Friday, August 10, 2007

Cosmic Catastrophe

Four far-away galaxies, each the size of the Milky Way, collided five billion years ago, and the light from that cataclysm is just reaching us now (see photo below). The story can be found here.

One interesting thing about this is that this cosmic collision presages a similar catastrophe that will take place 5 billion years from now between the Milky Way and its neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, and the chances human life will survive such an event are pretty slim. Of course, our sun will probably die before then so there's not likely to be any life left on earth to witness the collision anyway.

In any event, here's a question for our atheist friends: What will anything anyone has done in their lives matter when the earth is blown to bits? What will all the human suffering and striving, pleasure and pain, amount to when the day of annihilation arrives?

Life looked at from the big picture perspective is pretty much an exercise in futility, a chasing after wind, a wisp of smoke, that ultimately comes to nothing - at least if atheism is true.


Re: Very Odd

A recent post here at Viewpoint received some mention at Telic Thoughts and triggered a lively discussion there. Truth to tell, most of those who disagreed with our post pretty much missed the point.

That point is this: Few academics would undertake to review a book that was not in his/her professional discipline. To do so is to cast doubt on the value of the review and the competence of the reviewer. The reviewers of Behe's latest book The Edge of Evolution are predominately scientists. It follows, therefore, that they must feel that the parts of the book that they critique deal with matters of science. Otherwise, they may as well be engineers critiquing a book on medieval poetry.

Now Behe is one of the seminal figures in what has become known as the Intelligent Design movement, and he makes it clear in EOE that he believes there is empirical evidence which points to the utter inadequacy of materialistic, naturalistic processes to do the job of creating molecular machines and systems. That conclusion leads in turn to the further conclusion that a mind is in some way or another involved in the evolution of life.

Thus his book is an ID text, written by a prominent ID advocate and reviewed by scientists who are evaluating the case he makes. They're not saying that his arguments are not scientific. They may think him wrong, but they're not dismissing him for writing a religious or philosophical book. The critics, at least those who go beyond name-calling and insult, address the evidence that Behe adduces and try to show that he's drawing the wrong theoretical conclusions from it. Whether they're correct or not, their engagement with the EOE argument makes it puzzling that some people still assert that ID is religion not science. After all, what are scientists doing reviewing religious arguments?


Stock Market Jitters

The stock market has been on a roller coaster the last week or so due to investor jitters over the possibility that a lot of lending institutions which make home mortgage loans to buyers with modest resources and bad credit (called sub-prime loans) are finding that defaults on those loans are rising. If these institutions have to foreclose on the debt they'll lose money and have less to lend which means business expansion will suffer.

Jerry Bowyer thinks the fears are overblown and puts the matter of sub-prime mortgages in perspective in a helpful column at National Review Online:

Currently there are about 44 million mortgages in the U.S., and less than 14 percent of them are sub-prime. And only about 13 percent of those are late on payments, with the majority of late payers working through their problems with the banks.

So, all in all, when you work through the details and get down to the number that really matters, only about 0.6 percent of U.S. mortgages are currently in foreclosure. That's up a hair from roughly 0.5 percent last year. That's it.

Actually,...things are better than the numbers suggest, since sub-prime-mortgage homes are less expensive than prime-mortgage homes. This makes sense. Wealthier people, generally, can afford costlier homes than less-wealthy people. The recent sub-prime surge brought large numbers of moderate-income families into the home-ownership market, and their houses are less expensive than most. Therefore, the dollar impact of the sub-prime default is smaller than if it were a prime default.

With approximately 254,000 mortgages in foreclosure at the moment - up from roughly 219,000 last year - the sub-prime meltdown has given us an increase of 35,000 mortgage foreclosures over the last quarter. Since the average sub-prime mortgage clocks in at almost exactly $200,000, we're looking at an approximate $7 billion increase in foreclosed value in the first quarter of this year.

Household net worth in the U.S. is about $53 trillion. In other words, the recent increase in sub-prime foreclosures amounts to 0.01 percent of net U.S. household wealth.

So, according to Bowyer, sub-prime foreclosures are not that big a deal to the American economy and sooner or later, we assume, the Market is going to realize this and settle down. Let's hope he's right.


Who Should it Be?

As the presidential race heats up let's talk a little about which candidates are best qualified for the office they seek.

Among the Democratic hopefuls for president the best qualified is without question New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Not only has he served as governor but he has been a cabinet secretary, a congressional representative, and an ambassador to the U.N. In a healthy democracy where substance trumps image Richardson would be the front-runner for the nomination. As it happens, he's running against Hillary Clinton who in six years in the Senate has achieved nothing except gain celebrity status based on her marriage to President Clinton, and Barack Obama who's only been in the Senate for three years and whose main qualifications for the lofty office to which he aspires are his charm and the color of his skin. John Edwards is an also-ran who only spent one term in the Senate and whose singular claim to fame, besides his $400 haircuts, is that he was John Kerry's running mate in 2004.

Among the Republicans it's a harder call. Almost all of the likely candidates (I'm assuming that neither Newt Gingrich nor Dick Cheney will be running) have a lot of experience in government and several of them have actually administered a state or, as in Guiliani's case, a major city. This, in my mind, is a much stronger qualifier for the White House than merely having served in the Senate.

That being the case, Mitt Romney would be our pick if he didn't seem like such an opportunist, only having become pro-life when a run for president loomed large in his future. Guiliani seems to be the kind of man we need to lead us in the war on terror and he's good on economic matters, but he's a virtual Democrat on key social issues (This endorsement, for instance, can't possibly help him). Senator McCain is too unstable, both politically and emotionally, for the job. Fred Thompson has never served as an administrator, and I wonder about both the depth of his conservatism and his staying power.

That takes us into the second tier of candidates where we find several intriguing possibilities. Ron Paul is appealing, but is grievously mistaken on the war on terror. Tom Tancredo is great on immigration but has been rather reckless on some of his foreign policy pronouncements. Duncan Hunter is also an outstanding congressional asset, but his government experience is limited to his role as a member of the House of Representatives.

That leaves us with the man who, at this point, appears to be the most attractive candidate in the field - Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee. There's plenty of time to change one's mind, of course, but if our state primary were held today he's the man I'd be voting for. To learn a little more about him check out this Weekly Standard article.

In a country in which character and qualifications mattered the contest in 2008 would be between Richardson and Huckabee. Unfortunately, we don't live in such a country.