March 2013 Archives
March 2, 2013
On evidentialism and coincidence
Okay, chaps, the world is darned depressing and frightening for us traditionalists and Christians, and even just for sane and sensible people, and instead of blogging about Bob Woodward, which I momentarily feared I had a duty to do, I'm going to blog about evidentialism as a position in Christian apologetics.
Recently I was corresponding with someone about evidentialism and Plantingian proper basicality. My correspondent was asking some questions about religious experience and what role I think it plays in grounding Christian belief. In the course of the correspondence, one thought occurred to me that, it seems, might be of value to a wider audience.
March 4, 2013
Brief update on Pastor Kenneth Miller
Here is a web site I just found on which you can get regular updates on the status of Pastor Kenneth Miller, the Mennonite pastor who has gone to prison for having aided in the escape of Lisa Miller (no relation) and her daughter Isabella from a custody order handing Isabella over to Lisa's unrelated former lesbian partner. Lisa and Isabella are apparently now in Nicaragua being sheltered by the Mennonite community there, though they are apparently in some danger of capture. I've discussed that case here, here, and here.
The bad news, today, is that Pastor Miller has been sentenced to twenty-seven months in federal prison for his role in Lisa and Isabella's escape. The good news is that the sentence has been temporarily suspended while an appeal goes forward. Pastor Miller's lawyers are appealing on grounds of an allegedly incorrect trial venue. Evidently Miller was tried in Vermont despite the fact that his "crime" neither occurred nor was planned in Vermont. (Vermont is where the lesbian partner lives who is pursuing Isabella and Lisa.) It may be some time before that appeal is completed. Meanwhile, it looks like Pastor Miller is going home. He has already spent some time in jail for his refusal to testify against others who helped Lisa and Isabella. I can only guess, from the statement that he is going home, that the judge in that case has given up on trying to break his resolve not to testify by sentencing him to jail.
If you are interested in the case, this looks like a useful site to bookmark.
March 5, 2013
Toward a Biology Worthy of Life
If you consider yourself a man of science, or even an admirer of men of science, you are obliged to read and heed Steve Talbott's instruction:
What we can no longer doubt is this: every organism pursues its own purposes by means of its active capacities — capacities for developing and shaping its own body, sensing and responding to stimuli, repairing and healing, signaling and communicating. At every level of observation — and all the way down to its molecular structures and processes — the organism displays a plastic, adaptive power responsive to context. The essential elements of the organism are activities and dynamically maintained relationships, not static things.
Through its living activity, the organism speaks. That’s why biologists use terms such as “information”, “code”, “message”, “signal”, “program”, “response”, “communication”, and so on — all in order to express the language-like activity they can’t help trying to describe (even if they prefer to think in terms of computerized rather than living speech). And just as words and gestures carry many meanings, even opposite meanings, depending on their context, so it is with all the structures and processes of our cells, including our genes. The language of the organism is turning out to be vastly more complex, expressive, and nuanced than our old, mechanistic heritage ever led us to expect.
It’s time we let organisms speak for themselves. That is the opportunity and responsibility of the new science of biology.
I estimate that I’ve read no more than a fourth of the material now available at The Nature Institute, but each portion was bold and enriching. The science of biology will not abide the materialists and reductionists. All that’s left to them is trying to turn back the clock of progress.
We prideful men have so much to learn.
March 7, 2013
Surrogacy, selfishness, and IVF
This appalling story shows just some of the things that can happen as a result of IVF. Here are just a few features. Some overlap with each other.
--"Parents" who hire another woman to bear "their" baby, an IVF embryo, though it turns out that the supposed biological mother actually isn't the baby's mother at all, because they used an egg donor.
--The complete post-modernization of the very concept of parenthood.
--"Parents" who at first think of themselves as the child's parents, then, when it turns out the child is imperfect, want the child killed, then, when they can't succeed in getting the child killed, decide they do want to be regarded as her parents, but only so that they can abandon her to the state of Connecticut and no longer be her parents, then, when the birth mother runs away to a state where she will be the child's mother at birth, sue for parental rights for who-knows-what reason, then in the end decide not to challenge the baby's adoption by yet a third set of people provided that they can have occasional reports on her progress. It's make-it-up-as-you-go-along parenthood.
--Direct coercion upon the surrogate to try to get her to have an abortion, followed by attempted bribery when coercion doesn't work.
March 10, 2013
Ironies of 18th century histories
There is a famous passage in Gibbon, or more likely quite a few of them, where he pours out contempt on the barbarism of Greek Rome, its superstition, is narrow dynastic disputes and barbarian adventurers, its vehemence of doctrine and ruthless factionalism of ecclesiastical controversy, its truculence and treachery and all the sum of middle-age obscurantism, which civilized rationalism, like that of Gibbon, would soon wash away.
Now Gibbon was a great historian and a great master of the English language; his quaint 18th century faith in rationalism, progress, and enlightenment, and his antipathy for Greek and Latin Christianity are small price to pay to sit under his instruction.
More: to imagine a Gibbon bereft of his prejudices is to imagine a Gibbon bereft of his wit, the soul of his masterful prose; one might as well wish for a Michael Jordan that is meek and mild rather than pitiless competitor. Nor could we, without his bigotries, enjoy the great irony that Gibbon’s scorn animates the vigor of his History; that what he tells us is a boring monotony of ecclesial insolence, royalist intrigue, and popular puritanism, he nonetheless shows us is vivid and sprightly tale, memorable in the strange annals of that inexpressible creature called man.
Hume, too, evidences that marvelous 18th century naivety. Near the beginning of his History of England, at the dawn of the Anglo-Saxon age, the great Scotsman holds forth in solemn warning. The reader should beware what comes next:
Wars, therefore, and revolutions and dissensions were unavoidable among a turbulent and military people; and these events, however intricate or confused, ought now to become the objects of our attention. But, added to the difficulty of carrying on at once the history of seven independant kingdoms, there is great discouragement to a writer, arising from the uncertainty, at least barrenness, of the accounts transmitted to us. The Monks, who were the only annalists during those ages, lived remote from public affairs, considered the civil transactions as entirely subordinate to the ecclesiastical, and besides partaking of the ignorance and barbarity, which were then universal, were strongly infected with credulity, with the love of wonder, and with a propensity to imposture; vices almost inseparable from their profession, and manner of life. The history of that period abounds in names, but is extremely barren of events; or the events are related so much without circumstances and causes, that the most profound or most eloquent writer must despair of rendering them either instructive or entertaining to the reader. Even the great learning and vigorous imagination of Milton sunk under the weight; and this author scruples not to declare, that the skirmishes of kites or crows as much merited a particular narrative, as the confused transactions and battles of the Saxon Heptarchy. In order, however, to connect the events in some tolerable measure, we shall give a succinct account of the successions of kings, and of the more remarkable revolutions in each particular kingdom.
There follows an able account of Gregory the Great and the sending of Augustine on his fateful journey to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Hume’s “despair of rendering [events] either instructive or entertaining to the reader” is shown immediately to be misplaced.
March 13, 2013
Tasmania puts a new spin on attacking conscience
Via the indefatigable Wesley J. Smith comes a disturbing report of a new pro-abortion, anti-conscience law moving forward in Tasmania. I do not know how likely it is to pass. The first part is similar to a law concerning abortion that passed in Victoria, which I discussed here, and to a law concerning euthanasia that has recently been recommended by a government-appointed commission in Quebec.
This first part directly attacks the conscience of doctors opposed to abortion by requiring them, on penalty of a fine, to refer the patient to a doctor who will do the deed. See my further discussion of referrals, here.
But there's more: The Tasmania law also says that counselors who are opposed to abortion and from whom a pregnant woman has sought advice must refer the woman to a different counselor who is known to be not thus opposed!
March 16, 2013
He who pays the piper...
We've noted before so-called "anti-bullying" laws in Canada that require approval of homosexuality and that apply to private, Catholic schools, apparently on the grounds that these schools take some public money.
Minnesota is looking to bring such laws to the United States. The new "safe schools" law proposed in Minnesota would, according to this article, apply even to Catholic schools if their students are getting books and other "resources" with public money. I don't know what kind of resources they have in mind or what public money programs these are. I would like to know more about it. How and why has public money become involved in these Catholic schools?
I have several comments:
First, such bogus "anti-bullying" campaigns, really just a facade for spreading the homosexual agenda, are also bad for public schools. I don't think we should retreat simply to saying, "Oh, but I don't think this should apply to Christian schools." I think we should call out this ideology and warn everybody: Don't believe in these anti-bullying groups and campaigns, and fight any laws of this kind in your state across the board. Don't just fight to have religious schools excluded from them. That's already a retreat from criticizing the campaigns in and of themselves. Don't forget what happened to student Brandon Wegner under the guise of his school's anti-bullying policy. "Safe schools," really? Not for Christian and conservative students.
March 20, 2013
Crude, Israel, Gay Marriage...Oh My!
A very interesting debate (at least for me) has broken out in Lydia's last post concerning the means by which social conservatives can advance their ideas in the public square. This is also relevant to the political moment, as there are some voices within the broader conservative movement who are calling for the Republican party to essentially ditch socially conservative ideas (or radically downplay them) so that today's young, or single women, or minorities (the infamous RNC report suggests Republicans need to pass "comprehensive immigration reform" or Hispanics won't listen to the party -- but they provide no evidence that this is true) will find the party welcoming. For example, Charles Murray (who admitedly has always been more of a libertarian thinker) recently said the following:
“Unless the G.O.P. drops what he called its ‘litmus tests’ for candidates on these divisive social issues, Murray warned that conservatives were likely to alienate a large swath of the voting public, including his children, who might otherwise be attracted to the Party.”
March 23, 2013
"That Hideous Strength" Comes to school [Updated *thrice* below the fold]
In C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength the demon-worshiping villain Frost tells the novice Mark Studdock, as part of his initiation process, to trample a crucifix. Studdock, who is not a Christian of any kind, refuses, though he believes Frost may kill him for doing so.
The real world has, to some extent, caught up with fiction. A college teacher in a communications class told his students to write the word "Jesus" on a piece of paper and stomp on it. This was part of a prescribed exercise. Fox News, that bastion of Evil Right-Wing-ism, has helpfully obtained a copy of the assignment, which comes from a book called Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach (5th edition)
Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper,” the lesson reads. “Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.
Because thought experiments just aren't enough. I suppose this is part of the "group activities" mania. It isn't enough to say, "If I told you to step on a crucifix, I assume several of you would object. That's quite understandable. Let's discuss the importance of symbols in culture." No, you actually have to play Professor Frost and tell the students to stomp on Jesus' name.
Mormon student Ryan Rotela refused. Presumably refusing was one of the expected outcomes of the exercise, so that isn't what he is in trouble for. What he's apparently in trouble for is having the gall to complain to the professor and the chairman that the assignment was inappropriate. He's been kicked out of the class. I don't know what this means about his grade. Is he just going to be given a "withdrawn passing" or what? And if he needs the class to graduate, then what? And why should he be kicked out, anyway? Are students not allowed to complain to the chairman about an assignment they consider inappropriate? Especially in this case, when it is hardly a stretch to consider the class activity very inappropriate indeed.
I'm afraid that one clue to the school's circling the wagons and defending the teacher, even punishing the student for complaining, may lie in the fact that the professor is black (see photo).
March 25, 2013
The Real War on Women: USAID and India
In his fascinating book Merchants of Despair, Robert Zubrin tells the shameful story of how Lyndon B. Johnson pressured Indira Ghandi to enact draconian population control measures in India as a condition of receiving U.S. foreign aid. The quotas and goals put in place resulted in insanitary and degrading mass sterilization camps.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Scores of women were dumped unconscious in a field after a mass sterilization because there was no room in hospital for them to recuperate, medical officials said on Thursday.
Medical experts also voiced shock over conditions at the hospital, where four doctors carried out a total of 106 sterilizations in one day.
March 27, 2013
What's going on in North Dakota?
North Dakota has passed an extremely strong abortion law, a law which quite obviously is incompatible with Roe v. Wade. The law bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, though without specifying what detection method would be used. Good for North Dakota. Of course it will immediately go to a court challenge. My prediction is that a lower federal court will strike the law down in a Miami minute and that SCOTUS won't bother to hear it.
Governor Dalrymple has, shall we say, finessed the question of the law's relationship to Roe v. Wade. What he says is that the law is an attempt to "discover the boundaries" of Roe and that the court has never addressed the specific issue of fetal heartbeat. There is some excuse for the governor's wording if we consider the legal and logical chaos of the totality of the High Court's abortion rulings. After all, the trimester set-up in Roe didn't survive Webster, and Casey was a legal and logical mess from every perspective. But if we put the matter more straightforwardly, the North Dakota law is blatantly incompatible with the jurisprudence of Roe, and all the better for it.
So, a few practical questions:
--Will North Dakota arrest or prosecute any abortionists under this law, or will it be enjoined too quickly for this?
--Will abortionists be spooked by this law and stop operating (specifically, at the one abortion clinic in Fargo)? Will babies' lives be saved by it?
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I don't ask these questions in a carping or sarcastic vein. I think we need more such defiant acts by the states against Roe, and I applaud the unity of the North Dakota legislature and governor in passing the law. It will be even better if an abortionist spends even a day in jail as a result, with the cooperation of the state prosecutor and courts. Doctors are risk-averse people, and we can hope that the Fargo death clinic will find it ever-harder to find ideologue "doctors" willing to murder babies there.
The ND legislature also passed a law requiring doctors to have physician privileges at a hospital, which I suppose could close down the clinic for independent reasons, with the cooperation of the hospitals in refusing to give the abortionists physician privileges.
What do readers think? What point is there in state laws that are clearly incompatible with Roe? I don't think that North Dakota is willing to go quite as far as I do and defy the federal government to the hilt, prosecuting its own laws as though Roe didn't exist and defying federal court orders. This law is, rather, a shot across the bows. What good do readers believe it will do?
March 28, 2013
What Wondrous Love Is This?
He did not grasp at equality with God, but emptied Himself. He loved His own “to the end,” to utter emptying.
Not content with merely sending His Son into this world of men to redeem them by his mere presence, God determined upon the very extremity of self-giving to be His mode of redemption for men, a total surrender of His human life. So, God pre-ordained that Jesus would not come into the world until there was a race of cold, calculating, hardened and pragmatic killers ready to do their worst upon him, a group of men who were used to centuries of suppressing uprisings with the rigors of excruciating torment. Then He ensured a time when many of the Jewish priests and leaders were venal men bent on honors and prestige (easy to do with fallen man, to be sure.) Yet still Jesus did not leave it to chance that they would condemn him. “Zeal for His Father’s house consumed him”: He intentionally took the offensive against the leaders, embarrassing them, pointed out the errors and failings of the Pharisees and scribes to ensure their adamant insistence on dealing him a fatal, humiliating blow. He was eventually consumed as a sacrifice precisely due to the lingering effects of his cleansing of the Temple and similar acts.
What did this Love choose to endure? What did Jesus suffer at the hands of men? Even before the soldiers came for him, He was “sorrowful, even unto death.” Wherefore such great sorrow? Was it at foreseeing the physical trial to come? Rather, the Fathers tell us it was at the sure knowledge that his gift of redemption would be rejected by so many. In the midst of that sorrow, He sweat drops of blood. Doctors tell us that under severe emotional or psychological stress the body can do this, and it leaves the skin unusually tender, due to the swelling of pores and damage to skin tissues. When one of the twelve betrayed Him, thereupon the rest of His closest associates deserted Him, leaving Him in the hands of enemies.
March 30, 2013
He Is Risen!
So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
Of all the reversals, the thundering ironies, the staggering paradoxes of our Lord’s passion, few are as pulverizing as this: Jesus has granted authority to the Roman governor, by whose worldly authority He, though innocent, is sentenced to death.
Pilate’s worldly authority was likewise bent through paradox to the saving purposes of the Almighty, when he inscribed “King of the Jews” on the Cross. The cynical ruler who with a sneer questioned truth, made known the truth, though he knew it not.
Despite the horror and betrayal, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, in unity with His Father and His Spirit, overruled through all things. His will was accomplished, His purposes achieved, for He was always, and never more than in that hour, Lord of all; and we who acknowledge that Lordship are more than conquerors with Him.
It is the Lordship of Christ we celebrate today. On Easter morning, the final and unanswerable conquest of death and sin is proclaimed through all the world. The scandal of Christ’s church divided recedes from view; in the joy and triumph of Easter we have true unity, under the Lordship of the Risen Christ. We may not even share a calendar, but we share a Lord, Who was crushed for our iniquities, and upon Whom was the chastisement that brought us peace.