Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Sal Cordova at Uncommon Descent offers an answer to a reader's question about the nature of the rift between Young Earth Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates. Along the way he offers a list of the IDers (and ID sympathizers) who favor an old age (on the order of billions of years) for the earth.

It's an interesting post and it sheds light on a perplexing dispute between two groups which should be allies against the common Darwinian opponent.

Collateral Damage

A recent report on the number of Iraqi deaths since the war began has renewed discussion about the morality of any policy which entails the deaths of innocent civilians. The report, put out by Lancet, estimates that 655,000 civilians have died in Iraq as a result of both coalition and insurgent action since the war began.

The study is critiqued here, but on the face of it the number seems absurd. The math works out to a death rate of 15,600 civilians a month or 520 dead Iraqis a day since March of 2003. This seems preposterous. Other estimates place the figure closer to 60,000.

Nevertheless, whether the number is 60,000 or ten times that figure the fundamental questions are legitimate: Is a policy that entails civilian deaths moral, and, if so, at what point does it cease to be so?

One answer given by objectors to the war in Iraq is that our policy there is morally wrong because it is always wrong to be the cause of deaths of innocent people. We are therefore wrong to go to war, not just in Iraq but anywhere, if it is probable that civilian lives will be lost as a result.

This argument is problematic. To illustrate why consider a couple of extreme, but entirely plausible, scenarios where what the military euphemistically calls "collateral damage" is a certainty.

Suppose first that terrorist hijackers have commandeered an airliner and are guiding it toward a skyscraper in which thousands of people are working. There is only one way to prevent the impending mass murder and that is to shoot down the plane.

Second, historians tell us that during the early years of American involvement in WWII it was feasible to have bombed some of the Nazi concentration camps, effectively putting them out of operation and mitigating, perhaps substantially, the horrific carnage taking place in those camps. Had the order to bomb them been carried out, however, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent prisoners might have been killed.

Should the order be given to shoot down the plane? Should orders have been issued to destroy the concentration camps? If either order had been given would they have constituted unjust, immoral or criminal actions?

If downing the plane and/or bombing the camps would have been justified, then causing the deaths of some innocents in order to prevent even greater harm cannot be ipso facto wrong. If someone were to say that it would not have been unjust or immoral or criminal to give those orders then he is agreeing that, as agonizing and heartwrenching as it may be, the sacrifice of innocent lives is sometimes necessary or justified in order to thwart an enemy's larger aims.

If one were to respond, on the other hand, that those orders should not be given and that, if they were, it would be morally wrong or criminal, it would be interesting to hear the rationale for he bases his reply upon.

If it is agreed that sometimes, under some circumstances, killing innocent civilians may be justified then the debate shifts to a consideration of what those circumstances would be, whether they obtained prior to the commencement of the war in Iraq, and whether they still do today.

Some might argue that the deaths of 60,000 Iraqi civilians, reagrdless of who is responsible for them, is too many, and it's time for us to get out. But how many is too many? On what do we base whatever figure we consider to be the limit?

These are important questions but they lead to a different discussion than the one based on the assumption that it's always wrong to kill innocent civilians.

George Smoot

University of California at Berkeley physicist George Smoot was recently awarded the 2006 Nobel prize for work he did with John Mather in clarifying some of the details of the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Smoot, like a lot of others who study the fine structure of the cosmos, finds the cosmological evidence for intentional design hard to resist. He observes:

"There is no doubt that a parallel exists between the big bang as an event and the Christian notion of creation from nothing."

Smoot draws attention not only to the fact that his team had provided more evidence for the creation event, but for a "finely orchestrated" creation event. Stephen Hawking was so impressed with this finding that he called it "the most important discovery of the century, if not of all time."

"In order to make a universe as big and wonderful as it is, lasting as long as it is-we're talking fifteen billion years and we're talking huge distances here-in order for it to be that big, you have to make it perfectly. Otherwise, imperfections would mount up and the universe would either collapse on itself or fly apart, and so it's actually quite a precise job. And I don't know if you've had discussions with people about how critical it is that the density of the universe come out so close to the density that decides whether it's going to keep expanding forever or collapse back, but we know it's within one percent."

"The big bang, the most cataclysmic event we can imagine, on closer inspection appears finely orchestrated."

There are many similar quotes from other physicists at The Veritas Forum.

Thanks to Intelligent Design The Future for the tip.