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 MoveOn.org 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.