Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gettin' Outa' Dodge

While Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha prophesy that Bush's new policy in Iraq will be a dismal failure and seek to cut off funding for the troop surge, ABC pulls the rug out from under them with this report:

While members of the U.S. House of Representatives take turns weighing in on President Bush's planned troop surge in Iraq, the focus in Iraq is not on the arrival of more U.S. troops, but the departure of one of the country's most powerful men, Moqtada al Sadr and members of his army.

According to senior military officials al Sadr left Baghdad two to three weeks ago, and fled to Tehran, Iran, where he has family.

Al Sadr commands the Mahdi Army, one of the most formidable insurgent militias in Iraq, and his move coincides with the announced U.S. troop surge in Baghdad.

Sources believe al Sadr is worried about an increase of 20,000 U.S. troops in the Iraqi capital. One official told ABC News' Martha Raddatz, "He is scared he will get a JDAM [bomb] dropped on his house."

Sources say some of the Mahdi army leadership went with al Sadr.

In other words the chief trouble-maker in Baghdad has hightailed it to Iran, which, of course is being falsely accused by the Bush administration for supporting the insurgency.

Why did the Mookster get out of town? Obviously he wasn't buying the Democrats' rhetoric that the surge would do no good. Apparently his patron in the government, prime minister al-Maliki, had finally grown impatient with Mookie's antics and withdrew his protection. Consequently, the dentally challenged sheik, like his ancestors in Babylon four thousand years ago, read the hand-writing on the wall and decided to take his lieutenants and run.

The question now arises as to how effective he will be as an absentee jihadi. How much street cred has he lost among the rank and file for absconding and leaving them to face the American troops and their firepower alone. If, in fact, al Sadr, far removed from the action, has lost his influence among the faithful then Bush's plan scored at least one major success before it was even implemented.

Don't expect Keith Olberman or Chris Matthews to place much emphasis on the point, though. They're too busy trying to make a big deal out of pentagon sources backing off from earlier claims that the Iranian government must know about the supplies of Iranian weapons being smuggled into Iraq.


GOP Straw Poll

Captain's Quarters offers an opportunity to participate in a GOP straw poll if you wish. Go here and cast your vote for whom you'd like to see representing the Republicans in '08. You can also follow the links to view the overall results of the poll thus far.


Myths About Atheism (Pt. X)

This is the final post in our series on the Ten Myths About Atheism that atheist Sam Harris seeks to refute in an article he wrote for Edge.

The 10th "myth" is one that Viewpoint readers might be forgiven for thinking that we have addressed almost every other day since we started this blog over three years ago, but it is such an important matter, and it seems to pop up so often, that it bears constant attention. Mr. Harris claims it to be a myth that:

Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn't already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won't discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran - as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn't make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery - and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture - like the golden rule - can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

Harris simply misses the point in the first paragraph above and manages to elicit a host of questions in the reader's mind that he himself leaves unasked and unanswered. Why, for example, does he believe that cruelty is wrong? What makes it wrong? Is it wrong because evolution has hard-wired us to have certain intuitions that cause us to consider it wrong? What if someone (there have been many, many examples) doesn't have such intuitions, would cruelty not be wrong for them? And if our moral intuitions are the products of evolution what could possibly obligate us to abide by them?

He suggests that these moral intuitions have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about how best to promote human happiness, but he does not answer the question why it should be a duty to promote the happiness of others rather than just his own happiness. In other words, an atheistic worldview such as Harris espouses offers no grounds for saying that egoism or selfishness is wrong and more altruistic ethical behaviors are right. Why should I not promote my own happiness even if it comes at the expense of the welfare of others?

Indeed, the only way we can determine that it is better to care about others than to care only for oneself is to hold both views up to a higher ethical standard, a moral dictionary, so to speak, and ask which conforms best to this higher standard. The problem is that for the atheist there is no higher standard. The choice between egoism and altruism reduces to nothing more than personal preference. It's a purely arbitrary selection not binding upon anyone, not even the person who holds the preference.

Harris' secondary claim that our moral progress hasn't come from reading the Bible is historically dubious, as is the assertion that the Bible condones slavery. But be that as it may, his claim that every civilized person now recognizes that slavery is an abomination is an obfuscation. It is only those people whose morality is based on the will of God as revealed through the scripture who have any basis for making such a judgment. Slavery is an abomination for only one reason: All human beings are made in the image of God and are loved by Him. We belong to Him and He has endowed us all with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus no man has the right to treat another as his own property. It is interesting in this regard that the abolitionist movement in both England and the United States was lead by Christians and nourished by the church. Had it been left to secularists and secular institutions slavery would probnably still be with us today.

If there is no God then any man has the "right" to do whatever he has the power to do. In a world without God slavery is not an abomination, it is simply one man exercising power over another. Such an exercise is neither good nor bad, it just is. This is why, when a nation becomes officially atheistic, as did communist nations during the twentieth century, one of the first casualties is invariably the concept of human rights.

Previous posts in this series may be accessed by clicking on the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and VI, Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX.