Friday, October 31, 2008

Bad Moon Rising

Who knows if this cri de coeur is genuine, but whether it really comes from inside the Obama campaign or not, the analysis is interesting. If it was, in fact, written by an Obama staffer, as it purports to be, then it's fascinating and highly significant. Here are the opening paragraphs:

After a long and careful consideration of all the implications and possible consequences of my actions today, I have decided to go through with this in the hope that our country can indeed be guided into the right direction. First, a little personal background... I am a female grad student in my 20's, and a registered Democrat. During the primaries, I was a campaign worker for the Clinton candidacy. I believed in her and still do, staying all the way to the bitter end. And believe me, it was bitter. The snippets you've heard from various media outlets only grazed the surface. There was no love between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, and these feelings extended all the way to the top. Hillary was no dope though, and knew that any endorsement of Obama must appear to be a full-fledged one. She did this out of political survival. As a part of his overall effort to extend an olive branch to the Clinton camp and her supporters, Obama took on a few Hillary staff members into his campaign. I was one such worker. Though I was still bitterly loyal to Hillary, I still held out hope that he would choose her as VP. In fact, there was a consensus among us transplants that in the end, he HAD to choose her. It was the only logical choice. I also was committed to the Democratic cause and without much of a second thought, transferred my allegiance to Senator Obama.

I'm going to let you in on a few secrets here, and this is not because I enjoy the gossip or the attention directed my way. I'm doing this because I doubt [many] of you know the true weaknesses of Obama. Another reason for my doing this is that I [have] lost faith in this campaign, and feel that this choice has been forced on many people in this country. Put simply, you are being manipulated. That was and is our job - to manipulate you (the electorate) and the media (we already had them months ago). Our goal is to create chaos with the other side, not hope. I've come to the realization (as the campaign already has) that if this comes to the issues, Barack Obama doesn't have a chance. His only chance is to foster disorganization, chaos, despair, and a sense of inevitability among the Republicans. It has worked up until now. Joe the Plumber has put the focus on the issues again, and this scares us more than anything. Being in a position to know these things, I will rate what the Obama campaign already knows are their weak links from the most important on down.

The post gets more interesting as it goes on so read it all at the link. There's a similar report making the rounds from another anonymous Democrat who looks at the situation in Pennsylvania and draws a gloomy conclusion. That report can be found at American Thinker. Unfortunately, there's an accompanying video that shows McCain supporters responding in very unflattering fashion to the provocations of some Obama demonstrators. One wishes that voters on both sides would comport themselves with a little more dignity and class.


Invasion of Privacy

As soon as private citizen Joe Wurzelbacher posed a question to Barack Obama that caused Obama to say something impolitic, Wurzelbacher became the object of a state intrusion into his private records by Ohio government employees who also happen to be Obama backers. The invasion of his privacy was okayed by the director of Ohio's Job and Family Services Division, Helen Jones-Kelley, a donor to the Obama campaign, and whose underlings rummaged through files trying to discover whether Joe the Plumber could be found to have been cheating on taxes, child support or welfare payments.

The fruits of their searches were then turned over to the media so that Joe could be properly humiliated before the entire nation, all because he had the audacity to ask a question that Obama handled poorly.

It's frightening that public employees have no reservation about using their access to personal records for partisan purposes and will reveal confidential information about private citizens if it's politically useful to do so. This is an abuse of power, and it makes us wonder what such people will do when they have the IRS, the attorney general and the secret service at their disposal.

Michelle Malkin has details on this travesty and the media indifference to it in her syndicated column which can be read here.


It's Possible

John Podhoretz at Commentary elaborates on ten reason why McCain might win on Tuesday. He's not saying he will win, only that an Obama victory is by no means a certainty. Here are reasons 8 through 10:

8) What happened with the Joe the Plumber story is that Obama has now been effectively outed as a liberal, not a moderate; and because liberalism is still less popular than conservatism, that's not the best place for Obama to be.

9) The fire lit under Obama's young supporters in the winter was largely due to Iraq and his opposition to the war. The stunning decline in violence and the departure of Iraq from the front page has put out the fire, to the extent that, like the young woman who made a sexy video calling herself Obama Girl and then didn't vote in the New York primary because she went to get a manicure, they might not want to stand on line on Tuesday.

10) Hispanic voters, who are always underpolled, know and appreciate McCain from his stance on immigration and will vote for him in larger numbers than anyone anticipates.

Podhoretz's first six reasons can be read at the link. It may be grasping at straws, but Obama does appear worried, the polls are tightening, and Pennsylvania seems to be in play. If strongly blue Pennsylvania is close then red states that earlier appeared to be tilting toward Obama will probably remain Republican. If so, McCain could pull it out on Tuesday.

Poor Erica Jong.


Erica <i>Agonistes</i>

The self important never seem to realize that they're a walking parody of themselves. Here, for example, are excerpts from an interview given by Erica Jong to an Italian newspaper describing her angst over the possibility that "The Messiah" (Louis Farrakhan's description) might lose next Tuesday:

"The record shows that voting machines in America are rigged."

"My friends Ken Follett and Susan Cheever are extremely worried. Naomi Wolf calls me every day. Yesterday, Jane Fonda sent me an email to tell me that she cried all night and can't cure her ailing back for all the stress that has reduces her to a bundle of nerves."

"My back is also suffering from spasms, so much so that I had to see an acupuncturist and get prescriptions for Valium."

"After having stolen the last two elections, the Republican Mafia..."

"If Obama loses it will spark the second American Civil War. Blood will run in the streets, believe me. And it's not a coincidence that President Bush recalled soldiers from Iraq for Dick Cheney to lead against American citizens in the streets."

"Bush has transformed America into a police state, from torture to the imprisonment of reporters, to the Patriot Act."

Like someone hallucinating from a terrible fever, Ms Jong's agonies appear to have placed such stress on her cognitive faculties that she's seeing bogeymen everywhere.

The Bush/Cheney paranoia is par for the left, but I'm always amazed that "liberals" have so little compunction about insulting and demeaning an entire racial group and that the media lets them get away with it. What does it say, after all, about Ms Jong's assumptions about blacks that she speaks with such apodictic certainty of a resort to violence if Obama loses? Apparently Ms Jong believes, as does a sizable portion of the American left, that not only should we expect such behavior from African Americans but that we cannot expect better from them.

Such thoughts as these, if spoken by, say, Rush Limbaugh, would be trumpeted all across the country as proof of the insidious racism of the right, but when a member of the liberal literati delivers herself of such sentiments, her ideological confreres simply nod in solemn agreement. Even more amazing is the fact that black spokespersons, many of whom are hyper-quick to discern even the most minute racial slight or slander, don't seem to be insulted by such remarks. Very curious.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Happy

The Guardian informs us of this development in the British culture wars:

The atheist bus campaign launches today. Because of your enthusiastic response to the idea of a reassuring God-free advert being used to counter religious advertising, the slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" could now become an ad campaign on London buses - and leading secularists have jumped on board to help us raise the money.

The British Humanist Association will be administering all donations to the campaign, and Professor Richard Dawkins, bestselling author of The God Delusion, has generously agreed to match all contributions up to a maximum of �5,500, giving us a total of �11,000 if we raise the full amount. This will be enough to fund two sets of atheist adverts on 30 London buses for four weeks.

As Richard Dawkins says: "This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think - and thinking is anathema to religion."

Well, if Professor Dawkins expects us to think perhaps we could follow the example of the renowned thinker Blaise Pascal and begin by asking if a thinking man wouldn't wish to see appended to the words "There's Probably No God" the question "but why on earth would you want to bet on it?"

In any event, like so much of what Dawkins says, the claim that thinking is anathema to religion is simply nonsense, at least if the religion under examination is Christianity. Most of the greatest thinkers in the history of human civilization were religious as are many of the finest thinkers doing philosophy today. If we would like an example of what ideas people propound when they refuse to think it's hard to imagine a better case than Dawkins' own book The God Delusion (See Hall of Fame in left margin of this page).

The slogan on the bus tells us to accept the probable non-existence of God, to enjoy our lives and not worry. Such an odd juxtaposition of thoughts. It's a bit like saying we're all doomed to a meaningless, pointless existence so let's enjoy ourselves and not think about it. It's precisely those who don't think who alone could enjoy life despite its horrors and absurdities, despite the monumental mass of human suffering. Anyone who thinks, would, if they really thought seriously about the emptiness of human existence in a world without God, be driven to despair.

Here is the assessment of a man known for thinking, an atheist like Dawkins: "I was thinking...that here we are eating and drinking, to preserve our precious existence, and that there's nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing." Jean Paul Sartre from Nausea.

But don't worry. We all escape the nausea eventually. We all die. Enjoy.


Don't Judge Him

By Ramirez.


Battle for the Mind

Michael Egnor at Evolution News and Views composes a post in which he offers up a nice summary of various materialist views of the mind. He closes with this:

The mind is a catastrophe for materialism. Materialism doesn't explain the mind, and it probably can't explain the mind. Materialism flounders on the hard problem of consciousness - the problem of understanding how it is that we are subjects and not just objects. Now a number of scientists and other academics are challenging this repellent materialist nonsense. There's no scientific or even logical justification for the inference that the mind is merely the brain, without remainder, and the philosophical and sociological implications of the materialist view of the mind are abhorrent. Now there's a reality-based push-back to materialist superstition, and the materialists have an insurrection on their hands.

The question of whether we have a mind that is a qualitatively different "substance" than matter has, like almost all philosophical problems, enormous implications. If material stuff is all that makes up the world, our bodies, and our brains then it becomes much more difficult to hold onto a number of beliefs that many people hold dear.

If, for example, materialism is true it's harder to believe that there is a God, a life after death, human dignity, free will, and moral responsibility, just to mention a few. Indeed, most materialists don't believe in any of these things. Fortunately, it's very unlikely that materialism is true. Egnor's summary does a nice job in a relatively few paragraphs of showing us why.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Last Lecture

I recently read Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. It's a poignant book written by a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science professor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given just a few months to live. In the book Pausch talks about his life and some very simple lessons he's learned that he passes along to his children and to the rest of us.

The chapters are brief but Pausch packs a lot into them. My three favorites, I think, are the chapters on Thank You Notes, Gratitude and Apologies. Anyone who has teenage children will find what Pausch has to offer here worth passing on to their kids.

For example on apologies he says this:

Apologies are not pass/fail. I always told my students: When giving an apology, any performance lower than an A really doesn't cut it. Half-hearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all because recipients find them insulting. If you've done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it's as if there's an infection in your relationship. A good apology is like an antibiotic; a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound.

He goes on to give examples of two classic bad apologies:

1. "I'm sorry you feel hurt by what I've done." (This is an attempt at an emotional salve but it's obvious you don't want to put any medicine in the wound.)

2. "I apologize for what I did, but you also need to apologize to me for what you've done." (That's not giving an apology. That's asking for one.)

And then he offers this:

Proper apologies have three parts:

1. What I did was wrong.

2. I feel badly that I hurt you.

3. How do I make this better.

Good stuff. If you've ever gotten a huffy "Well, I'm sorrrrry" from a teenager when you were hoping for a sincere apology then you'll immediately see the value of Pausch's little homily.


Without God (VII)

Another aspect of the human condition which is much easier to understand given theism rather than atheism is that we are burdened with a deep sense of moral obligation. 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 it. In a purely material world morality is nothing more than 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 non-theists deny. Consider these two quotes from some well-known atheists:

"In an important sense, ethics as we understand it is an illusion fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate. The way our biology forces its codes is by making us think that there is an objective higher code, to which we are all subject." E.O. Wilson

"Life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind indifference." Richard Dawkins

For the atheist moral judgments can be little more than 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 control power do is not morally right or wrong - even if they commit torture or genocide - it just is.

Moreover, unless there is a transcendent moral authority there is nothing whatsoever which obligates us to act in one way rather than another. What could possibly obligate me, in a moral sense, to act in the interest of the collective rather than in what I perceive to be my own interest? Given naturalism, there is nothing which obligates us to care for the poor, nothing which makes kindness better than cruelty, nothing, indeed, to tell us why the holocaust was wrong.

Given atheism, morality is either subjective, and thus arbitrary and personal, or it doesn't exist at all, and our sense, our conviction that it does is simply self-deception. If God exists, however, then, and only then, does our intuition that objective moral value and obligation also exist make sense.

Related to the matter of moral obligation is the question of guilt. 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 our tonsils, 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 that we are actually 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.


Decapitating Al Qaeda

Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal provides some background on the recent American Special Forces raid into Syria that eliminated much of al Qaeda's leadership in the region. His report opens with this:

Al Qaeda leader Abu Ghadiya was killed in yesterday's strike inside Syria, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. But US special operations forces also inflicted a major blow to al Qaeda's foreign fighter network based in Syria. The entire senior leadership of Ghadiya's network was also killed in the raid, the official stated.

Ghadiya was the leader of al Qaeda extensive network that funnels foreign fighters, weapons, and cash from Syria into Iraq along the entire length of the Syrian border. Ghadiya was first identified as the target of the raid inside Syria late last night here at The Long War Journal. The Associated Press reported Ghadiya was killed in the raid earlier today.

Several US helicopters entered the town of town of Sukkariya near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. US commandos from the hunter-killer teams of Task Force 88 assaulted the buildings sheltering Ghadiya and his staff.

The Syrian government has protested the attack, describing it as an act of "criminal and terrorist aggression" carried out by the US. The Syrian government claimed eight civilians, including women and children, were killed in the strike. But a journalist from The Associated Press who attended the funeral said that only the bodies of seven men were displayed.

The US official said there were more killed in the raid than is being reported. "There are more than public numbers [in the Syrian press] are saying, those reported killed were the Syrian locals that worked with al Qaeda," the official told The Long War Journal. "There were non-Syrian al Qaeda operatives killed as well."

Those killed include Ghadiya's brother and two cousins. "They also were part of the senior leadership," the official stated. "They're dead. We've decapitated the network." Others killed during the raid were not identified.

The strike is thought to have a major impact on al Qaeda's operations inside Syria. Al Qaeda's ability to control the vast group of local "Syrian coordinators" who directly help al Qaeda recruits and operatives enter Iraq has been "crippled."

There's more at the link.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Either For Us Or Against Us

Megyn Kelley is quickly turning into a cult hero of the right. She's nothing if not feisty. I like how the Obama spokesman apparently thinks that the best way to deal with concerns about Obama's desire to take from those who work and produce and give to those who don't is to blast FOX News. FOX must be out to do harm to the Democratic candidate, he apparently thinks, because they ask uncomfortable questions. For Team Obama you're either for them or against them. Nice.

This could be called the Joe-the-Plumber tactic: If people ask questions that tend to put the beloved candidate in a bad light, a recommended response is to obfuscate the matter by criticizing and/or talking over the person asking the questions.


A Plot to Kill Obama

Two moral and intellectual mutants have been arrested in what has been labeled by the press a plot to assassinate Barack Obama. Actually, reading the story, the threat to Obama does not seem to have been very serious. A more sickening element of their intent was to attack an all-black school and kill children. Their designs on Obama sound like an afterthought that they didn't have planned out and didn't expect to be able to pull off in any event.

Nevertheless, the attack on the school students would have been relatively easy and is as frightening as it is loathsome. These two deserve to be put away for many, many years.

Having said that there's something else about this story that bears mentioning because it's very likely to be misrepresented by the media. The two men involved, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman 18, of Helena-West Helena, Ark., are identified by the police as neo-nazis. This fact will probably trigger howls of righteous indignation in certain precincts about the sickness and violence that reside on the political right in this country, but such accusations, if they materialize, would be a mistake.

Nazi fascism is widely, and incorrectly, believed to be a right-wing phenomenon resting at the opposite end of the ideological spectrum from communism. Notwithstanding the pervasiveness of this belief it is false. As Jonah Goldberg instructs us in his excellent study of fascism titled Liberal Fascism, communism and fascism, so far from being polar opposites, are in fact fraternal twins. They're both forms of socialism. They're both ideologies of the left.

The main difference between them is that communism tends to be an international version of socialism whereas fascism is more nationalistic and militaristic. Fascists are also usually content to allow business to remain in private hands provided that owners and managers use their enterprises to promote the ends of the state.

Perhaps the best way to picture ideological relationships is to visualize a line or a spectrum. At the far right of the spectrum is libertarianism, the view that individuals should be as free of government interference as possible. Toward the center lies conservatism which shares the libertarian desire for individual freedom but which assigns a more significant role for government than libertarians do. As we cross the center of the spectrum and move leftward we find socialism or statism, the view that government should own or control all important elements of the economy and society. Statists believe that the rights of the individual should be subordinated to the welfare of the collective. The individual lives to serve the state.

Socialism comes in two forms, democratic and totalitarian. Many moderate liberals are democratic socialists, but it's among the totalitarian socialists that we find communists and fascists, and it's here that many of those in the modern left find their ideological home. They don't usually call themselves communists or fascists, of course, preferring instead to identify themselves as progressives or leftists, but their sympathies with the goals and methods of the totalitarians make the label they apply to themselves moot.

Some of those sympathies include a predilection for totalitarian government, economic socialism and egalitarianism, anti-Christian secularism, tribalism or identity politics, and subordination of the family and individual to the state. More can be found on this topic on a postfrom last spring which discussed Goldberg's book. RLC

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Evolution of Richard Dawkins

Melanie Phillips attends an Oxford debate between the mathematician John Lennox and atheistic biologist Richard Dawkins and discerns some subtle shifts in Dawkins' thinking.

Dawkins is the author of The God Delusion, the popularity of which seems to be inversely proportional to the cogency of its arguments (See the review in the Hall of Fame on the left margin of this page). In Delusion and elsewhere Dawkins insists that there is no god of any kind and flogs philosopher Antony Flew for abandoning a life-long atheism in favor of a kind of almost Christian deism (I know, that's an oxymoron. Yet in his debate with Lennox he remarks that a strong case can be made for precisely the position Flew has adopted. Are Dawkins' views evolving?

The topic of the debate was "Has Science Buried God?" and Dawkins, realizing perhaps, the hopelessness of being able to successfully defend that thesis shifts the debate instead to the foolishness of believing that Jesus was divine. What this has to do with the debate topic is unclear, but when you're trying to defend the indefensible you grasp at whatever ploy or diversion that comes to hand, I suppose.

Anyway, Phillips' column offers an interesting take on Dawkins' position in the debate.


What the Dems Hope to Do

A month or so ago I wrote that in the upcoming election voters have to keep in mind one very important fact. We're voting not just for the next president. We're voting for that president's party. A vote for Obama is a vote for Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, John Murtha and a host of other very liberal and far-left Democrats. It's a vote to assist the Democrats in achieving their goals of a socialized, secularized United States.

Specifically, the Democrats and their presidential candidate aspire to do the following (based on what the Democrats have tried to do in the past and what Senator Obama has voted for in the past and said he would do in the future):

  • Remove all restrictions on abortion including partial birth abortion
  • Alter the meaning of marriage so that it's no longer the union of one man and one woman
  • Appoint judges and Supreme Court Justices whose decisions will be based on liberal political fashion rather than on the text of the constitution
  • Effect a massive redistribution of wealth from the middle and upper classes to the underclass
  • Treat terrorism as a police matter rather than as a global war on western civilization
  • Pile onto American business onerous regulations and taxes that will make it impossible to compete in the global market and which will result in higher unemployment and higher costs
  • Continue the accelerating secularization of our society
  • Open our borders to anyone who wants to take up residence in our country and give illegal aliens the right to a driver's license, health care, and welfare
  • Nationalize health care
  • Deny parents the choice of where they send their children to school
  • Push fuel costs back up so as to force us to conserve and develop alternative energy sources
  • Quell freedom of speech, particularly when it is conservative or religious, through vehicles like the Fairness Doctrine
  • Downgrade our military preparedness
  • Take away the right to own or buy most types of guns or to carry them on one's person
  • Strip union workers of the right to a secret ballot in union elections

One or two of these may come to pass under a McCain presidency, of course, but it's almost certain that all, or most of them, will come to pass if the Democrats control both the White House and the Congress. If these measures sound good to you then you should pull the lever for Democrats on November 4th. If , however, you don't think this is what America needs then you should resist the seductions of Hope and Change and vote for McCain. There are other alternatives, of course, for the person who doesn't want to see the above items come to pass but who cannot bring him or herself to vote for McCain, but a vote for any one of those alternatives amounts to a vote for Obama.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dancing with the Devil

This is rich. A Marxist terrorist anarchist wearing a Maoist red star on his shirt is pestered by a reporter and invokes property rights (!) to get the reporter to leave him alone. He then calls the police (!), the same public servants he conspired with other Weathermen to murder in the 1970s, to escort him to his car. When it comes to hypocrisy the secular lefties are far and away the champs:

Ayers was annoyed that a reporter would use such tactics to hound him. Maybe it would have been more appropriate if the reporter just set his house on fire like the Weathermen did to a judge and his family.

A lot of people don't know who the Weathermen were and what they did. Here's a video clip that might help with the history (Caution: brief obscenity):

These are the people with whom Barack and Michelle Obama associated until he ran for the U.S. Senate. Imagine if John McCain had associated with people who bombed abortion clinics and the homes of abortionists. Surely, the media would consider that a disqualifier for high public office, and it would be.


A Child's Horror

Steve Beard at NRO Online reviews Justin Dillon's documentary on child slavery and human trafficking titled Call+Response, and the statistics that emerge in the review and the film give us renewed insight into the depth of human degradation and depravity:

There are 27 million people held in slavery around the world.

Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders each year. That does not include the millions trafficked within their own countries. "Approximately 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls and up to 50 percent are minors," states the report. "Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable. Their targets are often children and young women, and their ploys are creative and ruthless, designed to trick, coerce, and win the confidence of potential victims. Very often these ruses involve promises of a better life through employment, educational opportunities, or marriage."

"We're not talking about good or bad business practices or working conditions," former ambassador John Miller testifies in the film. "We're talking about slavery. We're talking about the loss of freedom and the threats of force or the actual use of violence to deprive people of freedom."

As a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador against Trafficking and Slavery, British actress Julia Ormond visits places around the globe suspected of benefiting from slave labor and interviewing those who've been set free. "This is about people being held often at gunpoint, being chained, being electrocuted, being drugged, being thrown out of windows, having their families threatened that they'll kill them," she says in the film.

In researching his book Not For Sale, professor David Batstone - featured in Call + Response - traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Peru, India, Uganda, South Africa, and Eastern Europe to investigate modern-day slavery. His findings are breathtaking. "Girls and boys, women and men of all ages are forced to toil in the rug looms of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan, and fight wars in the jungles of Africa," he writes. "Go behind the fa�ade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings."

Indeed, the most difficult imagery in the film is footage of children being exploited in brothels and brick kilns, and on battlefields. The blank stares and soulless facial responses betray an inability to smile - even on the part of some of the rescued children.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright proclaims America to be a fundamentally flawed nation because civil and human rights have, in his view, not advanced to where they should be. Michelle Obama declares that America is a "mean" nation. These people must have very little idea of what the rest of the world outside their neighborhoods is like or they'd never say such foolish things. The United States, like most of the first world, at least for now, is an island of high civilization, a relative utopia, surrounded by a sea of third world degeneracy and barbarism.

I don't know whether Call+Response is available in your area, but while you're waiting for it a couple of other films that'll give you a powerful sense of what it's like to be a child in some parts of the globe are Blood Diamond and Innocent Voices. If you choose to watch Blood Diamond note the parallels between Solomon Vandy and his son to Jesus' parable describing his determination to save the Lost Sheep. The parallels are probably unintentional, but they're there nonetheless.


Without God (VI)

The previous posts in the series titled Without God have looked at how well the atheistic and theistic worldviews fit with certain physical and psychological facts about the world and about human beings. Most of the remaining posts in the series will look at how well these two competing worldviews harmonize with some of what we might call "existential facts" of human life.

It is typical of the human beings, for example, to desire answers to life's most profound questions. As intelligent, thoughtful men and women we want answers to the deepest, most perplexing questions raised by our existence. In the world as the atheist sees it, however, 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, there's only silence. The cosmos is indifferent to our yearning for answers. We are all alone, forlorn, as Sartre put it, and our quest for answers is as absurd as the questions themselves.

The atheist must advise us to simply acquiesce to the awful disconnect between our deep need for answers and the impossibility of ever satisfying that need. In the words of biologist Jaques Monod, "Man knows that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity out of which he emerged only by chance."

If, on the other hand, God exists then we're not alone in the cosmos, and it's possible that each of those questions indeed has an answer. Moreover, if there are answers then the fact that we have those questions and desire their answers makes sense. We may not know what the answers are, but we can cling to a reasonable hope that our questions aren't futile or meaningless and that there's a reason why they gnaw at us. The questions are signs or indicators that there's something rational and meaningful about the universe. It's not just a terrifying and impersonal void, but is rather a beautiful, ornate cathedral engineered and constructed by God to house a world on which the creatures he loves can exist.

The theist, and only the theist, is in a position to counsel hope and to rejoice that the mysteries of existence are not forever inscrutable, but are there to serve as clues to point us toward the ultimate answer, God Himself.


Voting Partnership

Have you heard people say during this election cycle that they're not enthusiastic about either presidential candidate and are really not interested in just voting for the "lesser of two evils"? These folks often say that they'd much prefer to vote their conscience by pulling the lever for a third party nominee but are reluctant to do so because it would help the "greater of the two evils" get elected.

In other words, think of someone who will vote for John McCain only because he fears the thought of a far-leftist like Barack Obama in the White House, but who really would rather vote for, say, the Libertarian Bob Barr. Or think of someone who was wild about Hillary Clinton but who will reluctantly vote for Obama whom she believes to be completely unqualified because she doesn't want a pro-lifer like McCain picking Supreme Court Justices.

Well, my friend Byron passes along a link to a group that offers a simple solution (simple in theory, at least) to this problem. Check it out. Their idea would allow people to vote for a third party candidate (or a write in) without feeling like they're implictly aiding one major candidate or the other by withholding a vote from their rival.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Yesterday I posted a piece on Rush Limbaugh in which I lamented the ethos of consumption which is such a prominent part of his daily program. Then, at the behest of my friend Byron, I read an essay by Andy Crouch titled "Why I Am Hopeful" which made a similar point but applied the lesson more generally.

For example, Crouch writes this:

I am not hopeful because I have confidence in whoever will be elected president in 15 days. I have grave concerns, as a Christian and as a citizen, about both candidates and will in all likelihood vote for neither. I am not hopeful because I think we are well prepared for what is ahead of us. We are not. We are a terrifyingly unserious people, our heads buzzing with trivia and noise. This is more true, if anything, of American Christians than the rest of our country. The stark contrast between what I experience among Christians anywhere else in the world-and not just the "Third World," because Canada and Germany and Britain and Singapore come to mind as quickly as Uganda and India-and American Christians is astonishing. We are preoccupied with fads intellectual, theological, technological, and sartorial. Vanishingly few of us have any serious discipline of silence, solitude, study, and fasting. We have, in the short run, very little to offer our culture, because we live in the short run.

I am not hopeful because I think life is going to get easier in America. I am hopeful because I think it is going to get harder, and in a very good way. And I am hopeful because I think this means my children and grandchildren will live in a deeply and truly better world than I would have thought possible a few years ago.

I want to differentiate this hope from a kind of declinism among some of my "progressive" Christian friends, who frankly seem to salivate over the prospect that our capitalist culture may be teetering on the brink of collapse. I don't share their sense of satisfaction, and I don't share their analysis. At the analytical level, I believe liberal democracy and free markets are resilient and beneficial systems of human governance (granted that they are also, as Churchill said, the least bad of the alternatives). They have powerful self-correcting capacities. There is a reason that the American stock market has fallen the least of all the major world exchanges in the past few weeks. We have an impressively transparent economic system that, while certainly not preventing corruption and greed, does reveal it and punish it sooner than any comparable system, and frequently, though not always, rewards effort and innovation more effectively. Our political system is less robust, to be kind, but outside the depressing morass of electoral politics there are public servants of incredible intelligence and character-among whom I would certainly include Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, and Sheila Bair, along with many of the prospective leaders in an Obama administration. Precisely at times of crisis, as we've seen, the idiocy of politics can still be overcome by credible leadership from civil servants like these. I am deeply proud to live in a country where someone as fantastically wealthy as Paulson spends his days, nights, and weekends doing the largely thankless task of public service. Our markets and our system of government, for all their flaws, are an amazing renewable resource handed on to us by our forebears.

And this is why I can't share the sense of satisfaction I sense in some of my "prophetic" friends. I believe the first step in culture making is not creating (let alone condemning, critiquing, or consuming) but cultivating: keeping what is already good in culture, good. American Christians, on the right and the left, have been painfully bad at cultivating. We want to jump to "transformation" and "impact" (words generally used on the right) or to "resistance" and "revolution" (favored words of the left). We often seem incapable of seeing ourselves first as gardeners: people whose first cultural calling is to keep good what is, by the common grace of God, already good. A gardener does not pull out weeds because she hates weeds; she pulls out weeds because she loves the garden, and because (hopefully) there are more vegetables or flowers in it than weeds. This kind of love of the garden-loving our broken, beautiful cultures for what they are at their best-is the precondition, I am coming to believe, for any serious cultural creativity or influence. When weeds infest the garden, the gardener does not take the opportunity to decry the corruption of the garden as a whole. She gets patiently, discerningly, to work keeping the garden good.

Good stuff. So, why is he hopeful? You'll have to go to the link and read the rest of the essay to learn that.


How to Strangle an Economy

Senator Obama has frequently assured us that 95% of the people in this country would receive no tax increase under his tax policy. Only the top 5%, those persons, families and businesses making over $250,000 would see their taxes raised. This claim is a little misleading for a couple of reasons:

1. By raising taxes on business he will give businesses a big incentive to either reduce benefits, reduce wages, lay off employees, move offshore, and/or pass the added cost onto the consumer. In any case, the average person is going to wind up paying the tax increase in one way or another whoever Obama imposes it upon.

2. The Democrats plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010 which means that everyone's taxes will go up automatically. Obama has said that he would keep the lower rates for the middle class in place, but it remains to be seen whether a Democrat congress would agree to this. This also means that the upper income earners and businesses will get hit by another tax increase right after the first one. Obama also wants to raise the capital gains tax. The cumulative effect of these increases will be crushing and although they will not immediately impact those making less than $250,000 the middle class will soon enough be faced with all the consequences noted in #1.

3. In addition, the Democrats are planning to do away with 401k plans and place them in a government run account at 3% interest funded by the sale of government bonds. This would increase the tax liability on everyone's income (if they had a 401k), including employers who had previously contributed to the plan and received a tax break for so doing, and reduce the amount the contributions would have earned over the long term if these accounts had stayed in the market. It will also depress the market even further when the funds are removed.

4. 40% of American filers currently pay no taxes but under Obama's plan they will get a "refund" anyway. These people will essentially get a check from the government paid for by those who do pay taxes. It's essentially welfare. It's one way to "spread the wealth around," I guess.

There's more on what's in store for us after Inauguration Day here, here and here.

I've heard a number of commentators attribute the current bear market, which seems to puzzle many experts, to investors' fears about what Obama and his fellow Democrats will do to the economy once they ascend to power. Maybe they're on to something.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Defending the Indefensible

Thirty two hundred university and college professors recently signed a petition defending William Ayers against those who call him an "unrepentant domestic terrorist" (which he is). Megyn Kelly gets one of them to submit to an interview on FOX News, and she insures he'll never make that mistake again. Be sure to watch the whole thing:

Professor Singer lauds Ayers for being an educational reformer. What he doesn't tell us is the sort of "reform" Ayers, and Senator Obama, have tried to bring about in Chicago schools. Ayers is a Marxist socialist who wants to use public education to create a generation of revolutionaries who will throw off democratic capitalism and usher in a new, North American version of Cuba.

Stanley Kurtz, whose article at NRO is linked to in the previous paragraph, ends his piece with this:

Ayers does not try to hide who he is or where he is coming from. He is a proud leftist revolutionary. His driving idea, in this phase of his career, is that the classroom is the frontline of the revolution. And when he was given the opportunity of a lifetime, a $150 million fund to be doled out as seed money for the kind of programs he thought would advance the cause, the guy brought in to run it was Barack Obama - with whom he worked closely on "change" in the schools for five years.

That's reassuring. In an ideal world there would be at least as many journalists seeking an interview with Bill Ayers as there were seeking to interrogate Joe the Plumber. In such a world these intrepid advocates of the public's right to know would ask Mr. Ayers this question: "Sir, do you think you know Barack Obama fairly well?" If Ayers' answer were yes, then the follow-up question should be: "Does he share the same views about the role of education that you do?" Unfortunately, real journalism appears to be dead, or at least comatose, in this country, so I have no illusions that this fantasy would ever be realized.

On the other hand, maybe FOX will send Megyn Kelly out to Chicago to ask Ayers the questions. Now that would be an interview worth watching.

HT: Hot Air


Rush and the Patio Man

Mind you, I listen in the car to Rush Limbaugh whenever I can. I enjoy him and am informed by him about the events of the day. I think his views on the issues are mostly correct, and he's not at all the man his critics often portray him to be. He's neither a hater nor a bigot. Like all of us, however, he does have his faults. His egotism is, unfortunately, only partly a pose, though he at least has the virtue of acknowledging it, unlike Sean Hannity who constantly reminds us, implausibly, that he's humbled by his success. Limbaugh's biggest flaw, however, is something else, something much more insidious than his mildly amusing bombast.

Joseph Knippenberg puts his finger on it in a post at No Left Turns in which he discusses a column by David Brooks. Brooks describes for us a "typical" affluent middle-aged American male whom he calls "Patio Man". Patio Man is concerned much more about stability, order, and his 401k than he is about the issues that stoke the fire in the hearts of the political bases of both left and right.

Knippenberg says this:

Patio Man doesn't appear to care much about social issues, according to Brooks. Judging from my neighbors, he's probably right. But that's because he and they wrongly think that you can have economic and social stability without a strong moral foundation. I don't blame proponents of abortion rights and same-sex marriage for the fix we're in. Their attitudes are symptomatic, not foundational. The foundational attitude is the self-indulgence in which we all share, a self-indulgence that is articulated every day on the radio by Rush Limbaugh and that is practiced by Patio Men, Women, and Children, but not so much by their parents and grandparents.

This is exactly right, and it goes to the core of my biggest problem with Rush, who is otherwise a national treasure. Day after day, show after show, Limbaugh champions a lifestyle of consumption and indulgence. Some of this is just intended to tweak the nose of the left, to be sure, but there can be no denying that he really does advocate conspicuous consumption.

I know his defenders will point to the fact that the man gives fortunes to charity and should be permitted his foibles, and I agree that he certainly seems to be generous beyond that to which most people aspire. Even so, his munificence occurs relatively quietly and without much fanfare whereas his self-indulgence is trumpeted publicly and blatantly. The lesson that a lot of people might be taking from his show, then, is not that charitableness is a virtue but that consuming is. I think this is a toxic message to spread abroad and has a pernicious influence on people, especially young adults, the patio men who might better be encouraged to constrain their appetites and to live comfortably but modestly. Indeed, if more of us valued a greater simplicity we probably wouldn't be seeing so much economic volatility and so many home foreclosures.

The idea of living large and boasting of one's excesses is one of the fundamentals, evidently, in Rush's philosophy of life, but it's one I'd be happy to see him push aside. He does a lot of good, in my opinion, but he's in a position to do a great deal more. I think it sad that he doesn't see it that way.


Without God (V)

As we've compared the compatibility of the theistic and atheistic worldviews with our existential experience I've argued that there's a significant number of facts about the world and about human life that make more sense given the truth of theism than given the truth of atheism.

To those facts we've already considered in our previous posts we can add our sense that we are free to make genuine choices and that the future is open. In the absence of God our intuition that we are free to choose 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 unyielding physical laws. In a Godless world our choices are nothing more than the product of chemical reactions occuring in the brain, and the reactions themselves obey the mechanistic laws of chemistry. There's no freedom in chemistry.

Thus for the atheistic materialist there can be no free will. There is only the inexorable laws of nature. At any given moment there is actually only one possible future, if there is no God, and our belief that we can freely create the future is pure sophistry and illusion. The future has been fixed since the Big Bang.

Consider the words of atheist Will Provine, an evolutionary biologist as he summarizes the views to which his Darwinism has led him: "There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death ... There is no foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will."

If there's no free will in the atheist's world then an atheist who faults me for writing this post would be 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.

An atheist should be a determinist, but this puts him in a bind. If determinism is true then those who believe it do so for reasons unrelated to its truth, and those who disbelieve it should not be criticized for their disbelief since their skepticism is mostly a function of their genes and environment, over which they have no control. Should a determinist argue that he believes determinism because it's true he's pretty much denying the belief he claims to hold. If someone believes in determinism it's because he was determined by his life's experiences and/or his genetic make-up to believe in it. The truth of determinism is irrelevant or, at best, incidental to whether we believe it or not.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

Nicholas Kristoff at the New York Times sees a lot of positives arising out of the current financial distress. For example:

Income doesn't have much to do with happiness. Americans haven't become any happier as they have prospered in the last half-century. And winning the lottery doesn't make people happier in the long term.

This is called the Easterlin Paradox: Once they have met their basic needs, people don't become happier as they become richer. In recent years, new research has undermined the Easterlin Paradox, yet it's still true that happiness has less to do with money than with friendships and finding meaning in a cause larger than oneself.

"There's pretty good evidence that money doesn't matter much for how you feel moment to moment," said Alan Krueger, a Princeton University economist who is conducting extensive research on happiness. "What seems to matter much more is having good friends and family, and time to spend on social activities."

There's lots else for which to be grateful that we're headed into a recession (I'm kidding). Read Kristoff's column to find out what some of the other "benefits" are.


Childhood Dualism

Paul Bloom is a developmental psychologist and an atheistic materialist. In a fine essay at Edge he tackles the question of whether we have a soul, and although he believes we don't he says some fascinating things about that topic as well as the development of such beliefs in children.

He writes, for instance, that:

I think children are dualists from the start. Even babies start off with this sort of body-soul split. To put it somewhat differently, they start off with two distinct modes of construal, or systems of core-knowledge, one corresponding to bodies, the other to souls. Because these systems are distinct, common-sense dualism emerges as a natural by-product.

For much of our recent intellectual history, in philosophy and psychology, this claim about babies would be thought to be utterly ludicrous. Total madness. It was said that babies and young children know nothing about bodies, and know nothing about souls. They are blank slates. Rousseau called the baby a perfect idiot. And Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist who got developmental psychology going in the last century, was adamant that babies have no notion of what an object is, and no notion of what a person is.

But over the last two decades there is decisive evidence showing that this minimalist perspective is wrong. In fact, babies, before they hit their first birthday, have a rich and intricate understanding of bodies and of souls.

First, there is a lot of research from psychologists like Elizabeth Spelke, Renee Baillargeon and Karen Wynn showing that young babies have a powerful understanding of physical objects. They understand that physical objects obey gravity. If you put an object on a table and remove the table, and an object just stays there - because there's a hidden wire - babies are surprised, they expect the object to fall. They also expect objects to be solid, and that objects should move on continuous paths over space, And, contrary to Piaget, they don't think that once you look away objects go out of existence. They understand that objects persist over time even when they aren't being observed. Show a baby an object, and then put it behind a screen. Wait a little while and then remove the screen. If the object is gone, babies will be surprised.

Karen Wynn showed that babies can even do addition and subtraction, of a rudimentary sort. You put an object down, a screen rises to hide it, and then you put another object behind the screen. Then the screen drops, and there is one object, two objects, or three objects. If there's one object there, babies are surprised. If there are three objects, babies are surprised. They know one plus one equals two.

I wonder what the implications of all this are for the belief that we are hard-wired with certain kinds of knowledge, knowledge that we have a priori. Discoveries like those Bloom adumbrates would seem to be fatal all by themselves to an empiricist epistemology.

Second, even young babies are social creatures. They prefer to look at faces over just about anything else. They quickly come to recognize different emotions-anger, fear, happiness. They imitate people. As soon as they begin to move their bodies in different ways, they can do clever things to manipulate emotions and behaviors of other people.

Then there's a lot of recent work from people like David Premack and Gyorgy Gergely and also from my own lab, that before children learn how to talk, they can make sense of social interaction. A typical experiment involves showing them movies where a character moves in a way that makes sense from an adult perspective-pursuing a goal, moving away from something-or in a way that doesn't make sense from an adult perspective. What we find is that even children before their first birthday get it. They expect people to act in certain ways. They expect people to pursue goals.

Bloom goes on to explain why he thinks we are predisposed to believe in substance dualism (the belief that the world is comprised of at least two disparate essences, matter and mind, or soul)and that this belief appears early on in childhood.

It's a fascinating essay, but it suffers from one drawback. it seems to me that the problem that must be settled before we can even begin to talk about whether we have a soul is the problem of what exactly the soul is. Until we know what it is that we either have or don't have we can't say much about whether we have it or not.

Unfortunately, Bloom doesn't see fit to define what he means by the soul except to say that it's an immaterial substance. he does seem to imply that the soul is, in his view, identical to what most people call a mind. In any event, Bloom, being a materialist doesn't believe there is anything immaterial about us, yet he seems enchanted by the universal belief, present from birth, evidently, that there is more to us than just the matter that makes up our bodies.

For my admittedly speculative view of what the soul might be see this post.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Without God (IV)

Related to the matter of qualia, which we discussed in the previous post in this series, is the question of beauty, or more precisely, why it is that gazing at or listening to something beautiful should fill us with delight, or even rapture. It's possible, I suppose, to formulate some convoluted ad hoc hypothesis in terms of purposeless physical forces acting over billions of years on dozens of fortuitous mutations to produce response mechanisms to certain stimuli in our neuronal architecture. But why? Why should a sunset fill us with wonder and a mountain range fill us with awe? Why and how would blind, unintentional processes produce such responses? What urgency would such seemingly gratuitous responses have in the struggle for survival that the whole panoply of mutations and selective pressures would be brought to bear to cultivate them?

A simpler explanation for such phenomena, perhaps, is that our encounters with beauty, like our encounters with good, are intimations of God. Beauty is one means by which God reveals Himself to us in the world. Our encounters with beauty are glimpses He gives us of Himself, and the delight we feel in them is a prelude to heaven.

Yet another aspect of the world that is better explained in terms of a theistic rather than an atheistic or naturalistic worldview is our sense that reason is a trustworthy guide to truth. It seems that the atheist has no warrant for this belief. If matter, energy, and physical forces like gravity are all there is then everything is ultimately reducible to material, non-rational particles. If so, all of our beliefs are just brain states that can be completely explicated 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. The atheistic materialist is in the intellectually unenviable position of having 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."

In other words, if there is no God then our reason is a product of evolution, and evolution selects traits for their survival value, not their ability to lead to truth.

Only if our reason is an endowment from a good and omniscient 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 upon rational argument. And, of course, employing reason to argue on behalf of its own trustworthiness is itself irrational.

Thus the theistic hypothesis not only makes better sense of beauty than does atheism, but it's the only hypothesis upon which we can logically suppose that our cognitive faculties are reliable guides to truth.


Why Not Obama?

Hot Air has an excellent "video essay" by two young journalists (plus Ed Morrissey) who work for major news organs and who explore in their piece the qualifications Barack Obama brings to his candidacy for the presidency. The column is well-documented and brings together a number of themes that have caused people to have serious reservations about the man who may well be our next Commander-in-Chief. Their summary provides a good introduction to their case, and I urge everyone who plans to vote on November 4th to read their entire argument at the link.

Here's the summary:

All three of us have written many, many times on all of these issues. Taken individually, most of them would create doubt about the readiness and honesty of any political candidate. Put together as a narrative, we believe this paints the picture of a man who has few real credentials for the office he seeks beyond the Constitutional minimum, and a politician who has succeeded in obfuscating his hard-Left ideology.

Perhaps if Barack Obama had taken more time to build his resum� - especially with executive experience - he might have made a more compelling candidate, and might have demonstrated at least a little of the moderation he has claimed. Instead, Democrats want America to support at once the most radical and least qualified candidate for President in at least a century. They have tried to conceal this with the complicity of a pom-pom-waving national media that has shown much more interest in the political background of a plumber from Ohio than in a major-party candidate for President.

America deserves better than that. Voters deserve the truth from the press, not vague cheers of "hope" and "change" while willfully ignoring or air-brushing Obama's record. We hope to set that record straight with our essay.


Monday, October 20, 2008

If Philosophers Played Soccer

A student commends this Monty Python video to his fellow philosophy students:


Without God (III)

In this third installment of our series comparing the explanatory power of theism and atheism we'll consider two more facts about the world that are more easily accounted for on the assumption of theism than on the assumption of atheism.

The first is the existence of biological information. The biosphere is information-rich, a fact which raises the question where this information came from and how it got here. The naturalist's answer is that information, such as we find in DNA and cellular processes, resulted from blind mechanistic forces acting purposelessly and randomly over eons of time. Such a feat is within the realm of the logically possible, of course, but if we're going to limit ourselves to the lessons of experience, as scientists should, we must acknowledge that information whose provenience we can ascertain is always the product of an intelligent mind, never the result of chance.

Random processes can produce highly improbable structures (like the particular pattern of rocks in a field) and they can produce very specific recognizable patterns (like the repetition of a single letter typed by a monkey), but we've never observed a random, non-teleological process generate both (such as an instruction manual). 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 that an intelligent agent lurks somewhere in its history.

Another fact about the world that comports better with the assumption of theism than with atheism, particularly atheistic materialism, is the existence of human consciousness.

How does it happen, for example, 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 value, a doubt, gratitude, regret, expectation, or frustration, boredom, 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? How does matter come to hold beliefs?

These are vexing questions for those holding an atheistic view of the world and materialists have no answer to them. 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 belief 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. Its existence suggests that material substance is not the only constituent of reality, which may be one reason why some materialists (called eliminative materialists) just embrace the very odd belief that consciousness doesn't exist at all. I say it seems an odd belief because presumably one must be conscious in order to hold it.

At any rate, the problem posed by consciousness is an embarrassment to the materialist, but the theist can simply point out that our consciousness is bestowed on us by God who is Himself a conscious being. Human consciousness derives from God's consciousness, but it's very difficult to account for in a universe without God.


Low Life

From Pajamas Media:

While the Democrat-leaning media continues to scare undecided voters with bedtime stories about some mythical angry McCain supporter whom nobody has seen, here is a real district attorney's complaint documenting an unprovoked assault by an enraged Democrat against a McCain volunteer in midtown Manhattan: "Defendant grabbed the sign [informant] was holding, broke the wood stick that was attached to it, and then struck informant in informant's face...

But you probably knew about this because it happened a month ago and it's been all over the media. Or maybe not.

The attacker was a paunchy middle-aged male and the victim was a woman. The writer of this post, Oleg Atbashian, speculates that the media reaction would have been considerably different had a male McCain supporter hit a female Obama supporter. As it is all we've heard from the MSM about this episode is the sound of snoring.

There are details of the assault at the link and a photo of the perp. I have to say that he looks like he knew what he was doing when he picked on a woman to assault rather than a man.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Genuine Compassion

A reader writes to comment on the post titled More on the Right to Health Care. In that post I commented that when people are encouraged to turn to the church for their needs it benefits both them and the church in ways that government is simply unable to match. She writes:

...God provides support for those who trust in Him through His body of believers. This fosters gratitude and thankfulness because it is much easier to feel gratitude towards your brothers and sisters in Christ than the government.

I have experienced this personally. This summer my Dad fell from a ladder 25 feet and landed on his head. He miraculously survived, but his journey to recovery entailed critical care, rehab, surgery, and lots of money. Although our family of eight depended on his income, we were never in want through the whole time. Our church family surrounded us and took care of whatever needs we had. Our health care covered only a fraction of the medical expenses, but the church supplied the need. If the government had had complete control over our finances and health care, our family would have missed out on the biggest overflow of God's grace we have ever experienced.

The problem is that not everyone is a Christian who has this kind of support from a local body of believers. This is where the church can reach the world for Christ. They can supply the basic human needs that a government can never fulfill, and they can do it in a way that also supplies spiritual needs.

It is true, of course, that government has financial resources that churches cannot muster and that there's a role for government to play, but churches are much better positioned to give people what government cannot - love, concern, and life skills. They can, in the case of the poor, offer them training in the virtues necessary to get and keep a job and also help them to learn how to properly raise their children. The kind of help many people need today, and which churches are uniquely situated to provide, goes well beyond finances, but people will never seek out the church's assistance, and the church will never develop its full potential to do good in the community, if the government is at the doorstep with a check every time they need it.

I mentioned Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion in the previous post on this subject. It really is a book that should be read by everyone concerned with the poor and the best way to help them.


Pro-Abortion Extremism

Byron forwards us a link to an essay by George Weigel of the Witherspoon Institute. Weigel offers a compelling explanation as to why Senator Obama's defense of his vote as an Illinois state senator against legislation that would have protected babies born alive after a failed abortion attempt is simply false. After having methodically stripped away any possible justification for Obama's vote Weigel closes with this:

Some of Senator Obama's supporters are now making one last, rather desperate-sounding attempt to defend his votes against protecting infants born alive after unsuccessful abortions. Their argument goes this way: Permitting children who survive attempted abortions to be abandoned is so heinous, so barbaric, that for someone to accuse Senator Obama, a decent man who is himself the father of two daughters, of supporting what amounts to legalized infanticide is too outrageous to merit an answer. There is a problem, though. In light of the documentary evidence that is now before the public, it is clear that the accusation against Senator Obama, however shocking, has the very considerable merit of being true.

It may be worth mentioning in passing that Obama has promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president will be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.

Speaking to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, Obama said, "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

This act would invalidate all laws regulating abortion, including laws prohibiting partial birth abortion. The National Right to Life Committee explains:

Obama is a cosponsor of the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA) (S. 1173), which would nullify all state and federal laws that "interfere with" access to abortion before "viability" (as defined by the abortionist). The bill would also nullify all state and federal laws that "interfere with" access to abortion after viability if deemed to enhance "health." Because the term "health" is not qualified in the bill, no state would be allowed to exclude any "health" justification whatever for post-viability abortions, because to do so would impermissibly narrow a federally guaranteed right. In short, the FOCA would establish a federal "abortion right" broader than Roe v. Wade and, in the words of the National Organization for Women, "sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies." The chief sponsors and advocacy groups backing the legislation have acknowledged that it would make partial-birth abortion legal again, nullify state parental notification laws, and require the state and federal governments to fund abortions.

Whatever his views on other issues, Senator Obama is certainly a pro-abortion extremist.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Get Joe

An ordinary guy, a plumber named Joe Wurzelbacher, asks Senator Obama a simple question in a rope line and someone catches it on video. The candidate's answer reveals him to be pretty much of a Marxist socialist, and the revelation threatens to do Obama great political harm. So what does the left do? They do whatever they can to slime the poor guy who was only asking a sensible question. Naturally.

Joe the Plumber has become the center of media attention, and as with Sarah Palin, the subtext is that he must be discredited. A full scale investigation is launched by the left to dig up whatever dirt they can find on the guy who asked the question. Here's some of what they're publicizing now to embarrass him:

  • He doesn't really make $250,000 a year (He never said that he did. He said that he was thinking of buying a business that did $250,000 to $270,000 wiorth of business).
  • His name isn't Joe, it's Sam (His middle name is Joe).
  • He owes back taxes (So does Charlie Rangel).
  • He's a racist (He said that Obama's tap dance around the answer to his question was almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr).
  • He's divorced (So is half the country).
  • He's not a licensed plumber (So what?).

I don't care if the guy is the incarnation of Lucifer, what does any of this have to do with his question about what Obama's tax policy will be for small businesses? It was Obama's answer that has gotten him into trouble, not the question. Obama's reply was that he thinks everyone is better off if we "spread the wealth around", a classic Marxist sentiment:

The left's attempt to smear an ordinary guy who asked a simple question just makes them seem mean, vindictive and moronic.

Meanwhile, as the media digs furiously to unearth whatever dirt they can find on Joe, they haven't shown any interest at all in probing into the life of, say, Bill Ayers or Jeremiah Wright. Why have there been no interviews with either of these men to help us learn a little more about their relationsghip to Barack Obama? Indeed, we now know more about Joe the Plumber than we know about Barack Obama's college years. I can't help but wonder why that is or what kind of people we have doing journalism in this country that they're more interested in humiliating an ordinary citizen than in learning more about who Obama is.


Kill Him

The story of the guy in Sarah Palin's audience who yelled "kill him" when one of the warm-up speakers mentioned Barack Obama's name has taken on the status of an urban legend. You can't read a liberal columnist or watch a leftist television talk show without hearing the story mentioned with embellishments and much agonizing over what this says about the dark and ugly passions to which the Republican ticket is appealing.

Now it turns out that like most urban legends this one has absolutely no warrant. Here's the story:

The agent in charge of the Secret Service field office in Scranton said allegations that someone yelled "kill him" when presidential hopeful Barack Obama's name was mentioned during Tuesday's Sarah Palin rally are unfounded.

The Scranton Times-Tribune first reported the alleged incident on its Web site Tuesday and then again in its print edition Wednesday. The first story, written by reporter David Singleton, appeared with allegations that while congressional candidate Chris Hackett was addressing the crowd and mentioned Obama's name a man in the audience shouted "kill him."

News organizations including ABC, The Associated Press, The Washington Monthly and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann reported the claim, with most attributing the allegations to the Times-Tribune story.

Agent Bill Slavoski said he was in the audience, along with an undisclosed number of additional secret service agents and other law enforcement officers and not one heard the comment.

"I was baffled," he said after reading the report in Wednesday's Times-Tribune.

He said the agency conducted an investigation Wednesday, after seeing the story, and could not find one person to corroborate the allegation other than Singleton.

Slavoski said more than 20 non-security agents were interviewed Wednesday, from news media to ordinary citizens in attendance at the rally for the Republican vice presidential candidate held at the Riverfront Sports Complex. He said Singleton was the only one to say he heard someone yell "kill him."

"We have yet to find someone to back up the story," Slavoski said. "We had people all over and we have yet to find anyone who said they heard it."

Hackett said he did not hear the remark.

Slavoski said Singleton was interviewed Wednesday and stood by his story but couldn't give a description of the man because he didn't see him he only heard him.

When contacted Wednesday afternoon, Singleton referred questions to Times-Tribune Metro Editor Jeff Sonderman. Sonderman said, "We stand by the story. The facts reported are true and that's really all there is."

In other words, Sonderman is saying, it's a good story and we're not concerned that there's no evidence to support it. Even if it didn't really happen it could have, so what's the difference?


Without God (II)

This post is the second in the series on whether atheism or theism offers a more cogent explanation for the world and our experience of it. The second fact that's easier to explain on the theistic rather than the atheistic hypothesis is that the parameters, forces and constants which govern the cosmos are exquisitely fine-tuned. Here's 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, parameters, and other cosmic contingencies 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 actually 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 regions in our universe (the multiverse hypothesis) 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, why they must be thought to possess all possible values rather than being identically calibrated, and what evidence we have that they even exist.

It's much simpler to apply Ockham's razor and assume that there's 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. "It's crazy," as Richard Swinburne says, "to postulate a trillion universes to explain the features of one universe, when postulating one entity (God) will do the job."

One further point: Scientists assume as they study the universe that it's rational, that it lends itself to rational inquiry, but if so, then an entirely non-rational explanation for it seems less likely than an explanation which incorporates rational causes.

So, the explanation for what appears to be an amazingly brilliant engineering job is either the existence of trillions upon trillions of discrete regions in a multiverse, for which there's absolutely no evidence, or the existence of a transcendent engineer. It seems to me that the latter explanation is at the very least as plausible as the former. Indeed, it would seem far more plausible to most people were it not that they rule out the engineer hypothesis a priori because it doesn't fit their materialist worldview.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

What Is Truth?

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air notes that Obama told at least three whoppers during last night's debate. He denied having launched his political career with Bill Ayers' help, he denied having given $800,000 to ACORN, and he misrepresented the Illinois Born Alive Infant Protection Act which he voted against.

Morrissey has details at the link if you'd like to check them out.

For my part, I'm a little reluctant to call Obama a liar, as Morrissey does, but I'm beginning to think that his problem (and thus ours) runs even deeper than lying. I'm beginning to think that Obama has a very pragmatic, Rortian view of truth. In this view, if a particular fact is unpleasant or inconvenient or impedes achieving the goals one has set for oneself then it's simply not a fact. It's not true for him. Truth is what works and obviously the sorts of claims that McCain was making about Obama's association with terrorist Bill Ayers, his support for ACORN, an organization which is being investigated all across the country for voter registration fraud, and his vote on the BAIP act, which is essentially a vote to permit infanticide, are not helpful to his candidacy. Thus he's able to persuade himself, and say with a straight face, that such claims are not "true", they're not "facts".

Truth, according to the late philosopher Richard Rorty, is whatever your peer group will let you get away with saying. Obviously, Obama's peer group of radical leftists, socialists and media liberals have no problem with what he says and thus tacitly validate his claims. The truth for him as well as for many of those who want to see him attain the presidency is simply not the same as what is true for his critics. Therefore, his denial of the facts McCain cites is probably not technically a lie since he believes he's telling the "truth", or at least what's true for him.

I don't know, then, that it's quite accurate to call Obama a liar, a charge I deem to be very serious in any event, but he certainly does appear to be epistemically challenged.


Hiding in the Tall Grass

Senator Obama and his allies are fond of laying the blame for the subprime lending fiasco at the feet of Republican fondness for deregulation, but although a supine MSM has largely let him get away with this misrepresentation of the historical truth, Peter Wallison at The Wall Street Journal does not.

In a column that deserves to be read in its entirety because it sets the record straight on several mythical elements of the Democrats' campaign narrative, Wallison says this:

In the summer of 2005, a bill (co-sponsored by Senator McCain) emerged from the Senate Banking Committee that considerably tightened regulations on Fannie and Freddie, including controls over their capital and their ability to hold portfolios of mortgages or mortgage-backed securities. All the Republicans voted for the bill in committee; all the Democrats voted against it. To get the bill to a vote in the Senate, a few Democratic votes were necessary to limit debate. This was a time for the leadership Sen. Obama says he can offer, but neither he nor any other Democrat stepped forward.

Instead, by his own account, Mr. Obama wrote a letter to the Treasury Secretary, allegedly putting himself on record that subprime loans were dangerous and had to be dealt with. This is revealing; if true, it indicates Sen. Obama knew there was a problem with subprime lending -- but was unwilling to confront his own party by pressing for legislation to control it. As a demonstration of character and leadership capacity, it bears a strong resemblance to something else in Sen. Obama's past: voting present.

Not willing to buck his party's leadership the senator refused to do the right thing. Instead he laid low, hiding in the political tall grass. His behavior in this episode displayed neither leadership nor political courage. Indeed, Senator Obama has never done anything to evince either of these virtues yet somehow he has managed to persuade a majority of American voters that he has both of them in abundance.

Is it that we are gullible, naive, or stupid? Or are we all three?


Voting for Change

A friend passed along this thought:

George Bush has been in office for just under eight years. For the first of them the economy was pretty good. For example, a little over one year ago:

  • Consumer confidence stood at a 2 1/2 year high
  • Regular gasoline sold for $2.19 a gallon
  • The unemployment rate was 4.5%
  • The DOW hit a record 14,000+
  • Americans were buying new cars, taking cruises, overseas vacations overseas, etc.

But we wanted change. So, in 2006 we voted in a Democratic Congress. Since then:

  • Consumer confidence has plummeted
  • Gasoline rose to over $4 a gallon
  • Unemployment rose to 6.1% (a 10% increase)
  • Americans have seen their home equity drop by $12 trillion dollars and prices are still dropping
  • 1% of American homes are in foreclosure
  • The DOW is below 8500. $2.5 trillion dollasrs has evaporated from stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investment portfolios

The president has no control over any of this. Only Congress could have done anything to prevent it but Congress has been preoccupied with trying to find Bush administration officials that they can put in jail.

In 2006 America voted for change and we got it.

Now Barack Obama promises that he is going to deliver real change.

Just how much more change can we stand?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Without God (I)

Among the indictments of religious believers recently registered by skeptics such as the coterie of anti-theists lead by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al. is that belief in God is at best irrational and at worst pernicious. Theism is all faith and no evidence, the believer is condescendingly assured, but should a theist try to pin down his antagonist and ask him exactly what he means by "evidence", it often turns out that the word is being employed as a synonym for "proof."

Well, of course there's no proof that there is a personal God, as if God's existence were the conclusion of a deductive syllogism, but that's hardly a reason not to believe that one exists. We have proof for very little of what we believe about the world, yet we don't hold our beliefs less firmly for that.

The skeptic's claim that there's no evidence for God and that theistic belief is thus irrational is, ironically, the reverse of the truth. It is actually, in my view, more rational to believe that a personal transcendent creator of the universe exists than to disbelieve it. Moreover, if what I will argue in this series of posts over the next week or two is correct, the logical consequences of atheism turn out to be psychically and politically toxic.

Indeed, though it may come as a surprise to some readers, almost all the evidence that counts on one side or the other of the question of belief in God rests more comfortably on the side of the believer. This is because almost every relevant fact about the world, and every existential characteristic of the human condition, makes more sense when viewed in the light of theism than it does on the assumption of atheism.

Put differently, the conclusion that theism is true is what philosophers call an inference to the best explanation. I don't mean to suggest that there are no facts about the world that militate against the existence of God - there are, of course. The existence of evil is the most troubling example. Nor do I mean to suggest that atheism can offer no account at all of the facts of human existence that I discuss in what follows. Perhaps it can. I only argue that on the assumption of atheism the facts are more difficult to explain, in some cases exceedingly so, than they are on the assumption of theism. If that is the case, it follows that it's more reasonable to believe that the explanation for them is the existence of a personal God.

The first of these facts, then, is our intuitive 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 the universe's existence depends upon something beyond itself, something which transcends space and time. It's possible, perhaps, that the universe somehow created itself, but that seems both 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 points out, however, this sort of reply, as common as it is, is not very compelling. He invites us to consider an analogy to the discovery on Mars of a perfect ten-meter cube of pure titanium. 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 and that until they can offer some account of the aliens the skeptic is under no obligation to believe they exist. Most reasonable people would think that the inability to say anything much about the aliens doesn't count at all against the theory that intelligent agents were responsible for the cube nor does it mean that the alien theory is on philosophical par with the brute fact theory. The existence of an intelligent alien manufacturer of the cube would be a reasonable inference and would seem to be the most plausible explanation even if it could not be proven.

Likewise, given the contingency of the universe, the existence of a transcendent cause responsible for the universe is a reasonable inference. The alternatives, that the universe is eternal or that the universe brought itself into being, are possible but scientifically and philosophically no more compelling, and perhaps much less so, than the view that the universe had a transcendent cause.

More tomorrow.