July 2014 Archives
July 3, 2014
No, Virginia, Science hasn't debunked Adam
Disclaimer: I write this post as a layman in the area of biology. If possible, I want to make some of the debate over the alleged impossibility of an historical Adam available at the level of laymen. The scientific issues involved are, of course, highly controversial. If I make cut-and-dried errors of factual statement or terminology, I welcome correction.
I have recently found the book Science and Human Origins to be extremely helpful as a starting place for examining some of these issues. Even more interesting is the Internet debate about the contents of the book. Paul McBride, who at least was at the time an evolutionary biology PhD student in New Zealand, wrote a 2012 series of posts criticizing the book. That series appears in six parts here. (That is part 5. It includes links to parts 1-4.) The authors of the book and other ID advocates have written many responses. Casey Luskin posts a link round-up here. See also here. I will be discussing several of Ann Gauger's responses in this post in more detail. Anyone who is interested in the issue of the alleged overwhelming evidence for undesigned human evolution from ape-like ancestors has no lack of material to study; nor have the advocates of intelligent design theory made a one-sided statement of their case without responding to critics. So if you want to read up, this is the Internet age; go for it.
This post will be about Ann Gauger's work concerning population genetics. Population genetics has become a major Darwinian argument of choice, allegedly putting a nail in the coffin of the historical Adam, and it was chiefly for Gauger's essay that I originally got the book. Now, to business:
July 4, 2014
I love this country. I admit it: I am a patriot.
I love the many, many good things about America, I love the special qualities she has and the particular virtues her citizens exhibit. I love America’s sense of optimism, can-do attitude. I love Americans’ hospitability, of which I have experienced much. I love the American love for the underdog, rooting for the little guy to make big. I love America for its natural beauty and treasures. I love America’s contribution to the world of thought and science.
I don’t love everything about America. I despise the slavery we took into our fiber with colonialization. I hate the materialism of the many. I dislike the failing of separate regional characters.
But here is the thing: I don’t view any of the defects of America as intrinsic to the very being and meaning of America. I view each and every one of them as something that America can change and still be America. And so, when I say I want America to change, I mean that she should change evils that are incidental but remain who she “really is” deep down, because I don’t think any essential part of the root reality is intrinsically wrong. And no, that doesn’t mean that the Constitution is all perfect, either - it can be changed, improved, corrected, perfected, without changing what America really is at root.
July 7, 2014
Results of the W4 Reader Survey
Readers of What’s Wrong with the World tend to be fairly young. Fully sixty-five percent of our readership is under 45. The most common single age category among respondents to the survey was 25-35 years.
Almost a dozen first-time readers filled out the survey. It is difficult to account for this perplexity. On the other hand, close to sixty percent of respondents are daily or weekly readers.
While we have no grey wizards or Chestertonian geniuses (and at least one remark complaining of the poor humor), we do have a few autodidacts. Overwhelmingly, however, our readers are highly educated, not to say overeducated. Ninety percent have some college instruction. Nearly half have earned a postgraduate degree.
Almost half, likewise, are securely and gainfully employed. We have several titans among our readers — of both industry and home economy. We have about twice the number of unemployed readers as we do business owners. Several readers, poor fellers (for over eight in ten readers are male), are destitute and jobless. Students outnumber retirees.
Our readers span the globe, from Australia to Kingstown, Thailand to the Czech Republic. Canadians appear to outnumber Londoners, inclusive of the guy who gave a hockey team for his hometown. Colorado is well represented, as are California and Texas, Tennessee and New Jersey.
Almost six in ten readers never set down a comment; combined with those who rarely comment, lurkers make up eighty-five percent of our readership. Only two percent say they comment often.
Politically, over half of our readers are conservatives or traditionalists. Almost one in ten are monarchists, still alive and unhanged. Add up the socialists, along with the social democrats, liberals, leftists, moderates, centrists and Democrats, and you get to about twenty percent opposition readership: pretty solid considering that a half dozen readers complained of our rough treatment of dissent. Anarchists are overrepresented because the Editor blundered when he composed the survey, inexcusably neglecting the category “chirping sectaries,” meaning libertarians.
Roman Catholics cleared forty percent among respondents. Protestants approached it. Mere Christians came in third. No pagans or Jews filled out the survey, but several Muslims, a few Orthodox, and even a pre-Reformation Christian did. Agnostics and atheists made up about ten percent of respondents.
Thanks to all who took the time to participate.
July 9, 2014
Choice Devours Itself: Forcing people to continue to dehydrate to death
I blogged here about Margot Bentley and her family's desire to dehydrate her to death even though she is eating by mouth. The family is allegedly motivated by a desire to carry out her own former wishes; she was previously a big death advocate. She now has dementia and, they say, isn't knowingly "consenting" to eating by mouth. The judge, fortunately, was more sensible and is not going to force the nursing home to kill her. (The family has appealed.)
One ethicist, Thaddeus Mason Pope, is unhappy about the court's decision not to force the nursing home to dehydrate Margot Bentley. He considers it a form of "paternalism." Pope supports what he calls "Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking" (VSED). He applies this category, inter alia, to cases where people later change and want food and water but where they are not fully compos mentis at the time of their later desire for food and water. In those cases, Pope holds that to hold them to their earlier desire for death, expressed when they were more "with it" mentally, is simply helping them to engage in voluntary death by dehydration.
July 13, 2014
How Not to Interpret a Parable
In readings on economics and justice, one sometimes comes across strange stuff. Such as a book by Wojciech Sadurski, "Giving Just Desert Its Due - Social Justice and Legal Theory".
There is actually quite a bit to like in this book, not least because he attempts quite directly (and with a certain degree of success) to take down Rawls and his theory. But there is also much to cause one to throw up one's hands in despair. Such as this:
The upshot of Hobbes argument is that the distinction between commutative justice and distributive justice is not a proper dichotomy. They do not apply to two parallel types of situation but rather involve standards located on different levels: distributive justice is a matter of “defining what is just” while commutative justice is a matter of “a performance of covenant”. Principles of distributive justice answer the question about what rules are just rather than about an obligation to obey the existing rules or to keep promises. As we are concerned with the standard of just law (and not merely with the justice of obeying valid law, irrespective of its moral value), we are also concerned with what makes a distribution produced by an agreement just, and not merely with the justice of fulfilling an agreement. In other words, the Aristotelian idea that distributive and commutative justice operate independently, applying to two distinct spheres of life (public distributions and private transactions), obscures the fact that in reality both concepts of justice apply at the same time though in a different way. ‘Commutative’ justice, in the interpretation suggested above, is identical with a vindication of legal rules; distributive justice is a matter of moral demands.
This is nicely brought out by the Biblical parable:
The kingdom of Heaven is like this. There was once a landowner who went out early one morning to hire labourers for his vineyard; … [Matthew 20: 1-16 - the author give the whole parable]
July 16, 2014
Here comes the zero-sum game again
Two recent stories highlight the fact that the homosexual rights movement is and always has been a zero-sum game. To the extent that the movement achieves its goals, moral traditionalists lose. There is not a compromise point where moral traditionalists can keep some reasonable ability to hold their beliefs and live according to them but where homosexual rights activists also achieve their goals.
The first story is from Robert P. George and Breitbart. Chase Bank has put on its "voluntary" (cough cough) employee survey a question that asks employees to check "any of the following that apply to you," and one of the options is to identify themselves as "an LGBT ally." So if they don't check that one, then they are saying that they don't identify themselves as such an ally. Contrary to initial reports from the bank, employees state categorically that the survey is not anonymous; their employee ID number goes on it. So those who miss that opportunity to identify themselves as "LGBT allies" will be able to be identified by their employer.
It was mildly interesting to me that the first talking-point the left tried on this one was bald denial. With no evidence whatsoever, they implied that Professor George or his informant(s) were making the whole thing up out of whole cloth, that no such question had ever been asked on a survey at Chase Bank. Then Breitbart got hold of what purports to be an actual photo of the question! I don't know what the new talking-point is, but I'll make some predictions:
1) A few on the left will continue to deny the whole thing, claiming or insinuating that Breitbart is putting forward a forgery.
2) Others will shift to saying that the employees are lying when they say that the survey was not anonymous. They will also imply that the employees are lying about the pressure they are under to fill it out. It's voluntary, darn it, voluntary. So shut up!
3) And finally, I predict that some will simply say that, after all, if you aren't willing to identify yourself as an "ally" of the homosexual and transgender movements, you're a bigot and deserve to be punished anyway.
Nor are these mutually exclusive. I expect some on the left to move from one to the other.
July 21, 2014
Will Jonah Come Again to Nineveh?
In case you haven’t read or heard the news, the city where Jonah preached God to the heathens and where Christ has been worshipped for centuries has seen the last of its Christians flee rather than take their chances with the evil forces of the jihad:
By 1 p.m. on Friday almost every Christian in Mosul had heard the Sunni militants’ message — they had until noon Saturday to leave the city…A YouTube video shows ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] taking sledgehammers to the tomb of Jonah, something that was also confirmed by Mr. Hikmat. The militants also removed the cross from St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul, and put up the black ISIS flag in its place. They also destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, according to Ghazwan Ilyas, the head of the Chaldean Culture Society in Mosul, who spoke by telephone on Thursday from Mosul but seemed to have left on Friday.
“They did not destroy the churches, but they killed us when they removed the cross, this is death for us,” he said.
Of course, the jihadis were “generous” enough to suggest that Christians could stay in Mosul (modern day Nineveh) as long as they “accept Islam” or “pay extra taxes to Islamic Sharia courts”. What if you are a Christian and you refuse to give in to such unjust demands? Well, ISIS has an answer ready for you: “death by the sword.”
July 24, 2014
The arrogance of Muslims and the cowardice of police
This sickening story from Calgary illustrates a problem for the rule of law in countries with large Muslim enclaves. Over the years, France and other countries with such enclaves have seen repeated rioting and a failure to control such rioting. Tiberge at Galliawatch chronicles some of what is going on along these lines in France right now.
No one can say that the Muslim "demonstrators" in Calgary confined themselves "merely" to destroying property and burning cars, if there were anything "mere" about that. They targeted and beat up helpless people who dared to come out and disagree with them politically. That whole "free exchange of ideas" thing is pretty much lost on die-hard Muslims when it comes to topics about which they feel passionate.
Most disgraceful of all, the police apparently blamed the victims. One beating victim recounts being told by a policeman that he caused his own attack by turning up at an anti-Israel rally with the counter-demonstration symbol of an Israeli flag.
The press joined in, telling one young woman who was beaten that her physical "pose" in a photo showing her talking with the anti-Israel protesters before they attacked her en masse was "confrontational."
Another Update on Meriam Ibrahim
According to this article in The Independent, Meriam Ibrahim has arrived safely in Italy following an anxious month spent in the American embassy in Khartoum. The Italians brought her to safety about a plane owned by the Roman authorities. Concerning the plight of this courageous woman, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi apparently had this to say:
"If there is no European reaction we cannot feel worthy to call ourselves 'Europe.'"
I had begun to lose hope that we would hear such a statement from a European head of state in my lifetime. I know next to nothing about Mr. Renzi, of course, but he is to be commended for his act of mercy, and his public acknowledgement of the injustice that was done to Mrs. Ibrahim.
From this point forward, we might say that no news is good news where Ibrahim and her family are concerned. They will live in hiding for the remainder of their lives, no doubt, but this will be the least of the crosses she has been asked to bear.
July 28, 2014
4th Circuit Panel Strikes Down Virginia's Constitution
Well, not the WHOLE constitution, just one part of it.
The part that enshrined 5,000 years of historical understanding of what marriage is. The one that says gays can marry on the exact same grounds that anyone else can: someone of the opposite sex and who is not a close relative. The one that says you won't get state approval for doing acts that make it illegal for you to donate blood.
I have a question for our pro-gay defenders: what is sexual orientation?
If a man is sexually attracted to women with blond hair, is that an orientation?
If a man is sexually attracted to women who have tattoos, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to girls who are 6, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to female canines, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to girls who are dead, is that an orientation?
If a man is attracted to 72 different virgins, is that an orientation?
Should we issue marriage licenses for the last 4 categories?
If a man wants to marry a man not because he is attracted to him at all, but solely to get the social advantages of marital status and no other purpose, should the state grant that marriage? What if he wants to marry a woman in a coma whose family approves? What if he wants to marry his dog, who wagged its tail when he "popped the question" - should the state grant marriage in that case? What if he wants to marry his house, or the EIffel Tower (don't laugh, there are several people convinced the Eiffel Tower is in love with them). Should the state agree to those marriages? What if all of the shareholders of GE decide to get married - and then apply for a single "family insurance plan" from Obamacare? Should the state agree to that marriage?
July 31, 2014
More on arguments from signs and wonders
This is a follow-up to this post. To some extent it will be repetitive of what was in that post, and I beg the reader's indulgence for that repetition. But the argument I am answering has surfaced yet again (never mind where), and it just has so many things wrong with it that I have decided to take another whack at it, in the hopes of unconfusing anybody else who has been confused by it.
The argument goes roughly like this. (No, I'm not precisely quoting anyone. I am paraphrasing.)
Suppose that God revealed himself by a sign or wonder, such as by speaking from the heavens, by raising Jesus from the dead, or even by putting some words into an unlikely place, such as writing "Yahweh alone is God" in the stars or in the cell. Such an event would not be taken by an atheist to be from God. The atheist would decide that both he and everyone reporting the event to him were massively hallucinating rather than conclude that the event was really evidence of the existence of God. Hence, signs and wonders can be evidence of the activity of God only to those who already believe on other grounds that God exists. Therefore, they do not constitute independent evidence that God exists. Therefore, we shouldn't make arguments first to atheists from signs and wonders. Instead, we should convince them first that God exists by arguments such as philosophical arguments from natural theology.
Let me try to break down a few of the many things wrong with this argument.
First, this argument wrongly assumes that something cannot constitute independent reason to believe something I already believe. That isn't true. Suppose that I get ten e-mails that appear to be from my friend Jeff. Regardless of what order the e-mails come in, each one provides some independent reason to believe that Jeff exists. It is not as though, once I already believe it, the new e-mails no longer provide independent reason for believing in his existence. That probability just gets higher and higher as I receive additional e-mails. It's true that I'm more prone to conclude that a new e-mail is from Jeff if I already believe that Jeff really exists and isn't a spam-bot, but it doesn't follow that the additional e-mails are doing no work to support the proposition, "Jeff exists" simply because they happen to come later in the series. In fact, they obviously do provide additional reason to believe that Jeff exists, a reason that has its own force.
Second, this argument, consistently applied, would have made it impossible for the revelation of Yahweh to "get off the ground" with the people of Israel, because it would always have required previous evidence for Yahweh's existence before His self-revelation could get started. What we find in Scripture is that God revealed Himself to His people by signs and wonders from the outset. They didn't require or receive a philosophical prolegomenon. Rather, God was the God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage. God made the bush burn. God told Moses to make it clear to the people that he was truly a messenger by giving Moses the power to do signs and wonders. If it were never possible to take signs and wonders to be from God if one didn't have a philosophical prolegomenon, then the specific revelation of Yahweh could never have happened.
This has a parallel in human relationships. Take the example above concerning e-mails. If I always had to have previous evidence that Jeff exists before accepting any e-mail as being from Jeff, the correspondence couldn't get started. I would be justified in dismissing the first e-mail as possibly being from a spam-bot or being a hallucination because I was previously a "Jeff agnostic" or "Jeff skeptic" and didn't know about Jeff's existence. Jeff's revelation of himself to me could never get off the ground.