Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sullivan on Faith

I think Andrew Sullivan puts it quite well here, in his response to Sam Harris.

My response rests on an understanding of truth that is not exhausted by empiricism or materialism. I do not believe, in short, that all truth rests on scientific premises and can be 'proven' by empirical or scientific methods. I believe science is one, important, valuable and respectable mode of thinking about the whole. But there are truth questions it has not answered and cannot answer. What I found insightful about your book was your openness to this possibility. You repeat that openness in your recent posting:

"While I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the brain (as I am finishing my doctorate in neuroscience), I do not think that the utter reducibility of consciousness to matter has been established. It may be that the very concepts of mind and matter are fundamentally misleading us."

So you allow for a space where the logic of science and of materialism does not lead us toward truth, but may even mislead us about it, and lead us away from it. This is a big concession, and it undermines the certainty of your entire case. Such an argument must rest on a notion of ultimate truth that is deeper than science, beyond science. It must rest on a notion that allows for the rational legitimacy of my faith.

It might even include an appreciation of other modes of rational discourse that are not empirical in origin or form. Take, for example, the question of historical truth. You rely in your books on a lot of historical facts to buttress your empirical case. But these facts are not true - and could never be proven true - by the scientific method that is your benchmark. There are no control groups in history. There are no experiments. But there is a form of truth. Discovering that historical truth is the vocation of a historian - and it is a different truth than science, and reached by a different methodology and logic.

Similarly, mathematics can achieve a proof that has no interaction with the physical world. It may even be the closest to divine truth that human beings can achieve. But it is still logically separate from empirically verified truth, from historical truth, and even from the realm of human consciousness that includes aesthetic truth, the truths we find in contemplation of art or of nature.


But that is not the sum of your argument. You argue further that even if you concede the possibility of a legitimate form of religious truth-seeking, the content of various, competing revelations renders them dangerous. They are dangerous because they logically contradict each other. And since their claims are the most profound that we can imagine, human beings will often be compelled to fight for them. For if these profound matters are not worth fighting for, what is?

I agree that this is a central problem for religion in the world. It has always been so. it will always be so. This is not a new problem. It is arguably the oldest human debate. Whether one reads Pascal or Spinoza, Locke or Montaigne, Hobbes or Leo Strauss, the religious question always prompts a political question. I think the problem is eased - if never fully solved - by a critical move that I unpack in my book, "The Conservative Soul." That move is rooted in skepticism.


In my book, excerpted in Time Magazine here, I put it this way:

If God really is God, then God must, by definition, surpass our human understanding. Not entirely. We have Scripture; we have reason; we have religious authority; we have our own spiritual experiences of the divine. But there is still something we will never grasp, something we can never know - because God is beyond our human categories. And if God is beyond our categories, then God cannot be captured for certain. We cannot know with the kind of surety that allows us to proclaim truth with a capital T. There will always be something that eludes us. If there weren't, it would not be God.

I don't think you're far away from this. That's why you've gone on retreats, explored Buddhism, experimented with psyclocybin, as I have. You see: we are closer than you might think. But you differ with me on how this translates into life. You ask legitimately: how can I, convinced of this truth, resist imposing it on others? The answer is: humility and doubt. I may believe these things, but I am aware that others may not; and I respect their own existential decision to believe something else. I respect their decision because I respect my own, and realize it is indescribable to those who have not directly experienced it. That's why I am such a dogged defender of pluralism and secularism - because I believe secularism alone does justice to the profundity of the claims of religion. The attempt to force or even rig laws to encourage others to share my faith defeats the point of my faith - which is that it is both freely chosen and definitionally dealing with matters that cannot be subject to common consensus.

On Autonomy

Lawyers, Guns and Money flags this quote from Paul at Powerline:

My Hill experience gave me a startling insight: Liberals and conservatives seemed to have mirror-image approaches to paternalism. Liberals made intrusive laws for the competent while conservatives preferred to rely on individuals to make their own decisions. Conversely, conservatives preferred intrusive laws for the incompetnet [sic] to whom liberals applied a hands-off policy. Liberals were comfortable with public health paternalism: intrusive nonsmoking laws, taxes on unhealthy products, strict risk-averse EPA and FDA regulations. . . . Yet, when a person was incoherent, defecating in the streets, or freezing a limb off in the part [sic], than [sic] -- and only then -- did the principles of autonomy apply.

If Paul is right, what explains the need by conservatives to regulate teh gay and abortion?

Are teh gay and women incoherent or incompetent?

Robert Novak is such a Chucklehead

Conservative columnist Robert Novak:

When President Bush called for a bipartisan "special advisory council" of congressional leaders on the war against terrorism in his State of the Union address, he had in his pocket a rude rejection from Democratic leaders. Thank you very much, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but no thank you.

Three days earlier, Reid and Pelosi wrote a letter to the president turning down his offer (which was contained in his Jan. 10 speech on Iraq) to establish a council consisting of Democratic chairmen and ranking Republican members of the relevant committees. "We believe that Congress already has bipartisan structures in place," they said, adding: "We look forward to working with you within existing structures."


Courtesy aside, it shows that the self-confident Democratic leadership is uninterested in being cut into potentially disastrous outcomes in Iraq. It wants to function as a coordinate branch of government, not as friendly colleagues in the spirit of bipartisanship. Pelosi and several Democratic committee chairmen are leaving for Iraq on Friday.

In his Jan. 10 speech, Bush called for a "new, bipartisan working group that will help us come together across party lines to win the war on terror." That prompted the Pelosi-Reid letter of Jan. 19 rejecting the offer.

Bush made a mistake in attributing the idea to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who as the Senate's only self-identified Independent Democrat is estranged from his colleagues who are unmodified Democrats. These former comrades are not charmed by the prospect of Lieberman pontificating as a member of the "working group" by virtue of his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

But Lieberman was not the reason for the speaker and majority leader's rebuff. The Democratic leadership is beyond consultation on Iraq, as demonstrated by the selection of Sen. Jim Webb to deliver the party's response to the president Tuesday night. Webb, whose unexpected election in Virginia last year gave Democrats a Senate majority, is a hard-edged critic of the war not interested in bipartisanship. Discarding staff-written talking points, professional writer Webb declared: "The president took us into this war recklessly."

If there's one thing that's been made perfectly clear in the past six years it is that the Administration has no regard for Congress--even when it was run by its own party. Congress was not invited to "consult" in the lead up to the war, and wasn't invited to consult in the last two months, when the escalation "plan" was cooked up.

So, thanks for the invitation on January 10 after the decision to escalate the war was already made, to appear in a war "council" but no thanks.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Big Business Republicans Demand More Appeasement

What Ezra says:

PRIORITIES. In a display of savage corporatism, Senate Republicans are filibustering the minimum wage increase until Democrats lard the bill with tax cuts for businesses. Over the last six years, of course, businesses have gotten, literally, hundreds of billions in tax breaks. Congress hasn't raised the minimum wage in a decade.

Of course, there are 21 GOP Senate seats up the next time around.

Chris Bowers says:

Republicans continuing to suck up to business interests like this is going to give Democrats a big trifecta in 2008. Just look at the list of Republicans up for election in 2008 who voted against a clean minimum wage bill: Cornyn, Dole,. Domenici, McCain, Smith and Sununu. I don't care how red your state is--voting against the minimum wage isn't popular anywhere. The only place it is popular is among business interests who will be donating to the election campaigns of these Republicans. Even in defeat, Republicans treat government as basically a way to reward the key figures of their election machinery.

This bill will pass eventually. There is no way Republicans can hold out on this one indefinitely, considering how popular it is. Democrats need to keep pushing this as long and hard as possible until five more Republicans are forced to cave, even if that means the bill won't pass until 2009.

The Messenger

"In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy - that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And under the leadership of the new Democratic Congress, we are on our way to doing so. The House just passed a minimum wage increase, the first in ten years, and the Senate will soon follow. We've introduced a broad legislative package designed to regain the trust of the American people. We've established a tone of cooperation and consensus that extends beyond party lines. We're working to get the right things done, for the right people and for the right reasons."

Damn, Andrew Jackson and the minimum wage. In just two paragraphs.

See Democrats, it isn't that hard.

More of this, please.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Longer Bill Kristol/Joe Lieberman

It's true we've been wrong about everything related to Iraq, but the new plan to escalate the war means you should nevertheless shut up until we know whether it will succeed or not, which we probably won't know for another six to nine months. After we know whether it succeeds or not, you can offer your negative resolutions and criticize it. If it does fail, though, which we know it won't, we'll offer another new "plan" after which we'll again expect you to shut up, as is your duty in a Constitutional democracy and as is only fitting since everything related to this war has worked out so swimmingly.

We Can Never Leave Iraq

Or else the terrorists win.

So says this person.

Just thought you should know.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Enemy At Home

Republican Opposition to Iraq Plan Grows

Why do some Republicans hate America?

The Best Thing About This Year's NFL Playoffs

After the first weekend, we were spared any more features, quotes, soundbites, photos and rumors about this man.

Uh oh. May have spoken too soon. Parcells retires himself again, after four years in Big D. How the new coach will handle this man soon to be main story.

Just Shut Up award winner

I'm announcing the formation of an explor--check that, I'm announcing the inauguration of the first ever weekly, daily, annually, whatever, Just Shut Up award, to the politician, media personality, or institution that so qualifies.

And today I am handing out the very firstest Just Shut Up award to (envelope please)--

CNN, for it's repetitive, gratuitously self-serving promo about the auctioning off of it's Iraq hummer for charity.

CNN, come on down.

And Just Shut Up already.

I mean, 100+ plus more people have died in Iraq today. Do we need your hummer auction on the headline bar and all over the teevee like it was this weekend?

Da Colts

I didn't even make it to the end of the first half of last night's Pat-Colts game. It was already 14-3 and I couldn't "bear" to watch anymore of it. I knew how it would end. By the time I clicked off the Internets last night and retired to bed for some good reading, it was 21-6.

I didn't find out the Colts stormed back for the win in the NFL's answer to Oklahoma-Boise State until this morning.

Well. Obviously a big "getting the monkey off his back" win for Peyton. But it was a big win for someone else, too: Tony Dungy. Dungy, you'll remember, put together several winning, playoff-competing seasons in Tampa, only to get canned when the owners tired of not winning the "big one", which they promptly did the very next year when they landed Jon Gruden from Oakland and beat the Raiders in the next year's Super Bowl. But Dungy landed on his feet quickly enough by taking over for Jim Mora senior in Indy. And in Indy, as in Tampa, Dungy had Da Colts winning and in the playoffs on a regular basis. But the big playoff win, especially when the game involved Bill Belichek's Pats, eluded him in the Hoosier state, too. Then after last year's monumental regular season, the Colts lost a heartbreaker--at home--to the future Super Bowl winning Steelers. Compounding the professional disappointment for Dungy was a far more serious human tragedy, as Dungy's son committed suicide in December 2005.

And even though Dungy, through Peyton, went on the conquer the Patriots during the regular season last year and this year (both in Foxboro), as well as go into Denver and beat the Broncos when that team was riding high, the Colts seemed thoughout much of their games this year to just be squeaking by, a sense that was amplified when they were routed by Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and later run over by the Jaguars.

In many ways, this Colts team is similar to Da Bears team they'll be facing. Both teams carry the label of underdog to a certain effect. Both had strong regular seasons in terms of wins and losses, but both were dogged by perceptions of softness on defense (Chicago's mostly due to injury depletions), under-achievement more generally, and overshadowed by more exciting teams in their conferences; for the Colts, there were the Ravens and Chargers; for the Bears, there were the resurgent Eagles and the Saints. And both teams present a two-headed running back tandem: the Colts with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes; the Bears have Thomas Jones and the second-year man, Cedric Benson. And while Peyton Manning overshadows Rex Grossman, both team's QB's struggled this year with doubts as to their being able to come through when their teams needed them the most.

I like the Colts chances here, but not by much. I think the Bears will again need a big day from Rex Grossman and need to do what they did against the Saints--create turnovers. The challenge for the Colts on defense will be to again slow down their opponent's running attack. With their first two opponents, the Colts faced all-star running backs in Larry Johnson and Jamal Lewis. But for the Chiefs and Ravens, their running-back attack was largely centered on one man. The Pats presented a more rigorous challenge in some ways than either the Chiefs or Ravens in that they could come with both Corey Dillon and Mahoney. That will be a good test for what they will face with the Bears.

Both the Colts and Bears faced friendly environments Sunday. Both were at home. And especially for the Bears, and I know I'll get some hate-mail for this, they benefitted from the snow and slop on Soldier Field. Despite their running attack, the Saints like to pass the ball and the weather and field made that difficult. And that failure played into the hands of the Bears, defense-centered, turnover needing, run-first mentality.

I don't think the Bears will have the same privileges in Miami. We can guess there won't be any snow. But it won't be a dome either, something Peyton usually thrives in.

This is a hard game to predict, but here goes--

Colts 30, Bears 21

It'll be a close game throughout but the Colts will tack on a score at the end to put the game out of reach and make it appear less competitive that what it was.