Monday, October 30, 2006

Do They Want Us to Win?

Byron takes us to task on the Feedback page for oversimplifying a complex issue in Yes or No. In that post I wondered why people like Letterman seem unwilling to give a straight answer to the question of whether they want the U.S. to win in Iraq. Winning in Iraq means, of course, accomplishing our stated goals (What else could it mean?), and these from the beginning have been to establish a free nation based on democratic principles, human and civil rights, and a stable government free from the threat of terrorism.

I don't think the question is nearly as complicated as Byron does, but you can be the judge.

Naturalism is Intellectual Suicide

At a recent book signing for his new anti-religion rant The God Delusion (see here and here for our thoughts on the book), Richard Dawkins was asked by American Enterprise Institute's Joe Manzari how he could square his naturalism with taking credit for his book and blaming those who believe in religion for their choice to believe. After all, Manzari pointed out, if materialism is true then everything is subject to a machine-like, inescapable determinacy which renders praise and blame meaningless and inappropriate:

Manzari: Dr. Dawkins thank you for your comments. The thing I have appreciated most about your comments is your consistency in the things I've seen you've written. One of the areas that I wanted to ask you about, and the place where I think there is an inconsistency, and I hoped you would clarify, is that in what I've read you seem to take a position of a strong determinist who says that what we see around us is the product of physical laws playing themselves out; but on the other hand it would seem that you would do things like taking credit for writing this book and things like that. But it would seem, and this isn't to be funny, that the consistent position would be that necessarily the authoring of this book, from the initial conditions of the big bang, it was set that this would be the product of what we see today. I would take it that that would be the consistent position but I wanted to know what you thought about that.

Dawkins: The philosophical question of determinism is a very difficult question. It's not one I discuss in this book, indeed in any other book that I've ever talked about. Now an extreme determinist, as the questioner says, might say that everything we do, everything we think, everything that we write has been determined from the beginning of time in which case the very idea of taking credit for anything doesn't seem to make any sense. Now I don't actually know what I actually think about that, I haven't taken up a position about that, it's not part of my remit to talk about the philosophical issue of determinism. What I do know is that what it feels like to me, and I think to all of us, we don't feel determined. We feel like blaming people for what they do or giving people the credit for what they do. We feel like admiring people for what they do. None of us ever actually as a matter of fact says, "Oh well he couldn't help doing it, he was determined by his molecules." Maybe we should... I sometimes... Um... You probably remember many of you would have seen Fawlty Towers. The episode where Basil where his car won't start and he gives it fair warning, counts up to three, and then gets out of the car and picks up a tree branch and thrashes it within an edge of his life. Maybe that's what we all ought to... Maybe the way we laugh at Basil Fawlty, we ought to laugh in the same way at people who blame humans. I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is "Oh they were just determined by their molecules." It's stupid to punish them. What we should do is say "This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced." I can't bring myself to do that. I actually do respond in an emotional way and I blame people, I give people credit, or I might be more charitable and say this individual who has committed murders or child abuse of whatever it is was really abused in his own childhood. And so again I might take a ...

Manzari: But do you personally see that as an inconsistency in your views?

Dawkins: I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with otherwise life would be intolerable. But it has nothing to do with my views on religion it is an entirely separate issue.

Nothing to do with his views on religion? It has everything to do with them. If determinism is true then his views on religion are based on what he has been caused to believe by the environmental and genetic factors that have shaped all of his beliefs since he was conceived. The truth of determinism is perhaps a factor in that belief, but it is only one factor among many, and his decision to oppose religion was not freely chosen by him but rather a decision which he could not escape.

This is the great dilemma of naturalism. If it is true it entails determinism, as Dawkins affirms, but if determinism is true it destroys intellectual and moral life. Someday perhaps naturalists like Dawkins will see the absolutely suicidal nature of their embrace of atheism.

Yes or No

Why do people on the Left have a hard time giving a straight yes or no answer to the question whether they want the U.S. to actually win in Iraq? Is it that they really don't know whether they do or not?

Do They Know What They're Getting?

My friend Byron promises me that I will enjoy this article by Andrew Ferguson at the Weekly Standard about James Webb. Webb is the unlikely Democratic challenger contesting Republican George Allen's Virginia senate seat in November. Byron is right about Ferguson having written a good article, and he does a nice job of showing how the Democrats in Virginia are swallowing an awful lot of principle in order to support Webb who is about as far right as a politician gets these days. Webb's only attraction for the Democrats is that although he is a hawk and a decorated Vietnam war hero he has been against the Iraq war from the beginning. Such a stance, in the eyes of Democrats, evidently covers a host of other sins which are conveniently papered over by the media.

But there's more to Webb than even Ferguson's piece brings to light. It all works together to make this Virginia race especially fun to watch. As I wrote to Byron:

Webb certainly is an anomaly, and it's amusing to watch the liberal networks try to dance around the problems he poses for the Democrat party. Not only are there problems such as were outlined in the WS article, but just when the media was blasting his opponent, George Allen, for displaying a Confederate flag in his office, it was discovered that Webb named his son after Robert E. Lee. Just when the media was delighting in Allen's use of the epithet macaca, it was revealed that Webb used to drive with his teenage buddies through Watts during the riot years yelling "nigger" at blacks and aiming toy guns at them to scare them witless. Just when the media were soaring in the throes of ecstasy recounting James Foley's disgusting e-correspondence with boys, they find out that Webb's novels are laced with disgusting allusions to pederastic sex and other forms of socially unacceptable sexual expression.

Even so, he's not a Republican, and so lots of people will vote for him despite the fact that they strongly disagree with him on almost everything he stands for except the Iraq war, ignoring the fact that he's probably a bigger hawk than anyone in the current administration.