Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Superintelligence

We've run a few posts here at VP lately which talk about reasons for believing that the conditions necessary to permit the emergence and persistence of advanced life may be exceedingly rare in the cosmos and that intelligent life may exist only on one solitary planet in the entire cosmos, ours.

There are some philosophers and scientists, however, who still think that there must be many planets out there which exhibit the properties necessary for life and among these thinkers are those who believe that many of those planets must host civilizations much older and far more technologically advanced than ours.

This line of thinking has led some like Nick Bostrom to assume that at some point computers would be built by a race of beings so incredibly brilliant that they'd be able to program their machines to run simulated universes much like your computer can run a simulation of a medieval battle. Indeed, Bostrom argues that it's likely that we ourselves are living in one such simulation.

Others believe that technology must be so far advanced elsewhere in the universe that computers have replaced brains and that the intelligence of these silicon-based creatures is to human intelligence as human intelligence is to the intelligence of a goldfish. Motherboard has an interesting, though highly speculative piece on this theory. Here are a few excerpts:
If and when we finally encounter aliens, they probably won’t look like little green men, or spiny insectoids. It’s likely they won’t be biological creatures at all, but rather, advanced robots that outstrip our intelligence in every conceivable way. While scores of philosophers, scientists and futurists have prophesied the rise of artificial intelligence and the impending singularity, most have restricted their predictions to Earth. Fewer thinkers — outside the realm of science fiction, that is — have considered the notion that artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons.

Susan Schneider, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is one who has. She joins a handful of astronomers, including Seth Shostak, director of NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, or SETI, program....
Schneider argues that given the fact that alien civilizations that we might come in contact with would be vastly older than our own they'd likely be far more technologically advanced than we are. According to Schneider:
Everything about their cognition — how their brains receive and process information, what their goals and incentives are — could be vastly different from our own. Astrobiologists need to start thinking about the possibility of very different modes of cognition.

There’s an important distinction here from just ‘artificial intelligence.’ I’m not saying that we’re going to be running into IBM processors in outer space. In all likelihood, this intelligence will be way more sophisticated than anything humans can understand.
The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with how old those civilizations may be. Seth Shostak explains:
As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI. At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.

The way you reach this conclusion is very straightforward. Consider the fact that any signal we pick up has to come from a civilization at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, conservatively, the average civilization will use radio for 10,000 years. From a purely probabilistic point of view, the chance of encountering a society far older than ourselves is quite high.
One question all this raises is whether any kind of artificial intelligence could be conscious in any meaningful sense. Schneider acknowledges the possibility that it's not, but thinks that consciousness could nevertheless arise in superintelligent artificial beings.
I believe the brain is inherently computational — we already have computational theories that describe aspects of consciousness, including working memory and attention. Given a computational brain, I don’t see any good argument that silicon, instead of carbon, can’t be an excellent medium for experience.
Be that as it may (I'm skeptical), the article addresses several other interesting questions. One of them is whether superintelligent aliens would care to contact us. Schneider and Shostak don't think it's likely. Here's Shostak:
If they were interested in us, we probably wouldn’t be here. My gut feeling is their goals and incentives are so different from ours, they’re not going to want to contact us.

I’d have to agree with Susan on them not being interested in us at all. We're just too simplistic, too irrelevant. “You don’t spend a whole lot of time hanging out reading books with your goldfish. On the other hand, you don’t really want to kill the goldfish, either.
I have my doubts about this, too. Suppose we had the chance to study some earlier evolutionary precursor to human beings (assuming for the moment such precursors existed), some australopithecine apes, for example. Would we not want to examine these more primitive species and perhaps communicate with them if we could? Would we not be fascinated by the prospect of gaining more clues as to where we came from and how we arrived where we are? Why think the super-advanced creatures out there would not be curious enough to want to treat us as living fossils to be studied for clues about their own ancestry?

Anyway, like I said above, as interesting as all this is, it's highly speculative. So far, after decades of searching, there's absolutely no evidence of any life anywhere else but earth. That doesn't mean there's none out there, but as of now there's little reason, as opposed to faith and hope, that there is.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

NYPD Work Stoppage

It appears that the NYPD has decided that for whatever reasons it's not going to go out of its way to enforce minor infractions of the law such as illegally selling loose cigarettes. Apparently the officers have decided that if one unfortunate bungled arrest attempt resulting in tragedy is going to bring down the wrath of a sizable number of protestors and the contempt of their boss, Mayor de Blasio, then why risk it? The following is from the New York Post's report:
It’s not a slowdown — it’s a virtual work stoppage.

NYPD traffic tickets and summonses for minor offenses have dropped off by a staggering 94 percent following the execution of two cops — as officers feel betrayed by the mayor and fear for their safety, The Post has learned.

Angry union leaders have ordered drastic measures for their members since the Dec. 20 assassination of two NYPD cops in a patrol car, including that two units respond to every call.

It has helped contribute to a nose dive in low-level policing, with overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show.

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.

Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.

Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241. Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.

Police sources said Monday that safety concerns were the main reason for the dropoff in police activity, but added that some cops were mounting an undeclared slowdown in protest of de Blasio’s response to the non-indictment in the police chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“This is not a slowdown for slowdown’s sake. Cops are concerned, after the reaction from City Hall on the Garner case, about de Blasio not backing them.” The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has warned its members to put their safety first and not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary.”
The lack of police protection doesn't extend to felonious behavior, for which the people of New York can be thankful, but if it did we'd be able to witness an interesting experiment. Throughout the protests of the last days angry protestors and pundits have frequently alleged that people in black neighborhoods live in fear of the cops. Perhaps so, and if so, it should not be so, but if the police were to stop protecting the people who say they fear them what would ensue? What would these neighborhoods look like if all the thugs, miscreants, rapists, and thieves that inhabit them knew that they could perpetrate their depredations on the innocent with impunity?

If the police did limit their presence in these neighborhoods we'd get a chance to see who it is the people really fear. How long would it be before the citizens of these neighborhoods would be pleading with the "racist" cops who "don't care about black people" to come back and risk their lives to protect them from the predators in their midst?

They might not like or appreciate the cops, they might not like being hassled on occasion, but they have far more cause to fear their own neighbors than they do to fear the cops, and if they don't know that I suspect they'd learn it pretty quick were the police to simply stop responding to calls in those precincts. In other words, the real problem, the real threat, to black kids in cities all across the country is not racist cops, though there probably are some, the real threat is other black kids. That's what Mayor de Blasio should have cautioned his son about, that's what the protestors should be demonstrating about, and that's what the talking heads on tv should be addressing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Theory of Everything

Cosmologist Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most famous living scientist, famous not only for his brilliance but also for his decades long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. What's less well-known, perhaps, is that Hawking, an atheist, had been married until the mid-nineties to a woman named Jane who is a devout Christian.

A movie based on his life has just been released titled A Theory of Everything which is a reference to the holy grail of cosmologists: a single equation that would tie together both relativity and quantum mechanics and unite the four fundamental forces in a single force. Fr. Robert Barron at Real Clear Religion has some interesting things to say about the movie which he describes as "God-haunted."
In one of the opening scenes, the young Hawking meets Jane, his future wife, in a bar and tells her that he is a cosmologist. "What's cosmology?" she asks, and he responds, "Religion for intelligent atheists." "What do cosmologists worship?" she persists. And he replies, "A single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe." Later on, Stephen brings Jane to his family's home for dinner and she challenges him, "You've never said why you don't believe in God." He says, "A physicist can't allow his calculations to be muddled by belief in a supernatural creator," to which she deliciously responds, "Sounds less of an argument against God than against physicists."

This spirited back and forth continues throughout the film, as Hawking settles more and more into a secularist view and Jane persists in her religious belief. As Hawking's physical condition deteriorates, Jane gives herself to his care with truly remarkable devotion, and it becomes clear that her dedication is born of her religious conviction.
Their relationship is reminiscent of that between Charles Darwin, who was an agnostic, and his wife Emma who was devout, and is interesting on its own, but the more important part of Barron's piece is what he has to say about how the science Hawking (and Darwin) loved so deeply was actually the product of a Christian worldview:
[I]t is by no means accidental that the modern physical sciences emerged when and where they did, namely, in a culture shaped by Christian belief. Two suppositions were required for the sciences to flourish, and they are both theological in nature, namely, that the world is not divine and that nature is marked, through and through, by intelligibility.

As long as the natural world is worshiped as sacred - as it was in many ancient cultures - it cannot become the subject of analysis, investigation, and experimentation. And unless one has confidence that the world one seeks to analyze and investigate has an intelligible structure, one will never bother with the exercise. Now both of these convictions are corollaries of the more fundamental doctrine of creation. If the world has been created by God, then it is not divine, but it is indeed marked, in every nook and cranny, by the intelligence of the Creator who made it.
Hawking's pursuit of what scientist's call the TOE (Theory of Everything) serves to illustrate Barron's point:
In light of these clarifications, let us look again at the central preoccupation of A Theory of Everything, namely, Hawking's quest to find the one great unifying equation that would explain all of reality.... Why in the world would a scientist blithely assume that there is or is even likely to be one unifying rational form to all things, unless he assumed that there is a singular, overarching intelligence that has placed it there? Why shouldn't the world be chaotic, utterly random, meaningless? Why should one presume that something as orderly and rational as an equation would describe the universe's structure?
Why, indeed, is the universe the sort of place that discloses its secrets to reason and logic? Why is it intelligible? Barron and many other scientists and philosophers, both past and present, have argued that the intelligibility of the universe is much more probable given the belief that the universe was created by an intelligent agent than on the assumption that it's the product of sheer chance. Moreover, since reason instructs us to always believe what is more likely than what is less likely the rational position is to incline toward the view that the universe is the product of an intelligent creator.

It seems remarkable, at least to me, that so many people, brilliant people like Stephen Hawking, accept that principle in every precinct of their personal philosophy and professional endeavors except when it comes to God. In that one sector of their intellectual life they for some reason set the principle aside.

I wonder how they'd explain that.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Science and the Case for God

Recently I've posted several pieces on Viewpoint on how many aspects of the solar system and the earth must be just as they are in order for intelligent life to arise and persist on the earth (Here, here and here). Eric Metaxas has an essay in the WSJ (subscription required unless you google his name and the title) titled Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God in which he expresses his astonishment at how exquisitely engineered not only the solar system but the entire universe must be in order for creatures like us to exist.

Metaxas writes:
In 1966 ... astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
In light of these calculations it seemed obvious to everyone that other intelligent beings were out there and that it was just a matter of time and effort before we detected their presence. Sagan's ideas were the inspiration for the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project and also for the movie Contact. It began in the 60s but, as Metaxas puts it:
[A]s years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing. What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
In other words, the earth, and the intelligent life it sustains, may be unique in the universe. For anyone who absorbed their science from shows like Sagan's Cosmos in the 60s through the 80s when it was simply assumed that life would be abundant in the universe this is a jaw-dropping conclusion. Metaxas goes on:
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart....The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are. How do we explain it? Or, as Metaxas asks,
Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
I agree with Metaxas' point, but in the eyes of the materialist he's got things a bit backward. The materialist might counter Metaxas' implied conclusion by insisting that there is no God and thus, since we're here, the coincidences, as amazing as they are, must have occurred. Metaxas, in other words, sees these coincidences as clear evidence of intentional design, the materialist doesn't, or maybe more accurately, chooses not to.

Metaxas is astonished by the evidence of fine-tuning exhibited not only by the earth but by the whole universe:
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp(See here for a couple of even more incredible examples).

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” Theoretical physicist Paul Davies [an agnostic] has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The sorts of facts Metaxas musters in WSJ have been circulating among scientists and philosophers for about two decades now and many books have been written about them. The fact that the arguments are making their way into more popular venues like newspapers means that more non-academics will be exposed to the impressive cumulative argument they make for the existence of intelligence as the ontological source of the cosmos. That can only be a good thing.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Secular Life

My friend Byron passed along a link to Susan Jacoby's discussion in the New York Times of a book by Phil Zuckerman titled Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions. Jacoby's review serves up several examples of missing the point. As an atheist herself Jacoby is eager to defend Zuckerman's thesis that one can live a life that's just as morally good, or better, than that of any theist. Belief in God, both Jacoby and Zuckerman aver, is not necessary for the moral life. She writes:
Many years ago, when I was an innocent lamb making my first appearance on a right-wing radio talk show, the host asked, “If you don’t believe in God, what’s to stop you from committing murder?” I blurted out, “It’s never actually occurred to me to murder anyone.”
In addition to the usual tendentious use of the word "right-wing" whenever a progressive is referring to anything to the right of the mid-line on the ideological highway, her answer to the question is a non-sequitur. The host is obviously asking her what, in her worldview, imposes any moral constraint on her. To answer that it never occurred to her to do such a thing as murder is to duck the question. The question is on what grounds would she have thought murder to be morally wrong if it had it occurred to her to commit such a deed? She continues her evasions when she says this:
Nonreligious Americans are usually pressed to explain how they control their evil impulses with the more neutral, albeit no less insulting, “How can you have morality without religion?”
We might want to pause here to ask why Ms Jacoby feels insulted that someone might ask her what she bases her moral values and decisions on. Is it insulting because she's being asked a question for which she has no good answer? Anyway, after some more irrelevant filler she eventually arrives at the nub of Zuckerman's book:
[Zuckerman] extols a secular morality grounded in the “empathetic reciprocity embedded in the Golden Rule, accepting the inevitability of our eventual death, navigating life with a sober pragmatism grounded in this world.”
Very well, but why is it right to embrace the principle that we should treat others the way we want to be treated but wrong to adopt the principle that we should put our own interests ahead of the interests of others? Is it just that it feels right to Zuckerman to live this way? If so, then all the author is saying is that everyone should live by his own feelings. In other words, morality is rooted in each person's own subjective behavioral preferences, but if that's so then no one can say that anyone else is wrong about any moral matter. If what's right is what I feel to be right then the same holds true for everyone, and how can I say that others are wrong if they feel they should be selfish, greedy, racist, dishonest, or violent? Just because I, or Susan Jacoby, feel strongly that such behaviors are wrong that surely doesn't make them wrong. Jacoby seems to unaware of the difficulty, however:
The Golden Rule (who but a psychopath could disagree with it?) is a touchstone for atheists if they feel obliged to prove that they follow a moral code recognizable to their religious compatriots. But this universal ethical premise does not prevent religious Americans (especially on the right) from badgering atheists about goodness without God — even though it would correctly be seen as rude for an atheist to ask her religious neighbors how they can be good with God.
This paragraph is unfortunate for at least three reasons. First, Jacoby's insinuation that only a moral pervert would reject the Golden Rule (GR) is a case of begging the question. She's assuming the GR is an objective moral principle and then asks how anyone could not see it as such, but the notion that there are objective moral principles is exactly what atheism disallows. Indeed, as indicated above, it's what Zuckerman and Jacoby both implicitly deny.

Second, the fact that someone can choose to live by the GR is not to the point. Anyone can live by whatever values he or she chooses. The problem for the atheist is that she cannot say that if someone disdains the GR and chooses to live selfishly or cruelly that that person is doing anything that is objectively wrong. In a Godless world values are like selections on a restaurant menu. The atheist can choose whatever she wants that suits her taste, but if her companion chooses something she doesn't like that doesn't make him wrong.

Third, Jacoby seems to imply that belief in God doesn't make one good, and in fact makes it hard to be good. This is again beside the point. One can believe in God and not know what's right. One can believe in God and not do what's right. The point, though, is that unless there is a God there is no objective moral right nor wrong. There are merely subjective preferences people have to which they are bound only by their own arbitrary will.

Morality requires a transcendent, objective, morally authoritative foundation, a foundation which has the right to impose moral strictures and the ability to enforce them. That is, it requires a personal being. If no such being exists then debates about right and wrong behavior are like debates about the prettiest color. They're no more than expressions of personal taste and preference.

Jacoby unwittingly supplies us with an interesting example from which to elaborate on the point:
Tonya Hinkle (a pseudonym) is a mother of three who lives in a small town in Mississippi....Her children were harassed at school after it became known that the Hinkles did not belong to a church. When Tonya’s first-grade twins got off the school bus crying, she learned that “this one girl had stood up on the bus and screamed — right in their faces — that they were going to HELL. That they were going to burn in all eternity because they didn’t go to church.”
Jacoby thinks this was awful, as do I, but why does Jacoby think that what these children did to Tonya's children was wrong - not factually wrong but morally wrong? She might reply that it hurt the little girl, and so it did, but on atheism why is it wrong to hurt people? Jacoby, falling back on the GR, might say that those kids wouldn't want someone to hurt them. Surely not, but why is that a reason why it's wrong to hurt others? How, exactly, does one's desire not to be hurt make it wrong to hurt others? All an atheist can say by way of reply is that it violates the GR, but then she's spinning in a circle. Where does the GR get it's moral authority from in a godless universe? Is it from social consensus? Human evolution? How can either of these make any act morally wrong?

At this point some people might reply that it's wrong to hurt others because it just is, but at this point the individual has abandoned reason and is resorting to dogmatic asseverations of faith in the correctness of their own moral intuitions - sort of like some of those obnoxious fundamentalists might do.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is, though, that, on atheism, if those kids can hurt Tonya's children and get away with it, it's not wrong, it's only behavior Jacoby doesn't like, and we're back to right and wrong being measured by one's personal feelings.

It's a common error but an error nonetheless when non-theists like Jacoby and Zuckerman seek to defend the possibility of moral values while denying any transcendent basis for them, and it's peculiar that Jacoby feels insulted when she's asked to explain how she can do this.

Another atheist, Robert Tracinski at The Federalist, makes a related mistake in an otherwise fine discussion of the thought of Ayn Rand. Tracinski explicitly acknowledges that most thoughtful atheists, at least those on the left, embrace moral subjectivism. He writes:
Probably the most important category [Rand] defied is captured in the expression, “If God is dead, all things are permitted.” Which means: if there is no religious basis for morality, then everything is subjective. The cultural left basically accepts this alternative and sides with subjectivism (when they’re not overcompensating by careening back toward their own neo-Puritan code of political correctness).
This is mostly correct except that I'd quibble with his use of the term "religious basis." Morality doesn't require a religious basis, it requires a basis that possesses the characteristics enumerated above: It must be rooted in an objectively existing moral authority - personal, transcendent and capable of holding human beings responsible for their choices. The existence and will of such a being - God - may or may not be an essential element of a particular religion.

Tracinski, then says that:
The religious right responds by saying that the only way to stem the tide of “anything goes” is to return to that old time religion.
It's not necessarily a return to "old time religion," or any religion, for that matter, which is needful for eliminating the subjectivity of moral judgments. It's a return to a belief that the world is the product of a morally perfect being who has established His moral will in the human heart and who insists that we follow it, i.e. that we treat others with justice and compassion.

Those beliefs may be augmented by a belief in special revelation and by the whole edifice of the Christian (or Jewish, or Islamic) tradition, but the core belief in the existence of the God of classical theism is not by itself "religious' at all. That core belief may not by itself be a sufficient condition for an objective morality but it is necessary for it.

Which is why people ask the question Jacoby finds so insulting. Put a different way, it's the question how an atheist can avoid making right and wrong merely a matter of personal taste. If that sort of subjectivity is what the secular life entails then its votaries really have nothing much to say, or at least nothing much worth listening to, about matters of right and wrong.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

For Christmas Eve

Christmas is a magical time, but it's not the trappings of the secular world that make it magical - except maybe for very young children - rather it's the sense of mystery surrounding the Incarnation. The magic is a by-product of the belief that Christmas celebrates a miracle, the Creator of the universe deigning to become one of His creatures so that in the fullness of time He and His creatures could enjoy each other forever.

It's that belief, affirmed by Christians for 2000 years, that's so awe-inspiring and which fills us on Christmas with an ineffable sense of love and being loved, a sense that makes the whole experience of Christmas Eve tingle with magic.

The secular, commercial world has drained much of that excitement from the night by pretending the source and meaning is irrelevant. All the talk of Santa Claus, ads for cars, beer, movies and phones, all the insipid secular "holiday" songs, none of these do anything to touch people's hearts or imaginations. They don't inspire awe. Christmas Eve is sterile and empty without the message of the Gospel and the conviction that this night is special, not because of the office Christmas party, last minute shopping, or Home Alone reruns, but because it's a night haunted by the presence of God and set apart for the delivery of the greatest gift in history.

Here are two traditional Christmas pieces that capture some of the magic, mystery, and power of this night. I hope you enjoy them and hope, too, that each of you has a wonderful, meaningful Christmas and a very special 2015:



It might be best just to listen to this next one without watching it since the video is a bit out of synch with the audio:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thoughts on the Murder of Ramos and Liu

When Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords was shot a few years ago the left was all over the media blaming what they called the "incendiary rhetoric" of conservatives like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for creating a climate that encouraged acts of violence. Now that two New York Police officers have been gunned down by a black murderer will the same folks who were so sure that the relatively anodyne comments of Palin and Limbaugh were responsible for the Giffords tragedy now be insisting that Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, the New York City protestors who demanded dead cops, and Mayor Bill DiBlasio all be blamed for the murders of these officers? Don't hold your breath.

When masses of people march through the streets of the city shouting "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!", when the attorney general of the nation and the mayor of the city both use rhetoric the logic of which indicts police officers for the deaths of people they're trying to arrest, when ignorant, ill-educated people are encouraged by provocateurs to think that cops are deliberately killing black men because they're black, then the blood of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu is not only on on the hands of the man who pulled the trigger but, according to the logic of those who blamed conservatives for the Giffords shooting, also on those of the people who contributed to a climate in which people feel justified in hating cops.

I'm personally reluctant to make the connection between rhetoric and deed in every case, but the semi-literate moral morons who celebrated the murder of these two officers on twitter willfully accept upon themselves a share of the moral guilt for these murders. To applaud the act is to dip one's own hands in the victims' blood. It is also to declare publicly that one is an execrable human being.


We've heard much in the media about how black lives matter, the subtext being that blacks are frequently killed by white police just because they're black. Indeed, no story on the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner failed to mention that these men were killed by white police officers (or a "white Hispanic" in the case of George Zimmerman). Yet as I watched the reports of the murders of Ramos and Liu on MSNBC the race of the shooter was scarcely mentioned. Why not? Is race only relevant when a black man is killed by a white man? When whites kill blacks is it ipso facto an act of racism, but when blacks kill whites it's something different?

In fact, as was stated in an earlier post, police are more likely to be murdered by blacks than vice versa and blacks are infinitely more likely to be killed by other blacks than by police. Why are there massive protests in the wake of the Garner and Brown deaths but not in the wake of the hundreds of black kids (on average, 40 a month) gunned down by other blacks just in Chicago alone every year?

If the deaths of Garner and Brown point to a serious problem in the prevailing racial attitudes among whites, as numerous commenters have alleged, what do the murders of Ramos and Liu point to? Why are there no calls to seriously probe the racism among blacks in our society?

Mayor DiBlasio publicly criticizes his police rather than support them and is then stunned when police are gunned down on the streets of Brooklyn. Why? In the wake of the Eric Garner death DiBlasio pontificated about having to have "the talk" with his son who is a racially mixed young man. Blacks frequently mention the need to have "the talk" with their sons, cautioning them to be leery of the police, as if "the talk" was a burden only blacks must bear, but it's not. My father had "the talk" with his sons as well. My father instructed my brothers and me that if ever we were stopped by the police to be courteous and respectful. Do whatever they tell you to do. Don't give them a reason to make your life difficult. I suspect that a lot of white fathers in the neighborhood I grew up in between Chester and south Philadelphia in Pennsylvania had the same talk with their sons.

When DiBlasio, the cops' boss, tells the world that he had to give similar advice to his son because his son is African American he implied that a lot of the cops in his city were racists looking for an excuse to bring the hammer down on black kids. Not only was it a public insult to the police of New York it's the sort of statement that feeds into the anger of those who would wish the police harm.

No wonder the cops turned their backs on him when he gave a press conference following the deaths of Ramos and Liu.

When people begin to hold themselves to the same standard of behavior to which they hold their ideological opponents we'll begin to see less polarization in our politics. When people stop making racism the first explanation for every tragedy and offense and begin making it the last, and when everyone, no matter their race, is held to the same standards and set of expectations, we'll begin to see less polarization between the races in our society.

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Is a Memory?

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor raises an interesting question, one that many of us might never think to ask. What, exactly, is a memory? A secondary question might be how does a materialist metaphysics account for them?

Egnor begins by arguing that contrary to popular belief, and even the belief of many neuroscientists and philosophers, the brain doesn't actually "store" memories. In fact, he claims, it can't store memories:
It's helpful to begin by considering what memory is -- memory is retained knowledge. Knowledge is the set of true propositions. Note that neither memory nor knowledge nor propositions are inherently physical. They are psychological entities, not physical things. Certainly memories aren't little packets of protein or lipid stuffed into a handy gyrus, ready for retrieval when needed for the math quiz.

The brain is a physical thing. A memory is a psychological thing. A psychological thing obviously can't be "stored" in the same way a physical thing can. It's not clear how the term "store" could even apply to a psychological thing.
But what about storage as an engram, a pattern of electrochemical energy or proteins, that acts as a code for the information? Egnor doesn't think this explanation works either:
[C]onsider a hypothetical "engram" of your grandmother's lovely face that "codes" for your memory of her appearance. Imagine that the memory engram is safely tucked into a corner of your superior temporal gyrus, and you desire to remember Nana's face. As noted above, your memory itself obviously is not in the gyrus or in the engram. It doesn't even make any sense to say a memory is stored in a lump of brain. But, you say, that's just a silly little misunderstanding. What you really mean to say is that the memory is encoded there, and it must be accessed and retrieved, and it is in that sense that the memory is stored. It is the engram, you say, not the memory itself, that is stored.

But there is a real problem with that view. As you try to remember Nana's face, you must then locate the engram of the memory, which of course requires that you (unconsciously) must remember where in your brain Nana's face engram is stored .... So this retrieval of the Nana memory via the engram requires another memory (call it the "Nana engram location memory"), which must itself be encoded somewhere in your brain. To access the memory for the location of the engram of Nana, you must access a memory for the engram for the location for the engram of Nana. And obviously you must first remember the location of the Nana engram location memory, which presupposes another engram whose location must be remembered. Ad infinitum.

Now imagine that by some miracle...you are able to surmount infinite regress and locate the engram for Nana's face in your superior temporal gyrus (like finding your keys by serendipity!). Whew! But don't deceive yourself -- this doesn't solve your problem in the least. Because now you have to decode the engram itself. The engram would undoubtedly take the form of brain tissue -- a particular array of proteins, or dendrites or axons, or an electrochemical gradient of some specific sort -- that would mean "memory of Nana's face." But how can an electrochemical gradient represent a face? Certainly an electrochemical gradient doesn't look like grandma -- and even if it did, you'd have to have a little tiny eye in your brain to see it to recognize that it looked like grandma.
The engram is a code, but if so we need a key to decode it. How do we access the key? How do we remember where the key is stored in the brain? That memory must itself be coded somewhere in the brain which would require yet another memory to decode it, and so on:
And if you think that remembering your grandmother's face via an engram in your brain entails infinite regress, consider the conundrum of remembering a concept, rather than a face. How, pray tell, can the concept of your grandma's justice or her mercy or her cynicism be encoded in an engram? The quality of mercy is not strained, nor can it be encoded. How many dendrites and axons for mercy?
You see the difficulty. We remember things all the time, but how often have we ever paused to ask ourselves what's going on when we remember? And whatever it is that's going on, how did such a highly specified and complex system evolve by random mutation and natural selection? And how are memories, like other aspects of consciousness (self-awareness, qualia, intentionality, free will), accounted for by a purely mechanical entity like a brain?
How then, you reasonably ask, can we explain the obvious dependence of memory on brain structure and function? While it is obvious that the memories aren't stored, it does seem that some parts of the brain are necessary ordinarily for memory. And that's certainly true....In some cases the correspondence between brain and memory is one of tight necessity -- the brain must have a specific activity for memory to be exercised. But the brain activity is not the same thing as the memory nor does it make any sense at all to say the brain activity codes for the memory or that the brain stores the memory.
For reasons such as Egnor calls to our attention some philosophers are rejecting the materialistic monism that has prevailed for the last century and a half and are returning for answers to some form or another of dualism. Dualism comes in many varieties but what they all share in common is the view that the material aspect of a human being - the brain in particular - is not all there is to us. Something else seems to be somehow involved in the phenomena of consciousness. That something else may well be an immaterial but conscious mind.

If that's true then not only is materialism false but the Darwinians' explanatory difficulties have significantly increased. How can something immaterial be subject to the physical evolutionary mechanisms that are postulated to explain the development of the human species? How can an immaterial mind be produced by matter and physical influences? It's an enigma. At least for the naturalistic materialist.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Moral Equivalence

Whenever hostilities break out between Israel and the Palestinians we're often told that both sides are equally guilty, that there's some sort of moral equivalence between them. At Viewpoint we have rejected this idea since it seems clear to us and indeed to anyone who looks at the facts objectively that the Palestinians are the chief obstacle, maybe the sole obstacle, to peace in that region.

Yossi Klein Halevi wrote a column at the Wall Street Journal (Subscription required) on the day in which four Jewish worshippers were butchered by Palestinian terrorists who hacked them to death while they were at prayer in their synagogue. Halevi compares this tragedy with another 20 years ago and the comparison is instructive. The reactions to those two events tell us much about the sort of people the Palestinians have chosen to be their leaders and the sort of people the Israelis have elected to be theirs.

Halevi writes:
On the morning of Feb. 25, 1994, the Jewish holiday of Purim, Baruch Goldstein, a far-right activist living in the West Bank town of Kiryat Arba, entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and gunned down 29 Muslim men at prayer.

The horror within Israeli society was overwhelming and unequivocal. Speaking from the Knesset podium, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin excommunicated Goldstein from the people of Israel. The country’s two chief rabbis denounced the attack as a desecration of God’s name, the ultimate Jewish sin. The official publication of the West Bank settlement movement, Nekudah, denounced Goldstein, a settler, as a stain on its camp. Only a radical fringe sought to justify and explain the massacre as a response to Palestinian provocations.

Tuesday’s massacre by two Palestinian terrorists of four Jews at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue is the Palestinian Baruch Goldstein moment. Yet rather than respond with shame to the murder of those Jews, as well as of an Israeli police officer, the Palestinian reaction has ranged from reluctant condemnation to outright celebration. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, reportedly after being pressed by Secretary of State John Kerry, condemned the attack—even as he cited Israeli “provocative acts.” Less equivocal was Mr. Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, who said of the terrorists: “We are behind them. The leadership is with them.” Palestinians cheered in the streets of Gaza.
The Palestinians' reaction to this savagery is as distressing as it is disgusting. It's hard to maintain the notion that there's a moral equivalence between the two sides as long as crimes like this are celebrated.

Halevi closes with this: In an era of moral madness, in which much of the world judges Israel more harshly than it judges Hamas, this must be said: Nothing Israel does or doesn’t do is responsible for provoking young Palestinians to hack to death Jews in prayer. The provocation is Jewish prayer itself, the right of the Jewish people to live in its land.

One image from the synagogue massacre will haunt Jews for a long time to come. According to a medic on the scene, terrorists severed an arm wrapped in the straps of tefillin, the phylacteries in which religious Jews recite their morning prayers. That terrible image has reinforced the prevailing sense within Israeli society that the war against the state of Israel is only the latest phase of an old war against the Jews.

If you google Halevi's name you might be able to find the entire column. It's worth reading.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Campus Rape Culture

An editorial by Jim Wallis and Sandi Villareal of Sojourners on the topic of campus rape addresses some very important facts about the problem of sexual assault on our nation's colleges and universities.

It's predictable but disappointing that in the wake of the phony Duke Lacrosse team case and the more recent Rolling Stone mess some commentators are minimizing the problem of sexual assault on campus. This, it seems to me, is precisely the wrong response. The conclusion that should be drawn from these episodes is not that there's really no problem, but that it's absurd to assume, as the left enjoins us to do, that every report of an assault is true.

Even so, given the atmosphere of sexual licentiousness that's promoted by and pervades our popular culture, given, too, the easy access to alcohol and drugs on campus and their effect on students' inhibitions, and given the complete inability of a secular society to instill in young men (and women) any sort of moral governor of their appetites, it would be remarkable were there not a problem with sexual assault. Indeed, in the current cultural and moral climate one wonders how there could not be.

Nevertheless, one sentence in the Sojourner's piece is a bit jarring. The authors write:
Rape culture is living in a society in which your story is dissected rather than heard; it’s being told your inherent, God-given value begins to disintegrate once your story gets uncomfortable and its trajectory skewed.
I'm not sure how the authors intend this rather opaque passage to be understood, but it sounds like they're saying that it's wrong for people to examine the claims made by putative rape victims and instead everyone should assume their claims are true.

If this in fact is the intended meaning then I think the authors are going way too far. It's the job of the police, for example, to ascertain that a crime really has been committed. That requires asking sometimes uncomfortable questions and seeking out evidence. The accuser's word that someone assaulted her is simply and unfortunately not enough upon which to base charges that could ruin someone's life. Unlike most crimes, sexual assault sometimes leaves no real evidence, sometimes involves a lot of ambiguity, and often takes place where there are no witnesses. It's thus very hard to prove. It's also very hard for the wrongly accused young man to prove his innocence. Even if he can demonstrate that the claims are false his reputation is often in tatters just by virtue of having the charges made against him.

All of this is tragic, but it's why the authorities just can't accept uncritically the alleged victim's word for what happened.

Sojourners nentions that only 2% to 8% of assault allegations are false, but even if those figures are accurate that's certainly not a reason, by itself, to believe that any given allegation is true.

Young women are in a tough spot in our culture. They're urged to go along with the prevailing sexual winds, but those prevailing winds often lead to awful destinations (Read for example, Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, if you can stomach Wolfe's enthusiasm for vulgarity). When a young woman finds herself victimized by young men weaned on the pornographic ideas and images served up to them throughout their adolescence - young men, it might be added, who've been taught that they're simply animals engaged in the Darwinian imperative to mate and that their sexual urges should never be repressed - she has either to try to prove what may be very difficult to prove and risk public humiliation, or she must accept what happened to her and realize that she is a victim of a culture that has lied to both her and her assailant about what human beings are, what right and wrong is grounded in, and what sex is all about.

One thing we can be pretty certain about: The campus rape culture will never fade away until sexual morality is once again considered part of the will of the God who created sex. Failing that, young women will continue to be victimized and young men will continue to be both victims of false allegations and victimizers of young women whom they'll continue to see as sexual prey.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Horror That Is ISIL

With all the news vying for our attention it's easy for yesterday's news to be quietly overtaken by other events and forgotten, but it hasn't gone away. One example is ISIL in Iraq and Syria. A pair of reports on today's Drudge Report warn us that the horrors of radical Islam are still with us and remind us what lies in store for any people who come under the rule of these savages.

The first is a story by Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon. Kredo informs us that ISIS has released a penal code to which everyone in the territories it has subjugated must submit. It's unimaginably brutal. It imposes the death penalty for blasphemy against Allah, Mohammed, or Islam in general. Adultery is punishable by stoning if the adulterer was married and 100 lashes if he/she was not. Homosexuality, spying on behalf of unbelievers, murder and stealing are all punishable by death, the latter two by crucifixion. It should be pointed out that death has always been a standard punishment under Islamic law for most of these offenses.

Mercifully, some crimes do not merit the death penalty. Some forms of theft, for instance, will result merely in cutting off the offender's hand. Drinking alcohol will earn the tippler 80 lashes, as does the crime of slander. Banditry, a special form of stealing, will cause the criminal to have both his right hand and left leg cut off.

Meanwhile, Breitbart reports that at least 150 recalcitrant women and young girls, some pregnant, in Fallujah, Iraq were executed for refusing to accept "jihad marriage" to ISIS fighters. Many families fled the town of Al-Wafa after receiving death threats. Many of these families were stranded in the desert where their children perished.

The Islamic State also slaughtered over 50 people from the Al Bu Nimr tribe in Iraq’s Anbar Province on November 2. The massacre included six women and four children. Witnesses said the militants lined up the victims, whom they “publicly killed one by one.” Over seventeen people were kidnapped, as well. Militants murdered 98 people from the same tribe 24-48 hours before the massacre. The tribe is Sunni, which holds the same Islamic beliefs as the Islamic State, but ISIS views the tribe as a threat.

From the Breitbart article:
Militants claim they adhere to a very conservative interpretation of Islam, yet they run brothels and keep sex slaves. They even allow women from the West to perform “sexual jihad” for the terrorists. A 2013 edict allows this behavior “to boost the morale of fighters.” Islamic State issued its own edict in June after conquering towns in Iraq. Jihadists set up brothels filled with kidnapped females and placed British women in charge. One Yazidi sex slave begged the West to bomb the brothel at which she was held to end her suffering. A video in November showed militants laughing and joking about buying female Yazidi slaves.
It may be hard for some readers to believe that this sort of evil exists today. It sounds like something out of the Lord of the Rings, but it's how much of the Islamic world thinks. Unfortunately, we in the West have become so immersed in the cultural and moral relativism that's purveyed by so many of our intellectual betters that we're convinced that labeling this "evil" is to be inexcusably judgmental and culturally chauvinistic. Perhaps, but I'll bet that Yazidi woman would dearly love for us to be a little more judgmental and chauvinistic.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Voltaire, Please Call Your Office

Sony has cancelled their premiere of a comedy film about an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The film was called The Interview and Sony claims that too many theater chains have chosen not to show it for fear of terrorist reprisals threatened by hackers who have infiltrated Sony's computers. In other words, the very people, liberal Hollywooders, who talk about how brave and bold and courageous it is when a film or book comes out that skewers Christianity are now not only meekly submitting to the tender sensibilities of Muslims but also to some of the most atrocious people on earth, the North Koreans.

It's fine if they don't want to offend people, and I certainly don't blame them for being anxious for their safety, but it's unseemly of them to prance, preen and bloviate about how brave it is to attack the beliefs of people who would never dream of retaliating, and then cower in fear when they're given ultimatums by people who just might carry them out.

I wonder, for instance, what the reaction would have been had a few anonymous threats of violence been received when Religulous or Last Temptation of Christ were released. I suspect there would've been a lot of defiant huffing and puffing about the First Amendment, the Critical Importance of Art, Freedom From Religion and all that, and the film would still have been shown amidst congratulations all around for the amazing heroism of the doughty people in the art world who surely deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor for their courage.

Liberals used to love to quote a dictum attributed to Voltaire to the effect that though they "may hate what you say they'll fight to the death for your right to say it." Apparently that only applies to saying things critical of people you know won't hurt you for it. Since Muslims have started to hold them to it liberals don't say that sort of thing much anymore. Indeed, the actors and cast of The Interview aren't showing their faces in public lately without bodyguards.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Totally Unnecessary Sacrifice

Anne Applebaum has an interesting article in The Spectator about the woes befalling the long-suffering Russian people. They're being caught in an economic squeeze by a combination of international sanctions imposed by the West in response to Putin's assault on the Ukraine, Putin's decision to retaliate against the West by refusing to import food from Europe which has caused food prices to rise in Russia, and the falling price of oil, Russia's chief export. Here's part of her article:
The US, Europe, Australia and Japan responded with sanctions which were deliberately designed to target a small number of wealthy Russians. But Putin broke new ground again. Instead of responding in kind, he banned food imports from the West. Because Russia normally imports at least a quarter and possibly as much as half of its food — not only Parmesan from Italy but frozen vegetables from Poland — he ensured that food prices would rise, not just for a small number of people but for the entire nation.

It was a calculated risk: the Russian President and his entourage apparently reckoned that the Russian people would agree to pay higher prices for food in exchange for military glory. Unlike decadent Europeans and spoiled Americans, Putin seemed to believe that Russians would stoically suffer on behalf of the motherland at a time of crisis.

Was he right? We are about to find out. This week the rouble, which has lost a third of its value in three months, slid by 9 per cent in a single day. A recession is now predicted. Inflation is predicted too, as high as 8 or 9 per cent. A controversial but long-planned pipeline construction has been abruptly cancelled. Major Russian banks are asking for government loans. Russian companies which earn in roubles and borrow in dollars are suddenly in trouble. Capital has been swiftly flowing out of the country, and some banks are rumoured to be limiting withdrawals. There are so many rumours about capital controls that the prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, has explicitly denied them.
What effect have falling oil prices had? Applebaum explains:
Not all of Russia’s economic disruption is caused by sanctions, of course. Since last spring, oil prices have also dropped by nearly 40 per cent. The world’s largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has just made it clear that it won’t lower production in order to push them up again, at least for the time being.

This might not matter as much to other oil producers, but for more than a decade Putin has coasted on the illusion that historically high oil and gas revenues could both support the national budget and disguise Russia’s failure to create a more productive economy. High energy prices even paid for the excesses of autocracy and an expansionist foreign policy: the Sochi Olympics, the billionaires’ palaces, the adventure in eastern Ukraine, the military exercises on a Cold War scale, even the €9 million loan which a shady Russian bank has just made to the far-right French National Front.
All this puts Russia in a difficult position as Applebaum goes on to tell us, but what the outcome will be is hard to predict. What's clear, however, is that Russia has embarked on a course that could lead the world back to a cold war, or even open hostilities, and nobody wants that. Here's how Applebaum concludes her essay:
... the past decade of high oil prices gave many Russians a standard of living that their Soviet parents and grandparents could never have imagined. There are not just oligarchs but concentric circles of people who have invested in the West, traveled in the West, shopped in the West or otherwise benefited from Russia’s integration into the global economy, if only because they bought those cheap frozen vegetables. They have no clear mechanism to respond to the onrushing economic crisis. Alternative leaders have been eliminated, and alternative policies are not discussed, but that doesn’t mean they’ll remain passive forever.

They could leave the country, withdraw their money, stage a palace coup or simply find ways to make life in Russia unpleasant for Russia’s leaders in ways we haven’t yet imagined.
It's unfortunate that Putin has chosen to take the path he has, he certainly didn't have to, but it's the road he's chosen, and it's a very dangerous road for everyone.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts on Some Racial News

Three black effigies were found hanging on the campus of UC Berkeley over the weekend. Perhaps this was the work of cruel, thoughtless, stupid bigots, but given the number of incidents staged by blacks to make whites look bad over the years we shouldn't automatically assume that it was the work of bigots, nor should we be surprised if it turns out that the perpetrators of this incident were themselves African-American students, trying either to make it appear as if it were done by white racists or trying to make a political statement about being black in America.

Also over the weekend thousands of people took to the the streets of New York and other cities to protest the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others by police. It's good every now and then to protest excessive use of force by government agents, and to demand that they not use more force than a situation warrants, but I wonder when we'll start seeing huge demonstrations on behalf of the dozens of police who are murdered every year by killers, many (most?)of whom are black. Or doesn't anyone care about the lives of police officers?

Even as the African American community expresses it's outrage at the death of Eric Garner, black kids continue to die by the hundreds at the hands of other black kids in cities across our nation, and no one is organizing protest marches on behalf of these anonymous young men. Why is that? Do "all black lives matter" or do only politically expedient black lives matter? Do all lives matter or do police officers' lives not matter?

Reading the news about these protests, and reflecting on the relative silence when a black man is killed by another black man, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that at least some of the people who are venting their rage are angry not so much because black men have died but because these black men died at the hands of white men. If so, one wonders why. It is, after all, far less likely that a black man in the United States will die at the hands of a white man than that a white man will die at the hands of a black man.

Maybe you think I'm missing the point. Maybe you think that the protests are in fact directed against the kind of police brutality and overreaction on display in the Eric Garner case. I'm sure this is what animates many, maybe most, of the protestors, but ask yourself a hypothetical question: Do you think that there would be any organized protests at all, any media coverage at all, had Michael Brown and Eric Garner been white, or, alternatively, had the cops who killed them been black?

Neither do I.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Which Is Worse?

Consider this scenario: You're in the position of a terrorist detained by the intelligence service of the country whose citizens you were trying with all your might to slaughter. You are given the choice either to be tortured in order to provide information on the plans of your terrorist associates or be executed.

If you're tortured no permanent physical damage will be done to you, and moreover, you will have complete control over how much pain you'll have to endure. You know that as soon as you're forthcoming with the information that will save thousands of innocent lives the torture will immediately cease. If, on the other hand, you're executed quite possibly your spouse and children will be executed with you as may many of your innocent friends. Which would be worse in your mind, the torture or the execution?

I ask the question because it illustrates the hypocrisy of many of those who've expressed moral indignation in the wake of the Democrats' report on CIA "enhanced interrogation" practices in the wake of 9/11. Much of the Progressive left is livid that the CIA and, by extension, the Bush administration were practicing things like sleep deprivation, threats, uncomfortable positions, water boarding (on three people), and something called rectal hydration (don't ask).

Meanwhile, the Progressives are silent about their own leader in the White House carrying out a policy of drone strikes on terrorists that have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of innocents along with the intended targets. Some of these strikes have even killed American citizens.

I'm not criticizing the drone strikes, but I'd like those who are so outraged by what the CIA did in order to prevent another 9/11, and who are so nonchalant about what President Obama is doing, to answer one simple question: Which is worse, the infliction of pain which produces no lasting physical effects to speak of, or the infliction of death on not only terrorists but also their families?

If you're outraged by the former but haven't had much to say about the latter then some of us would like to know why.

Friday, December 12, 2014

ESPN?

Remember when the media was swooning over "the most brilliant man" ever to occupy the White House? Remember advisor Valerie Jarrett saying of President Obama that:
I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is.... He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never been challenged intellectually.... He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do.
So how does a man of such extraordinary intellectual abilities choose to spend his time when he's not golfing?

I have to say this is disconcerting. He's the leader of the free world, for heaven's sake. He wanted this job, it's going to make him very rich some day (perhaps as a commentator on ESPN), and he has a responsibility to all of us to devote himself to it. If he'd rather watch sports talk shows then he should quit the Oval Office and let Joe Biden take over.

Well, maybe not that, but look, I don't begrudge the Vacationer-in-Chief some down time, but I do get a little perplexed when I hear pundits praise Mr. Obama's genius. I mean, maybe brilliant men do spend time watching sports and shows about sports, but somehow I can't see someone whose intellect is alleged to be imported directly from Mt. Olympus spending hours every day watching ESPN.

Why doesn't the media ever ask him what books he reads, as they did both George Bush and Sarah Palin, or what movies he watches, or who his favorite writers are? Why don't they ask him, as they always do Republicans, his views on evolution, or the significance of Antietam, or the work of James Madison?

I wonder if they never ask because they're afraid they know the response they'll get from the man who only learned after he became a candidate for the nation's highest office that there are 50, not somewhere between 57 and 60, states and that military medics are not "corpse" men.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Mr. Obama, though it may sound that way. A lot of good, ordinary people enjoy sports and don't know some basic facts about the country. It's rather a criticism of a media which consistently misled the American people about Mr. Obama's qualifications for high office and which set such high expectations (A Nobel Peace Prize in his first few months in office!?) for his presidency that it was inevitable that he'd fail to live up to them.

Soon we're going to start hearing the same sort of glowing encomiums to the genius of Hillary Clinton. Hopefully, voters will be less gullible this time around.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Origin and Importance of the Moon

We've been following a series at Evolution News and Views on the uniqueness of the earth, a uniqueness which suggests that life may be very rare in the universe. Properties of the universe, and particularly those of our immediate neighborhood, seem incredibly fortuitous. Myriad aspects of our planet, our solar system and our galaxy have to be just right for life to exist on earth.

One of those parts of the solar system upon which life on earth depends is our moon. It turns out that had we no moon life couldn't be sustained.

One of the many processes on earth that make life possible is the cycling of carbon from the atmosphere preventing the buildup of greenhouse gases. The process is dependent upon plate tectonics and plate tectonics depend upon the crust of the earth being relatively thin so that crustal plates can slide easily over the underlying mantle. Plate tectonics exist on no other planet in our solar system and may be very unusual elsewhere as well. To have plate tectonics a planet has to be about the size of the earth, have extensive surface water, and have a thin crust.

Why is the earth's crust relatively thin? The answer has to do with the fact that we have an unusual moon:
How did the Earth get such a large moon? It is far too large for the Earth to have captured it, and because of its chemistry and orbital parameters, the only plausible model is an impact scenario. The Moon's creation event is also the most plausible explanation for the resultant thin crust of the Earth that enables its efficient plate tectonics. The most recent models suggest the Earth collided with a body with a mass comparable to itself. These two bodies merged, and became the Earth-Moon system.

The Earth ended up with more mass, and received the cores of both bodies, giving it a large iron rich core, and more radioactive elements. This may explain some of the differences between Venus and Earth. With more iron and heat-generating radioactive materials, the Earth is able to generate its large magnetic field, which Venus lacks. The Moon ended up with more crustal lighter density materials, leaving the crust of the Earth thinner than it would have been.

Earth's plate tectonics can be so efficient because the crust is very thin, cracked, and can slide over the mantle much more easily. Plate tectonics are also responsible for the continent-versus-land distribution. Without it, Earth would be a waterworld, and there would be no carbonate-silicate cycle to maintain the climate over billions of years. We wouldn't be here, and likely no technological civilization of any kind.

Current simulations suggest that only about 2 percent of Earth-sized planets should form an Earth-Moon type system. And by an amazing coincidence, the Moon's size is also quite important to the stability of the Earth's tilt. If it had been any larger, it would destabilize our tilt, for example. On the other hand, much smaller, and Earth's climate would have suffered more frequent and severe ice ages. The other planets in our solar system contribute to this as well, as the interactions between the Moon's influence on the Earth, and the other planets' gravitational effects could have been comparable, [if] the large planets [were] not spaced widely, [there'd be] chaotic swings in the tilt of the Earth's axis. So again the large planets, and their orbits, play a role in the habitability of the Earth.
Here's an animation of what scientists think happened:
Something the video tacitly illustrates is that one advantage of having a large moon is that its gravity sucks up a lot of debris that would otherwise bombard the earth making life, especially early life, a lot dicier than it already was.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Crucial Question on Torture

Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee under Senator Dianne Feinstein released their report on the CIA's interrogation methods in the wake of 9/11, and has set the media all aflutter. I acknowledge up front that I haven't read the report, so I'll not comment on its contents except in the general sense that the report condemns the CIA for its use of torture to extract information about future attacks from some of the men responsible for the 9/11 atrocity.

Also, we should set aside at the outset the hypocrisy of politicians like Feinstein who condemn the CIA for engaging in tactics which both she and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were made aware of at the time and which they at least tacitly condoned and encouraged.

Perhaps, too, we should set aside the unseemly political nature of a report drafted by Democrat staffers and released on the same day that Jonathan Gruber was testifying before the House on his claim that dishonest methods were employed to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act. Lest anyone think the roll out of the report was not political just ask yourself whether you think it would have been released at all had Democrats been in the White House when the events it describes occurred or released on the same day that some Republican was being grilled by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But I want to set aside the hypocrisy and the sordid political motives because as awful as they are, they're irrelevant to the main issue, an issue I haven't seen or heard anyone in the media yet discuss. It can be put in the form of a basic question: Is torture absolutely, categorically, always wrong?

If the answer is no, then the next question is, under what circumstances might it be justified? Was it justified, for instance, in the wake of 9/11 when the entire country had every reason to expect that that attack was just the first in a series of mass murders that terrorists were planning to inflict on the nation? If not, then what circumstances would justify it?

If the answer to the basic question is yes, torture is wrong always and everywhere under any circumstances, then the next question is, upon what grounds is that judgment based? If the person making the judgment is a secularist or naturalist then their claim is groundless, since on naturalism there can be no absolute wrongs, nor any objective wrongs of any sort. On secularism the only grounds for making a meaningful moral claim, i.e. religious grounds, are disallowed. In other words, when secularists/naturalists say that torture is absolutely wrong they're either telling us nothing more than that they personally don't like it, or they're telling us that many of those who, unlike themselves, do have a solid ground for making a moral claim, i.e. those who base their judgments on what they take to be the will of God, believe it's absolutely wrong. In neither case, however, does the secularist/naturalist claim have any rational purchase on the rest of us, and there's no compelling moral reason to pay them any heed.

So, what about those who base their conviction upon what they believe God has commanded of us? They certainly have a solid basis for condemning torture, but it doesn't follow that they're right when they say it's wrong always and categorically.

The theist (Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) is commanded by God to do justice and be compassionate. It follows from this that we are to respect others as persons. Thus, it would seem that torture could never be right (or at least never be not wrong) because by its very nature it certainly seems uncompassionate. Nevertheless, sometimes it's not clear who the recipients of our justice and compassion should be. If a terrorist gang is plotting to kill hundreds of school children by blowing up a school and one of them we have reason to believe has intimate knowledge of the plan has been apprehended, but will not talk, it seems prima facie uncompassionate to inflict pain to compel him to reveal those plans. But it also seems uncompassionate and unjust in excelsis to the children and their families to refrain from doing whatever we can to save their lives. In such a situation it seems to me that our moral duty is to the children and that the pain inflicted on the terrorist to induce him to divulge the needed information is, though distasteful and even ghastly, morally warranted, provided the terrorist knows that it will stop the moment he discloses the information that will save those children's lives.

One objection to this line of thought that we quite often hear is that torture never works, but how can anyone know that? The most we can say is that it doesn't always produce accurate intelligence, but if everything else has been tried and failed it's nonsense to assert that we shouldn't try something else that might work just because it also might not. In fact, using what the CIA euphemistically calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" apparently did work on the two or three terrorists in Guantanamo who were subjected to them.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Santa Claus and St. Nicholas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Caused Eric Garner's Death

Marc Fitch, writing at The Federalist, is a mental health worker who trains others in how to restrain difficult patients. He offers his expertise to clarify why Officer Pantaleo was not indicted by the grand jury in the death last summer of Eric Garner in New York. What he says makes sense. Here's the short version:

Garner didn't die from a chokehold as has been assumed by many, including me. Garner died because the officer's weight was on Garner's back and that weight plus Garner's obesity prevented him from getting air into his lungs. This is called Restraint-Related Positional Asphyxia.

As Fitch describes it:
Eric Garner’s death was ruled a homicide due to a chokehold and chest compression. However, while most media outlets have been focused on the chokehold, many have ignored the dangerous, yet overlooked, chest compression known as Restraint-Related Positional Asphyxia... it doesn’t appear that the officer held onto Garner’s throat long enough to directly cause his death. Rather, restraint-related positional asphyxia is the result of the patient being face down on the ground or having someone put his weight on the individual’s chest, leaving the patient unable to expand his or her chest to inhale. In this way (and if this is truly the case), the death could be ruled a homicide (death caused by another human being) without being intentional murder.

Officer Daniel Pantaleo is seen in the video first putting Garner in a chokehold and the group of officers wrestling him to the ground. However, once face-down on the concrete to put the cuffs on, Pantaleo is kneeling on Garner’s upper back and head. It was at this point that Garner began to say he couldn’t breathe.

Face-down on the ground, the patient is often unable to expand his chest to take a breath. This condition is exacerbated by people piling on top of the patient in an effort to keep him or her down, the patient’s weight and health conditions, and his or her stress level at the time. Obviously, Garner was in a stressful situation at the time, which would result in increased blood flow and heart rate. Those would, in turn, cause his breathing to become more rapid and strained. He also had officers placing their weight on top of him as they tried to place the handcuffs on him. Garner was about 350 pounds; his own body weight alone would have made it difficult to expand his chest when face-down on concrete. The added weight of the officers increased this weight and probably made it impossible for a body to withstand.

The police, however, put a suspect face-down in order to handcuff him. Whether or not this can be avoided through new tactics, I don’t know. To some degree it seems necessary in order to facilitate the arrest, but the dangers are amply demonstrated.
This raises a couple of questions. Were the officers following proper procedures? Were they negligent in not heeding Garner's claims to be unable to breathe? I don't know, but I simply have to ask myself what I would think were that my father or my son whose pleas were being ignored by the police. I'm pretty sure I would conclude that they used excessive force. Does that merit an indictment? Only if there was reason to believe that a conviction for manslaughter could be won in a criminal court and this would probably mean that it would have to be proven that proper procedures were not followed. The grand jury apparently felt this was not achievable.

Nevertheless, the whole episode is deeply troubling.

Yes, Garner was breaking a typically stupid bureaucratic ordinance enacted to prevent people from escaping paying a tax to the city on cigarettes. Yes, the police must enforce the law even if it is a stupid bureaucratic ordinance. Yes, Garner was wrong to resist arrest. Yes, Garner should not have allowed his weight to balloon to 350 lbs., but granting all that, a man is dead as a result of the police having ignored his cries that he couldn't breathe. As Fitch says, "having him face-down on the concrete for an extended period of time while screaming that he couldn’t breathe can be seen as negligence on the part of everyone involved."

Even though the grand jury didn't indict, Fitch suggests that Garner's family has a good civil case against the officer and NYPD. In any case, there seems to be no justification for turning this tragedy into a racial issue, but that won't stop the Al Sharptons of the world from doing just that. UPDATE: As if to make that last sentence prophetic here's Eric Garner's widow trying to make the point that her husband's murder was not racial and Al Sharpton trying to convince us that it is:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The UVA Rape Case

Here's what happened. A woman named Jackie accused a group of men in a University of Virginia fraternity of having serially raped her at a party at their frat house. Rolling Stone magazine's Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote a big spread on the alleged assault. It confirmed what people believed about the rape culture on campus and was vindication, of sorts, for liberals who had forfeited so much credibility in their rush to judgment in the similar Duke lacrosse players case in 2006.

Rolling Stone, however, in a case of journalistic malpractice that will probably be taught in journo schools for decades to come failed to actually interview any of the accused rapists. Erdely and her editors just swallowed Jackie's story hook, line, and sinker.

The Washington Post decided to do some actual investigation of the account and turned up a few interesting facts which have cast a great deal of suspicion on Erdely's account, and now RS is walking back their story and apologizing for their journalistic negligence. You can read a good summary of all these developments here.

Part of RS's problem in this episode is that they are a lefty magazine and the left has been marinating for decades in a bitter stew of assumptions about men. It's assumed on much of the left that all males are sexual predators, that all men are rapists of one sort or another, that women who report rape are never to be doubted, and that actual facts don't matter. Indeed, what matters in the worldview of people who write for magazines like Rolling Stone is whether the charges fit their preferred narrative. If so, then the allegations are "true" regardless of what really happened and the oppressors are to be punished for their crime of being males and ergo rapists, whether they personally committed the crime or not. Perversely, the accused are seen as a synecdoche of male patriarchy and by punishing them a blow is struck for justice on behalf of women everywhere.

Given this environment on the left, RS probably saw no need to question the authenticity of Jackie's account, and now they've seriously jeopardized the reputation of their magazine and made themselves a laughingstock much like the District Attorney in the Duke lacrosse case, Michael Nifong, made himself the butt of countless jokes and ill-will and finally suffered the ruination of his career.

Adding to the chuckles over the left's discomfiture and their absurd worldview is a piece by Charles C. Cooke at National Review which deserves to go down in the annals of journalism as a classic example of parody.

Here's a teaser:
It is with a heavy heart and a furrowed brow that I must conclude this afternoon that Rolling Stone, once a venerated pop-culture institution, is a rape-apology website. A few hours ago, in a “note to our readers,” the magazine cast aspersions on its own story about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia, doing a disservice to women everywhere and buying into an anti-female, denialist agenda that needs smashing from the ground up. As students of feminism know, any institution that would question the testimony of a young woman is by definition buying into a culture of “skepticism” that holds women to be untrustworthy and wishes to derail any conversation about Rape Culture in favor of maintaining the patriarchy and the status quo.

Rolling Stone claims today that it has “concerns about the evidence.” This, I’m afraid, is nothing more than coded obfuscation. Here, the outfit is demonstrating an appalling unwillingness to prioritize the “she said” part of its investigation, thereby bowing to those who would scrutinize and scoff at the lived experience of women everywhere. When the magazine refers to “new information” and to “discrepancies” in the alleged victim’s “account,” it is merely attempting to draw attention from broader truths about sexual violence.

When it throws its source under the bus, conceding that it has “come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” it is broadcasting, loud and clear, that women are not to be believed – effectively declaring them, in fact, second-class citizens. “Rape apologists,” Slate’s Amanda Marcotte clarifies, “think that if they can ‘discredit’ one rape story, that means no other rape stories can be true, either.” It is sad to see an institution such as Rolling Stone harboring such disgraceful aspirations. As Jezebel’s Anna Merlan might say: They are “idiots” — yet more people hellbent on teaching our society a class that Rachel Sklar calls “Rape denial 101.”
Read the whole thing. Cooke's parody of so much of contemporary radical feminist thinking is note perfect.

The lesson in this episode - for all of us, but especially for liberals - is the same as it was in the cases of the Duke lacrosse players, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. It's to make sure we've seen or heard all the relevant facts before solidifying our judgments, particularly if that judgment is going to contribute to the destruction of other people's lives.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Why Christians Celebrate Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, it was all over, finished.

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

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

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