Saturday, June 29, 2013

For It Before They Were Against It

There is no class of people, taken as a whole, who are less respected than the political class, and understandably so. Politicians are seen as venal and unprincipled, and they frequently seem eager to confirm that judgment. Take, for example, the recent reaction on Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court's ruling that essentially overturns much of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Politico has a piece on it that begins this way:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act “a great, historic day for equality in America.” He went on: “The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have a negative impact on anyone else, or on our nation as a whole, has always struck me as absurd.”
Reid claims it always struck him as absurd yet he voted for the act in 1996. Others who were eager to be seen praising the decision were taking a stance 180 degrees at variance from where they stood ten or fifteen years ago. Senators Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Ben Cardin, Patty Murray, Robert Menendez, Steny Hoyer, and Rosa deLauro, Democrats all, are praising this blow to DOMA even though every one of them supported and voted for it in 1996.

Bill Clinton even signed the bill into law and he, too, is rejoicing at it's demise:
“By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union,” Clinton said in a statement also signed by Hillary Clinton.
President Barack Obama placed a phone call to anti-DOMA activists congratulating them on their victory, but as recently as 18 months ago he was insisting that marriage should be restricted to a union of a man and a woman.

People can certainly "evolve," as president Obama was said to have done, especially if their beliefs are only superficially held in the first place, but it's amazing that so many individuals in one party could evolve so rapidly on a principle that's so fundamental. The rapid change in our elected officials' "convictions" does little to disabuse the average voter of their cynicism about politics and their contempt for leaders who have both eyes perpetually fixed on the political windsock and whose sole principle seems to be to think, say, and do whatever works to keep them in power.

Undergrad Major and IQ

Pamela sent along a link to a graphic she helped design that's quite interesting. It correlates one's college undergraduate major with IQ. In other words, the average IQ of undergraduate biology majors is 121.

It would've been higher, I suppose, but I was a biology major.

Anyway, I'm not sure how we know Darwin's IQ, and I have my doubts about Mr. Obama's, but, nevertheless, you can see if you fall into the range for others in your undergraduate field of study.

Go to the link for a full-sized view of the chart.
What Does Your College Major Say About Your IQ?
Image compliments of Bachelor of Education Degrees

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pot Pourri

Miscellaneous thoughts on sundry topics:

Glen Beck called Senator Marco Rubio "garbage" the other day. He didn't call his immigration reform proposal garbage, a claim which would have been almost an understatement, rather he called Rubio himself garbage, and that is reprehensible.

Glenn, you can dehumanize people with insults or you can assure your audience that you're a Christian, but you can't do both. Please either apologize to Rubio or stop giving Christians a black eye by telling your listeners that you yourself are one.

-------

The military and our congresspersons are aghast that sexual assaults and other rudenesses are occurring in the military services. Why is anyone surprised? We hypersexualize our culture, marinate our young men in a pornographic view of women from the time they're in kindergarten, raise them in families without fathers, take them at an age when they're in hormonal overdrive and throw them together with women in close quarters in the military, putting some in positions of authority over women, and then we're shocked that they don't respect women. What did we expect would happen when we decided a) that fathers are unnecessary, b) that a sexualized culture is healthy and cool, and c) that it'd be a great idea to integrate women into the armed forces?

Heck, when the Commander in Chief (President Clinton) can abuse, molest, and even rape women, and his entire party, most of the mainstream media, and half the country is eager to give him a sly wink and a pass why should we be shocked that the same thing happens in the ranks?

-------

The Boy Scouts of America have decided to admit openly gay young men into their organization. Other than opening the door to one day having gay scout leaders and one day unifying the boy scouts and girl scouts and thereby destroying what has heretofore been a great pair of organizations I don't have too much of a problem with the BSA's move, but I do have a question. Part of the Boy Scout oath is that the young man swears to be "morally straight." Has the morality of homosexuality been settled, and I didn't hear about it? If it hasn't been settled then isn't there a bit of a problem with boys whose sexual morality is still problematic promising to be morally straight? Just wondering.

I also wonder what the substantive difference is between allowing post-pubescent boys who are sexually attracted to other boys to join the scouts and allowing sexually maturing boys who are attracted to girls into the Girl Scouts.

-------

George Zimmerman is on trial for being a racist. The formal charge is 2nd degree murder but the reason his case is national news when hundreds of interracial crimes are committed every month in this country without every popping up on the national radar is that Zimmerman is (relatively) white and he killed a black kid named Trayvon Martin. Usually in these interracial affairs it's the other way around so the novelty of this case leads some to the conclusion that Zimmerman must be a racist otherwise why would he have shot a defenseless black kid. Black kids shoot each other, or they shoot whites, but whites don't shoot blacks unless they're racists.

Turns out though that Trayvon told his friend on the phone shortly before being shot that he was being watched by a "cracker." The term "cracker" may sound innocuous to you and me, but it is, in fact, a racially derogatory term used by blacks to describe whites. So, it sounds like maybe young Trayvon had some racial hangups himself, and may consequently have been motivated to do exactly what Zimmerman alleges he did, which is beat the bejabbers out of Zimmerman until the "cracker" managed to employ his gun to save his life.

Speaking of racial hangups among blacks read the tweets here and ask yourself in which racial community in this society most of the racism resides.

-------

And since I'm on the topic of race what's up with this Paula Deen story? Why does she feel the need to grovel in pursuit of expiation by society's arbiters of correct thinking for having used a racially insensitive expression? Why not just say you're sorry and that people should just get over it instead of making an embarrassing spectacle of yourself?

It's a strange world in which we live. Congressman Anthony Weiner can tweet pics of his private parts to underage girls, say he's full of regrets, and then run for mayor of our largest city and secure a commanding lead in the race, but if he'd tweeted a racial epithet he'd be the subject of our daily three minutes hate and would never, ever get a single vote from anyone in New York.

Well, maybe not, now that I think of it, since Weiner's a Democrat and Democrats are allowed to do pretty much anything they want. Deen, on the other hand, must not be a Democrat or her public abasement would have been over long ago, if indeed it had ever gotten started.

-------

Is Edward Snowden a hero or traitor? I don't know what I think about what he did, but he sure is providing us with a vivid illustration of the maxim that no one respects weakness. The Obama administration, determined to appease just about everybody and offend nobody except our closest allies, requests cooperation in extraditing Snowden first from China, then Russia, and now Ecuador and all three tell Mr. Obama and his Secretary of State to please be so kind as to take their request and stick it where only a colonoscopy will find it. They've done their assessments of Mr. Obama, evidently, and concluded that he's an inconsequential lightweight.

Mr. Obama, for his part, has assured everyone that he's not going to "scramble jets" over the Snowden affair and there's every reason to believe him when he says it. After all, if he wasn't willing to scramble jets during the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans we can certainly believe he's not going to scramble them over Snowden.

-------

When pro-choice Democrats resorted to mob rule and filibuster on Wednesday to prevent passage of a bill in the Texas state legislature that would impose some sensible restrictions on abortion President Obama sent a tweet that essentially gave the mob a big attaboy. Here's what the Texas bill would have done:
  1. Increase abortion facility safety standards to the level of ambulatory surgical centers to shut down Gosnell-like abortion providers in Texas,
  2. Require the 18,000 RU-486 abortions performed each year be done according to FDA safety standards,
  3. Require physicians who perform abortions to be qualified to treat life-threatening complications after botched abortions and have privileges at a local hospital, and
  4. Ban abortions on unborn children beginning at 20 weeks after fertilization, when scientific evidence clearly shows babies can feel pain.
The Democrats, including the president, evidently think that it's just hunky-dory to have abortions performed in Gosnell-level sanitary conditions and after the child has reached the stage when it can feel pain. Anything that gets the deed done is good enough for Democrats who ironically tout themselves as the party that cares for the weak and underprotected.

Imagine the media reaction had this been a pro-life mob and the filibuster were conducted by, say, Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin. But, since they were pro-choice Democrats acting like barbarians to bring the legislative process to a halt, and since it was a Democrat president egging them on, hardly a ripple of concern was expressed by our supine media.

It's easy to fall into the fear that we're living in the twilight of representative, democratic government and every day is darker than the day before.

-------

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nice But Not Wise

Mona Charen writing in the Washington Examiner offers us a few examples of how Mr. Obama has done exactly the sorts of things for which he was highly critical of Mr. Bush. There's a word that describes someone like this, but at the moment I can't think of it.

Anyway, Charen opens her piece by saying that she'd like to write a complimentary column on the president praising him for his efforts in the war on terror, etc., but there are three obstacles standing in the way:
One is the memory of the casual smears candidate Obama directed at President Bush. The second is the rank abuse of power his administration has demonstrated, which undermines one's trust that the trove of information the government is sifting will be used only to disrupt possible terror attacks. The third is the administration's pattern of lying -- which undermines any reassurances the president proffers that "nobody is listening to your telephone calls."
The remainder of her column fills in the details. For instance:
Candidate Obama did more than dissent from President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. He asserted that the decision itself was dishonest -- based "not on principle but on politics." He said the war was a "cynical attempt by arm-chair warriors to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats." What that agenda might have been (is removing terror-sponsoring aggressors an "ideology"?), candidate Obama didn't say.

Regarding the larger war on terror, Obama denounced Bush for advancing a "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide." His administration, he pledged, would provide law enforcement the tools to deal with terrorists "without undermining our Constitution and our freedom." He denounced "illegal wiretapping of American citizens," "tracking citizens who do nothing more that protest a misguided war" and "ignoring the law when it is inconvenient."

"That is not who we are," he scolded.
There are, sadly, even more presidential prevarications in Charen's column. She concludes with this:
The president assures us that "no one is listening to our phone calls," and that may be true. But this administration also assured us that no sweeping data collection on American citizens was going on, that the IRS was not unfairly singling out conservatives, that the Justice Department had not attempted to prosecute journalists, and that the Benghazi attack was the response to a video.

It would be nice to trust the president, but it wouldn't be wise.
This, I surmise, is why Americans are so troubled by the NSA eavesdropping. It's not so much the infringement on our privacy, although there is that, but even more it's that the president has squandered away the trust of the people. An administration which uses the power of the IRS and the Department of Justice to punish political enemies is not the sort of administration that can be trusted not to use the NSA for the same purpose.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Prager on the Multiverse

Dennis Prager has a fine piece on the multiverse theory at National Review Online. It's interesting that a social commentator has written a column on an esoteric metaphysical/scientific topic in a political journal of opinion like NRO. Perhaps it's indicative of the broad relevance of this hypothesis to everyone interested in deeper matters than what Kim and Kanye named their baby.

Prager starts with this:
Last week, in Nice, France, I was privileged to participate along with 30 scholars, mostly scientists and mathematicians, in a conference on the question of whether the universe was designed, or at least fine-tuned, to make life, especially intelligent life. Participants — from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Berkeley, and Columbia, among other American and European universities — included believers in God, agnostics, and atheists.

It was clear that the scientific consensus was that, at the very least, the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to allow for the possibility of life. It appears that we live in a “Goldilocks universe,” in which both the arrangement of matter at the cosmic beginning and the values of various physical parameters — such as the speed of light, the strength of gravitational attraction, and the expansion rate of the universe — are just right for life. And unless one is frightened of the term, it also appears the universe is designed for biogenesis and human life.
This is indeed indisputable. Prager cites several scientists on the matter:
Michael Turner, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago and Fermilab: “The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bullseye one millimeter in diameter on the other side.”

Paul Davies, professor of theoretical physics at Adelaide University: “The really amazing thing is not that life on Earth is balanced on a knife-edge, but that the entire universe is balanced on a knife-edge, and would be total chaos if any of the natural ‘constants’ were off even slightly.

Roger Penrose, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, writes that the likelihood of the universe having usable energy (low entropy) at its creation is “one part out of ten to the power of ten to the power of 123.” That is “a million billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion billion zeros.”

Steven Weinberg, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, and an anti-religious agnostic, notes that “the existence of life of any kind seems to require a cancellation between different contributions to the vacuum energy, accurate to about 120 decimal places.” As the website explains, “This means that if the energies of the Big Bang were, in arbitrary units, not:

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
But instead:

100000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001
There would be no life of any sort in the entire universe.”
How do those at pains to attribute all this to serendipity account for it? Some say that one cannot posit an Architect of the universe who designed it this way intentionally because such an explanation is not scientific. This is a dodge of course. It can only be true if we equate science with metaphysical naturalism, but if science is the pursuit of truth wherever the evidence leads then it's foolish, as William James once noted, to discount some truths, if they're really there, just because we're following a rule that doesn't allow us to see those kinds of truths. Prager puts it this way:
Unless one is a closed-minded atheist (there are open-minded atheists), it is not valid on a purely scientific basis to deny that the universe is improbably fine-tuned to create life, let alone intelligent life.

Additionally, it is atheistic dogma, not science, to dismiss design as unscientific. The argument that science cannot suggest that intelligence comes from intelligence or design from an intelligent designer is simply a tautology. It is dogma masquerading as science.
So what other moves are available to the naturalist who blanches at the prospect of a finely-tuned universe?
They've put forward the notion of a multiverse — the idea that there are many, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes.
If there are an infinite number of universes and if all logically possible laws of physics are exemplified in that ensemble then every possible universe, no matter how improbable, must exist somewhere in that infinite assortment. Ours is a possible universe, of course, so, no matter how unlikely, it exists. No big deal. But, as Prager observes, there is not a shred of evidence of the existence of these other universes — nor could there be, since contact with another universe is impossible.
Therefore, only one conclusion can be drawn: The fact that atheists have resorted to the multiverse argument constitutes a tacit admission that they have lost the argument about design in this universe. The evidence in this universe for design — or, if you will, the fine-tuning that cannot be explained by chance or by “enough time” — is so compelling that the only way around it is to suggest that our universe is only one of an infinite number of universes.
There are several ironies in this. One is that scientists who demand empirical evidence for the claim that a Designer exists avoid the evidence, the fine-tuning of the cosmos, by embracing a hypothesis for which there is not only no empirical evidence but for which there couldn't be empirical evidence.

Another irony is that trying to negate astronomical improbabilities by invoking astronomical numbers of worlds pretty much destroys the ability of science to rule out anything on the basis of probability.

For example, suppose there is a one in a quadrillion chance that someone playing a roulette wheel will pick the same number ten times in a row and win all ten times. Which is more likely, that the game was rigged or that the player defied the odds? If we live in a multiverse consisting of far more than a quadrillion universes it could be that we live in a universe in which the one in a quadrillion event actually happens. We cannot conclude that the wheel was probably rigged because in the multiverse anything that is possible to happen will happen in some world, so how do we know that our world isn't the one in which this event happens?

In other words, in the multiverse, unless something is logically impossible it's inevitable that it occur somewhere. Why not here? Ironically, for the atheist who takes refuge in the multiverse in order to avoid the Fine-Tuner, miracles, the bete noire of atheists, are inevitable in some world so why think ours is not that world?

Moreover, as critics of the multiverse hypothesis have pointed out, there's no known mechanism for pumping out these universes but if something is generating them it must itself be fine-tuned. Since this universe-maker transcends the worlds it creates it must be super-natural so how is it any more fit as an object of scientific speculation than an Intelligent Designer?

If you have the time you might want to watch this lecture by Robin Collins, one of the world's foremost philosophers working on cosmic fine-tuning and the multiverse theory.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Webinar to Promote In the Absence of God

As you may have heard I have a novel out titled In the Absence of God. One of the best-known booksellers in the region is doing a free webinar on Thursday the 27th at 1:00 on the ten books he recommends to pastors and laymen for summer reading, and I'm told that Absence has made the cut.

If you'd like to listen in on Thursday you can register here for the program, and you can get more details on it here.

If you're headed for the shore this summer Absence would make great beach reading. Click on the link at the top right of this page to learn how you can obtain a copy.

The Birds Do It

Meghan Laslocky is an author who writes on themes of love and sex, which puts her among about 95% of the people who write books. She has an article at CNN in which she argues that it's perfectly normal for people to cheat on their spouses and that there's really nothing wrong with it. Monogamy is not natural, she believes, and infidelity shouldn't be condemned.

Her main points can be summarized as follows: Since humans have a yearning for sexual variety which in earlier ages could be satisfied by the fact that spouses often died young leaving the survivor to seek out other partners, we should be sympathetic to those who are unable to remain faithful to one person for a lifetime. Moreover, most birds and mammals are not monogamous. Since we don't judge animals for being promiscuous and since humans are animals just like any other we shouldn't think harshly of marital infidelity:
Human monogamy is influenced by many factors. Instead of pointing fingers or acting morally superior toward those who stray from marriages, we should recognize that strict sexual fidelity is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration. No two individuals, and no two couples are alike, and we should respect that.
You'll have to read the details at the link, but let's tease out the two arguments outlined above. The first is a good example of how naturalism extinguishes morality. Laslocky argues that there's nothing wrong with animals trysting with more than one partner, and, since humans are just animals, there's nothing with humans doing the same.

Of course this argument hinges on the claim that humans are just animals, a claim that's true if naturalism is true, but is clearly false if, in fact, we're created in the image of God and endowed by Him with a set of moral duties which we are obligated to fulfill. If naturalism is true then anything goes. If there is no God then there are no moral duties and we really are just animals, but Laslocky nowhere defends the claim that naturalism is true. She just assumes it.

Put differently, Laslocky assumes the most dehumanizing view of man, reduces him to a brute, and thereby justifies his capitulation to animal lusts and desires that have caused enormous pain and suffering wherever that capitulation is practiced and condoned (Perhaps one of the finest illustrations of this in modern literature is Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men).

Her second argument goes like this: Because humans tend to be promiscuous therefore promiscuity is not wrong. The implied premise is that whatever is, is not wrong. This, of course, is nonsense. Humans are also inclined toward greed, selfishness, violence, rapine, hatred, and bad manners. Does Laslocky want to maintain that "Instead of pointing fingers or acting morally superior" toward those who are selfish, greedy and violent, we should recognize that a more saintly life "is a lofty but perhaps fundamentally doomed aspiration"?

Because we cannot achieve perfection are we to therefore cease striving for it, cease expecting it, and just acquiesce to whatever desires come over us? A society that lives by Laslocky's rule that whatever desires we cannot tame may as well be indulged would be barbaric.

Somewhat ironically she feels it necessary to clarify for her readers that she herself doesn't live the way one might think:
Moreover, one's perspective on monogamy is not necessarily an indicator of one's personal practices. Many people have incorrectly assumed that because I've read, thought, and written about the problems with human monogamy that I am myself promiscuous.

For the record, nothing could be further from the truth. Nor am I, as many commenters on this Yahoo post suggested, a Satanist or a whore.
One wonders why she feels it necessary to point this out since if she were any of these things there'd be nothing wrong with it since by her reasoning, there's nothing wrong with anything our desires drive us to do.

She concludes by appending that, so far from being any of the things her critics accuse her of, she's "just a woman with a healthy respect for science," but this is disingenuous.

Science can tell us how and why people do what they do, but it has nothing whatsoever to tell us about what people ought to do. It can tell us neither that people ought to be monogamous or polygamous or that people ought not to judge those who deviate from either of these. The word ought simply has no place in science which cannot tell us that anything is morally acceptable or unacceptable.

Nevertheless, it is precisely these sorts of judgments that are implicit throughout her column. Ms. Laslockey uses scientific facts, but when she employs those facts in the service of making moral claims she's going beyond the limits of science and is traipsing about in a metaphysical meadow. For her to imply that she's just doing science is misleading.

She may have a healthy respect for science but one wishes she had the same respect for logic.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Now's Their Chance

Jonah Goldberg issues a challenge to the youthful supporters of President Obama who are largely responsible for his election in 2008 and reelection in 2012.

His challenge amounts to something like this: You inflicted him on the rest of us now show us you meant it. You thrilled to his speeches and swooned over his promises. You elected him to impose his health care plan on the nation and reelected him even after it was becoming clear what that legislation would mean to you as consumers. So now it's time to be a grown up and buy your overpriced, unnecessary insurance so that Obamacare at least works a little bit for those it's supposed to help.

Goldberg puts it a little less bluntly than this, perhaps, but that's pretty much his message:
Okay, young’ns, here’s your chance....

Whenever curmudgeons like yours truly suggested that young people were getting caught up in a fad or that Obama was simply buying votes at the expense of taxpayers, you’d have a fit. You’d insist that millennials are not only informed, but eager to make sacrifices for the greater good.

Well, here’s your chance to prove it: Fork over whatever it costs to buy the best health insurance you can under Obamacare. Just in case you forgot, under Obamacare healthy young people such as yourself not only need to buy health insurance in order for the whole thing to work, but have to be overcharged for it. If you don’t pay more — probably a lot more — than what you could get today on the market in most states, Obamacare will come apart like wet toilet paper.

Estimates vary and depend on how much you make and where you live, but if you’re buying health care yourself, your out-of-pocket costs will probably be at least a couple hundred bucks a month, give or take. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s “subsidy calculator” estimates that a 26-year-old nonsmoker making $30,000 a year will pay $2,512 a year for the “silver plan.” Although, if you fill out all of the paperwork, the feds could send you a check for about $500. If you smoke — you don’t smoke, do you? — the premium rises to over $4,000. (The subsidy stays the same.)

Also, the more you make, the more your insurance will cost because the subsidies will get smaller.

Of course, the above is a pretty rosy scenario. The more young people who don’t sign up, the higher the premiums will have to be to cover the costs of those who do. Many experts think the sky’s the limit to how high prices will go.

And as prices go up, the whole thing might go down. Actuaries call this the “death spiral.” The old and sick race to sign up, but the young and healthy opt to stay out. That causes prices to go up, and more people to drop out. And since the fine for not signing up is so much lower than premiums, lots of people will just wait until they’re sick before buying insurance.

Now, that might be the smart play — for cynics. But you’re not cynical. You didn’t vote for Obama and cheer the passage of Obamacare because it was the cool thing to do. You did your homework. You want to share the sacrifice. You want to secure the president’s legacy.

And now’s your chance to prove it.
I wonder if the rapturous countenances will still be beaming once it all starts sinking in.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bad Options

Global warmists are in a swivet over the fact that despite their sophisticated models and dire forecasts the climate isn't doing what they've been warning us it would do. Evidently the only damage being inflicted by global temperatures is to the credibility, professional reputations, and self-esteem of the climatologists and those who gave them their implicit trust. A piece by Michael Bastasch at The Daily Caller elaborates:
In an interview with the German news publication Der Spiegel, meteorologist Hans von Storch said that scientists are so puzzled by the 15-year standstill in global warming that if the trend continues their models could be “fundamentally wrong.”

“If things continue as they have been, in five years, at the latest, we will need to acknowledge that something is fundamentally wrong with our climate models,” Storch told Der Spiegel. “A 20-year pause in global warming does not occur in a single modeled scenario. But even today, we are finding it very difficult to reconcile actual temperature trends with our expectations.”
This is good news, of course. Scientists had predicted that an increase of only two degrees Celsius, which we were expected to encounter within twenty to thirty years, would result in widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat waves, and more intense cyclones. This bleak forecast precipitated urgent calls by environmentalists for President Obama to do something before the trend became irreversible. As an aside, why is it up to the United States to "do something"? We're not the biggest polluter, after all.

Anyway, despite the fact that greenhouse gas emissions have not substantially diminished in the last fifteen years, the expected temperature surges have failed to materialize. Why?
“There are two conceivable explanations — and neither is very pleasant for us,” said Storch. “The first possibility is that less global warming is occurring than expected because greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have less of an effect than we have assumed. This wouldn’t mean that there is no man-made greenhouse effect, but simply that our effect on climate events is not as great as we have believed.”

“The other possibility is that, in our simulations, we have underestimated how much the climate fluctuates owing to natural causes,” Storch added.
When Storch says that neither possibility is "pleasant for us" he means by "us" his fellow climatologists. No matter which of the two options is correct a lot of people have a lot of egg on their faces right now. Storch then puts his finger on exactly why it is that his fellow scientists are looking so chagrined:
“Certainly the greatest mistake of climate researchers has been giving the impression that they are declaring the definitive truth,” said Storch. “The end result is foolishness along the lines of the climate protection brochures recently published by Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency under the title ‘Sie erwärmt sich doch’ (‘The Earth is getting warmer’). Pamphlets like that aren’t going to convince any skeptics.”

“It’s not a bad thing to make mistakes and have to correct them,” Storch said. “The only thing that was bad was acting beforehand as if we were infallible. By doing so, we have gambled away the most important asset we have as scientists: the public’s trust.”
Exactly so. I hope Al Gore reads Storch's comments.

Of course, the stasis we're experiencing may be a temporary phenomenon. It may turn out that after a year or two temps will skyrocket. Who knows? But that's the point, no one knows. For people like Gore and others on the left to demand that nations cripple their economies by stifling energy production on a hunch that they know is irresponsible at best.

It may be that modest temperature rises over the next few decades will indeed make life more difficult in the third world, but the life of third worlders will be infinitely more difficult if the people of the first world, upon whom the world's poor are so heavily dependent, deliberately and recklessly impoverish themselves.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Red Lines

President Obama announced last week that the Assad government has crossed his "red line" by using chemical weapons against rebel forces in the ongoing civil war in Syria and that we will now be deepening our involvement by supplying the rebels with arms.

This has a familiar, and disturbing, echo about it. As the Washington Post reports:
Despite months of laboratory testing and scrutiny by top U.S. scientists, the Obama administration’s case for arming Syria’s rebels rests on unverifiable claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, according to diplomats and experts.

The United States, Britain and France have supplied the United Nations with a trove of evidence, including multiple blood, tissue and soil samples, that U.S. officials say proves that Syrian troops used the nerve agent sarin on the battlefield. But the nature of the physical evidence — as well as the secrecy over how it was collected and analyzed — has opened the administration to criticism by independent experts, who say there is no reliable way to assess its authenticity.

The technical data presented by the three Western powers is of limited value to U.N. inspectors trying to determine whether Syria’s combatants used chemical weapons during the country’s 25-month-old conflict. Under the United Nations’ terms of reference, only evidence personally collected by its inspectors can be used to fashion a final judgment.

But no inspectors have been allowed inside Syria, so Western governments have relied on physical evidence smuggled out of the country by rebels or intelligence operatives. Precisely who acquired the evidence and what methods were used to guard against tampering may be unknowable, according to experts experienced at investigating chemical weapons claims.
Does this not sound familiar? The Bush administration's justification for launching a military assault on Iraq was based on arguments, largely circumstantial, that Iraq was amassing weapons of mass destruction, primarily chemical weapons, to be used against its enemies in the region. The left at the time, including Barack Obama, scoffed at the arguments and accused President Bush of having lied to justify his use of military force. We could go back even further to the event that triggered our entrance into the Vietnam war which proved so costly in American blood and treasure - the Gulf of Tonkin incident which historians now seem to agree President Johnson fabricated as a rationale for war.

The left was incensed by these flimsy pretexts. Mr. Obama was too young to have been concerned about Vietnam, but he was strenuously opposed to Mr. Bush's war in Iraq and was among those who scorned the argument that the White House had reliable intelligence which supported the conclusion that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical agents.

Now Mr. Obama himself has made the use of chemical agents a justification for military involvement and is claiming that Syria has transgressed his red line, but can offer no dispositive evidence of that transgression. Nevertheless, he's getting us involved in a conflict that can only turn out badly for us no matter who ultimately prevails.

Moreover, by supplying weapons to the rebels, if that's all we do, the most we can expect will be a stalemate between the contending forces with the killing going on into the indefinite future. Surely the Soviets and the Iranians will not allow the rebels to gain the upper hand, so simply supplying arms, without any other kind of intervention, will accomplish nothing other than to prolong the conflict. This may be the White House strategy, of course - to facilitate a long war between al Qaeda and Hezbollah and let them slaughter each other, but the toll on Syrian civilians will be enormous in such a scenario.

If something like this is indeed what comes to pass it'll be interesting to see whether we'll be hearing chants of "Obama lied, people died" from the left as we did, mutatis mutandis, during the Iraq war.

In any case, there's a more basic question to be raised about all this. Most Americans, polls show, agree with Mr. Obama that if Assad uses chemical weapons that should trigger American involvement, but why should it? What's the difference whether Syrian government forces kill tens of thousands of their people with artillery barrages and aerial bombings of towns and villages or whether they do it by launching a chemical agent into the town square? Why is one method of mass killing any more intolerable than another?

It's ironic that it was the left in the late 60s and early 70s which insisted that we had no business getting mired in a civil war in Vietnam, but today the most left-wing president in our history is about to get us involved in another civil war, on the same side as al Qaeda no less, that cannot turn out well.

It's also ironic that we have far better reason to take strong military action against Assad's chief supporter, Iran, but have so far shied away from doing so, despite the other red line that Mr. Obama drew when he said in 2008 that we will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If it weren't for Iran, Assad wouldn't be able to survive, so if we want to help unseat Assad and at the same time stifle Iran's determination to bring about Armageddon perhaps Iran should be our target and not Assad.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Mr. Obama Believes

On his recent trip abroad Mr. Obama delivered himself of some very dubious assertions thereby giving us a glimpse into both his worldview and the regrettable superficiality of his thinking. In Berlin he informed a crowd of 4500 (down substantially from the 200,000 admirers at his 2008 appearance) that "the global threat of our time is climate change."

The Hill reports the relevant passage:
“With a global middle class consuming more energy every day, this must now be an effort of all nations, not just some. For the grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise. This is the future we must avert,” Obama said.

“This is the global threat of our time. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work,” he said, according to a White House transcript.
The greatest threat to the planet, Mr. Obama is evidently convinced, is not Islamic fanaticism. It's not nuclear weapons in the hands of psychopaths. It's not famine, disease or the breakdown of civilized behavior around the globe. It's climate change.

All the other threats are plainly visible every day to anyone who reads the news, but if any significant, permanent change is occurring in our climate it's happening with exquisite stealth.

Before Mr. Obama can expect anyone to give credence to his Gorean alarmism he needs to answer three questions: What is the actual evidence that the climate is changing significantly? How much change would it take to bring about the catastrophes he postulates? What are the geophysical, ecological, and social pros and cons of whatever change is occurring? Apart from a discussion of these questions his claim that global climate change is the greatest threat facing the planet is as vapid as the rest of his speech in Berlin.

In Northern Ireland Mr. Obama outraged the entire Catholic universe when he said this:
“If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden—that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”
I'm sure his Irish listeners were wondering who is this man who presides over a nation whose public schools are declining into educational decrepitude to go to another nation and lecture them about how they arrange their education practices? Would Mr. Obama dream of criticizing Muslims, either here or abroad, for their madrassas which are undoubtedly the most divisive schools on the planet? Would he dream of telling black students at black colleges that their schools encourage division and stifle cooperation? Would he go to New York and tell Jews that their schools contribute to social mistrust and alienation?

Of course he wouldn't, but we learned some time ago that logical rigor is not prominent among the president's gifts. Like many another socialist, Mr. Obama pays lip service to diversity, but in fact desires bland uniformity. For the left diversity is good only to the extent that it serves as a thumb in the eye of traditional ways of arranging society - families, lifestyles, moral values, etc. When it's the tradition itself that's diverse, as in the tradition of having private parochial schools, then it's divisive and socially unhelpful.

Maybe Mr. Obama needs to spend a little less time in the company of his vice-president and more time honing his thinking skills.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Do You Trust This Man?

Ron Fournier a liberal columnist at National Journal wrote a piece we quoted from a few days ago that was very critical of Barack Obama. This week he sounds even more upset that the man in whom he had invested so much hope seems so untrustworthy:
Especially when it comes to the presidency, Americans tend to trust their guts, and in Obama's case, lately, something doesn't feel right. Can I trust this guy?

There is a common element to the so-called Obama scandals—the IRS targeting of conservatives, the fatal attack in Benghazi, and widespread spying on U.S. journalists and ordinary Americans. It is a lack of credibility.

In each case, the Obama administration has helped make controversies worse by changing its stories, distorting facts, and lying.

The abuse of trust may be taking a toll on President Obama's reputation....

A month into Obama's presidency, 74 percent of Americans answered "yes," saying the terms "honest and trustworthy" applied to him .... This month, only 49 percent of Americans say Obama is honest and trustworthy. That is a 9-point drop since May 17-18. Obama still may be able to recover. But he would need to take immediate steps to show accountability, transparency, and credibility.

No more slow-walking the truth as the White House did with the cause of the Benghazi attacks and with the names of West Wing officials notified about IRS targeting. No more lies, such as the IRS claiming for months that the targeting did not take place, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denying the existence of the NSA programs weeks before they were revealed.

No more doublespeak such as the president earnestly claiming, "Your duly elected representatives have consistently been informed" of the NSA programs. He knew that wasn't quite true, or should have known.

Obama needs to take action, too.

The IRS scandal needs to be aggressively investigated, with the seizure of White House and Obama campaign e-mails as well as interviews, under oath, with members of Obama's team. Those responsible for the abuse must be punished....

There is no time to waste. Obama already has earned the ignominious distinction of running against Bush's surveillance programs, then adapting it as president, and expanding it. Does he also want to repeat his predecessor's credibility crisis?
All good advice, to be sure, but Fournier is basing it on the assumption that the White House has nothing to hide. Yes, the president should clean house, but what if it's his house that turns out to be dirty? In fact, it seems to me that given what the president has to lose in terms of his credibility by not being forthcoming about these matters it's overwhelmingly in his interest to find the guilty parties and get rid of them.

That he doesn't do this creates a presumption that perhaps the guilty parties are too close to home and that publicly humiliating them would induce them to divulge information unflattering to the president about why they undertook to do what they did. If the president doesn't clean up the mess then the American public is warranted in assuming that it's because he himself is part of it.

The Hummingbird's Tongue

This clip on how hummingbirds extract nectar from a flower is just a small excerpt from a wonderful new video by Illustra Media on birds:
The title of the video is Flight: The Genius of Birds. Watching it one marvels at the astonishing engineering of these creatures and the gorgeous beauty and diversity that pervades the avian world.

One also suspects that those who insist that this engineering and beauty are the accidental product of blind, undirected forces and processes must make quite an effort to suppress their doubts that intelligent agency played a role.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Jihadis Needn't Fear the Eye of Sauron

We've been assured and reassured by our political leaders in Congress, the White House, and at the NSA that we have nothing to fear from the intrusive surveillance they're conducting on every electronic communication of every American. The goal, we're promised, is to keep us safe, it's for our own good, it has prevented terror attacks in the past, and we can trust them.

Well, maybe so, although when government tells its citizens that it's doing something for their own good we can be quite certain that we're about to lose another chunk of our liberty. When this administration tells us that we can trust them we feel a little like the young woman about to have her chastity debauched by the smooth-talking rake. Where is the evidence, after all, that these people can be trusted to be honest about anything?

At any rate, Mr. Obama's assurances might have a little more credibility if it weren't for the fact that one of the places our intrepid snoops refuse to aim their antennas is the very place one is most likely to find future terrorists incubating - Islamic mosques.

Investors Business Daily informs us of this puzzling exception:
The White House assures that tracking our every phone call and keystroke is to stop terrorists, and yet it won't snoop in mosques, where the terrorists are. That's right, the government's sweeping surveillance of our most private communications excludes the jihad factories where homegrown terrorists are radicalized.

Since October 2011, mosques have been off-limits to FBI agents. No more surveillance or undercover string operations without high-level approval from a special oversight body at the Justice Department dubbed the Sensitive Operations Review Committee. Who makes up this body, and how do they decide requests? Nobody knows; the names of the chairman, members and staff are kept secret.

We do know the panel was set up under pressure from Islamist groups who complained about FBI stings at mosques. Just months before the panel's formation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations teamed up with the ACLU to sue the FBI for allegedly violating the civil rights of Muslims in Los Angeles by hiring an undercover agent to infiltrate and monitor mosques there.

Before mosques were excluded from the otherwise wide domestic spy net the administration has cast, the FBI launched dozens of successful sting operations against homegrown jihadists — inside mosques — and disrupted dozens of plots against the homeland.
Rather than violate the politically incorrect taboos against ethnic profiling our liberal protectors instead eavesdrop on every American in the country except the very people most likely to present the greatest threat. It's analogous to airport security strip-searching children and grandparents and allowing sullen Arabic-speaking men with box cutters to board the plane unchallenged.

Perhaps it makes sense to the policy makers in the White House to scrutinize your mail and mine to nip in the bud any atrocities we may be plotting against our countrymen while fastidiously averting their eyes from the very communities which have spawned so many of these crimes in the past, but it doesn't make any sense at all to most normal Americans.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Evolution Always Wins

In the movie Man of Steel Superman is getting a sound thrashing from a female villain whose power appears to be superior to his. In the course of administering the drubbing she says to him:
"The fact that you possess a sense of morality and we do not gives us an evolutionary advantage and if history has proven anything it is that evolution always wins."
Well, this got me to thinking. It does seem that being unburdened by a sense of moral obligation to others would confer an evolutionary advantage. Behavior unrestrained by conscience or guilt would seem more likely to promote the survival and thus the reproductive success of those who exhibit it.

So why, then, does morality exist? Why do we have a conscience and experience guilt? Why do we have such a strong sense that some things are right and others are wrong? Why would a sense of moral duty have ever evolved? Such things would seem to be handicaps in the struggle for survival and thus have little evolutionary utility.

I'm sure the Darwinian sachems have an explanation for this, as they do for almost everything which challenges the doctrines of their creed, no matter outlandish the explanation may seem to those not imprisoned behind the bars of a materialist metaphysics, but I'd like to hear it.

I'd like to hear how, if evolution always wins, morality, conscience, and guilt increase our fitness for survival. I suspect that any explanation that's forthcoming will involve a certain amount of magic wand-waving, the fortuitous occurrence of dozens of genetic mutations at just the right time, and lots of vague speculations about how prehistoric societies probably benefited from the presence of those individuals who subordinated their own interests to the interests of others.

Aside from the scientific veneer that usually overlays such accounts the story will doubtless have all the characteristics normally associated with a fairy tale, not the least of which will be a requirement that we suspend our credulity while undirected, blind processes work their magic.

Anyway, here's the scene from Man of Steel. Apologies for all the extra stuff that I couldn't figure out how to get rid of:

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Killing Confidence in Big Government

We argued several weeks ago (see here and here) that the President was doing a good job, in an Inspector Clouseau sort of way, of making the case for smaller more accountable government even as he has tried to expand it and grow its control over our lives.

Ron Fournier, a liberal at National Journal reluctantly agrees that the incompetence and turpitude of this administration have pretty much put the kibosh on the argument that government is a good thing and that the more of it there is the better it is for everyone.

Fournier writes:
I like government. I don't like what the fallout from these past few weeks might do to the public's faith in it.

The core argument of President Obama's rise to power, and a uniting belief of his coalition of young, minority and well-educated voters, is that government can do good things -- and do them well.

[But] look at what ... the past few weeks wrought.
He goes on to elaborate on a half-dozen of what he calls "clichés," but which a conservative might call obvious truths amply verified by history. They are, in his words, that big government is intrusive, Orwellian, incompetent, corrupt, complicated, heartless, secretive, and untrustworthy. He explains how the events of the past few weeks have confirmed each element of this unfortunate indictment of the Leviathan state. The essay is very much worth reading. Fournier's disappointment and disillusionment with the current administration and the punch it has delivered to the solar plexus of his liberal faith in government are keenly felt.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this and similar laments from those on the port side of the ideological ship is that they often express consternation that someone as savvy, intelligent, knowledgeable, and virtuous as is President Obama could have allowed all this to happen. Those who were somehow seduced by Mr. Obama's rhetorical charms just can't bring themselves to believe that it was all a fraud.

But when the conclusion - in this case that our government has massively screwed up - is obviously true but doesn't follow from the premise - i.e., that our nation is led by a nearly omnicompetent man of dazzling brilliance and goodness - there's usually something wrong with the premise.

Bad things happen in the administration of highly competent and ethical individuals, to be sure, but when so much bad happens - not only the most recent scandals, but the scandals surrounding Fast and Furious, the Solyndra cronyism, the abysmal employment picture, and at least a half dozen lesser disgraces - one eventually has to reexamine one's assumption that we really are being led by highly competent and ethical individuals.

Media Bias

One of our favorite topics here at Viewpoint is the various derelictions, delinquencies, and sundry other vices of a media that has abandoned all pretense of objectivity in its political news reporting, and has become pretty much an organ for the promotion of the Democratic Party.

It's a favorite target because it's an example of a social injustice that doesn't seem to be of much concern to those, many of whom are themselves in the media, who otherwise so earnestly voice their passionate desire for social justice, and because poking fun at media hypocrisies and fatuities is such easy sport that it's irresistible.

Mary Katherine Ham is a kindred spirit. She highlights in a piece at Hot Air, for example, the disparity between the picture the media often paints of Tea Party protests and their depictions of protests conducted by the left. Here's her lede:
I mentioned yesterday the ongoing liberal protests in North Carolina dubbed “Moral Mondays.” Protesters are self-consciously modeling their efforts on Wisconsin’s, which as I noted, doesn’t necessarily bode well for them. But it does give us a chance to witness, once again, the breathtaking double standard in media coverage for protests populated by liberals vs. protests populated by conservatives.

You’ll remember back in 2009, conservatives packed health care town halls to object to Obamacare. There was pointed questioning, occasional yelling, and rare cases (nonetheless very well publicized) of physical altercations of some sort. Back in 2009, in my post-mortem on the August town halls, which had inspired national media to openly fret about the impending doom of the Republic, I calculated that there were about 11 incidents of documented violence at more than 500 health care town halls, and that the majority of them were perpetrated by liberals on conservatives.

This, of course, was not the narrative that emerged from that month or what most people remember from it because the media was busy freaking out about how all these peaceful demonstrators and pointed question-askers were bringing the nation to the brink of collapse.

Since then, we’ve seen the destruction of public parks, total disregard for permitting rules, frequent violent eruptions, and occasional sexual assaults or mysterious deaths [at] Occupy Wall Street glossed over by media in their fervor to continue a national dialogue about inequality and stuff. Had a Tea Party ever resulted in mass arrests, defecating on cop cars, or sexual assaults of attendees, the public policy concerns of the protest’s participants would have been quickly dismissed and the group demonized. For Tea Partiers, those things happened despite holding actual peaceful protests in which public lands were left often better than they were found.

Now, we have “Moral Mondays.” Check out the L.A. Times’ coverage and imagine this kind of press release ever appearing on a Tea Party gathering in national news. Now, imagine that Tea Party protest had included hundreds of arrests. Laugh with me, people.
As Ham goes on to recount the Times' coverage of these "Moral Monday" protests one marvels at the sympathetic tone and the almost heroic portrayals of the demonstrators, especially when compared to the history of demonization of the Tea Partiers. You can read more of what Ham says about it at the link.

The media may profess a certain disapprobation of the treatment meted out to conservatives by the IRS - which was an attempt to limit their effectiveness in the political arena by treating them in ways that liberal groups were not treated - but, other than the fact that the media is not a government entity, how is their behavior significantly different? What the IRS did was done for political reasons and was unethical, unjust, and dishonest. The distorted portrayals of Tea Party groups by the media is no less so.

In fact, it could be argued that it was these very misrepresentations that convinced the IRS in the first place that conservative groups needed special scrutiny and even needed to be thwarted.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Coulter on Immigration "Reform"

The Republican Party is on the verge of committing political suicide. So fearful are they of being portrayed as hard-hearted bigots that they're soon going to vote to put illegal aliens on a path to citizenship without requiring first that the border be secured.

This is the political version of self-immolation. Most rank and file members of the party believe that those who came here illegally should not, in the first place, be granted citizenship at all and, in the second, that whatever we do about them, it should be contingent upon first ensuring that future waves of immigrants cannot cross the border illegally. No one paints their living room while the roof is still leaking.

The arguments made by those Republicans who think it's somehow politically expedient for them to do what they seem about to do make no sense, as Ann Coulter points out in a recent column. Coulter launches her assault against what she sees as Republican doltishness with this:
Democrats terrify Hispanics into thinking they'll be lynched if they vote for Republicans, and then turn around and taunt Republicans for not winning a majority of the Hispanic vote.

This line of attack has real resonance with our stupidest Republicans. (Proposed Republican primary targets: Sens. Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio.) Which explains why Republicans are devoting all their energy to slightly increasing their share of the Hispanic vote while alienating everyone else in America.

It must be fun for liberals to manipulate Republicans into focusing on hopeless causes. Why don't Democrats waste their time trying to win the votes of gun owners?
Well, that's an interesting question, but to pursue it would get her off track. There's data to support her position that the attempt to woo Hispanics by granting amnesty and allowing the border to remain open is political fool's gold:
As journalist Steve Sailer recently pointed out, the Hispanic vote terrifying Republicans isn't that big. It actually declined in 2012. The Census Bureau finally released the real voter turnout numbers from the last election, and the Hispanic vote came in at only 8.4 percent of the electorate -- not the 10 percent claimed by the pro-amnesty crowd.

In raw numbers, nearly twice as many blacks voted as Hispanics, and nine times as many whites voted as Hispanics. (Ninety-eight million whites, 18 million blacks and 11 million Hispanics.)

So, naturally, the Republican Party's entire battle plan going forward is to win slightly more votes from 8.4 percent of the electorate by giving them something they don't want....

As Byron York has shown, even if Mitt Romney had won 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, he still would have lost. No Republican presidential candidate in at least 50 years has won even half of the Hispanic vote.
Coulter has more statistics with which to beat the leading lights in what has been called, not without justification, the "stupid party" over their heads.
The (pro-amnesty) Pew Research Hispanic Center has produced poll after poll showing that Hispanics don't care about amnesty. In a poll last fall, Hispanic voters said they cared more about education, jobs and health care than immigration. They even care more about the federal budget deficit than immigration!
So why are Senators Rubio, Graham, McCain et al so determined to grant amnesty to those who are here without first plugging the leaks in the border?
Maybe the greedy businessmen now running the Republican Party should talk with their Hispanic maids sometime. Ask Juanita if she'd like to have seven new immigrants competing with her for the opportunity to clean other people's houses, so that her wages can be dropped from $20 an hour to $10 an hour.

A wise Latina, A.J. Delgado, recently explained on Mediaite.com why amnesty won't win Republicans the Hispanic vote -- even if they get credit for it. Her very first argument was: "Latinos will resent the added competition for jobs."

But rich businessmen don't care. Big Republican donors -- and their campaign consultants -- just want to make money. They don't care about Hispanics, and they certainly don't care what happens to the country. If the country is hurt, I don't care, as long as I am doing better! This is the very definition of treason.
For my part I favor legalizing those who are here, but without a path to citizenship and without the taxpayer-subsidized benefits that would accrue to citizens. People brought here illegally as children should be allowed to qualify for citizenship if they complete high school or serve in the military, but adults didn't come here to be citizens, they came here to work. Very well. Let them work and pay taxes as long as they don't break any more laws. If they deem those conditions too onerous or unfair then surely they can find their way back to whence they came if they'd prefer.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, and some in the House, need to recognize the utter foolishness of legalization before the border is secure. Once these immigrants are legalized and on the road to citizenship there'll be no incentive whatsoever for the Democrats to stop the influx. Coulter summarizes the situation:
Hispanic voters are a small portion of the electorate. They don't want amnesty, and they're hopeless Democrats. So Republicans have decided the path to victory is to flood the country with lots more of them!
If the current immigration proposals pass without securing the border, a measure vigorously opposed, understandably enough, by the Democrats who see Hispanics as a bonanza of new Democratic voters, two things will happen to make Republicans a permanent minority party in the United States: Hispanics will be enrolled as Democrats in overwhelming numbers, and a lot of Republican voters will quietly leave the party and become independents.

To avert this debacle Republicans need to insist that there be no amnesty without border security and that no one be rewarded with citizenship who broke the law to come here. If they don't their political future will be as bright and robust as that of the Whigs.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Young's Disillusionment with the Church

Larry Taunton, executive director of the Fixed Point Foundation, has a column in The Atlantic in which he discusses the results of a survey of young college atheists active in Secular Student Alliances and Freethought Societies conducted by his Foundation. Here's how he describes the process:
Using the Fixed Point Foundation website, email, my Twitter, and my Facebook page, we contacted the leaders of these groups and asked if they and their fellow members would participate in our study. To our surprise, we received a flood of enquiries. Students ranging from Stanford University to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, from Northwestern to Portland State volunteered to talk to us. The rules were simple: Tell us your journey to unbelief. It was not our purpose to dispute their stories or to debate the merits of their views. Not then, anyway. We just wanted to listen to what they had to say. And what they had to say startled us.
What they learned was that many of these young atheists had grown up in the church, but they found the message and mission of their churches vague, and/or they felt their churches offered only superficial answers to life’s difficult questions. Many of them expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously, and were put off by ministers who didn't really seem to believe what the church taught.

Most of the students with whom Taunton spoke had their worldview shaped when they were between 14-17 years of age, and often embraced unbelief for emotional reasons, reacting to personal pain and suffering.

He discusses his findings in more detail in the article. Elaborating on the feelings many of his respondents expressed about the message and mission of their churches being vague or offering superficial answers to life’s difficult questions he writes:
These students heard plenty of messages encouraging "social justice," community involvement, and "being good," but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: "The connection between Jesus and a person's life was not clear." This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.

When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: "I really started to get bored with church."
Perhaps part of the problem, at least in much of the church today, is that the people charged with teaching young people about these things either can't or won't teach them or don't actually believe them themselves. Perhaps so many young people have left because the people who lead the church are uneducated, ill-informed, indifferent, or otherwise inadequate to the task to which they've been appointed.

When church leaders either don't really believe what they're teaching or can't communicate in ways that are culturally relevant and compelling, people, especially intelligent, educated people, aren't going to find much in the church to keep them there.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shameless Rerun of Book Promotion

This is a rerun from last week in case there are any readers out there who missed it:

Father's Day is coming up and if dad is a reader may I suggest that In the Absence of God would make a fine gift. It was written primarily about men and for men, although a lot of women have also told me how much they enjoyed it and appreciated its message.

You can read more about Absence at the link at the top of this page. Here's a representative sample of the feedback I've received about it:
I finished reading In the Absence of God yesterday, which isn't anything to marvel at other than the fact that I also started reading In the Absence of God yesterday. I don't think I've ever read an entire book in one sitting before, and I certainly wasn't planning on reading this book in one day, but I simply couldn't put it down.

Also, I don't think a book has ever affected me so deeply as this one has, I cannot stop thinking about the ideas that were presented throughout In the Absence of God. I was nervous when I started reading the book that I would be bored by an abundance of philosophical ideas but the conversations in the book were engaging and masterfully weaved throughout the action and plot.

The speech at the end by "Smerk" gave me chills as I was reading it, and I was deeply disturbed by how true it was that this was the logical conclusion of a materialist worldview. I identified with Professor Weyland in that I have been through some very difficult struggles with my faith because it seems as though the more "intellectual" and "logical" way to look at the world is through the lens of materialism.

This book answered many questions that I've been asking for a long time, and I feel stronger in my faith because of it. One quote in particular stuck with me as I finished the book, "For so much of his life Weyland simply took for granted that atheism made so much more sense, was so much more reasonable, so much more intelligent, than theism, but he could no longer think that. He'd never again be able to think his rejection of God, if that was the choice he ultimately made, was because atheism was so much more appealing or satisfying. What appeal is there in a worldview that has no answer to life's most important questions?"

This describes where my mind was before reading this book. Thank you for writing this book and reminding me of the truth I should have known all along.
I'm sure a lot of dads would enjoy it as much as this reader did. You can order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, both of which have it on e-books, or you can get it from Hearts and Minds Bookstore, as well as Berean, Lifeway, and BAM bookstores.

Lost in the Multiverse

Physicist Adam Frank is impressed, as most scientists are, with the degree of fine-tuning scientists are finding in the cosmos. He writes:
As cosmologists poked around Big Bang theory on ever-finer levels of detail, it soon became clear that getting this universe, the one we happily inhabit, seemed to be more and more unlikely. In his article, Scharf gives us the famous example carbon-12 and its special resonances. If this minor detail of nuclear physics were just a wee bit different, our existence would never be possible. It’s as if nuclear physics were fine-tuned to allow life. But this issue of fine-tuning goes way beyond carbon nuclei; it infects many aspects of cosmological physics.

Change almost anything associated with the fundamental laws of physics by one part in a zillion and you end up with a sterile universe where life could never have formed. Not only that, but make tiny changes in even the initial conditions of the Big Bang and you end up with a sterile universe. Cosmologically speaking, it’s like we won every lottery every imaginable. From that vantage point we are special—crazy special.
Indeed, the figure of one part in a zillion hardly begins to capture the incomprehensible precision with which these cosmic constants and forces are set, but lest one conclude that perhaps it's all purposefully engineered, Frank quickly waves the reader away from that unthinkable heresy:
Fine-tuning sticks in the craw of most physicists, and rightfully so. It’s that old Copernican principle again. What set the laws and the initial conditions for the universe to be “just so,” just so we could be here? It smells too much like intelligent design. The whole point of science has been to find natural, rational reasons for why the world looks like it does. “Because a miracle happened,” just doesn’t cut it.
This is a bit too flippant. Intelligent design doesn't say "a miracle happened" as though that were all that's needed to account for our world. ID says simply that natural processes are inadequate by themselves to explain what we're finding in our equations. Even so, it's ironic that every naturalistic theory of cosmogensis does say that the origin of the universe was miraculous if we define a miracle as an extraordinarily improbable event that does not conform to the known laws of physics.

So, how do scientists who wish to avoid the idea of purposeful design manage to do so? Well, they conjure a near infinite number of universes, the multiverse, of which ours is just one:
In response to the dilemma of fine-tuning, some cosmologists turned to the multiverse. Various theories cosmologists and physicists were already pursuing—ideas like inflation and string theory—seemed to point to multiple universes.
Actually, these theories allowed for the existence of other universes, they don't require them, but be that as it may, the advantage of positing a multiplicity of different worlds is that the more different worlds you have the more likely even a very improbable world will become, just as the more times you deal a deck of cards the more likely it will be that you'll deal a royal flush. Frank, though, issues a caveat:
There is, however, a small problem. Well, maybe it’s not a small problem, because the problem is really a very big bet these cosmologists are taking. The multiverse is a wildly extreme extrapolation of what constitutes reality. Adding an almost infinite number of possible universes to your theory of reality is no small move.

Even more important, as of yet there is not one single, itty-bitty smackeral of evidence that even one other universe exists (emphasis mine)....

Finding evidence of a multiverse would, of course, represent one of the greatest triumphs of science in history. It is a very cool idea and is worth pursuing. In the meantime, however, we need to be mindful of the metaphysics it brings with it. For that reason, the heavy investment in the multiverse may be over-enthusiastic.

The multiverse meme seems to be everywhere these days, and one question to ask is how long can the idea be supported without data (emphasis mine). Recall that relativity was confirmed after just a few years. The first evidence for the expanding universe, as predicted by general relativity, also came just a few years after theorists proposed it. String theory [upon which the multiverse idea is based], in contrast, has been around for 30 years now, and has no physical evidence to support it.
I'm surprised Frank doesn't mention the irony in this. Scientists feel impelled to shun ID because it's not scientific to posit intelligences for which there's no physical evidence (set aside the fact that the existence of a finely-tuned universe is itself pretty compelling evidence). Yet, in its stead they embrace a theory, the multiverse, for which, as he readily admits, there's no physical evidence and they think this is somehow more reasonable.

When you're determined to escape the conclusion that the universe is intentional, you'll embrace any logic and any theory, no matter how bizarre, that allows you to maintain the pretense of having avoided the offending view.

Pretty amusing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can a Conservative Be an Atheist?

Andrew Klavan and Bill Whittle discuss whether a conservative who lacks a belief in the existence of God is being consistent. Their answers are interesting and helpful, after the first thirty seconds of silliness, but I wonder if there's not more that can be said about this.

It's true that conservatives are often, though not always, theists, particularly Christian theists, but maybe it's equally as interesting to ask why Christians are usually (but certainly not always) conservatives. One reason for this correlation, perhaps, is that Christians believe in the inherent depravity of men. Thus, they tend to believe that when power is centralized in a big, bureaucratic government in which anonymous men and women are unaccountable to the people they putatively serve but whom they in fact rule, then all manner of evils ensue. Thus the Christian doctrine of man's fallenness fits snugly with the conservative predilection for small, accountable government.

Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, tend to see human beings as basically good and even perfectable. They believe that by creating better incentives, better environments, by freeing men from their inhibitions and guilt, we can construct a better world. Creating these conditions, they also believe, can best be accomplished by a strong central government. Like atheists, liberals tend to see the world in evolutionary terms, and the idea of progressively evolving toward something better than we are today resonates with them. Thus the atheistic belief in evolutionary advance fits well with the liberal belief that the state should be the engine of that progress.

Conservatives and Christians, of course, think the idea of state induced human improvement is a fantasy. Human beings are basically flawed. They're by nature selfish, violent, promiscuous, and power-hungry. Since that is their nature, changing their environment without changing their heart will only bring about marginal improvements in their behavior. Moreover, investing autonomous power in the government only insures that these human vices will be writ large in the state.

Conservatives also believe deeply in the social value and efficacy of the mediating institutions of family, church, school, voluntary associations, etc. and that government has no role in these except to prevent abuses within the institutions. This conviction dovetails neatly with the Protestant notion of sphere sovereignty and the Catholic idea of subsidiarity, which gives conservatives and Christians another point of resonance that is not so important to liberal statists. Indeed, liberals often place little value on these mediating institutions and the omnicompetent government they endorse is one which often seeks to squeeze them out of existence so that nothing remains between the individual and the state. The progressive statist wants the individual's greatest allegiance to be not to his community, his family or to his God but to his government.

Furthermore, both Christians and conservatives also believe that our rights derive from God, not from the state. Our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not bestowed upon us by bureaucrats, they are bestowed by God and are thus unalienable. One who does not believe in God has nothing in which to ground unalienable rights, nor, for that matter, human worth and dignity. Christian conservatives believe with John Locke that, though man is fallen, he nevertheless is created in the image of God and is loved by God and therefore has worth and dignity. Atheist progressives believe that man is an animal in many important respects just like any other animal and is therefore nothing "special." His rights are arbitrary gifts bestowed upon him by the state because the state finds them expedient and are granted or revoked depending upon the current needs of the state.

So conservatives can be, and sometimes are, atheists, but the metaphysical basis for conservatism in the West is the Christian tradition. As was pointed out in the video, no nation without this tradition has ever placed a value on individual freedom and worth.

An atheist who embraces conservative principles, and there are many who do, does not do so because of the theistic ground upon which conservatism rests but because he or she simply believes conservatism works best to produce the ends he/she desires.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Story for Our Time

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is resonant with allegorical applications to events unfolding in Washington D.C. Its plot and characters make a fascinating template for interpreting what we read in our daily news.

Consider, for example, the simple Hobbits. They're innocent, ordinary folk who just want to be left alone, much like contemporary Tea Party and Christian conservatives, but they're hounded and pursued, threatened and persecuted, by the fearsome Nazgul, just like the IRS hounds, audits and makes life miserable for any group which identifies itself as conservative and which opposes the current administration.

Meanwhile, the all-seeing eye of Sauron surveys the land of Middle Earth. Almost nothing escapes its notice, just like our NSA, sweeping the cyber-landscape, searching relentlessly for those who would deny Sauron the Ring of Power.
Sauron, whom good manners prevents me from identifying, but you can figure it out, seeks the Ring that will make him unstoppable and invincible, the same effect, if you think about it, that a Democratic sweep of Congress in 2014 would have.

Meanwhile, the Huru-Kai (i.e. Rush Limbaugh's "low information voters") are unleashed on the land as the means by which Sauron seeks to crush all opposition and carry out his quest for power.

I'm sure there are other parallels between our current perilous state of affairs and the frightening goings on in Middle Earth. Readers who think of some are welcome to submit their ideas through the Contact Us button.

Syria's Not Our Fight

A friend sent along a link to an article by Michael Gerson advocating American military intervention on behalf of the rebels in Syria. My friend asked me what I thought about Gerson's piece. Here's the gist of my reply:

Once again I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to disagree with Gerson, a man I deeply admire.

I sympathize with the notion that we have an obligation to prevent the slaughter of innocents when we can. Clinton balked in Rwanda, which I thought was wrong, and he intervened in Bosnia, which I thought was (partly) right. One of the great merits of Bush's presidency, I've argued in the past, is that he freed from tyranny 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Syria is different. Unlike Rwanda we would not be intervening against people armed only with machetes. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan there's no immediate national interest at stake in Syria. There's no threat to the world's oil supply, as there was in Kuwait and Iraq, and neither, so far as I know, is Syria harboring terrorists who are planning to attack us, as Afghanistan was. Nor do they have nuclear weapons that they're threatening to use against us, as Iran and North Korea do.

The only reason for intervening in Syria would be to stop the slaughter of Syrians by Syrians, and we should have learned from recent experience with Egypt and Libya that picking a side in such affairs often turns out badly. We favored the freedom-lovers in Egypt over our ally Mubarak, and what we and the Egyptians got for our efforts is the Muslim Brotherhood. We favored the rebels over Quaddafi in Libya and what we got was Benghazi.

The Syrian rebels are not just a bunch of Jeffersonian Democrats. If they were I'd feel differently, but they're largely composed of elements of al Qaeda and affiliated groups hostile to both us and Israel. If they succeed in toppling Assad it will only catapult al Qaeda into power because, surely, if the rebels prevail, they'll quickly come to be dominated by the most extreme factions in their coalition. This is what happened in Egypt and as is threatening to happen in Libya, and as indeed happened in just about every communist revolution of the 20th century. Do we want to send American troops and pilots to die and be captured and tortured so that al Qaeda will rule Syria?

Moreover, should the rebels succeed, they'd doubtless launch their own mass killing of the supporters of Assad. Would we then feel morally compelled to intervene again on the side of the Alawites who are supported by Iran and Hezbollah?

The war in Syria is largely a Sunni/Shia conflict. If we're going to intervene in internecine bloodshed, why not go back into Iraq where we have much more at stake. We've already made a huge investment in Iraq and since we've pulled out, that nation threatens to unravel. Would those who counsel intervention in Syria agree with going back into Iraq if the situation there deteriorates further?

Indeed, Iran is a much greater threat to the peace and stability of the region, and to us, than is Syria. How can we justify bombing Syrians while allowing Iran to continue to develop nuclear weapons which they've promised to use against Israel?

Syria shares a 600 mile border with Turkey, a largely Sunni nation, and another border with Israel. These are the two most powerful militaries in the Middle East. If the civil war is a threat to the region then the regional nations should handle it, just as the regional nations should have handled Bosnia. Why we should go further into debt and risk more American lives when Turkey and Israel are capable themselves of dealing with Damascus Gerson doesn't explain.

We should, at least for now, continue humanitarian aid to those who are suffering, but if we're going to kill Muslims on one side in order to save Muslims on the other, and risk having our own sons killed or captured in the process, I think we're going to be playing a very dangerous game with our own future. In order to justify intervention we need to have much more to lose by staying out than by going in. Failing that, let the nations in the region handle it.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Father's Day Gift Idea

Father's Day is coming up and if dad is a reader may I suggest that In the Absence of God would make a fine gift. It was written primarily about men and for men, although a lot of women have also told me how much they enjoyed it and appreciated its message.

You can read more about Absence at the link at the top of this page. Here's a representative sample of the feedback I've received about it:
I finished reading In the Absence of God yesterday, which isn't anything to marvel at other than the fact that I also started reading In the Absence of God yesterday. I don't think I've ever read an entire book in one sitting before, and I certainly wasn't planning on reading this book in one day, but I simply couldn't put it down.

Also, I don't think a book has ever affected me so deeply as this one has, I cannot stop thinking about the ideas that were presented throughout In the Absence of God. I was nervous when I started reading the book that I would be bored by an abundance of philosophical ideas but the conversations in the book were engaging and masterfully weaved throughout the action and plot.

The speech at the end by "Smerk" gave me chills as I was reading it, and I was deeply disturbed by how true it was that this was the logical conclusion of a materialist worldview. I identified with Professor Weyland in that I have been through some very difficult struggles with my faith because it seems as though the more "intellectual" and "logical" way to look at the world is through the lens of materialism.

This book answered many questions that I've been asking for a long time, and I feel stronger in my faith because of it. One quote in particular stuck with me as I finished the book, "For so much of his life Weyland simply took for granted that atheism made so much more sense, was so much more reasonable, so much more intelligent, than theism, but he could no longer think that. He'd never again be able to think his rejection of God, if that was the choice he ultimately made, was because atheism was so much more appealing or satisfying. What appeal is there in a worldview that has no answer to life's most important questions?"

This describes where my mind was before reading this book. Thank you for writing this book and reminding me of the truth I should have known all along.
I'm sure a lot of dads would enjoy it as much as this reader did. You can order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, both of which have it on e-books, or you can get it from Hearts and Minds Bookstore, as well as Berean, Lifeway, and BAM bookstores.

Crazy Logic

The more evidence of malfeasance that accumulates against Attorney General Eric Holder the more need there is, obviously, to investigate him and his tenure at the Department of Justice. Yet there's a Catch-22 buried in this observation. It turns out that the more the Republicans investigate the AG the more the Democrats complain that the Republicans are just "out to get" him, and, the more dubious the Democrats are of the legitimacy of Republican complaints, the less inclined they are to go along with any investigation of them.

In other words, the worse the AG behaves the more innocent the Democrats believe him to be. Perhaps the only way these Dems could be persuaded to assist with an investigation of an Obama appointee would be if the individual were known apriori to be squeaky clean and was not the target of any Republican allegations of wrongdoing.

The New York Times rather obliquely and tacitly acknowledges that this is, in fact, the view of at least some Democrats. Their article begins with a depressing summary of Eric Holder's inadequacies:
Under his leadership, the department scaled back a voter-intimidation lawsuit from the Bush era involving the New Black Panther Party, a decision that conservatives used to portray the black-nationalist fringe group as a political ally of the Obama administration. He reopened criminal investigations into the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects and tried to prosecute five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks in civilian courts rather than military tribunals, which provoked accusations that he was soft on terrorism. And he abandoned the legal defense of a law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage that social conservatives viewed as a bulwark against attacks on the traditional family.

The party-line furor peaked with hearings into Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-trafficking investigation by federal agents based in Arizona. When Mr. Holder, after Mr. Obama invoked executive privilege, refused to provide department e-mails relating to the fallout after the operation ended, the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress. A report by the Justice Department’s independent inspector general essentially exonerated Mr. Holder of accusations that he had sanctioned risky investigative tactics that were used in the case, but that did not satisfy Republican lawmakers who are still pressing for a court order for the e-mails.
One might think that this indictment of the AG's suitability for the office he holds would elicit the antagonism of any honest, fair-minded Democrat, but the Times closes its piece with this:
Yet Democrats remain reluctant about furthering what they see as a partisan campaign against the attorney general. “There is a set of recurring patterns on the Republican side trying to grind him into the dust, so we’re a bit dubious of their complaints,” said Representative Peter Welch of Vermont.
Has it occurred to Rep. Welch that perhaps the pattern is recurring because the AG's delinquencies are recurring? Does he think there's some point at which Mr. Holder should be rewarded with immunity for achieving the distinction of being the most scandal-ridden AG in history? Does Rep. Welch think that when the number of ethical derelictions reaches a certain level it's just partisan politics to continue to investigate them?

For the Dems, it seems, it doesn't matter whether Holder is actually an inveterately incompetent, unscrupulous, deceitful, partisan misfit heading up the DoJ. What matters is that the GOP is out to get him (precisely because he is an inveterately incompetent, unscrupulous, deceitful, partisan misfit) and therefore the Democrats resist. The idea of doing what's best for the country? Who cares about that? A similar tactic, of course, is employed by Democrats in defense of the President.

As the scandals swirling around the White House grow thick as flies in a horse barn the more assured we may be that the President's defenders will accuse his critics of being motivated by racism. It works like this: The more Mr. Obama is shown to be out of his depth, intellectually and ethically, in the Oval Office the more he's criticized. The more he's criticized the more his defenders see the criticisms as racially motivated. So, the more Mr. Obama screws up the more racist the Republican critics prove themselves to be.

The syllogism may be more simply stated thusly: Pres. Obama is a black man. Pres. Obama is criticized. Therefore the criticism is obviously due to the fact that he's a black man. If you think no one could be so addlepated as to argue like this, you haven't watched MSNBC.

As if taping a training video to illustrate the tactic here's MSNBC's Martin Bashir demonstrating it for us:
Such is the logic of those who feel compelled to defend the indefensible.