Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Few Films from 2013

I'm not one who sees every movie that comes out, nor am I a very good film critic, and I've yet to see some of the year's most popular films, but, even so, here, in no particular order, are nine of the movies I enjoyed in 2013:
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - Marvelous special effects from Peter Jackson make this tale of the conflict between innocence and good on the one hand and abject evil on the other a lot of fun to watch. The popularity of the Tolkien oeuvre in a time when the idea that objective evil actually exists is often treated with derision by our intellectual elites is a hopeful sign that we're finally shedding some of the relativistic, materialistic foolishness that has afflicted us for the last fifty years.
  • The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - The importance of these films, in my opinion, is the picture they paint of the moral nihilism that descends upon a completely secularized society. There's no mention in Panem of God, right and wrong, good and bad. The people there are interested only in titillation and spectacle and human life has value only insofar as it allows the effete citizens of Panem to indulge their appetites for drama, violence, and death. Whether Suzanne Collins intended it or not, whether young viewers get that lesson or not, it's an important message for them.
  • Iron Man III - More of Robert Downey, Jr. saving the world from the bad guys. Good stuff.
  • The Iron Lady - The life and work of Margaret Thatcher as played by Meryl Streep. The film spends too much time on Thatcher's late in life dementia but still manages to convey the strength and courage of the former British Prime Minister. Despite being loathed by the left, Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II will, in my opinion, be viewed by historians as the three most consequential leaders of the last half of the 20th century.
  • All the King's Men - Based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren, it's an account of the turbulent life of depression-era pol Huey Long, a populist governor and senator of Louisiana who's life ended in an assassination. The book and movie are obviously about Long although they insert a fictional character, played by Sean Penn, in his stead.
  • Moneyball - Brad Pitt plays the brash, unorthodox general manager of the Oakland A's MLB team, Billy Beane, who rescues the feckless A's in 2002 and leads them to the playoffs, despite their roster of low-salaried, unsung players.
  • Argo - A dramatic account of the CIA operation in 1979 to rescue American diplomats who were hiding in the Canadian embassy in Tehran from Iranian revolutionaries who had already sacked the American embassy and taken over fifty of its staff hostage. loosely based on actual events, the film is a bit more dramatic than the real history, but that's okay.
  • Zero Dark Thirty - The riveting account of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. Even though you know how it ends it's still a fascinating story.
Let me take this opportunity to wish all of you a safe, healthy, prosperous, and existentially meaningful 2014.

Monday, December 30, 2013

For Your Own Good

Several times during discussions of the various glitches and calamities wrought by the ACA (Obamacare) defenders of the law have informed us, in so many words, that the government knows best what sort of health care people should have and that if you're losing your insurance it probably wasn't a good policy anyway. Their hubris reminds me of a quote from C.S. Lewis in his 1948 collection of essays God in the Dock:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
It is the conceit of modern progressivism that the liberal elites know what's best for you and they're going to impose their will on you for your own good. We see it in New York City where Mayor Bloomberg tried to limit the size of the soft drinks you could buy and the amount of fat in the food you eat. We see it in the attempt to ban smoking even on one's own property and in one's own home. It's always done "for our own good," by people who feel it's their mission in life to oversee your every decision. That's the progressive mindset. It infantilizes people. Lewis had it pegged perfectly:
They (progressives) may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.
That in a nutshell is how liberals regard the inferior classes. They see them alternatively as either children to be coddled, animals to be herded, or imbeciles unable to feed and care for themselves and in need of government to make them wash behind their ears and eat their vegetables. The liberal mindset is more than just silly, however, it's insidious because it's dehumanizing. It deprives men of their dignity and their freedom, and enslaves them to tyrannical elitist nannies who presume to know what's best for them better than they do.

They're a milder sort of people, but in the same genus, Camus describes in his book The Rebel when he says that the writer Baudelaire thought that the real saint is the man who flogs and kills people for their own good.

May heaven deliver us from those who seek to run our lives for our own good.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Annotated Booklist for 2013

I hope readers will indulge me in an observance of what has become something of a tradition on Viewpoint. For the last few years I've done a year-end list of books I've read and movies I've watched during the year coming to a close. I'd like to continue that tradition with this list of books, with a word or two of explanation, that comprised my reading in 2013:
  1. From Tyndale to Madison - Michael Farris: A fascinating account of the history of of religious freedom in England and the American colonies.
  2. Back to Blood - Tom Wolfe: A tale of ethnic tribalism and hedonism set in contemporary Miami. Not Wolfe's best work, in my opinion.
  3. The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham: A story of the undoing of a vain, superficial, and unfaithful wife who realizes too late what a fool she'd been.
  4. Introduction to Phenomenology - Robert Sokolowski: An explication of Edmund Husserl's major contribution to philosophical thought.
  5. On What Matters Vol. I - Derek Parfit: A technical, meticulously exhaustive study of Kantian deontological ethical thinking.
  6. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens: Dickens' classic novel of human relationships, shortcomings, and redemption.
  7. Inquiry and Essays - Thomas Reid: The most famous works of the man known as the philosopher of common sense in which he challenges the idealism of Berkeley and the skepticism of Hume.
  8. Quiet - Susan Cain: A Fascinating look at introverts and introversion.
  9. An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals - David Hume: Hume reduces morality to gaining the approbation of others.
  10. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God - D. A. Carson: Carson inquires into the meaning of the phrase, God is Love and finds it enormously complex and somewhat counterintutive.
  11. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren: The Pulitzer-Prize winning fictional account of depression-era Louisiana politician Huey Long.
  12. Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction - Richard Mouw: A summary of the life and thought of pastor, journalist, theologian, and prime minister of Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper.
  13. Macbeth - William Shakespeare: The classic story of betrayal and lust for power and its consequences.
  14. Our Culture, What's Left of It - Theodore Dalrymple: A critique of British culture, which serves as a synecdoche for all of Western culture.
  15. Memoir on Pauperism - Alexis de Tocqueville: An exploration of the causes of poverty by one of the most trenchant of early 19th century political and cultural observers.
  16. The Road to Serfdom - F.A. Hayek: A classic analysis of how progressive economic policies lead to impoverishment and the loss of freedom.
  17. Darwin's Doubt - Stephen Meyer: Another blow to the edifice of Darwinian dogma. Meyer shows that there simply are no good naturalistic explanations for what's called the Cambrian explosion where all the major phyla appear suddenly and fully developed in the fossil record.
  18. The Path Between the Seas - David McCullough: The history of the construction of the Panama Canal. The short version is, it would never have been built today.
  19. Going Clear - Lawrence Wright: A fascinating exposé of Scientology. Reading this book will cause you to wonder how anyone could believe what Scientologists evidently believe.
  20. Leg Up - Louie Castriota: The inspiring story of how one young couple were motivated to do something for autistic children and the amazing facility and program they've built for these children.
  21. God on the Rocks - Phil Madeira: Anecdotes from the life of one of the most prolific songwriters in America.
  22. The Last Superstition - Ed Feser: A philosophical smackdown of naturalism by a Thomist philosopher. A bit too nasty in some parts for my taste, but pretty decisively argued, nonetheless.
  23. American Exceptionalism - Charles Murray: An explanation of what, exactly, American exceptionalism is and isn't.
  24. The Darkest Jungle - Todd Balf: The true story of the 19th century expedition which was the first to cross Panama in search of the best route for a canal. An amazing account of endurance and courage.
  25. Killing Jesus - O'Reilly and Dugard: The judicial murder of Jesus told as history.
  26. Consciousness and the Existence of God - J.P. Moreland: Moreland makes a compelling argument that consciousness does not fit in a naturalist ontology but fits very well in a theistic ontology. Thus its existence is strong confirmation of theism and disconfirmation of naturalism.
  27. Inferno - Dan Brown: Another 24-hour thriller set amid the art and architecture of Florence and Venice. Brown can't seem to decide whether he wants to be a tour guide or a story-teller, nor can he shake himself of his obsessive need to get in his jabs at the Catholic Church, but the book is still entertaining for all that.
  28. Out of the Silent Planet - C.S. Lewis: The first of Lewis' space trilogy in which he describes how human hubris corrupts and destroys. Reading it reminded me of Bartholomew de la Casa's Destruction of the Indies, the history of the Spanish war of extermination of the Indians of Caribbean and Central America in the 16th century.
  29. Moral Man and Immoral Society - Reinhold Neibuhr: Neibuhr's thesis is that individuals can be selfless and altruistic but societies can only be egoistic. Writing in the period between world wars he explores the justifications for violent revolution.
  30. God of the Possible - Greg Boyd: Boyd makes a powerful case for open theism, the view that God's omniscience nevertheless does not mean that he has exhaustive knowledge of the future.
  31. Christian Philosophy - Bartholomew and Goheen: A summary of the history of Western philosophy from a Christian perspective. It tries to cover too much ground without explaining much of what it covers to be very helpful.
  32. The Fall - Albert Camus: Camus' portrait of the modern egoist whose only value is the gratification of his own ego and desires.
The year's movies will be posted on Monday.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Remarkable Accomplishments and Remarkable Failures

This is making the rounds on the internet:
During the 3-1/2 years of World War II that started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended with the surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, the U.S. produced 22 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 48 cruisers, 349 destroyers, 420 destroyer escorts, 203 submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships, 100,000 fighter aircraft, 98,000 bombers, 24,000 transport aircraft, 58,000 training aircraft, 93,000 tanks, 257,000 artillery pieces, 105,000 mortars, 3,000,000 machine guns, and 2,500,000 military trucks.

We put 16.1 million men in uniform in the various armed services, invaded Africa, Sicily, and Italy, won the battle for the Atlantic, planned and executed D-Day, marched across the Pacific and Europe, developed the atomic bomb and ultimately conquered Japan and Germany.

It's worth noting, that during almost the exact amount of time, the Obama administration couldn't build a functioning web site.
Unable to create a web site to enlist people into the health insurance exchanges, the administration nevertheless assures us that government can effectively manage the health care of 300 million people.

During times of national crisis such as WWII, government is best positioned to perform the required feats of productivity recounted above, but, lacking any such emergency, government is typically slothful, inefficient, and incompetent.

If there's one reason why Healthcare.gov was a colossal flop with more disastrous consequences yet to come it is in my opinion because there was no competition and no accountability in its creation, both of which are a matter of course in the private sector but rare in government enterprises. Competition and accountability create powerful incentives to produce the best product possible, and absent these incentives the consumer can expect shoddiness and incompetence.

Here's an example: In 2008 Congress passed the Affordable Care Act on a straight party-line vote, and the President signed it into law, without anyone who voted for it acknowledging having actually studied it. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tacitly admitted as much when she famously asserted that "we have to pass the bill to see what's in it."

To vote for a bill of such enormous implications for the country without knowing what it would entail was a stupefying act of governmental irresponsibility and malfeasance, an act for which every single congressional and administrative supporter should be held accountable by the voters. If we refuse to exercise our own responsibility as citizens and dismiss those who serve us so badly then two things will become frighteningly more likely: We will continue to suffer under the yoke of bad laws and worse politicians, and we make it more probable that those who see no possible constitutional redress will take it upon themselves to seek unconstitutional redress. Both of these would be disastrous and both become more likely in a polity in which an apathetic citizenry has resigned itself to ineffective, incompetent, and corrupt leadership.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Social Cannibalism

Destroying people seems sometimes to be a favored pastime among liberals who often engage in the sport with especial gusto and verve. Indeed, as Erik Errickson points out at Red State, they're even eager to do it to each other.

A recent example is the case of the unfortunate young woman named Justine Sacco, a PR executive, who tweeted that she didn't think she'd get AIDS on her upcoming trip to Africa because "she's white."

For that bit of politically incorrect bluntness she has lost her job and achieved infamy among the entire left side of the planet, which, judging by their own tweets, seems to be wallowing in the catnip of self-righteousness. Of course, when this same woman ridiculed actor Kirk Cameron for being outspoken about his Christian beliefs nobody said much of anything by way of objection. On the left blasphemy is punishable by excommunication and the verbal equivalent of stoning, but only matters of race and sexuality are subject to their stringent blasphemy laws.

Errickson compares these thought police to orcs in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings which feed on Hobbits and other such delicacies until that prey is exhausted and then they kill and feed on each other.

The question I have, though, is why, exactly, are people outraged about what Sacco said? Is there something about it that's false? Is it, as some have claimed, that one should never joke about AIDS? If so, why does AIDS enjoy special privilege? Why was it okay for Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) to get his audience on Sanford and Son howling with laughter as he clutched his chest feigning a heart attack, but it's not okay to make a snarky comment about AIDS? Was Sacco showing any more insensitivity to human suffering than was Redd Foxx?

Maybe Sacco's implication is false that AIDS in Africa is overwhelmingly a problem in black communities and is relatively rare among whites. If so, I've heard no one offer a refutation of it. If what she said isn't false then whence the outrage?

It's the mentality of mobs to hang someone first and then reflect on the reasons for the lynching later. That mentality enjoys a vigorous existence primarily on the left in this country, but it's not found exclusively on the left. Variations of it appeared recently among some conservatives who seemed much too eager to condemn Senator Ted Cruz for doing what he could to spare the country the miseries that Obamacare was about to inflict upon us, and also among some on the right who couldn't wait to tell us how execrable they thought Phil Robertson was for voicing his opinion on the hamartological implications of homosexuality. In neither case were the offenders castigated for saying something demonstrably untrue. Rather the obloquy they've suffered is due entirely to the fact that they did or said something that others just didn't like.

Perhaps there are a few simple rules people might follow when they encounter words or deeds they deem offensive, before they launch a campaign of invective and personal destruction:

First, ask whether what's being said is somehow untrue. If so, then criticize it for being false, but also be prepared to explain why it is false.

Second, if what's being said is not untrue then ask whether it's gratuitously hurtful to someone. If so, then criticize it for being needlessly hurtful, but also be prepared to explain why and to whom it is needlessly hurtful.

If a statement is neither untrue nor gratuitously hurtful it might still be something some people don't like. It might be in bad taste or it might flout political or social decorum, but then explain precisely how it does so and why it's wrong for the offender to have breached these particular standards.

Moreover, one should be prepared to explain why giving some groups offense is taboo but offending others is not. For example, suppose Ms Sacco had tweeted that she was going to meet with a Catholic priest and expressed concern about being molested and then said, "Just kidding, I'm not a young boy," how many of those who tweeted their disgust at her actual comments would have been chortling at her audacious, biting wit?

To simply scream about how awful a person is who would say "such things," and how she should be fired for having said them - without presenting a good reason for thinking that what she said was false or hurtful - is simply irrational and shallow. It's the sort of behavior we find in frenzied, unthinking mobs. It's the stage upon which people unwilling to do the heavy labor of erecting a cogent argument can nevertheless put their own moral rectitude on display for others to see. It's nothing more than moral preening and self-flattery.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Here's a little something for your Christmas eve:
I wish each of you a very meaningful and special Christmas. May the day take on more significance for you this year than ever before.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why Christians Celebrate Christmas

In this season of shopping and feasting it's easy to lose sight of why Christmas is a special day. The following allegory, which we've posted on Viewpoint several times in the past, is a modest attempt to put the season into perspective [Some readers have noted the similarity between this story and the movie Taken. The story of Michael first appeared on Viewpoint over a year before Taken was released so the similarities are purely coincidental.]:
Michael, a member of a top-secret anti-terrorism task force, was the father of a teenage daughter named Jennifer, and his duties had caused him to be away from home much of the time Jen was growing up. He was serving his country in a very important, very dangerous capacity that required his absence and a great deal of personal sacrifice. As a result, his daughter grew into her late teens pretty much without him. Indeed, his wife Judith had decided to leave him a couple of years previous and took the girl with her.

Finally, after several years abroad, Mike was able to return home. He longed to hold his princess in his arms and to spend every possible moment with her to try to make up for lost time, but when he knocked on the door of his ex-wife's house the girl who greeted him was almost unrecognizable. Jen had grown up physically and along the way she had rejected everything Michael valued. Her appearance shocked him and her words cut him like a razor. She told him coldly and bluntly that she really didn't want to see him, that he wasn't a father as far as she was concerned, that he hadn't been a part of her life before and wouldn't be in the future.

Michael, a man who had faced numerous hazards and threats in the course of his work and had been secretly cited for great heroism by the government, was staggered by her words. The loathing in her voice and in her eyes crushed his heart. He started to speak, but the door was slammed in his face. Heartbroken and devastated he wandered the streets of the city wondering how, or if, he could ever regain the love his little girl once had for him.

Weeks went by during which he tried to contact both his ex-wife and his daughter, but they refused to return his calls. Then one night his cell phone rang. It was Judith, and from her voice Mike could tell something was very wrong. Jennifer had apparently run off with some unsavory characters several days before and hadn't been heard from since. His ex-wife had called the police, but she felt Mike should know, too. She told him that she thought the guys Jen had gone out with that night were heavily into drugs and she was worried sick about her.

She had good reason to be. Jen thought when she left the house that she was just going for a joy ride, but that's not what her "friends" had in mind. Once they had Jen back at their apartment they tied her to a bed, abused her, filmed the whole thing, and when she resisted they beat her until she submitted. She overheard them debating whether they should sell her to a man whom they knew sold girls into sex-slavery in South America or whether they should just kill her and dump her body in the bay. For three days her life was an unimaginable hell. She cried herself to sleep late every night after being forced into the most degrading conduct imaginable.

Finally her abductors sold her to a street gang in exchange for drugs. Bound and gagged, she was raped repeatedly and beaten savagely. For the first time in her life she prayed that God would help her, and for the first time in many years she missed her father. But as the days wore on she began to think she'd rather be dead than be forced to endure what she was being put through.

Mike knew some of the officers in the police force and was able to get a couple of leads from them as to who the guys she originally left with might be. He set out, not knowing Jennifer's peril, but determined to find her no matter what the cost. His search led him to another city and took days - days in which he scarcely ate or slept. Each hour that passed Jennifer's condition grew worse and her danger more severe. She was by now in a cocaine-induced haze in which she almost didn't know or care what was happening to her.

Somehow, Michael, weary and weak from his lack of sleep and food, managed to find the seedy, run down tenement building where Jennifer was imprisoned. Breaking through a flimsy door he saw his daughter laying on a filthy bed surrounded by three startled kidnappers. Enraged by the scene before his eyes he launched himself at them with a terrible, vengeful fury. Two of the thugs went down quickly, but the third escaped. With tears flowing down his cheeks, Mike unfastened the bonds that held Jen's wrists to the bed posts. She was weak but alert enough to cooperate as Michael helped her to her feet and led her to the doorway.

As she passed into the hall with Michael behind her the third abductor appeared with a gun. Michael quickly stepped in front of Jennifer and yelled to her to run back into the apartment and out the fire escape. The assailant tried to shoot her as she stumbled toward the escape, but Michael shielded her from the bullet, taking the round in his side. The thug fired twice more into Michael's body, but Mike was able to seize the gun and turn it on the shooter.

Finally, it was all over, finished.

Slumped against the wall, Mike lay bleeding from his wounds, the life draining out of him. Jennifer saw from the fire escape landing what had happened and ran back to her father. Cradling him in her arms she wept bitterly and told him over and over that she loved him and that she was so sorry for what she had said to him and for what she had done.

With the last bit of life left in him he gazed up at her, pursed his lips in a kiss, smiled and died. Jennifer wept hysterically. How could she ever forgive herself for how she had treated him? How could she ever overcome the guilt and the loss she felt? How could she ever repay the tremendous love and sacrifice her father had showered upon her?

Years passed. Jennifer eventually had a family of her own. She raised her children to revere the memory of her father even though they had never known him. She resolved to live her own life in such a way that Michael, if he knew, would be enormously proud of her. Everything she did, she did out of gratitude to him for what he had done for her, and every year on the day of his birth she went to the cemetery alone and sat for a couple of hours at his graveside, talking to him and sharing her love and her life with him. Her father had given everything for her despite the cruel way she had treated him. He had given his life to save hers, and his love for her, his sacrifice, had changed her life forever.
And that's why Christians celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Theories Born of Desperation

Denise O'Leary offers us a nice summary of the multifarious theoretical contrivances dreamed up to explain away the fact that the astonishing fine-tuning of our universe points to the existence of an intelligent designer of the cosmos.

The theories manufactured to avoid that conclusion range from the multiverse, to many-worlds, to the notion that our universe is a simulation developed by a higher intelligence in some other world (Why anyone would argue that there's a transcendent intellect out there powerful enough to create a world and personal enough to create personal beings while at the same time arguing against the existence of the God of theism is a bit of a puzzle).

In fact, there's no empirical evidence for any of these theories. They're embraced because they afford shelter from the dreaded theistic conclusion and because they could be true in the same sense that it's possible that a meteorite will fall from the sky and come to rest perched delicately on the tip of your car's antenna.

Advocates embrace the "It could happen therefore it probably did happen" defense because when in the throes of philosophical desperation any possibility is going to look appealing, even if it means abandoning theoretical criteria held dear by thinkers for centuries.

For instance, these hypotheses flout one of the prime criteria for a "good" scientific or philosophical explanation, the principle of simplicity or parsimony. This is the principle that requires that a proffered explanation explain the relevant data more simply than its competitors if it is to be preferred to its competitors. There's nothing simple, however, about trying to explain the existence of our highly fine-tuned world by positing an infinity of other worlds, particularly when the alternative is to posit a single intelligent agent.

There are numerous other difficulties with these theories as well, as we've discussed from time to time at this site. For one last example we might ask if there really are an unimaginable number of worlds comprising the multiverse, what produced them? From whence did they arise? No one has any idea. Indeed, if there were not the need to somehow avoid the "God conclusion" it's doubtful that these theories would be entertained for more than a few seconds by anyone other than science fiction writers.

Anyway, for a good overview of the current state of desperation among naturalistic scientists and philosophers check out O'leary's column.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pajama Boy and Duck Dynasty

Evidently, this is the Obama administration's image of millenials - androgynous metrosexuals sitting around their parents' Manhattan apartments in their plaid pajamas sipping hot chocolate and looking mildly cynical and bemused?
I'm not making fun of the young man who posed for the picture, but rather of the liberal idealization of the typical American under thirty. Even the liberals at Morning Joe have trouble containing their mirth at the notion that an ad putatively designed to persuade young Americans to sign up for health insurance would try to have them identify with a guy who looks like he just walked off the set of Big Bang Theory wearing his "onesie" zip-up jammies and nursing a latte:
Maybe if the administration wants to reach the vast number of Americans with their message they should enlist these guys, even though the suggestion would probably make many of them blanch.
Speaking of Duck Dynasty, which I guess we now are, it's a sad thing that someone can be asked his opinion of homosexuality in a magazine interview and be censured and essentially fired by his employer for saying that he thinks it's a sin. This was, and I would argue still is, the mainstream opinion throughout most of the world for the last six thousand years. Why is it now deemed an unspeakably reprehensible view?

It's ironic, I think, that Phil Robertson (at the left in the photo above) was suspended by A&E for giving an opinion in response to an interviewer's question that differs probably not at all from that held by the man just named Time magazine's "Person of the Year"?

I heard a guest on a radio show this morning say that he thought what Robertson said was "vile hate speech" because Robertson equated homosexuality with raping animals (bestiality). This is absurd. Here's what Robertson said:
Robertson described in the interview how sin is becoming acceptable in America and that the country needs to turn back to its Christian values.

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Robertson told GQ. “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Despite his beliefs, the Duck Commander founder says he doesn’t judge others.

“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job,” Robertson told GQ. “We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later.”
Robertson is saying, it should hardly need pointing out, that homosexuality is a sin in Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) theology, just like adultery and worse forms of sexual transgression are sins. It's simply irrational to conclude, as Robertson's critics have, that because he says homosexuality is a sin and bestiality is a sin that therefore homosexuality is the same thing as bestiality. That'd be like saying that because lying is a sin and murder is a sin, therefore lying is the same thing as murder.

No matter. When the left sees a chance to punish someone for their religious beliefs, especially if the beliefs are evangelical Christian, they're not going to let a little thing like logic, or giving the guy the benefit of the doubt, stand in their way.

I've only ever watched Duck Dynasty once, and I don't call myself a fan, but I hope the Robertson clan leaves A&E and takes their sponsors and eleven million viewers with them. It'd be a condign outcome for the bigots in the A&E front office, who only had to issue a disclaimer if they wanted to dissociate the network from Robertson's views. To suspend him for honestly answering the question put to him by the GQ interviewer is to implicitly announce that traditional Christian belief is unacceptable and will not be tolerated on their network.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

False Messiahs and Liberal Faith

If it weren't so sad it'd be funny. Liberals have a hard time putting faith in the transcendent but blindly placing one's faith in the immanent? No problem.
Not only is her faith in Barack Obama apparently unfalsifiable, it's contrary to common sense. What makes her think that after five years of economic stagnation, foreign policy blunders, and incontestable mendacity that anything will be different in the next three years? Why think that competency and integrity will suddenly blossom in an administration that has had five years to demonstrate these virtues without having evinced any discernible success?

The sad part of this is that non-liberals had taken the measure of Mr. Obama about thirty minutes after he'd stepped on to the national stage. They knew he was totally unqualified for the job, they knew his ideology would lead to disaster, they knew, in short, that he was an empty suit. They marveled that people like Barbara Walters could be so easily seduced, and they tried to convince the electorate to resist the vacuous sirens' song of Hope and Change, but it was all to no avail.

It tells us something about the liberal mindset that many of them were so eager to place their faith in a charismatic human savior that they plighted their allegiance to a man they scarcely knew, one whose mysterious personal history included spending his formative years surrounded by men and women who despised this country, but who, they nonetheless believed, could and would lead a nation as vast and sprawling as the U.S. into the promised land.

Naiveté is cute in children, tolerable in young adults, but risible in mature adults and especially so at the moment of revelation when the adult realizes how blind she'd been.

Russell Saltzman writes of his own growing disillusionment with the incumbent president at First Things in a fine piece titled The Selfie President.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sagan's Argument from Religious Experience

Religious believers are often criticized for holding beliefs they can't empirically demonstrate to be true or at least probable. If no scientific evidence can be adduced in support of the belief then it's discounted as mere superstition. This was a popular view among skeptical philosophers from about 1870 to about 1980. It's called evidentialism and Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has a great deal of fun dismantling it in his book titled Warranted Christian Belief.

Plantinga asks, inter alia, why our beliefs should be considered guilty until proven innocent. Why should beliefs not be counted innocent until proven guilty?

He wonders, too, why a person of sound mind, convinced in her heart that God exists, and who has never been confronted with an antitheistic argument that she found compelling, should be required to nevertheless suspend her belief until she has acquired overwhelming evidence that her belief is true.

Suppose, for instance, that you were accused of a crime. There's substantial evidence against you and little that you can offer to offset it. Even so, you're convinced you're innocent. You know you're innocent. You can't explain the contrary evidence, but it doesn't matter. You just know you didn't commit the crime. Should you, despite this assurance, acknowledge anyway that you're guilty because you cannot mount an argument to explain why you're certain of your innocence?

Many people believe in God on the basis of a totally subjective experience that they can't document or prove but which leaves them with an assurance that they could not deny even were they so inclined. The experience of former atheist Kirstin Powers, a liberal journalist who appears on various shows on FOX News, provides us with a good example.
(See here for a full account of her experience.)
I was recently reminded by a student of a scene from the movie Contact, which was, ironically, based on a book by atheistic astronomer Carl Sagan. In the movie the character played by Jodie Foster, a scientist named Ellie Arroway, travels to the center of the galaxy, but upon her return is unable to offer any evidence that she actually left earth. None of the data collected by her colleagues from her transporter confirm that the experiment worked. Yet she's convinced that she in fact experienced all that she claims to have experienced.

Is she justified in holding that belief? If her belief is the product of properly functioning cognitive faculties belonging to a scientist not given to imaginative flights of hysteria, is what she says in this exchange with an interrogator discredited by her inability to present evidence?
Michael Kritz: "Wait a minute, let me get this straight. You admit that you have absolutely no physical evidence to back up your story."

Ellie Arroway: "Yes."

Michael Kitz: "You admit that you very well may have hallucinated this whole thing."

Ellie Arroway: "Yes."

Michael Kitz: "You admit that if you were in our position, you would respond with exactly the same degree of incredulity and skepticism!"

Ellie Arroway: "Yes!"

Michael Kitz: [standing, angrily] "Then why don't you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this "journey to the center of the galaxy," in fact, never took place!"

Ellie Arroway: "Because I can't. I... had an experience... I can't prove it, I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision... of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how... rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not, that none of us are alone! I wish... I... could share that... I wish, that everyone, if only for one... moment, could feel... that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish."
Ellie Arroway, in Sagan's telling of the tale, had what amounts to a religious experience. If she's warranted in believing her experience was veridical despite the lack of proof, or even any objective evidence, why are Christians faulted, by people just like Sagan, for believing in God on the basis of a subjective assurance similar to that expressed by Arroway?

Indeed, far more people have had an experience like Kirstin Powers than have had an experience like Ellie Arroway. If Arroway is justified in believing that she actually encountered a different world why would people like Powers not be similarly justified?

Just as it would be foolish to expect Ellie to discount her experience because she can't empirically prove that she had it, so, too, it's foolish of skeptics to think that the only warrant for a belief is the ability to provide objective, physical evidence that it's true.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It's Complicated

David Dobbs at Aeon discusses how evolution is a far more complex process than you were taught in high school.

In fact, in reading this article one wonders how such complexity - complexity that can only be explained in terms of metaphors that trade on intelligent guidance - could ever have arisen in the first place.

Dobbs focuses on the complexity of the genome (the genetic blueprint of an organism) and how the popular understanding of the gene as the unit of inheritance is to the actual state of affairs as a playground one-on-one basketball game is to an NBA contest.

It's turning out that the classical view of evolutionary change, which held that genetic mutation causes phenotypic alterations (alterations in the physical appearance or behavior of an organism) which are then sifted by the environment according to the "fitness" they conferred, is backwards. Actually, it looks like changes often occur in the phenotype first and are fixed in the genome generations later. Here's Dobbs' lede:
A couple of years ago, at a massive conference of neuroscientists — 35,000 attendees, scores of sessions going at any given time — I wandered into a talk that I thought would be about consciousness but proved (wrong room) to be about grasshoppers and locusts. At the front of the room, a bug-obsessed neuroscientist named Steve Rogers was describing these two creatures — one elegant, modest, and well-mannered, the other a soccer hooligan.

The grasshopper, he noted, sports long legs and wings, walks low and slow, and dines discreetly in solitude. The locust scurries hurriedly and hoggishly on short, crooked legs and joins hungrily with others to form swarms that darken the sky and descend to chew the farmer’s fields bare.

Related, yes, just as grasshoppers and crickets are. But even someone as insect-ignorant as I could see that the hopper and the locust were radically different animals — different species, doubtless, possibly different genera. So I was quite amazed when Rogers told us that grasshopper and locust are in fact the same species, even the same animal, and that, as Jekyll is Hyde, one can morph into the other at alarmingly short notice.

Not all grasshopper species, he explained (there are some 11,000), possess this morphing power; some always remain grasshoppers. But every locust was, and technically still is, a grasshopper — not a different species or subspecies, but a sort of hopper gone mad. If faced with clues that food might be scarce, such as hunger or crowding, certain grasshopper species can transform within days or even hours from their solitudinous hopper states to become part of a maniacally social locust scourge. They can also return quickly to their original form.

In the most infamous species, Schistocerca gregaria, the desert locust of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, these phase changes (as this morphing process is called) occur when crowding spurs a temporary spike in serotonin levels, which causes changes in gene expression so widespread and powerful they alter not just the hopper’s behaviour but its appearance and form. Legs and wings shrink. Subtle camo colouring turns conspicuously garish. The brain grows to manage the animal’s newly complicated social world, which includes the fact that, if a locust moves too slowly amid its million cousins, the cousins directly behind might eat it.

How does this happen? Does something happen to their genes? Yes, but — and here was the point of Rogers’s talk — their genes don’t actually change. That is, they don’t mutate or in any way alter the genetic sequence or DNA. Nothing gets rewritten. Instead, this bug’s DNA — the genetic book with millions of letters that form the instructions for building and operating a grasshopper — gets reread so that the very same book becomes the instructions for operating a locust. Even as one animal becomes the other, as Jekyll becomes Hyde, its genome stays unchanged. Same genome, same individual, but, I think we can all agree, quite a different beast.


Transforming the hopper is gene expression — a change in how the hopper’s genes are ‘expressed’, or read out. Gene expression is what makes a gene meaningful, and it’s vital for distinguishing one species from another.
The same DNA in both insects is "read" differently in different environmental conditions producing radically diverse animals. It's as if one could read Crime and Punishment by reading every third word of Brothers Karamazov. Such a novel would be a sign of unimaginable genius in the author and yet we're all expected by our cultural betters to believe that such a phenomenon arose in living cells purely by blind, purposeless, serendipitous happenstance.

The article is long but it's must-reading for anyone interested in biology.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Time's Person of the Year

Time magazine has named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year." Fr. Robert Barron is delighted with the selection but not so much with Time's explanation of their choice.

Here are some excerpts from Fr. Barron's thoughts on the matter:
[T]here is something that has been bothering me ever since Francis became Pope, and it's on rather massive display in the Time article, namely, a tendency to distinguish radically between this lovely Franciscan emphasis on mercy and love for the poor and the apparently far less than lovely emphasis on doctrine so characteristic of the Papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. There is actually a good deal of dangerous silliness in this way of characterizing things.

If I might cite the much-maligned Benedict, the Church does essentially three things: it cares for the poor; it worships God; and it evangelizes. Isolate any of the three from the other two, and distortions set in. Indeed, without deep care for the poor and for social justice, the worship of God can become lifeless ("liturgical fussiness") and evangelizing can devolve into cultural criticism or mere intellectual debating.

But isolate care for the poor from the other two and equally problematic distortions ensue. Without the worship of God and evangelization, the Church deteriorates in short order into one more social service institution among many, a mere "NGO" in Francis's own language. Now listen to the authors of the Time article: "In a matter of months, Francis has elevated the healing mission of the church -- the church as servant and comforter of hurting people in an often harsh world -- above the doctrinal police work so important to his recent predecessors." And "his vision is of a pastoral -- and not doctrinaire -- church." This is so much nonsense.
It's nonsense not only when imputed to Francis but to the Christian church as a whole. Christian faith is expressed in three ways: Worship, service to others, and evangelization, all of which are undergirded by doctrinal convictions and make no sense apart from those convictions. Without fundamental creedal commitments everything about the Christian faith would be hollow and unsustainable.

Barron attributes the popular misconception of Christianity as a merely ethical system akin, perhaps, to Confucianism to the pernicious effects of Immanuel Kant's 18th century attempt to reduce all religious expression to morality:
The source of a good deal of this mischief is the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, whose influence on the modern sensibility can scarcely be overstated. Kant famously held that religion is reducible to ethics. By the Enlightenment period, the doctrinal claims of the great religions had come to seem incredible to many, and worship a pathetic holdover from a more primitive time. For Kant, therefore, authentic, grown-up, enlightened religious people would see that morality is the heart of the matter, both doctrine and worship serving, at best, to bolster ethics. It is always a source of amazement to me how thoroughly modern people have gone down the Kantian autobahn in regard to this issue. How we take the following for granted: it doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you are a good person.

But the Kantian construal is simply repugnant to classical Christianity. In point of fact, Christians have been, from the beginning, massively interested in both worship and doctrine. How could you read any of the Gospels or any of the letters of Paul and think otherwise? Moreover, the great figures of the Church -- Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Newman, etc. -- have taken doctrine with utmost seriousness. No one doubts that Francis of Assisi himself loved the poor and marginalized, but how many realize that one of his principal concerns was for liturgical propriety?
Not only is Time incorrect in minimizing the role of doctrine in Christianity in general and Pope Francis in particular, but the editors contradict themselves in their own write-up:
Toward the end of the Time piece, the authors mention two features of Francis's life which effectively undermine their central argument. The "Person of the Year" spends huge swaths of his day at prayer. Rising at five, he prays until seven and then celebrates Mass. And after dinner, he spends several more hours before the Blessed Sacrament. As has been the case with so many of the Church's saints, his love for the poor flows from an intense worship of God. The article closes with a look at one of the Pope's Wednesday general audiences. The topic of Francis's remarks that day was the resurrection of Jesus. After declaring the Church's age-old doctrine, the Pope looked up from his text and asked the crowd, "do you believe it?" When they responded, "yes!" he said again, "do you believe it?" This is not a man who is unconcerned with clarity of dogma.
I might add in closing that I wonder if the folks at Time realize that the man they've chosen to celebrate on their cover is also profoundly pro-life and opposed to gay marriage. Just wondering.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Overlapping Languages

Scientists have known for fifty years that DNA was the language of life, but recent discoveries are revealing that the complexity of this language is far greater than ever imagined back in the days when Watson and Crick were elucidating the structure of the DNA molecule. Not only is there an epigenetic code superimposed on DNA that controls and regulates the function of DNA, but it's turning out that DNA itself contains several different languages that serve different functions in the cell.

Here's part of the story:
Since the genetic code was deciphered in the 1960s, scientists have assumed it was used exclusively to write information about proteins, but University of Washington scientists say they've discovered genomes use the genetic code to write two separate "languages."

One, long understood, describes how proteins are made, while the other instructs the cell on how genes are controlled. One language is written on top of the other, which is why the second language remained hidden for so long, a university release said Thursday.
Presumably, instructions are embedded in the DNA matrix in much the same way as a secret code is embedded in an otherwise ordinary body of text by reading, say, every third word in the text.
"For over 40 years we have assumed that DNA changes affecting the genetic code solely impact how proteins are made," UW genome sciences Professor John Stamatoyannopoulos said. "Now we know that this basic assumption about reading the human genome missed half of the picture. These new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways."

The gene control instructions appear to help stabilize certain beneficial features of proteins and how they are made, he said.

"The fact that the genetic code can simultaneously write two kinds of information means that many DNA changes that appear to alter protein sequences may actually cause disease by disrupting gene control programs or even both mechanisms simultaneously," he said.
This is fascinating, but I suspect even this isn't all there is to it. All of this, as complex as it is, has only to do with the production of proteins, but what is it that tells these proteins where to go in the cell? What is it that programs an organism to behave in the ways that are specific to its species? What tells the spider to spin a web of a particular architecture or tells the caterpillar what type of chrysalis to make? What tells a cat to pounce on a laser dot or a bird to build a specific kind of nest? How are these behaviors regulated and determined? There must be a lot more to it than just what proteins are available in the cell.

And one more question: How does naturalistic Darwinism explain any of this?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Anthill Art

Who thinks of this stuff? The guy who made the video apparently got the idea of pouring molten aluminum down a fire ant nest, letting it harden, and washing away the surrounding dirt. The result is actually an interesting piece of casting sculpture, though not so much if you're a fire ant, I guess, or fond of them.

The Millenium Begins in 2030

Ray Kurzweil is a pretty amazing thinker. He's a well-known futurist and inventor who's convinced that we're poised on the cusp of an incredible knowledge explosion, one that will produce almost unimaginable technological advances. He calls this explosion a singularity.

A recent article at CNN summarizes some of what Kurzweil is predicting:
[He] predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans' ability to comprehend it.

Irreversibly transformed, people will augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil predicts machine intelligence will be infinite times more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards, Kurzweil says, intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.
I'm not sold on that last part, but here are some predictions I hope come true and some I don't think I want to come true although I'm not sure I can say exactly why:
  • Kurzweil says we'll soon be able to program ourselves away from disease and aging.
  • He also believes we'll be able to satisfy all our energy needs by solar power by 2030.
  • We'll also be printing a significant amount of the goods we use and wear, as well as replacement organs for our bodies.
  • Work and play will become a fully immersive experience by the 2030s. By this I take it that he means we'll be able in three decades' time to create 3-D virtual environments in which we will be able to function as if we were in the real environment.
Kurzweil is not without his critics, but if he's even close to being right the world fifty years from now will be even more different from the present world than the present world is from the world of the Middle Ages.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Is Our Government Doing This to Us?

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit, recently posted on his own very personal experience with Obamacare. He writes this:
In August 2013 I became very sick with what I thought was a cold. After a few days I lost vision in my left eye and I checked into the hospital. I soon found out that what I thought was a summer cold was actually Strep bacteria poisoning my blood stream. The bacteria blinded my left eye, ate a hole through my heart, caused five strokes on both sides of my brain and forced the removal of my prosthetic left knee.

Dr. Lee was the surgeon assigned to perform open heart surgery. What was originally scheduled to last four hours ended up lasting twelve. My heart was severely damaged. Dr. Lee later told me the surgery was one of the most difficult of his career. He also said I only had a few days to live without the surgery.

Thanks to the excellent insurance I carried I was able to receive life-saving medical treatment at St. Louis University.

This week I found out I am going to lose my insurance. The company that carried me is leaving the Missouri market. I will have to find something else.

I am one of the millions who will be looking for new insurance. God willing, I will be able to keep my doctors at St. Louis University. I trust them. They saved my life. Please pray for me and the millions of working Americans who are going through this same ordeal.

Why is our government doing this to us?
Perhaps someone might ask the President this question, if they can get him to stop acting like a high school kid on a field trip long enough to take the question seriously.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is back in the news, mostly, one supposes because Mr. Obama and the Democrats are desperate to get people talking about anything other than the Affordable Care Act.

The President gave a speech last week in which he devoted considerable space to the minimum wage, once again insisting that it be raised from $7.25 to $10.00 an hour. He failed, however, to make a persuasive case that this would benefit either the nation as a whole or the people it's ostensibly supposed to help most, the working poor.

Zachary Karabel at The Atlantic shares some thoughts:
In Obama’s speech, he stated that... “We all know the arguments that have been used against a higher minimum wage. Some say it actually hurts low-wage workers — businesses will be less likely to hire them. But there’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs, and research shows it raises incomes for low-wage workers and boosts short-term economic growth.”
Well, I'm no economist but there are at least three things to be said about the President's claims: First, the evidence that it actually hurts low-wage workers is simply common sense. You can't raise the employer's cost of doing business without the employer economizing where he can. If it costs more to pay a marginally-needed employee then that individual is less likely to get hired, and marginally-needed employees already on the payroll are more likely to get laid off.

The reason why people are paid a minimum wage is because they're doing work anyone can do. Their work requires no particular talent or skill, and there's no shortage of people out there who can do the job, and will do, it for whatever the employer is willing to pay. It's typical big government intrusiveness to force employers to pay people more than what they're worth to the employer. If employees want to get paid more they should do what they can to increase their value to their employers.

Moreover, many, perhaps most, people working for minimum wage are young people who are only looking for some discretionary cash. If anyone is trying to support a family on a minimum wage they're almost certainly having their income augmented with food stamps, medicaid, earned income tax credits, reduced lunches, and other forms of assistance.

Mr. Obama also complained in his speech about accelerating income inequality in the United States, but aside from the fact that politicians never seem to explain exactly why this is bad (it's only bad if the people at the bottom are seeing their incomes decline or stagnate in absolute terms, but if that's the case the problem isn't inequality, it's income stagnation), it would be helpful if we were given some information about what's causing this.

For instance, what's the impact of the increasing number of single parent families on income disparity? Could one reason that some people are moving ahead and others are lagging behind, as Charles Murray argues in his book Coming Apart, be that those moving ahead are getting an education, not having children until they're married, staying married once they have children, avoiding drugs and alcohol, exhibiting a good work ethic, and in general making the kinds of decisions necessary to advance up the socio-economic scale, whereas those who are falling behind are practicing none or few of the requisite disciplines?

If so, I don't see how raising the minimum wage is going to help reverse the trend toward greater inequality. The only thing that'll do that is to reverse the forces that are tearing families apart in our culture.

Karabel reinforces the point with a couple of interesting statistics:
Nearly 20 states have a higher minimum wage than the federal rate. That means that the federal law has little effect in wide swaths of the country. What’s more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5 percent of all workers are paid at or less than the current minimum wage. Thus, increasing it will make precious little difference in most people’s lives.

Even an increase to $10, which is what Obama and others have proposed, would leave a family of two that depends on it with less than a living wage....The proposed increase would only marginally improve the lives of minimum wage earners.
Karabel tries to be even-handed and present both sides of the debate, but he struggles to come up with a convincing rejoinder to the objection I raised above that employers will reduce workers if they have to pay more for them:
The oft-repeated warning that businesses will hire fewer workers or reduce wages is also unclear. Yes, businesses have already begun to cut hours in order to avoid paying workers various benefits, including healthcare. Under a higher minimum wage, a significant number of companies would likely trim payrolls in order to maintain profits.

Yet such actions are both short-sighted and inimical to collective prosperity. They are short-sighted because you can’t build a vibrant service- and consumer-oriented society with fewer and fewer people earning enough income to pay for the goods and services they need and want. They are inimical to collective prosperity because a dynamic society depends on a compact, often unwritten, that the proverbial deck will not be so unevenly stacked.
He doesn't say that companies won't trim payrolls, because he knows they will, he just argues that for the good of the whole they shouldn't. This is hopelessly idealistic and naive. The fact is that most employers, especially small businesspersons, are so busy trying to make enough income to stay out of the red that they have little inclination to worry about whether hiring one or two more workers would be good for the "collective prosperity" of the nation a decade down the road.

There really are no good arguments for requiring employers to pay unskilled workers more than what they're worth to the employer, which is why calls to raise the minimum wage are usually couched in emotional appeals to do something for the underprivileged regardless of the effectiveness of what is done. If we really want to help the underprivileged, however, the best thing we can do for them is teach them the value of family, church, and school. It would take time to change the culture, but it's the surest road out of the underclass.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


This is a bit "inside the beltway," perhaps, but those readers who may be familiar with the exotic cast of characters who come and go on MSNBC, and the nature of the programming they do there, will find a piece by Charlie Cooke at NRO pretty interesting. If you're not familiar with MSNBC, especially their evening line-up, you might find Cooke's column sufficient reason not to become more familiar with it.

Suffice it to say that I can think of no other news talk medium that has had to suspend or fire more people for reasons having to do with hate speech, vile tastelessness, and lack of professionalism than has MSNBC. The parade of miscreants in the last few years includes, but is not limited to, Don Imus, Keith Olbermann, David Schuster, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O'Donnell, Howard Finemann, and most recently Alec Baldwin and Martin Bashir.

The network also features Chris Matthews who, if obsequiousness toward the President were a crime, would be serving a life sentence. It also provides a showcase for race-hustlers like Al Sharpton who never should have been hired at all after his egregious role in the infamous Tawana Brawley case and his other incitements which led to various acts of violence in New York in the eighties and nineties.

There are others at MSNBC who stun the viewer not with a lack of decorum or courtesy but with sheer vapidity. Melissa Harris-Perry comes to mind as does Mika Brzezinski.

I know, I know. Some will say, "But look at FOX news!" Yes, FOX subjects viewers to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, but these are merely insufferably rude, pompous narcissists, and there are, thank goodness, only two of them. O'Reilly and Hannity are simply not in the same league as people like Bashir, Schultz, or Olbermann whose hatred and dehumanization of those, particularly women, whose politics they oppose transcends the insufferable and reaches all the way to repugnant and despicable.

Anyway, if you've ever watched MSNBC, and maybe if you haven't, you'll want to read Cooke's piece.


Some people get a little miffed during the Advent season over the use of Xmas rather than Christmas, but perhaps their discomfiture is misplaced, as R.C. Sproul explains:
People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas” as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.

The idea of X as an abbreviation for the name of Christ came into use in our culture with no intent to show any disrespect for Jesus. The church has used the symbol of the fish historically because it is an acronym. Fish in Greek (ichthus) involved the use of the first letters for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So the early Christians would take the first letter of those words and put those letters together to spell the Greek word for fish. That’s how the symbol of the fish became the universal symbol of Christendom. There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.
This is interesting, but I suspect nevertheless that a lot of people use Xmas to avoid saying Christmas and have no idea what the etymology of the word is.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mendacity and Incompetence

Thomas Edsall, a liberal columnist writing at the New York Times, is dismayed at the mendacity and incompetence of which this administration has shown itself capable. The incompetence is dismaying to Edsall because it discredits Democrats and confirms the central theses of conservative objections to big government:
The chaos surrounding efforts to activate HealthCare.gov reinforces a key conservative meme: that whatever the test is, government will fail it. Insofar as voters experience their interaction with government as frustrating and unreliable, the brunt of political damage will hit Democrats, both as the party of government and as the party of Obamacare.

Cumulatively, recent developments surrounding the rollout of Obamacare strengthen the most damaging conservative portrayals of liberalism and of big government – that on one hand government is too much a part of our lives, too invasive, too big, too scary, too regulatory, too in your face, and on the other hand it is incompetent, bureaucratic and expropriatory.
But the rollout isn't the only aspect of this that's discrediting liberalism. Wait until older Americans realize that their health care costs are going up because the Democrats raided Medicare in order to help fund Obamacare. When this begins to sink in the Democrats, who rammed the legislation through congress without a single Republican vote, will all be running for the tall grass. Here's Edsall:
In addition, the Affordable Care Act can be construed as a transfer of benefits from Medicare, which serves an overwhelmingly white population of the elderly – 77 percent of recipients are white — to Obamacare, which will serve a population that is 54.7 percent minority. Over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Affordable Care Act cuts $455 billion from the Medicare budget in order to help pay for Obamacare.
Finally, the mendacity of the President, who emphatically assured the American people on dozens of occasions that if they liked their coverage they could keep their coverage and that if they liked their doctor they could keep their doctor, is outraging average folks all across the nation:
Jennifer Harris, a self-employed lawyer in Fullerton, Calif., was notified that Health Net Inc. has cancelled her $98-a-month policy, and the cheapest plan she can find that meets Obamacare requirements cost $238 a month....Harris told The Los Angeles Times, “It doesn’t seem right to make the middle class pay so much more in order to give health insurance to everybody else.”
Well, it may not seem right, but this is the entire raison d'etre of liberalism. It's the vision that animates liberals in everything they do. It's why candidate Obama said in 2008 that he wanted to redistribute the wealth of the nation. Were people in the middle-class so naive as to think he was talking only about taking the wealth from the very rich?

Edsall adds this:
In the same Los Angeles Times story, Deborah Cavallaro, a real estate agent in Westchester, Calif., who faces a 65 percent increase in health coverage costs, said: “All we’ve been hearing the last three years is if you like your policy you can keep it."

"I’m infuriated because I was lied to,” Cavallaro added.
So, what is the Obama administration's response to this upwelling anger? It is to essentially call Americans a bunch of suckers. For example, one of the designers of Obamacare, Zeke Emanuel, went on the Sunday talk shows yesterday and tried to persuade viewers that what the President meant when he assured us we could keep our coverage and our doctors was that we could keep them if we were willing to pay more for them.

Of course, that's not what the President said, nor is it what he wanted people to understand him to mean. If he had actually told people what Emanuel said he did, or if he had told people that millions of them would lose the insurance plans they had rather than assuring them that they'd be able to keep their plans if they wished, or if he had told Americans that their premiums were going to double or triple rather than telling them that their premiums would go down by $2500, he never would have been elected.

Mr. Obama deliberately misled the American people in order to win office and continued to mislead us in order to get Obamacare passed. I don't know how else to plausibly interpret his words.

Are there no honest men and women left in the Democrat party who are willing to step forward and just admit that Americans were explicitly, intentionally deceived about Obamacare and that our leaders have abjectly failed the people they were sworn to serve and deserve to be thrown out on their ear?

Your Lying Eyes

Who's up for a good optical illusion? The Blaze put us on to this one:

The two parts of the object in the image are actually the same color and brightness. You can demonstrate this by placing your finger over the seam that joins them.

The whole weirdness of it is explained here, but good luck trying to understand it.

Maybe part of the explanation is that our eyes assess the object's background as they view the object. An object viewed against a bright background appears darker than does the same object viewed against a darker background.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Which Way Does the Hockey Stick Point?

The earth is getting warmer, right? That's what's been inculcated into our gullible little brains by scientists, politicians, and a host of other commentators over the last fifteen years or so. We've been shown "hockey stick" graphs that depict global temperatures shooting into the stratosphere in the coming decades unless we heed the call to drastically curtail our carbon emissions.

President Obama has apparently imbibed Al Gore's apocalyptic prophecies of rising sea levels, desertification of agricultural lands, horrific storms, massive population displacements, drowning polar bears, and other really bad stuff, and is demanding that the coal industry be shut down and that something be done immediately about cow flatulence.

But the grim tidings have apparently failed to impress some German scientists, a pair of whom have just released a report that declares that, so far from the earth getting warmer, it's actually entering a cooling phase that'll last until the next century. Here's the lede:
Better start investing in some warm clothes because German scientists are predicting that the Earth will cool over the next century.

German scientists found that two naturally occurring cycles will combine to lower global temperatures during the 21st century, eventually dropping to levels corresponding with the “little ice age” of 1870.

“Due to the de Vries cycle, the global temperature will drop until 2100 to a value corresponding to the ‘little ice age’ of 1870,” write German scientists Horst-Joachim Luedecke and Carl-Otto Weiss of the European Institute for Climate and Energy.

Researchers used historical temperature data and data from cave stalagmites to show a 200-year solar cycle, called the de Vries cycle.

They also factored into their work a well-established 65-year Atlantic and Pacific Ocean oscillation cycle. Global warming that has occurred since 1870 can be attributed almost entirely to both these factors, the scientists argue.

According to the scientists, the oft-cited “stagnation” in rising global temperatures over the last 15 years is due to the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean oscillation cycle, which lasts about 65 years. Ocean oscillation is past its “maximum,” leading to small decreases in global temperature.

The de Vries solar cycle is currently at its “maximum,” explaining why temperatures have risen since 1870, but leveled off after 1998. However, this means that as solar activity starts to decrease, global temperatures will follow.

“Through [the de Vries solar cycle's] influence the temperature will decrease until 2100 to a value like the one of the last ‘Little Ice Age’ 1870,” the scientists wrote.
Now maybe these guys are no more reputable than the geneticist who last summer delivered himself of the theory that the human species is, in fact, the spawn of a mysterious union of a pig and a chimp. The fact that the BBC carried the German report, however, suggests that these guys aren't just a couple of prankster grad students.

So, anyway. Is the planet warming or is it cooling? How can Al Gore and his fellow lefties claim to be so sure about what's happening to the earth's climate when contradictory scientific opinions litter the landscape? And how can the president, who, like most politicians, is doubtlessly scientifically nescient, undertake to destroy an entire industry when there's no compelling or conclusive evidence that atmospheric carbon is having anything more than a minor effect on global temperatures?

Read the entire article at the link, especially if you've been persuaded by the global warming alarmists that we're on the brink of an imminent global heating catastrophe. One side or the other in this debate has to be wrong and somebody's going to wind up with egg on their faces. The only question is whether the egg will be fried or frozen.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Is it All an Accident?

Recent studies have confirmed that the cosmos in which we live is in the grip of an accelerating force called dark energy which is causing the universe to expand at ever increasing speeds. This is bizarre because gravity should be causing the expansion, generated by the initial Big Bang, to slow down. Nevertheless, all indications are that it's accelerating. Science Daily has the story:
A five-year survey of 200,000 galaxies, stretching back seven billion years in cosmic time, has led to one of the best independent confirmations that dark energy is driving our universe apart at accelerating speeds.

The findings offer new support for the favored theory of how dark energy works -- as a constant force, uniformly affecting the universe and propelling its runaway expansion.

"The action of dark energy is as if you threw a ball up in the air, and it kept speeding upward into the sky faster and faster," said Chris Blake of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

Dark energy is thought to dominate our universe, making up about 74 percent of it. Dark matter, a slightly less mysterious substance, accounts for 22 percent. So-called normal matter, anything with atoms, or the stuff that makes up living creatures, planets and stars, is only approximately four percent of the cosmos.
This last point is a fascinating detail. All that we can see with our telescopes makes up only 4% of what's out there. The rest is invisible to us because it doesn't interact with light the way normal matter does.

Here's another interesting detail. The mass density, the total mass in the universe, is itself calibrated to one part in 10^60. All the matter that's visible to us, all 25 billion galaxies and everything else we can see with our telescopes has an estimated mass of about 10^60 grams. This means that if the mass density at the beginning of the universe deviated from its actual value by as much as the mass of a dime deviates from the total mass of the visible universe, the universe would not have formed.

Add to that the fact that, although we don't know what the cosmic dark energy is, we do know that its value is fine-tuned to one part in 10^120. That means that if the value of this mysterious stuff deviated from its actual value by as little as one part in 10^120 a universe that could generate and sustain intelligent life would not exist. That level of precision is absolutely breathtaking.

Imagine two dials, one has 10^60 calibrations etched into its dial face and the other has 10^120.

Now imagine that the needles of the two dials have to be set to just the mark they in fact are set. If they were off by one degree out of the trillion trillion trillion, etc. degrees on the dial face the universe wouldn't exist. In fact, to make this analogy more like the actual case of the universe, we should imagine dozens of such dials, all set to similarly precise values. If any one of them was off by a single notch a life-supporting universe would not exist.

So how do scientists explain the fact that such a universe, against all odds, does exist? Some of them assume that there must be a near infinite number of different worlds, a multiverse. If the number of universes is sufficiently large (unimaginably large), and if they're all different, then as unlikely as our universe is, the laws of probability say that one like ours must exist among the innumerable varieties that are out there.

The other possibility, of course, is that our universe was purposefully engineered by a super intellect, but given the choice between believing in a near infinity of worlds - for which there's virtually no evidence - and believing that our universe is the product of intentional design, a belief for which there is much evidence, guess which option many modern thinkers choose.

The lengths people go to in order to avoid having to accept that there's something out there with attributes similar to those traditionally imputed to God really are remarkable.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

One of the world's great men passed into history today. Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95. Perhaps many who read this will know little of Mandela because his public life was largely over by the late nineties. Yet his life is one which everyone should familiarize themselves with because his amazing story and evolution as a man and a leader is truly exceptional.

This is not to say he was perfect, but for a man who spent one third of his life in prison, his lack of bitterness and vindictiveness is nothing short of saintly. Upon his release from prison he entered politics becoming the first black president of his country in 1994. He presided over the abolition of apartheid, and his graciousness toward his enemies and those who committed terrible crimes under apartheid led him to establish the committee of Truth and Reconciliation which extended legal absolution to those who repented of their abuses and crimes under the old regime. This was, as far as I know, an unprecedented move and was a truly remarkable act of grace, forgiveness, and healing.

CNN has an excellent retrospective of his life. Here are some excerpts:
Despite chronic political violence before the vote that put him in office in 1994, South Africa avoided a full-fledged civil war in its transition from apartheid to multiparty democracy. The peace was due in large part to the leadership and vision of Mandela and de Klerk.

"We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds," Mandela said during a 2004 celebration to mark a decade of democracy in South Africa.

"Not only did we avert such racial conflagration, we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive nonracial and nonsexist democratic orders in the contemporary world."

Mandela represented a new breed of African liberation leaders, breaking from others of his era such as Robert Mugabe by serving one term.
South Africa's fight for reconciliation was epitomized at the 1995 rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg, when it played heavily favored New Zealand.

As the dominant sport of white Afrikaners, rugby was reviled by blacks in South Africa. They often cheered for rivals playing their national team.

Mandela's deft use of the national team to heal South Africa was captured in director Clint Eastwood's 2009 feature film "Invictus," starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the white South African captain of the rugby team.

Before the real-life game, Mandela walked onto the pitch, wearing a green-and-gold South African jersey bearing Pienaar's number on the back.

"I will never forget the goosebumps that stood on my arms when he walked out onto the pitch before the game started," said Rory Steyn, his bodyguard for most of his presidency.

"That crowd, which was almost exclusively white ... started to chant his name. That one act of putting on a No. 6 jersey did more than any other statement in bringing white South Africans and Afrikaners on side with new South Africa."

Millenials to Mr. Obama: The Love Is Gone

Ron Fournier a liberal supporter of the President who writes for National Journal has some bad news for the President and his party. It seems that young Americans are growing increasingly disenchanted with our political leadership in general and Mr. Obama and the Democrats in particular. Fournier writes:
Young Americans are turning against Barack Obama and Obamacare, according to a new survey of millennials, people between the ages of 18 and 29 who are vital to the fortunes of the president and his signature health care law.

The most startling finding of Harvard University's Institute of Politics: A majority of Americans under age 25--the youngest millennials--would favor throwing Obama out of office.

The survey, part of a unique 13-year study of the attitudes of young adults, finds that America's rising generation is worried about its future, disillusioned with the U.S. political system, strongly opposed to the government's domestic surveillance apparatus, and drifting away from both major parties. "Young Americans hold the president, Congress and the federal government in less esteem almost by the day, and the level of engagement they are having in politics are also on the decline," reads the IOP's analysis of its poll. "Millennials are losing touch with government and its programs because they believe government is losing touch with them."

The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama's two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote.

Indeed, millennials are not so hot on their president.

Obama's approval rating among young Americans is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago, and now tracking with all adults. While 55 percent said they voted for Obama in 2012, only 46 percent said they would do so again.

When asked if they would want to recall various elected officials, 45 percent of millennials said they would oust their member of Congress; 52 percent replied "all members of Congress" should go; and 47 percent said they would recall Obama. The recall-Obama figure was even higher among the youngest millennials, ages 18 to 24, at 52 percent.

While there is no provision for a public recall of U.S. presidents, the poll question revealed just how far Obama has fallen in the eyes of young Americans.

IOP director Trey Grayson called the results a "sea change" attributable to the generation's outsized and unmet expectations for Obama, as well as their concerns about the economy, Obamacare and government surveillance.
Doubtless the President's minions are working assiduously to come up with a strategy to win back the wayward hearts of the millenials, and one possible "solution" is waiting like a ripe peach to be plucked. It's been suggested that Mr. Obama may simply forgive college student loan debt. This would, of course, delight hundreds of thousands of students who are weighted down with enormous debt and pessimistic about ever getting a decent job in the present economy. On the other hand, it would probably infuriate just as many who struggled to pay their college bills without having to go too deeply into debt only to see their fellow students awarded with what amounts to a free education from the government for no reason other than that the President believes he can buy their political loyalty.

Anyway, Mr. Obama hasn't done it yet and may not ever do it, so I don't want to fault him for something he hasn't done. There's enough that he has done for which he can justly be held to account without getting prematurely outraged over things he only might do.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Saint Nicholas/ Santa Claus

As we approach the Christmas season I thought it might be worthwhile to rerun a post from last December on the origin of the legend of Santa Claus and why Santa is referred to as St. Nick: Theologian James Parker offers us a brief history of the original Santa Claus (a transliteration of "Saint Nicholas") and how the myths around him grew.

Here's an excerpt:
Most people simply do not realize the rich ancient heritage behind the Santa Claus story. The secularized and sanitized contemporary version pales in comparison with the deeply Christian ethos and content of the original.

Much exaggerated legendary material is connected with his life and ministry, but if nothing else, the legends tell us what values and beliefs the church held as important as they were projected onto Nicholas. To the bare minimum of facts, legend has supplied intriguing details through such writers as St. Methodius (patriarch of Constantinople in the 850s) and the Greek writer Metaphrastes in the 10th century.

The story goes that Nicholas was born in A.D. 280 to pious and wealthy parents who raised him in the fear and admonition of the Lord and taught him "sacred books" from the age of 5. He was forced to grow up quickly upon the sudden death of his parents.

Inheriting his family's wealth, he was left rich and lonely, but he had the desire to use his wealth for good. The first opportunity to do this happened when he heard about a father who, through an unfortunate turn of events, was left destitute with three daughters. Without marriage dowry money, the daughters would be condemned to a life of singleness and prostitution, so Nicholas threw some small bags of gold coins into the window of the home (some traditions say down the chimney), thereby saving the children from a life of misery.

Later as a teenager, Nicholas made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine. Upon returning home he felt called to ministry and was subsequently ordained. He spent time at the Monastery of Holy Zion near Myra until an old priest had a vision that he was to be the new bishop.

The congregation overwhelmingly elected him bishop, and he became known for his holiness, passion for the Gospel and zeal. He challenged the old gods and paganism at the principal temple in his district (to the god Artemis), and it was said that the evil spirits "fled howling before him."
There's more to the story. Nicholas was imprisoned under the Roman emperor Diocletian, savagely beaten, and later released under Constantine's Edict of Milan.
Those who survived Diocletian's purges were called "confessors" because they refused to renege on their confession of Jesus as Lord.

When Bishop Nicholas walked out of the prison, the crowds called to him: "Nicholas! Confessor!" He had been repeatedly beaten until he was raw, and his body was the color of vermilion. Bishop Nicholas was also said to have intervened on behalf of unjustly charged prisoners and actively sought to help his people survive when they had experienced two successive bad harvests.
Nicholas opposed Arianism, the belief that Jesus was a created being and not divine, and according to some perhaps apocryphal traditions, actually attended the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where he got into a physical altercation with Arias himself.

Whether that's true or not, the story of St. Nicholas is a lot different, and much more interesting, than the popular mythology surrounding him. Read the whole thing at the link.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Loftus Dilemma

One objection to Divine Command ethics (ethics in which right and wrong are grounded in the will of a deity) is articulated by atheist John Loftus. It is that God is essentially a moral hypocrite because he commands us to do something that he himself doesn't do. Loftus bases his argument on the Euthyphro Dilemma which, for those unfamiliar with it, I comment upon here. He writes:
No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify passing by a man beaten and robbed by the roadside. If we are to act based on God's character then we should all be Good Samaritans. God should be a Good Samaritan.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify watching a man slowly roast to death in a house fire.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify eating popcorn while watching as a woman is beaten, gang raped, and then left for dead.

In fact, since the ethical standard is the perfect character of God (per modified divine command theories) and this God has omniscience and omnipotence, then God is even MORE obligated to alleviate suffering. For while we may not have the power or knowledge to intervene when we see intense suffering, God is not limited like us. The more that a person has the knowledge and the ability (or power) to alleviate suffering, then the more that person is morally obligated to help by intervening.

We may not know that someone is suffering, so we are not morally obligated to help because we are ignorant about it.

We may know someone is suffering but we lack to ability or power to help.

We may not have the financial resources to help a man beaten and robbed by the roadside. We may not have the ability to save a man who is burning in a house fire. We may not have the physical strength to save a woman who is being beaten and gang raped. It's true we should act based on our knowledge by doing what we can. But since God is supposedly omniscient and omnipotent there is no excuse for him. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it....

If God can justify letting us suffer in this life by compensating us in the next life, then that ethical principle allows us to do the same thing (per modified divine command theories). We can knowingly allow people to suffer even though we could help them, so long as we compensate them afterward for our inaction. That same ethical principle would allow someone to sit by and do nothing while others abduct and abuse a woman, and then compensate her with a million dollars afterward. Does the compensation justify the deed? No. Compensating someone for abuse does not justify the abuse. Abuse is still abuse. To see this just ask if such a woman would prefer to skip the abuse and just receive the million dollars. Her answer would be an unequivocal yes.

Why can God violate these ethical principles that we are obligated to obey, if morality is based on his character? If he's our ethical standard and acts like an inattentive and inactive monster, then why can't we act like him? If we cannot act like him, because it would be unethical for us to do so, then God's character is no longer the basis for morality. Which is it?
There are a couple of things to be said about this argument. First, it strikes me as a very odd case for an atheist to make because it essentially brands God a hypocrite for failing to incessantly override the laws of nature and human free will. I say this is odd because one of the arguments that skeptics invoke against the credibility of miracles is that a genuine miracle would amount to a suspension of the laws of nature and that it would be repugnant of a deity to override those laws since it would throw science into chaos and confusion. Nothing would be predictable. What seems to be an inviolable law of nature today could well be nothing of the sort tomorrow if God were to be constantly intervening into the affairs of the world.

So, many skeptics argue, if there were a God he wouldn't be the sort of deity which would create a world and then feel the need to constantly tweak what's going on in it.

Very well, but then to turn around, as Loftus does, and call God a moral hypocrite for refraining from miraculously intervening hundreds, thousands, of times every second to alleviate the suffering occurring around the world seems a bit unreasonable. According to skeptics like Loftus God is malicious if he does perform miracles and hypocritical if he doesn't.

The second reason why this is an odd argument for Loftus to make is that he claims that we have a moral obligation to help those who suffer if we can. I agree with him about this, but I don't see why he should think that such an obligation exists. After all, on atheism what could possibly be the source of moral obligation? What is it that imposes such duties? Where does the notion that we have a duty to help the suffering come from, and what does it matter whether we fulfill this duty or ignore it? Loftus might reply that people who ignore such duties are reprehensible, but all he can possibly mean by that is that he doesn't like them, to which the appropriate response is, so what? How does his not liking someone make that person morally wrong? Even if 99% of the people don't like someone who chooses to withhold help from someone who's suffering, how does that make that person wrong? Is morality a matter of what's popular?

Perhaps God desires nothing more than to end human suffering. Perhaps he's perfectly capable of ending it, but has a good reason for not doing so. Loftus might scoff at such a suggestion and ask what could possibly be a good reason for not eliminating the suffering of a child? If he does respond in that fashion, though, all the theist need do is remind him that his fellow atheists have supplied the reason: Ever since the 18th century they've been arguing, as I noted above, that it would be disastrous for God to intervene in the normal cause and effect course of physical events. It'd be the end of science, they've been telling us, even if he only intervened occasionally. If so, how much more disastrous would it be for God to intervene as often as would be needed to alleviate instances of human (and animal) suffering in the world?

I think there are other plausible reasons why an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God might permit suffering, but Loftus' fellow atheists seem to have pulled the rug out from under his argument so anything else I might add would just be piling on.