Monday, March 30, 2009

Optimistic naturalists

A correspondent was recently asking me about a particular argument naturalists sometimes use. Now, to me, this argument sounds so incredibly lame that I can never understand why smart people are the least bit impressed by it. It's just like saying, "Oh, never mind the evidence. I'm sure we'll figure that out eventually. Move along. Nothing to see here." Why would anybody listen to this?

But it's been put forward very seriously by various people and was worrying my correspondent, so Tim and I responded, and I have a post up at W4 based on that response.

The naturalist's argument basically goes, "Science has made great strides and achievements and has explained lots and lots of stuff that we didn't used to understand. So eventually, whatever it is that you are bringing up as evidence for the existence of God or for any entity that isn't strictly non-naturalistic will also be explained as a purely naturalistic phenomenon."

This is just such a bad argument. The sense in which science has made great strides and achievements--you know, finding the causes of diseases, discovering very small particles and figuring out how they interact, seeing the inner workings of the cell, figuring out the basic laws of planetary motion--in no sense tends to confirm that there is nothing but matter in the world and that everything has a physical cause. How could it?

To my mind, this is just one step up, if that, from the Bultmannian claim that we can't possibly believe in miracles in the age of the electric lightbulb.

But my W4 post is much more dignified than this little rant. (Ahem. Really. Much more dignified.) Enjoy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I've Got the Joy

The rest of the family is recovered, and I'm on the road to recovery. Being able to breathe again more or less freely is nice.

I hope later to have a post linking and briefly summarizing a contentful post at W4 about science and naturalism. But as I haven't yet written that contentful post...below is a song by the Gofish guys called "I've Got the Joy." Normally I am a "less is more" kind of person in music and tend to look down a bit on fancy effects with electronics--voice altering, stuff like that. But these guys do it all with such an innocent love of fun, and of kids, that I can't help enjoying it. And it sure beats the version of "I've Got the Joy" that we sang in Sunday School when I was a kid!

Eldest Daughter (16) has found several of these Gofish videos on-line and plays them for Youngest Daughter (age 5). This particular one is probably their favorite, but there was a brief tragedy when it disappeared temporarily from Youtube. It's back now, and also safely downloaded in case it disappears again.

"I've Got the Joy" by Gofish:

Sunday, March 22, 2009


2 1/2 years ago or so I read the story below on, of all sites, Little Green Footballs, in a comments thread. I have gone back since then and tried diligently to find that comment with the story, but I haven't been able to find it, so you'll have to take my word for it. I no longer read LGF. It's changed for the worse (to put it mildly). But this story will always remain with me and deserves to be told and heard more widely, even though it is hearsay. The comment author said that a family friend used to tell this story about herself--that is, she was the woman in the story--at meals with his family. And here it is, in my words, and as I remember it. I am not sure that the city was Odessa, though it was in that part of the world.


Once there was a woman who lived in Odessa. The Nazis came, and they began killing the Jews. One early morning, the woman went out with a basket on her arm to shop. As she was walking across a square in the city, she saw a large group of children coming, marshaled by a soldier. When they got near, the soldier said to her, "Ma'am, can you take any of these children with you? Perhaps even just one? They are Jewish children, and where I am taking them, they will die." One beautiful little boy broke away from the group and ran up to her. "Auntie," he said, "Please take me with you. I promise I won't eat much." She looked down at him for a moment, and then she slowly shook her head and hurried on. A few streets away, she was suddenly horrified at herself. She ran back to the square, but the children and the soldier were gone, and she never saw any of them again. And later in life, the only thing she could do to make amends was to tell what she had done.


And Jesus took a little child, and set him by him, and said unto them, "Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me."

Then shall the King say to those on his left, "Inasmuch as ye have not done it unto the least of these, ye have not done it unto me."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

They really do want your children

Most of you will have seen this post of mine already at W4, but for anyone who hasn't...My husband found an incredible, amazing quote from the well-known (now late) philosopher Richard Rorty openly bragging about discrediting Christian parents in their children's eyes, about reprograming them, and the like. I want to point out for those of you who are (understandably) hesitant about quoting what you see on the web that Tim verified this quotation from the "look inside" function for the book itself on Amazon. It's legit, and in fact the full version is even more shocking than the portion quoted on Wikipedia. Here's a teaser to get you to go to W4 if you aren't a regular W4 reader:

The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire “American liberal establishment” is engaged in a conspiracy. Had they read Habermas, these people would say that the typical communication situation in American college classrooms is no more herrschaftsfrei [domination free] than that in the Hitler Youth camps.

These parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students....When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank....I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.

And there's more, here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Schiavo case trial transcripts available on-line

I am blogging this in multiple places to bring it to the attention of the Google bots for searching researchers. My thanks to Zippy who has put it up on his blog.

I have just finished an article for the forthcoming issue of The Christendom Review on some legal aspects of the Terri Schiavo case. In the course of doing research for it, I managed (by dint of much and persistent e-mailing) to get hold of the trial transcripts of all the witness testimony in the Schiavo case. As far as I have been able to tell, these transcripts are not available elsewhere on-line.

Because people will be studying and discussing Terri Schiavo's death (murder, I would say) for many years to come, it seems to me extremely important that the witness testimony be available. The judge's job was to decide that there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Terri would have wanted to be dehydrated to death. Judge Greer's opinion is on-line here. (Greer's opinion, unlike the testimony transcripts, has been available on-line all along.)

Greer's opinion does not quote the witness testimony he is using. He just alludes to it, sometimes extremely vaguely, and sometimes even erroneously. News stories usually contain only bits and pieces, and their sources are unclear.

Greer dismissed Diane Meyer's testimony on the basis of his erroneous belief that Karen Ann Quinlan died before 1982. It is interesting to see how Meyer stands up to George Felos, the opposing attorney, who tries to put words into her mouth and confuse her. She did an especially good job given that Felos apparently succeeded in temporarily convincing everyone at Terri's trial that Quinlan actually died in 1976 when her ventilator was removed. In fact, she lived until 1985.

On my personal web page I now have

--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Diane Meyer
--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Scott Schiavo
--A PDF scan of the testimony transcript of Joan Schiavo
--A complete transcript of all the witness testimony, including the testimony of Michael Schiavo and Mrs. Schindler, in a web page html form.

These five were the witnesses who claimed to have had conversations with Terri about end-of-life issues.

I owe the Diane Meyer transcript directly to Pat Anderson, one of the Schindlers' lawyers. I owe the complete transcript to Atty. Joe Bell, who took a PDF that he had from Pat Anderson and made a careful project of translating it into searchable text.

My hope is that now when people search "Schiavo" and "trial transcripts," "Diane Meyer," and other such phrases, they will have more luck than I did in finding these important documents on-line.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Very miscellaneous

We, corporately, have a cold. That is, my family is now passing around a real doozy of a cold. So far I have been mostly spared, except for a pretty bad earache (of my own) and fatigue from going pointlessly into Youngest Daughter's room in the middle of the night when she's coughing her head off and saying, "Do you need anything? Do you need to go potty? Are you okay?"

However, this just adds to the general lack of inspiration for posts here at Extra Thoughts which seems to have been afflicting me for some five weeks or so now and for which I apologize to any readers I have retained. Over at W4 I have a new post about the latest and craziest manifestation of what I call the "choice devours itself" phenomenon: "Suicide assistance" as outright murder. The person who supposedly wants to die gets his hands held down by his "exit guide" if he changes his mind and tries to tear the plastic bag off his head. I can't help thinking, "They can't come up with anything worse than this," and then they do.

In other news that looks like satire but isn't, the AP just put up a headline this morning, "Karzai Welcomes Obama Call to Reach out to Taliban." That's right. You read that right. We're supposed to "reach out" to the Taliban. I suppose that's what they mean by Hope and Change--acting like liberal fools towards some of the most evil people in the world, people who have devoted their lives to figuring out how to murder more American civilians. Oh, wait, I missed it: We're supposed to be reaching out to the moderates in the Taliban. Well, that's different, of course. Glad we got that cleared up.

And finally, I had a mildly interesting technical thought in church this morning. (Priest: "The Lord be with you." Youngest Daughter: "Coughcoughcoughcoughcoughcoughcough." Eldest Daughter, "It looks like C. [Middle Daughter] is crying." Me (whispering to Middle Daughter): "What's wrong, honey?" Middle Daughter: "I'm losing my voice." Me: "Do you need anything now? Please don't cry." Middle Daughter: "I'm not crying." Priest: "Lift up your hearts..." And so forth.) Anyway, the technical thought was that probability theory is neutral as between substantive conclusions. There isn't such a thing as a "Christian" probability theory. That, I already knew. But people may be confused into thinking that it isn't neutral when we notice that some correct form of probabilistic modeling (like, say, Bayesian probability theory) helps us to model evidence accurately in a way that prevents certain confusions that anti-religious skeptics like to exploit.

I played "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" for the postlude. I wonder if anyone besides my family recognized it. Years ago a friend (who is now Eastern Orthodox but was then Baptist) asked me, "Do Baptists have any Lent hymns?" Well, yes and no. It seems to me that all the dedication and devotion hymns are absolutely perfect for Lent. "Have Thine Own Way, Lord." "Take My Life and Let It Be." And especially, "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone." But not hymns any more specifically about Lent than that, for obvious historical reasons. Still, it would do some stuffy Anglicans good to learn, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" ("no turning back..." "the world behind me, the cross before me...") and all those others. And to sing them and enjoy them, too. And a good Lenten meditation into the bargain.

Okay, ththththat's all, folks.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

A conjecture

I conjecture that the present economic difficulties of the U.S. will strengthen the grip of political correctness in both business and in higher education. People will be afraid either of losing their jobs or of not being hired in the first place and hence will be more susceptible than ever to intimidation, more careful than ever not to say anything to offend the noisiest and nastiest of the bullies in their fields. I would think the effect might even be stronger in the business world than in the academy. In the business world you can't even say, "I have tenure."

What do you think?

Crossposted at W4