Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

All the best for 2006 to all ROFTERS and visitors.

Reconsidering the Crusades

Paul Cella posts this parsing of a talk about Islam by a German monsignor. The monsignor also deals with popular perceptions of the Crusades:
According to this representation, Western Christians were invaders in a peaceful region that was respectful of the different religions — the Holy Land, which back then was part of Syria — using religious motives to disguise imperialist ambitions and economic interests.

But the idea of the crusades emerged, above all, as a reaction to the measures that the Fatimid caliph Hakim bi-Amr Allah took against the Christians of Egypt and Syria. In 1008, al-Hakim outlawed the celebrations of Palm Sunday, and the following year he ordered that Christians be punished and all their property confiscated. In that same year of 1009, he sacked and demolished the church dedicated to Mary in Cairo, and did not prevent the desecration of the Christian sepulchers surrounding it, or the sacking of the city’s other churches. That same year saw what was certainly the most severe episode: the destruction of the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, known as the Holy Sepulcher. The historical records of the time say that he had ordered “to obliterate any symbol of Christian faith, and provide for the removal of every reliquary and object of veneration.” The basilica was then razed, and Ibn Abi Zahir did all he could to demolish the sepulcher of Christ and any trace of it.

That reminded me of this multiple books review in First Things from this past summer. In it, Prof. Thomas Madden applauds what he sees as a turning of the tide in academic research into the Crusades:
As historians of the Crusades begin to present their research to the general reader, the common caricature of these events is finally beginning to dissolve. Unlike most older popular histories on the subject, these new books are fastidious about the facts, and they are less inclined to patronize the past or flatter the modern reader’s prejudices. While their arguments about what motivated the Crusades are sometimes question able, they are never anachronistic—and that alone constitutes an important improvement.

By contrast, see this chapter on the Crusades in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by the 19th century skeptic Charles Mackay:
Now what was the grand result of all these struggles? Europe expended millions of her treasures, and the blood of two millions of her children; and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one hundred years! Even had Christendom retained it to this day, the advantage, if confined to that, would have been too dearly purchased. But notwithstanding the fanaticism that originated, and the folly that conducted them, the Crusades were not productive of unmitigated evil. The feudal chiefs became better members of society, by coming in contact, in Asia, with a civilization superior to their own; the people secured some small instalments of their rights; kings, no longer at war with their nobility, had time to pass some good laws; the human mind learned some little wisdom from hard experience, and, casting off the slough of superstition in which the Roman clergy had so long enveloped it, became prepared to receive the seeds of the approaching Reformation. Thus did the all-wise Disposer of events bring good out of evil, and advance the civilization and ultimate happiness of the nations of the West, by means of the very fanaticism that had led them against the East. But the whole subject is one of absorbing interest; and if carried fully out in all its bearings, would consume more space than the plan of this work will allow. The philosophic student will draw his own conclusions; and he can have no better field for the exercise of his powers than this European madness; its advantages and disadvantages; its causes and results.

FWIW, in the introduction, Mackay does describe the outrages that the Turkish rulers of Jerusalem perpetrated upon the Christian pilgrims.

From the Madden article, I discovered Runciman, and went on to read his very good book about the Byzantine Empire.

Friday, December 30, 2005

So What The Heck Is "Darwinism", Anyway?

We can keep from a child all knowledge of earlier myths, but we cannot take from him the need for mythology.
-- Carl Jung, 1912


Here's a First Things blog post from Joseph Bottum taking swipes at the film Inherit the Wind and the Daniel Dennett and, by tenuous extension, "Darwinism".

Now, maybe I haven't been keeping the terms of the discussion straight, the whole time I've been commenting on these matters here. Maybe "Darwinism" as used by the First Things editorial board refers to a legitimate kind of philosophy of science, rather than the actual science of evolution, natural selection, and such. Creationists tag scientists as "Darwinists" preaching "Darwinism", in order to make the science and the scientists seem arbitrary, political, and--not accidentally, when appending the suffixes "-ist" and -ism"--nefarious.

Philosophy of course has a legitimate right to consider the implications of science. And if the Daniel Dennetts and Desmond Morrises of the world want to advance a line of philosophizing that holds that science has exploded the idea of God, fine! They are bits of froth tossing about on the surface of a vast, bottomless sea, just like the rest of us, and nothing they can postulate will make a dent in a mature armor of faith. And if that's what Fr. Neuhaus and Mr. Bottum mean by "Darwinism", then also fine, and my apologies for misconstruing their meaning.

That doesn't take away the burden of intellectual dishonesty from creationists and proponents of Intelligent Design, though. When they assail "Darwinism", they are not referring to philosophers. They are referring to working biologists and other scientists and teachers. They are usurping school boards and subverting science education, not rebutting any philosophical arguments. Religiously imposed scientific ignorance will warp our children in more joblots than any biological theories will. What does Daniel Dennett amount to in comparison? Just another "cultured despiser of religion," same as the Church has been tossing over the ropes for the past umpty-dozen centuries. People like him are no menace to anyone with a living faith. People peddling counterfeit science because real science offends their religious sensibilities are the real danger.

Bottum ends with this:
Pat Robertson seems ridiculous when he says of the Pennsylvania town that kicked anti-evolutionists off its school board, “if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God. You just rejected him from your city.” But Daniel Dennett is probably more ridiculous, and certainly more dangerous, when he announces that Darwinism is the very destroyer of God.

I doubt it, as I said. I think a lot of foes of "Darwinism", especially Pat Robertson, would do well to heed the Apostle Paul's rebuke:

Romans 2:24 As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."

Cobb Evolution Textbook Stickers Update

I called the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals today, to find out what kind of notice the judges will give before they announce their decision. The Clerk of Court's office said that there is no advance notice of judicial decisions. The decision arrives in their office, and then the Clerk's office announces it.

Probably there are some back-channel sources of information--but I'm not one of them, sorry.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Part Of The Reason Bush Makes Liberals' Heads Explode...

From David Deutsch over at Edge.org, back in October of '01:

One may argue about the precise role of religion in the terrorists' mindset, but Mr Blair and Mr Bush, both of them religious believers who purport to derive their moral stances from their religions, are certainly not part of the problem: on the contrary, they are leading the solution. Mr Bush, speaking to an audience of children, addressed the question that everyone has asked: "Why would somebody hate so badly"? And he replied: "my answer is, there's evil in the world. But we can overcome evil. We're good." This is the simple truth — a truth on which all our futures depend — yet the moment Mr Bush uttered it, all the intellectuals in the Western world winced. Even those who, like myself, agreed with the proposition, winced, vicariously, because we recognised the intensity of the taboo that was being broken.

When You Are Morally Superior, Everything You Do Is Right By Definition

Here's a TV news story about the Interfaith Alliance in Boise, Idaho opening a homeless shelter. Only they've run into a snag, in that apparently they never bothered to get a zoning permit. The IA is quoted as giving an excuse about not being able to get a temporary permit because of the holiday. Yeah, and what about however many months before that, that the shelter was in the planning stages? Couldn't make the time to render unto Caesar?

All those fatcat, worldly, Pharisaic business owners who are nonplussed about the prospect of vandalism, public drunkeness, and etc. ruining their businesses are airily dismissed by the Interfaith Alliance:
"If there were problems with people sleeping in their hedges before, they'd much rather sleep here than in their hedges,"


Thanks to the well-documented magnet effect--the more you subsidize something, whether it be corn, wheat, homelessness, or out-of-wedlock babies, the more of it you get--the poor citizens in that section of town might wind up with people sleeping in both places. But, since society's foes are liberals' mascots, why should the IA care? Ruining a neighborhood for the sake of one's progressive feel-good do-gooderism, and thumbing your nose at the law while you do it, is no more than sinful bourgeois society deserves.

Something's wrong when you can smell liberal sanctimoniousness from across a whole continent.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Social engineering in Canadian courts of law

Canadian court lifts ban on ‘swingers’ clubs

Group sex among consenting adults is neither prostitution nor a threat to society, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Wednesday as it lifted a ban on so-called “swingers” clubs.

In a ruling that radically changes the way courts determine what poses a threat to the population, the top court threw out the conviction of a Montreal man who ran a club where members could have group sex in a private room behind locked doors.

“Consensual conduct behind code-locked doors can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society,” said the opinion of the seven-to-two majority, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.


Vigorous and tolerant Canadian society may well be. But I'll bet there's a raft of great and good reasons--all quite nonjudgmental, of course--why Justice McLachlin would never permit such a club in her own residential neighborhood.

Vice is always present in every society. But it works its greatest evils when that society stops resisting. People who consider the writ of law as the be-all and end-all of society rarely even see the danger coming.

Are We Alone?

Hope you all had a good Christmas, and Happy early New Year to you.

I've been pondering as I watch the blogosphere's parsing of the Dover, PA Intelligent Design ruling. I'm very glad that the judge found ID to be emphatically not science, and further to be stealthy creationism. I don't want creationism or Intelligent Design in science classes for the same reason I don't want Immanuel Velikovsky's "worlds in collision" nonsense in astronomy classes, or Erich von Daniken's ancient astronauts in history classes: It's counterfeit. It is not what it represents itself to the public as being. It's a lie.

As a lifelong consumer of popularized science, this is no shocker for me. What is a shocker is how few there seem to be of my precise persuasion: a politically conservative Christian who admires science and loathes its counterfeits. Making the rounds of the blogs after the decision, I found exultant atheists or agnostics, fuming creationists, and supporters of sound education of all professional backgrounds but of no discernable religious persuasions or lack thereof. Not too many from my pigeonhole, though.

What was even more unsettling was listening to talk radio on the subject. People I respect a lot were repeating all the oft-exploded claims of ID, with no shortage of callers to agree with them. Even the former Secretary of Education, William Bennett, had a substitute host on, Steve Malzberg, loudly deploring the ruling. I remember earlier this year the otherwise quite thoughtful and wise Dennis Prager was taking a "teach the controversy" line, in imitation of President Bush's fence-straddling statement on the matter. It's as if ID were a vital part of the conservative platform, and as if to reject it would be to break ranks. That, or ID answers some kind of yearning inside a lot of people. That still doesn't make it science, though.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas Eve to all ROFTERS

Here's a Christmas heartwarmer from the First Things archives by Jody Bottum. I remember it because he recently recycled it for an On The Square blog post.

Tsunami anniversary commemorations begin

The one year anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people is starting to be commemorated throughout the region. The latest estimate of the death toll is 216,000, according to the Associated Press; 223,000 according to the United Nations. The real number will never be known, probably. My only direct connection with the disaster came a couple of weeks afterwards. I called Microsoft to get an XP update disk, and was routed to an Indian call center. I transacted my business, and then asked whether the voice on the other end and his family were safe. He said (although they are not supposed to give out personal information) that yes, they were all safe. But, he was based in Madras, about 300 meters from where the tsunami hit the Indian coast.

The thing that gets me angry is the malfeasance of the governments in that region. They all knew what danger lurked under the crust in western Indonesia. The Indonesian government even has a Western-built monitoring station for Anak Rakata, the still-active remains of the volcano Krakatoa. Most of the governments in the Indian Ocean are rich enough to have purchased a buoy-based tracking system from some Western seismology firm. India is rich and scientifically developed enough to have built its own. They apparently just didn't care enough about the lives of their own citizens to heed the science and prepare.

I watched The Wave That Shook The World, the NOVA science TV special on the disaster. In it, a scientist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center expressed regret that the Indian Ocean wasn't wired up to the extent that the Pacific was. The PTWC scientists detected the earthquake, but had no way of directly measuring or tracking the tsunami. The scientist, God bless him for his humanity, seemed a little too contrite for the gap in coverage. It wasn't his fault.

Well, now the Indian Ocean governments are finally getting their act together, along with some help from the Japanese. Something to be thankful for, on this grim anniversary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mutant Social Growths, or Where is the religious Left's accountability?

An eleven-year old First Things article by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley still has relevance today.

In the summer '94 issue of Dissent, Marxist historian Eugene Genovese acknowledged that Marxism-Leninism "broke all records for mass slaughter, piling up tens of millions of corpses in less than three- quarters of a century," and charged that the left knew it from the beginning but remained silent and was therefore guilty of abetting mass murder. Until the left owns up to its mistakes, Genovese argued, it will lack credibility in addressing current social ills.

One province of the left stands in particular need of repentance: the religious left. When the Chinese regime was at the nadir of its brutality, the religious left was hailing it as a bastion of social progress, if not the very kingdom of God on earth. [...]

"China's Communist revolution has propelled a backward, poverty- stricken, virtually medieval society into the modern world," wrote Mr. Chinoy in his introduction [to a National Council of Churches publication], adding that starvation had been eliminated and that "serving the people is the dominant social value."

Moreover, Chinoy added, "A violent revolution and bitter civil war were necessary to sweep away the decay, exploitation, and backwardness of old China." Further, "With the Communist victory, the revolutionary process did not stop. Indeed, it was accelerated." But, the editor conceded, problems remained. "The recent Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the present campaign against Confucius indicate that traditional values and attitudes still exist in China, even as the Chinese attempt to eliminate them." [...]

Most of the mass atrocities committed by the Chinese Communist regime were already known when the NCC published its worshipful tract. But the Council has never issued an apology and the religious left in general has never been called to account for its spiritual lend-lease to totalitarian regimes.

Billingsley went on to report that the National Council of Churches was spawning the leftist Interfaith Alliance, and suggested that no heed should be paid to them until they 'fessed up their complicity in the horrors of 20th Century socialism. But unfortunately, no leftist group is so odious that they can't get a respectful hearing in the news media. I for one am most unwilling to be berated about wiretaps, for instance, from people who have been vigorous cheerleaders for damn near every murderous "People's Democracy" that's come down the pike.

A Positive Faith

There is in me, as there is in men everwhere to-day, a hunger for a positive faith that will..."satisfy the soul of the saint without disgusting the intellect of the scholar". Though neither a saint nor a scholar, I have this hunger because I belong to this generation and this is the modern religious hunger. There is something in me that holds me fascinated at a street corner listening to a Salvation Army exhorter, despite my inner revolt against his inadequate conception of life and religion.
--Glenn Frank, 1923


No further citation, sorry. His opinion of the Sallies would surely be revised upwards, if he could see their splendid disaster relief work nowadays. It far outshines their better-funded and -staffed colleagues in relief work.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

And while we're talking about Thomism and cosmology...

...have this second-hand excerpt of a book review, from the November "While We're At It" column:

...it is surely not enough to say merely that atheism fails to divert our thoughts from our mortality as religion supposedly used to do; television does that much better. It seems more correct to say that religion, far from suppressing the vitality of human reason and will, opens up a dimension coterminous with rational consciousness as such. In purely theoretical terms, the question of the transcendent source of reality is an ontological—not a causal—question: not how things have come to be what they are, but how it is that things exist at all. And none of the customary post-Christian attempts to make the question of being disappear can possibly succeed: even if physics can trace all of time and space back to a single self-sufficient set of laws, that those laws exist at all must remain an imponderable problem for materialist thought (for possibility, no less than actuality, must first of all be); all the brave efforts of analytic philosophy to conjure the ontological question away as a fallacy of grammar have failed and always will; continental philosophy’s attempts at a non-metaphysical ontology are notable chiefly for their lack of explanatory power. In the terms of Thomas Aquinas, there is simply an obvious incommensurability between the essence and the existence of things, and hence finite reality cannot account for its own being. And if this incommensurability is considered with adequate probity and clarity, it cannot fail but lead reflection towards something like what Thomas calls the actus essendi subsistens—the subsistent act of being—which is one of his most beautiful names for God.

Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design in Dover PA Case

The story from Fox News. The text of the judge's ruling is here, although the link seems to be overloaded right this minute.

...our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.


What with this and the recent ouster of the pro-ID school board members in the elections, the opponents of creeping creationism can probably chalk up a W in Dover. Congratulations!

Now we return to the waiting in the Cobb Co. GA evolution warning stickers case...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jody Bottum on Capital Punishment

I don't get the paper copy of FT, so I'm usually pretty far behind the times when the articles get posted on the web. For example, I blogged Jody Bottum's article on Capital Punishment a couple of months ago. But if that post leaves you unsatisfied, you can read The New Pantagruel's five pages long parsing of the article and the reader feedback, here, all from the current paper copy.

And doesn't The New Pantagruel look like the Utrecht Psalter, a bit?

Cardinal Schรถnborn Clarifies

In the current freebie online First Things article, Christoph Cardinal Schonborn replies to this Stephen Barr article. It's worth reading, and pondering. In it, he insists that he was not endorsing Intelligent Design, but expounding more venerable Thomist ideas about the nature of Creation.

My argument was based neither on theology nor modern science nor "intelligent design theory." In theology, although the mind's ability to grasp the order and design in nature is adopted by, taken up into, and elevated to new heights by the faith of Christianity, that ability precedes faith, as Romans 1:19-20 makes clear. In science, the discipline and methods are such that design, more precisely, formal and final causes in natural beings, is purposefully excluded from its reductionist conception of nature.


Instead, my argument was based on the natural ability of the human intellect to grasp the intelligible realities that populate the natural world, including most clearly and evidently the world of living substances, living beings. Nothing is intelligible--nothing can be grasped in its essence by our intellects--without first being ordered by a creative intellect. The possibility of modern science is fundamentally grounded on the reality of an underlying creative intellect that makes the natural world what it is. The natural world is nothing less than a mediation between minds: the unlimited mind of the Creator and our limited human minds. Res ergo naturalis inter duos intellectus constituta "The natural thing is constituted between two intellects", in the words of St. Thomas. In short, my argument was based on careful examination of the evidence of everyday experience; in other words, on philosophy.


Okay, fine: nothing to get alarmed about here. Philosophy is the study of the nature of reality, and Catholic philosophy will necessarily have admixtures of the Divine in it. But the Cardinal apparently still thinks that the "neo-Darwinists" are overstepping their bounds:


I agree that there is a difference between a modest science of Darwinism and the broader metaphysical claims frequently made on its behalf. But which of those two is more properly called "neo-Darwinism" in an unqualified way, as I did in my essay?


For now, I happily concede that a metaphysically modest version of neo-Darwinism could potentially be compatible with the philosophical truth (and thus Catholic teaching) about nature. If the Darwinist, taking up Descartes' and Bacon's project of understanding nature according only to material and efficient causes, studies the history of living things and says that he can see no organizing, active principles of whole living substances (formal causes) and no real plan, purpose or design in living things (final causes), then I accept his report without surprise. It is obviously compatible with the full truth that the world of living beings is replete with formality and finality. It comes as no surprise that reductionist science cannot recognize those very aspects of reality that it excludesร‚—or at least, seeks to exclude by its choice of method.


Teleology enters the discussion:

But how successful is modern biology, seeking to be true to its founding principles, at excluding the rational consideration of final cause?


He lobs Dr. Barr's license plate analogy back at him. And he disputes the nature of the randomness he alleges that scientists employ in thinking about evolution.

The Darwinian biologist looking at the history of life faces a precisely analogous question. If he takes a very narrow view of the supposedly random variation that meets his gaze, it may well be impossible to correlate it to anything interesting, and thus variation remains simply unintelligible. He then summarizes his ignorance of any pattern in variation by means of the rather respectable term "random". But if he steps back and looks at the sweep of life, he sees an obvious, indeed an overwhelming pattern. The variation that actually occurred in the history of life was exactly the sort needed to bring about the complete set of plants and animals that exist today.(sic) In particular, it was exactly the variation needed to give rise to an upward sweep of evolution resulting in human beings. If that is not a powerful and relevant correlation, then I don't know what could count as evidence against actual randomness in the mind of an observer.


One of the problems here is that the "complete set of plants and animals that exist today" is not complete. Most species that have ever existed are now extinct, so scientists tell us. We don't even live in the heyday of the Age of Mammals anymore, as most of the biggest, most wonderful beasties vanished even before the paleo-Amerinds killed off the rest. And let's not even get into the matter of our extinct fellow hominids. Yes, the sequence of evolutionary events that resulted in the appearance Homo sapiens can indeed be termed an "upward sweep." But the chain of descent that resulted in a eyeless, unpigmented cave salamander could just as easily be called a "downward sweep." And whatever promptings of natural selection that turned a perfectly well adapted terrestrial group of ancient artiodactyls into modern whales must be termed a "sideways sweep." There's nothing "clearly teleological" about natural history, when all the interplay of evolutionary pressures and ebb and flow of species are considered.

Taken together, this must spell randomness. Don't misunderstand: I'm very pleased to be here, a member of the Christian community of faith, with both the brains to perceive the universe to an extent and the humble wonder to be astounded by it. But I believe that the very fact of existence, as opposed to whatever supernatural pattern we may strive to see in it, is itself indicative of a transcendent something beyond. Immanence may not be the right word for what I'm objecting to, but it's probably close. I would actually think less of the Creator if He was constrained to take a visible hand in the operation of the universe, if our scientific inquiries could actually jacklight Him at His forge, pumping the bellows of Creation.

Cardinal Schonborn continues with some criticisms of positivism, and how it has caused mechanistic science to usurp the role of philosophy. To become one of the "first things," if you will.

Being mechanistic, modern science is also historicist: It argues that a complete description of the efficient and material causal history of an entity is a complete explanation of the entity itself, in other words, that an understanding of how something came to be is the same as understanding what it is.


This may well be an insufficient base for a worldview, as judged by the Thomist/Teilhard Catholic theology the Cardinal expounds here. But it has brought quite a lot more of the universe to our attention, His Wonders To Unfold, than the "higher truth" approach to knowledge had done in the past. If it hadn't, I'd be blogging this with smoke signals.

(I blogged the original Stephen Barr article here.)

UPDATE: Ohio U. philosophy professor Scott Carson has a much more lucid post on the same article.

UPDATE II: Blogger's spellchecker is making ascii applesauce of my post. I think I've got all the typos it created corrected now.

Ralph Waldo Emerson on the Nature of Natural Inquiry

I have found resonances of the current disputes in Emerson's Introduction to Nature, published in 1836. Particularly:

Let us interrogate the great apparition, that shines so peacefully around us. Let us inquire, to what end is nature? All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. We have theories of races and of functions, but scarcely yet a remote approach to an idea of creation. We are now so far from the road to truth, that religious teachers dispute and hate each other, and speculative men are esteemed unsound and frivolous. But to a sound judgment, the most abstract truth is the most practical. Whenever a true theory appears, it will be its own evidence. Its test is, that it will explain all phenomena.

We certainly have a lot more data to work with than Emerson did, and more tools with which to do that work. But the humble watchfulness he calls for in the study of nature is still spot-on.

I AM Canadian!

David Warren is a Tory in a proud rage.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Traffic, Yes We Get Traffic...

Panda-lanche

I know, I know; I should be cool and act like I've been in the endzone before. But just have a look at the spike that a link from The Panda's Thumb can cause in a low traffic blog like mine. ("I'm a Rascally Radiolarian in the Blogosphere Ecosystem!") It's not as high or long-tailed as my Vodka-lanche last month, but I'll take it!

Most of the traffic came from this post, although Red State Rabble , The Commissar, and The Uncredible Hallq sent a goodly load of visitors my way, too. A good thing, too; since Technorati wouldn't pick up my blinker-blankin' pings until twelve hours after I posted.

Okay, that's enough preening; now back to the putative theme of this blog...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Citizen Journalism

Well, that was quite an ego massage; all the traffic and nice comments I got from my post about attending the Cobb County evolution warning stickers hearing in federal court in Atlanta yesterday. But my fifteen minutes are about up, so if you're coming back for more, I must direct you here* for solid news, and here for informed analysis. I was just a blogger in the right place at the right time, and am unlikely to be able to contribute much more of substance. But hey! I chipped in to the aggregate knowledge base of the blogosphere, and that's kept me in a most toplofty mood all day.

* Be sure to ignore listings credited to The Discovery Institute, the creationist outfit behind the Intelligent Design onslaught. Dunno what Google's thinking, listing them as a news source.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cobb County Evolution Stickers Have Their Day In Court

It was a near thing, but I was able to attend the hearings at the Federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta--along with a goodly chunk of Cobb residents. I couldn't have live-blogged it, since no electronic devices are permitted in the courtroom. (I'm just glad I remembered to pick up my cellphone on the way out!)

Anyway, what follows is an intel dump from my handwritten notes. I would much rather have had a more knowledgeable blogger in my place, I'll tell you that. I have no legal background, and so can provide little insight along those lines. I'm not even a particularly good note taker, this many years out of school. And chances are that you won't read this news here first. In fact, if you're searching for succinct, hard news, look here. But, I did hear some things that I haven't seen elsewhere, so maybe you will too.

I found a seat near the back, and stuffed my parka under the bench. I was in my regular work clothes, and looked like a tossed salad compared to the sleek lawyers and legal students in their crisp black suits all around me. The proceedings began at five past nine.

Mr. Gunn, the attorney for the Cobb County school board, began his argument. Surprisingly, to me at least, he was repeatedly interrupted by the three judges, Judge Carnes mostly. I couldn't follow the legalese, sorry, so I won't try to reproduce it.

But I did grasp that Mr. Gunn insisted that the infamous "evolution is a theory not a fact" stickers were not the whole policy. He appealed to the judges to consider all the public pressure the board--which is elected, btw--was under when drafting their policy. The idea of using the disclaimer sticker came up when they were trying to sort through all the demands of their clamorous constituents.

Judge Carnes brought up the famous Lemon test prongs, in objection.

Gunn said that the board had all along been trying to improve science teaching in Cobb, while being sensitive to the parents' and students' religious sensibilities. The sticker stood for "openness and tolerance".

Judge Pryor asked, why put stickers on this textbook? Meaning the biology book that the Cobb board had chosen for use in the curriculum. Dunn answered that they weren't singling it out, but were guided by a curriculum-wide policy. He said, incredibly to me, that science teachers taught science in a dogmatic way, and the sticker would help keep the students' minds open. I silently suppressed a gag. Besides, he said, the board tried to pick the best textbook.

The ACLU lawyer, Mr. Bramlett (as I recently found out) came to the lectern, and was interrupted even more than Dunn was. He got no further than "May it please the court--" before Judge Carnes laid into him over some factual errors in the brief. One of the creationist parents who wrote a letter of protest to the board did not write it before the stickers went in the books. And a 2300 signature petition was presented six months after the stickers went in. Apparently these errors were made in the original lower court case, which this ACLU lawyer did not participate in, but were carried over into the current federal case. Carnes was bothered by the discrepancies, and pressed Mr. Bramlett: So who came up with the idea for the stickers? Bramlett fumfuhed and tried to get back onto the meta-theme: the stickers were an endorsement of religion in the classroom. There was some back and forth regarding the McCreary ruling, which you're on your own in interpreting, sorry.

Judge Carnes then seemed to get into some devil's advocate roleplaying. He said that the stickers are technically accurate, so what's the problem? Mr. Bramlett said that evolution was singled out for this disclaimer, from religiously grounded motives. The judges and Bramlett shared a chuckle when they all agreed on what an excellent textbook it was, and the crowd laughed, too.

Bramlett gamely stuck to his argument: A reasonable observer would objectively conclude that the school board wanted to prejudice students against evolution, by putting the stickers in. Judge Pryor asked, wasn't the board right to choose this accurate and excellent text, though? And Carnes asked, why separate the sticker from the rest of the school board's policy?

Sidebar: This was a bit of background that I had been unaware of so far. Cobb had apparently gone from under-representing evolution in its classrooms, to providing a fuller treatment while putting these disclaimers in to placate the fundamentalist parents. So, big surprise: the policy was a garden variety government consensus monster. A little something for everyone, that wound up pleasing no one.

Sidebar #2: At one point the ACLU lawyer got his tang tongueled up and referred to the stickers saying that evolution was "a fact, not a theory".

Bramlett tried to expound on foundational theory, that all science is provisional until proven wrong, and evolution is no different from any other science in that regard. But he was interrupted by the third judge, Judge Hull. She noted that the lower court ruled that the stickers were intended to mislead. How, she asked, was this opinion supported from the evidence in this case? Bramlett, who wasn't the original lawyer, hazarded a guess, but Hull told him to stick to the case at hand.

Judge Carnes mentioned that someone's testimony in the first case said that the stickers made no practical difference. There was the same amount of science/religion discussion in class before and after the stickers were put in. Also, he noted that Cobb went from no evolution instruction to evolution instruction with a sticker.

Bramlett then invoked the Georgia constitution, saying that the lower court found that the stickers violated it. Carnes responded with a profession of awareness of how "very sensitive" it would be for the federal court to strike down the lower court's constitutionally grounded opinion. Or something like that, since sorry I couldn't really follow the statement. Kind of hard to hear in the back, too.

Mr. Gunn came back up for his closing argument for the school board. He insisted that there was nothing religious about the school board's actions. Judge Pryor cracked a legal funny about the school board wanting the federal court to invoke the state constitution in case of a reversal, but not in case the lower ruling is upheld. Seemed funny to the rest of the crowd, at least...

Gunn insisted again that the stickers merely "harmonized" religious beliefs and science, that the school board did not violate the "no establishment" clause. He mentioned how the school board was accused of misusing the word "theory", which spurred some comment from the bench. Gunn mentioned some Intelligent Design cases, and said that Cobb's policy was nowhere near as restrictive as those. And besides, the stickers had had no effect, so far as religious proselytizing went.

Judge Hull cited a statement from the earlier case that the sticker is intentionally prejudicial against science and towards religion. Gunn tried to deflect the thrust of the charge, saying that if confused students were evidence of religion in the classroom, then his high school math class must have been very religious indeed.

Things wrapped up when Judge Carnes called the ACLU lawyer back up to the lectern and very cordially bawled him out for the factual errors in the ACLU's brief. Carnes understood that Bramlett didn't put those errors in the original brief in the lower court case. But Bramlett did have access to "the blue brief", whatever that means, and Carnes didn't appreciate having to take brainpower away from his own duties to sort out a faulty timeline of events, which should have been fixed before it got to him. He ordered Bramlett to write Carnes a letter explaining why the ACLU brief did not constitute a "misrepresentation of facts".

And that was it. They didn't say when they would rule, though some news reports said it could take several months.

UPDATE: Welcome to readers of The Pandas Thumb, The Commissar, and Red State Rabble. If you are nervous about being at the website of a conservative Christian, you needn't be. I have always despised creationism. It's like I always say, To believe in things that can't be proved is faith, but to disbelieve in things that have been proved is just obstinance.

UPDATE II: Reed Cartwright over at The Panda's Thumb very kindly bumped my link in a comment up into its own post, and also got his team working on some fact-checking. They say that Judge Carnes is wrong about the timeline in the ACLU's brief being defective.

I will publish any such factual updates and clarifications as come my way. As I said, I'm no expert.

UPDATE III: Like for instance, I just learned that I got the ACLU lawyer's name wrong. I've changed it throughout.

UPDATE IV: *sigh* ditto for the Cobb School Board Attorney... I've got a ways to go to get proficient at this citizen journalist thing!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cobb Evolution Stickers Court Case

Hurray! I will be able to attend the hearing tomorrow! It's at 9:00am Thursday morning, in the Tuttle U.S. Court of Appeals building, 56th Forsyth Street, Atlanta. Let me draw you a map. I'll try to post something very soon afterwards. I can't live-blog it, as I'm not mobile. Also, I unfortunately do not have a lot of pertinent knowledge to bring to the case. But, I'll post some impressions very soon afterwards, maybe even an informed opinion, or at least a bit of choice snark.

By way of background: This post refers to a case between the Cobb Co. GA school board and the ACLU, over creeping creationism in the schools. Cobb put warning labels in its science textbooks, admonishing students that evolution is "a theory, not fact". A lower court ordered the stickers removed, on the grounds that they were an encroachment of religion into the classroom. The school board appealed, and so here they are.

This is not the more prominent "intelligent design" case, in Dover, PA. Check in regularly at The Panda's Thumb for the best coverage on that one.

Cobb Evolution Stickers Back In Court, Part II

The local newspaper has an original content story on the run-up to tomorrow's 11th Circuit court showdown. In it, the Cobb School Board lawyer says that Cobb will probably not pursue this issue further if they lose here. The sticker opponents are reported as saying that they will definitely go on to the Supreme Court if the 11th Circuit Court reverses the lower court.


I've been beating the bushes for the past day and a half, trying to hook up with someone who will be attending, but so far no luck. Keep your eye on Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education, though. No one seems to be minding the store there, most days. But they may have something scoopy to report as things develop.

UPDATE: The Panda's Thumb gives it to the Discovery Institute hot and strong over DI's spinning of the case.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cobb evolution stickers case goes back to federal court.

From WSB-TV:

ATLANTA -- The federal appeals court in Atlanta will hear arguments this week on whether stickers proclaiming evolution is "a theory, not a fact" violated the First Amendment.

Last spring school staffers and students followed a judge's order to scrape the stickers off almost 35,000 Cobb County schoolbooks. Now a ruling from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could fuel arguments from supporters and opponents of intelligent design around the country.

The Cobb school district decided to affix the stickers when it realized that some biology textbooks would violate the district's evolution policy.

But in January, a federal judge ordered that the stickers be removed because they were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

In his appeal, Cobb school board attorney Linwood Gunn argued the sticker's language is neutral and makes no mention of religion.


If anyone in the area is reading this and planning to attend these proceedings, please contact me. The radio said that it would be this coming Thursday. I would dearly love to go blog it, but will probably not be able to leave work to do so.

If you're surfing in from Technorati and notice that this is a conservative Christian website, fear not. I despise creationism, as I've posted before, here and here.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Commissar for linking me, and welcome to his readers. Technorati wouldn't accept my ping yesterday, for some reason .

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Jihadist Mind-set...

...just might be best captured in this quote by SF author R. A. Lafferty, from his story "And Walk Now Gently Through the Fire":

"How is a person or a world unmade or unformed? First, by being deformed. And following the deforming is the collapsing. The tenuous balance is broken. Insanity is induced easily under the name of the higher sanity. Then the little candle that is in each head is blown out on the pretext that the great cosmic light can better be seen without it."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Auden, Homosexuality, and the Catholic Church

I don't know why I've been drifting off into NPR territory so much recently. To get back on schtick, here's a great Alan Jacobs article originally from First Things about poet W. H. Auden. Auden was both gay and a convert to Christianity later in life. I don't know that much about him so I can't really hold forth much except urge you to go read it. Here's a nice pull quote, though:
In a letter to Isherwood—a letter that may have been the source of Isherwood’s comment—Auden wrote, “Though I believe it sinful to be queer, it has at least saved me from becoming a pillar of the Establishment.” The comment is illuminating. Auden tried to resist his sexual temptations, but felt them to be stronger than he was. In one poem he ruefully echoes a famous prayer of Augustine’s, writing “I am sorry I’m not sorry . . . / Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.” But his determination to “bless what there is for being” led him to seek ways to be grateful to God even for his sins and afflictions, through which he believed God to work for His own purposes. Hence his thankfulness not to have become an Establishment figure. He also believed that the homosexual was less likely to engage in the idolatry of eros that is so common among heterosexuals. In his view his sexuality was, therefore, an affliction that bore the seeds of potential blessings.

But however complex Auden’s attitude toward these matters, the mere fact that he was homosexual has written him off the books of many Christians—even Christians who are quick to forgive C. S. Lewis’ peculiar liaison with Mrs. Moore, or Charles Williams’ penchant for spanking and being spanked by young women. The Christian world has its hierarchy of sins, and may be right in its judgments. But it is singularly unfortunate that, even if we have judged Auden’s sins rightly, we should allow that judgment to stand in the way of learning from the wisdom contained in his writings.

(Dead link fixed 4.24.11)

NPR blames U.S. for Iranian plane crash...

...though they use the old journalistic trick of using sources to editorialize. A decrepit C-130 crashed into apartments, resulting in upwards of 100 fatalities. Horrible. The report I heard on both Morning Edition and All Things Considered went through the Who, What, When, and Where briskly and professionally enough. Then we get to Why:
ROXANA SUBERI reporting:

We still don't know much more about what caused this, except that the pilot had radioed in, saying that he had technical problems, and when he tried to return to the Tehran Airport that he crashed just south of it in an area called Yaftabad. And the airplane was a C-130 plane, which was from the shah's time, before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 here in Iran. And I was talking to somebody who's with the army here, and he was telling me that these planes--it has been very difficult for the Iranian government to update these planes and get spare parts because of sanctions that are in place.


That from Dec. 6's Morning Edition. Wonder how hard they beat the bushes to come up with the anti-America angle? Did they pass up quoting someone who might have groused that the mullahs never just bought some Ilyushins from Russia? Or that the mullahs' sponsorship of international terrorism has kept those sanctions in place lo these many years? (Okay, that last one would probably have to wait for the in-depth backgrounder.) Or did they go forth in search of their pre-formulated zinger? Possibly without even realizing they were doing it, so pavlovian is their bias?

Look. Any islamofascist government that can build a nuclear bomb and acquire delivery systems for it, as the mullahs are a whisker away from doing, can surely pick up some C-130 parts on the international black market. If they had the common human (read: Western) decency to care enough about the lives of their own citizens to do so, that is. Here as with so much of their Middle Eastern coverage, NPR holds the tyrants blameless and the U.S. culpable. Disgusting...

UPDATE: The Canadian Globe and Mail goes into more depth with the maintenance issue.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

NPR and Bad Timing

Jee-hee-HEE-zus!

The template is as limited as it is unjust. Whether it be All Things Considered or Weekend Edition, NPR's treatment of the Israeli-Arab conflict is usually mauled into one of a very few narratives:

1. There's the one featuring plucky Palestinians coping with the regime of their beetle-browed Israeli oppressors.
2. There's the one heavy on moral equivalence, sympathetically profiling victims or other aggrieved people from "both sides".
3. And there's the one featuring disaffected Israelis, rebelling against the status quo of injustice and oppression.

But there is never a story which assumes the Israelis' right to survival, while unambiguously condemning the terrorists who seek their lives. At least, not during my commute. Here, as with any other left-wing critique of world affairs, the civilized are never without fault, and the uncivilized are never without excuse.

So on Sunday morning's Weekend Edition, we were treated to a pleasant chat with a Palestinian woman on a book tour. The segment fell firmly into Template #1. A largish chunk of the interview was taken with her moaning about how tough the Israelis made the border crossing, and how oh-so-clever she was in getting through.

And the very next day a Palestinian suicide terror-bomber killed five innocent Israelis at a mall in Netanya, a short distance from the West Bank.

The Jews want to live.
The Islamic terrorists want the Jews to die.
NPR wants to split the difference.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Pope B16 on Religion in America

Via Richard John Neuhaus,

“Situated between the two models is the model of the United States of America. Formed on the basis of free churches, it adopts a separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms but rather in association with its sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life. One can of course not hide the fact that in the United States, too, the Christian heritage is decaying at an incessant pace, while at the same time the rapid increase in the Hispanic population and the presence of religious traditions from all over the world have changed the picture.”


I don't know the context of that quote, but I disagree with the seeming implication that the Hispanic influx bodes ill for America's religious future. Most of them are devout Catholics, so far as I can see.

Guess we'll have to wait for the rest of this forthcoming article....

CBS TV movie on John Paul II, featuring Jon Voigt

I won't be watching it, as I don't trust CBS to get it right. Not after that hatchet job about Ronald Reagan they tried to foist on us. If you're so inclined, go read George Weigel's monumental biography of the late pontiff, instead.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Jesus Junk

Jonathan Last:

The Internet is filled with stores and businesses designed to siphon money from the faithful. There’s CatholicStore.com and the Discount Catholic Store and Catholic Supply (your source for GiggleWings® guardian angel dolls). Protestants have an array of shopping options, too. From Biblical Expressions to ShoppersForJesus.com , every conceivable bit of religious schmaltz is available online for immediate shipping. At Biblical-Gifts.com you can find a 24-carat-gold cross with a vial of water from the Jordan River. At Abbey Trade you can get “Blessings in a Bottle”—small inspirational messages stored in decorative bottles. At the Heavenly Hut you can buy Christian nightlights. Kerusso.com (company motto: “Innovation That Inspires”) offers Jesus poker chips—because “Jesus went all in for you!”


Quite. The Christian talk-radio station in my area runs such dishonest advertisements--herbal potions, get rich quick home businesses, and etc.--that I consciously did not donate hurricane relief money through a charity advertised on their station. I couldn't be sure it wasn't a scam, which is an awful thing to say about a Christian enterprise.

But it's nothing new, of course. Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

The Holy See Cracking Down On Homosexuality In The Priesthood

I hate what the Lavender Mafia has done to the Church. As we read in Michael Rose' Goodbye, Good Men, gays discreetly took over a number of Catholic seminaries in the wake of Vatican II, turned away orthodox applicants, and converted swathes of the American priesthood into agents of The Homintern. Way too many of these caused widespread anguish by seducing or otherwise sexually molesting parishioners' teenage boys. Not children, and not teenage girls. Teenage boys. At least one boy killed himself as a result of his sexual misuse by his priest. George Weigel, in The Courage To Be Catholic, called for nothing less than the spiritual cauterization of the Church. The problem is not one of management or oversight, but of fidelity, he said.

Liberals of course blamed the Church itself and its teachings for the mess, as if church doctrine and not the flouting of it by liberals had let all these people into the priesthood. And sheltered them from scrutiny.

Antiquus Bellator goes at this issue with more "hammer and tongs" than I will here. He's got a manuscript from a shipwrecked book deal about this subject, which he's posting on his blog.

Andrew Sullivan, whom I still admire quite a lot, is predictably aghast. He professes incredulity at Richard John Neuhaus's approval of the idea to let gay priests remain but to bar the admission of any more. Inconsistent? Sounds rather compassionate to me, to let inoffensive oldtimers stay out their terms of earthly service. Also commonsensical: After a third of a century, we've seen the fruit of having the American church's seminaries under liberal and gay control. To switch metaphors, the Church should now know where libs will take it when it tosses them the car keys. Pope Benedict XVI thinks he does, and he doesn't like it.

If homosexuality in the Church were a simple issue, wiser people than you or me would have sorted it out long ago. We'll probably have to hold a number of moral inconsistencies in suspension forever, in practice. But the Church badly needs to address its failings which led to the abuse scandals. Rewarding and reinforcing the gay liberation mindset that caused them isn't an option.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Atlanta G. K. Chesterton Society

I attended my second meeting of the South Atlanta G. K. Chesterton Society the other night, and enjoyed it hugely. I haven't been able to attend regularly this autumn, but was still able to enjoy their ongoing discussion of Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. Consider this pull quote, about history:

But the truth is that the curtain rises upon the play already in progress In one sense it is a true paradox that there was history before history. But it is not the irrational paradox implied in prehistoric history; for it is a history we do not know. Very probably it was exceedingly like the history we do know, except in the one detail that we do not know it. It is thus the very opposite of the pretentious prehistoric history, which professes to trace everything in a consistent course from the amoeba to the anthropoid and from the anthropoid to the agnostic. So far from being a question of our knowing all about queer creatures very different from ourselves, they were very probably people very like ourselves, except that we know nothing about them. In other words, our most ancient records only reach back to a time when humanity had long been human, and even long been civilised. The most ancient records we have not only mention but take for granted things like kings and priests and princes and assemblies of the people; they describe communities that are roughly recognisable as communities in our own sense. Some of them are despotic; but we cannot tell that they have always been despotic. Some of them may be already decadent and nearly all are mentioned as if they were old. We do not know what really happened in the world before those records; but the little we do know would leave us anything but astonished if we learnt that it was very much like what happens in this world now. There would be nothing inconsistent or confounding about the discovery that those unknown ages were full of republics collapsing under monarchies and rising again as republics, empires expanding and finding colonies and then losing colonies. Kingdoms combining again into world states and breaking up again into small nationalities, classes selling themselves into slavery and marching out once more into liberty; all that procession of humanity which may or may not be a progress but most assuredly a romance. But the first chapters of the romance have been torn out of the book; and we shall never read them.

You can find a list of local Chesterton Society chapters here. The rest of the GKC Society website is well worth visiting, too.