Quick Roundup 157

Friday, March 02, 2007

"Fiscal Conservative" Does Not Equal "Pro-Capitalist"

Not long after I examined an article by Mona Charen that touted Rudy Giuliani's fiscal "toughness", I have found another article on Giuliani's economic positions. Its title? "Is Giuliani a Welfare Liberal?"

The article notes that Giuliani's position on welfare reform is not even as "good" as Mona Charen would have us believe. (His administration actively lobbied to have Clinton veto the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.) This (and his reasons for doing so) is interesting, but what I find more interesting is the fact that we see, once again, a conservative examining Giuliani's notions about welfare according to whether he supports "reforming" it or not.

The debate within conservative circles over whether to end welfare appears to be effectively dead.

The Next Tactic in the Abortion Debate

At Townhall.com, Ken Blackwell writes that the "unborn need a Wilberforce", invoking the name of a crusader against slavery and taking as his point of departure the odious notion that man has rights not by nature, but by divine fiat. After the reader fortifies himself with that shot of undiluted irrationality, he will then be ready for the meat of the article: the next "pro-life" argument.

Today, God's grace visits us again.

In Miami, Amillia Sonja Taylor captured the hearts of millions and the attention of doctors with her courage, strength and zest for life. Born at 21 weeks and six days, she weighed only 10 ounces and was 9.5 inches long - about the size of a ballpoint pen.

Last week, she was brought home by her doting family weighing four and a half pounds. The world's youngest baby ever to survive, little Amillia has moved the threshold of viability in the ongoing fight to protect the unborn.

"She's truly a miracle baby," said Dr. William Smalling, M.D., neonatologist, Baptist Children's Hospital.

"It may be that we need to reconsider our standard for viability in light of Amillia's case," said Dr. Smalling. "Over the years, the technology that we have available to save these premature babies has improved dramatically. Today, we can save babies that would have never survived 10 years ago." [bold added]
God's grace? Sounds more to me like hard work and ingenuity -- of men who were free to think about science without fear of religious persecution -- "visited" us again.

Crucial to the debate over abortion is the question, "What constitutes a human life?" In the secular debate, this question boils down, in part, to, "When can a fetus said to be viable?" This is because until that point, the fetus is only potentially a human life, and so not essentially different from any other mass of tissue within the body of the pregnant woman.

Those who believe that a single cell is mystically imbued with a soul by a divine being will, of course, hold that human life begins at conception, as Blackwell presumably does. They will, in fact, oppose all abortion, period, and really do not care about whether a fetus is viable -- except insofar as they can twist the meaning of "viable" in order to abort any meaningful (non-religious) debate over whether a fetus should or should not be aborted.

It takes little imagination to conceive of further advances in technology that will permit a fertilized egg to be grown to full term artificially. If, as Blackwell hopes, we confuse such advances in technology with actual viability, we will have what passes for a "secular" argument against all abortion. (In fact, such advances are simply leading to an artificial way to enable a potential human being to become an actual one.)

This is for the moment the holy grail, so to speak, of the anti-abortionists. And this is also why it is extremely important to be very clear about abstract philosophical ideas. The sort of sloppy thinking espoused by Blackwell and practiced by too many, even including some of his opponents, will result in a woman's right to control her own body being lost in a public debate over non-essentials.

The fact of Amillia's human existence is not a "miracle" nor does it mean that fetuses are "viable" sooner than commonly held. It simply means that we are one step closer to being able to bring human lives into the world without wombs.

Note that, as with the Terri Shiavo debacle, the religionists do not care whether a mass of cells with human DNA is imbued with a rational faculty. This not only figures in to what they define as "human life", but also into their low esteem for rational argument. This last point is put best by Blackwell himself: "[W]e must continue to wage our battle in the courts, in Congress and legislative bodies across the nation, through direct action and in the hearts of men and women." In other words, we must use force of law to make men act as we wish, and we must appeal to emotion in the meantime.

At least he is that honest.

Fisk the Skull of Jesus?

As Diana Hsieh notes, researchers have recently claimed to have found the tomb of the historical Jesus with the bones inside. Even if we were to sweep aside the difficulties she notes with making a definitive identification, my reaction to all this is: Interesting, but so what?

To see what I mean, it is worth looking at another Townhall.com article, this one by Chuck Colson, which covers the "debate" that has ensued in some quarters.
In an upcoming Discovery Channel special, [James] Cameron claims to have found an ossuary containing the bones of Jesus. How does he know? Through a combination of Sesame Street and The DaVinci Code.


Like others, his ultimate explanation for what happened that Sunday morning is a cover-up. Like others, he has no explanation for why the Apostles would be willing to die for what they presumably knew to be a lie. I know a thing or two about cover-ups and conspiracies: No conspirator willingly dies for what he knows to be untrue -- or, in the case of Watergate, even go to jail. The closest men around the president of the United States testified against him to save their own skins. You're going to tell me the Apostles maintained their story at the cost of their lives? Impossible. [By this standard of veracity, Colson should convert to Islam right now since the 19 hijackers of September 11, 2001 couldn't have "maintained their story at the cost of their lives". --ed]

What's worse than Cameron's "preposterous" claims is the credulous reaction of the media. [I love it when people I disagree with misuse quotation marks! --ed]

At the website Get Religion (which analyzes the media's coverage of religion), Daniel Pulliam put it this way: Many "news organizations [are] reporting [Cameron's] words as gospel truth." He's right. A headline in the New York Times’s blog read “Raising the Titanic, Sinking Christianity?” Time followed, proclaiming that "this time, the ship [Cameron's] sinking is Christianity." [bold added]
This "debate" reminds me of the time, during a college semester in Italy, I overheard a fellow student remarking of the presence of so much ancient architecture, that it "blows any doubts [about Christianity] out of the water". The most that can be said of archaelogical evidence concerning Biblical figures is that it might corroborate those parts of an account for which there can be evidence or it might not.

For most people, buildings, bones, and artifacts will not have precisely this role, but might cause them to find what others have said happened in the past more or less believable. And some, like our student, will be so overwhelmed by sensory data about the era she has mentally associated with her religious beliefs, that she will take it as "evidence" even of the unworldly.

But any arbitrary claim, by its nature, has no evidence for or against it. Whether we have found the skull of Jesus or not makes precisely zero difference in our evaluation of him as divine, on the question of whether he turned water into wine, or whether he rose from the dead. Whenever something earthly is taken as "evidence" for or against such claims, one will find that the person is guilty of perpetuating, or has fallen for, a package deal, an indiscriminate lumping-together of things that differ essentially in some way.

Thus we see some gullible leftists, who have no good arguments of their own, grasping at straws to "disprove" something which need not be disproved, Christianity -- and in the process making people like Colson look like paragons of rationality, demanding, "How do they know?"

Furthermore, we see Colson, obviously bothered enough to reply to these same epistemological pygmies. Religion has a long history of jealously protecting artifacts and building magnificent edifices. This all serves the psychological function of selling the ineffable by overwhelming the senses, and Colson will be damned before he sees any part of it chipped away.

But still: "How do they know?" Colson asks a good question, except that he ought to direct it at a mirror, and at his fellow Christians. Those bones, even if they are those of the historical Christ, have nothing whatsoever to say about the entire edifice of belief that has been associated with him. Colson's question, by demanding evidence from inept detractors, serves only to distract from the fact that he cannot answer it satisfactorily himself.

The Exception that Proves the Rule

Via Noumenal Self is an interesting pair of articles about a corrupted saying I recently used for the title of a post. The second of these provides the correct explanation for the original, uncorrupted meaning of the phrase.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

People who see the bones of Jesus might say, "God died." However, if my position is, "God never was and can't be," why should I care one way or the other about Jesus' bones?

The true believers will believe anyway, regardless of how many bones you throw at them. Dinosaur bones, God-bones, what difference does it make? That is the power and ignominy of faith.

Gus Van Horn said...

Heh. They might even say that when you rise from the dead, your bones don't rise with you.

Ah! An opportunity to advance the "science" of theology is being lost!

In seriousness, although this makes the whole hubbub amusing, it seems, not too surprisingly, that the claim was a hoax. (HT: Noodle Food).

Annoyingly, the article starts out saying, "Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and -- most explosively -- their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy," -- as if such a finding would make one jot of difference.

But this quote is worth it: "It's a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don't know enough to separate fact from fiction." It is tempting to label that last clause "unintended commentary".

Adrian Hester said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "The second of these provides the correct explanation for the original, uncorrupted meaning of the phrase [the exception proves the rule]." Interestingly enough, I learned the original meaning of the phrase easily enough because it's common in older historical writing. Anyway, it's only one of several phrases coming out of Roman and medieval law. Here are some others, all from medieval English law. (1) The use of the lord's forests by his peasants was regulated by custom throughout England. Some of those customs for firewood, of all things, are still with us. First, peasants could use dead branches that had been blown out of the trees by the winds; this was alled "windfall." Second, some lords allowed peasants to take any firewood that they could pick up with their arms or with hooks on staves, referred to respectively as "crooks" (as in the crook of the arm) or "hooks," usually regulated with the set phrase "by hook or by crook." Third, and this one I'm not certain about, I believe it was also allowed in some places for peasants to take dead branches smaller than their thumbs; this is, if memory serves, the original menaing of the phrase "rule of thumb." (2) There were regulations in medieval London for where you could set up a stall in the markets, especially when the fishermen's guilds were involved. Setting up a stall either before market hours or outside the market boundaries was prohibited; this crime was called "forestalling."

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for the further interesting etymologies. I'd heard of both of the first two, but only an incorrect folk etymology for the third. As it turns out, World Wide Words (which now is listed under "Reference" on the links page) discusses the etymology of "rule of thumb". It doesn't mention your theory, but it sounded plausible enough that I felt compelled to check!

Galileo Blogs said...

These Christian fools are like children. If the bones are a fraud, Cameron and the others are no worse than all those cheesy huckster preachers who take so much money every week from cowardly Christians thinking they can buy redemption for shekels.

An acquaintance of mine (who is not an Objectivist) said religion is for the weak. It is. These people have voluntarily surrendered and weakened their minds. Plenty of people stand ready to lift the wallets and souls from the dim-witted.

Gus Van Horn said...

There's plenty of second-handedness to go around. The tenor of some of the "attacks" against Christianity which were based on this "discovery" was unserious and clearly intended more to arouse negative emotions than actually provoke thought.