Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is the traditional lobe of the conservative brain becoming a vestigial political organ?

I normally find David Brooks a bit maddening. One day he says something really insightful and the next he will say something so boneheaded as to warrant reparative cultural therapy. Last Monday was one of his good days.

In his column, "The Conservative Mind," Brooks recalls the conservative days of yore in which those who wore that political label were not only concerned with numbers. In addition to economic calculation, conservatives were also concerned with economy in the ancient sense of that word. Oikos meant "home" and nemein meant "management." The modern neoconservative would bristle at this, and warn of the dangers of government intrusion into private life.

The trouble is, this is all they worry about—which is why we worry about them. Here is Brooks, who refers to the old National Review, which, before its present incarnation as a most libertarian periodical, once bestrode economic and cultural conservatism:
On the one side, there were the economic conservatives. These were people that anybody following contemporary Republican politics would be familiar with. They spent a lot of time worrying about the way government intrudes upon economic liberty. They upheld freedom as their highest political value. They admired risk-takers. They worried that excessive government would create a sclerotic nation with a dependent populace.  
But there was another sort of conservative, who would be less familiar now. This was the traditional conservative, intellectual heir to Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossiter and Catholic social teaching. This sort of conservative didn’t see society as a battleground between government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government. They may know politics, but the idea of the polis is foreign to them. 

... The economic conservatives were in charge of the daring ventures that produced economic growth. The traditionalists were in charge of establishing the secure base — a society in which families are intact, self-discipline is the rule, children are secure and government provides a subtle hand.
The is was the conservatism of Ronald Reagan, who himself was a product of the William F. Buckley, Jr.'s magazine. Brooks argues that this kind of conservatism is in eclipse. In eclipse, yet, but not deceased.
I would argue the even stronger position that any conservatism that concentrates exclusively on economic liberalism is not conservatism at all. When conservatism evacuates itself of the principles of cultural conservation, it has become something else altogether.

Which is just another way of saying that any conservatism that does not conserve should call itself something else.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Once Upon a Time at Home: Why you should read aloud to your children

The following is my article in the September Memoria Press Newsletter:

One Saturday many years ago, when even my oldest children were young, we had a visit from two friends of ours. They were not quite my parents’ age, but they were old enough that they had just become grandparents. We invited them in, and, as happened when anyone entered our home at that time, they were beset with children.

Not everyone takes such things well, but for these friends, it was a welcome imposition. After a few formalities, Jim sat down on our living room couch and grabbed a children’s picture book, and my two oldest children, my son and my daughter automatically sat down next to him, and he read them a story as my wife and I—and Jim’s wife Renee—looked on.

In the process of just a few short minutes, a friendship was formed. I regret to say that we got together with Jim and Renee only a time or two in the ensuing years. But in that one moment there was an immediate bond of shared wonder between these two friends and my children, woven from a simple story.

Something about the act of reading aloud is communal. To read by yourself is to involve only one person, but to read aloud is to involve you and someone else—perhaps several people, all of whom are hearing the same thing at the same time from the same book read in the same voice. This is the first benefit of reading aloud: it makes a community out of those who had been mere individuals.

I don’t remember what Jim read to my children that day. Maybe it was Green Eggs and Ham, or The Story of Ferdinand, or possibly Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel.  It could have been a hundred others: we had them all.

I spend a lot of my time writing and speaking on education issues, and I frequently have occasion to extol the virtues of reading aloud to children. In my opinion, it is one of the most important ways, not only of bringing our individualistic modern selves together, but of simply introducing children to the wonder of reality. This is its second benefit: It brings a sort of enchantment into their everyday lives.

A very young child, of course, does not recognize the distinction between reality and magic. To a child, everything seems fantastic.  “When we are very young”, said G. K. Chesterton “we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

When our first child was only about a year old, we began reading to him at bedtime and ushering him into the world of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. I am quite confident that he had no trouble at all with the idea that three children, one night,
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
To him it would have seemed no more fantastic to sail off in a shoe than sailing off in a ship. In fact, to such a child raised on such poetry, sailing in something as mundane as a ship might seem positively unnatural.

Some of the books that so enchanted our children in this way had ushered my wife and me into the world as well. When our other children were born, we plied them with other favorites, such as Dr. Seuss’ The Sleep Book, our copy of which still bears, inside the front cover, an annotation: “1122 Bedroom Lane, Storybookland.” It was written there by my wife when she was a little girl.

And above my daughter’s bed, in a cross stitch sampler my late mother-in-law sewed for her children, was a prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
My wife would often pray it with her before she kissed her goodnight, and it was in one of the several books of children’s poetry we had on our shelves.

We read Little TootThe Little Red HenLittle Women, and The Little Engine that Could. We read The Little PrincessLittle BritchesThe Three Little Pigs, and Stuart Little. We read The Little FarmThe Little House, and Little House on the Prairie. Then, of course, there was The Story of Doctor Doolittle and the Little Golden Books, as well as Policeman SmallFireman SmallFarmer Small—and, last as well as least, The Teeny Tiny Woman.

We read The Big WaveThe Book of Giant Stories, and Danny and the Dinosaur.

We worked our way up from One Horse Farm and One Was Johnny, to The Three Billy Goats Gruff , and The Five Chinese Brothers, and then on up to Ten Apples Up On Top. We went Around the World in Eighty Days, and counted “… hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” (an expression we sometimes used of my mother’s farm in Kansas, where there seemed to be too many cats to count).

There were certain picture book illustrators and authors who became perennial family favorites: Bill Peet (The Caboose Who Got LooseCyrus the Seasick Sea Serpent, and The Wingdingdilly), Paul Galdone (Henny PennyThe Gingerbread Boy, and Hansel & Gretel), and Edward Lear (The Owl and the PussycatThe Jumblies, and The Pelican Chorus).

Each book was a fairy wand, waved over our home. Whenever we heard a loud explosion, it was Drummer Hoff, firing it off. Our home was not just good, it was The Best Nest. And sometimes the last one in got a swat on the bottom, just like Ping.  

And every bean was a magic bean.

Dr. Seuss worked his way subtly into our consciousness. If you were out too late and we had to go looking you, and we found you in the dark, we would take you home. We would call you “Clark.” And if someone offered you something you didn’t like, you could simply explain that you didn’t like it here or there, you didn’t like it anywhere.

Having been read Where the Wild Things Are, my children knew, when they were told, “I’ll eat you up I love you so,” just how much love that meant. They had been read P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? and so they knew what to think when, after saying “Mommy?!” to get their mother’s attention while she was trying to get supper together, she responded impatiently, “I am not your mother. I am a snort!”

In fact, the kitchen was often a place of instruction and admonition in practical wisdom born of books. There was more than one cake baked there about which it was asked “Who will eat this cake?” And always there was a chorus of “I wills” from the very voices who had answered “Not I” when the question was who would help to make it. The message was understood, but always the voice that could have said “Then I will eat it!” was merciful.

We laughed when Betsy made “everything stew” and it tasted awful in Betsy-Tacy—and when  Jack outwitted the giants in The Jack Tales. But it wasn’t only delight we found in books. One night, my wife came back into the living room after having read a chapter in Anne of Green Gables to my daughter, the half-opened book hanging limply from her hand. I could tell she had been crying. Matthew, Anne’s beloved adoptive uncle, had died.

Bedtime wasn’t the only time they were read to. As part of our home school day, they were read to in the early afternoon, usually after lunch. One of my fondest memories is the many times I passed by the living room and poked my head in to see my wife sitting on the sofa, with one child in her lap, one sitting next to her coloring in a book, and another on the floor quietly playing as she read the Bible.

And this a third benefit that comes from reading aloud: These were not only learning the Bible by listening. They were learning to listen. Listening, like reading and writing and figuring, is a skill.

And this training in how to listen extended even to the dinner table. After supper, I would push the dishes away, grab a book, and begin reading. These were usually chapter books.The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, Rascal, by Sterling North, The Good Master, by Kate Seredy, Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, Pollyanna, by Eleanor Porter, The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, and Charlotte’s Web and Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White. In addition to the Little House on the Prairie books and the Chronicles of Narnia, there were books we read again and again as dessert was served: Penrod, by Booth Tarkington, and Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I don’t know how well my children remember all of these books. I suspect they remember most of them. I know I remember them.

But as Chesterton points out, it is not the very young child who needs this magic the most: The older the child, the more such magic should be mandatory. In fact, it is the oldest children—adults themselves—who often benefit the most. Everything these stories touched was transformed, and even the most mundane of circumstances was cast in a new light.

Occasionally I would notice my wife missing, and after searching for a few minutes would find her sitting up on our bed reading a magazine, her back propped up on a pillow. Around her wriggled the signs that her search for a few moments of solitude had been unsuccessful. She would look up at me, put a loving hand on the head of the squirming child nearest her, and with a bemused expression say, “I do not like this bed at all. A lot of things have come to call.”

More than once I would be working at the dining room table long after the voice of my wife, reading in the next room, had become but background noise. All of a sudden I would realize that the children had all escaped to the back yard long ago, and there was silence in the house. I would poke my head in the living room, where she would still be sitting on the couch, reading the same book. “Are you okay?” I would ask. “Yes,” she would say, “but listen to this, …” and she would share some pearl of wisdom she, an adult, had learned from a book meant for children.

This is one of the reasons you should not stop reading to your children when they learn to read themselves. I still read frequently after dinner, even though our youngest is now 17 years old. He will often complain that he has better things to do, but he’ll listen anyway, and often, though he doesn’t like to admit it, he enjoys it.
And I often read to my wife, even when there are no children around.

In Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House, a woman passes by a little dilapidated house in the city one day. It turns out that the house had once been out in the country, but the city had grown all around it. “No one wanted to live in her and take care of her any more.” She finds out that it actually belonged to her great-great grandfather, and it “couldn’t be sold for silver or gold.” So she had the little house moved out in the country and lived in it.

We too own a house in the country, having moved from the suburbs before our children were born. And when my wife gets in one of her cleaning moods, she will often cast her eyes on the many books we have acquired over the years, many of them children’s books, and she sometimes wonders out loud how they might sell at a yard sale. They just sit there on the shelves, gathering dust. No one wants to read or take care of them any more.

Some of them (the not-so-good ones that were only read once) may need to go, but some day there will be a grandchild who walks by those shelves, and some of those books may be moved to his or her own bookshelf at 1122 Bedroom Lane, Storybookland. And that’s why they can never be sold—for silver or gold.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Christian violence breaks out over claim that Jesus had a wife

A Harvard researcher has unveiled a papyrus fragment indicating Jesus may have had a wife, an announcement that has sent Christians into paroxysms of indignation, and setting off violent demonstrations at universities all over the country.

Much in the same way that they responded to the Monty Python movie, "Life of Brian," and Dan Brown's book the Da Vinci Code, crowds of angry Christians are reportedly rioting and the professor who turned the fragment up is being burned in effigy. Lutheran mobs at Northwestern and Catholic hordes at Georgetown University are burning school pennants in the street. At Harvard, Christian students set fire to the divinity school which housed the professor who revealed the papyrus.

In Lakewood, Texas, Joel Osteen, speaking to an angry crowd of non-denominational Christians, declared with a frightening smile, "These trials and tests are necessary to come up higher and become all that God has created us to be." His incendiary remarks sent the well-dressed mob in front of his church into a frenzy of smiles and handshakes.

They angrily chanted "May academic researchers only get 25 of the 31 promises to speak over their lives!" and "May it take them 10, instead of 7 steps to live up to their full potential!"

One particularly inflammatory sign warned, "I hope you become only a moderately better you!"

All across the country ... Wait a second. Let me check these reports again.  Hmmm.  I think I didn't read these right.

Turns out that there have been no Christian protests at all. They have been quietly responding like they always do whenever someone in opposition to their beliefs. And in the case of the sensationalist announcement about the papyrus fragment that appears to show Jesus referring to his wife, even the professor who released it admits it doesn't prove anything.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obamacare in one sentence

Here is Dr. Barbara Bellar, an Illinois state senate candidate, summing up Obamacare:
So let me get this straight: ... We're going to be gifted with a health care plan we are forced to purchase, and fined if we don't, which purportedly covers at least 10 million more people without adding a single new doctor, but which provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn't understand it, passed by a Congress that didn't read it (but exempted themselves from it), and signed by a President who smokes, with funding administered by a Treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before the benefits take effect, by a government which is already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese, and financed by a country that's broke.

Reviving Romney: Five things the Republican presidential campaign should do

The Republicans made a mistake using their convention for the primary purpose of trying to show that Mitt Romney is just like the rest of us. He's not. Get over it. They could have done the family thing and all that and showed how he's nice and caring. No problem. But everyone knows he's a rich guy. A smart rich guy, and a rich guy who knows how to get things done. There's no problem with that.

But convention organizers missed a huge opportunity to tell Americans what Romney and Ryan were going to do for the country. Or, better yet, to tell the country that they were going to tell them over the course of the ensuing weeks.

The eulogies are already being written about the campaign, but in reality it is far from over. Newer polls show Obama's convention bounce deteriorating and the race tightening in key states. But something is going to have to change with the campaign because there is just no coherent message coming out of it right now.

Here are five things Mitt Romney should do:

  1. "Location, location, location" is not just a sales slogan. In every town he stops in, Romney needs to go to the now desolate location of some business that has closed down sometime during Obama's tenure and give his campaign speech there.
  2. Simplify the message. Take Bill Kristol's advice: Begin every campaign speech with the statement: "This country is going bankrupt." Then follow it up with a positive message like: "We're going to bring America back" (Okay, it sounds cliched, but the high priced consultants should be able to jazz it up a little).
  3. Walk softly and let Paul Ryan carry a big stick. Use Paul Ryan like vice presidential candidates have always been used: as the attack dog. It wasn't inappropriate to criticize the current administration for its failings in foreign policy after the embassy killings, but it was not a good idea for Romney to do it. He should have stood up and acted presidential and expressed sorrow for the loss of lives on the day it happened while Paul Ryan was delivering the blows. Then, next day, Romney should have explained how he would have handled it, while Ryan continued to attack the administration. Do that for the rest of the week, then get back to the economic message.
  4. You can't ignore events. The Middle East is in crisis. Get used to it. He should announce that he is going to make a major foreign policy address next Monday (he should have done it this last Monday) and give the two things he is going to do to make America more respected around the world.
  5. Flesh out your main message. By the end of next week the protesters will get tired and need a breather. At the end of that week, announce that, starting the next week, you are going to announce three things you are going to do for the economy. Announce that you are going to announce it, and then announce one every Monday for three weeks. Have Ryan there to underscore the importance of the announcement.

Right now the media by and large is not covering the campaign; they're just lying in wait for gaffes. Part of the problem is that nothing is happening. There's nothing new. Just going around repeating what was said during the convention doesn't cut it. Romney needs to make something happen. The media only covers things when there is an event, and an event in which something new is going to be said or done. Doing this will give reporters something else to cover other than simply look for mistakes.

A reason for Republicans to be thankful

It is now time for Republicans to pause and reflect on their good fortune in not having nominated the gaffe-plagued Newt Gingrich.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Obama elaborates on his courageous public stand on the Chicago teachers strike


Demarcationitis: How easy is it to say what science is and isn't?

Well we have been having this fun little discussion over on my post about the Three Things Philosophy Can Do that Science Can't. We have been discussing exactly what the dividing line is between science and non-science (and pseudoscience, although we really haven't gotten to that in the discussion yet).

My contention is that the esteem in which many of the inhabitants of what Dostoevsky called the "Crystal Palace" hold Karl Popper's falsification criterion is grossly misdirected. But then, the inhabitants of the Crystal Palace are notable for the ease with which they can solve the most intractable problems by simply waving their hand and dismissing them as nothing but this or that, a penchant that lends credence to the criticism that the Crystal Palace is really just a gloried chicken coop.

And then, lo and behold, we find this article, published just today in the Chronicle of Higher Education, addressing just the issue we were discussing in that post, and making a point similar to the one I have been making:
For millennia, philosophers have attempted to erect a boundary between those domains of knowledge that are legitimate and those that are anything but­—from Hippocrates' essay on "the sacred disease" (epilepsy) to editorials decrying creationism. The renowned philosopher Karl Popper coined the term "demarcation problem" to describe the quest to distinguish science from pseudoscience. He also proposed a solution. As Popper argued in a 1953 lecture, "The criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability." In other words, if a theory articulates which empirical conditions would invalidate it, then the theory is scientific; if it doesn't, it's pseudoscience. That seems clear enough. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
Epistemologists present several challenges to Popper's argument. First, how would you know when a theory has been falsified? Suppose you are testing a particular claim using a mass spectrometer, and you get a disagreeing result. The theory might be falsified, or your mass spectrometer could be on the fritz. Scientists do not actually troll the literature with a falsifiability detector, knocking out erroneous claims right and left. Rather, they consider their instruments, other possible explanations, alternative data sets, and so on. Rendering a theory false is a lot more complicated than Popper imagined—and thus determining what is, in principle, falsifiable is fairly muddled. The second problem is that Popper fails to demarcate in the right place. 
Creationism, for example, makes a series of falsifiable claims about radioactive dating, rates of erosion, and so on, while the more "historical" sciences, like geology and astronomy, pose theories that are more explanatory narratives than up-or-down (and therefore falsifiable) protocol statements of empirical bullet points. Any criterion had better at least replicate our common-sense notion of "science," and so far no clear criterion has been able to do so. No wonder most philosophers have given up on the task. As the prominent philosopher of science Larry Laudan put it 30 years ago: "If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like 'pseudoscience' and 'unscientific' from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases that do only emotive work for us."
I don't know that I agree with everything in the article, but it makes some interesting and valid points. It is a good read, in any case. Read the rest here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Power of Philosophy

Not that I'm a big fan of standardized testing, but it's nice when those who seem to think that everything can be quantified are shown up by those who would likely point out that everything cannot be quantified in the very quantificational instruments the quantifiers have devised to show how smart people are.

Don't show this chart to atheist biologists Jerry Coyne and Laurence Moran, who are always running down philosophy. It shows the newest GRE scores. Note not only where philosophy students rank on the charts, but also where biology appears in relation to it.

Better luck next time guys.

HT: Brian Leiter

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Obama's courage (relative to the people who actually have to pay the price for his inaction)

Mark Stein, on Obama's foreign policy--or lack thereof:
In a rare appearance on a non-showbiz outlet, President Obama, winging it on Telemundo, told his host that Egypt was neither an ally nor an enemy. I can understand why it can be difficult to figure out, but here’s an easy way to tell: Bernard Lewis, the great scholar of Islam, said some years ago that America risked being seen as harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend. At the Benghazi consulate, the looters stole “sensitive” papers revealing the names of Libyans who’ve cooperated with the United States. Oh, well. As the president would say, obviously our hearts are with you. 
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the local doctor who fingered bin Laden to the Americans sits in jail. In other words, while America’s clod vice president staggers around pimping limply that only Obama had the guts to take the toughest decision anyone’s ever had to take, the poor schlub who actually did have the guts, who actually took the tough decision in a part of the world where taking tough decisions can get you killed, languishes in a cell because Washington would not lift a finger to help him.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Three things philosophy can do that science can't

A number of New Atheist scientists have begun calling the legitimacy and usefulness of philosophy into question. Most of these people have little clue of what philosophy is even for of course--in addition to thinking that science can be used meaningfully to answer non-scientific questions. Here are three things philosophy can do that science cant't:

 1. It can explain what philosophy can do that science can't. Which is another way of saying it can explain how philosophy and science are different. Which is another way of saying that it can tell us what science is and isn't. I have said before that where science fits into the total scheme of things is not a question for an expert in science (a scientist), but a question for the expert in the total scheme of things (a philosopher). Those who professionally deal with what is called "demarcation issue" (where to draw the line between science and non-science) are called philosophers of science. This is a whole specialty within academic philosophy. The question "What is science?" is not itself a scientific question. If there are those who think it is, then they need to explain how you answer it scientifically. Do you take science into a lab and heat it up to see what color it turns? Oh, and who do most scientists  invoke when they see a non-scientist intruder in their midst? Karl Popper, a philosopher. In other words, the very question of the relative value of science and philosophy is a philosophical question.

2. It can provide a justification for the assumptions and methodologies science takes for granted. Science employs assumptions about reality and methods of rational procedure that are not themselves amenable to scientific analysis. Scientists (except perhaps quantum physicists of the Copenhagen interpretation) assume cause and effect. Why? Do they have a scientific reason for assuming it? Of course not. Causation is, in fact, a metaphysical assumption. Questions about it are answered in the discipline of metaphysics, which is not the province of science (in fact the people who are now so enthusiastic about running down philosophy specifically repudiate metaphysics), but of philosophy. Induction, which (somewhat misleadingly) is identified most closely with science is a logical procedure which is actually a branch of logic, which, in turn, is a branch of philosophy. The analysis of scientific analysis is not scientific analysis, but philosophical analysis. If someone wrote a book on the nature and process of cause and effect or induction, it would not be a science book; it would be a philosophy book.

3. It can explain how the results of science should and shouldn't be used. In addition to being very useful in discovering things about the natural world, science is also very helpful in the development of technology. But when it comes to questions of how, when, and whether to use this technology, science is of little help, other than to help make these non-scientific decisions better informed. It takes science to make an atomic bomb. It takes philosophy to figure out whether to use it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The one who wears the pants in the Obama administration

Teachers union presidents who should be sent to Russia for trial

I am becoming more and more convinced that education could actually improve from the decision of Chicago teachers to go on strike.

Here's the president of the Chicago teachers union, demonstrating the kind of thing the students are missing out on as their teachers man the picket lines:

HT: Worldwide Standard

Cothran's Fork: Why there can be no scientific objection to miracles

The following article ran on Vital Remnants on July 7, 2009. Given all the talk I have noticed on atheist blogs of late about miracles, I thought I would re-run it again (with some changes):

In yesterday's post on Jerry Coyne and the New Atheist argument that science and religion are incompatible, I pointed out that there can only be two objections to religious miracle claims: either a philosophical objection or a historical objection, and given this, that there can be no scientific objection to the miraculous. I made the argument in response to the claim of some scientists that we know, based on our scientific knowledge, that miracles can't happen.

My argument is based on taking the scientists who make this claim about miracles (Jerry Coyne, Sean Carroll, etc.) at their word. They say that science only involves methodological naturalism. This just means that scientists assume for the purpose of their scientific studies that no miracle will happen that might interfere with their observations in the laboratory or in the field--or in their offices where they perform their mathematical calculations.

This is in contrast to metaphysical naturalism, which is a philosophical doctrine that declares, by philosophical fiat, that miracles can't happen.

If the only naturalism inherent in science is methodological, then science, by definition, can have nothing to say about historical miracle claims. That doesn't mean a scientist cannot have an objection to miracles, only that, if he does, his objection to them is as a philosopher or as a historian, and his arguments must observe the principles and procedures of those disciplines.

I am officially dubbing this argument "Cothran's Fork," in honor of its author (me). It goes thusly:

If the scientific arguments against miracle claims are based on a priori considerations, they are therefore philosophical, and not scientific arguments; and if the arguments against miracle claims are based on a posteriori evidential considerations, then they are historical, and therefore, again, not scientific arguments.

The arguments against miracle claims are either a priori or a posteriori.

Therefore miracle claims are either philosophical or historical, but not scientific.

The logicians out there will recognize Cothran's Fork as a complex constructive dilemma. It is similar in structure and operation to "Hume's Fork" with the additional advantage that, unlike Hume's Fork, Cothran's Fork is not self-defeating.

Now this should be no problem if the scientists who have claimed that science is only methodologically naturalist really mean it--and understand its implications. But scientists like Jerry Coyne and Sean Carroll will assert in one moment that science is methodologically naturalist and then, in the very next, drop the assumption and make arguments that rely on the very opposite belief.

You can offer a lot of arguments as to why science should be considered methodologically, but not metaphysically naturalist--because it studies nature itself and therefore has nothing to say about what may be beyond nature (but powerful enough to interfere with it); that science uses methods that cannot be extrapolated to philosophical issues such as whether the laws of nature are inviolable, etc.--but the fact is that this is not the issue in dispute.

For many of the new scientific critics of religion, the fact that science is methodologically, but not metaphysically naturalist is a given. The problem is that immediately after stating the limitation on their discipline, they argue as if the limitation did not exist.

When Carroll, for example, discusses the miraculous, he first goes to great lengths to assure his readers that he is methodologically naturalist: Science and religion are not compatible. But, before explaining what that means, we should first say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean, first, that there is any necessary or logical or a priori incompatibility between science and religion. We shouldn’t declare them to be incompatible purely on the basis of what they are, which some people are tempted to do. So far, so good.

Then he takes note of the various miraculous events claimed by various religions, and tries to convince his readers (who apparently, like himself, don't get out much) that people do, in fact, believe these things:
...[I]t makes sense to look at the actual practices and beliefs of people who define themselves as religious. And when we do, we find religion making all sorts of claims about the natural world, including those mentioned above — Jesus died and was resurrected, etc. Seriously, there are billions of people who actually believe things like this; I’m not making it up. 
We'll take your word for it, Doc.

But just several paragraphs later, Carroll, who has just professed methodological naturalism, turn off that part of his brain and turns on the metaphysically naturalist lobe and argues just the opposite:
Religions have always made claims about the natural world, from how it was created to the importance of supernatural interventions in it. And these claims are often very important to the religions who make them ... 
But the progress of science over the last few centuries has increasingly shown these claims to be straightforwardly incorrect. We know more about the natural world now than we did two millennia ago, and we know enough to say that people don’t come back from the dead. [Emphasis added] 
Seriously, there are thousands of scientific materialists who actually believe things like this; I’m not making it up.

Such assertions have attracted the approving nod of the equally reckless Coyne, who praises them as "on the money." What scientific progress has been made over the last few centuries that has shown these claims to be incorrect? Did people believe, before the onset of the 17th century, that nature did not display regular behavior? If so, then why were people amazed and attracted by miracle claims? Those who claimed miracles not only assumed a belief in the regularity of nature, they banked on it (for good and ill).

You would think scientists with Coyne and Carroll's stature would understand the nature of the scientific reasoning itself, which involves, in part, induction, the strength of which is always probable rather than certain. It relies on a set of limited observations of a set of phenomena on the basis of which an extrapolation is made about the rest of the phenomena. But because it cannot observe all the phenomena, its conclusion must always be tenuous.

More often, however, science engages in abduction

Of course, this description of the logical strength of scientific reasoning is not explicitly contested by scientists. If you catch them in their Dr. Jeckyl phase (in which the methodological lobe is operative), they will nod their heads vigorously to this description of their discipline and say things like "Absolutely," and "Amen." But once Mr. Hyde takes over (in which the metaphysical lobe becomes dominant), they will act as if they had never heard it before, and spout a river of assertions that completely ignore the limitations they had just assented to in their other persona.

How, precisely, do we "know enough to say that people don’t come back from the dead"? The only way we could know this is to completely jettison our cautionary understanding of purely scientific reasoning and act as if we had had direct observation of every death and its aftermath that has ever been experience in the world. The Christian claim that Jesus was resurrected is false if it can be shown that every person who has died has, in fact, stayed dead, including Jesus. But the claim that every person who has died has, in fact, stayed dead is itself rendered false if Jesus rose from the dead.

How do we determine which tack to take? Certainly not by science, which labors under the disadvantageous fact that there were no scientists there to say one way or another. The only way anyone can make any claim about the Resurrection is to assume, philosophically, that it didn't happen, or to look at the historical evidence for the claim and make a judgment yeah or nay.

But the reader of the rhetoric of scientific rationalists like Coyne and Carroll will notice that they never offer any philosophical or historical arguments for their assertions. They simply invoke the word "science" in the hope that their readers, now mesmerized by scientific words, will immediately abandon all rational thought and give their passive assent.

Seriously, hundreds of people fall for things like this; I’m not making it up.

Does the RNC think Todd Akin is worse than pro-abortion Republican candidates?

The Republican National Committee has pulled support and money from Missourie Republican Senate candidate Todd Aikin for stupid (but not malicious) remarks about how a woman's body responds during rape, comments he has apologized for. But the RNC has supported--in financial and other ways--pro-abortion Republican candidates repeatedly over the years, including Lincoln Chafee, Arlen Spector, and Dede Scozzafava.

If the RNC is so all fire concerned about their candidates having the right attitude on abortion, why do they continue to support pro-abortion candidates?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teachers? Parents and students should be on strike in Chicago

From Andrew Biggs at AEIdeas:
According to the latest annual report of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund, the average teacher who retired in 2011 after 30 or more years of employment—what passes for a full career in the public sector—had a final salary of $105,888 and will receive an annual guaranteed pension of $78,576. The salary puts the average Chicago teacher in the top 5% or so of workers nationwide, while even fewer private sector workers will receive a pension that generous. The obvious conclusion? Let’s strike.
If anyone should go on strike in Chicago's schools, it's parents and students. Chicago's school system is one of the worst in the country.

Catholic college targeted by Tolerance Police

In the wake of their failure to get Mark Regnerus censured for his study finding potential problems with same-sex parenting, gay rights activists are now going after a Catholic college for having a social work course on deviant behavior that includes homosexuality.

"Zuch zings are verboten unt must be ztopped," seems to be the view of the Tolerance Police.

A month or two ago, a gay blogger had complained about Regnerus after the release of his study, resulting in an investigation by the University of Texas administration. But after a bit of deliberation (and hopefully a crisis of conscience) the study found no scientific or personal misconduct. Still a precedent had been set for anyone who would dare to question the Approved Opinions on such issues: be prepared to be professionally and personally attacked.

Where are the alarmist voices of the science lobby who are always warning us of the corruptive influence of politics on science? They are too busy talking about the "Republican War on Science."

Now the goosestepping is being heard at the University of Stuebenville, which is facing "questions from the group that accredits its social work program." In other words, if you disgree with the Cultural Authorities, they'll unlock the rack of political truncheons and pay you a little visit.

This is, of course, a Catholic school that is only teaching according to the doctrines of the Church, a thing for which there is apparently little room in the Brave New World of tolerance and diversity.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The intellectual de-evolution of Jerry Coyne

I think we've discovered the problem with the New Atheists: they have jettisoned rationality altogether.

Here is the philosophically-challenged New Atheist biologist Jerry Coyne on his recent conversion to the position of the even more philosophically-challenged New Atheist Sam Harris that morality has a "scientific basis":
Now, however, I’m coming around to Sam’s view. People’s view of what is “moral” ultimately must rest on one or more of three things: an appeal to the consequences, an appeal to some authority (like Scripture), or some innate feeling instilled by our genes in combination with our environment (in other words, morality lies in our neurons).
That Coyne's position would be deteriorating to the point of thinking that Sam Harris' view of morality actually makes any sense, is an indication of just how low the intellectual standards of the New Atheists have become.

Note the one glaring omission from this list of the three things Coyne says morality can rest upon. Guessed it yet?


This is rather ironic, since the New Atheists (despite their almost complete lack of knowledge of actual logic) are always claiming they are the rational ones, and their religious opponents rely exclusively on faith.

Lawrence Krauss Don't Know Nothing: A review of "A Universe from Nothing"

The philosopher Martin Heidegger has been often (and not entirely unjustly) ridiculed for having once said, "The Nothing nothings." Science, we have been told, is scrupulous in its avoidance of this kind of meaningless gibberish. Science is clear and precise. So it is ironic that Case Western Reserve cosmologist Krauss now comes to us with the equally inscrutible "The Nothing somethings."

Krauss' A Universe from Nothing is yet another in a series of New Athiest tracts that have come out in recent years, all attempting to make the case for the scientistic pretense that science has superseded philosophy and theology, and that the latter discipline is no longer necessary. And, like most other New Atheist books, it only ends up proving just how necessary these disciplines are--and how naive is the view that science is some sort of universal intellectual elixir that can carry the weight of both scientific and philosophical inquiry.

The book takes the reader on a tour of the universe, or rather, a tour of the contemporary cosmological view of the universe (scientist like Krauss have been known to confuse the two). It is, of course, an imaginary place, existing only in the minds of contemporary cosmologists, although, claims Krauss, we have every reason to believe it exists in reality--if only, by believing it, he doesn't have to believe all that business about God.

The ancient philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides disagreed over the nature of the universe, Heraclitus saying there was only change, and Parmenides that there was only permanence. The history of science has always had a noticeable likeness to a Heraclitean stream: you can never step into the same one twice. But while cosmology, like the state of what it purports to describe, is always in a state of flux, Krauss, like most other scientists before him, is convinced that his view is the permanent one.

Science is Heraclitean; scientists are Parmedian. Undoubtedly, the scientist who comes along next and overturns Krauss' view will be equally confident in the permanence of his position.

The cosmological tour Krauss gives us, which is sandwiched in between the preface and the latter part of the book which seem to contain the central argument of the book, is not only not particularly lucid in its own right, but seems to have little to do with his argument.

And what is the central argument?

Well, if one were to read the cover of the book, he would come away with the distinct impression that the book has something to do with answering the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" That impression is hard to shake when there, staring at you on the front cover is the subtitle, "Why there is something rather than nothing."

And this impression is given some weight when Krauss says, in the preface:
The purpose of this book is simple. I want to show how modern science, in various guises, can address and is addressing the question of why there is something rather than nothing: The answers that have been obtained ... all suggest that getting something from nothing is not a problem. Indeed, something from nothing may have been required for the universe to come into being. Moreover, all signs suggest that this is how our universe could have arisen.
It is rather curious for someone who claims to be manning the barricades of Reason in defiance of the irrational religious hordes to infer from the fact that his theory requires the universe come from nothing, that the universe therefore must do so (Would that simply having a theory about the universe ipso facto confered necessity on a theory's own assumptions about it).

In the somewhat embarrassing recent interview by Ross Anderson in The Atlantic, Krauss begins dissembling about this in the face of Anderson's questions about what, exactly, he's arguing in the book. When Anderson presses him on whether the book is actually trying to answer the question of whether something can come from nothing, Krauss backpedals, saying "Well, if that hook gets you into the book that's great. But in all seriousness, I never make that claim. In fact, in the preface I tried to be really clear that you can keep asking 'Why?' forever. At some level there might be ultimate questions that we can't answer, but if we can answer the 'How?' questions, we should, because those are the questions that matter."

"Never make that claim"? He not only makes the claim, he makes it in the very subtitle of the book.

In fact, the physics in the book is not half as head-spinning as the rhetorical contortions Krauss engages in about what exactly the book is for. I don't mind reading about quantum leaps, I just wish the author wouldn't engage in them in the course of his actual arguments.

Krauss' Redefinition of 'nothing'
First, Krauss simply takes the concept "nothing" and gives it a definition that conveniently avoids all the difficulties Krauss claims to be resolving in the book. Nothing, it turns out, is, for Krauss, not nothing. He blasts philosophers and theologians, who have the temerity to define "nothing" as, well, nothing.
[N]othing upsets philosophers and theologians who disagree with me more than the notion that I, as a scientist, do not truly understand "nothing" ... 
"Nothing," they insist, is not any of the things I discuss. Nothing is "nonbeing," in some vague and ill-defined sense ... 
But therein, in my opinion, lies the intellectual bankruptcy of much of theology and some of modern philosophy. For surely "nothing" is every bit as physical as "something," especially if it is to be defined as the "absence of something."
He really can't understand where anyone would get the crazy idea that "nothing" means "no thing." What were they thinking?
By nothing, I do not mean nothing, but rather nothing, in this case, the nothingness we normally call empty space.
Apparently there is something about italics that allows you to engage in equivocation with impunity. In fact, in Krauss' rhetorical shell game, the definition of "nothing" bears a striking resemblance to "something." And his discussion of the traditional philosophical and theological positions on nothingness is simply incoherent. He clearly has no familiarity with the philosophical or theological views on the subject, characterizing them in one way in one paragraph, and a different way in the next. It's kind of hard to dispute your opponent if you don't know what your opponents position actually is from one paragraph to another.

After criticizing philosophers and theologians for thinking that "nothing" means the lack of anything, he then digs himself in deeper by misportraying them too as having asserted that nothing is, in fact, something, namely, empty space:
A century ago, had one described "nothing" as referring to purely empty space, possessing no real material entity, this might have received little argument. But the results of the past century have taught us that empty space is in fact far from the inviolate nothingness that we presupposed before we learned more about how nature works.
Huh? Who is he talking about here? What philosopher describes nothing as simply "empty space"? And even if they exist (or existed), do they constitute the whole of the philosophical tradition?

In fact, Krauss is completely ignorant of any of the necessary philosophical distinctions philosophers and theologians have employed to make sense of a concept like "nothing." Although it's hard to make out exactly what he's criticizing (largely because he clearly does not know himself), every once in a while you can vaguely recognize the stray hints of what he at least thinks he's referring to. In one place he refers to what is apparently the Aristotelian view that anything that has any potentiality cannot be nothing! Would that he actually understood Aristotle or St. Thomas whose view he attempts to criticize (the distinction between potentiality and actuality). As it is he fails because he has absolutely no clue what he's talking about.

What he does instead is to mischaracterize all such views as invoking God when, in fact, they don't do that at all--that, and arguing that philosophers have "changed the playing field" on the issue of "the nature of nothingness." Science per se has never addressed the nature of nothingness for the simple reason that it is not a scientific question. But Krauss has it in his head that by simply being a scientist and redefining "nothing" as "something" (the one thing that it absolutely, positively can't be), he has magically brought the question into the realm of science. In the process he acts as if he represents some kind of scientific tradition that has come to terms with the issue, when in fact, there is no such thing. In fact, his whole account of nothingness, as philosopher of physics David Albert pointed out in the devastating New York Times review of the book, makes not sense at all.

Veni, vidi, halicinatus est: "He came, he saw, he rambled incoherently."

In short, Krauss is philosophically and theologically illiterate, a condition that ill-equips him to criticize philosophers and theologians, a problem compounded by the fact that he doesn't realize it and wouldn't think it mattered if he did. It is also one which causes him, in addition, to mischaracterize the limits of the science he does know something about because the question of what science is or isn't is not a scientific question, but a philosophical one.

Changing the Question
Second, he reformulates the very idea of explanation in a way that relieves him of the trouble of answering the very question he claims to be answering. After just repeating, in chapter 9, his statement that he is going to answer the question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" He then rewrites the question in a way that changes its essence:
At the same time, in science we have to particularly cautious about "why" questions. When we ask, "Why?" we usually mean "How?" If we can answer the latter, that generally suffices for our purposes ... Why implicitly suggests purpose, and when we try to understand the solar system in scientific terms, we do not generally ascribe purpose to it.
So I am going to assume that what this question really means to ask is, "How is there something rather than nothing?" "How" questions are really the only ones we can provide definitive answer to by studying nature, but because this sentence sounds much stranger to the ear, I hope you will forgive me if I something fall into the trap of appearing to discuss the more standard formulation when I am really trying to respond to the more specific "how" questions.
Appearing to discuss the more standard formulation? Not only does he "appear" to discuss it, he says in plain English that that is exactly what he is doing. In fact the paragraph just before this reads: "I want to return to the question I described at the beginning of this book: Why is there something rather than nothing?"

When once the reader is told in unambiguous terms that Krauss is going to address this question, he discovers that Krauss doesn't actually do this. It's not just that Krauss says he's going to do it and then doesn't; it's that he says he's going to do it, and then says, just as firmly (in the same book), that he's not going to do it.

If Krauss doesn't want anyone to mistake him for asking a "why" question, then a useful expedient would be to avoid telling people in the first place that that's exactly what he's going to do.

What are we to say about a book that keeps repeating what it is about, only to find out on p. 143 that the author is not doing that at all? At that point in the book it is so clear he is making a mess of his whole stated project that he throws up his hands and basically says, "And now for something completely different."

It works for Monty Python, but it's kind of hard to justify it in a science book.

On p. 134, Krauss quotes Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, who has likened the science of string theory to throwing a dart against a blank wall and then, only afterward, drawing a target around it.

What Krauss doesn't seem to realize is that his own argument that science explains how something can come from nothing is of the same nature. His argument, though designed to prove that science can explain even the most intractable philosophical mysteries, only serves as a testimony of the prejudicial nature of his case, a case which he states in a way that, at one and the sane time, serves to guarantee that he can accomplish his purpose and yet prevents him from actually doing so.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Democrats: Losing their religion

I don't think I have ever participated in the debased habit of posting rock videos on blog, as I have seen some of my conservative blog brethren do. But I making an exception today.

The rock group REM has asked FOX News to stop playing "Losing My Religion," with the conservative TV network was apparently playing during the Democratic National Convention. I somehow missed that, but it seems only appropriate for a political party that--despite its leadership's attempt to paper it over--doesn't appear to be too excited about mentioning God or reaffirming Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel in its platform, if the "No"s on the vote to reinclude the language were any indication.

Here's the video, just in case you didn't see it:

Friday, September 07, 2012

Is Obama going to talk us out of the recession?

Here is former Clinton Secretary of Labor and otherwise very liberal economist Robert Reich on Obama's acceptance speech last night:
Look, I desperately want Obama to win. But the one thing his speech last night lacked was the one thing that was the most important for him to offer — a plan for how to get the economy out of the doldrums.
This is Robert Reich, for crying out loud. If Obama can't please the like of Robert Reich, he's in big trouble.
Employers added only 96,000 nonfarm jobs in August. True, the unemployment rate fell to 8.1% from July’s 8.3%, But the size of the workforce continued to drop, according to a Labor Department report Friday. 
Unfortunately for the President — and the rest of us — jobs gains have averaged only 94,000 over the last three months. That’s down from an average of 95,000 in the second quarter. And well below the average gain of 225,000 in the first quarter of the year And compared to last year, the trend is still in the wrong direction: a monthly average gain of 139,000 this year compared to last year’s average monthly gain of 153,000.
Reich still says we're better off now that we were four years ago. We're just going to have nod our head politely when they say this, as we would when anyone makes a faith statement.

I was watching the Charlie Rose show last night, in which supporter after Obama supporter assured Rose that Obama was going to do what they argued Romney didn't: lay out a plan to get the nation out of the economic doldrums.

What happened instead? More high-flown rhetoric. Obama is apparently going to talk us out of the recession.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

How much does Obama care about the middle class? Apparently, not enough

The speakers at the Democratic National Convention keep talking about the middle class, and how they care about the middle class. Unfortunately, they may be caring them out of existence.

What voters need to do is remember one number: $4,019. According to the Census Bureau, this is the amount  of the decline in income over Obama's term  of office. Here is the Wall Street Journal, on the result of Obama's "care" of the middle class:
In January 2009, the month President Obama entered the Oval Office and shortly before he signed his stimulus spending bill, median household income was $54,983. By June 2012, it had tumbled to $50,964, adjusted for inflation. (See the chart nearby.) That's $4,019 in lost real income, a little less than a month's income every year. 
How did this happen, what with all the Obama administration's care and concern? Maybe the problem is that they just didn't care enough--or maybe just expressing your concern and making speeches about it is not enough to actually change the situation.

But, you say, didn't Obama inherit the recession?
Well, even if you start the analysis when the recession ended in June 2009, the numbers are dismal. Three years after the economy hit its trough, median household income is down $2,544, or nearly 5%.
That's actually worse that the first part of the recession. You know, the one caused by Bush.

DNC: All pro-abortion, all the time

QUESTION: If the Republicans, at their convention, had talked as much about being pro-life (and pro-marriage) as the Democrats have talked about being pro-abortion (and pro-same-sex marriage), what would the media have said?

For those in the Vital Remnants Peanut Gallery who can't figure this out, please check back for the answer later today.

UPDATE (8:45 p.m. est): Okay, I'll have to say I'm disappointed in the Peanut Gallery. Where are the excuses? Where are the rationalizations? The answer is:

The media would say that the Republicans are extremists.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz says dropping of God, Jerusalem was "technical oversight"

We knew it was going to happen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is now saying that the dropping of Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel from the DNC platform was a "technical oversight." So was the taking God out of the platform. Just a slip of the pen.

They didn't really mean it. Honest.

Wait, now that I think about it, the word "honest" should never be used in a post in which Debbie Wasserman Schultz's name appears. I promise never to do it again.

Wasserman Schultz declared that there "wasn't any discord" when the Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa had to take three (count 'em three) voice votes and then finally, because there was seemingly as much dissent as support (the "No"s were just as loud as the "Yes"s), and because the lady behind him was saying "You gotta let them do what they're gonna do," referring to Party leadership, he just declares, "In the opinion of the chair two thirds have voted in the affirmative, the motion is adopted." Cue the boos, jeers, and fist shaking.

And that's where Debbie Wasserman Schultz comes in. To deny that it happened. That's what she's for.

Just click the picture of Debbie Wasserman Schultz above to see her nose grow longer.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Democratic delegates boo God

Delegates to the Democratic National Convention booed an attempt by Party leadership to put language mentioning God and Jerusalem being the capitol of Israel back into the platform after party activists had taken it out.

Where is Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to tell us this never happened? Probably in make up, putting her female disguise on.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz lying again

You need to watch Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on CNN, appearing once again, disguised as a woman, telling fibs about Mitt Romney.

This woman is going to give lying a bad name.

Click her image to the left.

Why David Quine is wrong about classical education

David Quine, the author of the Cornerstone Curriculum popular among some homeschoolers, has produced a video critical of classical education that is unfortunately plagued with historical inaccuracies and logical fallacies. I have met David on a number of occasions and he’s a nice fellow, but I think this particular presentation doesn’t do him or his academic program much justice.

The chief problem is his penchant for taking one particular example of something some author writing about classical education says that he disagrees with and using it as justification for implicating classical education as a whole for this error. This is the fallacy of composition: attributing a characteristic of a part to the whole. In addition to this, he picks only the evidence that confirms his claim and ignores any evidence to the contrary, an example of special pleading.

The video starts out with part of a presentation by Josh McDowell, a popular evangelical speaker, who quotes a study that allegedly found that only 4 percent of American young people believe in absolute truth. I have tried unsuccessfully to locate the actual study, which, it turns out, was conducted by a group called “People Can Change,” a ministry to homosexuals. I don’t know much about the organization or how it conducted the study. It is unclear what questions they actually asked and whether it was actually conducted scientifically, which always makes me skeptical, since the phrase “a study has shown” is probably the most abused expression in the English language. But for the sake of argument, let's grant McDowell's claim.

McDowell’s presentation itself has nothing to do with classical education, but it is clear that Quine is implying that classical education has something to do with this. Quine then goes on to talk about five things that many American’s no longer believe:

  1. The reliability of Scripture
  2. The Resurrection
  3. The deity of Christ
  4. Absolute truth
  5. Salvation through faith 

What does doubt concerning these things have to do with classical education? Does classical Christian education somehow undermine these things?

Quine gets to the meat of his argument (such as it is) by setting forth four propositions. Concerning the classical curriculum, he says:

  1. It is an academic curriculum, but at the loss of personal discipleship
  2. It is a scholarly curriculum, but at the cost of the reliability of Scripture
  3. It is a rigorous curriculum, but at the expense of the joy of learning
  4. It is a comprehensive curriculum, but at the forfeiture of the Grand Story

Let’s take these one at a time. When we do, it will become readily apparent that Quine has not only not established his point, but committed numerous factual and logical mistakes along the way that do nothing but undermine his credibility on these topics.

Does classical education undermine discipleship?
In arguing for the first point—that classical education is somehow inconsistent with personal discipleship, Quine quotes Presbyterian pastor and writer Douglas Wilson—whose book Rediscovering the Lost Tools of Learning was the chief catalyst for the modern classical education movement among Christian schools—as saying that many parents “are simply not equipped to home school.”

Again, for the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that Quine’s clear assumption here that Wilson is wrong. Let’s say it is a moral obligation for every family to home school their children. How, then, does the fact that one advocate of classical education takes this position on home schooling demonstrate that classical education itself is somehow inconsistent with discipleship?

Clearly Quine believes that home schooling is necessary for proper discipleship (we’ll grant him that as well, again, for the sake of argument). What in the world does this have to do with classical education? Why should we believe it has anything to do with it at all? Wilson also has a beard. Does that have something to do with his advocacy of classical education as well? This is the first example of the Fallacy of Composition, although there are more to come.

This charge is also an example of special pleading, since there are plenty of people who engage in classical education at home and plenty of people who practice competent discipleship with their children and use a classical curriculum. In fact, my own experience speaking at home and private school groups would indicate that most classically educated students are educated at home. And these examples are no secret to Quine either, but he just pretends as if they don't exist.

Does classical education undermine the reliability of Scripture?
His second point is that classical education undermines the reliability of Scripture. His argument? That Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind, a popular book among home school families, doesn’t include the creation story in her history of the world books. Again, let’s grant Quine his facts in this case: let’s say that Bauer’s book of history incorrectly leaves out the creation story. We are left with the same question: What does this have to do with classical education per se? Quine is again selecting one advocate of classical education (one who has produced a self-professedly secular book) and inferring that this says something about classical Christian education itself. Once again, it is the Fallacy of Composition.

Plenty of homeschoolers (probably the majority) use a classical Christian curriculum that covers the creation story. Some of them even use Bauer’s histories and supplement them with the creation story from other books.

Quine asks the question, “What are the roots of classical education?” He gives the viewer a timeline of the historical origins of classical education which features Greece and Rome at the left and a horizontal arrow, pointing from left to right, going to the Renaissance. But wait. What happened to the Middle Ages? Oh, wait, here comes the fade in and we have … the Middle Ages, but in vertical, not horizontal text like the other periods, as if it was not a real historical period or didn’t take up as much historical space. And the text doesn’t actually say the “Middle Ages.” It says “Middle” above the time line and “Dark Ages” below, as if the entire Middle Ages were coextensive with the Dark Ages--a very bad mistake to make when you are trying to correct the historical errors of others (remember the problem with the creation story?) If Quine’s graphic arrows are to be believed, classical education derived solely from the Renaissance, which itself was a “rebirth” of Greece and Rome, with nothing (or little) in between.

It is hard not to conclude that Quine considers the Middle Ages as irrelevant to the development of classical education. In fact, the Medieval period is not only important, but essential to understand the development of classical education. The seven liberal arts, the central intellectual skills of the classical curriculum were first enumerated in the Middle Ages, and the whole Christian transformation of classical thought and education was conducted in this period.

Quine’s analysis here is not only flawed, it is fatally flawed. You have to understand something in order to legitimately criticize it, and what Quine criticizes here isn’t even true classical education, much less classical Christian education. It is a version of it he has invented for the occasion, and cherry-picked to suit his purpose.

In defense of the Sistine Chapel
The video then takes us to two paintings in the Sistine Chapel: the portrayals of Jeremiah and Joel. In the next slide, he shows the two paintings (which are painted on opposite walls) of the Delphic and Lybian sybils. He then quotes Francis Schaeffer: “The Renaissance elevated the Greek-Roman gods, goddesses, and sibyls (prophetesses) to the same level of authority as the prophets of God through art, literature, philosophy, and religion.”

One of the problems in some evangelical circles is that Schaeffer himself sometimes seems to have been elevated to a similarly high level of authority, a tendency that produces some unfortunate results. I have already commented on Schaeffer’s misrepresentation of St. Thomas Aquinas, one which has a deadly effect on his analysis of modern thought. I would hope that his ability to criticize art was on more solid ground than his interpretation of Aquinas, but it’s hard to tell. In any case, to say simply that the sibyl’s position opposite the prophets is proof that they are on the “same level of authority” as the prophets is idiosyncratic enough to at least warrant some kind of argument, an argument Quine never gives. The more prevalent opinion of art critics seems to be that the sibyls were put there for a very Christian reason: because they were believed to have unwittingly prophesied the coming of Christ, and to symbolize the dominion of Christianity over even the pagans’ ignorance.

John Henry Newman articulated this perhaps better than anyone in his great chapter in The Idea of the University:
The old saws of nations, the majestic precepts of philosophy, the luminous maxims of law, the oracles of individual wisdom, the traditionary rules of truth, justice, and religion—even though imbedded in the corruption or alloyed with the pride of the world—betoken His original agency and His long-suffering presence. 
Even where there is habitual rebellion against Him, or profound far-spreading social depravity, still the undercurrent, or the heroic outburst of natural virtue, as well as the yearnings of the heart after what it has not, and its presentiment of its true remedies, are to be ascribed to the Author of all good.  
Anticipations or reminiscences of His glory haunt the mind of the self-sufficient sage and of the pagan devotee. His writing is upon the wall, whether of the Indian fane, or of the porticoes of Greece. He introduces Himself, He all but concurs, according to His good pleasure, and in His selected season, in the issues of unbelief, superstition, and false worship, and He changes the character of acts by His overruling operation.  
He condescends, though He gives no sanction, to the altars and shrines of imposture, and He makes His own fiat the substitute for its sorceries. He speaks amid the incantations of Balaam, raises Samuel's spirit in the witch's cavern, prophesies of the Messias by the tongue of the Sibyl, forces Python to recognize His ministers, and baptizes by the hand of the misbeliever.
He is with the heathen dramatist in his denunciations of injustice and tyranny, and his auguries of divine vengeance upon crime. Even on the unseemly legends of a popular mythology he casts His shadow, and is dimly discerned in the ode or the epic, as in troubled water or in fantastic dreams.  
All that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful, all that is beneficent — be it great or small — be it perfect or fragmentary, natural as well as supernatural, moral as well as material, comes from Him. [emphasis added]
In other words, God is sovereign--even over the pagan and his actions. And to admit anything less is to limit the power and purpose of God. To a thinker of Quine’s Reformed bent, that cannot be an unimportant consideration.

Oh, and in one curriculum, says Quine, children of 4 and 5 years old pretend to be gods. Let’s put this in an enthematic argument:
One curriculum has children pretending to be gods
Therefore, the classical curriculum undermines the reliability of Scripture 
Could there possibly be some necessary assumption missing here?

Quine argues that because the classical curriculum draws from both the classical and Christian worldviews the Bible “begins to be marginalized into “a Word of God.” [rather than “the Word of God”] This is another giant step of reasoning that is not filled in. In fact, Quine never states it explicitly, but at this point in the presentation you realize what his basic argument is, even though he doesn’t state it explicitly: Quine is arguing that the reason for modern relativism (which is the whole emphasis of the Josh McDowell lecture at the beginning) is the revival of paganism in the form of classical education.

Really? How so?

Relativism certainly had its defenders in ancient times, but it also had its enemies who were the more prominent philosophers and the ones who had the greatest influence on the later classical Christian worldview of the Middle Ages. Plato was not a relativist; in fact, he articulated one of the great refutations of moral reltivism in his dialogue Theaetetus. And Aristotle was certainly not a relativist of the kind McDowell indicts in his presentation. And since Plato and Aristotle between them constitute the greatest part of the so-called “pagan” philosophical influence descending from ancient times, one wonders how you could possibly argue that paganism is at the root of modern relativism.

The kind of relativism we see today was most definitely not the product of the revival of classical learning. The revival of classical learning came in the 11th and 12th centuries, and classical education was not only the primary, but the only kind of education that existed until the mid-to-late 19th century. The reason Quine thinks it is the product of classical learning is because he thinks classical learning was a product of the Renaissance, a period which added things to the classical curriculum (some good--like the introduction of Cicero, some bad), when, in fact, the basic classical curriculum as we know it came from the Christian Middle Ages.

In fact, what is at the root of modern relativism is modernism. The rejection of the great philosophical and theological synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas and the onset of nominalism in the late Middle Ages unplugged human behavior from its classical and Christian roots, as Alasdair MacIntyre has pointed out in in his great book After Virtue. The problem with much of the evangelical thought traceable to Schaeffer is that Schaeffer seems almost completely unaware of the debate over universals in the late Middle Ages and its ramifications in later thought and doesn’t even seem to know about William of Ockham at all.

The debate over universals in the Middle Ages is central to any competent analysis of the decline of the Christian West and any analysis (no matter how many times it repeats the word “worldview”) that neglects it cannot pretend to offer a reasonable account of the problem. In fact, the origin of the problems McDowell talks about at the beginning of Quine's video are to be found in Ockham.

Does classical education detract from the joy of learning?
And what about classical education detracting from the joy of learning, Quine’s third point? The only evidence he offers for this is a quote from Marlin Detweiler, owner of Veritas Press, a classical publisher, to the effect that the classical methodology requires five to seven hours of formal education per day for 2nd through 6th graders. Again, Quine has taken the view of one advocate of classical education and illegitimately universalized it.

Does Quine have evidence that this view is shared universally among classical educators? If so, he doesn’t present it in his video. I would guess that most classical educators would disagree with this view. In fact, I disagree with it. And is there some necessary connection between time spent in study and the joy one gains in it? For some that is undoubtedly so. On the other hand, don’t people who like to do something generally like to do it for a longer, rather than a shorter period of time? Quine simply presents these assertions which are fraught with dubious assumptions that he doesn’t take the time or effort to justify.

Does classical education "forfeit the Grand Story"?
In his final point—that classical education “forfeits the Grand Story”—Quine simply revisits his first point, and commits the same fallacy: that the neglect of the creation account in some materials that are labeled “classical” is evidence that classical education itself is essentially anti-Biblical. This is a blatant example of special pleading: picking the evidence that supports your thesis and ignoring evidence (in the case, the much more prevalent evidence) that disagrees with it.

It seems to me that if you are going to champion the truth publicly, you have a special responsibility to make sure that what you say reflects that concern in what you yourself say. One way to do that is to stick to legitimate history and avoid fallacious reasoning. The other is to make sure that you don’t say more than your evidence and reasoning can justify. Quine would have been on much more solid ground had he argued that there are some factions in classical education whose neglect of certain Christian truths undermines the Christian cause. He might have had some success there. But he paints with a brush that is way too broad.

The irony of Quine's argument
Finally, let me point out a glaring irony in Quine’s alleged correlation between classical education and modern relativism—a position, I might add, that is confused even more by the fact that his curriculum is advertised as being classical!—which is that, if there is any correlation between classical education and modern relativism, the correlation is in the exact opposite direction of that which Quine asserts. It is an inverse, not a direct correlation.

Classical education was practiced almost universally until the late 19th century. It extended from the classical period all the way down to the turn of the 20th century. It was the education of the Puritans and the Founding Fathers. It was thrown out over the period from about 1870-1920 and replaced by the modern progressivism and modern pragmatism that dominates schools today. If Quine is looking for the culprit in the rise of relativism, he’ll find it in these modern education ideologies; he won't find it in classical education.

Classical education bolsters, rather than detracts from the belief in moral absolutes. I think this was the point Leo Tolstoy makes in his novel Anna Karenina, when during a dinner conversation, his character Karenin remarks that classical education (as opposed to the modern form of education, which was already rearing its ugly head in mid-19th century Russia) was "anti-nihilistic."

Quine's employment of the fallacies of composition and special pleading prevent him from even coming close to demonstrating the correlation he asserts. In fact, the historical evidence is all to the contrary.

If you’re going to try to lead the charge in the defense of absolutes, it’s best to know who it is your enemy is. And Quine has got that point all wrong.