Thursday, May 31, 2007

Over at Evolution News, Michael Egnor is straining--and I mean straining to score a point:
Ironically, we owe much of our modern understanding of the universe to pro-intelligent design astronomers. Georges Lemaître was the astrophysicst who pioneered the Big Bang Theory. Fr. Lemaître (above, with Einstein) was a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, honorary prelate, and a professor of physics and astronomy. He famously described the moment of the Big Bang as “the day without yesterday”, referring to the first day of creation in Genesis, and he was explicit in his belief in the evidence for God’s design in the universe. His Big Bang theory met with considerable opposition because of its religious implications.
First, Lemaître was not referring to the day without yesterday as the first day of creation in Genesis. I'm sure it will surprise no one that Mr. Egnor offers no quotes to support his contention. In fact, let me offer a quote from Lemaître to affirm exactly the opposite.

As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt at familiarity with God, as were Laplace’s chiquenaude or Jean’s finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaias speaking of the “Hidden God”, hidden even in the beginning of creation. . . . Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
Lemaître said this during his presentation at Solvay in 1958: “The primeval atom hypothesis and the problem of the clusters of galaxies,” reprinted in Stoops, R., ed., La Structure et l’Evolution de l’Univers, Brussels: Coudenberg, 1958, pp.1—32.

Let me take this a step further. When Pope Pius XII tried to draw a direct connection between the Big bang and the 'moment' of creation, Lemaitre was not enthusiastic. Let me quote in depth from my bio of him: (this was in 1951)

Needless to say, the Pope’s statement made headlines. The December 3rd issue of Time Magazine, for example, was titled: “Behind every door: God.”

One physicist, predictably, who seems to have found the entire controversy an endless source of amusement, was George Gamow. Not only did he take a chunk of the Pope’s statement and append it to the introduction of a paper he wrote a year later, raising a few eyebrows as he hoped. He apparently wanted to continue encouraging the Pope’s incursions into the realm of cosmology and religion, by feeding him articles via an archbishop he knew would deliver his material directly to the Vatican doorstep. “He never had anything to do with the English article ‘The’,” Hoyle later remarked of Gamow, ”and he went through a phase when he was forever quoting the Pope: ‘Pope say this…,’ or ‘About mangan (manganese) Pope says that…’”

Lemaître was clearly upset. Having been appointed to membership in the Pontifical Academy by Pius’s predecessor because of his standing among cosmoslogists, he was understandably dismayed as to why he had not at least been consulted about the Pope’s address in advance. Within a few months, both Lemaître and the director of the Vatican Observatory, the Jesuit astronomer Daniel O’Connell, met with the Pope to explain that such blatant connections drawn between science and theology would not help the cause of the Church nor the progress of science. And less than a year later, when the Pope addressed a gathering of 650 astronomers at Castel Gandolfo, he this time refrained from discussing the religious and metaphysical implications of the Big Bang theory. To that end, Lemaître and O’Connell’s intervention seems to have succeeded.

If I may say so, too much of the heat generated by EvolutionNews is caused by misreadings, or in this case, non-readings of the very sources they would like to leverage for their rhetorical purposes.
Chesterton isn't for everybody.

"All I got from that tome [Orthodoxy] was that Chesterton is enthralled by-- even distracted by-- the sound of his own words; his tangents are intolerable." Thus wrote a friend of mine some years back, reminding me of a bad habit--responding to a philosophical question not with an answer, but with a reach back to my book shelf with "here, read this."

I still enjoy Chesterton, but if someone asked me the same question today, i.e., what the hell is the point? Why go to church or give a hoot what organized religion has to say about anything, then I don't think he'd be the first writer I'd think of. His once captivating reliance on paradox seems to me now pall, to be too clever. And dated. The rhetorical tool of a writer who doesn't have the time to stop and perhaps read a little more about the issue at hand before writing.

To the extent that this mode of writing persists (especially among conservative journalists) illustrates the degree to which Chesterton's influence has been problematic. A century after his most celebrated works, we know so much more about evolution, cosmology, history, etc., and yet too many pop conservative writers content themselves with knowing no more about these issues than he did at the time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reihan is quite correct. Razib, as is very often the case, is must reading.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Michael W. Tkacz on why Thomas Aquinas would be underwhelmed by Intelligent Design:
Why, then, have Thomists not been among Behe’s most ardent supporters? First of all, they would agree with many biologists who have pointed out that Behe’s claims of irreducible complexity fail to distinguish between the lack of a known natural explanation of the origin of complex systems and the judgment that such explanation is in principle impossible. Thomists, however, would go even further than most biologists by identifying the first claim as epistemological and the second as ontological. Now, a Thomist might agree with Behe’s epistemological claim that no current or foreseeable future attempt at explanation for certain biological complexities is satisfactory. Yet, a Thomist will reject Behe’s ontological claim that no such explanation can ever be given in terms of the operation of nature. This ontological claim depends on a “god of the gaps” understanding of divine agency and such an understanding of God’s action is cosmogonically fallacious.
Hat tip DarwinCatholic.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I have a new article up at Cosmos Magazine on Wikipedia and science.
My article on Gene Wolfe, from the April issue of First Things, is now available online.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why I like John S. Wilkins. Go here (in the comments section) and watch him handle both Pete and Repeat Larry and PZ with one hand tied behind his back.
One of the screen's greatest living actors (still going strong after more than 55 years in the profession), Christopher Lee, turned 85 today.

And I don't mind saying, it's been an honor to have written for him on more than one occasion.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Peggy Noonan in today's WSJ:
Mr. Moore was back from Cuba, where he made a documentary on the superiority of Castro's health care system. Mr. Thompson suggested Mr. Moore is just another lefty who loves dictators. Mr. Moore challenged Mr. Thompson to a health-care debate and accused him of smoking embargoed cigars. Within hours Mr. Thompson and his supposedly nonexistent staff had produced a spirited video response that flew through YouTube and the conservative blogosphere. Sitting at a desk and puffing on a fat cigar, Mr. Thompson announces to Mr. Moore he can't fit him into his schedule. Then: "The next time you're down in Cuba . . . you might ask them about another documentary maker. His name was Nicolás Guillén. He did something Castro didn't like, and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electroshock treatments. A mental institution, Michael. Might be something you ought to think about."
Forty years ago...on the eve of the Six Day War:

We also forget that Israel's occupation of the West Bank was entirely unsought. Israel begged Jordan's King Hussein to stay out of the conflict. Engaged in fierce combat with a numerically superior Egypt, Israel had no desire to open a new front just yards from Jewish Jerusalem and just miles from Tel Aviv. But Nasser personally told Hussein that Egypt had destroyed Israel's air force and airfields and that total victory was at hand. Hussein could not resist the temptation to join the fight. He joined. He lost.

The world will soon be awash with 40th anniversary retrospectives on the war -- and on the peace of the ages that awaits if Israel would only return to June 4, 1967. But Israelis are cautious. They remember the terror of that unbearable May when, with Israel possessing no occupied territories whatsoever, the entire Arab world was furiously preparing Israel's imminent extinction. And the world did nothing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Douglas Wilson is so good he has to be quoted in detail:

Take the vilest atheist you ever heard of. Imagine yourself sitting at his bedside shortly before he passes away. He says, following Sinatra, "I did it my way." And then he adds, chuckling, "Got away with it too." In our thought experiment, the one rule is that you must say something to him, and whatever you say, it must flow directly from your shared atheism—and it must challenge the morality of his choices. What can you possibly say? He did get away with it. There is a great deal of injustice behind him, which he perpetrated, and no justice in front of him. You have no basis for saying anything to him other than to point to your own set of personal prejudices and preferences. You mention this to him, and he shrugs. "Tomayto, tomahto."

I am certainly willing to take the same thought experiment. I can imagine some pretty vile Christians, and if I couldn't, I am sure you could help me. The difference between us is that I have a basis for condemning evil in its Christian guise. You have no basis for confronting evil in its atheist guise, or in its Christian guise, either. When you say that a certain practice is evil, you have to be prepared to tell us why it is evil. And this brings us to the last point—you make the first glimmer of an attempt to provide a basis for ethics.

You say in passing that ethical imperatives are "derived from innate human solidarity." A host of difficult questions immediately arise, which is perhaps why atheists are generally so coy about trying to answer this question. Derived by whom? Is this derivation authoritative? Do the rest of us ever get to vote on which derivations represent true, innate human solidarity? Do we ever get to vote on the authorized derivers? On what basis is innate human solidarity authoritative? If someone rejects innate human solidarity, are they being evil, or are they just a mutation in the inevitable changes that the evolutionary process requires? What is the precise nature of human solidarity? What is easier to read, the book of Romans or innate human solidarity? Are there different denominations that read the book of innate human solidarity differently? Which one is right? Who says?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Boris Berezovsky on the state of denial in Russia today:

It is a well-known historical fact that the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany constituted a replacement of Nazi oppression with Communist enslavement for Eastern European countries - an enslavement that lasted for 45 years, far longer than Nazism. Therefore, the defeat that Putin's Russia is now suffering in Estonia will soon reverberate around Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and other places where the crimes of the Communist Party and KGB were duly appraised. Thus, the cause of the abuse of our soldiers' graves is not the bad behaviour of the Estonian government, but the very denial of historical truth by the Kremlin.

So, who is the Soviet Soldier, really - a liberator or an enslaver? The answer to this question can be given only by the people of Russia. If we will not repent, he will remain the enslaver. And if repentance comes, he will be an honest but misguided soldier. May that memory be blessed forever.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Michael Barone:
Today's 21-year-old was 3 when the Berlin Wall came down; his or her parents were born well after World War II. Unlike people who lived through the experience of 1914-1918 or 1939-1945, they have no reason to draw the conclusion that everything can-and sometimes does-go terribly wrong. It is tempting to turn your eyes away from the possibility that Islamist terrorists could get their hands on nuclear or chemical or biological weapons and wield them against us. Just as it is tempting to turn your eyes away from the certainty that current programs will lead to the state gobbling up much of the private sector here as it has done over the past generation or two in a number of European countries, most notably France. But as we saw this month, even the comfortable French finally voted against that.

Friday, May 11, 2007

You know...six years is not a long time to someone in their 30s or 40s. You remember holding the little girl, giving her a bottle, changing her pampers.

Next thing you know, she's doing stuff like this:
It's only round two, but I sense already that Christopher Hitchens (to my surprise and disappointment) doesn't have the belly for it.
Rod Dreher:
Lucas, my three-year-old, at prayer the other night:
"Dear God, please help the peoples in Iraq ... and California ... and, and ... at Home Depot."
I can go one better: my three-year-old daughter during her bedtime prayers: "God Bless mommy, God bless daddy...(followed by a long list of cousins) and God bless nanna and grand-dad...and...and...oh, whatever. G'Night, God!"
Anne Applebaum on the legacy of Jacques Chirac:
Ponder closely, for example, what Chirac has had to say about Africa, where his country has enormous influence, in many places far outweighing ours. During a visit to the Ivory Coast, Chirac once called "multi-partyism" a "kind of luxury," which his host, president-for-life Félix Houphouet-Boigny, could clearly not afford. During a visit to Tunisia, he proclaimed that, since "the most important human rights are the rights to be fed, to have health, to be educated, and to be housed," Tunisia's human rights record is "very advanced"—never mind the police who beat up dissidents. "Africa is not ready for democracy," he told a group of African leaders in the early 1990s.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Yah...welcome to Boston. We're ah...cultured heah.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's been five years since I started this blog with my father, who has since passed away. I was looking back at some of his posts from 2002.

As time does fly, I think now I will note this here, so that I can look back in another ten years and see if Mr. Ambrose was right.
The Truman lesson is that perspectives change as events unfold and the emotions of the moment dissipate — distance can make the heart grow fonder. Bush certainly has his faults. Truman certainly had his. But at Bush’s core, just as at Truman’s, there is a virtue that Newsweek correctly recognized in Truman, even if critics including Newsweek are loath to recognize it in Bush. The man has political courage. It’s a virtue that may yet be shown as having been vital to America’s interests, and that may cause future generations to look back on him with kind thoughts.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Credit Where Credit is Due Dept. This is PZ Myers at his best, in my opinion.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I just noticed, three copies of my long-lost novel, Doctor Janeway's Plague, just showed up on Amazon. (I'm flattered they're charging so much for them.)

Get 'em while they're hot!
Michael Barone, on one of the sadder truths of today:
The politicians resist fixing Social Security because the short-term costs are well understood by voters and the long-term benefits, while clear to actuaries, are invisible to voters because no one is decrying them with religious intensity. The politicians sprint to address global warming because the short-term costs are unknown to voters and the long-term benefits, while unclear in the extreme to those who rely on science, are portrayed in apocalyptic terms by the prophet Al Gore. Democracy isn't perfect.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

One truly wonders whether there can be any intellectual honesty in science reporting among the current crop of 'conservative' journalists. Larry Arnhart uncovers the latest example.
Ferguson quotes from Steven Hayward's introductory remarks the claim that social Darwinist principles were "invoked by the Confederacy's most articulate theorist, Alexander Stephens." What he doesn't say is that Darwin explicitly criticized slavery and the Confederacy and argued against the claim of scientific racists that the human races were actually separate species. Nor does he say that the American proslavery folks were able to quote the Bible as supporting slavery. I have commented on this extensively on this blog and in Darwinian Natural Right.

Ferguson quotes a passage from chapter 5 of Darwin's Descent of Man a passage that appears to endorse Francis Galton's eugenics. But Ferguson very carefully does not quote the immediately following passage in which Darwin declares that "sympathy" as "the noblest part of our nature" teaches us that we must care for the weak and the helpless. Nor does Ferguson quote from Darwin's comments in the last chapter of Descent in which he rejects Galton's eugenics as "utopian". I have a whole chapter on social Darwinism and eugenics in Darwinian Conservatism.
When it comes to science, this lazy, slipshod, dishonest journalism is, I'm sad to say (as a conservative) the standard swill being recycled in virtually every conservative magazine, whether it's National Review, The Weekly Standard, The American Spectator or even Commentary. That conservative journalists should be so cyncial is one of the most depressing things I've learned over the past decade.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"No Darwin, no Hitler" is apparently the new rallying cry of increasingly desperate creationists. Sure...and I suppose that means "No Jesus, no Inquisition", right?

Red State Rabble is all over this one.