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February 2010 Archives

February 1, 2010

Plotinus on divine simplicity and modernity

I can read your mind. You’ve been thinking “Gee, I wish someone would write a four-part series of blog posts on the neglected ancient Neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus which addresses first his metaphysical and theological significance and then his moral outlook.” Right? I thought so. That’s why I wrote this, this, this, and this and posted them over at my own blog. Just call me Criswell.

February 2, 2010

The Leiter side of OCD

A philosopher writes:

I hate calling attention to this creepazoid, but Leiter is at it again, and is attempting once again to smear W4.

I think it might be fun if you all decided to simply respond in kind. That is, ask your Atheist friends some questions and see whether Leiter's views fall within the "mainstream" of atheist philosophers. Maybe some questions like the following:

1) Did you think the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfortunate, politically and morally speaking?

2) Do you think that there is a noteworthy moral difference between heteronormative sexual morality and believing that homosexuals should be executed?

3) Do you believe there is a noteworthy moral difference between the Taliban and people who think it should be legal to voluntarily pray in public schools?

4) Do you think it is morally appropriate for a notable professional philosopher to personally attack graduate students and untenured faculty in a highly public and visible forum?

5) Do you think it is misogyny to acknowledge genetic differences between men and women?

6) Do you think it would have been a gross exaggeration to say that George W. Bush is a theocrat and/or a fascist who was planning to "imminently" reinstate the draft or "imminently" bomb Iran?

7) Do you think it would be a gross exaggeration to compare Bill O'Reilly with Joseph Goebbels?

8) Did the clips of Jeremiah Wright's sermons make you more favorably disposed towards Obama?

etc. etc. etc.

Good questions, though we loyal Leiter Reports readers already know the answers. But here’s another one for Big Bri himself: If W4 is so “marginal,” how come you simply can’t shut up about it?

Sounds like a nasty case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The key thing is not to give in to the urges, though if history is any guide we’ll see another lapse within a day or two, followed by occasional spasms over the next few weeks and months. But don’t get discouraged, Brian. You can beat this thing. We’re all pulling for you!

On This APA Business, Help Me Out

Presumably, not having attended graduate school, I exist in a shadowland of ignorance on these matters, hence the perplexity which leads to my inquiry. But suppose that I had attended graduate school, and had earned all of the requisite degrees, with a specialization in political philosophy; suppose further that I had sought positions at a number of institutions, and that the one most interested in my application was dominated by Rawlsians in political philosophy (nothing against Rawls or Rawlsians per se; it's just an example); suppose, finally, that I was not a Rawlsian - and whether I agreed with Nozick, Kekes, or Cohen as against Rawls was immaterial. Would it be licit for the institution, upon an interview, to decline my application, expressly on the grounds that they'd prefer their political philosophy program to be preserved as a warren of Rawlsian scholasticism? That I was not, in view of my differences in philosophical convictions, a good fit?

I should say, in closing, that I've some experience with such tensions between faculty and institutional imperatives, as my first faculty adviser was canned for publishing an anthology of feminist philosophy, in contravention of the institution's guidelines for faculty academic publishing.

Any insight that might dispel my perplexity will be welcomed.

February 3, 2010

What We're Reading--Gilead

I have been re-reading Marilynne Robinson's luminous novel Gilead recently preparatory both to teaching it to my daughter and, hopefully, to writing a review of it for The Christendom Review. I shall not try to write that review here and now. I highly recommend the book. (And I wish publicly to thank W4 reader Jeff Singer for the original recommendation.)

A comment by our reader The Masked Chicken below brought to mind something in Gilead. Here's Masked Chicken:

In cases where there is a demented relative, God is not asking the demented person a question, he is asking the care-giver a question: do you love this person enough to care for them for the rest of their life, regardless of the inconvenience to you? The demented person is a living question of love. Christ was pierced with a sword so that the thoughts of many might be revealed. The demented person is Christ pierced with a sword among us. How we treat them reveals the thought of so many in the modern world.

Here is Robinson, the words coming in the book from her character John Ames:

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise, his own ignorance of it.

While the two quotations are about different specific circumstances, the overarching point is very much the same.

If you're looking for a book to read this weekend, you could do much worse than to check out Gilead at the library, take up, and read.

February 4, 2010

America's British Culture


The Anglosphere is in trouble. It is all at once the first “world culture” and no culture at all; a culture that assimilates everything and dissolves into nothing; a culture powerful enough to obliterate whatever lies in its path, and a blank slate upon which everyone is invited to leave his own cultural graffiti. All but the most backwards nations (excluding France, so I am told) have made English an honorary second language, while English is simultaneously dessicated and neutered here at home. American-style entertainment is sweeping the globe, but its appeal is severed from anything specifically Anglo-American in form or content. American-style democracy is envied and imitated around the world, while it ruthlessly erodes the traditions and culture of the American people. McDonald’s golden arches are planted on every continent, but they belong to the world and not to us.

Continue reading "America's British Culture" »

"They would drain the blood from an innocent child...

...and drink it."

And here I thought that I could not be shocked. But I was wrong. Behold the fate of what one might call America's first attempt to export democracy:

(Warning: don't even think about watching this video on a full stomach. But a strong drink or two - or possibly even three - might be in order.)

I mean, what can one say? What hope is there, for the people of Liberia?

A thousand years of Christianity? A hundred years of Islam? Ten years of neo-colonialism?

Suggested wrong answers: liberal democracy; UN intervention...

Hat tip

February 5, 2010

More on teleology and eliminative materialism

Just because. You know where.

American independence, Europe, and home schooling

In a comment to Jeff Culbreath's post below on our British heritage, I said this (slightly edited here):

It seems to me that the freedom that Americans consider so important, in particular the impatience with petty bureaucracy, has been instrumental in the fact that so much that was good in British culture is now preserved in America. I've mentioned before the way that it seems that after WWII the British increasingly accepted tyrannical restrictions on their freedoms as the sort of thing they just had to put up with with a "stiff upper lip" in the service of the common good. Americans with their guns are now ridiculed in Britain as in Europe. The British used to have a staunch sense of what we in America would call 2nd Amendment rights. It's all gone now. And I think they are right to say that there is something distinctive about Americans that resists giving that up. That "something distinctive" has been a good thing and, I think, is bound up with the preservation in America of so much that is good that we have inherited from Britain.

A confirmation of the importance of that American sense of independence comes from this story, which I just learned of today. A German family has been granted asylum in America because they were persecuted in Germany for home schooling. Home schooling is illegal in Germany. The only thing that varies from state to state is how rigorously the insistence on in-school schooling is enforced. Back at the very beginning of W4 I was reporting on the case of Melissa Busekros, a teenager who was taken from her parents against her will because her parents were home schooling her. The HSLDA article linked above has more information about the persecution of German home schoolers.

A couple of thoughts: First, it may seem unfair to start this post with a reference to American independence in contrast to Britain, since the persecution from which the family is fleeing was taking place in Germany. And indeed, as things stand, home schooling is not illegal in Britain (though my impression is that it is already more heavily regulated than in most U.S. states). Moreover, it was no accident that the late, admirable author of America's Thirty Years War connected America and England and opposed Anglo-American concepts of government to the more repressive and totalitarian-trending Franco-Prussian concepts.

But unfortunately, England has been very deliberately connecting itself more and more with continental Europe in its laws. (And the loss of freedom in the area of gun ownership is not some brand-new development.) Home schooling, too, is in danger in England, because of a report issued in 2009 and based (not coincidentally) on a UN treaty, calling for much stronger government intrusion into the lives of home schoolers. (This story says that many home schoolers are considering moving to Scotland to retain their freedom, a fact my Scottish-descended husband appreciated a good deal.)

Continue reading "American independence, Europe, and home schooling" »

Market turbulence

The harbingers of doom are back in the news: the infamous credit-default swaps. Several nations of southern Europe — most prominently Greece — have seen prices on swaps on their sovereign debt skyrocket, meaning that it is growing increasingly costly to purchase protection against a sovereign default. The credit-default swap market is a very liquid one; whatever may be said against these derivative instruments, they at least have the virtue of sending clear market signals about the debt instruments, which are usually far less liquid, to which they are attached.

These debt fears have roiled markets all week. There are even whispers that the European currency union is threatened. Germany, buoyed by a structurally mercantilist economy and sounder public finances than most Western nations, is playing hardball, wanting no part of a bailout of debtor nations on the EU periphery. Certainly if Italy were dragged into the debt crisis, the euro would be deep, dark trouble.

Now a default on Greek sovereign debt would surely be painful for Greeks and not a few investors, but the real worry is that this is all, as a German strategist puts it, “a dress rehearsal” for what could be in store for the US and UK down the road.

Last week the bond expert Bill Gross released a commentary on sovereign deficits entitled “The Ring of Fire,” in which he examined the rapidly accelerating deficit position of a number of major economies. His language was stark. UK Treasury bonds “are resting on a bed of nitroglycerine.” The coming decade is “likely to be fed by the melting snows of debt deleveraging.”

On Capitol Hill, the AIG debacle continues to dismay and outrage. Treasury Secretary Geithner and former Treasury Secretary Paulson endured some stern questioning from Congress. At issue: why Goldman Sachs and other investment firms should have been made whole, with public capital, on their swap contracts with the ruined insurance company. Could these financiers not been made to absorb a 10% haircut? That Paulson was a former CEO of Goldman does not reinforce his claims of probity. Geithner was formerly the President of the New York Federal Reserve bank, a quasi-private entity whose major shareholders are . . . New York finance firms. There is no want of cause for suspicion in all this.

Meanwhile, it is worth keeping in mind the fact that just this week a number of the Federal Reserve’s extraordinary liquidity support programs — a mass of peculiar acronyms — have officially concluded. There were the emergency measures undertaken in late 2008 to facilitate trading in markets that had frozen solid. Of course, anyone with any sense knows these programs will spring back to life the moment they become necessary again. But the devil is in the details: what exactly would constitute “necessary”? The markets may have been testing this all week.

The uncertainty in the world of finance is palpable. The only certainty is that the interesting times will persist.

February 6, 2010

The Last Sunrise Over Greek Rome

I see that somewhere along the line, the fine people at Touchstone magazine put my 2007 essay on the Fall of Constantinople online.

A series of omens shook the city in her last days: a lunar eclipse; thick fog for days, a phenomenon unheard of in those lands; an eerie red glow around the dome of Hagia Sophia. Some historians now attribute this glow to the local effects of a massive volcanic eruption in the Pacific Ocean, but pious and mystical Byzantines naturally interpreted it as the withdrawal of the protection of divine providence from the Second Rome.

A Mass was said at Holy Wisdom on Monday, May 28; at last, in this final hour, Catholics and Orthodox joined together in worship of the Risen Lord. Greeks who had sworn oaths never to darken the doors of a church contaminated by Romish heretics heard liturgy next to Italians who had declared the Orthodox more loathsome than the infidel Turk.

[. . .]

It is one thing to recite a great and moving story from history; to remember alone is a worthy endeavor; but it will always be asked what we can take from this history. What relevance has it for us today? Allow me to suggest some principles or lessons.

First, though the Queen of Cities did fall, and though the Holy Orthodox Church was taken into bondage, yet the faith endured. I am not myself Orthodox, but I have dear Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. Their church yet stands in dignity and witness. The end of a civilization was not the end of a church. The Orthodox Church has rendered, and still renders to a bewildered world, a stirring witness of suffering and perseverance in the Lord.

None should dare minimize this suffering. None should dare let his theological differences with the Orthodox Church blind him to her agony under the yoke of the Turk. Above, I called the dhimma contract “Jim Crow for infidels.” This was no piece of polemical hyperbole. The similarities are unmistakable, and gather, as it were, around the same points of emphasis.

Both the Jim Crow system in the American South, overthrown relatively peacefully in the Civil Rights era, and the dhimma system, which endures in various locales to this day—and is still, according to some studies, the genuine aspiration of millions upon millions of Muslims—were purposed toward a terrible thing: the degradation and servitude of a people.

[conting reading]

February 8, 2010

Catholics and English Literature

As expected, in the comments pertaining to "America's British Culture", the obvious tension between Catholicism and our inherited British culture was noted by several readers. Those comments brought to mind the thoughts of John Senior on the subject, from his indispensable classic titled "The Restoration of Christian Culture" - another book I would like to review here unless some other contributor beats me to it. Dr. Senior writes:

For English-speaking Catholics there is a difficulty which would take a whole treatise to deal with adequately: English literature is substantially Protestant. It is all well and good to quote St. Paul that "whatever is true is from the Holy Ghost" and argue that this literature, whether Protestant, Jewish or Infidel, so long as it is true, is Catholic despite the persuasion of the authors. All well and good provided that literature were abstract science; a matter of two and two are four. But literature by definition is that paradoxical thing, the "concrete universal", imitating men in action in their actual affective and moral and spiritual struggles. And so Catholics have to live with a difficulty. The thousand good books which are the indispensable soil of the understanding of the Catholic Faith and indirectly requisite to the Kingdom of Heaven, are not Catholic but Protestant.

The recognition of this has led some well-meaning Catholic teachers to the recommendation of texts and reading lists of strictly Catholic authors, which can only be done by supplying large amounts of Latin, French, Italian and other foreign authors in translation along with those very few Englishmen who happened to be Catholic and alas, though by no means bad, are all second rate. No matter how you do it, the attempt is hopeless.

First, we are English-speaking people. Our language is English and if we are to learn it, we must absorb its own particular genius. If we are to have English Catholic authors or even readers, they must be schooled in the English language as it is, and not in even the best works of translators, who are not men of genius, no matter how great the works they are translating. Dorothy Sayers, for example, is a fine Christian lady, I am told, and the Italian Catholic Dante is one of only three candidates for the title of greatest poet who ever lived; but Dorothy Sayers' translation of the Divine Comedy is something of a comedy in another sense and not even remotely in a class of excellence with the Puritan Latin Secretary to the arch-heretic and murderer of Catholic Ireland, John Milton, or even with the atheist Irish sympathizer Shelley, whom Miss Sayers imitates in attempting - disastrously - Dante's terza rima. English literature is not an option; it is a fact. And it is Protestant; we are at once blest and stuck with it - blest because it is the finest literature in the world, and stuck because it cannot ever be done again ...

Having stated the facts first as a difficulty, I hasten to add that it is a difficulty we can live with and flourish under. First of all, insofar as the literature is Protestant, it is Biblical and Christian; the existence of God, the Divinity of Christ, the necessity of prayer and obedience to the commandments is its very strong stuff for the most part and there is little anywhere in direct violation of the Catholic Faith, though there is some overt, sometimes crude, sometimes true accusation. Since Protestantism stands in between its Catholic and Jewish antecedents in a link of Hebraic Christianity, at least in its Calvinist tendencies, its popular literature has been both anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Charles Kingsley's Westward Ho!, one of the best boys' books, is filled with outrageous lies about the Jesuits; and both Shakespeare and Dickens, with Shylock and Fagin, have exploited and exaggerated the avarice of the Jews. But what Chesterton said of Westward Ho! - "It's a lie, but a healthy one" - could be said of A Merchant of Venice and Oliver Twist. It is the unhealthy pharisaical Catholic and Jew who resent the caricatures of themselves ... The fact is that Jesuits have sometimes been a scandal, despite the glorious company of their saints; and Jews have been conspicuous usurers, pornographers and Communists, despite their large courage in the face of unjust persecution and the smaller number of converted saints. Good Catholics and Jews can laugh and weep at once at the truth in these cartoons, just as a temperate Irishman - if you can find one - would laugh and weep at the stage Irish drunk, or an honest Italian at The Godfather.

February 9, 2010

American decline

Discourse on American decline is ubiquitous these days. Paul Krugman conjectures that GOP delay tactics in the Senate have come to resemble Poland’s liberum veto, which paralyzed that nation, leaving it vulnerable to foreign depredation, in the 18th century. Arthur Herman speculates on US susceptibility to Chinese mercantile and electronic raids. My friends Ben Domenech and Francis Cianfrocca talk demographics and economic degringolade in this absorbing podcast. A study of this collection of stark graphs will demonstrate conclusively the precipitous deterioration in the US employment picture.

For some of us, of course, the decline of America was apparent long before this recession hit. It is my view, in fact, that both the recession and much of the reaction to it proffer a vivid illustration of the technocratic mentality which is right at the heart of that decline. For many years — decades, even — Wall Street operated under the debilitating illusion that human life could be successfully captured by formula and modeling of sufficient subtlety. Now we have legislators and publicists partaking of that same illusion in their arguments for a new regulatory regime for finance. It is not that these proposed reforms are all bad — I favor many of them myself — but that behind them stands that same technocratic vision of man, which is a deeply mistaken vision, a vision arising from a decay of philosophy and loss of spiritual grounding.

February 10, 2010

Around the Interwebs

1) Mike Konczal (aka. Rortybomb) lays waste to a rather silly - in my estimation - meme that has been replicating itself in the minds of the right-leaning of late, namely, the notion that the very existence of FDIC deposit insurance is a great sinkhole of moral hazard, and responsible for the Great Recession. Not only does the meme in question confuse the very different funding, asset, and risk structures of depository institutions and investment banks, it also presupposes, in this Brave New World of engineered finance, that ordinary depositors must become conversant with the kabbalistic financial techniques of this Brave New World, if they are to evaluate their banks. Not bloody likely. The fact that such a meme could even gain some traction among the commentariat is a reflection of widespread confusion regarding the existence and nature of public goods; moreover, it is illustrative of the consequences of rejecting such public goods, of which basic deposit insurance in commercial banks is one: the fanatical pursuit of every last possibility of moral hazard, however small and remote, however deeply buried beneath layers of asymmetrical information, results in systemic hazard, as the absence of such insurance would leave the average depositor recourseless before the machinations of the calculating and dishonourable. Then again, it is a blind and stupid liberalism (or libertarianism) that suffers the depositor and the speculator alike to suffer ruination.

2) Mark Thoma links to a brief paper on the political origins of widening measure of inequality in the US over the past 30-40 years. John Schmitt discounts both of the common explanations for the increase in inequality, regarding the 'technological progress' and 'globalization' theories as inadequate. The fundamental problem with the former is that, even if technological change were a wholly exogenous force, this would still underdetermine our political and social responses to it; the problem with the latter is that, to appeal to my own preferred terminology, globalization is not a self-subsisting, self-sustaining project, but an artifactual one, embedded in discrete political decisions. Whether one thinks widening inequality is good, bad, or neutral, we have chosen it, not had it thrust upon us as a force of nature. Why is inequality potentially bad? Because, as has been known at least since Aristotle, a representative government cannot survive vast extremes of wealth and privation.

There was one passage of Schmitt's paper that I wanted to spend more time discussing; it comes on page seven, and concerns the shift, in recent decades, towards the privatization of many formerly public services. Like highway maintenance and traffic engineering, areas with which I have some familiarity. Back in the late 80s, before the privatization push had really achieved its full head of steam, traffic engineering studies were typically conducted either by a small handful of consultancy firms, or dedicated public employees; the studies were well-funded, the people responsible for them almost uniformly competent; and the relevant agencies willing to spend more to acquire superior instruments, which produced superior data. Superior data entailed superior planning, which entailed superior infrastructure. The privatization push introduced a double cost-sensitivity, at the level of the state agencies paying for the studies, and within the consultancy firms that sprouted like mushrooms; the consequence of this was the slashing of public works staffs, and an increasing reliance on private firms, which themselves sought to slash costs at every turn, to maximize the take of the principals. Hence, they often purchase inexpensive, shoddy, unreliable instruments, and employ marginally competent technicians to use them, with the result that the quality of the data is poor, and highway planning that much poorer. Long-run costs will increase, of course, as this sort of privatization is merely a strategy of deferral, and it is but one factor behind our deteriorating road networks, but it is one I can speak to from experience.

Continue reading "Around the Interwebs" »

February 11, 2010

Trinity and mystery (UPDATED)

trinity.jpgThere's been a fair bit of discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity in the last week or two within (a certain subsection of) the philosophy blogosphere. Here's my response to some of it.

UPDATE 2/13: I've posted a follow-up here.


Two points: 1) There's nothing wrong with most of these people, so get off your high horse; 2) They have no business voting in national elections.

February 13, 2010

We are His sheep, but not His cattle

A few months back my mind was focused on the doctrine of heaven in the context of an e-mail exchange I was having. My correspondent wanted to know why God would send some people to hell when they are not deeply evil people, just ordinary people doing their ordinary best. Surely only the worst and most heinous of sinners deserve to be sent to hell, while most of the people you see at the local grocery store should be sent to heaven, regardless of what they believe. That, at any rate, was the gist.

It seems to me that, while this is an understandable question to ask, it betrays a misconception of heaven. (Most of my W4 readers don't need me to tell them this, but it seemed to make for a mildly interesting post.)

What, according to Christian doctrine, is the essence of heaven? I have always understood that it is the enjoyment of the presence of God, an enjoyment far clearer and better than anything we are able to experience on earth, limited as we are not only by our un-resurrected bodies but also by the presence of sin and by our remaining tendencies to embrace and cherish sin.

If the essence of being in heaven is the enjoyment of the beatific vision, then it seems highly questionable (at least to me) that we should think of the matter in terms of God's sending people to heaven and sending people to hell. (And of course we always have to keep in mind that, unless we posit something like limbo, which wouldn't apply to the ordinary adult people doing their ordinary best anyway, there is no tertium quid for eternal destiny--only heaven and hell.) If we think of God as "sending" people to heaven, are we not treating heaven as something like the Happy Hunting Grounds, as a lovely retirement center for worn-out humans where God sends his animals to be happy forever when they get old and die? If heaven is really all about being with God and enjoying Him forever, then it seems that we must desire it in order to enjoy it. (What is the experience of the presence of God like to a person who does not desire it? Perhaps something like hell?) While one might say, "Of course everyone wants to go to heaven," this is a truism only if heaven is thought of merely as a place of earthly enjoyment.

Some of a Calvinist persuasion might fear--and with some justice--that my thinking here is leading in the direction of Arminianism, or at least away from Calvinism. For if a strong, Calvinist doctrine of predestination is correct, it would seem that despite the fact that the essence of heaven is enjoying God forever, God can and does simply send people there and does make them like it. To my mind that is not taking with sufficient seriousness the notion that heaven is being one with God as a fully human person. One is led irresistibly to picture something like a puppet soul, previously in rebellion, made by something like spiritual force to desire and love God and to enjoy Him forever, which isn't my idea of the beatific vision. It seems more reasonable and more consistent with what heaven really is to say with C.S. Lewis, "All get what they want. They do not always like it."

Many of you, my readers, are beyond all doubt better read than I in works of theology. I will be interested in your thoughts.

Speaking from ignorance

This would explain why many philosophers who do not specialize in philosophy of religion manifestly don’t know what they’re talking about when they open up their mouths on the subject (as we have seen here, here, and here). If you “don’t take the subject seriously” enough to study it, then naturally all you are going to “know” about it are the simple-minded clichés you and your secularist colleagues smugly bounce around your echo chamber. HT: Prosblogion.

February 14, 2010

Dawkins on omnipotence and omniscience


A reader asks for my response to this passage from Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion:

Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent. (pp. 77-78)

We have here a standard New Atheist rhetorical trick: Take a simplistic objection to theism that has been raised and answered many times and present it to the unwary non-expert reader as if it were a devastating refutation that no one has ever been able to rebut.

As to the substance: Note first that for almost all theists, “omnipotence” does not entail the power to bring into being a self-contradictory state of affairs (e.g. creating a round square or a stone that is too heavy for an omnipotent being to lift). The reason is that there is no such power; the very notion of such a power is incoherent, precisely because the notion of a self-contradictory state of affairs is incoherent. God’s power would be limited only if there was some power He lacked. Since there is no such thing as a power to make contradictions true, His inability to do so is no limitation on His power. (And if an atheist insists that an omnipotent being would have to have such a power, that only hurts his own case. For that enables the theist to say, in response to any possible objection that the atheist could ever raise: “Since God can make contradictions true, He can make it true that He exists even though your argument shows He doesn’t!”)

Continue reading "Dawkins on omnipotence and omniscience" »

February 15, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day


What do you get when you mix Lydia's Calvinism theme in her most recent post, and my comic book image below, on St. Valentine's Day? Something like this, I should think. (Think this guy brought her tulips?)

February 16, 2010

Brian Williams may be charged for helping Rifqa Bary

A couple of notes at the beginning of this post. First, I'm experimenting with accepting comments to the post. In the past, I've not allowed comments to my posts on the Rifqa Bary situation, because there was a Muslim commentator that came in and wasted my time, and my purpose is to inform sympathetic people, not to argue with Muslim (or liberal) commentators. If I do end up closing comments on this post, I ask my good readers not to take it amiss.

Second, I am linking to Atlas Shrugs, because that is the only place that I have found reports on this most recent development. I have my problems with the site, most notably that Atlas has an extremely tacky banner (to put it mildly) and also, even more seriously, that she has a habit of publishing distinctly inappropriate videos and content in her attempt to show the horrors of things like Muslim persecution of Christians, etc. One never knows when going to the site what bloody picture might come up in one's face while looking for the entry one actually wants to read. So if readers want to avoid the Atlas site, you can just, er, get the info from me and trust me on it.

The present situation with Rifqa Bary is this: Her parents are trying to have her dependency declaration (which was a victory for her) thrown out by the court and to have the matter sent to trial instead. A number of legal opinions in threads and posts I have seen indicate that it seems unlikely that the judge will do this. Atlas is not, in my opinion, wholly accurate on this. She seems to believe that the parents can simply "renege" on the dependency arrangement, whereas in fact it is up to the court to decide whether to reverse the dependency ruling, and the court may well just dismiss the parents' motion. This would be a good thing, because right now, as a dependent of the State of Ohio, Rifqa is not being sent back to her parents against her will, whereas if the matter went to trial, the question of her being sent back to them would be reopened. Here, too, I think Geller is way off-base in believing that somehow a trial would be helpful by getting things out into the open. A dependency declaration is a dependency declaration. We have one now; let's hold onto it.

This most recent development is a very disturbing thing, though, for the young man named Brian Williams who baptized Rifqa. He also drove her to the bus station, at her urgent request, when she originally ran away from her parents last summer. He now believes that he is going to be arrested and charged with "interfering with custody" (that is, her parents' custody over her) and "contributing to the unruliness of a minor." Evidently once Rifqa pled guilty to being "unruly" in exchange for dependency--that is, she admitted that she broke her parents' rules by running away from them--this opened the way to charging Williams with contributing to that "unruliness" by driving her to the bus station.

Williams is being pressured to plead guilty to a lesser charge. (I haven't been able to figure out if this is the lesser of the two charges above or some third charge not yet named.) He is determined not to do so, and if he is tried, we could get that "bringing the truth out into the open" thing in the course of his trial without any risk to Rifqa's dependency. Presumably she would be called as a witness. The "interference with custody" law even carries explicit provision for an "affirmative defense" that one acted to protect the well-being of the child. Williams does not want to cop a plea. We should pray for him.

Canadian gold, Rousseau's Poland, and patria in the heart.


Last night I watched a Canadian skier receive a gold medal at the Olympics in Vancouver. I’m a sucker for these medal ceremonies; always have been. Nor am I the kind of patriot who begrudges another country the devotion of her sons and daughters, as a more modern and imperial sort of nationalism is wont to.

Canada no less than America is a land which has justly earned the affection and piety of her citizens. Indeed, that she has been among my country’s truest allies only fortifies my neighborly fondness. I shall not forget, for instance, that Canadians had one of the toughest beaches to storm on D-Day.

God bless Canada, and congratulations! One of her sons has won gold on her home soil. O Canada, home and native land to a hardy race of men: may many of her sons be crowned again for gallantry in her name.

That tribute made, I am emboldened to take a shot at justifying the varied assemblage of themes indicated in the reckless and even irresponsible title to this post.

Continue reading "Canadian gold, Rousseau's Poland, and patria in the heart." »

February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

The repentance of Ninevah. (artist unknown)

February 18, 2010

Allen West and Charles Martel--Warriors for the West

No web site like ours with Charles Martel on its masthead could possibly pass up the following wonderful video clip of Colonel Allen West explaining succinctly that jihad is "not a perversion" of Islam and referring expressly to Charles Martel. Watch it. It's short.

I noticed a couple of things, aside from the excitingly unambiguous words of West himself. First, I noticed the discomfort of the other panelists with the question. Is that just my perception? I hope I'm wrong. Which one of them said, "I plead the fifth"? Whoever said it should be put to shame by West's answer. (West says that he doesn't care about being popular, which is especially striking since he's running for Congress.)

Second, I noticed that the audience burst into applause when he said that this is not a perversion. Take note, all you wimps who want to "plead the fifth." There are grassroots people out there who prefer to hear the truth, spoken forthrightly.

Kudos to Allen West. May many more follow his example.

HT: Andrew Bostom via VFR.

February 19, 2010

More on the Trinity and mystery


Dale Tuggy and I have been debating the issues addressed in my recent posts on the doctrine of the Trinity and its status as a “mystery.” Here is my latest contribution. And above, naturally, an appropriate comic book cover.

Preemptive whining on behalf of Muslim murderers--Does it work?

According to prosecutors, Faleh Almaleki has admitted that he deliberately killed his daughter by running her down with a Jeep Cherokee. Why? She "disgraced the family by not following traditional Iraqi or Muslim values."

He's been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault and two counts of leaving the scene of a serious accident. (The last seems sort of...odd. But I guess they wanted to get all the charges in there.)

So his court-appointed attorney decided to start whining in advance of the prosecutor's decision on whether to seek the death penalty. See, the county prosecutor is known to be a Christian. Wouldn't it be terribly unprofessional for the accused's attorney to bring that up? It sure seems so to me. But I guess if you're appointed a defense attorney in a Muslim honor killing, you are automatically endowed with extra chutzpah. Here was Attorney Little's preemptive strike:

Little requested that the office make public the process it uses to determine whether to seek capital punishment.

"An open process provides some level of assurance that there is no appearance that a Christian is seeking to execute a Muslim for racial, political, religious or cultural beliefs," Little wrote, referring to County Attorney Andrew Thomas' Christian faith.

The prosecutor's office has, indeed, decided not to seek the death penalty.

I'm actually not going to say that I know that the preemptive whining worked. I imagine that the prosecutor often decides not to seek the death penalty. Heaven knows, it's hard enough to get the death penalty these days unless you have raped or tortured your victim before the murder. He merely ran her down with a car, so...So I'm not going to jump to conclusions as to the actual reasons for the decision not to seek the death penalty.

But this will undoubtedly be interpreted by the Muslim community as meaning that instantaneous and entirely unfounded complaining about bias pays, even when it's done on behalf of blatant murderers. And that is very, very disturbing. Next stop: Nidal Hasan tries it?

HT: Atlas Shrugs

February 21, 2010

And this is science?

In the book of memoirs Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman tells the hilarious story of his encounter with army psychiatrists when it seemed he might be drafted during WWII. Feynman couldn't stand psychiatrists (he didn't think much of philosophers, either), and he had a lot of fun getting the shrinks to declare him mentally unfit merely by telling them the truth. It's a great story. At one point, he asks one of them, "What did you study in school?" The psychiatrist says, "Medicine." Feynman looks at him and says, "And this is medicine?" When he gets to see the notes documenting his alleged mental instability, Feynman finds that that psychiatrist wrote down, "Very peculiar stare." Says Feynman, shrewdly, "I knew what that was. It was when I said, 'And this is medicine?'"

Pompous fools don't like being made fun of. For years, I remembered that part of the book incorrectly, changing the question in my mind to, "And this is science?" That version of the question is appropriate to a recent article, supposedly in the field of biology (!), published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by one Anthony Cashmore. Cashmore asserts that all human behavior is a result of a trinity (his word) of genes, environment, and stochasticism. This means that we don't have free will even if physical reality is not (e.g., because of quantum mechanics) deterministic. By calling a belief in free will "religion" and "vitalism," Cashmore implies that he has given some devastating reason to deny the freedom of the will. The nearest things I can find to argument in the article are a) a reference to studies showing people registering brain activity (believed to have something to do with the decision to move a finger) prior to reporting the conscious decision to move a finger and b) a mention of the phenomenon of blindsight. None of this, of course, is remotely original with Cashmore. Oh, and Cashmore also apparently thinks it's an argument against free will that the actions of the will are not caused. Um, no, that's part of the definition of free will.

And this is science?

HT Wesley J. Smith

Readers may also be interested in this related post, which gives another example of ideology and childishly poor philosophy donning the mantle of Science (in that case, medicine) and appearing as such in a professional journal.

The Financial Crisis and the Scientific Mindset

My recent essay in The New Atlantis is now online. A sample:

At the back of the labyrinthine complexities of the financial crisis resides a particular cast of mind. That modern finance failed is plain enough, but it is not too much to say that the modern mind itself broke down. What deeper failures of the mind does the failure of finance disclose?

First, there is an error about property; next, there is an error about man. It will be useful to examine them separately, though in truth they derive from the same source, and together they compose an extraordinary and ruinous instance of the overreach of Rationalism.

At the very heart of the crisis and the subsequent bailouts is the elegant excellence of the engineered abstraction, produced by mathematical brilliance and computing capacity. All the messy variations of human activity in the area of real-estate finance could, seemingly, be brought under the reliable authority of graceful formulas. Every wager could be safely hedged, once the appropriate calculations were run.

The modern mind broke down on account of its infatuation with abstraction. That mind is singularly susceptible to falsely imagining that ideas are more real than men. The power of the lapidary theory over the modern mind has been often remarked. The whole of the twentieth century was marked by calamitous wars driven by the imperial impulse of what Edmund Burke called “armed doctrines.” Armies, impelled by their doctrines, rolled over half the earth, leaving behind blood and smolders.

In finance, this failure of the modern mind, its subjection to the allure of formula and abstraction, took on another aspect: the reduction of property to mathematical abstraction. The nature of property itself seemed to transform under the influence of these abstractions. The old and familiar debt instrument known as a mortgage is already an abstraction from real physical property. Pooling these instruments into complicated securities is another step of abstraction. And, in still further steps of abstraction, probabilities concerning default rates on property debt were converted into revenue streams that could be securitized. Credit-default swaps were rolled into new revenue streams and resold. Collateralized debt obligations were “squared.” Little fragments of land and housing, from neighborhoods of enormous variety all across the country, were converted by statistical abstraction into an unfathomable infrastructure of debt securities. [continue reading]

February 22, 2010

The Nightfly: Vatican approved!


Via Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s blog, I learn that L’Osservatore Romano has published a list of “top 10 albums for a desert island.” I kid you not. Among the Vatican newspaper’s picks are Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (my teenage self would have heartily approved) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller (my teenage and current selves are outraged, though neither will confirm rumors of a soft spot for Off the Wall). More interesting still to learn that among the other choices are “discs from Donald Fagen, Fleetwood Mac and David Crosby.” Donald Fagen! See, I knew there was deep theological meaning to be mined from the Steely Dan oeuvre. Told you so. (No Bob Dylan -- sorry guys.)

Seriously, though, the whole thing is, of course, too preposterous for words. As Fr. Z says, L’Osservatore Romano is “increasingly weird.” To say the least. Here’s one thing it’s not, however (contrary to what many media outlets seem to think): a source of the Holy See’s “official” positions on pop music, Chia pets, or (it seems) much else. Thank goodness.

All the same, congrats to Fagen, and better luck next year Walter! Now let’s enjoy this classic video from The Nightfly.

Equality's War Against Reality

"Equality" by Erik von Kuenelt-Leddihn

(This is an abridged and revised version of an essay published eight years ago.)

Most readers of this site are conscious enough of how egalitarianism shapes American political ideals. What is seldom discussed or recognized, however, is how egalitarianism pervades (and distorts) every other aspect of modern life. The human mind longs above all for consistency. Egalitarianism, being a false dogma, finds reality inconsistent and therefore seeks ways to force conformity.

Human activity is diverse. Some activities are more ennobling and virtuous than other activities, some are more important, some are more necessary, some require more skill or education, some are more visible or prominent, and some are more influential. At the same time not all places are alike. The beach is one place, the supermarket is another, and the opera house is yet another, each distinguished from the other by the level of civilized activity for which it is best suited.

Men acknowledge these distinctions, in part, by their manner of dress. Once upon a time every man had his "uniform": one could tell his line of work, his recreation, and yes, his class by how he was dressed. And furthermore, there were different "uniforms" for different activities. For many years my great uncle, now age 94, would take my great aunt out to dinner on Thursday nights. He donned a coat and tie, and she wore a nice dress. Their destination was often McDonalds, but that wasn't the point: he was a man was taking his wife out to dinner, and that was an exalted ritual beyond just their private time together. Indeed, it was a public sign of his love for her.

Continue reading "Equality's War Against Reality" »

Unzism Refuted

My buddy Matthew Roberts & I have co-authored a piece for Chronicles which, I hope, will lay to rest, once & for all, Ron Unz's silly contention, in his recent cover story for The American Conservative, that white & Hispanic crime-rates in the U.S. differ trivially, if at all.

Matthew did the heavy thinking, while I ran the stats.

Read it here.

February 24, 2010

The Republican Unicorn

Some who celebrated Scott Brown's election are shocked at his recent vote for cloture on the new stimulus bill. In response to a report on this event at VFR, I opined as follows:

I've found it hard over the years actually to find an example of the "socially liberal but fiscally conservative" Republican. Sometimes I refer to this creature as a mythical beast. If anything, being in favor of small government is more radical in the present political climate than being, say, against legal abortion. So if a politician is not willing to stick his neck out even on the social issues where he has a strong and recent history in his own party to back him up, why would he be fiscally conservative, when most Republicans haven't been fiscally conservative for a long time?

Perhaps I'm just uninformed, though. Am I just forgetting some recent example of a Republican candidate even close to as socially liberal as Scott Brown who nonetheless strongly opposed big government in concrete ways?

I think that conservatives should stop talking and wrangling among themselves about the mythical beast. Instead, conservatives should be a lot more suspicious of the fiscally conservative credentials of socially liberal Republicans.

I'd like to say a little more about that:

Continue reading "The Republican Unicorn" »

February 26, 2010

What’s black and white and misread all over?


Dale Tuggy quotes a famous passage from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola:

To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed.

This is a favorite of skeptics looking for a proof text demonstrating the manifest irrationality of the Catholic understanding of the Church’s authority. Dale does not seem to be making quite so strong or aggressive a claim, but he does regard Loyola’s position as “unreasonable” insofar as it amounts (Dale tells us) to the view that “tradition trumps sense perception.”

Continue reading "What’s black and white and misread all over?" »