Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Contemporary Hero

Once upon a time one could find on almost every street corner someone proclaiming the words attributed to Voltaire that he might "hate what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it". It sounded good and won the admiration of all who heard the speaker's vow to defend with his life the right of others to say even those things he despised. But then came Islamic fascism and the very real possibility that one might actually be required to make the ultimate sacrifice to defend free speech and suddenly the street corners were empty and silent. To paraphrase Machiavelli, when times are peaceful there are plenty of people who can be found to swear their undying loyalty to the First Amendment, but when the savages are howling at the gates free speech will find but few defenders. And so it has been since 9/11.

One such heroic defender of the right to speak the truth, however, is a man by the name of Geert Wilders. Wilders was a member of the Dutch Parliament who has put his life and career on the line to warn of the threat to the Netherlands posed by the growing Islamic population in his country. The Wall Street Journal has recently run an excellent warts-and-all column about Wilders that everyone should take the time to read.

Here's an excerpt that gives a sense of Wilders' blunt outspokenness that certainly won't endear him to the multicultural PC crowd:

As he sees it, the West suffers from an excess of toleration for those who do not share its tradition of tolerance. "We believe that -- 'we' means the political elite -- that all cultures are equal," he says. "I believe this is the biggest disease today facing Europe. . . . We should wake up and tell ourselves: You're not a xenophobe, you're not a racist, you're not a crazy guy if you say, 'My culture is better than yours.' A culture based on Christianity, Judaism, humanism is better. Look at how we treat women, look at how we treat apostates, look at how we go with the separation of church and state. I can give you 500 examples why our culture is better."

Wilders acknowledges that "the majority of Muslims in Europe and America are not terrorists or violent people." But he says "it really doesn't matter that much, because if you don't define your own culture as the best, dominant one, and you allow through immigration people from those countries to come in, at the end of the day you will lose your own identity and your own culture, and your society will change. And our freedom will change -- all the freedoms we have will change."

The article mentions the short film Wilders produced last spring titled Fitna. If you missed it when it came out last April you can view it here.

Despite his frank, and doubtlessly accurate, assessment of the problem created by the massive influx of Arab Muslims into Europe, Wilder's solution is troubling. He says that the problem is the Koran and that "You have to give up this stupid, fascist book" -- the Quran. This is what you have to do. You have to give up that book."

As the writer of the WSJ column notes:

Mr. Wilders is right to call for a vigilant defense of liberal principles. A society has a right, indeed a duty, to require that religious minorities comply with secular rules of civilized behavior. But to demand that they renounce their religious identity and holy books is itself an affront to liberal principles.

Quite so if Wilders is actually saying that Muslims should be legally required to renounce their scriptures, but perhaps he is merely saying that they need to be challenged and urged to reconsider their interpretations of the Koran and indeed the validity of its claim to divine authority. If so, there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with engaging Muslims theologically and exposing them to the problematic nature of those beliefs which ill-suit them for life in a pluralistic, civilized world. Such engagement should occur, though, in the arena of ideas, not in legislatures. If Europeans were to compel Muslims by legislative fiat to renounce the Koran then Christians would have very little ground to stand upon should some future tyrant demand they give up their Bibles.

Even so, Mr Wilders is a modern hero who is placing his life at risk to save European culture and the principles of freedom. Read the whole article.


Public Education and ID (Pt. III)

Thomas Nagel's paper in Philosophy and Public Policy makes the case that Intelligent Design has the same philosophical or theoretical status as the Darwinian view it challenges. Nagel's argument is all the more provocative given that he is himself an atheist and a Darwinian. We've looked at the first part of his paper in earlier posts and consider more of it here. Nagel asserts that the critic of ID often bases his opposition on philosophical, rather than scientific, grounds. He writes that:

Those who would not take any amount of evidence against evolutionary theory as evidence for ID ... seem to be assuming that ID is not a possibility. What is the status of that assumption? Is it scientifically grounded? It may not be a matter of faith or ecclesiastical authority, but it does seem to be a basic, ungrounded assumption about how the world works, essentially a kind of naturalism.

In other words, the rejection of ID is grounded not on scientific reasons, but on reasons which are best described as theological. Either there is no God, the critic maintains, in which case ID is impossible, or, if there is, we can be assured that He doesn't work the way the IDers think He does. Nagel explains:

The denier that ID is science faces the following dilemma. Either he admits that the intervention of such a designer is possible, or he does not. If he does not, he must explain why that belief is more scientific than the belief that a designer is possible. If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he can argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions of such a designer, but he cannot say that someone who offers evidence on the other side is doing something of a fundamentally different kind. All he can say about that person is that he is scientifically mistaken.

I think there are only two possible justifications for this asymmetry. Either there is strong scientific evidence against the existence of God; or there is a scientific default presumption that the prior probability of a designer is low, and the only possible basis for assigning it a higher probability - high enough to make it eligible as an explanation of what is empirically observed-is faith, revelation, or ecclesiastical authority. Is either of those things true, however?

The claim that ID is bad science or dead science may depend, almost as much as the claim that it is not science, on the assumption that divine intervention in the natural order is not a serious possibility. That is not a scientific belief but a belief about a religious question: it amounts to the assumption that either there is no god, or if there is, he certainly does not intervene in the natural order to guide the world in certain directions.

This is a point similar to that made by Cornelius Hunter in Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. The irony is that Darwinians base their argument on particular theological suppositions about God whereas IDers maintain theological neutrality and say nothing about God. Yet the Darwinians wrap themselves in the mantle of science while calling the IDers religious zealots. Pretty amusing.

More on Nagel's paper anon.