Wednesday, August 10, 2005
PSAYINGS.5Q.56. Sometimes it's fun to take a look at what's happened since we covered a topic at InstaPunk. Here are a few updates to recent entries.
We liked the cool infrared photography of the landing.
THE SHUTTLE. Yeah, we criticized the shuttle's aged technology, but we were as delighted as everyone else that they made it home safely. Needless to say, but definitely worth saying.
MECCA. We dared to disagree when Hugh Hewitt not only condemned Tom Tancredo's saber rattling about Islam but decreed that no one from the "center-right blogosphere" was allowed to defend him. Since then, it's been interesting to observe that so-called moderate muslims have been subjected to more heat and pressure than ever before to declare their true allegiance. No, it's not all Tancredo's doing. The U.K.'s recent discovery that terrorists want to kill people has been a big contributor. But the fatuous pose that all muslims are peaceful unless they're actually flying airliners up your ass has begun to slip. We could cite many examples, but a couple will do for now. The first is an editorial in Investor's Business Daily about the supposedly moderate Council on American Islamic Relations. Here's an excerpt:
We wonder who and what CAIR, which calls itself a civil-rights defender, is really protecting when it fights targeted profiling at train stations and airports.
CAIR may talk a good patriotic and moderate game. But it has a secret agenda to Islamize America.
Before 9-11, its founder and chairman, Omar Ahmad, also a Palestinian American, told a Muslim audience: "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth."
Before coming to Washington, Hooper himself is on record stating: "I wouldn't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the government of the United States to be Islamic"...
It turns out that an anti-Israeli foundation run by the crown prince of Dubai owns the very deed to CAIR's headquarters located almost in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The foundation has held telethons to support families of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The whole piece is a must-read. The second item is from a column by Andrew McCarthy about an unusual confrontation on MSNBC between Monica Crowley and a muslim "moderate" named Azzan Tamimi. McCarthy provides plenty of background about Tamimi, including this:
Tamimi, in particular, is a Palestinian extremist who not only has publicly advocated suicide bombing ("For us Moslems martyrdom is not the end of things but the beginning of the most wonderful of things") but has also declared his personal willingness to commit a suicide bombing (“If I have the opportunity I would do it.... If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?”).
He is, moreover, a rabid detractor of the United States who has publicly praised the “courageous” Taliban, observed that "[i]n the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy” upon seeing the Twin Towers felled by al Qaeda suicide hijackers, and labeled the U.S. the “imperialist master” of Iraq...
What role has he played in this country since 9/11?
You’ll be shocked to learn that all this has resulted in … Tamimi’s being packaged by fawning academic, media, and even U.S. foreign-service circles as a respectable intellectual spokesman for Islamic causes. As the invaluable Martin Kramer has explained, Tamimi’s air of dignified scholarship is indebted to Professor John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, who has sat on Tamimi’s board at the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, and coedited a book with him. Naturally, Tamimi has also been feted by the State Department — invited in 2002 by the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James to the Iftar dinner State now hosts at the conclusion of Ramadan.
With such notches on their belts, the Tamimis of the world all too often skip with impunity from soapbox to soapbox, spewing their bile while their oh-so-deferential moderators nod in studied pensiveness at the seeming profundity of it all. But not so Ms. Crowley.Read the rest of the story here. It may be that Mr. Hewitt will have to have a word or two with Ms. Crowley to set her straight. Unless it's possible that even the Pope can learn from a good example, as McCarthy suggests people should:
The reason Tamimi and others like him get away with calling themselves “moderates” while defending mass murderers is that, too often, they are allowed to breeze through their talking points without being pushed. This time he got pushed, and we all got to see how “moderate” he really is. Authentic moderates will never succeed unless the poseurs are exposed. That means we’ll need a lot more Monica Crowleys willing to grill them. You can’t win a war about ideology without engaging the ideology.
CANADA. Not long ago, we wrote a little essay about Canada that was considered too harsh in some quarters. For example, we offered the following unkind observation:
But for the miraculous wisdom and courage of our founding fathers, the United States might be just like Canada, with a population of 30 million enervated Europeans, an incompetent socialist government, a social and cultural history lacking in brilliance or innovation, and a role in world politics as irascible pawn of the United Kingdom. Indeed, we might be several such nations, 7 to 10 million strong (or weak), quibbling and sniping and sneering at one another from sea to shining sea.
Overstated, some people said. But yesterday, we saw an item in Drudge that seemed to undermine their view:
CALGARY (CP) - More than one-third of western Canadians surveyed this summer thought it was time to consider separation from Canada, a poll suggests.
In the survey, 35.6 per cent of respondents from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia agreed with the statement: Western Canadians should begin to explore the idea of forming their own country.
As Professor Reynolds would say, Hmmm.
EVOLUTION. We also committed the mortal secular sin of suggesting that the volatile subject of Evolution might be less so if we dared to consider that it might not be necessary to choose between the Truth of the Creationists and the Truth of the Darwinian Biologists. We suggested that advances in other sciences might enable us to discover a process of change among species that wasn't entirely accidental without requiring us to cite Genesis as our authority. We even suggested that there might be a kind of intelligence operating at the species level capable of reprogramming genes when the situation called for it. These ideas did not come from the Bible. They came from systems theory, chaos, complexity, quantum mechanics, string theory, Wolfram's ideas about programming in nature, and (to be candid) various Jungian hypotheses.
We knew we'd be assaulted for proposing such an idea, and we were. Various blogs and commenters accused us of being creationists (of course), antiscience, stupid, ignorant, ill-read, or pitifully naive, and some disallowed us the right to comment at all.
Since then, as if via synchronicity, there has been a public flap about the President's statement that he thought it worthwhile for public school students to understand the nature of the debate between the Darwinian biologists and the Intelligent Design (ID) advocates. Wearying as it is to repeat it again, we'll state, yet again, before proceeding that we don't subscribe to the ID position. But we have been entertained by the nature of the debate that's occurred about the President's remarks.
It was amusing to see the Virginia biology professor who showed up to discuss the matter with Bill O'Reilly. He took the position that ID should never be mentioned in the same classroom with Evolution because ID wasn't a theory. It's quite true that ID is not a theory, but that shouldn't have ended the discussion It didn't occur to O'Reilly, of course, to suggest that it's still okay to pose objections to a theory without having a complete alternative to replace it with. If there are fatal objections to a theory, it's wrong -- even if you don't have any idea what to propose instead. What was more interesting than the verbiage, though, was the professor's body language. No sound was necessary to comprehend his position and his message. He couldn't even look at the camera. He heaved and twisted in his chair as if he was powerless to contain his utter contempt at being asked any questions at all. In fact, he looked as though he were about to cry. Thank God, O'Reilly was too ignorant to make the interview really hard on him.
Predictably, the press weighed in quickly against the President. It would be easy to cite a dozen articles, but we'll make do with one, from the Boston Globe. The title really says it all -- God vs. Darwin: no contest. Here's a sufficient excerpt:
Now, it's quite true that mainstream scientists vehemently reject the idea of allowing evolution and ''intelligent design" to compete freely in the nation's public school classrooms. The reason is that ''intelligent design" is not science. A scientific hypothesis must be testable -- meaning that, if it is wrong, there should be a way to disprove it. (That's why assertions that there is no conclusive proof of evolution are basically pointless.)
''Intelligent design" boils down to the claim sarcastically summed up by aerospace engineer and science consultant Rand Simberg on his blog, Transterrestrial Musings: ''I'm not smart enough to figure out how this structure could evolve, therefore there must have been a designer." Simberg, a political conservative, concludes that this argument ''doesn't belong in a science classroom, except as an example of what's not science."
The notion that the teaching of evolution is some kind of left-wing plot is, to put it plainly, absurd. In addition to the people mentioned above, opponents of teaching ''intelligent design" as an alternative scientific viewpoint include John H. Marburger III, director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy
Remember the "testable" criterion. It's really the linchpin of the defense against any kind of challenge to Darwinian theory: even if it isn't right, it's right because it's more testable in its parts. Now let's turn to a surprising dissent written by an actual academic, Peter Wood, Provost of King's College in New York City. His article is titled Thumbs Up: President Bush is right about evolution and design. Huh?
He begins with this bit of heresy:
A good place to start is to distinguish between the theory of evolution (without the capital E) and Evolution as a grand and, apart from a few rough edges, supposedly comprehensive account of speciation and genetic change. Small-e evolution is an intellectually robust theory that gives coherent order to a huge range of disparate facts. In contrast, capital E Evolution, is a bit illusory. Like a lot of scientific theories, on close inspection it is really a stitched-together fabric of hypotheses. Some of them are central and well-attested, while others are little more than guesswork. Some phenomena such as natural selection and genetic drift are on solid ground; but others like late Stephen Jay Gould's theory of "punctuated equilibrium," in which evolution proceeds in widely spaced bursts, are pretty speculative. Evolution (with the capital E) is today far from being a single comprehensive concept.
Glossing over the difference between "Big E" Evolution and "little e" evolution is perhaps the greatest achievement of contemporary biology. That's how they can keep referring to their own theories as fact while asserting that they are not doing so. (The nonscientific discipline of sentence diagramming can prove unexpectedly useful in exposing their inside-out logic.) Wood then cites some problems with neo-Darwinian descriptions of process we won't go into here, except to note that biologists scream like schoolgirls at any suggestion that they haven't completely refuted them. Next, he moves to the question of modern man, which is where the biologists actually hurl themselves to the floor and hold their breath if anyone challenges their fragile speculations:
And above all, evolutionary theory hits a wall in trying to explain what happened with the emergence of fully modern humans about 150,000 years ago.
Again, he fills in details you can read for yourselves before making his major points. Note that we are also compressing the argument quoted below. It's not our intent to mischaracterize him, merely to hit the highlights. Please do read the entire piece.
We can give a name to what happened: with the biological emergence of modern humans came both the capacity for and the realization of "culture." Maybe geneticists will, at some point, isolate a gene or genes that make complex, symbol-based culture possible...
But to speak of the beginning of culture and the emergence of our species by way of some genetic mutations from anatomically similar ancestors does little to explain the profound mystery of the event. Of course, if we are convinced in advance that genetic mutation is a random, material event, the results of which are sorted out by the struggle for survival, the immense mystery dissolves into happenstance blips in strands of East African DNA, c. 150,000-200,000 years ago.
But at that point, we have moved beyond scientific evolution to doctrinaire Evolution. The randomness of the mutation cannot be demonstrated or proved; it is simply an article of belief, no different in character from a belief that an intelligent Creator nudged the adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine bases of that DNA strand into the right order. Or that he took the clay of archaic homo sapiens and molded Adam in His own image.
At bottom the dispute between Evolutionists and Creationists always comes down to the question, "What is random?"...
Whether the universe is truly random or whether apparent randomness is order-not-yet-apprehended seems pretty clearly a philosophical or theological debate....
But I also don't think science is well served by elevating to the status of unquestionable truth the image of a material universe governed solely by random and otherwise inexplicable events. That's a worldview, not a scientific conclusion, and it has no better claim to our intellectual assent than views that postulate an underlying purpose, meaning, or destination for humanity.
Actually, a line of argument that depends on seeing events as random is in a rather worse position than one that postulates, even if it can't prove, underlying order. In science, what's random today is frequently modeled tomorrow. To base a theory of life on ever-more-emphatic repetition of the idea that, "No, it's random," is a bit like stamping your foot and saying, "It's so because I say it's so." [emphasis added].
Can you hear them shouting and denouncing and fulminating? Loud, ain't it? Now here's a little something extra to make their heads explode. Think about the discussion of "randomness." Think about the criterion of "testability." Then read the whole story that is selectively excerpted below:
Can This Black Box See Into the Future?
DEEP in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.
At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.
But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the 'eye' of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.
The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened - but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.
Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers.
'It's Earth-shattering stuff,' says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the 'black box' phenomenon.
'We're very early on in the process of trying to figure out what's going on here. At the moment we're stabbing in the dark.' Dr Nelson's investigations, called the Global Consciousness Project, were originally hosted by Princeton University and are centred on one of the most extraordinary experiments of all time. Its aim is to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind that we can all tap into without realising.
And machines like the Edinburgh black box have thrown up a tantalising possibility: that scientists may have unwittingly discovered a way of predicting the future.
Although many would consider the project's aims to be little more than fools' gold, it has still attracted a roster of 75 respected scientists from 41 different nations. Researchers from Princeton - where Einstein spent much of his career - work alongside scientists from universities in Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. The project is also the most rigorous and longest-running investigation ever into the potential powers of the paranormal.
Go ahead. Read it all. It's just a possibility. But it's a damned tantalizing one.