Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shrinking Pools

A recent essay by Michael Metzger succinctly explains why it is that so many modern marriages are in trouble:

In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond cites the famous first sentence of Tolstoy's great novel Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Diamond goes on to write, "By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness."

In other words, lots of things all have to go right for a marriage to succeed and only one thing has to go wrong for it to fail. Add to Diamond's list the fact that in the modern workplace men and women are in close contact with each other to an extent that's probably unique in human history. It's a situation in which they see every day people of the opposite sex to whom their own spouses often measure up unfavorably. The constant proximity and interaction between the sexes in the workplace creates the potential for marital challenges that are perhaps unprecedented in Western culture.

At any rate, without wishing to sound like an e-harmony commercial the problem for many moderns is that as our culture becomes more and more diverse, as traditional values give way to a wider spectrum of moral assumptions, and as more people see religion as extraneous to human well-being, it gets harder and harder to find someone who matches well in all those "essential respects" Diamond lists.

It's another reason for being skeptical, perhaps, of the alleged merits of "diversity." The more varied we become as a society the more likely the pool of compatible potential mates will shrink to a puddle.

Thanks to Byron for the tip on the article.


Waiting for Godot

Stephen Meyer, philosopher of science, author of Signature in the Cell, and an intelligent design advocate gave a presentation at Biola college recently on evidence for intelligent design in the genetic code of living things. After Meyer's talk there was a panel discussion with two critics of Meyer's book.

The other panelists were Steve Matheson, a theistic evolutionist from Calvin College, and Arthur Hunt a Darwinist and biologist from the University of Kentucky.

Robert Crowther at Evolution News and Views provides a transcript of an interesting part of their exchange. I've edited it slightly to make it easier to read:

Matheson: I don't find the argument convincing, I really don't, but I think I know why. And the reason why is, I just figured out tonight, you said that we reason backwards from what we know works, which is that intelligence makes codes. I'll agree with that. Can I see the hands of people that don't agree? Of course not.

Okay, well we reason back and say, therefore, this is the one explanation we know that can do this. I buy that, I get it, it's obvious. But I see the world differently than you do. And so here's the thing. You said intelligence always creates information, and my view is a little different. Everywhere I look, and every time I look, if I wait long enough, there is a natural and even materialistic explanation to things.

Now, don't I have the right to say I'm going to go ahead and extrapolate that back, like Steve's book, not because I'm an obnoxious Calvinist-maybe that's true-but because that's just kinda my preference? And so what I want all of us to agree on is that it's fruitless, it's pointless to say, Steve, don't be stupid, design doesn't explain what you want it to. Well, of course it does-how could it not? But wouldn't it be reasonable for some of the Christians in this room to say, You know-

Meyer: You're comfortable waiting for another explanation.

Matheson: I am.

Meyer: Which, in a strict sense, concedes that the one I offer is currently best-[The audience erupts into applause. Unintelligible between Meyer and Matheson]-and we have a different philosophy of science, which is where the locus of our disagreement probably lies, and where we should continue to converse.

Matheson: I'll offer the acknowledgment: Design will always be an excellent and irrefutable explanation. How can it not be. I'm just saying it doesn't look designed to me. He's [Meyer] right, and there's some stuff that goes on in the cell, I don't know how you get design into there. But it's easy to simply say, and maybe you [referring to Arthur Hunt] do say this, let's wait, maybe there's a good reason why the cell, those proteins, billions [every] day, go straight into the wood-chipper. Maybe there's a good reason for that. You said that. There's nothing wrong with talking like that. There's also nothing wrong with saying, Wow, man, I don't know.

In other words, Matheson admits, though he doesn't want to, that intelligent design is the best explanation on offer for the origin of the information contained in living cells. Even so, like the travelers in the play Waiting for Godot, he's philosophically committed to withholding acceptance of ID in the hope that a plausible naturalistic explanation will some day come along.

This is an odd way to go about things. All theories in science and philosophy are held tentatively. One embraces the best explanation available until something better presents itself. If Matheson believes that ID makes more sense than Darwinian naturalism then the proper thing to do is to accept ID until such time as it is no longer the superior theory. Indeed, this is the rationale many Darwinists give for holding on to Darwinism - they argue that it's really the only plausible game in town.

To refuse to accept a theory that one believes is the best among those in play, however, just because one does not like the metaphysical implications of the theory - in this case that a transcendent intelligence is an active agent in the world - is to display an irrational prejudice for naturalism. A Calvinist like Matheson should be embarrassed to admit that that's his position, although in his defense perhaps he could argue that his peculiar refusal to accept the theory that he thinks is the best has been predestined by God and there's nothing he can do about it.


Dan Rather, Where Are You Now?

You'll remember that Dan Rather's career pretty much came to a sudden conclusion when he broadcast charges that President Bush had lied about his military service. Rather's allegations turned out to be based on a phony document and Rather's shoddy attempt at disgracing Bush wound up disgracing himself.

Too bad Rather wasn't interested in checking on the military careers of Democrats else he might have unearthed a nugget in Connecticut's Attorney General's office.

It turns out that Richard Blumenthal, the current Attorney General of Connecticut and the heir apparent to retiring Senator Chris Dodd, has been caught by the New York Times in what can only be called a lie about his military service. The Times has discovered that Mr. Blumenthal, despite having sought repeated deferments from service during the Vietnam war, and never having served in that theater, has nevertheless both explicitly and implicitly claimed on a number of occasions that he did.

Here's the kernel of the Times' story:

"We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam," Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. "And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it - Afghanistan or Iraq - we owe our military men and women unconditional support."

There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.

Mr. Blumenthal, alert to the fact that most voters are sick and tired of being lied to by politicians, is now repenting of having "misspoken." How one misspeaks about having been in a war zone when one, in fact, never was is something of a mystery. Mr. Blumenthal is now apologizing for what he euphemistically calls a few "misplaced words." Well, it's certainly true that he misplaced the words "I served in Vietnam."

This is a sad revelation, of course. Nobody wants to see a man destroy himself in public, but equally as sad is that Democrat poobahs are defending him:

DSCC Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Tuesday Democrats "will continue to support" embattled candidate Richard Blumenthal in his bid to become the next senator from Connecticut...."I think he's corrected the record in the past and I think his actions as it relates to standing up for veterans over a long period of time speaks volumes about where his heart and his actions are."

Well, actually, according to the NYT he hasn't corrected the record in the past, and "where his heart is" does not give him license to lie about his record, but never mind. A Senate seat hangs in the balance, and that's more important than honor, integrity, truth and all that boy scout stuff. After all, it's not as if United States Senators are supposed to be role models or something.

Speaking of truth, I'm reminded of the words of post-modern philosopher Richard Rorty who once declared that truth is whatever your peer-group will let you get away with saying. By that rather flexible standard I suppose Blumenthal's claim to have served in Vietnam is true after all since his Democrat peers are certainly willing to let him get away with saying it.