Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thought For A Sunday - Complete

Last Sunday I posted this article which was mostly a quotation from E.W. Bullinger's Great Cloud of Witness in Hebrews Eleven (the correct title of the book, by the way). When I realized I was running short on time I decided I would have to continue the quoted text in today's post and so I apologize for the incomplete article of last Sunday but perhaps it whet the appetites or curiosity of some of our readers.

The point I hope to make by offering this is that many Christians believe they must continually be confessing their sins in order for them to be forgiven. This belief can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with one's sin and failures in spiritual matters. It is at odds with the belief that Christ paid the price in full, for once and for all, for all sin, past, present, and future. To believe otherwise is to put Christ back up on the cross. Bullinger apparently agrees. It's as though the believer is living under the Old Covenant rather than embracing the grace and freedom of the New Covenant. This passage taken from Jeremiah shows that the Old Covenant had failed because man failed to keep up his end of the deal so a new arrangement was to be established by God which was ultimately declared by Jesus during the last supper.

31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the LORD:
33 but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Jer. 31:31-34

I hope to post some thoughts on the Old and New Covenants soon. In the meantime, here's the passage from E.W. Bullinger's Great Cloud of Witness in Hebrews Eleven pp. 176-7 in its entirety.

We hear, for example, what God says about our condition by nature; that we are not only ruined sinners, on account of what we have done, but ruined creatures, on account of what we are. Do we believe it? If so, we shall act accordingly, and the belief will make us so sad and miserable, that we shall thankfully believe what He says when He declares that He has provided a substitute for the sinner so believing and so convicted; and that He has accepted that perfect One in the sinner's stead.

If we believe this we shall be at peace with God; and have no more concern or trouble about our standing, in His sight; we shall have nothing to do but to get to know more and more of Him, and to be giving Him thanks for what He hath done in making us meet for His glorious presence. We shall not be for ever putting ourselves back into our old place from which we have been delivered. We shall not be always asking for forgiveness of the sins for which He was delivered, because we shall be always rejoicing in Him "in Whom WE HAVE redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. i. 14), and while we are giving Him thanks for "HAVING FORGIVEN YOU ALL TRESPASSES" (Col. ii.13), we shall forget our old occupation of for ever confessing our sins and praying for forgiveness.

We shall be looking and pressing forward to the "CALLING ON HIGH" (Phil. iii. 14).

We shall be free to witness for Him, and to engage in His service, being no longer occupied with ourselves, our walk, or our life. We shall be no longer taken up with judging our brethren, knowing that the same Lord has "made them meet" also; and that they are members of "the same body," and that we shall soon be called on high together. We shall cherish our fellowship with them here (if they will let us) knowing that we shall soon be "together" with them there.

We shall hold not only the precious doctrinal truth connected with Christ the Head of the one Body, but the practical truths connected with the members of that Body.

We shall seek to learn ever more and more of God's purposes connected with "the great mystery concerning Christ and His Church," and to enter into all that concerns its glorious Head.

We shall have such an insight into His wondrous wisdom Who has ordered all these things that we shall thankfully prefer it to our own.

We shall recognize that His "will," manifested in the working out of His eternal purpose, is so perfect, that we shall prefer it to our own, and desire it to work out all else that concerns us.

We shall have nothing to "surrender." We shall have done with that new miserable "gospel" of self-occupation; and, all connected with its phraseology will have been left far behind, as being on a lower and different plane3 of Christian experience altogether.

Christ will be our one object, and we shall count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord (Phil. iii. 8).

If this be not the result of our believing God, it is proof positive that we have not a "living faith," and that all our works for holiness are only "dead works," because we have not this blessed evidence as the result of our "faith-obedience."

We have this simple test in our own hands.

Without the Holy Spirit's Word by the Apostle James we should not possess this test. But now that we have it, and see it, it will be our own fault if we do not profit by it, and use it for our own blessing and peace and rest.

If we do thus use it, we shall find ourselves strangely out of harmony with all that rules in modern Christianity, and all that characterizes present-day religion.

We shall realize that its phraseology and its terminology are all based upon a lower plane of experience. We shall find ourselves out of touch with many of our fellow-believers; for we shall have learnt to "cease from man." We shall have lost and given up "religion;" but this will be because we shall have found Christ, and know what it means to be "FOUND IN HIM."

BTW, if you missed the articles from yesterday, you can click on the March Archives link or see them here.

I Am John Doe

In the context of CAIR's (Council of American Islamic Relations) support of the six imams who are suing the passengers aboard an airliner for reporting the Muslims' strange and frightening behavior to the flight crew, Michelle Malkin discusses the emerging John Doe movement and reprints the John Doe Manifesto:

Dear Muslim Terrorist Plotter/Planner/Funder/Enabler/Apologist,

You do not know me. But I am on the lookout for you. You are my enemy. And I am yours.

I am John Doe.

I am traveling on your plane. I am riding on your train. I am at your bus stop. I am on your street. I am in your subway car. I am on your lift.

I am your neighbor. I am your customer. I am your classmate. I am your boss.

I am John Doe.

I will never forget the example of the passengers of American Airlines Flight 93 who refused to sit back on 9/11 and let themselves be murdered in the name of Islam without a fight.

I will never forget the passengers and crew members who tackled al Qaeda shoe-bomber Richard Reid on American Airlines Flight 63 before he had a chance to blow up the plane over the Atlantic Ocean.

I will never forget the alertness of actor James Woods, who notified a stewardess that several Arab men sitting in his first-class cabin on an August 2001 flight were behaving strangely. The men turned out to be 9/11 hijackers on a test run.

I will act when homeland security officials ask me to "report suspicious activity."

I will embrace my local police department's admonition: "If you see something, say something."

I am John Doe.

I will protest your Jew-hating, America-bashing "scholars."

I will petition against your hate-mongering mosque leaders.

I will raise my voice against your subjugation of women and religious minorities.

I will challenge your attempts to indoctrinate my children in our schools.

I will combat your violent propaganda on the Internet.

I am John Doe.

I will support law enforcement initiatives to spy on your operatives, cut off your funding, and disrupt your murderous conspiracies.

I will oppose all attempts to undermine our borders and immigration laws.

I will resist the imposition of sharia principles and sharia law in my taxi cab, my restaurant, my community pool, the halls of Congress, our national monuments, the radio and television airwaves, and all public spaces.

I will not be censored in the name of tolerance.

I will not be cowed by your Beltway lobbying groups in moderate clothing. I will not cringe when you shriek about "profiling" or "Islamophobia."

I will put my family's safety above sensitivity. I will put my country above multiculturalism.

I will not submit to your will. I will not be intimidated.

I am John Doe.

There's more at Michelle's site.


Real Scandal

While the Democratic congress and its media allies swoon over the faux "scandal" of a president cashiering eight U.S. attorneys, a completely routine and legal move for a president, a genuine scandal has begun to unfold which we probably won't hear much about.

This scandal involves a Democratic United States Senator so we expect it will quickly blow over. Until it does, however, here's the basic story:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has resigned from the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee. As previously and extensively reviewed in these pages, Feinstein was chairperson and ranking member of MILCON for six years, during which time she had a conflict of interest due to her husband Richard C. Blum's ownership of two major defense contractors, who were awarded billions of dollars for military construction projects approved by Feinstein.

As MILCON leader, Feinstein relished the details of military construction, even micromanaging one project at the level of its sewer design. She regularly took junkets to military bases around the world to inspect construction projects, some of which were contracted to her husband's companies, Perini Corp. and URS Corp.

Feinstein abandoned MILCON as her ethical problems were surfacing in the media, and as it was becoming clear that her subcommittee left grievously wounded veterans to rot while her family was profiting from the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out that Blum also holds large investments in companies that were selling medical equipment and supplies and real estate leases-often without the benefit of competitive bidding-to the Department of Veterans Affairs, even as the system of medical care for veterans collapsed on his wife's watch.

Go to the link for more details.

Can you imagine the spittle Hardball's Chris Matthews would be spraying around his desk if this were a Republican senator?


Friday, March 30, 2007

Debasing Political Discourse

Sean Penn lowers the bar of political rhetoric right down to the bottom of the cesspool in this unedifying letter to the president which you can listen to here if you have the stomach.

I know. It's gross, sleazy and insulting. And yes, his logic is abysmal and his self-congratulation is grating. He obviously gets a frisson of psychic satisfaction from making himself sound more important and more knowledgable about things in the Middle East than either Bush, Cheney, or Rice.

But he's a Hollywood celebrity, and he's sincere.

Speaking of cesspools of political rhetoric these folk here and here place themselves in nomination for the award for most contemptible political commentators of the year. If you go to the second of these sites be sure to follow the links. It really is sad how low some people will sink just to express a political disagreement.


NRO: Show Him the Door

National Review says Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez should leave, but we have mixed feelings about the matter here.

Set aside for a moment his inept handling of the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and the evident deceit with which he justified it. As we stated in an earlier post on this matter, his refusal to enforce our immigration laws and his prosecution of border agents who are languishing in prison on the testimony of known felons, is unconscionable, and, by itself, justifies his relieving him of his duties.

Whether he should have been appointed or not, he is no longer, if he ever was, an asset to this administration, and his departure will upset us only to the extent that it gives a victory to those who would seek to destroy him even were he the best AG in U.S. history.

He should go, but not because he fired the eight U.S. Attorneys. He should go because of his lack of enthusiasm for securing our borders and for misleading congress about the degree of his involvement in the firings of the U.S. Attorneys.


Round One

The British Independent explores the question why the 15 British sailors and Marines allowed themselves to be taken by the Iranians. Apparently, their rules of engagement are somewhat different than ours:

In a dramatic illustration of the different postures adopted by British and US forces working together in Iraq, Lt-Cdr Erik Horner - who has been working alongside the task force to which the 15 captured Britons belonged - said he was "surprised" the British marines and sailors had not been more aggressive.

Asked by The Independent whether the men under his command would have fired on the Iranians, he said: "Agreed. Yes. I don't want to second-guess the British after the fact but our rules of engagement allow a little more latitude. Our boarding team's training is a little bit more towards self-preservation."

The executive officer - second-in-command on USS Underwood, the frigate working in the British-controlled task force with HMS Cornwall - said: " The unique US Navy rules of engagement say we not only have a right to self-defence but also an obligation to self-defence. They [the British] had every right in my mind and every justification to defend themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken. Our reaction was, 'Why didn't your guys defend themselves?'"

Vastly outnumbered and out-gunned, the Royal Navy team from HMS Cornwall were seized on Friday after completing a UN-authorised inspection of a merchant dhow in what they insist were clearly Iraqi waters. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy appeared in half a dozen attack speedboats mounted with machine guns.

However, the warship that dispatched the British personnel was within sight. It could have pursued the Iranians, albeit into Iranian waters, to effect a rescue.

Yesterday, the former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, said British rules of engagement were "very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting ... Rather than roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were, in effect, able to be captured and taken away."

Quite so. Give that round to the Iranians.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fifteen Reasons

One of the frequent indictments skeptics level at theists is that their belief is irrational. It's all faith and no evidence, the believer is told. If the believer tries to pin down his antagonist and ask him what, exactly, he means by evidence it often turns out that the word is being being employed as a synonym for "proof."

Well, of course there's no proof that there is a personal God, but that is hardly a reason not to believe that one exists. We have proof for very little of what we believe about the world, but we don't hold our beliefs less firmly for that.

The skeptic's claim that theistic belief is irrational founders for a number of reasons, but in this post we'll consider just one argument for maintaining that not only is it perfectly rational to believe, but that it's far more rational to believe than to disbelieve. Indeed, though it may come as a surprise to some readers, almost all the evidence that counts on one side or the other of the question of belief in God rests on the side of belief.

This is because almost every relevant fact about the world makes more sense, and is more easily explained, on the hypothesis of theism than on the hypothesis of atheism. In other words, the conclusion of theism is what philosophers call an inference to the best explanation. I don't mean to suggest that atheism cannot explain these facts at all. I only argue that on the assumption of atheism they are more difficult to explain, in some cases exceedingly so, than they are on the assumption of theism. That being the case, it is more reasonable to believe that the explanation for them is the existence of a personal God.

So what are those facts which are more easily explained on the assumption that there is a God? Here I list fifteen examples:

1. The exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmic parameters, forces and constants.

2. The existence in the biosphere of specified complexity (i.e. biological information).

3. The fact of human consciousness.

4. Our sense that we are obligated to act morally.

5. Our belief in human dignity.

6. Our belief in human worth.

7. Our belief in human rights.

8. Our desire for justice for others.

9. Our need for meaning and purpose in life.

10. Our longing for life beyond death.

11. Our sense that we have an enduring self.

12. Our sense that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is not determined.

13. Our sense that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself.

14. Our sense of guilt.

15. Our sense that reason is trustworthy.

In past posts on Viewpoint we've discussed most of the above and explained why they are very difficult to explain if there is no God. We won't go through that again here. Rather we'll simply note that the existence of a being such as God is far more likely given these fifteen facts about life and the world than is its non-existence. In modal terms the probability of God's existence, given the evidence adduced, is high, much higher than the probability of God's non-existence given that same evidence.

Note that this argument doesn't constitute a proof in the deductive sense, but it is, in my opinion, a powerful probablistic argument for the existence of something behind the universe which is intelligent, powerful, and personal. That something may not be the God of the Bible, but it's very close.

Getting to belief in God is in some ways like a roller coaster. Just as the hard part of getting the car to the end of the ride is raising it at the very outset from a dead stop to the highest point of the structure, the hard part of getting to theism, philosophically and psychologically, is getting oneself from a state of unbelief to belief in a transcendent, powerful, intelligent, personal, creator. Once the car has been raised to the summit all the hard intellectual work has been done, and although there are many loops, thrills, twists and turns before the car arrives at its terminus, it's a relatively effortless descent. Likewise, the logical distance from belief in a transcendent, powerful, intelligent, personal, creator to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may seem a long trek, but both pyschologically and philosophically, it's pretty much all downhill from belief in a creator.

Of course, someone will wish to point out that this analysis ignores evidence, such as the fact of human suffering, which must count against the existence of a benevolent and compassionate God. This is an important point and one that will be addressed in another post.


Rebutting Miller

One of the most well-known critics of Intelligent Design has been Brown University biologist and theistic evolutionist Ken Miller. In the words of Anika Smith:

For as long as Darwinian biologist and Brown University professor Kenneth R. Miller has attacked intelligent design (ID), design proponents have refuted him. While there are occasions where Miller has wisely dropped his refuted objections, more often he will keep trotting out the same stale arguments. His tendency to hold onto his misconceptions means design theorists have to continually point out how he misrepresents their arguments. Several of these responses to Miller are worth revisiting, and because we've recently had some new rebuttals to Miller, we've now put together a list of links to some of the best.

Those interested in reading some of these rebuttals can find the links to them here.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Amazing Grace

My daughter and I went to see Amazing Grace yesterday and came away from the theater both moved and inspired.

The film production is first-rate and the acting is superb. It's possible to wish that the story jumped around a little less for the sake of those not familiar with the historical timeline, but it's not overly difficult to follow, and it offers wonderful insight into the life of a man who deserves far more fame than what he has been given.

I told my daughter on the way that William Wilberforce is probably one of the greatest men that most people never heard of. He was a member of Parliament who, driven by his desire to serve God, employed his exceptional gifts in the service of the fight to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire of the 18th century. The movie gives us a fine portrait of what that arduous struggle was like for Wilberforce and his allies and inspires the viewer with Wilberforce's tenacity and courage.

Amazing Grace is a movie everyone should see, if for no other reason than to witness what true character and heroism look like in a man. If you haven't yet seen it, I hope you will.


What's the Difference, Jim?

Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost takes Jim Wallis to task for what he sees as .... inconsistency in Wallis' willingness or unwillingness to resort to force:

Two months ago, Jim Wallis wrote about his support for military intervention on The Huffington Post:

[Representatives from Evangelicals for Darfur] had complete agreement that only a large and strong multi-national peacekeeping force, with the authority to use "all necessary means," would suffice to end the genocide in Darfur - and that Sudan must be compelled to accept it.

Although Wallis is willing to use military force to protect the people of Darfur, he does not believe the people of Iraq should have been afforded the same protection, In fact, a recent anti-war protest, Wallis denounced the war as "an offense against God" and said that we don't need a surge in troops but rather, "We need a surge in conscience."

It does seem strange that Wallis would endorse the use of force to stop the genocide in Darfur but condemn the use of force to end genocide in Iraq. Perhaps Wallis, who usually sounds very much like a pacifist, has a reason for this distinction. If so, we'd like to hear it.

Meanwhile, others who are opposed to U.S. involvement in Iraq but in favor of U.S. involvement in Sudan might offer their own rationale for their views via our Feedback button.


Does Darwinism Explain Religion?

Cornell's Allen MacNeill is an unusual example of an academic Darwinian. He presents interesting courses on the ID/Darwinism controversy in which he apparently gives a relatively fair treatment to ID. His latest offering is titled Evolution and Religion: Is Religion Adaptive. Evidently the seminar will explore the evidence for an evolutionary explanation for the survival of religion. MacNeill writes:

I realize that putting myself in between such formidable opponents is perhaps asking for trouble...but I couldn't possibly get into any more trouble than I did last summer, could I? Once again, we shall rush in where angels fear to tread, and consider a very topical topic. As was the case last year, I invite anyone with an interest in the question posed as the title of this blog to consider taking this course, or at least sitting in on our discussion online.

We will have an online course blog, where any and all comments, criticisms, suggestions, and other trivia will be roasted and long as they are civil. As for accusations that I'm biased, let me say upfront that I (like almost everyone else) have an opinion on the question: I believe (based on my research into this question) that the answer is "Yes" and that the specific context within which the capacity for religious experience has evolved is warfare...but we'll talk all about that this summer.

We may also talk about whether or not God (or gods, or whatever) exist, but that will not be the primary focus of the course, nor will I allow it to become the primary focus of our discussions. This course isn't about the existence or non-existence of God (or Darwin or me). It's about whether or not the ability to believe in things like God (or gods, or whatever) has adaptive consequences. It's a fascinating topic and I hope that enough people will sign up for the course with opposing viewpoints on this subject to make for as interesting a summer seminar as last year's was.

I think it's going to be very difficult to prove that religion confers some evolutionary advantage given the six criteria MacNeill lists for demonstrating adaptation. Even so, and despite the tendentious reading list (see first link), it sounds like a fun course.


How Edwards Got Rich

My friend Byron has written to take exception to yesterday's post on John Edwards. He essentially challenges my opinion that Edwards has gotten rich through ethically dubious means and wonders if I'm suggesting that doctors should not be sued if they cause harm.

The answer is that of course they should, if they can be shown to have been negligent or incompetent. Edwards, however, won dozens of huge settlements when it was by no means clear that this was the case, and he knew it wasn't the case.

Anyone who is interested in checking this out might read this 2004 Washington Times piece by Charles Hurt.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Determined Not to Win

Defying a veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Senate voted today on their plan for Iraq:

The vote, which passed 50-48, means little since the president has vowed to veto it, and there are not enough votes to override his veto. What today's vote will do, however, is guarantee that money our troops need to prepare them to face the enemy will be slower in coming and troops needed for the surge in Iraq will find their deployments delayed.

It'll be interesting to see which side caves on this. Will the president, in order to get the needed funding, eventually agree to the timeline for troop withdrawal which is attached to the funding bill, or will the Democrats, in order to avoid responsibility for insisting on withdrawal at precisely the moment when things appear to be turning around, drop their demand for a timeline?


Two Americas

Former Senator John Edwards has declared he will stay in the race for his party's presidential nomination despite his wife's illness. She suffers from a cancer which can be treated but not cured.

Mr. Edwards is a very wealthy attorney who made his fortune suing doctors. I wonder how Mrs. Edwards' physicians feel about treating her, knowing that the slightest misstep will probably cost them everything they've worked all their life to obtain.

It's interesting to compare how Edwards made his fortune with how physicians make theirs. Doctors charge us for bringing their skills to bear to improve the quality of our lives. Edwards made millions by persuading juries to take the money we pay doctors from them and give some of it to him.

And he wants to be president. Yikes!


The NAE on Torture (Pt. IV)

This post is the culmination of our series on the statement by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in which they categorically condemn any and all resort to the use of torture. Previous posts in the series can be found here: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The drafters of the NAE document state that:

The U.N. Convention Against Torture puts it this way: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Deterring evil ends without resorting to evil means are tasks in tension, but any democracy must face dealing with this tension.

When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one's own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value. These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.

This is a very odd assertion. Remember that the NAE, following the Geneva Convention, includes in its proscription of torture any humiliating or degrading treatment which, as we argued in part III, could include almost anything from yelling at the detainee, to employing a female to interrogate him, to placing him in prison. Even if the detainee had information that would save lives the NAE would prohibit us from obtaining that information if doing so was demeaning to the prisoner. But let's set that aside for now.

Let's talk just about inflicting physical distress. As we have said in previous posts this is a great evil when done under almost all circumstances in which it usually occurs in this fallen world, but it is simply fallacious to argue that therefore it is always a great evil.

Consider the classic scenario in which a terrorist has planted a suitcase nuke in a major city set to go off in a few hours. The authorities have captured the terrorist and he has admitted as much, but he refuses to say where the bomb is located. Tens of thousands of people will die in the blast and subsequent radiation fallout. Many more will be gravely sickened. The economy of the nation will collapse if the city is a financial hub and millions will be made destitute. The entire nation may collapse if the target city is Washington, D.C.

It is known that there is a form of physical coercion called waterboarding which actually does no harm to the subject but induces the sensation of drowning which results in panic. No one has been able to endure it for more than a minute or two without breaking and talking. The terrorist could in a matter of minutes be made to produce the location of the bomb, but the NAE would absolutely prohibit obtaining the information in that manner. They say that we would be "communicating to the world and to our own people that a human life (the terrorist's) is not sacred, that it is not a reflection of the Creator, that it is expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that its intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value."

I would suggest that the NAE is communicating that exact same message by refusing to save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children simply because it would entail subjecting their murderer to extreme discomfort until he provided the information necessary to save them. I suggest that the NAE statement places greater value on the life of the terrorist than it does on the lives of innocent Americans. It is a case of moral inversion that is so bizarre as to be literally incredible.

But let's set aside the question of the justification of torture and ask why we should think that this particular technique, waterboarding, constitutes torture. What are some possible answers to that question that the NAE might give?

Perhaps they'd say it's torture because it's painful.

But apparently there's not much pain involved, and if there were it would only be brief since people only hold out for a few seconds when subjected to it.

Perhaps it's torture because it does lasting harm to the detainee.

Evidently not. The individual is no doubt shaken but none the worse for the experience. In fact, interrogators have had it done to them just so they know what it feels like.

Perhaps it's torture because it's done to punish.

But it's not. It's done to elicit information. Once the subject cooperates the treatment ceases.

Perhaps it's torture because it's unpleasant.

Surely, though, an unpleasant experience is not ipso facto torture. If it were, then putting someone in restraints or feeding them institutional food would be torture.

Perhaps it's torture because it frightens the terrorist.

Indeed, it does frighten the terrorist, but so does the prospect of being executed for their crimes or being put in prison for the rest of their life. Should they not be threatened with these possibilities? Why must we be so squeamish that we are reluctant even to scare people who are trying to murder our children?

Perhaps it's torture because it elicits information against the detainee's will.

It certainly does motivate the terrorist to divulge information, but the fact that they don't do so willingly is hardly reason to think that the method is somehow tainted. If it were then phone taps, etc would be torture since they are means by which we obtain information from people who would not otherwise willingly give it.

Perhaps, it's torture because some men are exerting power over another.

Yes, but so is a cop who stops you for a traffic violation, and we don't consider that torture.

The fact is that the suspect has complete control over how long the process lasts or whether it will even begin. This is an important point. The terrorist is essentially in total control of what, if anything, happens to him. He's no more damaged when it's over than when it started. He experiences no sensation other than panic and though he's frightened, he knows that he really is not drowning. So why would waterboarding be considered torture but, say, lengthy imprisonment, which may do some, or even all, of the things mentioned above, is not?

I really have no answer to the question. It simply makes no sense to me to ban this technique, but if someone can point out something that I'm overlooking I'm certainly willing to reconsider. Meanwhile, the NAE should rescind their document in order to recraft a statement which is more rigorously thought out and which does justice to the complexities of the issue.


Monday, March 26, 2007

No Friend of UF

Is there anyone more petty or childish than the self-important Brahmins who staff university faculties? The University of Florida has taken the unprecedented step of denying an honorary degree to one of the finest governors the state of Florida has ever had. We are left to guess at the reasons, but we're going to assume, while we speculate, that those reasons have little if anything to do with the ostensive rationalizations offered by committee spokespersons:

University of Florida President Bernie Machen said Friday he was "tremendously disappointed" with the school's Faculty Senate vote to deny former Gov. Jeb Bush an honorary degree.

The Senate voted 38-28 Thursday against giving the honorary degree to Bush, who left office in January.

"Jeb Bush has been a great friend of the University of Florida," said Machen, adding that the Senate's action is "unheard of."

Some faculty expressed concern about Bush's record in higher education.

"I really don't feel this is a person who has been a supporter of UF," Kathleen Price, associate dean of library and technology at the school's Levin College of Law, told The Gainesville Sun after the vote.

Bush's approval of three new medical schools during his tenure has diluted resources, Price told the newspaper.

Bush has also been criticized for his "One Florida" proposal, an initiative that ended race-based admissions programs at state universities.

Machen maintains, however, that Bush has benefited the university, such as by providing the funding to attract nationally recognized faculty.

Machen also pointed to Bush's First Generation Scholarship program, modeled after a University of Florida effort to help high school students at risk of not making it to college.

University officials said they could not recall any precedent for the Senate rejecting the nominees put forth by the Faculty Senate's Honorary Degrees, Distinguished Alumnus Awards and Memorials Committee. The committee determines whether nominees deserve consideration according to standards that include "eminent distinction in scholarship or high distinction in public service."

"The committee endorsed him," Machen said. "It is unheard of that a faculty committee would look at candidates, make recommendations and then (those candidates) be overturned by the Senate."

Any of our readers who think that maybe Bush was denied this honor not because he was "not a friend of UF" but rather because he is a Republican named Bush should just be ashamed of themselves for thinking that.


Intellectual Diversity at Indoctrinate U.

How do Darwinian professors show their students that Intelligent Design is bad science? They demand that ID presentations on campus be shut down. If students don't hear the arguments, their profs evidently believe, then they won't find them persuasive.

Free speech in the marketplace of ideas is okay for Marxists and Vagina Monologuers, but when students start holding conferences that seek to inform people about current controversies in the philosophy of science, well, that's just going too far, at least at Southern Methodist University:

Science professors upset about a presentation on "Intelligent Design" fired blistering letters to the administration, asking that the event be shut down. The "Darwin vs. Design" conference, co-sponsored by the SMU law school's Christian Legal Society, will say that a designer with the power to shape the cosmos is the best explanation for aspects of life and the universe. The event is produced by the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based organization that says it has scientific evidence for its claims.

The anthropology department at SMU begged to differ:

"These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits," said the letter sent to administrators by the department. "They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask."

Similar letters were sent by the biology and geology departments.

The university is not going to cancel the event, interim provost Tom Tunks said Friday. The official response is a statement that the event to be held in McFarlin Auditorium April 13-14 is not endorsed by the school:

"Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU's endorsement of the presenters' views," the statement said.

Many SMU science professors say they are worried that merely allowing "Darwin vs. Design" on campus could give the public impression that Intelligent Design has support from scientists at the school.

The collision started last year, when law student Sarah Levy learned that the Discovery Institute wanted to hold a series of "Darwin vs. Design" conferences, including one in Dallas. Ms. Levy is president of the SMU chapter of the Christian Legal Society, which has about 100 members. SMU requires outside groups to have an official university organization as co-sponsor for any event to be held on campus.

"It is a very pertinent topic of debate right now and one that has some legal controversy around it," Ms. Levy said. "So it seemed that it was an appropriate event for the legal society to sponsor."

The two-day event will feature well-known supporters of Intelligent Design. Dr. Michael Behe is author of the book Darwin's Black Box and was a key witness in 2005 at a federal trial that produced a ruling that Intelligent Design was religion rather than science.

While some who are leading the protest acknowledge the need for free speech and academic freedom, they say this event doesn't qualify.

"This is propaganda," said Dr. John Ubelaker, former chairman of the biology department. "Using the campus for propaganda does not fit into anybody's scheme of intellectual discussion."

Other biologists compared the conference to a presentation by Holocaust deniers. Would the university allow that to happen?

"Propaganda"? "Holocaust deniers"? What's next, IDers portrayed as Nazis? People have to be very insecure in their convictions to resort to such desperate tactics to try to prevent the other side from being heard.

Physics professor Randy Scalise regularly teaches a class that is called "The Scientific Method," but is generally referred to as "debunking pseudoscience." He's told his students to attend the conference - but he said he's preparing them with material to put it into a scientific context.

But he wishes the conference wasn't happening.

"I think that by having them on campus, we are giving them legitimacy," he said.

In other words, the other side must not be allowed to speak lest someone, somewhere realize that there is an intellectually compelling alternative to Darwinian materialism. The pretense of illegitimacy must be maintained so that students not be tempted to think for themselves.

SMU: Branch campus of Indoctrinate U.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Thought For A Sunday

Here's a passage from Great Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews Chapter 11 by E.W. Bullinger pp. 176-7. I just love this guy. He presents his position on how we should conduct ourselves that should be considered not just by those who wallow in a guilt-induced neurosis from obsession about sin and spiritual failure, but all of us.

The context follows his discussion of "Faith-obedience", "the obedience which proceeds from, and is produced by, a living faith in the Living God. In other words, it is the acting as if what we heard were true."

Written about 100 years ago, parts of it are so refreshing, so revolutionary yet some, I suspect, will find them controversial. I'll try to finish the article next Sunday.

We hear, for example, what God says about our condition by nature; that we are not only ruined sinners, on account of what we have done, but ruined creatures, on account of what we are. Do we believe it? If so, we shall act accordingly, and the belief will make us so sad and miserable, that we shall thankfully believe what He says when He declares that He has provided a substitute for the sinner so believing and so convicted; and that He has accepted that perfect One in the sinner's stead.

If we believe this we shall be at peace with God; and have no more concern or trouble about our standing, in His sight; we shall have nothing to do but to get to know more and more of Him, and to be giving Him thanks for what He hath done in making us meet for His glorious presence. We shall not be for ever putting ourselves back into our old place from which we have been delivered. We shall not be always asking for forgiveness of the sins for which He was delivered, because we shall be always rejoicing in Him "in Whom WE HAVE redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. i. 14), and while we are giving Him thanks for "HAVING FORGIVEN YOU ALL TRESPASSES" (Col. ii.13), we shall forget our old occupation of for ever confessing our sins and praying for forgiveness.

We shall be looking and pressing forward to the "CALLING ON HIGH" (Phil. iii. 14).

We shall be free to witness for Him, and to engage in His service, being no longer occupied with ourselves, our walk, or our life. We shall be no longer taken up with judging our brethren, knowing that the same Lord has "made them meet" also; and that they are members of "the same body," and that we shall soon be called on high together. We shall cherish our fellowship with them here (if they will let us) knowing that we shall soon be "together" with them there.

We shall hold not only the precious doctrinal truth connected with Christ the Head of the one Body, but the practical truths connected with the members of that Body.

We shall seek to learn ever more and more of God's purposes connected with "the great mystery concerning Christ and His Church," and to enter into all that concerns its glorious Head.

We shall have such an insight into His wondrous wisdom Who has ordered all these things that we shall thankfully prefer it to our own.

We shall recognize that His "will," manifested in the working out of His eternal purpose, is so perfect, that we shall prefer it to our own, and desire it to work out all else that concerns us.

To be continued...

Gonzalez Must Go

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, currently on the griddle for his role in the perfectly legal dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys, should indeed resign, but not for the reason that the Democrats are squawking about.

He should resign for failing to uphold our laws and defend our borders as reported in this story:

Documents released in the controversy about eight fired U.S. attorneys show that federal prosecutors in Texas generally have declined to bring criminal charges against illegal immigrants caught crossing the border - until at least their sixth arrest.

A heavily redacted Department of Justice memo from late 2005 disclosed the prosecution guidelines for immigration offenses, numbers the federal government tries to keep classified. DOJ officials would not say Thursday whether it has adjusted the number since the memo was written, citing "law enforcement reasons."

The prosecution guidelines have been a source of frustration for years among the ranks of U.S. Border Patrol agents, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council. Smugglers can figure out the criteria by trial and error, he said, and can exploit it to avoid prosecution.

"It's devastating on morale," Bonner said. "Our agents are risking their lives out there, and then they're told, 'Sorry, that doesn't meet the criteria.' "

The sad thing is that in failing to arrest illegals Gonzalez is simply doing George Bush's bidding. Bush has been great on taxes, the economy, supreme court nominees (except Harriet Meiers) and the war on terror, but his border policy has been an abject disgrace.


Doctors Don't Need Evolution

From time to time we hear Darwinists claim that among the fruits of evolutionary biology is the great success of modern medicine. The claim is usually accepted with a knowing nod and very little curiosity about how accurate it is. Neurosurgeon Michael Engor would have us know, however, that there's not much accuracy to it at all. He explains why in this brief but punchy essay.


Friday, March 23, 2007


Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, offers us a marvelous example of how the post-modern disdain for "truth" has begun to infect the practice of science. It's no longer objective facts that matter, at least for some scientists, but rather what has purchase with the reader, what resonates with him or her, what he/she discerns to be the truth from his/her perspective. Thus the near panic over global climate change regardless of what the facts of the matter might be is an example of what one advocate calls "post-normal" science.

Phillips begins with this:

From the horse's mouth - climate change theory has nothing to do with the truth. In a remarkable column in today's Guardian Mike Hulme, professor in the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research - a key figure in the promulgation of climate change theory but who a short while ago warned that exaggerated forecasts of global apocalypse were in danger of destroying the case altogether - writes that scientific truth is the wrong tool to establish the, er, truth of global warming. Instead, we need a perspective of what he calls 'post-normal' science:

"Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken. It has been labelled 'post-normal' science ... The danger of a 'normal' reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow."

Indeed! Facts first, conclusions afterwards is the very basis of scientific inquiry. But not any more, it seems, where the religion of global warming is concerned. Here the facts have to fit the theory.

Read the whole thing to see how "post-normal" science works. Here's a preview: It has nothing to do with truth.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Islam and the West

Bernard Lewis is a highly respected expert on the history of the Islamic world who has several fine books on the subject to his credit. He was invited to deliver the 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture earlier this month and gave a very interesting speech. It should, in fact, be read by everyone who desires a deeper understanding of the conflicts between the Western world and Islam. You can find the speech here.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Power to the People

A site called Indoctrinate U. is fighting the good fight against overbearing political correctness and ideological homogeneity on campus. Go see their three minute film trailer here. It, ahem, rocks.

We'd be interested in anecdotal evidence of the kind of suppression of free speech they talk about on the trailer. If you have first hand knowledge of such repression at a public university or college, let us know. We'll run your story.

HT: Uncommon Descent


Chickens Coming to Roost

Bill sends along this news about North Carolina District Attorney Mike Nifong:

The North Carolina State Bar on Tuesday set a June 12 trial date to hear complaints against Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong for his handling of the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case. If found guilty, Nifong could be disbarred.

In a complaint filed in December, the State Bar cited more than 100 examples of public statements Nifong made to the media, including WRAL, since the case broke in March 2006. In part, the Bar said those comments "have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

In January, the Bar amended the complaint, adding that Nifong allegedly had withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys-exculpatory evidence that could show a defendant is not guilty.

The attorney general's office said Wednesday that it hopes to finish its review within the next few weeks.

Mr. Nifong apparently sought to advance his political career by destroying the lives of several young Duke students. Disbarment is perhaps the least of what he deserves. Too bad that the sundry North Carolina race hustlers and the Duke administration, which pusillanimously threw the students to the wolves almost as soon as the accusations were made and which punished the whole lacrosse team by canceling their season, can't also receive the equivalent of "disbarment."


The NAE on Torture (Pt. III)

This post is the third in our series on the National Association of Evangelicals' statement on torture. See also Part I and Part II of this critique.

The NAE document states that:

... the articles of the Geneva Convention and of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are unambiguous:

Article 3:1c of the 3rd Geneva Convention (1949) says:

Persons taking no active part in hostilities ... shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: violence to life and person, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;

According to the Geneva Conventions, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), although falling short of torture, is still completely prohibited along with all forms of torture. "The overriding factor at the core of the prohibition of CIDT is the concept of [the] powerlessness of the victim."

This raises very difficult problems however for anyone serious about trying to survey the moral boundaries of the war against terrorism.

At first glance it would seem that the proscription of humiliating and degrading treatment is a prohibition that every nation, including ours, should respect. But in fact it's meaningless and dangerously restrictive. It is little more than a feel-good clause that allows the signatories to present themselves to the world as humane when in fact, if taken seriously, it's virtually impossible for any nation to abide by.

What determines whether an act is humiliating or degrading, after all, is more the individual's reaction to the act than the act itself. Most people would probably feel humiliated if yelled at or insulted. Many Muslims would feel humiliated if placed in a subordinate position to a woman. If we are to take the Geneva article seriously, which the NAE insists we do, then we should never allow a Muslim detainee to be interrogated by a woman if he would find that humiliating. Most of us would find prison both humiliating and degrading. Suppose the Muslim jihadis do as well. If so, 3:1c would, if strictly followed, forbid us to incarcerate terrorists. In other words, the sensibilities of the prisoner must determine what measures we can take against him, but this is an absurdly untenable position to place ourselves in.

Perhaps the NAE would reply that I exaggerate when I claim that 3:1c would effectively proscribe incarceration, but how could it not? Are some forms of humiliation, like imprisonment, acceptable to use against detainees but others not? If so, how are we to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable forms of humiliation? Who decides what's humiliating for a detainee and what isn't? The interrogator? The secretary of defense? The detainee?

Even if the military would be arbitrarily permitted to "degrade" terrorists by confining them to a cell and depriving them of their freedom, there are lots of things they would not be allowed to get away with: Shouting at prisoners, for example, or questioning their manhood, long-term solitary confinement, the use of deception to get information, giving the prisoner Western food, shackling, limiting trips to the restroom to whatever number. In short, anything the prisoner found demeaning would be proscribed by a serious reading of the clause to which the NAE would have us fully submit.

Perhaps they would respond that we must not take 3:1c so literally, but if not then how do we ascertain how it should be understood and how can it be binding if we don't know what it means?

In lieu of some clear and meaningful definition of humiliating and degrading treatment, adherence to 3:1c places needless restrictions on our military authorities. Military and civil interrogators, afraid of crossing some invisible line that could get them hauled before a war crimes tribunal, will tend to do as little as possible to elicit life-saving information from terrorist prisoners. In an environment where our children's lives are at constant risk from the machinations of those who will stop at nothing to kill them, it would be irresponsible to insist that our interrogators adhere to such vague guidance as 3:1c offers, much less that something as vague as 3:1c could be morally binding.

The NAE document, by embracing the nebulous imperatives of 3:1c, renders itself irrelevant in the task of determining what, exactly, is morally permissable in attempting to extract life-saving information from a detainee and what is not.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ad Man Fired

The creator of the Big Brother Hillary ad has been found out and fired for his efforts.

Don't feel bad for the guy, though. This kind of talent will find a home somewhere in politics. I wouldn't be surprised if Hillary doesn't hire him herself.


Unspeakable Depravity

These are the people Michael Moore once referred to as Iraq's version of the American Minutemen:

Insurgents in Iraq detonated an explosives-rigged vehicle with two children in the back seat after US soldiers let it through a Baghdad checkpoint over the weekend, a senior US military official said Tuesday.

The vehicle was stopped at the checkpoint but was allowed through when soldiers saw the children in the back, said Major General Michael Barbero of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

"Children in the back seat lowered suspicion. We let it move through. They parked the vehicle, and the adults ran out and detonated it with the children in the back," Barbero said.

After going through the checkpoint, the vehicle parked next to a market across the street from a school, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

"And the two adults were seen to get out of the vehicle, and run from the vehicle, and then followed by the detonation of the vehicle," the official said.

"It killed the two children inside as well as three other civilians in the vicinity. So, a total of five killed, seven injured," the official said.

Officials here said they did not know who the children were or their relationship to the two adults who fled the scene. They had no information about their ages or genders.

Here are Moore's exact words: "The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?"

One thing we all "get" is that, given the facts about the sort of people we're dealing with in Iraq and elsewhere, Michael Moore is either a very uninformed man or he is morally comatose. Yet this is a man whom the left lionizes. It says, I suppose, something important about their standards.


Five for One?

Philosopher Peter Singer has an essay in The Guardian in which he poses a pair of ethical dilemmas, the responses to which are being studied by some Harvard post-docs: are standing by a railroad track when you notice that a trolley, with no one aboard, is heading for a group of five people. They will all be killed if it continues on its current track. The only thing you can do to prevent these five deaths is to throw a switch that will divert the trolley on to a side track, where it will kill only one person. When asked what you should do in these circumstances, most people say you should divert the trolley on to the side track, thus saving a net four lives.

In another dilemma, the trolley is about to kill five people. This time, you are standing on a footbridge above the track. You cannot divert the trolley. You consider jumping off the bridge, in front of the trolley, thus sacrificing yourself to save the people in danger, but you realise you are too light to stop the trolley. Standing next to you is a very large stranger. The only way you can prevent the trolley from killing five people is by pushing this stranger off the bridge into the path of the trolley. He will be killed, but you will save the other five. When asked what you should do in these circumstances, most people say that it would be wrong to push the stranger.

Why do most people think it right to divert the trolley but not to push the stranger in front of the trolley? It's an interesting question and Singer speculates on some possible evolutionary explanations which unfortunately don't sound very persuasive.

More interesting to me is the question of whether we ever have the right to kill an innocent person who is no threat to ourselves, even if it saves more lives. This is a no-brainer for a utilitarian, perhaps, who would doubtless answer that the right act is always the act that produces the greatest net good (i.e. happiness). In these cases the greatest good would be saving the most lives, but for one whose ethics are grounded in the Gospels it's much more complicated and perplexing.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.


Crawley and Dawkins (Pt. II)

In his interview with William Crawley, Richard Dawkins offers three counter-arguments to the claim that the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe points to a cosmic designer.

Dawkins asks first where such a designer comes from. If a designer (let's say God) designed the universe, in other words, then what designed God? Dawkins holds elsewhere that if the extraordinary complexity of the universe makes the universe's existence highly improbable then the designer of the universe, which must be even more complex, must be even more improbable, in fact vanishingly so. So improbable must the desiger be that one is not rationally justified in believing it exists.

We have addressed this argument in a previous post and found it to be very unpersuasive.

His second counter-argument, which he conflates with the third in the interview but which is really a distinct argument, is what is called the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). It says that we should not think it so very special that the universe is as it is for were it not we would not be around to notice it. The fact that we exist means that the universe must be tuned precisely as it is.

Well, yes, but this misses the point. The question is whether the fine-tuning is a dumbfounding coincidence or whether it is intentional. Using the WAP as a counter-argument to the cosmic fine-tuning problem has been compared to the scenario where a man finds himself kidnapped and imprisoned by a psychopathic killer. The kidnapper has placed in the prison cell one hundred machines which are designed to simultaneously dispense a single playing card when a button is pushed. The kidnapper then tells his victim that when he pushes the button each of the one hundred machines wil produce a card at random from a deck that has been shuffled inside the machine. If any machine produces any card other than an ace of spades the prisoner will be automatically gassed and instantly killed.

The kidnap victim despairs of his chances of survival. They seem infinitely slim. The button is pushed. The victim tenses. And nothing happens. No gas. He looks at the machines and every one of them has produced an ace of spades. The man is astonished at his good fortune. How could it be that he is alive? Professor Dawkins would tell him that he shouldn't be astonished that each machine produced the correct card because had it not he wouldn't be alive to to take note of the fact.

This seems like a dodge, and it is. The prisoner has every right to wonder how such an improbable course of events could have unfolded to allow him to survive. He has every reason to suspect that the machines weren't selecting cards at random at all, but that the outcome was intentionally foreordained.

Sensing, perhaps, the absurdity of a resort to the WAP, Dawkins quickly imports a completely unscientific, non-empirical speculative hypothesis called the Multiverse theory. According to this, our universe is just one of an innumerable array of universes each having different parameters, values and laws. Given the existence of so many worlds, the chances are greatly increased that at least one world would be structured the way ours is. Think of it this way: The chances that somebody is going to be holding the winning lottery ticket increase as the number of tickets sold increases. Thus we shouldn't be astonished that our universe is tuned as precisely as it is because, given the number of worlds, at least one has to be suitable for life, and ours is it.

This might be an effective response to cosmic fine-tuning were there any shred of evidence that any other worlds exist, much more a vast number of them, but there is none. The theory is pure speculation invoked for no good reason other than to enable one to avoid the conclusion that our universe is intentionally designed.

Moreover, since the idea of multiple worlds is untestable, it's not a scientific theory. It also violates the principle of Occam's Razor which tells us that the simplest explanation that accounts for the facts is the best (a plenitude of worlds is far more complicated an explanation than the hypothesis that there's just one world plus a designer of that world), nor does it explain where the universes all come from and what creates them.

We have proof, of course, that information, beauty, harmony, etc. can be produced by a mind, but we have no proof that they can be produced by random chance. Yet, in order to evade the force of the evidence posed by the exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmos, we are asked to accept that chance has produced zillions of worlds, one of which has beauty, elegance, and law-like order.

To be sure, Dawkins could be correct. It's possible that the world is one of an immeasurable number of universes, but why believe that unless one is so dead set against the idea that there's a mind superintending it all that one will believe almost anything to escape having to believe that such a mind exists.

Part I of our discussion of this interview can be found here.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Something for Everyone

Senator Clinton has her bases covered:


Kurt G�del

Students of math and science among our readers will probably have heard of Kurt G�del, one of the premier mathematicians and logicians of the 20th century. G�del was brilliant. It also turns out that he was a committed theist. Hector Rosario has an interesting article on G�del's theism at Metanexus. Here's a part of it:

Kurt G�del, the preeminent mathematical logician of the twentieth century, is best known for his celebrated Incompleteness Theorems; yet he also had a profound rational theology worthy of serious consideration. "The world is rational," asserted G�del, evoking philosophical theism, "according to which the order of the world reflects the order of the supreme mind governing it."

G�del was a self-confessed theist, going as far as developing an ontological argument in an attempt to prove the existence of God. He chose the framework of modal logic, a useful formal language for proof theory, which also has important applications in computer science. This logic is the study of the deductive behavior of the expressions 'it is necessary that' and 'it is possible that,' which arise frequently in ordinary (philosophical) language. However, according to his biographer John Dawson, he never published his ontological argument for fear of ridicule by his peers.

An important aspect of G�del's theology - one that has been greatly overlooked by those studying his works - is that not only was he a theist but a personalist; not a pantheist as some apologetic thinkers may portray him. To be precise, he rejected the notion that God was impersonal, as God was for Einstein.

"Spinoza's god is less than a person; mine is more than a person; because God can play the role of a person." This is significant since a god who lacks the ability to "play the role of a person" would obviously lack the property of omnipotence and thus violate a defining property universally accepted as pertaining to God. Therefore if God existed, reasoned G�del, then He must at least be able to play the role of a person. The question for G�del was how to determine the truth value of the antecedent in the previous statement.

Atheists and agnostics usually portray their philosophy as rational, discarding the theist conclusion as a mere psychological refuge of the ignorant or self-deceiving. Nevertheless, ultra-rational thinkers like G�del, Leibniz, and Descartes have reached the theist conclusion. Is there an apparent disconnect between rational thinkers and rational thought, or is it that the theists' view is the rational conclusion, even if often embraced by fanatics in unimaginably irrational ways?

Many scientists would argue that even though they cannot completely (or partially) explain the origin of the universe - or the origin of life, or the nature of consciousness, or the nature of time - the answers would certainly not involve God. They have placed their faith in their cognitive processes and in their colleagues. They submit to those authorities; but faith they have, nonetheless.

Rosario concludes the article with a discussion of G�del's version of the ontological argument.

HT: Telic Thoughts


The Ugliness of American Politics

American politics has grown exceedingly ugly in the last ten years or so. It is no longer, if it ever was, a contest of ideas about how best to achieve mutually agreed upon ends. It has morphed into a battle to destroy the other side, to destroy as many careers as possible and discredit the other side to whatever extent one can.

Thus we find ourselves mired in perpetual charges of scandal: We are told that the administration lied to get us into war, that the administration illegally eaves-drops on our enemies, that the administration illegally detains enemy combatants, that prisons like Guantanamo Bay are hell-holes, that our troops are less than ideally equipped and outfitted for their mission, that Dick Cheney didn't immediately report a hunting accident, that a CIA agent was illegally "outed" for political reasons, and the current outrage du jour, that federal district attorneys were improperly dismissed.

None of these are genuine scandals. In each case the charges are either trivial, untrue or, if true, there was nothing illegal or improper in the administration's actions. Yet the Democrats and their media mouthpieces daily demand human sacrifice: Destroy Don Rumsfeld. Hang Scooter Libby. Get Karl Rove. Ruin Dick Cheney. Impeach George Bush. It's a mob mentality based on hate and deceit, driven by a lust for power, and it's destroying our politics and paralyzing governance.

Not that there are not genuine scandals in this White House, but the real scandals are ones in which the Democrats are complicit. The biggest is Bush's feckless approach to securing our borders and stopping illegal immigration. His insouciance about this problem is a dereliction of his duty as commander in chief and is negating, in the minds of many Americans, much of the good he has wrought.

The good includes his liberation of more people from tyranny than any other president in history, his steadfastness in the war on terror, the appointment of quality Supreme Court and federal jurists, tax cuts which have given us one of the best economies in the last sixty years, and his resolve to stay the course in the war on terrorism despite the howling and shrieking of his enemies both foreign and domestic.

Bush could have been a great president. Despite the tragic mistakes that were made in the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war, he could have emerged from his tenure in the White House with Reaganesque stature, but his handling of illegal immigration is a disgrace that will be very difficult for him to overcome no matter what happens in Iraq. His failure is sad for what it will do to his legacy, and it could well be calamitous for the country.


Socs Rocks

Any teacher who has ever been evaluated by his or her students will find much that sounds familiar in these student evaluations of Socrates' teaching abilities.

HT: No Left Turns


Monday, March 19, 2007

1984 in 2008

Goodness. Somebody on the Democrat side has put together an anti-Hillary ad that, in terms of political image-making and propaganda, is just devastating. It plays off of George Orwell's vision of mind-numbed, lobotomized citizens forced to watch a droning Big Brother on a large theater screen.

Obama denies any connection to the ad even though the tag line implicates his supporters.

Watch it here.


A Different Perspective

This news will not be welcome in many ideological quarters of the nation but it seems as if things are not as bad in Iraq as the administration critics in Congress and the media keep telling us they are:

Most Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a British opinion poll published today.

The survey of more than 5,000 Iraqis found the majority optimistic despite their suffering in sectarian violence since the American-led invasion four years ago this week.

One in four Iraqis has had a family member murdered, says the poll by Opinion Research Business. In Baghdad, the capital, one in four has had a relative kidnapped and one in three said members of their family had fled abroad. But when asked whether they preferred life under Saddam, the dictator who was executed last December, or under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, most replied that things were better for them today.

Only 27% think there is a civil war in Iraq, compared with 61% who do not, according to the survey carried out last month.

By a majority of two to one, Iraqis believe military operations now under way will disarm all militias. More than half say security will improve after a withdrawal of multinational forces.

Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, said the findings pointed to progress. "There is no widespread violence in the four southern provinces and the fact that the picture is more complex than the stereotype usually portrayed is reflected in today's poll," she said.

And here we thought the whole country was in flames, chaos and confusion just as John Murtha and Chris Matthews have been telling us. Wonder what they'll say now.


NAE on Torture (Pt. II)

With this post we continue our examination of the National Association of Evangelicals' statement on torture. See here for Part I of this critique.

The NAE takes the position that torture, or any treatment which degrades another human being, is categorically wrong. It is our position at Viewpoint, however, that while torture is grossly immoral to the point of evil when used as a means of punishment or revenge, or almost always when used in interrogating prisoners, or when done simply to entertain and amuse the torturers, as apparently was the case at Abu Ghraib, there are nevertheless circumstances in which torture is not only not wrong, but morally incumbent. Indeed, the NEA drafters admit as much, albeit inadvertantly, when they write that:

Human rights are not first of all about "my rights," but about the rights of the vulnerable and the violated. And they are about responsibility, indeed obligation, to defend the weak. All people, all societies, and all nations have a responsibility to ensure human rights.

This is certainly true, but the weak and vulnerable are often the intended victims of brutes and thugs. If in order to carry out our mandate to defend the weak and vulnerable we find that the only way to keep them from harm is to use coercive force against someone who has information that would save the victims, whose rights, those of the victim or those of their would-be killers, should we regard as paramount? Just as in the case of a policeman defending himself or a bystander from an aggressor, when someone is an active (or a passive threat) to another their right not to be harmed is no longer in effect.

Consider the case of a terrorist named Rauf, captured last August by the Pakistanis. It was information obtained from interrogating Mr. Rauf that uncovered the plot to simultaneously blow up ten airliners last summer using liquid bombs. Suppose now the following circumstances obtained at the time: The authorities knew that something terrible was in the works and that Mr. Rauf knew what it was. Imagine, too, that Mr. Rauf could not be enticed to yield his knowledge of the plot through any means other than being subjected to pain, fear, or humiliating treatment. Finally, imagine that your spouse and children would have been aboard one of those planes. Would you maintain that, these hypotheticals notwithstanding, if you had your way the Pakistani intelligence service would not have been permitted to employ the methods they apparently did employ to persuade Mr. Rauf to talk? A simple yes or no will suffice.

If you answered yes, try this: Imagine looking your loved ones directly in the eyes and telling them that.

Or consider a case similar to that of John Couey who kidnapped nine year old Jessica Lunsford, tortured and raped her, and then buried her alive and left her to die. A similar crime occured in Florida some years ago where the victim was buried in a box that had enough air to allow her to live for about a day. Suppose, counterfactually, that the kidnapper had been apprehended, admitted that he had abducted the girl, told the police that she was in the box with only a few hours left to live, but he refused to tell them where she was.

Suppose further that the girl is your daughter. Finally, suppose that one cop, against all regulations, applies excruciating coercion against the kidnapper until he yields the information, resulting in the rescue of your daughter. Subsequently, you discover how her rescue was achieved. Would you register disapproval with the authorities? Would you insist that the cop be prosecuted for his violation of the rights of the kidnapper? Would you feel that the police officer's act was morally inexcusable or repugnant?

If not, then you do not agree with this statement in the NAE document:

Human rights apply to all humans. The rights people have are theirs by virtue of being human, made in God's image. Persons can never be stripped of their humanity, regardless of their actions or of others' actions toward them. In social contract theory human rights are called unalienable rights. Unalienable rights are absolute and completely inviolable; a person cannot legitimately cease to have those rights, whether through waiver, fault, or another's act.

As we suggested in part one this is a very bad argument. What are these unalienable rights? Surely they include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if these rights are unalienable, as the NAE insists, then not only is it always and everywhere wrong for policemen and soldiers to use deadly force, it is also wrong to incarcerate criminals. If one were to protest that criminals and enemy combatants forfeit their rights, at least so long as they are a threat to soldiers, police officers or to society, then it is being conceded that the rights in question are not "unalienable." They are rights we possess as human beings until such time as we become a threat to the welfare of others.

The NAE continues:

An expansive approach argues that there are three dimensions of human rights, and all must be equally valued by any society that respects any of them: the right to certain freedoms, especially including religious liberty, the right to participate in community, and the right to have basic needs met.

But surely the NAE understands that these are prima facie rights. That is, a person has them until such time as they become a threat to society or otherwise disqualify themselves from possessing them. A man whose religion calls for him to behead infidels, for example, surely does not have the right to practice his religion freely.

The NAE document also says this:

Human life is expressed through physicality, and the well-being of persons is tied to their physical existence. Therefore, humans must have the right to security of person. This includes the right not to have one's life taken unjustly (equivalent to the right to life), ...

Now the NAE is contradicting itself. Having declared human rights to be absolute they set out in this statement to qualify them. Apparently a just taking of a life is permitted by the NAE, but if so, why could not similar qualifications be imposed on the following:

...the right not to have one's body mutilated, and the right not to be abused, maimed, tortured, molested, or starved (sometimes called the right to bodily integrity or the right to remain whole). The right not to be arbitrarily detained (an aspect of due process) and the writ of habeus corpus are also based specifically on the concept of bodily rights. In particular, the writ of habeus corpus is based on the right not to have the government arbitrarily detain one's body.

It is acceptable, in fact obligatory, for the state to detain people, deprive them of their right to freedom, as long as it is not "arbitrary," but then what is happening to the absolute proscriptions that the NAE insisted upon earlier on. In other words, no right is unalienable or absolute. Whether someone can be deprived of life or freedom or any other property depends upon why these things are taken from the person. The NAE, however, disagrees:

Even when a person has done wrong, poses a threat, or has information necessary to prevent a terrorist attack, he or she is still a human being made in God's image, still a person of immeasurable worth.

Perhaps, but so are the people whose lives and well-being hang in the balance. Why should the terrorist's life be regarded as of greater worth than theirs? Why should the terrorist's rights count more heavily than the rights of your family aboard that plane or your nine-year old daughter suffocating in that box? If subjecting the terrorist to harsh treatment offers the only possibility of saving innocent lives it is morally incumbent upon us to do that. To stand by and do nothing when we could possibly have saved peoples' lives is immoral.

It is also absurd. If the terrorist succeeds, even though he's in custody, and innocent lives are lost, he can be executed according to the NAE's reasoning. But until he succeeds he cannot be in any way treated harshly even though it is reasonably certain that apart from harsh measures he will cause the murders of innocents and consequently be put to death. It's better to allow the innocents to die and their killer to be executed, according to the NAE's logic, than to prevent all that death by causing the murderer to suffer temporary discomfort or pain. It's hard to see how this makes any sense at all.

More on the NAE's argument later.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Question On Prayer

Consider for a moment these passages from the Gospels where Jesus offers assurance in no uncertain terms that prayer will be answered...

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:6

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Matthew 7:7-8

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Matthew 7:9-11

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Luke 11:13

Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
Mark 11:24

Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Mark 11:22-23

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Matthew 17:20

Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 18:19

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall be do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
John 14:12-14

Yet is there anyone who can honestly say that they experience such reliability and consistency of God granting that which they ask for? And if not, then why not? There are too many passages to support the belief and expectation that God will, in fact, answer prayer as promised.

I can think of two possible answers and there certainly may be others. First, it may be that the Gospels and perhaps the book of Acts belong to a different dispensation than the one we are living in now. Just as the Old Testament or Old Covenant is a different dispensation, a dispensation of the law which has been superceded by the New Testament or New Covenant - a dispensation of grace. If this is the case, then the passages above applied specifically to those Jesus spoke to and not to future generations of believers. This would explain why I don't move mountains.

While this may be the case, I'm reluctant to believe it is so as otherwise I'm hard pressed to understand the point of prayer for contemporary believers including Paul and his exhortation and example as found in the epistles (also belonging to the present dispensation). The second possibility is that there is a relationship that exists between the degree of one's spirituality, that is, the degree to which they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and, as a result, the faith they possess, and the reality of God answering their prayers. Interestingly, I believe we are blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit through sincere and constant prayer to the Father in a total, selfless desire to be possessed by His Spirit.

If this is so, then I suspect such individuals, rare though they may be, are so in tune with the will of God that the passages above are a reality for them. Less blessed folk simply wouldn't recognize it. But even this thought seems to be contradicted by the first verse quoted above from Matthew 6:6

Of course, if any of our readers have another answer to this question, feel free to respond via the Feedback page.

The Pursuit of Truth

Henry Waxman personifies the dispassionate search for truth in his polite and probing questioning of the woman who wrote the law concerning what constitutes "outing" covert agents. When the witness responds to his questions the congressman takes the opportunity to sit back and learn and to let the nation be edified by the witness' expertise ....

Okay, I'm fantasizing. Check out the video for yourself at HotAir.


Cheney Variant of BDS

Someone named Michelle Cottle at The New Republic argues that Dick Cheney is losing his grip, probably because of his heart disease. Cottle's article is the typical mean-spirirted stuff we've come to expect from the administration's critics, marinated, however, in faux compassion.

If you read it then you have to read Charles Krauthammer's devastating reply. In fact, just read Krauthammer's essay. It's a masterwork of polemical rebuttal. If Cottle reads it she might be ashamed to ever write anything so silly again.



Physicist Paul Davies, the author of many fascinating books on cosmology and the origin of life, has come up with a novel explanation for how the universe could be so exquisitely fine-tuned for life without having to invoke the dread concept of a Creator God. Davies hypothesizes that the precise calibrations of dozens of cosmic parameters were set during the Big Bang by a phenomenon called "retrocausality":

If retrocausality is real, it might even explain why life exists in the universe -- exactly why the universe is so "finely tuned" for human habitation. Some physicists search for deeper laws to explain this fine-tuning, while others say there are millions of universes, each with different laws, so one universe could quite easily have the right laws by chance and, of course, that's the one we're in.

Paul Davies, a theoretical physicist at the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, suggests another possibility: The universe might actually be able to fine-tune itself. If you assume the laws of physics do not reside outside the physical universe, but rather are part of it, they can only be as precise as can be calculated from the total information content of the universe. The universe's information content is limited by its size, so just after the Big Bang, while the universe was still infinitesimally small, there may have been wiggle room, or imprecision, in the laws of nature.

And room for retrocausality. If it exists, the presence of conscious observers later in history could exert an influence on those first moments, shaping the laws of physics to be favorable for life. This may seem circular: Life exists to make the universe suitable for life. If causality works both forward and backward, however, consistency between the past and the future is all that matters. "It offends our common-sense view of the world, but there's nothing to prevent causal influences from going both ways in time," Davies says. "If the conditions necessary for life are somehow written into the universe at the Big Bang, there must be some sort of two-way link."

In other words, since causality is not limited by the laws of physics to only one direction, it's theoretically possible, Davies argues, that sentient life was able to somehow reach back to the Big Bang and calibrate the forces of physics and the expansion rate of the universe and a host of other values. Billions of years later intelligent beings would arise which had the ability to retroactively create their own universe.

This sounds bizarre even for a cosmologist, suggesting as it does the notion that the universe is the creation of its own inhabitants. Davies' theory is interesting, however, for what it implies. First, it's a tacit admission by Davies that the universe is inexplicable apart from having been tinkered with by an intelligent mind, and second, it illustrates the philosophical contortions some people will put themselves through in order to avoid the conclusion that the intelligent agent responsible for the universe is God.

HT: Telic Thoughts


The Battle of Diyala

As American and Iraqi pressure mounts in Baghdad insurgents and al Qaeda fighters are fleeing the city for other refuges. One such destination is a city named Diyala, but coalition forces are not permitting them to find a haven there. Bill Roggio gives us an update on the Battle of Diyala.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Crawley and Dawkins (Pt. I)

William Crawley of the BBC conducts an excellent interview with Richard Dawkins. Anyone wishing to get an idea of what the controversy surrounding Dawkins' views is all about will find this session to be a useful introduction.

In the course of the interview Dawkins makes some interesting claims. For example, there's this one:

"Before Darwin it was very hard (intellectually) to be an atheist. After Darwin it was very hard not to be one. Darwinism makes it very hard to be a theist."

So much for efforts by those who believe that one can be both a Darwinian and a theist to find common ground with the anti-theist Darwinians. For people like Dawkins there is no common ground. One is either a complete naturalistic materialist or a superstitious ignoramus.

It should be mentioned that the word "Darwinism" isn't strictly synonomous with "evolution." Darwinism is the metaphysical belief that materialistic, natural processes and forces are adequate by themselves to account for all aspects of life. It is possible to be both a theist and an evolutionist, but I agree with Dawkins that it is very difficult to be a Darwinian evolutionist and a theist.

Dawkins then wonders:

"Why should there be a point to life? The meaning of life is whatever you make it. From a Darwinian point of view it is to propagate the species."

In other words, as long as you don't give the question of purpose too much thought you can avoid the depression and despair that seeps into the psyche when it begins to dawn on people that their lives are merely "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Dawkins seems to recognize that materialism strips life of any real meaning or purpose and leaves us to try to find some reason for getting out of bed in the morning. For Dawkins meaning comes from trying to prove there is no God, but as I think C.S. Lewis pointed out, there's something peculiar about making it one's purpose to prove that there is no purpose.

He adds that:

"It doesn't make much sense to go around and count the number of people who believe something in order to decide whether [a belief] is a delusion or not. The best thing to do is to look at the arguments for or against a belief."

Precisely. Which is why it's somewhat beside the point to insist, as so many anti-IDers do, that ID is bogus because no top scientists believe it. This is a diversion and a fallacy. What's important is not whether a majority of scientists believe something but rather the reasons why they believe it or don't beleive it. In many cases Darwinism is embraced because it is a necessary crutch to sustain a materialist metaphysics. In other words, as Dawkins has said elsewhere, Darwinism makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.

In response to the extraordinary fine-tuning of the universe Dawkins offers three counter-arguments:

He first raises the question of where the designer comes from. If God designed the universe, he asks, then what designed God?

His second reply, which he conflates with the third but which is really a distinct argument, is what is called the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP). It says that we should not think it so very special that the universe is as it is for were it not, we would not be around to notice it. The fact that we exist means that the universe must be tuned as precisely as it is.

Sensing perhaps, the absurdity of the WAP he quickly imports a completely unscientific, non-empirical speculative hypothesis called the Multiverse theory. According to this, our universe is just one of an innumerable array of universes each having different parameters, values and laws. Given the existence of so many worlds it becomes more likely, even probable, that one world will be structured the way ours is.

Think of it this way: The chances that somebody is going to be holding the winning lottery ticket increase as the number of tickets sold increases. The more tickets/universes, the more likely one of them will have just the right sequence of numbers.

I'd like to consider these three arguments in another post.