Saturday, November 27, 2010

Atheistic Darwinists and Begging the Question

In his book The Blind Watchmaker Richard Dawkins makes the claim that "biology is the study of complicated things which have the appearance of having been designed for a purpose." He goes on to argue, however, that the appearance is only illusory, a result of the blind tinkering of natural selection over eons of time. Maybe, but this has about it the sound of whistling past the graveyard.

As Michael Behe and others have noted, "If life gives the overpowering appearance of having been designed, then one is rationally justified in adhering to one's intuitions [that it is designed] unless and until a compelling reason is given to suggest that the appearance of design is only apparent."

So, is there a compelling reason to abandon one's belief that life is designed? Well, no. Some will argue, of course, that Darwin showed that design is a by-product of the purposeless process of evolution, but actually he did no such thing. What Darwin showed was that there are good reasons to think that evolution was the means by which living things diversify, he did not show that natural forces are ultimately responsible for the astonishing engineering and design that is ubiquitous in everything from living cells to the cosmos itself.

The argument of naturalists like Dawkins amounts to this: We know that the design in nature is only apparent because we know there is no intelligent designer. And we know there's no intelligent designer because there's no evidence that there one exists. And we know there's no evidence that an intelligent designer exists because the "overpowering appearance of purposeful design" that's cited as evidence is really only apparent. And we know it's only apparent because....Well, you get the picture.

The only way for the Darwinian naturalist to break out of this vicious cycle is to show that blind, purposeless forces can indeed create the appearance of complex purposeful design, but so far no one has been able to do this in a way that's convincing to anyone but those already committed to the belief that there is no intelligent designer.

If one is inclined to believe that an intelligent designer of the world exists there's no reason that any of the New Atheists have presented as to why that view should be given up. On the other hand, there are lots of examples in nature which confirm it. Maybe the simplest explanation for why nature has "the appearance of having been designed for a purpose" is because it has been.

Defeating al Qaeda

Strategy Page has an interesting article on how U.S. forces discredited al Qaeda in the Islamic world and precipitated their defeat in Iraq:
Long term, the U.S. has found that you don't have to kill terrorist leaders to disable them. For example, when American troops drove al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan in late 2001, they captured large quantities of records dealing with al Qaeda administration. This was revealing. The al Qaeda leadership was constantly being criticized by subordinates for stupid mistakes, while the leaders were constantly monitoring their people for stealing and malingering.

The U.S. made sure a lot of this dirty linen was leaked, and eventually the media in Moslem nations began reporting on it. This paid off when al Qaeda in Iraq, despite vigorous objections within the organization, increased attacks that killed lots of civilians. This played a major role in al Qaeda going from an admired, to a despised, organization within the Islamic world. American intelligence leaked captured documents that made clear how uncaring the terrorist leaders were about these civilian deaths. The dead Moslem women and children were called "involuntary martyrs." This did not go over well in the Moslem world.

As al Qaeda's popularity declined, so did donations from the Moslem world. This forced the terrorists to resort to crime to raise money. This was publicized, along with details via captured documents, by the Americans. As a result, Moslems began to regard Islamic terrorists as criminals, as well as thoughtless killers. This was in sharp contrast as al Qaeda propaganda that tried to portray them as selfless fighters for the protection of Islam. This made al Qaeda look like hypocrites.

The final blow came from the mouths of captured terrorists. Most of these men tended to speak freely once captured, and often complained about how hard life was as a terrorist. This was especially the case with suicide bombers, who often had to be persuaded to do the deed. Then there was the use of the mentally ill, very young children (10-12, or even younger) and grief stricken widows. In most Moslem countries, widows faced a hard life under any conditions, and suicide among them is common.

The details of these recruiting methods were released, and by 2007, the Moslem media couldn't get enough of it. The callous treatment of young Saudi men, volunteering to "fight for Islam" in Iraq, was particularly effective in cutting off this source of manpower. The Saudi volunteers usually had no military training, and the Iraqi terrorist groups used most of them as suicide bombers, or in similar combat operations that were pretty much suicidal. Details of these policies were passed on to Saudi media, and parents began to regard a trip to Iraq, or even Afghanistan, as a form of murder (of innocent civilians as well as their sons).
Moderate Muslims in the West insist that Islamic terrorists are not "true" Muslims. Perhaps this message will catch on in the Middle East, and devout Muslims will stop financing the madrassas and mosques that teach and preach hate, jihad, and the glories of martyrdom. Until terrorism is discredited as an act of Islamic piety there's little chance that it will stop.

Droppers and Switchers

The conventional wisdom in the wake of the Democrats' electoral mugging three weeks ago was that much of their liberal base, minorities and young people, stayed home. The Wall Street Journal's Gerry Seib points to a number of studies, including research carried out by Democrat groups, that show that the conventional wisdom is not quite correct.

It turns out that what hurt the Democrats most of all was disaffection and lack of enthusiasm not among their base but among moderates:
A more direct study of these 2010 no-shows was undertaken by Third Way, a think tank for moderate Democrats, and Lincoln Park Strategies, a Democratic polling firm. They surveyed 1,000 Obama voters who abandoned Democrats in 2010. Half of them were "switchers" who moved their votes to the Republicans this time, while the other half were "droppers" who simply dropped out of the voting this year.

That survey found that, while the droppers were a bit more liberal than 2010 voters as a whole, they were split in almost precise thirds into liberals, moderates and conservatives. Moreover, just 42% identified themselves as Democrats, while 40% were independents and 8% were Republicans. Almost a quarter of them voted for Republican George W. Bush in 2004.

Nor were the droppers largely minority voters, as the popular stereotype might suggest. Eight in 10 were white, while just 7% were African-American and 5% Latino.
This is significant because it shapes how the Democrats will respond to their defeat over the next two years. If it had been the case that their voters stayed home because Congress and the President have not been liberal enough to suit them then we could expect the Democrats to move even further to the left to mollify their base's discontent. Since, however, they've lost the sympathies of moderate voters the party may move more to the center in the next couple of years to try to recapture their lost support among this group.

Another reason this is significant is that it bodes ill for the President's reelection chances. Had his base among minorities and young people stayed home it could be assumed it was because he wasn't on the ticket and that they'd probably turn out when he is up again in 2012. The fact, however, that his base did show up and that it was independents who stayed home suggests that Mr. Obama's path to relection is going to be more difficult since it will be harder to woo back disaffected moderates than it would be to rouse his base.