Sunday, April 4, 2010

Just Give 'Em That Old Time Religion

Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, an atheist and co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong, has a piece at Spiked Review of Books that claims that Darwinism is a secular religion whose devotees brook no questioning or challenges. As a prelude to his argument he recounts this story:

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: 'You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.' The lecturer politely asked: 'Even if they are true?' To which the instant and vibrant retort was: 'Especially if they are true!' with emphasis on the 'especially'.

For at least this gentleman, who sounds like no one so much as Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor, truth is not as important as is maintaining the viability of the materialist dogma. The dogma must not be questioned lest faith in materialism wane among the masses. The dogma's weaknesses must not be publicized lest its opponents be encouraged thereby.

John Stuart Mill, perhaps the paradigmatic classical liberal, wrote in his great essay On Liberty that:

[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit; the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Mill goes on to say that when a belief is insulated from criticism, suffering no fresh and living conviction to challenge it, it does nothing for the mind or heart except stand sentinel over them to keep them vacant. Mill was thinking here of theistic religion but the admonition applies just as much to modern naturalistic religion as well. Maybe moreso.

HT: Telic Thoughts


When Is Profiling Not Profiling?

The answer to the question in the title is, "Whenever Democrats do it."

When it was thought that the Bush administration was engaged in profiling terrorist suspects, or whenever it was suggested that we should profile (which, of course, we should), the left-leaning media got all in a swivet about infringements of civil rights and other such pretensions. Now the Obama administration is actually going to profile airline travelers, though they won't call it that, and you probably haven't heard much more than subdued tsk tsking from the Left:

While trying hard to avoid admitting to "profiling," the Obama administration has introduced new measures for screening US-bound air travelers based on how closely their personal characteristics match intelligence on potential terrorists. Nationality, age, certain physical characteristics, recently visited countries and partial (Muslim-sounding) names will be used alongside the no-fly list to step up flight security.

Here's a rule of thumb for understanding how the Left interprets any security policy enacted by an administration: If Republicans do it it's ipso facto an outrageous threat to our civil rights. If Democrats do it it's ipso facto a perfectly reasonable effort to guarantee our safety.

If these people ever need to supplement their income maybe they should consider stand-up comedy. They're good at it.


Resurrection Day

This post originally appeared on Viewpoint on Easter 2005:

Jon Meacham of Newsweek, perhaps chastened by the criticism he received following his foray into Christian theology over Christmas, pens a much less offensive column about the Resurrection of Jesus in the current issue. He notes that the tomb of Christ was almost certainly empty that first Easter morning. If it were not, he observes, the opponents of Christ had only to produce the body to abort the religious turmoil that the sect of Christians was beginning to arouse. This they did not do, a startling historical fact, really, which leads us to the obvious conclusion that they couldn't do it. This leads us in turn to ask why not.

No naturalistic explanation of the empty tomb makes sense. The most common of these is that the disciples stole the corpse, but this hypothesis is plausible only if one assumes a priori that non-natural explanations are impossible. To believe that the disciples stole the body one must believe that a band of terrified fishermen overpowered an armed military guard, a crime for which they were never arrested or charged, stole the cadaver, and eventually underwent torture and martyrdom for preaching around the world what they knew to be a lie. People will die for a lie they believe to be true, but only men suffering from some form of dementia would die for a lie they knew to be a lie, and there's no reason to think these men were demented.

Surely, if the authorities believed the disciples had stolen the body they would have brought irresistibly persuasive techniques to bear to coerce them into divulging its whereabouts. Yet there's no indication whatsoever in the historical record that this was even attempted.

The skeptic says, as was noted above, that no matter how implausible a given naturalistic explanation may be it's still more believable than the claim that a man rose from the dead. This objection, however, rests on the assumption that there is no God, an assumption that is much easier to make than to defend. If, contrary to the skeptical view, it is possible that God exists then miracles are indeed also possible, and if they are possible, we have to examine the evidence for an alleged instance of one, especially one as significant as the resurrection of Jesus, to determine whether it is, in fact, credible. The evidence for the historical, physical revivification of Christ, many scholars have concluded, is at least as powerful as that for any other event in antiquity.

Other attempts to avoid the conclusion that a miracle actually occurred are equally unimpressive. Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code adopts a version of the swoon theory, that after some thirty six hours without medical care, Jesus somehow recovered from his wounds, including the spear thrust, with sufficient vigor to roll away the heavy stone blocking the tomb. He accomplished this astonishing feat without being detected by the Roman guard, and subsequently appeared to the disciples and dozens, even hundreds, of others, looking so hale and hearty that they believed that he had conquered death and was the very Son of God.

Even if something like this could have happened, the disciples would have known that Jesus had not "risen from the dead" in any theologically significant sense. He would have eventually died (or, as Brown has it, absconded to France with his beloved Mary Magdalene), and his dead body would be proof that he was not the Messiah. This, then, brings us back to the question above: Why would people have been willing to be tortured and martyred for a man they would have realized was a false messiah?

Skeptics scoff at miracles, but the most important miracle in the history of Christendom is one which defies any attempt to explain away. The most plausible explanation for the empty tomb, unless one holds an a priori commitment to atheism, is that God actually did raise Jesus from the dead just as we are promised that we will be. Because death did not result in the annihilation of His being we have the hope that neither will it result in ours.

This is the wonderful significance of the event Christians celebrate every Easter. Have a wonderful Resurrection Day.

Dick and Bill