Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/12 Tea Party

According to ABC as many as two million people showed up in Washington, D.C. today to protest out-of-control government spending and an unprecedented arrogation of centralized power. My local news was reporting "tens of thousands" but this appears to be a gross underestimation:

That's an awful lot of racists.

Go here for more pics of the party and enjoy the Doobie Brothers a while:

UPDATE: The photo above showing the crowd in the Capitol mall tuurns out to have been taken at a different rally which took place in 1997 and should not be used to guage the number of people at the 9/12 protest.


Re: Wednesday's Speech

Caleb, a young law student and friend, writes to share some thoughts on our post about the President's speech last Wednesday.

He has a lot of interesting things to say and closes with this:

I, like many, took umbrage with Rep. Wilson's comments. My issue, however, was not with what he said, but the manner and place in which he said them. While I deplore the current partisanship of politics, where names are flung around with increasing frequency, I realize that it would be hypocritical for one to slam Rep. Wilson for calling Obama a liar when Sen. Reid called President Bush a liar. However, yelling this during a joint address to Congress seems highly disrespectful. So did the various Republicans who were clearly Blackberrying, held signs that said "What bill?", etc. I'm not saying that the Democrats were never guilty of rude behavior towards the President. However, I feel that it is up to both sides, Republican and Democrat, to show more respect for the office. I do not agree with everything that Obama said during his speech, but to call him a liar during it is extremely rude and cheapens the political debate.

Caleb's right. The Democrats were just as rude to Mr. Bush when he tried to pitch social security reform to them in 2004, Mr. Obama was not being forthright about coverage of illegal aliens, and Senator Reid has never been forced to apologize for calling Mr. Bush a liar on national television. Nevertheless, it was unseemly and inexcusable for congressman Wilson to blurt out "You lie!" in that forum, and he apologized for it. We're still waiting for Senator Reid's apology.

Read the rest of Caleb's thoughts on the Feedback page.


Seeking God in Science (Pt. I)

Bradley Monton is an atheist philosopher of science who has written one of the best books on the controversy surrounding intelligent design I've come across. Monton's book is exceptionally fair to the point of being in places almost sympathetic to ID, though he's at pains to stress that he's not a proponent. Even so, I suspect that the book will have a lot of opponents of ID wondering exactly whose side Monton is on.

The book is titled Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (157 pages) and is divided into four chapters plus a preface. It opens with the claim that "This book is not providing a full-fledged endorsement of intelligent design. But intelligent design needs to be taken more seriously than a lot of its opponents are willing to."

His goal in writing the book is:

"not to serve one side [in the debate] or the other side, and in fact my goal isn't even to be useful. My goal is simply to evaluate the arguments on both sides as carefully and objectively as I can. If this ends up serving one side more than the other, I don't care; my goal is to do the best I can to get at the truth."

This is certainly a welcome approach, one rarely found among opponents of ID (Michael Ruse and Ronald Numbers are the only other anti-ID writers I can think of who might share Monton's desire to be fair to the arguments of their opponents), and Monton's treatment of the topics in his book is as fascinating as it is refreshing.

The first chapter consists of an attempt to refine the definition of intelligent design so that the arguments both pro and con can be evaluated more effectively and to dispose of a number of weak or misleading arguments with which opponents of ID have cluttered the landscape. It should be noted that this is not a book about the science involved in evolution. In fact, there's very little science in the book at all. It's a book of public philosophy and can be read with profit by any educated person who is aware of the controversies swirling around ID.

In chapter one Monton makes an interesting claim. He observes that if we're trying to find an explanation for certain features of the universe - like its existence and the fine-tuning of the cosmic constants and parameters - then an intelligent cause is clearly our best option. ID offers the best explanation for cosmic fine-tuning and the existence of the world, but he doesn't accept ID because, as an atheist he doesn't think there's any explanation for these phenomena at all. ID is the best explanation, but he believes all explanations are false. The universe just is and there's no explanation for it.

This is an interesting approach but it strikes me as a science-stopper, an accusation which is often leveled at ID. Scientists should always be looking for the explanations of physical phenomena. To say of some contingent state of affairs that it has no explanation seems to me, at least, to be rather ad hoc. Monton says our choice is between an intelligent cause of the world and believing that it just is and has no explanation or cause. If those are our choices, and I think Monton is right about that, it seems that the "no explanation" position is a very high price to pay in order to be able to hold on to one's atheism.

One of the weak anti-ID arguments Monton addresses is the claim by opponents that ID is a religious idea. Monton offers an interesting counter. He points out that, for all we know, our world could be a computer simulation designed by an inhabitant of some other world. Everything about the visible universe could in fact be the product of a very sophisticated software program. If that's a possibility, no matter how bizarre it may sound (and Monton cites some reasons for thinking it may be the case), then ID could be true and there would be nothing necessarily "religious" about it.

In other words, just because many IDers are religious people does not entail that ID must be a religious theory any more than the fact that many Darwinians are atheists entails that evolution is inherently atheistic.

I'll talk more about Brad Monton's book on Monday. Meanwhile, if you're interested in the issues involved in this debate, no matter which side of it you're on, you really should think about ordering a copy.


Wednesday's Speech

President Obama's speech on health care Wednesday night was disappointing. Once he got past making the case for why we need reform, a need most people agree we have, almost nothing he said about how that reform would look was credible.

We were led to believe that the President would be offering his own plan, but although he referred often to "his plan" the details were virtually the same as those in the proposals currently hibernating in congressional committees.

The president several times averred that his critics are lying about the plan when they claim it will cover illegal aliens, abortions, and will provide for the practical equivalent of "death panels." Yet even some Democrats are saying that the plan will in fact either do these things or permit them to be done. After the speech Democratic senators closed a loophole in their bill that would have given coverage to illegal immigrants and House Democrats twice defeated attempts to tighten the language in their bill that would insure that illegals weren't covered. Such measures are very strange if the bills did not allow for coverage of illegals in the first place.

The President insists he wants competition between insurance companies but neither of the two measures that would put competition into the market, allowing people to buy across state lines and reducing mandates in coverage, were in the President's plan. Either of these or both together would increase competition, lower insurance cost, and not cost a single dime, but the President is disinclined to adopt them. No one knows why.

He insisted that he will be able to save billions of dollars by cutting fraud and waste in the medicare system, but he never explained how he would do this or why he hasn't just gone ahead and done it already. He simply alluded to lots of details that need to be worked out.

AP ran a fact check on several other of the President's assertions and found them less than persuasive. The claim that he will be able to increase coverage on 30 million people (the original target was 47 million) without adding to the deficit or reducing or rationing care of the elderly is quite literally incredible.

His attacks on his critics seemed petulant and beneath his office. It seems that the speech did little to help salvage health care reform and even less to salvage the perception of Mr. Obama as quite the opposite of the "post-partisan" president he campaigned as.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Wilson is getting a drubbing in the media for his impolite and intemperate outburst during the speech, when he shouted "You lie" at Mr. Obama, but were these critics of Mr. Wilson not listening to Mr. Obama? Several times throughout the evening Mr. Obama accused critics of the Democrat health care reform proposals of lying. Why castigate Mr. Wilson, but not Mr. Obama? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid once called Mr. Bush a liar on Meet the Press and refused to apologize. There was no outrage on the left at Mr. Reid's remark. Indeed, the left pretty much agreed. Mr. Wilson has learned an interesting lesson. If you act like a Democrat, you better vote like one or else you can expect to get pummeled by the media.