Monday, July 23, 2007

Thus Spake Zarathustra

The anti-theistic Darwinian P.Z. Myers condescends to come down from Mt. Olympus to help benighted souls languishing in ignorance discover the truth. How can we ever repay his selflessness:

There was an immense amount of speculation about my motives [for trashing theists]. People were arguing about whether this helps the cause of atheism, whether it hurts the cause of science education, whether it's all part of my plan to rally the godless to my uncompromising, invigorating banner, yadda yadda yadda. I hate to tell you all this, but in all the guesswork, no one, not even those sympathetic to me, got the right answer, except for Revere. The explanation is very, very simple, and you're going to kick yourself when I say it.

I said it because it was true.

There is no god, or to say it in the most optimistic and sensitive way possible for a rational person, there is absolutely no evidence for a god. In particular, there is no sensible support for the multitude of peculiar doctrinal, dogmatic, and delusional weirdnesses documented in this (much better) map. You've got crazy-ass megalomaniacal evangelical kooks telling people to hate their gay/muslim/hindu/godless/female/evolutionist neighbors, you've got mobs believing them, you've got people electing presidents on the basis of how fanatically they will wage a crusade, and you've got even more swooning with the vapors at anyone who criticizes religious belief. Religion makes you nuts. It makes ordinary people identify with invisible spirits, it turns them into caterwauling flibbertigibbet idiots at any slight to a magic man who has never done a thing for them, and it makes them center their lives around head-dunkings and cracker-eating and gibbering chants to an unheeding phantasm.

I'm not saying you're a bad person or even stupid if you're a believer. I'm saying that you are possibly wicked if you're promoting it, probably ignorant if you accept its contradictions with reality, almost certainly foolish if you think rituals will get you into heaven, definitely deluded by centuries' worth of lies, and most definitely oppressed by your deference to baseless superstition.

Let me interrupt to point out the sleight of hand to which Myers, and many other atheists, resorts. He states his conclusion, i.e. there is no God, and then offers as reasons for the conclusion the eccentric religious beliefs people hold. Even a junior high school student would recognize the irrelevance of his premises to his conclusion. The fact is that if he's going to assert that there's no evidence that God exists he's going to have to grapple with some powerful thinkers who have argued to the contrary, and this he avoids doing.

As for my cause, ultimately it's not anti-religion or pro-science education, although those are subsidiary goals. My cause is simply the truth - the truth stated plainly and openly.

So all those people squawking that they were offended were wasting their efforts. I don't care if you were offended. There is no god (or no evidence of one), and you aren't rebutting my claims by telling me how deeply your feelings are hurt.

You've been given your prescription, people of faith: you believe in a lot of goofy, stupid, ridiculous ideas. You can resign yourself to them if you aren't strong enough to part from them - I'm not going to follow you to church and drag you out with a choke-chain - or you can wake up. It's all up to you. One thing you don't get to do is silence the people who point and laugh.

As for those other causes, truth is always going to be anti-religion, and science is a process that aspires to uncover the truth, so I'm entirely self-consistent. It's those who think they can reconcile a mythology of lies with honest attempts to learn the nature of reality who have muddled objectives.

Actually, consistent is the last thing Myers is. Myers frequently makes moral judgments on one hand while implicitly denying the possibility of morality on the other. He frequently talks about about human rights and dignity on one hand while implicitly denying any basis for these values on the other. He is fond of reason's ability to lead him to truth, but his whole worldview calls into question the trustworthiness of reason as a generator of truth. He values science while undercutting all values.

P.Z.Myers (Does he think his middle initial stands for Zarathustra?) offers us an argument like the above, an argument unworthy of a middle school student, and then, tone deaf to irony, says that he and those like him point at believers and laugh. Whew.


Cheney Speaks

Stephen Hayes writes an essay in The Weekly Standard which offers us an excellent glimpse of the man conservatives love and liberals hate. The essay is based on his forthcoming book, Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. Here's an excerpt that recounts events of the morning of 9/11:

Moments later Cheney spoke to Bush for the third time. The Secret Service had told Cheney that another aircraft was rapidly approaching Washington, D.C. The combat air patrol had been scrambled to patrol the area. We have a decision to make, Cheney told the president: Should we give the pilots an order authorizing them to shoot down civilian aircraft that could be used to conduct further attacks in Washington? Cheney told Bush that he supported such a directive. The president agreed.

Within minutes, Cheney was told that an unidentified aircraft was 80 miles outside of Washington. "We were all dividing 80 by 500 miles an hour to see what the windows were," Scooter Libby would later say. A military aide asked Cheney for authorization to take out the aircraft.

Cheney gave it without hesitating.

The military aide seemed surprised that the answer came so quickly. He asked again, and Cheney once again gave the authorization.

The military aide seemed to think that because Cheney had answered so quickly, he must have misunderstood the question. So he asked the vice president a third time.

"I said yes," Cheney said, not angrily but with authority.

"He was very steady, very calm," says Josh Bolten, then deputy White House chief of staff. "He clearly had been through crises before and did not appear to be in shock like many of us."

Cheney says there wasn't time to consider the gravity of the order he had just communicated. It was "just bang, bang, bang," says Cheney, one life-or-death decision after another.

The entire room paused after Cheney had given the final order as the gravity of his order became clear. At 10:18 A.M., Bolten suggested that Cheney notify the president that he had communicated the "shoot-down" order. Shortly after Cheney hung up, the officials in the bunker were advised that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.

Everyone had the same question, says Rice. "Was it down because it had been shot down or had it crashed?" Rice and Cheney were both filled with "intense emotion," she recalls, because they both made the same assumption. "His first thought, my first thought--we had exactly the same reaction--was it must have been shot down by the fighters. And you know, that's a pretty heady moment, a pretty heavy burden."

Both Rice and Cheney worked the phones in a desperate search for more information. "We couldn't get an answer from the Pentagon," says Rice. They kept trying.

"You must know," Rice insisted in one phone call to the Pentagon. "I mean, you must know!"

Cheney, too, was exasperated. We have to know whether we actually engaged and shot down a civilian aircraft, he said, incredulously. They did not. For several impossible minutes, Cheney believed that a pilot following his orders had brought down a plane full of civilians in rural Pennsylvania. Even then, he had no regrets.

It had to be done. It was a -- once you made the decision, once the plane became hijacked, even if it had a load of passengers on board who, obviously, weren't part of any hijacking attempt, once it was hijacked, and having seen what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really didn't have any choice. It wasn't a close call. I think a lot of people emotionally look at that and say, my gosh, you just shot down a planeload of Americans. On the other hand, you maybe saved thousands of lives. And so it was a matter that required a decision, that required action. It was the right call.

At 10:28, the north tower collapsed. The frenzy in the bunker came to a halt and, but for an occasional whisper, the room went silent. On the television, one floor after another gave way, a bit of order amidst the catastrophe. The building must have been charged, thought David Addington, counsel to the vice president, who was standing against the outer wall of the bunker.

Cheney, seated at the conference table, stared at the screen. Bolten and Mineta stood behind him to his left, Libby and Rice to his right. All wore virtually the same stunned expressions.

But the group in the bunker had little time to reflect on the tragedy. Two minutes later came yet another warning: An unidentified aircraft was in flight less than 10 miles out. Cheney again gave the order to shoot it down.

They waited for news. None came.

Read the whole thing. It's good stuff.