Thursday, June 30, 2016

The State of the War Against ISIS in Iraq

An article by Doug Burton of the Washington Free Beacon gives us some insight into what's happening in the war against ISIS in Iraq.

Fallujah has already been largely liberated by Iraqi forces and Mosul is next on the agenda, but meanwhile ISIS is being harassed by Mosul residents fed up with the ISIS fighters who've taken over their city, but worse for ISIS is the plummeting morale of their troops:
There are also reports of firefights within the ISIS police force as tension mounts and morale for the ISIS soldiers plummets. According to a Friday report by the Iraqi newspaper Mada, seven Daesh terrorists were killed in internal clashes between Daesh’s Islamic rules police, the hisbah, and security members.

ISIS executed four of its top commanders in a public square in Mosul on Wednesday, according to multiple sources, including Bas News, a Kurdish news site. The commanders reportedly were convicted by a Sharia Court for high treason on June 22nd and hanged in Mosul the same day, according to media reports. The executions follow the hanging or beheading of 21 ISIS commanders since April and the executions of scores of ISIS fighters charged with desertion or collaborating with Iraqi Army agents.

The Mosul incidents happened as major battles were underway in the northwestern tip of Saladin Province 140 miles north of Baghdad. The Iraqi Army’s elite counter-terrorism units are pressing into the city of Shirqat, an ISIS stronghold. They are supported by the 4,000-man 92nd Brigade, an armored unit including tanks and infantry composed of predominately Turkmen volunteers from Tel Afar, according to Dr. Ali Al Bayati of the Turkmen Rescue Foundation.
There's more at the link. When the occupying force is killing its own leaders it's a good sign that things are spiraling out of control.

To make matters worse for ISIS there was a report out today that a large convoy of trucks transporting ISIS fighters near Fallujah were caught by U.S. and Iraqi air forces, and 250 of the terrorists were killed. There's gun cam video of the attack at the link.

Coincidentally, the aid workers mentioned by reporter Martha Raddatz in the video were affiliated with Preemptive Love, the organization I wrote about on June 6. You can read their account of how close they came to being killed by the airstrikes here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The House Report on Benghazi, Etc.

The House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi released yesterday the report on their hearings into the attack on the American consulate in which four Americans died.

Mollie Hemmingway summarizes the report at The Federalist and lists five "takeaways," all of which are such serious indictments of the incompetence of the current administration and of Hillary Clinton that, were this a Republican administration, the media would be hammering away on it 24/7.

Here are Hemmingway's five points:
  1. The Administration deliberately misled the American public immediately and continually
  2. Inadequate Benghazi security was due to Clinton’s political considerations
  3. The military never sent men or machines to help even though it was requested
  4. Despite Obama's promises to thew nation the terrorists were never brought to justice
  5. The Administration did all it could to obstruct the investigation
Hemmingway explains each point in lucid detail and interested readers are urged to check out her column. A one sentence adumbration might be that the Obama administration in general, and Secretary Clinton in particular, lied repeatedly to the American people about Benghazi in order to protect themselves politically and to deflect attention from their own incompetence.

It's remarkable that some Americans are actually enthusiastic about the prospect of Hillary Clinton being handed complete control of this nation's foreign policy given her utter failure to demonstrate any competence in this area as Secretary of State.

In other news concerning the Clinton campaign Senator Elizabeth Warren has wholly discredited herself by coming out in energetic support of Ms Clinton's candidacy. Warren's political career has been devoted to emasculating the very Wall Street banks and financial institutions that have been Hillary's BFFs for the last twenty years. How Ms Warren can now, with sincerity, embrace Ms Clinton is mystifying.



One can understand why someone would not want to see Donald Trump as president. One can even understand, maybe, why someone might hold her nose and vote for Hillary to avoid having Trump as president. What passes understanding, though, is how anyone who has spent her political life fighting Wall Street's depredations, influence, and economic power, and who has a shred of integrity, can be excited about voting for a woman who has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from those same Wall Street fat cats and praise her as good for America and Americans. It's as if the head of Planned Parenthood were running for president and a prominent pro-lifer offered her her passionate support.

For Elizabeth Warren to enthusiastically endorse Hillary Clinton is to admit that everything Warren has stood for as a professor and a senator has been a sham. Such is the state of American politics today.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sure, Blame the Old Guys

In an outpouring of left-wing ageism and sexism the older white men of the UK are being blamed and pilloried for the United Kingdom's decision to exit the European Union.

The older generation is comprised of racist xenophobes, so go the allegations, who are robbing the young of their future, etc., and they have no right to do that:
Hard to argue with that, I guess. After all, why should the people who've paid taxes all their lives, fought in their country's wars, built the nation's economy and infrastructure, are presumably wiser and more experienced in life, and, indeed, made the decision to enter the EU in the first place, think they have the right to decide whether they want to yield their nation's sovereignty, the sovereignty of the nation they've built, to some faceless, anonymous bureaucrats in Brussels? Don't they realize they have a duty to defer to the petulant will of pampered young socialists who have yet to do much of anything for their country?

It's perhaps noteworthy that when the election of Mr. Obama was essentially determined by the support of two demographics comprising the least educated, least invested, and most apathetic segments of the American population - young people and minorities - this was seen as presaging the coming of the Age of Aquarius, but when a demographic in the UK that's accused of being uneducated and uninformed (though it might well be the most well-informed, best educated, and most psychically and economically invested in the country) - i.e. seniors - decide they want to rescue their independence from the globalists intent on building a European superstate somehow that's regarded as an injustice.

Maybe instead of blaming their elders for depriving them of their "future" they should be thanking them for saving them from a future of tyrannical servitude to anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Debate on the Existence of God

There was an interesting debate in London recently between a rabbi, Daniel Rowe, and one of the premier atheist philosophers in the world, A.C. Grayling, on the topic of the existence of God.

Grayling's performance deeply disappointed at least some of his fellow atheists. Jerry Coyne offers a sympathetic critique at his blog where he records the dismay expressed by one of his readers:
[R]eader Mark...made this comment: "I have to admit to finding the prospect of an orthodox rabbi holding his own in a debate with Dr. Grayling on God’s existence rather disheartening, but I’m afraid that’s exactly what went down the other night in London."

Knowing Anthony [Grayling], I was dubious, but I have to say that having watched the debate, I see that Mark is right.
Coyne goes on to observe that the argument that gave Grayling the most difficulty was the argument from cosmic fine-tuning, to which Coyne acknowledges at the end that atheists have to find a better answer. His own suggested counters to Rowe's arguments don't seem to me to be much better than Grayling's, but readers can judge for themselves.

Here's the debate:
Much of Grayling's response to the arguments with which Rowe confronts him was quite irrelevant to the topic, and his rather blithe dismissal of Rowe's claim that the exquisitely precise calibration of the cosmic forces and parameters is prohibitively improbable just doesn't work. Grayling argued (37:45) that, like the existence of the universe, his own existence is also incredibly improbable since it's based on highly improbable fortuitous events such as the unions of all of his ancestors, yet here he is. Likewise, the high improbability of a universe like ours is no reason to think that God must have created it.

Rowe replied (43:15) with a good illustration of why Grayling's analogy fails which you might wish to check out.

Here's another way of looking at the problem with Grayling's analogy:

Almost all of the universes that could possibly exist are life-prohibiting universes, universes in which there is no carbon, or no stars, or in which gravity is too strong, etc. The number of possible life-prohibiting universes is nearly infinite. On the other hand, only a relative few possible universes have the necessary conditions to allow for the emergence of life, especially conscious life. Thus, it's far more likely that chance would produce a universe that's life-prohibiting than that it would produce one that's life-permitting. The fact that the odds against a life-permitting universe existing are so unimaginably high (see video below), yet nevertheless such a world exists, demands an explanation.

A more apposite analogy than the one Grayling employs might go like this: Imagine a large barrel filled with a million dice which are then poured out over the floor of an airplane hangar. There would be six to the millionth power possible patterns of numbers the dice could show, each of which is equally likely (or unlikely).

Suppose now we specify before doing the experiment that the pattern of every single die showing a six will represent a life-permitting universe and every other pattern represents some form of life-prohibiting universe. It's unimaginably more likely that, when the barrel is emptied, we would get some pattern other than all sixes from this experiment than that we would get all sixes. Getting all sixes is no less probable than any other specific outcome would be, but the point is that getting all sixes is extraordinarily less likely than getting some pattern that is other than all sixes.

Likewise, it's far more likely that chance would produce a universe that's life-prohibiting than that it would produce one that's life-permitting.

Since we obviously live in a life-permitting universe, one which is far less probable than even the all-sixes result of the dice experiment, we're justified in believing that something more intentional than chance was at work in producing it.

Indeed, since a life-permitting universe could actually be expected if the universe were intelligently designed, the astronomical improbability of our life-permitting universe existing counts as evidence that it is in fact intentionally designed.
Coyne is right. this is a very compelling argument, and naturalists need to come up with a more convincing way to address it, if indeed there is such a way, than they have heretofore.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Some Identity Claims Are More Acceptable Than Others

The Daily Caller's Christopher Bedford makes a clever point. It's easier nowadays for a man to convince liberals that he's a woman, Bedford observes, than it is for a terrorist to convince liberals that he's a Muslim.

Despite repeated insistence by Omar Mateen that he was acting on behalf of Islam when he murdered 49 people in an Orlando night club, folks on the left just refuse to believe him, but if he had insisted to the media or government bureaucrats that he be considered a female they would've tripped all over themselves to accommodate him:
The federal government is clear on identity: “Managers, supervisors, and coworkers should use the name and pronouns appropriate to the gender the employee is now presenting at work.”

The New York Times style guide demands that reporters, “Use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person.”

The Associated Press agrees: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals.”

So why did reporters across the media, as well as the head of the Department of Justice, spend so much energy questioning the “preferred” and “appropriate” identity of that coward in Orlando?

The shooter called 911 the night he murdered 49 people at a gay club in Orlando to identify as a killer for the Islamic State carrying out its leader’s will. He also called a television station that night, once again identifying as a killer for the Islamic State carrying out its leader’s will.

“I did it for ISIS. I did it for the Islamic State,” he told the station.

“I pledge my alliance to [Islamic State leader] abu bakr al Baghdadi...may Allah accept me,” he wrote on Facebook as the shooting went on.

One wonders what more he has to do to convince people that he is what he says he is, yet his choice to identify as a terrorist was given less credence than if he’d declared himself to be a woman.
Examples of this willful blindness abound and Bedford describes a lot of them in the rest of his column:
“What motivated a killer?” CNN asked one day after the shooting. The article took 19 paragraphs to mention ISIS, has no mention of “Muslim,” and only includes the word “Islam” once– as part of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called the attacks “a hate crime.”

Two days after the shooting, AP reported that Orlando was mourning “as possible motives emerge for club gunman.”

“Despite Mateen’s pledge of support to the Islamic State,” the article goes, “other possible explanations emerged.”

“While the precise motivation for the rampage remains unclear, it is evident that Mr. Mateen was driven by hatred toward gays and lesbians,” The New York Times editorial board opined three days after the shooting. “Hate crimes don’t happen in a vacuum. They occur where bigotry is allowed to fester, where minorities are vilified and where people are scapegoated for political gain.”

The editorial does not use the words “Islam,” “Muslim,” or even “ISIS,” but blames Republicans and Donald Trump four and two times, respectively, for contributing to apparently negative discourse.

Four days after the shooting, in an article entitled, “Toxic Masculinity and Murder: Can we talk about men,” a writer at The Atlantic opined that, “The Orlando murderer appears to have been a violent bro who, in the moments before his death, bizarrely identified with the Boston Marathon murderers, with whom he had nothing apparent in common but a violent quest for self-actualization.”

That same day, a frightened luminary at Vox wrote, “I don’t believe we can blame the Orlando shooting on ‘radical Islam,'” instead choosing to ponder the shooter as “a product of America’s hypermasculine, police-worshiping society that screamed at him from all directions to stay in the closet, to hide any sort of mental illness, or risk not being a ‘real man.'”

“Islamist ideology … [is] almost like an afterthought,” a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center is quoted under a Miami Herald headline that asks, “What motivated Orlando killer?” The article was published five days after the shooting.

“We know that he apparently had some concerns or issues with the LGBT community,” Attorney General Lorretta Lynch said one week after the shooting. “It was also Latin night at the club. So again, we’re very concerned about the motivations that led him to that particular club at that particular place.”

“It’s really too early to talk about other individuals in the investigation,” she later added, “except to say that we are talking to everyone who had a connection to this killer.”

“We do want to be as transparent as possible in this investigation so people can see not only what he was thinking, what he was doing,” Lynch said Sunday, “but also the kind of information that we’re looking at.”
Links to all these quotes can be found in Bedford's piece at The Daily Caller. It's hard to determine exactly why it is that this White House and those who take their cues from the administration are so loath to identify, not just Mateen, but numerous other mass killers, as Islamists. It certainly seems that Mr. Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and those who think like they do will go to any lengths, no matter how absurd, to see the world the way they wish it to be and not the way it is.

Self-delusion must be a powerful drug because it appears to have a large percentage of both our population and our leadership in its grip.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit

The Brits have voted 52 - 48 to leave the European Union. For what it's worth, I understand why they voted that way. The EU has been gradually arrogating to itself more and more of the sovereignty of its member nations. It has over the years established its own currency, its own parliament, its own flag, its own anthem and its own foreign policy.

If the founders of the United States had known how little sovereignty the individual states would have by the 21st century and how much power the central government in Washington has seized for itself they never would have ratified the Constitution. Perhaps, British voters saw the same currents that have largely reduced the fifty states to the status of vassals to Washington sweeping Great Britain toward a similar fate vis a vis Brussels.

It is the unfortunate impulse of those who govern to accumulate and exercise their power, and the flow of power always goes ineluctably in one direction - from the people to the central authority. It rarely goes the other way. Indeed, those voices in the U.S. who supported "Bremain" (Britain remaining in the EU) have belonged to - in every instance with which I was familiar - a progressive liberal, that is, an enthusiast for big, centralized government.

The further away from the local community power resides, however, the less influence individual citizens have in their governance, and this lack of influence almost always is to their detriment and to the detriment of the nation.

Citizens who feel they have little control over the decisions which govern their lives tend toward lassitude and dependency, gradually becoming serfs of the state, lacking initiative and any sense that they have an investment in their communities and their future.

One proponent of "Bremain" argued that Britain should stay in the EU because the Union had kept the peace in Europe since its founding in the post WWII era, but this struck me as something of a post hoc argument. It could just as easily be asserted that Europe has been at peace (not counting the Balkans wars) because of the U.N., or Nato, or the influence of the U.S., or the fear of nuclear escalation.

Nor do I think the economic arguments for staying in the EU have been very compelling. It seems to me that the other 27 nations in the Union (excluding Germany) needed Britain more than Britain, the world's fifth largest economy, needed them. Nor is it clear why leaving should limit their trade opportunities overmuch, nor detract from the "special relationship" it has with the U.S., Mr. Obama's unseemly threats to the contrary notwithstanding.

The fear now is that other nations will follow Britain and exit the EU and that the Union will eventually collapse. If so, it'll be because Brussels left a lot of Europeans feeling powerless to influence the policies that affect their lives, and as they peer into the future they foresee that trend only getting worse.

For a much more thorough, informed, and erudite, argument for Brexit see the column composed by the editors of National Review here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The End of Science (Pt. II)

Yesterday, I suggested that science would deeply harm itself if it abandoned the distinctive criteria that set it apart from other intellectual pursuits. Today I'd like to consider another reason science is jeopardizing its own fruitfulness, and it's a consequence of the naturalism (i.e. the view that the natural, physical world is all that exists) that led to the problems discussed yesterday.

This additional way in which naturalism and its adherents may be bringing about the demise of the scientific enterprise is highlighted in a piece at Stream.org. Here's an excerpt:
In his profound new book The Death of Humanity, Richard Weikart documents how self-appointed spokesmen for “Science” such as “New Atheist” Richard Dawkins — and thousands who follow his lead — reject the idea of objective morality, free will, and the meaningfulness of life. Instead they blithely insist that everything — every single thing — in human nature can be traced to natural selection and blind variation. Religious impulses, altruism, friendship, love, even scientific curiosity, must all be explained away as the purposeless side-effects of mutations.

Human consciousness itself is a purely chemical, deterministic process entirely driven by the firing of neurons in the brain — which means that it is impossible to describe knowledge as objective, or any statement as really “true.” The perception that each of us has that a proposition is provable, or an experiment is conclusive, is no guarantee of anything in external reality; instead it is the outcome of subatomic dominoes falling in random patterns. How can science continue if even scientists start to believe this about their minds?

The answer is that it cannot. The death of humanity which Weikart describes will also be the death of science. We are already seeing state attorneys general trying to prosecute scientists who question the political orthodoxy of climate activists, federal regulations overriding the medical judgments of doctors treating “transgender” patients, and a dogmatic refusal on part of many well-educated people to admit that a human embryo is living or human, or that physical sex exists.
In other words, science is naturalism's summum bonum, but naturalistic assumptions are corrosive, if not fatal, to science. Science arose and flourished in the Christian culture of the West, a culture that took it for granted that the world was created by a rational, logical God who created man in the image of himself and that the world was thus orderly and law-like and would yield its secrets to logical inquiry by men who were it's divinely appointed stewards. They believed that because the Creator was rational there was a reason why everything happened and that those reasons could be uncovered by rational investigation.

Naturalism, though, rejects the notion of an intelligent, personal Creator without realizing that everything else that it wants to hold on to is contingent upon the conviction that the world is the product of such a being as they deny. In the absence of God, belief in an objective, law-governed universe, discoverable by human reason crumbles like very old paper as soon as it's touched.

Naturalists, ironically, exalt science without realizing that science and naturalism are fundamentally incompatible and cannot indefinitely co-exist.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The End of Science (Pt. I)

Science has flourished for three hundred years in the West, and has been in many ways a marvelous blessing to the world, but it may nevertheless soon find itself on life support. Ironically, the agent of its potential senescence is the rejection of a couple or three metaphysical assumptions that many credit with having given it its robust vigor and success in the first place.

The assumptions I refer to are these: 1. The conviction that science should limit itself to the study of natural, physical causes, and 2. that the theories it propounds should be based on physical, empirical evidence. Those theories, moreover, should 3. have the quality of being in principle falsifiable - that is, there should be a way to test the theory and a conceivable result of that test which, if it obtained, would show the theory to be false. Whatever hypotheses cannot meet these criteria - e.g. religious, ethical, epistemological, or aesthetic theories - belong to philosophical inquiry and reside outside the boundaries of science.

That's been the prevailing view ever since the Enlightenment, but there's sympathy in some scientific and philosophical precincts today for quietly doing away with both the need for empirical evidence as well as the falsifiability criterion, and the reasons for this, or at least a couple of them, are interesting.

Some scientists, for instance, think these criteria are too confining and, worse, they lead to unhappy metaphysical conclusions about the existence of God.

Specifically, some (many?) philosophers and scientists want desperately to legitimize multiverse hypotheses as legitimate science because if our universe is the only one that exists the conclusion that it is intentionally designed becomes virtually inescapable. As you might imagine, this ineluctability makes metaphysical naturalists (atheists) quite uncomfortable. As Bernard Carr, a cosmologist at Queen Mary University of London puts it, it's either the multiverse or God. Those are the only two live options.

The reason the multiverse seems necessary to save naturalism is that cosmic fine-tuning is so compelling (see video below), and the probability of a universe as incredibly fine-tuned as ours existing is so infinitesimally tiny, that if one wishes to avoid the conclusion that a supernatural Designer exists, or even the weaker but still important conclusion that the universe affords much evidence that such an intelligence exists, one has to hold that there's an infinite array of worlds in which every possible universe is actual. If so, then in an infinity of worlds every possible world has a probability of one, including our world. This would mean that the cosmic fine-tuning may be no big deal.

Thus, the multiverse is seen as the best way on offer to rescue naturalism from the theists. But the problem is there's no physical evidence that such a plethora of worlds really does exist, only that their existence is possible, nor is there any way to test or falsify the claim that this ensemble of worlds does exist. Thus, many philosophers and scientists argue, the multiverse theory is not a scientific hypothesis at all. It's metaphysics, just like religion, ethics, etc.

This "reduction" of the stature of the theory won't do, because if it's not a "scientific" theory it won't have any particular authority or claim on people's minds, so what's the solution? If the hypothesis doesn't meet the criteria of science then one solution is to drop the inconvenient criteria altogether so that science becomes simply whatever it is that scientists do. But this makes science something other than what it's been for three centuries. It robs it of its distinctive character and transforms it, as I said, into an exercise in metaphysics, just like religion.

There's another way science seems to be losing its distinctive character, and we'll look at that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sweet-Talking Lady

Those who've been paying attention to the Clintons for the last twenty five years or so are well-aware that Mrs. Clinton has often found the sewer a ready resource from which to draw her modes of self-expression. It's long been known that she has a penchant for vulgar verbs and participles, and her anti-semitism was noted back in the nineties, but her cruelty toward unfortunate children is less well-known.

Now one of Bill Clinton's army of ex-paramours has come out with a book that pulls back the curtain on Hillary's awful bigotry and hard-heartedness. Dolly Kyle, who dated Bill in high school and was a lover after their graduation, has published a book titled Hillary: The Other Woman.

In it she exposes Bill and Hillary as racial bigots, anti-semites, and cruelly contemptuous of the disadvantaged.

For example, she alleges that Hillary once called mentally-challenged children at a White House Easter egg hunt "f*****g ree-tards" because they had trouble picking up the eggs and also employed bon mots such as "stupid k**e" and "f***ing Jew b*****d" when describing her Jewish acquaintances.

Not to be forced to take a backseat in the bigotry sweepstakes, Bill once referred to Jesse Jackson as a "G**damned n****r". Indeed, he was sued several times as governor of Arkansas by blacks and Hispanics for violations of the 1965 Voting rights Act and famously commented in 2008 that Barack Obama should be serving him coffee rather than running for president.

There's more on this delightful couple in the article at the link. Kyle's book follows hard upon another by a former secret service agent Gary Byrne (Crisis of Character) who exposes Hillary's insufferable, overbearing treatment of subordinates in her days in the White House and her "volcanic" temper tantrums.

Neither of these revelations will deter many of Hillary's supporters who, like the woman in the following video, would vote for her even were she Lady Macbeth as long as she could be counted upon to keep abortion legal.
It is ironic that Trump gets excoriated in the media for being racist because he wants to profile Muslims and send illegal immigrants back home, but the media will never investigate nor complain about Hillary's cruelty and anti-semitism. Instead, like the woman in the video, they'll try their best to redirect the conversation away from Hillary's execrable character and back to Trump's political maladroitness.

After all, in our media culture to have a "D" after your name renders you immune to the criticisms for which those with an "R" are zealously burned at the stake of public opinion.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Splenda

Some readers may, like me, try to avoid consuming sugar by resorting instead to artificial sweeteners. Ever since these synthetics came out almost fifty years ago, however, there have been concerns about their health effects.

One of the more popular sweeteners is sucralose which is marketed as Splenda. The sucralose molecule has the same chemical structure as sucrose (regular sugar) except that it replaces three oxygen atoms in sucrose with three chlorine atoms which caused some alarm among chemists in the late 90s when Splenda was first developed. An article by chemist Josh Bloom at the website of the American Council on Science and Health explains why:
The most obvious red flag for toxicity is a molecule that appears to be chemically reactive. Reactive molecules often cause trouble because, as the name implies, they react with biomolecules in the body (proteins or DNA, for example) and can alter their structures. This alteration can change or even disable the function of proteins or DNA, and this is what is usually responsible for toxicity.

Because of this property, there are not many reactive drugs on the market. The main exceptions to this are certain cancer drugs, many of which (especially the older ones) are intentionally made to be reactive, since they work by poisoning cancer cells (and also non-cancerous cells).

Any trained organic chemist can identify hot spots [indicators] that make molecules reactive....This is why sucralose raised a few eyebrows when it was approved by the FDA in 1998. The sweetener doesn’t have one potential hot spot. It has three.
Yikes! So why think it's safe? Bloom explains:
Sucralose is identical to sucrose (cane sugar), with one exception — the three chlorine atoms .... In sucrose, those chlorine atoms are oxygen. But, it is these chlorine atoms that turn sugar into something with no calories. This is because the two chemicals are handled very differently in your body.

After you swallow sucrose, an intestinal enzyme called sucrase rapidly converts it to a 1:1 mixture of glucose and fructose. Both of these sugars have plenty of calories. But sucrase doesn’t recognize sucralose as sugar so the enzyme does not react with it or break it down. As a result, almost all sucralose passes through your digestive system without being absorbed. This is why it has zero calories.
Evidently, the sucralose molecule is essentially inert, passing through and out of the body without having reacted with anything.

Bloom includes a number of other interesting facts about sucralose in his article. Here are a couple:
The three chlorine atoms make sucralose 600 times sweeter than sucrose. A can of Pepsi One contains 60 mg of sucralose. A can of regular Pepsi contains 41 grams (41,000 mg) of sugar. So, even if sucralose was caloric, you’d only need 600-times less of it to get the same sweetness.

It was impossible to kill rodents that were given insanely high doses of sucralose. Mice and rats that were fed single doses of 16 and 10 grams per kilogram of body weight, respectively, did not die. This is roughly equivalent to one kilogram (2.2 pounds, or 1,000,000 mg) in humans. You would need to drink 17,000 cans of Pepsi One to get that much.
If Bloom is right - and I'm not vouching for his accuracy because I'm not a chemist - it sounds like you can use as much Splenda as you want without having to worry that you're damaging your health.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Schooling Rose

It's a strange world, and when I find myself applauding Bill Maher I know it's getting even stranger. Maher was recently on the Charlie Rose show and the conversation got around to Islam, and how, in Rose's view, Islam was no different than Christianity in terms of the violence it promotes. Maher, who has over the years been no fan of Christianity, nevertheless takes Rose to school on the matter.

Rose obviously doesn't know much about Islam and seems impervious to instruction, resorting instead to mouthing liberal platitudes about "moderate Muslims." Maher, though, will have none of Rose's poppycock.

Take a look:
By the way, I haven't heard Charlie Rose much before. Is he always as goofy as he sounds in this clip?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Connections

What export do Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar all share in common that makes them rich as Midas? Oil, of course.

What is one reason oil prices have been at near record lows for the last year or so? Fracking.

What do these two questions have to do with Hillary Clinton? With the caveat that correlation does not prove causation, let's compare two news stories.

The first comes from The Daily Caller:
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has given the Clinton Foundation an unspecified amount between $10 million and $25 million, according to the nonprofit’s records. The State of Kuwait has donated between $5 million and $10 to the Clinton Foundation. The State Of Qatar has given the Clinton Foundation between $1 million and $5 million.

“The Clinton Foundation’s impact would not be possible without the generous support of our donors and grantors,” the Clinton Foundation explains. “Their generosity makes our work possible and we thank them.”
Indeed, it certainly appears that she's very grateful, and the second news story from last spring suggests a form her gratitude may take if she's elected president:
Clinton has said she would regulate it [fracking] so thoroughly that “I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”
This announcement by Ms Clinton couldn't make the oil sheiks happier. They know a good investment when they see it. It's too bad that so many American voters don't seem to care overmuch that the politician they'll be voting for is bought and paid for, not only by domestic interests but ostensibly by foreign interests as well. Or, if that sounds too harsh or too much like a leap to an unwarranted conclusion about Ms Clinton's integrity, let's put it more delicately: It's a shame some of our politicians, particularly candidates in the upcoming presidential election, are not more punctilious about avoiding the appearance of being corrupt.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Myth of the Moderate Muslim

Last January I did a post on moderate Islam which quoted at length from a column by former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy who argued that the idea of moderate Islam is something of a myth. There are no moderate Muslims, he maintained. There are Muslims and there are apostates (who, according to Islamic doctrine, deserve to be killed) and that covers the spectrum of Islamic belief.

People in the West, so accustomed to the notion that in everything there's a wide diversity of opinion, have a hard time accepting that Muslims don't see things that way. At least they don't see Islam that way.

The following video shows a Muslim speaker named Fahad Qureshi addressing an audience in Norway in 2013 on just this point. He's trying to illustrate, approvingly, that the belief that gays should be killed and women subjugated to men and stoned to death if caught in adultery are in fact mainstream Muslim beliefs. They're not the beliefs of a fringe group of radicals, they're views taken directly from the Koran:
Keep in mind that Qureshi was addressing a mostly Muslim audience in liberal Norway. Toward the end he asked a question everyone should be asking as the president opens the floodgates to millions of Middle East Muslims:
What are the politicians going to say now? What is the media going to say now? That we are all extremists? That we are all radicals? That we need to deport all of us from this country?
Actually, no. In the wake of Orlando the media I've seen, in a masterful diversion of viewers' attention, has been talking mostly about the need for gun control.

Imagine, though, the media uproar if a politically conservative fanatic had committed the atrocity in the Orlando night club, and a video like this had subsequently been found to have been made at a gathering of Tea-Partiers. If the views held almost unanimously by this audience of Muslims were held by even a significant minority of any group of conservative non-Muslim Americans they would be anathematized, persecuted, and endlessly ridiculed. Yet Muslims are given a pass. Why?

The anonymous gay activist in a letter quoted in Tuesday's post highlights the Left's hypocrisy:
I also now realize, with brutal clarity, that in the progressive hierarchy of identity groups, Muslims are above gays. Every pundit and politician -- and that includes President Obama and Hillary Clinton and half the talking heads on TV -- who today have said "We don't know what the shooter's motivation could possibly be!" have revealed to me their true priorities: appeasing Muslims is more important than defending the lives of gay people. Every progressive who runs interference for Islamic murderers is complicit in those murders, and I can no longer be a part of that team.

I'm just sick of it. Sick of the hypocrisy. Sick of the pandering. Sick of the deception.
So should every American be.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Despicable

In a recent post on the Orlando tragedy I commented in passing that those who were blaming Christians for the actions of an ISIS-inspired hater had to twist themselves into rhetorical pretzels to make that case. I still think that, but it's harder to think so today than it was when I wrote the post. Since yesterday video has come to light of at least two putatively Christian pastors actually telling their congregations that gays deserve to be killed. One can be viewed here.

This is despicable. To be sure, such "pastors" are in a very small minority (At least I hope that's true. The church in this video appeared to be pretty small, but there are other similar videos on youtube that give me pause), and there are few Christians who would feel anything but disgust at their words, but nevertheless their message needs to be publicly condemned.

The mark of a Christian is a desire and effort to model one's life after that of Jesus, and Jesus, as far as I know, never called for anyone's death. So far from relishing punishment for sexual sin, Jesus taught and showed compassion for people who were caught up in it. Indeed, one of the most famous stories in the Gospels was of his intervention on behalf of the woman about to be stoned for adultery and his implication that only the man who had no sin in his own life was qualified to throw a stone.

In any case, to exult in the murders of the victims in Orlando is itself almost as wicked as if he had pulled the trigger himself. It certainly makes him morally complicit in the crime.

We should all be free to argue that homosexual behavior is wrong, that it harms people, that it's sin, just as we should be free to argue against these assertions. But whatever the moral status of homosexual behavior may be the moral status of the one who says he's glad gays and lesbians are hurt, maimed and murdered is far worse. No one who rejoices in the injury, terror or deaths of others is acting in a way that's remotely Christ-like.

It would be gratifying to learn that the good people who attend the churches of these pastors all decided this week that they'd prefer instead to attend a church that was genuinely Christian and left these men to preach to empty pews.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Radical Reversal

Yesterday I said that perhaps after the Orlando massacre of gays the LGBT community might rethink their support of the Obama administration's policy of bringing in masses of Muslim refugees with little or no screening. First indications are that I was probably too optimistic. Prominent activists in the LGBT community have been busy blaming American imperialism, conservatives, the NRA, Donald Trump, and even, in a remarkable feat of rhetorical contortionism, Christians - everything and everyone but a religious ideology that holds not just that homosexuality is a sin, but that it's a sin deserving of death. And not just execution but execution carried out in the most horrifying manner available to the executioner.

Not all gays are so purblind to reality, however. One anonymous individual, if indeed this isn't spurious, claims to be a gay activist, a progressive leftist who voted for Hillary in the primary, but in the aftermath of Orlando, is convinced that that was a mistake. Given the virulence of the homophobia among Islamists, the writer claims, Trump is the only responsible choice for gays: He (or she) writes:
[W]e progressives here in America still labor under the delusion that the religion we need to combat is Christianity. But that's a strawman opponent, and has been so for decades. Since the 1990s, Christian extremists have essentially lost all their power, and are now toothless nonplayers in the "culture wars." Meanwhile, Muslim extremists, with guns, murder us, and on the left our only response is to bleat about "Islamophobia" and jump through hoops trying to explain away the self-evident religious motivation for the killings.

Oh sure, all year I've been playing the "Bernie or Hillary?" game with all the other default-Democrats in my social and professional circles. But this is no longer some kind of game. Our lives are on the line. Although I voted for Hillary in the primary, I now cringe inwardly with shame and embarrassment at having done so, and in November I will vote for Trump.

Why? Yes, I know that Trump is an a**hole, Trump is a clown, Trump is a motormouth buffoon. You don't have to convince me of that. But he's also the only person saying anything about putting the brakes on Islamic extremism, and in light of what happened last night in Orlando, suddenly that is the only issue that really matters when it comes to the health, well-being and safety of the queer community.

As an aside, Trump has never said anything homophobic, and has always gotten along well with the gay community in New York, so there's that in his favor as well.

I also now realize, with brutal clarity, that in the progressive hierarchy of identity groups, Muslims are above gays. Every pundit and politician -- and that includes President Obama and Hillary Clinton and half the talking heads on TV -- who today have said "We don't know what the shooter's motivation could possibly be!" have revealed to me their true priorities: appeasing Muslims is more important than defending the lives of gay people. Every progressive who runs interference for Islamic murderers is complicit in those murders, and I can no longer be a part of that team.

I'm just sick of it. Sick of the hypocrisy. Sick of the pandering. Sick of the deception.
Indeed, so are many others, but there's more reason to be sickened with which this writer, having been himself/herself guilty of in the past, is quite familiar:
And you know what makes me angrier still? The fact that I have to hide my identity and remain anonymous in writing this essay. If I outed myself as a Trump supporter, I would be harassed and doxxed and shunned by everyone I know and by the Twitter lynch mobs which up until yesterday I myself led.

I am ashamed. I am angry. And I am sad. I don't want to vote for Trump, but I must. And if you care about the safety of the gay community in America, so must you.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Why Are We Doing This?

In the wake of the horrific murders of over fifty homosexuals at a gay club in Orlando, a crime perpetrated by Omar Mateen, the Muslim son of Afghan immigrants, Americans need to ask themselves why we are bringing into this country millions of people who hold as a matter of course the view that gays must be killed.

Coincidentally, perhaps, an Iranian Imam recently gave a talk at an Orlando Mosque in which he stated flatly that gays must be killed and that doing so is an act of compassion:
This is a requirement enjoined by Islamic law, i.e. sharia. An article in Breitbart points out that nearly 30,000 Afghan migrants have been permanently resettled in the U.S. and that nearly all Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) support sharia as official law.

The article goes on to say that,
As legal immigrants, these migrants will be granted lifetime resettlement privileges, will be given automatic work permits, welfare access, and the ability to become voting citizens.

Between 2001 and 2013, the United States permanently resettled 1.5 million Muslim immigrants throughout the United States.

In the next five years, without changes to our autopilot visa dispensations, the U.S. will permanently resettle a Muslim population larger than the entire population of Washington D.C.

Hillary Clinton has made clear that under a Clinton Presidency, these numbers will grow substantially higher. Based on the minimum numbers Clinton has put forth thus far, the U.S. will resettle 730,000 permanent migrants from the Muslim world during her first term alone.
Perhaps after this most recent act of savagery the gay community, which has a lot of influence in the Democrat party, will demand that the rush to fill North America with people who want to kill gays be reconsidered.

Perhaps, too, people on the left will now start to wonder what the Obama administration's rationale for the massive influx of Muslim immigrants might be.

As I asked in a previous post, what's the difference between the views of the average Muslim who supports sharia and the average Klansman or white supremacist? Would this administration be as eager to import several million deeply committed white supremacists into the country? Is there no way we can help refugees and others who wish to leave the hellish abattoirs their co-religionists have created in the Middle East without bringing them here?

Gay young men about to be hanged for violating sharia in Iran
Some think that a compassionate nation must perforce open its doors to these wretched people, but if there are unfortunates in your neighborhood who need relief is the only compassionate way to render them aid to bring them into your home? Would you permanently subject your family to people who hated you for your convictions about freedom and equality, who were prone to sexually abuse boys (as Afghans are), who thought your daughters were second class citizens, and who thought you should be required to pay them a tax (jizya)?

We must, to the extent that we can reasonably do so, come to the aid of those who suffer, but helping people in distress does not require of us that we be willing to commit national suicide or to sacrifice the lives and well-being of our sons and daughters on the altar of a distorted notion of compassion.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Some Reasons Why Atheism Is Philosophically Untenable

At Uncommon Descent William J. Murray lists ten reasons why atheists are "delusional." I'd prefer the word "inconsistent, or perhaps "irrational," but nevertheless, his ten points make for a compelling case that whichever descriptor one chooses, atheism is intellectually untenable and very difficult, if not impossible, to live out in consistent fashion.

Here are the first four of Murray's ten reasons in italics with my comments added:

1. They [atheistic materialists or naturalists] dismiss morality as nothing more than strongly felt subjective preference, but admit they act as if morality is objective in nature. They tacitly act as if morality is objective, for instance, every time they make a moral judgment of someone else's behavior.

2. They speak, act and hold others responsible for their behaviors as if we all have some metaphysical capacity to transcend and override the deterministic effects of our body’s physical state and causative processing (free will), yet they deny any such metaphysical capacity exists. In other words, if materialism is true there's scant grounds for believing in something like free will, yet every time someone uses the words "ought" or "should" in a moral sense they're implying that a person is free to have done other than what they did.

3. They deny truth can be determined subjectively while necessarily implying that their arguments and evidences are true and expecting others to subjectively determine that their arguments are true. If truth really is nothing more than a subjective preference then there's no point in an argument nor in stating any proposition with the expectation that anyone else should believe it.

4. They deny that what is intelligently designed can be reliably identified when virtually every moment of their waking existence requires precisely that capacity. Put differently, the extremely complex structures and information that must have existed in even the earliest cells they impute to chance but would never attribute to chance the ability to create the even more complex information contained in the operating systems on the computers they use every day.

Follow the link for the last six of Murray's reasons.

I said above that I prefer the word "irrational" because, as Murray points out with his ten reasons, naturalists can't live, or don't live, consistently with their fundamental assumption of atheism. To ignore the logic of one's fundamental assumption and to live as if its contrary were true, i.e. to live as if God exists while denying that he does, is a tacit admission that one's basic metaphysical assumptions are unlivable, if not incoherent.

Parenthetically, atheists of both a modern and postmodern predilection have an interesting relationship with reason. Modern man argues that reason is our most trustworthy guide to truth while the postmodern argues that reason is a failure as a guide to truth. Yet both must employ reason in order to make their respective cases. So, the modern has to assume reason is trustworthy in order to argue that it's trustworthy, which is surely question-begging, and the postmodern has to assume reason is trustworthy in order to argue that it's not trustworthy at all, which is surely self-refuting.

In neither case, can it be said that the modern or the postmodern is thinking rationally. We can have confidence that our reason generally leads us to truth, especially metaphysical truth, only on the assumption that God exists, is himself rational, and has created us in his image.

If we assume that God does not exist then we must conclude that our rational faculties are the product of processes which have produced those faculties to suit us for survival, not for the attainment of true beliefs, in which case there's no basis for thinking that they're trustworthy guides to truth. C.S. Lewis was one of the first to point this out as a trio of philosophers discuss in this video:
The same argument is an integral part of philosopher Alvin Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism which he discusses in this video:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Major Democrat Implies Obama Unqualified for Presidency

Former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell declared Wednesday that Hillary Clinton should not pick Sen. Elizabeth Warren as her running mate, citing Warren’s lack of foreign policy experience as making her unsuitable for the office:
I know Secretary Clinton pretty well,” Rendell said on 1210 WPHT Philadelphia radio. “I’m not an insider in the campaign but I know her pretty well. I think she will not pick somebody that she feels in her heart isn’t ready to be president or commander-in-chief and I think Elizabeth Warren is a wonderful, bright, passionate person, but with no experience in foreign affairs and not in any way, shape, or form ready to be commander-in-chief.”

Rendell, the chairman of the Philadelphia Host Committee for the Democratic National Convention, later called the station back to clarify that he didn’t mean to single Warren out.

“I didn’t want it to leave it hanging out there about Elizabeth Warren,” he said. “Elizabeth Warren’s problem would be the same problem I’d have. Let’s assume someone said consider Governor Rendell for vice president. I have no experience militarily, no experience in foreign affairs, and would be a difficult choice because if anything happened in week one and I became president, I would be lost.”
Now Rendell was the mayor of a major city and the governor of a major state. If he would not have been qualified for the presidency what in the world qualified Barack Obama who had no foreign policy experience and no other governing or administrative experience to speak of besides a brief two year stint in the Senate? Indeed, Elizabeth Warren has more experience in Washington now than Barack Obama had when he was elected president in 2008.

Rendell's deprecation of Elizabeth Warren's qualifications for vice-president and his devaluation of his own qualifications to serve as president is, a forteriori, a clear acknowledgement that Barack Obama was not qualified to be president either.

On this, if not much else, a lot of conservative Americans would find themselves in hearty agreement with Mr. Rendell.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Life's Meaning (Pt. II)

This is the second of two posts on an article by former pastor and now atheist Ryan Bell on his claim that life can be meaningful without there being a God. In yesterday's post (scroll down to view) it was observed that not only do most theists disagree with him but so, too, do a lot of notable atheists. Today's post continues the discussion:

I have a friend who is a talented illustrator and also a high school biology teacher. He draws wonderful pictures with colored marker pens on his whiteboard - pictures of living creatures of all sorts that are so well drawn it can take your breath away to look at them. Then, when the lesson is over, he takes a rag and erases the board and it's as if those beautiful works of art were never there. On atheism death is like that rag. It's the big eraser that blots out all that we've done in this life and renders it all nugatory.

Bell, of course, doesn't see it that way:
Popular Christian theology, on the other hand, renders this life less meaningful by anchoring all notions of value and purpose to a paradise somewhere in the future, in a place other than where we are right now. Ironically, my Christian upbringing taught me that ultimately this life doesn't matter, which tends to make believers apathetic about suffering and think that things will only get worse before God suddenly solves everything on the last day.
This is just incorrect. Christians are not apathetic about suffering. Indeed, Christians believe that there's meaning to suffering. Such a belief is alien to atheism, however, which sees suffering as the pointless consequence of living in a cold, impersonal world. Here's atheist biologist Richard Dawkins on the subject:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
Bell continues:
It struck me this year that nihilism is a disease born of theism. Some people have been taught to expect meaning outside of this world beyond our earthly experiences. When they come upon the many absurdities of life and see that it's "not as advertised," an existential despair can take hold.
But if this is true why does that existential despair afflict atheists but not theists? Theists do not succumb to that despair because the absurdities of life, on theism, are the result of man's repudiation of God. Life is indeed absurd for the atheist. It's a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. But for the theist there's a theme to history, a denouement. God has a plan, the theist believes, and in the end all will be made clear, it will make sense. The atheist believes that there is no God and none of it makes sense:
  • "There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death….There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will…." – biologist Will Provine
  • "What will come from what I am doing now, and may do tomorrow? What will come from my whole life? Otherwise expressed—Why should I live? Why should I wish for anything? Why should I do anything? Again, in other words, is there any meaning in my life which will not be destroyed by the inevitable death awaiting me?" - Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy describing the thoughts that plagued him in his atheist years.
"The problem is not solved by inventing a God in which to place all our hopes," Bell adds, "but rather, to face life honestly and create beauty from the absurd."

The solution Bell urges upon us is to just make the best of an inexplicable existence and then die. This is a prescription for hopelessness in the face of the absurdity of life. One way to frame the absurdity is to understand Bell's advice as adjuring us to live as if God existed even though he doesn't.

He concludes with these thoughts:
Without dependency on a cosmic savior who is coming to rescue us, we are free to recognize that we are the ones we're waiting for. If we don't make the world a fair and habitable place, no one else is going to do it for us. Our lives matter because our choices affect others and our children's future.

Life does not need a divine source in order to be meaningful. Anyone who has seen a breathtaking sunset or fallen in love with another human being knows that we make meaning from the experiences of our lives; we construct it the way we construct any social narrative.

Free from false expectations we are free to create purpose, share love, and enjoy the endless beauty of our world. We are the fortunate ones. There is no need for fear to have the last word.
This is all difficult to understand. How does the fact that our choices affect others and our children's future make them meaningful in any but a trivial sense? They're no more meaningful than the decision by the band on the Titanic to keep playing while the ship sank.

Woody Allen was quoted in an article in Time magazine as he reflected on the question of the meaning of life:
"Your perception of time changes as you get older, because you see how brief everything is," he says. "You see how meaningless … I don't want to depress you, but it's a meaningless little flicker." If anything, there's something refreshing in [Allen's] resistance to the platitudes about simple things making life worthwhile that so often pass for philosophy. It's not that Allen is unable to enjoy himself; it's that he's convinced the moments don't add up to redemption. "You have a meal, or you listen to a piece of music, and it's a pleasurable thing," he says. "But it doesn't accrue to anything."
Unless what we do matters forever, it doesn't really matter at all. If the existence of humanity has no meaning then it's hard to imagine how the existence of individual human persons can have meaning. As the novelist Somerset Maugham writes in The Summing Up:
If death ends all, if I have neither to hope for good nor to fear evil, I must ask myself what am I here for….Now the answer is plain, but so unpalatable that most will not face it. There is no meaning for life, and [thus an individual's] life has no meaning.
These are gloomy ruminations, but if atheism is true so are Maugham's words. The atheist can refuse to think about it or pretend that it's not so, but both alternatives seem to be examples of what Sartre calls bad faith. They're forms of self-deception. The thoughtful, honest atheist is in an awkward position since he really should be hoping with all his heart that he's wrong.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Life's Meaning (Pt. I)

Since ancient times philosophers, poets, and other thinkers have pondered the question of what purpose there is, if any, to human existence, what meaning there is to individual human lives.

Meaning is a difficult notion to define. We usually think of it as a purpose or significance that endures and gives us satisfaction. If that's a helpful description then perhaps we can think of meaning as either proximal or ultimate. Watching daytime television may provide the viewer with a temporary or proximal purpose and satisfaction but it's ultimately empty.

The important question is, can there be ultimate meaning if death terminates our existence? Both theistic and atheistic thinkers have tended to reply in the negative. Both agree that if there is no God then there's no ultimate meaning to life. They differ, though, in that theists tend to think that if there's no ultimate meaning then the proximal meanings we impart to life are, at bottom, illusory. Unless what we do matters forever, the theist argues, it doesn't really matter at all. A lot of atheists agree with this, but not all. Some atheist thinkers want to assert that even if there's no ultimate meaning to our lives we can still have a satisfying life while we're here, and that's meaning of a sort, indeed it's all the meaning they need.

An example of this view can be found in a column by a former Seventh Day Adventist pastor by the name of Ryan Bell who discusses why he gave up belief in God and why he's convinced that one can have a meaningful life without God. I'd like to examine Bell's reasons for his latter claim in the next couple of posts.

He writes:
One question I've been repeatedly asked is how my life has any meaning without God. While I had heard dozens of Christian apologists claim that meaning cannot be found without God, I had a curious experience. My appreciation for life and its potential increased when I stepped away from my faith.

Atheists are often accused of being nihilists or absurdists. Absurdism is a school of thought arguing that humanity's effort to find inherent meaning in life is futile. Nihilism goes further and in doing so becomes a mood or a disposition as well as a philosophical frame of mind. Nihilism says that nothing matters at all.

"If there is no God, then man and the universe are doomed. Like prisoners condemned to death, we await our unavoidable execution. There is no God, and there is no immortality. And what is the consequence of this? It means that life itself is absurd. It means that the life we have is without ultimate significance, value, or purpose," writes William Lane Craig, a Christian apologist.
Craig is a Christian and might be expected to hold this view, but there are dozens of thoughtful atheists who have voiced essentially the same melancholy sentiments. Here, for example, is Czech writer Milan Kundera:
A life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible or beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. We need take no more note of it than of a war between two African kingdoms in the fourteenth century, a war that altered nothing in the destiny of the world, even if a hundred thousand blacks perished in excruciating torment.
Nor is Kundera an isolated example. A sampling from the pens of other atheist writers could include the following:
  • "Life is a short day’s journey from nothingness to nothingness." – Ernst Hemmingway
  • "The only absolute knowledge attainable by man is that life is meaningless." - Woody Allen, filmmaker (Hannah and Her Sisters)
  • "The only plausible answer to the problem of the meaning of life is to live, to be alive and to leave more life." – Theodosius Dobzhansky, biologist
  • "Our only significance lies in the fact that we can look out on the universe and it can’t look back on us." – Will Durant, historian
  • "Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal." Jean Paul Sartre, philosopher
  • "Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful." Albert Camus, novelist
  • "Life is an unpleasant interruption of nothingness." – Clarence Darrow, lawyer
  • "Neither the existence of the individual nor that of humanity has any purpose." – Bernard Rensch, biologist
  • "I was thinking…that here we are eating and drinking, to preserve our precious existence, and that there’s nothing, nothing, absolutely no reason for existing." Jean Paul Sartre, philosopher (Nausea)
  • "The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life he is sick since objectively neither has any existence." Sigmund Freud, psychologist
So how does Bell respond to such depressing views held by his fellow atheists? He writes:
But my experience is that acknowledging the absence of God has helped me refocus on the wonderful and unlikely life I do have. This realization has increased my appreciation for beauty and given me a sense of immediacy about my life. As I come to terms with the fact that this life is the only one I get, I am more motivated than ever to make it count.

I want to experience as much happiness and pleasure as I can while helping others to attain their happiness. I construct meaning in my life from many sources, including love, family, friendships, service, learning and so on.
Yet if atheism is true the things he lists are nothing more than electro-chemical reactions occurring in his brain. How can chemical reactions generate true meaning rather than just the illusion of meaning? Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick disabuses us of our pretensions that our feelings and emotions are in any important sense meaningful:
You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.
Moreover, if death is the end, the most that the things Bell mentions can provide is some sort of proximal meaning, they cannot give our lives ultimate meaning. On atheism the universe is a random whirl of impersonal and purposeless atoms, but nothing comprised solely of the impersonal and purposeless such as ourselves can have any purpose or significance. Conscious beings can while away the hours engaged in diversions like work, collecting stamps, gardening, doing crossword puzzles, loving our families, or learning about how the cosmos works, but it's hard to see how any of it matters much if the footprints we make in life get washed away at death, as they assuredly do if death is the complete annihilation of the conscious self.

It's perhaps fitting to close with a quote from philosopher Bertrand Russell who wrote about this stark truth in an apologetic for his atheism titled A Free Man's Worship:
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
So far from life being meaningful, Russell argues that, in the absence of God, our lives are built on a foundation of despair.

More on this topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Trump's Inner Democrat

Donald Trump has found yet another way to reveal his inner liberal Democrat. When speaking about the court case concerning Trump University which is currently before a federal judge of Mexican descent, Gonzalo Curiel, he opined that he doubted he could get a fair hearing before a jurist of that ethnicity, given the antipathy he's aroused among Hispanics during the primary campaign season.

This comment has sent the media talking heads into a flurry of self-righteous censure of the billionaire bigot's bigoted remark. He's so divisive, they moan. He's racially hateful, they pontificate. His remark disqualifies him from the presidency, they asseverate, and, in a heroic effort to deliberately miss the point, some commentators have intoned with supercilious solemnity that Judge Curiel isn't Mexican anyway, he's American.

Yet, this eruption of disapprobation directed at Mr. Trump seems to indicate an obliviousness among lefties that what the GOP candidate said is simply the logical extension of what liberal Democrats have been saying for decades. Every time it's insisted that a man can't understand what a woman goes through in pregnancy, every time an African-American deigns to instruct whites that they can't speak about the black experience because they've never been the victims of racial oppression, every time an African-American declares that blacks can't get a fair trial in racist white America, or every time some academic implies the same thing whenever the racial composition of a jury doesn't adequately reflect the race of the accused - every time statements like these are made and greeted with sage nods and sympathetic tsks at the injustice of being judged by someone of a different race or gender, the predicate is tacitly being laid which validates Trump's resentment at having his case decided by a Hispanic judge.

If it is righteous and acceptable for the left to protest when members of one racial, ethnic, or gender group make judgments about the behavior of members of another group, if the argument that the race, etc. of the first group biases them against those of the second group, why is it objectionable for Trump to offer the same argument?

The media and others would do well, rather than faulting Trump for expressing the same concerns about being judged by someone likely to be biased against him on ethnic grounds, concerns that liberals have expressed at every opportunity for the last fifty years, to instead desist from their destructive attempts to split our society along lines of race, ethnicity and gender, and to end their practice of pitting one group against another.

If Judge Curiel is to be presumed a fair and objective arbiter of the law because he's "an American" then that same presumption should be extended to every American in similar position, and the politically correct racial and gender qualifiers we use to pigeon-hole people should be considered to be just as illegitimately applied to everyone else as they are to Judge Curiel.

Liberals who find Trump's comment distasteful and divisive should look in the mirror. Trump's racial rhetoric is no different than what they themselves have been employing for decades, and it's a bit hypocritical of them to complain about it now when someone other than a member of one of our privileged minorities resorts to it.

Monday, June 6, 2016

How We Can Help in Fallujah

A lot of us read stories of the horrors and suffering Iraqis and Syrians are enduring at the hands of the savages who go by the name of ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh) and wish there was something we as individuals could do to help them. Well, there is. Preemptive Love is an organization doing great work in Iraq helping people who've been terrorized and displaced by ISIS, and they rely almost completely on the support of donors. If you're interested in doing something meaningful to help the victims of Islamic extremism I urge you to visit their website here.

Over the years Preemptive Love has been committed to bringing medical care to children in desperate need of surgery, particularly heart surgeries, but recently they've undertaken to deliver food, water and medical supplies to thousands of people caught in the current battle to retake the city of Fallujah from ISIS.

As soon as the Iraqi military liberates a suburb from ISIS control, Preemptive Love moves in behind them to deliver life-saving aid, all of which is provided by ordinary people who contributed because they wanted to do something to make a difference.

It's a great organization doing wonderful work to alleviate human suffering. I hope you'll check them out.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Boosting the Trump Vote

Wonder why anyone would support Donald Trump? Watch the video of what happened to people leaving his rally in San Jose on Thursday and perhaps you'll gain a better understanding why so many Americans are eager to see him elected:
People see this riot, they see the Mexican flags waving and American flags being burned, they see innocent Americans being splattered with eggs, spit upon, punched in the head, and otherwise terrified by a largely Hispanic mob, some members of whom may well be here illegally, and they reflect that though they might not like Trump, a vote for anyone else means these thugs win.

It's depressing, sickening even, to see our politics taking on the aspect of those of a third world thugocracy, but the descent into violence is typical of such regimes, and, though Trump himself is not innocent of the rhetoric of violence, it's the Left that aspires to large-scale mayhem and promotes riots.

Vox editor Emmit Rensin, for instance, took to Twitter to urge people to riot when Trump comes to their town. Any violence short of murder, he tweeted, is justified. This from the same people who have, rightly, criticized Trump for encouraging his supporters to rough up demonstrators. Vox has suspended Rensin, but one can't help thinking the penalty was more for having the bad judgment to urge publicly what they're all secretly hoping for, than for the sentiment he expressed.

The mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, a Clinton Democrat, pronounced in the wake of the riot in his city - a riot his police seemed totally unprepared to handle - that Trump, Trump, has to accept responsibility for it. In a vivid instance of defining deviancy down, Liccardo implicitly absolved the thugs and knuckleheads who punched people, damaged cars, and pelted women with eggs of any accountability. Apparently the mayor thinks those actions are understandable given that Trump is a political candidate his constituents dislike.

And indeed, the actions are understandable if the goal is to turn the United States into a third-world socialist banana republic.

Friday, June 3, 2016

New Hope for Stroke Victims

We're fortunate to live in a time and place where scientific knowledge and technology seems to be snowballing. A recent article in the UK Daily Mail, if accurate, reports on an amazing advance in medical science, one that will be an enormous blessing to countless people.

Here's the gist of it:
Doctors have reversed the symptoms of stroke in a major medical breakthrough. Patients regained the ability to walk, speak and have a normal family life, thanks to a procedure requiring only local anaesthetic and a single night in hospital.

Eighteen patients underwent the procedure in an initial trial - with stunning results. Despite the long gap between stroke and treatment, all 18 patients in the pilot showed increasing improvement for the 12 months they were tracked after the operation. Nearly half showed ‘clinically meaningful’ results - which meant the procedure had a significant impact on their lifestyle.

One patient who relied on a wheelchair, unable to properly use her legs, has since taken up jogging. Another woman, who could barely get to her feet before the operation, has since walked down the aisle and is now expecting a baby with her new husband. And another, completely paralysed apart from the use of her left thumb, has regained the ability to walk.

The treatment, carried out by scientists at Stanford University in California, is thought to be so effective because it triggers the rapid regeneration of brain circuits damaged during a stroke.
One researcher was quoted as saying that:
The notion was that once the brain is injured, it doesn’t recover — you’re stuck with it. But if we can figure out how to jump-start these damaged brain circuits, we can change the whole effect. We thought those brain circuits were dead. And we’ve learned that they’re not.
The article goes on to explain that the treatment involves the implantation into the brain of stem cells and that the treatment was shown to work even three years after the stroke. Moreover, the stem cells are taken from bone marrow, not human embryos:
The new therapy uses stem cells called SB623 cells, extracted from the bone marrow of donors and then modified to make them suitable for insertion into the brain. The stem cells - ‘blank’ cells capable of acting as a repair kit for the body by replacing damaged tissue - are thought to encourage the regeneration of blood cells and blood vessels.

Bone marrow donations from two people were sufficient to provide enough stem cells for 18 patients.

Previous trials have also been controversial because they use embryonic stem cells from aborted babies – but this trial avoids those ethical issues because it uses adult stem cells available ‘off the shelf’ from a commercial provider.
This really is amazing, hopeful news. Stroke victims often suffer moderate to severe debilities of speech or movement as a result of a ruptured or blocked blood vessel in the brain. If further tests prove the treatment to be consistently effective over the long term it would be a marvelous, life-changing development for millions of people.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Liberal Education

Once upon a time a liberal education meant that one studied, and desired to study, the best that had been thought and written in the humanities. One was deeply enriched by his or her encounter with the classics in literature, philosophy, history, etc. Times have changed, however. The term "liberal education" has taken on a rather different signification today than it had a few decades ago. Take Oberlin College, for example, a liberal arts school in Ohio where students recently submitted a list of 50 "non-negotiable" demands to the administration described in a New Yorker column.

The Daily Caller has distilled the New Yorker's essay to a few of the more absurd aspects of the students' "concerns." Here is a sample of their complaints (The text in italics is from the Daily Caller, the rest is my commentary):

This institution [Oberlin] functions on the premises of imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, and a cissexist heteropatriarchy. In addition to wondering what some of this actually means, one might also wonder what the school would look like if it "functioned" on the basis of the contraries of these premises.

The students' demands included a request for an $8.20-an-hour "activism wage," the firing of nine Oberlin employees deemed insufficiently supportive of black students, and the tenuring of black faculty. How, exactly, does one demonstrate "insufficient support"? Are the students saying that if these nine employees don't agree with their concerns they should therefore be fired? Is it the students' idea of justice to deprive someone of their livelihood because they don't agree with their opinion? If so, it is Stalinesque.

A student wanted trigger warnings on required reading. The book which triggered the demand for triggers was Antigone. This student activist had wrestled with suicidal tendencies and so does Antigone. One can sympathize with the student's apprehensions while nevertheless thinking that "trigger warnings" are, in general, a concession to emotional adolescence. Any student can google any book and find out what its basic themes are if he's concerned that he might suffer an emotional or psychological ambush while reading it.

The students wanted the removal of a “harmful” multicultural mural. The former chair of the Student Union Board reports that students ordered a mural featuring people of a number of different races destroyed because they feared that it “exoticized” minorities. I'm not sure what it is to be "exoticized," but it sounds bad. Whatever it is, though, it's hard to imagine a depiction of anyone which could not be said to "exoticize" that individual, or his or her race, gender, or class.

A Jewish student was told he cannot have certain opinions because his “culture has never been oppressed.” After he criticized a sexual harassment policy that would have classified “flirtatious speech” as harassment, Aaron Pressman reported, “A student came up to me several days later and started screaming at me, saying I’m not allowed to have this opinion, because I’m a white cisgender male.” He feels that his white maleness shouldn’t be disqualifying. “I’ve had people respond to me, ‘You could never understand — your culture has never been oppressed.'” Pressman laughed. “I’m, like, ‘Really? The Holocaust?'”

This criticism of Pressman was odd in light of the fact that one Oberlin professor reportedly posted anti-Semitic messages on Facebook. “[Her] posts suggested, among other things, that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that Isis was a puppet of Mossad and the C.I.A., and that the Rothschild family owned “your news, the media, your oil, and your government.” This professor wasn’t terminated and perhaps shouldn't have been, but evidently had she been as insufficiently supportive of black students' concerns as she apparently is of Jewish students' concerns, there'd have been calls for her dismissal.

In any case, the notion that unless you belong to a group that has suffered you cannot understand their angst and are not entitled to speak out about their problems is one of the oddest flowers in the ideological greenhouse. Besides, who cannot lay claim to membership in some group that at some point in history has been "oppressed"?

One student leader is “tired” of listening to dissenting opinions. “I do think that there’s something to be said about exposing yourself to ideas other than your own, but I’ve had enough of that after my fifth year,” she said. Apparently she thinks there should be a statute of limitations on free speech and dissent. Perhaps students should have to suffer disagreeable opinions for four years and then after that grace period every opinion should agree with hers.

Students wanted to eliminate bad grades. “More than thirteen hundred students signed a petition calling for the college to eliminate any grade lower than a C for the semester, but to no avail.” According to the New Yorker they didn't want their grades to decline while they were devoting their time to activist causes.

They hate capitalism at Oberlin. A student leader stated that higher education is a “tool of capitalism” that “can’t be redeemed,” even though capitalism is closely associated with the kind of free speech that allows students to become activists in the first place. Meanwhile, socialist and Communist countries — think Mao’s China and Lenin’s Russia — frequently throw dissenters in jail, although many of these students may not even know this, given how open they seem to learning new things.

These students don't see their university years as a wonderful opportunity to learn but rather as an opportunity to vent. They wish to turn universities into summer camps for radicals where they can gather to rage against the machine and all that. And when they graduate what will they have prepared themselves to do in life, other than to become themselves poorly educated college professors who will continue the cycle of educational decline?

Permit me to suggest a modest proposal for disaffected students. It's similar to the course of action what people are advised by progressives to follow if they find that they don't like salacious television programming, or movies, or the laws regarding abortion, which is, "Don't watch, don't go, don't have one."

University students who don't like the curriculum, who don't like a college's atmosphere, who don't like having to pass courses, simply should not go to a school which features these characteristics in the first place, or, having made the mistake of enrolling, should transfer out.

Better yet, they should realize that their anxieties often appear peevish, self-absorbed, and childish to those who work for a living or who don the nation's uniform, that to these folks many of the concerns expressed by the Oberlin students seem akin to a child's fear of the goblin under the bed at night, and that the students should work harder to outgrow these preoccupations.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Democratic Ticket

It seems from all outward appearances that the contest for leader of the free world will be between a mendacious, fabulistic, venal, incompetent, corruptocrat and a maturationally stunted, authoritarian, prevaricating, know-nothing caudillo.

But maybe not. A cloud the size of a man's hand hovers on the horizon which could bring a political hurricane.

John Fund limns the totally plausible scenario:
Smart Democrats began dusting off copies of their Plan B for the 2016 fall campaign this week. They were prompted by a devastating report from Department of Justice inspector general, who found that “significant security risks” were raised by Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private e-mail server at the State Department. Democrats know that an FBI report, potentially even more damaging, may be leaked in the coming weeks.

Even if Hillary faces no criminal liability, she could find the number of Americans who view her as honest and trustworthy dropping below Donald Trump’s numbers.

People around her will tell you that in private if you really get them behind a closed door. I spoke to a number of top Democratic officials, and they’re terrified, including people at the White House, that her campaign is in freefall because of this distrust factor. And, indeed, Trump has a similar problem. But she’s the one whose numbers are going south. “Trump lies about his businesses and changes with the wind,” one former Democratic senator told me. “But if Hillary is found to have compromised national security, that will be viewed as more relevant to the job of president.”

Democrats will carefully watch the polls in the next few weeks. If Hillary stays slightly ahead of Trump or is competitive, she will become the Democratic nominee at the Philadelphia convention. But if her numbers slide, watch for super-delegates now in her camp to consider the possibility of substituting Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic candidate — with the possible addition of Senator Elizabeth Warren as his running mate, as political balm for the party’s not nominating a woman for president.
But what about Senator Bernie Sanders who seems to have sucked up almost all the energy in the Democratic primaries?
If Democratic delegates decide that Hillary is too much of a political liability to nominate, don’t expect them to turn to Bernie Sanders. Despite polls showing him with a bigger lead over Trump than Hillary has, few prominent Democrats believe that Sanders could survive sustained attacks on his record as a self-proclaimed “socialist.”

That’s where Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren would come in. Biden would be sold as a steady hand who would energize President Obama’s supporters, and Warren would be pitched to delegates as someone who could keep Sanders progressives on board. “The implication would be that, at age 74, Biden might serve only one term and Warren would be a natural successor,’ a former Democratic congressman told me.
Hillary operatives and supporters are not ready to bail just yet and many of them are saying for public consumption that her legal problems are just so much ado about nothing. But, according to Fund, that's not what they're saying in private:
They know that the inspector general’s report is a preview of coming revelations in the upcoming FBI report, and they are laying the groundwork to implement Plan B if they think it will be necessary.
Biden and Warren have both insisted they aren't interested, but if Hillary's numbers against Trump continue to slide, and both of the old warhorses know that the grueling primaries are over, they could surely be persuaded for the good of the party, and country, and history, and all that, to run.

Trump could probably beat Hillary (or Sanders), but it's not so clear that he could beat a Biden/Warren ticket. A lot of Democrats are probably hoping with all their might that such a race materializes.