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Science vs. Science™!

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

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Who needs experiments and proof when your zeal is religious?

On Saturday, leftists around the nation took to the streets to sound off about their new religion: Science™! No, not testable hypotheses and well-constructed experiments. Science™! You know, like gay rights and abortion and global redistributionism and dying polar bears ’n’ stuff.

Leading the charge was eminent scientific revolutionary Bill Nye the Science Guy, a mechanical-engineering-degree holder who got famous as a children’s television presenter. Nye was a keynoter at the March for Science, where he stated, “We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.” What sort of science was Nye standing up to defend? Budget increases for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, of course! He explained how all of this was scientific and not political: “Somewhere along the way, there has developed this idea that if you believe something hard enough, it’s as true as things discovered through the process of science. And I will say that’s objectively wrong.”

Belief isn’t science. This is a good point.

Unfortunately, Nye followed up his widely praised appearance at the March for Science by unleashing a video that destroyed the Internet, from his new show Bill Nye Saves the World. He trotted out Crazy Ex-Girlfriend actress Rachel Bloom to sing a “very special” song (Nye’s words). She warbled:

My vagina has its own voice / Not vocal cords, a metaphorical voice / Sometimes I do a voice for my vagina . . . / ’Cause my sex junk is so oh, oh, oh / Much more than either or, or or / Power bottom or power top / Versatile love may have some butt stuff / It’s evolution, ain’t nothing new / There’s nothing taboo about a sex stew . . . If they’re alive, I’ll date ’em / Channing or Jenna Tatum / I’m down for anything / Don’t box in my box.

Science™!

If this seems rather unscientific to you — if you wonder why a talking vagina with obvious self-control problems is being trotted out by the self-proclaimed Science Guy — you’re not alone. You’re rational. You might even be using some scientific thinking. But this is demonstrative of the Left’s take on science: Science is actually just the name for anything the Left likes. Worried about the humanity of an unborn child? Concerned that fetuses have their own blood types and their own DNA? Stop it! You’re quoting science, not Science™! Wondering how it is that a genetic male is actually a woman? You’re worrying about science, not Science™!

This is the dirty little secret of the Left’s sudden embrace of Science™ — it’s not science they support, but religion. They support that which they believe but cannot prove and do not care about proving. Bill Nye isn’t interested in a scientific debate about global warming — how much is occurring, the measurement techniques at issue, the sensitivity of the climate to carbon emissions, the range of factors that affect the climate. He wants you to accept his version of the truth — not just that global warming is happening, but that massive government intervention is necessary in order to avert imminent global catastrophe.

Such government solutions aren’t verifiably scientific. They are speculative. But that speculation has costs, particularly to the most impoverished people on the planet, who benefit from cheap carbon-based fuels. Even if you accept the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that sea levels will rise by two feet over the course of the rest of the century and the temperature will rise about 7 degrees Fahrenheit, there is reason to question, as Oren Cass points out, whether or not massive government intervention is necessary or even justifiable.

But the Left refuses to acknowledge such questions. It makes you a “denier” to disagree with the Left’s conclusions, just as it makes you a cruel person to wonder whether gun control will actually lower the American murder rate. Science, in other words, is just a baton for the Left.

A decade ago, the Left declared President Bush anti-science for his restrictions on the use of new federally funded fetal-stem-cell lines. They claimed that Bush hated science, that fetal stem cells were the wave of the future, that Bush was a “moral ayatollah,” in the words of Senator Tom Harkin (D., Iowa). Democrats ran on the promise that if Bush were thrown out of office in 2004, they’d make Christopher Reeve walk again using fetal stem cells. But it turned out that fetal stem cells were unnecessary to scientific research — scientists came up with an embryo-free process to produce genetically matched stem cells. As Charles Krauthammer, no religious fundamentalist, wrote at the time: “Rarely has a president — so vilified for a moral stance — been so thoroughly vindicated. Why? Precisely because he took a moral stance.”

In other words, Bush didn’t rely on science to give him his values. Nor should he have. Science is incapable of making value-laden decisions. There are plenty of ob-gyns who know better than the most pro-life conservative just how complex life is in the womb, yet they will perform abortions — science hasn’t dictated their behavior. The Nazis were famously pro-science, declaring that science itself mandated the killing of the “unfit” for the strengthening of the race; their racism was supposedly scientific.

That’s why the March for Science is such foolishness. If the march were simply focused on advocacy for increased EPA funding, that would be political, not scientific; if the marchers were demanding more funding for the NIH, that too would be political, but with a stronger scientific component. But the March for Science was actually a march for Science™: The Leftist Religion — and that leftist religion isn’t interested in science in the slightest. It’s simplistic and simple-minded virtue signaling.

By Ben Shapiro in the National Review on April 26, 2017 and can be seen here.

Politics Disguised as Science: When to Doubt a Scientific ‘Consensus’

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article that warrants posting here.  I have seen a recent proliferation of articles in respected publications pointing out, bemoaning, and/or highlighting increasing problems with the trustworthiness of the alleged findings of the contemporary scientific community.  I find these articles to be particularly interesting given how our society looks to science as a (the?) source of ultimate truths (often as a mutually exclusive alternative to spirituality).  This sort of scientism may be misplaced, and these articles delve into the pitfalls that come with such an approach.

Here are the links the other articles I posted on this subject:

Be edified.

___________

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are not immune to the non-rational dynamics of the herd.

This week’s March for Science is odd. Marches are usually held to defend something that’s in peril. Does anyone really think big science is in danger? The mere fact that the March was scheduled for Earth Day betrays what the event is really about: politics. The organizers admitted as much early on, though they’re now busy trying to cover the event in sciencey camouflage.

If past is prologue, expect to hear a lot about the supposed “consensus” on catastrophic climate change this week. The purpose of this claim is to shut up skeptical non-scientists.

How should non-scientists respond when told about this consensus? We can’t all study climate science. But since politics often masquerades as science, we need a way to tell one from the other.

“Consensus,” according to Merriam-Webster, means both “general agreement” and “group solidarity in sentiment and belief.” That sums up the problem. Is this consensus based on solid evidence and sound logic, or social pressure and groupthink?

When can you doubt a consensus? Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus.

Anyone who has studied the history of science knows that scientists are prone to herd instincts. Many false ideas once enjoyed consensus. Indeed, the “power of the paradigm” often blinds scientists to alternatives to their view. Question the paradigm, and some respond with anger.

We shouldn’t, of course, forget the other side of the coin. There are cranks and conspiracy theorists. No matter how well founded a scientific consensus, there’s someone who thinks it’s all hokum. Sometimes these folks turn out to be right. But often, they’re just cranks whose counsel is best ignored.

So how do we distinguish, as Andrew Coyne puts it, “between genuine authority and mere received wisdom? And how do we tell crankish imperviousness to evidence from legitimate skepticism?” Do we have to trust whatever we’re told is based on a scientific consensus unless we can study the science ourselves? When can you doubt a consensus? When should you doubt it?

Your best bet is to look at the process that produced, defends and transmits the supposed consensus. I don’t know of any complete list of signs of suspicion. But here’s a checklist to decide when you can, even should, doubt a scientific “consensus,” whatever the subject. One of these signs may be enough to give pause. If they start to pile up, then it’s wise to be leery.

(1) When different claims get bundled together

Usually, in scientific disputes, there’s more than one claim at issue. With global warming, there’s the claim that our planet, on average, is getting warmer. There’s also the claim that we are the main cause of it, that it’s going to be catastrophic, and that we must transform civilization to deal with it. These are all different claims based on different evidence.

Evidence for warming, for instance, isn’t evidence for the cause of that warming. All the polar bears could drown, the glaciers melt, the sea levels rise 20 feet and Newfoundland become a popular place to tan: That wouldn’t tell us a thing about what caused the warming. This is a matter of logic, not scientific evidence. The effect is not the same as the cause.

There’s a lot more agreement about (1) a modest warming trend since about 1850 than there is about (2) the cause of that trend. There’s even less agreement about (3) the dangers of that trend, or of (4) what to do about it. But these four claims are often bundled together. So, if you doubt one, you’re labeled a climate change “skeptic” or “denier.” That’s dishonest. When well-established claims are tied with other, more controversial claims, and the entire bundle is labeled “consensus,” you have reason for doubt.

(2) When ad hominem attacks against dissenters predominate

Personal attacks are common in any dispute. It’s easier to insult than to the follow the thread of an argument. And just because someone makes an ad hominem argument, it doesn’t mean that their conclusion is wrong. But when the personal attacks are the first out of the gate, don your skeptic’s cap and look more closely at the data.

When it comes to climate change, ad hominems are everywhere. They’re even smuggled into the way the debate is described. The common label “denier” is one example. This label is supposed to call to mind the charge of columnist Ellen Goodman: “I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers.”

There’s an old legal proverb: If you have the facts on your side, argue the facts. If you have the law on your side, argue the law. If you have neither, attack the witness. When proponents of a scientific consensus lead with an attack on the witness, rather than on the arguments and evidence, be suspicious.

(3) When scientists are pressured to toe the party line

The famous Lysenko affair in the former Soviet Union is example of politics trumping good science. But it’s not the only way politics can override science. There’s also a conspiracy of agreement, in which assumptions and interests combine to give the appearance of objectivity where none exists. This is even more forceful than a literal conspiracy enforced by a dictator. Why? Because it looks like the agreement reflects a fair and independent weighing of the evidence.

Tenure, job promotions, government grants, media accolades, social respectability, Wikipedia entries, and vanity can do what gulags do, only more subtly. Alexis de Tocqueville warned of this almost two centuries ago. The power of the majority in American society, he wrote, could erect “formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them.” He could have been writing about climate science.

Indeed, the quickest way for scientists to put their careers at risk is to raise even modest questions about climate doom (see here, here and here). Scientists are under pressure to toe the party line on climate change and receive many benefits for doing so. That’s another reason for suspicion.

(4) When publishing and peer review in the discipline is cliquish

Though it has its limits, the peer-review process is meant to provide checks and balances. At its best, it helps weed out bad and misleading work, and make scientific research more objective. But when the same few people review and approve each other’s work, you get conflicts of interest. This weakens the case for the supposed consensus. It becomes, instead, another reason for doubt. Those who follow the climate debate have known for years about the cliquish nature of publishing and peer review in climate science (see here for example).

(5) When dissenters are excluded from the peer-reviewed journals not because of weak evidence or bad arguments but to marginalize them.

Besides mere cliquishness, the “peer review” process in climate science has, in some cases, been subverted to prevent dissenters from being published. Again, those who follow the debate have known about these problems for years. But the Climategate debacle in 2009 revealed some of the gory details for the broader public. And again, this gives the lay public a reason to doubt the consensus.

(6) When the actual peer-reviewed literature is misrepresented

We’ve been told for years that the peer-reviewed literature is unanimous in its support for human-induced climate change. In Science, Naomi Oreskes even produced a “study” of the literature supposedly showing “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.”

In fact, there are plenty of dissenting papers in the literature. This is despite mounting evidence that the peer-review deck was stacked against them. The 2009 Climategate scandal underscored this: The climate scientists at the center of the controversy complained in their emails about dissenting papers that survived the peer-review booby traps they put in place. They even fantasized about torpedoing a climate science journal that dared to publish a dissenting article.

(7) When consensus is declared before it even exists

A well-rooted scientific consensus, like a mature oak, needs time to grow. Scientists have to do research, publish articles, read about other research, and repeat experiments (where possible). They need to reveal their data and methods, have open debates, evaluate arguments, look at the trends, and so forth, before they can come to agreement. When scientists rush to declare a consensus — when they claim a consensus that has yet to form — this should give everyone pause.

In 1992, former Vice President Al Gore reassured his listeners, “Only an insignificant fraction of scientists deny the global warming crisis. The time for debate is over. The science is settled.” In the real 1992, however, Gallup “reported that 53% of scientists actively involved in global climate research did not believe global warming had occurred; 30% weren’t sure; and only 17% believed global warming had begun. Even a Greenpeace poll showed 47% of climatologists didn’t think a runaway greenhouse effect was imminent; only 36% thought it possible and a mere 13% thought it probable.”

Seventeen years later, in 2009, Gore revised his own fake history. He claimed that the debate over human-induced climate change had raged until as late as 1999, but now there was true consensus. Of course, 2009 is when Climategate broke, reminding us that what had smelled funny was indeed rotten.

(8) When the subject matter seems, by its nature, to resist consensus

It makes sense that chemists over time may come to agree about the results of some chemical reaction, since they can repeat the results over and over in their own labs. They’re easy to test. But much of climate science is not like that. The evidence is scattered and hard to track. It’s often indirect, imbedded in history and laden with theory. You can’t rerun past climate to test it. And the headline-grabbing claims of climate scientists are based on complex computer models that don’t match reality. These models get their input, not from the data, but from the scientists who interpret the data. This isn’t the sort of evidence that can provide the basis for a well-founded consensus. In fact, if there really were a consensus on the many claims around climate science, that would be suspicious. Thus, the claim of consensus is a bit suspect as well.

(9) When “scientists say” or “science says” is a common locution

In Newsweek’s April 28, 1975, issue, science editor Peter Gwynne claimed that “scientists are almost unanimous” that global cooling was underway. Now we are told, “Scientists say global warming will lead to the extinction of plant and animal species, the flooding of coastal areas from rising seas, more extreme weather, more drought and diseases spreading more widely.” “Scientists say” is ambiguous. You should wonder: “Which ones?”

Other times this vague company of scientists becomes “SCIENCE.” As when we’re told “what science says is required to avoid catastrophic climate change.” “Science says” is a weasely claim. “Science,” after all, is an abstract noun. It can’t speak. Whenever you see these phrases used to imply a consensus, it should trigger your baloney detector.

(10) When it is being used to justify dramatic political or economic policies

Imagine hundreds of world leaders and NGOS, science groups, and UN functionaries gathered for a meeting. It’s heralded as the most important conference since World War II, in which “the future of the world is being decided.” These officials seem to agree that institutions of “global governance” need to be set up to reorder the world economy and restrict energy use. Large numbers of them applaud wildly when socialist dictators denounce capitalism. Strange activism surrounds the gathering. And we are told by our president that all of this is based, not on fiction, but on science — that is, a scientific consensus that our greenhouse gas emissions are leading to climate catastrophe.

We don’t have to imagine that scenario, of course. It happened at the UN climate meeting in Copenhagen, in December 2009. It happened again in Paris, in December 2015. Expect something at least as zany at the March for Science.

Now, none of this disproves climate doom. But it does describe a setting in which truth need not appear. And at the least, when policy effects are so profound, the evidence should be rock solid. “Extraordinary claims,” the late Carl Sagan often said, “require extraordinary evidence.” When the megaphones of consensus insist that there’s no time, that we have to move, MOVE, MOVE!, you have a right to be wary.

(11) When the “consensus” is maintained by an army of water-carrying journalists who defend it with partisan zeal, and seem intent on helping certain scientists with their messaging rather than reporting on the field as fairly as possible

Do I really need to elaborate on this point?

(12) When we keep being told that there’s a scientific consensus

A consensus should be based on solid evidence. But a consensus is not itself the evidence. And with well-established scientific theories, you never hear about consensus. No one talks about the consensus that the planets orbit the sun, that the hydrogen molecule is lighter than the oxygen molecule, that salt is sodium chloride, that bacteria sometimes cause illness, or that blood carries oxygen to our organs. The very fact that we hear so much about a consensus on climate change may be enough to justify suspicion.

To adapt that old legal rule, when you’ve got solid scientific evidence on your side, you argue the evidence. When you’ve got great arguments, you make the arguments. When you don’t have solid evidence or great arguments, you claim consensus.

Adapted from THE AMERICAN. This piece has been updated since its original publication.

By Jay Richards and published on April 19, 2017 in The Stream and can be found here.

 

The Miracle of Science

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Splice Today by my old philosophy professor Dr. Crispin Sartwell from back in my Penn State days which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

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Can it save us from itself?

“Science” is a good thing for traumatized progressives to march for, allowing them to express their commitment simultaneously to truth itself and to the epistemic and cash-money hierarchy recognized by their kind. There were no anti-science counter-demonstrations, partly because almost everyone recognizes science as having a kind of overwhelming credibility; no one explicitly opposes it in general, even if they haven’t quite accepted human-caused climate change. Many purport to think of it as the only source of truth.

“How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known?” asks Neil de Grasse Tyson in a video which he describes as containing “the most important words I have ever spoken.” It’s technology, man, which he folds effortlessly into science. As the video unspools, it shows an inspiring montage of extreme carbon-emitting activities: rockets rising into the sky, steam power from coal plants, cities aglow with incandescent light. All that’s missing is the mushroom cloud… of science!

Indeed, even on Tyson’s conception, science has had some really terrifying results, such as industrial agriculture and ever-new generations of weaponry. According to his view, science is now the only hope for ameliorating the conditions it has itself ushered in. As to how science stands today in relation to the objective truth, I wouldn’t assume that this time around the results will stand up permanently or the effects wind up being benign. Every time they tell you what’s true, take it seriously and cock a skeptical eyebrow. Any other attitude is not compatible with science.

Tyson says that, in the 21st century, people other than himself “have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.” The question is easy for people like Tyson: “science” is what is true, denying it or even quibbling with some particular result, is a sign not only that you probably didn’t do that well on the SAT’s, but that you’re irrational and evil. And since few of us are in a position to check the results of any particular research project, we must accept the deliverances of science on authority. For Tyson, the distinction between what’s true and what’s not is identical to the distinction between what people like him agree on and what they agree against. If someone “doesn’t believe in science,” they’re questioning his authority and that of his ilk.

This dogmatism is incompatible with science’s own self-understanding as producing provisional, challengeable knowledge. And it’s incompatible with the history of science. Think for just a moment what you would’ve been accepting if you had “accepted science” 50 years ago: what you would’ve believed about the nature of the universe (for example, that it’s in a steady state, rather than expanding), or about what food or pharmaceuticals could be safely consumed. What you’re urged today to accept without question as a badge of your goodness and rationality and your social status will quite likely be revised tomorrow. That’s what is good about science, actually.

But science was presented in those marches not only as consisting of thousands of specific assertions you’re called upon to accept, but as a token of identity. A defense of science is a defense, among other things, of academic institutions as being arbiters of knowledge and ignorance. More to the point, academics and scientists feel their funding to be under threat by the Trump administration.

I don’t think the “science wars” are wars about truth. They’re wars about class, identity, and the shape of history. The real avatars of the science march were Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ms. Frizzle, the cartoon teacher from The Magic School Bus. These figures, along with Sesame Street and Barney, helped shape the consciousness of, let’s say, middle-class white American kids. Nye and Frizzle spent half their time instructing and the other half enthusing about the wonders of science itself. Now they’re figures of preternatural power, battling the forces of ignorance in the streets.

It strikes me that it’d behoove us to do whatever the scientists tell us to do. They have access to biological, chemical, and nuclear agents, which they developed themselves, and the expertise to weaponize them. Watch these people bring down the Internet, if they want, or seize control of the grid. Perhaps we have focused too much on the threat of radical Islamism, and too little on the threat of rigorous scientism.

Originally published on April 24, 2017 and can be found here.

Tactical Retreat: The Bequest

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “The Bequest” can be viewed below.

Tactical Retreat: Frequent Flyer

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “Frequent Flyer” can be viewed below.

Tactical Retreat: Guilty Pleasures

My friend and co-worker Brian M. Lambert has founded an online sketch comedy project called Tactical Retreat which you can find here on Facebook and here on Youtube.

As Tactical Retreat releases new videos, I will post them here.  So far, I have found them rather funny and clever and they seem to get better with each release.

Here are the links to Tactical Retreat‘s previously released sketches:

Tactical Retreat‘s latest sketch is entitled “Guilty Pleasures” can be viewed below.

Putting nature on the rack

This is from edwardfeser.blogspot.com which you can find here.  This blog is written by Edward Feser who is a Christian philosopher who I have been recently introduced to who I think provides effective clear, sobering, and direct responses to the advance of secular culture.

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What was it that distinguished the modern scientific method inaugurated by Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Co. from the science of the medievals?  One common answer is that the moderns required empirical evidence, whereas the medievals contented themselves with appeals to the authority of Aristotle.  The famous story about Galileo’s Scholastic critics’ refusing to look through his telescope is supposed to illustrate this difference in attitudes.

 

The problem with this answer, of course, is that it is false.  For one thing, the telescope story is (like so many other things everyone “knows” about the Scholastics and about the Galileo affair) a legend.  For another, part of the reason Galileo’s position was resisted was precisely because there were a number of respects in which it appeared to conflict with the empirical evidence.  (For example, the Copernican theory predicted that Venus should sometimes appear six times larger than it does at other times, but at first the empirical evidence seemed not to confirm this, until telescopes were developed which could detect the difference; the predicted stellar parallax did not receive empirical confirmation for a long time; and so forth.)

Then there is the fact that the medievals were simply by no means hostile to the idea that empirical evidence is the foundation of knowledge; on the contrary, it was a standard Scholastic slogan that “there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses.”  Indeed, Bacon regarded his Scholastic predecessors as if anything too quick to believe the evidence of the senses.  The first of the “Idols of the Mind” that he famously critiques, namely the “Idols of the Tribe,” included a tendency to take the deliverances of sensory experience for granted.  The senses could, in Bacon’s view, too readily be deceived, and needed to be corrected by carefully controlling the conditions of observation and developing scientific instruments.  And in general, the early moderns regarded much of what the senses tell us about the natural world — such as what they tell us about secondary qualities like color and temperature — to be false.
So, it is simply not the case that the difference between the medievals and the early moderns was that the latter were more inclined to trust empirical evidence.  On the contrary, there is a sense in which that is precisely the reverse of the truth.

 

Where empirical evidence is concerned, the real difference might, to oversimplify, be put as follows.  Both the medievals and the early moderns regarded sensory experience as a crucial witness to the truth about the natural world.  But whereas the medievals regarded it as a more or less friendly witness, the moderns regarded it as a more or less hostile witness.  You can, from both sorts of witness, derive the truth.  But the methods will be different.

 

Hence, a friendly witness can more or less be asked directly for the information you want.  That doesn’t mean he might not sometimes need to be prodded to answer.  Even if he is honest, he might be shy, or reluctant to divulge something embarrassing, or just not very articulate.  It also doesn’t mean that everything he says can be taken at face value.  He may be forgetful, or confused, or just mistaken now and again.  A hostile witness, by contrast, though he has the information you want, cannot with confidence be asked directly.  Even if he is articulate, has a crystal clear memory, etc., he may simply refuse to answer, or may persistently beat around the bush, or may flat-out lie, seriously and repeatedly.  Thus, he may have to be tricked into giving you the information you want, like the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men.  Or you may be tempted to threaten or beat it out of him, like one of the cops in L.A. Confidential would.  So, you might say that whereas the medieval Aristotelian scientist has a conversation with nature, the early modern Baconian scientist waterboards nature.  Hence the notorious Baconian talk about putting nature to the rack, torturing her for her secrets, etc.

 

Of course, this is melodramatic.  And to be fair, Bacon himself seems not to have put things quite the way commonly attributed to him (i.e. the stuff about torture and the rack).  All the same, the medievals and moderns do disagree about the degree to which the world of ordinary experience and the world that science reveals — what Wilfrid Sellars called “the manifest image” and “the scientific image” — correspond.  For the Aristotelian, philosophy and science are largely in harmony with common sense and ordinary experience.  To be sure, they get at much deeper levels of reality, and they correct common sense and ordinary experience around the edges, but they don’t overthrow common sense and ordinary experience wholesale.  For the moderns, by contrast, philosophy and science are likely radically to conflict with common sense and ordinary experience, and may indeed end up overthrowing them wholesale.

 

(This is not a difference concerning whether to accept the results of modern science, by the way.  It is a difference about how to interpret those results.  For example, it is a difference over whether to regard modern science as giving us a correct but merely partial description of nature — a description which needs to be supplemented by and embedded within an Aristotelian metaphysics and philosophy of nature — or whether to regard modern science instead as an exhaustive description of nature, and a complete metaphysics in its own right.)

 

The early moderns’ attitude of treating nature as a hostile witness — of thinking that the truth about nature is largely contrary to what ordinary experience would indicate — is one of the sources of the modern tendency to suppose that “things are never what they seem,” that traditional ideas are typically mere prejudices, that authorities and official stories of every kind need to be “unmasked,” and so forth.  Michael Levin has called this the “skim milk fallacy,” and I’ve often noted some of its social and moral consequences (e.g. here, here and here).  But these are merely byproducts of a much deeper metaphysical and epistemological revolution.

Liberalism and Islam

This is from edwardfeser.blogspot.com which you can find here.  This blog is written by Edward Feser who is a Christian philosopher who I have been recently introduced to who I think provides effective clear, sobering, and direct responses to the advance of secular culture.

Here is a portion of recent piece of his which I thought was rather edifying:

Note: What follows is pretty long, especially if you think of it as a blog post.  So think of it instead as an article.  The topic does not, in any event, lend itself to brevity.  Nor do I think it ideal to break up the flow of the argument by dividing the piece into multiple posts.  So here it is in one lump.  It is something of a companion piece to my recent post about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Critics of that post will, I think, better understand it in light of this one.

 

In an article in The New Criterion over a decade ago, the late political scientist Kenneth Minogue noted a developing tendency in contemporary progressivism toward “Christophobia,” a movement beyond mere disbelief in Christian doctrine toward outright hostility.  The years since have hardly made Minogue’s observation less timely.  The New Atheism, the first stirrings of which Minogue cited in the article, came to full prominence (and acquired the “New Atheism” label) later in the decade in which he wrote.  The Obama administration’s attempt to impose its contraception mandate on Catholic institutions evinces a disdain for rights of conscience that would have horrified earlier generations of liberals.  Opponents of “same-sex marriage” have in recent years found themselves subject to loss of employment, cyber-mobbing, and even death threats — all in the name of progressivism.  If contempt for Christian moral teaching still hides behind a mask of liberal neutrality, Hillary Clinton let that mask slip further still when she recently insisted that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” in order to accommodate easy access to abortion.  Not all liberals approve of these developments, of course.  But demographic trends indicate that a Christophobic brand of progressivism may have little difficulty finding new recruits.
Now, how do contemporary liberals view Islam?  How would one expect them to, given their principles, and given the principles and practice of Islam?  Consider that, like Christianity, Islamic moral teaching unequivocally condemns homosexual behavior, extramarital sex, and the sexual revolution in general.  Feminism has, to put it mildly, had little effect on Islam, which is traditionally highly patriarchal.  In Islam, men can have multiple wives, but wives cannot have multiple husbands.  Men can marry non-Muslim women, but women cannot marry non-Muslim men.  The authority of husbands over wives goes far beyond anything feminists objected to in 1950s America.  Rules governing divorce, custody of children, inheritance, and legal testimony all strongly favor men.  In many modern Muslim countries, the implementation of this patriarchal system takes forms which modern Western women would find unimaginably repressive.  Women are expected to cover their bodies in public to a greater or lesser extent, the burqa being the most extreme case.  In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive, to go out in public without a chaperone, or to interact with men to whom they are not related.  In some Muslim countries, husbands have a right to discipline their wives with beatings.  In some, female genital mutilation is widely practiced.  “Honor killings” of women thought to have brought shame upon their families often occur not only in Muslim countries, but in Western countries with large Muslim populations.  Of course, not all Muslims approve of all of this.  Nor or is it by any means the whole story about women in Islamic society, and Muslims emphasize the way Islam improved the situation of women compared to pre-Islamic Arabia.   The point, though, is that it is far from being a marginal part of the story. ”

You can read the rest here.

This evangelical leader gave the most important speech about the religious right in the age of Trump

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.
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Donald Trump is a master of humiliation. Mostly he humiliates himself, but he has also humiliated countless people and entities over the course of his life and presidential campaign. If you had to draw up a list, near the top would have to be the religious right.

To say that some of the religious right’s top leaders have beclowned themselves by embracing Donald Trump is an understatement. It’s hard to know even where to begin. Donald Trump practices almost every kind of immorality forbidden by the Bible — and brags about it. He claims to be a Christian, but seems to know nothing about Christianity or show any interest in it. He has said several times that he has never asked God for forgiveness for anything, even though asking God for forgiveness is just about the most basic qualifier of a Christian. Oh, and Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president of the United States.

And yet this is the man many on the religious right embrace — even though it has previously denounced political figures as beyond the pale for lesser slights. To say that this is intellectual and moral bankruptcy is an understatement.

Enter Russell Moore. He may not (yet?) be a household name like a Jerry Falwell Jr., but he is an important man in the religious right. He’s the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. In other word, he’s the “Mr. Politics” of the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., one that is evangelical, conservative, and largely based in the Bible Belt. If anything qualifies as a leader of the religious right, this is it.

This week, Moore was invited to give the Erasmus Lecture, a prominent lecture given by the intellectual Christian magazine First Things (a previous honoree was a clergyman named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, better known today as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). And boy, is it a doozy. Moore basically called out the religious right — and particularly his own section of the religious right, conservative, white evangelical Protestantism — for all the flaws that are so glaring to those outside it.

Moore’s speech begins by recounting a spiritual crisis he underwent as a teenager. He had been brought up as an evangelical in the heart of the Bible Belt. But as he grew older he became disenchanted by the hypocrisy and vacuousness that was already apparent then (as it is apparent, in various forms and guises, in every religious community, as Jesus himself pointed out relentlessly), whether it took the form of “voter guides” that seemed eerily to parrot Republican National Committee talking points, except with Bible proof texts attached, or pastors denouncing adultery from the pulpit while honoring benefactors who were notorious adulterers, or literalistic interpretations of Biblical prophecies, always applied to the political controversies of the day. Providentially, Moore found his way to a deeper, more grounded form of Christianity, instead of drifting away from the faith as so many in a similar situation have. But that experience certainly forms the backdrop of his speech.

Moore then goes on to zing the religious right for its hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy. While disagreeing with them, he respects those Christians who are disgusted by Trump, but will hold their nose and pull the lever for him as the lesser of two evils. But, he goes on to note, many religious right leaders have not made that argument, but instead embraced Donald Trump and found excuses for his pandering to white nationalism or bragging about assaulting women. He points out that the same crowd — indeed, in some cases, the very same people or institutions — was calling for figures like Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to resign over their own infidelities, because a basic moral standard has to be upheld for public figures. They’re the ones who made the argument that political office requires not just having the right positions on issues of public policy, but also meeting a certain threshold of moral character. Yet here we are.

In the most searing line of the speech, Moore concludes: “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

He also points out that this sort of behavior is killing the religious right. He didn’t put it that starkly, but it’s pretty clear that everyone outside the echo chamber can see what phonies they are.

But there’s a bigger problem for the religious right, as Moore notes, which is that on most issues, mainstream American society has moved away from conservative Christianity. The old-line religious right could talk of a “Moral Majority” because it was true that on a set of basic moral issues, most Americans, while not Bible-thumping evangelicals or Aquinas-quoting traditional Catholics, were closer to traditional Christian views than to the progressive left. Which, if your basic duty as a religion is to evangelize people, makes it all the more important to (again, saying essentially the same thing as Moore in less guarded language) not look like money-grubbing, power-hungry, hypocritical sycophants and nincompoops.

The religious right now stands bankrupt. The question is, to pursue the bankruptcy metaphor further, is it a chapter 7 bankruptcy or a chapter 11? Do we shut the whole thing down, or is it possible to come out of the other side healthier, after some painful — no doubt very painful — restructuring?

“What’s at stake here is not just credibility, it’s also the question of whether religious conservatives even want a future,” Moore says.

Moore sees rays of hope for the religious right nonetheless. He points out that, contrary to many predictions, the young have not deserted conservative Christianity. Young people are “packing into orthodox and confessional universities and seminaries” and planting churches left and right, Moore notes. And while those young people may care more than their elders about traditionally progressive issues like racial or environmental justice, it is by no means because they have become liberal. In most cases, they are just as conservative, both theologically and morally, as their forebears.

What’s more, while American millennials have drifted very far from Christianity in many respects, they are “conservative” in others. The millennial generation is no less pro-life than the previous generation. Importantly, tantalizingly, it is also much more anti-divorce than the previous generation, as being the one that lived through the divorce waves of previous generations.

“The evangelicals who are the center of evangelical vitality are also the least likely to be concerned with politics. Not because they’re liberal, but because they want to keep a priority on the Gospel and the mission that they do not wish to lose,” Moore says. This is a sign of weariness with the excesses of the religious right, but also a sign of hope, if it is not pushed too far in the opposite direction.

There’s another thing that the young generation understands, Moore says. Today, many in the religious right and the Bible Belt understand “evangelical Christianity” to mean white evangelical Christianity. But the future of the church is global. In evangelicalism, as well as Catholicism for that matter, the energy in the church is global. By becoming enmeshed with, if not white identity politics per se, then certainly the white culture of the Bible Belt, the religious right has cut itself off from a key source of vitality within Christianity, and has overlooked — if not been downright hostile to — causes that should matter to Christians like racial justice and reconciliation.

So, there are seeds of hope, perhaps. What’s the way out?

In perhaps the most important phrase of the speech, Moore says: “One of the assumptions of some in the old religious right is that the church is formed well enough theologically and simply needs to be mobilized politically.”

Most Christians simply don’t know what they believe and why, and that is killing Christianity. Jacob Lupfer, a scholar of American Christianity, has noticed that within evangelical Christianity, the pro- versus anti-Trump split has come down along lines that are not so much political, or even theological per se, but confessional. “Generic evangelicals or cultural/nominal Protestants go for Trump. Confessional evangelicals are theologically primed to resist him.” By confessional, he means those believers, churches, and institutions that stress preaching and adhering to specific historic Christian creeds. (This also probably explains why Mormons and Catholics, including conservative Catholics, have also tended to be outliers in their rejection of Trump.)

Moore is not calling for a retreat of Christians from politics. The Christian faith calls on believers to regard themselves as strangers in a strange land, and citizens of Heaven first and Earth second, but that “second” matters. They need to serve their fellow men, including through public service and advocacy. Political organizing is good, Moore exclaims at one point. What’s more, it’s not just that Christians need politics, it’s that America needs conservative Christians. As Trump shows, without conservative Christianity, the right will not simply go away, as some progressives might hope, it will become more like the ethno-nationalistic populist right of Europe, and more Nietzchean, Moore warns, rightly in my view.

But for Christians to stop shaming themselves in the public square, let alone start playing a constructive role, they must first become more grounded in their own faith. Christians are supposed to believe in divine providence, so I can only say: from Moore’s mouth to God’s ears.

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and originally published on October 27, 2016 in The Week and can be found here.

Trump and Hillary, models of fallen human nature

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one Aleteia which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

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Their go-to responses to wrongdoing is deflection and dissimulation rather than repentance

Like many of you I was upset, though unsurprised, by the recently released tape in which Donald Trump brags about sexually assaulting women. However, what scandalized me more was to see how many Christians jumped to defend and downplay Trump’s behavior.

When I expressed dismay on social media about Donald Trump’s behavior, I was accused of being a Hillary supporter and of being indifferent to the pro-life cause. One man called me a “turncoat,” and another person told me I was a “fake nun.” I was told that I needed an exorcism and one man assured me that I would be responsible for Christians being thrown into gulags. And this reaction was tame compared to the response others received.

When Christians look away from any form of evil rather than prophetically calling human nature to a higher ideal we water down the Gospel message. This becomes all the more important in this election because we have two candidates whose behavior often exemplifies precisely what Christians are called to reject. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are mirrors of our own sin and just how far our fallen nature, our culture, and our country can fall. (Please note, I am not presuming to judge our presidential candidates’ moral state before God, who alone knows our conscience, but simply assessing their objective actions).

In the beginning, Adam blamed both Eve and God when he ate the forbidden fruit: “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree” (3:12).

Eve similarly protested: “The snake tricked me, so I ate it” (3:13).

Both our presidential candidates have proven that their go-to response to wrongdoing is deflection and dissimulation rather than repentance. However, Trump and Clinton’s behavior often goes beyond the rationalizations of Adam and Eve and straight to the deliberate deception of the serpent. Hillary Clinton lies in a deliberate way when it seems politically convenient (the email debacle involved lie after calculated lie). Donald Trump’s denials, on the other hand, seem more frequent and instinctual rather than logical. He denies obvious, provable facts on national television without blinking an eye. And his “apologies” inevitably end with excuses and deflections.

When God heard Adam and Eve’s excuses and saw their lack of repentance, he expelled them from the Garden of Eden.

God cautioned Eve of the effects of original sin, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16).

Donald Trump’s life exemplifies this domination, abuse of power, and objectification of women that God warned Eve would happen. Trump has left his wives not once but twice. He’s boasted about his adulterous affairs. He has made multiple comments sexualizing underage girls, including his own daughter. And throughout his entire campaign, when the stakes are highest, Trump seems unable to avoid ridiculing, bullying, and making sexist comments about women. Donald Trump’s ongoing behavior concretely illustrates the way some fallen men treat women.

In the same way, Hillary Clinton exemplifies the fallen woman in her rejection of the feminine genius. As Hillary herself admits, she comes across as cold rather than warm and empathetic. This, no doubt, is related to her attempt to make it in a man’s world. But walling oneself off comes at a cost to both feminine authenticity and one’s moral worldview. Her turning away from the feminine genius further expresses itself in her unreserved support for abortion (a convenient solution for men who live a lifestyle similar to Donald Trump). Hillary also denigrates the feminine vocation to motherhood (which is not just biological) when she argues that babies can be aborted up to minutes before they are delivered. And she excuses fallen masculinity when she lauds the women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault while attacking the women who accused her husband.

When Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, their behavior immediately became selfish because their lives ceased to be centered on God.

Hillary and Trump typify behavior that seems centered on the wrong things, especially when it comes to money and power. For example, both run “charity” foundations that seem to do little more than serve their own respective interests. Trump has used his foundation to bribe public officials and to buy a huge 6-foot tall portrait of himself. In fact, Trump did not give a penny of his own money away through the foundation over a five-year period. Likewise, when Hillary was Secretary of State, Bill Clinton’s speaking fees doubled and in some cases tripled, causing many to suspect quid pro quo. Of the 154 people who met with Hillary when she was Secretary of State, at least 85 donated to the Clinton Foundation. It is against the law for foreigners to donate to political campaigns in the United States, yet Hillary accepted foreign donations for the Clinton Foundation from multiple foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia.  Just as troubling, are the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign mocking Catholics.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s questionable behavior and ethics is painfully evident. They both should have been unequivocally rejected as presidential candidates. Tragically, our country is so divided that we cannot unite behind even this obvious fact. Instead, people continue to cling to candidates who represent a ghost of their worldviews. Some people excuse or ignore their preferred candidate’s serious faults, and selectively become enraged when the other candidate does wrong.

But Christians are called to another kind of behavior. We are called to step outside of political situations and to view them within the trajectory of salvation history. We are called to be prophets, to name evil when we see it, and not just when it is the evil of the party opposite to the one we endorse. Unfortunately, like Adam and Eve, many of us instead defend and deflect for our respective candidate. We are fallen human beings and it is easy to lose hope in the radical message of the Gospel. We forget that human nature is called to something more through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have lowered the bar so low only a snake can slither through.

When this election is over, no matter who becomes president, we will enter an era of great difficulty for our country. My hope is that Christians will spend more time praying for our new president’s conversion than criticizing him or her. And I hope we will have learned the following lessons: We will never find salvation in a political party and we should be apologists and uncritical cheerleaders for no one but Jesus Christ.

By Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble and originally published on October 18, 2016 and can be seen here.

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