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The New Wilsonians

Monkeys, missing links, and malcontent professors. Also: New England whiners. Ben's dear Diary. Doctoroing Democrats. And more!

11.20.05

SCIENTIFIC RECONCILIATION
Re: George Neumayr's The Origin of Speciousness:

I am finding it rather difficult to be a conservative these days, particularly because of the carelessness with which we have begun clinging to rhetoric rather than sound thinking. While I am no fan of E.O. Wilson, Neumayr's article makes some fatal errors.

1) E.O.Wilson's view is not paradigmatic of all of evolutionary biology. More importantly, it is not Darwin's view. Please refer to the last paragraph of the Origin of Species. Darwin, at the time of the first edition, clearly believed that a perfect God would create according to laws (natural selection) and not imperfect patterns. It was the failure of natural theology to explain patterns in nature that was leading to concerns about atheism (it fed into some traditional arguments against omnipotency and omnibenevolence). Darwin clearly thought that these problems were solved by having a Newtonian God for biology -- a creator of laws.

The claim that atheism is intrinsic to Darwinism is absolutely false.

2) Secondly, Darwinism does not rely on "chance." Natural selection is a selective process. There is much historical contingency, and mutations themselves are random (for the most part), but selection is not chance. Consistently getting this point wrong is a malicious error and exhibits ignorance I usually only attribute to well-meaning but soft-in-the-head liberals.

3) Finally, it is not Darwinism that really matters to contemporary science. Evolutionary biology is much more complete, complex, and rigorous. So tying any claims about the state of an entire science to Darwin, or to Wilson, is also an error. I would never countenance an attack on capitalism based on holes in Smith's theories, or those of Malthus. That may be interesting in learning the roots of contemporary theory, but it would have not value as an evaluation of capitalism today.

I find it shocking that conservatives are willing to make such dishonest arguments, and the amount of rhetoric (even downright malicious dribble) that the Spectator has lowered itself to in this and other matters is leading me to withdraw my support. But that is a bigger question. I only write this in the hope that in some manner you will correct the bitter and pointless appeals to ignorance so characteristic of recent conservative methodology.
-- Toben Lafrancois

I think turnabout is fair play here. If in Mr. Miller's opinion Darwinism is intrinsically atheistic that's fine. But the corollary to that is that Darwinism itself cannot be science. The study of physics for example makes no claims for or against the existence of a deity, or least I have never heard a physicist make such a claim. It merely states the rules and postulates of quantum physics.

So here we have authorities postulating that evolution is inherently atheistic. The problem I have with this is the very science of the evolutionary theory. First it can't define the means with any precision as to how the "chance" occurs. It can't define the factors that make a mutation superior to the parent organism in the environment. And it at this point can't define genetic sequencing that makes all this happen. And so this postulate is branded as science. Then to top it all off much of the experts hold a view that fosters antireligious viewpoints, also in the cause of science? If evolution is truly a science then should not the Darwinist hold the same standards of the Physicist? Neither willful proving or disproving a deity?

I will grant that much of the Old Testament is colored in the perceptions of its times. As well many passages were probably bent to a political purpose. So I don't always hold to the literal translation when there is evidence that might the event as recorded somewhat improbable. But it is odd that slowly archeology is uncovering more and more than hold the events to have at least occurred in the times and places found in the Iliad and the Bible.

Evolution may never be reconciled with religion. But I think evolutionary theory, of which there is evidence it occurs, has a very long road to hoe before it is declared science.
-- John McGinnis
Arlington, Texas

What is it with TAS and evolution?

How difficult is it to accept the fact that the every detail of the world is not managed by God personally on a moment-to-moment basis? From what I know of history, it seems to me that Darwin, as a young man, did not set out with the goal of eliminating God from the scheme of things. From what I have read, I suspect that he would have been quite happy if his investigations had proved the then widely held belief that God was the instigator and overseer of literally everything. But in his decades of observing differences among species, Darwin saw no proof of the supernatural in the process of evolution. Everything he saw could be explained by actions and reactions that occur naturally. That's why Darwin spoke of "natural selection" when explaining how evolution worked.

Science does not say that there is no God, as TAS and some atheists both insist. Science merely says that there has been no scientific proof of God. In other words, God has not agreed to allow Himself to be pinned to a microscopic slide. From what I can see, God is asking us to take Him on faith, and isn't that the true test of religion? A scientifically verifiable God would eliminate the need for faith. And faith, whether we humans understand it or not, seems to matter to God.

And if Darwin and others want to use the theory of evolution to evangelize their personal atheism, so what? If they want to speculate that there is no God, then let them. That's their right. Do you think that the people who believe in God, myself included, are so small, so fearful, so lacking in confidence, that we care what crusading atheists have to say when they wrongly use good solid science as a springboard to espouse their personal views?

Atheists' personal belief as to the nonexistence of God does not make the theory of evolution any more or less valid. Science is a business of facts and proof. To date evolution, as explained by natural selection, is good science, and a belief in God, or the belief in the lack of God, can't change that scientific reality.

Finally, one last personal comment. If you are going to attack science, at least don't use the old trick of saying that "only a small percentage of the American people support evolution" to make your argument. A quick look at history or current affairs demonstrates that a having a majority of people belief in something does not make it true. In the past, a majority of American people believed that slavery was acceptable. Today, a majority of American people believe in astrology. I'd be embarrassed if TAS stood for either of those propositions. So why should the majority's belief matter when it comes to science? Truth does not change because of popular opinion.
-- Robert F. Casselberry

If the universe had a beginning as science now believes, the conditions that give rise to intelligence through evolution must have existed prior to the universe, if only in potential. But those opposed to intelligent design being taught in schools argue (irrationally) that intelligence is necessarily limited to the material universe of space and time; that intelligence doesn't exist if it didn't evolve in space and time. Theirs is a philosophical position that is a decidedly unscientific. In fact, to use Charles Krauthammer's words, it "violates the most basic requirement of anything pretending to be science -- that it be empirically disprovable." The problem is, the observer cannot be the thing observed; evaluation demands some degree of transcendence of, or separation from, the thing which is evaluated. If it's proven that human observation is independent of the universe, materialism is an incomplete theory; if it is a complete theory, mechanism, probabilities and the like is all there is and the observer is nothing more than an illusion.

My question is this: do opponents to intelligent design get dizzy from going in circles?
-- Merlin Bird

I have always found it fascinating that strict evolutionists consistently deny the intellect of God while simultaneously elevating their own intellect to near God-like levels. Given the time and the will, (and our tax dollars) there's nothing these scientists can't do (or, at least that's what they'd like us to believe), and it's all, of course, for the good of mankind!

In that vein, consider Wilson's quote about Darwin's rejection of Christianity: "[Darwin's] shedding of blind faith gave him the intellectual fearlessness to explore human evolution wherever logic and evidence took him." It's a very creepy statement. Once God is removed from the equation of moral behavior and legitimate scientific discourse, there's truly no limit to the potential "achievements" of the "intellectually fearless".
-- Gavin Valle
Peapack, New Jersey

G. Neumayr's underhanded attack on Darwin/Evolution via his review of "The Origin of Speciousness" is feeble and comprised of inane fallacies.

Scientific theories are not supported by popular polls and do not require the "winning of new converts". Darwin’s Evolution is a well founded scientific theory which is self-sustaining (for over 150 years) through mounting scientific evidence and testing -- and needs no salvaging -- as opposed to I.D./Creationism which has not provided one shred of scientific evidence or testing support.

Darwinists are not concerned about losing a debate (what debate is Neumayr referring to?); the majority of scientists, and some non-scientists, are responding to the ID/Creationist proponents to infiltrate our public school science classes in order to corrupt/poison the minds of young students with religious myths and superstition.

And, it is not Darwinists that are attempting to "harmonize" Evolution with religion; it is the Creationists/Religionists that are endeavoring to classify/harmonize Creationism/ID as/with Science.
-- Bill Fell
Alpharetta, Georgia

Darwinists have long played on the contempt that Catholics and mainstream protestants in general have for fundamentalists. If it wasn't sad to watch fellow "Christians" endorsing randomness and at best deism, the cover provided by these "Christians" for Darwinism might be amusing. I am sure it was a very big surprise to those such as Michael Behe that Darwinists look at them as nothing more than creationists. They always thought that the problem was the literal creation story but the problem was always a God that played an active role in creation and the sustenance of creation. Don't be surprised that the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus find their way to chopping block next. The project of Darwinism was always hostile to Christianity. Of course Darwinists will be somewhat polite to their useful idiots.
-- Clifton Briner

Neumayr argues that it is impossible to reconcile evolution and design. Why would it be impossible for God to simply choose which "random events" occur? While the events might look random to us, might their source be hidden from us because we do not have a theory to explain it? Thus we have no theory to explain and predict sub-atomic particles' position, yet we are satisfied that there is a design or logic to their movement?
-- unsigned

...Mr. Neumayr, I have thought several times about subscribing to your magazine. But then you post yet another of these idiotic diatribes against something that you clearly don't understand, that is no threat to your belief system (and indeed, could be seen as supportive of it), and I change my mind.

I agree with a great deal of what you seem to believe in, but this obsessive focus on evolution is off-putting, to say the least.

The free market is the evolutionary algorithm in action. Think very carefully about what you claim, in light of this fact.
-- John S.

George Neumayr has written a good summary of the state of the argument, but I submit that this argument is not really of much interest.

Darwin made a very creative hypothesis -- that evolution explained the development of life and that evolution itself was defined as random mutation culled by natural selection. A very strong hypothesis. But is it true? That is the question. Simply asserting over and over that it is true does not advance the science.

I think that virtually all observers concede that natural selection operates on some level. Darwin's finches are excellent examples of this type of evolution. If the climate changes then normal variation already present in the species will be selected for a certain characteristic -- longer beaks in this case. But the beaks are not new beaks, nor of an extraordinary length, but merely a selection of the beaks that already occur randomly in the species.

In this sense, Darwin is undoubtedly true. But does this type of variation and natural selection account for what Darwin originally wrote his book about -- the creation of new species? There are many problems with Darwin's hypothesis when extended to this level.

One of them is that biological engineering must be different from all other engineering with which we are familiar. In all engineering which we observe, when one moves from one functional form to another, there is a "disassembled" condition when the object is less useful than either its beginning or its end state. This does not mean that Darwinian engineering in impossible, simply that it must be demonstrated, not asserted. How is it that a leg turning into a wing doesn't become a useless leg long before it becomes a useful wing? It might be possible, but asserting it does not make it so.

Darwin also does not account for sexual reproduction. How is it that when small beneficial changes occur there is a mate with the same beneficial changes that connects with the first organism and produces progeny with this mutation?

All our experience of engineering is that a system is balanced in all its parts. You cannot change one part without making simultaneous adjustments in all the other parts -- if the leg is longer, then the other legs must be longer, the pelvis must change, the backbone must change and so forth. Posing this question is not the same thing as saying such changes are impossible but it is incumbent on the theory to demonstrate how they occur. Asserting that they must occur is not an argument, at least not a scientific one.

I believe that the Darwinists have used some jiu-jitsu on the Intelligent Designists by immediately challenging them as to who the designer must be. The answer is "you know who" and we are back to a shouting match. For starters, let's just ignore who the designer is. Why get involved in that? The question is, is there design? That is enough for now.

Essentially the Darwinian argument is a reductionist one -- since Darwinists assume there cannot be intelligent design, then there is no other way for life to have developed other than through evolution by random mutation / natural selection. That lets them write books endlessly repeating the same point and still making cocktail hour. How about some math? How much random mutation must occur per unit time to get the changes we observe? Has there been enough time once this calculation is made?

Darwinism is a hypothesis, and that's all it is. The hard work of proving the hypothesis has yet to be done. It is entirely possible that Darwinism will turn out to be a relatively uninteresting subset of a much larger phenomenon -- true but not the whole truth. Let's see the chemistry, let's see the math, let's see the mechanisms of evolution. Enough bombast.
-- Greg Richards

Words such as "blind chance," "random," and "probability" denote mental constructs, and there is no agreement among philosophers that they also denote real phenomena. Most mathematicians (I am one) distinguish between mathematical models and reality. Stochastic models are applied to phenomena otherwise too complex to describe. Philosophical discussions of science often cloud the distinction. Such subtlety is mostly lost in the popular debate about evolution and theology. When scientists (even eminent ones like Darwin) draw conclusions about philosophical notions (e.g. cause, effect, being, origin) based on their work, they do so perilously.
-- J. Felt

PRIZED PUPIL
Re: Paul Chesser's The Homeschooled Murderer:

Mr. Chesser asserts that the fact David Ludwig was home-schooled should be noted "because the nature of the news is that when certain types of people act in ways that are inconsistent with what the public traditionally expects from them, it makes a story more newsworthy." I respectfully disagree. If that were the case, Democrats would get very little airtime. Congressman Murtha has made headlines in almost every news outlet today (11/18) for his views that the war is "unwinnable." He is referred to as "a hawk" and "a pro-defense Democrat" implying that his criticism is a NEW negative for the administration. But Mr. Murtha has been expressing similar discontent with the handling of the war since as early as 2003, so his statements are not inconsistent with what the public expects from him or his party. Yet, the MSM want us to believe that this administration is just now losing a friend from the other side of the aisle, furthering the idea that President Bush is failing.

No, a more reasonable explanation is home schooling is still seen by the left-biased media as something done only by the radical right wing. In that case, anything that puts a negative spotlight on it becomes fair game. "Playing up" the home-school angle only serves to undercut the concerns of parents involved in home schooling and establishes that public education is still better. And while most people may believe that home-schooled children are "intelligent, polite, respectful, well-behaved, [and] quiet," they also believe these children are socially stunted and isolated. What Mr. Ludwig has done proves to them that home schooling leaves children incapable of dealing with society.

I could be wrong about the significance of home schooling in this story. But I think we would have seen a MUCH different response had the two youths involved been public school students.
-- Steven
Dallas, Texas

Paul Chesser writes, "[T]he nature of the news is that when certain types of people act in ways that are inconsistent with what the public traditionally expects from them, it makes a story more newsworthy." Since he is a homeschooling dad himself, I suppose this can be chalked up to a desire to see the silver lining behind the cloud.

But I'm afraid this cloud is far too heavy and threatening for me to accept the above statement. The media does indeed have a tendency to select certain attributes over others in each personal story they cover. But the original intent of the news was to present information to a mass audience that they might need to know, was it not? Who needs to know about this terrible teen? How is this "newsworthy"?

Chesser rightly points out the double standards in the media's chosen designations for various members of society's degenerates. And this, rather than any conjured positive spin, is the crux of the matter. The problem with news is what conservatives and libertarians have been pointing out all along: there is an agenda. This story is pursued, not because we need to know, not because there is something government ought to do, but because it casts a shadow over a phenomenon which Leftists cannot control, the idea re-emerging on the American scene of self-governance.

Your readers will probably agree that homeschooling and intense Christian training had nothing to do with the murders. But that is not now -- and never will be -- the point of covering a story such as this. The point will be to connect said phenomenon with anything and everything negative, and that they have done quite nicely, thanks to an awful young man.
-- Brendan R. Merrick
Budd Lake, New Jersey

YANKEE CRANKEE CHRISTMAS
Re: Lawrence Henry's There Goes the Neighborhood:

Mr. Henry should not overly concern himself with Yankee crankiness. Complaining is what New Englanders do best, especially in the Southern states of Connecticut and Massachusetts. It's too hot or too cold. It's too humid. It's been raining too much or not enough. Except for a few weeks in the fall it's too much or little of something. I believe the shortage of sunny days contribute to this crankiness but the blame belongs on boomers themselves. They are the ones who voted in the establishment and keep them in year after year. They are the ones who demanded increased spending on all things provided by the government especially when their kids were in school. Now that their balance sheets are askew because of their delusional spending (government and personal) they want out. They see the handwriting on the walls as businesses fail to expand and the ones that manage to prosper are targeted by the tax man and foreign competition.

Sure, many blame the politicians but come election day the same ones are sent back to their jobs with a new, old mandate: fix things but don't change anything.

I have heard the same song about fancy flight from friends and family but my reply is always the same. You aren't going anywhere because you would have gone already.

Every year the Hartford Courant publishes the same editorial cartoon titled, "Have a Yankee Crankee Christmas." Connecticut, where I was raised, is the land of steady habits. Complaining is one habit that is ingrained in the culture. I never feel remorse for leaving family and friends for greener pastures. When I do feel a twinge all I have to do is pick up the phone and be instantly reminded why I left. If that doesn't do the trick I research the available engineering jobs, the pay associated with them and remember the coarse culture in those workplaces.

But I give credit to Crankee Yankees on at least one thing: they call it for what it is even though they have the Yankee ingenuity to change things. In San Diego, housing prices, taxes, and the cost of living are ridiculous but people have deluded themselves into thinking it's heaven here.

Have a Merry Yankee Crankee Christmas. But cheer up, at least that coal in your stockings can be used to heat your homes.
-- Diamon Sforza

I've recently begun telling anyone who'll listen that, come retirement, my check can be sent somewhere south of Maryland and north of Florida. Thus, Mr. Henry's article was especially timely. This place has become almost unlivable, what with a debate over whether we should give in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal aliens, local school committees conducting secret (from parents) sex surveys of students, needles for drug addicts, gay marriage instituted by judicial fiat, Kennedys, and a Turnpike that was paid for years ago but is now being used as a cash cow so that commuters from west of Capital City pay toward the upkeep of a highway tunnel they don't use (the infamous Big Dig). The tunnel, by the way, is named for the late Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill, which is appropriate since, like its namesake, it's also wide, budget-busting, and full of hot air.

I've been able to get over that late unpleasantness of 1861-1865, so leave a light on, Dixie.
-- Mike Haire
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

IRON AND GRACE
Re: Ben Stein's Unshared Sacrifice:

Thank you for this profoundly moving piece. It is a great gift to put so much power in so few words..."words of iron," if I may quote from an old movie. But also words of grace. It makes me so proud to read this elegant praise of our great country, its real heroes, and the hope & optimism that binds us together. I also cannot wait for my wife to read the last paragraphs. I think all married men (myself 33 years) really know this, but don't express it properly. Ben, you are my hero.
-- Garrel Nicholson
Thomasville, North Carolina

As always, Ben Stein's writing shines. In his piece, "Shared Sacrifice," he hit upon a thought that I have had for some time. In war unity comes when sacrifice is shared. In our country's history those wars which required sacrifice from all were the one's that had successful victories. The shared sacrifice means it isn't just those of us who provide loyal sons and daughters to fight for freedom's promise.

The Korean war at least came to some positive conclusion, though its Veterans were forgotten. This was probably most likely because it was on the heels of the Second World War. The notion of fighting for freedom was still profound and remembered by the entire nation.

The Vietnam War in which my husband fought in came two and three decades after World War II. It came when prosperity had turned the nation's youth into reckless indolent fools. In their stupidity they and a complicity news media seized a nation and held it hostage and the returning veterans were vilified and for some 30 years had to overcome a national stigma. As my husband said at the recent Veteran's Day Assembly at the school to horrified high school students, who knew not that our returning soldiers were spat upon and called baby killers...the nation collectively spat and shamed a returning group of honorable men. And I believe it was because the sacrifice was not shared and the nation had become collectively indolent in its wealth.

This war is beginning to turn on the same footing as the Vietnam War. I watched in shock this summer as some 8,000 families gathered in Crawford, Texas to counter the one hundred fools in a pasture out west of town. The 8,000 did not get shown on national television but the 100 fools' every minute of whine, spit, lather, and burp, were of so called "national interest."

Now we are in a war as a far more wealth and indolent natured country. The news media is primed to try to recover its heyday when it snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, as in Vietnam. The only thing stopping them is the thousands of Vietnam Veterans and their families, many of whom, like ours, provide sons and daughters fighting this war. These Veterans remember all too well when they could NOT travel in uniform, were easily identified by military haircuts, and were vilified and shamed publicly. As one Vet in Crawford, Texas told me...."I'll be damned if my children who are fighting come back to such. ".

When President Bush declared war I waited while he spoke of the necessity. He didn't need to explain this to our family. In Germany our children were almost kidnapped by a terrorist group. I knew of the terrorists fierce and intense fervor and how they spare no one. Yet, I waited to hear what our family's part of the sacrifice would be......besides providing a son and daughter-in-law. The spoken sacrifice by my beloved President did not come. I knew then that a society that has to have instant news, instant gratification, instant victory before the first hour of a television is over, would not fare well in such a war, especially if it had to last for several years.

The only wars worth fighting must be those where EVERYONE sacrifices, where they hear constantly the whys about why we are fighting, where all political parties agree that by losing the war we lose our nation and our national identity....not where one party tries to use the war as a device of their own means for the in-house clubbing of the other team. The DEMOCRATS don't seem to understand that with this war we could lose our nation. Or perhaps they do and they just hope they can be on the controlling party when the enemy takes over. If so, they are sadly mistaken.

Sacrifice. It is a word that so few know anything about. But as I finish, a frustrated mother who is worried about her children, I leave you with a thought given me in the late '60s by a great teacher. I do not know his source but he wrote on our blackboard that day....

Somewhere out there a man died for me today......
And I must ask and answer.....
Am I worth dying for

Freedom's song is sung by those who fight and die for it. Unfortunately in our time the sacrifice is not shared but by those of us who provide the fodder that fight the war.
-- Beverly Gunn
East Texas Rancher

Mr. Stein's expression of love for his wife was lovely. However, to say that he received whatever "shreds" of humility, kindness, and patience only from her is to slight the parents with impeccable manners and the father who served his country. Okay, the guy's in love with his wife. Bravo! That's no reason to be such a sap.
-- Lorraine

I really enjoy Ben Stein's monthly column.
-- Larry Davison
San Angelo, Texas

DEMOCRATIST TRISTS
Re: Brandon Crocker's Big Lie Democrats:

Great article. Can you discuss in your next release what the Democrats think the logic is behind W. lying about intelligence and why he wants us to be in a war? Through this entire despicable campaign being run by the Democrats I have not heard one reason that explains why he would want us to be in a war. Your article spelled out perfectly that we adopted a doctrine of preemption post-9/11 and Iraq reconciles with that doctrine based on history and intelligence. Just thought you could shed some light on the Democrats approach and explanation if they were asked that question.
-- Spencer

Aside from "Tex" cuts (mostly for the very wealthy) and an obsession with what other people are doing with their genitals, I can't think of another issue about which this administration has been consistent and honest. It appears that nobody save the talking points monkeys (Frank Rich's wonderful moniker for the Rush Limbaughs of our country) and Bush's base are any longer buying this administration's bull**** (See Princeton professor Harry Frankfurt's monograph On Bull****). "Big Lie Democrats"? Please. The Democrats are rank amateurs compared to the current administration.
-- Michael Roush

The leaders of the Democrats seem to me to be involved in the political version of "Defining deviancy down." That which was on the far fringe not long ago is now mainstream Democrat Party. They hope that President Bush is like President Nixon or Ford so they can cause our defeat yet blame the Republicans for it. My hope is that their house of cards will fall before they bring more death and destruction to the USA and the world in general as they did in 1974 when they "Cut and Ran" from Vietnam. I see things as more 1864 than 1974. The "copperheads" need to be defeated once more by a Republican President.
-- Geoff Bowden
Battle Creek, Michigan

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