Monday, May 24, 2010

Omission and Commission

Jason is reading the late Richard J. Neuhaus' classic work The Naked Public Square, and came across a piece of text he thought worth sharing. I'm glad he did because the passage is typical of Neuhaus' keen insight. In it Neuhaus puts his finger on a fundamental difference between how conservatives and liberals see things when their opposite number is in power. He's talking specifically about liberal and conservative Christians, but I think his observation is valid for liberals and conservatives in general:

"A more believable reason why the left is not likely to raise an effective holy crusade for political change has to do with the intensity of actions and reactions. That is, under a conservative government left-of-center Christians do not feel themselves assaulted. From a liberal viewpoint, the faults of a conservative government are more passive than active, more sins of omission than sins of commission. The liberal complaint against conservative government is that it does not take care of the domestic poor, or advance foreign aid, or expand environmental protection, or press for the extension of minority rights, or a host of other things that liberals think it the business of government to do.

In conservative eyes, however, the sins of liberal government are sins of commission: government does many things they think it should not do and forbids them to do things they think they should be free to do. They are notably outraged by governments that, they believe, advance changes in sexual and family mores - areas that could hardly be more value-laden. While accepting the prohibition of mandatory race segregation, they resent deeply programs such as school busing and 'affirmative action' aimed at mandatory racial integration. They react vociferously to government actions that get in the way of praying in schools, owning handguns, hiring whom they want, and living where they please. In sum, in very everyday ways they feel assaulted by liberal government as liberals do not feel assaulted by conservative government."

This is, of course, very true. Conservative governments by their very nature are glacially slow to implement change and thus are not a threat to liberals, but liberal governments want to effect change in every aspect of our lives, from taxes to personal morality, and they want to do it yesterday. Conservatives thus feel very threatened by them indeed.

It might be noted that the Obama government is liberalism on steroids, and is consequently seen by conservatives as the greatest threat to the values they hold dear that has come along in at least the last 70 years. The fear that Obama is intent on turning their world upside-down and turning America into an impotent economic basket-case is why there is a tea-party movement today.


Creating Information

Ken MacLeod of The Guardian waxes ecstatic over the feat accomplished by a team of biologists headed up by Craig Venter who manufactured a synthetic strand of DNA and inserted it successfully into a living cell. This is a remarkable technological accomplishment, to be sure, but it's hardly the creation of life as some overly-enthusiastic observers have claimed and as MacLeod comes close to claiming.

An interesting aspect of MacLeod's column is that in it he offers the reader two mutually incompatible claims. He writes first that:

[T]here's something wonderfully confirmatory of mechanistic materialism in the building of a genome from chemically synthesised molecules, that genome running a cell, and that cell replicating to a point where no trace of the original cell's cytoplasm is left in its descendants(emphasis mine).

Mechanistic materialism is the view that everything about living things is reducible to purposeless physical forces and that there's no warrant for supposing that intelligent agents have played any role in the evolution of living things.

But a paragraph further on MacLeod says:

Synthetic life, then, creates no problems even for creationists (after all, it's intelligently designed!) let alone more sophisticated theists (emphasis mine).

Now, these two assertions can't both be true. If the cell's new genome was intelligently designed, which, of course, it was, then the achievement is not at all a confirmation of mechanistic materialism. It is a spectacular confirmation of man's skill and ingenuity, perhaps, but it is completely without value as a prop for materialism. Indeed, what Venter's work confirms is the claim of intelligent design advocates that whenever and wherever we find information (including the genetic code inscribed in DNA) we can be confident that it's the product, somehow, of an intelligent agent. Venter's achievement seems to be a confirming instance, not of mechanistic materialism, but of a fundamental prediction of intelligent design.


The Stoning of Soraya M.

Some Muslim emigrants, especially those gathered in European countries, are demanding that they be allowed to govern their communities under Islamic, or Sharia, law. Inexplicably, there are some Europeans, like Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who are apparently willing to acquiesce to their demand.

Such lunacy is in need of an antidote, and it's our good fortune that one has just become available. A film entitled The Stoning of Soraya M., based on a book that recounts the true story of an Iranian woman who was stoned to death by her family and village in 1986, has recently been released on DVD. According to the account given by the French-Iranian journalist who happened upon the village shortly after Soraya's murder, her husband had wanted a divorce so that he could marry a younger woman. Soraya, for economic reasons, refused, and the husband responded to her refusal by falsely accusing her of infidelity which, under Sharia law, is punishable by death by stoning.

The film, directed by an Iranian-American and featuring many Iranian actors (plus Jim Caveziel of Passion of the Christ fame) is a powerful indictment of the status of women under Sharia. It's also an indictment of the savagery of Islamic law and Islamic culture itself (In the movie, children, including Soraya's own sons, participate in her grisly execution).

The Stoning of Soraya M. is well-acted, but the climactic scene is not easy to watch. Even so, it's an extremely important film and deserves a wide audience. It's especially important that it be seen by anyone who has been indoctrinated in the multiculturalist flummery that all cultures are equally "valid." I can't imagine anyone, especially a woman, watching this film and saying that living under Sharia wouldn't be such a bad thing.