Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Don't Take Our Freedom for Granted

I'm headed out of town tomorrow for the holiday, so I won't get a chance to post anything substantial this week. But in the meantime, I thought I'd recommend a film that you need to see for the sake of the survival of our civilization.

A friend recently lent me Islam: What the West Needs to Know on DVD. It's a very professionally put together film; the information is startling and not what our cultural elite want you to hear (the same dominant culture that never managed to admit that communism was a problem).

It's politically incorrect to say (the truth often is), but the claim that Islam is a religion of peace is (very lamentably) false.

A basic principle of Islamic exegesis is that when there is a conflict between different passages in the Koran, the ones WRITTEN LATER (not necessarily situated later in the Koran) take precedence. The peaceful passages of the Koran so often quoted were written when Mohammed was just starting out in Mecca and had little power. The violent passages were written once he had ascended to power as warlord of Medina. (What's particularly frightening is that the last written book is the most violent. And I haven't mentioned the violence exemplified in the haditha, the recorded acts of Mohammed, which are taken as normative for Muslims.) In other words, violence in an essential part of Islam (those who deny it are ignorant, or lying—and the film describes how Mulsims see lying and deceit for Islam as justified).

Muslims are happy to dialogue as long as they are out of power. But when they are in control, there is no dialogue: all other religions have second-class status at best; there are no integral human rights. Those who convert from Islam are to be killed. There is no freedom to preach any religion but Islam, or to advocate any societal system but that mandated by the Koran.

I highly recommend Islam: What the West Needs to Know; it's essential for understanding the depth of peril the West faces from Islamic ideology.

So this Thanksgiving, give thanks and don't take your freedom for granted.

Also read what Hillaire Belloc wrote about Islam: "The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed."

Friday, November 17, 2006

More from Maritain Conference

Two weeks ago (Nov. 2-5) I attended the American Maritain Association conference in Nashville. The topic was "Nature, Science, and Wisdom: the Role of the Philosophy of Nature." I posted a little on it last week, and I would like to tell you more now. There were many great talks and because many were concurrent, I was unable to make it to all of those that interested me. Below are some sparse and unfortunately inadequate notes on those I attended.

Fr. Leo Elders spoke on St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle's Physics. There are diverse ways of grouping the 8 books of the Physics. The first five books are on nature and the last three are on motion. But Porphyry and Philoponus classed book 5 with books 6-8. Aquinas classed books 3 and 4 as being on movement, 5 and 6 on parts of movement, and 7 on movement in relation to movers. Fr. Elders contends that when St Thomas write in his commentary of what he regards as secure doctrine (teaching) in the Physics, he calls Aristotle "the Philosopher." Thus book 8 is not established doctrine. In his commentary on De Caelo (On the Heavens), St. Thomas says that Aristotle's cosmology is not necessarily true: that other cosmologies are possible.

Mark Ryland's plenary talk emphasized the ways in which both Darwinism and its primary critic Intelligent Design (ID) have in common a very modern view of Nature; he criticized the modern view and suggested that Aristotle's view must be brought back into the modern debate to provide a more radical critique of the philosophical problems that have grown up around modern science. He was at pains to emphasize, however, that ID does broadly agree with Aristotle in rejecting materialist reductionism and arguing for an intelligent cause; this gulf separating ID and Aristotle from such reductionism dwarf the differences between the two.

The big assumption that ID and Darwinism have in common is that "design" can only come from outside of nature—that the regular workings of nature cannot themselves manifest an intelligent designer, but God's workings somehow can only be over and above those of nature. This commonality of outlook predates Darwin even in those advocating design: William Paley's example concluding design from a watch found in the woods was overtly mechanistic. The ordering within a watch does not come from within, as it would in a natural thing like a tree, but from without. The parts of a watch have no intrinsic relationship to each other: the order is imparted from outside. Darwinism is the completion of the Newtonian revolution because Darwin brought naturalism to biology in the way that Newton and his followers had brought it to the inanimante world and the cosmos.

The modern Intelligent Design movement manifests the same problem. In William Dembski's trichotomy of explanations into "necessity, chance, and design." Necessity is another name for things that happen by a regularity that can be encapsulated as a law. But why can't regularities in nature demonstrate "design" in some sense? Surely the fact that pine seeds grow up in the vast majority of cases to be pine trees and not "man-faced ox progeny" or some other monster is evidence of order in the world, and thus of an orderer. As Peter Pagan said in his talk, "Admitting natural selection without a selector is like admitting action without an agent" (paraphrase).

Bryan Cross's paper, "A Philosophical Critique of Dembski’s Mathematical Argument to Design," amplified on the shortcomings of ID by dismantling a critical part of Dembski's design argument.

In his book No Free Lunch, William Dembski argues that certain recently proven mathematical theorems show that evolutionary algorithms are in themselves unable to generate specified complex information [necessary for development of new forms].... thus that intelligence can be the only source of such information. [p. 1]


I have considered various ways of modifying Dembski's Natural Cause argument so as to make it valid, and I think I have shown that none of these ways is successful.... This does not mean that we cannot by way of natural reason determine that nature was intelligently designed. On the contrary, the intelligent design of nature is readily apparent, even in (and perhaps especially in) its mathematical elegance as revealed more fully by modern physics. But I have shown that the generative limitations of mathematical algorithms do not demonstrate that the complex specified information we happen to find in nature must have been inserted into the cosmos by an intelligent designer. [pp. 14-15]

A big part of Dembski's problem, according to Cross, is that he assumes that the causal powers of material things are completely described by the mathematical representions of their characterizations. This unexamined assumption is one of the great philosophical mistakes of our age, and so deserves examination here. Cross writes lucidly on the inadequacy of mathematics to comprehend reality:

Mathematical modeling is more successful when we are treating very simple entities, or artifacts whose extrinsic nature is simple. Mathematical modeling also works best over a short period of time. The longer we run out the model, typically the less likely the result matches the state of the actual thing being modeled. We 'successfully' model complex entities only by at least to some significant degree stripping away (abstractively) their depth of being, their particularities or unique accidents, and their environmental interactions. Perhaps 'wildly' successful is a bit of an overstatement.

What is more ontologically revealing, is not how well simple entities can be mathematically modeled, but how even the simplest of living organisms cannot as such be mathematically modeled. The greater the difficulty in mathematically capturing entities as we move up the chain of being indicates that we never fully capture them as we move down the chain of being. Even the simplest of material beings is still a material being, neither a pure form nor an ens rationis [being of reason]. This implies that no material being can be perfectly mathematically modeled. Therefore, we cannot justifiably assume that the per se limitations of purely mathematical algorithms with respect to generating information are precisely the information generating limitations of any material being. [pp. 13-14]

Marie George gave a fascinating and entertaining account of the many problems of animal language studies in her talk "Nature, Human Beings, and Animals." These studies claim that apes (and sometimes dolphins) can communicate on par with humans (which they do by pushing buttons on a special keyboard) and thus have intellects. Among the problems she observed with the studies:

  1. Failure to distinguish actions based necessarily on intellect from those based on internal senses (animals are conscious, but not self-conscious),
  2. Failure to acknowledge that animals can learn and their characteristic actions need not be based exclusively on instinct,
  3. Failure of researchers to provide transcripts or data sets (to show how representative remarkable events documented in papers are of their behavior).
  4. Failure to account for influence of the researcher (e.g., emotional reactions to apes "speaking")

Dr. George described how unredacted accounts of interactions with these apes show how unconversational they are. Their words are statements are mostly single words, such as "banana," or "tickle [me]." She read a published journalistic account in which the ape mostly tried to insert a stick in the journalist's ear. Apes don't use language to augment their own knowledge of the world, or that of others—in other words they don't converse.

Dr. George quoted Noam Chomsky as saying, "It’s about as likely that an ape will prove to have a language ability as that there is an island somewhere with a species of flightless birds waiting for human being to teach them to fly." In other words, if apes were capable by nature of communicating in a human way, they wouldn't need us humans to unlock that capability. Contrast the painstaking efforts required to get an ape to "talk" with the almost automatic aquisition of language by a human infant (to the point that it would take incredible efforts to prevent a human infant from talking).

November 29: corrected summary of Mark Ryland's talk; other minor corrections.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Real Darwinist Agenda

I got back Sunday from the American Maritain Association conference in Nashville. I had a great time. I'll write more about the conference later, but for now I just wanted to tell you about some of the interesting ideas about the actual doctrine of Darwinists.

Before I get to that, I should mention that there were a variety of (philosophical) perspectives on Darwinism at the conference. Mark Ryland's plenary talk explored the similarities between Darwinism and Intelligent Design (ID: capital I, capital D), beginning with Paley. In the final session, the speakers were Fr. Edward Oakes, Michael Behe, and Peter Pagan. Fr. Oakes spoke on the compatibility of (an understanding of) Darwinism with traditional theism. Dr. Pagan was critical of Darwinism and Intelligent Design Theory. Only Dr. Behe spoke against Darwinism and in favor of ID.

A central argument of Dr. Behe's talk dovetailed with the argument of an earlier talk by Richard von Sternberg on "Is Darwinism Anti-Logos by Chance or Design?". It is this talk that I want to turn to first.

Dr. Sternberg's talk posed the question, "[I]s Darwinism neutral with respect to logoi and the Logos [i.e., divine order in nature, and the Divine Archetype]? To answer these questions it is necessary to examine Darwinian responses to empirical challenges." Darwinists like Ernst Mayr have conducted repeated purges of scientists who would observe any sort of order in nature. This behavior shows they are against finding any sort of order in nature: they believe only in complete randomness.

Unfortunately for these ideological Darwinists, science is self-correcting in the long-run: the truth cannot help coming out eventually. (And besides, you really can't do science without believing in some sort of order in nature.) Hence, evolutionary theory is currently in a phase of "Damage Control", as Dr. Sternberg labelled the era since 1976 to the present, in which neo-Darwinists like Richard Dawkins scramble to claim the order bursting from scientific research as feathers in their own cap.

Other interesting details from Dr. Sternberg's talk:

  1. Population genetics models assume infinite population size. But metazoans (multi-cellular animals) lack an "effective population size" for natural selection to operate. The models that support Darwinism don't apply to reality.
  2. Almost all the race biologists in Nazi Germany were Darwinists.
  3. Marx wanted to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, who warmly declined for P.R. purposes.

Dr. Sternberg concluded that Darwinism is purposely anti-logos.

Michael Behe's talk in the last session supported Dr. Sternberg's claims about the Darwinists' true agenda. Dr. Behe said that in evaluating the meaning of Darwinism, one should not look at the "tamest" possible version of the theory (Fr. Oakes's project), but at what the Darwinists actually say about the theory.

In 1995 the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) defined evolution to exclude any compatibility with belief in a Creator:

The diversity of life on Earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments. (h/t: Metanexus)

Under public pressure, the statement was later revised to omit the words "unsupervised, impersonal," but (as expressed elsewhere) with the understanding that "natural" includes these concepts. (Current statement)

In September 2005, 39 Nobel laureates (many them biologists) wrote a letter (PDF) to the Kansas School Board:

Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection.

The words "unguided, unplanned" are exactly those used by Cardinal Schonborn in his NYT op-ed. It is very clear that Darwinism as represented by Darwinists is against any sort of design in nature ("intelligent design" in all lowercase).

Citations in Sternberg's Slides

Abigail Lustig, "Biologists on Crusade," Darwinian Heresies (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

A. Desmond, Archetypes to Ancestors (University of Chicago Press, 1986).

A. Desmond, The Politics of Evolution (University of Chicago Press, 1992).

N.A. Rupke, Richard Owen (Clarendon Press, 1995).

P.J. Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983).

G.S. Levit and K. Meister, "The History of Essentialism vs. Ernst Mayr's 'Essentialism Story': A case study in German Idealistic Morphology," Theory in Biosciences 124:281-307.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rainy morning

The day's overcast and drizzly. I feel down on days like this. It'd be nice if it were sunny out, but it has to rain at some point. Rain has the virtue of washing away the dust and grease that accumulates in the sun's reign.

A number of people I know are upset by today's election results. Sure it's sad to have the Dems in control of at least one house of Congress. But the Republicans hadn't comported themselves very well when they were in control: as Lord Acton said, "power corrupts"--it corrupts even those whose ideological committments should dictate they eschew power and government expansion. Let's hope President Bush will take this opportunity to reconnect with the "reality-based" community, and admit that leadership is as much about a proper sensitivity as it is resolution in the face of opposition.

The challenge for the Democrats now is to govern without falling prey to their vices of elitism and strident, liberal silliness. If they can avoid annoying people for another two years, they might be able to hold onto power. I'd be (pleasantly) surprised were that to happen. We need a viable two-party system, and for the longest time the Dems haven't been holding up their end. It's competition that keeps politics healthy.

The rain won't last forever.