Thursday, September 14, 2006

Steele v. Cardin

Having defeated Kweisi Mfume in Maryland's Democratic senatorial primary race Representative Ben Cardin will now run against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in November for the seat being vacated by retiring Paul Sarbanes.

There are some interesting dynamics at play here. Polls show Cardin leading Steele 49.4% to 40.2%, but Steele's holding a couple of political aces. Steele is a black Republican and Cardin is a white Democrat. It's unclear how enthusiastically the traditional African-American base will greet a Cardin candidacy. Black Democrats may not vote for Steele, but many of them may not wish to vote against him, either, especially if doing so means voting for a white candidate. Moreover, a statewide survey of black voters commissioned by the Maryland Democratic Party showed that 44 percent were open to a Steele candidacy.

In other words, a lot of black voters may either vote for Steele or simply decide to sit out the election. Either result would be very bad news for Cardin who probably has no chance to win without a strong African American turnout on his behalf.

Add to this the fact that Steele has about double the cash on hand that Cardin does and it looks as though Steele has a pretty good shot at winning the seat.

The Pope Slams Naturalism

The headline of this article declares that "The Pope Slams Evolution", but this is not quite accurate. What the Pope seems to be slamming is the idea that the universe and life can be explained in purely naturalistic terms without any reference to God. The headline might more accurately have read, "The Pope Slams Darwinism" because Darwinism holds evolution to be a purely mechanistic process with no explanatory need for any intelligent input from any non-physical source.

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday issued his strongest criticism yet of evolutionary theory, calling it "unreasonable".

Speaking to a 300,000-strong crowd in this German city, the former theological watchdog said that, according to such theories derived from Charles Darwin's work, the universe is "the random result of evolution and therefore, at bottom, something unreasonable".

The homily appeared to throw the Catholic Church's full weight behind the theory of intelligent design (ID) - a subject of massive controversy in the United States. The Catholic Church has for over 50 years accepted Darwin's theory of random selection as the most probable cause of development, but has alway stressed God's role.

Recently, however, top theologians have clashed with Catholic scientists over so-called 'evolutionism' - that is, attempts to make evolution explain everything. Vatican theologian Christoph Schoenborn made headlines with a New York Times article a year ago which endorsed the ID theory that has roiled US academic debate and appeared to back full-fledged Creationism, the core Bible story....

Schoenborn [clarified] his position, saying that evolution as a body of scientific fact was compatible with Catholicism, but that evolution as an ideological dogma that denied design and purpose in Nature was not.

[The Pope] told his young audience in St Peter's that "science supports a reliable, intelligent structure of matter, the design of Creation".

"Accounts about Man don't add up without God, just as accounts about the world, the vast universe, do not add up without Him".

Evolutionary theories, he said, posit that "the Irrational, without reason, strangely produces a cosmos controlled by mathematical rules, and even man and his (powers of) reason".

There's more to the article, including, unfortunately, some irritating misunderstandings about the theory of intelligent design. For instance, in one of the above paragraphs the writer says that:

Vatican theologian Christoph Schoenborn made headlines with a New York Times article a year ago which endorsed the ID theory that has roiled US academic debate and appeared to back full-fledged Creationism, the core Bible story.

This is misleading. It gives the impression that Intelligent Design is Creationism, but this is simply not correct. Creationism is a theory of origins based on the Genesis account in the Bible. ID is a theory based upon the empirical evidence for design that we see in biology and cosmology. Creationism uses the raw material of science to make a number of theological claims, and it rests on theological assumptions about the existence of God and the literal truth of Genesis. ID, as a theory, makes no theological claims and rests on no theological assumptions.

The article also errs at the end where it states that:

Supporters of ID hold that some features of the universe and living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher intelligence.

This is not exactly true. No IDer thinks that complexity alone implies a creative intelligence. What they do assert is that there is both irreducible complexity and specified complexity (information) in the biosphere and that it is these kinds of complexity which point to an intelligent provenience. Not all examples of complex systems display the properties of irreducibility and specificity, but those which do, if in fact they do, cannot be explained in terms of any purely physical, non-sentient mechanisms that we know of. In other words, complexity that is irreducible and/or specified (i.e. it constitutes information - like DNA does) strongly suggests an intelligent origin and cause.

The big question that both critics and advocates of ID are wrestling with is whether there really are unquestionable, indubitable instances of irreducible complexity in the world and whether it's true that those obvious examples of specified complexity, like the genetic code, really cannot be plausibly be explained apart from intelligence.

Syrian Machinations

Yes, I know. The Syrians did a great job of protecting our embassy in Damascus. Thanks. But, at the risk of being hyper-cynical, I can't help being skeptical. This seems, after all, like a rather amateurish attack. The "terrorists" never set off the big bomb in the van, they fought ineffectively, and in short, the operation wasn't well-coordinated and didn't seem to have much of a point.

So I have to ask, why did these thugs waste their lives on what appears to have been a futile mission? Maybe they were led to believe that circumstances on the embassy's perimeter would be different from what they were. Maybe, in other words, the Syrian security forces actually put the attackers up to the deed, and then allowed them to be cut to ribbons by the guards at the embassy who appear to have been prepared for the assault.

Why would Assad have orchestrated such treachery and intrigue? Because by appearing to defend the Americans in the embassy the United States becomes indebted to him. He's seen as someone who, despite his flaws, really means well. This makes it considerably more difficult for us to pull the trigger on Syria if it should ever become necessary to do so. Condemning or imposing sanctions against Syria for their sundry crimes and misdeeds after they have fought so nobly in our defense would look like a terrible betrayal of their "friendship".

The attack in Damascus may have been a genuine attempt hatched by inept terrorists to kill Americans, or it may have been a clever attempt by a Machiavellian regime to buy American good will in order to immunize it against sanctions - or worse. Perhaps we'll see soon enough.

The Global War Against Non-Muslims

The bacillus of world-wide jihad against the infidel is not confined to attacks against the West. It has afflicted Africa, India and is raging also in Asia. This is from a report on the situation in Thailand:

September 8, 2006: The 32 months of violence in the Moslem south [southern Thailand] have so far caused nearly 4,300 casualties (40 percent of them fatal). During that period, there were some 5,500 incidents of Islamic terrorist violence. That's an average of 5-6 a day, among a population of 2.4 million (some 80 percent Moslem). The violence was largely directed at the 400,000 or so non-Moslems. The terrorist attacks have had the effect of doubling the normal murder rate in the south. A religiously inspired crime wave, so to speak. But the terror is very real as well, especially for non-Moslems. Since most of the deaths are among the non-Moslem minority, the death rate for that community has risen to about 15 per 100,000 per year. The rate in the U.S. is about 6 per 100,000 people per year.

While the number of bombings has increased this year, the casualty rate has gone down. This is largely because of the thousands of additional soldiers and police sent to the south. These security forces are everywhere down there. But the damage has already been done, and thousands of non-Moslem Thais have fled the south. The main objective of the Islamic terrorists is to expel all non-Moslems from the south, and then set up a religious dictatorship.

The Islamist goal, it seems quite clear, is to purge the world of non-Muslims. It has been their goal for 1300 years and will be long past our lifetimes. This is not a challenge that can be met solely by good police work and negotiations. Those who think it is are simply not fully awake to the nature of the struggle in which we find ourselves embroiled. The Islamists aren't the mafia. They're not driven by lust for wealth or territory, per se. They are driven by a fanatical interpretation of the Koran that they believe anoints them to carry out genocide in the name of Allah. All that's keeping them from mass slaughter of infidels is their present lack of a capacity to carry it out.