Monday, January 31, 2011

In Defense of Taco Bell: An apologia for the burrito supreme

My first job was at Taco Bell. It was a little store in Lomita, California, and I got the job right after I turned 16--in 1975. When I showed up for the interview, I was ushered by "Mrs. B" (which everyone called her--at her own request) into her closet-sized office near the back of the store.

"Martin," I remember her saying, "you need to remember one thing." I nodded, waiting for the words of wisdom to usher from her lips. "We sell Cadillac food at Volkswagen prices," she declared, proud of her little food establishment.

This, of course, was back in the days when every fourth car was a Volkswagen Bug, and didn't cost much--and when Cadillacs were the luxury cars of choice.

I worked there for a year, and I made more tacos, burritos, enchiritos, and cups of frijoles than I care to remember. In fact, if I were put on the food line once again, I could still do passable job of making most things on the menu. In fact, I have had many excuses over the years for giving the people behind the counter a lecture on how a burrito should be folded, but so far have resisted the temptation.

I acquired a taste for tacos and burritos when I worked there and Taco Bell is my favorite fast food joint.

When I later worked as a short order cook for a coffee shop while working my way through college, I remember thinking how favorably Taco Bell compared with where I was working as far as cleanliness and a few other things were concerned. I saw things there I would never have seen at the Taco Bell I had worked for--and some of those thing moved of their own accord.

One of the things I always took comfort in in eating the food at Taco Bell was that all of it was made there and was pretty basic stuff. A burrito supreme, for example, is just a flour tortilla with beans, meat, sour cream, grated cheese, diced tomatoes, and shredded lettuce.

When I saw the lawsuit that now claims that Taco Bell's meat is only 34 percent beef, I ran back the tape. I remember making the stuff. We'd take basic ground hamburger, put it in a large tray and turn on the gas heat. We would add a packet of seasoning and cook it. When it was done, I would draw off the fat and it was ready to go.

If you had asked us "Where's the beef?" we could, with a fairly high degree of plausibility, have pointed to the meet tray and said, "It's right there." So when I see people claiming that it's not beef, I'm thinking that that can't even be 34 percent true.

Now I'm sure that there have been some changes, but the stuff I get now in a burrito or a taco tastes pretty much the same as what I made when I was a teenager. So when I heard Taco Bell's counter-claim--that its meat is 88 percent beef with "3 percent water, 4 percent Mexican spices and seasonings, 5 percent is made up of oats, yeast, citric acid and other ingredients"--I thought that that pretty much comports my own experience cooking the stuff.

I think this is really just the first skirmish in a larger war against fast food that the Health Nazis are now preparing. They've already taken out trans fats, and they won't stop at that. My theory is that it isn't a lack of beef that really bugs the food activists, but the fact that people are eating beef at all--and french fries, and onion rings, and pizza.

This is a ploy to ultimately eliminate fast food altogether.

These are people won't be happy until we're all non-smoking vegetarians subsisting on tofu and bean sprouts, who power walk in broad daylight with those silly white visors, who won't live in a community without a bike trail, who have small, annoying dogs with foreign names you can't pronounce, and who give their children names like "Weatherby" and "Millicent."

Well listen up, 'cuz I've got news for these Swedish car-driving namby-pambies: I will defend my right to a taco with my life. And if you touch my chalupa, you're goin' down. And my burrito supreme?

You'll have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Queer Liberation Front's lunch counter moment

The "Queer Liberation Front" has announced a sit-in in Middletown, CT. The group is sick and tired of the media fawning over the gay rights movement, celebrating it as some sort of mainstream phenomenon, and trying to prove its relationships are just as normal as traditional marriages through smarmy feature stories and ridiculously unrealistic television characters that have little relation to what actually goes on in the gay subculture.

This wasn't about being normal; this was about questioning the whole idea of normality. This wasn't about becoming conventional; it was about defying the conventions. This wasn't about making the gay lifestyle look traditional to outsiders; it was about upsetting the whole traditional applecart and subverting the entire marriage culture, remember?

This was about tearing the mask off the whole Ozzie and Harriet lie.

We changed our names to alternate spellings, not to be the same, but to be different. We talked different, we dressed different, we lived different. Don't you remember, "We're here, we're queer!"? Remember when we were in society's face with a subversive message about they're whole way of life?

So stop salivating all over us and trying to make us into some conventional caricature of what we are really about. Stop trying to co-opt our whole ...

... Wait a second. Let me read this story more carefully. Oh, shoot. I'm sorry. That's not right. Actually, it's just a group of gays protesting at a Javapalooza after some over-reactive employee having a bad hair day roughed up a gay customer who had brought in a Dunkin' Donuts drink against policy.

Never mind.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Belmont University includes gay-friendly language in discrimination policy

In moral capitulation news today, Belmont University announced that it is adding "sexual orientation" to its non-discrimination policy. The university had been under fire for removing its women's soccer coach who had announced that she was a lesbian and that her partner was having a baby.

At the same time it announced it was officially adopting gay rights language, Belmont changed the preamble of its anti-discrimination policy to say that it is a "Christian university and that the university strives to uphold Christian standards of morality, ethics and conduct."

Just in case anyone might wonder.

Observers speculate that Belmont might also give its future official stamp of approval to unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Should such policies be adopted, it is expected that the university will amend the expression of Christian commitment in its preamble to include the words, "Honest, no joke," or possibly, "Cross our hearts, hope to die, stick a needle in our eye."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Joel Osteen and the Thought Police: A Cautionary Tale

I believe it was the theologian Donald Grey Barnhouse who, when asked what he thought about Norman Vincent Peale, the previous generation's feel good ambassador and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, responded, "I find Paul appealing and Peale appalling."

Joel Osteen is the newest incarnation of Peale--who spouts a sort of warmed over version of the power of positive thinking with a light Jesus coating. So he's not exactly Jeremiah. In fact, he's a pretty good approximation of Pollyanna. So it is a bit surprising that Osteen would become the latest target for the verbal truncheons of the Tolerance Police.

What caused the Brown Shorts to take to the streets was Osteen's remark on Piers Morgan Tonight that homosexuality is a sin. It apparently came as a surprise to the Thought Monitors that this is a Christian position. Such is the state of Biblical literacy. But perhaps they can be excused for being surprised that Osteen said it.

But it wasn't just surprise that resulted in all the liberal goose stepping. It was the remark itself. So now we have all of these angry champions of Tolerance and Diversity running around, pointing their fingers at Osteen, trying to expel him from civilized society for espousing a view different from theirs.

These people have passed the point of self-parody and have now entered the realm of utter ridiculousness.

Piers Morgan himself, apparently outraged that someone would have moral beliefs that diverge from the official Diversity position, rent his black robe and declared Osteen "judgmental." I missed the last part of the interview, but I wouldn't be surprised if Morgan's last words on the program were something akin to, "take this man away!"

Pretty soon we'll all be asked to extend our right arms out straight in front of ourselves and salute the PC flag as we are forced to march by in perfect formation, chanting peace slogans and singing Diversity songs.

So anyway, I gotta go. There's a knock at my door. They're probably here to install the telescreen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rand Paul on Obama and cutting the budget

Rand Paul announces his plan to cut $500 billion from the budget and responds to the drunken sailor now posing as the President:

Evil puppet masters at Jefferson County teacher's union about to embarrass the school district again

The evil education puppet masters at the Jefferson County Teachers Association are trying to reassert their control over the Jefferson County School Board by trying to reinstall Sheldon Berman as the superintendent after Berman was voted out several weeks ago.

I'm thinking Stromboli here (from Pinocchio, the guy who runs the puppet show and collects the money).

Not that they ever really lost control. The strings still mostly control the board marionettes. But still Berman's ouster had to be embarrassing for them. Here they had succeeded in running the district into the ground and frightened off most of the families who could afford to send their children somewhere else, and all of a sudden several of the puppets went off script and actually held someone accountable for it.

Accountability? Board members thinking for themselves? How could these quislings even think of doing something so utterly reasonable?

So the JCTA doesn't want Berman to leave the education show and now they're going to embarrass the district further by trying to force a vote to keep Berman. If they do this, the district will become an utter laughing-stock.

Oh, wait. I forgot. They already are a laughing-stock. If the JCTA succeeds here, what has up until now looked like a comedy will start to look more like what it really is: a tragedy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is P. Z. Myers a sorry excuse for an atheist?

In his "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," C. S. Lewis' senior devil Screwtape addresses a banquet of tempters in training and apologizes for the poor quality of the souls on which they are having to dine. "[I]t would be vain to deny," says Screwtape, "that the human souls on whose anguish we have been feasting tonight were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skillful cookery of our tormentors could make them better than insipid."

Screwtape compares the souls of contemporary sinners unfavorably to those of bygone days:
Oh, to get one's teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry VIII or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there, something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious resistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards when you'd got it down.
Scott Stephens makes a similar point--a point made earlier this year by David Bentley Hart--about the intellectual quality of modern atheists.

I have said many times before that the New Atheists are a pale imitation of the old atheists of late 19th and early 20th centuries who were not simply cultural barbarians, but men widely learned beyond science, most of whom actually understood much of what they criticized. The Thomas Huxleys and H. L. Menckens have, alas, been replaced by the likes of Myers and Richard Dawkins.

Huxley, of course, claimed to be an agnostic, an intellectual character George Barnard Shaw once called an atheist without the courage his convictions. But Huxley was just as much an enemy of the Church.

Where are the atheists now who can come with lines like Huxley's, "extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science like snakes around the cradle of Hercules"? Or Mencken's "Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing"?

They were wrong, of course, but they were magnificently, gloriously wrong--unlike Myers and his ilk, who, when they go wrong (which is not infrequent), do it with an unfortunate lack of rhetorical sophistication. If you're going to be wrong, you should at least provide your audience with something to marvel at. To read Mencken's Treatise on the Gods is, if not to be philosophically impressed, at least to be wondered at for its creativity (he basically makes up the history of religious belief as he goes along).

When the old atheists missed, you could at least admire the impressive explosion, but when the New Atheists miss (which they do at least as often), you find yourself standing there disappointed, gazing on a logical dud.

When the old atheists fired a barb, you often found yourself tipping your hat. With the New Atheists, you just find yourself shaking your head. To read Myers is to have to wade knee high through sophomoric vitriol that someone like Mencken would scorned as juvenile, if not simply insipid.

They also had stouter constitutions, these paleo-atheists. Today's atheists--like the ones now suing the state of Kentucky over God language in its Homeland Security statute--have even taken to claiming to be emotionally traumatized by mentions of God. The expression "put on your man pants" suffered severe overuse in the last election, but if it has a legitimate use, it would be here.

No self-respecting atheist of yore would claim he experienced "mental pain and anguish" because of theism. He would instead have tried to inflict it on his theistic opponents.

Hand it to Myers, he at least tries to do this, if he doesn't exactly succeed.

In a new post at his blog, Myers complains about these unfavorable comparisons of him and his fellow New Atheists to the Great Atheists of Old:
This is such a dreary and dishonest approach; it involves puffing up dead or less popular atheists into demigods who strode the earth with cosmic seriousness, while anyone new and slightly less moribund is sneered at as inferior, the weak and enfeebled scions of a diminished age, and therefore deserving nothing but dismissal.
Well, at least he produced a mildly competent alliteration in that first sentence. And I do like the "strode the earth" bit. Oh, and the "scions of a diminished age" isn't too bad either.

Maybe there's hope.

But it's all downhill from there. Myers retorts that he and his New Atheist friends place greater stress on science--something he apparently thinks the old atheists knew nothing about:
I disagree — these New Atheists are simply basing their ideas more strongly on science, something the theistic critics don't seem to comprehend — and I don't consider them less than the Old Atheists, just different, and even there, we're all making the same argument that gods don't exist.
The point Myers seems to miss is that at least the Old Atheists knew enough about science to know the difference between science and philosophy, a distinction people like Myers, Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking run roughshod over without apparent notice. In fact, Myers seems to have a generally troubled relationship with philosophy, the one discipline competence in which is required to conduct the kind of discussion in which he thinks he is competent to engage.

So Myers, seemingly unequipped with a philosophy gland, beats his chest and let's loose the atheist yell which he hopes will resound throughout the religious forest, attracting an opponent:
And if the New Atheists are such scrawny, flabby specimens, why aren't you simply clobbering us with those powerful arguments you developed to crush our predecessors?
Um, maybe because he wouldn't recognize a powerful argument if it had a sign saying "Powerful Argument Here" on it? There are a multitude of arguments offered by thinkers far more substantive than Myers that have been presented over the last 2,000, and the fact that Myers isn't impressed with them tells us very little about the quality of the arguments themselves. They tell us more about Myers.

Myers has confronted the theistic enemy before, only to come away scratching his head. He complains that Stephens doesn't offer any real arguments and then compares him in this regard to Terry Eagleton and David Bentley Hart.

It's interesting that he should mention Hart, who is one of the theists Myers has ham-handedly tried to confront, only to walk away thinking he has encountered the enemy successfully when in reality he has only encountered his own philosophical inadequacies.

The technique Myers and others (I'm thinking especially of Ed Brayton here) use is this: they troll the Internet for stupid things Christians say, present them to their readers as representative of theistic thought, shoot them down, and then high five each other as if they had really accomplished something. Call it the Shooting Fish in a Barrel Method of atheistic apologetics.

It's sort of like going down to the local pay lake, catching a big fish and thinking that you're God's gift to sportsmanship.

If he were really interested in competent theistic opposition he could go over to Frank Beckwith's blog--or Ed Feser's. But no. That would require some actual intellectual exertion. Or maybe it's because every time he does do this, he simply embarrasses himself.

As soon as Myers encounters a competent thinker like Hart, he seems to experience some sort of intellectual breakdown that causes him to rhetorically wander around mumbling imprecations against his target that indicate he knows nothing about what the person is talking about or simply become oblivious to what the person is saying, not understanding the person' simplest statements.

Myers recent responses to two of Myers posts on Hart have been dealt with in detail by my co-blogger Thomas here and here. But suffice it to say they are not exactly inspiring intellectual displays.

Nope. Stephens is right. They just don't make atheists like they used to.

P. Z. Myers needing a designated logician on the Gaskell case

Oh my, it looks like we have really upset Internet atheist P. Z. Myers once again. At least that is what I conclude from all the snarling in his response to my opinion piece today in the Lexington Herald-Leader on the University of Kentucky's Gaskell Affair over at his blog "Pharyngula."

But maybe it's not a sign of his being upset. He does, after all do this all the time. Maybe its just a part of his genetic make-up to act this way. Or possibly it was something in his upbringing. I have heard of young children taken when they were young and raised by wolves. Although, in Myers' case, I'm not sure even the wolves would have taken him.

Myers' post seems to have been penned on the principle that a sufficient number of epithets and pejorative adjectives at some point constitute an argument.

No, wait. I'm sorry. I may have spoken too soon. After removing several layers of vitriol, and dusting away a large quantity of vindictiveness, I think I may have discovered some actual attempts to make a logical case against my arguments. Okay, so they're not exactly impressive, but let's see what we can make of them.

Here is Myer's main argument, such as it is:
He claims that the reason Gaskell was not hired was religious oppression, overt discrimination against him for the fact of being a Christian. A university in America would have virtually no faculty or staff if they had an unspoken policy of discrimination against the Christian majority in this country; there were believers on that committee, I'm sure, just as there are believers on every committee I've ever worked with at my universities, and the atheists are usually the minority. So to claim that this committee thought that the idea of a candidate going to church was grounds for exclusion is absurd.
Does Myers really believe that you have to have a policy of discrimination "against the Christian majority in this country" to run afoul of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Does he think the only way someone can sue for racial discrimination is because a university has a "policy," spoken or unspoken, against a whole racial minority?

Who's being absurd?

You violate the Civil Rights Act when you discriminate against one person. If you're black and a university discriminates against you, you don't have to prove there's a general conspiracy against blacks. All you have to prove is that they discriminated against you because you're black.

Let's just be glad Myers isn't an attorney. And for crying out loud keep him away from racial discrimination issues. No telling how many African Americans have been filing false discrimination cases.

The case showing UK discriminated against Gaskell because he was an evangelical Christian was a dream case for an attorney. The e-mail documents in the case referring to him as "potentially evangelical" by one committee member and other e-mails from other members of the committee with first hand experience of what went on alleging that he was, in fact, being discriminated against are about as hot as smoking guns get. It just don't get any better than this--or worse, depending on your perspective.
Gaskell's employment was questioned, not because he is a Christian, but because he is an evangelical Christian who used his authority as an astronomer to mislead the public about biology.
Where? What precisely did Gaskell say about biology in any professional capacity that was professionally out of bounds?

In fact, the whole rest of his post goes on under the assumption that Gaskell held some view in his professional capacity that violates basic tenets of biology. But he never says what this is.
He wasn't turned away because he was a Christian, but because he actively uses Christianity as an excuse to peddle falsehoods and doubts. And the objection wasn't to the "Christian" part, but to the "false doubts" part.
Myers' appears to be completely ignorant of this case. The e-mail from Sally Shafer that must have had the UK administration scared enough about the eventual outcome of this case to want to settle didn't say that Gaskell was a "potential peddler of falsehoods and doubts." It said he was a "potential evangelical."

That makes Sally Shafter a potential bigot. And it makes Myers' a potential ostrich, sticking his head in the sand and ignoring the actual evidence in this case. If this case doesn't constitute religious discrimination, then nothing does.

He should have just stuck with the epithets. They would have been more logically compelling.

My op ed on UK's Gaskell Affair in today's Herald-Leader

My article on the Gaskell Affair at University of Kentucky was published in today's Lexington Herald-Leader.

It highlights the university's doublespeak on diversity, as evidenced by its actions toward Gaskell, who was up for the position of observatory director at UK until it was discovered he was "potentially evangelical."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pro-abortion statements we're not making up

What was it that accounts for the environment in which the "House of Horrors" that a Pennsylvania abortionist was running went virtually unregulated by the state in Philadelphia, where babies were routinely delivered alive and then killed?

Too much regulation. So says the nation's chief institutional death lobby, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL)

You can't make this stuff up.

HT: Verum Serum

Should even the health of women be sacrificed to the gods of "pro-choice" ideology?

While liberal commentators are still, albeit more discreetly now, spinning the Tucson murders in order to lay them at the feet of conservatives despite absolutely no evidence that the Jared Loughner was ever inspired by Sarah Palin, the smoking gun for the responsibility for the murder of many more young children by a Philadelphia abortion doctor has been found.

Dr. Josef Menge ... er, rather Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arrested for murdering seven late term babies by various means including ripping their spinal cords out after they had been born alive and for causing the death of one mother. Turns out he had been doing this kind of thing for years thanks to the fact that Pennsylvania's health bureaucracy was looking the other way.

Why did the state's health authorities look the other way? Could it have been that there was a climate of permissiveness caused by "abortion rights" ideology so marked that not only babies, but, it turns out, even the health of women was sacrificed to the gods of "choice"?

Make your own judgment. Here is an excerpt from the Grand Jury's report on the Gosnell death camp indicating how Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) official Janice Staloski viewed the matter based on the "pro-choice" ideology of the Tom Ridge administration:
Staloski said that DOH's policy during Gov. Ridge's administration was motivated by a desire not to be "putting a barrier up to women" seeking abortions.
If you have a strong stomach, read the rest of the report for a grisly accounting of the ultimate results of pro-choice ideology.

Not only did Staloski and other officials make sure health authorities looked the other direction, they even ignored reports of harm to women from procedures performed by Gosnell.

But don't hold your breath for the liberal media commentators who have blamed Sarah Palin for the Tucson shooting upon a total lack of evidence to pay any attention the clear indication here of why a medical butcher was allowed to operate for years free of any state oversight whatsoever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Abortionist caught killing babies. What's the world coming to?

Most people have now heard about Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist who was charged Wednesday with killing seven babies.

Abortionists killing babies? What is the world coming to?

Pretty soon murderers will start killing people and thieves will start stealing, shoplifters will start taking things from stores and arsonists will begin setting fire to stuff. Before you know it, you'll have burglars breaking into houses and forgers faking signatures. And rapists: who knows what they might do to women?

Gosnell is accused of "delivering seven babies alive and then using scissors to kill them." Part of the problem was apparently that Pennsylvania health regulators completely stopped inspecting his clinic in 1993 and his medical practice went completely unregulated for 17 years. This was unfortunate. If health inspectors had done their job, they might have made sure that Gosnell cut the babies up inside the womb instead of outside it.

And then no babies would have been killed.

Gosnell also performed many late-term abortions, which are illegal in Pennsylvania:
Gosnell sometimes joked about the babies, saying one was so large he could "walk me to the bus stop," according to the report.
Late term fetuses aren't babies, of course, even though they look like babies, and feel pain like babies, and are virtually identical with babies in every way. So aborting them isn't anything like killing a baby, except for the fact that is exactly the same.

"In a typical late-term abortion," says the AP story, "the fetus is dismembered in the uterus and then removed in pieces." This method of abortion is much different than the procedure used in early term abortions, where, instead of dismembering the baby in the uterus and them removing it in pieces, the baby is dismembered in the uterus and then removed in pieces.

Except, of course, those early term abortions which use the much more humane procedure of sucking the baby out with a hollow plastic tube into a bottle.

But Gosnell went much further than this. He killed babies.
Prosecutors estimated Gosnell ended hundreds of pregnancies by cutting the spinal cords, but they said they couldn't prosecute more cases because he destroyed files.
"These killings became so routine that no one could put an exact number on them," the grand jury report said. "They were considered 'standard procedure.'"
As an abortionist, Gosnell should have known better.
Authorities raided Gosnell's clinic early last year in search of drug violations and stumbled upon "a house of horrors," Williams said. Bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses "were scattered throughout the building," the district attorney said. "There were jars, lining shelves, with severed feet that he kept for no medical purpose."
Maybe we should just be glad that these bags and bottles contained fetuses that had been aborted--rather than babies that had been killed. Just imagine how much worse that would be.

As assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore put it, Gosnell "does not know how to do an abortion." You can say that again. The guy apparently was incapable of doing an abortion without killing a baby.

And we can't have that.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You can be as nutty as a fruitcake and still be sane

A lot of people believe that if you are insane, you can't be sent to jail to pay for your crime. But that's not true.

The issue has come up once again as a result of the Tucson shootings, where there has been speculation that Jared Loughner may plead insanity and be sent to a mental hospital and not have to do time.

Everyone has heard of the insanity defense. It is a legal maneuver by defense attorneys to try to keep their clients from going to jail. But some people mistakenly think that just because someone is "insane" they can therefore get off the hook. The idea is that a person who is insane cannot appreciate the criminality of his act, and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. And if you are not responsible for your actions, then you cannot be punished for them.

It seems to be a simple matter of justice.

But here's the problem with the issue of insanity and the law: the legal definition of insanity and the psychological definition of insanity are not the same. You can be psychologically "insane," but not legally "insane."

A person is considered legally insane if he either a) cannot appreciate the criminality of his act or b) cannot conform his behavior to the law. But there are a whole host of psychological conditions commonly referred to as "insane" that do not meet either of these criteria in and of themselves. In fact, the term "insanity" is even a psychological term. It is a legal term.

A person can be psychotic, manic depressive, paranoid, bipolar, suffer from an anxiety disorder, or even be schizophrenic and appreciate the criminality of his actions and be able to conform his behavior to the law.

You can be as nutty as a fruitcake and not be insane

Noah's ark theme park: another liberal dilemma

I wonder if any of the people who thought it was intolerant to oppose a mosque being put up on ground zero in New York also think it is tolerant to opposed to a Noah's ark theme park in Kentucky.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is Theism a Fraud? and other questions some people think they can answer without knowing the best arguments for a position

A week or two ago, I saw a post come across my Google Reader about a philosopher who had decided to "call it quits" on the philosophy of religion:
Over the past ten years I have published, in one venue or another, about twenty things on the philosophy of religion ... But no more. I’ve had it. I’m going back to my real interests in the history and philosophy of science and, after finishing a few current commitments, I’m writing nothing more on the subject. It was kind of a strange post, since this kind of thing is not normally "news." Who the heck cares whether some academic has decided not to study or teach in a particular area of his discipline, anyway?
I take it that one of the benefits accruing to someone who decides not to do any more work in a particular field is that he doesn't have to talk about it anymore. But if he doesn't want to talk about it anymore, then why is he announcing it to the world?

It would be sort of like someone working in public relations having a press conference to announce that he didn't want to deal with the press anymore, and then taking questions from reporters about it.

Anyway, then I start seeing all these posts about this particular philosopher, Keith Parsons, who teaches the subject at the University of Houston, Clear-Lake, and how he took this dramatic action that everyone is supposed to care about, but not so much that he has to talk about it some more because that was the whole point of doing it in the first place.

Parsons states that he thinks the whole thing is a fraud, albeit perpetrated by sincere people.
I found the arguments so execrably awful and pointless that they bored and disgusted me ... I have to confess that I now regard “the case for theism” as a fraud and I can no longer take it seriously enough to present it to a class as a respectable philosophical position...
His announcement is curious because he does not actually give any reasons for why he thinks this, something you would expect a philosopher to do.

But now it is becoming interesting because his announcement has become the subject of some debate over the philosophy of religion, with our good friend Edward Feser weighing in on this curious non-news event that somehow got media traction. Parsons first says "who's Edward Feser?" and then accuses Feser of being "nasty." He apparently thinks that engaging in intellectual debate is "nasty." No wonder then, that Parsons doesn't want to deal with philosophy of religion anymore. I mean, he would have to, like, debate and defend his positions and all that nasty stuff.

Feser, far from being "nasty," criticizes Parsons for not having dealt, in his treatments of theistic positions, with classical theism itself, preferring instead to deal exclusively with modern theistic personalism, which, compared with classical theism, is a mere side attraction on the main highway of historical theism:
In general, though at least some contemporary atheist philosophers may be said to have a solid enough grasp of the arguments of writers like Plantinga and Swinburne, their grasp of the mainstream classical theistic tradition tends to be at best only slightly better than that of vulgar pop atheist writers like Richard Dawkins (who, as I demonstrate both in Aquinas and, more polemically, in The Last Superstition, hasn’t the faintest clue about what writers like Aquinas really said). And if one hasn’t grappled seriously with the arguments of the great classical theists, then one simply cannot claim to have dealt a serious blow to theism as such. Not even close.
Parsons, in response, simply accuses Feser of nastiness. Then comes the most lastest response to Parsons by Feser, in which Feser points to further evidence of why, after all, Parsons might want to find something else to do:
Parsons says, as if it were something we could all agree on:

Both theists and atheists begin with an uncaused brute fact.

And the problem is that that is precisely not what theists do, at least not if we are talking about theists like Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Avicenna, Aquinas, and all the other great representatives of classical theism. Aristotle’s Pure Act is not a brute fact. Plotinus’ One is not a brute fact. Anselm’s That Than Which Nothing Greater Can Be Conceived is not a brute fact. Aquinas’s Subsistent Being Itself is not a brute fact. And so forth. In each case we have arguments to the effect that the material universe in principle must have had a cause and that the divine cause arrived at not only happens not to have a cause (as a “brute fact” would) but rather in principle could not have had or needed a cause and in principle could not have not existed. And the reasons, of course, have to do with the metaphysics of potency and act, the difference between composite substances and that which is metaphysically absolutely simple, the real distinction between essence and existence in anything contingent, and other aspects of classical metaphysics in the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and Scholastic traditions.

...Neo-Platonist, Aristotelian, and Thomistic and other Scholastic writers are hardly marginal theists, after all. They are the paradigmatic theists. They invented (what is these days called) the philosophy of religion and the core arguments in the field. They represent a 2300 year old tradition of philosophical theism, and their thought has historically determined the intellectual articulation of revelation-oriented religions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
It's sort of like a scientist saying that, despite only a passing familiarity with the thought of Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr, he had found relativity theory and quantum mechanics wanting. Or, despite only a vague idea of the accomplishments of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn, you had announced classical music a fraud.


Friday, January 14, 2011

John Lennox collapses Stephen Hawking's Universe

The best takedown of Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design I have yet heard is by John Lennox, a mathematician and philosopher of science at Oxford. He points out a number of shortcomings in Hawking's case against both God and philosophy, partly by pointing out that Hawking's scientific arguments don't establish what he claims they establish, and partly by point out that his philosophical arguments against philosophy are not only bad but self-contradictory.

His article in the Daily Mail several weeks back is itself excellent:
But, as both a scientist and a Christian, I would say that Hawking's claim is misguided. He asks us to choose between God and the laws of physics, as if they were necessarily in mutual conflict.

But contrary to what Hawking claims, physical laws can never provide a complete explanation of the universe. Laws themselves do not create anything, they are merely a description of what happens under certain conditions.

What Hawking appears to have done is to confuse law with agency. His call on us to choose between God and physics is a bit like someone demanding that we choose between aeronautical engineer Sir Frank Whittle and the laws of physics to explain the jet engine.

But it his speech at the University of Dundee in Scotland in which his mastery of both science and philosophy that makes him the best qualified person to address Hawking is on full display. It is an example of Christian apologetics at its best.

Plus he's got a really cool Irish accent.

You can see the video here. Just scroll to the bottom of the page. The audio was not good at the very beginning of the mp3 version I have, but they fix it just a few minutes from the beginning and it's excellent from there

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's Loughner's Fault, Not Yours: Why the left is offering excuses for the guilty

I have written several posts over the last several days making the point that most of the commenters on my blog seem to have missed. My chief question was who was responsible for the shootings, and, secondarily, whether there is hypocrisy in the charges by the left about violent rhetoric from the right.

I also tried to put my answers to these questions in some kind of ideological context. The left consistently downplays individual responsibility in favor of group responsibility, concrete personal culpability in favor of abstract group culpability, and psychological explanations in favor of moral ones. These views have been on full display in the national discussion that is now going on over the shootings.

The discussion, as usual, ranged beyond the actual point I was making. There are a lot of questions you could ask about what happened: Is there more extreme rhetoric than there should be? Is one side or another more responsible for it? Is this overheated rhetoric unprecendented? Does it contribute to the common good?

My own opinion on some of these issues is the same as that of some members in good standing of the Peanut Gallery here at Vital Remants. Is there too much violent rhetoric? Probably. Is one side more responsible for it? I think Thomas and some others are probably right that there is more conservative rhetoric of this nature than liberal, partly (but not wholly) because there are more conservative commentators and partly (but not wholly) because one of them is Glenn Beck. As I have said before, that a network would give the guy any airtime at all, let alone his own show, is a continual wonder to me.

Is the rhetoric unprecedented? I don't think anyone who has any familiarity with American history could say that it is. Heck, Kentucky alone has enough political violence to fill a whole book. Does it contribute to the common good? I would say undoubtedly not.

But my point is that the left seems to have little to say about Loughner's individual concrete moral responsibility in the matter. Instead, we get lectures on the culpability of some abstract political "atmosphere" (which is blamed on the right), the role played by overenthusiastic political rhetoric of certain political interests (usually the right, but, in some cases, extrapolated out to the whole of society), and painfully amateurish pop psychological analyses of Loughner (by people who think that you can psychoanalyze someone from across the country who you've never met and really don't know much about).

Almost everything the left has to say about the shootings militates against Loughner's guilt. Almost every analysis from liberal commentators would constitute an excuse if Loughner himself said it.

The liberal rhetoric does everything except talk about the fact that it was Loughner's fault.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Keith Olberman will never pass for Mr. Rogers

National Review, on Keith Olberman's hypocritical charge that conservatives use violent imagery:

There’s a lot for Olbermann to regret. He explicitly acknowledged and apologized for a rather mild (by Olbermann standards) reference to then-candidate Hillary Clinton, in which he’d proposed that a male Democratic delegate go into a room with Clinton “and only he comes out.”

#ad#Maybe he regretted that one only because it involved a fellow Democrat? Over the years, he’s told opponents they have “blood on their hands,” should “go to hell,” are equivalent to al-Qaeda, and are responsible for creating terrorism.

In 2007, Olbermann called rival network Fox News “worse than al-Qaeda#...#for our society” and said the channel was “as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan ever was.” He referred to Gen. David Petraeus as “betray us.”

The following year, Olbermann said that the terms the president had applied to Iraqi terrorists applied to his administration. “Mr. Bush, at long last, has it not dawned on you that the America you have now created includes ‘cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives’?” demanded Olbermann. “They are those in, or formerly in, your employ, who may yet be charged some day with war crimes.” In 2009, his rage naturally extended to former vice president Dick Cheney, whom he called “as dishonest, as insane as any terrorist.” He also railed against Cheney for his support of the war in Iraq, stating, “You were negligent before 9/11. Your response to your complicity by omission on 9/11 was panic and shame and insanity, and lying this country into a war that did nothing but kill 4,299 more of us.”

In 2009, he said that deprived of “the total mindless, morally bankrupt, knee-jerk, fascistic hatred,” Michelle Malkin would be “a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” Then, Olbermann shared this hateful message with those participants in Glenn Beck’s 9/12 movement: “In short, Glenn, 9-12ers, if you are invoking 9/11 just to oppose health-care reform, go to hell!” Last April, Rush Limbaugh argued that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was motivated not by talk radio, but by how the federal government handled Waco. Olbermann reacted by talking about Limbaugh’s “hate radio” and said that “frankly, Rush, you have that blood on your hands now and you have had it for 15 years.”

Read the rest here.

State Department joins war on marriage

The U. S. State Department has now officially joined the War on Marriage:

Goodbye, Mom and Dad. Hello, Parent One and Parent Two.

The State Department has decided to make U.S. passport application forms "gender neutral" by removing references to mother and father, officials said, in favor of language that describes one's parentage somewhat less tenderly.

The change is “in recognition of different types of families,” according to a statement issued just before Christmas that drew widespread attention Friday after a Fox News report.
Every time you see an organization doing something like this they try to take cover under the language of necessity, when in fact it is simply another instance of a government entity taking a politically activist stand on a controversial social issue.

Was there really some problem the State Department is trying to solve here? Was it causing an administrative problem for somebody? Of course not. It's just another way of throwing a bone to gay rights groups who have political power far out of proportion to their actual numbers.

What other government procedures are we going to change in order to kowtow to gay rights groups? Will passport application forms still ask the gender of the person applying? Or are we going to take full account of gay rights ideology and instead start asking applicants where they fall on the gender spectrum between male and female?

Now that could create some interesting administrative headaches.

HT: Gene Veith

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Liberal Media: YOU shot Gabrial Giffords

I have not killed anyone this week, and that fact is rather amazing. You see, I did something very, very bad last Sunday in church. I lifted my voice and sang, "Onward Christian Soldiers" with the rest of the congregation.

If you look at this song, you will see very quickly that it uses military metaphors, and military metaphors appeal to violence. And, as we all now know, violent metaphors lead to actual violence. So the question arises why I have remained so incredibly calm and docile in the wake of the singing of this dangerous song, rather than, say, going out and beating someone over the head--with the Cross of Jesus going on before, of course.

You see, the recent shooting of Congressman Gabriel Giffords is the fault specifically of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, and of Republicans in general, because they have created an atmosphere of violence because of their rhetoric. And who is leading us out against this foe? MSNBC's Keith Olberman.

In fact, Olberman is so excited about the extreme rhetoric, he's marching as to war:
If Sarah Palin, whose website put and today scrubbed bulls-eye targets on 20 representatives, including Gabby Giffords does not repudiate her own part - however tangential in amplifying violence and violent imagery in American politics - she must be dismissed from politics. She must be repudiated by the members of her own party. And if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling.
Yes, Olberman wants to raise a might army until Satan's host doth flee. And although Olberman is one of those who is leading this mighty army against the conservative foe, he is far from the only one raising his voice: many have joined this happy throng, blaming Palin and other conservatives for the shooting.

“People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that," said Clarence Dupnik, sheriff of Pima County, Arizona. "That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences.”

"Right now, the conduct of politics and political campaigns too easily slides from lively debate to destructive competition in ways large and small," says Dan Balz of the Washington post, in a column blaming "inflammatory rhetoric" for the shooting.

And then there is E. J. Dionne, his voice blending with the song of the other liberal soldiers: "[I]t is incontestable that significant parts of the American far right have adopted a language of revolutionary violence in the name of overthrowing 'tyranny.'"

These are people who attribute every problem, not to individuals, where it belongs, but to some structural inadequacy in society. There is no sin, remember. Sin is individual. But there is evil, although evil is always corporate. This is why Olberman could not just blame Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin is an individual. He had to expand the blame to include the Tea Party and the Republicans.

But this is still not enough for some liberals. "The reality is everyone bears some responsibility," says Balz, "from politicians to political operatives to the media to ordinary Americans."

It takes a village to explain why bad things happen.

This is why every time someone walks into the school with a gun, we have to suffer the indignity of liberal journalists asking, "How could this have happened?" And then we have to endure pious sermons about the how we need more security in schools and how we need better gun laws.

For liberals, evil is not a human problem it's a policy question.

In fact, the interesting thing about these kinds of responses is that they seldom have much to do with what actually caused the crime. They simply become another excuse to lecture us on the fact that we need bigger, more intrusive government to keep us safe.

It isn't the guy who shot Giffords who is to blame: it's society.

When Jared Loughner goes before a judge, what is he going to say? "Your honor, I am not guilty. I shot her, but society is guilty of this crime, not me"?

If he does, don't blame him for it. Blame the silly secular liberals who said the exact same thing on the pages of newspapers across the country. Not individually of course. We'll blame them as a group.

Stephen Colbert on the censorship of Huckleberry Finn

And speaking of the censorship of Huckleberry Finn, here's Stephen Colbert on the issue:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Huckleberry Finn Censorship
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>Video Archive

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Barney Frankification of Huckleberry Finn

I was listening to the NPR on the way to church the other day, and a report by Pippin Ross came on about a Moby Dick marathon in New Bedford, Mass., where 200 readers turned out the read the epic thing. Some of the readers were rather famous personages. One of them, unfortunately, was Congressman Barney Frank.

We join him in progress, reading Melville's great literary masterpiece:

FRANK: (Reading) At any rate, I made my mind and if so turned out that we sleep together, he must undress and get into bed before I did.
Uh oh. This could be trouble...

ROSS: The crowd is mostly into the meaning of Melville's writing. Congressman Frank sees the story as America's first step toward going green.

Mr. FRANK: It's a kind of striking thing to think that these enormous wondrous creatures were killed and captured only for their oil. And it was the discovery of electricity, an alternative form of energy, that led to the end of whaling.

There you have it. If you thought Frank was just a menace to the nation's economy, now you know what might happen if he were to get his hands on our literature. But the penchant to change what we read to conform to our own prejudices is one thing when it remains in the mind of a politically correct congressman from Massachusetts; it's another if changes it for the rest of us.

Hilary Kelly at the New Republic, writes one of the better defenses of the integrity of literature in regard to the current attempt to censor of Huckleberry Finn.
... But conventional is not the same as inoffensive; and my wholesome library is riddled with passages that are, by our standards, ugly and obscene. Old books, the ones we call classics, are often fascinating and offensive in the same measure, for the same reasons. Reading is an activity that frees our mind to parse moral and emotional complications, as we dig through the dilemmas of fictional characters and grapple with the fruits of our discovery. Often, those dilemmas are of a comprehensible and even banal nature—the stuff of ordinary experience, which transcends differences of time and place. But sometimes, we come upon characters or sentiments that repel us, that we find hard to comprehend and also to condone. We discover that our most cherished authors do not follow our own codes of civility, and their writing is scarred with racism, sexism, and the like.

The noteworthy thing is that we continue to be moved by these same morally imperfect books. Edith Wharton’s cruel representation of the Jew in the character of Simon Rosedale does not quite ruin or disqualify The House of Mirth. Despite its narrow views on evangelical Christianity, I keep coming back to Jane Eyre. As for the ill treatment of women—the canon is rife with it. We frequently encounter “offensive” material wrapped in delightful, elegant, illuminating narrative, and we can do nothing, save stop reading these novels and plays, to avoid it. The authors are no longer around to receive our protests, or to alter their work—and only they would have the authority to do so. We can scribble our rage in the margins, but the text we must leave alone.

... And so, the removal of the word “nigger” from Huckleberry Finn is another chink in the armor of our critical thinking. If the n-word is a barrier to reading Huckleberry Finn, then I see all the more reason—I say this as a former teacher of literature to schoolchildren—why its retention is imperative. Novels are safe havens for young children, places to explore the dark sides of existence without real-world ramifications. That is why the study of fiction is itself a moral education. In this imaginative exploration of human weakness and error and cruelty, the student also encounters the reality of racism. Indeed, the classroom is the optimal environment for such an encounter. With the support and guidance of a teacher, the shock and the anger can be recognized and analyzed, and turned into a beneficial pedagogical experience. A lesson on racial epithets, and why we do not use them, and what their career has been in the history of American English—surely this is preferable to the avoidance of the subject, which is an exercise in cultural dishonesty.

And where will it end? Shall we have The Merchant of Venice without the merchant of Venice? Should we skip over Daniel Deronda entirely? How about using the latest in computer technology to remove the blackface from old “Amos and Andy” clips? Might the world be a better place without the oeuvre of Henry Miller?
In other words, just wait: Shakespeare and George Eliot might be next. Read the rest if this terrific article here.

Is St. Thomas a Theological Bad Guy? More Francis Schaeffer's criticism of Aquinas

One of the most persistently popular posts on this blog is my article defending St. Thomas Aquinas from charges leveled by Francis Schaeffer that Thomas' "nature/grace" distinction was the origin of modern secularism. It is a sorely mistaken charge that would never had been made if Schaeffer had actually read Thomas.

But since he apparently didn't, Schaeffer, who may be the most influential protestant thinker of the 20th century, got it utterly and completely wrong when he said:
In Aquinas's view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed all subsequent difficulties. (Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason, p. 11)
As I mentioned in the original post, this has a become a meme that surfaces almost every time St. Thomas comes up in a discussion with protestants. If they know anything about St. Thomas, they know this.

But, as I pointed out in the post, St. Thomas' actual writings contradict Schaeffer's claim. Thomas clearly thinks the intellect suffered from the fall (Summa Theologica, Article 85, Question 3). And he attributes the proper function of the intellect to God (Summa, Article 109, Question 1).

Notice that Schaeffer gives no references whatsoever to where he derived his idea to the contrary.

In any case, although the post was written about two years ago, I received the following comment on it the other day:
The blogger acknowledges that Schaeffer correctly read Aquinas to be saying that man's reason alone can find universal truths without resort to the revelation of Scripture. The blogger's quotation from Etienne Gilson confirms Aquinas' revelation/reason dichotomy that Schaeffer attributed to him. Aquinas presumed that the philosophers could reason their way from the particulars of nature to the universal truths of Scripture relying on reason alone and without ever resorting to the Scriptures. But Aquinas gave the philosophers an impossible task and the project was doomed from the start.
Well, I realize that Schaefferian devotion dies hard, but it appears the commenter, Dan Lawler, didn't read the post too well. The first part of this comment is true: Aquinas made a strict distinction between what you could know by reason and what you could know by faith. But part of the reason he did this was to show exactly the opposite of what Mr. Lawler says in the second part.

Here is what I quoted from Thomist philosopher EtiƩnne Gilson:
St. Thomas had asked the professors of theology never to prove an article of faith by rational demonstration, for faith is not based on reason, but the word of God, and if you try to prove it, you destroy it. (Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, p. 50)
Kind of exactly opposite of what Mr. Lawler says I said, ain't it? But Mr. Lawler does not stop there. He continues his critique with what, I'm afraid, is a rather confused analysis of what actually happened in the Middle Ages:
At first, the philosophers bought into Aquinas' false hope that they could find universals through reason alone and this provided the foundation for Descartes’ modern rationalism ("I think, therefore I am"). But hope eventually gave way to pessimism leading to the postmodern view that either there are no universals, or if universals exist we have know way of rationally knowing what they are.
First, Lawler shifts from charging (erroneously) that Aquinas believed he could go from the "particulars of nature to the universal truths of Scripture" to critiquing his belief that we can find "universals through reason alone." I gather then, that Lawler doesn't believe we can find universals (any) through the process of reason. If so, then it would be interesting to know how we do it? It might also be informative to know what his definition of "universal" is.

Second, how in the world did Aquinas' ontology lead to Descartes rationalism? And if this is true, then why do Thomists universally revile Descartes? (See Gilson on this) And how does Aquinas' view that universals exist lead to the postmodern view that they don't? At bottom such a charge is counter-intuitive, so it would be nice to see an actual argument.

And is Lawler aware that we didn't have to wait for postmodernism to encounter the rejection of universals? Universals were rejected by modernism long before postmodernism arrived on the scene. In fact, reformed protestant thought in particular and protestant thought in general displays a disturbing tendency to lapse into nominalism, so it is rather odd for an apparently reformed protestant to accuse Thomas of endangering the belief in universals.

He continues:
Whether you want to call this an ontological problem (universals do not exist) or epistemological (we have no way of rationally knowing what they are) is really beside the point. The point is that both ideas are the logical result of Aquinas' affirmation that human reason can arrive at truth without resort to the Scriptures.
Well, it's a nice assertion, but I don't see an argument. What reason is there to believe this? Lawler doesn't say. It is hardly self-evident that someone's belief that universals exist leads to the belief that they don't, so it would be nice to see why what process this could have happened. As it stands, Lawler doesn't give any.

Lawler also argues against my charge that those who criticize Aquinas don't make a distinction between ontology and epistemology by pointing out that in Schaeffer's book He is There and He is Not Silent has separate chapters on each of them. I'll have to wait to respond to that until I can lay my hands on the book.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

My Darwinist trap is working

As I mentioned in the comments section of my previous post, my intention in drawing attention to a bill now before the Kentucky General Assembly (HB 169) that is being criticizing for being a plot to impose creationism on defenseless school children is not to support creationism. I happen not to be a creationist.

In fact the bill, which is similar to a bill passed last year in Louisiana that critics criticized for being part of a conspiracy to impose "Intelligent Design creationism" [sic], says nothing about creationism. And there is literally nothing in the bill that would impose it in any way shape or form.

In fact, the people now criticizing this bill for somehow imposing creationism are completely ignoring the fact that Kentucky law already has creationism on the books. KRS 158.177. Check it out:
In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the creation of man and the earth, and which involves the theory thereon commonly known as evolution, any teacher so desiring may include as a portion of such instruction the theory of creation as presented in the Bible, and may accordingly read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation, thereby affording students a choice as to which such theory to accept.
This is already Kentucky law. So why would you need another law to say the same thing? What could this law possibly do to further creationism that current law doesn't already do?

The answer is, of course, nothing. So what good, then, is the bill?

The answer is: to show the absurdity and dogmatic nature of Darwinists who are willing to publicly oppose critical thinking, logical analysis, and objective discussion in defense of their position.

It's sort of like fishing: you put our your lure and wait for the unsuspecting fish to bite: you put out the legislative lure and wait for the unsuspecting dogmatists to bite. And let me tell you: the Darwinist fish are biting big time. Just go and look at the comments section of my previous post, and you'll see the largely Darwinist peanut gallery in a feeding frenzy. I'm reeling them in right and left.

I've got them all on record now in opposition to critical thinking, logical analysis, and objective discussion.

This is just too easy.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Jake at Page One KY opposes objective discussion, critical thinking

Jake at Page One Kentucky has come out in opposition to a bill calling for "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories" on the grounds that doing this things would "keep Kentucky’s kids dumber than rocks, once again, by denying evolution."

This is the language in a bill introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly by State Rep. Tim Moore (R-Elizabethtown), HB 169.

Apparently, Jake thinks that evolution would somehow suffer from the practice of critical thinking skills, logical analysis and objective discussion. We thought he had a higher view of evolution than that.

Alas, the things you have to give up in modern scientism.

The National Center for Science Ignora ..., er, I mean Education (NCSE), which is also on record as opposing critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion, is once again ringing the alarm bells. But we are not surprised. This is, after all, the organization that employs Josh Rosenau, whose opposition to important mental skills is well documented.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Is the performance of Jefferson County schools acceptable?

During the debate today over the "Neighborhood Schools Act," defenders of forced busing in Louisville complained that they just had not had enough time to study the issue and couldn't vote for something whose ramifications were uncertain. Well, forget about the ramifications of the bill, let's look at what has happened in Jefferson County as a result of the current policies--where students are placed on school buses sometimes for hours in order to salve the consciences of the champions of diversity.

These are people who apparently think that reducing the amount of time students have for school and family is good for them. So let's take a look at what has happened to Jefferson County Schools over the last few years.

In David Williams testimony, he pointed to numbers provided by the State Department of Education showing that the Combined Reading and Math Proficiency of Jefferson Count Schools has been steadily decreasing in relation to the state's other school districts (See graph above).

Here are some other interesting statistics:
  • 12 out of 20 of persistently low achieving schools in Kentucky are in the Jefferson County School District.
  • 23 out of the lowest achieve 50 schools in Kentucky are in Jefferson County.
  • African American students proficient in reading and math is 42% which ranks 168 out of 174 districts.
  • Jefferson County ranks 168th out of 174 districts in African American students scoring proficient on reading and math.
  • Jefferson County ranks 171st out of 174 districts in free and reduced lunch scoring proficient on reading and math.
  • Jefferson County ranks 17nd out of 174 districts in English Proficient students scoring proficient on reading and math.
  • Jefferson County ranks 164th out of 174 districts in students with disabilities scoring proficient on reading and math.
  • Jefferson County has the lowest graduation rate of all districts in Kentucky at 71.17%.
The attitude among those who defend the district and its policies is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." But if this is broke, then what constitutes broke?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer censored by publisher

New South Books, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is censoring two of Mark Twain's great literary masterpieces: Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Publishers plan to replace the 'n' word with "slave" to sooth the sensibilities of readers of these books who apparently suffer from swooning episodes whenever they encounter the word.

Where are the protests from the American Library Association? Where are the Banned Books Week people? Where are all the groups who are always whooping and hollering every time some timid conservative parent raises her trembling hand to ask if a passage in some book chosen for a class is really appropriate?

The silence is deafening.

In Case You Missed Them: Best posts of 2010

Here are the best posts from this blog (according to the impartial opinion of our panel of judges consisting of me) from 2010:

1. Is Global warming caused by humans? (01/15/10) Remember that anyone who doesn't go along with the Omigosh The World Is Ending Because Of Human Induced Global Warming theory is anti-science. Problem is, not only is the correlation between human CO2 emission and a warming not very good, it looks even sillier when put on a graph ...

2. In defense of "traditional Western civilization WASP heterosexual culture." (01/17/10) In a previous post, I criticized the promotion for a movie called, "Straightlaced: How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up." In doing so, I managed to incur the wrath of feared the Gender Department of the Tolerance Police. I have therefore been issued several directives, dripping with tolerance and sensitivity, ordering me to zeaze und dezist from zese ekshpreshons of incorrect zought, und eksplaining zat such views vehr zimply verboten, although really the only danger I have felt during this controversy is the kind one would feel when in the presence of Colonel Klink ...

3. On further denying reality: Do sexual ambiguities support the distinction between sex and gender? (01/26/10) Our old friend Josh Rosenau of the National Center on Science Education (NCSE) exercises his idea of science (although perhaps 'exorcising' might have captured my meaning better) on the question of the meaning of the new political term "transgender." Normally, the NCSE occupies itself in going around the country giving finger-wagging lectures on how creationism isn't science. But Rosenau lives a double life, on one day condemning creationism for not being science, and on the next championing political ideas masquerading as science--and feeling very scientific as he does so. Someone really needs to keep him in his little laboratory so that he doesn't wander so far off in the logical wilderness that he can't find his way home ...

4. Did J. D. Salinger Go To Heaven? An Obituary. (02/01/10) I don't think I have ever heard anyone I knew say they actually liked the book. I didn't like it when I read it in high school, and I don't remember any of my classmates who did either. But it was a work which has taken its place in the canon of literature maintained by those who don't believe in canons of literature. In fact, the very idea that Holden Caulfield, a scourge of the adult establishment, should be idolized by the very adult establishment he railed against is an irony too delicious not to take notice of ...

5. The Annotated Richard Dawkins: Is the Christian response to the Hatian earthquake hypocritical? (02/02/10) I am now officially propounding Cothran's Rule of Moralistic Proportion: The less rational justification someone has for his moral beliefs, the more moralistic he becomes. One of it's corollaries (I'm sure there a many, I just haven't thought of them yet) is that the more someone rejects the Judeo-Christian moral system, the more likely he is to apply it himself, all the while denying that he is ...

6. Is weather the same as climate? It depends on whether it confirms the theory
(02/15/10) Several people have expressed their severe disapproval of 49 states having snow--or, more precisely, my mentioning it. A commenter on one of my posts writes, "Tell us Martin, are weather and climate the same thing." Here is my answer: Weather and climate are not the same thing in the case of reports of unusually cold weather, where we go into finger-wagging mode and give people who take note of it lectures about how just because we are freezing our booties off and considering the virtues of muktuk and Caribou jerky that this does not mean anything significant about the temperature of the planet; but weather and climate are the same thing when a newspaper reports that someone in Greenland notices a glacier starting to drip or someone in Alaska hasn't seen a polar bear in over a week, in which case we clam up and contract a bad case of amnesia about the relation of weather and climate ...

7. Logic envy. (02/17/10) It is fortunate that Josh Rosenau's blog is titled "Thoughts from Kansas," otherwise it would be hard to identify the exact nature of the verbal effusions emanating from it. But he assures us that the utterances he makes there are indeed "thoughts," and so we are bound to weigh them using the criteria one would normally apply to rational speech, although Rosenau's posts would probably fare better if we applied some other, much less demanding standard ... The hurling of epithets will undoubtedly subside as maturity sets in, although this process seems to be proceeding rather slowly for Rosenau. In has last post, immediately after the schoolboy name-calling, he turns around and accuses me of ad hominem attacks. It's one thing for your enemy to bend the barrel of your pistol back toward you, but it takes some ingenuity to do it to yourself ...

8. Tiger Woods and the Modern Ideology of Irresponsibility. (02/24/10) The guy cheated on his wife and she threw him out. There's nothing much to say in terms of what he should do about it other than to stop doing it, say you're sorry, and try to do better. This process was based on the traditional Christian idea--to put it in technical theological terms--of admitting that you're a dirtbag, asking for forgiveness for being a dirtbag, and changing your cheatin' dirtbag ways ... Among the newer ways of dealing with shame is the Therapeutic Method. This is the one more and more Americans seem to choose when faced with public shame, and it was the one utilized by Woods. Under the Therapeutic Method, you wait until you have no choice but to admit your guilt, admit it, and then announce you are going into rehab ...

9. Kill the Fish (03/09/10) Tilikum, the killer whale who caused the death of his trainer should be executed ... The animal psychologist community (yes, there really is such a thing) has given the incident a good going over. "What," they ask, "made Tilikum snap?" They have combed through the available evidence--which includes the fact that they are large, violent marine predators who run in packs and hunt down their prey in the ocean, systematically ripping them apart with their sharp teeth (starting, in the case of other whales, with their tongues)--and come to the conclusion that they are "complicated creatures." If I were a large bloodthirsty mammalian predator with a record (and the first name, "Killer"), I would want these people on my side ...

10. Are Malthusians destroying themselves? (04/05/10) 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 ... 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.

11. Pope Benedict: Better than his critics. (04/05/10) 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 ...

12. And in what way exactly are Republicans complicit in slavery? (04/12/10) 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 ...

13. The chief cause of the Civil War was slavery, and other myths. (04/15/10) 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 ...

14. The Wrong Way to Teach Worldview. (05/04/10) In recent years, the word "worldview" has become increasingly popular among Christian educators. Indeed, not only has the word become common parlance, but there has now arisen a veritable worldview industry. There are books, programs, and curricula based on articulating and defending a Christian "worldview" and there are retreats and blogs and sermons devoted to furthering its study. The term "worldview" has now gained official status as a Christian buzzword ...

15. How Whiteliberaldemocrats voted on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (05/24/10) 37 percent of the House members in the Whiteliberal Party that is now piling on Rand Paul voted against the very measure that Paul himself says he would have voted for if he had been there. And 39 percent of the Senate members of the Whiteliberal Party--the Party of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Robert C. Byrd--voted against it. That's over a third of its members in both cases, whereas 20 percent or less of the party that nominated Rand Paul voted against it. Oh, the shame of it all. Such a record of racism and hate ...

16. P. Z. Myers does not exist. (06/27/10) You can say at least this for the Adam and Eve theory: it at least allows for the possibility that their descendants are the kind of beings who could rationally reject the Adam and Eve theory, whereas under the Populations and Pools of Genes Myth the beings that are its products cannot possibly rationally accept the Populations and Pools of Genes Myth--or anything else for that matter, since its materialist undergirding cannot account for rationality in the first place ...

17. Jake displays openly aggressive behavior on Rand Paul. (06/30/10) Jake, a member of the species homo petulans (in more ways than one), has raised his tail and lowered his head over my comments about the reaction to Rand Paul's refusal to address a question about creationism in a speech to a home school audience last Friday. Now I have been observing various liberal Darwinist societies for some time now, and can say with some authority that the subspecies inhabiting the Page One blog are among the loudest and most openly aggressive. This could possibly be the result of a vegetarian diet and their penchant for brie cheese and multi-grained bread ...

18. Reflections on American Idol possibly going off the air. (07/31/10) Well, according to some reports, the show "American Idol" may be coming to an end. This is unfortunate, since I have never seen the show that so many people talk about, and I was looking forward to continuing to be a non-viewer for years to come. So it comes as a hard blow to know that I now will be unable to continue to refrain from watching this great pop cultural spectacle ...

19. The Rhetoric of Amazement: What children's literature tells us about the world. (08/31/10) Dr. Seuss is my favorite modern philosopher. I say this because of the view of the world his poetry betrays. Dr. Seuss writes what has been called “nonsense” verse. Yet it may be the books like Dr. Seuss that, in the end, make the most sense ...

20. Darwinism of the Gaps: Is Hausergate evidence that bad science is heritable? (09/06/10) Darwinism of the Gaps is the tendency to try to explain any area of human behavior they think theism shouldn't be able to explain by supplying a Darwinian or genetic explanation that, no matter how unlikely or counter-intuitive, is to be preferred over the religious explanation--even if the religious explanation is perfectly reasonable ...

21. Is Stephen Hawking's argument against creation more valid in any of the other dimensions? (09/07/10) "The question 'Why is there something rather than nothing," says Sean Carroll, "has been answered." It has? How exactly do you answer the question of why there is something rather than nothing by simply pointing to the something? C. S. Lewis once asked how someone, simply on the basis of studying nature, can say anything about what is beyond nature ...

22. Don't know much about G. K. Chesterton. (09/24/10) The charge Bramwell brings against Chesterton is the oldest and most common charge against him: that his rhetorical prowess outstripped his intellectual capabilities. The problem with this charge is that it is always brought by those whose intellectual powers are not, shall we say, in the same league as the person they're criticizing. But the most common problem is that those who criticize Chesterton really don't understand much of what he said, and they build their whole critique on their misunderstandings ...

23. Teaching great literature vs. teaching pop teen literature in schools: Another indication of what's wrong with education. (10/05/10) I'm sorry, but any English teacher who thinks that focusing on the classics detracts from a child's love of literature needs to find another job. If you can't teach literature in a way that captures the minds and hearts of your students, then you don't belong in the profession. Go get a position as cashier at Wal-Mart or something, but stay away from the classroom ...

24. Jerry Coyne's Scientific Faith: Is science more rational than religion? (10/12/10) One of the recurrent themes in the rhetorical arsenal of the New Atheism is that science is rational and religion is not. This dogma is repeated by New Atheist writers as if it were a part of their creed, which, of course, it is. The dogma is articulated once again by one of its loudest advocates on the Internet, biologist Jerry Coyne in yesterday's article in USA Today. I say "articulated rather than "argued" because, like most dogmas, it is never never actually argued for, but only asserted. You will see this canard invoked repeatedly in their assertions that religion and science are mutually exclusive. It is utilized almost as if it were an incantation. If scientific rationalists had prayer wheels, this is the mantra they would chant ...

25. Sam Harris on Morality: More pronouncements from the Englishmen. (11/13/10) I have said before that there is a hierarchy of positions on the issue of how (and whether) moral beliefs can be justified. On the top of the scale is classical religious thought, a scheme of belief in which morality makes complete sense. On the next level down is existentialism, which rightly concludes that if you reject God, then you must also reject morality. And since they reject God, they realize they must reject morality too. It is a mistaken position, but it's at least intellectually consistent. On the bottom of this hierarchy is the New Atheism, which simply plays pretend and clings, despite no rational justification of its position, that, despite there being no God, there is still morality ...

26. Are reproductive organs for reproduction? (11/18/10) It seems strange to me that when we talk about general anatomy, or DNA, or animal behavior, we use blatantly teleological language to do it. But if we use that same language about human sexuality, all of a sudden the Tolerance Police show up and ask you for your identification papers. The purpose of the heart is to pump blood to the rest of the body; the purpose of a kidney is to filter the blood; the purpose of the intestines is to digest food. Say these things and everyone nods earnestly in agreement.
But then you say, "and the reproductive organs are for..." (and you pause at this point to put up your deflector shields) "...reproduction." As Mr. Bill was wont to say, "Nooooooooooooooooooo!"

27. What's wrong with the New International Version of the Bible. (11/29/10)
Anglican theologian N. T. Wright has called the NIV "appalling" for its simple inaccuracy in translating the Greek. But it seems to me that it is equally appalling, knowing what the correct rendering of the Greek is, to simply change the English after you have it correctly translated ...

28. Michael Shermer, Pretend Skeptic: Why scientific reductionism doesn't work.
(12/03/10) Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine, seems to be skeptical of all things but one: science. Somehow, the power of the skeptical criteria he applies to everything else is strangely extinguished when he encounters his own preferred belief system ...