The parody is very slickly done, it's hard to say whose "side" it's on. Note however, that no pro-IDists are caricatured as cartoon characters. It could well be that the joke is on the Darwinists, but they're failing to see it, what with "creationists" being too intellectually inferior to come up with something like this, and all.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
Another book about the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, titled "The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America," written by a reporter who worked for the York Daily Record, is scheduled for release on May 13. The book's description on Amazon.com says,
"What happened in Dover is a tiny sliver, a broken shard of glass mirroring what plays out across the country. A war of fundamentalist Christian values versus secularism. A battle between evangelical fanaticism and tolerance."—from The Devil in Dover
In December 2004, following the Dover area school board's decision to teach intelligent design in ninth-grade biology classrooms, eleven parents sued, sparking a federal constitutional challenge. Lauri Lebo, a small-town reporter who covered the trial, knows not just the legal case and science, but the people on all sides of the divisive battle.
In The Devil in Dover, Lebo traces the compelling backstory of this pivotal case described by some as a perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violations, and an assault on American science education. In a community divided across unexpected lines, the so-called activist judge, a George Bush-appointed Republican, eventually condemned the school board's decision as one of "breathtaking inanity."
WOW! "Evangelical fanaticism"! "Religious intolerance"! "First Amendment violations"! "An assault on American science education"! "Devil in Dover"! "Dogma v. Darwin"! Them's fighting words! Maybe a better title for the book would be "The Great Satan in Dover."
The words "this pivotal case described by some as a perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violations, and an assault on American science education" were obviously borrowed from a Nature magazine book review by Kevin Padian. The NCSE website says of the book review,
. . . he also mentions a fourth book, by local reporter Laurie Lebo, to appear on the trial, which, he says, "promises even more lively details of this perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violation and the never-ending assault on American science education.'"
It is obvious that "Devil in Dover" is a sensationalistic book that tries to demonize the Dover school board. Prof. Albert Alschuler said in what I consider to be the best summary of the Kitzmiller case,
The court offers convincing evidence that some members the Dover school board would have been delighted to promote their old time religion in the classroom. These board members apparently accepted intelligent design as a compromise, the nearest they could come to their objective within the law. Does that make any mention of intelligent design unconstitutional? It seems odd to characterize the desire to go far as the law allows as an unlawful motive. People who try to stay within the law although they would prefer something else are good citizens. The Dover opinion appears to say that the forbidden preference taints whatever the board may do, and if the public can discern the board’s improper desire, any action it takes also has an unconstitutional effect. If board members would like to teach Genesis as the literal truth, the board may not direct teachers even to mention the anamolies (sic) in the theory of natural selection that the court itself recognizes. The court seems to declare, "Because we find that you would like something you can't have, we hold that you can't have anything."
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Is John C. Wright. Outstanding.
Come now: your comments have passed the absurd and verged into the insane. You have decided to make the attempt to make certain statements to convince me that you (your consciousness) do not exist. But things that do not exist cannot make statements, do not make decisions, do not write words, do not put together arguments.
Here is the reason why you can believe in God with absolute, apodictic certainty: the absence of a belief in God has led you to being unable to believe in anything else. You mind is now a void. You are a machine. You have no soul. You are not alive nor dead, merely a cloud of atoms vibrating and moving with no purpose and no sense.
Those are your two options: being and nothingness. Since you cannot logically choose nothingness, you must chose being.
Machines are irrational. They do not think. They are clockworks, moved by a spring. The gears turn and cogwheels wheel. That is all. There is no thought involved. A machine can be oiled or rusted, broken or fixed, but it cannot be rational or irrational, honest or dishonest. A clock that runs slow is not "lying" about the time. Pocketwatches do not giggle and try to fool their owners out of malice. A sundial is not being honest when it tells the time on a sunny day, and is not dishonest on a cloudy day.
If your axioms lead you to the conclusion that you are a machine rather than a moral agent capable of reading this sentence, thinking about it honestly and rationally, and answering it honestly and rationally, then your axioms are false.
You cannot think you are not thinking when you think you are not thinking. In order to think the thought "I don't think" you must think.
Dorothy asks the Scarecrow, "How can you talk, if you haven't got a brain?" The Scarecrow ponders that a moment, and answers, "I don't know. But it seems to me that people without brains do an awful lot of talking!"
Now, this is a joke in a musical comedy, and we are right to laugh. But now, in real life, you are telling me that you are really a Scarecrow, a Chinese Room, a Machine. When I ask you, "How can you talk, if you haven't got a brain?" you do not and cannot answer the question.
You are asking me what physical evidence can prove to you that God exists, and yet your standard of evidence is so deranged that you cannot even prove to yourself that you exist.
You are being as totally irrational as it is possible to me: you write direct and manifest self-contradictions, statements which, merely by writing them down and meaning what they say, prove that they themselves are false. "I am a machine" is not a sentence that a machine can deliberately mean to write, because machines do not deliberate meanings and attempt to convey them by writing.
You might say it is irrational to believe in the existence of God without evidence. From anyone but you, I can answer that question without laughter. You, I cannot answer because I must laugh like Jove himself. Believe in the existence of for God without evidence? You cannot believe in the existence of yourself with evidence, overwhelming evidence.
Without God, you are a machine, and your life is meaningless. I do not mean you are unhappy, I mean literally, your thoughts and actions and words have no meaning. They are gibberish. Sounds signifying nothing.
There may be atheists who can erect a theory of the world that is both rational and godless. You are not one of them. Your world-system is irrational and godless. Believing in God is the only thing that can save you from believing you are a machine. Those atheists who are rational face a different choice. For you, your choice is between sanity and nonbeing.
Fear not. It is less difficult to believe in God, the necessary being, than it is to believe in one's own self-nonexistence. If you actually believe in your own self-nonexistence, you already have faith muscular enough to make a mountain jump into the sea.
Believing in the mysteries of our faith is as nothing compared to believing in the mysteries of your faith. Trust me. You have already swallowed a camel. Swallowing bread and wine is nothing compared to that.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The "Expelled" team seems to be playing its cards right:
EXPELLED Controversy Top Issue in Blogosphere
SANTA FE, N.M.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Something amazing happened yesterday. The controversy around Premise Media’s upcoming movie Ben Stein’s EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed became the hottest topic in the blogosphere. According to BlogPulse, a service of Nielsen Buzzmetrics, the issue held the number one slot throughout the day on Monday, March 24th (http://www.blogpulse.com). There were also over 800 results on Technorati (www.technorati.com).
“It is amazing to see the reaction of PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and their cohorts when one of them is simply expelled from a movie. Yet these men applaud when professors throughout the nation are fired from their jobs and permanently excluded from their profession for mentioning Intelligent Design,” said producer Mark Mathis. Mathis was at the event that has raised this controversy.
Mathis continued, “I hope PZ’s experience has helped him see the light. He is distraught because he could not see a movie. What if he wasn’t allowed to teach on a college campus or was denied tenure? Maybe he will think twice before he starts demanding more professors be blacklisted and expelled simply because they question the adequacy of Darwin’s theory.”
EXPELLED was screened for a select Minneapolis grass roots audience on Thursday night. Dr. Myers and noted atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins were not sent invitations to the screening from the producers. Nevertheless, they acquired access to a proprietary online RSVP site, along with a group of other atheists. The producers were notified that Myers and others who were not invited had signed up for the screening. They were also aware that Dawkins, who oddly used his formal surname “Clinton” instead of Richard to sign up, was in attendance.
Recognizing the opportunity to make a point of the inconvenience and pain that they, and others like them, have caused to numerous scientists and educators, the decision was made beforehand to deny Myers access to the film if he actually showed up. PZ is one of the foremost proponents of expelling those who hold to any form of Intelligent Design: “The only appropriate responses [to proponents of Intelligent Design] should involve some form of righteous fury, much butt-kicking, and the public firing and humiliation of some teachers, many school board members, and vast numbers of sleazy far-right politicians.” (http://www.pandasthumb.org/pt-archives/001143.html#comments Comment #35130 Posted by PZ Myers, 6/14/05, 07:50)
Executive Producer Logan Craft noted: “EXPELLED makes it clear that academic freedom is at stake. Yet Dawkins and his friends continue to misrepresent the film and slander the producers. It is obvious that they do not want to debate the real issues raised in the movie. Their only interest is to control the damage their interviews have done to their cause. We are happy to let the public decide where the truth rests on this controversial issue when the movie opens nationwide on April 18th.”
Myers has apparently been asking supporters to sneak into the different private screenings for many weeks. After being denied his chance to see the movie, Myers blogged about his experience and expressed his outrage.
Executive Producer Walt Ruloff responded, “This is the typical reaction of Darwinists and atheists who are so blinded by their own self importance that they fail to understand what is really going on. They yell and scream when one of their friends isn’t allowed to see a movie weeks before it goes public. All this outrage while these same people organize witch hunts to expel those who disagree with them.”
Premise Media’s new film, Ben Stein’s EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed, opens nationwide on April 18th. You can learn more at www.expelledthemovie.com
Monday, March 24, 2008
The Chess Club poindexters are all in a dander. PZ's response to Nisbet's post is here. PZ's yes-men are having none of it, as evidenced in the comment sections to both posts.
Why is Bear Stearns trading at $6 instead of $2?
As I emphasized last week, the large “term financing” and “term securities lending” programs initiated by the Fed do not expose the Fed to default risk in mortgage collateral it accepts from the banks that act as primary dealers. Even if the underlying securities default, those facilities involve repurchase agreements, so the bank putting up the collateral has to repurchase the collateral at the original price plus interest after a term of 28 or 90 days. The Fed only stands to lose if the bank itself fails, and so spectacularly that the bank's liquidation value goes negative even after zeroing out bondholder claims and stockholder equity. Even in the present environment, this is unlikely.
Alarmingly, immediately after the pixels dried on last week's comment (noting “the Fed is emphatically not taking the default risk of the mortgage market onto itself” with these term facilities), details emerged that the Fed had agreed to a very different deal in its attempt to rescue Bear Stearns. This is a major and ominous departure from historical Fed policy, and from legality.
I'll cut straight to the chase.
Bear Stearns is trading at $6 instead of $2 because unelected bureaucrats went beyond their legal mandates, delivered a windfall to a single private company at public expense, entered agreements that violate the the public trust, and created a situation where even if the bureaucratic malfeasance stands, the shareholders of Bear Stearns will either reject the deal or be deprived of their right to determine the fate of the company they own. Very simply, Bear Stearns is still in play. Still, when all is said and done, my own impression is that the ultimate value of the stock will not be $2, but exactly zero.
In effect, the Federal Reserve decided last week to overstep its legal boundaries – going beyond providing liquidity to the banking system and attempting to ensure the solvency of a non-bank entity. Specifically, the Fed agreed to provide a $30 billion “non-recourse loan” to J.P. Morgan, secured only by the worst tranche of Bear Stearns' mortgage debt. But the bank – J.P. Morgan – was in no financial trouble. Instead, it was effectively offered a subsidy by the Fed at public expense. Rick Santelli of CNBC is exactly right. If this is how the U.S. government is going to operate in a democratic, free-market society, “we might as well put a hammer and sickle on the flag.”
What is a “non-recourse loan”? Put simply, if the homeowners underlying that weak tranche of debt go into foreclosure, they will lose their homes, and the public will lose as well. But J.P. Morgan will not lose, nor will Bear Stearns' bondholders. This will be an outrageous outcome if it is allowed to stand.
In my view, the deal would be palatable if J.P. Morgan was to remain fully responsible for any losses on the “collateral” provided to the Federal Reserve, assuming shareholders were to consent to the buyout. As it stands, Congress should quickly step in to bust the existing deal and demand an alternate resolution, by clearly insisting that the Fed's action was not legal.
The Fed did not act to save a bank, but to enrich one. Congress has the power to appropriate resources for such a deal by the representative will of the people – the Fed does not, even under Depression era banking laws. The “loan” falls outside of Section 13-3 of the Federal Reserve Act, because it is not in fact a loan to either Bear Stearns or J.P. Morgan. Bear Stearns is no longer a business entity under this agreement. And if the fiction that this is a “loan” to J.P. Morgan was true, J.P. Morgan would be obligated to pay it back, period. The only point at which the value of the “collateral” would become an issue would be in the event that J.P. Morgan itself was to fail. No, this is not a loan. It is a put option granted by the Fed to J.P. Morgan on a basket of toxic securities. And it is not legal.
The deal was made under duress, to the benefit of a private company, on the basis of financial assurances that the bureaucrats involved had no business making. The Federal Reserve is going to put up public assets and accept default risk so that Bear Stearns' own bondholders are effectively immunized?! That's not sound monetary policy – it's a picnic for insiders, bought and paid for through the abuse of public funds by government officials too unprincipled even to recognize the abuse. The only good thing about this deal is that it buys time while principled ways of busting and restructuring it can be settled.
This is not an issue of letting Bear Stearns “fail” on the claims of its customers and counterparties. Nobody wants that. The issue is the method by which it was rescued – who was protected, and who was not; why a consortium was not used instead of a single firm; why the claims of Bear's bondholders should be secure while the public bears the risk of the toxic waste foisted upon us. This deal should, and I believe will, be restructured. J.P. Morgan will cry foul, but that will be like a child who found the Easter basket and is now forced to share the chocolate. Bear Stearns is worth more than zero in acquisition, provided that the bondholders take an appropriate loss.
As of November's 10K report, Bear Stearns had $9 billion in unsecured short-term debt, and $66 billion in long-term debt. The $12 billion in shareholder equity, of course, is gone. Any portion of the debt that is unsecured should be the first to fall. If Bear Stearns is worth $2 a share to somebody (provided $30 billion of “non-recourse loans” from the Fed), and yet Bear's bondholders and even the unsecured lenders can still expect to be paid off on over $75 billion of debt (J.P. Morgan assumes that obligation as part of the buyout), then the public guarantees aren't required in the first place. What is required is that Bear's bondholders take a loss, as they should, rather than the public doing so.
In the unlikely event the value of Bear Stearns is negative after entirely zeroing out both shareholder equity and bondholder claims – then and only then is there a problem for Bear's customers and counterparties. But in fact, J.P. Morgan is already willing to take on all of Bear's assets and liabilities, including over $75 billion in debt to Bear's bondholders, for $2 a share. This is an indication that bondholder's claims would not even be wiped out in a full liquidation. Surely, whatever loss is required to transfer the ownership of the company should be taken by the bondholders, not by the public.
Again, this is not water under the bridge, and the deal struck last week should not be allowed to stand if we care at all about the integrity of the capital markets. The Long-Term Capital crisis was resolved by a consortium of financial institutions providing capital in return for ownership. The panic of 1907 was resolved the same way. This deal should be busted, and fast. If there's not a single buyer that will take on both the assets and liabilities without the government assuming private default risk, Bear's assets should be put out for bid, Bear's bonds should go into default, and by the unfortunate reality of how equities work, Bear's shareholders shouldn't get $2 – they should get nothing.
Bear's stock is selling at more than $2 for two reasons – one is that the market evidently believes there is some chance for the deal to be busted, either by Congress or by shareholder rejection. And second, because Bear's bondholders are frantic to own the stock so they can vote for this lousy deal to go through. After all, buying up a few hundred million in stock to secure $75 billion of debt doesn't seem like a bad trade. Even if J.P. Morgan raises the bid for Bear Stearns, the assurances by the Fed and Treasury are not legal. That will change only when the "non-recourse" provision is withdrawn. Whatever happens, this is not over, for the simple reason that it is wrong.
The U.S. economy will get through this without the requirement of massive public bailouts. What is required, however, is that the stock and bondholders of financial companies take due losses. Customers and counterparties need not, and I expect will not, be harmed. The value of the shareholder equity and debt issued by most financial institutions is ample buffer. In general, writedowns against shareholder equity alone will be enough, provided that regulations are revised to allow institutions to continue servicing existing financial commitments on the basis of more flexible capital requirements.
If the market was “certain to crash” in the event that Bear Stearns failed, then the market is certain to crash anyway, because Bear Stearns wasn't the last shoe to drop – it was one of the first. Unfortunately, we're standing in a shoe store. Wasn't the market “certain to crash” without the Fed's surprise rate cut in January too? At what point will investors figure out that the liquidity problems are nothing but the precursors of insolvency problems? At what point will investors stop begging the government to save private companies and recognize that the losses should be taken by the stock and bondholders of the offending financial institutions? If the Fed and the Treasury are smart, they will act quickly to figure out how to respond to multiple events like we've seen in recent days, to expedite turnover in ownership and quickly settle the residual claims of bondholders, without the kind of malfeasance reflected in the Bear Stearns rescue.
As for the future of the free markets, Dylan Thomas comes to mind:
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage! Rage against the dying of the light
The Fed overstepped and the Treasury overstepped. At the point where unelected bureaucrats pick and choose who to subsidize – who prospers and who perishes – in a free capital market, and use public funds to do it, more is at risk than just $30 billion. Instead, we cross a line, and stumble off a very clear edge down an interminably slippery slope. We speak up now, or forever hold our peace.
This warrants at least one criminal prosecution as well as a lawsuit:
JACKSONVILLE, Ore. -- A pair of hoax ads on Craigslist cost an Oregon man much of what he owned.
The ads popped up Saturday afternoon, saying the owner of a Jacksonville home was forced to leave the area suddenly and his belongings, including a horse, were free for the taking, said Jackson County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan.
But Robert Salisbury had no plans to leave. The independent contractor was at Emigrant Lake when he got a call from a woman who had stopped by his house to claim his horse.
On his way home he stopped a truck loaded down with his work ladders, lawn mower and weed eater.
"I informed them I was the owner, but they refused to give the stuff back," Salisbury said. "They showed me the Craigslist printout and told me they had the right to do what they did."
The driver sped away after rebuking Salisbury. On his way home he spotted other cars filled with his belongings.
Once home he was greeted by close to 30 people rummaging through his barn and front porch.
The trespassers, armed with printouts of the ad, tried to brush him off. "They honestly thought that because it appeared on the Internet it was true," Salisbury said. "It boggles the mind."
Jacksonville police and Jackson County sheriff's deputies arrived but by then several cars packed with Salisbury's property had fled.
He turned some license plate numbers over to police.
Michelle Easley had seen the ad that claimed Salisbury's horse had been declared abandoned by the sheriff's department and was free to a good home.
"I can't stand to see a horse suffer so I drove out there and got her," Easley said. "The horse didn't look abandoned. She is in good shape for being 32 years old."
But it looked odd, so she left a note on Salisbury's door explaining the ad. She then decided to call to make sure the ad was legitimate when the second similar ad appeared.
"I feel bad because I was a part of it," Easley said. "It felt right to call the police."
Fagan praised Easley's honestly but said prosecution was likely for anybody caught with Salisbury's property.
Items can be returned with no questions asked, Fagan said.
Detectives have contacted Craigslist's legal team to try to trace the ad.
Meanwhile, Salisbury could not even relax on his porch swing.
Someone took it.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
I've never seen this truth expressed so compactly (from comments to this post):
“If this movie is really about God, I don’t see how it will advance the cause of ID.”
Larry you missed the point entirely. It’s not that ID is “about God” but rather that Darwinism is. That is, one of the main reasons darwinism is so wide spread is not due to any science, but rather because of a commitment many hold to a philosophy which must exclude God at all cost.
More Darwinist SOP:
Darwinist Mike Dunford is incensed with the manner in which I quoted him in one of my recent posts. I pointed out, using Mr. Dunford’s own words, that the assertion that an understanding of natural selection was essential to laboratory research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics was inconsistent with the Darwinist assertion that the biological evidence for natural selection disproves the theory of intelligent design. It’s a fairly obvious point, when you think about it carefully, and it was refreshing that Mr. Dunford made the point in such a clear (if inadvertent) way. The observation is worth reviewing.
First, two definitions:
Natural selection is selection in nature, presumably arising without intelligent agency. An example of natural selection would be the differential reproduction of organisms in nature, without the evident guidance of an intelligent agent.
Artificial selection is selection caused by intelligent agency. An example of artificial selection would be the intentional breeding of bacteria by a scientist in a research lab.
The distinction between natural selection and artificial selection is at least matter of definition, and perhaps there are empirical differences as well.
What is the relationship between natural selection and artificial selection? There are two possibilities:
1) Natural selection is substantially different from artificial selection. If true, then breeding of bacteria in a research lab in order to study antibiotic resistance doesn’t depend substantially on the theory of natural selection.
2) Natural selection is substantially the same as artificial selection. If true, then breeding of bacteria in a research lab in order to study antibiotic resistance does depend substantially on the theory of natural selection. However, if natural selection is substantially the same as artificial selection, then biological change in nature (natural selection) is in some ways the same as biological change caused by intelligent agency (artificial selection). That’s an assertion that some of the evidence in evolutionary biology is consistent with intelligent design.
What did Mr. Dunford think of my observation about his argument? Mr. Dunford:
...when a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, it’s not committing an act of vandalism. It’s just being a dog. It’s possible to use that analogy to excuse a creationist who takes a quote wildly out of context, I suppose, but I don’t think it’s really appropriate. Creationists might indulge in quote mining with the same casual disregard for public decency as a male dog telling his neighbors that he’s still around, but, unlike dogs, the creationists are presumably capable of self-control...
Comentators on Mr. Dunford’s blog didn’t like my observation either. ‘GvlGeologist’, FCD, wrote:
Mike [Dunford], what are the chances that you could email Egnor directly and ask for an apology for the deliberate twisting of your posting, and CC it to other members of his department, especially the chair of neurosurgery?
Commentator ‘Paul Burnett’ suggested:
Write Egnor a simple one-page request for an apology, detailing his transgressions. Cc: everybody: The chair of neurosurgery, all the neurosurgeons, all the surgeons and anesthesiologists and other specialists, the nurses and office staff, the PR office, the accounting office, the local newspapers and TV stations, the DA and the Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau...wallpaper his world. Google his name to find his office(s) address(es), then Google the building(s) address(es) and sent a copy to everybody in his building(s). Find out every association he's a member of and send it to all the officers, past and present. Send it to the FBI, intimating he's Client Number 8 (naah, maybe that's too low.)
Commentator 'T. Bruce McNeely', a Darwinist pathologist/microbiologist, wrote
...if Dr. Egnor were practising at my hospital, I would be lobbying for suspension of his antimicrobial prescribing privileges.
The vituperation is remarkable. Simply expressing disagreement with Darwinian orthodoxy evokes ad hominem attacks and threats to one's reputation and livelihood. Yet there’s no reason to be so vindictive. I merely quoted Mr. Dunford’ own arguments, in a way that makes his logical structure clear. Mr. Dunford seems to have understood my point, and has followed with a much more thoughtful post about the role of Darwin's theory in antibiotic research. I agree with much of it.
Yet there is an important point that Mr. Dunford raises on which I disagree. He writes...
Darwinism cannot even explain biology. But now there is a scientific program starting up to use it to explain religion. Details here:
Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources. Moreover, unlike language, it is the subject of violent disagreements. Science has, however, made significant progress in understanding the biology of language, from where it is processed in the brain to exactly how it communicates meaning. Time, therefore, to put religion under the microscope as well.
To get some idea what you can expect,
For example, Jason Slone, a professor of religious studies at Webster University in St Louis, argues that people who are religious will be seen as more likely to be faithful and to help in parenting than those who are not. That makes them desirable as mates. He plans to conduct experiments designed to find out whether this is so. And, slightly tongue in cheek, Dr Wilson quips that “secularism is very maladaptive biologically. We're the ones who at best are having only two kids. Religious people are the ones who aren't smoking and drinking, and are living longer and having the health benefits.”
Okay, so, no worries Jason, we and our kids will bury you decent.
But that's not why we're religious.
See, materialist efforts to explain spirituality start from the assumption that there isn't really a spiritual world, that there isn't really any divine revelation. No one developed a spiritual life in response to anything that is actually out there.
Far from it, the materialist theory of religion, like the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution, will accept any fool theory as an alternative to that.
Which is why I don't have much time for it.
I used to be a warden at an Anglican church. There was nothing very unusual in people having genuine religious experiences that changed their lives that cannot be accounted for by some sociological or neurological theory. They encountered the Divine, and started to say things like "I forgive my enemies" because "No longer I, but Christ lives in me."
And if people don't want to study that, they don't want to study religion or spirituality.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
A well-written retrospective look at the genesis of our current financial follies.
Credit Default Swaps! You've got to like a derivative instrument ($45 trillion served!) with "Default" in the middle name...
But don't worry, they're only using 60 to 1 leverage. A small price to pay to make sure that all risk is neutralized so that profits can be made out of thin air!
But don't worry, they're only using 60 to 1 leverage. A small price to pay to make sure that all risk is neutralized so that profits can be made out of thin air!
Friday, March 21, 2008
I thought that John C. Wright already was Catholic, but as he announces here, he's coming into the Church at Easter Vigil (i.e. tomorrow). BTW, the title of this post is from something Wright said in the comment discussion to his post.
Now this is a sea change. Car manufacturers are actually swallowing the bitterness of lower sales rather than extending toxic loans. Unprecedented.
“The auto market is entering into a true recessionary phase, which is something we have not seen in the last 10 years,” said Bob Schnorbus, the firm’s chief economist.
With consumers short of cash and deep in debt, many prospective buyers are finding it difficult to secure financing for a new car. Automotive finance companies are fearful of repeating the mistakes of subprime lenders in the housing industry and are generally declining to make risky vehicle loans.
“We are faced with the dilemma of lowering our credit standards to put them in a car, or saying no,” said Michael J. Jackson, chairman of AutoNation, the largest auto retailer in the United States. “And we’re telling them no.”
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The compact fluorescent lightbulb has plenty of supporters in the environmental movement, even while concerns have grown about their disposal. CFLs contain mercury, and when the glass breaks, it spreads the toxic dust in the area. Boosters had previously dismissed concerns over the issue, but now researches worry about the collective effect their massive disposal will have on landfills once they start failing in large numbers:
Compact fluorescent light bulbs, long touted by environmentalists as a more efficient and longer-lasting alternative to the incandescent bulbs that have lighted homes for more than a century, are running into resistance from waste industry officials and some environmental scientists, who warn that the bulbs’ poisonous innards pose a bigger threat to health and the environment than previously thought. …
As long as the mercury is contained in the bulb, CFLs are perfectly safe. But eventually, any bulbs — even CFLs — break or burn out, and most consumers simply throw them out in the trash, said Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins University and editor of the journal Environmental Research.
“This is an enormous amount of mercury that’s going to enter the waste stream at present with no preparation for it,” she said.
Even a single CFL could provide toxic levels of exposure for mercury. One contains five milligrams of mercury, which would be enough to contaminate 6,000 gallons of drinking water. Low-mercury models have about one-sixth of the amount, but that’s still enough to contaminate 1,000 gallons. It makes the CFL one of the most toxic components of a household, one that causes kidney and brain damage when people get exposed to enough of it.
What happens when an incandescent bulb hits the floor? Simple: sweep it up, and try not to step on a shard of glass with bare feet. Here’s how people need to handle a broken CFL:
1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
2. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
3. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
4. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
5. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
6. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
7. Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
8. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing cleanup materials.
9. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a recycling center.
10. For at least the next few times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
11. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.
Er, that’s quite a commitment for a lightbulb. I have several of these around the house, and I had no idea that a break could require such an intense cleanup. Like others who bought these products, I hoped to save a little energy and drive down replacement costs.
And guess what — I can’t even throw these in the garbage, broken or unbroken. As MS-NBC reports, Minnesota requires that I take any CFLs to a disposal center certified to handle them. I didn’t know that until tonight, and I have no idea where such a center might be. It does make sense, though, considering the disposal issues involving mercury.
In other words, we have opted for a product that has much more impact on our environment and could turn households into toxic-waste sites to replace a product that uses a little more energy, a change driven ironically by environmentalists. What’s next — lead containers to replace Tupperware?
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Here's a piece that says the Fed's game is not creating inflation, but managing the inevitable deflation.
If there is anything remotely honest and rational about the world, I'd expect to see the parabolic commodity boom crash, as well as the stock market. There is simply no way that we can have a 12,000 DOW, $1,000 gold, $100 oil, and T-bills at 0.6%. This rubber band has got to snap, and soon.
But suddenly it appears that the Fed is concerned about inflation. From yesterday's statement:
Inflation has been elevated, and some indicators of inflation expectations have risen. The Committee expects inflation to moderate in coming quarters, reflecting a projected leveling-out of energy and other commodity prices and an easing of pressures on resource utilization. Still, uncertainty about the inflation outlook has increased. It will be necessary to continue to monitor inflation developments carefully.
While it isn't explicitly talking about doing anything, the Fed is telegraphing its concern about too much inflation. This is one of several clues that the Fed's next task will be to tackle the inflation problem. Another clue is that the Fed didn't lower rates the full 100 basis points that the market was expecting. Third, the Fed's myriad new "lending facilities" are addressed at liquidity, and are not inflationary, as this insightful piece shows. If the Fed were to start buying banks' subprime securities outright, that would be inflationary. The banks would have a reload of free money. But this way, the lending facilities are forcing banks to keep ownership of their rotten securities, and allowing them to write them down slowly over time. This is deflationary, but the Fed is attempting to create an orderly deflation.
Why deflate? There is simply too much debt in the system. I don't believe the Fed is stupid enough to believe that it can inflate forever. The dollar is at risk, and the dollar is the source of the Fed's and America's power. If we lose that, all is lost. The Fed's most important task must shift to saving the dollar by presiding over a managed deflation, economy be damned.
And lest you think that Wall Street banks will take their new found borrowings from the Fed's new lending facilities to go out and leverage up and party on like the old days, think again. The Fed has sent a loud and clear message with Sunday's ritual sacrifice of Bear Stearns.
That's right - ritual sacrifice. The Fed could have easily saved Bear if it had just given it access to borrow at the discount window. Investment banks have that access now, but poor Bear couldn't get the cash last week. Instead the Fed let JP Morgan eat Bear for dinner, in a shocking, brutal and bloody ceremony. The Fed even picked up the tab. Like all ritual sacrifices, the choice of the victim was random. It could have been any one of the banks on Wall Street. Confidence was crumbling across the board but it just happened to be that the bank run started at Bear Stearns. The purpose of the ceremony was to scare the crap out of all those watching. It was a display of Fed power both to the world and the rest of the banks on the street. To the world it was a statement that the Fed will protect the system. To the banks, it was a stark warning from the Godfather: "Forget moral hazard. If you f*ck up, you will be left with nothing. Do you understand me? Nothing!" Enough of the funny business that got Bear into trouble - everyone has to clean up their act, lest they too end up like the poor employees of Bear Stearns.
But this is highly deflationary. It means that banks, fearing for their very existence, have to cut back on all the crazy strategies of 100:1 leverage, exotic derivatives, etc. The Fed won't bail them out. But without all that funny leverage, how can markets keep going up? Answer: They can't, and I think today the market realized that. Across the board everything was down: Commodities crater as economic worries take hand
Oil futures lost 4.5% to end at $104.48 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its biggest daily loss since 1991. Gold for April delivery, which hit a record high of $1,034 an ounce Monday, plunged $59, or 5.9%, to finish at $945.30 an ounce, its biggest one-day drop since June of 2006. Wheat futures lost 7.7% to trade at $10.74 a bushel.
But surprise, surprise, surprise. The dollar finally had a little rally. Obviously one day does not a trend make. However, if the Fed is serious about restraining inflation, it has a very tight rope to walk. In this super leveraged world, just a tap on the inflation brake could send markets spiraling into a deflationary collapse. The Fed has got a huge challenge on its hands, managing an orderly deflation.
Market watchers take note. If deflation is beginning to spread beyond the housing market, we should start to see it reflected in the Dow soon.
If there is anything remotely honest and rational about the world, I'd expect to see the parabolic commodity boom crash, as well as the stock market. There is simply no way that we can have a 12,000 DOW, $1,000 gold, $100 oil, and T-bills at 0.6%. This rubber band has got to snap, and soon.
As feared, foreign bond holders have begun to exercise a collective vote of no confidence in the devaluation policies of the US government. The Federal Reserve faces a potential veto of its rescue measures.
Asian, Mid East and European investors stood aside at last week's auction of 10-year US Treasury notes. "It was a disaster," said Ray Attrill from 4castweb. "We may be close to the point where the uglier consequences of benign neglect towards the currency are revealed."
The share of foreign buyers ("indirect bidders") plummeted to 5.8pc, from an average 25pc over the last eight weeks. On the Richter Scale of unfolding dramas, this matches the death of Bear Stearns.
Rightly or wrongly, a view has taken hold that Washington is cynically debasing the coinage, hoping to export its day of reckoning through beggar-thy-neighbour policies.
It is not my view. I believe the forces of debt deflation now engulfing America - and soon half the world - are so powerful that nobody will be worrying about inflation a year hence...
Friday, March 14, 2008
Excellent post at Et-Tu. It resonates with a lot of the point I was trying make in this post.
Part of that might have been due to the normal spiritual dryness that most people experience at some point or another, and part is surely because I'm not a very "touchy feely" type of person. But there was another factor as well, possibly the biggest factor: I didn't understand that God is Love. Once I realized that you could replace the word "God" with the word "Love" in almost any instance, the problem behind a lot of my spiritual struggles became clear. For example:
"I'm seeking God" = "I'm seeking Love"
"I want to experience God" = "I want to experience Love"
"I want to know God" = "I want to know Love"
When I considered the statements on the left side of the equations, each sounded like a nebulous, intellectually difficult endeavor that would require lots of passive contemplation from an armchair; but when I considered the statements on the right side, each sounded like an exciting, intriguing endeavor that would require the active participation of my mind, heart and soul. I might not have felt like I knew much about experiencing God, but I did know a thing or two about experiencing love: I knew that you don't fall in love by reading about it in books. You don't increase the amount of love in your life by sitting back and waiting for others to make the first move.
It was when I stopped asking "How does one experience God?" and started asking "How does one experience Love?" that I began to really feel God working in my life.
Deferred consequences are a b*tch. We can only run and hide so long. The music is stopping:
Yippee. The Fed found a way to recapitalize the banks with permanent rotating loans and the public is none the wiser. The capital-starved banksters at Citi and Merrill must feel like they just won the lottery. Unfortunately, Bernanke's move effectively nationalizes the banks and makes them entirely dependent on the Fed's fickle generosity.
The New York Times Floyd Norris sums up Bernanke's efforts like this:
“The Fed’s moves today and last Friday are a direct effort to counter a loss of liquidity in mortgage-backed securities, including those backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Given the implied government guarantee of Freddie and Fannie, rising yields in their paper served as a warning sign that the crunch was worsening and investor confidence was waning. On Oct. 30, the day before the Fed cut the Fed funds rate from 4.75 per cent to 4.5 per cent, the yield on Fannie Mae securities was 5.75 percent. Today the Fed Funds rate is 3 per cent, and the Fannie Mae rate is 5.71 per cent, virtually the same as in October.....A sign of the Fed’s success, or lack of same, will be visible in that rate. It needs to come down sharply, in line with Treasury bond rates. Today, the rate was up for most of the day, but it did fall back at the end of the day. Watch that rate for the rest of the week to see indications of whether the Fed’s move is really working to restore confidence.”
Norris is right; it all depends on whether rates go down and whether that will rev-up the moribund housing market again. Of course, that is predicated on the false assumption that consumers are too stupid to know that housing is in its biggest decline since the Great Depression. Housing will not be resuscitated anytime in the near future, no matter what the conditions; and you can bet on that. The last time Bernanke cut interest rates by 75 basis points mortgage rates on the 30-year fixed actually went up a full percentage point. This had a negative affect on refinancing as well as new home purchases. The cuts were a total bust in terms of home sales.
Still, equities traders love Bernanke's antics and, for the next 24 hours or so, he'll be praised for acting decisively. But as more people reflect on this latest maneuver, they'll see it for what it really is; a sign of panic. Even more worrisome is the fact that Bernanke is quickly using every arrow in his quiver. Despite the mistaken belief that the Fed can print money whenever it chooses; there are balance sheets constraints; the Fed's largess is finite. According to MarketWatch:
"Counting the currency swaps with the foreign central banks, the Fed has now committed more than half of its combined securities and loan portfolio of $832 billion, Lou Crandall, chief economist for Wrightson ICAP noted. 'The Fed won't have run completely out of ammunition after these operations, but it is reaching deeper into its balance sheet than before."
Steve Waldman at interfluidity draws the same conclusion in his latest post:
“After the FAF expansion, repo program, and TSLF, the Fed will have between $300B and $400B in remaining sterilization capacity, unless it issues bonds directly.” (Calculated Risk)
So, Bernanke is running short of ammo and the housing bust has just begun. That's bad.
But that's only half the story. Bernanke and Co. are already working on a new list of hyper-inflationary remedies once the credit troubles pop up again. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Fed has other economy-busting scams up its sleeve:
“With worsening strains in credit market threatening to deepen and prolong an incipient recession, analysts are speculating that the Federal Reserve may be forced to consider more innovative responses -– perhaps buying mortgage-backed securities directly.
“As credit stresses intensify, the possibility of unconventional policy options by the Fed has gained considerable interest, said Michael Feroli of J.P. Morgan Chase. He said two options are garnering particular attention on Wall Street: Direct Fed lending to financial institutions other than banks and direct Fed purchases of debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by the two shareholder-owned, government-sponsored mortgage companies. ( “Rate Cuts may not be Enough”, David Wessel, Wall Street Journal)
Wonderful. So now the Fed is planning to expand its mandate and bail out investment banks, hedge funds, brokerage houses and probably every other brandy-swilling Harvard grad who got caught-short in the subprime mousetrap. Ain't the “free market” great?
In fact, Bernanke is destroying the currency by trying to reflate the equity bubble. And how much damage is he inflicting on the dollar? According to Bloomberg, “the risk of losses on US Treasury notes exceeded German bunds for the first time ever amid investor concern the subprime mortgage crisis is sapping government reserves....Support for troubled financial institutions in the U.S. will be perceived as a weakening of U.S. sovereign credit.''
America is going broke and the rest of the world knows it. Timothy Geithner, President of the New York Fed put it like this:
“The self-reinforcing dynamic within financial markets has intensified the downside risks to growth for an economy that is already confronting a very substantial adjustment in housing and the possibility of a significant rise in household savings. The intensity of the crisis is in part a function of the size of the preceding financial boom, but also of the speed of the deterioration in confidence about the prospects for growth and in some of the basic features of our financial markets. The damage to confidence—confidence in ratings, in valuation tools, in the capacity of investors to evaluate risk—will prolong the process of adjustment in markets. This process carries with it risks to the broader economy.”
Without a hint of irony, Geithner talks about the importance of building confidence on a day when the Fed has deliberately distorted the market by injecting $200 billion in the banking system and sending the flagging stock market into a steroid-induced rapture. Astonishing.
The stock market was headed for a crash this week, but Bernanke managed to swerve off the road and avoid a head-on collision. But nothing has changed. Foreclosures are still soaring, the credit markets are still frozen, and capital is being destroyed at a faster pace than any time in history. The economic situation continues to deteriorate and even unrelated parts of the markets have now been infected with subprime contagion. The massive deleveraging of the banks and hedge funds is beginning to intensify and will continue to accelerate until a bottom is found. That's a long way off and the road ahead is full of potholes.
"In the United States, a new tipping point will translate into a collapse of the real economy, final socio-economic stage of the serial bursting of the housing and financial bubbles and of the pursuance of the US dollar fall. The collapse of US real economy means the virtual freeze of the American economic machinery: private and public bankruptcies in large numbers, companies and public services closing down massively.” (Statement from The Global Europe Anticipation Bulletin (GEAB)
Is that too gloomy? Then take a look at these eye-popping charts which show the extent of the Fed's lending operations via the Temporary Auction Facility. The loans have helped to make the insolvent banks look healthy, but at great cost to the country's economic welfare. http://benbittrolff.blogspot.com/2008/03/really-scary-fed-charts-march.html
The Fed established the TAF in the first place; to put a floor under mortgage-backed securities and other subprime junk so the banks wouldn't have to try to sell them into an illiquid market at fire-sale prices. But the plan has backfired and now the Fed feels compelled to contribute $200 billion to a losing cause. It's a waste of time.
UBS puts the banks’ total losses from the subprime fiasco at $600 billion. If that's true, (and we expect it is) then the Fed is out of luck because, at some point, Bernanke will have to throw in the towel and let some of the bigger banks fail. And when that happens, the stock market will start lurching downward in 400 and 500 point increments. But what else can be done? Solvency can only be feigned for so long. Eventually, losses have to be accounted for and businesses have to fail. It's that simple.
So far, the Fed's actions have had only a marginal affect. The system is grinding to a standstill. The country's two largest GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are presently carrying $4.5 trillion of loans on their books, are teetering towards bankruptcy. Both are gravely under-capitalized and (as a recent article in Barron's shows) Fannies equity is mostly smoke and mirrors. No wonder investors are shunning their bonds. Additionally, the cost of corporate bond insurance is now higher than anytime in history, which makes funding for business expansion or new projects nearly impossible. The wheels have come of the cart. The debt markets are upside-down, consumer confidence is drooping and, as the Financial Times states, “A palpable sense of crisis pervades global trading floors.” It's all pretty grim.
The banks are facing a “systemic margin call” which is leaving them capital-depleted and unwilling to lend. Thus, the credit markets are shutting down and there's a stampede for the exits by the big players. Bernanke's chances of reversing the trend are nil. The cash-strapped banks are calling in loans from the hedge funds which is causing massive deleveraging. That, in turn, is triggering a disorderly unwind of trillions of dollars of credit default swaps and other leveraged bets. Its a disaster.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Florida Legislator Cites “Inherit the Wind” as Authority for Opposing Academic Freedom in Evolution Debate
Now we know where some Florida legislators who oppose academic freedom in the evolution debate are getting their ideas about evolution. And it’s not from any science textbook. It’s from the bombastic play Inherit the Wind, long discredited by historians for its fantasy version of the history of the Scopes trial.
Last week, Florida’s Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller cited Inherit the Wind in his attack on the proposed Academic Freedom Act in his state that would prevent teachers from being disciplined or terminated “for objectively presenting scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological or chemical evolution.”
According to the Tampa Tribune:
Geller … said he was reminded of his high-school days, when he took part in a production of “Inherit the Wind,” Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert E. Lee’s fictionalized drama about the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which a Tennessee teacher was tried for teaching evolution.
“I never thought I’d be in the Florida Senate in the 21st century, still having the same debate about evolution,” said Geller, adding he hopes Storms’ bill, which he called “divisive,” never gets heard in committee.
So Geller thinks he knows all there is to know about the evolution debate because he played a part in a high school production of Inherit the Wind?! What next? Will he claim he’s an expert about space exploration because he once dressed up as Mr. Spock at a Star Trek convention? It’s hard to parody the defenders of Darwin’s theory, because they go out of their way to make themselves so ridiculous.
Of course, Geller’s invocation of Inherit the Wind is also ironic because he seems oblivious to the main point of the play, which was that teachers should have the freedom to talk about unpopular ideas in the classroom. Yet now he’s invoking the play as a justification for opposing academic freedom!
Perhaps Geller might want to re-read the comments of teacher John Scopes himself, who once declared: “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought… I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory.”
Another John C. Wright tour de force. There is more before this section:
Can they not invent some new slander, at least?
The Abrahamic god, the “God of our fathers” (Goof), is a species attractor that I believe shows Dawkins’ genocentric view of Darwinian evolution to be essentially correct. Once you see that, you cannot naively believe in Goof. You can accept its power, just as you can accept the power of hunger as a behavioral driver, but understanding drives out superstition.
That is the whole of the entry for that day: perhaps further explanation or support exist on other entries, or unwritten in his mind, but at this point, my faith in Mr. Ross's reasoning powers, or his ability to express himself clearly, is undermined.
I mean, this is a guy who rejects superstition, but believes in the genocentric view of Darwinian evolution, that little bits of twisted matter in my cells make me believe in God, but SOMETHING ELSE, allows him to have "understanding" that drives out that belief.
I suppose his world view would be shattered if he discovered that disbelief in God were based on a defective gene, or an atrophy of the part of the brain that senses such things.
Imagine the blind man who discovered these little round wet balls in the faces of everyone but himself. He would, as a faithful and unquestioning materialist, conclude that these balls of matter were influencing the brains of the sighted people; there is even a nerve cord running from the matter ball to the brain! "No wonder you believe in Light, that most naïve of superstitions! Those little balls on the front of your face are sending signals into your brains. My face is not defective like yours; my powers of understanding allow me to overcome this absurd belief in "Light", or, as I like to calling it, the Luminous Spaghetti Monster."
Unfortunately for the genocentric theory, genes interact in complex ways to produce phenotypes, and the relation between phenotype and behavior is unexplained, to say the least (even identical twins do not have the same personalities or values). If genes act in concert to produce outcomes, then the outcomes cannot be reduced to single or selfish gene levels. Using genes as the basis or ultimate explanation of human behavior is about as simplistic an idea as astrology, which used the positions of planets in the zodiac to explain human behavior.
Of course, in astrology theory, it was postulated that influences from the stars showered down from heaven and changed the souls and destinies of men born on earth, one spiritual substance impressing another spiritual substance. Astrologers had an explanation, albeit a false once, how the astral powers of the stars could effect the soul of man. But in the genocentric view, there is no explanation, no influence, no mechanism even postulated to explain how the neuro chemical make-up of the human organism leads, or can possibly lead, to magical influences over a man's nature and destiny.
I was once an atheist and now I am a Christian. Did my genes change? Was there a hidden chemical in my brain that waited until I was 42 before it released its mystical philosophy-changing power? Which gene, precisely, makes me worship Jehovah but not Jove?
And what makes you atheists think your genes are not the defective ones, that you are missing something the rest of us have? Since atheists range from Objectivists to Marxists to Nihilists, the absence of the God-gene seems not to have given your tribe any particular insight or skepticism in any other area: you are a remarkably gullible lot, if you consider all the branches of the atheist race. Think of how many of your fellow atheists believed everything Stalin said.
(I call you a race and a tribe, because, logically, if you are missing the God-gene then you must be related by blood to a common ancestor, the first mutant born with the God-Gene missing, possibly Epicurus. I mean, we all know all Black people are Baptists and all Jews are Devoutly Jewish, right? So clearly denomination is an inherited characteristic like eye color!)
You had better hope your theory is wrong, O ye materialists, because if it is true, all that will result is that the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (or whoever is put in charge of gene-programming for the Brave New World) will inject you with the Christianity gene, the "doctrine of nonresistance" strain, and you will then believe that obedience to civil authority is an absolute and unmitigated duty.
You see, if the religion gene is something that natural selection has overwhelmingly made dominant in the human genome, what grounds do we have for assuming that the natural processes behind political and cultural evolution will not likewise favor that same gene? What use is it to throw off the superstition gene, O Darwinist, if the net result is that your fertility rates drop below the fertility rates of your more superstitious and more numerous neighbors?
Come, let us reason together: if the content of the human brain is determined by the composition of his genes, what cause have we to believe that this belief (or any other) deserves our loyalty if it does not survive the brutal test of survival of the fittest?
If the Creationists are more fit to survive, if they prove to be the tougher breed, and if you nonetheless think their beliefs do not deserve our assent, then you tacitly admit that something other then the gene-determined content of the thought is worthy of assent.
This admission, tacit or not, is fatal to the materialist argument: because once you say a person should believe what is true due and only due to the "truth value" of the belief, you admit, nay, you make it a moral imperative, that something other than gene-content determines belief.
In other words, saying that religion is caused by genetics is a slur, nothing else. It is an ad Hominem attack, and a clumsy one at that. "Your beliefs are not rational, because all beliefs are caused by behavioral determinants in the genes. My beliefs are rational, however, because I believe what is true for the sake of truth." Well, a ghost (who has no genes) debating with a robot (who only believes what he is programmed) might be able to make that statement, for these creatures occupy two different metaphysical and ontological conditions. For we humans, occupying the human condition, the statement cannot be made.
A guy who believes in astrology is a paragon of reason compared to this nonsense. The astrology nut at least has a theory open to some sort of proof and disproof: merely have a baby born on another planet in the solar system, where the planets are not aligned in the zodiac as on Earth, and see the results in the baby's personality and behavior.
The gene nut has no theory open to disproof: he merely postulates that human thinking is the epiphenomenon of genetic code, and he postulates no mechanism, no medium, by which the matter-bits in his genes are translated to the personality types in human nature. It is not open to disproof because it is not a theory, merely an assertion.
Yet Another Rules-Based MSM Discussion of Mortal and Venial Sin
What is absent from all this is any concept of life in Christ as *relationship*. All you get are rules, written on a card and magnetized to the refrigerator. Break rules on card A and the Divine Administrator puts in the record that you are slated for Hell. Break rules on Card B and the Divine Administrator marks you down. Earn enough infractions and the Sin Monitor Task Force transfers your name to the Go to Hell file. However, if you do the theological equivalent of filling out a waiver by going to confession, the Divine Adminstrator will, for inscrutable reasons, round file your sin folder and let you start over. The goal of the Christian life, therefore is to die with your sin folder empty. Then God has to let you into heaven, which is this beautiful place that has nothing to do with Him really. It's just a really pretty park where your favorite people have been standing around waiting for you to arrive. The notion that a life of virtue spent trying to cultivate a *relationship* with God never enters into the picture. It's just a question of keeping and breaking rules. And nobody really knows why one rule is more important than another. Indeed, some of the rules appear (to us moderns) to have nothing whatever do with anything. A mortal sin to miss Mass? Why? That one must have been stuck in by the Church to try to control people. Hey! Everybody lusts. Downgrade that one to venial. And if we are going to have rule to control people, why not putt something in there about SUVs. Destroying the earth is more serious than missing Mass!
In the same way, hell seems to have nothing to do with *relationship* in the modern mind. I constantly meet people who seem to think of Hell as an absurdly sadistic overreaction by a touchy God who get irrationally angry when people don't keep his arbitrary rules. Or else its something that falls on the head of innocent people like a safe, destroying them for no reason. The notion that Hell has everything to do with *relationship*: that it is the "definitive self-exclusion" of a soul from the society of God never seems to occur to anybody. Having lived through the 20th Century, having seen a soul like Hitler's look around at a world he destroyed and declare that it was everybody else's fault but his, postmoderns can still somehow take seriously the notion that the human heart is incapable of walling itself off from relationship with God and man in pride.
In short, people don't seem to grasp that Heaven is simply the fruit of a life that pursues relationship with God on His terms and Hell is simply the fruit of a life that pursues its own course on our terms. Mortal and venial sins are useful distinctions, to be sure. But if you turn them into another way of trying to be saved by law, you are stone deaf to the most elementary teaching of the gospel: that only Christ, not law, can save us.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
In a private forum a question was recently posed:
At what point the police should stop investigating an unsolved murder and close the case, declaring that God must have simply wanted the victim dead? It is the same point at which it is appropriate to tell scientists to stop looking for explanations and simply conclude “God did it”.
Well, in practice they stop investigating when the evidence goes cold (the trail of evidence stops in an inconclusive state).
In the investigation into the origin and diversification of life the trail of evidence hasn’t gone cold. The trail begins with ancient scientist/philosophers looking at macroscopic features of life like the camera eye and saying it looks like it was designed. Opposing this was the assertion that the appearance of design is an illusion. Bringing us up to the current day the illusion of design hasn’t gone away. No matter how much further detail (evidence) we get the illusion of design persists. At the molecular level the illusion of design is even stronger than at the macroscopic level. Darwin’s simple blobs of protoplasm was emphatically wrong. What we see in the finest level of detail is even more complex machinery than a camera eye, increasingly more difficult to explain as an accident of law and chance.
A more salient question about murder investigations is when do the police, when they have a dead body with a knife in its back, throw up their hands and declare it an accident? The answer is they don’t. Unlike evolutionists, when police are confronted with an “illusion of design” that doesn’t go away in light of all the available evidence they continue calling it a murder (death by design) with an appended qualifier - unsolved murder. Too bad evolutionists aren’t more like police investigators and less like story tellers with delusions of grandeur.
"Has There Ever Been A More Demonstrable Refutation Of Progressivism Than These Swooning Ninnies In The Thrall Of Obama?"
Great rant. It begins:
The Obama crush is a phenomenon apparently affecting millions of women. Many may be in the voting public next November.
For nearly four decades, I have waited to witness incontrovertible, public proof that traditional women are not the witless nincompoops that radical, leftist feminists have made us out to be, and now I have it.
We traditional women, mostly Republican, are the ones who wisely chose solid husbands, stayed married, built healthy homes and raised independent, self-motivated, morally upright children with strong characters. We've also done the bulk of the volunteer service work in our communities and schools, in our churches and our synagogues.
And we did all of this to a constant barrage from our "more enlightened" Sisters, who have called us in print, and often even to our faces, ignorant slaves, shallow princesses, dependent doormats and mental cases.
But lo and behold, without a single bit of effort on our parts, the very proof positive that we were not the dumb women after all, has magically landed right in our laps. We get to see it every day on our televisions, on the internet, in the newspapers, and especially on You Tube.
It's Obama Crush Mania.
And liberal women are leading the Obama Crush pack...
Monday, March 10, 2008
Stanley Fish in the NYT:
Why I Write These Columns
Every once in a while I feel that it might be helpful to readers if I explained what it is I am trying to do in these columns. It is easier to state the negative: For the most part, it is not my purpose in this space to urge positions, or come down on one side or the other of a controversial question. Of course, I do those things occasionally and sometimes inadvertently, but more often than not I am analyzing arguments rather than making them; or, to be more precise, I am making arguments about arguments, especially ones I find incoherent or insufficiently examined.
When I find an argument incoherent, it is not because I find the argument on the other side persuasive; although that is the assumption made by those who lambaste me for being a conservative or a liberal, a hopeless fuddyduddy or a corrosive postmodernist, and address me in the confidence that they know on what end of the ideological or moral spectrum I am to be found.
But, in fact, a reader of a typical “Think Again” column will have no idea at all where I stand on the issues that catch my attention, because at least for the length of the column (as opposed to real life, which is much longer), I am agnostic on those issues and interested only in the way they are playing out in our present cultural moment. When, for example, I wrote three columns criticizing the atheist tracts written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, I was motivated not by a belief in God — which I may or may not have, you’ll never know — but by what I took to be sloppy, schoolboy reasoning that was passing itself off as wisdom. I could have been an atheist myself, and I still would have found the so-called logic of these books weak and risible...
Amusing Reuters story. Contains some Chuck Norris facts I hadn't yet heard:
A very unusual article for Reuters. It's almost like they have a smidgeon of affection with US troops and Iraqis:
"The fastest way to a man's heart is with Chuck Norris's fist," reads one message at the shrine, which consists of a signed photo of the actor surrounded by similar statements.
"Chuck Norris puts the laughter in manslaughter," reads one and "Chuck Norris divides by zero," reads another.
Known as Chuck Norris "facts," the claims have already become an Internet phenomenon, and scores are featured on www.chucknorrisfacts.com, including "Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas," and "There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Chuck Norris lives in Oklahoma."
A very unusual article for Reuters. It's almost like they have a smidgeon of affection with US troops and Iraqis:
Norris' appeal is not restricted to U.S. troops either. At an Iraqi police graduation ceremony in Falluja, graduates called out for their "Chuck Norris" to pose with them for photos.
"Truthfully, I didn't know who he was. I asked the Americans, and they said he was a great fighter, and that's why they named me after him. They showed me a video, and it's true, he's a great fighter" said police trainer Mohammed Rasheed.
With his handle-bar moustache, Rasheed has a vague resemblance to Norris.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
From the Et-Tu? blog:
It wasn't until I re-evaluated the societal views of sex that had permeated the consciousness of my peer group, took a new look at the modern assumptions about the act that creates those fetuses in the first place, that I was able to let go of that internal pressure I felt, and to take an unflinching look at my views on abortion.
The contraceptive mentality
Here are four key memories that give a glimpse into how my understanding of sex was formed:
* When I was a kid, I didn't have any friends who had baby brothers or sisters in their households. One friend's mom was pregnant when we were twelve, but I moved before the baby was born. To the extent that I ever heard any of our parents talk about pregnancy and babies, it was to say that they were happy that they were "done," the impression being that they could finally start living now that that pregnancy/baby unpleasantness was over.
* In sex ed class we learned not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies. After we were done putting condoms on bananas, our teacher counseled us that we should carefully decide when we might be ready to have sex based on important concerns like whether or not we were in committed relationships, whether or not we had access to contraception, how our girlfriends or boyfriends treated us, whether we wanted to wait until marriage, etc. I do not recall hearing readiness to have a baby being part of a single discussion about deciding when to have sex, whether it was from teachers or parents or society in general. Not once.
* On multiple occasions when I was a young teen I recall hearing girls make the comment that they would readily risk dangerous back-alley abortions or even consider suicide if they were to face unplanned pregnancies and abortion wasn't legal. Though I was not sexually active, it sounded perfectly reasonable to me -- that is how much we desired not to have babies before we were ready. Yet the concept of just not having sex if we weren't ready to have babies was never discussed. It's not that we had considered the idea and rejected it; it simply never occurred to us.
* Even recently, before our marriage was validated in the Catholic Church my husband and I had to take a course about building good marriages. It was a video series by a nondenominational Christian group, and in the segment called "Good Sex" they did not mention children or babies once. In all the talk about bonding and back rubs and intimacy and staying in shape, the closest they came to connecting sex to the creation of life was to briefly say that couples should discuss the topic of contraception.
Sex could not have been more disconnected from the concept of creating life.
The message I'd heard loud and clear was that the purpose of sex was for pleasure and bonding, that its potential for creating life was purely tangential, almost to the point of being forgotten about altogether. This mindset laid the foundation of my views on abortion. Because I saw sex as being closed to the possibility to life by default, I thought of pregnancies that weren't planned as akin to being struck by lightning while walking down the street -- something totally unpredictable, undeserved, that happened to people living normal lives.
Being pro-choice for me (and I'd imagine with many others) was actually motivated out of love and caring: I just didn't want women to have to suffer, to have to devalue themselves by dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Because it was an inherent part of my worldview that everyone except people with "hang-ups" eventually has sex and sex is, under normal circumstances, only about the relationship between the two people involved, I got lured into one of the oldest, biggest, most tempting lies in human history: to dehumanize the enemy. Babies had become the enemy because of their tendencies to pop up and ruin everything; and just as societies are tempted to dehumanize the fellow human beings who are on the other side of the lines in wartime, so had I, and we as a society, dehumanized the enemy of sex.
It was when I was reading up on the Catholic Church's view of sex, marriage and contraception that everything changed.
I'd always thought that those archaic teachings about not using contraception were because the Church wanted to oppress people by telling them to have as many kids as possible, or something like that. What I found, however, was that their views expressed a fundamentally different understanding of what sex is, and once I heard it I never saw the world the same way again. The way I'd always seen it, the standard position was that babies were a horrible burden, except for a couple times in life when everything is perfect enough that a couple might temporarily see new life as a good thing; the Catholic view is that the standard position is that babies are a blessing and a good thing, and while it's fine to attempt to avoid pregnancy for serious reasons, if we go so far as to adopt a "contraceptive mentality," feeling entitled to the pleasure of sex while loathing (and perhaps trying to forget all about) its life-giving properties, we not only disrespect this most sacred of acts, but we begin to see new life as the enemy.
To use a rough analogy, the Catholic Church was saying that loaded guns are not toys, that while they can perhaps be used for certain recreational activities, they are always to be handled with grave respect; my viewpoint, coming from contraceptive culture, was that it's fine to use loaded guns as toys as long as you [are reasonably certain that you have] put blanks in the chamber. Thinking of that analogy, expecting to be able to use something with incredible power nonchalantly, as a toy, I could see how that worldview had set us up for disaster.
I came to see that our culture's widespread use and acceptance of contraception had led to the "contraceptive mentality" toward sex being the default position. As a society, we'd come to take it for granted that we're entitled to the pleasurable and bonding aspects of sex even when we're in a state of being vehemently opposed to the new life it might produce. The option of abstaining from the act that creates babies if we're in a state of seeing babies as a huge burden had been removed from our cultural lexicon: even if it would be a huge crisis to get pregnant, we have a right to go ahead and have sex anyway. If this were true, if it was indeed a fact that it was morally OK for people to have sex even when they believed that a new baby could ruin their lives, in my mind, then, abortion had to be OK.
I realize that ideally I would have taken an objective look at when human life begins and based my views on that alone...but the lie was just too tempting. I didn't want to hear too much about heartbeats or souls or brain activity...terminating pregnancies just had to be OK, because carrying a baby to term and becoming a parent is a huge deal...and society had made it very clear that sex is not a huge deal. As long as I accepted that for people to engage in sex in a contraceptive mentality was morally OK, I could not bring myself to even consider that abortion might not be OK. It just seemed too inhumane to make women deal with life-altering consequences for an act that was not supposed to have life-altering consequences.
So this idea that we are always to treat the sexual act with awe and respect, so much so that we should simply abstain if we're vehemently opposed to its life-giving potential, was a totally new and different message. For me, being able to honestly consider when life begins, opening my heart and my mind to the wonder and dignity of even the tiniest of my fellow human beings, was not fully possible until I understood the nature of the act that creates these little lives in the first place.
Throughout the years, I have noticed a pattern that occurs when arguing with various critics – rather than focus and deal with the actual argument I am making, they are arguing against a point that they anticipate I will make later down the line. To argue like this, I assume they think they are relying on their foresight, but more often than not, they are simply relying on stereotypes. So what would it be like to play chess with someone like that?
Mike moves his bishop.
Critic thinks: “Aha, I’ve seen this move before! I know what he is up to.” Critic moves his rook.
Mike moves his knight.
Critic speaks: What are you doing?
Mike: Playing chess?
Critic: I know that. But you are not supposed to move your knight. You are supposed to move the queen!
Mike: I am?
Critic: Yes, I’ve seen this move before. I’ve played with lots of people like you before and you all move the queen.
Mike: But I don’t want to move the queen. I want to move the knight.
Critic: Okay, now you are lying.
Critic: You know you want to move your queen, but won’t admit it!
Mike: No, I want to move the knight.
Critic: Liar. I told you, I’ve played with lots of people like you before and you ALL move the queen.
Mike: But I am not those other people.
Critic: That was a cheap shot! Why don’t you just play the game instead of psychologizing me?
Mike: Look, perhaps we shouldn’t play anymore.
Critic: Why? Are you afraid you’ll lose? Your type always does, you know?
Mike: No, because it looks like you can play this game by yourself. [Gets up and walks away]
Critic: Aha! Once you figured out that I knew you wanted to move the queen, you walk away. See ya later. Loser.
Friday, March 07, 2008
John C. Wright:
A reader has a question about this statement, which I quoted with favor: "When a civilization can't even take pride in a fight related to its own survival, that civilization is in a heap of trouble." He asks:
"How is our survival in jeopardy? Radical Islamists are the equivalent of White Anarchists. Neither is likely to have so much impact as to endanger our very survival. If you're reference is to more potential attacks on our soil wouldn't you agree that nearly 1M deaths (retribution in Iraq / Afghanistan?) is pride enough?"
The fight in question was driving the Moors from Andalusia, which was indeed a fight for survival. If the Spaniards cannot take pride in that, they are in a heap of trouble.
But a larger question is raised about the degree of the threat to the West posed by the Jihad.
Our survival is in jeopardy because this war is entirely psywar, not a physical war except in the most trivial sense. If I may be permitted the expression, it is a spiritual war.
See, for example, this comment by Mark Steyn:
A while back I mentioned Harvard's decision to ban men from its pool and fitness center six times a week in the interests of "accommodating" Muslim women. Our pal Michael Graham picks up the theme:
In the old days, Harvard would have laughed if some Catholic or evangelical mother urged “girls-only” campus workouts in the name of modesty. Today, Harvard happily implements Sharia swim times in the name of Mohammed.
At Harvard, that’s called progress.
Well put. And thus "progress" comes full circle. In Minneapolis last year, the airport licensing authority, faced with a mainly Muslim crew of cab drivers refusing to carry the blind, persons with six-packs of Bud, slatternly women, etc, proposed instituting two types of taxis with differently colored lights, one of which would indicate the driver was prepared to carry members of identity groups that offend Islam. Forty years ago, advocating separate drinking fountains made you a racist. Today, advocating separate taxi cabs or separate swimming sessions makes you a multiculturalist.
Note there was is going on. The Jihadists do not need to take and hold territory by military means. All they need do is cow a sufficient number of people to make a sufficient number of concessions to them, in order to propagate their culture as the norm, and relegate our culture to a secondary status. They can afford to wait for demographics to do the rest.
Do you think of the Anarchists of the last century had been facing a culture as morally and mentally bankrupt as ours, and had been funded by oil money, and had been aided and applauded at every turn by appeasers, fellow travelers, and useful idiots, that they would have had so little impact on history? Myself, I would think the Bolsheviks to be a closer parallel than the Anarchists, and Islam is a larger and older religion than the Communist movement ever commanded, and build on sounder principles than Communism.
The Muslim Jihad are an existential threat in the same way the German barbarians were a threat to the Roman empire. The German tribes simply did not have the manpower or military might to defeat the Empire, until the years came when the Empire, split in two, economically crippled, overtaxed and overregulated, was dying of myriad internal causes. The difference is that the Germans were willing to adopt the laws and religion of Rome, and to be civilized. The Jihad does not want that, they want the opposite.
The fellow-travelers and collaborators among the West who favor the Jihad, also want the downfall, not of civilization, but of the traditions, virtues, philosophies and values that are necessary preconditions to civilization, but which the they, for some odd reason, regard as optional, or even dismiss as a barrier to progress.
So, your question is a red herring. The survival of the West is not in jeopardy, if by that we mean the Jihadists will wipe out the White Races as sailors wiped out the dodo. The survival of the West as an institution, as a culture, as a people, is very much in question, particularly if we examine, not what is likely to happen within a decade, but what is likely to happen in a century.
We do not have the will to fight. The dominant social philosophy of the West is no longer Christianity, which can serve, if need be, as a fine warrior's religion, but is hedonism, which can never serve, by its very nature, as anything but a peacetime philosophy forever operating toward the disunion and disintegration of society.
Three hundred epicureans and playboys cannot face three hundred Spartans, because the epicureans are only individuals, atoms without bonds, whereas the Spartans are a machine.
The war is a spiritual one, fought by ideas. Islam is an ancient religion with a backbone of strength to it. Modern secular humanism is a threadbare philosophy, a hulk of exhausted promises and lies, that inspires neither loyalty nor zeal.
Do you think three hundred men who think that they are no better than monkeys or meat-robots, men loyal to no ideal nobler than self-interest rightly understood, can face three hundred Holy Warriors animated by an unearthly hope of paradise? Their eyes are set on nothing of this world; therefore nothing in the world can deter them.