Friday, November 28, 2008

Two Questions about Mumbai

Bill Roggio reports that captured terrorists in Mumbai have admitted to having connections to Pakistan. This raises two troubling questions: First, if these connections are confirmed will we see a deterioration in the uneasy peace between India and Pakistan? There are indications that some in the Indian military have been eager to go to war with their nuclear neighbor for some time, but have been restrained by the Bush administration. Now that the administration is a lame duck will the Indian hawks prevail?

Second, how did the Indians manage to get the terrorists to talk so quickly? Whatever methods they used I hope they share them with the American intelligence services so that the CIA knuckle-draggers who resort to brutish interrogation techniques will learn that compassionate persuasion works just as well, if not better. One lesson to take from the Indian methods, which were doubtless gentle and sensitive to the terrorists' needs and comfort, is that places like Guantanamo Bay where prisoners are manacled and sometimes even looked at funny are barbaric anachronisms in a civilized society.


Post on <i>Most</i>

The story has it that a railway traversed a drawbridge and that commuter trains regularly crossed the span. One day the drawbridge operator brought his young son with him to work. A train was approaching and the bridge needed to be lowered to allow the train to cross. Tragically, the man realized as the bridge was lowering that his son was caught in the mechanism of the bridge. If he stopped the descent of the bridge to rescue his son the train would derail and tumble into the waterway below killing dozens of passengers. If he allowed the bridge to lower so that the train could pass safely his son would be crushed by the weight of the bridge.

I mentioned this story in class during a discussion of ethics and one of my students told me that it had recently been made into a short film, so I ordered it and watched it the other night. It's only thirty three minutes long, but it's a beautiful parable of heart-wrenching sacrifice, love, and redemption. The film is titled Most (Czech for "Bridge"), and the trailer can be viewed here.

Given the theme it might have been more appropriate to mention this film closer to Easter because the parable is really all about Good Friday, but it might be viewed with profit over the Christmas holidays as well. I couldn't find it on Netflix so those who would like to watch it might have to purchase it ($10) at the website.


Public Education and ID (Pt. II)

Atheistic philosopher Thomas Nagle has written a paper for the journal Philosophy and Public Policy in which he argues that the case for the exclusion of Intelligent Design from science curricula doesn't withstand scrutiny. We examined the first part of his essay last Monday. We'll continue our look at this noteworthy paper today.

Nagle writes that, contrary to what some critics have argued, we don't have to know how something was accomplished in order to recognize that it is purposefully designed. What the designer was thinking when it engineered a particular biological structure is not subject to scientific investigation, but the question whether the structure was purposefully designed is:

[T]he purposes and intentions of God, if there is a god, and the nature of his will, are not possible subjects of a scientific theory or scientific explanation. But that does not imply that there cannot be scientific evidence for or against the intervention of such a non-law-governed cause in the natural order. The fact that there could be no scientific theory of the internal operation of the divine mind is consistent with its being in large part a scientific question whether divine intervention provides a more likely explanation of the empirical data than an explanation in terms of physical law alone. To ask whether there are limits to what can credibly be explained by a given type of scientific theory, or any theory relying only on universal physical laws, is itself a scientific question.

This claim entails that questions like, "If God designed life why didn't he do it differently or better?" are irrelevant to the question of whether the claim that life is intelligently designed is scientific.

In other words, how and why the designer did what it did are different kinds of questions than whether some biological structure is, in fact, intentionally designed. The former are metaphysical matters whereas the latter is a scientific query and we need not be able to answer the former before we can scientifically investigate the latter.

Nagle observes that critics of ID assume that science cannot provide evidence for the existence of the designer (Which Nagle assumes to be God) and that therefore talk of designers is unscientific. He states flatly, however, that there's no reason to accept this assumption:

I suspect that the assumption that science can never provide evidence for the occurrence of something that cannot be scientifically explained is the principal reason for the belief that ID cannot be science; but so far as I can see, that assumption is without merit.

Indeed, many of the claims ID makes are certainly scientific claims. For instance, Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box and Edge of Evolution) offers empirical arguments in Edge that random mutation is not sufficient by itself to explain the enormous diversity of living things. Nagle observes:

This seems on the face of it to be a scientific claim, about what the evidence suggests, and one that is not self-evidently absurd. I cannot evaluate it; I merely want to stress its importance for the current debate. Skepticism about the standard evolutionary model is not limited to defenders of ID. The skeptics may be right or they may be wrong. But even if one merely regards the randomness of the sources of variation as an open question, it seems to call for the consideration of alternatives.

There is in the evolutionary community a great deal of dissent from the standard Darwinian model, but none of that dissent causes much of a stir because most of it does not get to the heart of the Darwinians' deepest commitments. The fundamental objection to ID, the implication that arouses such passionate protest, is not scientific, it's metaphysical. ID poses no greater challenge to the science that undergirds evolutionary theory than do its materialist competitors. The unique challenge of ID, the reason it provokes so much opposition, is that it calls into question the metaphysical materialism and naturalism that many opponents of ID embrace.

This bears emphasizing. ID is not scorned because it's not science. There's not much argument about the scientific facts of the matter. Both sides employ the same data, but they draw from it widely disparate metaphysical conclusions. The rejection of ID is primarily philosophical, one might even say religious. Opponents' arguments against the concept of intentional, purposeful design in the world distill to a desire that our children be taught only the belief that matter is the ultimate reality and that everything in the universe derives from, and is contingent upon, material substance. ID, on the other hand, promotes the possibility that the ultimate reality upon which all else is dependent is mind, and this many critics find philosophically and theologically intolerable.

Almost all other remonstrances against ID are either decoy and diversion or they are secondary theological objections. The value of Nagle's paper is that it helps us to see that more clearly. We'll continue with our reading of it in later posts.