Friday, April 30, 2010

P. Z. Myer's Tacit Admission: I Shouldn't be Taken Seriously by Philosophers

This much, at least, can be reasonably inferred from his recent post on Pharyngula, a response to David Hart's new essay in First Things. Despite Myers' claim that he attacks all arguments for the existence of God, he frankly admits that he does not comprehend the terms employed in the cosmological proof for God's existence: "composite", "contingent", "finite", "temporal", "absolute plenitude of being", and so on.

These terms are, of course, slightly technical; but they are the basic vocabulary used in metaphysics in general, and the cosmological argument in particular. Hart is prone to unusual verbiage, but this is simply not the case here. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with the cosmological argument from the original texts knows these basic terms.

"Composite" just means a thing composed of matter and form; two elementary concepts from Aristotle's metaphysics. "Contingent" is simply a being that might exist or might not, but doesn't exist necessarily. "Finite" simply signifies that a thing is circumscribed within limits. "Temporal" signifies that a thing is subject to change over time. "Absolute plenitude of being" is simply a reference to God as pure actuality in Book VIII of Aristotle's Physics. This is Philosophy 101 level material.

P. Z. Myers' bafflement indicates that he has not made the slightest effort to familiarize himself with the cosmological arguments as it appears in the primary texts or, for that matter, anywhere. Even Richard Dawkins would have made the effort to scurry on over to, so that he could at least find the (incorrect) stock response. Myers didn't even bother to do a quick Google search.

I won't say the cosmological argument is easy; it certainly can be formulated in many ways, and implicates the deepest questions of ontology (as I've written about before here). In fact, my only complaint about Hart's piece is that he doesn't make the cosmological argument, he just describes it in an oversimplified way. It's a bit as though P. Z. Myers explains to someone that evolution is a biological process whereby fitter animals survive, speciation occurs, and the animal kingdom gets more complex over time, on which his interlocutor would express dismay that anyone could possibly understand the concepts "fitness", "speciation", or biological complexity. Myers would no doubt end the conversation there, and instruct his interlocutor to at least get the basic ideas down so that the subject may be intelligently discussed.

The same thing is going on in Myers post. He doesn't understand the most basic of the philosophic issues involved, and he cannot expect competent philosophers or theologians to take him seriously. Why should they? They can't read the Physics for him; he must do that for himself.

What would Myers think of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason? Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit? Heidegger's Being and Time? If he can't get the concept of actuality straight, I can only imagine what he would think of transcendental idealism or an immanentalist ontology. Or what he would think of David Hart's academic philosophical writings (which are actually difficult).

In the end, Myers just proves Hart's point. Unlike the great atheists of yesterday, the neo-atheists don't have the faintest clue about the very arguments they claim to reject. Myers has the courtesy not to pretend that he does. For his honesty, I suppose, we should be grateful.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kentucky Equality Federation Wrong: It's stupidity that threatens us, not hate

The first reports said that a gay Jackson County teen was the victim of kidnapping and attempted murder. Three teens had dragged the victim, Cheyenne Williams, with a chain around her neck, out of her car and tried to push her off a cliff. The mother of the victim claimed it was because of her daughter's sexual orientation. She was "nearly killed," said one report. But the gay teen had the presence of mind to record the whole thing on her cellphone, providing proof of what happened. Gay Rights activists donned their masks and capes and leaped before the cameras with their verdict.

"It was a hate crime," said Jordan Palmer, head of the Kentucky Equality Federation.

In fact, it seemed the perfect confirmation of the narrative of gay rights groups, who seem to believe the cultural landscape is replete with roving bands of homophobics looking for gays to bash.

But then the facts started to become clearer. The Kentucky State Police started looking into the incident. Both victim and the assailants were longtime friends, having known each other since 6th grade. Williams went on from the harrowing incident to a job interview, and then to her parents, neither of whom she mentioned it to at the time.

But it didn't matter to people like Jordan Palmer. It was a hate crime.

When police investigators asked Williams why, instead of filming the incident on her phone, she didn't call 911, she said she didn't think they would respond in time. In fact, has anyone thought to ask exactly how a victim of such a crime manages, without the assailants apparently even noticing it, that the victim is filming the whole thing with her cell phone?

It didn't matter. It was still a hate crime.

Then police--and the judge--viewed the video. There was no chain around her neck. And Williams was laughing throughout the whole incident, causing the judge to walk out of the undoubtedly disappointing cinematic experience and give both sides a good talking to. Then she reduced the charges to misdemeanors.

But the people who really need a talking to are people like the Kentucky Equality Federation, who still, unaccountably, think it's a hate crime.

The Lexington Herald-Leader described the Kentucky Equality Federation as "a volunteer organization." This is probably accurate, since no one has yet detected anything resembling professionalism. The group has announced that it is backing Williams up "all the way." But the group may have trouble backing someone up who herself is backing up. Here is part of the transcript of Williams being questioned by the attorney for one of the accused girls:
Gay: "Is there any evidence to support the murder charge?"
Williams: "No, ma'am."
Gay: "Is there any evidence to support the kidnapping charge?"
Williams: "No, ma'am."
As most people are figuring out, this was apparently a prank that went to far, conducted by teenagers with a severely low level of common sense and a little too much time on their hands. Teenager doing stupid things. Imagine that.

The State Police don't think it's a hate crime. The judge doesn't think it's a hate crime. No one thinks it's a hate crime--except the Kentucky Equality Federation.

And once the Kentucky Equality Federation succeeds in hauling the FBI into Jackson County, Kentucky to investigate a good case of stupid teen tricks, they've got more planned. Says Palmer:
It's learned behavior, whether they are learning it from their surroundings or they're learning it from home, they're learning it somewhere. And we need to reach to those children now and expose them to diversity and non-threatening environments before they grow up and they actually do kill someone.
There they go again: saying that stupidity is learned behavior. Don't they know that stupidity is inborn? Stupid people can't help being stupid, and they need to be protected. In fact, isn't there a group somewhere that stands up for the rights of stupid people? Why isn't there a law preventing people like the Kentucky Equality Federation from picking on stupid people?

In any case, once they're done trying to convince all the people who now know this is not a hate crime that it is, in fact--despite all the evidence, a hate crime, they're going to start exposing us to their brand of diversity, which consists exclusively of the uniform thought that there is some sort of widespread wave of violence against gays by people who hate them. Which, of course, is a dramatic overstatement at best, if not simply false.

As I have pointed out before, anti-gay murders are almost nonexistent, and actual physical violence against gays by anti-gays is dwarfed by violence against gays by other gays--in the form of domestic violence.

But this doesn't matter the Kentucky Equality Federation, who, despite all the evidence, still think it's a hate crime.

Page One pulls a punch

Well apparently Jake over at Page One did a post called "Cothran bigoted and anti-semitic," but when I click on the link from my Sitemeter, it goes to an error page. And a search of Page One yields nothing. Apparently, the post was taken down.

Darn, sounds like it would have been an exciting post. Wonder if the folks over there had a fit of conscience or something. Maybe they thought, "Hey, ya' know, maybe we better start practicing responsible journalism. Maybe we should actually start sticking to the facts rather than passing along rumors and stop engaging in hateful criticisms of people with disagree with, particularly when we are accusing them of being hateful."


C'mon, Jake, let us see it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Issue of Question #9: Is the Rand Paul campaign throwing a state pro-life group under the bus to cover up its own mistake?

Have we found the Rand Paul campaign's tragic flaw?

I have thought for several months now that Rand Paul has been, if not the superior potential senator, at least the superior candidate. He is smarter, more thoughtful, and more articulate than Trey Grayson. These are nice qualities to have when you are an elected lawmaker. I was even thinking of personally endorsing him here on this blog.

But now we've got a problem.

I was disappointed when Paul did not receive the endorsement of the Kentucky Right to Life Association (KRLA), and pleased when he got it from the Northern Kentucky Right to Life group. I'd like to see him do well.

It appears that the Paul campaign didn't receive the KRLA endorsement at least partly because of an administrative snafu in answering the KRLA survey, which looms large in the group's endorsement process. An administrative error is forgivable, and if that was where it ended, that's something most of us could live with. But now a more important issue has been created, and it appears to have been created by the Paul campaign itself.

Here's what happened:
  • The Paul campaign answered the KRLA survey, but left one question (Question #9) blank. It was the question about human cloning and stem cell research.
  • Because of the blank question and for several other reasons, KRLA endorsed Grayson over Paul.
  • KRLA was asked about the matter, and responded politely that the Paul campaign had not answered Question #9, and therefore could not be said to have answered the survey "100 percent pro-life," as Grayson did. KRLA has the originals on file--and has posted them on its website--for anyone to view.
  • In mid-May, KRLA received a phone call informing them that the Paul campaign was claiming that KRLA was "lying" about the survey and that KRLA was "blocking" the Paul campaign's phone calls.
  • KRLA then called the Paul campaign and asked that they stop telling people that they had lied and that they were blocking their calls. In fact, according to KRLA, their phone records show no calls being received from the Paul campaign on any of their three lines.
  • KRLA executive director Margie Montgomery then received a fundraising letter from the Paul campaign, stating that Paul had answered the survey "100 percent pro-life."
  • After KRLA tried to set the record straight with a press release, the Paul campaign posted a screen shot on its website of their questionnaire, completed, including a "yes" next to Question #9--implying that that is what they had sent to KRLA, and continuing to claim that KRLA had, in fact, been less than truthful about what it had received.
  • Then, at a debate on April 23rd (and here is what is really disturbing), Rand Paul said “Whatever they have – I don’t know how it became unmarked, but what we have is marked. We sent it to ‘em by certified mail, and they need to stop, also, not telling the truth on this.” "Sent" in that sentence is in the past tense, but, as it turned out the "certified mail" that was "sent" was sent only after Paul made the statement. KRLA has the tracking number. The debate in which Paul made the statement ended at 1:30 p.m. The certified mail was received at the Bowling Green Post office at 2:40 p.m.
Either Rand Paul is lying about this, or his staff is lying to him. In either case, it needs to be addressed.

The Kentucky Right to Life Association has, in my opinion, been more than polite about this considering that a major U. S. Senate campaign is accusing it of lying. But the gloves are starting to come off. The Paul campaign has been almost picture perfect in getting its message out, but this incident could seriously damage the campaign in its final weeks of the Republican primary.

The thing about all this is that it didn't have to happen. All of this could have been cleared up by a polite phone call from the Paul campaign to KRLA. Instead, in an uncharacteristically clumsy (not to mention dishonest) move, the campaign has alienated an important state conservative political organization, and is on its way to alienating the many conservative Kentuckians who support it and consider themselves pro-life.

Rand Paul has billed himself as the outsider, the enemy of politics as usual. But what is more usual about politics than untruthfulness? Grayson has made himself easy pickings for Paul through the incompetence with which it has conducted its campaign.

Let's hope that Paul doesn't force Republican voters in this state to choose between a candidate who has trouble conducting a campaign and a candidate who has trouble being honest.

Heil Jake! The Tolerance Police on the Move Again

Jake at Page One Kentucky is once again marching at the head of the goose-stepping Tolerance Police, and his group of Brown Shorts is now heading for the campaign office of Renee True whose crime seems to be that she supports traditional marriage.

According to Jake, True once made a contribution to the campaign for the Marriage Amendment in 2004--and amendment which garnered more yes votes in Kentucky than any other amendment had votes for AND against.

But Jake isn't taking this standing up. He's laying down in front of True's electoral parade and protesting. Support for traditional marriage, according to Jake, disqualifies her from the office of PVA.

And what is so controversial about a political candidate supporting the most popular ballot initiative in Kentucky history?

Renee’s such a gay-hater she not only supported the anti-gay marriage amendment, she contributed financially to Kent Ostrander’s mess.

If she feels that strongly about an issue – that she financially supported writing discrimination into the constitution – what on earth makes anybody think she’s not going to discriminate or do something equally ignorant as an elected official?

All the Marriage Amendment did was to define marriage the way everyone has always defined it--up until recently when some, like Jake, wanted to change the definition: as between a man and a woman.

Folks, this is what we're in for from the gay rights extremists like Jake: if you believe in marriage as it has traditionally been defined, then you should be disqualified from holding public office.

Now it's interesting that there is nothing in the amendment that says anything about whether gays can hold office or do whatever they want. Yet Jake himself is for preventing anyone with a traditional view of marriage from public office.

Heil Jake!

The problem with out-of-wedlock pregnancy is a lack of marriage, not a lack of contraceptives

The inimitable Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation argues that the focus on teen pregnancy by liberals is a smokescreen hiding the fact that most out of wedlock pregnancies are among young adult women. It is a result, he says, of the breakdown of marriage and is the driving force behind the welfare state:
The steady growth of childbearing by single women and the general collapse of marriage, especially among the poor, lie at the heart of the mushrooming welfare state. This year, taxpayers will spend over $300 billion providing means-tested welfare aid to single parents. The average single mother receives nearly three dollars in government benefits for each dollar she pays in taxes. These subsidies are funded largely by the heavy taxes paid by higher-income married couples.

America is rapidly becoming a two-caste society, with marriage and education at the dividing line. Children born to married couples with a college education are mostly in the top half of the population; children born to single mothers with high-school degrees or less are mostly in the bottom half.

The disappearance of marriage in low-income communities is the predominant cause of child poverty in the U.S. today. If poor single mothers were married to the fathers of their children, two-thirds of them would not be poor. The absence of a husband and father from the home also is a strong contributing factor to failure in school, crime, drug abuse, emotional disturbance, and a host of other social problems.
In other words, the decline of marriage doesn't really bother liberals. But why?
Despite the transparent linkages among poverty, social problems, and disintegration of the family, the liberal intelligentsia has watched the steady collapse of marriage in low-income communities with silent indifference.

The reason? Most liberal academics regard marriage as an outdated, socially backward institution; they have shed no tears over its demise. Even worse, liberal politicians and anonymous government bureaucrats have a vested interest in the growth of the welfare state, and nothing grows the welfare state like the disappearance of marriage.

Single mothers are inherently in far greater need of government support than married couples, so an increase in single parenthood leads almost inevitably to an increase in government benefits and services and a thriving welfare industry to supply them. Marital collapse creates a burgeoning new clientele dependent on government services and political patrons. When liberals refuse to talk about marriage and the poor in the same breath, they are guilty of willful neglect of the major source of poverty.

For the statist, the collapse of marriage is a gift that keeps on giving. It’s no accident that the modern welfare system rewards single parents and penalizes married couples.

The Left, with the complicity of the liberal media, hypes the issue of “teen pregnancy” -- partly because feminists think girls should attend college for a few years before becoming single mothers, partly in order to strengthen their agenda of promoting condom use and permissive sex ed in the schools. (In reality, condom proselytizing is a bogus answer to actual social problems. Contrary to conventional wisdom, lack of access to birth control isn’t a significant contributor to non-marital pregnancy among teens or non-teens.)

Liberal journalists and pundits deliberately remain silent on the far larger issue of out-of-wedlock childbearing among adults because they believe the collapse of marriage is irrelevant, if not benign. From their perspective, concern about marriage is a mere red-state superstition; the important task is to increase government subsidies as we build a post-marriage society.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Could biofuels ruin the environment?

First there was Climategate. Now another group of Warmers has been caught hiding data that reflects badly on biofuels. Here's Marlo Lewis at

Reuters reports that it used freedom of information laws to obtain a copy of text that was stripped from a December 2009 European Union study on biofuels. The hidden portion of the study found that biodiesel fuel made from North American soybeans has an indirect carbon footprint of 339.9 kilograms of CO2 per gigajoule — about four times larger than standard diesel from petroleum.

The suppressed analysis jibes with Fargione et a. (2008) and Searchinger et al. (2009), who found that CO2 emissions from the land use changes associated with biofuel production exceed the emissions avoided by combusting biofuels instead of petroleum-based fuels.

“The EU’s executive European Commission said it had not doctored the report to hide the evidence, but only to allow a deeper analysis before publishing,” Reuters reports. Uh huh. And if the analysts had found that biodiesel has a much smaller footprint than standard diesel, the Commission would have deep-sixed that study too pending a “deeper analysis.” Right!

Read the rest here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

U. S. Army boots Franklin Graham from prayer service for saying Islam is a violent religion

Apparently Muslims now have veto power over who gets invited to speak a military prayer events:

WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) -- The U.S. Army on Thursday withdrew an invitation to a Christian evangelist to speak at a Pentagon prayer service next month following an outcry over his references to Islam as a violent religion.

Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said in a statement he regretted the Army's decision and would keep praying for U.S. troops.

The invitation prompted a harsh reaction, including from a prominent U.S. Muslim group that said Graham's appearance before Pentagon personnel would send the wrong message as the United States fights wars in Muslim countries.

Too bad Christian groups don't have this kind sway with our military. With people like this in charge of our nation's defense, we don't need enemies.

Scientists say the darndest things

Science has again discovered something everyone else knew already and didn't need a study to tell them:
Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can indeed be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age.
What would we do without these people? Coming soon: Researchers discover food is good for you.

Getting it wrong (again) on sex abuse in the Catholic Church

John Haas the American Spectator has an excellent response to Peggy Noonan who has now chimed in with all the other uninformed voices that are simply ignoring the Catholic Church's actions in recent years to respond to problems of sex abuse by priests--and asking why, while everyone is piling on the Catholic Church, so little is being said or done about sex abuse and harassment in places like public schools:
Peggy has apparently not noticed that tremendous reform has occurred. In fact, more reform has taken place in the Catholic Church than in any other social institution in which the abuse of minors has occurred. In 2002 the U. S. Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. They hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct an independent investigation of the problem. They established a National Review Board chaired by a woman (Peggy called for a woman's touch), Justice Anne M. Burke. The National Review Board monitors the policies of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection of the bishops and oversees its annual audit. Five of its current 13 members have that "woman's touch." One of the original members of the Review Board was a media representative, William Burleigh, at the time head of the Scripps news agency. This was surely expressive of a desire on the part of the bishops for transparency.

The chairman of the research committee of the original National Review Board, Robert Bennett, said when the report was issued that the sexual abuse of minors was a broad social problem and that a focus merely on the Catholic Church would be a disservice to our children. Regrettably, however, that is exactly what has happened.

There will be media reports of sexual abuse by school teachers, Scout leaders, swimming coaches, and others, but they are fleeting. In March a judge ordered the Boy Scouts to release over 1,200 "perversion files" with Scout leaders who had molested boys. In early April a headline shouted, "Sex Abuse Pervasive in USA Swimming," with reports of molesters going unchallenged for decades as they moved from state to state. In 2002 Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University prepared a report for the U.S. Department of Education that found that 6 to 10 percent of high school students across the country have been sexually abused or harassed. "The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests," she declared. However, such reports will surface for a day and then quickly recede from public consciousness.

Read more here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reality check on "Equal Pay Day"

Christina Hoff Sommers on "Equal Pay Day":
Excuse me for interrupting, but this holiday has no basis in reality. Even feminist economists acknowledge that today’s pay disparities are almost entirely the result of women's different life choices—what they study in school, where they work, and how they balance home and career. This is not to deny that some employers will try to pay Jill 78 cents and Jack $1.00 for an identical job. But our strict laws give Jill the right to take that employer to court. The claim that American women as a group face systemic wage discrimination is groundless.

Even feminist economists acknowledge that today’s pay disparities are almost entirely the result of women's different life choices.

There are by now many reputable studies that refute the assertion that women are being cheated out of a fair salary by unscrupulous employers. In January 2009, the Labor Department posted a study prepared by the CONSAD Research Corporation, “An Analysis of the Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women." It analyzed more than 50 peer-reviewed papers. Labor Department official Charles E. James Sr. summed up the results in his foreword:

"This study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers."
Read the rest here.

HT: Alternative Right

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Christopher Hitchens issues a challenge

Christopher Hitchens has issued a challenge:
Here is my challenge. Let Gerson [Michael, at the Washington Post] name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever. And here is my second challenge. Can any reader of this column think of a wicked statement made, or an evil action performed, precisely because of religious faith? The second question is easy to answer, is it not? The first – I have been asking it for some time – awaits a convincing reply. By what right, then, do the faithful assume this irritating mantle of righteousness? They have as much to apologize for as to explain.
The second challenge is not even contested by Christians, so I'm not sure what rhetorical force Hitchens thinks it has. Of course people do evil things in the name of religion: they're sinners.

Likewise, as to the first, of course there are no ethical statements that could not be uttered or done by a nonbeliever. Nonbelievers contradict themselves all the time. The question should be: name one ethical statement that a nonbeliever could not justify rationally given his own unbelieving position. And the answer to that question is: all of them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grayson gets backing of pro-abortion Giuiliani

Trey Grayson's latest endorsement comes from the pro-abortion and pro-"domestic partnership" former Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. This is supposed to impress socially conservative Kentucky Republican voters?

This campaign gets worse by the hour.

N. Kentucky Right to Life endorses Rand Paul

I received two things in the mail on Friday: one, a Trey Grayson campaign mailer charging that Rand Paul was "evasive" on abortion; two, a mailer from Northern Kentucky Right to Life (the most surly and purist of the pro-life state groups) indicating that Paul answered their survey 100 percent pro-life while Grayson "Responded with an unresponsive letter, evading the answers to specific questions."

Nice going, Trey.

Here are the rest of the reasons NKRTL decided to endorse Rand Paul:
Based upon his 100 percent Pro-Life answers to the questionnaire, NKRTL-PAC endorses in the Republican primary Rand Paul, M.D. Because there have been published certain allegations by his opponent Mr. Grayson, challenging the commitment of Dr. Paul to clear principles of the Right to Life movement, NKRTL’s Executive Committee, President Robert C. Cetrulo, vice President Fred H. Summe, and Dr. Arthur M. Kunath, conducted a lengthy personal interview with Dr. Paul regarding these issues. While Dr. Paul is open to all avenues of redress against the horror of abortion, including state legislation, federal legislation, and judicial appeals, he is committed, without qualification, to support a mandatory personhood human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would establish the unborn child as a person entitled to constitutional protection of the right to life. He is likewise committed to opposition, without exception, of any public funding of chemical abortifacients, however described, and to any legislation which would mandate health insurance coverage of either surgical or chemical abortion as well as contraception.
Northern Kentucky Right to Life's site is here.

The Englishmen are at it again

The atheist scientist P. Z. Myers recently posted some short comments on his view of morality from an atheist perspective--reposted on a Kentucky blog "Blue in the Bluegrass," not one of the more philosophically sophisticated sites in the blogosphere, and one on which the language often used indicates that there may have been a shortage of soap in the home of the proprietor for use in washing out mouths when he was young. But it is fairly representative of the kind of village atheism prominent on the web.

As I have said before, Myers and his ilk are what Friedrich Nietzsche called "Englishmen": like the Victorians themselves, they cling all the more to their own moral positions despite having a philosophy of the world which undercuts any moral judgment whatsoever. The frequency and fervor with which Myers, Jerry Coyne, and Ed Brayton issue moral condemnations of their detractors is a wonder to behold--party on account of the sheer energy that animates them and partly because of the audacity with which they pursue them despite their own stated beliefs.

Nietzsche, while an atheist himself, had this at least over his modern counterparts: he had the intellectual courage to accept the logical conclusions of his beliefs.

Myers says first:
... science as science takes no sides on matters relevant to a particular species, and would not say that an ape is more important than a mouse is more important than a rock.
Presumably this judgment includes humans, since, according to Myers, they are simply another species closely related to apes. And wouldn't it be fun drawing out the logical implications (as I have done elsewhere) for human rights from that position? But, of course, that men are no different from animals doesn't stop Myers and his atheist friends from complaining about men being treated like animals (particularly if the offenders are religious people).

Exactly how do you get a morality in which human beings have an obligation to treat each other humanely in a system of belief in which human humans are not different qualitatively from animals? In fact, this theme figures prominently in atheistic ethics:

What science is, is a policeman of the truth. What it's very good at is telling you when a moral decision is being made badly, in opposition to the facts. If you try to claim that homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural, science can provide you a long list of animals that practice homosexuality freely, naturally, and with no ill consequences.

Let's see if we've got this straight:
It is natural for animals to engage in homosexuality
Humans are animals
Therefore, it is natural for humans to engage in homosexuality
If this logic is acceptable for homosexuality, then why isn't it acceptable for other common animal practices, such as, say, cannibalism (see here for a broader discussion of this point)?
It is natural for animals to engage in cannibalism
Humans are animals
Therefore, it is natural for humans to engage in cannibalism
Now I'm not saying that atheists are cannibals; I'm just saying that I wouldn't turn my back on them.

To Myers, there is no grand overarching morality:
"Science", if we're imagining it as some institutional entity in the world, really doesn't care -- there is no grand objective morality, no goal or purpose to life other than survival over multiple generations, and it could dispassionately conclude that many cultures with moral rules that we might personally consider abhorrent can be viable.
So if there is not "grand objective morality," what kind of morality can there be? Well, after basically pulling the rug out from anything that could possibly exercise an authoritative hold over human action, Myers attempts to come up with one:

However, I would suggest that science would also concede that we as a species ought to support a particular moral philosophy, not because it is objectively superior, but because it is subjectively the proper emphasis of humanity...and that philosophy is humanism. In the same way, of course, we'd also suggest that cephalopods would ideally follow the precepts of cephalopodism.

So don't look to science for a moral philosophy: look to humanism. Humanism says that we should strive to maximize the long-term welfare and happiness of humans; that we should look to ourselves, not to imaginary beings in the sky or to the imperatives written down in old books, to aspire to something better, something more coherent and successful at promoting our existence on the planet.

It causes visions of hand-holding atheists singing whatever it is they sing in place of Kumbayah, doesn't it? What relationship does humanism have to science? What is humanism? Why does humanism have any moral authority over humans? Myers doesn't say.

How can the Myers of the world consider any "particular moral philosophy" as superior to another without a "grand objective morality" to adjudicate between the two? Myers doesn't say. He just takes a leap of faith of the same kind he customarily condemns in others.

Since man is inherently religious, once he dispenses with one religion, he has to replace it with another, which is precisely what humanism is: a religion for people who claim not to have one.

Myers, by simply invoking the name of "humanism," then turns around and starts recounting what humanism "says." Humanism "says" something? Was this, like, handed down from some atheist Sinai? Where is the body of humanist "sayings"? Are they in a book? Who wrote it? Some human? Some group of humans? Where do they derive their moral authority?

Where does humanism "say" we should "strive to maximize the long-term welfare and happiness of humans"? How do we know humanism doesn't command us to eat each other? Where would we go to settle these questions?

Myers remarks would be laughed out of any serious academic philosophical discussion of ethics, but he seems somehow to consider it some kind of significant contribution to ethics. He should just come out and admit that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The chief cause of the Civil War was slavery, and other fairy tales

In the comments section of my post on the latest dust-up over whether slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War, one commenter posts snippets from the secession declarations of the four Southern states which made them, taken from a recent article in the Atlantic. Since all of the declarations of these four states mention slavery as a factor, we are to believe, slavery was therefore the primary (perhaps, exclusive?) cause of the War.

For one thing, the commenter completely (and the author of the Atlantic article) confounds the distinction between secession and the War itself. Secession could easily have been effected without a war. Slavery was, for many states the chief aggravating factor, although that issue is oversimplified by the commenter, which you can see if you read, for example, the whole of the Texas statement, in which slavery isn't even mentioned until about two-thirds of the way into the document.

One wonders what else the authors of the statement could even talk about for all that time if their reasons for secession were exclusively over slavery.

Maybe the commenter would like to point out where slavery is mentioned in Jefferson Davis' inaugural address. Good luck.

Now I have said before that this is an oversimplification of the issue--that to say that slavery was THE cause of the Civil War is just as much of an oversimplification as to say that it wasn't a cause at all. In fact Gen. Sherman himself probably had it about right: "Slavery is not the cause but the pretext." In fact, Sherman knew that Southern states were using slavery to gain rhetorical leverage on the issue of secession. At bottom, Sherman believed, the real reason for the desire by some in the South for independence was economic:
They want free trade here – to import free, and send their goods up the Rivers free of all charges but freight & insurance – New York, Boston, Phila. & Baltimore could not afford to pay duties if New Orleans is a Free port.
This view was articulated several years later by another supporter of the Union: John Pendleton Kennedy. Kennedy, who had been a potential Republican vice presidential candidate in 1860, contended that pro-secession leaders in the South knew very well that the institution of slavery was not in danger from the North. In fact, the issue up to that point was not whether slavery could continue in the South, but whether it could be expanded beyond the states that already had slaves. They were using the perceived threat of abolition as an excuse to pry the Southern states loose from the Union for economic reasons:
It is the merest sham and make believe for any Southern man to pretend that the institution of slavery was ever brought into peril before this rebellion exposed it to the dangers that now surround it. I can hardly suppose that any man of sense in the South could believe otherwise than that a war, once provoked between the states, would be the only effective agency which could destroy or impair it against the will and without the cooperation of the Slave States themselves.
In other words, slavery was not endangered before the War. It was only endangered by the War. And note that this argument--that slavery was not the cause of the War--is a reason that reflects badly, not well on the South.
Why did states like Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas say they were seceding (at least in part) because of slavery? There's your answer.
Slavery may be said to be the cause of the rebellion only in the same sense in which we affirm that cotton and sugar are the cause of it, or that Southern character, habits, climate, and social life are the sources out of which it has sprung.
The people who quote official documents like the secession declarations have apparently never been around politicians much and who uncritically take what politicians say at face value, rather than with a grain of salt.

In one sense the secessionists in the South were the analogs to the abolitionists in the North: both were radical in their methods--although the abolitionists were at least right in their aims.

And once secession was accomplished, there was the matter of war. At that point, Constitutional issues came to the fore--and issues of simple state loyalty.

Lincoln said time and again that slavery was not the reason for the Union's invasion of the South. From his First Inaugural Address, before the War:
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so...
Add that to his very clear and unambiguous comments to Horace Greeley that it was Union, not slavery, that was his chief concern.

And, of course, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, it only applied to states and territories loyal to the Confederacy, not to any territories not loyal to it. It's chief objective was not the freedom of the slaves, but to excite insurrection in the South, which may be why, even after it was issues, if a state simply renounced its loyalty to the Confederacy, it could rejoin the Union--with its slaves.

In fact, if the War was about slavery, then why was slavery still common the Washington, D.C.--until the end of the War? And why was Lincoln's White House staffed by slaves? Why, at the beginning of the War, was the policy (supported by Lincoln because doing anything else would alienate the neutral slave-holding border states) to return slaves to their masters?

Oh, and the vice president of the Union, Andrew Johnson, had not only owned slaves, but advocated a state's right to allow slavery.

And then, of course, you have the matter of what the people fighting the War were actually fighting for. Were Southern officers and soldiers primarily fighting for slavery? And were Northern officers and soldiers primarily fighting against it?

If Ulysses S. Grant was fighting to free the slaves, then why did he have slaves--four his wife brought with her and one, William Jones, he himself owned and didn't free until 1859, less than two years before the start of the War? Grant himself came from an abolitionist family, but his own views on it seemed to be much more ambivalent. In fact, Grant ran a small plantation, White Haven, on which he worked with the five slaves owned by his family. The remaining slaves at White Haven, who apparently just walked off at some time during the War, weren't formally freed until 1865 by Missouri's Constitutional Convention, three years after the Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee freed the last of his slaves.

Grant even favored Stephen Douglas, who was for the expansion of slavery, against Lincoln who was against its expansion, in the election of 1860.

William Tecumseh Sherman was not an abolitionist before the war and did not believe in equal rights for Blacks. His views on Southern slavery mostly ran to thinking that it was a bad reason for a war, and he had a mild view of southern slavery:
I believe the practice of slavery in the South is the mildest and best regulated system of slavery in the world now or heretofore. (April 4, 1861)
Now although in his memoirs after the War, when he was hailed as a hero for freeing slaves as he marched to the sea and had this acquired reputation to keep up, he called slavery "the chief cause" of war, he was saying something very different before and during it.

From his correspondence at the time, here were Sherman's personal views on what Louisiana should do with its practice of slavery:
I would forbid the separation of families, letting the father, mother, and children, be sold together to one person, instead of each to the highest bidder. And, again, I would advise the repeal of the statute which enacted a severe penalty for even the owner to teach his slave to read and write...
Hardly a ringing endorsement of abolition.

Sherman even believed that the Constitution entitled masters to the ownership if their slaves, and one of his arguments with an old schoolboy friend who had joined the rebellion consisted of saying that his own act of separating himself from the United States and its Constitution undermined his right to own his slaves since it was the very Constitution that gave him the legal right to have them.

Again, not exactly an abolitionist position.

Then you had Southern leaders. What are we to make of the fact that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were both opposed to secession before the War, but, once it had been effected, joined the South--not because of any opinions they had about slavery--but because of their loyalty to their states.

The South did not secede primarily to maintain slavery: it could have maintained slavery easily without the War--and it knew it, as did its Northern critics like Sherman and Kennedy. And the North did not invade the South because of slavery: even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Southern states could rejoin and keep their slaves.

The basic problem with the view that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War is that those who spout it read the changed atmosphere after the War onto the time leading up to the War. They were two very different cultural environments, which is why, when quotations are given from those participating in the Northern invasion of the South that seem to support the thesis that slavery was the primary cause of the War, they are almost always originate after the War, when it had become fashionable to say such things.

The the causes of the War should be derived from those things that were said before it--with proper attention to the motives that lay behind them.

Teachers Unions vs. Education: The saga of charter schools in Kentucky

It was sort of like a Shakespeare play: Charter school legislation in Kentucky was dead, and then it was alive again, and then it was dead again. But it could come back. Again. Today, the last day of the legislative session.

The saga of the innovative way to set up a public school began with the effort to convince state lawmakers that it was simply a good idea: allow parents to charter a school that would be funded by public money, but that would be free of many of the burdensome regulations placed on other public schools. Charter schools are increasingly popular across the country and Kentucky is one of the few states with no charter school legislation.

It's an idea that parents love--and teachers unions hate, since it results in less control by the unions of the process. Teachers unions want control of public schools for their own political purposes and unfortunately our public officials listen to them more than they listen to parents--or actual school teachers in the classroom.

Enter the Obama administration.

When President Obama appointed Arne Duncan, a charter school advocate, to be his secretary of education, the federal press for charter schools began. The administration, through the Race to the Top program, began dangling millions of dollars in front of states to push education reform. One of the things they got money for was charter schools.

In March of this year, state senators moved ahead with charter legislation, anticipating that the Kentucky might have trouble receiving Race to the Top grants because of Kentucky's lack of charter schools. A group of Republican senators met and agreed to vote for the bill, but when the meeting of the Senate Education Committee actually happened, one of them balked and changed her vote, killing the bill.

When Race to the Top grants were announced in early April, sure enough, Kentucky lost out, and only two states received money: Delaware (receiving $500 million) and Tennessee (receiving $100 million). And when state officials started looking at the numbers, they realized that if they had received the points for charter school legislation, they would have been the number two state in the nation, right after Delaware, and would have received at least what Tennessee had received.

The price tag for kowtowing to the teachers union had cost the state over $100 million.

Lawmakers quickly rethought their position. At a time of tight budgets, hundreds of millions of dollars was looking pretty good. The State Senate met promptly and passed a charter schools bill and sent it to the House before the General Assembly recessed in early April. They were to meet on April 14 and 15 to finalize a budget. At press time, the fate of the bill still wasn't clear, but State Commissioner of Education Terry Holiday had become a convert, calling on lawmakers to pass the bill.

We could still get this legislation this afternoon, simply because the federal government dangled millions of dollars in front of us. But there is going to have to come a time when state education officials start thinking less about the teachers unions and start thinking more about parents.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ed Brayton sides with pedophile priest in request to be released from celibacy

The sloppy attack on Pope Benedict grows sloppier by the hour--and more absurd.

Why are we not surprised that Ed Brayton too takes the side of a pedophile priest who in the early 80s requested a release from his celibacy vows after he had molested several children? Of course, his post doesn't mention that it was the priest who originally made the request, or that the issue of whether then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, should have granted his request had literally nothing to do with the criminal or ecclesiastical discipline of the priest or whether he has any contact with children.

Nor are we surprised that Brayton sides with the bishop in the case, who expresses in the letter his wish to get the case resolved so it won't result in bad publicity. At least Ratzinger was concerned about doing the right thing. So here is Brayton, charging Ratzinger with dragging his feet to avoid bad publicity (by citing an ambiguous comment which Ratzinger made well after the bad publicity had already come), while he himself was siding with the bishop who, in fact, had been trying to avoid bad publicity.

Brayton also repeats the Latin translation mistake made by the classics professor hired by the AP to translate the letter from Ratzinger he reprints on his site, which translates "Hoc dicasterium" as "this court." It is properly translated "this department," or "this agency." A "dicastery" in the Vatican is not a court. But translating it "court" has the benefit, I guess, of seeming to support Brayton's and other's misleading assumption that Ratzinger was dealing with an issue he wasn't even dealing with. The only thing Ratzinger at this time had control over was whether a priest could get out of his vows. He only got control over sex abuse cases in 2001.

Here is Brayton waxing ignorant on the subject:
Did I mention that this same priest molested another young girl later and was convicted for it and recently got out of prison for it?
Yes he did. But did he mention too that that incident was done after he had been dismissed from his vows? No, he did not. And did he mention that in the documented letters from the diocese to Ratzinger the priest's crimes were not even mentioned (but referred to merely as "sexual improprieties") until three years into the correspondence? And that even then the bishop mischaracterized the 11-13 year olds as "young men"? Gee, he didn't do that either.

Then Brayton laughably uses the case, in which civil authorities destroyed evidence after the priest's probation, as grounds for the Church being more expeditious in handing these matters over to civil authorities! These were civil authorities (in California) who had imposed statutes of limitations in sexual abuse cases of from 3 to 5 years.

I guess we can take Brayton's confidence in the civil courts to mean that he supports the weak sentence the priest got from the California courts? A three year suspended sentence and then three year probation? In fact, it was this sentence that was communicated later to Ratzinger by the diocese. Given the weak sentence by the civil authorities of which Brayton is so enamored, exactly how serious was he supposed to think this crime was?

It's pretty clear that Brayton hasn't even read the documents in the case. But, hey, that hasn't stopped any other anti-Catholic bloggers from sharing their ignorance.

Go Ed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

We need a Democratic History Month

Time Magazine's David Paul Kuhn, propagating not only the simplistic myth that the Civil War was primarily about slavery and that the Republican Party is somehow implicated in it:
The Confederacy cannot be divorced from its consequence. If the South won, blacks would have remained enslaved as "property." Because the Union won, blacks were liberated as people and Americans.
Kuhn's remark comes after Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour defended Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's decision to proclaim April "Confederate History Month." The myth that slavery was somehow the efficient cause of the war goes down well with people who, in addition to being historically challenged, like to give other people moralistic lectures about, well, just about anything. And by "other people," we mean primarily Republicans.

And in what way exactly are Republicans complicit in slavery? Well, you see, when you are rewriting history, it is convenient to forget that it was Republicans primarily who opposed it. In fact, it seems to be forgotten in these discussions that Lincoln was the first Republican president and that the defenders of slavery were primarily Democrats--who continued their obstructionism well after the War in their involvement in organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

One would think that if the War was about slavery that Lincoln would have a) freed the slaves in northern territories in process of emancipating southern slaves (he didn't), and b) would have said, when asked, that that's what the war was about (he didn't).

Concerning b), here is Honest Abe himself in his letter to journalist Horace Greeley, who did want the war to be about slavery, but was frustrated because Lincoln wouldn't agree:
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. [Emphasis added]

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.


A. Lincoln
But it does salve the consciences of certain people to make it appear that their opponents are defending slavery when they're not and who want the rest of us to conveniently forget the complicity of Democrats in everything from slavery to segregation.

Toward a unified theory of lies and distortions about the Pope

Once again the defenders of truth, justice, and the anti-Catholic way are engaging in their anti-Catholicism by making a mockery of truth and justice.

The most recent excuse for completely disregarding facts and evidence in their campaign to smear the Pope is another misleading press report that leaves out crucial aspects of a child abuse case, making it appear that then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, had something to do with hindering the prosecution of a pedophile priest. This is just the latest episode in a series of such smears that have emanated from the AP and the New York Times. In the Times report on the case of a Milwaukee priest, it turned out that Ratzinger was not involved at all and the Times got the quotes it said were from the judge in the case from a memo hand-written by someone else. Oh, and there was that little matter of getting their information from people who had a vested interested in a legal case against the Church.

It's enough to give lies and distortions a bad name.

Now the Associated Press seems to be vying for the most lowdown outlet for untruth--with a little help from its friends.

Of course, all the usual suspects have taken the AP report, like the Times report and spread it far and wide without actually checking to see whether it is accurate. "Pope put off punishing abusive priest," claims the headline, after which comes the claim that the future Pope, "signed a letter saying that the case needed more time and that 'the good of the Universal Church' had to be considered in the final decision, according to church documents released through lawsuits."

Now when the reader of the earlier New York Times hit job read the documents the paper linked to about the Milwaukee case, it turned out that the major claim of the story was completely fabricated. Without doubt the AP wouldn't make the same mistake.

Without doubt.

And surely those who uncritically passed along the dubious allegations of the Times piece had enough sense to delve a little more deeply into the AP charges so as to preserve at least a semblance of credibility on this issue.


But as soon as the AP report hit, the voices that bit on the last piece of anti-Catholic bait bit again. Hard.

Now comes our old friend Josh Rosenau at the National Council for Science Education, passing along the same charge that it is not a few bishops at the local level who have botched the handling of child abuse cases (which we know without question to be true), but the Vatican itself that has done it--and linking us to erroneous reports to back him up. Let's just hope this handful of wayward bishops don't botch their jobs of protecting their flocks the way Rosenau has botched his job of reporting on it.

Now I have tried to hold my tongue on Rosenau's perennially silly posts, but I'll admit: I'm a sucker when it comes to excruciatingly boneheaded attacks on the Church. They're just hard to resist.

Interestingly, Rosenau's most recent effort has him siding with a pedophile priest. It was the pedophile priest who petitioned to be released from his priestly vows. Here is an excerpt from the originating letter of John Cummins, the Bishop of Oakland, to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981:
I wish to present the petition of Father Stephen Kiesle for laicization. He wishes to return to the lay state and to be relieved of all the obligations of the priesthood, including celibacy.
Of course Rosenau doesn't mention this in his post on the incident, an oversight that, if made by someone he disagreed with, would immediately be grounds for questioning their motives (Josh has kind of a thing for that). We won't do that here of course, and will just assume that Rosenau was just sloppy and careless. But given this fact, it would be interesting to hear Rosenau's argument for how releasing the priest from his vow of celibacy would make it less likely that he might abuse children.

It would be a bit of sophistry few could accomplish, but when it comes to sophistry, Rosenau is a seasoned veteran.

In fact, the issue of letting him out of his vows had literally nothing to do with disciplining the priest for the sexual abuse. Nothing. It is a completely different issue with completely different implications for everyone involved.

One of the issues in the case was that the diocese apparently continued to allow him within the vicinity of children, and the people busy trying to put the rap on the Pope for this seem to assume a) that Ratzinger knew about this (there is no evidence he did), and that b) letting him out of his vows was necessary to keep him away from children (which is simply false). If he was near children, it was the fault of diocese officials plain and simple. There was simply nothing that prevented them from taking more care with the priest.

Rosenau proclaims, "As Ratzinger dithered, the priest returned to ministry and began volunteering at a youth ministry." And this was Ratzinger's fault? Only priests can volunteer at youth ministries? In fact, the story from which Rosenau quotes tells exactly what happened at the diocese and makes it clear that it is was first mishandled and then corrected there. The Vatican had nothing to do with it. Nada. If Rosenau or any of the other Keystone Kritics have proof that Ratzinger was somehow responsible for putting the guy in the vicinity of children, then they ought to produce it. In the case at hand their best case consists of the fact that the Vatican did not efficiently handle the case of the priest seeking to escape his vows at a time when the system was apparently clogged with many priests seeking the same thing.

Was the bureaucratic process too slow? Clearly. But does that mean that the slow reaction of the Vatican made it responsible for the actions it wasn't in any way responsible for? Just because the Church's critics engage in hasty judgment and jump to conclusions doesn't mean that the Church is somehow obliged to do so as well.

In fact, the AP article also mentions that several charges against the priest had to be dropped when the U. S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that extended the statute of limitations on child molestation cases. So why isn't Rosenau arguing that the U. S. Supreme Court is somehow at fault for the priest's roaming the streets? Their decision is just as irrelevant on that score as is any of Ratzinger's actions.

Rosenau, however, cloistered in his study doing his graduate work, not responsible for anything in the way of a worldwide church with hundreds of millions of members, has a competent grip on the situation:
Surveying the mess that the Pope made of this issue – the casual indifference to life and health – is sobering business. Not, I dare say, as sobering as the loss of life and health in Massey Energy's coal mines.
Now if you never saw a forced transition, you just did.

But the only problem is the Pope has not made a mess of the issue and has in fact done more to address this particular problem in the Church than any other single individual--despite the reckless charges of those who not only pass along flawed reports of the situation, but ought to know better.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Shame on the Church ... for slipping into Freudianism

It's always amusing to hear the enemies of the Church criticize it on grounds that are inconsistent with their own world view. In the recent "scandal" over the sexual abuse by priests, one of the problems was the fact that the Church bought in to the very methods of dealing with such things those outside the Church were pushing.

In several comments on Monday's post pointing out the distortions and half truths being leveled at the Pope over the homosexual priest child abuse scandal in Milwaukee, both Thomas and Francis Beckwith make a great point this.

One of the other problems is that many of these bishops relied on "experts" in psychiatry and psychology on how to deal with these wicked men. Too many churchmen, therefore, took a matter of sin and medicalized it. This is the modern way of doing things, the sort of posture that Dawkins, Brayton, and others suggest we emulate in every aspect of our lives.
Other than isolated cases of corrupt bishops (like the one in this case), the problem was that many American bishops were consulting psychologists, who were reporting some of these priests "cured". Considering also the fact that the rise in abuse cases corresponded with the sexual revolution of the 60's and 70's, the problem seems to be that some areas of the American Catholic church were too liberal and not Catholic enough. That's a harsh indictment from the Catholic perspective, but it's hardly the criticism that Brayton and other liberal critics want to make.
In other words, the Church screwed up, but it screwed up by accepting a secular theory of the human person that was contrary to the traditional Catholic view. Had the Church been more scrupulous in the theories it accepted (and, let's face it, in the 60s and 70s it went in for every psychological fad that came down the pike), it might have been more successful at dealing with abuses by its own priests.

Thomas makes a great point about the hypocrisy of the Church's critics, who are accusing the Church, ironically, of hypocrisy:
An interesting way to approach the problem might be: whose view of sexuality is more opposed in principle to child abuse, the liberal-permissive view or the Catholic view?

Or another way: whose view of sexuality tends to lead more towards child abuse?

On the one hand, we have an institution that upholds chastity as the highest ideal, that holds that sexuality ought to be teleologically subordinated to things other than personal pleasure, that it in fact ought to function selflessly, and so on.

On the other, we have a movement that wants to break sexuality free from the traditional institutions which serve to moderate it, a view that people ought generally to do what is satisfying for them (even if this entails infidelity and broken homes).

I have to wonder if the popular attempt to brand pedophilia by the press as a Catholic problem is an attempt to convince oneself and others that the more noxious fruits of the sexual revolution are not the responsibility of the liberal movement, but instead are the responsibility of religious people.
The secular world criticizes the Church for being old fashioned and intransigent about the way it does things, and then when it unadvisedly does what the world says it should do, they criticize it for the results.

So maybe one of the lessons of the priest sexual abuse scandal is that the Church should just stop listening to the world altogether--including their current criticisms.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Pope Benedict: Better than his critics

The people who are always running down the Catholic Church and talking about the Inquisition have now erected a stake and are gathering kindling in order to set the Pope afire.

At least during the Inquisition, they had, like, trials and evidence and stuff. But Benedict's detractors have given the Pope only a quick trial in a court no respectable kangaroo would set foot in. Their evidence against him consists mostly of a New York Times hit piece that distorts and exaggerates the Pope's actual involvement in what is admittedly a sorry affair.

This mob of torch-bearing atheists, fresh from the village, is battening on the doors of the Vatican and charging that the Pope was "personally involved in a case involving a Wisconsin priest who raped 200 deaf kids -- and that he made sure the priest was not defrocked," to quote one pitchfork wielding atheist, Ed Brayton, who is apparently under the impression that the Pope personally visited Wisconsin to make sure that pedophile priests had a plenteous supply of young boys to molest.

Brayton is either ignorant or he's lying. Or he could just be an idiot, a theory to which the title of his recent post on the matter lends some credence: "Wisconsin priest molests 200 deaf boys; Pope defends him." But he can get out of the nasty little dilemma he's put himself in by producing the evidence that Ratzinger "personally involved in the case" and that he "made sure the priest was not defrocked." It's not in the documentation of the case, so where is it?

Brayton cites a New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein to the effect (Brayton's words, not Goodstein's) that "American bishops prevailed on the Pope, when he was still Joseph Ratzinger, to do something about it and he refused." In fact, Brayton seems completely confused on what actually happened. Of course the Times story, which was misleading at best, didn't help the situation.

Here is what Goodstein said:
This week, they [Murphy's victims] learned that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, received letters about Father Murphy in 1996 from Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, who said that the deaf community needed “a healing response from the Church.” The Vatican sat on the case, then equivocated, and when Father Murphy died in 1998, he died a priest.
Smelling the smoke from over in the Times newsroom, Maureen Dowd got in on the action as well:
Now we learn the sickening news that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” when he was the church’s enforcer on matters of faith and sin, ignored repeated warnings and looked away in the case of the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys.
What Goodstein and Dowd and Brayton and the Associated Press, which also contributed to the rhetorical bonfire (not to mention the increasingly moralistic Richard Dawkins), doesn't tell readers is that it was Weakland, who reportedly archdiocese funds to pay for his homosexual lover and who Goodstein treated with kid gloves in an earlier story, sat on the case for 22 years before even informing the Vatican about it.

Oh wait. Did I say that? That the person who was the chief impediment to prosecuting Murphy was a homosexual priest? And did I say that Murphy was himself a homosexual? That his victims were primarily post-pubescent teenage boys and that he gave one person a list of gay bars in different cities? And did I mention that 81 percent of all the victims of priest sexual abuse cases are boys?

I did? I am so sorry. I take it all back. Shame on me for mentioning it. What was I thinking?

Anyway, back to Weakland ... when he did finally send a letter to the Doctrine of the Congregation of Faith, the arm of the Vatican overseen by Ratzinger in 1996, it was for advice only, since the Congregation did not become responsible for such cases until 2001. There is literally no evidence that Ratzinger even saw the letter, since his deputy, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, was the one who responded to Weakland.

The worst thing you can say about the incident from the perspective of the Vatican, is that they didn't send a letter back for 9 months. A slightly less than efficient bureaucracy. Imagine that. And when Bertone did respond, it was to suggest that the archdiocese use pastoral measures to resolve the situation rather than penal procedures. That was only a suggestion on limited information and was probably made because that was the fastest way, given the longer trial process, of taking away his ministry so he wouldn't be a danger to anyone.

In fact, neither Ratzinger nor the Vatican hindered the judicial process on Murphy, but the process was never slowed down at all. "The documents," Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, show that the canonical trial or penal process against Father Murphy was never stopped by anyone."

The Pope's detractors got off on a bad foot when they took the information uncritically from attorneys suing the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who have several pending cases against the Catholic Church in the U. S. Supreme Court--and from Milwaukee Archbishop Weakland who had control of the case from 1974 to 1996--a period of time in which, other than move the priest away from the vicinity of boys, he did precisely nothing.

Too bad the anti-Catholic media show trials don't allow cross examination of witnesses.

Then it went from bad to worse. The quotes Goodstein attributed to the judge in the case, Fr. Thomas Brundage, were someone else's account of what the judge said:
I was never contacted by any of these news agencies but they felt free to quote me. Almost all of my quotes are from a document that can be found online with the correspondence between the Holy See and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee ... The problem with these statements attributed to me is that they were handwritten. The documents were not written by me and do not resemble my handwriting. The syntax is similar to what I might have said but I have no idea who wrote these statements, yet I am credited as stating them ... I was never contacted by anyone on this document, written by an unknown source to me. Discerning truth takes time and it is apparent that the New York Times, the Associated Press and others did not take the time to get the facts correct.
The facts are not facts and the quotes are not quotes. But the Times has had its problems with journalistic integrity in the past, now hasn't it? When I was a journalist, I got my quotes from the actual person who was supposed to have said them, not from someone else's notes. Sheeez.

I went to the trouble of reading the documents myself: de Souza and Brundagre are right. There is no evidence Ratzinger ever saw any of the correspondence on the case. In fact, not only did Ratzinger not hinder sex abuse cases, but, according to Brundage (who was in a lot better position to know about the situation than any of the Pope's detractors), when Ratzinger became responsible for these cases, he handled them quite well:
... the competency to hear cases of sexual abuse of minors shifted from the Roman Rota to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith headed by Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001. Until that time, most appeal cases went to the Rota and it was our experience that cases could languish for years in this court. When the competency was changed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in my observation as well as many of my canonical colleagues, sexual abuse cases were handled expeditiously, fairly, and with due regard to the rights of all the parties involved. I have no doubt that this was the work of then Cardinal Ratzinger.
The handling of the Murphy case was completely bungled--while Archbishop Weakland had responsibility over it. It was only in 1996 when others got involved--Brundage and the Vatican--that it began to be handled properly.

In fact, Brundage is profuse in his praise for Ratzinger involvement in these issues:
Pope Benedict has repeatedly apologized for the shame of the sexual abuse of children in various venues and to a worldwide audience. This has never happened before. He has met with victims. He has reigned in entire conferences of bishops on this matter, the Catholic Bishops of Ireland being the most recent. He has been most reactive and proactive of any international church official in history with regard to the scourge of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Instead of blaming him for inaction on these matters, he has truly been a strong and effective leader on these issues.
The Pope did none of the things his detractors said he did--and had already done what his detractors demanded he do before they even asked it: namely, apologize for the Church's past handling of the problem--despite the fact that he was not personally involved. And despite the fact that he has done more to deal with the problem than any of his predecessors--and more about it than any of his critics.

The Murphy case is a terrible tragedy. Weakland should be run out of town for sitting on it for 22 years. But the people who are out trying to ignite a fire under Benedict for it ought to get a life.

Are Malthusians destroying themselves?

Someone recently made the mistaken observation, "The world has too many Malthusians, and what’s worse, they are multiplying like rabbits..." Turns out that, being Malthusians, and being worried about overpopulation and all, they have gone about the business mostly of controlling themselves and so will soon render themselves an endangered species.

In other words forget the concern some of us have had that too many Malthusians could ruin the planet. They're ruining themselves.

We have commented upon this Great Secular Death Wish here before. But the secular Cassandras are now themselves starting to pick up on it. In an article called "The Battle of the Babies" over at the New Humanist (we are assuming this means there is some improvement on the old model of humanist) they are taking note of the curious fact that when a certain part of the population decides not to have babies, its size diminishes over time in relation to the part of the population that has lots of babies:
... something about our current form of liberal secularism that contains (here’s another headline) the seeds of its own destruction. Since the birth rate of individualistic secular people the world over is way below replacement level (2.1 in the West), and the birth rate of religious fundamentalists is way above (between 5 and 7.5 depending on sect), then through the sheer force of demography religious fundamentalism is going to become a much bigger force in the world and gain considerable political muscle. Literalist religious conservatism is being reborn and we secular liberals are the midwives.
Secular liberals, it appears, are headed for the fate of the Shakers, a 19th century religious sect headed by a woman who believed in complete abstinence for everyone all the time. It was not a great growth strategy, and so the Shakers today are no more. There is a Shaker village down the road from my house. It is quite impressive, with its buildings and other fine accommodations. The only trouble is, although their doctrine gave them lots of extra energy to do fine things, someone else is now running the place.

The moral of the Shaker story is this: don't let some crazy woman head up your religious cult. That, and just remember: if you're not going to have babies, you'd better have a pretty good recruitment strategy.

In the book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth, by Eric Kaufmann, points out that the Western liberal policy of only two children per couple (and liberal abortion laws, I might add) is doing to do them in through sheer demographics. The believers in population control (my words, not his), despite their preachy condom lectures to undesirable third-worlders abroad, are controlling only themselves.

They have one child, maybe two. Their religious neighbors have five. Give it a few generations, and the competition is over.

That the part of the population that is in favor of reproduction would out-reproduce the part of the population that is against it should perhaps have been obvious to Western liberals, but for some reason it didn't occur to them until now.

Every generation has its Malthusians--people who, like the 19th century scaremonger Thomas Malthus, believe that the End is Near for some modern scientific reason. They are the secular apocalypticists. For Malthus it was a statistical truth that within several generations, the English population would outstrip the nation's resources. It was a spectacularly mistaken thesis--not to mention being just boneheaded, and food and other production outstripped population growth in spades.

We have our Malthusians today, of course. The Global Cooling alarmists of the 70s; the Nuclear Winter alarmists of the 80s; and the Global Warming alarmists of today. Paul Ehrlich and Al Gore are just two the many Jeremiah's who derive their inspiration from him. Now we have the Alarmist Alarmists: people who are warning that the alarmist strategy is eliminating so many alarmists that they are alarmed about a prospective lack of alarmists.

It is a strange irony that the strategy of the population control advocates would eliminate everyone except the ones who don't believe in population control.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Who killed Wordsworth? Studying literature by studying something else

If you were wondering what was wrong with the humanities, you need go no further than a recent article in The New York Times Book section. The good news is that the silly parsing of texts according to race and sex may be coming to and end. The bad news is that something equally silly may be taking its place.

Several years back a book was published called Who Killed Homer? about the plight of classics departments that long ago abandoned the idea that there was something of value to be learned by simply learning what the great works of classical Greece and Rome had to tell us rather than dissecting them on the basis of the most recent politically correct theories. But of course the same thing goes on across the humanities.

Here is the Times, keeping its ear to the ground for newest way to euthanize the study of English:
Jonathan Gottschall, who has written extensively about using evolutionary theory to explain fiction, said “it’s a new moment of hope” in an era when everyone is talking about “the death of the humanities.” To Mr. Gottschall a scientific approach can rescue literature departments from the malaise that has embraced them over the last decade and a half. Zealous enthusiasm for the politically charged and frequently arcane theories that energized departments in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s — Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis — has faded. Since then a new generation of scholars have been casting about for The Next Big Thing.
And what is the "Next Big Thing"? What is the "scientific" approach that is supposed to revitalize literature programs?
Literature, like other fields including history and political science, has looked to the technology of brain imaging and the principles of evolution to provide empirical evidence for unprovable theories.
In other words, the best way to bring more interest and energy (and money) to the study of literature is to study something else. Chesterton used to joke about the idea of submitting a poem "to a calculating boy." These people seem to think that would be a good idea.

Wait. I've got it! Maybe they could focus on the books themselves to see what wisdom they might contain. It's radical, I know. And would require literature professors to actually read books and discuss what they say. And it would involve them in discussing the truths that might be there and how they might apply to our lives. Which would require that they actually belief in things like truth. And wisdom.

Why didn't anyone think about this before?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Charters pass Kentucky Senate committee

A Senate committee passed a charter school bill (or at least a bill that had a charter school provision in it) early this afternoon and the full Senate was expected to pass it before it adjourned today. The reason, of course, was that the failure to pass an earlier piece of legislation has potentially cost the state over $100 million in federal education grants.

Only two states received "Race to the Top" grants in the first round of grant awards, Delaware and Tennessee. Delaware's score was 454.6 and Tennessee's was 444.2. Delaware received $500 million and Tennessee received $100 million. Kentucky's score was 418.8. Had it not given up the 32.6 points by refusing to pass charter legislation, it's score would have been 451.4, second only to Delaware's score.

But since so many lawmakers listened to the teachers unions, who lobbied against charters, the state got nothing.

The passage by the Senate committee of the bill with unanimous Republican support means that Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R-Lexington) changed her vote. She was the deciding vote against charters earlier in the session. That should mean that the full Senate will pass the bill.

In the discussion of the bill in committee Sen. Tim Shaughnessy (D-Louisville) complained that lawmakers didn't have enough time to fully vet the issue:
“I was prepared to take the position that I'm open to this — just not today,” Shaughnessy said. “There is absolutely no way can I vote for such a … sea change in the public education strategy of this state with so little serious thought as to the ramifications and the consequences of what we could be under.”
Well, excuse me, but whose fault is that? When I asked another senator on the committee why she didn't vote for the bill earlier in the session, I heard this same excuse. Precisely which hole have these lawmakers had their head stuck in over the last few years? The issue of charter schools has been on the nation's educational agenda for plenty of time for everyone to have seriously thought about it.

If you are a lawmaker sitting on a state education committee and you haven't thought seriously about charter schools, then you probably need to find another line of work. If you're going to be in a decision-making position for state education issues, then you need to have thought about this issue and if you haven't, you have no one to blame but yourself.

So now let's see what the House does.