Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Re: Remaking a Great Nation

Byron writes to take exception to Mark Steyn's recent column on Barack Obama and my endorsement of it. His letter can be read on the Feedback page.


The God Delusion, Ch. 3

We continue our walk through Richard Dawkins' best-selling attack on belief in God (though he calls it, rather pretentiously (p.57), an attack on God himself) with a look at chapter 3.

This chapter is ostensibly given to an adumbration of some of the arguments in favor of God's existence, although Dawkins can't resist the temptation to scoff at their alleged inadequacies as he summarizes them. Some of these inadequacies are genuine and some are due to Dawkins' tendentious explications of the arguments. As an example of the latter, he offers the long-discredited observation that omniscience and omnipotence are logically incompatible since God must know today what he will do tomorrow, but if he knows today what he will do tomorrow then he can't change his mind tomorrow, which means there's something he can't do. Therefore, he's not omnipotent.

This is like the old paradox that asks whether God can create a stone so heavy that he can't lift it. Whether the theist answers yes or no he is tacitly agreeing that there's something beyond God's power to accomplish. One of several problems with this paradox is that it's incoherent. It suggests that there's something that can't be done by a being which can do anything. In other words, it seeks to show that God's inability to bring about a logically impossible state of affairs means he must not exist. This, as every freshman philosophy student learns, misconstrues God's omnipotence.

To say that God is omnipotent is to say that he can do anything it is logically possible to do. Philosophers at least since Aquinas have recognized that God cannot do anything which establishes a contradiction of some sort. He cannot, for instance, cause it to happen that he never existed, nor can he create a world in which it would be true to say that he did not create it. If it's logically possible to know the future then God can know what will happen tomorrow. All that follows from Dawkins' argument is that God's freedom to change his mind is constrained by his foreknowledge, just as his actions are constrained by his goodness. He has the freedom to change his mind, but if he knows that he won't, then he won't.

Dawkins spends a little time in this chapter deriding the ontological argument, calling it infantile just before acknowledging that philosophers have been of two minds about it's validity. The world has had to wait for Richard Dawkins to arrive to settle the matter and he does so by seemingly confusing Anselm's version of the argument with Descartes'. Conflating the two, he defeats Descartes, whose argument almost no one accepts anyway, and claims to have thus defeated Anselm. Moreover, he never mentions the more formidable versions of the ontological argument presented by contemporary philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and Norman Malcolm, but perhaps he's not aware of them.

Another of the arguments he selects for ridicule in this chapter is what he calls the Argument From Admired Religious Scientists. This is the claim that since certain scientists believe in God and since scientists are intelligent that, therefore, belief in God is an intelligent option. This is indeed a bad argument, and I know of no educated person who would ever use it as a justification for belief, but equally as bad is Dawkins' response to it.

With a certain glee he points out that the more educated people are, the more intelligent they are, the less likely they are to be religious, but of course this argument by correlation is fraught with dangers. If we're going to argue that intelligent people are usually atheists we can also argue that the longer a person's criminal record the more likely he is to be an atheist, or that, at least in the non-Islamic world, the more blood-thirsty a tyrant the more likely he is to be an atheist. So, I don't know what we should make of the fact, if it even is a fact, that intelligence correlates to unbelief except to say that highly intelligent tyrants and criminals are even more likely to be atheists than are more modestly endowed thugs.

In any event, the argument from the correlation to intelligence is not very impressive. Intelligence is not wisdom. Intelligence is an ability, and ability in one sphere of life does not entail ability in other spheres. A man brilliant in his field is often an incompetent outside of it. Literary geniuses are often mathematical clods, and vice-versa. Indeed, the most striking examples of this are idiot-savants (Think of the movie Rain Man or even A Beautiful Mind). College professors are a close second. That a man is a brilliant biologist tells us nothing about his ability to discern the fingerprint of God in the world and in his life.

More later.


Calorie Counter

This link takes you to a quick calorie counter. Plug in your weight and sex, and check the box which best describes your activity level, and you're immediately told how many calories per day it takes to maintain your weight.

To lose one pound a week you need to reduce your intake by 500 calories a day which you can do by cutting out sugar and bread and by increasing your physical activity.

I know. If I'm such an expert why ain't I skinny? Because it's unfortunately a lot easier to know what to tell others to do than to do it yourself.


Winning the GWOT

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air writes that "Either the New York Times has replaced its entire editorial board, or the US has become so successful against al-Qaeda that they can't avoid reporting it. Today, Eric Schmitt informs the Times' readers that the US-led efforts against AQ and radical Islamist terrorism has the enemy in collapse, with its funding all but gone and popular support dissipating. Perhaps Manhattan pharmacies should stock up on smelling salts."

What is this deviation from liberal anti-Bush orthodoxy at the Times about which Morrissey writes?

Here's part of Schmitt's column:

The deadliest terrorist networks in Southeast Asia have suffered significant setbacks in the past three years, weakened by aggressive policing, improved intelligence, enhanced military operations and an erosion of public support, government officials and counterterrorism specialists say.

Three years after the region's last major strike - the attacks on three restaurants in Bali that killed three suicide bombers and 19 other people - American and Asian intelligence analysts say financial and logistical support from Al Qaeda to other groups in the region has long dried up, and the most lethal are scrambling for survival. In Indonesia, since 2005 authorities have arrested more than 200 members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Islamic group with ties to Al Qaeda. In the Philippines, an American-backed military campaign has the Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic extremist organization with links to Jemaah Islamiyah, clinging to footholds in the jungles of a handful of southern islands, officials said.

To be sure Southeast Asia is not the Middle East but it must nevertheless pain the Times to write that the terrorists are suffering and Bush's strategy is being vindicated in this part of the world. For five years his detractors at the Times and elsewhere have been telling us that Bush is incompetent, that his approach is all wrong, that the world hates us because of him, that we need to negotiate with terrorists not treat the conflict between us as a war. And yet the news over the last six months about the Global War on Terror has been consistently hopeful.

Imagine, though, where we'd be today had John Kerry, the avatar of surrender, won in 2004 or if Bush had listened to Barack Obama instead of John McCain and we had fled Iraq a year ago.