June 2014 Archives
June 1, 2014
The zero-sum game in human evolution and theology
I've often talked about the zero-sum game in relation to the homosexual agenda. "Moderates" think that, if they make concessions, they will then be left alone in the area they have carved out for themselves, but it never works that way. They are always pursued to that area and required to endorse more and more, until they must surrender completely or be punished.
I think that a parallel phenomenon goes on in the area of theistic evolution. For a long time, theistic evolutionists have attempted detente with secular Darwinists in something like the following terms: We will concede that you guys are right and are justified by "overwhelming evidence" in science when you say that man evolved by what appear to be fully natural processes from non-human ancestors. However, this was only man's body. To salvage our claim to some sort of Judeo-Christian belief in God's special relation to man and man's having the imago dei, we will postulate an entirely invisible, unverifiable and unfalsifiable event of "ensoulment" at a certain point in the natural, physical history of evolution. God specially created just the immaterial part of man, a soul, and placed it into a body that had come into existence entirely through the physical means that you Darwinists state. By this event, God made a male and a female into real human beings. These were Adam and Eve who were the ancestors of all human beings. They fell through sin, and the story of redemption history continues from there. Deal?
June 3, 2014
Two interesting local items of note:
(1) Sunday, June 1, 2014 Illinois began recognizing the fiction of so-called "same-sex marriage". As you can see from the linked article, reporters are caught up in detailing the usual nonsense associated with this mess: calling the kid adopted by two lesbians the "daughter" (who calls the two lesbians her "moms"); highlighting a church that performs "same-sex wedding ceremonies", but ignoring traditional churches that would condemn so-called "same-sex marriage" as false Christian teaching; etc. Just another sad day in our once glorious republic.
(2) This next item is more personal. My wife has the time and inclination to get involved in lots of focus groups (for money). Occasionally, she also gets me and/or the girls involved. Last weekend was once such occasion -- I had to take my daughter downtown to participate in a national, large-scale youth survey on pre-teen drug use and peer pressure. The survey was done very professionally by an excellent team of survey researchers and my daughter had a fine experience. What was strange, or rather sad and bizarre about the experience, was the short form I had to fill out as the parent to give the research team consent for my daughter to participate in the survey. There were a couple of questions on the form about basic demographics concerning my wife and I and then I kid you not the following choices concerning the children that lived with us:
How the heck does a pre-teen (the target age group they were surveying was 9-13) "know" they are "Transgender"?! And what the heck could "Other" possibly mean -- that I might have an alien living with me?!
Now you know why I called the post "local madness".
June 9, 2014
Unethical human experimentation on preemies
I'll give the moral of this story right at the outset. If somebody asks you to sign your baby up for a "study" when you're being wheeled into the delivery room, telling you only that it is a way to "help" your baby, don't sign.
Tell them, "I am in no position right now to give informed consent to my child's being enrolled in any study. Just give my child the best treatment possible, and we can discuss this later when I can ask questions and get full information."
This story is outrageous:
[I]n reality, the study was much more than that. It was a national, government-funded experiment on 1,316 extremely premature infants in which their fate may as well have rested with the flip of a coin.
The government-backed study is called SUPPORT, which stands for “Surfactant, Positive Airway Pressure, and Pulse Oximetry Randomized Trial.” The experiment was conducted at 23 academic institutions from 2005 through 2009 under the National Institutes of Health, part of the Department of Health and Human Services.
All three women now say they never would have agreed to take part if they had known the NIH-funded study’s true nature—to randomly manipulate preemie oxygen levels. They discovered that just last year.
June 13, 2014
Making a parallel cause
I've always maintained that Islam and leftism are incommensurable evils. What this means is that we should never fall into the trap of saying that it would be better to be under Islam than under liberalism for some reason or another. (E.g. Islam "at least recognizes religion" or "Islam is opposed to sexual immorality," or something of that kind.) Nor should we, on the other hand, say that secular liberalism is just ducky because it isn't Islam. Comparing the two is comparing apples and oranges. In most cases you're less likely to get murdered for being a Christian (or a Jew) in a secular, liberal state than in an Islamic state. On the other hand, you're a lot more likely to have pornography put in your face in a secular, liberal state than in an Islamic state. There is no single metric along which we can compare these things.
Anyone who has read what I have written about Islam over the years knows that I'm not wussy on the matter. I don't think my anti-Muslim credentials (to use a deliberately inflammatory phrase) need burnishing. So I trust that this post will not be misunderstood as embracing any sort of Peter Kreeft-style "ecumenical jihad" against indecency.
All that being said...
June 15, 2014
In Praise of Fathers
It is a testimony to the value of good fathers that both those who have known the love of a human father and those who have not understand at a fundamental level the importance of the father. One understands it by positive example. The other understands it by, as it were, the way of negation.
On Mothers' Day we are treated to many a wonderful encomium to mothers. Too often, Fathers' Day becomes an excuse to tell fathers what they ought to be doing (but, it is suggested, what they may not be doing), to lecture and harange. That is not how it ought to be. This is a day on which to lift up and express gratitude to all those men who have made our lives possible by being fathers to us.
We wives and mothers, too, must be sure today to thank our husbands, who love and raise our children.
Our words are too few and too faltering to express what we owe to the men who act as men--that is, to fathers. It looks as though I did better four years ago.
Honor to all fathers. By being a good father, even if you are not a believer, you model the love of the Father for your children.
June 16, 2014
Syllogisms and ceasing to think
Chesterton’s superb short study St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox contains, among countless delights of reasoning and composition, a brilliant little discourse on Aristotelian induction compared to the modern reductionism that masquerades as an enthusiasm for induction. Its utility in dismantling that hectoring bluster, everywhere in evidence these days, which goes around with grandiose gestures toward certain collections of empirical data, in order to pronounce an important debate OVER, will be readily apparent.
I have never understood why there is supposed to be something crabbed or antique about a syllogism; still less can I understand what anybody means by talking as if induction had somehow taken the place of deduction. The whole point of deduction is that true premises produce a true conclusion. What is called induction seems simply to mean collecting a larger number of true premises, or perhaps, in some physical matters, taking rather more trouble to see that they are true. It may be a fact that a modern man can get more out of a great many premises, concerning microbes or asteroids, than a medieval man could get out of a very few premises about salamanders and unicorns. But the process of deduction from the data is the same for the modern mind as for the medieval mind; and what is pompously called induction is simply collecting more of the data. And Aristotle or Aquinas, or anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better. It was the misfortune of medieval culture that there were not enough true premises, owing to the rather ruder conditions of travel or experiment. But however perfect were the conditions of travel or experiment, they could only produce premises; it would still be necessary to deduce conclusions. But many modern people talk as if what they call induction were some magic way of reaching a conclusion, without using any of those horrid old syllogisms. But induction does not lead us to a conclusion. Induction only leads us to a deduction. Unless the last three syllogistic steps are all right, the conclusion is all wrong. Thus, the great nineteenth century men of science, whom I was brought up to revere (“accepting the conclusions of science,” it was always called), went out and closely inspected the air and the earth, the chemicals and the gases, doubtless more closely than Aristotle or Aquinas, and then came back and embodied their final conclusion in a syllogism. “All matter is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible.” They were not wrong in the form of their reasoning; because it is the only way to reason. In this world there is nothing except a syllogism – and a fallacy. But of course these modern men knew, as the medieval men knew, that their conclusions would not be true unless their premises were true. And that is where the trouble began. For the men of science, or their sons and nephews, went out and took another look at the knobby nature of matter; and were surprised to find that it was not knobby at all. So they came back and completed the process with their syllogism. “All matter is made of whirling protons and electrons. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of whirling protons and electrons.” And that again is a good syllogism; though they may have to look at matter once or twice more, before we know whether it is a true premise and a true conclusion. But in the final process of truth there is nothing else except a good syllogism. The only other thing is a bad syllogism; as in the familiar fashionable shape: “All matter is made of protons and electrons. I should very much like to think that mind is much the same as matter. So I will announce through the microphone or the megaphone that my mind is made of protons and electrons.” But that is not induction; it is only a very bad blunder in deduction. That is not another or new way of thinking; it is only ceasing to think.
What is really meant, and what is much more reasonable, is that the old syllogists sometimes set out the syllogism at length; and certainly that is not always necessary. A man can run down the three steps much more quickly than that; but a man cannot run down the three steps if they are not there. If he does, he will break his neck, as if he walked out of a fourth-story window. The truth about this false antithesis of induction and deduction is simply this; that as premises or data accumulated, the emphasis and detail was shifted to them, from the final deduction to which they lead. But they did lead to a final deduction; or else they led to nothing. The logician had so much to say about electrons or microbes that he dwelt most on these data and shortened or assumed his ultimate syllogism. But if he reasoned rightly, however rapidly, he reasoned syllogistically.
Nowhere is this lesson more wanting than the disputation over climate change. Not a day goes by where some mandarin or professor or politician fails to ensnare himself (and attempt to ensnare the rest of us) in the blunder laid out by Chesterton: piling up impressive data to form premises, but declining to demonstrate via syllogism the conclusion he assumes. It’s much more convenient and self-satisfying to mount a soapbox and cut loose with a sanctimonious harangue.
What We're Reading: Twain on the Mississippi
Richard Weaver wrote profoundly about the utility of a careful study of some movement of history that could not endure or consummate its purpose; immersion in a lost cause or abortive stroke of human genius, which by exacting and somber scholarship, will instill in you a richer grasp of the full lineaments of history. “Perhaps our education would be more humane in result,” he wrote, “if everyone were required to gain an intimate acquaintance with some coherent ideal that failed in the effort to maintain itself.”
It need not be a cause which was settled by war; there are causes in the social, political, and ecclesiastical worlds which would serve very well. But it is good for everyone to ally himself at one time with the defeated and to look at the “progress” of history through the eyes of those who were left behind. . . . The study and appreciation of a lost cause have some effect of turning history into philosophy.
I have found that one of the surest short lessons in this sound principle of historical memory is Mark Twain’s small masterpiece Life on the Mississippi, about the heyday of the steamboat trade on that river.
Even here it may perhaps be objected that while few steamers save replicas navigate the great river today, maritime trade still characterizes it, and thus Twain’s study does not fulfill Prof. Weaver’s principle. St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and a thousand towns in between are still supplied economic lifeblood by commerce on the Mississippi.
But the singular quality of Twain’s particular navigator, the steamboat pilot, sailing by steam and current and chute upon that magnificent waterway, is borne out in any detailed reading of book whence Samuel Clemons’ penname is derived; and the Weaverian advantage of taking time to enter the steamboat pilot’s world and learn from it is made clear by his disappearance upon the earth.
Crowning vivid narrative amid countless lost intricacies, with a warm and sustaining humor, Twain gives us an immortal picture of a profession and way-of-life that is indeed long gone. It was already nearly gone by the time Twain came to write about it. Many years after his career as a pliot.
A short, absorbing book that informs, moves, and induces to laugh-out-load outbursts is a rare gift. But the undercurrent of tragedy and vanishing is what powers the excellence Life on the Mississippi; the reader’s heart almost breaks that the steamboatmen were eventually eclipsed by railroadmen and other enterprisers. Below the fold is a good long sample.
June 17, 2014
The Pope and the Cardinal are right about Libertarians…And Wrong about Economics!
The past couple of weeks have seen an interesting renewed interest in what the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, and some of his close advisors have to say about economics and libertarian ideas of government. In response to what might be characterized as a broadside against capitalism and libertarian ideas presented by Cardinal Maradiagas at the Catholic University conference mentioned at that article linked above, there have been a number of thoughtful and well-written pieces from conservative/libertarian writers. Folks as diverse as Kevin Williamson at National Review, Tom Woods, Jr. at LewRockwell.com, and Ed Krayewski, an editor at Reason.com. Equally amusing has been the folks eager to rush to the Cardinal’s defense – a strange mix of liberals and trads who for one reason or another don’t like capitalism or more fruitfully in my opinion, want to make sure Catholics understand the ethical and philosophical implications of Catholic social teaching.
June 21, 2014
The whim of the inquisitors
Some of the passing contrasts of our age present quite a scene for us. While our nation’s revenue collection service harasses Americans at home, obstructs the Congress from inquiring into its activities, hounds Americans abroad, adopting a most comprehensive and punitive concept of income tax disclosure, even unto renunciation of citizenship; this selfsame clutch of inquisitors then cries “computer crash!” or “dog ate my homework!” when asked to disclose.
While liberty for those private associations, business, charitable, religious, literary, community, which in legal form supply the sinews and muscle to civil society, is under constant threat of truncation, normally sensible men conjecture wildly about stripping them of legal standing at all. They would trade civil society for a slogan: “corporations are not people!” As if anyone ever imagined that by chartering a corporation a man had become a father to a child. The government is right now doing everything it can to truss and curtail the freedom of Catholic businesses and charities, by among other things coercing them into supplying contraceptives; while normally less excitable Catholics have plunged into a debate about whether Catholic business corporations should exist at all, since they are the very evidence of every avarice and excess upon the earth.
We are lectured about frugality and prudence with resources, while every other reckless or worthless boondoggle chartered as a clean energy enterprise, is laden with gifts and largess and favor and celebrity. Hollywood churns out grotesqueries of capitalist depravity; and then runs back to every third state legislator in the country for another production subsidy.
Hardly a week passes without exposure of new abuses and perfidies by prosecutors, generally having to do with their obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence; while new calls for aggressive prosecutions of various nuisances or offenses against propriety ring down from lofty media perches unceasingly. Even the stolid old patent office clerks now grow narrow-eyed and red-faced with umbrage at negligible infractions. Maybe it’s high time we prosecuted a prosecutor; and left venal aggravations and minor vices to the scorn of society and judgment of God.
We are fast becoming, not a nation ruled by law, not even a nation ruled by men, but a nation ruled by whim. Whim of social media fashion, whim of bureaucratic caprice, whim of officious grandstanding, whim of judicial hauteur, whim of meddlesome gossip, whim of puritanical licentiousness. At last we might find that the whim of a despot ain’t so bad compared to this. After all, a single despot must sleep.
The inquisitors of our day do not sleep. Ben Domenech put it in an essay on his newsletter The Transom: “One of the big lessons of life in the Obama era is that it’s important to avoid the attention of the ruling class – lest you be audited, harassed, or generally become a hot topic of media conversation as a proxy for some other battle. . . . If you live within the consciousness of a critical mass of people in power for whom all life is politicized, you will be made to bend to their will, by whatever means necessary.”
To preserve their liberty a people must keep their equipoise. Freedom is incompatible with a dominating urge to race off in sanctimonious purges whenever the fancy strikes. It is incompatible with the supreme powers of the revenue service made lawless. It is incompatible with boundless discretion for bureaucrats and rigid obligation for private citizens. It is incompatible with an eagerness for punitive reaction that issues in prosecutors who, secure behind their immunity, think little of disregarding their duties when the matter is urgent.
This rule by whim is for the birds, and we need to arrest it while will still have some liberty left to protect.
June 23, 2014
A Cautionary Tail
In case you haven't run into it, there's been a bit of a kerfuffle about theistic evolutionist Karl Giberson's use in a debate of a photoshopped image of a human baby with a tail. Eventually, with a monumentally bad grace combined with silly comments on his public Facebook page about Homer Simpson, Giberson apologized for accidentally using a photoshopped image. We can therefore assume he won't keep using it in debates.
Thus ends Tailgate, at least as regards the image aspect thereof. In the course of following all of this, though, I became rather interested in the claims being made about allegedly atavistic human tails which are, Giberson still insists, evidence for common descent between humans and tailed ancestors.
A Reprieve for Meriam Ibrahim (UPDATED)
It appears that the death sentence for apostasy and adultery handed down for Meriam Ibrahim has been commuted by Sudan's highest court. According to the linked report, she has been moved to a safehouse. This is of course very good news, and praised be God for it. It is to be hoped that some arrangements will be made to reunite her and her newborn baby with her husband in America. Being an actual political refugee, I hope that her escape--and that's just what it is, as she is still under threat from the Muslim mob--will be facilitated by the US State Department with haste.
As in a lot of circumstances these days, we must satisfy ourselves with the cold comfort that political expediency has won the day, this time, and produced a passably just outcome. That the sentence was arrived at by what was probably a most impeccable application of the law of Sudan and of Islam more generally should inspire us to vigilance, and to a clear-eyed view of the magnitude of the evil that is ever more ascendant wherever the cruel children of the lonely God hold sway.
UPDATE: It is being reported that Mr. and Mrs. Ibrahim were arrested in the airport while attempting to leave the country. A man claiming to be her brother (there is some dispute on that point, strangely) has said of the ruling, "The family is unconvinced by the court's decision. We were not informed by the court that she was to be released; this came as a surprise to us...The law has failed to uphold our rights. This is now an issue of honor. The Christians have tarnished our honor, and we will know how to avenge it."
Undoubtedly they do know. Pray for her and for her family.
June 27, 2014
New number of The Christendom Review
A new number of The Christendom Review has appeared. It features a sizeable helping of poetry, as well as several juicy servings of literary essay. Our own Lydia McGrew devotes extensive and engaging thought to the mysteries of God and time. Our former colleague Bill Luse supplies some sharper polemical spice to round out the meal. It all amounts to solid nourishment for the mind, chest, and soul.
June 29, 2014
If everything is holy, nothing is holy
One of my Facebook friends recently shared, with approval, Minnesota folk singer Peter Mayer's song "Holy Now." The lyrics are here.
When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything is holy now
When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don't happen still
But now I can't keep track
'Cause everything's a miracle
Everything's a miracle
Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn't one
When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I'm swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven's second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
'Cause everything is holy now
Everything is holy now
Read a questioning child's face
And say it's not a testament
That'd be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it's not a sacrament
I tell you that it can't be done
This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven's second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
'Cause everything is holy now
Compare them with his even more pointedly titled "Church of the Earth" lyrics linked from here.
Here's a little info.:
PETER MAYER is a well-known American singer-songwriter. His song "Holy Now" has become a beloved standard in liberal church contexts and was the title entry of the 2006 Songbook of the Association of Unity Churches. Peter's "Blue Boat Home" gained a place in the supplementary hymnal of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
In 2006 Peter began collaborating with photographer/videographer Connie Barlow to render the particular songs that highlight evolutionary and ecological themes into captioned video formats ideal for contemplative viewing or sing-along in churches and spiritual centers.
I trust that is clear enough, if you didn't get it from the song lyrics themselves. (Interesting terminological note: Evidently some liberals use "liberal" as a term of approval among themselves.) If you are curious, earth worship features prominently in the above-mentioned universalist "hymn," "Blue Boat Home." Lyrics linked from here.
June 30, 2014
Desiring to form a better estimate of our readership’s shape and substance, we hereby present the first What’s Wrong with the World Reader Survey. Whether regular commenter or first-timer, if you would be so good as to complete it, we would appreciate it. It’s quite short and will only take a couple minutes of your time.
Conestoga Goes to Washington…and Wins
Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, and Mardel – and their human owners – won their day in court today with the Supreme Court deciding that the HHS regulation contraception mandate violates Federal law. The law in question is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that a person’s exercise of religion may not be substantially burdened (by government rule) unless the rule furthers a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest.
Some of the good things about this decision: It makes it clear that for religious purposes “persons” means corporations that are for profit if it also means non-profits. HHS agreed that non-profits are persons for the RFRA, so they lost that point right out of the starting gate. It uses the highly principled and absolutely correct notion that treating corporate persons as having religious rights is for the sake of the religious rights of the humans who run the corporation. Something we at W4 had already pointed out not too long ago, here.
Secondly, the decision rather refreshingly invokes and uses the notion that “making a profit” and “operating according to religious beliefs” need not be separable in substance or in practice. The fact that a corporate person is intended to make a profit isn’t proof that such person can be divorced from the owners’ express intent to live religiously in the business of making a profit. (Which is not the same thing, at all, as making profit your religion. Not AT ALL at all, if you see).