30 March 2007

A (long overdue) retraction

This is the substance of a comment (here) in response to the visitor I have taken to calling Q. Given it’s nature it really belongs right here on the front page. So here it is.

Q writes, among other things:"What is even a bigger demonstration of your intellectual dishonesty is that when I do, you then ignore it."

I can't think of a single comment you've ever posted to which I have not responded, usually point by point. Clearly you think I don't succeed. But ignore you? If it has happened, it certainly hasn't been intentional.Intellectual honesty is a pursuit of mine. It's one of the reasons I blog. I read your comments at least twice. If I fail at intellectual honesty that also is not intentional.You know, I can see that you have been angry with me since I linked to the Paul Belien article (here), and then subsequently had the temerity to suggest that Europeans are all a bunch of Paris Hiltons. I don't really think that. In a moment of haste, I had the idea and posted it without giving due consideration to how it would come across. I understand now, especially seeing that you yourself are a former soldier, how insulting that suggestion was. (I'm sure I know how insulting I would find it.) At the time, what I was thinking was "If what Belien says is true, then why should it be?" But to suggest cowardice and "bimbo-ness" so indiscriminately -- not one of my better moments.Sometimes one does, or says, something which seems like a good idea, or seems funny, at the time, but in retrospect really wasn't.I repent. For whatever that's worth to you.

Now that isn’t going to resolve all of the difficulties he and I have. I remain sceptical of the scientific credentials of any theory of origins. He says it’s because I don’t understand science. That’s as it may be. I still think that ‘Scudderite’ is an appropriate (but not unsulting) term to use in reference to Democrats, who, I sincerely believe, are a party whose attitude towards property rights is precisely that they exist at the pleasure of those who do not seize property. It’s not intended as an insult; it’s intended to be decription-by-allusion. I still believe that all people have presuppositions, or pre-rational intellectual commitments. I believe that belief in God is one such commitment; so is dis-belief in God. I also persist in my belief that asserting “Belief in P is presuppositional” is not affirming the consequent.

I admit to being sarcastic. I admit to coming on strong. But I do not view these as sinful, and thereore inconsistent with my profession of Christian faith.

An insult, however, (such as calling the general population of an entire continent a bunch of Paris Hilton’s) is a different matter entirely. I retract the assertion.

Finally, Q seems to be of the understanding that I think once I've posted it here that's the end of it. Any statements of fact I make are incontrovertibly true; any arguments I make (or attempt, however poorly) are irrefutable. Such is not the case.

One asserts what one believes to be the facts as well as one can establish them to best extent possible. Then one awaits correction. One proffers one's best arguments (even if those 'best' are actually the worst). Then one awaits refutation.

The fact that I've written here doesn't mean I believe that's the end of discussion. Quite the contrary, in fact. I merely think of myself as beginning a discussion, or taking up one that is ongoing. If it meant that I wouldn't allow comments to be posted here; and I certainly would not respond to them.

Again: For whatever all this is worth.
If you’ve ever had any interest in studying the law, here’s an interesting, if unorthodox “aptitude” test.

Ann Althouse’s blog.
27 March 2007

Shoot the hostage(s)!

Prime Minister Blair hopes he can get the Iranians to realize they have to release the hostages. I'm just wondering: What if they don't?

My wife and I watched "Speed" again last week, so I have a variation on an idea: Shoot the hostage.

Only as a last resort, of course.

And I'm not being cavalier. When I was in the Army, with the Iran Hostage Crisis still a fresh memory, some buddies and I were up late one night in a bar. Some of those present were Vietnam vets. As can happen talk turned to situations such as those British sailors now find themselves in. We all of us agreed that if it came to it we'd prefer that our government launch a rescue attempt and, if it came to it, destroy the facility we were being held in. "We're cavalry," one of the Vietnam vets said, "we eat our dead." (He may have had a bit too much to drink.)

Of course, someone said that if we were being held by muslims, the facility would probably be a kindergarten.

I know: I still sound cavalier. But it's not like I'm suggesting doing something the Iranians might do. If the situation were reversed, they'd find some Brit somewhere in the world and slice his head off, maybe. Besides, I'm tongue in cheek here. I don't really think the British should "shoot the hostages." My point is just that I think the British will sooner end this hostage crisis by "shooting the hostages" than by negotiating with Iran. Even if successful on this occasion, in the long run it tells the Iranians they can commit an act of war with impunity.

That conversation in the bar, however, really did happen.
Sean Penn wants to know how, if the President’s daughters support his policy in Iraq, they dare not be in uniform.


On his ‘logic’ (I’m being generous) everyone who thinks we’re doing the right thing in Iraq ought to be in uniform. Of course, that won’t leave too many here doing the work that yields the paychecks from which come the tax revenues which will pay for this war, and everything else the federal government does. It won’t leave too many here buying tickets to Sean Penn’s movies, or anyone else’s.

I said I was being generous. Actually, there’s precious little logic in Penn’s remark on that point. How would it really work out if you could not assert your support for an activity unless you could actually participate in that activity? I support Isreal, but I'm not moving there.

Let’s say that there are people in uniform in Iraq, and that they are in uniform because, among other reasons, they support the President’s policy in Iraq. If the fact that the President’s daughters are not in uniform tells against the rightness – from Penn’s perspective – of his Iraq policy doesn’t it stand to reason that anyone in uniform who does support the policy tells in favor of the policy? I bet Penn would say no, and wouldn’t even notice the inconsistency. (That frequently happens with people who mistake their emoting with logical reasoning.) No one who favors the policy, even if he wears a military uniform, counts in favor of the policy, I suppose.

We know that there are people in uniform in Iraq who support the President’s policy. Why is it that those people never, ever count for anything when Penn and his ilk speak against the war? Why is it that the only people who count are those who (a) are in uniform but oppose the Iraq policy, and (b) those who support the policy but are not in uniform? But those who (c) are in uniform and (d) support the policy never, EVER!!!, count for a thing when Penn and his fellow travelers speak against the war. The people who are in uniform and want to be there; the amputees who want to go back – they don’t count.

Sean Penn wants to hear from the President about his daughters. I’d like to hear from Penn about those other people in uniform, whose votes – cast in blood, in many cases – in favor of the policy, never, ever count for him and his friends. People like the
Tanker Brothers and friends.

If it is irrelevant to Penn, as it seems to be, that there are people in uniform (and veterans) who support the President’s Iraq policy, then it ought to be equally as irrelevant that the President’s daughters, even if they support the policy, are not.
I heard Laura Ingraham and Michael Ledeen admit (during the first hour of her show) that they both had been rooting for Texas Tech early in the tournament. This of course was because they both Coach Knight.

Me too, on both counts.

But, of course, I'm more than just a little partial.
24 March 2007


I conceived this poem during an episode of CSI involving a schizophrenic woman. At the end of the episode, Grissom is talking to the woman about how she lives. She just goes around picking up things and putting them into her cart. When Grissom asks her how long she thinks she might be at this she says until she finds the "last thing." And then what, he aks. "And then," she says, "rest," with the same look on her face, and in the same tone of voice she might have had if she had said, "And then I'll marry the man of my dreams." Note: Use of the first person personal pronoun does not mean that this is somehow autobiographical. Thought you'd like to know.


a poem

Why literature,
she asks, in a clean
well-lit place,
bleary eyed
from study of topics
that never concern her,
or burn her heart
within her,
in wonder over-riding
the body's need for sleep,
for food or drink.

To fill the cart, I say.

Don't you want
to get ahead?


A question!

As if being qua being
is not pointless
as long as one is employed,
being about the business
of getting ahead
of the pointless,
one step away
from the nada.

As if being on about
something is anything

to be on about,
rather than the raw
pursuit of answers to questions.
(Aye, there's a bit of a rub:
as if being one with an answer
is less pointless than pointless being!)

Is the unexamined
really so unworthy?

And so I push my bag-filled cart
here and there and everywhere,
in search of anything
superior to a cart
full of notes and quotes,
from hundreds of books
I’ve read leading
one day maybe
to some overwhelming conclusion,
the answer to it all.

We believe Darwin
because the contrary
does not comport
with our sexual mores,

and the examined life
is impossible

and I believe I’m reading Plato
despite the fact
that its been copied
and translated
over and over and
commitment to states' rights
necessarily requires as a matter
of strict logic a commitment
to slavery, and I wonder why
it makes sense to some
to talk about laws of nature?
if not hasty generalization,
universal affirmative propositions
(in the indicative mood no less)
derived from particular.

A single event in and of itself
cannot form sufficient grounds

--search your feelings
you know this to be true--

for any hypothesis, but I know
a succession of experiments
performed over an arbitrarily selected
period of time is first an hypothesis
and then a theory and then
at another arbitrarily selected


point in time treated as a fact.
And from the stuff in my cart
I know there’s no difference,
between a single occurrence
and a hundred

-- yes, I know this much
is true--

And no one ever sees;
no one’s ever seen
a cause or necessary connection.

See the solution!

But I know there is cause,

So we can assert universal affirmatives
as the best explanation of the particular,
the impossibility of the contrary,
Kant's transcendental logic

--it's so elegant,
oh, so intelligent.

And when I reflect that God is just
and that his justice cannot rest forever
I tremble for my nation,
and wonder about the big bang,
the break down
of the laws of nature,
the singularity,
which raises the question
since there can be no cause or effect
what caused the bang, and
we know,
we think,
how it all began
how will it end?

With the sound
of disco music
and porn stars’
heavy breathing,
I suspect.

And why do people act
as if we elect a fisher-king
who gives to us health
and wealth and long life, making us
to live long and prosper
of his own super-intending,
life enhancing
chief-executive will.

Can he make the troubled waters

Can he make my beloved
love me back?

Structurally speaking
everything’s literature;
"All writing is rhetoric."
(Somewhere I read that
and stuffed the note
into my cart.)

And why did the more Christian
east outlast the less Christian
west by a thousand years
if Christianity was the cause;
and can the filioque
really have anything
to do with why Istanbul
was once Constantinople--
before she got the works?

Can we ask the Turks?

Seeking some justification I,
like a schizophrenic bagman,
push my note-stuffed inquiring cart
up and down the streets
and in and out of the alleys
of the republic picking up
bits and pieces
of this and that
(wheat and chaff)
little facts
(a groat’s worth of wit)

--the madman, said Chesterton,
is not the man who has lost
his reason--

--have you found Jesus?

old scraps I find
like stale old stogies
a hobo might have found
(short, not too big around),
searching in this pile,
and in that stack
until I find it:
that last thing
and place it carefully

oh so carefully

into my cart,
and then rest will come
and I'll write that definitive work,
the one that finally and fully answers

--who’s John Galt?--

all the questions requiring answers—
before I decide that being employable
is superior simply to being at all.

Of course speaking
literature is nothing.

A question:

When you get
where you're going
where will you be?

What’s it all about?

The bagman knows,
but cannot be disturbed.

James Frank Solís
While waiting for the rain to cease, I’m presently reading an article (in the Spring 1992 edition of Contra Mundum, at page 28) by James B. Jordan on better Bible reading. Ros Clarke has posted excerpts at her blog.

H/T: The aforementioned Ros Clarke, whose blog I found
22 March 2007
I was listening to Laura Ingraham this morning. A caller named Robert, from El Paso, Texas, informs Laura and her audience that he cannot get a job in El Paso because he doesn’t speak Spanish; and that is now a job requirement in most places. (That’s most places in the fields he trained in.)

On one hand, one can almost feel for the man. In his own country he must learn what is to him a foreign language in order to find a job.

But really, he lives in a border town. One would think that anyone in a border town who had the means would have learned at least some of the language spoken on the other side of that border. Many people around the world, especially in Europe, learn English. (And in Mexico many of those who live and work in high tourist areas learn English. In many cases being able to work depends on it.)

Of course, we’re all a bit sensitive to the fact that many are coming here illegally from south of that border and instead of being required to learn the language, as we would if the situation were reversed, are being catered to in their own languages here.

A bit too sensitive in some respects, I think.

A headline Rush Limbaugh would ‘love’

Rush Limbaugh frequently points out on his show the way in which stories involving SUVs are told. These stories are often told as if the SUV and not the driver is the ‘culprit’.

This morning I read a story with the headline, “Jeep Runs Over Va. Man While He's in Bed”,

The man is, as he admits, lucky to be alive.
20 March 2007
Here’s something I’ve been researching on and off since January…

In 1982
you could purchase a VCR for $800.0. In today’s dollars, accounting for inflation, that same VCR should cost about $1625.00 (utilizing S. Morgan Friedman’s inflation calculator). What’s interesting is that a VCR should have cost about $1488.00 in 1982, not $800.00. Why do I say that? Because in 1964 it was estimated that a VCR for marketing to private homes would cost $500.00. Accounting for inflation, and all other things remaining equal, that $500.00 in 1964 would be equal to $1488.00 in 1982.

But not only did that 1964 $500.00 VCR not cost $1488.00 in 1982, but that 1982 $800.00 VCR does not cost $1625.00 today. And, what’s even more, you can get a good quality DVD player today, which involves much more technology than a VCR, for less than $100.00.

Similar things can be said of the pocket calculator. In fact, most things we now purchase readily were once priced so high as to have been luxuries: the automobile; the radio; the television; the washing machine; the dishwasher. But the prices eventually reached a low enough level for these items to become everyday. Why? Because the people who made them had to market them, and in order to do so they had to make them affordable. No one with a product to sell is acting wisely if he prices that item so as to limit it’s marketability.

There are exceptions, of course, but these exceptions are companies who, for reasons I don’t understand, want only a particular clientele and so price their products precisely so that they will be purchased only by the type of people they want to do business with. In other words they want the prestige of being able to say only the wealthy can afford their products. But when you think about what these products are they are things one would buy only with ‘discretionary’ money. Take clothing, for example. When I was in high school everyone just had to have a particular kind of shirt which could only be purchased, if memory serves, at one of the higher priced department stores. There was no way (despite the temptation) that I was paying $30 for a shirt made of the same material which I could get for $15 elsewhere. And frankly I didn’t see the point in spending that $15 when I could get comfortable shirts (usually T-shirts) for less than $10. Even today my typical attire is a pair of Levi’s and a T-shirt. (One of the reasons my daughter knick-named me The Deviant Scholar.) I don’t understand fashion, except insofar as I understand the desire of others to be able to afford what others cannot. Since just about everyone can afford clothing, the distinction must be the ability to afford designer clothing. A name may be worth a lot, but until recently a name was accompanied by some sort of reputation of character, not stitchery. But I digress.

When it comes to health care and pharmaceuticals, prices do not seem to follow the pattern of decreasing over time.


I reject the notion, offered mostly by the Left, that it’s simply greed. Why? Because those who are engaged in healthcare and pharmaceuticals are no more greedy than those who manufacture and sell VCRs and DVD players.
If I heard the news at the break correctly the Senate passed a bill rescinding a provision in the Patriot Act which gave the Justice Department the authority to appoint U. S. Attorneys, bypassing the need for Senate confirmation.

According to Rush Limbaugh, this violates the separation of powers.

Let’s slow down and think about this. Prior to passage of the aforementioned provision of the Patriot Act, the Justice Department did not have the authority which the Senate now wants to take away. One would think that if the Senate wants simply to return a certain state of affairs to the state in which it existed previous, and if the Congress had the authority to alter that condition in the first place, then rescinding a provision of law passed by them would not violate the separation of powers. In other words: if Congress had the authority to delegate to the Justice Department the appointment power, then it certainly has the authority to take back what it has given. In
my previous posting on this, I noted that U. S. Attorneys are appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Senate, in the Patriot Act, waived its ‘advise and consent’ authority. Now the Senate wants it back.

I’m having difficulty seeing the separation of powers violation.
19 March 2007
Q writes here a comment on this posting.

“The reason I can't be bothered to put forward an argument because if you haven't heard the arguments before you either a simpleton or aren't interested in them. Why should I take time to write that which you will simple dismiss.

Yes. Well, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to want to hear from you the justifications of your beliefs. You are certainly getting mine, however poor you think they may be. The fact that I would like to hear from you about what you believe ought not be understood as lack of familiarity with the arguments of others. I am 41 years old. I have been a Christian for 19 years, and sceptical of evolutionary theory for far longer. You are the first person I’ve encountered who has a position contrary to my own, who recognizes no epistemic obligation to justify his beliefs. “The arguments which support my beliefs are ‘out there’, “ you say, “and it’s not my responsibility as the believer in those arguments to present them to you. It is your duty to go find them. I can’t be bothered.”

And you don’t know me, so you have no idea what I’ll simply dismiss. Those who know me well, know that I dismiss very little when it comes to such serious issues. I treat every argument as if I’m hearing it for the first time.

“YOU don't understand science at all. If you did, if you understood what "theories" are. What has been and can be tested. What those tests means. If you understood the mechanics of biology, genes, DNA, etc... then you would get of your pompous highhorse.

I do understand science. Your simply saying otherwise – again and again –
doesn’t make it so. I do understand what theories are. It is interesting to see you mention “what has been and can be tested.” In
my original post I asked about the testability of statements such as that , “Big changes…came about as the result of a series of small changes” and that Archaeopteryx is a transitional form.

The only evidence you have that I don’t understand the mechanics of biology, genes, DNA and so forth is simply my scepticism of some of evolutionary theory. Don’t you think it’s a bit of overkill to say of someone who has a problem with really only one theory that for all science he understands no science?

Since you mention genes and DNA, think about the principle that “Like gives birth to like.” Applying the rules of logic normally we would think this implies both that (a) “Creatures will reproduce offspring that are (i) like them and (ii) like their own parents” and (b) “The offspring will not reproduce offspring which cannot reproduce themselves.” Evolutionary theory tells us that actually the principle that “Like gives birth to like” is true only up to a certain point. That certain point goes beyond variation. Clearly we observe variation within species. Supposedly the number of variations increases to the point at which we have an offspring which is significantly NOT like its parents, a new species. (And we’d better hope that, somehow, there are two – male and female – or that new ‘species’ won’t survive it’s first member.)

As I pointed out, the theory of gravity is testable. I just don’t see how evolutionary theory can be. And I wouldn’t be the first to point this out. Previously, I mentioned
Popper’s characterization of evolution as a “metaphysical research programme”, a characterization he based on his own observation that evolution, as a theory of origins, is simply not testable. (Personally, I'm a bigger fan of Popper's student, Paul Feyerabend. For whatever that's worth.)

As for my “pompous high horse”, I have re-read
my original posting (as well as the follow-up to it) and I just don’t see the pomposity. (Unless, of course, simply being skeptical of your non-theistic creation myth makes me pompous.) Note that the original posting was entitled “Intelligent Design v. Evolution: an observation”. An observation, my friend, is not identical with a decree from on high.

“All you did in your original message was the equivalent of saying that because no one has ever see a gravity particle it means that the theory of gravity is wrong.

Oh, please. This is similar to Lorin’s assertion (to which I responded here) that my position would imply that astronomy is not science because we cannot drag stars into labs and hatch supernovae.

Anyway, what I said hardly has the implication you claim it does. Gravitons are hypothetical elementary particles, by definition unseen. The ability to see them is irrelevant to either classical or quantum mechanics.

Besides, in a certain way, gravitons are incidental to the theory of gravity. (You didn’t specify which theory of [which] gravity you were talking about, so pardon my paucity of expression here.) Gravitons are supposed to mediate gravity. Whether gravitons can be seen or not, gravity appears to be mediated by something. Gravitons are postulated on the basis of what we see when experiments are performed. Whether gravitons can be seen or not, we can still make and test predictions utilizing the theory of gravity.

In my original post, I mentioned, among other things, the problems posed by so-called transitional forms. I asserted, first, that any talk of any fossil being the remains of a ‘transitional form’ is question-begging. It assumes the theory itself is true. Especially is this the case when the putative ‘transitional form’ is used as evidence for evolution. I also claimed that talk about ‘tansitional forms’ was meaningless because since ‘big changes’ are simply accumulations of ‘little changes’ then every member of every species is quite possibly a ‘transitional form’. This means, I also said, that there are no transitional forms, for any practical purposes.

Note another difference between evolutionary theory and gravitational theory. An assertion about the evolution of a wave function can be tested. The assertion that a species S1 evolved over millions of years from a member of another species S2 is not testable. The assertion that some number of variations accumulated over millions of years will result in a new species is not testable. That Archaeopteryx is representative of the transition from reptile to bird is not testable. Whether or not gravitons exist theories of quantum mechanics are testable in ways that evolutionary theory is not.

Finally, on this matter, I didn’t say evolutionary theory was wrong. I said I was skecptical of the scientific credentials of any theory of origins. In case you just hadn’t thought of it before: there’s a vast difference between saying that a theory is wrong, and saying that you are skeptical of it.

“You show time and time again that you have no understanding of true science, scientific methods nor even the prinicple of deducing trends let alone facts from data provided.

You want to talk about deducing trends. Fine. You can ‘deduce’ a trend and make a prediction based on an observed trend. If the prediction bears itself out, then fine. And here’s a difference between evolutionary theory and a theory of gravity. With a theory of gravity you might predict the location of a particular body at a particular time, based upon the observance of a ‘trend.’ You can then experiment and see whether the body is at the predicted location at the predicted time.

Evolutionary theory doesn’t quite work that way, does it? It doesn’t make predictions about future states of affairs (or at least not future states of affairs that any of us will be able to observe); it offers speculation about the past and no way of testing those speculations.

And as for deducing facts from data provided, do you mean like when scientists deduce a transitional form from a fossil, rather than simply a feathered reptile, or a reptile whose fossilized remains give the appearance of having been feathered?

“... you have no prob' with Brussels Journal's Paul Belien.Not even although his wife is member of a party that is infamous for it's Nazi roots. Not even when the top people of that party have a neo-nazi past.Not even when Paul himself only has a problem with that party when they are to soft, on certain issues, to his liking.Not even when Paul got in trouble with putting up a text that was cleary hate-mongering and racist. No....you love the guy. Your defence ? If he was facist/racist he would be anti-jew and seeing as that Jezus was a jew and he is pro Christianity you are sure that they are no such thing.*cough*stupid*cough*

Q, you just cannot be paying attention to my replies to you. I never said I had no problem with Paul Belien; I don’t know the man. I have indicated a willingness to stipulate with you that he is a Nazi, pending your provision of the requisite evidence. But I have also maintained, on strictly logical grounds, that his being a Nazi just does not falsify any claim he made in the article to which I linked (in this posting) and about which you have been so exercised.

This insistence of yours that something objectionable about an opponent somehow refutes his assertions continues to surprise me, coming as it does from someone with your maturity of mind.

And I most certainly did not employ this ridiculous reasoning (attributed by you to me): “If he [Paul Belien] was facist/racist he would be anti-jew and seeing as that Jezus was a jew and he is pro Christianity you are sure that they are no such thing.” What
I said was that the reason their being Nazis would be objectionable to me is precisely that I am a Christian. I didn’t say anything in defense of Paul Belien. I certainly have nothing that can be interpreted as love for him; and I most certainly said nothing about his being “pro Christianity.” I really don’t see how you failed to grasp that.“

Are you a deviant? Recalling your confession about how you mistreated your siblings in a bullyish manner I'm sure you are.

I have already responded to this (
here) and won’t do so again.

“Are you a sholar? Perhaps you are. The US is famous for having colleges that are a joke.”

Does telling people that sort of thing make you feel like a staggering intellect? Let’s take a look at what we have here: a tacit assertion about a college you don’t know, attended by a man you don’t know, which assertion is based not on any facts you have at hand, but on the basis of a bigotted stereotype.

If that is what you take for maturity of mind, then I shall take it as a compliment that you think I haven’t got it.

15 March 2007
You wouldn’t know it the way some people carry on, but U. S. Attorneys are not guaranteed their jobs. Like a secretary of defense (whose summary dismissal I suspect Dems would not have minded) U. S. Attorneys are nominated by the President. (See 28 USC 541 (a).) The President did not need Congress’s permission to ask, demand, or receive Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation; he doesn’t need it to dismiss U. S. Attorneys. (See 28 USC 541 (c).) (And neither did President Clinton when all U. S. Attorneys were dismissed at the beginning of his first term.) And the Attorney General does have some authority to remove U. S. Attorneys from office for cause. (See 28 USC 528.)
13 March 2007
A reader emailed me and asked me to explain this, if I could. I read it through several times in order to be fair.

My take is actually a bit sympathetic. I don’t write off every person who says he hates his country. For one thing in our day and age people tend to use words rather willy-nilly, words like ‘irregardless.’ They say that something “begs” the question, when in fact they mean in “raises” the question. There is a difference; and it is an important one. (Don’t get me started.) And they employ a great many literary devices.

If I had the same problems with our history as
this writer, I would have put my sentiments differently. I would have said something more like:

Among many reasons, I regret, on moral grounds, my country’s near-extermination and subsequent oppression of the aboriginal American population. I regret, on moral grounds, my country’s role in the African slave trade. I don’t really regret it’s control of institutions like the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization; any alliance holding between nations, whatever the nature of such alliances are entered into because those nations see some benefit for themselves. (I wish my country hadn’t bothered joining such organizations.) I regret my country’s role in propping up brutal dictators like Suharto, Pinochet, Duvalier, Hussein, Marcos, and the Shah of Iran. (I recognize, however, that this ‘propping up’ was pursuant to the frequently-unachievable, but certainly never long-lasting goal of ‘stability’. Sometimes ‘stability’ is not worth its cost. Totalitarian governments can deliver ‘stability’; I wouldn’t want to live under one. On the other hand it’s difficult to see whether doing nothing is really preferable to a proposed course of action. The left, for all their pretensions to humility and spite for American ‘arrogance’ certainly seem certain that their course of action, motivated by the purest of intentions, would have had morally superior results. On the other hand, they don’t need results, only ‘pure’ motives. And I won’t even deny that their motives are pure.) I don’t think my country’s support for Israel is ‘unconditional’ but is predicated upon the fact that Israel is an America-friendly democracy; so I don’t regret our support for Israel. I don’t think the two-party system is bogus. There are other parties; right now they can’t get enough votes to do any practical good. What we do have, in our two-party reality (it’s not a ‘system’) is formation of governing coalitions before elections, as opposed to parliamentary systems where coalitions are formed post-election. I like having some idea of what the ruling coalition will likely be, and likely do, when I cast my vote.

But why did this blogger use the word ‘hate’? I think it’s simply
hyperbole. I think he does a fine job of clarifying his major problem: it is with the government/administrations which perpetrated the evils he specifies and for which he ‘hates’ America. It doesn’t seem to me that he hates America the way that Osama bin Ladin, for example, hates America. He has high hopes for his country and has very strong emotions about areas where he believes his country has failed.

I know: I'm coming off more as Secretary of State material than Secretary of Defense.
06 March 2007

This is just a little chilling...

If you think about it, that is.

A caller to the Limbaugh Show tells Rush that Libby got what he deserved (even if he’s innocent of the charges against him!) because (get this) he defended Marc Rich, not because he’s guilty of the crimes he was charged with in the present case, not even because he’s guilty of any crime, unless defending Marc Rich is a crime. He defended someone that this caller doesn’t like. Therefore he deserves to go to prison. Why? Karma. Yes. That’s what this caller cited as his grounds.

Attention defense attorneys. This guy is after you. If you defend accused murderers, rapists and so forth and then get charged with a crime yourself, then this guy wants you to go to jail – not for breaking any laws, but for doing your job.

A lot of people don’t like defense attorneys. There are a lot of reasons for this: they aggressively defend their clients, and they get their clients off on legal technicalities. Let me help you with something. Defense attorneys have clients; and those clients are due a constitutionally protected right to a trial. Attorneys, regardless the parties they represent, are officers of the courts. They must put forth the best case, give it their best work. They must use every legal and professionally ethical means at their disposal in the representation of their clients. They must represent their clients without passion or prejudice. If they do not they can be dis-barred. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. This is serious business.

If Scooter Libby defended Marc Rich then he did his job. And it irritates me that this guy thinks that someone deserves to go to jail, not for a crime he was charged with (
and found guilty) but because he did his job. I have a sister who is a federal attorney, a public defender to be precise. On this guy’s view if my sister defends a client, (i.e., someone with a constitutionally guaranteed right to a jury trial) whom this caller thinks is for some reason unsavory, or even guilty, then, if she's ever charged with a crime, she ought to go to prison. And she ought to go to prison not because she committed the crime she was charged with, but because she defended her client.


The jury itself is also a bit chilling. The jury “discerned that Libby was told about Plame at least nine times and they didn't buy the argument that he forgot all about it.” Said one of the jurors (Denis Collins): “Even if he forgot that someone told him about Mrs. Wilson, who had told him, it seemed very unlikely he would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson.”

So Scooter Libby is accused, among other things, of perjury. In his defense, he says that he forgot something that he was told nine times. The jury finds Libby guilty, not because the prosecution was able to prove that Libby did not forget, but because in their subjective judgment it “seemed…unlikely” that Libby would not have remembered about Mrs. Wilson.

Note the subtle shift in burden here. The prosecution really doesn’t have to prove anything here. Libby has to prove that he forgot. And this, because of the seeming, but not proven, unlikelihood that he would forget something he was told nine times. So for all practical purposes, Libby was guilty until proven innocent.

So you can get up to twenty years in prison because 12 of your, uh, peers think it “seem[s] … unlikely” that you forgot something, on the grounds that you were told it nine times.

(What’s odd abut that is that most women I know like to tell stories about things their husbands forgot, no matter how many times they were told. I don’t think the number of times one is told something has anything to do with how well it is remembered.)

The correct answer would have been: “The prosecution proved that Libby did not forget something he was told nine times.”

Let me be crystal clear about this. It may be unlikely that a man would forget something he was told nine times. But we would be speculating about that, assuming facts not in evidence, facts not presented at trial. But even if we weren’t speculating, when someone is on trial, and is innocent until proven guilty, and that guilt depends upon whether the accused forgot something, then what a juror believes about the likelihood of forgetting is irrelevant. If the prosecution’s case depends upon its being false that the accused forgot then that is one of the things that the prosecution ought to be required to prove. That is why it is called “burden of proof.” And that burden is the prosecution’s, not the jury’s.

Note: If you think you have just read a defense of Scooter Libby then you would have been quite at home on this jury.
05 March 2007
In response to this posting,

Lorin writes:

If evolution is not a science because you can't perform species changes in a laboratory experiment, then astronomy is not a science either: you can't drag stars into the lab to find out how to hatch a supernova.

In fact, biologists do perform experiments that provide solid evidence for speciation. Out of 15-35,000 genes in animals, only 6-14 of them determine the entire body plans of animals, and we can study their history in the lab: when they arose, how thry [sic] have changed over hundreds of millions of years. We convict thousands of people of murder on far less circumstantial evidence than we have for major species changes.

When you compare theories, look at the results. For example a recent Scientific American article (1/07, pp50-57) reports the construction of RNA switches for detecting chemicals and controlling pathogens. The authors said they started this research from a study of the history of primitive RNA molecules that have evolved in a surprising way. Try even imagining a useful result from intelligent design: "This bactreial flagellum was designed by an intelligence." OK; so what? What could anyone do with that? That is the only type of result that ID has ever even told us they might be able to come up with, maybe. Sure looks like a dead end to me.

I respond:

If evolution is not a science because you can't perform species changes in a laboratory experiment, then astronomy is not a science either: you can't drag stars into the lab to find out how to hatch a supernova.

You’re really not dealing with my argument. I didn’t say that evolution is not a science because we can’t perform species changes in a laboratory. For one thing we probably can perform such changes in a laboratory, but (a) those experiments would not be tests of the theory of evolution (or at least the mechanism of evolution) and (b) those species changes would be changes by design, not by means of natural selection. And for another thing performing species changes in a laboratory would not give evolution any scientific credibility; for that work would not be a test of natural selection, would it?

What I said was that you cannot perform an experiment on the origin of a species (specifically by means of natural selection). The origin, however it happened, has happened. You tell me how you go about repeating the origin of one species from another. By definition you cannot because you won’t be around long enough to observe all the minute changes which, when added together, are supposed to result in that new species. You may as well suggest to me that we can perform an experiment to test a given theory of the fall of the Roman Empire.

With respect to astronomy, I wonder how it escaped your notice that in comparing evolution and astronomy you attempt a comparison of a theory (i.e., evolution) with a branch of the sciences (i.e., astronomy). It’s almost as if one might argue that if superstring theory is not science then neither is meteorology, or some such thing. No matter. I’ll deal with what you’ve written. No, you can’t drag a star into a laboratory to find out how to hatch a supernova. But at least one can presently observe stars in the heavens, including supernovae. Think about one of the ways in which supernovae are discovered: astronomers look through telescopes, in the present, and compare what they see to earlier observations, especially photographs. Also, given that we now know (not by speculating about the past, but by recorded observation and analysis) that neutrinos are produced in great quantities by supernovae explosions we can use neutrino detectors to find them. This much does not tell us how to hatch a supernova, but from observing stars that have not gone supernova and comparing them with stars that have done, or by comparing our (present) observations of supernovae with photographs taken pre-supernova, and by spectral analysis, we can get an idea of what conditions precede a star’s going supernova. We have done so, and do have an idea of what conditions precede a star’s going supernova. We don’t, therefore, need to bring a star into a lab to find out how to hatch a supernova. We can just about watch a star go supernova to see how to hatch a supernova. We cannot watch one species evolve from another.

In fact, biologists do perform experiments that provide solid evidence for speciation. Out of 15-35,000 genes in animals, only 6-14 of them determine the entire body plans of animals, and we can study their history in the lab: when they arose, how thry [sic] have changed over hundreds of millions of years. We convict thousands of people of murder on far less circumstantial evidence than we have for major species changes.

I think I know which experiments you are referring to, but I can’t be certain since you didn’t cite them. But note that your argument here assumes the very issue at bar: that the ‘history’ being studied in fact took place. Note also that the question of when these biological artifacts arose assumes a geological theory, again assuming the very thing at bar. How they have changed over ‘hundreds of millions of years’ – again assuming the theory, for you cannot study how they have changed over hundreds of millions if they haven’t changed over hundreds of millions of years. Besides, considering how many people it turns out were falsely convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence, do you really want to go there?

When you compare theories, look at the results. For example a recent Scientific American article (1/07, pp50-57) reports the construction of RNA switches for detecting chemicals and controlling pathogens. The authors said they started this research from a study of the history of primitive RNA molecules that have evolved in a surprising way.

You seem to have overlooked the fact that in talking about the construction of RNA switches you are talking about the construction of such switches by design, in the lab, by intelligences no less. And your position isn’t rescued by the fact that the authors started their research from a study of the history of primitive RNA molecules that have evolved in a surprising way. If you and I are disputing the scientific credentials of evolution you ought not to attempt to validate those scientific credentials by pointing to the results of work which was done by assuming those credentials. In other words, you oughtn’t to beg the question. You ought to demonstrate that the work of constructing those RNA switches could not also have been done by someone who simply examined the structure of RNA – today-- and hypothesized how such switches could be constructed quite apart from any question of how those structures came to be, whether by evolution or by design. In other words you need to demonstrate that evolution is a necessary pre-condition for the construction of such switches.

I haven’t yet read the Scientific American article you cited. But I have read other work on RNA switches. I don’t see that the work could have been done only if evolution is true. Ptolemaic astronomy was, as we now know, false. That did not prevent Ptolemaic astronomers making some accurate predictions about the movements of bodies in the heavens. That evolutionary theory – somehow – served as the background for the RNA work you mention tells us relatively little about its scientific credentials.

Try even imagining a useful result from intelligent design: "This bactreial flagellum was designed by an intelligence." OK; so what? What could anyone do with that? That is the only type of result that ID has ever even told us they might be able to come up with, maybe. Sure looks like a dead end to me.

As I’ve just pointed out, the construction of RNA switches you just discussed isn’t a useful result of evolutionary thought, unless of course you can demonstrate that a relation of necessity holds between evolutionary theory and these RNA switches. These RNA switches did not come about as a result of natural selection, or any other mechanism of evolution. Not only that, but when you compare theories be sure to compare comparable assertions. The evolutionary assertion which would be comparable to ID’s "This bactreial [sic] flagellum was designed by an intelligence” would be "This bactreial [sic] flagellum evolved by chance mutations over millions of years.” In response, let me just quote you: So what? What could anyone do with that? Sure looks like a dead end to me.

Of course, I’m not sure why you wanted to compare for me evolution and ID: I said I’m sceptical of the scientific credentials of any theory of origins, which includes both evolution and ID.
01 March 2007

Belief in God as a pre-rational commitment (2)

A reply to ‘Q’, continued

As I mentioned in
this previous posting I owe an explanation for why I hold belief in God as a basic belief and, therefore, a pre-rational commitment. There are different arguments for belief in God as basic. Alvin Platinga is one who has done much of the work (going back to a 1986 article in the journal Faith and Philosophy) on the belief in God as "properly" basic. See for example the article, “Intellectual Sophistication and Basic Belief in God" (here). My own reason (which does not discount anything Platinga has written on the subject) has to do with certain limitations, weaknesses, even failures of arguments for the existence of God.

Typical arguments for the existence of God must involve the employment of either inductive logic or deductive logic. (That’s obvious enough.) Both have their limitations. And it is these limitations that lead me to accept the idea that belief in God is a pre-rational commitment.

In an inductive argument a finite set of facts forms the basis for moving from the known to the unknown; and in making that move we must actually take a step of more beyond the evidence. For example if Mark is accused of murder and we want to make the move from what we know about the murder to knowledge that Mark is the one who committed the murder we must gather the relevant facts and see if they warrant the conclusion that Mark is guilty. Here are some things we need to know. 1. What was the time of death? 2. Was Mark at the scene at or about the time the murder was committed? 3. Did Mark have the means to commit the murder in the way that it was committed? 4. What would be Mark’s motive in committing the murder? Whatever the answers to these questions we must bear in mind that we are able to know that these are some of the questions which need answers because humans have documented experiences with varieties of killing. We know how to proceed from ignorance of Mark’s guilt to warranted belief in his guilt because we know what constitutes murder and we know Mark, or at least enough about him to know how to determine his guilt.

Let us say that the victim was bludgeoned to death. Let us also stipulate that a hair follicle found at the scene puts him there, and that eyewitness testimony not only puts him at the scene but puts him there within an hour, plus or minus, of death. But, let’s say that the victim was struck on the top of the head, that other physical evidence (e.g. direction of blood spatter and wounds on the victim’s back) suggests that the victim fell to the floor after being struck, that Mark is a wheel-chair bound quadriplegic, and that neither his chair nor anything at the scene of the crime could have given him the elevation needed to strike the killing blow. (Let’s also agree that Mark is not faking his disability!) We shall have to look elsewhere for our murderer.

None of this is the case when it comes to God. For one thing we have a problem with definitions that we do not have regarding Mark. We have experience of humans, even of Mark. We don’t really have to worry about defining ‘Mark’ into order to investigate his role in a murder. If we are to begin with nature in investigating God’s existence, we are going to find that nature doesn’t do a very good job of providing us with a definition of ‘God’.

We can set up the problem in this way. We want to know if the universe (i.e., the small part of it we have knowledge of) gives us evidence of the existence of God. For purposes of discussion let us define ‘God’ as "God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, every where present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth" and “creator of the universe.” Surely we can tell whether the universe gives evidence of the existence of such a being.

But can we?

Let’s say that someone says that the universe actually tells against the existence of ‘God’ as we have defined the term. The universe, if it tells us anything about God, tells us that God may not be infinite in perfection: the universe that this putatively perfect God created is certainly not perfect. If our beliefs must conform to the evidence before us then we must conclude the existence of an imperfect God. And given that fact, we are probably warranted in questioning the wisdom of God.

Of course this is true only insofar as our intuitions about the universe are correct. They may not be. This also depends upon our definition of perfection: lacking nothing. If the universe was created by God as defined above and if it does precisely what God intended in creating it then it is perfect. The problem is that nothing in the universe tells us anything about its purpose, or if it even has one. So we might feel constrained to conclude that the universe exists to inflict suffering upon us. But we could be wrong. On the same reasoning we might also conclude that the combustion engine exists solely to pump carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Who knows? Whatever the case, we cannot tell by observation of the facts of nature.

On the other hand, one might say, certainly if the God who created the universe also created us then our intuitions about the universe ought to be correct, oughtn’t they? Perhaps, but only on the assumption that nothing has happened in human history to affect our intuitions. Christianity asserts that something has happened to affect our intuitions. If that is correct (but how can we know by simply studying nature?), then we may not trust our intuitions fully.

We simply cannot adduce a sufficient amount of empirical evidence to establish the existence of God, at least not as we have defined God, for present purposes. Neither can we appeal to the empirical evidence to falsify theistic claims. If we are going to limit ourselves to knowing God by empirical studies of nature, then we cannot know whether God has reasons, which even we would find sufficient, for creating the universe He has created, even a universe in which evil is permitted to exist. We could only know these reasons if God told us these reasons; nature won’t tell us. Nature doesn’t tell us anything.

I started this posting by referring to both inductive and deductive reasoning. I’ll have to post on the problem of deductive reasoning in a subsequent posting.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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