Friday, February 25, 2005

In Defence of Darwinism: The Ignorable Berlinski part 2

First, a few points on style
In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer has the following exchange with Lisa, after she announces her intention to become a vegetarian.
Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, maaagical animal.

You know how cringe-worthy it is when you're discussing something with someone who, to put it as politely as possible, isn't very bright, and after they run out of arguments they resort to clumsy sarcasm instead? Painful, isn’t it?

Reading Berlinski’s article “The Deniable Darwin”, which appeared in ‘Commentary’ magazine in 1996, is a bit like that. He hasn’t got all that much to say and he knows it, so he pads what should be a brief article of a few hundred words into a long and tedious tirade by adding reams of sarcastic purple prose.

(The most grating of these passages being his little coda designed to ‘mock’ the idea that random natural selection can create complexity, where he imagines a conversation with “Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires café”: “I raise my eyebrows. Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.” And so on ad nauseam.)

All very well, and great fun for Berlinski I’m sure, but this bumf serves no purpose other than to obscure what little actual ‘argument’ he makes. Trim this fat to find the meat beneath, and the offerings are scrawny in the extreme.

The first five or so sections of the essay could be summarised thus:

1. The evidence for the Theory of Evolution is in some instances incomplete and open to more than one interpretation
2. Darwinists disagree with each other over certain things

Both true enough, but hardly earth-shattering. Of course you can interpret any evidence in different ways. The question is, which is the best explanation? Of course Darwinists disagree with each other about certain things. But they agree about some things, and those things are the content of the TofE which any opponent must address if he wants to undermine it.

Note that while Berlinski is held up as a leading light of the ‘Intelligent Design’ movement, none of these points are actually positive arguments FOR anything in particular. They’re just general attacks on darwinism.

The meat, such as it is, of his essay depends on the claim that darwinism’s account of ‘purely random’ mutation cannot account for the complexity and variety of life which we see in evolution and the natural world.

The Arguments
Berlinski argues for this in two ways, both of which appear in the sections “The Artificer of Design” and “The Head Monkey”.

(for this part of my article I am significantly indebted to H. Allen Orr, who is quoted by Berlinski as support, but who actually refutes ‘The Deniable Darwin’ in a letter to Commentary magazine)

The first argument, which I’ll call the ‘Language Jam Argument’, goes like this:

1) Darwinian evolution is based upon the notion of random mutation plus natural selection, at the level of DNA.
2) DNA is a discrete "alphabetic" language of A's, T's, G's, and C's that carries the code for all the phenotypes we find in organisms.
3) But random changes in languages, eg. English, creates gibberish.
Therefore, darwinism asks us to believe that evolution depends on random changes, when, by analogy with any other language, you should get gibberish – resulting in organisms being hopelessly ‘jammed’.

The argument is at least more sophisticated than the normal ‘how can random mutations create complexity’, in that he acknowledges that darwinism involves random mutations plus nonrandom selection for fitness.

But the flaw in Berlinski’s Language Jam argument is pretty obvious: it ignores the known facts. While random mutations which do render an organism so helpless that it dies are indeed common, so are all sorts of random DNA mutation which happen but simply do not ‘jam’ organisms. In fact, you need pretty sophisticated chemical science to find them at all.

As Orr puts it “The existence of subtle, functional, usable mutations in DNA is a simple fact that no amount of analogizing with computer programs can make go away. That random changes in computer programs -- but not DNA -- invariably jam things does not show that there is something wrong with Darwinism but that there is something wrong with the analogy.”

Actually, it’s worse than that for Berlinski. In another reply to the article, Karl F Wessel points out that numerous computer programs have in fact been run which replicate the processes of natural selection but do not ‘jam’:

The heart of David Berlinski's argument has been experimentally refuted, a result that is of more recent vintage than the obsolete mathematical metaphor he employs. In a 1986 experiment performed by Marshall Horwitz and Lawrence Loeb of the University of Washington, 19- base long messenger RNA promoter sequences were deleted from the genomes of E. coli bacteria and replaced by randomly synthesized sequences. Of the approximately 1011 possible sequences of the type, it turned out that many promoted the function of the deleted natural sequence (which confers resistance to tetracycline) as well as or better than the original. This was true even for a small subset of sequences randomly generated from two bases, i.e., from far fewer than 106 of the 1011. Nor did some of the most efficient sequences at all resemble the original.

Given this outcome and others like it, it is clear that something is radically wrong with Mr. Berlinski's analogy of biological genomes to computer programs. Either ge-nomes are nothing like programs, or else at least some programs are far more robust in the face of effects resembling natural selection than he imagines.

In point of fact, for several years people like John Koza of Stanford University have been using analogs of natural selection to evolve computer programs. Many of these evolved programs perform their optimizing tasks better than the best intentionally designed ones, providing the reductio ad absurdum of Mr. Berlinski's criticism.

So much for the Language Jam Argument.

The second argument against randomness producing complexity, which I’ll call the Monkey-Typewriter Target Argument, goes like this:

Berlinski starts with Dawkins’ famous analogy of the monkeys bashing at typewriters until they create an exact phrase from Shakespeare: “Methinks it is like a weasel”. The point of the analogy is to show that even though it would take billions of years for the monkeys to get this phrase if they were randomly hitting the keys, if you model it like evolution, saving each match and building upon it as in a recursive system, it doesn’t take that long for them to get it at all. So you have random mutation (the typing), plus natural selection (saving the matches to the original phrase each time, ie. once you’ve got the ‘M’ you save it and keep going til you’ve got an ‘e’, then save, then a ‘t’ and so on.)

Berlinski attacks this analogy by insisting that to have a ‘target’ of the phrase, you must have some kind of designer or monitor (a ‘Head Monkey’ ) who is overseeing the project, to make sure that all the time we’re getting nearer to our target of the phrase. Otherwise how will the monkeys know which letters to save? So in other words, darwinism, far from discarding a Designer, needs one to define the target and show how close we are to it.

So that’s the Monkey-Typewriter Target Argument. Can you spot the flaw? What is the original monkey typewriter analogy intended to show? It shows that, by saving favorable random changes, evolution can gradually build complex structures. So you do not need to wait for each part of a structure (all the letters in a phrase; the wings, eyes, feathers, digestive system etc of a bird) to appear miraculously at once. Natural selection is recursive: the output of the last generation feeds into the input of the next. It builds upon itself.

But, as Orr puts it in his response to Berlinski, the original analogy: “completely flubs another part of Darwinism: evolution does not, of course, work toward any "target." So how, then, does evolution know where to go? The answer is the most radical and beautiful part of Darwinism: it does not. The only thing that "guides" evolution is sheer, cold demographics. If a worm with a patch of light-sensitive tissue leaves a few more kids than a worm that cannot tell if the lights are on, that is where evolution will go. And, later, if a worm with light-sensitive tissue and a rough lens escapes a few more predators, that is where evolution will go. Despite all the loose talk (much of it, admittedly, from evolutionary biologists), evolution knows nothing of "design" and "targets."

So Berlinski ignores the non-teleological element of darwinism – which is absolutely fundamental and basic – and misinterprets the monkey-typewriter story as if it was meant to be a perfect analogy of all evolution, and not just a way of showing how natural selection builds upon itself.

I don’t think Berlinski is completely stupid, so I have to assume he does it deliberately, which is pretty poor show.

Balancing the scales
Let’s conclude with Berlinski’s own conclusion:

NO DOUBT, the theory of evolution will continue to play the singular role in the life of our secular culture that it has always played. The theory is unique among scientific instruments in being cherished not for what it contains, but for what it lacks. There are in Darwin's scheme no biotic laws, no Bauplan as in German natural philosophy, no special creation, no elan vital, no divine guidance or transcendental forces.

On the contrary. In lacking a recourse to divine guidance and transcendental forces, and in trying to work out the physical mechanisms for how something works without relying on magic, myth or mumbo-jumbo, darwinism is exactly like every other scientific theory worthy of the name.

What's unique is that darwinism is the only theory that is vilified for lacking these things. Nobody has an Intelligent Design theory of plate tectonics or diamond formation. If darwinism was limited only to explaining the natural history of plant-life, for example, I doubt there would be any such thing as an 'ID' objection.

ID exists because some religionists (not all) feel that darwinism threatens their beliefs. ID, with its false veneer of 'scientific enquiry' and its dressing of technical language, exists because Creationism has become an impossible position to hold and be taken remotely seriously. But ID is not a theory with any evidence from the natural world. There is only one source of positive evidence for it, which it shares with Creationism: the Old Testament.

To paraphrase a famous comment Salman Rushdie once made:

On one side of the scales is the Theory of Evolution: a massive body of incomplete, imperfect, but nonetheless considerable and ever-growing knowledge, painstakingly acquired from in-depth study of the natural world and constantly reappraised and tested. On the other is the Book of Genesis.

Only in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Kansas and Berlinski's head do the scales balance.

Monday, February 21, 2005

In Defense of Darwinism: The Ignorable Berlinski - part 1

David Berlinski, author of A Tour of the Calculus and The Body Shop, has taught Mathematics and Philosophy at the university level. His article "The Deniable Darwin", published by Commentary magazine in June of 1996, is trumpeted widely by the anti-Darwinist community as a compendium of the theory's philosophical and scientific shortcomings. As a case study in the dialectical mode of argument employed by proponents of Creationism and Intelligent Design, it is a worthy subject for examination by the Daily Duck's Darwinian brain trust. It's sheer length, and density of fallacious argumentation, begs for a multi part treatment. In part 1, I will tackle some of the "low hanging fruit".

CHARLES DARWIN presented On the Origin of Species to a disbelieving world in 1859 - three years after Clerk Maxwell had published "On Faraday's Lines of Force," the first of his papers on the electromagnetic field. Maxwell's theory has by a process of absorption become part of quantum field theory, and so a part of the great canonical structure created by mathematical physics.

By contrast, the final triumph of Darwinian theory, although vividly imagined by biologists, remains, along with world peace and Esperanto, on the eschatological horizon of contemporary thought. "It is just a matter of time," one biologist wrote recently, reposing his faith in a receding hereafter, "before this fruitful concept comes to be accepted by the public as wholeheartedly as it has accepted the spherical earth and the sun-centered solar system." Time, however, is what evolutionary biologists have long had, and if general acceptance has not come by now, it is hard to know when it ever will.

IN ITS most familiar, textbook form, Darwin's theory subordinates itself to a haunting and fantastic image, one in which life on earth is represented as a tree. So graphic has this image become that some biologists have persuaded themselves they can see the flowering tree standing on a dusty plain, the mammalian twig obliterating itself by anastomosis into a reptilian branch and so backward to the amphibia and then the fish, the sturdy chordate line - our line, cosa nostra - moving by slithering stages into the still more primitive trunk of life and so downward to the single irresistible cell that from within its folded chromosomes foretold the living future.

This is nonsense, of course. That densely reticulated tree, with its lavish foliage, is an intellectual construct, one expressing the hypothesis of descent with modification. Evolution is a process, one stretching over four billion years. It has not been observed. The past has gone to where the past inevitably goes. The future has not arrived. The present reveals only the detritus of time and chance: the fossil record, and the comparative anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of different organisms and creatures. Like every other scientific theory, the theory of evolution lies at the end of an inferential trail.

Berlinski first uses the argument from public acceptance against the ToE. "They've had 145 year, for Cripes sakes", he cries, "how much more time do they need?". The opponents of ToE smell blood in the water. Here is a dottering old theory, long in the tooth, ready for a takedown. It is interesting that Berlinski positions his first argument against the theory's public acceptance. Is he making public acceptance the ultimate arbiter of the theory's validity? If science and philosophy are endeavours in pursuit of truth, then an appeal to popularity should be of no consequence. But it appears that Berlinski's goal is not so much to establish the theory's truthfulness or lack thereof as it is to remove the theory from popular consideration. He would rather be a manager of public opinion than a seeker of truth.

Berlinski also exaggerates the unpopularity of the ToE. A recent poll conducted by Gallup shows that 35% believe that the ToE is well supported by the evidence, 35% believe it is not, and 29% don't know enough to say either way. You can look at it as a glass half empty or a glass half full, but with a solid 1/3rd of the population in support, and close to another third undecided, the ToE is definitely "in play" in the United States.

And that only speaks to America, where traditional religous opinion is decidedly hostile to Darwinism. In secular Europe, and in non-Christian, non-Muslim Asia, Darwinism has no doubt a much higher popular acceptance ratio.

SWIMMING IN the soundless sea, the shark has survived for millions of years, sleek as a knife blade and twice as dull. The shark is an organism wonderfully adapted to its environment. Pause. And then the bright brittle voice of logical folly intrudes: after all, it has survived for millions of years.

This exchange should be deeply embarrassing to evolutionary biologists. And yet, time and again, biologists do explain the survival of an organism by reference to its fitness and the fitness of an organism by reference to its survival, the friction between concepts kindling nothing more illuminating than the observation that some creatures have been around for a very long time. "Those individuals that have the most offspring," writes Ernst Mayr, the distinguished zoologist, "are by definition . . . the fittest ones."

And in Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Tim Berra states that "[f]itness in the Darwinian sense means reproductive fitness-leaving at least enough offspring to spread or sustain the species in nature." This is not a parody of evolutionary thinking; it is evolutionary thinking. Que sera, sera.

Berlinski makes this curcular reference between fitness and surival sound foolish, and by extension implies that the ToE has nothing important to say. But he's throwing a curveball.

Fitness, as used in the above sentence, is a proxy for survivability, but it is not the same as using two words to say the same thing. Survivability, by nature of the fossil record, is an aspect of an organism that we can measure. Fitness is that quality that is assigned to long-surviving organisms that accounts for its survivability. Fitness is a concept that is positively correlated with survivability according to the theory.

By attempting to parody this use of terms, Berlinski is being a little dishonest. The proponents of ID would use a similar conceptual quality to measure survivability and create a similar circular reference. Subsitituting the word "adapted" with the word "designed" in the sentence above would yield an equally circuitous reference, but one that any ID'er or creationist would find totally acceptable: The shark is an organism wonderfully designed for its environment. .. after all, it has survived for millions of years.

This conflation of terms by evolutionists is nothing out of the ordinary and exhibits no fallacious qualities. The ToE is about how species evolve over time, it describes a mechanism that accounts for the variety of organisms we see in the environment today, how the form of the organism is related to the type of environment it inhabits, and how changes have occured over time. Fitness is a term that quantifies the success value of each of the myriad adaptations that the organism displays in its native environment. It can be enumerated for any given organism for which sufficient data has been gathered, just as the technical statistics for a designed artifact, such as an airplane, can be quantified and combined to determine an overall "airworthiness" index. Fitness has a distinct meaning, and is not merely a proxy for survivability. Fitness contributes to survivability, it is not the same as survivability.

DARWIN CONCEIVED of evolution in terms of small variations among organisms, variations which by a process of accretion allow one species to change continuously into another. This suggests a view in which living creatures are spread out smoothly over the great manifold of biological possibilities, like colors merging imperceptibly in a color chart.

Life, however, is absolutely nothing like this. Wherever one looks there is singularity, quirkiness, oddness, defiant individuality, and just plain weirdness.

Red herring alert: this is NOT a logical consequence of the theory. By Berlinski's view, we should have creatures in every level of variation between a pig and a seagull: lithe pigs with vestigial wings, and portly seagulls with curly tails. It is a naive conceptualization of how incremental evolution would progress. The pressures of fitness would rule out such maladapted intermediate branchings.

Berlinski is ignoring the matter of fitness landscapes and ecological niches. Organisms don't have the run of all of the food resources in the environment, they must compete with other organisms. There are a finite set of ecological niches, and they are taken by those organisms that evolve into the niche "the firstest with the mostest", much as chairs are occupied in a game of musical chairs. The niches in an ecological sytem can be mapped out in a similar manner to a topographical map. There are peaks in the landscape representing optimal niche designs, and valleys representing the "no man's land" where suboptimal combinations of features present little or no survival benefit.

The idea of fitness landscapes was first proposed in 1932. Berlinski's failure to vet his objections against such widely available answers just reinforces the fact that he is engaged in dialectical obstructionsism and not serious inquiry.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Argument Clinic

Theory of Relativity. Theory of Evolution.

Both are, like any scientific theory, minimalist explanations for observed material phenomena. Both are famous.

One is notorious. No extra points for guessing which.

Since its inception over 150 years ago, the Theory of Evolution has been the target of a more or less relentless Christian jeremiad. Typically, the response from paleontologists and evolutionary biologists has been to parade the facts and show how the Theory neatly ties them all up; clearly, so much evidence in support of something so intuitively obvious must demonstrate the jeremiad mistaken.

As if.

Evolution's antagonists--Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates--are in high dudgeon. That dudgeon is in direct proportion to two things: belief in Biblical inerrancy, and the insistence that rock-ribbed Christian religiosity is the sine qua non of morality. Make no mistake, this argument is not over the Theory's explanatory power; rather, it is over the impact of that power upon the Bible.

[Note on terms: "the Theory" refers to the modern synthesis Theory of Evolution. "Creationism" refers both to Creationism and Intelligent Design.]

In other words, the conflict is between the rhetorical and the dialectical. Evolutionists are using a series of connected statements in order to establish a proposition; their antagonists automatically gainsay anything Evolutionists say because of the theory's perceived impact upon Divinely revealed Scripture.

Before getting into just why this is, it is important to pour some foundation. I promise to keep it brief, while hoping brevity doesn't come at the expense of clarity. Without describing different abstractions of knowledge, or the concepts of dialectic and rhetoric, understanding the nature of the argument is impossible.

Orders of Knowledge

Within the context of this discussion, there are three orders of knowledge:

1. Simple facts. The freezing point of water. The acceleration due to gravity at the earth's surface. The length of a Stegosaur femur. These are all statements completely insensitive to human context. Under identical conditions, water freezes at the same temperature, regardless of who is doing the freezing.

2. Statements about simple facts. This is where scientific theories live. These statements serve to order the simple facts in an explanatory framework. A theory using many such anatomical measurements to establish relatedness across time is knowledge of the second order.

3. Statements about statements. Assertions about the impact or meaning of such a theory is knowledge of the third order; in other words, it would be a judgment of the theory from a dialectical position.

Dialectic and Rhetoric

There are a number of definitions for what constitutes dialectic. The one pertinent here is that of negative dialectic: the sole goal of Creationists is the elimination of "wrong" opinions. In this context first order knowledge may very well be irrelevant to a dialectical position.

In contrast, rhetoric involves marshaling first order knowledge and logic in order to establish valid conclusions.

This distinction is not always easy to keep firmly grasped. Using a pertinent example, the Scopes Monkey Trial made the distinction clear. Tennessee had outlawed teaching any theory contradicting Divine Creation as described in the Bible--that is dialectic. In contrast, the Scopes defense consisted on using evidence and logic to demonstrate Evolution's validity--that is rhetoric.

Why are Creationists so upset?

Simple. Any explanation of natural history in general, and the existence of humans in particular, based upon purely naturalistic phenomena, is full-stop, irrevocably, irredeemably, bad.

Christians have not been shown clearly and decisively that Darwinism is a total worldview and that by accepting any aspect of this worldview, Christians compromise and weaken the presentation of the Christian worldview, as well as risk disobeying God. They have not been shown how evolutionism spreads like cancer from the geology or biology textbook to every area of personal ethics and public policy. Worse, they have not been shown why and how six-day creationism leads to a fundamentally unique worldview that encompasses things other than academic topics like historical geology and biology. To win the battle with Darwinism, which is above all a comprehensive worldview justifying comprehensive power, six-day creationists must believe that the stakes are far larger than mere laboratory experiments or one-evening debates. Creation scientists must demonstrate to Christians that six-day creationism really makes a difference in every area of life. [Comparing Origins Belief and Moral Views, from the Institute for Creation Research]

The Discovery Institute makes clear its stand:

The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip ]ohnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial ...

These are dialectical statements: materialism, by bringing into question Divine Creation, is bad. The amount of first order knowledge supporting alternate explanations is irrelevant, and to the extent such knowledge contradicts Biblical inerrancy, evil.

Consider their position. By claiming the Bible as literally true, and the sole and fixed source of morality, any challenge to the Bible is a profound threat. And the more materially based the challenge, the worse the threat.

The Theory's Point of View

In contrast, as with the the Scopes defense, the Theory is based upon existing evidence and logic, with the goal of providing an internally coherent explanation. This explanation must account for existing evidence, as well as either accommodate evidence yet to be discovered, or face revision based upon new information.

That is, the Theory's argument is rhetorical, with the expectation that clear explanations of extensive evidence are sufficient in and of themselves.

The Theory does not consider Divine Revelation, or the Bible, one way or the other. The Bible does not contain any first order knowledge; therefore, it is irrelevant to any statements about first order knowledge. Further, the Theory itself has nothing to say one way or the other about moral questions: it is what it is.

Creationism's Strategy

This contrast is important to what follows: in this long-standing conflict, the antagonists' arguments occupy almost entirely different planes. The dialectical argument is unconcerned with facts; the rhetorical argument simply does not consider any dialectical position.

The Theory's explanatory power is an ongoing, and growing, threat to literal interpretations of the Bible. What is worse, in Creationists' eyes, is the teaching of the Theory in public High Schools. Creationists are, in essence, forced to fund a point of view they find completely antagonistic.

But because our governing structures are essentially secular, in that they may not officially favor one sect over another, Creationists are still barred from gaining anything like equal time for their dialectic argument in science classes. On the one hand, they cannot overtly suppress the Theory, because it is based upon first order knowledge, non-sectarian by definition. On the other, they cannot gain entry for overtly sectarian explanations.

This drives a two-pronged attack.

The first is to portray the Theory as a religion, thereby hoping to exclude it in the same way Biblically derived explanations are.

The second is to portray Creationism, under the guise of Intelligent Design, as a scientifically valid alternative explanation to the Theory, thereby gaining equal-time entrance to science classes.

Unfortunately, for Creationists, this strategy has inherent problems flowing from a dialectic position devoid of first order knowledge.

To depict rational inquiry in general, or the Theory in particular, as a religion, requires according the trappings of religion to rational inquiry. Religions are based upon revealed truth, have a priesthood, and include some sort of do-it-our-way-or-else threat. Rational inquiry in general, and the Theory in particular, do not possess these characteristics.

Further, while rational inquiry in practice is by no means perfect, or devoid of institutional blinders and inertia, ultimately rational inquiry cannot stray very far from first order knowledge. Therefore, unlike any religion, rational inquiry's statements change over time, sometimes very quickly. Further, because rational inquiry is based upon first order knowledge, which by definition is sect-independent, its conclusions do not, a priori, favor any sect.

As a consequence, then, such attempts requires draining the term "religion" of all meaning. This means, then, that all rhetorical arguments on this score will require intentionally ignoring or shading obvious distinctions, out of context quote mining, or using sophistry to deceive.

In portraying Creationism as a science, its advocates invariably fall afoul of the Cargo Cult syndrome--assuming the outward trappings and language of rational inquiry does not produce the results of rational inquiry. Acquiring sufficient first hand knowledge to support a resilient second order knowledge requires an astonishing amount of work; no Creationist organization has anything even remotely approximating ongoing research to obtain first order knowledge. Merely adopting the science's formalisms will not close that gap.

If the Bible is literally true, then first order knowledge, and theories based upon it, would clearly and continuously demonstrate that truth. However, first order knowledge has so far failed to be agreeable. This requires Creationists to create concepts but leave them undefined, conflate distinct concepts, misuse related scientific theories, create straw men, and, when all else fails, simply lie. Finally, Creationism, divorced from first order knowledge, promotes as scientific theories explanations upon which no conceivable combination of existing knowledge or future discovery could have any impact.

The Consequences

Our society makes it very difficult for a sect to impose its beliefs on others. Modernism has ingrained in people the habit of wanting explanations behind assertions. Except for those who take the Bible as literally true, simply asserting literal Biblical Truth is insufficient. Add to that the complication that some major Christian faith groups accept that the Theory correctly explains the material manifestations of Natural History [page search on "Aquinas"], and the conflict over the Theory involves more than believers vs. non-believers. As a knock-on-effect, such conflict makes clear that the driving force behind Creationism-as-science is theological, not some new-found love for rational inquiry.

This puts Biblical literalists in the uncomfortable position of attempting to assert a dialectical argument with rhetorical means, ground very unfriendly to the enterprise

On the plus side of the ledger, though, they have religious fervor born of possessing Divinely revealed Truth. Creationists understand that in a democracy, small groups sufficiently aggrieved can carry the day against much larger groups who don't have nearly as much dog in the fight.

In contrast, the Theory rests on firm scientific ground, presenting a coherent, interlocking, over-determined explanation of Natural History. This puts adherents of the scientific method in the enviable position of using the tool suitable for the task: rhetoric to defend a rhetorical position.

There are downsides though. By definition, scientific theories do not convey absolute truth, meaning fervor will always lie on the side religious fundamentalists. Creationists will always be able to exploit that difference.

The Prospects

Because the parties to the conflict occupy different planes, it will not go away soon, and maybe never. So long as first order knowledge fails to confirm Biblical inerrancy, Creationists will conclude any theory based upon such knowledge, and those who find the Theory credible, are evil. Fundamentalists are allergic to rational inquiry and freedom of conscience. No amount of evidence, no matter how detailed, will convince them otherwise.

For those who, along with St. Augustine, find that the best path to comprehending God is through understanding nature, Creationism is, at the moment, a total failure. Creationists could conceivably reverse this failure, but their inability, or unwillingness, to do the hard work of research has so far rendered that possibility moot.

Perhaps the only way to square this circle is for those who put rational inquiry ahead of Biblical inerrancy to rely less on the rhetorical argument and start challenging Creationists on dialectical grounds. In other words, demonstrate that applying the term "Evil" to the Theory is to miss the point entirely; by putting blame for society's ills on an explanatory framework with no moral component whatsoever amounts to focussing attention where it doesn't belong.

[End note: In outlining the distinction between dialectic and rhetoric, orders of knowledge, as well as the Scopes Monkey Trial example, I am indebted to "The Ethics of Rhetoric" by Richard M. Weaver, Hermagoras Press, 1985.]

Monday, February 14, 2005

Read the Fine Print Again

John Ray answers my query to his post about the evidence for the traditional conception of an everlasting torment in Hell for the unsaved:


The author of Daily Duck has asked me to comment on Matthew 13:37-43 -- a very interesting scripture that I may get back to in future posts. I will just makes some brief comments today, however:

"He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." (KJ)

Tares are of course weeds or burrs, a curse for farmers. The obvious question is whether this is a description of evildoers being cast into hell. The "wailing and gnashing of teeth" is certainly familiar in that context. That reminds me of a story:

It was a Pentecostal congregation in which a certain amount of impromptu response from the congregation is allowed. The preacher read out the scripture above and warned his congregation that it might happen to them. A cheeky old guy called out: "But I aint got no teeth". The preacher didn't miss a beat: "Teeth will be provided",
he replied.

Seriously, however, Jesus makes it perfectly clear what he means. He describes the fate of evildoers as being the same as that of weeds: "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire". Do weeds burn forever? No. They are just gathered up, quickly and completely destroyed and then the fire goes out. So we see here as in the rest of the Bible that the fate of sinners is complete destruction, not torment. And naturally those going into the fire might be expected to do a bit of "wailing and gnashing of teeth".

It may be of note that the Greek word here for "furnace" ("kaminos") is also used in the Septuagint at Genesis 19:28 where the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is described: "The smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace". So a furnace fire as an image of complete destruction is one that Jesus could well have inherited from the OT. And his frequent quotations from the OT do show that he knew his OT pretty well. People must have listened pretty carefully to readings from the scriptures in those days.

Now that seems like a logical way to interpret this passage. However, knowing that there has to be more to it, and remembering some passage related to unquenchable or everlasting fire, I ran some more queries at BibleGateway.Com and came up with this passage:

The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations

31"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40And the King will answer and say to them, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'

41"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, "Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'

44"Then they also will answer Him, saying, "Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45Then He will answer them, saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (MT: 25)

So there you have it. According to the NT, Hell does indeed exist.

Friday, February 11, 2005

In Defence of Darwinism: The Wright stuff?

In his essay ‘Planet with a Purpose’, (which Orrin Judd cited in his post Hug a Darwinist), Robert Wright argues that darwinist processes are the explanation for evolution, but that this fact is actually evidence for a Designer – or at least, an initial Creator with a Purpose.

I don’t particularly have a problem with darwinism/Initial Creator compatibilism. Since darwinism says nothing about the origins of life or the universe, it’s not logically incompatible with a non-interfering Creator. But Wright wants to show that an Initial Creator necessarily follows from darwinism. I'm going to show that he fails pretty miserably to acheive this.

He presents his case in an extremely odd way: by trying to show that in an interview he persuaded Daniel Dennett, the well-known philosopher and darwinist, to admit as much.

I’m not going to waste too much time on this element of the essay, first, because there are links in the essay to Dennett’s point blank denial of this admission and a clarification of his position, and second, because I don’t see how this rather childish ‘there, you said it yes you did, I made you!” approach helps Wright’s argument. If the argument is strong enough, it will stand up on its own, whether Dennett admits to it or not (he doesn’t, of course).

So instead, I’ll just look at the argument and conclusion as Wright presents them. But first, it’s just worth addressing an assertion in Wright’s introduction:

When Charles Darwin unveiled his theory of natural selection, he said there was no inherent contradiction between it and religious belief. Maybe, for example, God had used natural selection as the instrument for creating intelligent life...Yet today many intellectuals think that if they're going to be true Darwinians, they should give up on any notion of divinity, any hope of higher purpose. Why? In no small part because of the widely read philosopher Daniel Dennett

Well, there might be some ‘intellectuals’ who, upon reading Dennett, thought they’d better give up on all that God-stuff to get in the darwinist gang, but I don’t know any. Most people I know who accept darwinism seem to have taken roughly the same path as me: they’ve read about it in books, and they accept it as the best current science. The ones who do give it more credence than ID or Creationism tend to be atheists, or skeptical about religion, or at least lacking in Faith, to begin with – which is why they have no different philosophical hang-ups about accepting it than they do about accepting Newtonian physics, chemistry or any other science.

Anyway, on with the Argument. Actually, once you’ve cut through Wright’s rambling, ‘now I’m not saying anything controversial here, but (insert controversial assertion)’ style, you realize that there are really two Arguments, which Wright confuses throughout the essay.

The first – which I’ll call ‘Argument 1’ ­­– goes like this (and honestly, I’m putting this as coherently and as sympathetically to Wright as I can):

1) in some sense of the word, natural selection ‘designs’ things (ie. makes them)
2) in some sense of the word, evolution has a ‘direction’ (ie. things have changed and eventually produced more complex organisms, including humans)
3) therefore, if there is design, which moves things in a direction, it is possible or probable that – contra most darwinists – there is a Purpose to evolution.

It doesn’t take a logical genius to see this isn’t the strongest argument in the world, but let’s have a look at it:

Wright starts with Paley’s famous argument from design, and correctly points out that the work of Darwin provided its refutation:

If you're walking across a field and you find a pocketwatch, Paley said, you know immediately that it's in a different category from the rocks lying around it. Unlike them, it is manifestly a product of design, featuring a complex functionality that doesn't just happen by accident. Well, he continued, organisms are like pocketwatches: they're too complexly functional to just happen by accident. So organisms must have a designer—namely, God. ...Thanks to Darwin, we now know that Paley was wrong. We can explain the complex functionality of organisms without positing a god… Of course, natural selection doesn't work like a watchmaker. It doesn't think ahead and create new features that will add functionality to an organism. Rather, it creates new features randomly, blindly, and then the dysfunctional ones get weeded out as the organisms possessing them die young or for some other reason fail to reproduce.

But now Wright asserts that in one sense, Paley was on to something:

Richard Dawkins, alluding to Paley, called natural selection "the blind watchmaker" in a book by that name. But a blind watchmaker is still a watchmaker. Organisms do have a designer, even if the designer is a somewhat clumsy process, not a conscious, far-seeing intelligence.

So Wright shamelessly contrives to get the word ‘design’ into the natural selection equation:

Paley was right to look at organisms and surmise that (a) they had a designer (in some sense of the word); and (b) this designer had imbued them with goals, with an overarching purpose (however ignoble a purpose genetic proliferation may seem to us).

Well yes, they have a ‘designer’ if you redefine the word ‘design’ to mean ‘not-design’, and add some wanton personification to a range of physical processes. But that level of doublespeak tends to lead to confusion. Either Wright doesn’t know this, or, more likely, he does know this, and is attempting a bit of clumsy sleight-of-hand.

Having ‘established’ the first part of Argument 1: "natural selection ‘designs’ things"; Wright gets to the second, "evolution has a ‘direction’" by taking a weak definition of the word ‘direction’, ie. things have moved in a certain way, and confusing it with a strong definition (it had to move in this particular way). He explicitly points out this difference when describing Dennet’s position:

Natural selection had been fairly likely, sooner or later, to produce an intelligent species of some sort; but, no, this was not evidence that evolution had any overarching purpose, that natural selection was itself a product of design. Evolution had a direction of sorts, Dennett believed, but it definitely had no purpose.

But Wright then goes on to use the word ‘direction’ in the strong sense for the rest of his article. He provides no practical evidence or rational argument to suggest that the ‘direction’ evolution has taken is anything other than arbitrary – he just asserts that it is so:

But isn't this direction itself evidence of purpose? If a process naturally creates something as complex as great intelligence, doesn't that suggest the process was set up for that purpose?

So that’s Argument 1:
1) natural selection is a form of design if you define ‘design’ as ‘not-design’
2) evolution has a ‘direction’ if you define ‘direction’ as ‘the arbitrary way it happened to go’
3) so if there is ‘design’ and ‘direction’, there is probably a ‘designer’ or ‘director’.

Argument 2 has a slightly more interesting angle, but is perhaps even sillier than Argument 1.

First, Wright restates Paley’s argument as if he’s got a new angle on it.

A single egg cell replicates itself, and the offspring cells in turn replicate themselves, and so on. Eventually the resulting lineages of cells start exhibiting distinctive specialties; there are muscle cells that beget muscle cells, brain cells that beget brain cells. If Paley were around today to watch videos of this process he would say: Wow!—Look at how exquisitely directional this process is; the system grows in size and in functional differentiation until it becomes this large, complex, functionally integrated system: muscles, brains, lungs, etc. This directionality is evidence of design!

Well, yes, Paley would say that. And he said it at the time – it’s just the argument from complexity all over again. Describing the process of an organism’s maturation as complex rather than its physical appearance does not alter the fact that Darwin refuted the argument (as Wright has already stated).

Next, Wright takes a sort of ‘Gaia’ approach to the Earth, comparing it to an organism:

…you can describe the history of evolution on this planet in a way that closely parallels this description of an organism's life cycle. First, a few billion years ago, a single primitive cell divides. The resulting offspring cells in turn replicate themselves, and eventually different lineages of cells (that is, different species) emerge…One lineage—let's call it homo sapiens—is particularly good at thinking. It thus launches a whole new process of evolution, called cultural evolution, that leads to the invention of wheels and legal codes and microchips and so on. Humans use the fruits of cultural evolution to organize themselves on a larger and larger scale. As this social organization reaches the global level, and features a richer and richer division of economic labor, the whole thing starts to resemble a giant organism. There's even a kind of planetary nervous system, made of fiber optics and other stuff, connecting the various human brains into big mega-brains that collaborate to solve problems. (And some of the problems are global—how to head off global warming and global epidemics, for example.) Meanwhile, as the human species is becoming a global brain, gradually assuming conscious control of the planet's stewardship, other species—also descended from that single primitive cell that lived billions of years ago—perform other planetary functions. Trees are lungs, for example, generating oxygen.

Now, in this little Gaia story I could note the spurious conjecture, the tenuous parallels and the fact that Wright completely ignores such things as mass extinctions, but I’ll stick to the logic of Argument 2:

1) Paley’s argument from complexity is valid after all, if applied to the development of an organism rather than its appearance
2) the world is like an organism, in that it has ‘evolved’ in a similar way to the maturation of an organism
3) so Paley’s argument applies to the world
4) so there must be some kind of design
5) so there’s probably a designer.

Wright fails to explain why step 1 is valid, is on extremely dodgy ground with step 2, doesn’t show why 3 should be the case, and the rest is consequently irrelevant.

Wright concludes by insisting that he isn’t, like Behe or Dembski, an Intelligent Design theorist, because he thinks there is no interference by God in the actual mechanisms of evolution.

But if he thinks that he’s provided any reasons for believing that a Creator or Designer logically follow from the fact of evolution, then Wright, I’m afraid, is Wrong.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Read the Fine Print

Here's an interesting tidbit from John Jay Ray on one of his many blogs, A Scripture Blog:


I think I will soon put this blog on hold. I originally started it with the aim of showing that you can be a good follower of Christ without having to accept all that mumbo jumbo about the Trinity and I think I have now shown that.

For the moment, however, I will carry on with a few iconoclastic comments about the afterlife. The orthodox view of what the Bible teaches is that we all have souls within us and that these souls whizz off to Heaven or Hell upon our death. Catholics get extra options. If you are a Catholic your soul can also whizz off to Purgatory or Limbo. Limbo is where dead babies go, apparently.

Just to set the teeth on edge a bit, read this bit of general advice for mankind:

"For the living know that they will die but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward; but the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hatred and their envy have already perished, and they have no more forever any share in all that is done under the sun.... Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going"

So who wrote that? Some pagan? Some Greenie Church of England bishop? No. It's from Ecclesiastes in the Bible -- chapter 9: 5-10 (RSV).

Can anybody square that with a soul that goes to heaven or hell upon death? Hard to see how: The dead know nothing. They do not even have love. No thought or knowledge where you are going. I would like to hear what my Christian readers think of it. I think it will be quite a wriggle to get out of what it says. They will try to claim that it is the body being discussed rather than the soul but that is not remotely what the text says.

Just one point of interest at this stage. Note that the RSV very wisely does not translate the Hebrew word "Sheol" referred to here as the common destination of mankind. KJ translates it as "grave" and it is in other places translated as "Hell". But it is a pretty funny sort of Hell if nothing happens there! And "sheol" is the ONLY OT word translated as Hell. And the Ecclesiastes text quoted above defines it about as clearly as it could -- as a place of everlasting nothingness rather than as a place of everlasting torment or bliss. That's where we're all going, folks, to everlasting nothingness. As an atheist, I agree.

I don't suppose I need to mention that a fiery hell of everlasting torment was a common pagan belief in the ancient world -- Babylon and such places. Just like the trinity, in fact.

I understand that Orthodox Jews don't believe in a soul that whizzes off to Heaven or Hell upon death.

First off, I hope that you don't put this blog on hold for too long John. Keep up the excellent work!

Secondly, you have to wonder how generations of theologians have been able to square this passage with the Nicene Creed:

...And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Is this an instance of Truth evolving?

In Defense of Darwinism - a Daily Duck Exclusive Series

More than 140 years after the publication of "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin initiated arguably the most sweeping revolution in science and knowledge in human history, his detractors continue to tirelessly defend the shrinking salient of philosophical ground which once was the sole domain of Judeo-Christian revealed truth, Creationism. The sheer simplicity of the idea of evolution by random mutation and natural selection, and it's anti-teleological basis continues to confound even those religious thinkers who accept the undeniable premise that species evolve over time.

Orrin Judd of BrothersJudd.Com recently referenced a veritable avalanche of anti-Darwinian articles in his post titled Breaking the Ionian Enchantment, and concluded with characteristic Juddsian bravado and overreach:

Secularists too need a philosophical worldview and Darwinism has provided them with one, but its claim to being scientific is dwindling away so rapidly that its adherents risk being perceived as precisely the kind of credulous faithful they despise. Under such circumstances a paradigm shift seems certain.

Those are fighting words at the Daily Duck! Not content to merely correct Brother Judd and his fallacious cohorts of obscurantists and obfuscators by commenting to his posts in the short few days that his average post sees the light of day before being buried under the sedimentary deluge of his manic blogging obsessions, I have commissioned an exclusive, crack team of Darwinian experts, namely the redoubtable Skipper and a special guest blogger, the unflappable Andrew Nixon, aka "Brit" of BrothersJudd fame , and the proprietor of the most excellent "Think of England" blog, to dissect, eviscerate and dispose of in excruciating detail the accumulated "evidence" put forward by Brother Judd .

Stay tuned to the Daily Duck for this exciting series!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Judeo-Christian Values for Dummies III - Sola Cogitatio Delenda Est

In Judeo-Christian values: part III, Dennis Prager takes on that secular strawman, Reason:

Those who do not believe that moral values must come from the Bible or be based upon God's moral instruction argue that they have a better source for values: human reason.

In fact, the era that began the modern Western assault on Judeo-Christian values is known as the Age of Reason. That age ushered in the modern secular era, a time when the men of "the Enlightenment" hoped they would be liberated from the superstitious shackles of religious faith and rely on reason alone. Reason, without God or the Bible, would guide them into an age of unprecedented moral greatness.

As it happened, the era following the decline of religion in Europe led not to unprecedented moral greatness, but to unprecedented cruelty, superstition, mass murder and genocide. But believers in reason without God remain unfazed. Secularists have ignored the vast amount of evidence showing that evil on a grand scale follows the decline of Judeo-Christian religion.

First of all, Prager misconstrues the Enlightenment as a purely secular and anti-religious movement. Many of the Enlightenment thinkers, such as Locke, and those statesment who drew from the Enlightenment to frame new forms of government, as did our Founding Fathers, did not reject religion, but subjected the irrational abuses of religiously derived superstitions and the outmoded religiously based feudal and aristocratic orders of Christian Europe to the spotlight of rational examination.

Prager, like many religious conservatives today, blame the Enlightenment for everything that has gone wrong in modern Western history, but ignore the fact that our current system of constitutional, secular democracy was based on the very willingness of Enlightenment thinkers to challenge the religious establishment of their day.

Prager goes on to give four reasons why reason alone is not sufficient to build a moral, decent society. This in itself is a strawman, because I do not know of any serious secular thinkers who posit reason as the sole basis for moral decisions. But for the benefit of those who foolishly do, Prager's reasons are sound arguments for why this will not work:

There are four primary problems with reason divorced from God as a guide to
morality. The first is that reason is amoral. Reason is only a tool and, therefore, can just as easily argue for evil as for good. If you want to achieve good, reason is immensely helpful; if you want to do evil, reason is immensely helpful. But reason alone cannot determine which you choose. It is sometimes rational to do what is wrong and sometimes rational to do what is right.

It is sheer nonsense -- nonsense believed by the godless -- that reason always suggests the good. Mother Teresa devoted her life to feeding and clothing the dying in Calcutta. Was this decision derived entirely from reason? To argue that it was derived from reason alone is to argue that every person whose actions are guided by reason will engage in similar self-sacrifice, and that anyone who doesn't live a Mother Teresa-like life is acting irrationally.

Prager misses the flip-side to this argument. To argue that Mother Theresa's actions are derived from a religiously inspired faith in a transcendental God and moral order is also to argue that every person whose actions are so guided will engage in similar self-sacrifice. We know that such is not the case, so religion fails the same test.

Did those non-Jews in Europe who risked their lives to save a Jew during the Holocaust act on the dictates of reason? In a lifetime of studying those rescuers' motives, I have never come across a single instance of an individual who saved Jews because of reason. In fact, it was irrational for any non-Jews to risk their lives to save Jews.

Another example of reason's incapacity to lead to moral conclusions: On virtually any vexing moral question, there is no such a thing as a [missing] purely rational viewpoint. What is the purely rational view on the morality of abortion? Of public nudity? Of the value of an animal versus that of a human? Of the war in Iraq? Of capital punishment for murder? On any of these issues, reason alone can argue effectively for almost any position. Therefore, what determines anyone's moral views are, among other things, his values -- and values are beyond reason alone (though one should be able to rationally explain and defend those values). If you value the human fetus, most abortions are immoral; if you only value the woman's view of the value of the fetus, all abortions are moral.

The second problem with reason alone as a moral guide is that we are incapable of morally functioning on the basis of reason alone. Our passions, psychology, values, beliefs, emotions and experiences all influence the ways in which even the most rational person determines what is moral and whether to act on it.

Third, the belief in reason alone is itself based on an irrational belief -- that people are basically good. You have to believe that people are basically good in order to
believe that human reason will necessarily lead to moral conclusions.

Fourth, even when reason does lead to a moral conclusion, it in no way compels acting on that conclusion. Let's return to the example of the non-Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe. Imagine that a Jewish family knocks on his door, asking to be hidden. Imagine further that on rational grounds alone (though I cannot think of any), the non-Jew decides that the moral thing to do is hide the Jews. Will he act on
this decision at the risk of his life? Not if reason alone guides him. People don't risk their lives for strangers on the basis of reason. They do so on the basis of faith -- faith in something that far transcends reason alone.

These are all basically sound reasons for disclaiming the efficacy of reason alone as a guide to moral behavior. But again it is a strawman argument. Even those secular thinkers who sloppily claim that reason is their sole guide are implicitly in agreement that reason requires a foundation of basic values, or given presuppositional truths upon which to construct rational arguments.

Does all this mean that reason is useless? God forbid. Reason and rational thought are among the hallmarks of humanity's potential greatness. But alone, reason is largely worthless in the greatest quest of all -- making human beings kinder and more decent. To accomplish that, God, a divinely revealed manual and reason are all necessary. And even then there are no guarantees.

Again we are back to the questions that Prager will not answer. Why God? Why can't humans be kinder and more decent without an acknowledgement of God? If you acknowledge that their are moral and decent people who do not believe in God, which Prager has done, then the previous argument falls on its face. And why a divinely revealed manual? Which begs the question all over: who's divinely revealed manual?

Prager's arguments will have no effect on bringing the secular around to his point of view, because his arguments never address the questions that the secular have about Judeo-Christianity. His arguments resound among the believers, he preaches to the converted. He will never explain his foundational presuppositions, he will simply declare them in a booming voice of authority. These are arguments to be heard by the weakly faithful, not the skeptical. When a believer wanders toward that ground, where foundational truths are questions, his answer is "don't go there", with the voice of authority unaccustomed to being questioned.

If the world's fate is in the balance of the struggle of religion and secularism, as he stated in his first installment, then Prager's mission in that struggle is to turn back the deserters from his own side. It is a rearguard action. He does not have the intellectual firepower to go on the offense, to take ground from the other side. His task is not to answer questions that are raised about revealed Judeo-Christianity, but to discourage those questions from ever being asked.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Look Who is on the Same Side as

Chairman Kim's Dissolving Kingdom makes a pretty convincing case that the NORK regime is getting ready to fall faster than a greased safe.

And is well worth reading just to learn why.

But for me, the nut graph is:

Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004.

Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons.

Governor Dean. George Soros. Hollywood glitterati. Judge yourselves by the company that wants to keep you.