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (B.A.S.E) Institute, a Christian archeology organization dedicated to looking for biblical artifacts. Bonnema and the other B.A.S.E. Institute members hiked for seven hours in the mountains northwest of Tehran, climbing 13,000 feet before making the apparent discovery. "We got up to this object, nestled in the side of a hill," said Robert Cornuke, a member of the B.A.S.E. Institute. "We found something that has my heart skipping a beat."

At first, they didn't dare to hope it was the biblical boat.

"It wasn't impressive at first," Cornuke said. "Certainly didn't think it to be Noah's Ark. But when we got close, we were amazed. It looked similar to wood." In addition, some B.A.SE. members say, their discovery didn't look very distinctive. "It looked like the deck of any boat today," Bonnema said.

The Bible places the Ark in the mountains of Ararat, a mountain range theologians believe spans hundreds of miles, which the team says is consistent with their find in Iran. The Bible also describes the Ark's dimensions as being 300 cubits by 50 cubits -- about the size of a small aircraft carrier. The B.A.S.E. Institute's discovery is similar in size and scale.

"It is provocative to think that this could be the lost ark of Noah," Cornuke said.

Throughout history, people have been searching for the Ark to help prove God's existence. "There's this idea, if we can prove that the ark existed then we can prove that the story existed, and more importantly, we can prove that God existed," said Bruce Feiler, author of "Where God Was Born."

The B.A.S.E. Institute's samples are being examined at labs in Texas and Florida. B.A.S.E officials concede that there would be no way to conclusively prove that their finding is actually Noah's Ark.

So the hunt goes on. The biggest hurdle in identifying Noah's Ark comes down to "gopher wood." The Bible says the Ark was made of gopher wood but no one knows what it is.

There's more at the link.

I doubt that discovery of the ark would "prove God's existence," as Mr. Feiler asserts, although it would certainly be powerful confirmation of the veracity of the early chapters of Genesis, and it would have a tectonic impact on current debates over the evolution of life. If it turns out that these really are the remains of a large ancient boat (and at this point we have no idea whether they are or aren't) then the question that will emerge is how did a huge vessel get to an altitude of 13,000 feet unless borne there by water. Skeptics will be able to avoid admitting that Genesis is correct about the occurence of a vast flood by arguing that it's possible the boat was actually built there by ancient people as a shrine or some such thing, and, of course, such an explanation is possible.

Thus, even if this does turn out to be an artifact similar to what is described in Genesis, believers should not get their hopes up that it will be accepted by non-believers as a decisive proof of the Genesis story. Nevertheless, it will shift a tremendous intellectual and psychological advantage to those who have argued all along that the flood of Noah was a literal historical event and give enormous support to the arguments of the young-earth creationists.