Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Wise Latina Is Fibbing

Evidently, even leftist law professionals are disgusted with the prevarications of Sonia Sotomayor in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This quote is from a liberal law professor at Georgetown, Mike Seidman, after her second day of testimony:

Speaking only for myself (I guess that's obvious), I was completely disgusted by Judge Sotomayor's testimony today. If she was not perjuring herself, she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified. How could someone who has been on the bench for seventeen years possibly believe that judging in hard cases involves no more than applying the law to the facts? First year law students understand within a month that many areas of the law are open textured and indeterminate-that the legal material frequently (actually, I would say always) must be supplemented by contestable presuppositions, empirical assumptions, and moral judgments.

To claim otherwise - to claim that fidelity to uncontested legal principles dictates results - is to claim that whenever Justices disagree among themselves, someone is either a fool or acting in bad faith. What does it say about our legal system that in order to get confirmed Judge Sotomayor must tell the lies that she told today? That judges and justices must live these lies throughout their professional careers?

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor should be excused because our official ideology about judging is so degraded that she would sacrifice a position on the Supreme Court if she told the truth. Legal academics who defend what she did today have no such excuse. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Actually, she wouldn't sacrifice a position on the Court if she told the truth. The Democrats are crooning and gushing over her and have more than enough votes to confirm her no matter what she says, unless she blunders by saying something nice about George Bush or Dick Cheney.

It's the fact that she has nothing to lose by telling the truth that makes her unwillingness to do so all the more distressing to observers both left and right.

Quick Quiz: Liberals beat George Bush the elder over the head with one question in particular when he nominated Clarence Thomas to serve on the Supreme Court. Do you know what it was?

Answer: "Is Judge Thomas really the best qualified person that President Bush could have found to nominate to the Supreme Court, or did he nominate Thomas just to curry favor with African-Americans?"

I wonder why liberals have forgotten to raise that question this time around with another minority nominee.

Thanks to The Volokh Conspiracy for the Seidman quote.


Case in Point

No sooner do I post a meditation on how biologists might profit from a little philosophical training than along comes an article to illustrate the very point I was making.

First a little background. Philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell, a recently released book on the evidence for intelligent design found in the cells of living things, wrote a brief piece on ID for the Boston Globe. In it Meyer mentioned that Thomas Jefferson was sympathetic to design as an explanation for natural phenomena.

This affront to Mr. Jefferson's honor was evidently more than a young gentleman and science writer by the name of Ewen Callaway could bear. Rising to defend the reputation of the defamed Mr. Jefferson against Meyer's unconscionable calumny, Callaway wrote a rebuttal which is currently appearing at New Scientist.

Callaway's refutation of Meyer consists in deriding his claim that Jefferson approved of the design hypothesis by stating in no uncertain terms that Jefferson was staunch in his belief in the separation of church and state and would never have approved of teaching ID in public schools.

I know you're scratching your head wondering what teaching ID in schools has to do with being sympathetic to the notion of a cosmic designer, but that's what Mr. Callaway said. You can check it out for yourself at the link.

Meyer never mentioned anything about teaching ID in public schools, and in fact the organization he represents, The Discovery Institute, is decidedly cool to the idea, but that doesn't deter Mr. Callaway. See if you can follow the logic here:

For a newspaper fighting for its survival, The Boston Globe has picked a peculiar time to run an absurdly-reasoned opinion piece supporting intelligent design.

Penned by the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer, the essay makes the ridiculous assertion that Thomas Jefferson - author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US president - espoused intelligent design.

Meyer sees supports for this claim in an 1823 letter Jefferson wrote to the second US president John Adams: "It is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion."

Fair enough. Though he may not have been a Christian in the strictest sense, Jefferson was deeply spiritual, and he invoked a creator in arguing for universal human rights - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Now, Callaway had led us to believe he would give us a fulminating rejoinder to Meyer's libel of Mr. Jefferson, but in the event he meekly admits that Meyer is right. This is a rather peculiar way to go about discrediting an opponent's argument, and it seems as if Callaway at some level senses his blunder. Seeking to recover the thread of his objection he goes on to inform us of what Meyer doesn't say about Jefferson:

Jefferson was also a dogged supporter of the separation of church and state. Meyer brushes this aspect of his biography aside: "By invoking Jefferson's principle of separation, many critics of intelligent design assume that this visionary Founding Father would agree with them."

Public schools didn't exist in their current form in America during Jefferson's time, but Meyer never pauses to consider whether Jefferson would have supported the teaching of ID - a religious philosophy - in government-funded schools. He wouldn't have.

So there. ID is religion, don't you know, and Jefferson would have had none of it in public schools if there were such things back then, therefore Jefferson was not sympathetic to purposeful design, and Meyer is a big boob for saying that he was. Or something like that. I don't have it all figured out yet.

But Callaway is not done pelting Meyer's Globe article with rhetorical wiffle balls:

Meyer's argument eventually devolves into ID gobbeldy [sic]-gook:

[Meyer writes that] "Of course, many people assume that Jefferson's views, having been written before Darwin's Origin of Species are now scientifically obsolete. But Jefferson has been vindicated by modern scientific discoveries that Darwin could not have anticipated."

Vindicated how? By the discovery of DNA, of course.

Meyer cannot accept that the genetic code evolved naturally. Never mind the fact that the building blocks of DNA and its cousin molecule RNA existed on early Earth and even in space. Scientists are also making increasing progress in understanding how these chemicals might have stitched themselves together and how they began replicating and evolving.

Callaway oddly faults Meyer for failing to believe what no one has ever demonstrated to be even possible, that specified complexity - meaningful, functional information - can be produced by something other than a mind. Neither Callaway nor anyone else can say how the coded information on the DNA molecule could have arisen purely by natural, physical processes, but this fact is of no consequence when you just know that somehow it must have happened.

To say that the existence of the building blocks of DNA were present in the early earth, something Mr. Callaway can't possibly know, and that therefore it's a mere hop, skip and a jump to self-replicating, protein transcribing, cell regulating nucleic acid molecules is called "wave of the wand" theorizing. It's equivalent to saying that if a billion monkeys were afforded access to typewriters the complete works of Shakespeare would be inevitable. Given the myriad difficulties and improbabilities, why should anyone believe such a thing?

Callaway, like a desperate boxer who finds himself losing to a superior opponent in the final round, swings wildly at Meyer hoping for a knockout, but all he does is embarrass himself:

Instead Meyer pulls out the same lazy, wrongheaded argument that intelligent design supporters have been pushing since the philosophy was adapted from creationism - if something looks designed, it must have been...

Well, so far it's Mr. Callaway who bears the trophy for lazy and wrongheaded. And also ignorant. If he were better informed he would be aware that the Cambridge-educated Dr. Meyer has just written a marvelously researched 508 page book on the very topic upon which Mr. Callaway is at such pains to demonstrate his ignorance. I wonder whether Mr. Callaway has made the effort to read Meyer's book or whether he finds it more agreeable and less intellectually taxing to simply go about waving the wand and launching ineffectual haymakers.


Believing the Impossible

Bradford at Telic Thoughts discusses atheistic biologist Jerry Coyne's argument against the compatibility of science and religion. In the course of the post Bradford quotes Coyne saying this:

Well, here are two more things that can't happen, given what we know about modern biology: a human female can't give birth to offspring unless she is inseminated, and people who are dead for three days don't come back to life.

This is an incredibly silly thing for a scientist, especially an atheistic materialist, to say. Two words scientists should use with the utmost caution are "can't happen." I addressed the philosophical problems with Coyne's claim in an earlier series of posts and refer the interested reader to it.

For now, I simply wish to mention that whenever a scientist says something "can't happen" it reminds me of the story of the discovery of the chemical composition of the sun. Back in the 1850s Auguste Comte sought to put a limit on what man would be able to discover. He thought and thought and emerged from his ruminations with the seemingly unassailable claim that it would be forever impossible to learn what the sun was made of. That seemed plausible enough back in those days, but just two years after his death in 1857, Kirchoff and Bunsen used spectroscopic analysis, which reveals a kind of chemical fingerprint, to determine that the sun was made mostly of hydrogen. Indeed, another constituent, helium, was discovered on the sun before it was found on earth, and Comte's prediction was consigned to the ash heap of famous last words.

Spectroscopic "fingerprint"

Anyway, even were we to play Coyne's game and agree that the laws of nature make certain things nomologically impossible, surely one of the things that "can't happen" is for mere chance and physical law to produce functional, specified information. It's never happened as far as we've ever been able to ascertain and no one has ever been able to figure out how it even could happen. Yet Coyne believes that exactly this miracle occurred when the first living cells emerged despite the fact that other atheistic scientists (e.g. Fred Hoyle) put the odds against it in excess of 10 to the 40,000 power to 1.

How anyone who can blithely believe that something this incomprehensibly improbable nevertheless happened and yet scoff at the claim that a virgin conceived or a man revivified is certainly beyond me.


War Whoops

House Democrats continue to make caricatures of themselves in their Ahab-like obsession with being able to hold aloft at least one Bush administration scalp before the Bushies all fade from the scene. In the news lately is the prospect of investigations aimed ultimately at planting their tomahawks firmly in the noggin of their chief bugaboo, Dick Cheney.

It seems that Cheney, as Vice-President, is being accused of having ordered the CIA to conceal certain secret operations from the relevant House oversight committee and now the members of the committee are miffed and vexed.

The funny part of this is that, according to Hot Air, the secret operation was revealed by the New York Times in 2002, the plan was never implemented which means that the Agency was under no obligation to tell Congress about it, and the former CIA Director denies having ever been told by Cheney to withhold information about this or any other operation.

Meanwhile, morale at the Agency deteriorates as does public approval of Nancy Pelosi and her congressional minions.

Like Wile E. Coyote growing ever more desperate to get his paws on the Road Runner, congressional coyotes keep having their hopes dashed as dynamite sticks blow up in their hands, cliffs keep being overrun, and railroad trains keep flattening them just as their goal seems within their grasp. But, like Wile E., they keep picking themselves up, brushing themselves off, and setting themselves up for the next train to run them over.

It's pretty funny. Maybe it'll be a Saturday morning cartoon show someday.


Shut Up and Just Believe

In the movie Leap of Faith a traveling evangelist played by Steve Martin preys upon and bilks innocent, unsophisticated rural Americans by exploiting their willingness to believe that he's capable of genuine miracles. They're duped by Martin's manipulation of their gullibility and blind faith. The movie's pretty funny, actually, but when this sort of thing happens in real life it's not so funny.

One instance of people's faith being exploited to cajole them out of their money is given to us in a column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times in which Krugman preaches on the apocalypse prophesied in the gospel according to Al Gore:

[C]limate change is a creeping threat rather than an attention-grabbing crisis. The full dimensions of the catastrophe won't be apparent for decades, perhaps generations. In fact, it will probably be many years before the upward trend in temperatures is so obvious to casual observers that it silences the skeptics. Unfortunately, if we wait to act until the climate crisis is that obvious, catastrophe will already have become inevitable.

Perhaps so, but its hard to understand why we should believe we're on the brink of the eschaton if compelling evidence for it is so thin that it cannot be convincingly confirmed and won't be seen for generations. It sounds like we're being asked by the Reverend Krugman to accept the catastrophic consequences of climate change on sheer, blind faith.

Former atheist philosopher Antony Flew once famously wrote that the problem with religious belief is that no evidence is ever allowed to count against it. If the weather is good it's proof of God's blessing. If the weather is bad it's proof of God's judgment. There's no way to falsify such beliefs.

Likewise with the theology of global warming. If the temperature shows an uptick then that's cited as proof that atmospheric carbon is causing the earth to warm and soon we'll all be inundated by rising seas. If the temperature drops, as it did in the 70s, that's proof that atmospheric carbon is causing the earth to cool and soon New York City will be covered by glaciers.

If we're going to allow the evangelists of global warming to fleece and bankrupt the nation in order to reduce carbon emissions and line their own pockets with the profits gleaned from carbon offsets and the like then Reverend Krugman and others who wish to put our economy on a crisis footing need to demonstrate six things:

  • They have to show that the average global temperature is in fact rising.
  • They have to show that the temperature rise is permanent and not just a cyclical fluctuation.
  • They have to show that the environmental consequences of global temperature increase will be, on balance, more catastrophic than the harm done to our economy by attempts to prevent it.
  • They have to show that the temperature rise is due to human activity rather than some natural phenomena.
  • They have to show the specific human activity that is to blame.
  • They have to show that we can, in fact, curtail the behavior sufficiently to avert the disaster.

I'm not saying that these cannot be demonstrated, but if they have been it would be nice if alarmists like the Reverend Krugman would share some of the evidence with us instead of crying that the sky is falling and telling us that we should just believe whatever we're told by the global warming priesthood, especially those who stand to make a boodle if legislation like cap and trade is passed.