Sunday, September 30, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Conclusion)

This series of posts has been devoted to defending the claim that the simplest explanation for the nature of the world and the deepest yearnings and feelings of the human psyche is that they are what they are because they conform to some existential reality. Those profound convictions we hold are most simply explained by positing the possibility of satisfaction, but they can only be satisfied if there is a being that corresponds to the traditional notion of God. If theism is correct we can find intellectual and emotional contentment in believing that the tragic condition of the world and of our lives is only temporary, that death is not the end and that a beautiful future lies ahead.

If God exists then we can assume that He made us for a reason, that there is a purpose to our existence and that we have dignity and inalienable rights as human beings because we are made in the image of God and loved by Him. If God exists then there is a transcendent moral authority which will ultimately mete out justice and which provides us in this life with an objective standard upon which to base moral judgment. We feel guilt because we're actually guilty. We feel free because we're actually free. We have an identity that endures because that identity exists in the mind of God. If God exists there is a basis for hope and some sense can be made of an otherwise senseless world.

The atheist, if he's consistent with his belief that there is no God, finds himself completely at odds in almost every important way with the structure of his own being. He finds himself inexplicably out of synch with his world. He is alone, forlorn, abandoned in an empty, unfeeling universe that offers no solace nor prospect that there might be meaning, morality, justice, dignity, and solutions to the riddles of existence. The atheist lives without expectation or hope that any of the most profound yearnings of our hearts and minds can ever be fulfilled. How, then, do we come to have them? Why would natural selection shape us in such a way as to be so metaphysically and psychologically incompatible with the world in which we are situated?

It's possible, of course, that the atheistic answer is correct, that this is just the way things are, and we should simply make the best of a very bad situation. Yet surely the skeptic should hope that he's mistaken. Surely he would want there to be a God to infuse the cosmos with all the richness it is starved of by His absence. Nevertheless, I've never known or read one who held such a hope. It's incomprehensible that some, like philosopher Thomas Nagel, for instance, actually cling to the fervent desire that there be no God. This is tantamount to wishing, bizarrely enough, that life really is a meaningless, senseless, cruel and absurd joke. Nagel says in his book The Last Word:

"I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

Nagel's ability to see his motivations clearly is uncommon and commendable, but his honesty and insight are little compensation for the profound sadness one feels at what he finds in his own heart. How anyone can actually wish the universe to be the sort of place where meaning, morality, justice, human worth and all the rest are vain illusions, is very difficult, for me at least, to understand.

For previous posts in the series use the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Truth Matters

A left-wing blog called Media Matters recently provided us with a vivid illustration of Churchill's aphorism that a lie gets half-way around the world before truth can get its pants on. Media Matters ran a smear of Bill O'Reilly that was so dishonest it should have been criminal. Nevertheless, CNN and NBC picked up the libel and repeated it themselves.

When eventually confronted with the transcripts of what O'Reilly actually said everyone refused to recant. The damage had been done and O'Reilly has been trying hard on his show to recover something of his reputation. Columnist Juan Williams who was a witness to the remarks for which O'Reilly has been vilified recounts what really happened here.

But blood was in the water so this week Media Matters decided they'd shamelessly repeat the same dishonest tactic by completely distorting something Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program. Referring to frauds who claim to be combat veterans with eye-witness experience of war-time atrocities, but who had in fact never been in the military, Limbaugh called them "phony soldiers."

Never mind the context, Media Matters smeared Limbaugh for having called military critics of the war "phonies," and not only MSNBC repeated the slander but several Democrats rose to the floor of the House and the Senate to blast Limbaugh for his appalling lack of patriotism and whatever else they thought they could stick him with.

In a post-modern world where truth is whatever you feel it to be, and all that counts is winning, where peoples' reputations are fair game in the no-rules world of political combat, I guess this sort disreputable behavior is to be expected. Those of us, though, who believe that truth is of paramount importance should maintain a prudent skepticism toward anything we hear on CNN or MSNBC or indeed CBS, after Dan Rather, or The New Republic, after twice having carried columns by fabulists whose claims were subsequently found to be fabricated. These journalists apparently subscribe to the belief that even if you have to retract a claim later no one will notice, and the damage you had hoped for will already be done.

You might wonder how people can be this way. One of the heroes of the secular left, Karl Marx, once stated that the left's view of the world (communism) "abolishes all eternal truths, all religion and all morality." This pretty much explains everything.


Workers of the World Unite!

What do Zimbabwe, Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), North Korea, and Iran all have in common? They are, of course, all murderous regimes (See what's going on in Burma here) which brutally oppress their own people and, in the case of Iran, export terror around the world. In addition, they all share one other thing in common. They are each one a client state of Communist China.

The most pathological, genocidal thugs in the world are all aided and abetted by a state which, since 1950, has been held up to us by our own secular leftists as a model toward which we should ourselves aspire. It's true that they've been rather mute on the point lately, but just as one rarely found criticism of the atrocities of the former Soviet Union in the leftist media so, too, one rarely hears criticism of Communist China, even though it is by far the worst oppressor and abuser (directly and indirectly) of human rights in the world today.

Perhaps I'm wrong and the left-wing blogosphere is actually full of denunciations of their ideological brethren across the Pacific for their support of the Burmese government and others. Perhaps the only reason I haven't seen any of these excoriations is because I haven't been to their blogs lately. Perhaps the secular left really does care about human rights enough to take time out from their fulminations over Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot act to direct their outrage at real tyranny, and I'm just not aware of it. It's possible.

On a related matter, I wonder, as Hugo Chavez arrogates more and more power for himself in Venezuela, if the Venezuelan people aren't just a little bit nervous given the nightmarish record of communist dictatorships in the old U.S.S.R., North Korea, Cuba, Cambodia, and, of course, China.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Re: No Blood For Oil! Why Not?

Byron takes some issue with our the post directly below titled No Blood For Oil! Why Not?. His comments are on our Feedback page.

I should add that I agree with him that our long term goals should be the sorts of solutions he suggests, but the post was really geared more to addressing the question how we free ourselves from dependence on Middle Eastern oil in the meantime, within the next ten years or so.

And while we're taking these measures we need to ask whether the objection summed up in the cry, "No blood for oil" has any validity in the current circumstances we find ourselves in.


No Blood For Oil! Why Not?

We often hear that the Iraq war is all about oil. Alan Greenspan is said to have made the comment in his recent book, although he has since claimed that he's being misunderstood and that although oil is the reason why Iraq is important, it's not the reason Bush launched the invasion.

Be that as it may, even if it were the reason we are in Iraq what, exactly, is wrong with fighting over oil? The left declaims that there must be "no blood for oil," and the idea that we are in Iraq, as we were in Kuwait, to protect our access to oil causes steam to shoot from their ears like exhaust from a jet engine. But why?

Suppose it were not oil but some other resource that was at issue. Suppose the Middle East had the bulk of the world's drinking water, or food, and suppose a bunch of psychopathic terrorists threatened to seize total control of this resource and use it as a lever to insure their will be done around the world. Would it it be worth fighting to prevent that from happening?

If the answer is yes then how is oil any different? If our oil supply were to dry up our civilization would die just as surely as if our water were to dry up. It would take longer, but the end would be the same. Oil is the life-blood of the modern world, and we can't survive without it. Without oil there'd be no way to do agriculture on a scale large enough to feed 300 million people, much less get the food to market. Without oil most people would have no way to get to their employment and most businesses and industries would not be able to operate. Nor would we be able to heat many of our homes in the winter or maintain our schools and hospitals. It's simply naive to suggest that oil is not worth fighting over.

We can all agree that as long as we are dependent upon foreign oil we are vulnerable, but the left's solution to reducing that vulnerability is to force Americans to use less oil by raising the gasoline tax to the point where it becomes prohibitively expensive for all but the well-off. It's hard to see how this would reduce our dependency upon oil since we'd still need it. It's not hard to see, though, that though higher gas prices would reduce consumption, they would raise the price of everything else we need which would cause people to be thrown out of work, and our economy to be thrown into recession.

There are other measures we could take to reduce our dependence upon foreign oil, but the left vigorously opposes them. We could build new refineries, allow oil companies to drill offshore, open up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, and build new nuclear plants. My environmentalist friends are aghast at the very mention of these options, but the serious harm any of them would cause to the natural environment would be minimal, as far as I have been able to determine. Meanwhile, the harm done to the United States by our continued dependence upon foreign oil or the consequences of inflation and recession, are, and would be, enormous.


Good Ol' Boys

Red State Update has a funny parody of the Lee Bollinger/Ahmadinejad contretemps.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Having the Right Tool

Catch Rich Lowery's piece on Iran at NRO. Lowery points out that while Iran is killing Americans and threatening to utterly destroy Israel, the Democrats have steeled themselves to fight the dread enemy tooth and nail - George Bush.

In a column that makes a number of salutary observations perhaps Lowery's best line is this:

"Liberals like to say of the Bush administration's allegedly militaristic foreign policy that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Likewise, if the only tool you have is dialogue, everyone looks like a reasonable interlocutor."

By noting that Iran is killing Americans in Iraq Bush is "saber-rattling." By announcing that Iran is a state sponsor of terror Bush is "increasing tensions." The Democrats apparently want Bush to just shut up about Iran and give peace a chance. The rhetoric coming from the left sounds a lot like Europe in the 1930s when Hitler was making frightful noises and no one wanted to call attention to it for fear that it would be seen as a provocation.

Kudos to Columbia President Lee Bollinger, a man of the left, for calling a criminal a criminal. Would that more in his party would follow his example.

As an aside, I acknowledge the point that some have made, including Ahmadinejad himself, that it's discourteous to invite someone into your home and then subject him to the kind of treatment that Bollinger accorded Ahmadinejad. Generally, I would agree, but the little Hitler is an exceptional case. With people like him, a cruel mass murderer both in fact and intent, it is necessary sometimes to speak prophetically, to dispense with the usual courtesies and pleasantries and, like Nathan did to David, tell him firmly and plainly, "You are that man."

It would have been bizarre, in fact, to treat Ahmadinejad with handshakes and smiles. The man is responsible for the deaths and maimings of hundreds of American young men and women, and is eager to utterly destroy Israel.

Bollinger's indictment was exactly the right thing, the prophetic thing, to do.


Al Qaeda Lost

Amidst the claims and counterclaims about how the war in Iraq is going certain independent voices emerge that should be heeded. Michael Totten is one such. He's a journalist who reports regularly from Iraq on developments there. His latest dispatch, "Al Qaeda Lost," is as valuable a contribution to the discussion as it is fascinating. Totten doesn't wear rose-colored glasses, not everything is going as well as could be hoped, but if he's anywhere near correct, things are much better there than many war critics will acknowledge.

Other reports are equally encouraging. This one at Operation Iraqi Freedom points out that despite the numbers of Iraqi policemen and their families who have been targeted and murdered by suicide bombers, there continue to be more applicants than there are positions to fill. Moreover, their training continues to improve and they're having a measurable effect on reducing violence in Baghdad.

Everyone who wonders whether there's reason for optimism in Iraq should read both of these posts. Unfortunately, we won't be hearing this stuff on the evening news. They just don't seem to be interested in airing any information that would suggest to the American people that there might be light at the end of this dark tunnel.


Why Not Be Honest?

A recent article in The Examiner revealed that President Bush's staff regularly briefs the Democratic candidates on Iraq so that they know enough about the situation there that they may avoid saying something in the campaign that would bind them to a course of action as President that would have very undesirable consequences.

Thus at Wednesday night's debate none of the Democratic front-runners would commit to having the troops out of Iraq by 2013. This must not only have come as a severe disappointment to the types in their electoral base who are demanding an immediate pullout, but it is extraordinary for what it tacitly suggests.

It suggests that those Democrats who know what's going on in Iraq and who might in a year bear the weight of having to make the right decisions about what to do there, don't see ending the war and withdrawing troops as a responsible option, nothwithstanding their rhetoric and votes in the senate.

If so, much of their opposition to the war appears to be little more than opposition to the President, and if this is true, then they've been playing politics with our soldiers' lives simply to gain political advantage.

A good example of their lack of candor occurred when Senator Clinton was asked by the moderator of Wednesday night's debate to commit herself before the nation to have our troops out of Iraq by the end of her first term, that's five years from now. Like Barack Obama and John Edwards, she declined to do so, giving as her reason that, "It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting."

But if the President is keeping the Democrats informed why would Hillary say this? Evidently, either the Examiner article is mistaken and the briefings are not really occurring, or Hillary isn't paying attention at those briefings, or she's being disingenuous.

If she is being briefed then surely she has a pretty good idea of what she would be inheriting. So why has she backed away from her promise of a few months ago when she vowed that if the war's not over before she becomes president it will be over as soon as she takes office? Evidently she realizes now that committing to withdraw our forces from Iraq, even within the next five years, would be a very irresponsible course of action.

But then why not be honest about that with the American people?


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Pt. VII)

In this series of posts we've suggested that there are at least fifteen facts about the world and human beings that are more compatible with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic view. In other words, we've been arguing that theism is a better explanation for the way the world and human beings are than is atheism.

The fifteen reasons we've based this conclusion on are these:

  1. Our conviction that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself.
  2. The exquisite fine-tuning of the cosmic parameters, forces and constants.
  3. The existence of coded biological information.
  4. The fact of human consciousness.
  5. Our sense that reason is trustworthy.
  6. Our conviction that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is open.
  7. Our deep sense that we are obligated to act morally.
  8. Our experience of feelings of guilt.
  9. Our yearning for answwers to life's most profound questions.
  10. Our desire for justice.
  11. Our need for a meaning to our existence.
  12. Our sense that we have a self which perdures through time.
  13. Our belief in human dignity.
  14. Our belief in human worth.
  15. Our belief in the existence of objective human rights.

In this post we add one more: Our longing for life beyond death.

16. Human beings want desperately to live and yet we know we're going to die. In a Godless universe, the fate of each of us is annihilation. There's no basis for hope that loved ones we've lost still somehow exist or that we'll ever "see" them again. There's no consolation for the bereaved, no salve for grief. Many face this bravely, of course, but, if they're reflective, their bravery must serve to mask an inner despair. If death is the end then life truly is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." If death is the end then human existence is completely absurd. But, of course, death is the end if the materialist is right. Only if God exists is there a realistic basis for hope of something beyond this life. Only if God exists can our longing for life be fulfilled.

So, we are confronted with a choice: Either we believe that there is no God and that consequently our existential yearnings are inexplicable and unfulfillable, a view which leads logically to nihilism, or we believe that there is a God and that we possess those yearnings because they lead us to the source of their satisfaction. They point us toward God. In other words, the existence of God is the best explanation for the data of human existence. Atheism has no good explanation for these data and in fact the person who denies this explanation has to take a leap of faith to avoid the nihilism and despair that her worldview pushes her toward. She has to live as if God exists while denying that He does.

We'll have some concluding thoughts in the next post in the series.


The Jena 6 and Lost Hope

Joe Carter has an excellent post on the Jena 6, the six young thugs who beat a boy senseless and whose charges were protested by thousands of demonstrators from all over the country.

More than 40 witnesses saw Mychal Bell (age 16), Robert Bailey, Jr. (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Theo Shaw (17), and Jesse Ray Beard (14) viciously attack Justin Barker (17).

According to the witness statements, several people claim to have seen Bell punch Barker from behind, instantly knocking him to the concrete walkway. Witnesses say the other students then stomped on Barker, kicking him in the face and head as he was on the ground.

(This, by the way, is the event that Colbert King, the despicable columnist for the Washington Post, referred to as a "schoolyard fight.")

So the facts of the situation are that one cowardly thug sucker-punches a kid from behind and then joins with five other cowards in stomping the unconscious body. For this crime the "Free the Jena Six" crowd believes the proper punishment is....nothing.

But wait, it gets better.

Much of the outcry has come because Mychal Bell, the main cowardly thug, was tried as an adult. But let's examine why this was considered by the prosecution.

On Christmas Day 2005 Bell punched a 17-year-old girl in the face. (Yes, this cowardly thug not only sucker-punches boys from behind, he punches girls from the front too.) For this action Bell was charged with battery and put on probation until his 18th birthday. Nine months later he was charged with criminal damage to property. Two months after that, Bell was charged again with battery and again with criminal damage to property.

He was convicted of two of these charges in early September 2006. A few days later Bell was leading the Jena Giants to a shutout victory in a football game against the Buckeye Panthers. (You see, in the South, you can punch a girl in the face, destroy property, and, as long as you're a star athlete, you'll usually get off with a slap on the wrist.)

So one of the reasons that Bell was being tried as an adult after assaulting Barker was that he was already on probation for four previous violent crimes.

This vicious assault was dismissed by columnist Leonard Pitts as merely a case of "six American children [sic] with dark skin ... charged with attempted murder after jumping a pale child whose injuries amounted to a black eye and a concussion." This is ludicrous. The boy was knocked unconscious and had medical bills, according to his lawyer, of over $14,000. I wonder what Pitts would have said about the attack if it had been his child knocked unconscious by six white thugs.

Read the rest of Carter's post and weep for the lost hope of color-blind justice in America.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

That's What I'm Talking About

On Sunday I said that I thought having Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak at Columbia University might be a good thing if it promoted a greater discussion of who and what this man is. A lot of people disagreed with Columbia's decision to invite him, but President Lee Bollinger's introductory comments went far, in my opinion, to vindicate it. What Bollinger told this psychopathic terrorist to his face no one else has told him in a public forum, and had Ahmadinejad not gone to Columbia he never would have been subjected to such a blistering and humiliating rebuke.

See here and here for the video. It's impressive for its moral clarity.

I think that the little Nazi was regretting his decision to go to Columbia before Bollinger was even half-way through his indictment of Mahmoud's depravity.

But who were the people who cheered Ahmadinejad when he delivered his feeble retort? Whoever they were surely they are the ideological and moral spawn of the people who cheered Hitler as he launched his final solution.

Michelle has lots of links and photos.


Dicey Docket

Tom Goldstein at SCOTUS Blog offers a preview of the upcoming Supreme Court docket and raises some serious concerns for conservative-leaning Americans:

I am not trying to rewrite the history of the past Term, which in fact concluded almost uniformly with significant victories for the right. Instead, my point is that the characterization of this Court is part caricature and is deeply dependent on the near-accident of the particular cases that are decided in any given Term. Although the era in which true liberalism was an ideological force on the Court (e.g., Brennan, Marshall, and Douglas) is now over, this is manifestly not a period of conservative hegemony. Like Justice O'Connor, Justice Kennedy's commitment to any ideological world view is too fragile for either wing of the Court to have genuine confidence in the outcome of an entire Term's worth of cases. And moreover, many important cases are not decided on ideological grounds or by five to four majorities.

There is in fact the genuine prospect that the Court will hold (potentially by a five-to-four vote each time) that the government may ban the possession of pistols (possibly guns altogether, if [they find that]there is no individual Second Amendment right), that child rapists cannot be executed, that certain federal legislation regulating child pornography is unconstitutional, that the Administration's treatment of alleged terrorists is unlawful, and that sentences for crack cocaine should be reduced.

Goldstein's post lays out the reasoning behind his opinion that all five of these cases could be decided in favor of the liberal position on them. If they are, it would be, as Goldstein asserts, a boon to the Republican presidential candidate who would surely campaign on the need to appoint more conservative jurists to the Court as Stevens and Ginsburg retire.

HT: PowerLine

Jena and White Guilt

We've talked before about the phenomenom described by Shelby Steele in his book titled " target="_blank"> White Guilt, the feeling many whites have that they bear within them the stain of racism and the need many whites have to seek absolution by proving that they're not, in fact, guilty of this sin.

If there's anyone who is completely free of this politically correct affliction and who's able to think clearly on matters of race it's Heather MacDonald. MacDonald has an excellent column in City Journal on the episode in Jena, LA where six blacks, angered by the appearance on their high school campus of three nooses, beat a white kid who had nothing to do with the insult until he was unconscious. The young thugs were charged as adults with attempted murder, a charge which was seen as excessive by many, and which precipitated large protests and another round of media lamentations over what Jena says about racism in our judicial system and in our society.

MacDonald thinks the demonstrators' outrage and media concern are misplaced and that they're really smokescreens that obscure some hard truths about the condition of blacks in the United States. She concludes her column with this:

The orgy of Jena coverage will not just fail to improve the lagging performance of blacks; it will impede such improvement by strengthening the victim mentality. Both whites and blacks are complicit in this sabotage. These ecstatic festivals of racism-bashing are a crippling ritual in the codependency between absolution-seeking whites and angry blacks, a phenomenon that Shelby Steele has powerfully analyzed. The demonstrators exhibit a palpable desire for the moral clarity of the civil rights era, as do the reporters, who have covered their every utterance. "This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation," one student told the New York Times. "You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves."

He's right; there has been nothing like Selma or Montgomery for the current generation, because much of America has accomplished almost an about-face on race since the 1950s. The current martyrs to American bigotry are a far cry from Rosa Parks. Like the "Jena Six," they tend to have committed acts of violence or other crimes for which they are allegedly being excessively punished. Think of the six high school hooligans from Decatur, Illinois, whom Jesse Jackson tried to beatify in 1999 when their schools expelled them for a violent stadium fight; their backgrounds included robbery, trespassing, truancy, and failing whole school years. We are only belatedly learning that Mychal Bell, the sole member of the "Jena Six" to have been prosecuted for knocking out and kicking Justin Barker, has a previous arrest record that includes battery and property damage. Barker's injuries led to $14,000 in medical bills, according to a lawyer.

The Jena situation is undoubtedly a bit more complex than the tale that the press has woven of hate-filled whites and peace-loving blacks. But even if it were not, the catharsis that this morality play has offered to its participants is spurious. The real tragedy is the dysfunctional culture that holds back too many blacks from seizing the many opportunities open to them.

Her column is too important to miss. It should be read and discussed by every American, black, white and otherwise, from beginning to end.


Monday, September 24, 2007

No More Beach

AOL has an interesting story on projected sea levels over the next century. Scientists anticipate a rise of one meter no matter what we do today. That one meter rise will significantly alter the east coast of the U.S. as the maps at the link show.

It looks like the eastern beaches which have been such a popular vacation spot are going to be pretty much gone by the time our great grandchildren want to use them.

It also looks like all the money we're spending to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf coast might as well be dumped into the ocean. In fact, it soon (relatively speaking) will be.


Another Report of a Cancer Cure

Researchers believe they have discovered a way to cure cancer that should be available within two years. It involves the use of cells, called granulocytes, taken from the immune systems of cancer-resistant donors and transferred to cancer patients. The details can be read here.

It seems that every couple of months we hear of another breakthrough in cancer treatment and cure. Let's hope and pray that our medical reseacrhers really are getting this terrible disease under their control.


What We Can't Not Know

George Weigel makes several important points in a brief essay at The Ethics and Public Policy Center titled What We Can't Not Know Six Years After 9/11. Here are some of the things Weigel says we can't not know:

We can't not know that jihadists read history through the prism of their theological convictions. The West, tutored by a progressive view of history, read the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan as a victory for freedom. Jihadists read it as a victory for jihadism, a Phase One triumph in an ongoing war against the infidels. Phase Two, which jihadists imagined might be easier than Phase One, had the United States as its target.

Attacks on American embassies in East Africa in the mid-1990s were intended to trigger a struggle in which the United States would be defeated as the Soviet Union was defeated in Phase One. When that didn't work, jihadists blew a hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole as it was refueling in the harbor at Aden. When that didn't elicit the expected response, Osama bin Laden concluded that an outrage impossible for the Americans to ignore was required. Thus 9/11.

Bin Laden got one thing wrong, and we can't not know that, either: he hadn't reckoned on the robust response of those allegedly decadent Americans, first in Afghanistan, later in Iraq. As the dean of western scholars of Islam, Bernard Lewis, has written, "it is noteworthy that there has been no successful attack on American soil since...the U.S. actions in Afghanistan and in Iraq indicated that there had been a major change in the U.S..."

But now, closely watching our politics and monitoring our national morale, jihadists like bin Laden may, Lewis suggests, be returning to their original assessment of American fecklessness -- and may conclude "that they need only to press a little harder to achieve final victory."

A determination to make clear that this re-assessment is wrong ought to be the threshold test of seriousness applied to any presidential or congressional candidate in 2008. For, as Lewis concludes, if the jihadists' reassessment is proven right, "the consequences -- both for Islam and for America -- will be deep, wide, and lasting."

Another thing we can't not know is that the war against jihadism is for the long haul: it won't be resolved in the next administration, or in the next three administrations. Staying power -- rooted in the conviction that religious freedom, tolerance and civility, the rule of law, and the method of persuasion in politics reflect universal moral truths -- is essential to victory.

Weigel then closes with this:

Prayer for the conversion of our enemies is yet another "front" in the war that has been declared upon us. Yet I've heard very few, if any, such prayers in the past six years. Their necessity is one more thing we can't not know.

He's right about this as well as much else. Read the rest of his essay at the link.

Thanks to Jason for passing the article along.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Let Him Speak

Unlike a lot of folks, evidently, I don't have a problem with Columbia University inviting Iranian president Ahmadinejad to speak on campus this week.

I think it will be an excellent way to spark discussion among people across this nation as to exactly who Ahmadinejad is and what he is trying to do. I'm afraid that most Americans have no idea of the extent of Iran's horrific machinations in the Middle East, and if it takes the controversy around Ahmadinejad's appearance to educate them then the invitation is a good thing.

My concern is not with the invitation, rather it's that this pyschopath Ahmadinejad who's responsible for the deaths and maimings of hundreds of American soldiers, who is seeking to build nuclear and chemical weapons with which to destroy Israel, who presides over a nation which supports terrorism around the globe and which savagely executes gays, women and children who transgress their barbaric laws at home, will be treated with more fawning deference and respect by the Colombia faculty and students than would, say, Ann Coulter.

I say let him speak, but I hope tens of thousands of people turn out to protest not his appearance, but his existence.


Why We Shouldn't Leave

There's a discussion going on over at Politics, Sex and Religion around a column I wrote for the newspaper on why it would be a mistake to leave Iraq at this stage of the mission. Check it out and join the discussion.


Hillary's Religious Faith

Mother Jones features an article on the nature of Sen. Clinton's religious faith. Reading this it's hard to think that Mrs. Clinton's faith is not genuine, although there are stories about her tenure with Bill that certainly raise doubts. Even so, none of us is perfect. Here are some excerpts:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. "A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation," says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. "I don't....there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer."

When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.

Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.

It'll be interesting, if Sen. Clinton wins the presidency in 2008, to see whether she receives the kind of media criticism for depending upon divine guidance as has George Bush.

At any rate, there's much more in the story that reveals fascinating details about the people who have influenced her religious development and how that development has played itself out in some of her political positions.

HT: Hot Air


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Part VI)

This is the sixth installment in the series which seeks to argue that belief in God is more reasonable, more compatible with our experience of the world and of ourselves, than is atheism. We consider here three more observations about our human condition that support this conclusion.

13. Human beings have a deep longing for justice, a longing for which there's no fulfillment if death is the end of our existence. We yearn to see good rewarded and evil punished. Our hearts break when evil appears to triumph over good, but it's the common human experience that many good people live lives filled with terrible fear, pain and grief, and then they die. Meanwhile, many who were the cause of that suffering come to the end of their lives peacefully and content after many years of pleasure. In a world without God everybody comes to the same end, everyone vanishes, and there's no reward or punishment, just nothingness. In the world of the atheist, it doesn't matter whether you're Mother Teresa or Adolf Hitler and there's no hope that justice will ever be done.

14. Human beings crave a meaning to our existence. We can't bear living a life we know to be pointless and insignificant, but death nullifies everything and renders it all nugatory. In the absence of God there's no fixed purpose or value to anything we do. Some day the earth will burn up in a solar explosion, and there'll be not a trace that humans once existed. What will all of our striving matter then? All our efforts are like the furious running of a gerbil in his wheel. Our lives are just a footprint in the sand at the edge of a space-time surf. Eventually all vestige of our lives will be washed away as though we were never here, and the greatest acts of heroism, charity, and scientific discovery will mean absolutely nothing.

If the atheist is correct, if our existence is simply a temporary fluke of nature, a cosmic accident, then we have no reason to think that anything we do matters at all. If, on the other hand, we have been created by God we may assume that He had some purpose for making us. We may not know what that purpose is, but we have a basis for hoping that there is one. Indeed, if there is a God then what we do is not ephemeral, it's eternal, and that makes all the difference.

15. In a Godless world there is no soul and therefore no self other than the physical body. Since our body is in constant flux we are continuously creating a new self, moment by moment, year by year. There is nothing which perdures through time which makes me the same person I think I was ten years ago. There is no permanent "I," only a kaleidoscopic, fragmented bundle of patterns, impressions, memories, none of which has any real significance in determining who we really are.

As T.S. Eliot put it, "What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since every meeting we are meeting a stranger." Our sense that we are a self strongly suggests, however, that there's more to us than just our physical being. Yet unless there is a God the physical is all there is.

Go here and follow the links to find previous posts in this series.


Science Literacy

We talked about this rather humorous and startling video some time ago, but it's worth bringing back. Fifty six percent of French people polled on this game show said that the sun revolved around the earth. Now France, of course, is a very secular nation in which evolution is taught in school and over 80% of the people believe it to be scientific fact. Yet a majority of the viewers of this show hold a pre-Copernican belief about the solar system.

The next time you hear someone trot out the old canard that if we allow evolution to be challenged in our schools it'll be the death of science literacy, point them to this video as anecdotal evidence that evolutionary belief and science literacy have very little to do with each other.


Near Miss IED

Here's video, taken by military personnel, of an uncomfortably close near-miss of an IED. It's pretty sobering. Viewpoint understands, but does not endorse, the soldier's verbal reflex.


Friday, September 21, 2007

What Were They Thinking?

It's difficult to understand how any Senator could vote against this Sense of the Senate Resolution but 24 Democrats and 1 Independent found it within themselves to do so and several of them, including Barack Obama and Joseph Biden, chose not to vote at all:

It is the sense of the Senate-

(1) to reaffirm its support for all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, including General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq;

(2) to strongly condemn any effort to attack the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all the members of the United States Armed Forces; and

(3) to specifically repudiate the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by the liberal activist group

The Senate voted unanimously to confirm General Petraeus and to send him to Iraq to bring stability to the region. By all accounts he's handling that mission honorably, but when he came home to report to Congress on what he sees happening there Hillary Clinton essentially called him a liar and accused him of treason.

No one has presented any evidence that Petraeus has done anything dishonorable yet his character and reputation are besmirched and smeared by people who simply can't bring themselves to entertain the possibility that things are not as bad in Iraq as they believe them to be.

For the full text of the resolution and a list of the twenty five senators who voted against it go here.

With this vote twenty five senators have by implication chosen to attack the reputation and character of a good man serving his country rather than repudiate's disgraceful ad. Why would they do that?


Have the Taliban Admitted Defeat?

Strategy Page argues that the Taliban have acknowledged defeat in Afghanistan, at least for the time being:

The Taliban has offered to begin negotiating with the Afghan government. In Afghan parlance, that's the Taliban way of saying they are defeated and want to discuss peace terms. Over the past few months, Taliban attacks have become increasingly desperate and bloody. But most of the dead have been Taliban. The only "successful" attacks have been those using suicide bombers, and these kill mostly Afghan civilians.

The Taliban were able to build up a war chest in the last few years, allowing them to hired thousands of unemployed young men. But casualties have been high, with over a third of these hired gunmen getting killed, wounded or captured. In the last two weeks, over 200 Taliban gunmen have been killed in battles with Afghan and foreign troops. But the biggest source of problems has been the stupid things they do. Recently, a Taliban group kidnapped a dozen deminers (people who disarm and remove land mines).

This sort of thing is very unpopular with Afghans, as even the Taliban (officially, anyway) recognize the deminers as immune from attack. The millions of mines and explosives still in the ground don't discriminate between Taliban or non-Taliban. The deminers are arguably more important to the Taliban, who often sneak around at night in out-of-the-way places.

The Taliban also make themselves unpopular by attacking food relief convoys. One recent attack saw 13 Taliban and two police killed in such an unsuccessful attack. The Taliban want to shut down humanitarian and reconstruction projects, and thus force Afghans to support the Taliban in order to get any help at all. Most Afghans resent this sort of intimidation.

I'm not sure we should put too much hope in this acknowledgement of their tactical difficulties. It's true that the Taliban have suffered grievous losses, losing ten men to every policeman or soldier they've killed, but they will continue to be a threat to the Afghan people as long as they have safe havens in Pakistan and as long as there's a large pool of poor, uneducated young men for them to draw upon for cannon fodder.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Faith By Any Other Name

This video of Richard Dawkins is very revealing albeit not in any way that Dawkins intended. The famous Darwinian materialist is asked whether he can think of an example of a genetic mutation which actually increases the amount of information in the genome. He ponders the question for what seems like an hour, but which is actually eleven seconds, and finally gives an answer which is completely irrelevant to the question.

In other words, Dawkins' inability to think of an example of a beneficial mutation that actually makes the genetic material more complex than it was before the mutation suggests that not even prominent evolutionists can offer evidence that mutation is a driving engine of evolutionary progress.

The belief that genetic mutation has led to the myriad living forms and structures we see today is simply an act of faith in a process for which not even Dawkins can adduce evidence.

It's ironic that faith in natural processes can be taught in school, but faith in supernatural intervention cannot. One wonders what rationale there can possibly be for that dichotomy.


More WMD in the Middle East

According to The Jerusalem Post Syria is working with Iran to develop chemical weapons:

Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light Monday in a Jane's Magazine report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report...the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas and VX gas.

The factory was created specifically for the purposes of altering ballistic missiles to carry chemical payloads, the magazine report claimed.

If the belief that Iraq had WMD was enough motivation for the Senate to vote to grant Bush the authority to overthrow Saddam, will proof that Syria and Iran have them be enough for the Senate to vote to grant Bush the authority to topple Assad and Ahmadinejad? Will it motivate the Senate to support any measures designed to bring an end to these regimes?

Here's a question for anti-war people: Should Bush just do nothing about the spread of WMD in Syria and Iran and leave the problem to his successor, or should he order the CIA to instigate a coup? Or, should he seek to cut off the flow of oil from Iran? What should the President do about WMD in Iran?

Those who oppose war in principle have been given a free ride on this question by the media. Very few anti-war folks have ventured to even comment on Iran except to deplore what they perceive to be administration saber-rattling and talk vaguely of negotiations. They need to be put on record as to exactly what they think Bush should do about this problem so that after he does it we don't have the kind of second-guessing and recriminations we've had with Iraq.


Why We Must Control Immigration

This clip presents perhaps the most important nine minutes and thirty five seconds of education on immigration you'll ever get. It's a must watch video for anyone who cares at all about their future and that of their children. Please watch it all the way to the end and if anyone knows who the speaker is, please let me know.

Thanks to my friend Dick Francis for passing it along.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Part V)

In Part V of Inference to the Best Explanation (See I, II, III, and IV) we continue our consideration of sixteen facts about our existential circumstance which cannot easily be explained if there is no God, but which harmonize with a theistic worldview. Today we'll look at three closely related human characteristics beginning with number ten in the series:

10. We profess a belief in human dignity but modern atheism tells us that we are little more than machines made of flesh - sacks of blood, bone and excrement. There is no soul, there is nothing about us that makes us much different than any other mammal. We are more intelligent, of course, but that only makes the difference between us and a cow about the same as the difference between a cow and a trout. In the absence of God there's no reason why someone who has the power should not use it to manipulate and exploit the rest of us like the farmer exploits his cattle for his own purposes, slaughtering them when he can profit from so doing. The universe tells us we're nothing but "dust in the wind" and there's no dignity in that.

If, however, we are made by God and personally and specifically loved by Him then we have a basis for believing that we are more than a machine. We have a ground for human dignity that is simply unavailable on the assumption of atheism.

11. Related to the previous fact is the further truth that we have a belief in human worth. If all we are, however, is an ephemeral pattern of atoms, a flesh and bone mechanism, then in what does our worth as human beings consist? We have value only insofar as others, particularly those who wield power, arbitrarily choose to value us. If atheism is true there is no inherent value in being human. Only if theism is true and we are valued by the Creator of the universe can human beings have any objective worth at all. There is no other non-arbitrary ground for it.

12. Similarly, we have a belief that human beings have certain fundamental rights. Unfortunately, if there is no God there's nothing at all upon which to base those rights save our own prejudices and predilections. As Thomas Jefferson acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence, we have the right to life and liberty only because we are children of the Creator of the universe who has invested those rights in us and in whose eyes we are precious. If there is no Creator then there are no human rights, just arbitrary rules, mere words on paper, which some people agree to follow but which could easily be revoked.

When atheists talk about human rights someone might ask them where those rights come from. Who confers them? Who guarantees them? If it is not God then it must be the state but if so, our rights are not inalienable. If the state decides what rights we shall have then the state can determine that we have no rights at all. The fact is that if atheism is true human rights are no more substantial or real than the grin of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.

We'll continue the argument tomorrow.


Amnesty Redux

The Senate is going to vote this week on an amendment to a defense appropriations bill called the "DREAM Act" (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). Having had an attempt to grant amnesty to illegal aliens defeated two months ago, the amnesty advocates are making a back-door run at it again by hitching their legislation to a defense spending bill.

DREAM would, among other things, grant amnesty to any alien who entered the country illegally when under the age of 16 and who has subsequently graduated from high school. It would also grant in-state college tuition benefits to illegal aliens.

Meanwhile, Congress is trying to get SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) reauthorized, and a lot of people are pushing for it. However, in addition to providing health insurance coverage to all "poor" American "children" (the bill re-labels "children" as anyone under 25, and "low income" as up to 400% above the poverty level, or $82,600 for a family of four) the updated version would also extend coverage to the children of illegal aliens by eliminating the requirement that they present proof of citizenship.

In other words, American taxpayers are going to be required to subsidize both the education and the health care of another country's citizens.

You might say that we are a rich and generous nation. Why not help those who are less fortunate? We should, but we as individuals should determine the extent and nature of the help we provide.

Suppose your neighbor who is not as well off as you comes to you one day and tells you that his children have been experiencing some medical difficulties of late and that as soon as these are resolved he's decided to enroll them in a private school. You sympathize with him about the health problems and wish him well with his kids' new school until he tells you that he expects you to help with both the health care and the tuition costs. I suspect that your sympathy and well-wishing would diminish pretty quickly.

You may, out of the goodness of your heart, want to help him, but few of us want to be told that we must pay his bills.

You can read more about DREAM at Michelle's place. If you oppose it call your senator and tell him/her. Michelle has the number.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Had It Coming

As usual, Michelle Malkin has everything you could possibly want to know, including video, about the student who got tasered by security officers at a John Kerry speech. One thing is clear from the videos of this incident: This wasn't a suppression of free speech issue. The guy was tasered for butting in line, refusing to yield the microphone, refusing to obey the officers, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, and being a jackass. Good reasons all.


No Way

What happens in this video is very hard to believe, yet it's far more probable, believe it or not, than that a living cell could be produced by chance. Just saying.

HT: Hot Air


Defending the Weak

You'll recall that in the climactic episode of The Lord of the Rings there was a walled city in which perhaps thousands of people, including many women, children, and elderly took shelter from inhuman savages who had laid seige to their fortress. The attackers thirsted for the blood of the hapless inhabitants and were eager to utterly destroy them and their city.

Those who huddled in terror within feared they would be horribly raped, tortured, and killed in the most gruesome fashion, but they took hope from the fact that they were protected by a phalanx of great warriors who had come from distant lands to defend the city from the savages who howled their threats from beyond the walls. The warriors were very brave and highly skilled in the art of war, but they faced enormous difficulties and what seemed to be overwhelming odds.

So, one night they decided that protecting those who shivered in fear in their hiding places really wasn't worth the cost and they considered leaving. "But what of the poor women and children in the fortress?" some asked. "Aren't they depending on us? Haven't we promised we'd protect them? Won't they be slaughtered if we abandon them?"

The reply came down from their superiors that "these people should be able by now to fend for themselves, and if they can't that's their problem, not ours." Thus the mighty army rode out that night under cover of darkness, fleeing to safety, and the people inside the fortress wept bitterly as the savage beasts swept in and brutally murdered them all.

Actually, that last part didn't happen in the movie, but only because the warriors in the story weren't listening to Harry Reid and


Another Taliban Murderer Eliminated

The Taliban leader responsible for the kidnapping of South Korean missionaries a couple of months ago has been killed in Afghanistan. He's the fifth Taliban involved in the kidnappings and murder of two of the Koreans to have been dispatched to his 72 virgins in recent weeks. So far this year that miserable land has been disinfected of over 4000 Taliban.

I recommend Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner to anyone who would like insight into the kind of people the Taliban and their allies in al Qaida are. Hosseini's novel, and, I'm told, his follow-up (A Thousand Splendid Suns) stunningly portray the Taliban's brutal human degeneracy prior to their defeat by American forces six years ago. The reader comes away from the book convinced that the elimination of these creatures from Afghanistan, and, indeed, the face of the entire globe, should be seen as a moral imperative by civilized people everywhere.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Part IV)

With this post we continue our series titled Inference to the Best Explanation. This installment follows Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The remainder of the argument (points 7 through 16) is based on certain facts about the human condition and might be called an Existential Argument for the existence of God.

7. Number seven stresses our deep longing for answers to life's most profound questions. As human beings we want answers to the deepest, most perplexing questions raised by our existence, but in the world as the atheist sees it there are no answers, there's no assurance about anything that matters, except that we'll eventually die. We shout the "why" questions of human existence at the vast void of the cosmos - Why am I here? Why do we suffer? Why do we want from life what we cannot have? - but in a Godless universe there's no reply, only silence. The cosmos is indifferent to our desire for answers. We are alone, forlorn, as Sartre put it, and our quest for answers is absurd.

If God exists, however, then it's possible that each of those questions has an answer, and if there are answers then the fact that we have those questions and desire the answers makes sense. We may not know what the answer is, but we have a reasonable hope that our questions aren't futile or meaningless and that there is a reason why they gnaw at us.

8. We are burdened with a deep sense that we are obligated to act morally. As human beings we strive to ground morality in something more solid than our own subjective preferences, but if there is no God there is nothing else upon which to base them. In a purely material world morality is whatever feels right to the individual.

This is not to say that the non-theist cannot live a life similar in quality to that of a theist. She can of course, but what she cannot say is that what she does is morally good or right. There simply is no moral good unless there is an objective, transcendent standard of goodness, and the existence of such a standard is precisely what the non-theist denies.

Apart from this standard all moral judgments are merely expressions of personal preference, and no one's preference is any more authoritative than anyone else's. This leads ineluctably toward a might makes right egoism, either on the level of the individual or the level of the state. Whatever those who have power do is not morally right or wrong, even if they commit torture or genocide, it just is.

In the absence of God morality is either subjective, and thus arbitrary and personal, or it doesn't exist at all, and our sense, indeed our conviction, that it does is simply an illusion. If God exists, however, then our conviction that objective moral value and obligation also exist makes sense.

9. Related to the preceding point, we experience feelings of guilt, and have a sense that guilt is not just an illusion, but without an objective standard of morality before which we stand convicted there can be no real guilt. Human beings are no more guilty in a moral sense than is a cat which has caught and tortured a bird. The feeling of guilt is merely an evolutionary epiphenomenon which arose to suit us for life in the Stone Age and which, like an appendix, we no longer need. Indeed, it's a vestige of our past that we should suppress since it bears no relation to any actual state of affairs.

On the other hand, if there is an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good Creator of the universe, then our sense we are indeed guilty has an explanation. We feel guilt because we have transgressed the moral law instituted by the Creator before whom we stand and to whom we must give an account.

It is this Creator who imposes upon us moral obligation. Take away God and there's no moral law, there's no moral obligation, there's no transgression, and there's no moral guilt. As Dostoyevsky put it, if God is dead then everything is permitted.

We'll consider a couple more aspects to this argument in Part V tomorrow.


Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand fans will enjoy this New York Times article on the woman and her influence. Rand was a powerful voice on behalf of individual greatness and achievement. Her books championed entrepreneurship and capitalism while heaping withering scorn upon the collectivist philosophy that plagued the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, Rand was herself a deeply troubled woman who led a tumultuous personal life. She also believed her views could only be rationally held by men and women who were atheistic in their fundamental worldview, a position which seems to me to be only partly true.

Even so, her books are still popular long after their original appearance back in the forties and fifties, and Atlas Shrugged has been one of the best-selling novels of all time in the United States. The Times article offers some good insights into Rand and her work.


A Clarification

My friend Byron has helped me to see that I should have expressed myself a little more clearly in the first paragraph of the post immediately below this one.

The reason I wrote that the claim that the war in Iraq has been a wonderful recruiting tool for terrorists is absurd is not because the war hasn't brought an increase in the number of terrorists. It doubtless has. The reason I think the claim is absurd is because when anti-war people make this claim the implication is that had we not gone to war in Iraq there would not be as many terrorists world-wide as there are.

Now there's certainly no absurdity in believing that this is so, but as long as there are good arguments to the contrary it is an overreach to say that it is so - as though it were a demonstrable fact when it clearly is not.

Are there good arguments to the contrary? I think one could plausibly maintain that the greatest recruiting tool for terrorists would be signs of American weakness and vacillation. Had we refrained from invading Iraq it's quite possible that many young Muslims would have been emboldened to join the ranks of what the imams would be assuring them is an army destined by Allah to destroy the infidel West. They would have been convinced, conceivably, that Allah had delivered the irresolute Americans into their hands and they would be eager to join the side of the victors.

This is certainly plausible and no one can know that this would not have been the way things would have worked out had we not invaded. Thus it's absurd to imply that the war has made things worse than they would have been had we not invaded. It is to claim a kind of knowledge that no one has or could have.

That was my point in the preceding post, but I'm afraid I didn't make it as clearly as I should have.


Saturday, September 15, 2007


How often have we heard the Iraq war condemned on the grounds that it has been a wonderful recruiting tool for terrorists? Of course, such a claim is absurd since no one who makes it is in a position to know whether it's true or false. They simply offer an unprovable speculation as though it were apodictic truth.

But nevertheless let's play along. Let's suppose it's true. Which do you think would be a better recruiting tool for Islamic terrorists, the creation of stability in Iraq and the eradication of al Qaida killers or a movie which depicts American troops raping and murdering Muslim civilians such as the one (titled Redacted) made by Brian DePalma and which will be played over and over in the Islamic world?

DePalma's film is bound to inflame Muslim hatred for Americans and inspire thousands if not millions of young men to want to kill us. It's at least as reasonable to assume that this movie will eventually be responsible for as many American deaths at the hands of terrorists as has been our effort in Iraq, yet DePalma is applauded by the left.

One can only shake one's head at the moral irresponsibility and callousness of these people.


Phony Video?

An expert on such things casts doubt on the aunthenticity of the recent bin Laden video and gives us reason once again to wonder if bin Laden really is still alive.

I, like most people, I suppose, suspect that our intelligence agencies know a great deal more about bin Laden than what they have chosen to disclose. For whatever reason they have perhaps decided that it's best to keep everyone in the dark about what they know. At least I hope that's the case.

HT: Hot Air


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Inference to the Best Explanation (Pt.III)

With this post we continue our examination of those aspects of the world which seem to fit more easily into a theistic worldview than that of atheism (See Part I and Part II). The fourth of these aspects is the fact of human consciousness.

How does it happen, for instance, that mere matter can produce qualia (e.g. the sensation of red or the taste of sweet)? How do electrochemical reactions in our neurons produce a belief, a value, a doubt, gratitude, regret, expectation, or disappointment? How does material substance produce forgiveness, resentment, or wishes, hopes, and desires? How does it appreciate (e.g. beauty, music, or a book)? How does it want, worry, have intentions, or understand something? How does matter come to be aware of itself and its surroundings?

These are vexing questions for a materialist view of the world. It may be that if we put the proper chemicals in a flask under the appropriate conditions the flask would become aware of itself, but we have no idea how it could do so, and the assumption that it could is simply an article of materialist faith.

In other words, on the assumption that matter is all there is consciousness is inexplicable. The existence of consciousness suggests that material substance is not the only constituent of reality.

5. The fifth aspect of the world that is better explained in terms of a theistic rather than an atheistic worldview is our sense that reason is trustworthy. If matter, energy, and physical forces like gravity are all there is then everything is ultimately reducible to material, non-rational particles. If so, our beliefs are just brain states that can be completely explained in terms of non-rational chemical reactions.

But any belief that is fully explicable in terms of non-rational causes cannot itself be rational. Therefore, if materialism is true, none of our beliefs are rational, reason itself is a non-rational illusion, and both truth and the reliability of scientific investigation are chimerical. Thus the atheistic materialist has no rational basis for believing that materialism, or anything else, is true.

As Stephen Pinker of MIT has said, "Our brains were shaped [by evolution] for fitness, not for truth."

Only if our reason is an endowment from an omniscient, good Creator do we have actual warrant for placing confidence in it. We may, if we don't believe that there is a Creator, decide to trust reason simply as an act of faith, but it's very difficult to justify the decision to do so since any justification must itself rely on reason. And, of course, employing reason to argue on behalf of its own trustworthiness commits the fallacy called begging the question.

6. The sixth characteristic of human beings that makes more sense given the existence of God than given atheism is our sense that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is open. In the absence of God our sense that we have genuine choices and are responsible for those choices is problematic. In a Godless world we are just a collection of physical particles, and ultimately physical particles have no freedom, they simply move according to physical laws. There is no free will, there is only an inexorable determinism. At any given moment there is only one possible future, and our belief that we can freely create a future is pure sophistry and illusion.

Thus an atheist who faults me for writing this series of posts is acting inconsistently with his own assumptions. If there is no God I am driven to write by causes beyond my control and for which I am not responsible. Indeed, if there is no God, it's hard to see how anyone could be ultimately responsible for anything they do.

One can be an atheist and deny that we have consciousness, that reason is reliable, and that we have free will, but he will find few people who agree with him. If one believes that we do possess these attributes it's easier to explain them on the basis of theism than on the basis of atheism.

More tomorrow.


Petraeus' Answer

Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive makes much of General Petraeus' answer to a question from Senator John Warner on Wednesday. Since Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball also went into orbit over Petraeus' response to this question last Tuesday night it might be worthwhile to consider a point I would have thought was obvious, but apparently isn't. Here's the first part of Rothschild's post:

During the Petraeus hearings in the Senate on Tuesday, there came a crucial and unexpected confession from the general .... then Warner asked whether the war in Iraq was making America any safer, a pretty fundamental question, one that Russ Feingold had tried to get an answer to a little earlier but failed.

Here's what Petraeus said: "Sir, I don't know, actually."

After 3,750 U.S. soldiers dead, 28,000 wounded, and maybe close to a million civilians killed, and the leading U.S. general in Iraq can't tell us whether it's made us any safer?

What a confession, what a concession for Petraeus to make!

Why are we there, then?

And how does he ask more soldiers to risk their lives for a war that he knows might not (indeed, is not) making us any safer?

And how does he talk to families of our fallen soldiers when he can't affirm that the war is doing any good?

And how does he console a mom whose son sustained horrific brain injuries in Iraq when he doesn't know, actually, whether Bush's war is making us any safer?

Nor could Bush have been happy with that answer, for Petraeus's confession undercuts Bush's whole rationale for this war in the first place, the notion, repeated ad nauseum, that the Iraq War is crucial for our safety.

It should be clear, however, that no one other than God can know whether what we're doing in Iraq is making us safer. Suppose the Iraq project was a total success and Iraq became terrorist-free zone. Does that make us safer? Who knows? Perhaps the terrorists flee Iraq and take up residence in some other country to which they wouldn't have otherwise fled but from which they're able to launch several successful attacks against us. If so, did the Iraq war make us safer or less safe?

Suppose Petraeus gave an affirmative answer to Sen. Warner and tomorrow a terrorist cell from Indonesia or someplace hits an American city. The terrorist act might have had nothing to do with Iraq but we can be pretty sure the media would be blasting the Petraeus' assurances of the previous day.

We can't know whether we're being made safer by what we're doing in Iraq, we can only hope we are, but we can be pretty confident that if we pull out of Iraq we will almost certainly be less safe. In other words, success in Iraq is a necessary condition for the safety of the United States, but it's not a sufficient condition. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, but it's apparently beyond the ken of those who grasp at any straw to discredit the war effort.

Consider, for example, these words from Senator Clinton:

"There is no military solution, that is why I believe we should start bringing our troops home."

This unfortunate non sequitur is from the mind of the lady who was once acclaimed to be the smartest woman in the world. That lofty accolade notwithstanding Mrs. Clinton evidently doesn't understand that it simply doesn't follow from the fact that military action will not by itself produce peace in Iraq that therefore military action is unnecessary to produce peace in Iraq.

No policy, no strategy, has a guaranteed outcome, and it's disingenuous of Rothschild to jump on Petraeus' reply to Warner's question as if it was some sort of proof that all is really lost. Moreover, by saying as he does above that he knows the war is not making us safer, he dons the fool's cap that Petraeus wisely shunned. Rothschild knows no such thing, but it would be interesting to ask him to cite precisely those facts which assure him that he does possess the knowledge he claims to have.


Diplomatic Breakdown

If war with Iran comes let the record show that much of the responsibility must be borne by the Germans, Russians and Chinese who have refused to go along with any further economic sanctions imposed by the U.N.:

Germany - a pivotal player among three European nations to rein in Iran's nuclear program over the last two-and-a-half years through a mixture of diplomacy and sanctions supported by the United States - notified its allies last week that the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to support the imposition of any further sanctions against Iran that could be imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

The announcement was made at a meeting in Berlin that brought German officials together with Iran desk officers from the five member states of the Security Council. It stunned the room, according to one of several Bush administration and foreign government sources who spoke to FOX News, and left most Bush administration principals concluding that sanctions are dead.

And why are the Germans loath to impose sanctions on Iran?

The Germans voiced concern about the damaging effects any further sanctions on Iran would have on the German economy - and also, according to diplomats from other countries, gave the distinct impression that they would privately welcome, while publicly protesting, an American bombing campaign against Iran's nuclear facilities.

How like the Europeans. Like people witnessing a mugging who don't want to get involved the Germans don't want to risk their own peace and comfort. But if the Americans want to take action for them that'd be great. "Let's you and him fight." Of course, if Bush does do what the Germans apparently hope he does, they'll be sure to reward him with public contumely and criticism.

The view in the administration is that diplomacy has failed.

The Bush administration "has just about had it with Iran," said one foreign diplomat. "They tried the diplomatic process. China is now obstructing them at the U.N. Security Council and the Russians are tucking themselves behind them.

"The Germans are wobbling ...There are a number of people in the administration who do not want their legacy to be leaving behind an Iran that is nuclear armed, so they are looking at what are the alternatives? They are looking at other options," the diplomat said.

Consequently, according to a well-placed Bush administration source, "everyone in town" is now participating in a broad discussion about the costs and benefits of military action against Iran, with the likely timeframe for any such course of action being over the next eight to 10 months, after the presidential primaries have probably been decided, but well before the November 2008 elections.

The discussions are now focused on two basic options: less invasive scenarios under which the U.S. might blockade Iranian imports of gasoline or exports of oil, actions generally thought to exact too high a cost on the Iranian people but not enough on the regime in Tehran; and full-scale aerial bombardment.

On the latter course, active consideration is being given as to how long it would take to degrade Iranian air defenses before American air superiority could be established and U.S. fighter jets could then begin a systematic attack on Iran's known nuclear targets.

Most relevant parties have concluded such a comprehensive attack plan would require at least a week of sustained bombing runs, and would at best set the Iranian nuclear program back a number of years - but not destroy it forever. Other considerations include the likelihood of Iranian reprisals against Tel Aviv and other Israeli population centers; and the effects on American troops in Iraq. There, officials have concluded that the Iranians are unlikely to do much more damage than they already have been able to inflict through their supply of explosives and training of insurgents in Iraq.

There's more interesting insight on this developing crisis at the link. It certainly seems that a ground invasion of Iran is out of the question, but I wonder why there's no mention in the article of an aerial bombardment followed by surgical ground assaults on the nuclear facilities to completely destroy them. Whatever is done, and we still hope that Iran comes to its senses before military force is necessary, it's almost certain that there will not be an Iraq style occupation.

The most likely scenario, in my uninformed opinion, will be a destruction of the nuclear facilities, a serious degradation of the Iraqi military, and a decapitation of the government after which the Iraqi people will be left to reconstitute their leadership on their own.

We'll probably know by late February or early March. Pray for peace, prepare for the worst.


Scandal? What Scandal?

Michelle Malkin has pretty much all there is to know about the John Hsu/Hillary Clinton campaign finance scandal. And it's a good thing, too, because the MSM has suddenly developed a severe case of laryngitis.

Perhaps part of the reason for the MSM blackout on Hillary's complicity in this crime is the fact that for the liberal media scandal equals something that only Republicans do. Besides who cares about real criminality when we can talk about Larry Craig's wide stance in the men's room?


Threat to Civilization

There have been a number of statements recently by various individuals expressing deep concern about the threat to society posed by "radical Christianity." The CNN documentary titled God's Warriors which aired last week was the most recent attempt to insinuate into the public consciousness the notion that freedom in the U.S. is as imperiled by Christians who take Christianity seriously as it is by radical Islamists.

This is a jarring claim to anyone familiar with both "radical" Christianity and radical Islam and Gary Bauer does a good job pointing out how nonsensical it actually is. His column is so good that I've copied most of it here:

I'll spare you the details of the six hour mini-series and get right to the documentary's central message:

Conservative Christians who pray in front of abortion centers and orthodox Jews who settle down to live in Israel pose as much of a threat to freedom-loving Americans as fanatical Muslims who preach hatred of all non-Muslims and send their children off to become suicide bombers. "God's Warriors" trumpets the stale myth that what threatens America is not Islamic extremism but, more broadly, religious fundamentalism of all stripes.

Merriam Webster defines "radical" as: "of or relating to the origin: fundamental" and "forming a basis or foundation." The foundation of Christianity is Jesus Christ and His injunction to "love one another as I have loved you." In the Gospel of Matthew, a Pharisee tests Jesus with a question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replies, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Love is the foundational virtue in Christians' relationships with God and with other Christians and non-Christians alike.

But "radical" can also mean "extreme," and Christians are explicitly called to an extreme, or radical, love, which, following the example of Jesus on the Cross, has at its core an authentic forgiveness that is to be extended even to our enemies. Understanding that love and forgiveness lie at the heart of Christian faith helps illuminate why Christians respond to attacks against their faith not with violent protests and murderous threats but by "turning the other cheek."

Consider a recent case. When a New Jersey high school held a mock hostage emergency drill for their students, it chose to portray the terrorists as a group of fundamentalist Christians seeking justice after the daughter of one of its members had been expelled for praying before class. Students were further told that the terrorist group, called the New Crusaders, had already gunned down several students and had taken hostages in a classroom.

While the incident provoked the ire of many Christians, no violent protests were held and no death threats were issued. Instead, Christians wrote letters to the editors of their local newspapers and parents voiced their displeasure by writing to the school's principal and the city's mayor.

Perhaps the best recent example of "radical Christianity" was on display in the wake of the Amish school massacre last fall, when mentally disturbed milk truck driver Charles Roberts stormed the West Nickel Mines Amish School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and tied up and shot 10 girls before killing himself.

What the nation saw in the aftermath of this unfathomable rampage was the core of Christianity, a Christ-like love and forgiveness. While undoubtedly overwhelmed with feelings of anger and sorrow, the entire Amish community immediately forgave Roberts for his crimes. How did they do it? As one Amish leader explained, "We forgive because God has forgiven us. God extends his forgiveness to us in Christ, then, we must receive it. Once we do, we must share it with others."

For Christians, forgiving one's enemies is not to agree with what they do, or to be deluded into thinking they are nice people when they are not. It means hating the sin but loving the sinner. Anyone would hate what Roberts did. His actions were evil, and love does not diminish our hatred of those acts. In fact, Christians are called to hate the sin precisely because we love the person. And our hate for the sin deepens when we realize what it has done to a person whom God loves and values beyond our comprehension.

In the wake of the school shootings, many commentators seemed surprised that the family and friends of the victims were able to forgive someone who had committed such unspeakable acts of violence. Some even suggested that it was wrong for them to show such forgiveness. But the community's response was the essence of the Christian message. When God commands us to "love one another as I have loved you," He means exactly that. Is it radical? Yes. Is it a threat to America? Hardly.

Radical Islam is indeed a threat to civilization, but radical Christianity is a blessing and a gift.


Frustrated and Stymied

Anti-war leaders are, in their words, "frustrated and stymied" by the refusal and/or the inability of the Democratic congress to end the war in Iraq. Reading the article about a conference call involving a number of leaders in the anti-war movement, however, it's plain to see why they have failed. They simply offer no good argument as to why we are doing the wrong thing by staying. They have opted instead to try to advance their cause with bumper sticker slogans like "Bush Lied" and "Stop the War."

Very well, but as soon as one asks the question why we should stop the war all we hear, if we hear anything at all, is a series of assertions that too many Americans are dying, the surge isn't working, and the Iraqi government isn't functioning well. None of these, however, presents an argument persuasive enough to convince the majority of our representatives in Congress that we should risk throwing the region into utter chaos by pulling out.

Perhaps I'm wrong about this. Perhaps there really is a good argument for retreating from Iraq before that nation is stable enough and strong enough to defend itself from its enemies. If anyone is familiar with one please share it with me.

Until they come up with one the anti-war people are just going to have to accept the reality that bumper sticker slogans are a poor substitute for thoughtful deliberation.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Lunatic

What is it about the anti-war left that seems to attract so many people who have taken leave of their senses? Could it be that all the hatred and venom that have been directed at the war and those responsible for it push some people right off the cliff of sanity? And when is the media going to begin to hold the left accountable for that venom? Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the New York Times feels much responsibility in this regard.

If one expects the worst from people he will find that the secular left rarely disappoints. The recent ad placed by in the Times (below) has proven too much even for the stomachs of many of its satellites in the United States Congress.

The problem with much of the left is not just that they're wrong. About that people can certainly disagree. It's that so many of them simply don't know how to function in a civil society. They seem to think that the basic rules of human decency don't apply to them. Two of their favorite weapons are vitriol and character assassination. The NYT ad attacking General Petraeus is a disgraceful blend of both.

It was bad enough that Al Gore apoplectically accused George Bush of betraying the United States, but at least that was one politician making a despicable charge against another. For the MoveOn people, though, to besmirch a man whom everyone agrees has conducted himself with honor, professionalism and extraordinary competence in service to his country, for the people at MoveOn, most of whom have accomplished nothing in their lives comparable to what Petraeus does every day before breakfast, for the people at MoveOn to label this man a traitor is absolutely revolting. But then what else should we expect from people who have never grown up?

I wonder if an ad that suggested that, say, Hillary Clinton was somehow involved in the Vince Foster suicide would ever be run on the Times' pages. I doubt it, but the Times has no problem with a sophomoric ad accusing a decent and honorable man of treason when he is serving his country more competently and bravely than any of his critics ever could. Pretty pathetic.


Was Clinton Worse Than Craig?

Byron forwards this New Republic article on the recent flurry of sex scandals among politicians. The column, by Michael Schaffer, raised a couple of thoughts:

Schaffer refers to the hypocrisy of Republicans who espouse family values nevertheless being discovered engaging in very family unfriendly circumstances, but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I think the hypocrisy angle of these sad episodes is being overstated. It's not hypocritical to think that a behavior is wrong even if one engages in it oneself, and, if a legislator thinks his behavior is wrong, the fact that he engages in it himself is hardly a reason why he should vote to legitimize it.

Schaffer also contrasts the relatively "normal" affairs of two California Democratic mayors and the more sordid escapades of Republican senators David Vitter and Larry Craig as though Democratic dalliances are somehow not as bad as those of Republicans. I'm not sure what he's trying to prove with this argument, but it fails in any event once one recalls that for sheer sleaziness there's little that can compare with New Jersey's former Democrat governor Jim McGreevy's secret lifestyle.

I did think, though, that Schaffer was on the mark with this:

But once we start having scandals that involve extramarital others with real power who demand real payoffs from our pols, we may well be wishing they'd take their cheating selves straight back to the bathroom stall.

In fact it was precisely this concern which so deeply disturbed many people about President Clinton's satyriasis. What would happen (or what might have actually happened), people wondered, if a man in Clinton's position received "favors" from someone who in turn demanded a political quid pro quo - especially one which compromised our national security?

The question itself seems crass, but the media might well ask it of themselves as they gleefully pillory Senators Vitter and Craig: Which is worse, anonymous degrading encounters with powerless prostitutes or men in a restroom, or elegant liaisons in luxury hotels with sophisticated women who might use their sexual power to extort or blackmail a president of the United States?

I don't think Schaffer intends to say this, but the logic of his column leads to the conclusion that Clinton's infidelities were far more dangerous to the nation, far more reckless, and therefore far more reprehensible than those of either Vitter or Craig.


Worst GOP Candidate?

Richard Brookheiser at National Review Online thinks the worst candidate among the leaders of the GOP field is ..... Check the link to see if you guessed correctly.


Inference to the Best Explanation (Pt. II)

On Sunday we introduced a series of posts which will attempt to make the case that the existence of a personal God is the best explanation for a host of facts about the nature of the world and the human existential condition. In this post we'll discuss three of those.

1) The first is our conviction that the universe must have had a cause and that it didn't cause itself. The universe is contingent, or seems to be. It's therefore prima facie reasonable to think that its existence depends upon something beyond itself. It's possible, perhaps, that it somehow created itself, but that seems counter-intuitive and ad hoc.

Many atheists tell us that the existence of the universe is just a brute fact and that nothing is gained by positing a Creator since the Creator Itself requires an explanation. As Del Ratzsch (Nature, Design and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science) points out, however, this sort of reply, as common as it is, is not very compelling. He invites us to consider this analogy:

"Suppose a perfect ten-meter cube of pure titanium were discovered on Mars. Most people would think that the cube was produced by aliens and would regard the cube as virtual proof that aliens existed. Suppose, though, that there are those who deny either the existence or relevance of aliens, claiming that the cube is just there - a brute fact of nature. Suppose, too, that when pressed for some further explanation, their reply was to point out that the advocates of the alien theory had no clue as to where the aliens came from or how they had manufactured the cube."

Ratzsch goes on to explain that the inability to say anything much about the aliens doesn't count at all against the theory that aliens were responsible for the cube nor does it mean that the alien theory is on par with the brute fact theory. The existence of an intelligent alien manufacturer of the cube is an inference to the best explanation.

2) The second fact about the world is that the cosmic parameters, forces and constants which govern it are exquisitely fine-tuned. Here is one example of the dozens which could serve:

If the initial density of matter in the universe had deviated by as little as one part in 10 to the 60th power (a value referred to by scientists as the "density parameter"), the universe would have either fallen back on itself or expanded too quickly for stars to form. This is an unimaginably fine tolerance.

Imagine a stack of dimes stretching across 10 to the 30th universes like our own. Let the dimes represent calibrations on a gauge displaying every possible value for the density parameter. Imagine, too, that a needle points to the dime representing the critical value. If the initial density of our cosmos deviated from that critical value by a single dime our universe, if it formed at all, would not be suitable for life.

Or imagine a console featuring dials and gauges for each of the dozens, or perhaps hundreds, of constants and parameters which define the structure of our world. Imagine that each dial face shows trillions upon trillions of possible values. Each of those dials has to be calibrated to precisely the value to which it is set in our world in order for a universe to exist and/or for life to thrive.

Of course, it could be an astonishing coincidence that all the dials are set with such mind-boggling precision. Or it could be that there are a near infinite number of universes having all possible values and that ours just happens to be one that is perfectly calibrated for life. But not only is this an extraordinarily unparsimonious hypothesis, it also elicits the question of what it is that's generating these universes and what evidence we have that they even exist. It's much simpler to bow to Ockham and assume that there is just one universe and that its structure manifests a level of engineering of breath-taking precision, a conclusion perfectly compatible with the idea that there's an intelligent agent behind it all.

3) The third fact about the world from which we might infer that there is an intelligence behind it is the existence of biological information. The biosphere is information-rich, a fact which raises the question of where this information came from and how it got here. The naturalist's answer is that the information, such as we find in DNA and cellular processes, resulted from blind mechanistic forces acting purposelessly and randomly over the eons. Such a thing is within the realm of the logically possible, of course, but if we're going to limit ourselves to the lessons of experience we must acknowledge that information whose provenience we can ascertain is always the product of an intelligent mind.

Random processes can produce highly improbable structures (like the particular arrangement of rocks at the base of a mountain) and they can produce very specific recognizable patterns (like the repetition of a single letter typed by a monkey), but what we've never observed a random, non-teleological process do is generate both (such as a computer program). Yet that is precisely what we have in the genetic code.

There may someday be a satisfactory naturalistic explanation for the origin of biological information, but until that day arrives the obvious existence of that information suggests an intelligent agent somewhere in its history.

We'll continue this series of posts tomorrow.